Monday, November 5, 2012


"Who here knows how to juggle? I need a volunteer."

It was our AAU Basketball National Tournament guest speaker. He had on stage with him three basketballs. My teammates began screaming and pointing at me, "She can! She will!"

I was 13 and awkward and hated being in front of people. It was my first year with a new team, and we were at nationals in Cocoa Beach, Florida. They didn't know me well enough to know that they were making me squirm...or maybe they did.

He spotted me, and reluctantly, I made my way to the stage. He went on to speak about how as student athletes, desiring a college scholarship, we needed to know how to juggle our priorities. I stood next to him and he handed me the three basketballs. I juggled them pretty easily.

Then he went on to say, "But not all priorities are created equal." He took the basketballs away. He picked up a softball and a golf ball. "Right now, this one basketball represents your commitment to basketball, maybe. This softball represents school, and maybe this golf ball is your social life and everything else. You're still young yet." He said that last part with a wink. "In a few years, that softball might be basketball, the golf ball your schoolwork, and the basketball..." He smiled really big, "...your boyfriend." We all laughed and, of course, pretended like we didn't care at all about boys. By this point, I knew where he was going, and I was hoping he'd let me sit down.


He handed me a basketball, softball, and golf ball, and told me to juggle those. I lasted about 5 seconds, dropping the golf ball first of course. "And folks, notice she didn't drop the boyfriend!" I think I practically ran off the stage. I didn't want my parents even thinking of the prospect of me even thinking about boys.

I didn't think much about that analogy again until about a year ago, when I saw a gospel singer, Marvin Sapp, interviewed after a performance on Good Morning America. He was asked, as a pastor, husband, father, and musician, how he manages to juggle it all.

He looked surprised. "I don't. If I juggled it, I might drop something." Deep. He explained with his hands, how he prioritizes, "God comes first, then my family, then my church family, then my music career."

Again, I didn't think much about that analogy until this week. My house has recently been messier than ever before. Finding time for a shower is difficult. Am I spending enough time with Elijah on his school work? I'm not making the time consuming home cooked meals I once made. Chastity is acting out. Chastity peed her pants. Why? Where is Chastity. Chastity...Chastity.

And it occurred to me that my juggling skills needed some work. I spend my mornings feeding the baby, getting Elijah ready for school, burping the baby, helping Elijah with his school work, doing whatever laundry and dishes I can get done during a lesson Elijah doesn't need me for, feeding the baby, telling Chastity to "Shush! Elijah needs to be able to hear his lesson."

Chastity was disappearing before my eyes. Most mornings she retreats to her room and reads or plays there, occasionally yelling down to me only to get the response, "Wait, Chastity! Elijah's doing school!" Or, "Shhhhh!"

Next year she will have her own Pre-K curriculum, and will hopefully feel included, but right now...I'm dropping the ball.

So, in an attempt to keep all the balls in the air, I planned a girls day out. It started off with a bang, I took her to the Post Office with me to mail a couple of things, and she always has fun putting the mail in the slots. Then we went to Barnes & Noble to look at books. I didn't go with the intention to buy, but thought we'd just see how the day went. She was quiet, reserved, not quite herself. I was a puppy dog, begging for her approval at every turn. "Chastity, are you having fun? Chastity, did you like that book? Chastity, did you think that was funny?"

Then it occurred to me that this must be what my parents felt like when they tried to do something with me...when I was a teenager. As the night dragged on, I began to panic. Here I am trying to do something special for my daughter who is obviously feeling left out, and she couldn't care less. Awesome.

I had planned on taking her to see the movie, Brave. It was showing in a local cheap theater, and though I was warned that parts were scary, Chastity is tough and scary parts of the Disney movies don't seem to bother her. As movie time approached and we were still browsing the book store, I asked, "Chastity, do you want to just keep reading books, or do you want to go see the movie?"

"Books," she answered, quickly.

I thought, maybe she didn't know what movie we were going to, so I pointed to a book about Brave and showed her, and asked her again. That time she answered movie, and so we headed out the door.

Not 15 minutes into the movie she was telling me she wanted to go home. She was completely unamused. There hadn't even been a scary part yet. I tried explaining some parts to her so she could understand, but then the scary bear entered the scene, and though she still didn't look or act scared, she said again, "I want to go home."

So we left. At this point, neither of us have had dinner and it's almost 7.

"Do you want to stop and get something to eat?"


"Aren't you hungry?"


"You just want to go home?"


I couldn't figure her out. She would normally jump at the chance to go to McDonald's or Mighty Taco.

As a last resort, I asked if she wanted to stop at the store with me. It usually doesn't matter what store. My children have always loved going anywhere.

She said, "Yes."!!! I was excited. I had a chance to redeem myself.

I asked her where she wanted to go, and with zero hesitation she replied, "I want to go back to Barnes & Noble." I never should have left.

We went back, read a few more books. In keeping with the puppy dog trend of the disastrous evening, I allowed her to pick out a book to take home; one that she and Elijah could both enjoy. We, of course, left with the very first book we'd looked at (hours before, during the first visit); a book she knows because her Mimi and PopPop have it and have read it to her, No Jumping on the Bed by an author we sorta, kinda, know, Ted Arnold. Imagine that.

Once we left, I talked her into getting some food. We swung by McDonald's for take out, and came home. As soon as we were through the door, my quiet as a mouse, bored as a teenager, 3-yr-old was all a giggle, talking with Elijah about things I didn't even understand, showing him the book, and telling him all about the book store.

I began to see more clearly. I wasn't the mother boring her and keeping her from her teenage friends. I was the mother keeping her from her best friend, her brother. She wasn't acting out because she wanted my attention. She had been acting out because she missed her brother, her playmate, her friend. Elijah has moved on to school, and even though he's doing it right here at home, Chastity misses him.

We have slowly settled into a routine. Chastity understands now that Elijah needs to do his work, and she's less upset about not having him around in the mornings to play, but I have learned something. It is not about juggling the needs of 3 separate children, nor is it about prioritizing their needs. Some needs do need to be met sooner than others, sure, but it's not about juggling at all. It's about including. The things around us need juggling; the housework, the cooking, the bills, the phone calls, but I shouldn't attempt to juggle my children. There's the obvious concern that I might drop one, but the less obvious is that I won't, but I keep them in their own separate spaces, orbiting around me, when all they really want is to be together. There will come a time when quality time with each of them individually will become more important, and an even sadder time when they will just want to be with their friends, so now is the best time to nurture the family unit. Right now, we are more like magnets, sometimes needing to be turned around and shoved together, but ultimately wanting that more than anything. Chastity is happiest when included. She might color while Elijah does school work, or she might help me with Isaac, but pulling her away all together was a surefire way straight into middle child syndrome.

Instead of going out individually, we'll find something we can all enjoy together, because 9 times out of 10, when we're all gathered at the dinner table, and we ask Chastity and Elijah, "What did you do today that was fun?" they respond with, "I'm having fun right now!" 

Smaller things will always come along that require juggling, but this is one thing I won't risk dropping. Besides, magnets are a far more complimentary comparison than balls.

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