My spouse spent the weekend working, due to a crisis of near criminal proportions. But he carved out his time to play with the kids, enjoy a movie with me, and hit a decent round of golf. He controlled his time as best he could, but his mind was occupied by his work problem.
That preoccupation irritated him. It, coupled with the work itself, exhausted him. My husband would give anything to have energy. His level of work takes a lot from him.
So this morning when I read this blog post by Tim Kreider: The Busy Trap, it resonated with me, profoundly. Kreider writes “it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired.”
Exactly. I would never characterize my husband as “busy.” Busy is a comical understatement of what he is.
Kreider continues, describing those who are in fact busy: “It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ‘encouraged’ their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety… Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness…”
Now, unlike Kreider, I will not judge how anybody chooses to fill their time. In fact, I know a lot of people (mostly women) who like to keep busy, who get self-reportedly anxious when there is idle time, who’d rather not be home than home. I sometimes marvel at them, and wonder why I simply don’t feel like following suit.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t want to be a part of things unless I can clearly visualize the outcome of my specific contribution. I volunteered for a political campaign (he won!). I led or helped with some discrete projects for the PTA (I’m efficient and fast–other moms seemed to like that). I chaperoned some of the kids’ field trips (my daughter and son literally glowed at my presence. I loved that.). I write this blog, because people seem to like to read it.
I’m not sure if my kids are like me or if I’m teaching them to be like me. I try hard to figure out what they really enjoy and want to do before enrolling them in any extracurricular activity. As I am with my own activities, I don’t sign them up for the sake of participation alone. This means our summer so far is pretty unstructured, pretty “lazy,” perhaps, by some people’s measures. But our kids are happy. They have regular mealtimes, sleep 10 to 12 hours a night, they enjoy each other’s company.
And I have the time (and the inclination) to keep our home in a constant state of peace. I have the energy (and the interest) to provide both a safe harbor and a valuable sounding board for my husband’s preoccupied mind.
I need nothing more. I really don’t. I think I’ve been telling myself that I should need something more: that I must not be doing enough, that maybe this should be harder, because so many around me seem so… busy.
But, “the space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
My job is to take care of the family, and I’m making it easy to excel.
Kreider’s essay reminds me (I tend to need constant reminding) that I am not busy, and that this means I am lucky. This is a lovely way to start the week. Enjoy yours.