I took it all for granted, charging through my days, shuttling my children to soccer practices and dance classes. I pushed myself, somehow feeling like I had to do everything. I had to fit it all in.
By 8:00 on weekday mornings, I was teaching high school students, scrambling to get in every mandated objective, grade every essay, and jump through every new hoop that came our way. I advised the broadcasting program, directing students as they aired most home sporting events. In the spring, I coached the tennis team, holding practices daily until after dark and spending quite a few nauseating hours on school buses.
I continually took on more work, saying yes to one more committee or fundraiser, even when I knew in my gut I should’ve said no. My diverse interests actually compounded the problem; no matter how gifted or committed you are, you cannot give 100% of yourself to too many projects and actually be successful. Quality suffers, headaches magnify and burn out develops. I knew this, but I felt obligated. Doing yes was easier than saying no.
Still, I loved my job, my students, and most of my colleagues. Fortunately, I worked in the same building as some of my closest friends, but we were so busy, both professionally and personally, most days I didn’t get to see them, even though their classrooms were just down the hall.
At 3:06, my other job, even more important and more demanding, resumed.
We have five children, ages 18, 17, 16, 9 and 4. Life was full. Life was busy. The teenagers, all boys, had always been involved in athletics. That’s how my husband and I met; our sons, both in Pre-K, played on the same soccer team. The sport stuck with mine, and I’d spent the last decade traveling all over the East Coast cultivating their passion for the game. Neither of my sons had a drivers license yet, which meant I was still the primary taxi service. Lucky me.
Nine year old Gracie was flourishing in dance class for the fifth year and was giving gymnastics a shot after being mesmerized by Gabby Douglas in the Olympics. Gracie’s compact frame was ideal for both. Plus, with her charismatic personality, she thrived on any type of stage.
Poor little Izzi spent the bulk of her time on a bleacher beside me, waiting for one of her sibling’s activities to end. By the time we’d get home, we had to dash through the evening blitz –dinner (if we hadn’t already eaten out), homework, bath time, bedtime rituals. Before I collapsed into my bed, I was already thinking about what I needed to do to prepare for the next day when we’d start all this craziness over again.
I was busy, and I realize now that I subconsciously equated busyness with happiness. The busier we are, the fuller our lives. The fuller our lives, the happier we must be, right?
Our society has created this illusion. We are supposed to give our children the best possible childhood so as produce the best possible adults. As moms, we feel obligated to create opportunities for them, so we fill their schedules with character and skill building activities –gymnastics, piano lessons, baseball, 4-H, scouts. This doesn’t even include the social events, like the dreaded sugar-laden, over-the-top birthday parties, or the legitimate appointments, like dental cleanings or well-child check-ups. I can’t tell you the number of times I had used the phrase “just crazy busy.”
I’m sorry I didn’t call. I’ve just been crazy busy.
I can’t meet for dinner because the kids are just crazy busy.
I wish I had time to read that book, but I’m just crazy busy.
I tossed out the words as if busyness was some sort of trophy I had earned, declaring my success. Though I vocally lamented my exhaustion, I was inadvertently conveying that my busyness was something positive, something to be envied. A lack of busyness would imply that my life wasn’t as full or rewarding. Without a busy schedule, I wasn’t as important. Gulp.
Health is another word we toss around a lot. We wish people health and happiness in our Christmas cards. We spend a lot of time perusing Pinterest, checking out healthy eating and fitness boards–while pinning chocolate dessert recipes. We say we are thankful for our health, and some of us even profess it in our prayers.
With each pregnancy, I used the phrase nearly all parents use at some point or another. Just as long as it’s healthy. You’ve articulated it or you’ve heard it. I don’t care if it’s a girl or boy, just as long as it’s healthy. We say it, and to some degree, we mean it, but until a crisis, how often do we really appreciate the things we already have?
Honestly, it wasn’t until I lost my health and my busyness that I really began to consider their worth.
I don’t think I was aware that I was putting more value on my schedule than on my physical ability to do it. I just didn’t question it. I was healthy. My kids, for the most part, were healthy. Health was just something we had, like two eyeballs and two legs. It was expected. I cringe just typing that word, to admit to my gross naivety.
