I need reminding I am not a firefighter

I don't know when it happened, but at some point a veil of unnecessary urgency settled over things. The school drop-off, the grocery store run, paperwork, laundry, meetings, phone calls, emails, texts, volunteering, helping with homework, preparing dinner and a smattering of extracurricular activities for every member of our household.

All of these are chosen, worthy pursuits, yet overfilling our days with good things leaves little time to linger and the word "Hurry" on my lips.

Hurry, so we can get to school on time. Hurry, so I can answer these emails. Hurry, so we can go to bed and do it all over again tomorrow.

I recently backed into a neighbor's car hurrying to the store and fractured a toe hurrying into a coffee table. While neither of these injuries were crisis worthy, they were fairly humiliating and left me limping. I was humbly forced to slow down without lasting damage and given a merciful invitation to measure my pace more carefully before something breaks that won't mend.

Real damage comes in the form of hurrying past my children, my husband, my friends, my faith, the things that carry the weight of authentic importance. The truth is, sometimes I need reminding that I'm not a firefighter. My days are not filled with emergencies but with blessings to manage. Holding a false urgency over everything dismisses moments of meaningful connection and ushers in dissatisfaction and impatience.

It's also true the mayhem of family life isn't fabricated and responsibilities won't necessarily diminish because I want a slower tempo, but the attitude I carry with me into the fray is everything. It's shifting away from the maelstrom of expectations toward a posture of gratitude, pausing in the narrow margin to breathe and reawaken to the abundant life I'm living.

I have friends who do this well with small rhythms of intentionality. One lights a candle in her kitchen during the evening rush to bring a small semblance of calm to the chaos, a glowing reminder to savor the moments happening in-between the frenzy. Another banned herself from using the word hurry with her kids in an effort to temper anxieties. A third slows herself long enough every day to look intently into the eyes of each child to ensure she's really and truly seen them. These aren't grand gestures, simply subtle choices to stay anchored to the present moment.

As the holidays approach and the feeling of overwhelm intensifies, the temptation will be enormous to hustle through a magical season with my family, checking items off a to-do list. Or I can liberate myself from unquantifiable expectations and reach for the moments that matter and the memories that will remain: watching my children celebrate with their grandparents in a post-pandemic society, soaking up time with my older brother before his military retirement, settling gently with those I love most in a time of genuine Thanksgiving.

- Jade Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].