(don’t) get busy.

20140630_195931I was stuck in midair, on my way to a funeral I had prepared for my whole life but never thought would happen. (When someone lives that long, it’s like a trick; you just go on thinking she’s going to live forever.) It was the first time I had flown in years and the space was smaller than I remembered: a screen just inches from my face, and with each movement, I elbowed my neighbor. From my purse, I pulled what I thought was the most recent copy of The New Yorker because I had been anxious to read that article about John Green being a teen whisperer, but realized that I had grabbed the wrong issue when I left the house in a hurry and the dark that morning. So instead I flipped to a review of a new book (Overwhelmed Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time) concerning our culture’s obsession with busyness. And I have to admit that I identified with the content, the “busier than thou” attitude and “the glorification of busy”  that pervade our lives and Facebook feeds.  It’s everywhere.  And it’s true. We are too busy. We fill our time with to-dos and obligations and activities; in our calendars, there’s scarcely space to breathe.

too much busyness.I’ve been there (most people have, I think); I’ve picked my kids up at aftercare, pulled on their soccer shorts and shin guards and laced up their cleats on the school’s bathroom floor. My husband and I have met in parking lots, traded keys and kids. Then another costume change and on to the basketball court to round out a thirteen-hour day. We’ve performed ballet recitals with fevers and swollen glands, a Christmas show with strep throat. One night I completely forgot to give my daughter dinner before Girl Scouts. (Or was it First Communion practice?) And so we stopped at a 7-11 for some Combos. Yes. Combos.

I don’t glorify that kind of busy; I don’t even want it. But, sitting there, fastened to an airplane seat, unable to get up and go, I realized that I was guilty of a different kind of “busy.”

And here it is:  I am at rest when I am in motion.  It’s genetic, really.  A recessive trait that I have only seen in my maternal grandmother’s side.  But my mother got it, and nana.so did I.  It centers around an inability to sit still, an insistent urge to do and do.  For my grandmother, it was cleaning. When I was young, I assumed that she was a neat-freak. We joked about how much she loved to clean, the way she looked forward to the piles of laundry and the carpets in need of vacuuming. But that was never the case. It was the doing that she loved. The fingerprints on the mirror disappeared with a swipe of her paper toweled-palm. For my mother, it’s cooking. She thinks of what’s for dinner days before. She runs to the store to buy vegetables for the gazpacho. Then she runs back because she forgot the tomato juice. After the chopping and measuring, she stirs.  She stirs and stirs. (And she won’t let you stir, even if it’s your gazpacho. She’ll take the wooden spoon right from your hand.) The chilling overnight is torture for her.

For me, it’s working (which strikes me as a slightly less beneficial affliction than cleaning or cooking).  The writing kind of work, the lesson-planning kind of work, the grading-papers kind of work. I get up too early in the mornings to make my days longer, to make it all fit. In the evenings, after the kids are bathed and the day is almost done, I can’t watch a movie without doing something else.  As soon as my butt hits the couch, I pop back up to work on something.  (The World Cup is on while I type this. I-believed-that-we-would-win!)   When we finally sit together, my husband sometimes puts his hand on my leg not to be romantic but to stop me from moving.

one hundred years . . . It sounds funny, I know.  But lately, I feel like it’s not.  There are days I rush my toddler off to nap so that I can write, and I sometimes cringe when I hear that he’s awake. When my five-year-old asks me if I remember the story she’s recounting, I say, “yes,” even though I couldn’t have been listening with my mind in seven different places. When my eight-year-old goes through a month-long sleep disturbance pattern, I remind her almost nightly that I need to get up early and run.

Right.  Because guilt is going to help her sleep.

And, truly, I’m the one who’s guilty. Of pushing them aside to make the most of my minutes. Of not stopping to watch. Or to listen. Or to breathe.

At some level, we (both the busier-than-thous and the busybodies) have attached a sense of worth to all of this busyness.  Our lives have more value if we’re busier, if we’re utilizing every inch of every day. And what it comes down to, what all of this comes down to, I think, is a misinterpretation of “full.”  So I have to ask myself:  do I want my day to contain as much as possible, or possess a rich quality?

What struck me most about seeing my grandmother in her casket was her stillness.

Before she was two, my middle child earned the nickname “Janey Waney Wiggle Worm” from her teacher. She’s got it, too.

I don’t want her to have a calendar that’s full.  Or a day that’s full. I want her to have a life that’s full.

full.

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give me something to believe in

Santa.I went into this holiday season knowing that, probably, it would be the last year my oldest daughter believed in Santa Claus.  After all, the doubting had already started: But someone told me Santa is really just your parents. And, He can’t possibly be in Africa right now and here tonight.  And, Reindeer can’t actually fly, Mommy.

Until this year, her grandmother and I had disagreed about encouraging belief in things like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy (though my daughter is still fairly certain the two shared a cup of coffee in our living room last year); I didn’t see the harm in it, and perhaps she didn’t see the point.  Sure, eventually, we all find out that it’s not exactly as we thought. I can vividly recall sitting at the white cafeteria table in fourth grade with a girl named Tammy, who always wore a ribbon barette on each side of her natural part, forcing her head to resemble the handlebars of a small child’s bicycle with its plastic tassels blowing in the wind. She said, tilting her handlebar head, “I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.”  As far as I was concerned, there was no need for a spirit because Santa wasn’t dead.  (Did I mention that I was a very young fourth-grader?)

Sure, I was disappointed.  But there was no emotional scarring.  And I didn’t consider my parents to be liars.  And after reading this article, even my mother-in-law was convinced.

