Recently, at dinner with two friends, the subject of our kids’ extracurricular activities came up. My husband and I had been considering signing our son, R, up for a local swim team—he has the aptitude and the exercise would do him well—but we were limited by a lack of available time. Two working parents don’t have an excess of hours in the week to shepherd kids about, and R and his sister, G, were already enrolled in soccer, Tiger Scouts, dance class, religious education, and piano lessons. I was feeling bad about our inability to make swim team work when my friends chimed in with their own extracurricular stories.
One talked about a friend of hers who had her child in activities every day, well past dinnertime, and how such commitments were beyond what her young daughter could have handled—nor did she want that kind of life. Another of my friends shared how she and her husband had specifically decided to limit their kids’ activities to give balance to their family life. Both of my friends emphasized how their choices around kid activities centered on the important question of values: what kind of people do you want your kids to grow up to be? When you can answer that, my wise friends said, the selection of activities and how you spend your time falls into place.
That concept—that the long-term goal informs the short-term decision—has been echoing in my mind ever since. It came to the forefront even more as I read “Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World” by Tsh Oxenreider, founder of The Art of Simple blog. I had never heard of Tsh or her blog when I was sent the book to review; I was inspired by the subtitle, “The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World.” As someone whose life often feels chaotic, I am always keen to find ways to slow down and be present.
Oxenreider’s book chronicles the lessons learned from her experience—and her family’s, too—exploring the world beyond the borders of the United States, including a very impactful stint living in Turkey, and how these explorations changed the way in which she and her husband look at life, live their lives, and raise their children.
“Notes From a Blue Bike” is split into sections on food, work, education, travel, and entertainment, providing wisdom on each topic. In “Food,” Oxenreider shares her family’s commitment to enjoying locally grown and Fair Trade items and to appreciating mealtime, making it an important part of their family ritual. In “Work,” she outlines how her life as a work-from-wherever blogger and writer provides her with the flexibility to live abroad, to travel whenever her family is inspired to do so, and to take off on new adventures. In “Education,” Oxenreider reflects upon her time as a homeschooling parent and her decision, after a time, to send her children to public school, detailing the pros and cons of each educational possibility. She also emphasizes her belief that parents are important and influential teachers of their children, a role she cherishes. In “Travel,” Oxenreider, who is now on an around-the-world year long trip with her family, explains how traveling beyond your home country expands your worldview and makes you more engaged global citizen, a belief I share. In “Entertainment,” the author faces the challenge of many 21st century parents: how much technology is too much for our kids.
Reading this book made me think a lot about how my family and I live our lives. When Oxenreider urges her readers to slow down and appreciate individual moments, I can relate. When she is nostalgic for the afternoons she spent with friends, drinking coffee and catching up, I understand. Most of all, when she shares the “radical” idea that relationships are more important than productivity and accomplishment—a concept that, in our go-go-get-‘em American culture, may seem outrageous—I see the merit in her thinking. We can get caught up in “stuff”—to do lists, deadlines, obligations—becoming less and less connected to our priorities and our values.
I like books that make me think, and “Notes From a Blue Bike” did that. As 2015 approaches, taking a step back from the hustle and bustle to consider the path of my life is well-worth my time and brain power. If you’re intrigued, check out “Notes From a Blue Bike” and the discussion questions at the end of the book to foster your own reflection.
As for my son and swim team, it’s still on hold—for now.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book to review, but all of the opinions in this post are mine.