On Wednesday I was rushing to get the kids to gymnastics after school. It’s not a terrible hurry – the venue is only 5 minutes away, and they have to have a snack and a drink and get changed, but we have half an hour to play with. It does rather depend on the girls coming down to the school gate reasonably promptly, however, and on this occasion I seemed to have lost Miss 6.
When she finally appeared my time-stress was starting to make itself apparent, and I called up the hill to her: “Come on, Kiddo! We’ve got gym, we’ve got to get going!” but she still didn’t pick up the pace. When she got to me I started in on the usual lecture about needing to hurry on Wednesdays, and she stopped me with a beatific smile on her face.
“I couldn’t hurry, Mummy. A butterfly landed on me, and if I hurried I would have scared it away.”
Well. How can you argue with that? Who wants to be the mum who scares butterflies? Or worse, who forces her children to scare butterflies. So we slowed down and talked about the butterfly, the colours and patterns on its wings, and what an honour it was to have a butterfly land on you. And indeed we made it to gymnastics in plenty of time, even with snacking, changing, demonstrating some particularly tricky moves, and playing with friends while the room was setup by the coaches.
Then I rushed off to do the fruit and veggie shopping, hurtled home to put everything in the fridge, and realised that we weren’t quite out of the one crucial item that would have made a trip to the supermarket mandatory. With that I stopped. I sat and had a cup of tea while I contemplated that notional butterfly.
I think I spend my life not so much scaring butterflies as tramping all over them. When my yoga teacher, Roman, commented yesterday that we spend our lives in a state of permanent emergency, it struck a loud and violent chord within me. I am always lining up the things I have to do like tin ducks to be shot one by one in a side show. Perfectionist that I am I have to shoot every duck in precise order and time, and can’t possibly leave any ducks until tomorrow.
I don’t have time to do everything I need to do – and yet I spend hours at my computer, even when I’m not working, idly browsing blogs, news sites and comics, rather than shutting the laptop and doing something more positive like playing with my kids, playing the piano, or reading an interesting book. And then I go to bed wired and stressed about the things I have still to do, the lesson plans that aren’t perfect, the things around the house that never get done, and all the ways in which I don’t measure up to the standards in my head.
In yoga we do a breathing exercise where we lie down and focus on breathing into the abdomen. This requires a deep and sustained breath in, and a very slow breath out. Now that I am used to this exercise I find myself aware that most of the time my gut is tight as a drum (but not, sadly, anywhere near as flat!), and breathing that deeply is something I rarely slow down and relax enough to do. Roman is right, I do live in a constant state of emergency – and yet it is utterly artificial.
We actually meet deadlines and make it on time to our commitments more easily when we relax and handle things steadily. When I shout at the kids in the morning about getting ready for school it actually slows them down – and yet I am shouting at myself all the time inside my head. Slowing myself down.
So that’s my lesson for this week. We can still reach gymnastics with time to spare if we don’t scare the butterfly.