In her new book, Loving My Actual Life, Alexandra chronicles her nine-month experiment to rekindle her love of her ordinary “actual” life. As this excerpt shows, these things are sometimes easier planned than done.
Mother of four, wife, daughter, friend, Sunday school teacher, soccer carpool driver, coworker, neighbor. These are all ways I describe myself. This is true of us as women, that when we are asked to describe the essence of who we are, we often do it through relationships. Because people are what matter most to us. If I had to pick one month in this nine-month experiment that I think is most important, it’s this one. Because this is the whole point, right? To savor moments with my people!
Yet it’s all too common to spend all day with these very people around me, at my feet, in my car, sitting at my kitchen bar, and still feel disconnected. Whether long days with a child at home where I feel isolated from the outside world, or rushing from work to school to church, the pace of my life can keep conversations at the logistical level of who is driving who, where, and when. I often choose texting over calling because I don’t want to get over-involved in conversation; I just want to relay information. In the midst of the running around, the intimacies of friendship and marriage can be ignored.
I keep hearing that moms and dads feel rushed and have a hard time meeting the demands of their lives. I’m afraid in our world of choice we have more options in the work-life balance, but instead of saying no to some things to say yes to those we hold most dear, we are simply saying yes to everything, trying to cram more into our 24-hour days. The result? Our relationships are suffering.
I spend this month incorporating intentional one-on-one time with people I want to know and love better: my husband, my kids, my friends. From playdates to dates that require a sitter and reservations, I make time in my schedule to be present with the people I love.
My Actual Approach
Have one “date” per day with someone in my close circle.
Make casual interactions with strangers more personal.
Give others my undivided attention when they are speaking.
This seems like the easiest experiment so far. I’ve totally got this. I’m never alone. I am always with someone. So how hard will it be to spend some intentional time with the people I love?
Today I sat down at my computer to put some dates on the calendar and the colors popped up. Our family schedule, where every person has his or her own designated color, is like a rainbow of time. The more colors I see on the screen, the busier we are as a family, and the higher my stress level rises.
But I’m with these people all day long, so, really, how hard will it be to build in some dates? I looked at the calendar again and saw no evening, no afternoon, no significant block of time to plan anything with anyone. I needed to be cutting, not adding here. My initial enthusiasm for this month’s experiment moved to instant discouragement. All I could think of were the famous words of comedian Jimm Gaffigan on parenting four kids: “You want to know what it’s like having a fourth? Imagine you’re drowning . . . and then someone hands you a baby.”1
“Mom, have you seen my backpack?”
“Mom, I’m hungry.”
As I stared at the computer screen, hoping something would miraculously shift on our family’s schedule to make this work, the very people I was trying to allow more time for interrupted me. I stood up and moved on to figuring out what snacks I could hand out. Apparently putting a few things on the calendar is not as easy as I’d imagined.
Gracie started ballet tonight. At a little rec center in the suburb just to the west of us. As I drove to the address, I recognized the block and a favorite restaurant across the street.
“Parents,” the teacher in her grown-up-sized leotard said, addressing the other tall people in the room, “my policy is you must leave during class time. It’s too distracting if you are here.”
I looked down at Giulianna. Neither of us liked the idea of being kicked out, but we suddenly had a built-in date hour. We walked across the street to the restaurant with its windows facing right into Gracie’s classroom and ordered drinks and a snack.
Things were looking up. Monday nights just officially became date nights. I had visions of laughter and meaningful conversation for Mondays on end as I brought a different person with me each week. I now have a master plan to multitask with my date time too. That’s really how it’s going to happen.
Derek and I have never been a “date night” couple. We’ve found it a bit cheesy, a bit formulaic, and therefore confining. We pride ourselves on going with the moment. Being more present in the everyday. Valentine’s Day is coming up. Who needs it? It’s for amateurs, those who limit romance to one day a year. We’re kind of smug that way.
Besides, the cost of a babysitter on top of dinner often makes the idea of going out feel way out of budget. So we’ve mastered the date night in. our kids will be quiet for ninety minutes with a movie. When they were smaller I’d try to manipulate naptime to make for early bedtime. Now that they’re older the promise of a movie if they eat before is compelling enough to make them comply.
But right now I wish we were date night people. Because our only communication is happening in texts. So it’s time to push the smugness aside and made a “date night” happen. Because I love this man and I want to spend time with him in more than three sentence increments and with real facial expressions and not just emojis.
It was a group text from Kristi. I pictured Kristi’s family, all six of them in the familiar Children’s ER. I also picture the boredom and hunger that were likely taking over her non-adult troops.
I texted back without considering what was on our family schedule for the next few hours. Sometimes you need to wipe the schedule clean when crisis mode hits.
A few hours later another of Kristi’s friends pulled into my dark driveway and dropped off three kids carrying backpacks and pillows. Our evening plans for dinner and bed had been hijacked. I was loving my friend by caring for her kids because that’s what we do for each other. I’d given her plenty of opportunities to do the same when my girls were in Children’s Hospital.
My dates today were unexpected with three kids who needed reassurance that their sister was okay and school would be waiting for them as it always was in the morning. Not what I had planned, but I’m finding I’m mining the treasured moments out of each day.
From Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me by Alexandra Kuykendall. © 2016. Used by permission from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
1 “Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe—4 KIDS,” YouTube, October 9, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=3&v-GEbZrY0G0PI