Mothering, Multi-Tasking, and Buddha, Part 2

OK, so you’re caught up on my blossoming interest in all things Buddhesque. The reason I made you sit through all that was … well, I’m not going to lie to you, part of it was because I’ve just been THINKING so much about it and I wanted to have someone to talk to. But also it was because the thinking about the Buddhism has – in particular – got me rethinking my relationship to multitasking.

Here’s the thing: I kind of hate it when parent-bloggers write from the assumption that having kids is some kind of holy experience that fundamentally differentiates them from non-parents, because I actually think that parents and non-parents have a lot more in common than not. BUT, having said that, it is also true that having kids has given me a completely different relationship to time. Before kids, when I was working full time, there were certainly times when I felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that I wanted to do. Especially when I was, say, in tech rehearsals for a show, or finishing a really big project. After having a kid, and even more so after having two kids, OMFG THE TIME – There isn’t – I mean – Are you kidding me with the no time thing? And I’m not claiming that this is some essential quality of parenthood. I have high-powered lawyer friends without kids who get this, for example. And conversely, I’m sure there’s a person out there for whom parenting was the beginning of a whole new world of happiness and a sense that they were finally doing what they were meant to do. I’m just saying that A) that has not been *my* experience, and B) if I ever meet that person, I will punch them in the neck.

It’s just that lately, by which I mean for the last five years, I’m so goddamned worn out by the end of the day from taking care of my adored, demanding, lovely, exasperating children, that it’s all I can do to figure out what we’re having for dinner and *maybe* make it, before ceding all power for the rest of the evening to Mr. Squab – who is, of course, wiped out himself from working at the office all day. But at the same time, I’m craving time for myself like a heroin addict craves a hit. I mean, taking care of kids is eminently worthy and important work (DUH), but it’s not exactly the most mentally stimulating activity you could ever engage in. In fact, most of the time, and I say this with love, it’s boring as fuck. So once the kids are in bed, my brain switches into hyperdrive and suddenly I have an urgent desire to dive headfirst into every single self-centered grown-up activity I can think of in the 4 hours I have before my own bedtime. It’s like somehow I have to make up for all the lost time I wasted grooming the next generation when I could have been catching up on the latest season of Mad Men. NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW, since I don’t have time to watch that show even though literally everyone I know has told me that I would love it and I’m sure they’re all right. So every evening, I cram in as many of my favorite selfish activities as I can get into the brief time available to me, often doing three or four things at once just so I can cross them off my list. You remember that episode of Seinfeld where George works out a way to have sex, listen to a ball game, and eat a hoagie all at the same time? Well, add knitting a sweater, reading a murder mystery, drinking a bourbon-and-coke and obsessively refreshing my Facebook feed and you have my ultimate fantasy night.

It’s ridiculous, and the stupid thing is that I’m not even enjoying it. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that my self-worth and sanity are predicated on maintaining all my pre-parenting interests and activities even as I engage in one of the most intense and time-consuming periods of being a parent. Now, there’s a part of that that’s right on the money: Every parent – every caretaker of any kind, for that matter – needs a healthy dose of caring for themselves on a regular basis, and lord knows those post-kid-bedtime hours are precious as gold. But I also recognize that I’ve gotten distinctly grabby with my “off” hours, in the sense that I collect activities around me and then hold them close with the single-mindedness of a born hoarder. I HAVE to read at least a chapter of my book every night. I HAVE to keep up with all the weekly shows on my DVR. I HAVE to knit-or-bake-or-sew-or-draw at least once a week. I HAVE to read every single Facebook post from every single friend and family member. I HAVE to skim Newsweek. And The New Yorker. And Entertainment Weekly. And Vanity Fair. Have to, have to, have to, because … well, because I ENJOY all those things, dammit! And I should be able to do things I enjoy! Haven’t I paid my dues? Don’t I deserve this time for myself? DON’T YOU TRY TO TELL ME I DON’T DESERVE IT!

Sigh. So then I’m reading my various Buddhist books, and they talk about mindfulness, and being in the moment, and letting your chaotic thoughts, your “monkey mind,” settle into a calm and spacious perspective, and I think, Gee. That sounds awfully nice. Maybe what I really want isn’t more hours in the day. Maybe what would make me happy isn’t being grabby and angry about getting more “me time.” Perhaps, if I allowed myself, even occasionally, to stop multi-tasking and really focus on what I’m doing right now … maybe then I could stop being afraid of losing myself in parenthood, and remember that Walt Whitman was right: I am large, I contain multitudes. And life is too short not to enjoy the hell out of it as much as you can.

So I’m trying. Not all the time, but occasionally, to just do what I’m doing when I’m doing it. If I want to read a book, I can just read it. If I want to watch TV, I can just watch it. I don’t have to check my email while I’m talking on the phone. I don’t have to knit AND surf the web AND drink a glass of wine to make it “count.” I don’t have to stay up until two in the morning to squeeze everything in. I can let stuff go. I can do things more slowly. And though my house will be dirty and my magazines unread, I think I will be a happier, squabbier, better, mother-and-daughter-and-wife-and-self. Which is really what it’s all about.

5 comments to Mothering, Multi-Tasking, and Buddha, Part 2

  • Constance Carlson

    And know this: as your children age, little pockets of time do start to open up and a new set of challenges (good ones!) await you. You’ll find that over the years of raising your girls that your interests and priorities have shifted and what you want to put into those new pockets of time may be different than what you wanted to do 5-10 years ago. It’s actually pretty cool. Great post. (oh, and looking forward to seeing you IN PERSON on Monday.

  • tedra

    Yeah, this aspect of the parenting gig really does get immensely easier once they start school. There’s still too damn much to do, but you *do* get to take a deep breath and have your coffee once you’ve gotten them out the damn door.

  • This post reminds me of a line from one of my favorite crime writers, summarizing his antihero’s outlook: “Now we’re doing what we’re doing now.” It’s a good maxim, and easily adapted to pursuits that don’t include robbing banks.

  • Tim thedad Robinson

    Some advantages of Buddhism: (1) it does not require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast; (2) You can practice it without having to have coffee and doughnuts in the fellowship hall with other Buddhists; (3) the paradoxical phenomenon that a pessimistic outlook (“Life is suffering”)tends to make a person happier. I think maybe I’m a Taoist, which is sort of the Buddhist version of Unitarianism.

    • That’s as good a definition of Taoism as any I’ve seen. I’m not sure I agree about the pessimism, though, although I know what you mean. I feel like the life is suffering bit and the detachment and nothingness bits have given Buddhism a bad rap. Or maybe I’m giving pessimism a bad rap. Either way, I find it to be an extremely serene philosophy, which is not a quality I associate with pessimism.

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