It feels funny, from my maternity leave, to write in praise of slowing down. I am occupied. My left forearm, at times, is numb from rocking my baby in the cool, silent dark. During the day we walk outside and observe the slime mold in the mulch. We practice cooing and tracing our eyes around the room. We have one play mat with a hanging stuffed elephant, giraffe, bird and monkey, and it is so stimulating when I lay her down beneath them! We sing songs and look up and learn one new word from the dictionary every day. The world is small and new.
Within the confines of the adult world our activities are not particularly cognitive. I used to spend most of my leisure time reading books that kick my ass. Now I have a baby who depends on crying and screaming to communicate that she is tired and needs my help to calm down. In this space we have discovered silence, quiet, deep breaths, relaxed muscles and gliding on the balls of my own two feet. If the crying escalates I will whisper to her, “We’ll get through this. We always do. Every single time.” We are together and there is nothing else.
During the course of my life, I have found the most happiness in radical presence: immersing myself in the actions of love; running and other physical activities in nature; being totally and completely taken over by ideas and stories. While all of these activities could mean work (caring, physical labor, mental labor), they are typically devalued. During my life I have run in circles with a generation of women for whom “breathing out” is as much of an issue as “leaning in.” We haven’t been trying to have it all so much as prove that we can do it all. From racing from one extracurricular activity to another and then homework into working after hours to please a boss who is under (or not) paying us, and sticking to exercise, and a commitment to the arts, and social time, and the constant streams of unpaid volunteer work, and being in touch online with everyone and all the time, the world is actually so large and frantic as to make noticing the slime mold impossible. Which, I have learned, actually moves around — and quite quickly, if you keep tabs on it.
Anecdotally, men I know seem less likely to suffer from the need to “breathe out.” I don’t think this is because women are stupid. I think it is because we are undervalued within a culture that is held up as a meritocracy. It is unfortunate all this hard work has not translated into fair acknowledgement, much less happier lives.
Innately, my little girl has excellent focus. When she is crying, she is crying. When she is looking, she is looking. When she smiles, it takes effort, and it makes my whole day. I am so fortunate to learn from her.