“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” –Socrates
This week a friend of mine admitted that she was struggling with her busy life. She relinquished a few of her duties and committed to spending more time on herself and her family and I’m so happy for her. I’ve been in her shoes several times and every time I empty my plate I seem to fill it back up again a year or two later.
I am struggling.
When I go nonstop, I have enough momentum to push through all of my projects and commitments: writing full-time, homeschooling my daughter, leading two groups and volunteering with several others. When I take a day to step back and breathe, as I did for the first time last weekend after about two months of nonstop working and volunteering, and I re-enter the fray, I shatter inside to the point of getting physically sick.
The first two of my commitments above, combined with housekeeping and animal tending, take up enough time to barely allow for your minimum night’s sleep requirement, let alone showering and meals. Add in all of the rest plus all of the emails, PMs and texts I get about all of these commitments, all of the political activism that we try to fit in, squeezing in family and friend time (or, more often, feeling guilty about not being able to do it) and things start to feel…barren.
All of these things are worth their efforts. That’s what makes it so difficult to say no, not this time, my plate is full.
(Hi, my name’s Sara, and I work in button factory…)
And they’re mostly all for Wood Sprite, but now I have to wonder how well they are serving her. Some of them yield such positive benefits; others, I walk away thinking, was that worth it? What did she get out of this? It’s really too bad that most parents won’t settle for play dates; I learned early on in leading one group that as soon as you call something a class people flock to it. Isn’t that sad? I guess that parents with multiple kids don’t feel as if they need free play time with a bunch of other kids as much, and most of the families I know have more than one child.
I want to be in a group moms and dads of tweens who only meet so their kids can hang out (skateboard or climb rocks or ride go-karts or whatever) where none of us feel obligated to take part or socialize and we’re all free to read books or nap (we could take shifts! One could be on duty for anything the kids need while the rest zonk out!) or bring our work.
I looked at all of the support pouring from my friend’s Facebook post and all her friends and loved ones cheering her on and I felt so empty; whenever I get to my limit and want to quit, I’m either begged to reconsider or despised so badly people stop talking to me!
And I get into these situations KNOWING they are thankless jobs. I pour myself into everything 100%, but when you run on 3-4 hours of sleep, yeah, you’re going to make mistakes. I’m sorry I misspelled something; things look blurry to me today. I’m sorry I used the wrong word in an email discussion; I was answering 17 other messages, feeding my kid, cleaning up cat vomit and working on my 8 weekly deadlines. I’ve had so many people whine about me making paltry errors that are ultimately of no consequence coupled with little to no gratitude and careless disregard of my time and I have to
take a breath,
and remind myself that I have NO idea what that person is going through, that he or she doesn’t know what I’M going through and NONE of it is personal.
Last night, my Sugar died. I had to stop writing for a second because I’m still so upset.
A neighbor’s dog killed Ziggy, Sugar’s mom, this past summer and it hurt more, but this hurt almost as much. We’ve had lots of rabbits over the years but these two were “mine.”
I still completed the day’s duties because that’s what you do, and I endured criticism over some of them while nursing a sore tooth (that partly came out driving from one obligation to the next! Yay!). In one of these groups, my daughter and I still feel like an outsider no matter how much we try to connect and as much as I’ve argued it’s worth it, I feel like we really need to pause over the holidays and reconsider our hectic schedule.
We need more time together.
I heard some moms talking about books they were reading together, reminding me how Wood Sprite and I have been checking out audio books more often so I can work while we listen (really?). Remember? Remember those days when Indy would make dinner and we’d read 20 picture books together, or make clay ladybugs or go swimming or be in a pretend band all before I felt so worried (so guilty) about not being able to give her siblings that we dove into everything headfirst? No. She was too young to remember.
We needed time to mourn Sugar.
Burying her was like… I can’t even. It was so rushed and I was just sobbing while Indy took the reigns, hurrying before going to work and I still had to work and it just feels like we are these empty carapaces sometimes, doing everything that needs to be done without stopping to be human.
We need time to chat over leisurely meals. We need time to veg in front of the TV and watch a movie together snuggled on the couch like we did when she was little–not a quick episode of something while I’m running around doing chores or while grabbing cheap dollar burgers because quick, I have a deadline or fast, we need to do X, Y, Z before we run to A, B, C. We need time to prepare meals together, to go hiking or swimming like we love to do, to just lie around and do nothing.
I get that we are not alone. Believe me. If I broach the subject at all there are plenty of people in my life who scoff, “Not everyone’s life is all sunshine and roses like you think!” or “Everybody is going through that!” Maybe they are. I don’t know. But when you’re drowning you don’t really think about throwing life preservers you don’t have to other people, do you?
Growing up in a working class home, I was taught that laziness was the worst sin you could commit. To this day it makes me sick even when cognitively I know that down time is important. My Type A brain tends to maximize everything to the extreme and I’m a living example of what happens when you refuse to stop, when you “treat” yourself after just one more paragraph, just one more task done, by allowing yourself to sleep or pee.
And like my friend said, our kids pick up on this stuff. While my daughter’s not like this at all (thank goodness) there is a chasm growing between us due to my unavailability. Sure, it’s also partly her age and it’s healthy for her to want alone time with her headphones and sketchbook, but when our time together is reduced to homeschool activities and the random meal, well, it breaks my heart. After so many years of saying, “Sweetie, I’m working…” it now sticks and I fucking don’t want it to. I want her to “bother” (god really) me and remind me that she comes first, that her dad comes first, that WE, our family, come first.
This week I am grateful for my family. I’m so grateful that I’m willing to pause with them, take a deep look at our lives and the calendar and get out the whiteout.