Off the Hamster Wheel
After I had my first son, my life was scheduled as it had never been scheduled before. Every three hours I would nurse him, but since I had trouble getting enough milk into him that way, each session was also followed by a bottle of pumped milk, a bottle of formula, and then another pumping session. And of course, as soon as we’d finished one cycle it seemed time to begin the next one.
We were both exhausted and, well, failing to thrive. It was like we were on some kind of gigantic hamster wheel, always running to get to the next thing. Once we got there, we immediately started running to the next. This scheduling was extreme, but it was necessary to get my baby up to full strength, and, best of all, it was temporary. Once he was up to a normal weight, we were able to leave it behind. Neither of us missed it.
But even afterward, I realized I was still operating under the same kind of mindset. No, our schedule wasn’t as rigid, but I was always planning ahead for the next step of the operation. It’s breakfast time. Eat because we have to get dressed! Get dressed because we have to go to baby class! Finish baby class so we can get home for nap! Get nap started so I can have writing time! Hurry, hurry through writing before the baby wakes up! Get ready so we can go to the park! Finish up at the park so we can get home so I can make dinner! And on and on…We were still on that hamster wheel, still always urgently moving forward to the next item on the agenda.
It wasn’t my schedule that was the problem. It was the fact that during every activity we engaged in, my mind was already on the next one.
This mindset (and its limitations) became very clear to me one day when we had just arrived at the park and as usual, I was already thinking about when we should leave to go home. I dug around in my diaper bag for my cell phone (my timepiece) and realized I’d forgotten it. There was no clock at the park. Sadly, my first instinct was to walk straight home and get my phone. . . so I would know what time we needed to leave the park. That seemed stupid, even to me.
Then I took a look at my son. Not only did he have no idea what time it was (or probably even what time meant), he was certainly not looking ahead to the next thing. He was right here in the moment, sliding down that slide for all he was worth. When had been the last time I’d so completely lost myself in something? Without a to do list running through my head or at least a stray thought about the next load of laundry? I couldn’t even remember.
I made a decision then. Who cared what time it was, really? Dinner could wait. We could hang out here until it got dark if we wanted to. We could eat cereal for dinner if we had to. For right now, the most important thing was to play with my son.
I still remember what a delicious feeling it was to let go of the schedule for that afternoon. The sense of freedom. I remember how the sun slanted across the leaves of the park’s trees, how its rays felt on my skin. The feeling of exhilaration as we rode in the swing together and flew through the sky. I was in the moment at last.
When I think back to that day, I often remember Jesus’ saying from the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25, NRSV). Jesus goes on to say that if we strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all else will be provided for us.
This passage is about trusting God, and I was so busy trying to control and plan that I certainly wasn’t doing that. Nor was I appreciating the remarkable world God had made, the life God had given me, or the beautiful child God had entrusted to me.
Since that day, practice of being in the moment has been a preoccupation of mine. I can’t toss the schedule completely by the wayside, of course, but I try to ask myself frequently: Am I truly here with my kids? I succeed best when we are reading books together (something we all three love to do); or when we are in the yard, playing or sitting or looking up at the sky; or when we are praying together or rocking before bed. Something about these particular occupations helps me let go of all the stuff I carry around with me.
Large blocks of free time help too. Most of all, my boys remind me to enjoy the moment. They remind me with their actions, when I notice how completely and beautifully absorbed they become in what they are doing.
Living in the moment–it sounds so obvious, so trite. So … easy. But it’s not easy for me. It often surprises me how hard it is, to just be in the moment. After all, surely it came as effortlessly to me once as does to my boys. I have years of practice to undo, I suppose.
But I do give myself one gift. When I remember or am reminded, I try not to waste time being mad at myself for not doing it. After all, that’s wasting time being in the past. Instead, I just try again right then to pay attention to what is going on at that moment. And keep trying.