The experiencing self, the remembering self, and a really long day

img_2269There's always a lot going on the weekend before Christmas. One mom at a practice last week lamented having four separate events she needed to choose from on Saturday the 17th. I suspect many blog readers had similar dilemmas.

The 17th wound up being an epic day for me for many reasons. First, we'd bought tickets for Longwood Gardens' breakfast with Santa back in October. Despite my purchasing these tickets on day one of availability, the 10:00 a.m. seating was sold out, so we wound up with an 8:30 a.m. seating. Longwood is generally about 45 minutes away, but the forecast called for a lovely wintry mix of snow and ice, so we needed to be on the road earlier. I set the alarm for 6:30 (my husband got up with the baby) and off we went. The drive was harrowing, and breakfast was not relaxing (my coffee wound up all over the table), but Santa was very pleasant and the poinsettias and Christmas trees in the conservatory were as beautiful as any Christmas decorations I've ever seen.

I had about an hour at home after, during which I rocked the toddler and napped a bit with him. Then I took the 7-year-old to his first wrestling meet. He so wanted to do this, so despite it being a full day, I drove him to the high school location, about half an hour away. Meanwhile my husband loaded the other three kids in the van to drive to NYC, because he wanted to go to a colleague's party there in the evening. They went to the American Museum of Natural History first. Meanwhile, I was watching my little guy — in his singlet and those wrestling ear guards — take to the mat. People had warned me it could be intense, and it was…in a good way. This kid is a fighter. His first match went into extra rounds as the two of them kept battling, but finally the ref raised my son's arm in the air. He emerged cool as a cucumber, taking the victory in stride. His second match was far easier, and he made his pins quickly. Nice.

Then we drove about half an hour to the Trenton Transit Center, to take a train into NYC. We walked across the city (he was quite taken with the Empire State building) and managed to make it to the party before my husband (they were having a good time at the museum!).

When my husband showed up, we deposited the big kids in the host's bedroom to watch movies, but it was pretty clear we were on borrowed time while there. Eventually the toddler was throwing food and my daughter had spilled water on the floor twice. We left in a bit of a rush, and I said goodbye to the kids there on Park Avenue — knowing my little brother was getting off the subway a few blocks away, and getting in the minivan with them to drive back out to PA (we were hosting my entire family on Sunday). So my husband only had to deal with all four on the streets of Manhattan solo for a little bit. They stopped at McDonalds on the way back.

Meanwhile, I took the subway downtown to attend the annual holiday concert of the Young New Yorkers' Chorus. The music was great, and we had sing-alongs, but not just the standard carols. We sang Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for instance. Then, it was in a cab, and off to Penn Station for the trek home. I took New Jersey transit to Trenton because there were no Amtrak departures between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. The upside was that I saved about $40, but the downside was that it was a long, long ride, even if it was express, and I got to Trenton at 11:15. At that point I was really starting to wonder if this whole day had been wise. The train station had been sketchy at 4 p.m., and hadn't gotten better by 11 p.m. I scooted as fast as I could to my car in the lonely parking garage (it's not a great neighborhood).

Then I noticed the ridiculous fog.

As the snow was melting and the temperatures rapidly rising, a thick cloud had settled over our part of the east coast. Thus began one of the toughest drives of my life. There were chunks of time on US 1 and the PA turnpike when I could barely see a few feet in front of me. As I was getting on the turnpike, it was impossible to distinguish the EZ pass lanes from the cash lanes until I was right under them. It was only that I knew which way was west that I didn't have to stop right there on the entrance ramp to squint at the signs (as it was, I briefly got on US 1 northbound by accident instead of southbound, because I couldn't see the correct exit).

So…fun. I drove in silence lest the radio distract me. I got home at 12:20 a.m. and found my 9-year-old still up, hanging out with my brother and husband who were decompressing from their 2-hour mini van ride with some festive Christmas scotch and episodes of The Vikings. While neither the hour nor the show were in any way appropriate for a 9-year-old, they had finished making the IKEA bed we bought last week, so that was a mitigating factor. (My brother apparently asked my husband, “So, did you think you’d still be in the IKEA stage of your life at this point?”). I said hello briefly and went to bed, knowing the baby could be up at 5…and he was. I lay with him in bed for a while and probably got another 30-45 minutes of sleep that way, and then we watched PAW Patrol and Dora for an hour before I got another hour of sleep while my husband took over.

All told, despite being one of the shortest days of the year, it was a pretty close to a non-stop 18 hour marathon for me, with almost all of it involving running around. The last two hours, in particular, were just hard.

Yet, by mid-day Sunday, all that lingered of the previous evening's unpleasantness was feeling tired, and since I was hosting a full-on Christmas ham dinner at the house for 14 people, there was too much going on to give in to the fatigue. I made it through the day, and slept about 8.5 hours last night (my parents got here Sunday a.m. and took the baby Monday a.m., though he slept until 6:30, so it wasn't a bad night from that perspective at all.)

