Busy Bodies

“It’s my busy day,” she said, “I have too many things to do.” Short-pants was referring to Thursdays, a long day for her. She gets out of school earlier than usual, but after a short break for a snack and homework, she has to run off to the conservatory for her viola lesson at 6:00 pm, followed by a music theory class from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. It’s not ideal, being schooled in the evening. But it’s the only class that fits with the rest of her schedule, unless we want to succumb to a Saturday obligation. And if she wants to continue with her viola at the conservatory, the theory class is obligatory.

Is this the curse of our time? To be always busy? To feel the burden of constant busy-ness, even at the tender age of ten? When I was her age I had only a little homework and all my extra-curricular activities were somehow incorporated into the school day, a factor of being enrolled in an American primary school during the ’70s. I don’t think I felt fatigued by my schedule. I remember having ample time to play, to read for pleasure, to watch television with my family in the evenings. Sure I had outside commitments; I took private piano lessons from a very young age. But even in high school, when I added several after-school activities, I wasn’t busy.

Does she get it from me? Is her awareness of the weight of her schedule a reflection of her own experience, or is she parroting what she hears me mumbling about to De-facto when my day gets hijacked by little errands and tasks that pop up and scream at me for immediate attention, thrusting me into the urgent but not important quadrant of time management. Some of this is my doing: trips to the beauty nurse are an interruption that I could eliminate, but for the consequences. But too often I feel utterly out of control of my daily itinerary, racing to do things I didn’t arrange for myself. I left the more structured, corporate job scene to get off the hamster wheel, but now I’m on another one, of my own making. Call it the hamster wheel of motherhood.

It seems to be my story, the busy one. And it’s dull. Yes, my days are packed with busy little things. Short-pants is out of cartridges for her stylo plume, or I have to organize her second attestation d’assurance. The girls’ ID cards must be procured at the prefecture, an ill-timed administrative errand that interrupts time I’d set aside to work, but was urgent enough – an upcoming voyage where they are required – to displace my schedule and requiring two trips to the prefecture. Buddy-roo needs a present for an upcoming birthday party, or there’s a note in her cahier that she needs something new for school, by tomorrow. There are a dozen tiny things like this on the list, none of them on their own particularly time consuming, but their accumulation and interruptive quality stun me. That long chunk of hours I’d set aside to work or write squeezes in on me like the narrowing walls of a horror movie, and then, just as I get in the groove of concentration, it’s time to go wait outside the school and bring the girls home.

I’m so tired of being busy. I’m tired of squeezing too much into too few hours. I’m tired of rushing through my life and feeling too busy to stop and linger or else feeling guilty when I do, for instance, linger after school drop-off for coffee with the other parents, or when I go to meet a friend for a drink instead of using those last child-free hours to finish my work, which is never finished.

I need to change something, because what I’m doing isn’t working. But what? What to remove (or possibly add) that will put me back in a more productive, efficient mode? Or in a stress-free mode? Or else this: what might inspire me to care less about the fact that it’s never all done, I’ll never be caught up, this unfinished head-just-above-water, life-in-constant-progress feeling will accompany me, probably, until my life is finished. One could even hope for that.

Buddy-roo’s angst about homework is somewhat diminished from last year. As she matures, her capacity to address the hefty assignment list improves. She’s even starting to understand the concept of working ahead on the weekend, so her after-school workload isn’t quite as crushing. But still, there’s always homework for her to do. The girls also have their chores around the house, the seeds of community service which we acknowledge with a modest allowance. But when we have to remind Buddy-roo to empty the silverware tray from dishwasher or to pull the empty toilet paper rolls from the bathroom and put them in the recycling, or to move her toys upstairs, she sighs with exasperation, “Everybody keeps telling me all these things I have to do, like homework and chores. I never have enough time to play.”

I know where this comes from. It’s her experience, and she’s repeating what she hears too often from me. I’m turning them – or letting them be turned – into human doings instead of human beings. We’re all running on our own little hamster-wheels, and I’m wondering – a lot – about how can we get off and just have some time to play.

9 Responses to “Busy Bodies”

  • Caroline Fraley Says:

    I get it, emotionally and mentally.

    Takes me back all these years when Arthur was below 12. After that age, everything got easier because he started needing me less as a chaperon – I was a single working mum for about 4 years. I still often resent sitting in a car outside the piano or saxo teacher’s house for half an hour or more – depending on the teacher’s fancy – and especially in the dark. And then I remind myself that Arthur and I have had the best and most difficult conversations in the car. There was a purpose in the moment.

