Narrow and deep

One of my favorite posts on this blog, My life has simultaneously narrowed and widened, written 18 months ago, still runs frequently through my mind.  I wrote then of how I had radically cut away my external commitments in order to focus on a few things, most of all our family.  I ended with a exhortation to look closely at how you spend your time, because I believe it is the truest reflection of what you genuinely value.

I have been thinking about this lately, because since writing that piece my life has continued to narrow.  It has also kept surprising me with its expansion.  Last year I took Grace and Whit to an iMax movie about cavers at the Science Museum.  That’s what my life feels like sometimes: as I funnel through a small hole into a darkness that I can’t see my entire world shrinks to the circumference of my body.  And then, suddenly, after passing through the fear of the unknown, an enormous, echoing cavern opens up, visible only to me, lit by the headlamp I’m wearing.

From the outside, my life might look small.  I often feel like I have to defend it to others.  We have a strict one-night-out-per-weekend rule.  I don’t do a lot during week in the evening.  I say no to an awful lot of stuff, mostly for myself but also for the children.  I feel guilty about these decisions all the time, by the way.  I feel constantly that I am disappointing friends and family.  Our weekends are consumed with sports games and around the edges we go for family walks, play board games, read books, sit around the dining room table and laugh and talk.  I’m not willing to give these things up.

And yet our lives feel wide and expansive at the same time.  We walk out to Crane’s Beach on a narrow wooden boardwalk, rickety above the sea grass, and then, at once, the ocean yawns open in front of us: that is life.  The vista grows small and then startles me with its sudden breadth.

I’m doing so much less on almost all dimensions of my life.  I have far less help.  I have almost no non-profit and school-related commitments.  I suspect I’m often simply not invited to things because I’ve said no so often.  And I am doing so much more in a couple of arenas: I’m working a whole lot more, and I’m spending a lot of time with Grace and Whit.  There is no extra time.  There is only this.

And while I do feel a persistent sense of letting people down, and a need to defend our choices, I also know that I am happy with the values that my choices reflect.  I am spellbound by the sparkling universe I have glimpsed, by the glitter-lined geode I can now see.  I can’t look away.


20 thoughts on “Narrow and deep”

  1. Love this. Thank you for posting. Great description of how through the narrowing of your life it actually expanded. The richness and abundance you have added through this is clear.

  2. Really enjoyed this post. It points to prioritizing life in a way that you will never regret – spending the gift of time with your family. Only one quibble – there are so few times when you can use the hilarious word “spelunker.” Never pass that up! 🙂

  3. I SO get this. I want a small life, but I also want it to be wide and deep, and I no longer see a contradiction in those desires. I am exactly where I should be, doing what I should do. xo

  4. Once again you articulate what I’ve often felt and thought. I always fantasized that I’d raise my children in the midst of some full, hearty circle of others (more like my parents raised me). And I haven’t–because I’ve so often said no to so many things. I have not been available to others. I wonder sometimes how that other kind of life is, the one I see so many other moms living. I couldn’t do it. It’s impossible to regret choices that didn’t feel like a choice.

  5. Yes. How succinctly you have summarized my own mothering manifesto of late. The family disappointment, the sports, the home time, the saying no. Yet all of it has allowed my spirit to exhale a fulfilling yes and I know this to be my truth. Thanks for being a virtual kindred spirit.

  6. I can relate to this. I struggle with the glamorization of busy in our society. I literally cringe when people prattle on with their laundry lists of to dos. I am busy too, but I have made a conscious effort to fill my free time mindfully and I do not regret it. I say ‘no’ much more freely and without guilt or excuse. When I turned 40, I actually resolved to do so. It’s taken me a couple years to commit to it, but now I’m a pro. I also find tremendous joy in the simple things we do as a family, or with a close few friends. I admire the way that you honor and cherish the relationships you seem to have with your children. Beautiful!

  7. I see nothing wrong with cutting out the ‘fluff’ in live and getting down to the ‘living’ part of life. Sounds like that is exactly what you are doing and your kids will be better off for it. Great job, Mom! 🙂

  8. I think what you’re doing is both difficult, admirable, and inspiring — I haven’t been a parent for as long so I’m only just starting to learn how to narrow my life to find time for the things that MATTER. But I’m getting there. In many ways, I feel happy/lucky that having a child has forced me to start to do this because I know that I’ve “wasted” countless hours in the past I’ll NEVER waste again (I’m sure they weren’t really wasted, but now that time is so precious, I have to be really discriminating). I often just get really dramatic with myself and think, if the world ended tomorrow, was I doing the things today that mattered? xox

  9. Well, I think that’s a pretty good way to think about it (though, admittedly, yes, dramatic!) – and a way to remind ourselves that these small choices add up to our lives, no? xo

  10. Thank you so much for saying that. I really appreciate it. I still feel awfully busy, but the fact is it’s all stuff I need or want to do … so maybe that’s the key? I don’t know. xox

  11. So interesting – I was definitely raised by a wildly extroverted, social, all-are-welcome mother … and I often wonder if I am damaging my kids or somehow depriving them (not damaging, I guess, that’s too strong) by being so much more focused on the four of us together, alone. xox

  12. What’s better than knowing that? That we are where we should be, and doing what we should do? I think that’s it, right there. xox

  13. I am glad it is clear. Often I get caught up in the guilt of saying no and of feeling like I’m letting people down, as well as doubt about what it is I’m depriving my children of by being so focused on being just the four of us. I hope there is richness in this choice, too (for them; I know there is for me!). xoxo

  14. I think all of our souls want and need “less
    busyness” and more time to enjoy nature, peace, solitude, less noise. There is a time for everything and we seems as a people, to have
    shut out the time for quiet, daydreaming, and
    just doing and being…….

  15. I have been on a similar “quest” since the beginning of this year, and I wrote a post about abundance, trying to explain my deep sense that less leads to more. I fear, like many people, that “less” means “less”…that I will lose friends, opportunities, etc. But what we focus on expands, and if that’s true for chaos, then it has to be true for purpose and peace.

  16. Narrow and deep — surely better than wide and shallow. I’m pretty certain you won’t regret these careful choices over time. Now that my own sons are grown, I’m more aware than ever of just how brief their childhoods were, and how life has shifted irrevocably away from the focus of motherhood and that daily intimacy with my boys. I miss it, but at least I had it.

  17. I repeat a saying that in recent years…. long after children are grown… that always feels and felt right for me….. “I may be capable of great things but life consists of the small things” I also allowed my children to use ME as their excuse… when things seemed too large or too scary or not interesting to them…. Mom says we can’t! it is a glimpse of just what we can cope with…. an escape hatch that is also safe from both a strong and a not so confident place… we all need to have that!

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