I have noticed this phenomenon with time, and my experience of time. I can do things or not do things, but one way or the other, time passes. Whether I do something or don't do something, eventually the day will be over. Some equilibrium will eventually be reached. It is quite likely that I would have been tired on Sunday whether we had done the breakfast at Longwood, or whether I had gone to the concert in NYC. Possibly not as tired, but probably still tired. It wasn't fun to make the icy morning trip, nor was it fun to drive home in the foggy darkness. I was incredibly apprehensive about watching wrestling, too. But largely what I will remember of the day is the kids on Santa's lap, my little boy's victorious grin, and the gorgeous wash of sound listening to the world premiere of a choral work. It is not that the unpleasantness did not happen, it is just that it is not what will stand out in memory from the day.

Of course, that doesn't mean I always aim to fill my days. Some days there are things I might want to do, but I can't get my head around the logistics (as it is, the Saturday logistics occupied my brain for a long time. Should I have just driven into NYC? Possibly. Our sitters were all booked for chunks of the day, so we couldn't have left the toddler home, which is one way of making things easier). Sometimes I just can't muster the energy to do things I kind of want to do. It's just that the experiencing self and the remembering self interact with time in different ways. In the moment, the experiencing self might want to take the easy route, but the remembering self focuses on moments that are sometimes harder on the experiencing self. Probably the best approach to time seeks a balance between the two.

In other news: In case you missed it, my TED talk on taking control of one's time is now up on the TED website. It's been viewed over half a million times so far! But I'd love to have it viewed more -- please take a moment (well, 12 minutes) to watch it and share it if you could. Thanks so much!

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6 Responses to The experiencing self, the remembering self, and a really long day


  1. SHU says:

    I am forever impressed with how much you guys pack in. We absolutely do not have that much stamina. We had what I would consider a busy weekend, and for contrast it included:

    SAT – AM workout at home, playdate w/ friends in town 20 min away, nutcracker at Miami City Ballet (awesome!), playdate/dinner with a friend at our house (takeout)

    SUN – run, host brunch for Josh’s residents, go to Heat game (just Josh & me)

    To me that was a lot of moving parts. Almost too many, although I think it was ultimately a great weekend. I think your tolerance for activity is on the high end of the curve! (Or maybe mine is just low).

    • Rinna says:

      I felt the same way reading this. I would say I have a reasonably high threshold for activity (not that I have much choice with 4 kids and being a partner at an accounting firm!). Nonetheless, I am always impressed by how much Laura and her family can fit into a day. Our day would not have ended with good memories, let’s put it that way 🙂

  2. I miss overstuffed days like that. I miss project days–when a massive fantastic project overwhelms my life and I enjoy the flow of creating along with my family and friends. I’m also beginning to see how to do every day maintenance around here (many thanks to Dana White… ASlobComesClean.com). My remembering self longs to dig in and create again (goody!!). My experiencing self remembers that there is a cost and there isn’t nearly enough energy in the bank to write that check. Chronic fatigue comes with a chronic fear of starting with no energy to complete, all while creating a disaster that I can’t get back to a maintenance level. So now, when I do create it is out of contained projects I’ve already started or very small scale things. Part of me grieves the Type A person who would make a plan, execute and bask in the praise. Part of me is grateful for a different pace. I’m surprised at how much of my identity has been tied up in doing and creating. Am I still valuable when all of my capabilities are stripped away and my mind is too fuzzy to think straight? My Lord says so, but it is hard to convince myself. He has warned me for years that I was acting like a human doing rather than a human being. I enjoy the BEING but it’s hard not to miss the doing-leeks of my own personal Egypt.

    I was reading in Galatians this morning and it struck me that he is really pushing us out of the rule-based auto-pilot that is so easy to accommodate and pushing us toward relationship with Him, which takes time, focus and a fair amount of intentional stillness. I like where we’re going. I like what He’s calling me to. There’s not much acclaim in it and I don’t feel as accomplished at the end of the day, but where else would I go? He has the words of life–life abundant and full of glory. I am experiencing more though there is not as much to remember or be remembered for.

    Oh, and I’m also grateful to be able to count the hours so that the few hours I have available can, indeed, count. Thanks Laura!

  3. Louisa says:

    Just reading about your day leaves me breathless! People tell me I’m high energy, but I have much more unstructured time than you have. Plus, I’m a big believer in giving kids downtime (though you may well do that and I’ve forgotten– I skim over some of your kid-centric posts because my kids are grown). The other thing you have is much more tolerance for driving. You and your husband seem to be very compatible in your parenting styles, and that strikes me as very important for your family.

    • @Louisa- my kids have a fair quantity of down time – we have to manage the individual moving pieces, but often the other 3 are home doing not much when one kid is at an event. And that was a far more intense day than usual!

  4. john K Coyle says:

    Great post Laura and a wonderful quandry – experiencing self or remembering self? As you may expect, I focus almost entirely on the remembering self, because the experiencing self is a fleeting ephemeral moment, where is memory is forever. I remember a line from a book, “when life gives you choices, choose the one that makes the best story.” Hope to see you soon!

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