Saturday, March 21, 2015

Less for the win

In olden times -- by which I mean, on Downton Abbey -- people had housefuls of liveried servants to attend to the mundane tasks of life.  This allowed them to spend their days wandering the grounds under a parasol -- flirting, deploring the Labour Party, and mulling how to make "the estate" profitable without turning it all into a giant pig farm.

Today, however, if a normal person is going to find time to be creative, or even sink into the idle contemplation from which creativity flows, she is going to have to cut some corners.

The good news is that nobody will care.

My first real test of this theory came when my oldest child was born.  In the weeks that followed, a bevy of lactation consultants, the culture at large, and my own husband, sought to convince me that I was doing him a terrible disservice by not breastfeeding.  They constantly worried aloud that he would fail to thrive, to bond.

My son and I both hated breastfeeding, and we bonded just fine:  Each time I peeled back the foil on a disposable bottle of Similac, he'd raise his tiny palm and we would give each other a high-five.

Eight years later, this child is not a sickly dullard who cannot look me in the eye, but a bright, healthy, affectionate boy whose only flaws are an adorable lisp and a birthmark.  To the naked eye -- and what other eye is there? -- the thing I didn't do didn't matter, and all was well.  I call this sort of thing doing less, for the win.

Still, I am not immune to the nagging sense -- peculiar to modern life, because Lady Mary didn't have it, and she did literally nothing -- that I am not doing enough.  Surrounded by high-achieving people who have banded together in a cunning alliance called "marriage" to raise their young, it's hard to escape the feeling that I'm functioning at about 50 percent, on a good day.  Whatever I do, it's not what two people can do.  It isn't even close.

In a funny way, this fact has freed me up: to do less, for the win.  Summer evenings find me sitting outside in a lawn chair, reading a magazine, while the kids play in the street with their friends.  If there is something else I should be attending to in the hour after dinner (the laundry? "budgeting"?), I can't think what.

Even the kids do less, in what I believe is known as a "life hack":  Not long ago, my son explained that he never checked out library books at school, so that he didn't get in trouble for not returning them on time.

For a split second, I considered lecturing: "Well, you should just return them!"  Instead, after a thoughtful pause, I said, "Good thinking.  Way to go."  He is busy with school, after-school care, homework, playing outside, patiently building the most fearsomely awesome Pokémon card collection ever assembled on this planet, and making sharp Pokémon trades.  He was doing enough, and didn't need the extra hassle.  I totally got it.

(For my daughter, we still have to remember to pack her library book every Wednesday, because she is damn well going to check out another one in the exercise of her God-given rights as a kindergartner.  And it will be about butterflies!)

For 2015, my New Year's resolution was to focus on only four things.  None of them involved the various tasks I should be doing -- or doing better -- but one of them was joking around (or "goofing off") with the kids.

For the past three months, I'm not sure I've been doing less.  But it feels more like winning.

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