Leave Margins

_MG_4804 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.  

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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.

If I Wasn’t a God-Fearing Woman…

There would be words said.  Oh yes.  And the world is a better place for the lack of their utterance when they are so nearly provoked.  But here’s a glimpse into what I would like to say.

Stranger:  (Looks at four children and my protruding pregnant belly, then at my husband with a look of horror)  “CUT IT OFF MAN!  GET IT SNIPPED!  HA-HA!”


Stranger:  “Wow!  It looks like you have your hands full!”  (shakes head in wonderment)

Me:  “Wow!  It looks like you have your pants full!  Didn’t you know jeggings are unflattering on most everybody?”  (shakes head in wonderment)

Stranger:  “Is this a planned pregnancy?”

Me:  “Did you plan that outfit?”

Stranger:  “Wow…four…don’t you know what causes that?”

Me:  “No, because, despite my modern appearance, I am actually a cavewoman.”

Stranger:  “Better you than me.”

Me:  “Obviously.”

Stranger:  “This is the last one, right?”

Me:  “This is the last time you rudely intrude on a stranger’s personal life, right?”

Stranger:  “Are you done now?”

Me:  “Am I a turkey?”

Stranger:  “There’s an operation for that, you know.”

Me:  “There’s a plastic surgeon for that, you know.”  (points to their nose)

Stranger:  (stares at the lot of us)

Me:  (crosses my eyes and sticks my tongue out)

Stranger:  “You have a beautiful family.”

Me:  “You have a beautiful soul.  Thanks for not being a judgmental meanie-pants.  Thanks for acknowledging children’s worth and right to be around.  Are you a hugger, because I sort of want to hug you.”  (awkward silence)

There…I’ve said the words that crawl up my throat and I swallow back down with regularity.  I’m glad I didn’t say them to the precious precocious individuals who offered me unsolicited advice about my family and our way of doing life.  Because people really do deserve the grace of polite smiles and forbearance.  Because I say the wrong things too.  Regularly.


Don’t You Know What Causes That?

It’s the first of June and I can smell summer.  Henrik is just below me, sitting in a basket of Lincoln Logs, industriously and determinedly throwing them out onto the floor.  He’s too young to have the weight of consequence bothering him; no idea that messes made mean messes that need cleaned up by the mess maker.  He pants with exertion as his chubby fists fling another handful of logs.

It’s strange, the variety of reactions you get from people when you share that you’re having your fifth child.  I’m sure you can imagine the tenor of the remarks.  Head shaking.  Eyes rolling.  Eyebrows lifting in silent disapproval.  Laughter.  “Better you than me!”, “Don’t you know what causes that?!”, “Oops?!”, or the perennial, “You guys are nuts”.  Some think we are carelessly making a gigantic mess, like Henri flinging Lincoln Logs.  I think the most cutting remark I’ve heard has been when my children were acting up one day and it was whispered, “And you want more children?”.  They laughed, I didn’t.

silence2 Then there’s my favorite response, “Oh, that’s wonderful.  I grew up in a big family and my siblings and I are so close.  There was always someone to play with.  We made such great memories together, and even though we didn’t have as much as our friends did, we had each other”.

As I write, Reuben is out on the front walk singing Amazing Grace and punch-dancing.  I kid you not.  My life, and as you see, my writing, is peppered with humorous interruptions. And now Reuben is standing beside me with a strawberry from our patch, taking a bite, and dramatically exclaiming “SO JUICY!” while he swivels his hips in delight.  Back to my train of thought…

I make no claim that big families are better ones.  Not in the least.  Your decisions and/or physical limitations are your business, not mine.  Likewise, our decisions to have a big family are our business, not particularly yours.  Imagine me coming up to a small family and snorting derisively saying, “Don’t you know how to make kids?”.  When people make negative comments about the size of our family, I’m seriously tempted to call the children over, line them up before the commenter, and saying, “I’m sorry, which of these shouldn’t we have had?”

We all choose our chaos.  Really.  Some people with two kids are WAY busier than we are; schedules packed with cello lessons, rugby, clubs, and PTO meetings.  Some industriously set about making an ever-better version of themselves by striving to maximize their personal potential (marathons, French lessons, career advancement, plastic surgery, etc.).  Some immerse themselves in ministry.  Some faithfully keep up with a dozen tv shows each week.  We choose.

We chose wash lines full of diapers, always making at least a double batch of every recipe, NEEDING to garden and can in order not to empty our account at the grocery store, NEEDING to make most of our food from scratch to stretch our food budget, wearing secondhand clothing, sleepless nights with sick children, and, for me, having my body stretch out to gargantuan proportions every couple of years.  But this is not flinging Lincoln Logs across the floor heedlessly and carelessly.

We are building something.

Memories of boys jumping on our bed wearing underwear on their heads.  That first breathtaking look into each newborn face.  The wonder of seeing these chubby toddlers stretch up into leggy kids every time I blink.  Seeing Reuben holding open a door for an elderly couple with a huge proud grin on his face.  Sledding.  Hiking.  Walking streams together as the sun slants down.  Mother’s Day homemade cards with all their love coming out in crayon hearts and misspelled perfect words.

Henri 184 Gifts.

work8IMG_4615 Yes, we know what causes this.  Apparently we know very well.  Yes, it certainly does look like my hands are full, sir.  They are full of very, very good things.