If you are too busy to laugh, you are too busy.
All my life, I thought it was good to be busy. Idle hands are the devil’s work. I was a busy kid, a busy teen, a busy student. I graduated on a Saturday from college and began my master’s on Monday. After that summer of courses ended, I taught school while continuing my studies with night classes. The next summer break, I completed my advanced degree and launched my career. I taught high school, pursued an administrative certificate, joined clubs, and dated my boyfriend. I married, moved, acquired a new job and kept doing what I’d been doing, including taking groups of students to France on spring break. Then, at thirty, I had my first child and quit work. Life as I knew it came to a grinding halt.
I doted on that baby, and the one who came twenty-one months after him, and the one who came two years later, and the last one who came twenty-one months after the third. I stayed busy. All the while, I kept adding duties: sundry volunteer jobs, clubs, subbing, pets.
My father-in-law often advised that folks need to take it slow when raising kids. When I’d tout the educational benefits of some toy, he’d say, “Let the kids bang on pots and pans.” When I’d sign up for some exercise class that would take me out of the house, he’d say, “Vacuum more.” I’d furrow my forehead at the suggestion, and he’d add, “Grow a garden!”
“I like sweeping myself, and it’s great exercise,” he’d comment and pick up a broom and sweep out my garage. I thought he didn’t want me to spend money on babysitters or classes. He encouraged more domestic work. I dismissed his advice and did as I pleased, which is what most thirty-something mommies would do. And then our folks got sick. My mom passed first. Then my father-in-law became gravely ill.
I remember the last time we saw him, wheelchair-bound, pale and aged. He called each of the boys to him. He gave a marble weight to one son, a brass eagle weight to another, and a signed baseball to the third boy. He hugged my little girl and rubbed her head. He delighted in watching them run around the lawn. In his last hours of his last days, he liked nothing more than to sit on the stoop and gaze at the kids romping around his front lawn. He’d been a busy man with a demanding career. He was a joiner. He had engaged in multiple civic duties and sundry clubs and Sunday school, but in the end, he sat serenely viewing his grandchildren doing nothing, just existing.
As I noted his fading eyes pore over them, I pondered the joy he gathered studying their movements and taking in their energy as they frolicked and rolled around on the grass. Something occurred to me. Maybe it’s not good to be busy all the time. Maybe being a good mother doesn’t mean you have to sign your kids up for every activity that comes down the pike. Maybe you yourself don’t have to participate in every social function. It’s good to plant a garden and watch the flowers grow without having to till it constantly.
One of the last things I said to my father-in-law that day, the last time I saw him alive, was this: “I’m going to become calmer. I’m going to become less busy.”
He smiled weakly as he tilted his head up at me and said, “That’s a good idea, Erika.” And then he returned his gaze to the kids tussling under the magnolia tree. He smiled.
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