A few months into our move to Washington, DC, one thing became clear pretty fast: People here like to not only be busy, but make sure everyone knows it. It’s actually one of the more annoying quirks of life here: Don’t dare talk about how busy you are unless you’re ready to hear about the other person’s dizzying array of commitments (and how it somehow makes them better than you).
It’s an annoying race that I think I might be winning this fall. Back in August, I wrote about my return to grad school and a part-time job and how I planned to keep up the pace on freelance. For about four weeks, I had it somewhat under control. But somewhere around 3 a.m. on a Saturday in late September, as I frantically finished up a freelance piece with the sickening feeling that my kids would wake up for the day at 5:30 (they did), I considered that I might have taken on too much. But would I do anything about it?
It seemed the unholy amount of reading in my two grad classes plus a classroom full of 3-year-olds equaled a level of busy that could accommodate little else. I was a slave to my calendar, becoming that person who didn’t return emails, let my house turn into a dusty mess, and forgot to pay attention to when it was my turn to bring the milk to school. A few more important things, like taking my daughter to her 3-year-old checkup and getting my son an X-ray to see if he needs his tonsils out, nearly fell right out of my head. Wait, I still need to do the tonsil thing.
I actually prefer the more laid-back life, with freedom to adjust my schedule on a whim. I know having a job and kids and all that requires structure, and a whole lot of busy, but I always tried to maintain a level of free play in the scheduled life. This fall, though, I ignored the line between busy and crazy and ran full-speed ahead, ignoring the caution signs. The result? I’ve exercised just four times since the end of September (hello, jiggly belly), gotten two rounds of a nasty cold and found myself snapping at the kids to please, please give mommy some space. Busy takes its toll.
Thankfully, this long holiday weekend offered a salve, albeit a temporary one. I had a long to-do list going in, but a bad sinus infection and cough kept me from doing any of it. So in the end, we all did a whole lot of nothing. The kids rode their scooters, lounged in jammies and baked Christmas cookies with their cousins. We decorated our tree and spent Sunday night sitting by the glow of the lights. Time slowed down. Blissfully.
We all need to learn when to say when, before the preschool germs take down our delicate immune systems and force us to just sit for a minute. But even in recognizing that I took too much on, I feel a little powerless to step back. It’s not just the competition to be the busiest, but the competition overall. In today’s economy, people are heading back to school, working two jobs and juggling like mad just to keep afloat. I am definitely not alone, and certainly recognize how much harder it is for others right now.
For sanity’s sake, I pledge to bring it down a notch on the busy scale from here on out. Bring back the free play.
At least, I’ll try.