As I sit writing this on a rainy May morning, my house is increasingly filled with cardboard boxes and piles of mysteriously acquired belongings that need to be sorted through. After four years in our adopted home of Vermont, our family is days away from a big move to Massachusetts. Vermont has been a wonderful place to live; green and peaceful, with a nice long season for picking both blueberries and apples. It is hard to ask for much more. But my husband’s time as a medical student here has ended, and residency– along with its more urban pastures– is calling.
Undertaking a long-distance move as a family of four (with a handful of pets, no less), might normally be the sort of process that I would reflect upon from a mostly sentimental perspective. Thinking about the things that we are leaving behind, for example. Or the people that we will miss. But this time around, I find myself considering the current situation from a different vantage point altogether: I can’t stop thinking about how it is really a whole lot of work. The sorting, the packing, the planning. Calling utility companies, exploring schooling options for our daughter, thinking about how we will find the right size baby gates to keep our son from falling down the numerous sets of stairs in the new house. And when I start finding myself focused on the amount of effort and plain-old busy involved in making this move, it isn’t long before I start to feel as if there is no end to the work and the effort and the general needs of daily living. And this is when I need to remind myself that not only is this true, it is also perfectly fine.
Our upcoming move is perhaps an extreme example of the work involved in the daily living of family life. Not all of us will have to move houses with any regularity, and some families are so fortunate as to settle in somewhere well-suited to them and to be able to just stay put. But even for those families, the work of daily living is all around. There will be full laundry baskets and meals to cook. There will be bills that need mailing, or dishes that need washing. There will be appointments and errands. Occasional vacuuming is generally considered a good thing. Some of this can be minimized through clever feats of planning and organization, certainly, but a rich family life will always come with tasks that need doing in order to keep it humming along. And this is what I try to remind myself when the laundry pile is overflowing onto the floor in front of the dryer, or when I am engaged in the process of attempting to circumnavigate my family’s numerous food allergies and sensitivities in pursuit of a nourishing meal; the work of daily life is constant, and it is, in itself, worth doing.
To say that I am approaching the tasks of daily life with an eye towards mindfulness, or at least acceptance of the idea that they will never all be completely finished, certainly represents a shift in my way of thinking. There was a time when I was certain that there was a way to get it all done. That there was a mythical evening hour in which I would survey the landscape of my domestic life and declare that indeed, there was nothing out of place, no chore left undone. And then I could commence with enjoying myself, or feeling peace, or allowing myself to be in the moment. Because the moment would be perfect. Making the mental shift to understanding the ridiculous nature of this thinking has been a process, I assure you. It was not as if someone suggested that I approach my life with more mindfulness, or acceptance, and then I flipped the switch and that was that. Instead, I found myself needing to think my way through piles of laundry as I folded them, telling myself that there wasn’t going to be a permanently empty basket in my future. It would refill with things that would need to be washed and folded again. And this was fine. It was the laundry pile version of the cycle of life as a whole, and I might as well get into the rhythm of the thing and find ways to embrace the moment. To think about the softness of the fabrics I was touching, or the brightness of the colors. To just notice the movements of my hands as I worked my way through the pile, without feeling anxious that I wasn’t going to get it done quickly enough to move onto something else in as short a time as I possibly could.
More and more, there are articles in the media about how busy we all are, and how families are increasingly focused on attempts to embrace the idea of “slow family living.” I, for one, am a fan of the idea of doing less and slowing down a bit more. But I think that there is a certain danger in expecting too much of attempts to adopt a slower family lifestyle. Time and time again it seems that families gravitate towards the ideas presented as “slow family living” only to find themselves flustered and upset when they still feel busy, or when daily life doesn’t seem to be all that much slower. And this is where, for myself, the idea of acceptance is becoming increasingly important. The cleaning and the cooking and the controlled chaos of raising small people to be bigger ones isn’t going anywhere. But I can choose how I approach the doing of these things. And I can choose to view them as processes, as journeys, as roads to travel. I may not travel the road with the end destination always clearly in sight, and that is okay. All the more reason to constantly remind myself to enjoy the trip itself.
Annie Riechmann is an educator, blogger and mama to two small people who lives in the Burlington, Vermont area. Annie is also the creator and publisher of Alphabet Glue, a literacy themed e-magazine for families. A lover of knee-high striped socks, collecting acorns and surprise snow days, Annie is also an associate editor here at Rhythm of the Home. You can visit her at her own online home, Bird and Little Bird, where she writes about everything from books and babies to laundering snowpants and the enumerable joys of putting a husband through medical school.