A life with margin

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kids in swing

I’ve been quite ragged for three years.

For three years, every day has felt rather unpredictable. As though the hours between breakfast and bedtime might throw anything at me. And by anything, I of course don’t mean physical things like balls or socks or pillows (although…). And I also don’t mean expected things like illness or conflict or struggle (and still…).

I mean the unexpected things. I mean the needs that smash into each other in the very same nanosecond. He needs water, she needs shoes, he needs to know where the socks are and I need a cup of coffee all very, very stat. You can’t prepare for four simultaneous and spontaneous needs, no matter how many hours you spend setting up your morning the night before. And I mean the neediness. He needs to cuddle with me while I read a story while she needs me to cozy up next to her and color and I need to revise an article and I love to multitask but even I know that I will neither color nor read nor revise very well if I am trying to do all at once. And I also mean the loud. The shrieking and the shouting and the desperate attempt to be the loudest, to win by the very nature of the fact that only one voice can rise above the rest.

For three years, I’ve lived a life without margin. Every little thing so tightly squeezed onto the day’s page. Flip to tomorrow and it looks just the same. Running from one appointment to the next, squeezing phone calls during my commute, writing headlines in the grocery store check out line, making to-do lists while she colors and he pushes trucks. I’ve had library fines so large I may as well have just bought the book, forms turned into school so late that they came dripping in apologies, and laundry that has laid wrinkling in my laundry basket for days.

And I’ve become a pro at saying ‘no.’ No I cannot volunteer. No I cannot help out. No we cannot make it to that event. Saying ‘no’ is supposed to be a thing that is hard but, for the past three years, it has come to my lips quite easily. And, I suppose, at least there’s that. At least I knew enough to not try to squeeze more margin out of this inky page.

But now. Now is the moment I held onto at the height of that raggedness. On the nights when I’d fall into bed overwhelmed by the things on today’s page that never got done and would have to be carried over to tomorrow’s already very full slate, I’d dream about now and the freedom of space. I’d dream about filling the center of the page, covering only from this red line to that one, and then admiring those inches of white space on either side where I could smile and laugh and cuddle and maybe even breathe or think. I’d imagine what it would feel like to have time to myself again to fill up between my times with them.

Of course, in my imagination, it was glorious. In my imagination, my life easily separated into paragraphs that would fit neatly on the page in the blocks I set up for them. No run-on sentences would wind from one to the other. I’d fulfill work obligations during work hours, writing my headlines from my desk. And I’d fulfill family obligations during family hours, actually coloring next to her or pushing a truck across the floor myself without a pen or a phone in my hand.

Waking up on the days you only used to dream about can be a bit unnerving. It is one thing to say, “When I have more time, I am going to write more and think more and be more. I’ll do yoga and breathe and find new clients and write this book and do all the things I’ve been dreaming of doing for the last three years.” But it is always a completely different thing to do it. Adjusting to a life with margin not as easy as you think it should be. It’s hard to not rush through work because your muscles are programmed to move while they can. It’s hard to not reach for your phone or your pen or tick off to-do items in your head at all hours of the day and night because your mind was programmed to forever be ticking. It’s hard to sit for five minutes and be still, and breathe, and let the words come to you rather than rushing them out by force because stillness is just something you dream about, not something you experience. It’s hard to not say ‘no’ to the volunteering and the events and all the rest because in your brain, the page still looks quite full.

So this is where I’m at. All this quiet  felt eery on day one, actually throughout all of week one, but now it’s starting to feel quite cozy. This big space to spread out still feels a little scary, in the way that big spaces always feel big and scary until you fill them. And what a gift to be able to fill them as I choose.

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