This weekend — on the same day we returned from our vacation in Maine — author Tim Kreider published an article called “The ‘Busy’ Trap” in the New York Times. I read it as I mourned the loss of the sea and tides, the peaceful ebb and flow of our vacation. It didn’t take me long to be caught back up in schedules. In Kreider’s description of our culture of busyness, I saw my own reflection — an often-frenetic mom, wondering where the day has gone and if there’s something I can do about it.
In a style both lighthearted and incisive, Kreider argues that we are busy — crazy, frantic, mournfully busy — because we choose to be. Everybody’s doing it — rushing, multi-tasking, piling hours into stacks — and so we march along.
He’s not talking about ER doctors here, or single working moms juggling two days inside of one. No, he’s talking to those of us whose busyness is “purely self-imposed.” I sometimes take on trivial tasks like Atlas holding up the world. Sigh, I am so very, very busy. But do I have to be? Is there another option?
I’ve made a different path for my children, so I know that it is possible. Like Kreider and others of our approximate generation, I grew up with long blocks of unstructured time to fill in any way I chose. Today, I work hard to preserve that same space for my daughters. I don’t overschedule them with activities. They have their afternoons free — to create, or dream, or play. I believe that protecting those hours is one of my most sacred trusts.
So why do I withhold that same sweet grace from the mire of my own days? Kreider argues that our busyness is culturally reinforced, a sort of mob mentality where everyone just tags along. He writes that, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
Hmmmm. Granted, I am homeschooling two young girls and trying to make a career of writing as well. Of course, there’s always laundry. Dishes. The dog sheds all over the floors. But really? Do I have to be so frantic about it all?
Ultimately, I found my answer in Kreider’s description of himself as a writer who needs time to write: “It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.”
That same balance between immersion and separation is imperative in parenting as well. It’s hard to offer either love or discipline without getting on your knees, looking eye to eye. I have to sit down at the table and help them through their math, their spelling, their history lessons. But it’s also important to step away. To breathe. To be idle. Not only does that idleness restore me as a person, a parent, and a writer, but it also offers up a model to my girls. Do as I do. Be like this. Take time.
At the end of Kreider’s lovely essay, he says that on his deathbed, he will not regret the hours he spent in idleness. He’ll wish instead for more of them — to spend with friends and family, with the people that he loves.
When I next find myself feeling oh-so-very-busy, I hope I will remember where my true allegiance lies, the pieces of my life that deserve those hours of idleness — my children, my husband, my friends, my writing. With enough reminders, I might just climb out of the Busy Trap.
Are you caught inside the Busy Trap? How do you find the pathways out? I’d love to hear suggestions.