Zwambag: Putting a ban on busy

The Motherload

I love the start of a new month. There’s something about being able to just let go of everything that was bogging you down in the weeks prior and looking forward to a bit of a fresh start. The first of anything always brings about a bit of a renewal for me.

So it’s no surprise that I love turning the page on the calendar that hangs in our kitchen and staring at all the beautiful blankness that it holds for all of two minutes.

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Then I get a pen.

First, in goes my husband’s work schedule. Then the kids’ activities—preschool, dance, gymnastics, swimming and anything else that we’ve paid for them to attend. The weekends then fill up with birthday parties. And the afternoons with playdates or appointments that I made last month and now are fast approaching. Don’t forget the clubs that my husband and I belong to, a date night somewhere in there and maybe a trip to see the grandparents or to stock up our pantry.

Once all of that has been color-coded for each family member and written in, I stare at it.

Suddenly, the blankness that was making me happy is annoying me. There are days with nothing on. Days where we aren’t busy.  Something in me starts flaring and I start messaging people to set up play dates or Googling to find events that my kids might enjoy.

Just as my daughter comes walking in to the kitchen, still rubbing sleep from her eyes, I inform her (excitedly) that she has dance lessons in an hour and then we are going to hit the grocery store before attending a birthday party that afternoon. I’m proud of myself. I’ve planned a great and fun day for my kids that will engage them, make them smile and tire them out.

Except, my daughter isn’t smiling. She sits down on the floor by my feet and uses her little finger to trace circles on the floor.

“Mommy, I just want to stay home with you today. I don’t want to go anywhere. Can we bake cookies and stay in our pajamas?”

Her tone is defeated and it breaks my heart.

See, her tone is defeated because she often asks to stay home and I say no. I say things like “we have to go to preschool because we spend a lot of money so you can go” or “your friends are really excited to play with you — you’ll enjoy it once you’re there” when all she’s asking for is her childhood.

So today, I say yes.

“Sure, baby. Go get the chocolate chips.”

Her face lights up and she’s running for the pantry. We spent the day like that—her with no pants and a Batman t-shirt, me with ripped leggings and oversized sweater. We baked. We colored pictures on our sliding glass door. We went outside and blew bubbles and drew on the sidewalk. We skipped. We danced. We read books and laughed. I taught her jokes. She and her brother made each other laugh until they couldn’t breathe. She asked a million questions and we took the time to look up the answers I didn’t know. We spent a day with no agenda, no rush and no stress.

Was it perfect? No. There were still fights and tantrums and lessons that needed to be learned (both by myself and my children). But, it was different. There was a resounding calm that just settled over the day. Even as I snuggled in bed with her at the end of the day and agreed to two more stories than I normally do, there was a lightness in the room. The charge that had become a constant fixture in our lives wasn’t sparking around us.

My kids got to just be for a moment of their quickly passing childhood.

When did this happen? When did being busy become so glorified? When did our culture start valuing busy? As a certified homebody, I very much understand the urge to stay home and take the day as it comes. But somehow, when it comes to my kids, I developed the belief that our lives had to be structured, scheduled and simply BUSY.

So busy, in fact, that I lost sight of things. Instead of letting them stop to splash in a puddle (unless it was on a scheduled puddle walk) or letting them take 20 minutes to figure out something for themselves, I was busy rushing them off to the next thing on the rather arbitrary calendar in our kitchen. I’m so scared that if I don’t schedule learning opportunities, they’re not going to come. That I’m going to use the TV as a babysitter or my kids are going to miss out on important socializing or that they’re somehow going to fall behind because they’re not as busy as the next kids.

It’s all a lie. My head is lying to me.

Kids are natural explorers. Let them stay home, and they’ll decorate their room with washi tape, build a Lego castle or insist on chopping veggies next to you as you prepare a meal. Open the door for them and they’ll find bugs, climb trees and make friends with the kids riding by on their bikes. They’re going to keep themselves busy, but in a way that fits them. In a way that fills them up and helps them learn about the World in the way that suits their own needs.

Kids don’t need to be busy. They need time, space and empowerment to just be who they are. They need us to be okay with their lead. They need invitations to play, create and experiment. They need us to just sit back and learn from them so we can be less busy and distracted, too.

Life is too short to worry about being busy, no matter what our culture is telling us. My focus for this month (and beyond) is to focus on being content, engaged and free instead.

My daughter was thrilled to help me cross things off the calendar. She insisted we do so in cherry marker, actually.


Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.

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