|American traffic jams always seem to represent the frantic and chaotic pace of modern day life.
I am currently in the middle of an international relocation and while this may seem to have nothing to do with education or homeschooling, stick with me. For anyone who has been through this you know what a strange experience this can be. It's the third time in five years I've changed countries but this time the change is back to the United States, the country my husband and I said goodbye to five years ago. Looking back and thinking about the past years abroad I have been determined to preserve some of the live rhythms we've developed while living in Europe. One of the things I loved most was the slower pace of life. We haven't owned a car in all this time abroad and that one small change forces an entirely different lifestyle. Nothing goes fast when you are walking everywhere. Additionally, living abroad forced me out of the chaotic busy-ness that haunts so much of life today. It was a jarring change, one that I fought. I did not gracefully slip into a slower more meditative life with ease. No way. I hated it. I hated that I didn't feel like I had a purpose. I hated that I could not look back on each day and have a list of accomplished tasks neatly checked off on a to-do list. And I hated having to tell the people I met that at 28 years old I had no job or was working in a coffee shop wiping down tables and foaming milk. Moving abroad meant that all the things that kept me busy and gave me my identity were stripped away and it was a painful process. But, as we've discussed in the entry on boredom, it gave me a space in which to get to know myself much better–the good and the bad. And it was also a space in which I rediscovered creative aspects to my personality. I also came to rediscover the joy of time spent with friends in meaningful discussions–not just franticly sipped coffees in which we batted back and forth examples of exactly how busy we each were. There were a million sweet moments that could be savored when I wasn't rushing from one activity, duty, or obligation to the next.
Now that I am four days back in the US life has sped up. My husband and I are driving in traffic in our rented car. We're grabbing meals on the go. We're meeting with realtors and employers. And we're frazzled. So, it was perfect to read The Busy Trap in the NYT and be reminded that while life is sometimes chaotic, it is so important to carve out that down time and open up space in our lives. The article's author Tim Kreider really takes on our modern obsession with being, or at least seeming, busy: "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day." Isn't it so easy to fall into this obsession with projecting importance through busy-ness?
Kreider goes on to remind his readers that empty space is the birthplace of creativity. We have talked a lot about allowing the children in our homes and classrooms time to be bored, bu't what about us? For the homeschooling parents and teachers reading this, I think it is just as important that you schedule time for yourselves to have that space where you can let your mind wander and where you can be reenergized. You need creative inspiration just as much as your children! "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."
In the midst of this move I have also begun reading For the Family's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Macaulay makes the observation that "home" is essential for everyone and it isn't necessarily a place but an "atmosphere." I could not agree more. In the performance and production emphasized world we live in, it is so essential that our homes become refuges from these pressures. As Macaulay states: "Charlotte Mason valued home as the primary setting for a child's life and relationships. Just as she said that "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life," so we can say that the home is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."
How can we protect our homes from the onslaught of chaos that afflicts our contemporary lives? How do we give ourselves and our spouses and children the gift of idle time? Is it even possible? Is Kreider being fair when he says: "It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence." That is a convicting indictment–one that strikes me close to home. And so I am thinking of ways in which to create a peaceful atmosphere in my family's new home. One that will be so much more important as we re-enter the frenetic pace of American culture. How that will look is yet to be determined, but I would love to hear from you as to how you preserve sanity in your home. Is internet time limited? Do you read together? Do you say "no" regularly in order to protect you time? As Macaulay states, creating that atmosphere of a home is a discipline, something that requires conscious effort and practice. While I attempt to create that in my own home and life, I would love to hear about what you do. What has been successful? Any failed attempts?
I would highly recommend reading the article, it's very well done and a great reminder that while it may not always seem like it, our lives are often busy because we choose to allow them to be. In the words of Kreider, "Life's too short to be busy."
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