It’s my birthday, and has it been a busy year! My third child is finally at school. I am working part time and studying part time and running a household and doing all the things that people my age do. But today, being my birthday, it is time to take stock and reflect.
Yesterday, I met with my professional supervisor. ‘What are you going to give yourself for your birthday?’ she asked. ‘Think about a gift you can give, from deep in yourself to yourself, and tell me about it next time.’
This morning I woke up and knew what it would be: permission to stop striving. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but there’s sometimes wrong with endless striving. I get up in the morning, organise three kids out the door and ride them to school. Then I turn around and ride home. I work and study for five or six hours, stopping only to eat and pee, then hop back on the bike and pick the kids up from school. We cycle home, I feed them, then I bring the washing in, tidy the back table, organise piano practice, listen to readers, cook dinner, and do all the things every parent does every night of the week. My partner comes home and asks me how my day was, and I say, ‘I feel like I haven’t done anything.’ He asks me what I have actually done, and I say things like, ‘Well, I did a first draft of a book review for a journal, and wrote up the minutes of a meeting and made a heap of phone calls and met with my supervisor and sorted three loads of washing and cooked dinner and actually, there was a bit there after all, wasn’t there?’. He looks at me and smiles, yes.
Because I work in a church, I always work on Sunday evenings; and because I’m often preaching, I’ll write for a few hours many Saturdays, too. Because the kids are at school all week, I feel like I can’t ‘waste’ that time, and so I also work Monday to Friday. Because Easter is a big work week, with services on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and a gathering on Sunday morning, and because my husband had to work over the school holidays, I didn’t get a break these Easter holidays from either my work or the kids. And so in fact I have worked for some hours at least of very many days in a row; and also been busy with children.
All things considered, I’m hardly twiddling my thumbs. Yet despite this activity, I often feel like I’m not doing enough. There are so many ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that I find it hard to do the things that aren’t at the top of the list – like write a blog post, for example.
But today is my birthday, and I have given myself permission to stop striving. So I took the kids to school and went to the canteen. I usually work there for an hour on Tuesdays, but today, because I was not striving, I stayed longer. I sat on the deck with other parents and chatted over coffee about trees and gardens. Then I headed into the kitchen, where I made spinach and cheese pastries, and learned how to roll pastry like an empanada. I talked with my friend who runs the canteen: about parenting and housework, meditation and the meaning of life. She gave me a new cookbook, written by a friend of hers. In a quiet moment, we flicked through it and I was so inspired that I went home via the shops to buy the ingredients for a warming soup.
Because I wasn’t striving, I called a friend and had a birthday chat. Then, feeling decadent, I ate my birthday chocolate as an entrée to my vegetable lunch. I thought of ten jobs I should do, but I stood at the window and gazed at the pear tree, instead. The tree is turning from green to red, and the top is crowned in blazing leaves. I remembered a post I wrote years ago, about another pear tree, and dug it out and read it. And then, because I wasn’t striving, I decided to write this.
And to all you gardeners out there, yes, the photograph is of a crab apple leaf; the red leaves on the pear tree are too high for a good photo just yet! And this book is my most excellent birthday present - thanks Kris!