Monday, May 23, 2016

What I've Lost by Being Too Busy

Now there's nothing special about my personal brand of busy-ness. Many people I know have their days over-stuffed like a closet in a kid's room - bits and pieces sticking out, not sure what's actually in there anymore, and hard to close every night. 
What I want to share is my experience of being busy, and what it has stolen from me, this year alone.

You must first know that when I am presented with an uninterrupted stretch of time, I feel a bit deliriously happy for a few seconds, until the guilt and panic descend. I go through a frantic list in my head of the places I'm possibly supposed to be - school event? Lesson? Driving one of the kids to something? Meeting? At NASA or the UN solving an insurmountable problem? 

Once the heart rate slows, the guilt takes over. If I was a proper human being, if I had any sort of drive or ambition at all, I would be using every bit of time to improve the world. If I have a rare morning to sleep in I count the calories I would have burned if I got up earlier and did a workout. It's very hard to watch a movie without writhing in self-loathing and has become impossible to sit down and enjoy a book. I just flip pages or "work" at reading with a furrowed brow, fight or flight written all over my face.

I could go on, though obviously my point is that this is no way to live. It's simply not sustainable in the long run. I strongly believe this in theory. 
In practice however, what should I have taken out? 

To give some context, this what I do. Weekdays. 

6:25 alarm.
Coffee, hopefully exercise (cough - about half the time - cough), get ready for work, get kids out the door with me, assorted forms signed and lunches and gym strip and barely averted crises...brings us to...

8:30 Work in preschool or doing speech with elementary, alternate days. 

12:00 Eat lunch quick at home or while driving to neighbouring town (temporary elementary location during large-scale renovation of school)

12:25 Work in Grade 2 classroom. Not even going to go into it. 

3:25 Pick up kids from school or go to Arts Academy to teach voice/piano lessons.

5:30 Run into grocery store to find supper ingredients or supplement said ingredients. May buy lunch stuff. May have to run to drug store. Bank? Post Office?

6:30 Supper

Clean-up, laundry, kids here and there at lessons/sports/bible study/practices you-get-the-picture.

8:00 Couch is calling me like a long lost love ...
Honestly can't remember what usually happens about now...
Oh yeah I go for a walk quite often. 
Help kids with homework.
Family stuff. 
Hang up clothes to dry. 

11:00 pm Cajole kids to go to bed...remind them of the suffering and tragedy that was getting out of bed this morning. Limited response. 

    *      *       *
This is probably a pretty typical day for most people; I'm definitely not claiming special "busy status"!  

Throw in recitals, worship team practice, shopping, cleaning, committees and meetings. Some people might thrive on this. Not me. It feels like an extremely slow, agonizing death. Why is that? 

What does it cost to keep this up? 
In no particular order:

1) Creativity. When I do have time I don't have the heart to make things. Things like music, stories, baking, singing. This feels like a loss because time races by, year after year, and there was so much I dreamt of creating. 

2) Time with friends. I have a few wonderful friends, and family that I call friends. I'd like to spend quality time with them. Not quick texts to see if they are still alive and kicking, but actual visits, sit-down, tea and coffee, soul-to-soul time.

3) Being there for my kids. I miss track meets, being a parent helper or driver. I have to hear about it all afterward. Wondering if they have a water bottle or enough change for supper on the trips home. Of course it would be odd to be at EVERYTHING (and a helicopter parent I don't want to be) but once in a while? Yes. How many times do I get texts while I'm trying to teach lessons? "Mom, ....?" I don't even care that it's unprofessional, I leave my phone on and have a quick peek to see if it's emergency-worthy. Nope, all is well. "Okay, let's hear that piece again, from the top...1234..."

4) Being available. After awhile, people stop asking you things because they know you're too busy. Which, if we're being honest, can be good and bad...

5) Good Food. Let's face facts. I haven't cooked an interesting meal in a coon's age, whatever that is.  I want to - I can't do it. What should we have for supper? Whatever I can pull together fast. Dylan has been cooking more these days, and hey, he's been far more creative than I have. Thanks man. 

6) Health. Hi, I'm stressed and strung-out. I live on B-vitamins and Advil. True story. You'd think I'd be skinny by now. Nope. People tell me all the time that I look tired. Or that I look like I'm limping. "Yeah, I've been shot....just haven't had a chance to see the doctor yet." 
Am I tired? Did I sleep? These are what people call Rhetorical Questions.

7) Enjoying life. I've lost much of the ability to enjoy simple things in life. Books, listening to music, beauty, nature. When your mind is too busy everything is like noise. 
When I do get to go to bed I can't sleep. 
When I talk to someone I stress about what I said and if I said it right or if I'm messing everything up.
I drive too fast. 
I can't stand people doing things slowly. Almost came unglued on an elderly driver in a construction zone, and waiting in line at the drugstore is a special kind of torture. 

