Each weekday, I wake at 5:34. I shower. I kiss my wife. I dress. I kiss my son. I put on breakfast. I wake the girls and kiss them too. We eat. We rush. I’m late. I’m sad to go.
It takes me fifty-five minutes to get to work – every morning. I check my box and my e-mails. I check in with the boss. I run outside to collect my class. They look tired. I understand. We talk and we laugh. We struggle to make sense of things. Pedro gets frustrated then angry. Omar acts the fool. Armando is brilliant. Darlene is happy most of the time. She never fails to hug me. I like that about her. She adds more value to my life than I’m afraid she’ll ever understand.
Lunch is hurried. It isn’t healthy to eat that fast. It’s never healthy to eat what Kevin or Joanna or Tara or Bryant eats. They say they don’t have time to cook. We make small talk and copies while heating our food in the teachers’ lounge. Intimacy is impossible. I need to check in with the boss. I need to check my e-mails. I need to call Pedro’s mom. I need to run outside to collect another class. Leo is quarrelsome. Sunny is absent. Ivanka is brilliant. Katlin never forgets to say thanks.
Later, I meet with Junior’s mother and tell her that her son is capable – if only he would learn to respect authority. She tells me she doesn’t know what to do. She tells me that since her husband went to prison she can no longer control the boy. She was hoping I would have the answer. I don’t and it breaks my heart. It seems to break hers too. Neither of us has enough time. I leave at 5:00, every day. I’m exhausted.
I get home just in time to help with dinner. My wife is, once again, going through the motions. Her day is much like mine, but probably more so. We talk about our day. The kids want to dally; they want to play; they want to be kids, but there’s no time. They have to wash and brush their teeth. They have to do their homework.
My youngest daughter says she wants to be a veterinarian, but struggles to see how a good understanding of science matters. She’d rather play a board game and visit with the family. She’d rather pet the cat. The older is more aloof, more alone; still she clings to vestigial wisps of youth. She’s so fragile, and she needs me more now than ever. She must learn to be empowered. She must learn to be brave.
The boy wants to do puzzles. He wants to play dinosaurs and write his letters and meow like a cat and sing Christmas carols and do Kung-Fu like “Jackie Jim.” All of this and it’s already 8:30. I still have papers to grade and my e-mails. I hurry my kids off to bed and grow frustrated with their disappointment. I stand firm and often yell, which only makes them cry. It makes their mother sad. It makes me think about Junior and his mother, and how she never has enough time. It makes me think about lonely Darlene and how maybe she hugs me because her father is never there. It makes me wonder if this is what life was supposed to be about. But I don’t have the time to chase these thoughts for long. I have my papers and my e-mails. I have to get to bed. My God, this life moves too fast.
* * *
As I slow down, I want to create a lasting sense of family, a community worth savoring. A while back, my wife and I made good on our dream of moving out into the country and living closer to the land. A modest two-story home of brick and stucco set neatly in the shade of a three-hundred-year-old valley oak stretched the canvas of our dream; a pool, a koi pond, a greenhouse, a few steel-constructed outbuildings and nearly an acre of yard for the kids and their imagination. There’s no doubt that it’s a fixer-upper, but we like that. It makes possible the wishing.
A second, more stoic home sits on the south side of the property. It was built in the early 1920’s and sat in the heart of downtown for sixty years; it embodies a slower time. Its construction is plaster on lath, and the attention to details show the hand of a craftsman. The living room is accented with alcoves and arches, the dining room adorned with recessed cupboards and a French door that extends out to the covered patio; a place where families have grown. It has a breakfast nook and two sunrooms that face the east; places whose sole purpose is to allow one to sit and enjoy the warmth of the morning. It was moved to the property in the early 1980’s for the parents of the previous owner, and a month after we moved in, my mother and father followed suit. A few friends think we’re crazy to live so close to my folks, but we don’t see it that way. My parents understand the need for privacy, and we all understand the need for family. Their presence proves wise the adage, “it takes a village to raise a child,” as they too help heal broken hearts and wounded knees, as they help ease the duty of parenthood. Besides, Grandma always has cookies and cakes, and Papa builds trains and loves to watch a good game. Regardless of their circumstance, they always seem to have enough time. My parents are part of our village, it allows us to slow down. We are blessed because of that.
As I slow down, I want to be present in each moment with those that I love. I remember the first time my wife and I dropped off our daughters at summer camp. I was expecting that this event was going to be a defining moment in our daughters’ lives — a rite of passage, if you will, an onramp to their road towards independence. What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was how much it would impact the life of my wife. I remember as we pulled out of the parking lot, the air in the car seemed so still and unnatural. I remember asking; “Honey, you sure you’re okay?”
She sat small in her seat, knees pulled into her chest, gazing out the window into the forest of mixed conifers, Manzanita, and an occasional glimpse of the soft blue shoreline. “Yes, I’m fine,” she whispered hoarsely, then cleared her throat, “I’m fine, I just can’t stop thinking about the girls and – and how proud I am.”
The car rolled to a stop at the top of the hill, just beside the enormous gold on raw wood sign, “Welcome to Camp Tulequoia –Live simply, close to nature and each other, and rejoice in the spirit of Love.” Her eyes seemed to scan these words, looking for the lost thought that might encompass all she meant to say.
“I mean, I thought surely that one of them would start to get cold feet before we left.”
“But they didn’t. In fact they seemed eager to see us go. Didn’t they seem eager?” Her brow furrowed neatly above her loamy eyes.
“I guess, but anymore when aren’t they eager to see us –“
“Did Savanah kiss you goodbye?”
She leaned forward slightly as if to change the radio station that wasn’t there. Restless, her hand fell into her lap and made a feeble effort to straighten the crease of her pants. “Yes. But it seemed as if she were trying to tell me something.”
“She was, babe. She was trying to tell you goodbye.”
“Don’t be such an ass, Seth. You know what I mean.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be an ass. It’s just that I can tell that having the girls at camp all weak is making you anxious, and you get weird when you get anxious. I just hope you’re not weird all week.”
“Don’t be silly, I’m not acting weird and I’m not anxious. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to this week for months. It’s been a long time since the two of us have had some time alone.” A compulsory smile flashed upon her face, lingered awkwardly, and then fell away.
“Two years and three months,” I inserted, but she didn’t seem to hear. Her hands worked deftly as she, again, checked her phone for messages.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“You know they aren’t allowed to call.”
“I know that.”
“And they don’t even have their phones.”
“So what are you doing?”
“I just figured I’d try to give them a call.”
As I slow down, I want to be a farmer. Not the kind who has become lost in the mass production of fast, cheap food, but one of a new generation focused on self-sustenance and slow growth. There is no doubt that farm work is laborious and often exhausting, but such is life. Such is the effort to slow down. I do not mean to mislead, but for all that is sweat and labor, there is a beauty of spending a different kind of time with my family, a different kind of time for my family. If life has taught me nothing else, it’s that time is finite. I want to invest my time wisely. I want to raise a family in a way that matters, as individuals who are able to fend for themselves, yet are most gracious as they give back. I want to be able to focus time and attention on the pursuits that make us all better individuals and of value to our communities. I want my sweat to nourish the soil that nourishes my family. I want to eat pluots in May, nectarines in June, peaches in July, plums in August, and apples through the fall; I want to eat chicken the whole year round. I want to consume only that which I produce. Most of all, I want to do it slowly and surrounded by those I love. And if my choice means I cannot eat tomatoes all winter, well that’ll just make me all the more careful as I tend them next spring.