    And then of course, there are expectations, from others and from my selves. The only way I survive them to this day is by asking myself whether each “mission” meets a need or a “want” or both. Still helps me today in making choices – with Arthur – that feel good and wise – to both of us.

    My feeling is also that it is our experience of time that has changed: in the Western, developed world time is “money” and should not be “wasted”. When I simply am, time is rarely part of the equation.

    Thank you for triggering the memories and the pondering.

  • Jeremy Says:

    There is probably, alas, no firm answer to your question, but it’s a good one. And children really truly do need time to play– how poignant to hear how your own child is all too aware of the problem. As for the adult side of the question, it’s worth remembering that many different spiritual teachers tell us that true freedom lies not in our circumstance but in our response to our circumstance. This quotation from Viktor Frankl can stand in for many others:

    “In between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

    And that is not to say that it is not a true and worthy intention/desire, to get off the hamster wheel. But perhaps our ability to step off it begins first and foremost in our recognition of the implicit freedom we have in our response, moment to moment and day to day. And so we begin less by seeking a change to the circumstances but a change in our response. Which may yet lead to the desired change? Don’t know. I’m making this up as I go along too– “this” meaning “my life.”

  • Amy Sparrow Says:

    ” Or this, what might inspire me to care less about the fact that it’s never all done…” This is what I am working on, for myself. Acceptance of the flow, of being, of just being and enjoying that as much as I can be in the moment. buddah breathes that put me HERE. But I’ve been also really wondeirng how people do that “staycation” thing. Remember that?

  • hpretty Says:

    “human doings instead of human beings”. Now that’s a statement.
    I feel anxious if i’m not doing 2/3/4 things at once. I am happiest at my busiest. I def get it from my mum, but i also have a theory that your body is used to a certain level of adrenalin, almost addicted to it. Maybe it even starts in the womb. One thing’s for sure – i don’t “do” relaxing. It’s not a great state of affairs, but lately i’ve started to see th epositives in it. How much I can achieve. I’ve also found a good spirit doe wonders to force you to wind done. ;<)


  • Amanda Says:

    My sweet Fin called to me from downstairs this morning, “Mom, do you know what I was just saying to myself? I was saying that I have to do all the things in this house.” Then she sighed. I think I whimpered. I neither want to set the example that the load should all be taken and then resented, nor be ashamed of the things she repeats from having heard me say them.

    Change is needed, I just need to acknowledge that it will not until I make a deliberate and lasting move.


  • Caroline Wampole Says:

    I think it is a dilemma of the modern age. There is so much more calling for our attention – internet being the biggest one – than ever before. Also, i think living in a city is just naturally more hyper than living in the country…The city’s energy is stimulating but also more tiring (and i KNOW how tiring it can be to run errands in Paris sometimes!!). I don’t have kids so can’t speak to that aspect, but i know how it is to have a lot of things on the to-do list which take up precious time and energy, away from creative stuff…I wonder if you could hire a personal assistant for one day a week, to do a swath of errands and chores – like a personal concierge – i bet you could get someone good in Paris to do that, there are so many expats looking to make an extra buck. Just a thought, i know it’s not a solution to the whole dilemma.

  • Caroline Wampole Says:

    meanwhile, here’s some vintage Kurt Vonnegut for you, to make fun of our busy selves:
    “We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do,
    What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must;
    Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
    Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.”

  • Anne-Marie Says:

    Apparently in the Tibetan tradition “Busy-ness” is considered the most extreme form of laziness. Because when you are busy you can turn your brain off. Some advice i once read – and i am pleased you have prompted me to remember it – was “learn how to invite space into your worklife”… I need to work on that!

  • Geraldine Says:

    I had a heavy workload in poor and highly competitive Ireland, piano, ballet and the whole shebang – don’t remember one whit of it and cant play a bloody note now on the piano. I remember though the days I pretended to be sick and went to work in the car with my father visiting the farmers. I remember the colour of the sky, I remember what our lunch tasted like and I remember the smell of his car still. I remember the sun shining through the trees up ahead on the road and me with my legs on the dashboard, the days before safety. I remember I was truly happy with my father and being alone with him telling the names of the birds and funny stories about the people we were about to meet so we would giggle when we got there. Take your children out of school for a few days and go off and play. Make up a story to the school, they are your children. but if you dont, just know they probably wont remember putting the toilet paper insert into the recycling. Courage to you and know the days are long but the years fly by. big kiss

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