Jul 2, 2009

Navigating the Doldrums

I remember from somewhere back in my academic past that I was taught about something called the doldrums. From my handy Apple Dictionary, I discover that the doldrums are defined as "an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds." Ships hate this area. Much of the time, there is little or no wind. In olden days, when they used words like "olden," boats could get stuck in these regions for days. (We see this memorably depicted on screen in Master and Commander - for the eight of you who saw THAT movie.) However, this calm is often punctuated by extremely violent storms. It is believed that the Air France plane that just crashed was brought down by an unexpected wind shear in this area.

Anyway, enough with the meteorology. It seems like much of my new life role is in the doldrums. Calm. Boring. Punctuated by huge fiascos. It is not a complaint, just an observation. I think much of the challenge of our lives - especially those of us staying home with kids all day or working in repetitious jobs we can't stand - is trying to find a way to navigate the doldrums well. It's not so much the crazy storms and wild experiences we need to be become experts in. It is like U2's song "Original of the Species" says, "Some things you shouldn't get too good at - like smiling, crying, and celebrity." There are extremes, but that is why they are called extreme. They are outside the average. The average is where we live.

This past Sunday, when we had the crazy day with the tire blowing out on I-75 in the middle of nowhere, followed by the huge storms and no power at home - that day was exhausting and stressful. But it is like you train your life for days like that. You take precautions and learn skills to make sure that you are not beaten by that anomaly. I learned defensive driving, learned to pay attention to my car, got Roadside Assistance (which offered no assist), bought a phone with internet, learned how to change a tire, bought flashlights. When the storm itself finally hits, you hope that you can handle it -- and more often than not you do. I have found that it is the majority of days that get to be the challenge.

You know, one of the things that I have found over the years is that boredom gets people into more trouble than just about anything else. Why do so many married couples have affairs? They get bored with each other. Why do teens go out and do dumb stuff? Lots of times they are bored. I know that with my kids, it is when they are bored that they get the most sassy - and when they try experimenting jumping off the bunk bed, grabbing the ceiling fan light chain, and trying to do a flip. Boredom is dangerous. Using a biblical example (it is what I'm trained to do, people), King David got into the biggest trouble in his life when he was bored sitting around the palace. He went out on the roof to admire nature and got an eyeful of Bathsheba's beautiful . . . uh . . . hills?

I know those of you who read this on Facebook get a kick out of my Revised To Do Lists. Those are the extreme days. I am not complaining on those days, just sharing a (usually) humorous take on the rare stormy days. Want to see my usual To Do List?
7:30am Wake Up
7:31am Turn on Blue's Clues for Gabe
Check Facebook, Twitter, Woot, etc.
8:30am Get the kids breakfast
Eat breakfast
9:15am Tell the kids to get dressed
9:30am Put on Noggin
Make sure the older kids are ready to keep an eye on Gabe
Get my shower and get dressed
10:30am Check Facebook, Twitter, EW, etc
11:45am Get lunch ready
12:30pm Put Gabe down for a nap
1:00pm Have the older kids clean the living room
1:30pm Let the older kids use the computer
Check Facebook, Twitter, ESPN Page 2, etc
2:30pm Get Gabe when he starts crying
2:32pm Put on Yo Gabba Gabba
Begin rationing afternoon snacks
3:00pm Work on laundry, dishes, whatever
3:30pm Put on Spongebob or iCarly
Check Facebook, Twitter, CNN, etc
4:30pm Begin thinking about making dinner
5:00pm Start the lookout for Heather
6:00pm Eat dinner

Pretty exciting stuff, I know. Sometimes I switch things around. There are days when I have the kids get dressed instead first instead of eat first. Then there are wacky days when I don't have them get dressed until the afternoon. Heck, there are days where I don't eat breakfast at all, or get a shower until the afternoon - just for fun, of course. And sometimes we start looking for Heather at 3:00 - even though we know she won't be home until 5:30. That brings some drama to the day.

I guess the reason I have been thinking about this is that this week has been a doldrums week. This past weekend, we were down with my mom and sister in Tampa, followed by the super fun Tire Storm Day. This next weekend, we will be over at Heather's parents' house for July 4 - which is always a good time. So we have had three and a half days of in-between-time. You don't want to go do a big grocery run (which can kill a good chunk of time) because you won't be here to use it all. It just kind of feels like killing time until the next big thing. I know that can't be the best way to do things. And that is the crux of the struggle.

