When I nurse my son, I like to head upstairs to his nursery. He has just gotten to that age where he is starting to get distracted from eating by the noises of our household: happy screams from his older siblings, the clanking of dishes, a movie playing in the background. The nursery is about as far from the noisy center of our home as one can be.
The escape is nice for me too. If the older ones are engaged in an activity or watching a show, I can really use the time to step away. Especially at the end of a long day with all of my kids, my brain feels overwhelmed and tired.
I have a book on the night stand that is easy for me to grab while he’s sucking away. And my phone is almost always within reach; it feels much like a third arm.
It is not uncommon for my husband to take note of me nursing and offer to bring me something. In which case, he means can he bring me ”something to do.” He looks at me with empathetic eyes as though considering how hard must it be to sit there, unable to get up for some time, with nothing to do.
I can almost hear how painful the thought is for him.
But…. I am doing something.
I am nursing my son.
I feel so much resentment towards this idea that creeps into my mind at all times of the day and night. That I must always be busy. I must always be doing something. To the point that even when I am doing something, I must also be doing something else.
Is nursing my child just an event on the periphery of life? Or, is it life itself? The main feature, front and center?
Why do we feel the constant need to fill the empty spaces?
As I sit to nurse, I start to itch for something to do. Pick up my book. Scroll through Facebook or Instagram to catch up on other people’s lives. But am I here, drinking up the joy of my own?
Even checking my stocks and reading news take me away from the experience, the here and now that I so desperately want to capture. When I look back at this time, I don’t think I’ll care about what was going on in the news.
What if it’s not an empty space?
I become aware of the task at hand. The pleasant experience of offering my milk to my child. Nourishing him, feeding him. Feeling his warmth and sharing his closeness.
I can shut my eyes, taking the time to rest them. Lubricate them.
I can breathe deeply.
I can let my mind wander. I’m tempted to fill the mental time with planning concrete projects or articles to write. But instead, I allow my thoughts to drift without their master.
All day long, I feel stressed and strained to get things done. Get the next load of laundry in the dryer. Make meals. Clean up after meals. Help the kids with their projects and play. Talking to them, teaching them. Doing doing doing doing doing.
I am doing all day long. Multiple things at the same time. Why can’t I just accept a quiet moment and leave the space empty?
Nursing the baby isn’t me time. It’s us time. And its actually a very full space, rich with love and connection. I love to feel his shape pressed against me, one hand reaching up to grasp a finger or a bit of my shirt. I enjoy the increased weight of his little body as he drifts off to milk-laden sleep.
All day long I feel like there isn’t enough time. I barely have time to sit and rest. My brain feels like a traffic jam and it takes an inordinate amount of time to think through simple tasks. I feel so strained and torn, pulled in 5 different directions at once.
And yet the first break from all those demands, the first opportunity for peace and quiet, I reach automatically to fill the space with a different kind of mind numbing noise.
I am making a conscious effort to preserve the “empty spaces” in my life for much needed rejuvenation. Doing so requires a ton of effort to fight my own nature and the external pressures of the busy-ness culture. I have to remind myself that even machines need down time and maintenance.
I don’t see this as mindfulness, although it shares some of the elements. I see this more as reclaiming our private times. Assigning value to the time spent doing nothing (or doing something that easily allows for a wandering mind). The great thinkers of human history treasured time spent in rumination, we would benefit from the same kind of reverence in this modern age.
Do you struggle with the same thing? Does this way a life become just a mode, a default setting?
Join me in taking back the empty spaces in our lives. Consider them like the forestry and parks that our nation tries to preserve as sacred spaces. Be fierce about giving it up for capture.
Take back those moments of freedom when you’re driving in the car, or drinking your coffee, or nursing your child.
Take them back because they are precious and rare.
Take them back because you need them to survive.