In praise of unstructured being

Haven’t gotten much writing done lately. A cold has been working it’s way through the family, so lots of having the kids home from school. I’m trying to look at it as an opportunity to enjoy having some time with them, though the proliferation of snotty tissues detracts a bit. As soon as both kids were well again, school let out for a teacher work day. I’m off work from my steady paycheck job on Fridays, and I usually try to get in at least a morning worth of writing.  But again, I decided my kids won’t be around forever. They’re 13 & 10 right now, and the older one especially is gravitating more toward friends than parents. But yesterday, I had them to myself.

Besides, the weather did a turn-around.  Tuesday’s overnight low was around 6 degrees F.  Friday’s daytime high was around 67 degrees F. The 10-year-old needed a haircut. Since the salon we used is next door to a sandwich place, I decided we should pick up some lunch there.  My daughter (the teenager) suggested taking our food to a park for a picnic.  It was at this point that I realized how easy I am. All it took for me to swoon with joy was finding out she still wanted to do such a thing with her family.  

It was one of the happiest afternoons I’ve had in a while, a day at the park with the kids. We had no pressure, no agenda, no school or other activity for which we had to rush off, no goals to accomplish, nothing to do except enjoy the weather and be with each other.  We ended up at a creek that was still thick with inches of ice, despite the warm day. It doesn’t get a lot of sun, so the thaw was slow. The three of us spent a good hour sliding rocks and sticks on the ice, then throwing rocks to see if they’d break the ice, and occasionally examining rocks for fossils. 

Did this activity educate us in some way? Don’t know.  Did it improve their chances for future employment? Probably not. Was it worth the time we spent on it?  Absolutely. At the end of the day, I was in a better mood than I have been for ages. The evidence shows the kids were, as well. 

My favorite memories of family time all involve unstructured, unplanned, informal hours  of doing not much more than hanging out. We all recall with fondness a night we set up an indoor tent using bed sheets tied to furniture, then took turns sitting in it while other family members made designs on the top with glow sticks. I can’t remember who first thought of doing it. It’s not something you’d find in a magazine article about enrichment activities for your child. It’s the kind of thing that can only happen spontaneously. 

Sometimes I think we tend to get so scheduled and so concerned with development or enrichment or improvement or whatever that we don’t leave ourselves time just to be. But it’s okay sometimes not to be able to give a list of accomplishments for the day.  Sometimes it’s okay, and even preferable simply to hang out, to spend some time enjoying our existence.

Opening Up to Joy

Earlier this year my sister and mom were visiting my house. Sis mentioned her plan to buy a new toaster when she got home, to which my mom replied “I have one I never use. You can take it.” 

My sister joked about how easy it was; all she had to do was say she needed something and it magically appeared. Laughing along, I announced to the air “I could really use a new couch. Just putting that out there.” 

It was a throw-away comment that I forgot almost immediately, though truly, we did need a new couch. We never sat on the old one because doing so caused the cushions to slide off. I didn’t fret about it; I figured we’d get money for a replacement eventually. I certainly didn’t expect a couch to appear the way my sister’s toaster did.

But a couple of weeks later I received a phone call from a friend who had been gifted a new leather sofa from her mother.  She wanted to know if I’d like her old one – free. Whoa! and YES! Her old couch was newer and much nicer than my old couch. In fact, I loved her couch. So I put it out there and a couch came into my life.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself reading tips for coping during tough economic times. One of the suggestions was to open yourself to receiving money in any way that’s honest. We could use a bit of extra cash right now. I don’t think of myself as a person who does this kind of thing – projecting out to the universe that I could use some dough, so howsabout it? But then I decided the worst that could happen is I’d feel silly, and nobody else would even have to know. So I spent a couple of days thinking “I’m open to receiving money.” 

Double whoa! A check I wasn’t expecting came in the mail. It was from an insurance company, which might qualify for a triple whoa. I hadn’t realized my husband had passed his medical deductible for the year. Since we paid up front, the reimbursement came back to us instead of the doctor.

I’m an agnostic. To me that means it’s okay to say you don’t know everything. I’m not big on prayer. I’ve been more of the mindset that if I need something, I make a plan and I work hard for it. Yet what was that I did with the couch and the money? Was it prayer? Did I get them just because I asked for them? I wonder. Then I remind myself of the vast inequities in the world. I don’t think it’s a matter of the bridge-dweller not being open enough to receiving what s/he needs.  Lots of people wish for new couches and some extra cash and don’t get them. 

But I did, this time (and time.) It made me think about what it means, opening myself up to something. It’s not as if I only thought how nice it would be to receive these things, with no other influences on the process.  My good friend knew the condition of my couch and I had mentioned a few times in my life that I needed a new one. Isn’t that more like telling acquaintances you’re looking for work during a job search. Maybe it’s more networking than prayer. Plus my husband and I had to pull the seats out of our van, pick up the couch during a certain time frame, and carry it into our house. So, you know, we did some work for it. Plus, I didn’t say I would only settle for a brand new $4,000 leather sofa. I only wanted a good enough piece of furniture.  And with the money, even though I had lost track of where we stood with the deductible, I did the work of filing the insurance paperwork; it wasn’t a case of some anonymous benefactor picking my name out of the phone book. 

Another factor I’ve been considering: I have witnessed people, myself included, lose out on things because they closed themselves to the possibility. How many people have missed what could have been great friendships because they weren’t open to others who were too different in some way or another?  

The sofa and the check probably would have shown up at the same times, whether or not I had consciously said I was open to them. Perhaps what I opened myself up to most was noticing the goods I was receiving. Maybe in telling the universe I was open to receiving something, I was really informing myself. Maybe. 

I haven’t been able to stop my mind from wandering down the what else path. What else should I “open” myself to? I have a feeling I should keep greed out of it. So what do I really want more of? What do I need more of? What would make me happy? During one of these musing sessions, my brain conjured up a quote from Aeschylus: “Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.”

2008 has been a challenging year for me, with a lot of stress, a fair amount of worry and some loss. Often I feel as if I’m in trudge mode, getting through my to-do list and not much more. I tried to remember the last time I felt real, true joy and I’m not sure when that was. Yet, I have so many blessings, my husband and children not least among them. And don’t forget the couch, nor the friend who gave it to me. I need to remember to notice them, to make the effort to take joy when I can.

So here it is. I am opening myself up to receiving joy. Just putting that out there.