Too “busy” for family?

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The Article

The answer to that age-old question, “How are you?” has traditionally been “I’m fine.” Over the last few years, though, I’ve noticed a new answer supplanting the old one. It’s now in vogue to say, “I’m just so busy!”, before rattling off all the things on our plate and lamenting about how exhausted we are.

I sometimes wonder if we’re really that busy. After all, we still seem to find time to spend thirty hours a week in front of a television, and that doesn’t even include other screens we glue ourselves to. But perhaps this is in reaction to how busy we are at other times: we rush and rush and rush, and then when we get home we collapse. Hardly a fulfilling life, is it?

Mark Buchanan, one of my favourite authors, wrote recently that “busyness causes people to care less about the things they care about.” In other words, when you’re busy, your priorities get really messed up. What happens when you’re busy and your daughter wants you to read to her? You get annoyed. What happens when your spouse wants to talk about her mother’s cancer diagnosis? You figure out how to placate her so that you can move on to something more important. What happens when your son wants you to coach Little League, or your daughter wants you to come and see the play she’s in? You get angry, because people are adding to your already full schedule and assuming they can count on you. They don’t understand all the demands you face!

Every winter our family takes a “time out” from our busyness. We head up to a cabin in the woods with another family with kids of similar ages, and we toboggan, ski, play board games, and chat, all without the benefit of electricity or running water. It’s loads of fun. Trust me.

The only downside for Katie, my 10-year-old, is the outhouse. She’s not into outhouses, and not only because of the smell. There may be spiders there, you see, even if it is twenty below. So I have to accompany her everytime she feels the urge.

One particular night this year we entered said building, and as she prepared to do her business we attempted the flashlight handoff. And failed. The flashlight plummetted into the hole.

It so happens that just a few months’ prior to our visit the cabin had been used by many large men who consumed much food. So the hole was, shall we say, full.

And as the flashlight descended, the rest of the outhouse was plunged into total darkness. All we could see was the illuminated pile of you know what.

In retrospect, I wonder if this incident is really a metaphor for the purpose of our yearly visits. It’s to illuminate the huge pile of crap that is filling our lives, so that we can deal with it and move on.

In that cabin with no electricity and no pagers and no computers, we spend time with each other. We talk. We wrestle and tickle. We listen. And we remember why we actually enjoy being a family. It’s bliss.

When I think about my children’s years growing up thus far, one of the enduring memories I have is reading to them. We have devoured the Narnia series, the Little House series, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women out loud, twice, once for each girl. Huddling under the covers and sharing Anne’s adventures bonded us in a very unique way. And yet how often today, when Katie wants to launch into Jane Austen, do I sigh and wish she would just leave me alone so I could get something important done?

Busyness causes us to care less about the things we care about. If I start to see those I love as intruding on my life, there’s something really wrong. Something in my life is truly stinking, and I better deal with it before I lose what is most precious.

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