I was looking over some potential school material on physics including the six types of simple machines when one of them gave me pause: the lever and the fulcrum. The whole concept struck a chord. The fulcrum is the support about which the lever pivots and “the lever operates by applying forces at different distances from the fulcrum, or pivot.”
Why does this sound so familiar?
I continue to delve into this lever business.
The origin of the word is French and it means “to lift” or “to raise up.”
And according to the Oxford Dictionary, the fulcrum was used in the “late 17th century (originally in the general sense ‘a prop or support’): from Latin, literally ‘post of a couch’, from fulcire ‘to prop up’.”
Hmmmm. The fulcrum acts as a support to the lever so that it may balance.
Hi my name is Rozanne. Actually, you can call me the Fulcrum. This whole lever/fulcrum business perfectly describes my role at home. I am constantly positioning my attention, my emotions, my schedule, my decisions, and even my physical body to balance our family lever. (Total a-ha moment.)
I go cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs trying to balance everyone’s needs. And the bigger they get, the bigger the loads that are on this lever I am trying to keep balanced as I shift our priorities. I have 5 very different children. I have introverts and extroverts. I have middle-of-the-road people. I have some who love the loud and social and some who need the quiet and alone time. There are the tidy and not-so-tidy. There are those who need me more at times than others. All mothers and fathers know this.
In this house, I am always weighing the “individual” vs “the greater good.” I really wish I paid more attention in that first-year university course: Intro to Social and Political Thought. (Sometimes it’s all John Locke up in here, sometimes it’s pure John Stuart Mill.) Each child is an individual person with needs and wants. But they also inhabit a space with others with whom they need to respect and compromise. It’s a tough spot sometimes when we have a commitment somewhere and 1 or 2 people really don’t want to do it. This is solved easily when there are two options and Ever-Patient and I can divide up the troops: some stay home with mom, the rest go out with dad. Should it always be “majority wins”? What if those 1 or 2 people rarely side with “the majority”? How do I make sure I am aware of the one-sided sacrifices that take place? Sometimes the not-so-squeaky wheels end up acquiescing all the time.
That’s where the art of triage comes in.
Who needs me most right now? This is a question I ask myself each day. They may not be physically hurt or bleeding but there’s always a chance that someone is a bit broken inside. There is always someone who is struggling more than the rest. Someone who needs my attention – someone who needs me to shift the fulcrum, i.e. me. I do a little diagnosing: Who has had a rough time getting along with others? Who has picked fights? Who has broke out into tears for no reason? Who has climbed on top of me every moment I have sat down? Who haven’t I seen lately? Who hasn’t checked in with me?
Whose heart is calling to me the loudest?
Once I pinpoint that child, the easy work begins – cuddles, listening, talking, telling stories, quiet time together. Easy peasy. Sometimes all it takes is me looking into their eyes and telling them what I love about them. The hard part has been the initial triage stage because life gets so busy that I forget to listen for that faint s.o.s. call. And sometimes I can barely hear it. That’s heart breaking – when I completely miss the call and they are now crying, sometimes begging and screaming, for me to hear them, to just hold them or they have completely withdrawn and disconnected from me. I often look back after those instances and think, “Damn, I missed it. I completely missed it.” Now the re-building begins.
But what do you do when a recital and a playoff game are scheduled on one day and they BOTH want you to be there? That’s when I thank my lucky stars for my long-term memory. It becomes a statistics game. How many events have I attended for each? How important is this event to them in proportion to all other events? Who will be able to accept my absence in exchange for time with me at a later date? Choosing one over the other is never a clean procedure – there are always tears and there is always “the mother” of all crushing emotions – guilt.
And if I am on my game, I mean, really on my mothering game, I am taking care of everyone just enough. I am flitting from flower to flower like a hummingbird – basking in the sweetness and innocence of each child. I shut down my computer just at the right moment. I lie in bed beside another to tell a short story. I read aloud to another who can already read by herself but loves the sound of my voice. I see another in the hallway and we just stand there for a few seconds in a warm embrace. I play one round of hide-and-seek. Those little bits are always just enough. And now when I go out for dinner with Ever-Patient, hang out with friends, sequester myself to sew, or go play a soccer game, they are all ok. I can remove myself as the fulcrum and they all lie flat on even ground just for an instant.
But if I don’t remove myself at those times, the weight of the lever wears me down. I can’t hold them up or tend to them and their needs are the cause of my collapse. When I don’t ask for help, I expend too much force holding this family together and the lever collapses too. In a lever, “Power is the product of force and velocity, so forces applied to points farther from the pivot must be less than when applied to points closer in.” Basically, you have more leverage, more power, when you apply the same forces farther from the fulcrum than closer to it. Sometimes the little bit of space apart, the time I take for myself, benefits everyone. (Take that Locke and Mill – I can celebrate the individual while taking care of the greater good.)
It is a journey, never a destination. When they were little, I believed that as they grew older I wouldn’t have to do as much balancing – maybe they could be their own fulcrums and balance their own priorities, their own opportunity costs. But as they grow older, the weight of the issues become heavier and my heart feels the shift more when they come closer to me, the fulcrum. They do develop their own little levers and try to figure out the value of their time and their money but they still come to you. They still need you to help them figure out why they can’t distribute their weight evenly on their own lever. That’s when it becomes tricky. Yes, I can re-balance my own life, my household, and my attention to each member of my family. But as much as I want to, I can’t balance yours. So you watch their levers tip, you watch them experiment with moving themselves as fulcrums to find balance, and you let them pile on the weights of things you know they should discard. You want to say, “You can’t have both. Nice try, though.”
But as you watch, you know that this is an art – this whole life as a lever/fulcrum business – and not a science although you hope one day you can come up with the perfect formula for balance.