Present Perfect

It’s hard to believe that it’s only July 23.

So far this month,

  • Boy Patriot turned 14 and attended two summer camps (Boy Scout camp and a high adventure camp for high schoolers).
  • Tiger and Mr. P attended Cub Scout camp.
  • Lucy attended Bible camp.
  • Hermione and I enjoyed a week of quiet with a trip to the beach in the middle.

Most of my month has been spent trying to organize and coordinate our next American Heritage Girls activity year. Due to circumstances both anticipated and unforeseen, I’ve had a lot more work on my plate than I thought I would. And because of the volume of work, I had to do something I’ve been avoiding for nearly a year.

I had to clean off my desk.

For a year, my little desk in a corner of my bedroom has been the place for accumulating random household papers, gifts from Lucy, carpet samples, school pictures, and a whole host of other paraphernalia unrelated to writing. I even moved my laptop to the kitchen counter to share it with Boy Patriot and Hermione and anyone else who needed it. In fact, I stopped calling it “my laptop” and started calling it “our computer” or “the computer.”

But the requirements of American Heritage Girls have given me reason to clean off my desk, reclaim my laptop, and set up shop again.

This was a bittersweet thing. I had to face demons underneath the clutter–the expired business license (which I needed when I wrote business copy), the signed contract from when I had a literary agent, old tax records, and the like. I had to put away the old–things that I have to admit, when I’m completely honest with myself, I still love and am still drawn to–and replace it with the new–things that are, in some ways, rather unappealing.

Setting up my desk was hard for another reason. I put away my writing in part because I had a very hard time extracting myself from the worlds in my head. I could not find balance–I could not figure out how to be present with my family and put my mom and wife duties first and still indulge in the other things that I love so much. I have a tendency toward tunnel vision. It’s really easy for me to slip into whatever thing is the obsession of the moment and focus wholly on that thing to the exclusion of everything else. I fear I’m opening that door again by setting up my desk. The location itself is isolating–back in my bedroom behind a closed door–but it’s necessary for concentration and quality work.

And yet, in the process of all of this, I notice several things:

  • It doesn’t matter what my responsibilities or commitments or hobbies or obsessions are–my kids are still the same. They still require feeding, mediation, direction, and discipline. Boy Patriot and Tiger still need someone to say, “turn off the screens and go outside.” Lucy still needs someone to say, “that is a fabulous drawing, sweetie.” Hermione still needs someone to listen to her latest musings. It’s true that as they mature they need less of the physical mothering, but sometimes, I still have to step into their lazy summer and say, “it’s 10:30 in the morning–get dressed!”
  • It doesn’t matter what the obsession of the moment is–I still get obsessed. It was writing for a long time. Then it was knitting, which was easier to justify since it’s so much less socially isolating. Now it’s American Heritage Girls, for better or worse. There have been times when it has been reading or exercise or scrapbooking or whatever the indulgence of the day is. This is how I’m wired, and it will be a constant, lifelong struggle for me to remember to balance myself.
  • It doesn’t matter what I’m doing as J M–I still have to be present in the moments with my kids, my family, my friends, my God. I do think I’m getting better at this, but it’s been a struggle this last year. But when Mr. P says, “let’s watch a movie,” I tend to pick up my knitting and watch with him (or the family) rather than go in the other room to write or work (and yes, I can watch TV and knit at the same time). When the kids ask to go to the library, I stress less about how I’ll fit it into my day and find myself far more likely to say, “sure, let’s find all the books and go.” When the parents or in-laws drop by, I don’t worry so much about a sink full of dishes and instead I concentrate on welcoming these loved ones into my imperfect, cluttered, and wholly lived-in home. This is a two steps forward, one step back process for me, but at least there’s some forward momentum.

Oddly, as I evaluate how to balance my life, I’m finding more time for my writing as well. And while it’s at times painful to confront the old spirits of my stories, it’s also comforting–like reconnecting with an old friend, the one you can just pick up where you left off and talk like it’s only been a day and not ten years.

I was busy with AHG stuff all week last week, so I had determined I would try to catch up on some household chores and relax a bit on Saturday. (I am determined to confine my administrative tasks for AHG to weekdays as much as possible.) Lucy was bored and grumpy and unfocused, so I suggested she go pick some blackberries for supper. I continued to putter around the house, and she came back in after only a few minutes with about ten berries. It was clear that what she really wanted was me–my attention, my help, my encouragement. So, we enlisted Tiger’s help as well, and we picked a big bowl of blackberries and made blackberry syrup to go with our ice cream.

Was it what I intended to do on Saturday? Not at all. But I put aside my other plans and listened to my daughter. It was the present.

And as I’m finding, the present is the perfect place to be.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

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2 thoughts on “Present Perfect

    1. jmpadoc Post author

      Thank you, Laurel. Yes, it is difficult to live in the present! It often becomes a “tomorrow” or “later” life–“I’ll help you with that later” or “we’ll go there tomorrow” are common phrases. Sometimes the delays are just necessary, but I fear I default to “later” too frequently. One moment at a time, I suppose . . .

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