The Rockwood Files: Are you crazy busy?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A few years ago, I got a phone call from a friend and, as soon as I said hello, she said, almost apologetically, “Hey! It’s me. I hate to even call you because I know you’re extremely busy so I’ll make this fast…”

It was a light bulb moment that woke me up. Sure, I was busy. But was I so busy that I’d begun to miss out on the things I want most? Like conversations with good friends? Non-hurried time with family? A sense of calm? Because if I was, I needed to get a lot less busy – and fast.

Since that phone call, I’m more careful about how I answer the question, “How have you been?” Before, I might have rattled off a list of projects I was working on or how many loads of laundry I had piled up or how many times a week I drive the kids from here to there. I thought being busy was a sign that you were not only a productive member of society but also important, goal-oriented – necessary.

We Americans wear “busy” as a badge of honor. We mention how few hours of sleep we’re surviving on lately. We’re bone-tired but also confident that the constant flurry of activity is proof that our lives are not only full but meaningful.

But “busy” can become a beast – one that grows bigger and hungrier before we notice how much it’s eating us up. The beast cons us into thinking we’ll have time to slow down later – when things aren’t so busy. But the beast lies.

crazy busyI just finished reading an insightful book about busyness, which I spotted during a rushed trip to the store. It jumped out at me because there on the book’s green cover were two simple words that describe so many of the people I know: “Crazy Busy.”

As a recovering busy-aholic, I knew I should read it. (If you’re often slave to a beastly “to do” list, you might want to read it, too. It’s a short book, so it won’t become one more thing you’re “busy” doing.)

The author, Kevin DeYoung, admits he might be “the worst possible person to write this book.” As a minister, husband, father of five, author, speaker and blogger, the guy is about as busy as they come and struggles to not let his own busyness become crazy.

One of my favorite parts of the book is a passage about how much our own sense of pride factors into our busyness. Maybe we don’t always have to run in a zillion different directions, but we choose to because we’re afraid of missing out on something. Maybe we sacrifice the kind of life that’s important to us so we can keep up with the hustle and bustle of a life that just seems important. The author also points out how we often use technology to ensure that we’re never truly un-busy.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m so busy because I’ve come to believe the lie that busyness is the point,” he writes. “And nothing allows you to be busy – all the time, with anyone anywhere – like having the whole world in a little black rectangle in your pocket.”

He doesn’t recommend ditching your iPhone and sitting on a yoga mat all day, and he’s careful not to make work sound like a bad thing. We’re supposed to be busy but not at the expense of things (and people) that make life truly worthwhile.

I don’t think busy is always bad. It’s a way of life for most of us. But it’s not the meaning of our lives. It’s not the whole point. And it would be a shame to miss out on life’s blessings just to keep feeding the beast we call “busy.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: What are you afraid of?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Last night I let our Beagle Charlie out into the backyard for his usual “last call” potty break before going to bed for the night. I walked away from the door and soon after heard him start barking furiously.

Afraid he’d wake the neighbors, I rushed back to the door and turned on the outside lights so I could see if he’d treed a squirrel or spotted a rabbit. Instead, I saw our fearsome “guard dog” barking his fool head off at a large bag of garden topsoil that Tom had left in the yard earlier that day.

Charlie bwEven though Charlie’s bark sounded threatening, I could tell that the bag of topsoil was winning the fight. Charlie slowly circled it, leaving at least a 10-foot perimeter between him and the bag. Every now and then he’d flatten his belly to the ground and cower, as if the bag might sprout legs and chase after him at any second.

I stood there, wondering how long it would take before he figured out that the bag was a non-threatening, inanimate object. I wish I could tell you he realized it quickly. He didn’t. Even after he got close enough for an investigative sniff, he still ran away from it skittishly, afraid of just how much he did not know about the hulking yellow bag.

Of course, it’s easy for me to mock our scaredy-dog for being afraid of a bag of dirt. But the truth is, Charlie and I are not all that different. I worry about the “what if’s” as much or more than anybody.

When the kids were little, I, like many new moms, worried about strangers jumping out of bushes and kidnapping them. I couldn’t help myself. I kept a protective hand on them almost constantly and was always scanning crowds for anyone looking suspicious. It felt like it was hard-wired into my maternal DNA.

One day I was reading a news article about crime rates and was surprised when I read a statistic that said child abduction rates have actually gone down over the years and that the chances of a child being abducted by a stranger are actually less than the risk of a child being hit by lightning. I told Tom about it, and he said, “See? That means you can stop worrying so much. Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

A rational person would have said “Yes, it does,” but instead I said, “I had no idea that lightning was such a threat!” And from that point on, I was afraid of kidnappers AND thunderstorms. Tom just shook his head and muttered something about me being ridiculous which, I admit, was fairly accurate.

