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Jumping Off the Fast Track
I had a mini epiphany today. My thunderbolt of insight came not from a positive-thinking seminar or a best-selling self-help book but from a donut and an escalator ride.
About six months ago, I left my professional career to stay at home with my children. Our main reason for making such a drastic change in our lives (and our income) was to reduce the hectic pace of our lives. We were tired of running around like crazy, so we decided to try jumping off the fast track to see if we could relax and enjoy our lives more.
That was the theory. In reality, although I'm very happy and enjoy my new lifestyle, it's anything but slow and relaxed. As all stay-at-home parents know, there's plenty to keep you busy - cleaning (yuck), errands, childcare, yard maintenance, and all those other things you used to either pay people to do or handle on weekends.
On top of the typical flurry of household activities, I've found that I'm so used to being busy that I don't know how to act any differently. I can't just sit down and relax when I know that long to-do list is watching my every move from the kitchen counter. I need to accomplish things and cross items off my list. I'm addicted to activity. Much of the time, my younger son Craig and I fly through our days in a flurry of grocery shopping, errands, playdates, and frenetic housecleaning.
I was particularly focused this morning. Tomorrow is Craig's third birthday, and family (i.e. houseguests) will be arriving today. I had a lengthy, typically impossible list of things to do, including all kinds of cleaning, cooking, and errands. In my normally efficient approach (my husband calls me "The Optimizer"), I decided it would be best to get all the errands completed first thing this morning, right after we got my older son off to school.
The bus came right on time, and by 8:30, Craig and I were driving to our target shopping area with Wee Sing playing on the tape player. I stopped at a strategically convenient recycling center on the way and mentally checked "Recycling" off my list. Next, we would stop at Service Merchandise for vacuum cleaner bags, the party store to pick up the helium balloons, and the toy store to grab some inexpensive piñata fillers. A quick calculation told me we could be back home (cleaning with the new vacuum cleaner bags) by about 10:30 at the latest.
We drove into the shopping center, and my carefully planned morning collapsed. Service Merchandise - closed. Party Store - closed. Toy store - closed. "What's with this town?" I thought, "Don't they realize some people need to get things done before 10:00 am?" Driving back home and then back to this area was out of the question. Home was 20 minutes away, and I had too much to get done today to waste time driving back and forth. Frustrated, I mentally went through the remaining to-do list. "There must be something we can do while we wait for these stores to open," I thought.
The vacuum cleaner bags! There were certainly other stores where we could get those. I drove down the road, scanning the stores and shopping centers on either side. Ah! An appliance store - perfect! I drove into the parking lot, and stopped alongside an employee walking to the door. "Is the store open?" I asked, and my heart sank as he replied, "We open at 10."
By this time, I was on a mission. There must be something open before 10:00! We couldn't just waste an hour and a half. I drove further down the road, not willing to give up. Then I spotted a donut shop on one side of the road, and something in me shifted. We obviously weren't going to get anything done until 10, so why fight it?
"Do you want to stop and get donuts and cocoa?" I asked Craig. "Yes!" he yelled in surprise, not quite believing his good fortune. As I pulled into the donut shop parking lot, I made a conscious effort to relax and enjoy the moment. I knew when to admit defeat.
Craig was thrilled beyond all reasonable proportion. This deprived child hadn't had a donut in at least 6 months, maybe a year. I held him up to the counter to choose his donut from the dozens of varieties on the racks. With a big smile, he picked something with frosting and sprinkles. I chose my old childhood favorite, Bavarian cream with chocolate on top, signaling a complete surrender. We found a small booth among the crowded tables of retired men and thoroughly enjoyed our donuts and cocoa.
We finished and washed up, but it was still only 9:25. What next? I continued down the road, much less frantic this time, waiting to see what fate would bring us. I spotted a Sears and turned in, still not giving up on the vacuum cleaner bags.
As we approached the front door, I noticed another mom and young son waiting outside. "They're supposed to open at 9:30," she told me, "we've been waiting since 9:00." Ah, kindred souls! We joined them on the sidewalk, commiserating about the lack of open stores before 10 am. A few moments later, the doors opened, and we walked in.
We easily located the coveted vacuum cleaner bags and bought a package of them. I glanced at my watch. Still only 9:35 - now what? Craig and I strolled slowly through the empty store, not headed anywhere in particular. Suddenly, he pulled on my arm and squealed in delight, "Look, Mommy! An ecksalator! Can we ride it?" Normally, since we had no need to go upstairs, I'd say no and rush onto our next errand. Today I said, "Sure! Why not?" So, Craig and I rode the escalator upstairs, walked around a little, used the restroom, and rode it back down. He acted like we were on a carnival ride, and I was glad to be able to make him happy with such a little thing. In fact, he was having a blast so far this morning!
Ten o'clock did finally arrive, and we did eventually complete our errands and return home for some frenzied housecleaning. But that unexpected delay had a wonderful effect on me. It forced me to slow down, to enjoy the moment, and to enjoy my son. Next time I get frazzled, I know what to do - just head for the donut shop and the escalator.