The Simple Way to Decide if Something (or Someone) is Worth Your Time
My two-year-old boy-girl twins are sitting at the table in plastic booster seats, clinking their popsicles together and saying, “Cheers!”
“Ack-shu-ly, you want mine?” Aya says.
Laughing, (when did she start saying “actually,” for goodness’ sake?), I grab my phone to capture the moment. I unlock the screen and — ugh; five texts awaiting my reply divert my attention so I forget to even open the camera app. Frustration replaces my light, tender feelings and I try to keep my head from catching fire.
In a few years, my babies’ tiny voices will be deeper and more cynical. Their hands, which they’ll no longer want me to hold, won’t have little fat creases around the wrists. They will be busy with their friends, and won’t tolerate me hanging around in the background documenting their every word. I know this, so I’m busy watching them grow while I can, but meanwhile, I keep getting private messages that contain 3-minute viral videos that people expect me to watch. Don’t these people realize that if I look away from what’s important, I will miss something?
My irritation is not anyone’s fault. The problem is this: since I became a mom, I’m still figuring out where my boundaries are, and how to set a pace for my life that won’t overwhelm me. Until I figure that out, I’m sure to find myself irked by the world outside my beloved family unit.
A Change of Pace
Before the babies, I lived by the philosophy, “let’s see how fast this thing can go.” I said yes to everything and everyone, waiting until an endeavor was complete to ask myself if it was worth the trouble.
I wanted to use all the tools I have — my five senses — to experience and understand as much about the world as possible. Also, I was hyper-aware of my own mortality, constantly conjuring unbidden images of myself at 27, smashed to smithereens on the freeway or getting ripped to bits by a shark. Since I’d probably die young, I reasoned, living at a high velocity meant I’d be less likely to miss out on anything. Though I did gain worldliness, I ended up engaged in a lot of activities that didn’t serve me, and on the way, I picked up a few hangers-on who were more interested in what I could offer them than a reciprocal friendship.
Now that I’ve made it to 35 where dying is less glamorous, I can’t help but think more of the big picture: I’ve stopped sprinting and embarked on the marathon. These little people need me, and also, since recently meeting my birth mother and finding out that my biological grandparents are in their eighties and still performing music and riding motorcycles, I figure there’s a lot more fun to be had.
But to get to that ripe age, I know I can’t burn out early, so I have been streamlining my life. With every passing year, I find myself employing a brilliant new life philosophy, best articulated by Kimberly Wilkins, a.k.a. Sweet Brown: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That — Especially Me
See, my day begins around 5 a.m. From then until 8, I am running around with armloads of squirmy tots, changing diapers, making breakfast, cleaning sticky cereal off the floor, changing their clothes, breaking up baby fights, eating bellies, getting kisses. If it’s a weekend, I spend the entire day at this level of being occupied with the babies, and I try not to pick up my phone unless it’s to take a picture of them. There are two hours during which I’m not occupied, and that’s naptime, for them and me.
I hate meeting up with anyone, because “on time” is impossible with twin toddlers. Just being invited to a playdate gives me an automatic rush of anxiety. Because I never know who is going to be sick or cranky or asleep, and I can’t predict the weather, the traffic, the moods, or the adult life events, I prefer simplicity: keeping my options open and doing what makes sense at the time. For example, if it’s hot and boring in the house, I take the kids to the park with the shady trees. No fuss. I can’t plan to meet someone there ahead of time, because one kid will inevitably be hungry, or it’ll rain, or the other kid will lose their shoes or blow out their diaper, which will make us an hour late, during which I’ll have to deal with texting the other parent back and forth while I take care of my own shit. So stressful; not worth it. Even if I did make it to the park at the appointed time with the twins in tow, having an adult to talk to only gives me a headache. I can already barely keep track of these two wild children, and that’s without exhausting myself trying to keep up with a story that keeps getting interrupted every other sentence. I’d rather just be alone where I can devote my entire attention to my kids, and maybe breathe once in a while if they decide to play on their own.
