Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Urgent, Important, and Bailing our Ships

I am sitting in a big red chair drinking a beer in North Carolina.  We've been here for a long weekend and will leave in the morning.

The girls are tumbling around the rug; ribs are in the oven; my mom is beginning to pack up.  

I almost called off the trip because before we left I realized we were going to miss ten things -- ten!  We were only going away for a long weekend!  They were things like the final soccer game and pizza party, a nursery school open house, BINGO night for 2nd grade, my Miriam's Kitchen writing group -- all things we would have done if we'd been home.

But then, I realized if I left, I wouldn't have to go to TEN things!!!

And that thought hit like a relief and felt worth driving 8-9 hours for.

Being away has been worth it -- brilliant red maple leaves spotting the floor of brown birch, hikes with Eden, the pond high and creek rushing, clouds settled between the mountains in the distance, the sound of rain on the roof, a house full of my mom and girls.  Yesterday I sat on the couch for hours (literally hours!!) and read a whole book while the girls played school in the basement.  I never ever do that.

During Maeve and Eden's school game, Eden, "Ms New," kept sending notes "home for the parents" to invite us to different activities: an open house, a learning hour, a book fair, an art show, a conference, a nature hike.  Each event had a precise start time (9:58AM...) and "came home" on a different color construction paper.  Finally, sitting on the couch, shuffling the stack of notices dictating all the activities about to begin, I had a rush of overwhelm -- it felt like life (she makes a convincing adult).  And then, looking at her 2nd grade teacher writing, I walked to the basement for my organized, in-depth parent-teacher conference where she presented me with a rainbow picture about my wonderful daughter. 

Being here has made me wonder about how to marry the ease of the mountains with the rush of the city. There must be a way...

Many years ago I read an essay called The Tyranny of the Urgent, which talked about how urgent things in life easily trump important things; for example, racing around doing errands and ticking them off the to-do list feels pressing whereas sitting on the floor and having a tea party with Maeve I can push off forever.

Recently, so many things have seemed urgent that I've felt unable to weigh what's important.  I haven't had a sustained conversation -- on phone or in person -- with my best friends for weeks.  I've found myself more often sitting in front of an open notebook page or calendar wondering how to structure my days, what needs to give, what I need to clear space for.  At least once a week I find myself longing to pause the world and spend a few days catching up, even just to do (or fold or put away) laundry (how utterly boring).  

Part of this fullness is having three young kids and no help.  I understand that reality.  Where is our village of co-family living, bonfire meals we all pitch in for, and lots of grandmothers and grandfathers who live in our huts?  That would help a lot.


It has taken me two days to write this, and now I am home.  I walked in to the house, with full road trip unload: bags of books and markers, full suitcase, dirty laundry, cooler, bag of groceries -- and dumped it all on the floor.  The table still held the stack of mail/papers/books I had to go through, and the pile of days and days laundry in the basement was unbearable. 

I woke up this morning early to a mad rush to make lunches, look presentable, and get to school for an early morning (not quite as interesting at Ms. New's) parent-teacher conference. 

Welcome home.

It was surprising how overwhelmed I instantly became.  Or more accurately, I felt a small frown settle between my eyes and stay there.  Every task felt a bit too much (and to be fair, I am on the brink of a sinus infection and energy is low, so overwhelm comes easily).  

I felt dazed and at 9:30 in the morning bought myself a Diet Dr. Pepper -- not my usual routine.

This morning, I made plans to go over to my sister's house to hang out with her, her three week old and toddler.  Looking around my house last night and the loads (six? seven?) of laundry that needed to be sorted, washed, folded, taken upstairs, I almost called her to cancel so I could "catch up" (an imaginary term in laundry).  

But then I remembered last winter when my brother was working endless hours and my sister-in-law (I call her my sister, but I see how that makes it look like my brother and sister are married) was in utter overwhelm.  How could I possibly go over and help or keep her company when I am hardly afloat myself?  I kept asking myself.  

But what I realized is that if our ships are sinking -- or foundering, really -- it's better to be up to our knees in water together than separately.  And today, I thankfully could see the important over the urgent, and went over to bail.  And Ben (the magical cleaning fairy that he is) made all the laundry go away.