The Good Life: “Time is the Longest Distance Between Two Places”
Where Has the Time Gone?
I’m not sure exactly what I did with my time when I was, say, 22. I know I was living with my BFF in an apartment in Milwaukee, WI, and working in an art gallery downtown. I did not have a computer, a smartphone, or a Facebook account. I think I read. I think I read the mail, read magazines, read books. I remember going to an upscale hotel where I had a gym membership and I exercised. I went out, I had people over. There was no reality TV, but I had plenty of time to watch it if there had been. But, where has the time gone? Really. Where has it gone?
Tonight I attended the open house at the elementary school my two youngest children attend. These are truly wonderful events where I get to see many friends and neighbors I enjoy, teachers to whom I owe a huge debt of humble gratitude, and the artful classrooms where my children spend their young days. The place was packed, the kids were excited, and the teachers were gracious. My husband has a big job, and was going to try to make it before the event was over, but we had two classrooms to visit, 45 minutes to do it in, and my oldest son needed to be picked up from football before he was sitting in the dark with his coaches. I sprinted out the door for my van as soon as my husband ran in, my heart knocking all the way. My son was waiting for me in the dark, but there was another boy waiting too. I had somehow cheated the clock, and won a small invisible victory.
The problem is that every day feels like a manic sprint hurtling through the obstacles of morning drop-off, commute, work, after school activities, and home maintenance. Every day a series of tiny victories or defeats, which mostly depend on my van, the traffic on Route 9, and the temperament of my six-year-old. I fall in bed at night exhausted around 11 or 12, and get up at 6:30, forgo exercise for the 4,745th day in a row, and start again.
The thing is, I know that I am in good company. Many, if not most of the families I saw tonight are in the same boat.
In the Hampshire Gazette, there was an AP article about stress called, “Energy Drain: How to Manage Stress Before it Becomes Contagious.” In the article, stress expert Cynthia Ackrill states, “My belief is that we’ve overloaded the human coping mechanism.” I agree with Ackrill, and I think the AP missed the mark with its headline. I think stress is not only contagious, it is already an epidemic. There have always been methods to cope with stressful days or stretches. I think a cocktail and a Valium did it for many in the 70’s, but today the balms of choice are mindfulness and exercise…and a cocktail is never out Of style, is it? But maybe the bigger issue is not how to cope with stress, but to rethink the structures that cause it in the first place. Why exactly DOES hockey start in September and run until March? Why do we sell hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies in the arctic month of January? Why is there a mum fundraiser, a raffle ticket fundraiser, an elementary and middle school fundraiser in September? My mother-in-law says she used to think she’d catch herself coming around the corner when she had a family with 5 teenagers to drive around. I’m totally with her on that. Is there any way we can drive less and carpool more? Our gadgets and over-scheduled calendars may have stolen our time, but maybe building supportive structures within our communities and friend groups could help us reclaim some time and some sanity. The status quo hardly feels sustainable, but I just can’t see it changing for the better unless we do some strategizing. Maybe we should order a cocktail first?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Mattison Buhl
As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.