Isn’t it funny how you and your spouse can have an entire conversation without actually remembering it? I’m not sure if this is due to the inevitable brain damage that accompanies years of sleep deprivation or if there are some crafty aliens out there who like to pick-pocket our brains while we’re sleeping. Around here, at least, we don’t seem to realize how much gray matter we’ve lost until we suddenly find ourselves having the following conversation.
Ken: “I told you that already!”
Me: “You did not!”
Me: “I told you that already!”
Ken: “No, you didn’t!”
At moments like these, I can’t help but think of the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime:”
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful wife
You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?
As much as I wish I could channel David Byrne, I can’t tell you what inner thoughts lie at the heart of this song. But the lyrics seem to imply that life is like the tides, rushing in and rushing out. One minute you’re fine, and the next, you’re underwater.
We’ve all been there, right? One minute we’re high as a kite, and the next, we’re all but drowning in the crazy current of insanity. Lately, I’ve been thinking that one way we can come up for air is by letting go of all our crazy multitasking. Deep-six our endless to-do lists and try to be more present with our kids and spouses.
If that’s even possible. I don’t know about you, but one of my least favorite things about mothering is the never-ending list of crap that constantly needs to be done around the house. It’s way more than is humanly possible, and even when I’m not working, I’m constantly overwhelmed with the onerous details and flowcharts that constitute family life. If I was ever going to transition to a new career, I could make an easy lateral move to Lieutenant General, or whatever officer in command plots those surprise, advanced-tactic international assaults.
But since I’m not planning on making any sort of career change soon, I suppose this means I’m screwed. Ha, ha! Just kidding! Um….
Because I really am frustrated with how crazy-busy our lives have become. I recently read an article blaming at least part of this on all our new media–smart phones, the internet, etc. The article talked about how, nowadays, we’re always doing 18 things at once, such as working while we’re parenting, or checking email, stocks and Twitter while we’re at work. Or probably, more to the point, doing all of the above while tossing in a load of laundry and trying to figure out what the hell’s for dinner. This article-whose-name-I-can-no-longer-recall talked about how all this multitasking is actually changing our brains, making it increasingly difficult for us to focus on anything for longer amounts of time. (I’m pretty sure it was a Time article, but it could just as easily have been a snippet from the newsletter The Bottom Line. I’ll go back and check when I get a minute… make yet another note on my to-do list. Argh.)
I love iPhones and everything-online as much as the next person, but god almighty, where does it end? There’s always something else to be checked, another project that needs to be completed, someone who needs to be called or an email that needs to be returned. By the time we look up, an hour or two have disappeared and we’re stressed and cranky, wondering why the hubster is looking at me like I’ve sprouted another Medusa-like head.
Plus, I’d really like a life with less to-dos on my plate. (Idealistic? Maybe. But after reading Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, I’m ready to outsource my problems to India.) I like being able to ignore email at times, let the answering machine pick up my mother’s endless ring. But you know, multitasking can be a hard habit to break. I remember reading somewhere (there’s that vague memory signifying senility again) that constantly checking email quickly becomes addictive. (Um, I’m going to have to start taking notes or something around here pretty soon. Or maybe actually organizing the 80 notes I take a day. As Gabriel’s been saying to me lately, “No, mama! Don’t write another note!”) But I totally agree on the addictive quality of all this. Ken got me an iPod about a year ago, and despite the fact that I have a love/hate relationship with email, I often find myself endlessly checking it throughout the day. Here and there, I’ll try and take a break and only check it once or twice a day. And I’m always surprised by how hard it is to actually do that.
But for me, at least, taking that break is necessary. If we unplug for an hour or two, we can give our spouse or child our undivided attention for at least a short time. And we might even be able to remember the details of the conversations we’re having, much less the fact that we actually just had a conversation with our significant other. Otherwise, we go through life in a vacuum, caught in that empty current that’s so hard to escape.
But wait. Isn’t this a ridiculously hypocritical post considering I blasted my hubby for not being able to multitask very well back in my first post?
As I see it, the words “multitasking” and “parenting” are a sort of paradox, and a particularly vile form of evil. But you do need to tackle them together sometimes. Otherwise, nobody would get fed and we’d live in even more of a hovel than we already do.
What I’m advocating for is taking a break here and there and letting some of that other stuff slide. When our kids were sick these past couple of weeks, we gave up on cooking. What a relief! Who cared if we were surviving on pasta and pretzels when the kids were just puking it all up anyway?
Of course, meals are just one piece of the pie. And media is another. Plus there’s always 862 hours of cleaning and laundry to brighten your day, and who knows when you’ll ever get enough time to rev up your nonexistent social life again. As for finishing those 12 or 15 books sitting next to your bed? Ha.
So what do we do? How do we tame those crazed, octopus-like lists of to-dos? It’s an endless experiment, isn’t it? Some days we’re able to just chill out and let stuff be, and other days, well, we do what we can. If we can. Part of it, at least, comes back to that acceptance piece that I was talking about in the “Courage” post. And yet I can’t help but wish that I could abolish multitasking altogether, find some way to make our lives a little bit simpler, and a whole lot easier.