Like a spoiled child who’d always been given anything she wanted, I wasn’t truly thankful for my health because I had always had it. Sure, I’d had the occasional stomach bug, but I could walk. I could breathe. I didn’t have to worry about remembering to take my heart pills. Back then, there wasn’t a self-addressed Post-it note sealed to the dashboard just in case I forgot how to get home.
Life came to an abrupt pause when I first became sick. I was stuck in the hospital cardiac unit, so my husband had to pick up the load in my absence. Football practices do not stop just because Mom is sick, so he shuttled the kids as I fought to take a shower without passing out. Eventually, all extra-curriculars were put on hold for a couple months while my family helped me fight for wellness.
As the tempo change, my busyness eased. My focus shifted to my own health, a subject I had never really thought about in depth. I had been so busy taking care of my children that I rarely even considered myself. They were the center of my world, and I was an afterthought. As moms, we are so busy taking care of everyone else that we tend to overlook ourselves.
It’s likely one of the reasons I wasn’t diagnosed until I was already in late stage Lyme. I didn’t listen to the whispers of my body because everything else in my life was just too loud. I missed the early signs –flu-like symptoms, muscle aches, low-grade fever, headache. Sure, there were a few days last fall that I just didn’t feel well, but I kept going. Someone had to be the taxi service. Moms don’t have time to get sick.
Until you are.
And in a blink, the life you had is gone.
I’m ashamed to admit that I had to lose my health to find my gratitude for it.
A friend of mine, who is battling cancer, once said to me, “Every morning that I get to wake up and put two feet on the floor, I think ‘I got another one!'” What a powerful statement, especially from someone who has been sick for years! I remember being perplexed at how someone so sick could still be so thankful.
Then I got sick, and I understood. I had lost my health, but I was still breathing, still fighting, still here –and that has value.
In this loss, I also realized that in the running and rushing, life had been moving too quickly for me to appreciate it. Like looking out a car window while riding down the Interstate, everything is a blur until the car comes to a stop. Sure, I was getting to my destination faster on that road, but I was missing a whole lot of beauty along the way.
In the stillness, I could hear, for the first time in ages, contentment. Homemade dinners in bed. Coloring with crayons. The sweet agony of finishing a really good book. The warmth of Izzi’s petite body nestled into mine. The green flecks in Phillip’s eyes when he’s being especially ornery. The white that’s creeping into John’s mustache and the lines around his eyes. The lines that display his kindness. Gracie and Izzi’s giggles as they play a game they’d made up, a game they wouldn’t have had time for in our previous life.
In the quiet, I saw my family again.
Yes, you can be with people 24/7 and still stop really seeing each other. It’s one of the reasons why marriages fail. We get so caught up in the busyness that we forget to pause long enough pay attention. Life becomes a blur, a destination rather than the trip. I had gotten so caught up in the busyness I’d forgotten that the happiness itself is within us, not in the activities and commitments we allow to accelerate our lives.
And when our fragile bodies are able to be busy, we tend to take it for granted. Our health becomes an expectation, an under-appreciated privilege.
So today, I challenge you to stop the glorification of busy in your life for just an evening. Pause long enough to enjoy the happiness and health of your loved ones and yourself.
How many freckles does your child have? What is her favorite song right now? Could your family eat a meal at the kitchen table with all electronics, even the television, turned off?
While blindfolded, could you pick your child out in a lineup of 100 just by the scent of his hair?
Quiet the busyness in your life, and for a bit, really see your blessings. Smell them. Listen to them. There is always, always, always something to be thankful for, and unlike me, you don’t have to lose it to appreciate it.
I can’t tell you that we’ve stopped the busyness entirely here. With five children, some days are still inevitably full of activities, but the change is that I no longer equate our busyness with my family’s happiness. Joy lies within us, and I know my value even in the hush of my now simpler days.
A gift I wouldn’t have recognized in the mist of the hustle six months ago.
Keep coloring, my friends.