I’m half way through Brigid Schulte’s excellent new book, Overwhelmed: Love, Work and Play when No One has the Time. She chronicles research that shows how we as a society face insurmountable social, political, and cultural barriers to making time for leisure. This is like the icing on the cake of the “women can’t have it all” articles I’ve read – and even written – in the national dialogue of why it’s so darn hard for working parents to raise kids in America today.
Then I read a New York Times Motherlode blog post that is a bit critical of Overwhelmed. The author says that being busy and overwhelmed is a state of mind. I stand my ground with Brigid (full disclosure: she’s a friend of mine). Yet, I think this author is on to something: we can control what goes on in our minds when we start down the path of overscheduling, rushing around, and feeling overwhelmed.
So while I will continue to advocate alongside with Brigid and millions of other parents for better societal supports, I tried an experiment today. Are you ready?
The idea came to me on Sunday. We spent the morning at the National Zoo, and upon driving by the tidal basin on the way home to see if the cherry blossoms were out, an idea dawned: What if I took my daughter to see the blossoms in full bloom later this week? I didn’t want to go on the weekend when it was crazy. An early morning trip would be the least busy there. It would be a nice change after the juggernaut that seems to have been going since her birthday last month, on the heels of snow days and work deadlines.
Looking at my calendar, it seemed that I could do Wednesday morning. I had a client call at 1pm, but I thought if I got on the train at 8am, we could be back by then and not rush.
I planned out when I would respond to work before Wednesday morning and after. On Tuesday night, I filled a backpack with snacks, gear and my camera. I declined a request to schedule a work call for Wednesday morning.
This morning came, and my daughter was excited. I was excited, too, and I had more patience as the morning routine unfolded. This was going to be fun. Off we went!
Get this: I had to try really hard not to talk about time and say things like, “Come on, we need to hurry up.” I stopped to let her pick up magnolia petals. I joined her. I planned for bathroom breaks and didn’t get annoyed that it was how I was spending my time. I tried not to speed walk in front of her as we made our way down Constitution Avenue.
We held hands and swung arms. We ran. We pronounced words like magnolia and forsythia and counted their syllables.
I checked my phone, but only to see the time (I have yet to replace my watch battery that died last month). I did not check my email on the phone – came really close one time (in the bathroom). I did send pictures of her to dad, grandmas and auntie – I love pictures and couldn’t resist sharing.
After arriving home and eating lunch, she did watch a DVD as I took that 1pm phone call. I then tidied up the house just a little, putting away the arts and crafts that have taken over our living room. I also had a repair call for the house and then managed the landscapers who are doing major work in our yard to create a forthcoming kick-ass children’s garden. But, I was moving from event to event, not the usual muti-tasking in a haze of motion.
Then we went back outside. We opened up a new softball and bat set (she hit it several times)! We tried out Spiderman roller skates – the kind that go on over the shoes – and laughed as she tried in vein to stand up only to continuously fall down in my arms.
We picked up her baby brother at 5:00pm from childcare. Through the day I had felt a twinge of guilt for not including him in the fun. At the same time, it was a bit of a relief to only focus on one child, who was not an infant demanding so much of me. And, I figured he and I will have our day on Friday when he was home with me and my daughter is in school.
At 6:50pm, I was dozing on the couch.
So I mostly did it: I focused on leisure. And when I needed to focus on the drudgery of life and household, I only worked on that. I wasn’t doing seven things at once, which Brigid reports is the maximum number of tasks the human brain can perform.
Can I do it every day? Perhaps if no one is sick or something doesn’t break or I’ve already got dinner planned. I can keep trying.
It was a wonderful day, and I hope that in her four-year-old mind, my daughter remembers the events and feelings of cherry blossoms and laughter and freedom.