Confessions of Another Common Reader

Setting priorities


Wonderful evening on Sunday made up for the mess the rest of the day had become through lack of forward planning. I realise I am very bad at standing up to be counted in more ways than just the political-protest one: sometimes when I know what the right thing to do is I still feel too embarassed to insist on it. And I can’t spell “embarrassed” either. Anyway, my failure to press home the “pre-booking strongly advised” message about the Star Wars exhbition at the National Space Centre meant that we ended up there at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon, with all exhibition tickets sold out, no lightsabres in the gift shop, and a departure deadline of 3:00 to allow Himoutdoors to get back for singing. Which it later turned out we didn’t need to do as he actually wasn’t on the rota.

Thrilled to spot old friends at (very stressful for me) evening service. Elizabeth and family moved away from us last year and we miss them, but since we are equally bedecked with offspring, meeting up is like the proverbial military campaign only more inflexible. We managed to lure them back to our cave for “just a quick drink”, the first baby step on the slippery slope to DVDs and popcorn (air-popped, no sugar, naturellement) for the smalls, curry and gin for the grown-ups. It was really great to see them, and to feel that it is possible to still do fun and spontaneous things without causing massive upheaval to everyone. (Doubtless the second this is published Liz will post a torrid tale of hell on the London Eye the next morning, thus proving me wrong. Bad, bad mummy.)

Something Liz said made me think about the nature of priority-setting and what is important to us. There are so may things that I feel I should do as a parent but don’t. Just saying I don’t have the time to and that’s that doesn’t feel good enough. Sneakingly, deep down (OK, actually not very deep down at all, but a small distance below the surface at least) I believe that actually I do have the time, and it’s just my own selfish need to do other things that prevents me from doing all of these things. Ergo, I am a terrible parent.

Late last night I decided that instead of going to sleep to prepare for the week ahead (are you spotting a pattern here?), I was going to finish reading the Grauniad Weekend magazine. This dreadful piece of tat annoys me so much I really am at a loss as to why I still bother reading it. But currently enjoying Oliver Burkeman’s This Column Will Change Your Life, on self-help etc. etc. but with a strong emphasis on the productivity angle. This week, he covered a book by Arnold Bennett, How To Live On 24 Hours A Day, which I am looking forward to adding to my ever-growing list of 5,000,000 Books I Don’t Have Time To Read. Apparently it’s online which makes it even more likely I’ll never get round to opening it. A pity, as this quote really got my attention:

His central idea echoes down the decades: cultivate your capacity to pay attention – to not let life go by in a distracted blur – and time expands. His book is full of techniques for finding a few hours a week to study music, history, public transport systems. His point isn’t what you pay attention to; it’s that you pay attention.

This was one of the most wonderful things about my year off with Smallest. I felt that I had suddenly discovered how to pay attention to time passing. I don’t think I had yet moved on to the next step of discovering how to set some of it aside to do important things, but it must have been a good first step.