I woke up this morning feeling like someone had pressed the fast-forward button on my life. I’m old enough to remember that pressing the “FF>>” button on the VCR made the movie speed forward at an unnatural pace. Now, we can just skip to the scene we want via digital technology, but I digress.
School starts again in 12 days and I’m feeling pressed on all sides. We have to shop for supplies. And groceries. The house is in a constant state of disorder made worse by kids deciding to do things on their own like make muffins for breakfast and orangeade for afternoon snack. The laundry is piling up and I have writing assignments I’ve been neglecting.
It felt like every person who needed something from me, both in my house and outside of it, decided to contact me all in one day and I literally screamed as loud as my voice could manage while standing in the mud room.
It’s too much. And I am not enough.
We’ve managed a mostly laid-back, steady pace this summer. We’ve squeezed in some fun outings. We’ve slept in and taken our time getting going in the mornings. We’ve unapologetically spent whole days at home. When our weeks have been too full, we’ve given ourselves permission to skip or say “no.”
We’ve long known that we cannot do it all every summer. When we make our list in late May, we remind ourselves that we will not cross everything off of it. This is a target, a goal, a wish list, not a mandatory to-do. I cannot do summer full-speed-ahead, even when the activities we plan are fun and good.
Maybe that’s why I was surprised to feel like life was revving its engine after a long idle. Maybe it’s because it feels like I’m in the passenger seat, needing to strap in and hold on as some unknown driver presses the accelerator and we speed off toward some destination not of my choosing.
This is not how I want to live life.
And yet some of these things I have chosen. Some of them I can control.
The school year brings its own kind of chaos, but order returns to my days. I function best with a schedule that is more or less predictable, so putting the kids on the bus at the same time every day and picking them 7 or so hours later works for me.
That time in between is both a blessing and a curse. I want to use it well, so I’ve begun planning how that time will look. Without a plan, I end up watching Netflix for a whole day and wondering why I can’t get anything done. (Judge me not.)
I notoriously over-schedule myself, though. I want to fill all the blocks of time because then I’ll at least look like I’ve been productive. Unlike this summer when I cannot measure productivity in anything other than jars of pickles canned or meals prepared and consumed. (Illustration: I just took a several minutes break from writing this post to help my kids finish making orangeade from scratch. My life.)
In the summer, I try to cut away all the extra I can because having two kids home all day is a full-time job. (And don’t let anyone tell you different. If people can make a living watching other people’s kids for a living, then I’ll forever believe that being a stay-at-home mom is a j-o-b.)
And the first thing to go in the summer is my writing because it feels like less of a job than being a mom is. It brings in almost no income. It is an art and therefore feels selfish. No one is my writing “boss” but me and if I’m not going to push me to work, then no one is.
I’ve managed to squeeze in more writing this summer than other summers, but it’s not been easy. (It shouldn’t be easy, really.) I have to choose it over other things and that is true whether it is summer, fall, winter or spring. (Also, can we take note of how often I am using the word “squeeze” in this post?)
It is a hard thing to describe to people, how me saying “yes” to my writing and “no” to other things like being part of a church committee or a school group or getting a “real” job is the best choice. It doesn’t make sense to me either but I know it is what I am meant to do.
Knowing and doing don’t always match up.
The faster life swirls around me, the slower I want to go.
My son has this habit of throwing himself on the ground if we try to hurry him along for any reason, which annoys me to no end but he comes by it honestly.
The more I am told to “do,” the more I want to “be.”
This is not a narrative our culture wants to claim. Even in church, the one place I want to take a breather and slow down, I feel pressure to do more and be more. I cannot keep up this pace for six days a week, let alone seven.
When I went to a writing retreat in June, I was confronted with just how busy my life was by the absence of busy-ness. Our schedule was so open I did not know what to do with myself. The weekend was slow, almost to a stop, and my mind could not handle it. I had to convince myself that pulling a lawn chair under a tree overlooking the mountains of Virginia was a perfectly good way to spend an hour. No one interrupted me. No one questioned my choice. It was the most relaxing hour of my summer, I think.
It reminded me of the one time I practiced yoga. I could feel my body resisting it from the beginning, as if to protest: “Sit here? For 30 minutes? No! We need to GO!” My muscles quivered and my brain tried to come up with any reason to get up and leave the room. It was hard work, telling my body to stop moving so fast, and by the time it was over, I was the most relaxed I had ever felt. (Why then have I not joined a yoga class? I, too, want to know the answer.)
Slow is not the coveted prize in our culture. (Try driving the speed limit or less and see how frustrated people get. I’m one of them.) Wherever we’re going, whatever we’re doing, we have to get there yesterday and once we’re there, we’re on to something else.
Where does it end?
I am not an expert on slowdown, nor do I welcome a forced stop (illness, injury, crisis) in my life.
But if I can choose fast, can I not also choose slow?
Note: I did not set out to write a series, but I’ve been thinking about a post on silence for a while. Today, I needed to write one about slowing down, if only to force myself to sit for longer than five minutes. Next, I’ll write that one about silence. That may be all there is to the series unless something else needs attention.