I love/hate multitasking. I don’t so much love it, as I get the weird satisfying feeling from it that I used to get from biting my nails, or as a kid when I would inhale deeply while my parents pumped gas. I know it can be damaging, but it feels so good. It can be helpful though too. Being part of a family of five, if I am headed down to the basement for something, I always look around to see if anything needs to be carried down with me. Making lunches for the kids in the morning, I try to condense my trips to the fridge to as few times as possible. For instance, when putting away cheese and mustard, I am anticipating what I will need and how much I can carry back for sides such as yogurt and celery. The less trips, the better I feel about my start of the day. These are examples of my healthier multitasking, but now it is time for honesty.
Every night before bed you can find me simultaneously brushing my teeth while doing squats. After brushing, I often use mouth wash while doing lunges and since my hands are now free I can put on moisturizer at the same time. Legs getting stronger, mouth germs being obliterated, and wrinkles fought in two brilliantly used minutes. Keeping in touch with a family member or friend is important, but how lame to sit and have tea while doing so, so I often don some tennis shoes and head out for a walk whenever I see that a phone call may last a while. I can’t stand time wasted on things like the internet loading, so if it is taking too long, I will hop up and quickly clean something, do a few push ups, or a quick downward facing dog. And you won’t believe the things I can get done in the 30 seconds it takes to heat up my son’s cheese and tortilla. I don’t know how I got like this, needing to fill every minute with more than one thing, hating lag time. I think parenthood, paying bills, general grown up feelings of too much to do, too little time have created within me a doing, going, getting-stuff-done kind of monster. I have forgotten to just be. And the truth is the more I things I have going on at once, the more chaotic I tend to feel.
Last spring I read an amazing book and it made me think twice about some of these habits. It is a book called Wherever You Go There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn and it rocked my world (in a quiet, meditative way). This author had the crazy idea that I should just sit and enjoy my toast in the morning, focusing on the food instead of picking up a magazine, or checking e-mail. I can’t express how difficult this is for me, to just eat. I try it sometimes, and he’s right. I notice the crunch of the toast, the subtle sweetness of the butter. I marvel that the delicious jam I am enjoying used to be plums in my front tree. I think of the day my friend and I picked those plums, laughing and talking about kids and family. That constant feeling of chaos is slowed and maybe even swept away.
Kabat-Zinn encourages walks to be taken, just to be taken. I force myself to occasionally leave my phone at home and though I love the times I catch up with friends or family, these times without my phone I notice the lady bugs gathered in a crack on the sidewalk, the kestrel sitting atop the telephone wire staring at me, the sound of a meadowlark in a tree or a tiny dog somewhere protesting his leash. I have tried it with other activities too. Coloring with my daughter and finishing the whole page instead of kind of coloring while mostly updating the checkbook. I have been surprised to feel how rewarding a well colored Strawberry Shortcake picture can be, and my daughter feels I have really spent time with her, not just the half mommy, half banker, cleaner, cooker lady who flits in and out of her life doing lunges and saying, “Let me just finish _____ first, and then we’ll color.” I have stopped what I am doing, turned to my son, and listened to his story, marveling at the eleven year old who was a baby just a blink ago,enjoying a warmth in my heart I would not have had if I had kept stirring dinner, cleaning the counter, or paying a bill while listening to him. While waiting for the internet to load (Idaho is very slow) I have just breathed. Just been.
I write this blog tonight because I notice I am getting out of the habit of being present. When I objectively stand back I can clearly see that this is a struggle for me, the need to fill every moment. The problem with filling every moment is that you miss what may be there waiting for you: the brilliance of the flower in the vase, the pink in your child’s cheek, the crunch of your morning toast. If I am constantly anticipating the next thing, I might miss what’s happening right now. And what’s happening right now is probably pretty beautiful.
I won’t give up the squats while brushing my teeth though. Come on. That just makes sense.