I have been learning to play golf this summer, and during my first few visits to the range, I would reach the top of my swing and experience a mild sensation of panic. What am I supposed to do now? Am I even going to hit the ball? I feel out of control! Do I stop the club here or keep reaching back? An instructor advised me to slow my swing: “Even professional golfers swing the club at 80% capacity.” To my surprise, once I drew the club back at a more measured pace, the top-of-swing turbulence disappeared, and I was better able to consistently connect with the ball. I felt less like I was forcing the ball into the air and more like I was letting the ball connect with my swing. The movement unfolded more naturally.
A reminder, of course, to begin as you mean to continue, a sentiment that has been on my mind the past few weeks, as I’ve been consistently returning to two quotes:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” (Annie Dillard)
“How we do anything is how we do everything.” (Unattributed)
So the question is, of course, how do I want to spend my life? (No big deal.) And what are the chief attributes I want to bring to bear in my daily ministrations to the people and things I love (and even those I do not)?
The words that continued to surface were, to my surprise, not nouns — not accomplishments, not pastimes, not values — but adverbs: slowly, gracefully, with intention.
In my creative life, and also — I believe! — in my marriage, I have been focused on finding slowness, grace, and intention for a long time, and feel I am in the presence of good rhythms. There is always room to improve, but I have been aware and underway for a long while now. Every morning, I sit at my desk and shake hands with the empty page, no matter how inspired I feel. I take notes all day long — in notebooks, on my phone, via the collage of post-its that dot every surface of my office. I know how to pause and unpause my writing, how to move slowly through language when it matters, how not to force my own hand, how to find my way “into the pocket.” I know nothing of the quality of my work, but I attend its practice daily, with care and optimism.
I have found similar flow in my marriage. Parents of young children understand that it often feels like you only have the scraps of the day to share — that by the time the children are tended to, you have meager little time to yourself, let alone your relationship with your spouse. But we have found wafer-thin ways to connect throughout the day, making careful use of the offcut: we eat lunch together at the kitchen counter, usually texting mid-morning to confirm when he’ll be off his call and I’ll be done with the bulk of my writing; we huddle around a board game in the morning or during happy hour; we share two pints of ice cream on the couch after the children are in bed; we whisper to one another at night. And we clip into shared pastimes together: that summer we hiked every Monday morning; the month we spent touring the erotic thrillers of the 80s and 90s; our erstwhile obsession with the indoor bike and the way we’d compare notes on the instructors; and now, our fledgling interest in golfing together. All of these trivial engagements are ways of saying I love your company, with the added bonus of slowing time, making it fall slack around the two of us. I think of nearly nothing at all while we are playing Azul or swinging our clubs next to one another. But there is, always, the slow and pleasant thrum of companionship. “You crushed it,” he’ll say, absently, shuffling his driver out of his bag, and “That one sounded good,” I’ll return, without even following the ball with my eyes, and the words mean almost nothing except the impossible wideness of the implied I love you.
I could do better to live out these attributes as a mother, though. I feel I am still clipping through my days with my children at breakneck speed. There is so much to do! Plates to clean, hair to brush, snacks to pack, paper and crayons to fetch, bandaids to smooth over skinned knees. There are piles of shed pajamas on the kitchen floor, and a puddle of milk on the dining room table. But I don’t want to lose their magic to these minutaie. I am especially fixated on improving my marching bedtime manner. For a long time now, I have begrudged bedtime. I know many parents love that time of day, when the children are winding down, and snuggles abound, and the same books our parents read to us are shared with our own babies, in their fresh pajamas and their love-worn coverlets. But I struggle, routinely, to find the joy in it. I am usually tired, and preoccupied with ensuring teeth are brushed and toys are away, and fatigued by the routine delay tactics. There is, however, one tiny and recurring moment of joy amidst the nighttime footslog: after I have said prayers and affirmations, and have read a chapter of a book, and have sung my son his lullaby, and have watched him take a long drink from his water bottle (a crucial step my miniature tyrant insists I not miss — I must have my eyes open and upon him), I tuck him beneath his quilt and tell him the sweet things all mothers say to their sons: the I’ll love you forever and the Nothing you could do would change how much I love you and the You are perfect just like you are. And my four-year-old son, who is, at the moment, a riot of toddler emotions and a ping-ponging boy energy and an incessant bearer of toilet jokes and a loud talker (my husband and I call him “All Caps,” as he ONLY SPEAKS LIKE THIS AT ALL TIMES OF DAY), will lay his head on his pillow and adopt a visage of pure serenity while I lay my love litany at his feet. His face is composed, absorbing. And I feel that deep, abundant surge of maternal pride, and I think how good life is, how pure and simple. For a moment, I think how loving my son is like feeling the sun on my face, and the warm sand underfoot, and the arboreal dampness of a walk through the woods: just as natural and profound.
I think, then, how a life led by love requires so little, and gives so much. How the smallest expression of love can stretch time and sweeten its passage, asking for nothing at all in return.
+Another way of saying “How to stop time: kiss.”
+A love letter to my husband, which shares both: “I swear he spent half of his twenties waiting for me to get ready, draining Heinekens” and “We were together — I forget the rest.”
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+Somehow, this Doen dress is under $100. So perfect for fall.
+This paisley skirt is in my cart.
+If you’re traveling soon — this set of blockprint packing cubes (monogrammable!) is so cute, and this clever toiletry case (keep all bottles/tubes upright in their own separate compartments!) is discounted in select colors.
+THE sweetest fall jacket for an itty bitty baby girl.
+A perfect fall flat. As you know, I love furlanes! I lived in them all last winter.
+Chic cooking utensil set. Ideal if you’re prioritizing aesthetics but don’t cook as much — because we have our favorite brands/styles for all cooking implements! (Some of which you may not have.) A more recent addition to our crock: a spoodle! It’s SO helpful for when you’re cooking pasta, potatoes, veg, etc, and you want to isolate one small piece to test for doneness.
+SO curious about this portable hair tool (Tymo) that a Magpie shared with me recently. Has anyone used? It’s marketed as a travel hair straightener but in some of the videos I watched, women are using more as a way to tidy/neaten up/refresh hair after, for example, a day of travel or a workout.
+This sweatshirt is straight-up cool. Love the washed fabric effect.
+Magpie intel: this body scrub is out of this world. A reader wrote to say it completely resolved her issue of bumpy skin.
+This fall floral dress is legitimately perfect.