I cut the watermelon

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.

“Hmmm?”

“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.

 Huh?

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.

 

“Mommy! Look!”

 

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.

A life of drudgery or a life of joy?

As part of her 120 Days to Momnipotence Series Danielle Bean wrote about the importance of enjoying what’s going on now. She quoted from The Virtue Driven Life A life of drudgery or a life of joy?.

In the book, Fr. Benedict Groeschel writes:

“Enjoy what’s going on while it’s going on. If you go to the supermarket, enjoy it. Don’t make it drudgery. Talk to the cashier. Speak to the people at the fruit counter. Chat with a neighbor. Try to get to know people, get them to talk to you, and make your passage through life pleasurable. If you are a private person and find it a chore or somewhat difficult to speak to strangers, at least smile. As an old extrovert, I deeply appreciate a quiet person with a genuine smile; in addition, such a person listens to us, which practically no one else does.”

Along the same vein in The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin stresses the importance of enjoying the process. She uses the example of choosing a birthday cake for her daughter. At first, she is tempted to get annoyed with how much time her daughter wants to invest into exploring cake options, but then she realizes this is where the joy is really unfolding.

Rubin writes,

“Enjoy the process. Eliza will enjoy eating the cake for only five minutes, but she can have hours of enjoyment planning the cake.”

So much of my life is about being process-involved. There’s the process of making sure kids are dressed and the girls’ hair is quasi-brushed so they don’t leave the house looking like a band of ragamuffins. Right now I’m in the process of teaching a child to read, and there’s the arduous saying (over and over again) of those short vowel sounds. 


There’s the bedtime process, which frequently has more steps than it would probably take to launch a nuclear attack. There’s the process of preparing meals and getting kids ready to head out to soccer. Honestly, if I reflect upon an ordinary day, I’m in the business of processes. I’m always taking action, little steps to achieve some particular end whether it’s making sure kids’ teeth are brushed to prevent cavities and/or severe halitosis or reading a book to a child in the hopes I am feeding his mind with imagination and beautiful language.

Some of these steps I take throughout the day are enjoyable like the aforementioned reading of a book, especially if it’s a good book, but a lot of what I do could easily fall into the category of drudgery. But only if I let it. I can make it drudgery – or not. I have to enjoy what I’m doing now. I have to enjoy the process of taking care of kids: the schlepping, the cleaning, the refereeing, the teaching. After all, I am doing all of this in the hopes that I will achieve a particular end: I will raise happy, healthy, and kind children who will go out into the world with faith, confidence, and the knowledge that they were (are!) loved.

Like Rubin, I have a little girl who is similarly making big plans for her birthday cake. She even drew a picture of what she hopes her fairy cake will look like. I could let the thought of figuring out how to make a fairy house on a cake stress me out. It could become just another thing on a never-ending to-do list. Or I could approach the task joyfully, knowing full well that even if her cakes comes out looking more like a fairy hovel, she will think it’s perfectly lovely.

fairy cake design 1024x768 A life of drudgery or a life of joy?

Mary Elizabeth’s vision for her woodland fairy cake

I don’t always enjoy what’s going on or am even aware of what I’m doing. I’m too busy thinking ahead or trying to prevent a toddler from killing himself. Sometimes I look back at my day and all I see is drudgery. But it’s not the nature of the work that makes it so, it’s the nature of the person doing it.

I can be joyful or not. It’s my choice. I can enjoy what I’m doing or not. I can see the day-to-day grind as just that: a grind. Or I can see it as a doling out of sacrificial love. I can only hope for the end, or I can savor the process. I can view children as inconveniences I have to manage or as blessings I need to revel in. I can smile at strangers, talk at clerks, or be in such a hurry to be done with my errands that I miss out on the satisfaction of a simple human interaction.

I can see my life as one of drudgery or one of joy. I choose joy.

Why fasting on food all throughout Lent isn’t the best path to holiness for me

This post is a part of my Recycled Series.

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.

Lent is a season of fasting – including fasting from food. Fasting can be a fruitful spiritual discipline, but it also can be meaningless if you approach it like a diet.

These 40 days are supposed to be a preparation for Easter, not a slim-down strategy for swimsuit season. Fasting is not a divine diet plan where we whittle away the thick layer of adipose tissue that’s leftover from winter hibernation and sneaking snacks.

Fasting and not eating are two very different things. There was a time in my life when I was very good at not eating, and Lent provided the perfect cover-up for my obsession with the pursuit of thinness and wielding control over the number on the scale.

“I’m not on a diet,” I’d say when  a friend asked me why I wasn’t eating. “I’m fasting for Lent.”

The pounds dropped, and I felt a high. I was a weight loss junkie – not a spiritual mystic practicing the holy art of self-sacrifice.

I originally decided to give up chocolate and other sweets as has always been my Lenten custom. Then we arrived at the beach with my parents, and the girls wanted ice cream and so did I, but I fell prey to my old thought pattern. “I have to be in a swimsuit here. I can’t eat that.”

So what did I do? I broke my Lenten promise and I ate a small scoop of ice cream. Instead of fasting on the “evil” food, I fasted on the unhealthy guilt associated with eating it. I fasted on the vanity of worrying what I might look like in a swimsuit if I ate three meals like a normal person.

This proved to be more of a self-sacrifice than denying myself of calories (which is more likely to send me on a power trip about how strong I am to eat less than most people).

I’m not suggesting that some people – even those who have had or have issues with food – cannot benefit from fasting during Lent. Hunger pangs can remind us that our physical hunger is not nearly as strong as our hunger for Christ, the Bread of Life.

But for me, fasting can easily become a way to camouflage my vanity and my hunger for control and a slimmer figure.

Now fasting from the Internet and blog comments [what I gave up several Lents ago] – that’s another story altogether. This has required much self-sacrifice. This has demanded vigilance and temperance and self-control, and I’ve found I was much better at depriving myself of food than staying away from the glowing rectangle except for small pockets of time each day. That’s probably a good sign that this kind of fast will bear more fruit than the food kind.

I’ve fallen. I’ve caved into temptation. I hadn’t seen a computer in three days. Three. Days. Then the sky turned grey and sheets of rain began to fall. What was I to do with all my time? So I cracked open my laptop (that was with us only because my husband needed it to study for his upcoming boards). I had a few emails that seemed very, very important at the time. I felt the need to answer them. Right. Now. But once I hit send, I wondered when I’d hear back. There was one email from someone who seemed upset with something I’d written. I shared it with my husband.

“Why do you care what that one person thinks? It doesn’t matter. Let it go.”

And with those words – let it go – I realized that this is what Lent is really about. It’s about letting go of unhealthy relics of a past eating disorder. It’s about letting go of the compulsion to communicate with strangers and to instead have a good chat with God or read my child an extra story. It’s letting go of my fear that everyone won’t like me. It’s about letting go of of what I want for my life and being open to what God wants for me. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at once. And it may not be body-definiting, but with God’s grace, this letting go just may be soul-defining.

« Previous PageNext Page »