From age 13 to 45, we treat each day as if it were a tiny clown car into which we jam, squish or squeeze eight more activities than is physically possible. We quadruple-task and juggle excruciating family-work trade-offs until bedtime, when we just turn off the light and, frankly, pass out. This frantic, exhausting circus act called life seems as if it’s going to stretch on forever—and we’re left begging for just a five-minute intermission.
Then all at once our children allow us to pee alone. The bassinet migrates to a dusty corner of the basement, waiting to be passed along. A few years after that, books reappear on the night table, and we start spending Saturday nights at events weare actually interested in. Wrinkle creams materialize on our bathroom counters, and gray hairs on our heads. Suddenly there is a “big” birthday (the kids’ or ours)—and we realize that intermission is upon us! Our first inclination is to jam the clown car again with mindless activity, because motion is comforting; it’s what we’re used to. But something else has probably occurred—a friend has fallen sick, we’ve lost a precious job, or a parent has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s—and now we don’t want to treat each day like a tiny clown car anymore. We want to be conscious of the way we spend our time: to savor a sunset, to be present when our spouse speaks to us, to go out for a last-minute lunch with our teenager, who has deigned to squeeze us in.
I was once the P.T. Barnum of the working-mother circuit, aiming to stuff my days with more to-dos than any of my competitors. But now the almost-empty nest is upon me, and I’ve decided I want to do only the things that will help me live a life that’s fuller, richer—and slower.
Decelerating time is at the root of my new passion for gardening, which forces me to engage with the seasons rather than experience them from behind a pane of glass. Gardening teaches me that 10 hours can be a lifetime: Witness the hibiscus that goes from closed fist at 8 am, when I leave for work, to open palm by 6 pm, when I return. Watching the garden also reminds me of the cycle of life. Straw-colored tall grass, chopped down in fall, gives way to the green shoots of spring, which in a few months will turn yellow themselves. With apologies to Herr Freud, sometimes a garden is not just a garden!
Of course, I’m not the only one who feels this way. On page 88, four fabulous writers talk about “Making Time for What Matters.” How do you make time? Tell us on more.com.
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