Hanging on for Dear Life in the River of Busy
We’re all busy. I’m busy. You’re busy. Teens are busy with their own stuff. This is not a new phenomenon for most of us, but this year I find myself feeling more encompassed by “The Busy” than ever before, and in my mind, I’ve become one of those toddlers on a playground slide, arms and legs splayed to the edges, holding on for dear life to avoid going down too fast.
Recently my husband was given a promotion/extra title, which is exciting for all of the obvious reasons, though it did increase both his time and responsibilities at his job. And then—because that wasn’t enough—another position was unexpectedly vacated, and until a suitable replacement can be found, my husband is covering that job, as well. This is not to point out what a superhero he is (though he is), but to explain that my husband has never been one of those OMGSOBUSY people who is busy for the sake of busy, but for the past few months he has been swamped and legitimately busy beyond what any sane person would consider normal or healthy. He’s not home as much as I would like, and when he is home, he’s often still working. He’s not sleeping well, either. And due to his aforementioned superhero tendencies, I try to do everything I can to take stuff off his plate, but he refuses to let his work commitments interfere with our family needs—he insists on attending every school meeting, keeping up with stuff around the house, etc. I am really very fond of this guy, in case you can’t tell. But he’s too busy, and I worry.
My oldest is essentially one foot out the door as she glides down the hill of her last few months of high school, towards graduation. Rather than taking this time to slack off and relax, she seems to have doubled down on squeezing out the maximum number of high school experiences before she heads off on her next adventure. She’s rarely home, and when she is, she’s either got friends in tow or she’s hiding up in her room, decompressing. I can’t lie, I still nag a little (old habits die hard!), but for the most part she’s taking care of everything she needs to handle all on her own. We text a lot, as that’s the only reliable way to reach her even when she’s unwilling to descend the stairs. I miss her already, but I also know this is part of a necessary metamorphosis.
My youngest has entered a period of independence we never could’ve predicted, years ago. My role in advocating for him at school or nudging him towards new experiences is now minimal, at best. He does his work, he handles his challenges, he participates in ever-more-time-consuming activities, and when he’s done with all of that, he’s upstairs on his computer, gaming with friends. I periodically realize, with a fresh jolt of shock, that he’s only a year and a half away from leaving home. It feels surreal.
As for me, the joy and the curse of freelancing is that I set my own work schedule, for the most part, and any freelancer will tell you that it’s most often feast or famine, with very little in-between. I could be busy busy busy right alongside the rest of my family, right now, if I wanted to. But for the first time in a dozen years, I’ve chosen famine over feast (at least for my work schedule), because I feel like I need to make like an anchor rather than an accelerator. I mean, no one made me do this, and it’s not about traditional gender roles or expectations (patriarchy!) or anything. It’s mostly about me feeling like time is going too fast and the people I love best need some constants, whether they know it or not.
So I’m still working, of course, but I’m also cooking more. I’m pulling back on the number of “fend for yourself, I’m tired” dinner nights. I’m making sure everyone eats a good breakfast and I’m packing lunches and okay, instead of hassling various members of the household about leaving their laundry languishing in the washer or dryer, maybe I just finish the load and fold it for them. Part of me thinks this is letting my children, especially (I feel confident my husband knows how to take care of his own laundry…), shirk responsibilities, and I worry I’m enabling that behavior, but on the other hand, is it really so awful? I have the time, and sometimes they don’t, and I’m hard-pressed to find fault with the message that family helps each other out. And… it probably sounds silly, but there’s a kind of meditation in pairing socks, sautéing vegetables, etc. I’m not saying I’ve achieved it, but I do aspire to be a pillar of Zen in a rushing current.
At the same time, I will ask for specific chore help on those rare occasions I catch one of them in a spare moment, just to make sure everyone remembers that I’m not actually the only person in the house who knows how to vacuum or feed the dogs or unload the dishwasher. I find that there’s not a lot of pushback, probably because the requests are well-timed and it’s hard to say no to the person who finished your laundry for you. At various points every other member of the house has, in recent memory, taken on a chore before I even asked, just to be helpful. Weird!
Some nights the kids are only at the dinner table for 15 minutes before asking to be excused, and most weekends at least one of us is missing for large chunks of time, and some days—like yesterday—I find myself facing a human I love at 10:45 pm saying, “I feel like I haven’t seen you all day, today. Probably because I haven’t seen you all day, today.” And instead of an hour or two together, I have to keep it to two or three minutes (“Everything okay? I worry. You’d tell me if you needed me, right? Have a snack before you go to sleep, please.”) and pretend that’s enough.
I’ve gotten into the habit of adding “Nice to see you again!” to my morning goodbyes as they all run out the door, and we laugh because it’s ridiculous. We all live here together. But they’re all so busy, and I’m just over here trying to slow down time a little.
Photo source: Photodune.net