The Art of Not Doing

Recently, I had a health scare that made our small family feel shaken and in need of some restorative action. A couple days later, we loaded the car with packed-the-day-before bags and headed to the beach, a place that has always lent us an ear when we’ve felt overdone.

Reducing stress was the key, so it was an act of discipline for me NOT to write list after list of things we’ll need, NOT to pack meaningful snacks and meals for the short trip, and NOT to take a million pictures.

When I was little, my mom would spend the night before a trip frying Persian kotlet for pita, mint, pickles, and kotlet sandwiches; she’d fill up the car with snacks and golden turkey sandwiches garnished with cilantro. We had so many treats that when we hit the road at 5 am, I was already as hungry as one should be at dinner time.

The joy of the travel relied on my Walkman and Mom’s provisions. I’ve tried to emulate this for my kids by being one step ahead of their appetites (and accidents) and to craft certain memories around food. The route of handing out sandwiches wrapped in shiny foil, opening containers filled with grapes and apples, passing around bags of chips, cracking sunflower seeds, and filling up foam cups of hot tea (and drinking the tea with hard sugar cubes) is incredibly meaningful to me.

But this wasn’t one of those trips. This time around, we just grabbed some random snacks from home before we left and stopped for fast food when we got hungry. We even got out of the car and ate burgers on the way back without worrying about the time. And the earth did not stop revolving. My kids didn’t have any fewer memories of the drive to and from the beach. They weren’t let down. They had the gift of spontaneity and calmer parents instead.

This experiment has turned into an anecdote for how I’m going to try to refocus on what’s important. Sometimes the easier way just works better, and this is okay. Sometimes having great ideas burdens us and thwarts organic (and sometimes righteously lazy) experiences. I have some wonderful friends who remind me of this; unfortunately, nothing wakes us up more than our own need to change for the better.

So, we drove.

We stared out the balcony, a view that enriches the legacy of the trip.

Like putting a shell to my ear to hear that calm...

Like putting a shell to my ear to hear that calm…

We played.

Zade shells beach

Layla beauty beach

We bounced.

Zade jumping

This picture makes me so happy.

This picture makes me so happy.

Love that she's not fearful of heights like her mama

Love that she’s not fearful of heights like her mama

And we didn’t pressure ourselves with preserving the memory of each moment; Kal and I took maybe 40 pictures between us. This picture is symbolic of what tried to remind ourselves.

Restorative View

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, Ashoke reaches for his camera after trudging to the lighthouse surrounded by water with his son, Gogol, only to find that he didn’t bring it. He tells Gogol “We’ll have to remember it, then.” Ashoke asks his son to try to “remember it always…Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.”

As I was reminded by my friends recently, I suppose it’s just as important NOT to bring my camera sometimes—NOT to take my purple crayon over things and instead patiently and appreciatively just let it be.

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Not Doing

  1. I love this. Especially ” Sometimes the easier way just works better, and this is okay. ” This has been such a lesson for me this past year or so. ….. What makes me happy? Do that. What makes my kids happy? Do that. What leads me to feel fulfilled? Do that…. It’s not always the things I think I should do (either by personal history or by what society tells me moms “should” do). But I am always happier when I keep my finger on that pulse, so to speak. I’m glad the trip was restful.

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  2. Katie, I’m totally with you. I love the idea of keeping “my finger on that pulse” instead of chasing something else that will get my pulse racing! I find it interesting how the same lessons keep showing up to us every year or kid-stage, but they mean slightly different things each time. I wonder how these lines will apply to us in the future; right now they’ve definitely taken some interesting shapes.

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