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Last week as I walked Wally to the bus Wednesday morning I remembered it was Earth Day and thought--oh no!--I didn't do anything like even plant a bean sprout thing in a cup or water or collect acorns. Wally said we could make some kind of crazy mud dessert with pudding and Oreos and gummy worms it sounded fun maybe--for him--but I pictured myself scrambling through CVS and Gristedes to pick up the stuff--when? After work/before the bus? Arriving out of breath to pick him up, laden down with stuff I bought for Earth Day - seems a bit counterintuitive or at least counterproductive. No no. Not buying stuff for Earth Day and not making some goppy awful dessert that I'll likely end up eating by myself. I didn't want to make Wally feel bad for the idea, but quickly substituted the idea of going to work on the garden straight after school instead.
Dropped off Wally. Home then down to Soho to drop Petra. Up to work at Lincoln Center. Then racing back to meet Wally off the bus and by then it was raining so we went straight home. I had a school event I had to leave for in a couple hours and Alex would be home soon with Petra so Wally, which meant Wally and I only had a little bit of time to do a project before Petra would come in and wreck it.
I brought some paper and crayons into the kitchen and put the kettle on and thought--okay, while Wally's drawing I can figure out a real Earth Day project. I'll dig through various activity books and magazines so we can build a sun-catcher out of recycled plastic bottles at least read some springtime poems but I caught myself just in time racing down the hall to being my frantic foraging. Instead I forced myself to sit down at the table with Wally in the cozy kitchen and draw a bad picture of the earth and the moon and he did the same (his was better than mine and even had a key). It was quiet in the dark kitchen with the rain outside and the sound of the water heating up and the crayons on the page and I felt so very much there and not not there (racing, frantic, rummaging in the other room). I accepted the perfect as the enemy of the good. I didn't even get up to put earth day songs on the radio. I just stayed. At. The. Table. There for the little time we had. Then we hung the pictures on the door -- Wally's still young enough to be excited by just that alone -- pictures that his Dad will see when he gets home from work. How many years longer will that be a minor thrill for him? Maybe one if we're lucky.
I saw this, too, and I've tried to accept its challenge for years (remember Tim Kreider with "The Busy Trap" from 2012?) with varying degrees of success. I find myself sometimes or often forgetting that I am firmly in the "Busyness we control" category, and growing almost irritated when I do. I find myself saying about classmates of mine: "They have no idea how hard it is to squeeze in all my coursework in the evenings! They can hunker down in the library all Saturday and Sunday!" Or about the other parents on the playground: "They have no idea how hard it is! Tonight they're going to put their kids to bed and watch Game of Thrones drinking wine while I have to write a paper about an obscure 16th-century play I can barely read! Ludicrous, I know. And I quickly remind myself that I chose this lifestyle which is--I think objectively?--really a bit over-the-top busy. I chose to take Thoreau's challenge to examine my life and I have found it life-affirming and life-changing and exhausting and great.
Very little steps for me, trying to climb out of that busy trap. You can do a lot, pack a lot in, without being one of those frantic crazy busy people whose answer to everyone's "How are you?" has something to do with how overwhelming life is as if you didn't choose to be whelmed (submerged; engulfed..it's actually a word, even without the "over"). Forget coloring tongue depressors green and cutting out construction paper flowers. I envy other mothers those impressive projects sometimes. But for me, right now, that would be a distraction. I have to know where I am and try as hard as I can to be there.