Being Busy Is Not A Badge Of Honor

by Cindy Winebrenner
Paule858 / iStock

Four weeks ago, in the midst of a baking/cooking frenzy, my oven took its final breath and puttered out. With zucchini bread batter mixed and poured, I stared at it wild-eyed, a blood vessel menacingly popping out of my right temple. With flour highlights in my hair and batter splatters on my shirt and yoga pants, I had a few words with my oven.

The next day, the repair guys came out and let us know that the problem was with the central circuit board. It needed repair. As luck always has it, the manufacturer no longer makes the parts to repair it; however, the repairmen said they could certainly send the circuit board to the manufacturer for a “small” gob of money to have it repaired. Or we could spend a large gob of money to replace the entire oven.

“Yep, I’d love to send it in to the manufacturer,” I replied, as if there were much of a decision to be made.

So they removed it, and on their way out the door, they explained it would take two weeks, and I would be without an oven — oh, and without a stovetop as well.

Huh? What the what?

The nice repair guy grinned sheepishly. “Well, there have got to be a lot of great takeout options around here, right?” He zipped up his jacket, grabbed the signed paperwork, and scrambled to his van, keeping one eye on that crazed vein in my right temple that was slowly starting to declare itself.

No stove or oven for two weeks? Oh boy. I checked the freezer. Emergency corn dogs and dinosaur nuggets and microwaveable bagged veggies to save the day.

I wish I had some inspirational MacGyver-meets-Martha-Stewart story of how I used chicken wire to make a stovetop with flint and kindle. Or how I made adorable tea party finger foods. Or how I did the sensible thing and went out and bought a temporary, portable stovetop.

But god, no. That never happened. The repair guy was right; there has been a lot of takeout and a lot of microwaved, processed foods these last few weeks. And you know what? I liked it. No, no, I didn’t like it. I loved it. I love my microwave. I am one with my microwave. There — I said it.

Since having children, I have felt this great responsibility to feed them healthy, well-balanced meals: foods that make me feel good about what I am putting in their rapidly growing and developing little bodies. They have been hearty fresh-vegetable-and-fruit home-cooked-meal eaters. They have a sweet tooth for homemade, healthy baked goods. All of these things feel so good to provide for my family.

Some weeks I do better than others, but in these last three weeks without a stove, I have come to a realization that I was too busy to notice before: In trying to keep up with my career/family balance, I have constantly felt over-stretched, over-tired, and overwhelmed.

I remember one night, when leaving a late shift at work, one of my beloved nurses told me (as she realized that with my husband out of town, I still had to go home and pack lunches for my kids and would have to get up early the next morning to take them to school), “You have to let it go. Just let it go.”

I looked at her with that same bewildered “How did my oven just break?” look, but too tired to talk further, I just nodded, smiled, and kept on walking out the door.

But now? Now I get it. See, the breaking of my beloved, necessary oven has shown me something I’m not quite sure I could have seen myself: That in taking this break from the often insurmountable task of meal preparation and everything that goes into it for my family, I have allowed something to go, and it has allowed me to breathe.

Those extra hours every day that have fallen into my lap are glorious. They are hours I can spend on something productive or spend on nothing at all but my couch, a cup of coffee, and HGTV. They are hours I can call a friend and ask, “How are you?”

Those extra hours have lifted a weight, a responsibility, and a stress that gifts me with energy and leaves me less tired, less cranky, and less irritable. I had no idea that something as simple or as tough as preparing meals was doing this to me. Because, if I think about it, I tell myself, “Come on! How hard is it to make meals?”

I don’t have to explain it to you if you are this person in your family. It is hard.

So now I am thinking, What else do I feel this way about? Every task, every responsibility we pile onto our shoulders is just one more “simple” thing, and we say to ourselves, “Come on! How hard could this be to add this one tiny thing?”

Well, one thing adds time, time adds energy, energy adds stress, and stress leads to irritability… Ah, it is all making sense! What a simple concept. Where have I been?

I think I’ve been where all of you have been. We have been feeling that we are working mothers and fathers taking care of our family, our home, our community. Sometimes, we lose sight of the value of our own limits and, really, our own self. Boundaries blur until there are no boundaries, and we keep on keeping on. We estimate our capabilities, and like the old saying, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Our undertakings underestimate what is needed from us to accomplish every minutiae of every day — and soon we are stretched too thin doing everything, which leaves us unable to do anything with the best version of ourselves.

So let’s give ourselves a break. What we do is enough. What we don’t do is acceptable. Give what you have to the things that matter most, and when there is not enough of you to go around, be OK with it. There is no glory in “I am so busy!” But there is value to doing things with time, with full attention and ability, choosing wisely what is important to us and having the energy to enjoy rest, relaxation, and time for calm.

Let’s chisel away at this society of busy, and let the glory be with broken ovens and microwaves once in a while.