What I’m realizing lately is that we all have something that scares us that probably shouldn’t. For me, it’s the beginning of a novel I started writing months ago and have been too afraid to continue writing because, well, it might be really bad. Or even terrible. What if I finish it only to find that it’s an embarrassment, a 50,000-word failure? That unfinished novel is a big bag of the scary unknown – just like Charlie’s bag of topsoil. So I bark my excuses at it and keep skittishly avoiding it even though part of me wants to take it on just to see if I can.

I guess the real trick in life is knowing the difference between a healthy fear that keeps you safe as opposed to an intimidating fear that keeps you stuck. The former will keep you alive and the latter will keep you from truly living.

For Charlie, for me and perhaps for you, too? It’s time to stop barking at bags.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: I don’t mean to brag, but…

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

My mom taught me not to brag, but I’ll make an exception this one time. Because after my last few trips to the grocery store, I’ve decided I am the best of the best when it comes to the following three special skills:

1. Picking the wrong cart.

I have an almost magnetic pull to bad shopping carts. Because I have such a long history of picking the wrong cart, I size up my options before I pick one, grocery-carthopeful that maybe this time I’ll get a good one.

I check the wheels to make sure there’s not a gigantic wad of gum stuck there. Then I check inside the cart to make sure it’s not harboring any suspicious-looking tissues. (Choosing a cart with a crumpled up tissue inside it is the grocery store equivalent of rolling around in a big pile of bubonic plague. You just don’t do it.) Without heavy rubber gloves and a gun to my head, there’s no way I’m touching a stranger’s crumpled up tissue.

About a dozen steps inside the store, I realize my cart has mechanical issues. I hear a strange “thwump” sound at regular intervals that only speeds up when I do. Or I’ll notice the cart pulls hard to the left, no matter where I steer it. If shopping carts were cars, I’m the lady driving around a rusted-out 1982 Chevette with cheap tires and alignment problems.

2. Picking the wrong line.

When it becomes obvious my cart is a clunker, I don’t trade it for a different one because, odds are, I’m going to pick another lemon anyway. So I tell myself I’m not going to be there long anyway (an obvious self-delusion). Eventually I “thump-thwump-thwump” my way to the front of the store and pick the absolute worst check-out line.

Do I want to be in the slowest line? Of course not. I do what we all do – cruise past each line, scoping it out to see how many people are waiting, how much stuff they have in their carts, and how speedy the check-out clerk appears to be. I take all these factors into consideration before picking a lane. Then about five minutes after making a lane commitment, I realize I’ve chosen a line that moves at about the same speed as toxic sludge.

I consider bailing out and starting over, certain there must be a faster line out there somewhere. But then I hesitate, afraid that if I give up now, I might get stuck in an even slower line, and then I will have done all this waiting for nothing. So I stand there and wait while the person in front of me divides her items into three separate orders or pulls out a shoebox full of coupons or pays with a temporary check that requires multiple forms of I.D., a blood test and approval from four different managers.

3. Picking the wrong item.

After wrangling the wrong cart and waiting in the wrong line, I’m always relieved when it’s finally my turn to check-out – except when the check-out clerk holds up an item and says those infamous three little words: “There’s no barcode.”

“Do you remember how much this was?” she asks. Then I’m faced with a dilemma: Do I tell the truth, that I really don’t remember exactly how much it was? Or do I make up an approximate price and hope she doesn’t put me on a Wal-Mart “watch list” for getting it wrong.

I default to honesty and tell her I’m not sure, which results in her turning on her lane flashers and asking for a time-consuming price check – which makes the other people in line want to throw their produce at me or run over me with their superior shopping carts.

What can I do? I give them my best “I’m sorry” eyes and try to take solace in these unusual bragging rights: Of all the shoppers in all the stores in all the world, nobody does it as badly as me.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: What were you wearing when…?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

“Can we give it to him now? Please, Mom? It’s just a few days early.”

“No, you can wait. If you give it to him today, he won’t have anything to open on Father’s Day.”

“I know, but it’s so hard to wait! I really want to give it to him today. He’s gonna be so excited.”

“You’re just like your Dad, you know. He never can wait to give presents either.”

ATGAMES DIGITAL MEDIA INC. ATARI FLASHBACK 4Ten-year-old Jack kept trying to convince me as we made our way to the check-out lane with the gift he picked out for his dad. It was an Atari “Flashback” video game system, chock full of video games nearly as old as we are. Jack’s eagerness to see his dad’s reaction reminded me of the ratty old bathrobe I have hanging in the back of my closet.

Fifteen years ago, I grabbed that robe and threw it on when my apartment’s doorbell rang. I went to the door and peered through the peep-hole, surprised to find Tom standing there looking uncomfortable and fidgety.

