This post is part of my Recycled Series, so it wasn’t so recently that my husband cut the watermelon. However, I have recently reminded myself to embrace the now and to enjoy the process.
Attention Editors: These columns have been previously published, but are available for reprint. Please contact me at kmwicker[at]gmail[dot]com for reprint fees and further information.
Recently, my husband volunteered to cut a watermelon, a chore I detest because of the mess it makes and due to several close calls with the knife and an errant fingertip or two.
As I watched him push the sharp blade through the juicy, pink flesh, I wondered what was on his mind. His eyes were focused, contemplative, his jaw slightly clenched. Surely he was thinking about something important.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing,” he said.
“But you look so deep in thought. You had to be thinking about something,” I insisted.
“I was thinking about cutting the watermelon,” he said simply.
I began to think of the many times I’ve been hovering over that same cutting board wielding a knife, and I was pretty sure I’d never been only focused on the act of preparing food.
Oh, I’ve cut a watermelon and cooed to a baby in a sling. I’ve sliced and diced grapes and a hunk of cheese into miniscule, choke-proof pieces for my toddler while chatting on the phone. I’ve chopped onions while thinking about what culinary exercise I needed to tackle next. I’ve sliced tomatoes while giving my oldest the “don’t even think about it” eye as she wound up to pitch a Lincoln log at her sister.
But I’m 99 percent sure I’ve never done anything as simple as just cutting the stinkin’ watermelon. My hands may be working the knife, but the rest of me is far removed from the task.
My husband is as easy going as they come. He’s rarely flustered. He can tune out anything. Sometimes it drives me crazy. He’ll come home from work, plant kisses on all of his girls’ cheeks, and then shift his attention to his pile of mail. Even as the natives get more than restless (they’re practically on the verge of a full-blown revolt), he’s able to calmly sift through the stack of letters. I’ll look over at him meticulously opening the envelopes, and I’m thinking, “Hellooooo? Can the mail wait? Or can you please look through it and work on helping me restore peace in this war zone?”
All the while, I’m giving myself an internal pat on the back because I know I have the power to thumb through mail and entertain the kids, no problem. Because, like a lot of moms, I’m a multitasking maven.
Part of moms’ ability to juggle several balls at once is a matter of survival. If we don’t want our families to starve, there are times when we’re forced to whip together dinner while simultaneously holding a baby or chatting with a teen about his day. In the carpool line, we learn to schedule a well-child visit with the pediatrician on our cell and file our nails. We streamline bedtime routines by brushing the teeth of a child while wiping down the bathroom counter. We’re adept at squeezing in prayers as we fold laundry or nurse a child.
But sometimes I wonder if our perpetual multitasking causes us to miss out on the peace that can be found in being physically and mentally present on a single task. Personally, I often feel like I’m living in a scattered state, hacking competing tasks into pieces and taking nothing as a whole, which can lead to burnout. Perhaps my husband’s calm disposition has less to do with some superhuman immunity to stress and more to do with how he’s able to let a minute or a task absorb him instead of being distracted by the fifty other things he should be doing or needs to do next or must do at the same time if he’s to accomplish anything at all.
I am productive, but there are days when I may tackle my to-do list with evangelical fervor without really being fully present to anything or anyone – including God. Yet, does God really want me to be constantly racing at a frantic clip? Sometimes He calls me to pause long enough to surrender my heart, mind, and body (put that laundry down; you can fold it later!) completely to Him.
So I’ve decided to make a little pact with my manic multitasking self and try to be more like my minimalist husband. How? By pausing for mini retreats throughout my day to just bask in God’s presence. By not always playing with my kids by the clock. By watching my baby’s round, moving cheeks as she nurses. By occasionally folding laundry slow enough to notice its fresh scent. By focusing on the preparation of a meal and when it’s time to eat, allowing the flavors to mingle in my mouth. By working to define my hours more by what I left undone in order to be fully present and less by the number of items I successfully checked off my to-do list.
By sometimes doing nothing more and nothing less than cutting a watermelon.
I confess that I originally wrote this feature while drinking a cup of coffee and listening to music.
If we take multitasking to the next level and attempt to juggle two jobs, one of which is completely all-consuming (I’m referring to being a parent), just imagine how we’d feel?
A dear aunt once told me she’s always struggled with finding her self-worth in doing instead of simple being.
Is it any wonder moms sometimes complain about bone-aching fatigue, constant chaos and high stress levels?
Personally, I recognize that I get the most impatient with my preschooler when I’m trying to do something else while still “parenting” her. Just the other day I was trying to shoot off a quick email to an editor for a freelance assignment while nursing the baby and simultaneously admiring Madeline’s doodles on a MagnaDoodle. “Oh, that’s a nice picture,” I mumbled, barely even looking at her artwork.
Suck, suck, from the baby.
“I did look,” I said. Now why was I emailing this editor again?
Not surprisingly, I felt my stress levels rising and so did Madeline. She started randomly pressing keys on the my laptop, vying for my attention when I abruptly pushed her aside and shouted, “Stop that!”
Madeline looked at me with her big brown eyes glassy with tears and I realized I just couldn’t do it all and that the editor could wait. I’m not Super Woman. I only have finite amount of energy. I can’t change the laws of physics and create more hours in my day. And my priority right now is my children – not the dirty dishes, not freelance work, not my blogs. If I have extra time, fine. Then write (or clean) away. But when it’s playtime, let it be playtime. Don’t try to make Madeline’s little plastic animals talk while emailing, meal planning and making a grocery list or sorting laundry.
So let’s all embrace my preschooler’s wisdom and make a deal. At least for today why don’t we all hang up our Super Woman capes and just concentrate on being super moms? Let’s play with our kids. Stare at our babies’ round, moving cheeks as they nurse. Watch our toddlers sleep. Twine a wisp of our little girl’s hair around our fingers. Coat our kids with kisses. Smother them with hugs. And when you cut the watermelon, give yourself permission to do just that and nothing more.
And know that we’re all doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing at that moment.