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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How to Juggle a Frantic Life

I have so many balls I’m juggling these days: wife to my very busy husband, mom to my rambunctious boys, nurse to everyone in the house who’s gotten sick lately, handyman (or woman, whichever you prefer), painter, researcher, cook, secretary, housekeeper, tutor, counselor. I have so many projects beyond the usual upkeep of things: fixing up and getting ready to sell a house, sorting through rooms of boxes to get organized and help my family do the same, and last, but not least, trying to build a career as a writer. I feel swamped, half drowned, and like hell’s fiercest hounds are bearing down on my heels. Do you ever feel that way?

This afternoon, I had a good talk with my brother to sort out my thoughts, which were jumping around with wild, frantic abandon, and he helped me remember one of the major keys to handling an overflowing life: Prioritize and take things one at a time.

It brought to mind the analogy of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Its grander and more elaborate composition mirrors this busier, crazier time in my life. Some of the dishes promise succulent sweetness, the taste of fond childhood, or the promise of fresh newness. Some you make just because your mother always did or because a guest asked ever so nicely about or your spouse insisted on. You don’t have to like them all. Some you look forward to by vast degrees more than others. But one way or another, the meal is not complete until they are all finished.

Along the way, some won’t turn out how you expected. The rolls might burn. The turkey might not be as moist as you intended. You might have had to use canned corn rather than shucking those perfect stalks you bought special and imagined cooking to delicious, sweet perfection, but you ran out of time. So the corn is a little bland, but at least, you have it. The green beans are too droopy. The mashed potatoes are too lumpy for your aunt and too smooth for your daughter. You’ve lost your favorite tablecloth and had to substitute with the cheap orange one you once bought for a Halloween party. The carving knife wasn’t sharp enough, and your brother chipped the turkey platter on the corner while carrying it into the dining room. You’re sweaty, exhausted—after all, you had to get up at 3 a.m. to defrost that darned turkey—and you just know everyone is going to complain about something.

But when you sit down at the dinner table, something magical happens. Someone says grace, and for the breadth of what feels like soft time hanging between ticks, everyone has to stop. Your pounding, anxious heart starts to slow in the quiet, and for one of those rare instances in life, everyone is unified on a single moment. Perhaps they murmur a prayer. Perhaps they simply think about what the day means, what they’re thankful for or what they wish they could give thanks for. Perhaps, like you, they just enjoy the peaceful end of bustle and the quiet, yet fleeting pure moment of life where everyone comes together, a dozen or so souls mingling to celebrate companionship, family, and the gifts they have.

This sets a decent tone for the rest of the meal. And while a sheen of sweat still clings to your brow and, really, the velvet dress was probably a bit much with the heat cranked up so high, you can start to smile. Someone opens a bottle of wine, plates are topped with the day’s plenty, and a buzz of eager conversation hums through the air like the waking of spring birds. Sure, it’s cold outside and the bustle will never really stop, but for now, the meaning behind it all offers itself for appreciation. And you admire it, for all your burned and imperfect dishes, for all the heaps of dirty dishes waiting to be tackled when everyone is through. For now, you can smile because you have your perspective.

Life is like this. The crazy times when it feels like a whirlwind will rip you to shreds and leave only a few, raw pieces behind are a bit like Thanksgiving dinners. The chaos, the frantic sense of time, the mistakes, the missed opportunities, the rush, the pressure. But when it’s all said and done, if you manage it with your sanity intact, you manage because you took one dish at a time. Certainly, the turkey needed basting, but you never would have finished mashing the potatoes if you’d let yourself race about the kitchen, trying to accomplish everything at once. Maybe that means the turkey isn’t quite as moist, but it means you managed turkey, potatoes, and fruit salad as well. A lot can occur all at once, but you take it one thing at a time, whatever is the most pressing gets your attention while you keep an ear out for the timers to go off on the others. You prioritize. Defrost turkey first. Peel carrots and locate all needed dishes and recipes while turkey defrosts. Preheat oven. You get the idea.

But even more importantly than that, take moments to appreciate what it’s all about. Thanksgiving isn’t really about the turkey or the cranberries. It’s not about dinner getting ready on time or locating the perfect wine. Thanksgiving is about appreciating what we have and those around us. When life becomes wild and frantic, remember why you’re beating a path through it. For me, it’s for my family, my husband, my boys. For me, it’s about making the best I can for those I love.

How about you? What do you go through the crazy parts of life for?

1 comment:

  1. My sympathies, friend! Hang in there with all that business. You're an inspiration!