collecting stories,  the mothering arts

Pace yourself…


{{sometimes there is an advantage to being one’s own editor. I had written this entire series in rough draft form before beginning to post; I paused with the vacation so that I would not have to worry about technical aspects while I was gone. While on vacation, I realized I wanted to change this post entirely. Thank you for your patience!}}

Tired is a word that we bandy about with abandon, second only to the other four letter word, busy.

I am so exhausted. Things are just so busy. I’m so sick and tired of being sick and tired. 

And then we laugh. Weakly. Or that sort of half smile topped by eyes quietly edging with tears. We accept that it is a given. We all joke about it. We respond: I know, right? Sleep when we’re dead. More laughter.

Thing is, though- we’re dead tired. Bone be-numbed weary.

I’m here to tell you- stop laughing. This isn’t just some joke. Don’t make light of this. We are running scared, we are running crazy, we are running on fumes.

Our American culture is formed on an economy that never sleeps. Go, go, go, go. It has slipped into every aspect of American life to a point that we don’t recognize it for it’s un-naturalness. Everyone is on the wheel, everyone is spinning, this is the way life is….isn’t it?

Go the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise.

Go the garden, you perennially exhausted.

Find time.

Real time.

Plant a tomato. Observe all the work that goes into that plant. Observe the time it takes, observe the yield. Pick the worm, worry over the blight. Know that you are absolutely not in control and whatever comes of it is God’s good grace. And when it’s all done, for all your work, you only get four medium sized tomatoes, which are only this side of ugly. No food magazine props here.

Know how long it takes.

Know how long it takes.

As you slip into the grocery store, pick up that organic heirloom tomato in the bin, note the price, and have a revelation. You know now why it is so expensive. The resources. The time. The investment. You are paying for time. Real time. Not machinized, stream-lined, industrial, pesticide full, still-green, have to be sprayed with ethylene gas, ready in three weeks from seed to harvest tomatoes time.

We have become so disconnected from our real life that we forget real time.

I thought of this on the first morning of our camping vacation. This article edges into crazy-town, but I agree with what she had to say here:

It’s a life that keeps us far more in touch with the natural seasons, too. Much of modern technology has become a collection of magic black boxes: Push a button and light happens, push another button and heat happens, and so on. The systems that dominate people’s lives have become so opaque that few Americans have even the foggiest notion what makes most of the items they touch every day work — and trying to repair them would nullify the warranty.  The resources that went into making those items are treated as nothing more than a price tag to grumble about when the bills come due. Very few people actually watch those resources decreasing as they use them. It’s impossible to watch fuel disappearing when it’s burned in a power plant hundreds of miles away, and convenient to forget there’s a connection.

Sarah A. Chrisman, I Love the Victorian Era. So I Decided to Live It.

Peel back even one layer of our modern technology and you suddenly start to see glimpses of real time. Attach the propane gas to the stove, find the match, light the stove, set the percolator atop. Wait for ten to fifteen minutes for the coffee to perk. Same with your food. Collect all the dishes, walk them to the bath-house, clean each by hand with soap and water. There went an hour, maybe an hour and a half. The fire never starts at the click of a button. It requires a bit of midwifery and coaxing and patience- ten minutes, sometimes twenty. It takes time.

I think about this in mothering. The demands on our time are so diverse and vast that we often forget what each costs us. We do one thing barely well, toss it in the air to spin a plate, do another thing hardly well at all, toss it in the air to spin, do the next thing a bit better than the last two, toss it in the air, pull a baby climbing a bookshelf off, catch a plate that has stopped spinning, toss it again, and on and on. Sometimes those plates come down with a dreadful, heart-breaking crash. Sometimes we manage to keep them all spinning but we’re running exhausted from one plate to the other and we’re not really living- we’re just running. And in all that tossing and running, we forget what it is like to do something well, to completion.

Please don’t confuse me here- there are certain things we have to do all the time- the dishes, the laundry, the floors, wiping noses….I’m not saying that we only do the dishes and stand there and wait for the washer to stop spinning before moving on to the next. What I am asking is what happens when we start to slow down and do things with intention.

Two things begin to happen. One, you realize how long it actually takes to do something. When you slow down and fold clothing with intention, you realize that in order to do it well, you need a bit more time. Two, you begin to see things you did not see before. You notice where a knee is beginning to fray on a child’s jeans and make a mental note to fix it. You pick up your littlest’s dress and marvel at how fast she is growing, and you make a mental note to spend more time snuggling and reading together. Maybe you notice that your family just has too many clothes, and to make better use of their time and yours, you need to cut back and donate some clothes. The fact is, you are paying attention to something you’ve only previously rushed and ran through because isn’t that what everyone does?

If you’re like me, this intentional experience will teach you that you are just doing too much in too many areas. That your time is finite each day, and that the endless to-do list you carry around in your head is beyond unreasonable.

A quiet, intentional life is going to look different for each person, but I like how my husband says it: we live a considered life now. Our day is slower than many other persons in similar situations right now- it has to be at the moment because of our unique medical needs. At the same time, it is faster than others because of the unique choices we’ve made (like using paper plates). We have looked at every aspect of our day with intention and made choices that most closely reflect our needs. The paper plates go against my crunchy, earth-conserving, creation-honoring self, but for right now, I need the time that I would normally spend dealing with those dishes to spend intentional time with my children. Our evenings get pretty complicated with Josiah’s medical needs, and everyone needs to be all-hands-on-deck. There is a pretty constant evaluation of our choices against the needs of our family, and they shift as needed. The bottom line here is that we know what the needs are.

I used to think that the only way I could mother well was to learn to spin plates really well so that they wouldn’t crash. Now I have begun to realize that I can mother from a place that doesn’t toss plates in the first place. It isn’t easy, but it is necessary. I need to live in real time.

This post is the sixth in the series. Start the journey here.

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