Last May a friend who recently moved from Texas stopped me after a school concert to ask, “Why is it so crazy where we live? When I lived in Texas it wasn’t like this.” She’s right. It is crazy in our neck of the woods so here are a few strategies to combat that choking, stressed out feeling of back-to-school.
We live in a performance driven Chicago suburb. Here, like many other affluent burbs, parents can drown themselves and their kids in a thousand productive and good activities which will shape their kids’ future. In a single day dozens of “opportunities” float across my computer screen enticing parents to sign up. Everything from knitting clubs, piano lessons, in-home baking classes and the ever expanding list of club sports all of which are beyond the regular after-school offerings. Parents want their beautiful stars and starlets to step forward into the next arena of dawn until dusk development. In our world, this is what good parents do. They provide experiences for their children which will hopefully capture their hearts and minds, enhancing focus and direction for the future. Overloading schedules can result in burnout with mom or dad in the drivers seat from 3:30 until 7:30. Dinner ends up being an already baked chicken from the grocery store and mac an’ cheese. No veggies, except for mini-carrots (which are packaged in chlorine F.Y.I.). I’ve lived this routine. Our daughter used to eat her dinner in the car on the way home from ballet at 9:00p.m., shower and head up to her room for hours of homework. Not exactly family time.
Another reason why it is so “crazy” here is that we live in America. This is an achievement driven culture that thrives on crossing off the to-do list and winning awards. If we are not doing then we are dying and I’m not talking about death to self. Yes, we are all dying but the doing somehow allows us to disguise the dying part. In our beautiful, green suburban enclave this is keenly felt. Almost every parent I know posts photos of their child’s current accomplishments on Facebook or drives them around on their bumper. “My child is an honor student at Hadley” the sticker reads. What is with those white stick figures that people put on their cars? Mom, Dad, eight children and four pet stickies which scream I AM SO BUSY. If we aren’t doing and now thanks to social media, PROCLAIMING to the world, we must be living dormant worthless lives. How can we stop the suburban spin and get off?
I spent summer mornings running or biking in a variety of forest preserves. Along the trail I’d stop. Taking a pause in the middle of my run, and look out at a vista and pray there. Right in our own crazy neighborhood, a quiet, morning beauty. I was running, but also resting. Seeking out spaces without cars, just crickets and birds. Saint James Farm overflows with giant oak trees, pastures, hidden creeks and trails. Along one of these gravel paths lies the Horse and Hound cemetery. Mr. McCormick, the creator of Saint James, loved his animals and laid them to rest amidst etched crosses reflecting an era all but gone in our county. This is a great fencepost legacy to lean into. Loving animals. Creating sacred space. Allowing others to partake and enjoy the bounty. Just a place to thank God for the day we’ve been given and all the people who’ve gone before us to make our lives more beautiful and rich.
If running isn’t your thing, take a walk and grab a Starbucks. Sit by a fountain with your journal and make a list of all the things you are NOT going to do this fall. Close your eyes and drink in the spray mixed with the waning sun on your face coupled with that burned coffeebean taste of your latte. Resolve to seek quiet, seek beauty, rest in faith. The less we succumb to our external realities the more space we create for cultivating our internal reservoir. Remember to tell your children as they gulp down their mac n’ cheese how and where you found your quiet, holy order today (which hopefully spills over into theirs.) We can resist the crazy culture of overload if we give value to cultivating sacred space and sharing it with those we love. Sacred according to Merriam-Webster means “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a diety.” Churches are a blessing, but what other sacred spaces are in your own back yard? Go there this fall and breathe.
Ann Gemmel says
Margaret – Your writing is both wise and beautiful. This crazy pace and unattainable expectations are heavy yokes I am trying to further detach from. I am becoming a spiritual director to come alongside others seeking space to be quiet and listen to the voice of God.
Margaret Philbrick says
Hi Ann, I just read your comment! How wonderful you are becoming a spiritual director. You will be fantastic at that! May your detachment continue to succeed in 2019 and I’m so sorry about your sister! Much love, m.p.