Forget balance, writes Kate Sidley. Life is just too complicated for binaries. We’re going for magnificence!
Today, friends, we’re going to talk about a very important aspect of family life: balance.
Let’s get started with a little illustrative exercise. Everyone join in. First, balance on one leg, lifting your free leg 10cm off the floor. Excellent. Get nice and stable. Breathe. Now lift the leg you’re standing on too. And voila! Look at you on
your butt down there on the floor!
My point, in case you missed it, is that balance is possible and, indeed, easy to achieve in certain limited and ideal conditions, but as soon as the system comes under pressure, it collapses in an undignified heap.
We love the notion of balance in the same way we love all broad, positive, ill-definable concepts: justice. Mercy. Grace. Peace. Just typing those words actually made me feel calm and hopeful and, I dunno, Zen-like. But then I start to think: ‘Really? Balance? What even is that?’
When you think of balance, you probably think of those scales with two pans suspended on a fulcrum, the classic scales of justice. When I see an interview where a woman’s asked: ‘How do you balance being a Prime Minister/Oscar-winning actor/underwater welder on a North Sea oil rig with your family life?’, that’s what I think of. Scales, job on one side, rest-of-life on the other.
Leaving aside the troublesome fact that no-one ever asks a male Prime Minister/ Oscar-winning actor/underwater welder on a North Sea oil rig that question, I’ve got a problem with the image. The problem is, there are only two sides: one goes up, the other goes down.
But you aren’t just balancing work and children. You’re balancing painting your nails with tidying your bookshelf. Or your volunteer teaching gig with flossing your teeth. Or getting a degree with visiting your aunt. The permutations are endless.
I turned my mind to thinking of a better image than the scales of justice to describe what it’s like ‘balancing’ the demands of life. I decided on one of those old-fashioned stop organs that you see in old cathedrals, with a keyboard (or two), 30 pipes, five pedals and a whole bunch of buttons (who knows what they’re for?).
You, my friend, are the organist with your hands and feet flying about the instrument, hoping to hit the right spot, as
dictated by your instincts and experience and the sheet music in front of you. In addition, there’s the choir (the family,
in case I’ve lost you with this image), hopefully in time and in tune. And in the pews is a big crowd who might be listening, or singing off-key, or criticising your performance, or surreptitiously checking their phones and wishing you’d
get a move on.
But up at the front, in front of that organ, there’s you. You’re keeping it all together. You might hit the wrong pedal or
the wrong button from time to time. You’re not sure whether the choir’s in tune. You think the crowd’s enjoying it, but you can’t worry too much.
Because perfection isn’t your aim: your aim is music. And sometimes, just sometimes, you feel the grand swell of it
all coming together. The hands and the feet, the air and the pipes, the stops and the pedals. And the choir’s singing and swaying and the congregation’s right there with you. And you, my friend – you are magnificent.
FEATURE: KATE SIDLEY PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM