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Someone Has to Do Nothing

Someone has to be home between the hours of 10 and 2 to accept the delivery. Someone has to be with the kids. Someone has to watch the neighbors' house while they are gone. Someone has to let the cat nap in their lap. Someone needs to chill out or keep it real or be more spontaneous, and that person must be unoccupied, or at least interruptable, for long stretches of time.

Someone has to look out of the window. Someone needs to notice when the sun rises and when the fireflies come out. Someone needs to remember to time the song of the cicadas so that we can measure the heat as it rises.

Someone has to rest. Someone has to be present. Someone has to pray or meditate or break the cycle of anxiety. Someone needs to laugh, and someone needs to watch this, y'all. And someone has to record it on their phone.

Someone has to listen. Someone has to think. Someone has to imagine what no one else has thunk up yet.

I spent my young adult life learning how to speak up and take action. I was a high achieving kid in school as well as a strategic rebel and a resister of everything I judged to be wrong. I was vocal in class. I led projects. I did things myself when nobody else stepped up quickly enough. I took charge. I learned how to defend myself and others physically as well as verbally, and I used all of my skills at every opportunity that arose--or that I could find.

I lived in a community service house on campus. I volunteered for the poor and elderly. I gave to charity. I demonstrated against war and corruption. I spoke truth to power and offended the administration and earned such high test scores that they had to suck it up and eat it. I was threatened and attacked. My house was set on fire. Instead of quieting down as the policeman suggested, I made more signs and posted them up and wrote to the paper and made aggressive eye contact with supposedly dangerous men. I fought fire with more righteous fire, and most of the time, I won.

I quit graduate school because damn the man, and I worked for two social justice organizations, and I flew on lots of planes for lots of good causes, important research and petitioning and networking and love and what my husband calls "visiting Planet Earth," staying in places where the struggles are real and which set a lady up to feel humility and gratitude upon returning to first-world problems.

Now everybody around me is doing the things that I used to do. My family and my friends and my coworkers and my acquaintances--they are gobbling up the news and marching in the streets and shouting and arguing and petitioning. They are putting up signs and traveling and networking and messaging and volunteering. The forests are on fire, the nation is on fire, the world is on fire, and everyone's fired up.

And me, I'm staying home.

I work for one nonprofit organization now, part-time, and the rest of the time I stay home.

We used to have volunteer help in the office, but not so much anymore. We're too busy. What we need most in the office, most of the time--just like at home--is for someone to be there. Someone to wait by the phone in case it rings. Someone to wait by the door in case someone arrives. Someone to be on call for errands and favors and help as it's needed. But that's not what most volunteers want to do, and so we used to spend our time ministering to their emotional needs and making them feel helpful by inventing tasks that not only didn't help us but which we'd have to undo later.

It's hard. Being there is harder than doing something, because people want to feel useful and active and effective and see immediate results, and it's difficult to measure the value of simply holding space and time.

It's hard for me at home, too. My whole life up until motherhood was about achievements and awards and ROI and earning and doing and accomplishing and racking up points. It was about having it all and doing it all and doing it better and writing up the best practices manual and analyzing the stats to evaluate the efficacy of improvements.

There is no immediate purpose in catching a jar full of fireflies just to let them go.

And this is a lesson I'm still struggling to learn after seven and a half years as a mother: that sometimes doing nothing is the only thing that allows us to grow--wildflower gardens, ecosystems, dreams, the development of children, healing and creativity in people of all ages.

Sometimes "doing nothing" is really doing a lot of somethings that don't seem to count toward anything in particular, and those things end up creating a childhood. A healthy life. The embodiment of everything we're fighting for.

These days, the streets are full of marchers and motorcycles and potholes and furious SUV drivers and fatal crashes and fossil fuel pollution and gummy, sticky, furry death--the unintentional killing of animals which, in sheer numbers, far surpasses the slaughter of animals for food or other commercial purposes. Yeah, that's right, driving less saves more animals than going vegetarian. But I won't bother arguing with you about that on Facebook. Nor male circumcision, nor vaccinations, nor plastic straws, nor pitbulls, nor the magic crystals that might very well hold the secrets to solving all of the world's problems. I'm tired of useless battles.

I find that I don't want to go out. I find that I have less and less I'd like to say about anything outside of my own personal experience. I find that I don't want to drive anywhere I don't need to go, especially not with my daughter in tow. I don't want to carry plastic bottles to a protest and scream my righteous rage into the heat of fossil-fueled climate change. I don't want to call up some less important person to stay home with my child so I can go do more important things than be here with my child.

So you can find me at the playground. Or out back, behind the house, where I have the poison ivy and walnuts almost under control, where you can probably run barefoot in the grass without hurting yourself, and if anything does happen, I am ready with a band-aid and a kiss. You can find me traversing lawns without fences, in the suburbs, which used to symbolize all that was false and unrealistic about American culture but where "real America" now thrives--the most representative segment of our national diversity: racial, cultural, economic, political--where all of our children run out the back door and play together like we were able to do when we were children. Except now the children are all different colors, and their parents are different colors, and they practice different faiths, and they speak different languages, and the kids are already showing us that they can get along better than our generation or our parents' generation did. There is no book or lecture or class or meme that can teach our children what they are learning from each other in these backyards without borders on long summer days.

You can find me handing out watermelon slices and popcorn and fruity ice pops to my daughter and whoever she has found to play tag with. You can find me inside, feeding and sheltering a kid who doesn't have healthy food or safety at home at the moment. You can find me welcoming in the joy of children who are well loved and nourished in their own homes, who enthusiastically share their rich imaginary lives with my only-child daughter.

You can find me checking in on the herd of kids while another parent gets her hair done or works a shift or takes an important call. You can find me picking up trash, assembling a s'more, setting up a play tent, pointing out the ripest mulberries, mowing the lawn in a cotton dress with an old-fashioned manual mower that doesn't make noise or fumes, walking hand-in-hand with my daughter and maybe someone else's kids to the library, the park, the mall, or the grocery store. You can find me playing with the cat or doing chores and home repairs--but not too many and not too fancy, because we don't want to have to fret over our precious things when the children come over to play. You can find me pouring beverages into jam jars, chucking rinds into the compost pile, and trying not to swear too loudly when I step on a small plastic toy.

I am not too good for this work. I am not wasting potential. I am nurturing it.

But I still have to remind myself of that over and over again, because it isn't what I am used to. There won't be a news crew coming to interview me about my extra plain microwave burrito recipe or the profound social impact of helping a child plant a butterfly garden. I don't receive any awards or tax write-offs or reports to show off to the donors.

But such is the way of keeping the hearth lit on the homefront.

I am glad and I am proud and I am hopeful that so many of my peers and elders and mentees are hitting the streets these days, getting out there, and finding ways to activate and involve themselves in social action. It seems like the thing to do right now. Which is what also makes it hard right now, and also so important, for me to practice doing nothing.

After all, somebody has to do it.


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