It’s the afternoon margin, that slice of time after the lunch dishes have been cleared away, the next load is humming in the wash, the babies are laid down to nap, and supper has yet to begin gathering momentum. Coffee, online reading, a bit of whole grain crisp bread spread with a heavy layer of butter. The indecisive light outside, not full-blast noon nor soft late afternoon, just a bit static.
My daughter stands behind me, plaiting my hair into braids and twists and buns of all imaginings. To look at her makes me yelp inside and sort of tremble; I can see a woman staring back at me from her luminous blue eyes, a woman where the child still is. She reads my words and says, “Oh my word, Mommy”.
I watched a documentary about tiny houses; the whole movement of people shedding their excess and moving into homes that fit on a pull-behind trailer, downsizing their lives to the bare minimum. It was both refreshing in regards to our culture’s rampant materialism and acquisitiveness, and at the same time rather narcissistic and selfish; when your home only fits you, well, there’s no room for others. It has no give, no margin. I’ve read of minimalists who only have enough plates, cups, chairs in their home as there are people who dwell within it. Hard to have anyone over for dinner.
This reductionism isn’t just applied to space and possessions, but to time as well. Day-timers with fifteen minute increments exist for a reason, for a particular type of busy person who really does run that tight of a life. These people are not the ones to call if your sitter doesn’t show or you need someone to talk to; your need wasn’t scheduled and would create havoc in their slim-fitted schedule.
Why is it that when I ask how someone is doing, most of the time their answer is some variant of “crazy busy”? Why is the first thing a new acquaintance says to me, when they’ve learned I have five children, “Wow, you must be busy!”?
People are born and married, and live and die, in the midst of an uproar so frantic that you would think they would go mad of it. -William Howells, 1907
And I think they are going mad of it. And the madness, I think, is only covered up by the filling and subjugating of the ordinary snatches of times of silence and introspection that used to be plentiful for us (standing in line at the grocery store, driving in the car, walking, sitting in waiting rooms, getting our hair cut). These are now triggers to reach for a smartphone, to fill that void ever-yawning and scary with mini bits of information, with noise and distraction.
I, mother of five, small business owner, blog writer, and housewife, am not busy. Now, I work throughout the hours of the day; I am far from lazy, but I am not flying about here and there, running this way and that, driving all over the place taking my kids to scads of activities. My life is full, not frenzied.
I submit some possible helps, if you find living life breathless and harried and margin-less isn’t your cup of tea:
1. Avoid time-stuffing. When you have unexpected waiting times (doctor’s running behind, the grocery store lines are long, the boss is late for a meeting, etc), instead of reaching for your phone, breathe. Really. Take big whopping inhalations and exhalations and think. Daydream.
2. Leave margin in each day and each week and each month. Have a line you draw in the proverbial sand, such as: (day) No more work after eight o’clock. (week) No more than three evenings a week for kids’ extracurricular activities. (month) At least one hike, ice cream date, or other family outing. For a day, that avoids chronic overworking, and sets aside time for hobbies that would otherwise fall prey to The List. For a week, that leaves four nights of unhurried dinners and plenty of margin for inviting a family over to eat or just enjoying one another. For a month, that ensures that those good intentions to do things together won’t be lost in the shuffle and hustle.
3. Give up the idols, whatever they may be, that demand the sacrifice of your family’s time and energy in gross disproportion. It is not normal, nor healthy, to lack regular dinners together, sitting down.
4. Say “no” when a optional activity demands the sacrifice of something that is more important.
5. Let your kids be kids. Don’t make their summer “productive” or be tempted to stuff it full. Don’t even, gasp, entertain them. That’s not your job, that’s the job of their imaginations, and today’s kids are suffering from major atrophy of that God-gifted resource.
Not a comprehensive list, to be sure, but a beginning place. Leave margin, oh dear one, slow down. Enjoy.