My friend called me in tears. I had barely said Hello when she blurted out between sniffles, “Do you know what Andy just said?”
Knowing her five year old son to be quite precocious, I thought I was ready for just about anything he might say. After all, this is the child who told his mother when he was four that ants are smarter than some people because they know how to carry heavy things without hurting themselves.
My friend continued, “He told Mark (her husband), I miss Mommy even when’s she home.” I gasped and my friend remarked. “Yeah, broke my heart. I had no idea.”
If a pageant was held to crown Mrs. Outstanding Multi-Tasker, my friend, Terry, would capture the title hands down.
She’s a wife, a mom twice over, CEO of her own cosmetics company, president of the Parents Association at her children’s school, an amateur photographer and writer of a weekly column for her local newspaper. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget her blog, Moms for the 21st Century, to which she posts something at least every other day.
I’ve always thought she was amazing, incredibly productive, magically efficient and besides all that, she’s gorgeous. I’ve never seen Terry’s ‘sloppy’ look. I don’t think she has one.
She’s one of those high achiever types that make the rest of us see ourselves as ‘less’ – less amazing, less productive, less efficient and surely less fashionable. Jeans and a sweatshirt do me fine around the house. I like my ‘sloppies’.
Terry asked if I’d come over. She wanted to talk.
Twenty minutes later, coffee cups in hand, we made ourselves comfortable on the sofa in her family room. The children were upstairs with Mark who was supervising the nightly bedtime ritual so his wife and I could have some girl time. (Gotta love a husband who understands when his woman needs her girlfriend.)
“I can’t tell you how terrible I feel,” Terry began. “It’s just devastating to realize that Andy feels that way. “
Over the course of the next few minutes, Terry rehearsed her typical schedule. Up at 5 am to exercise for at least thirty minutes, she then showers and gets dressed for the day. By 6:30 am, the breakfast dishes are set out on the kitchen island along with the cereal, orange juice and milk, and the coffee is percolating on the counter, its aroma summoning the family to get moving.
By 7:45 am, Mark leaves for work, dropping the children off at school on his way.
Terry stays behind to clean up the kitchen, hurry through whatever peeling and chopping needs to be done for the crockpot dinner to make itself over the next several hours while she’s at the office. She’s out the door by 8:30 and before 9:00 am, she’s at her desk, laptop fired up, cellphone to her ear, and order confirmations spitting out of the laser printer behind her in rapid succession.
The children are welcomed home from school about 3:30 every afternoon by their baby-sitter, a warm and loving older woman they call Nana Bertha. Her own grandchildren live hundreds of miles away and she treasures the opportunity to interact and play with Andy and his nine year old sister, Tracey.
Mark and Terry return home about the same time each evening, close to 6:30 pm but the frenzy doesn’t stop. Dinner is usually a rather quick affair because “there’s still so much to do,” she laments. Terry does ask the children about their day at school, whether they have any homework and if so, would they bring it to her so she can check it. All the while, she’s half-listening to the evening news on television, frequently texting her secretary to add something to the list of what must be done tomorrow, scanning various windows that are open on her computer and munching on a cookie or some nuts at the same time.
She has always insisted that her children do their homework in their room, away from any distractions like the television or music. She wants them to focus on what they’re doing so they’ll do it well. However, she does not apply the same value to herself. She’s given credence to the idea that being an adult means a woman must be adept at doing many things at once and a woman who’s also a wife and mother, must become an absolute champion at the skill of multi-tasking. Isn’t that how we survive, after all?
Terry has so successfully developed the habit of doing so many things at once, she has no idea anymore how to do just one thing at a time – like listen to Andy when he’s speaking to her.
Her mental madness has exhausted all her energy. She has lost the art of single-tasking.
There are many reasons for the epidemic of multi-tasking and not enough attention has been paid to its repercussions.
Perhaps we’ve become task junkies because we fear being seen as lazy or slow.
Perhaps we abhor the thought of being ‘average’ at what we do, so we keep working harder and harder, doing more and more in our quest for ‘superior’, whatever that is.
Perhaps we harbor unnecessary guilt over past failures which brought
embarrassment and we have promised ourselves Never Again.
Perhaps we fear the quiet that free time affords so we lengthen our ‘to-do’ list lest we have to face ourselves.
Perhaps we were never taught that it’s OK to say ‘No’ sometimes so we pile on unreasonable commitments.
Perhaps we’re trying to prove something to ourselves – or to someone else.
Perhaps we have forgotten that we are human beings, not human doings.
The sad truth is that the ones we love most pay the price for our addiction.
The happy truth is that psychologically speaking, we accomplish much more and do so in a far superior manner by focusing our full attention on one task at a time.
If you’ve contracted the multi-tasking dis-ease, try an experiment this weekend.
Leave the cell phone in your purse, turn off the IPad and the television, look your spouse or your children in the eye when they talk to you and truly listen like they’re the center of your universe – because they are, or at least they should be.
Take a walk and consciously listen to the words of the song on your IPod.
Notice the flowers or something about your neighborhood that you never ‘saw’ before because you were there but your mind wasn’t.
Consciously taste your food, savor the cup of tea, get down on the ground with your child or grandchild and watch the busy ant carrying something heavier than himself.
Marvel at the wonders of nature. Bask in a magnificent sunset. Let the raindrops tickle your nose and immerse yourself in the feeling.
Think about a five year old who said, I miss Mommy even when she’s home.
Each single thing done well produces a far better series of multiple things.