one thing at a time!

My mom used to say, “I only have two hands. I asked God for ten, but he only gave me two.”

Lately I’ve been realizing how I seldom do only one thing at a time. I don’t know if this is a general American culture thing, a scatterbrained thing, or a mom thing. Yet, at nearly any moment in time, I’m doing two or three things at once.

Cooking dinner? I’m probably also listening to music and negotiating peace between fighting kids.

Driving? Listening to music too.

Eating lunch? I’m making sure the kids are all fed. Or, if I serve them first, then I’m making my lunch while they’re eating and then I’m reading while I eat my own food (with, of course, five interruptions for things that Cannot Wait.)

It goes like this all over the place. To just about every activity you can add “supervising children.” That’s a given. But if I’m alone with the baby, and the baby’s napping, I snag some prayer time — and the cat jumps on me to be petted.

The only time I can say I’m fully doing one thing at a time is housecleaning, since you really can’t multitask scrubbing a bathtub with anything else. Although frankly, if I’m doing something truly monotonous, I’m probably using that head-space for story planning or prayer.

How does that affect our general happiness? It makes me wonder if we’re short-circuiting our own ability to feel joy or sorrow by never being fully present in a single space or a single time. There’s too much to do, yes, but at what point do we say, “Enough,” and that maybe we’re cramming in too much because that way, with everything smashed on top ¬†of everything else, it’s easier not to experience anything at all.


  1. cricketB

    Add setting an example or modeling to everything done while kids are aware.

    The podcast addiction is great for the house! Before then I used to plan bits of novels (only bits) or concentrate on not being frustrated by having to do it so often.

    I used to multi-task at bathtime. Tons of stuff to tidy and wipe while the kids are in the bath, and it’s easier to clean the tub after it’s soaked, while supervising kids drying off. The kids want to be alone for baths now, so I clean the tub after my shower.

    Supper pots (the kids do the dishwasher) are multi-tasked with listening for Dtr to stay in bed.

    Driving or walking with the kids is conversation time, often starting with an observation and ending with social studies or science. Walking with the moms is socializing and building networking, and comparing their kids’ experiences to ours, to get a less biased view of the class. Walking alone is listening or rehearsing, often also aerobics.

    The one thing I can’t multi-task with is my mind. I can’t listen to podcasts while thinking about anything, most of the time I can’t listen to them while driving, and I can’t combine paperwork — even sorting — with anything.

    I hear you about never being fully present. At the cottage this summer, I’d sit by the lake with knitting and podcasts, but for a few days it didn’t feel right to turn on the player. The lake and the knitting were enough.

    Now you have me thinking of my next task, groceries, in a new way. I don’t listen while shopping. I dread the day we all walk in our little worlds, unaware of the humans around us. More practically, I can’t listen while reading the list and negotiating the aisles. Today I’ll concentrate on being present (and humble, I keep forgetting the virtue of the week).

  2. Ken Rolph

    A friend of mine calls the time from 30 to 50 the Crowded Years. There’s so much going on for people at that time. He was looking for leaders for home groups, but discovered he could only find people over 50 with the necessary outlook and time.

    I vividly recall being 3 years old and lying in a patch of clover on the back lawn. There were many bees attracted to the clover, so I was laying back and watching them buzz overhead. The day was warm, the clover was soft and cool. I wasn’t anywhere else but there.

    Memories like this are coming back to me lately. You can get to a space in your life where your kids are launched out on their own and your parents are not yet in need of your help. I have to call the bank later today to finalise the last payment on the house. Money is no longer an issue. Jan is still teaching, so not around underfoot dring the week. You can discover that your attention span is what you make it, given a sufficient lack of distractions.

    Last week I had Pig City by Louis Sacchar out of the library. I started reading it and it hooked me, so I just kept going to the finish. That’s a more satisfying way to read novels than a chunk here and there. The interesting thing about reading is that you can go to the toilet or have lunch and still keep doing it. I don’t know if that counts as multitasking.

    Perhaps that is what the Third Age is for. You can be present to experiences while bringing a whole lifetime of preparation to it. Which is different to being present in the moment as a child. That has a quality of innocence and discovery to it.

    I never got stung by the bees.