Several months ago, the pastor of our Unitarian Universalist church gave an excellent sermon that resonated strongly with us.  A woman about our age and recently back from maternity leave after having her first child, she addressed the issue of “extreme living”.  Citing our culture’s deep fascination with “extreme” sports and various other highly esteemed extremes, she argued that a good many of us are involved in “extreme living,” including such favorites as Extreme Working, Extreme Spending, Extreme Drinking, and Extreme Eating.  She said it a lot more eloquently, but you get the idea.

She went on to discuss the importance of leaving margins in our lives.  A metaphor she used is that our lives ought to have margins around them, much in the way that a book page has margins, arguing that the text on a page would be far too difficult to read and even to understand properly were it not for those open, empty spaces around them.  When we are living our lives to the extreme – stretched to its very limits with no open spaces – we can neither see nor understand what we are doing.

Ah.  Right.  Ahem.

I haven’t had much in the way of margins in a long time, probably in about 5 years, but the good news is: I do this summer.  Every few months after our big move from San Francisco to Chicago two years ago, I have thought, “Now we’re settled!”  And then another six months go by, and I discover that we hadn’t been.  At all.  Perhaps six months from now I’ll look back on this summer and think, “P’shaw! I thought that was ‘settled‘?” but the difference in our lives and schedule from last summer to this one is tremendous.  I can’t get over how lovely it is.

What do I mean when I say I have margins in my life right now?  Well, it’s things like being more leisurely – and having longer workouts a few days a week – in the morning and not leaving the house until 8:30 or 9:00 for work since I’m not driving the carpool.  Not running Lyle to and from nursery school on my days off, and allowing him to nap as long as he’d like on those days, since we don’t have to go pick Baxter up at school at 3.  Having loads more time with the boys, and playing “road trucks” with Lyle on the floor multiple times a day.  I also rescheduled my clients when things got quieter for the summer so that two days a week my schedule is jam-packed but the third day I can work from home or get errands done, rather than driving down to the clinic.

It means that when Baxter learns to jump off the diving board, I have time to dig out my childhood photo album and show him photos of me jumping off the high dive when I was a few years older than him.  He loves this, and spends a long time poring over my childhood album, connecting with my experiences and laughing about photos of his uncles and aunts as small children.  When he asks for a photo to be taken of himself jumping so that he can “show [his] own kids someday when they learn to jump off the diving board”, I remember to bring the good camera and take such a picture for this purpose.  I am thinking straight and am able to do lots of fun extras.

Because I am spending the mornings with Lyle instead of sending him to school right now, he naps on my days off: he’s not clamoring for that time with me.  This means that, with Baxter reading entire chapter books in a 2-hour sitting (thank you, Animorphs), I can lie down and read a book or even fall asleep for one of my 10-minute cat naps while Lyle sleeps, something that has never happened before.  Some nights I even go to bed earlier than 11pm.  Blissful.

I’m still behind on things.  I will always be behind on things.  I also have major changes coming up in my practice in the next few months and I am going to be operating outside my comfort zone in multiple ways.  I am aware of an undercurrent of anxiety about these things because I am having stress dreams for the first time in years.  But having some margins in my days – not living life to an extreme – leaves me feeling relaxed enough not to be concerned about that.  Things will get done.  My comfort zone will shift to include all of the new things I’m going to be doing; I have great support people in place to help me with each new endeavor.

From this vantage point, where I am not over-committed all day every day, I can see the text of my life.

I’ll be fine.


9 responses to “Margins

  1. i’m so happy for your margins. it does sound lovely. i am confident that you are and will be MORE than fine!

  2. Ditto what Kyra said. And thank you for this post, you always seem to be speaking right to me! I have to somehow get over that fact that I will always be behind, that there is always more to do. Turning 40 has made this seem more clear. Take the time for margins, for not rushing, for leaving things undone, for living in the moment.

  3. This is lovely. And your boys will remember these precious moments with you.

  4. Margins. Yes, yes, yes. We’re UU’s too! 😉 I scheduled Tuesday as our busy day in favor of leaving the rest of the week to flow as it may.

  5. This is a great post. The notion of extremes and margins is really powerful, and I’m happy to hear that your summer is marginal, not extreme (so far). Ain’t nothing marginal about time with kids…

  6. I love that analogy for margins. Lot of food for thought in that piece on the importance of taking a breather. It’s too easy to get so wound up in the thick of thin things…
    We have our 2 week winter holiday coming up and I look forward to long leisurely mornings where we don’t have to hurry anywhere unless we want to….

  7. Thanks! I’m glad this post has been meaningful for you all. The concept of margins works better for me than the oft-cited, elusive concept of “balance”…it seems more like what we should shoot for.

    What is challenging for me is how much I love all of what I do – if my work, and the volunteering I do for other organizations, weren’t so satisfying, I wouldn’t do it. Even when things are wild and wacky for a period, I’m happy with my life and I love knowing that my work impacts so many families beyond my own. Of course, anytime I’ve felt that my choices were having a negative impact on my family, I’ve made adjustments. But my kids are not living an extreme life at all – they have tons of down time and unstructured play time – and are having the childhood I would wish for them. What I always tell people about my life is that it’s all good stuff – just too much of a good thing at times! Happily, some of the big changes I am making right now will lead to a work life that is structured differently as the years go on, allowing me more opportunities to create these quiet spaces in my life…but I have no regrets as a working mom.

  8. This really resonates with me, Jordan. I love the idea of ‘margins’ instead of balance.

    I love being ‘back in touch’ with you via the blog. (There’s a conference in Chicago in the fall and I’m trying to figure out if I can go to it – and spend more time with all of you again!) If not, I’ll probably do the long-layover thing again in two years.

  9. Keeley Sorokti

    Jordan – I had a similar summer and am sad it’s over. Darrin is a teacher and wasn’t working this summer so we were both home all summer and had a lot of vacation time and leisure time. It’s amazing what taking a step back and breathing can do for you. I hope that at some point I can get motivated to go back to work or school, because this time away from work has been brilliant!

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