Slowing down - FamilyEducation

Slowing down

July 31,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

On my way home from Trader Joe's with T. yesterday, I contemplated why my approach to life has become so fast-paced lately. What sparked this off was the fact that as soon as we arrived at Trader Joe's, at 10:05 exactly, I found myself switching into high gear: quickly unbuckling T. from her seat, walking too quickly to the entrance to the store, with T. lagging behind and pulling on my hand.

"Mama, you walking too fast!" she complained, and I was.

At the doorway to the store, T. decided she wanted to use one of those small (kid-sized) shopping carts. (Who invented those anyway? As if shopping with a small child needed to be any more frazzling, and someone had to go and create carts just the right size for clipping the backs of a grown-ups' ankles.) My first instinct was to tell her no, we're in a hurry, those carts take too long. But then I stopped. Was I in a hurry? A hurry for what? The morning stretched ahead and the store was quiet on a Wednesday morning. Why, we could take hours to shop and it wouldn't matter.

So T. got her cart, and it did take us tremendously long to make our way through Trader Joe's. T. likes the free samples corner and she lingered there, a dixie cup of apple-grape juice clutched in one hand and another cup filled with ginger/peach granola propped up against the bananas in her little cart. She smiled and chattered to the other customers, and to the nice free samples lady, whose daughter started kindergarten this past week. I loitered nearby, examining the cheeses, chatting on and off with the lady, and stifling the urge to hurry T. up. And there, between the cheeses and the wine aisle, it occurred to me that I move at altogether too fast a pace these days. I rush through stores, having learned to squeeze my shopping in-between school pickup times. I walk at a fast clip always, trained from years of having to keep on top of tag-team parenting deadlines. I seem to have an invisible motor attached to me wherever I go, one that propels me forward at a fast clip, always looking ahead to where I have to be next.

When it was just L., years ago, my pace was much slower. We'd take long walks and I'd let L. just linger after a butterfly on a flower, or while examining a particularly vivid painted fire hydrant. T. gets so little of those moments, that slow and magical examined time that young children so desire and need. She's always being rushed from one place to the next, and she hears hurry up! probably way too much. I vowed, then and there, in front of the feta cheese and the brie, that I would slow down; that life was too short to rush through in high gear, always running from one appointment to the next, one obligation to another.

All of that happened at Trader Joe's. Then, ironically, on my way home, as I was contemplating this revelation, I almost sideswiped a sedan in the right-hand lane. The driver leaned on the horn and I looked, snapping out of my reverie. I waved apologetically but, as I merged behind him, he leaned his whole head out the window and let loose a stream of expletives at me.

"That man is angry," T. observed from her seat.

"He sure is," I replied, feeling angry myself at his disproportionate rage. Then he gunned the engine and shot out onto the highway, speeding and passing cars right and left in pent-up fury. I was still seething inside (I so hate displays of ugliness--why is it so many male drivers have so much rage inside?) when I passed him about four miles down the road. A cop car with flashing lights was just pulling him over.

Cosmic justice, I thought.