If it’s a weekday, I get their jackets and shoes on by 8, haul them down the stairs, secure them into their car seats or stroller, take them to daycare, remove them from their car seats or stroller, spend 15 minutes walking them down the street to look at people’s Halloween decorations or ants on the ground, drop them off, return home (already exhausted) and see that the whole apartment looks like the inside of a dumpster. It’s around 8:30, and at this point, I could clean, or I could sit for a brief second and drink my coffee, maybe brush my teeth or have breakfast. Either way, if you text me at this moment and ask me if I’m available to come to a thing next Saturday, I’m sorry to inform you that I’m not going to open up my calendar, look at the date in question, text my husband to ask if he minds if I do this thing next Saturday, then text you back. See, that would take about 15 minutes, and 15 minutes is all I have before class, so AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT.
And that is just my life every day before 8:30 a.m.
If I actually have a day when the babies are at daycare and I’m not working, auditioning, or in class, I sometimes go hours without even hearing a sound except the clacking noises of my keyboard or the boiling of water for tea. I recently returned from a trip, and when people said, “I can’t wait to hear about your trip!” I said, “I’ll tell you about it right now: I didn’t do anything except lie around in a hotel room enjoying the quiet.”
What Makes The Cut?
I’m not an antisocial hermit; my days are completely full. However, because I am evermore aware of how short and precious life is, I only fill my time with things I want to do and people I want to see. I have a vetting process to help me figure out what is worth my time. It is simple. I have to be able to answer “yes” to at least one of these questions:
1. Is it productive? (Does it produce a result, or does it at least have the potential to get me somewhere I might like to go in the future?)
2. Is it good for me? (Does it somehow nourish me, physically, mentally, or spiritually? Fun counts.)
3. Is it restorative? (Does it heal me or refill my energy?)
The idea is, I want everything I do in life to leave me a little better than it found me.
Talking with good friends or family, playing with my little ones, napping, yoga, meditating, volunteering, working, cleaning, exercising, watching a movie, making a movie, reading a book, writing, surfing, painting, making love, trying something new, eating: these are all things that get a “yes” in at least one category.
Going to a loud party where I can’t hear anyone? No thank you. Reading the news? Nuh-uh. Trying to get a following on social media? Hell to the naw. Hanging out with someone whose energy sucks me dry? Nope. Finishing a book or show that doesn’t initially hold my interest? Forget it. Listening to a schpeel where someone is trying to sell me on something? No! Working a 9–5 job I hate? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
In realizing I have the power to choose what my days look like, I have found the ability to be more present in my life. (Turns out, it’s easier to be present when you like what you’re doing and who you’re with!) I’ve also had a couple of casualties along the way, as in, I’ve had to actually “break up” with certain people. I’m sure this gets misconstrued by well-meaning “nice” people who think I’m being a bitch. In reality, I simply know that we begin to take on the characteristics of those we surround ourselves with. I wish the best for these former associates, I just don’t have time to even look at a text message from a person who isn’t enriching my life in any way. It’s funny; nobody would bat an eye if I broke up with a partner who was high-drama, selfish, boring, or left me depleted; why should friends be any different?
Quality, Not Quantity
In addition to giving me ownership of my own life, finally finding this method of setting boundaries has enabled me to explore an entirely new world: my inner life. When I was living so loud and fast, I may not have been missing out on any happenings around me, but I was neglecting entire worlds within me. It’s easy to ignore your own emotions, dreams, and thoughts if you’re filling your schedule with so much fluff just to stay busy. Without questioning yourself, you forget what’s important.
Since I’ve stopped living by rote, doing what others prescribe, I have found the virtue in slowing down. Seeing how quickly my children grow and change was what sealed the deal for me. Coming back from a weekend away and finding them to be entirely different humans taught me how much magic there is to find in a single moment if I look for it — and how much I’ll miss if I’m too busy multitasking my way through life.
For those who don’t care about finding ways to make their lives fulfilling, there’s always memes to text, or some acquaintance you don’t give a damn about that wants to “catch up” and have coffee. As for me, I’ll be over here reading the same Curious George book for the fifth time in a row and feeling the love that comes with having one squishy toddler on each knee.