Four Burners Theory: Back to School Again

An encore post with a few updates – all updates in Italics. 

In the midst of Back to School preparations, it seems appropriate to discuss the juggling act we call work-family balance. Sometimes we’re juggling tennis balls, all the same size, all the same weight, all responding the same way. Then someone tosses us a watermelon, and the whole juggling act changes.

Another way to look at this is the Four Burners metaphor. Imagine a stove with four burners, each representing a task. Can you tend all four without burning a dish or forgetting to add an ingredient, therefore ruining the meal?
Is the four burners theory accurate? Realistic? If all four are equal, maybe it is. But life’s tasks are rarely equal. The first day of school requires a bigger burner. Packing a young person’s possessions in the van for the big move to a dorm is a burner that simmers for a while, then comes to a quick boil. In my life, sending my kids back to school coincides with preparing to teach another new group of elementary students. My teaching assignment is the same this year, but I need to move my materials into a new cubicle. That’s a front burner task, but it will cook up quickly.
We’ve learned to survive these chaotic first weeks of school by balancing and “cooking” ahead. Every night I set the table for breakfast, pack my lunch, and set out my (admittedly simple) clothes for morning. By planning ahead, slicing and dicing the ingredients for the next day, we can cut out one burner. Our family spends much of the summer catching up on routine appointments, too. Dealing with routine dental care and physicals and eye exams in June, July, and August means one less pot to stir come fall.
Filling the freezer and putting up foodstuffs is another step in maintaining the cooking – this time in a more literal sense. Each bag of healthy local vegetables in the freezer is one less that we have to buy. A shorter grocery list means less time at the store, less money out the door, and less pressure on us to produce the produce. Um, yeah. You knew what I meant, right? We bought an additional chest freezer when a local appliance store went out of business, so I’ve spent a lot of time prepping peas, beans, corn, and more for the freezer. That task is more like a slow cooker than a burner because I’ve been at it little by little all summer long.
Thinking of all this late August and September busy-ness makes me feel stressed already. I think I’ll go water the garden; that’s a task that provides relaxation, not stress. Turn off the burners; I’m hooking up the hose to the rain barrel. And that, my friends, is balance.

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