As a parent and homeowner, it can be difficult to not become a slave to tasks.
There is so much to do, often on a tight schedule or in a small window of time, that ticking things off a checklist becomes almost intoxicating. It is your scorecard and, therefore, proof that you’re actually accomplishing something.
Sometimes, though, we need to not only slow down but actually come to a full stop. After all, it’s human being not human doing.
This is something I try to remind myself often.
Perhaps the best aspect of our home is the backyard. Beyond the deck, it has a great stone patio, flowerbeds offset by a perimeter of rocks, and some other great aspects, all under a beautiful half-canopy of trees that provide shade but also allow plenty of sun. We cherish it, particularly considering the fact that we live in northern New Jersey, the most densely populated area of the most densely populated state in the U.S. We basically live on top of each other.
When we first moved, I was determined to keep the outside perfect. My wife and I share most tasks around the house, but the outside duties fall to me. I had grown up on four acres helping my father do all sorts of work — not just cutting grass, but cutting down trees, pulling stumps, rototilling, chopping wood, and anything else that the land demanded — so I had the experience, knowledge, and skill.
In the spring, the trees bring green vibrancy and life and in the fall the colors are stunning. And then the leaves begin their descent. In prior autumns, I would spend the vast majority of my weekend days trying snatch up each and every leaf. I began obsessing over them. Not only was it a Sisyphean task — twenty bags filled to the top hardly made a dent — but I was wasting my days off. I wasn’t spending time with my family or writing anything or reading or even watching what I wanted to on TV.
My second child celebrated her first birthday last month, so chaos reigns in my house. Every day is a collection of constantly making food, washing dishes, and picking things up off the floor. That’s my circuit training these days.
Last weekend, I found myself in the very rare position of having a few minutes to myself. No one climbing on me or crying below me or asking me for something.
Previously, I would’ve immediately sprang into action to get something done and I probably would not have accomplished much. By the time I would’ve really gotten going, my time would be up. This time, I chose to take a stroll around the yard instead.
With the way my brain works, I am often only looking at what needs to be done, what hasn’t been done, what will never be done. It can lead to anxiety, disappointment, and unhappiness quickly. I knew that this was a chance to appreciate all I have and all I’ve done. I wish I had more, of course, but I have a lot – much more than most – and I wanted to remind myself of that fact.
I now pay to have the leaves collected and removed by a professional. He and his team manage to do in a few hours what I cannot over the course of multiple weekends. I pay even though that money could be spent on an IRA or a 529 or even to pay down some other expenses. But I pay it so that I can value and enjoy my weekends with my rapidly-growing children and wonderful wife. If you can’t enjoy the off days, what’s the point of even being off? You may as well just stayed at work.
Time is short. I’ll be an old man soon, the kids will be grown and gone, and all I’ll have left are moments lived and memories made. I’d prefer those memories to be more than just spending my finite time stuffing leaves into a bag.
So I began walking.
The rock-enclosed flowerbeds split the yard and run perpendicular to one another, creating an L. At the connection, there is a staircase made of large stones that takes you from one part to the other. It’s one of my absolute favorite parts of the yard and normally my OCD acts up and demands that it be free of any extraneous items.
On this day, however, I appreciated the way the leaves had gathered, a few of them even looking as if they had been placed there, strategically distant from the others.
There was sound – the wind whistling, the trees rustling, the leaves crunching – but it was natural. The artificial world was quiet, something that is both exceedingly rare and incredibly important.
I took deep breaths. I looked up to the sky and trees above. I looked down at the different colors and hues as they crunched beneath my feet. I enjoyed the feeling of the different color leaves falling and dancing around me. I paused to savor the way the sunlight fell in strips across the yard creating pinstripes of brightness and shade.
I was determined to enjoy this moment, this day, this life.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.