This face.

As a parent, I don’t always know what I’m doing (it’s only on rare occasions that I do know, it seems), but one thing I’m certain of is that there was something in my daughter’s face on Christmas Eve; her skin was so bright and white, as though it had been lit from somewhere inside. Her eyes were crisp and ready.

We came home after an evening of church and family and too much food. All three kids watched their messages from Santa (individually, my daughter said, just in case someone was on the naughty list — it wouldn’t be nice for the rest of us to know). They had opened the packages marked for December 24th, and donned this year’s pajamas for a picture in front of the tree. They put out the carrots and water, the cookies and milk.  I suggested leaving Santa a beer, but my oldest reminded me that he still had quite a bit of driving to do that night.

Shortly after we tucked them in, she came out of her bedroom and clung to the door frame.  She knew the rules:  no leaving the bedroom until it was light outside. “But Mommy,” she said.  “We forgot to put out the stockings.”  Her eyes were desperate. Please, they said. And almost, Just in case.

Stay this way.Maybe it’s that, sometimes, we forget she’s only seven. But she doesn’t. What I’ve learned about her, especially lately, is that she really enjoys being her age.  She likes being a kid, and maybe even a little kid. She’s in no rush to grow up.  Just the other day, during a quiet moment on the ride home, she said, “Second grade is going by so fast.”

She still holds my hand when she’s around a gaggle of giddy girls who can tell you the difference between the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S-4, and have some working knowledge of Harry from One Direction. I admit that I bought her a pair of skinny jeans last month, but only because they were no others in her size at TJ Maxx and her single pair at home was covered in paint, with holes in each of the knees.

She wants to grow up slowly.  And we’re okay with that.

So maybe, this year, she wanted to keep believing, and so she was only letting herself believe.  She was practicing her own “willing suspension of disbelief.”  Maybe she was believing for her siblings.  Or for me.

Or maybe because there’s so much about this world she isn’t ready to believe in.

Yes. This.

We drove to the beach on Christmas Day, to our favorite pocket of the county.  The kids built castles and stood knee-high in the Gulf of Mexico.  We rocked out to ZZ Top on the ride home ’cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.  That evening, we ordered General Tso’s chicken and Mu Shu pork and as we sat together, she said, “This is nice.” At the same time, I was thinking, This is what I believe in.

I’m going to wait for her to tell me that Santa isn’t real.  And, maybe, she never will.

stuck in the middle with you (a thank-you for sweet jane)

baby jane.

In recent weeks, as my toddler has begun his floor-kicking tantrums because he’s two (or because he’s now getting the molars I thought he already had), I have grown increasingly appreciative of my middle child.  And it’s not a favorite thing; I love them all the same.  It’s more of a time-out, a “Hey, thanks, Jane.  You could be making this so much worse.”

The middle child.  Sometimes I take her for granted. Sometimes I forget that she has only been here for four years, that her own toddler days weren’t so long ago. (Just this morning, I asked her to remind me to drop off the daycare check. Yes, a preK-er.)

eyes.  I, too, am a middle child, and so perhaps that’s why she makes so much sense to me. Of my three children, she is the most like me, in appearance and personality.  She says things like, “I want to climb a ladder to the sky so that I can kiss the moon.” She runs barefoot where she’s not supposed to (and inevitably steps on sand spurs or a fire ant mound). She makes funny faces for a laugh.  And hurts too much for others.

Maybe I expect so much from her because I sometimes forget that she is not me.

Or maybe it’s because her manner has always been milder.  She didn’t burst into this world, screaming until her body shook like her sister did.  Instead, she gave a little whimper on the scale, then fell asleep. There were no “terrible twos” (or threes), because oh, jane.  there just wasn’t time for that. She never took a black Sharpie to the beige couch cushions or poured gasoline on the floor of the garage. In fact, most of the time, she kind of does what she’s supposed to do, and apologizes when she doesn’t. She is a pleaser. And she wears her middleness remarkably well.

Once, she said she wanted to sit on a cloud.  “You can’t, Jane,” said her science-minded sister.  “Clouds are just water and air.”

Sometimes, I think she’s up against too much. She’s always had to do everything faster. Walking, potty-training, moving from the crib. We couldn’t carry her because our arms this girl.  were full of someone else; she’s been running to catch up since the day she was born. The truth is, I don’t remember much of Jane’s babyhood. It happened in the winter.  She got a virus from her sister and was hospitalized when she turned a week, and there were tangled wires stuck to her chest, IVs too big for her tiny hand, bars on the bed (I remember that part).  I remember, too, that she didn’t crawl, but scooted on her little butt across the floor.  Once, there was a neighborhood Christmas parade, and she fell asleep with her soft cheek against my shoulder.  I wished, momentarily, that she could stay that way forever.

Maybe even then, I knew.party girl.

Just the other day, Georgia said, “It must be hard for Jane because she doesn’t know who she is.  Is she a big kid?  Is she a little kid?  She doesn’t know.”

Maybe I don’t know, either. She is the in-between. Sometimes I scoop her up inside my arms and rock her back and forth.  She’s always been the most petite, the easiest to hold. She rests her head against my chest and closes her eyes, pretending to sleep like a baby. I imagine those lashes, that upturned nose on a much tinier face.  And then it seems not long ago. Other times I send her to the bathroom to potty-train her brother.  And I wonder where I was when her legs grew so long, when her face lost all of its babyness.

Maybe I was in the middle then, too.  Maybe I still am.

camping jane.So Jane, someday when you read this (I do realize that you can’t read just yet), please know that I was thanking you.  All along.