What's wrong with me? I'm afraid of slowing down because I might go off the rails. I crave silence but when I finally have it - it's deafening. 
Why am I telling this to you, my friends and the world at large?
Well I'm trying to come to some decisions about what I will do and what I won't do. But I think my decision maker thingy is broken. 
One of the biggest pieces that go missing, gradually, through being too busy, is identity. My identity is what I do. If I am not doing, I cease to be. Can I handle that vacuous unknown? Every label I remove leaves less of me. Please, leave on all the labels so I don't disappear. 

I want to live braver than that. 
Here's to being my actual self. 
Here's to freedom, as always. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

For My Son on his 13th Birthday

Hi Keegan, 

You are the light of my life, you know. 
From the moment I hung a blue sleeper on the front door for your dad to see as he came home, till the day you were born, I anticipated getting to know you.

Dad named you Keegan, which means Fiery One. I thought it was a mistake, as you lay quietly and gently in your bassinet or on the bed, looking calmly around, so still and small...but then week three came, and I think you had caught up on being born a bit early. All hell broke loose. By that I mean - you began to assert yourself on a regular basis, and to argue your point of view - kind of like a bear does in a trap.
You were still sweet. With your small thumb jammed in your mouth, and your curly, soft blonde hair, your wide and expressive brown eyes, and your strong, fat toddler legs carrying you all around with your blankie. 

But oh were you loud!!! 
I could tell my days as boss were numbered, unless I grew an iron will to match your own. 

Over the years we've had a lot of fun. Wagon rides to the park, dancing around the house to music, dressing up in odd costumes, snuggling on the couch. Watching episode after episode of Bob the Builder...and later, Scooby-Doo. 

Jumping off the deck into the snowdrifts. Jumping on the trampoline. Playing with batches of kittens. Saying goodbye to kittens when we had found them a home.  Watching you and Lauren swing on the swings, ride bikes, and chase each other around the yard, Cinder the dog hot at your heels.  Running through the sprinkler. The first time you climbed the big rock. The first time you jumped off. Teaching you to mow the grass. 

Our mother/son camping at Wilmore. Eating s'mores until we felt sick, and reading comics by flashlight. Watching the river dance with sunlit waves. 

Dragging you to school in the morning when I taught preschool, and later high school, and then dragging you away from your fun and your friends so we could finally go home. 

One thing you've had to deal with is being misunderstood. By me, by some teachers and family members. You never try to please people - you just are who you are. And you get very very focused on whatever it is you are doing. 
You've had harsh words thrown at you. You've been yelled at by well-meaning but exasperated teachers. Every time I saw you sitting out in the hallway, waiting to find out what rule you broke this time, my heart broke a little. Actually it broke a lot. 
You have always been very forgiving. I hope you continue to be. I think you will need to. 

(Grade 3)

I just love you so much. You are highly brilliant, smart and quick with your wit. You are hilarious and it's so tough to stay mad at you when I'm laughing. Like today, when you said, "maybe when I
become a teenager I'll finally get some respect around here." LOL

I'm incredibly proud of you. My computer whizz. Gamer extraordinaire. I don't quite understand your world a lot of the time, but I see how talented you are. I like that you always take time to help others with their technological woes. And you never act like you are better than anyone; you simply do what they need you to do. 

Today, on your 13th birthday, I'm talking about your strengths. I've already spent too much of our time on this planet telling you your weaknesses. I'm sorry for that. 

I pray for strength and courage for you this year as you face more challenges of growing up. I pray that you refuse to compromise. I pray that you practice putting others before yourself. I pray you stand strong and bold before all of the sick corruption of this world we live in. I know I can't protect you from everything. My great hope is you learn to protect yourself - by raising your shield, putting up the gloves, speaking out - whatever it takes. 

I feel sad that your childhood is drawing to a close. But I won't dwell on it. I know good things are coming. At 2 pm today, March 30, you will officially enter the teen years. You are going to be the smartest, kindest, funniest teenager I know. 

Happy Birthday, Keegan!
We all love you like crazy. Remember, we are your family and we've got your back. 
Hope this is one of your best years ever.
Love always and always, 

John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. 
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Breakfast Guy

Recently I've been inspired to write more in this blog. I have quite a few stories to share, and if I wait too long I will forget them all. 
Part of the reason I write reluctantly is that stories, if messed up in the writing, never seem to go back to their original poignant place in my mind. So in order not to do harm, I do no good. 

Basically I've been taking myself too seriously and just need to get on with it. 

