‘Been thinkin’ a lot about oceans, lately.
I’ve tried to replicate it with my voice, to no avail. That is, the never-ending background “HMMMMMMMM” that an ocean makes. No, I don’t mean the periodic swoosh of waves as they find their way to the shore. I mean the machine-like moan one hears, very similar to the constantly flowing sound of traffic on a busy Interstate highway.
HMMMMMMMM. I’m a life-long “land-lubber.” I had no idea. In fact, that’s what I thought it was — traffic — when I first arrived in Newport, Oregon on a visit with friends who live just blocks away from both Highway 101 AND the Pacific Ocean. You’ve heard of that ocean; it’s that same ocean bordered on the “other side” by Japan (which, by the way, recently gifted Newport with a floating dock, a remnant of the tragic tsunami of two years ago.)
I could actually see the ocean from the west window of my upper-floor bedroom. Amazing. But it was that background humming noise that was at once so immediately intriguing and, I have to admit, disturbing. And it was that which has brought me so many moments of thought. So constant. So never-ending.
Then, as I settled in as a pretty long-term visitor/resident, it began to take on a kind of analogy for life as we, every one of us, “do” life in this country… a constant regularity of habitual activity… a humming of routine that runs 24/7, whether we are aware of it or not. Most of the time, our routines run like the background noise of an ocean.
For example: My friends in Oregon OR any other middle-class family in the U.S.of A. (I LOVE YOU, friends in Oregon!)
My friends have a fairly typical family, I think. He’s a physician’s assistant at a 20-bed hospital there, she is a former social worker (is one EVER a former social worker?) who has taken time out for her first priority, being a mom to two little girls, “W” who is 5 and “S” who is 1.
Because they were kind enough to allow me to invade their space for two whole weeks, I got to observe the inner workings of their family’s schedule. The mom calls it a “well oiled” machine.
Exibit One: Dad gets up early, 5:30 a.m., if memory serves me, (the waft of newly-brewed coffee floating up to my “bedroom in the sky” always alerted me), while Mom, who has already been awakened more than once during the night to the demands of a breast feeding baby catches a couple of extra winks, (well, maybe). Dad does early morning emails, makes coffee, tends to the needs of four giant cats and breakfast for two tiny girls, (one of whom is quite content to happily babble away and give rapt attention to her toys…until it becomes time for the provision of a post breakfast, “BREAST-fast.” Enter Mom, stage left.
Dad, in the meantime, has showered, collected his 5-year-old, and headed out to deliver her to her kindergarten class.
Mom, then, gears into “high” as her daily shift of caring for her baby, keeping the house tidy, washing three tons of wash (cloth diapers), figuring out the evening’s supper menu, washing three more tons of clothes (and breast-feeding the baby)*… until she must drive mid-morning to pick up her older daughter from school. (By the way, wherever this woman goes with her children, she hoists a 20-pound pack of “essential baby stuff” on her back while carrying a 25-pound baby in a carrier on her front!).
Most days of the week, Dad comes home for lunch and everyone sits down to some really healthy hand-chopped raw veggies, left-over soup, hard-boiled eggs … OR, in the baby’s case, something ooey-gooey that she delightedly scoops into her mouth … sort of … naturally creating a mess to be reckoned with later.
On Wednesdays, there is a ballet class after “W’s” morning school (is there ANYTHING cuter than a roomful of tutu-ed little girls?) for which there must have been previously-prepared sack lunches made for Mom and baby while they wait as big sister pirouettes across the shiny wood floor. Mom breastfeeds baby.
Somewhere during the week, of course, there is the obligatory trip to the grocery store to buy the necessary supplies for a four-person family (plus a visitor). Then, while Dad’s still at work, Mom and her girls go home to play or read or do a few dance twirls in the living room. Baby is breastfed and put down for a nap, after which time Mom does three more tons of laundry.
(Stay with me here!)
