Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
This blog, Strive to Engage, is about engagement and connection. As any parent will know, the bond with one’s children is the strongest form of engagement possible. And, while often challenging, it is undoubtedly the most rewarding connection. As the Trailing Man I’m fortunate enough to be able to focus on this bond and – through a number of conscious lifestyle decisions that we have made as a family – enjoy the mixed pleasures of school drop off and pickup.
Drop off and pick up are somewhat different experiences, mostly because by the end of a school day the kids are tired and hungry and therefore prone to volatility. Both moments, however, have a peculiar capacity to defy the laws of physics. Like something out of a science-fiction movie, they bend time and space. They are the point where all the lifestyle choices, all our personal traits and all the vicissitudes of the day manifest are compressed into a weighty moment.
The lifestyle choices … have the kids had a healthy breakfast? Experience, and now research, shows that a sugary or high-carbohydrate breakfast compromises performance (that is, focus and concentration) and mood for a whole 24 hours afterwards compared to a protein-rich (that is, low glycaemic-load) breakfast. Do they have all the gear they need for the day? Increasingly the days are cold and often wet. Now it is dawning on us that the clothing that sufficed in Canberra’s deepest winter isn’t sufficient here; just this morning there was lamentation about the inability of gloves to keep hands warm. And inordinate amount of time (and money) is spent on anxiety-driven shopping as we face up to the weather here. Are we on time? Getting ready is often a cortisol-drenched, stressful affair, as tired and lethargic children struggle to find pieces of clothing, complain about breakfast and get distracted by life.
Here the lifestyle choices are critical, and we made resolution a long time ago that we would live close to the children’s school so that they could sleep for longer in the mornings and hopefully get to school on time. In that strange paradox that we all know, living close to the school generates a tendency for us to arrive late…both here and in Canberra we were probably the closest we could have been to the school but more often than not the latest to arrive. I guess we’re not a morning family.
Just today my son asked why I don’t get a “full job” instead of the casual work I do now. The answer is that we see clearly that having two-full time professionals, of even two career-minded professionals, in a household comes at the cost of lifestyle (and sanity). Without the extra time that part-time or casual work affords there would not be the time available for our quasi-leisurely mornings (albeit with a good dose of angst), considered shopping and meal preparation and sufficient attention to domestic duties.
It’s not just the lifestyle choices that come to bear in the moment of drop off. Our personal situations, too, collide at that point. The walk, however brief, is always an opportunity for some valuable communication – concerns or expectations about the day are shared, as well as trivia from the day before. And moods sometimes collide, though it’s a relief to find that no matter how rough the getting-out-of-the-door routine was everything seems to have always settled by the time drop off occurs.
The vicissitudes of the day come in to play more at the end of the day, when the children often have stories they are bursting to recount (to the point that their alacrity sometimes doesn’t leave breathing space). Or, often, disappointments to share (typically about having missed out on the jam, fruit or other sugary food that was on offer at the cafeteria because it ran out before they could get to it). Then too, though, there’s the buzz of expectation, about what’s for dinner, what’s planned for the evening, and – sometimes – about hearing about someone else’s day.
These moments, then, when we disconnect and reconnect, are particularly charged. They’re the times when the seeds we planted come to fruition. Poor planning makes for a messy drop off or a conflict-ridden pickup. Keeping energy in reserve and staying agile makes these moments the intimate and powerful transitions they’re meant to be.
But there’s something else about these moments that makes them interesting. I noticed it, today, when after fare-welling my children I saw a mother do the same with her daughter. I saw, on their faces and in their actions, the manifestation of that moment when their days split and their personalities, even, transformed. I see it too, in myself, all the time. We say bye for the day and before we’ve even finished cuddling or waving good bye we’ve disconnected, changing from a member of a family unit to an individual.
No sooner have my children turned their back and I’m mentally, and even physically, charging towards my next task. Sometimes it’s domestic – the shopping, emails or administrivia. Sometimes it’s personal (and indulgent) – launching (literally) straight into a run (we’re blessed with some very steep hills in Trondheim that make running very effective) or into a work task. Whatever it is, though, it marks a rapid and wholescale shift in my being. And I’m sure it’s the same for the kids, as they launch into connecting with friends, engaging with school work and managing their day-to-day responsibilities (in a way that increasingly makes us prouder and prouder).
Back in Canberra, when life was a bit more harried, I used to feel sometimes that the moment when the day switched to my personal concerns (even if they were household-centric) marked the “start” of the day. Now that I’m enjoying a more spacious, slower existence I’ve come to realise that the day started much earlier…before we woke up even, because the consequences of our choices and actions reach far into the future to affect many mornings.
But most importantly, I’m starting to see that it’s worthwhile lingering on those moments when connections come and go. That perhaps they aren’t just the means to an end (namely, getting the kids off to school, or collecting them afterwards). I think, perhaps, they’re an end in themselves and something that I should linger on more…
From A Shropshire Lad, by A.E. Housman (1896)
From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.
Now– for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart–
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.
Speak now, and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way.