A couple of Septembers ago I had the fun and joy of heading off to a two day Writer's Conference in Edmonton. It was fabulous - I had a hotel room to myself, I was surrounded by like-minded people, and there were books and poetry and learning hour upon hour. 
I didn't really know anyone but that was fine; I chatted and got to know a few interesting people here and there, and I like solitude when I can find it. 
The conference was a bit crowded, people-wise. Tables were put together and there was lots of walking sideways between chairs and saying, "Excuse me, sorry, can I get by here", which made lunch time rather entertaining. For breakfast we were on our own, and some went out but most stayed in the hotel and ate at the little restaurant downstairs.
The second morning I slept late, and found myself fairly alone, standing outside the restaurant with a few stragglers coming in or going out. A table of about six writers conversed seriously over a second or third coffee, picking through the remains of an earlier feast.
The waiter was a trifle harried and glanced at me sideways as if to say, "great, we've got another one wanting a rush order," but he sat me down at a table on the side, big enough for two, and poured me that first grateful coffee. I decided on the continental buffet. Might as well save him some stress. 

Facing the lobby area, I noticed a guy in his early 30's, dressed in dark coloured working clothes and construction boots, heading toward the restaurant. He approached confidently, but became hesitant as the waiter pointed out the lack of tables. There was absolutely nowhere to sit. He looked perplexed, blinked a few times around, said something again to the waiter, and then slowly turned toward the door. He had the reluctant stance of someone with nowhere else to go. The waiter was very apologetic. 
It happened much faster than the time it takes to relate, but I did think it over. "What would people think?" flashed through my head for 3 seconds, after which I raised my hand and called the guy over. 
"Excuse me, would you like to sit here?"
 I gestured to the empty seat in front of me. 
"I'll be gone soon", I added to convince him. Honestly I thought he would probably decline. Come in and sit down with a total stranger? Eat breakfast with said stranger? Who does this! The woman might have a screw loose. 

The key to doing crazy and interesting things is to think much more about how another person feels and much less about how you feel.

As he walked over and took the chair opposite, thanking me sincerely but not profusely, I thought, "This is going to be fine. As long as he doesn't think I'm hitting on him. Or even if he does, really." 
I took great care to be matter-of-fact. I kept the conversation light. I told him about the writers conference, and he ordered a large egg-and-bacon-filled breakfast. We kept talking.
 He had been married only a couple of years, working hard, and thinking about having kids. Or one, anyway, they would start with that and see. I agreed, one baby at a time was the way to go, if at all possible. He had a dog, a German shepherd I think, that he was very attached to, which was either with him during a stint in Afghanistan or waited for him at home - I can't quite recall. I told him about my kids and my husband, about our recent move to Three Hills, about missing the forests and working at whatever I could find, though I was a teacher by training. 
We munched our food. My fruit and raspberry muffin, his toast piled high with jam alongside dripping eggs and bacon, sausages, orange juice, the works. He was making short work of his meal.
It was funnily companionable, and I glanced around wondering if anyone had noticed this unlikely breakfasting. If they had, they probably thought nothing of it. Just two people eating. 

Later, after he had left, I thought about it. The invitation probably wouldn't have worked with just anyone. Having spent some time overseas, he would have known how to talk to strangers, how to be calm and make himself understood. He was confident but not brash. On the other side, me, who has always felt pretty comfortable meeting new people and being in new situations. It could have been awkward, or downright strange, or even slightly creepy, but it wasn't. 

He finished up, and I went back to the buffet for a few more strawberries. Or something. When I came back, he had paid and was going to savour a last cup of coffee. I learned that he was working at a construction site close by, and stopped here for breakfast almost every weekday morning. He said it kept him going all day, as he liked to work straight through. I asked a bit about the work, what they were building. We chatted pleasantly for a few more minutes.
He had to get going, though, he was expected to start work at 9 am. 

The Breakfast Guy did tell me his name, but I've since forgotten and anyway wouldn't share it, obviously. He stood up and thanked me again. Said he wouldn't have had time to find food anywhere else and would have had a miserable and hungry morning, and he was grateful. I said think nothing of it. Why should I sit here, hogging an entire table? It was lovely, I said, and I hoped he would have a good day. We said goodbye. 
When the waiter came closer I asked for the bill. The first session of the day had undoubtedly begun and I should get in there. The waiter told me that the gentleman had paid my bill, and my eyes watered suddenly. He must have done it when I was at the buffet! How very nice. I supposed we were even, now. I smiled. 
I didn't feel like leaving the table, the moment, for some reason. As soon as I stood, and plates cleared - his messy egg and hash brown dishes, my small plates of crumbs,  two empty coffee cups - the story would be over and everything tame and sane once more. 

I walked into the conference and sat quietly, listening to the speaker. I felt a bit outside of things.  No one knew about my breakfast story, that a complete stranger had become a friend. I felt warm inside, like my heart was really in there. I thought of how amazing people and life can sometimes be. If you see them, that is, and invite them to sit at your table.