At approximately 6 p.m., Dad returns home from a full day of listening to patient complaints and sometimes heartbreakingly sad stories to assist with the evening’s meal, and after supper clean-up. There is, then, a short session with a 5-year-old just beginning to learn to play the violin…
“Run the bow across the strings, like you are saying, ‘pepp-eroni PEET-za, pepp-eroni PEET-za, pepp-eroni PEET-za,’” says Dad, while Mom breastfeeds the baby. (I wonder if “S” feeds to the same rhythm. Her mom could surely tell you!)
At some point, Dad excuses himself to go upstairs to do transcriptions of his day’s patient-load. Mom instructs the “twirling girl” to get ready for bed, which she does with a minimum of help (and NO argument!), but not before Dad returns to read a story to her, and Mom has a discussion with her about what she is to wear the next day. Mom breastfeeds the baby (again), until those long lashes hit that sweet little girl’s cheeks and then gets tucked snuggly into her nightly nest.
Both girls now soundly asleep, THEN and ONLY then, do Mom and Dad get to converse with each other in any significant way, or do email correspondence, or peruse that long-neglected magazine or book or medical journal… or once in awhile, watch a little bit of television.
I suspect my friends’ household is not unlike any one of thousands of others in our country. Busy. Busy. Busy. And in order to make it all work, to keeps things “humming,” they must remain “well-oiled.”
The challenge, of course, is to keep the “oil” from turning gummy so that the “machine” runs less smoothly and with a decided “drag.” It’s to keep the HUMMING from becoming HUM-DRUM. To keep the HUM-DRUM from becoming HO-HUM. To keep “routine” from becoming dull and mindless. To keep the rhythm in the “tune,” so to speak. “Pep-pa-ro-ni PEET-za!”
So how do we do that? BALANCE IS THE KEY! Everybody knows THAT…right?
Um-hum…but what does BALANCE look like?
A few suggestions:
A great deal of it has to do with remembering to show simple gratitude. It’s about sharing not only the task at hand, but resisting the need to be in control. Take turns, for Pete’s sake! (I got to be King/Queen this week; next week is YOURS, happily relinquished!)
It’s about taking time out and time off. It’s about taking short drives and long walks…together. It’s about hand holding. Eye contact. Words of encouragement. Love, verbally expressed. Hugs, goodbye. Kisses, hello. And it’s about stopping once in awhile, and looking at those around you to say, “Oh! I remember YOU!”
For most families, it can be a monumental task. And it takes concerted hard work. HARD WORK! (Especially by us often-overcome “grown-ups”).
I am grateful to my friends for feeling comfortable enough to allow me to “spy” on their lives for those two weeks. They were so easy to be around in their “natural state.” In this age of hurry, hurry, hurry…text, text, text…and in the use of those electronic “necessities” we now glue to our ears and fingers (in addition to the daily tons of laundry!), I found this to be pretty extraordinary, and actually quite a gift to their two-week-long visitor. It was sometimes exhausting for this 70-year-old grandma to watch, even though 35 years ago I was pretty much doing the same things…(minus the gadgets). But the success of my friends in working to constantly grasp that balance between individual desires vs. family needs is evidenced, in part, by their two very secure, happy, healthy, well-behaved and well-loved little girls.
So that gets me back to the humming of the ocean. It’s always going to be there. If we live by the ocean, we will always hear it. But, unlike the ocean’s regularity, our family function could get so habitual that we don’t hear it at all. In healthy and BALANCED relationships…individual or family…we have to ALWAYS be listening. Or the “hum” will just go away, a sure sign of IMBALANCE.
True BALANCE has a rhythm as well as a routine. Letting the last take over the first is a sure prescription for a case of the “wobbles.” True BALANCE is NOT regimented. It feels GOOD…because it IS!
*The mentions of breast-feeding intervals can be multiplied by 100, on any given day, (any woman who has been so-engaged can testify to the “truth” of this estimate!)
Judy Purser is a Grand Junction, Colo., mother and grandmother and arguably the world’s best mother-in-law.