A few weeks back we got a letter from my son’s teacher. “Nicky is having a hard time focusing in class.” I sigh. Every year we’ve gotten the same one. And every year I consider putting my son on focus medication to aid his concentration.

On one hand, I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with medication. I’m on a minor dose myself for anxiety. I’m a writer. I come from a long line of neurotic intellectuals. It’s in my blood, along with boatloads of bagels and Yuban.

But when I look a bit deeper, I have to ask the question, “Why, Andrea, are you so anxious? And why, perhaps, is Nicky not paying attention?”  Let’s look at the facts, shall we?

The cold truth about anxiety and concentration as it pertains to the Frazers… Starting with Tuesday!

On this lovely day, every single week, I’m up at 5 a.m. to get to work by 6 a.m. I leave work by 2 p.m. to get my kids from school by 3 p.m. “Oh, kids, you want to play? Ha! Sorry! No time for idle flower picking or sunshine.” Snacks must be consumed by 4 p.m. so homework can be done by 5 p.m. Dinner is at 6 p.m. so my daughter can make it to ballet by 7:30 p.m. Often my son goes with us on these late night excursions since my husband is busy starting up his new company.

Why such a late class in the first place? Well… It was so hectic getting used to my new job, by the time I got around to signing my kid up for dance, the reasonable hour classes were  filled. Besides, I couldn’t afford ballet before my new job anyway, which, of course, leads me to the question, “Is it WORTH the price I’m paying for the aftermath that ensues?”

Such aftermath includes getting the kids in bed by 10 p.m. This means the next day, at 6:30 a.m. when they stumble out of bed with tired eyes and yawns, they’re exhausted with lack of sleep, ensuring that my daughter will be crabby and my son will be less efficient at paying attention at school.

This brings me back to the beginning of this blog where I’m reading that letter from my son’s teacher. It leads me to, inevitably, having conversations with my girlfriends about how I’m not really enjoying life as much as I’d like to be because I’m so busy meeting deadlines. It leads me to feeling guilty if I don’t sign my kids up for enrichment classes, but feeling guilty if I do sign them up, because other areas of their life suffer. It leads me to the epiphany that I am, indeed, ON THE TREADMILL. But how do I get off?

In this New York Times article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” author Tim Kreider delves deep into this subject.

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ’So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.”

He goes on to say, “Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ‘encouraged’ their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”

Um, yup, I relate to that. And to this:

“Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s.”

And this.

“Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.”

Maybe you, as a self-imposed victim of the busy trap, are nodding your head in agreement. You want to be more relaxed, but you don’t know how. Maybe you even find your busy schedule validating in a way.

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

As a Christian, I’m going to call you on it, along with myself. It’s non-sense.

We are making “busyness” our idol. By putting things and events before peace in our family, we are telling God, “You are not enough. My kids are not enough without the trophies. They are not enough without that Ivy League University Acceptance Level. I am not enough without the promotion.”

Go ahead – shout at me through the computer, “But I haaaaave to work! My kids need those after school classes! My son has to have that iPod! I need to put FOOD on my table!” 

I get it. Some busyness is unavoidable. For example, I’m the sole breadwinner right now for my family. I can’t be present as much as I used to be. But it also means I’m not Superwoman. In all reality, my daughter did not need to take ballet. My son could learn some better discipline and go to bed early, even if his sister is up late. I can stop scheduling ten billion things into my day so that I can sit at the end of an evening with my spouse and read a book to him.

The way I see it, it’s not about all or nothing. It’s about living consciously. And really, I can’t do that if it’s all about me. It simply can’t be. To avoid the busy trap, I need the God trap first. I need to remember what is most important. It’s not what I do in my life, but who I am in my life, that makes a difference.

Comment: What about you? What can you do this week to slow down and breathe?

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