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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Capture the Available Minute

Playing in the sand in The Domes, Milwaukee, with my "borrowed" grand-daughter Alaina, 2013
[Essay first written and published in 1988] 

     All busy people are philosophers about time. I used to think I was the busiest person in the U.S. of A. But now that I know more people (and maybe now that I’ve grown up a little), I’ve come to realize that most people in this country are busy – or at least they feel busy, which amounts to the same thing. I’m no longer busier than thou.

     Jogging around the rim of a perpetually spinning top is rough on relationships. Because I believe that love is spelled T-I-M-E, I’ve become ferocious about guarding moments with my mate and with my children. The early deaths of my parents and younger brother seared a lesson onto my brain: “Life and time are our only true possessions.”

     The problem with feeling this way is that it takes me skipping right down the path of guilt. For years I’ve said to my friends and myself, as a rejoinder to “I don’t have any time”: “No one has any time; you have to make time.”

     I still believe that we create our own lives from the chunks we carve out of time. However, I used to lecture myself to a tune that went something like this: “You’re not spending enough time with your children, Gail.” Or: “You should talk more with Mike.”

     Should, should, should. Pressure and guilt. I felt burdened with nagging doubts about the time (love) I was giving.

     Then last December I was privileged to hear a short talk in Brookfield given by Mary Linsmeier that freed me from that stifling guilt (well, most of it). Mary is the mother of eight, a marriage and family therapist, and founder of Linsmeier preschools in the Milwaukee area. I had invited her to speak to a group of single mothers with whom I work through HOPE Network. If we married mothers feel bad about being spread too thin, imagine how single mothers feel!

     The question of “quality time” came up during Mary’s presentation. She almost laughed.

     “No one ever has enough time,” she said. “Instead of feeling guilty about the quality hour that never happens, capture the available minute or two that you have with your child.” She went on to explain how you can have a great heart-to-heart talk with your children while you do mundane kitchen chores together, for example.

     Mary Linsmeier made me think in a new way about capturing the available minute.

     I feel okay now if I get a bunch of phone calls in a morning; my preschool daughter and I color together while I attend to whatever telephone business is necessary. I’ve found that waiting rooms provide a great opportunity for me to read books to her. And although I love to read while I eat lunch (a bad “fat habit,” according to experts), I’ve tried to make a practice of talking with Anna while we munch our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

     A heck of a lot of “minute-capturing” goes on in the car. Mike and I have some of our best conversations as we drive places (usually the children are involved in their own talking, squabbling, or nonsense in the back seat). Many of our conversations are catch-up talk, where Mike and I bring each other up to date on what’s happening in our lives. That isn’t exactly gripping dialog, but it frees up our quiet time, after the kids are in bed, for the important stuff.     

     When I’m driving the boys here and there, I try to catch up with their lives too. Maybe it’s sacrilegious, but we’ve had at least two prayer meetings as a family in the car. I don’t think God minds. You see, we have a tradition of prayer meetings each Sunday. But sometimes the day slips away. Then Sunday evening we’re coming home from somewhere and it dawns on me that we’ve missed our meeting. I know it’s not only a meeting with God but also a meeting with each other, and we need it. If by the time we get home it’s going to be bedtime (or past bedtime), we have our prayer meeting right there. I tell a story from the Bible; we talk about our goals for the coming week and discuss how we did last week; we say prayers together. Thus sometimes our car is a cathedral.

     Work projects are also a great time for minute-grabbing. My son Brian and I were painting the basement floor the other day, and I asked him to tell me all about the Charlie Chaplin film we had rented but which I didn’t have a chance to see. My question got a conversation going, but my big togetherness plan sort of backfired on me. Every time Brian talked, he stopped painting.

     Whenever I feel that I have no time, I remind myself that we’re all given twenty-four hours each day. And I try to catch those minutes as they fall.

[Included in my book, Dessert First, soon on]

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