Consumption Junction

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Since Elliott’s birth, our friends and family have been deferential about how busy we must be.  On some level, they’re right: at points, there has barely been time to shower, eat, or walk the dog.  But, busy doesn’t feel like the right word to describe these early weeks.  Busy implies that there is a long list of things to accomplish and not quite enough time in which to fit them.  Indeed, if we were just living in a state of ‘busy-ness,’ we could perhaps adjust by increasing our capacity or speeding things up.

After years in the workforce, so much of me thrives on busy-ness:  its sense of buzzy productivity, the little check marks in boxes, and the haze of meaning that comes from simply getting stuff done.  In many ways, I *wish* I could change all the diapers, pump all the milk, and share all my love by just working hard to get them done.  Mothering for today?  Check, check, check.

On the contrary, with Elliott, there is nothing to check off the list; we feed, diaper, rock, and play with her over and over again.  Yes, I have other non-baby items to accomplish, but I long ago realized that days and weeks could go by with nothing getting checked off – and yet, I was constantly occupied.  The to-do list of discrete, successive items has been replaced by endless, iterative tasks.

Further, through it all, I haven’t felt a lack of time or a sense of hurry that being ‘busy’ implies; everything is done when it needs to be done, on Elliott’s clock.  I can’t change ten diapers by noon to hit my quota and declare myself done for the day.  There is plenty to do, but it’s impossible to rush it.  Similarly, it’s impossible to run out of time to do what needs to be done.

In sum, it’s less that I feel busy and more that I feel completely consumed.  The reality of life with baby is that every moment is spent care-giving in the present.  I am challenged to slow down and invest every act with big love.  I am challenged to attend to whatever Elliott needs right now, without anticipation or distraction.  I am challenged to be less busy and more present.

As she draws me more into mamahood, Elliott brings me more into the moment and more into myself.

Realistically, I still find myself trying to accomplish things according to my old habits; instead of nursing with full presence at 2AM, I sometimes multi-task, teaching myself baby sign language or editing my new book (support the crowdpublishing project here!).  But, I’m increasingly finding big meaning in the letting myself be consumed by these everyday acts of childcare.  And, I love it.

Meredith

Are You Reacting To Life or Creating Your Life?

This week someone posed the question “Are you reacting to life or creating your life?”  I liked the formulation and decided it was my key reflection point for the week.  But instead of writing about it, I’m mixing it up and putting my dubious drawing skills to the test.  Thus, please enjoy:

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reaction

creation
With love,
Meredith

 

What I (Re)Learned From Watching My Dog Sniff Butts

Every time I take Reese to the dog park, he’s terribly excited.  There are dogs and people and more dogs and more people.  And they all smell so interesting and different.  Forget fetch or running around, smelling is hands-down his favorite activity.  Sometimes he even smells so hard that he forgets to breathe and, as a result, starts to drool.  Unfortunately, this little droolly-faced pup reminds other owners of a rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth dog.  So, in short, Reese loves to smell so much that other dogs and people think he’s completely crazy.  I say with pride:  That’s our dog.

The Reese Machine, post-walk

The Reese Machine, post-walk

I have learned to expect this reaction when I take him out.  So when we arrive at the park, I do the same thing every time.  I tell him “sit” and “stay.”  Then I take off his leash and walk a step away.  I remind him once more to “stay,” at which point he looks at me with a face full of agony and restraint.  Then I tell him “okay, go!” which means he can run around, diving into the smorgasbord of smells.

Lately, Reese has not being waiting that patient, disciplined second before I tell him to go.  Remove the leash and he’s headed straight for the nearest dog’s rear.

While frustrating, this morning’s sprint for the smells prompted not only the appropriate discipline, but also a moment of self-reflection.  Whether you’re a dog like Reese or a human like me:

Emotions don’t equal actions.

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Being mad doesn’t mean you yell.
Being sad doesn’t mean you cry.
And being overcome by smells doesn’t mean you run off.

Like Reese, I find myself using emotions as an excuse for my automatic behaviors.  We have a whole host of these which are collectively accepted in our culture as normal behavior:

  • “I’m busy with more important things. . .” (and therefore I’m allowed to be less present and a bit distracted around you)
  • “I’m tired. . .” (and therefore I’m allowed to be crabby)
  • “I’m annoyed your inefficient process. . .” (and therefore I’m allowed to be demanding and impatient.) [I definitely felt this one at the Indian consulate waiting for my visa yesterday.]

These are just excuses for our thoughtless behavior.  We often act as if an external situation creates an internal state which dictates our actions – and that all of that is completely understandable and fair.  For example, while waiting at the Indian consulate I tell myself that it makes sense that I’m annoyed because their process is inefficient.  And before I know it, I’m speaking in an overly sharp tone and with an annoyed attitude to the woman behind the counter.  But with good reason, right?

 

However ‘logical’ my emotions and actions are in a situation, I always have choice in the emotion I show and how I act.  Especially when I have fantastic rationale of why I can justifiably be an a-hole in a situation, it’s even more important that I have to remember that little moment of choice.

 

emotions actions 2

 

I’m reminded of one my roommates in business school.  After a strong night out, most of us would show up to class looking like hell and not very pleasant to be around.  He, on the other hand, would look interview-ready in business formal.  For most of us, there was an obvious, necessary causality between our hangover, our haggard appearance, and our rough-around-the-edges personality.  But he would get up, give himself a close shave, and dress in a proper suit.  We all may have felt the same way, but he chose to do something completely different with the same feeling.  And he didn’t buy into the easy, collective belief that a hangover gives you an excuse.

 

Emotions don’t equal actions.

 

This realization isn’t new.  I’ve practiced non-reactivity in meditation classes.  I’ve read countless books on mindfulness.  I even train concepts ideas related to presence in my day job.  But for every hackneyed insight and inspirational quote I spend a minute reading, there is a multi-month, multi-year, probably life-long process of internalizing, personalizing, and embodying that realization.  The process is neither linear nor unidirectional.  I try and try again, I fail and fail again, I realize and realize again.  My challenge isn’t understanding it intellectually; my challenge is living it.

 

And so this morning’s walk in the dog park brought me a bit closer to remembering that my emotions don’t control me.  Both Reese and I can choose how we act, even when there’s a really good rationale for acting in a certain way (just look at all those dogs!).  But I’m sure we’ll both forget that – and have to learn it all over again – before the next time we return to the dog park.

Meredith

reese labradoodle