I wasn’t expecting him to pick me up for our dinner date for at least another 45 minutes. He was early – really early. And after a year and a half of dating, I knew him well enough to know he was never early.

I cinched the bathrobe closed tighter and wrapped my wet hair up in a towel turban before opening the door.

“Hey! I thought you said 6:30. It’s not even six yet. I’m not ready,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. But I really need to talk to you,” he said as he walked past me into the living room.

Ask any woman who has spent more than five minutes in the dating pool and she’ll tell you that a nervous guy who “needs to talk” is almost never a good thing. It usually ends with a tired speech about commitment issues or an “It’s not you, it’s me” finale that makes you want to break things or jump head-first into a gallon of Butter Pecan ice cream – or both.

But I’d been down that road before and was in no mood for a return trip. So I steeled my nerves and resolved to show him right back out the door as soon as he stopped recapping our relationship, talking about how marriage is such a big step and about how he needs time to make sure he’s ready. In fact, I was just about to launch into a “Go have your commitment issues somewhere else” speech when he interrupted me and said, “Okay, I think I’ve had enough time now.”

In the next heartbeat, he was on a knee, holding out a ring box, asking if I’d marry him. And because I’m a girl and just vain enough to care about those sorts of things, I immediately made a mental note that this was not what I was supposed to look like in the moment I was proposed to – wearing a bathrobe, with no make-up on and my hair up in a towel turban. But there I was, and real life doesn’t wait for costume changes.

Later that night during our celebratory dinner, he told me that his plan was to ask me during a romantic dinner, in the same restaurant where we’d had our first official date. But then he picked up the ring and just couldn’t wait another second to give it to me.

And that’s why I have a 15-year-old bathrobe in the back of my closet. That’s why I still get gifts from Tom weeks before my birthday or Christmas. And that’s why I have three great kids, one of whom can’t wait another second to give his dad a present. The eager apple doesn’t fall far from the “can’t wait” tree.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Are you a Netflix zombie?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It’s not culturally sophisticated to admit it, but I love TV – always have. I loved it ever since I was a kid and Fred Flintstone heard the whistle blow at five o’clock and slid down the back of his dinosaur bulldozer.

4.1.1I loved speculating with my mother during the summer of 1980 about who shot J.R. I loved watching Bill Cosby raise the Huxtable kids. And thanks to TV, I’ve met great characters like Flo from Mel’s Diner, Frasier Crane, J.D. and Turk from Scrubs, and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Oh, they make me laugh, even in reruns that never seem to get old.

For TV lovers, the last decade of technological advancements have meant huge changes in the way we cozy up to the tube. The game-changer invention has to be the DVR, which is easily the best thing to happen to television since the remote control and microwave popcorn. The DVR lets you record shows and skip all the commercials, which reduces an hour-long show to about 40 minutes or so. It saves time and helps keep annoying commercial jingles from getting stuck in your head.

But lately, one of television’s new conveniences is wrecking me. I’m suffering from the “Netflix effect.” In case you’re not afflicted yet, Netflix is an online service that lets you watch almost any show at any time and in almost any place where you can get a Wi-Fi signal. For example, if you missed the boat when the show “Mad Men” first started, you can go back and watch back-to-back episodes online for all seven seasons. Want to know if the hype about the show “Breaking Bad” is justified? You’ll find the answer on Netflix, along with more than 30 million other subscribers.

The instant, easy access is a wonderful, terrible thing. Otherwise rational people who KNOW they should go to bed already find themselves desperate to watch a story unfold just a little bit more. We’ll say, “Well, maybe just one more episode..,” and then we kid ourselves into thinking we won’t pay the price for it the next morning with under eye bags large enough to hold all our regrets.

zombie redIf your friend or co-worker is shuffling around in a bleary-eyed haze, it could be a drinking problem, or it might just be a bad Netflix hangover – one too many episodes that stretched into the early morning hours. With just the push of a button, the closing credits of one episode morphed into the opening scene of the next. They got drunk on the power to keep the story going. (Tom and I may or may not have watched four or five hours of House of Cards the other day – just because we could.)

Television binge-watching is like eating Cheetos. Once you’re halfway through the bag, you know the responsible thing to do would be to stop. But then again your fingers are already coated in that orange Cheetos dust, so you might as well just finish it off, right? (Trust me, that line of reasoning makes perfect sense around 11:30 at night.)

Netflix should start posting a public service announcement at the beginning of the really juicy episodes that reads: “Just because you can watch an entire season at one time doesn’t mean you should. Watch responsibly. Friends don’t let friends become Netflix zombies.”

Of course, I don’t have a problem. Not me. I know when to say when. I can put down the remote any time I want – unless the last scene was really good and I need to know what happens next: “Well, maybe just one more episode.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

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