The Art of Doing Nothing

Another big change that happened when we moved to Vermont: I stopped working.

Those of you who have never thought of me as a heavy-hitting career woman are absolutely right, but I did work continuously as the part-time director of Project Peace East Bay from the time Fiona was about 7 months old up until Georgia was born in March 2011. (SHAMELESS PLUG: If you have money that you’d like to donate, and particularly if you live in the East Bay, give Project Peace some love. It’s a small nonprofit org that does mighty things, and is doing even mightier things now than when I was at the helm. Not that the two are related or anything….)

I was able to pull this off because Erick’s wonderful parents lived 45 minutes away and are both retired. So, two or three days a week they would drive over to Berkeley and spend all day with the girls. This continued for 3 years. It was such an ideal situation that I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. I LOVED going to work, because I got to use a part of my brain that wasn’t actively employed by parenting, because I got to interact with other adults, and because I felt like through Project Peace I could actually do some good for the community — which was good for my girls to see. And I honestly never felt guilty about leaving the house for a second, because the girls had a chance to form amazing relationships with their very own grandparents.

All of this came to an abrupt halt with our move to Vermont. With no grandparents within easy driving distance, and a new baby, new house, new job for Erick, and new community to navigate, it was clearly my season to stay at home. And I have only been grateful that we made this choice, and for this time at home. It’s been a very sweet season, although not one that I expect — or even hope — will last forever.

I wrote that preface because I’m concerned that what I’m about to say may come off as a luxury “problem” only to stay-at-home moms. (“Oh, here she is complaining, while I’d LOVE to be at home doing nothing with my kids!”) And I’ve never  seen such nasty comments or unfortunate misunderstandings as those that occur in the dialogues between stay-at-home and working mothers. So I want to be clear that, as someone who has been fortunate enough to be in both roles, what I am about to write has more to do with how you spend your time while at home, for whatever amount of time you happen to be there.

All clear? Good. (And sorry for any over-explanation. This is also how I deal with the BIG QUESTIONS from our girls, like “What is love?” and “Why can’t a man have more than one wife in our country?”  and “Why is Daddy having another Scotch?” I basically over-explain until their eyes glaze over and they aren’t paying attention anymore.)

So. We’ve been spending a lot of time at home doing nothing these days.

Partly, I blame the weather. Although it’s been an abnormally mild winter here in the Northeast, it has still been quite cold. Cold enough that we consider a high of 36 to be a heat wave — and I can tell you, it really does feel that way. Plus, we get about 2 hours of sunlight a day. So leaving the house, even when it’s possible, isn’t always appealing.

But partly, I blame myself. While we certainly have our regularly scheduled activities each week — playgroup. library, open gym, preschool drop-off and pick-up (yes, I count this as an activity!) — I’ve not been attempting to fill up our free time with the same enriching outings as I did over the summer. Given a choice, my girls usually vote to stay in. And since, as previously discussed in this blog, it’s kind of a hassle to get three little girls winterized and out the door, most days I’m just as happy to acquiesce.

Okay, so we’re at home a lot. But there are different ways of being at home. My ideal of being at home — the kind of being at home that I imagine all other mothers are accomplishing — involves art projects, family baking, and enriching learning activities. Like the fantastic activities listed on this wonderful website, which a friend of mine passed along over a year ago. Have I done ANY of the activities listed on that website? No, I have not. Because, whenever I propose a “quality at-home activity,” I’m either rejected outright, OR the activity devolves into a free-for-all with the girls and house covered in paint/chocolate/stickers/tape/etc., and me yelling.

What they’d rather do is pull all the cushions off of the sofa, take off all their clothes, and pretend to be princesses/lions/Barbies. And the oldest two are old enough now that they don’t even need me, except for every 5 minutes when they suddenly demand my COMPLETE FOCUS so that I can be the evil stepmother/witch/fairy in their story. That’s 5 uninterrupted minutes when I can clean something/throw dinner in the crockpot/check email (not necessarily in that order).

So, I ping-pong back and forth between “productive” work around the house and playtime with the girls, and by the end of the day I feel like nothing has been accomplished. The truth is, I’m not very good at doing nothing. I come from a long line of people who will do just about anything to keep busy. All of which means that I feel guilty a lot. Guilty that I’m either not doing enough with the girls or not doing enough around the house. Guilty that Fiona still can’t quite write the “N” in her name. Guilty that Campbell is either colorblind or truly doesn’t know the difference between red and green. Guilty that I left Georgia propped up in a corner 10 minutes ago. Guilty that no matter how fast I run, the dust balls and cobwebs will always have me beat. Guilty guilty guilty….

Poor Georgia....

Until I was brought to my senses by a perfectly-timed email from my wise friend Jen. Jen has 3 kids slightly older than ours, took over for me at Project Peace when we moved (and is doing amazing things there), and is basically someone I’d like to be when I grow up. Also she surfs. All Fall we were exchanging brief and business-y emails, mostly her asking me where she could find various files. But out of nowhere – you know how sometimes you get a message just when you need it? — she inserted this little nugget into an email:

I know it sounds absolutely completely insane, but enjoy the “slow” life trapped at home with your little people.  Truly, lay around with them in your PJ’s the whole day staring at grass or dirt or something.  Life is a rush here and we seldom get to do those small things anymore. 

I quote this email to myself almost daily. So, that’s what I’m trying to do: practice the art of doing “nothing” with my girls, which will probably add up to a whole lot of something when I look back on it. And to be okay with it, to get over the guilt, which really shouldn’t have to be a cornerstone emotion of motherhood. Because I figure that maybe if I can banish the guilt, then maybe I can actually be present in the moment and fill my guilt vacuum with joy.

3 thoughts on “The Art of Doing Nothing

  1. colleen cambra

    Dear Faith, I am right now attending my second child development class and guess what we are learning…..?? Play is the best way for children to learn. It is their work and you get to live longer because play for you means you are less stressed.

    Thank you again for all your wonderful work in getting Project Peace off the ground.

    Love, Colleen Cambra

    1. The Gongs

      Thanks for the great feedback, Colleen! It’s nice to know that my newfound embrace of doing nothing is also academically approved 🙂 Big hugs to you and Jerry — we miss you guys!

  2. Pingback: Some Fun Now « The Pickle Patch

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