The fire life schedule is either my best friend or my worst enemy. His two 24 hour shifts a week are great when we want to plan a get-away or a day trip. It is flexible enough when there are school concerts, conferences, and appointments. It sucks on the weekends, it sucks during a snow storm or coastal storm, and it sucks when it is understaffed and guys are forced into holds. The sucktasticness of the schedule brings life into perspective though. It forces our family to do life differently than other families. And for all of the sucktastic things that come up, I wouldn’t trade the life we have, the lifestyle we have created for anything. Like anything else, once in awhile, our lives need some tweaking, minor adjustments, if you will.
For the past few months I have been wrestling with the thought of protecting family time. I say wrestle because it is something I have been having an active struggle with. There are many things vying for our attention and as a family of 5-there are not many things that we can all genuinely say we enjoy doing together-at least not at this moment while our kids are the ages they are(12,10,8). When they were little we could go to the park or put them in the stroller for a walk… Now they have sports and activities, they have friends and plans. And it doesn’t all fall on them, we also wrestle with the fire schedule. Since it is both flexible and unpredictable-planning family time has to be intentional and well planned. We need to sit down together with all of our calendars and have all of the stuff laid out so we can see where we can squeeze stuff in.
I never really thought of family time as something that we need to protect before. But like I already said, our kids are getting older, and our time together is both fleeting and precious. These boys are gaining independence, doing more things out of the house, without us. As of the last month we have lost the ability to have family dinners together most nights of the week because of our middle sons football schedule. Things that have been routine for the last 10 years are now gone, and oh how I struggle with change. But, change, it is, inevitable. And I realize, I need to change and grow with the seasons or get swept away and lose pieces of what we once had. Like anything else, you don’t realize the value of it until it is gone, or until it is at risk of being taken away and you have to fight for it. Our boxing gloves are on and we are fighting to protect our family time.
So I have to wonder, what counts as family time? I used to believe that any time we had together as a family was our family time. If the 5 of us were at the beach and I invited friends to join us, that counted as family time. If we are at a party or a get together with friends or extended family, that counted as family time. I have to be honest here, my outlook has totally changed. I no longer count anything as family time that includes anyone but us. Why? Well if we go to the beach or park or restaurant, if we are surrounded by friends, family, people that we love with 100% of our souls, we can go an entire day talking to everyone else, but spending minimal time with each other. I am not saying this is a bad thing, I love our friends and family. Most of our friends, I consider family. But when we are getting ready to stare down a 48 or 72 hour shift or perhaps we are just coming off of one and we are all feeling a little empty and a little drained, what we need is a time for just our core family of 5. Not every day, although it would be nice, but in fire life, with 24 hour shifts, it is not possible. But at least once a week, family time needs to happen. It doesn’t have to be big. It can be dinner. It can be a movie together on the couch. It can be a board game. It doesn’t always have to be going somewhere and spending money. It can be so simple. In fact it can be so simple that we forget why it is important. It can be so simple that we take it for granted. It can be so simple that we let other things push into our time together because we can always do family time another time. But that calendar, that thing will fill up in a heartbeat if we let it. Birthday parties, cookouts, overtime, playdates, fundraisers… The struggle is real and it is ok to say no. It is ok to say no to the cookout. It is ok to say no to the playdate, it is ok to say no to things that will make you commit more time than you can actually afford to give. It is ok.
Truth is, we live in a culture that values busyness. We, as a culture often find ourselves glorifying how busy we are and then we wonder why our bodies are physically tired and why our souls feel tired and empty. Our culture, that values busyness, values families less today than in the past generations. And I don’t want my family to be another statistic. I want my family to live differently. I want my kids to grow up not feeling rushed from one activity to the next. I want my kids to grow up to be friends. I want my kids to know the simple pleasure of a quiet day at home, playing in the yard, curling up with a good book, having a dance party, enjoying a meal together as a family. I want my kids to know it is ok to be angry, it is what you do with your anger that is important. I want our family to enjoy one another and laugh together. I want our favorite memories to include each other. I want the five of us to cheer each other on and lift one another up when we are sad. I want our family to want to spend time together. This is my mission, to protect our family time.