How can you live the boring average days to the utmost? I will put a lot of thought into dinner, trying to come up with cool stuff. We'll do projects or art stuff. And soon we'll be hitting the YMCA each afternoon. I am not looking for things to do - trying to pack my day. I want to learn how to still be useful and excellent even when the winds die down and you are just . . . there. [Another biblical reference warning] I think this may have been what Jesus was talking about when He said to take up your cross daily to follow Him. It is a daily decision to make your day useful - both for Him and for your family. It is consciously making a choice that each day will be valuable and worthwhile. I think all of us struggle with that. It is funny, we get angry at athletes for admitting they take games off and play half speed. I mean, when the Magic traded for Vince Carter, I was angry because he takes some days off and has admitted it. (Especially after we had dealt with Carter's cousin TMac doing the same dumb thing to us.) But, honestly, don't we all take days off? I know I do. There are days when I don't do much - just kind of sit around. I remember that happening at jobs too, where I would leave and think, "Did I do ANYthing today?"

My new challenge is learning to make every day worthwhile. Maybe that means writing the letters to my students from last year that I keep putting off. Maybe it is designing something for Defender instead of playing Wii. Maybe it is posting a blog post. I want to minimize my days where I sit there at the end and realize that most of the hours involved me waiting for tomorrow. I know that I am investing time in my kids - but I want to make sure that I am actually doing things with them that will better them and me. Even on just the regular days, I want there to be worth. I have learned how to make it through the storms (mostly). Now I need to work on the doldrums.


Greg said...

David- doldrums do suck, sometimes more than the storms because at least you can point to the junk in the storm and say, "See! That's what's wrong!" Not so much when there's not much going on...or when you feel like there's not much going on. Christina and I struggled a lot with that this past year...
But sometimes God is most dynamic when He is silent. Sucks and I'll be praying for yas.

Anonymous said...

yes, i am one of the couple you say read your posts. And i struggled to relate with what you wrote - i understand the concept - but my life is too busy, and find i don't have enough time to do all that i am trying to do. Then i realized that in your schedule - you seem to have no purpose in what you do on a daily basis. I don't see you leading the kids in family devotions. i don't see any personal time you spend in the study of the word, or personal time with God. Or reading a book. When you were working full time outside the home, you were always reading and studying. What happened to that? You might find more purpose in your day if you went back to that. THat is not to say that in the silence, you can't find a deeper walk with God. And maybe this is just the respite you have needed.

Anonymous said...

And David - you are highly intelligent, and as a result - get bored quicker when not challenged. Challenge yourself.

David M. Staples said...

I think that I poorly communicated my intent on this post. I was not complaining. I was just commenting on how I believe that most of life is lived in the doldrums. The reason I put the definition first was to say that doldrums are not bad - they are commonplace. They are the days that happen between the big events. I want to learn how to maximize those days.

Also, in response to Anonymous. I hardly thought that schedule was comprehensive. I stopped it when Heather gets home. Every night I read the Jesus Storybook Bible with the kids. We discuss things all day. I still read and study. I haven't stopped any of that. I don't feel my life doesn't have purpose. I just want to make sure that I am doing the best I can. Thanks for the feedback all!

Nana Lois said...

David, I just finished reading your post and I guess, knowing you as I do, I didn't see anything negative in this writing. I saw what you were trying to say -- the post in it's self is your contemplative spiritual thinking and the process of sharing yourself with others through this avenue. I totally understand that your "to do" list is a tongue-in-cheek sort of thing that you have done as a fun thing. I also understand that you are in a different place in your life at this time -- you and Heather have made this decision to for you to play the "Mr. Mom" role for now. I know that a lot of your stay at home Mom friends are enjoying having a man's perspective on their day to day lives in the "doldrums" And I say this with Heather's full support (for anyone reading this and freaking out)....David is an AWESOME Mr. Mom and is the best person to be home with my precious grandchildren at this time in their lives. He is an incredible teacher, spiritual leader and disciplinarian and he also knows how to have fun times doing all of the responsible stuff. It's in the day to day stuff -- the doldrums, I guess -- where children are guided, taught, loved, encouraged and trained as God has instructed parents to do. My had is off to you, my son-in-law! I know that you love those kids and that you see this as an important ministry. Remember that on the days when you think that your life has no meaning. I thought that many times when I was raising your wife and her brothers but I know now that my life had incredible meaning!!!