Review: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore’ (the long version)

Somewhere around the beginning of this year it dawned on me that I had too much going on. Granted, I was only working part time and I only have one child to chase after – at first glance this should’ve been a breeze. I should’ve been sitting around being bored.

But I was stressed. I was overwhelmed.

The crazy thing is that I couldn’t really figure out why. Like I said, life should’ve been easy. Why was my blood pressure up and my stress level through the roof? I ignored it for a few months. When summer approached things felt worse. Nothing really changed other than camp was getting ready to start. May was busy planning for camp. June was busy running camp.

I decided I needed to resign my part time job at church.

After thinking about it for a few months – I know, I’m slow – I realized that the past few years were probably catching up with me. I had a very difficult pregnancy. I’m semi-reluctant to even say that because my pregnancy was generally healthy. Mikayla was small (even then) so we had more ultrasounds than most people and had to see a specialist at one point but overall everything was fine, medically speaking. However, starting at about six weeks and ending on the operating table mid c-section, I was sick. Really sick. I’m talking barely able to function, throwing up several times a day, laying on the bathroom floor for hours kinda sick. And, that was on medication.

Mikayla had severe jaundice so the doctor appointments and tests started immediately after birth. (You know the story so I won’t go into great detail – you can read about it here.) At two weeks old we were told by Mikayla’s cardiologist that she had Pulmonary Stenosis. He told us that this was usually associated with “a genetic disorder” but he didn’t tell us what because he didn’t want us to worry.

Right.

Thanks to google, a few hours later we knew that Mikayla probably had Williams Syndrome. That diagnosis was confirmed about six weeks later.

As if 9 months of vomiting wasn’t stressful enough, I didn’t even have time to recover from her birth before we began the INSANE cycle of doctor visits. For the first 10 months we literally had two or three doctor appointments a week! A week!! That’s enough to make anyone crazy. Add to that crazy routine the feeding difficulties and milk protein allergy and the insufficient weight gain and the severe lack of sleep and you’ve got a recipe for stress. On top of all that madness, Mikayla’s heart problems put her at risk for cardiac failure. AND, we were trying to make sense of a diagnosis that would affect our child for the rest of her life, thus greatly altering our lives too.

I don’t remember feeling stressed at the time. I just remember being sleepy.

Looking back I know I must have been stressed and overwhelmed, I just didn’t have time to process it. In January and February of 2009, the doctor visits started to decrease. The feeding issues started to resolve. We slept every now and then. In March I started my job as the Children’s Director at church. Looking back, I know that was too soon. I needed rest. I needed to stop to slow down to just be. I needed time to recuperate from the previous 19 months.

Fast forward a year. Mikayla is fantastic. We have a few more doctor visits a year than most children her age but nothing major. Her heart is doing MUCH better. (Read about that one if you have a minute.) But the stress had finally caught up with me. Hence the decision to resign. I finally realized I needed time. I needed to allow myself time to recover, to heal.

A confession of pride – this was not an easy decision for me. For one because this has been a tough summer in the life of our church for many other reasons and I was very hesitant to add to that strain. Mostly, however, I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do it all. I wanted to be super mom. I felt like there are a ton of other women who work full time jobs, raise several children, clean house, cook super, exercise and more and they seem to be happy and loving life. I felt like somehow I was “falling short” by saying I was overwhelmed.

It took a few months, but now I see that my health and my family are more important than my (or any one else’s) perception of what a mom should or shouldn’t be. I’m confident that resigning was best for me, for my family, for now.

(I realize I took the long route getting to the book review.) 

In an effort to begin the process of slowing down, I read In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore’. Anne Jackson had mentioned it on her blog a long time ago. I remembered her ideas about the book and wanted to read it for myself. In Praise of Slowness discusses the Slow movement – a movement of people who refuse to be controlled by the “cult of speed” that runs much of the world we live in today. With chapters devoted to just about every aspect of life – from food to driving to yoga to raising children to *ahem* “romance” to work and everything in between – Honore’ gives clear and specific examples of how we are slaves to time. And, he tells how we can change that.

The idea that faster is not always better can impact much of our day to day lives. The Slow movement teaches that instead of just doing things faster we should do things at the right speed. Sometimes that means fast, sometimes that means slow, sometimes that means in between. When we refuse to be ruled by our watches (or cell phone clocks) we are free to make room for important things.

We can have more meaningful interactions/relationships with the people we do life with rather than just shallow, surface conversations.

Two things I’ve already noticed myself being mindful of: driving slower and not multitasking.

The driving is a big one for me. I don’t know why but I just feel like I need to push the limit every time I get in the car. If I’m not driving at least 7 mph over the speed limit then I’m driving too slow. In reality, that 7 mph isn’t going to make much of a difference in how quickly I arrive at my destination. It could, however, make a big difference in how long it takes me to react to an unexpected situation. The safety of anyone in my car and of others on the road is more important than the 45 seconds I might save by driving too fast.

Not multitasking is even more difficult. I am woman, I must multitask! Watch TV while reading email while playing with Mikayla. Cook dinner while checking Twitter. Talk on the phone while typing an email with iTunes playing in the background. Can I do all of these things? Of course, piece of cake. Can I do them well? Probably not. Granted Twitter and watching TV aren’t all that important but the point is that if something is worth doing then it’s worth paying attention to.

The mental benefit of resting my brain and allowing myself to focus on one task at a time greatly outweighs any perceived productivity I gain by trying to do several things at once.

If I’m being honest, I’ll probably be working on the multitasking thing for a while. Especially considering I have an iPhone semi-addiction to break. I’m learning to do one thing at a time, do it well and enjoy it rather than trying to do several things at once. It’s a process but I already see the benefits.

Hopefully the Slow mindset will make it’s way into more areas of my life. Carl Honore’ has another book called Under Pressure that talks about raising children. I’m looking forward to reading it in the near future. When I have ample time to enjoy it, of course.

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One response to “Review: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore’ (the long version)

  1. Debbi September 28, 2010 at 8:49 PM

    You are very wise 🙂

    I find it too easy to say 'yes' to lots of little things, with the thinking that 'it won't take that long'. To actually make a list of all these little things can be overwhelming.
    Life is better when doing the really important and necessary, and then adding those things we really WANT to do.

    (And I totally here you on the body demanding rest and 'slowness'. It's too bad we usually don't realize how much we've stressed ourselves until we've already gone over the limits!

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