Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chasing the Caterpillar

I've been wanting to write down a few things I've had on my mind lately and thought I might as well write them down here.  My mom gave me the book "Bringing Up Boys," by James Dobson after I had Joe, our third boy.  Fitting, I know.  I'm reading through it for the second time right now.  This book is very well written, I highly recommend it to anyone with boys.  It goes over the difference between girls and boys, what to expect with boys, the importance of fathers, a mother's role, the best way to educate boys, advice for single parents, how to discipline boys, what we should be doing to shape the next generation of men and much more.  It also touched on something that has been on my mind a lot lately: the effect this busy, hurried world is having on us and on our kids.  I really like this analogy Dr. Dobson used in his book:

"The great French naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre once conducted a fascinating experiment with processionary caterpillars, so called because they tend to march in unison.  He lined them around the inner edge of a flowerpot and then monitored them carefully as they marched in a circle.  At the end of the third day, he placed some pine needles, which is the favorite food of caterpillars, in the center of the pot.  They continued walking for four more days without breaking rank.  Finally, one at a time, they rolled over and died of starvation, just inches from their ideal food source.

"These furry little creatures reminded me in some ways of today's moms.  Most of them are trudging around in circles from morning to night, exhausted and harried, wondering how in the world they can get everything done.  Many are employed full-time while also taking care of families, chauffeuring kids, fixing meals, cleaning the house, and trying desperately to maintain their marriages, friendships, family relationships, and spiritual commitments.  It is a backbreaking load.  Sadly, this overcommitted and breathless way of life, which I call "routine panic," characterizes the vast majority of people in Western nations.

"Are you one of these harried women running in endless circles?  Have you found yourself too busy to read a good book or take a long walk with your spouse or hold your three-year-old child on your lap while telling him or her a story?  Have you taken time to study God's Word—to commune with Him and listen to His gentle voice?  Have you eliminated almost every meaningful activity in order to deal with the tyranny of a never-ending "to do" list?  Have you ever asked yourself why in the world you have chosen to live like this?  Perhaps so, but it it not an easy problem to solve.  We live our lives as if we're on freight trains that are rumbling through town.  We don't control the speed—or at least we think we don't—so our only option is to get off.  Stepping from the train and taking life more slowly is very difficult.  Old patterns die very hard indeed."

There's a woman I visited a week or two ago who has 9 children.  They are all grown now, and I commented on how it takes an amazing woman to raise that many kids.  She kind of brushed off my compliment and went on to say that times are a lot different now.  In today's world she thinks she'd be able to handle about 3.  And that got me thinking.  Parents don't just wake up and send the kids off to school, then spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening letting the kids play, visiting with friends and family, eating dinner and relaxing like they used to (not that life was easy... it just seems people didn't have to be moving so fast).  Now there are sports, music lessons, swimming lessons, gyms, preschools, clubs...  not to mention our immersion into the digital age: e-mail, facebook, twitter, blogs, pinterest... all sorts of things that can make us busier than ever.  And none of these things are bad in and of themselves necessarily.  But how do we keep from becoming so busy that we lose sight of what's really important?

At the beginning of the summer I read "Hamlet's BlackBerry," by William Powers.  Also a great book. Powers starts off the book by introducing his friend Marie:

"...When I first met her in the mid-1990s, Marie was a recent immigrant to the United States and still learning the fine points of English.  Back then, whenever I saw her and asked how she was doing, she would flash a big happy smile and say, 'Busy, very busy!'

"This was strange, partly because she said it so consistently and partly because her expression and upbeat tone didn't match her words.  She seemed pleased, indeed ecstatic, to be reporting that she was so busy.

"After a while, I figured out what was going on.  Marie was copying what she'd heard Americans saying to one another over and over.  Everyone talked so much about how busy they were, she thought it was a pleasantry, something that a person with good manners automatically said when a friend asked how they were doing.  Instead of 'Fine, thank you,' you were supposed to say you were busy.

"She was wrong, of course, as she eventually realized.  But in another way she was absolutely right. 'Busy, very busy" is exactly what we are most of the time.  It's staggering how many balls we keep in the air each day and how few we drop.  We're so busy, sometimes it seems as though busyness itself is the point."

It's almost funny how many people really do answer with the word "busy" when asked how they're doing.  I didn't even notice it until after I read this.  And I'll confess, I have found myself answering this same way at times.  Life with 4 boys 6 and under... what do you expect.  But I've been thinking a lot lately... Am I making my life busier than it needs to be?  Are there things I can cut out or get rid of to simplify my life a little bit?  Do I need to stress over writing a post on my blog every day to keep my readers? (obviously the answer to that question for me is no... as you can tell from this blog)  Do I need to spend 2 hours making homemade pizza dough and sauce on a day when the kids are needing a little more attention from me?  Do I need to stay up into the wee hours of the morning getting the house perfectly clean only to be exhausted and on edge the entire next day?  Do I need to reply to a text right this second while my kids are trying to show me something they made?

I think a certain amount of work and busyness is a good thing.  Sometimes I just have to remind myself that I can't do it all.  And that I don't need to do it all.  Especially if it's at the expense of my kids.  I don't think I'm ever going to look back and wish I had added a few more things to my schedule.  If anything, I think it will be the opposite.  I don't think it's necessary to remove all extracurricular activities, sports, music lessons and digital media from my life or the lives of my kids.  But hopefully I can be wise enough to look up in this frenzy of caterpillars, dare to take another path at times, and keep my eyes on what really matters.


  1. It's like you're inside my brain right now! I needed to read this!

  2. Loved this post. Thanks so much! I do this to myself constantly and I don't even have kids! (yet. although in a few days I will!) But I needed to read this. Thanks Jess


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