In the small white box of my daily planner it read: “Independence Day.” But in my mind, those words translated to: Summer is half over. Even now, as an adult, I get that wow-it’s-already-the-Fourth-of-July-feeling when that date arrives on the calendar—and it makes me feel a little sad.
And this summer that melancholy feeling hit me harder than in past years … possibly because I’ve been living up to my “Hands Free Summer Contract” and soaking up countless moments that matter in the process.
But I believe in being real in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” so here’s some reality …
As an adult, parent, writer, and contributing member of society, there are multiple factors that threaten my “Hands Free” status each day—distractions of the modern age, household chores, writing deadlines, various projects, and overall life expectations are just a finger tip away, ready and waiting to flick what really matters right off the priority list.
So when the demanding, productivity driven drill sergeant in my head threatens to drown out my loving “Hands Free” inner voice, I need my reminders. I cling to my reminders. Reminders like this one: In approximately one month, my children will go back to school and a more structured, less spontaneous schedule will resume.
So when a member of “The Hands Free Revolution” shared the article “Challenge Yourself to a Worthwhile Summer,” the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Not only was it the reminder I needed, but it also provided a concrete action that would enable me to grasp the moments that matter before the playful summer days expired.
Author Mary Schmich writes:
“All seasons are fundamentally about time, how it passes, how we spend it. Summer, more than the other seasons, I think, summons some desire to return to the freedom of childhood, even as, and maybe because, we're moving in the opposite direction.
The first summer day I clearly remember, the one that set the standard, was when I was 7 years old. I'd taken my first swimming lesson and afterward, on a steamy morning, with my hair still wet, my mother took me to a cool, dark bookstore, where we bought my first Nancy Drew book, ‘The Clue in the Crumbling Wall.’ I spent the afternoon under a tree, reading and sipping iced tea, with a thunderstorm coming on.
To this day, that day has all the components of my idea of summer perfection: exercise, water, fresh air, feeling clean, the mix of hot and cool, a good book, emotional safety, sunshine with the scent of a storm and, though at the age of 7 I couldn't have named it, a sense of time unending.”
In the article, Schmich describes how she challenged herself to record one “summery” thing she'd done each day on an index card. I loved this quick and easy way of documenting memories. I could see myself (or my children) reading the cards in a year, five years, or even twenty years from now as a means of recalling the “Hands Free” moments of Summer 2012.
Since visual reminders are most powerful for me, I decided to display my daily “Hands Free” index cards on a piece of poster board. My daughters, who are my best source of “Hands Free” accountability, helped me create the poster and mount it in a high traffic area of the house. Every time I walked by it, the sign practically lit up gently reminding me that sometime that day I must let go of distraction and grasp a moment.
Given Mary Schmich’s book and tree example, I was beautifully reminded that it's the simple things in life that matter. And even brief, low cost actions that tap into what really matters can create lasting memories.
Although I was able to go “Hands Free” at various times throughout the day, I chose to post one or two of my favorite actions on the poster board. This is what my first week looked like:
Day 1: grabbed a deck of cards and gathered on a towel with my daughters to play Crazy Eight’s and Old Maid during a swim meet.
Day 2: suggested a “family walk” after dinner with my daughters and husband and everyone made it around the big loop.
Day 3: took a spontaneous trip to a seldom visited park with a picnic of mini muffins and while there did an “underdoggy” (i.e., pushing my children on the swing and then running underneath) just like when they were toddlers.
Day 4: accepted the invitation of my 5 year old to crawl back into bed midmorning and so we could “just talk about things.”
Day 5: visited the new library in town and brought home a huge stack of beautiful picture books that were so inviting my daughters and I immediately nestled on the couch and read several aloud.
Day 6: discovered my 5 year old’s kindergarten writing journal and she asked if she could read every single page. I listened intently as she shared her observations and marveled at her transformation into a writer.
Day 7: helped my 9 year old plan a back yard carnival—including a diagram, supply list, and activity station ideas.
Although they were not documented on the poster board, I enjoyed other memorable “Hands Free” moments throughout Week One like helping my 9 year old paint and construct a doll house using cardboard boxes … accepting my 5 year old’s request to lift the back of her shirt and scratch gently until my hand grew numb … participating in a “walking club” with my daughters and their friends where we just walked and talked about what is important in their lives.
As I removed Week One’s collection of cards to make room for Week Two, I could have easily called this “Hands Free” tactic a winner. This post could have ended right here with many motivated folks rushing off to get themselves a stack of blank index cards.
But I cannot end it here.
There is something just as important about what these index cards DON’T say as what they DO say.
And this critical component about living “Hands Free” must be acknowledged.
For every single one of these actions there was an alternative … often something more convenient … something less messy … something that required less effort … something more “productive.”
When my daughter asked me to crawl in bed at 10 a.m. don’t think I didn’t look at the messy piles around my bedroom and think for a moment, “But I could knock out one of these piles instead.”
And don’t think that for one minute that I didn’t consider the huge MESS that my daughter’s cardboard box dollhouse creation would produce.
And believe me, when I sat cross-legged on the towel to play cards at the swim meet, it would have been a lot more comfortable to sit in my pop chair with a cool drink and phone in hand.
Oh yes, what these index cards don’t say is there was another choice for me—in most cases, an easier, more convenient, and less time consuming choice. It takes effort to say YES to the moments that matter.
But there is something else these index cards don’t say. And this, my friends, is the good part.
For each one of the actions written on the index cards, there was a reaction … a response … a beautiful result of the choice I made to go “Hands Free.” And these results were powerful enough to knock the insignificant distractions of my life right off my radar and overwhelm my heart with gratitude.
I call it “The Hands Free Effect.” With each small effort to let go of daily distraction, a profoundly transforming reaction occurs. And “The Hands Free Effect” that resulted on Day 2 (suggesting a family walk) is the perfect way to illustrate it.
After the family walk, my 5 year old requested we keep walking, just the two of us.
As we rounded the first corner, she looked up at the billowy white clouds to discover a perfectly round window that allowed a million sunbeams to burst through.
My daughter gasped and then pointed.
“Look! There’s heaven, Mama!”
It was not a question; it was a statement. For someone who was continually inquisitive about heaven and its abstractedness, she seemed certain about this.
And then, “Do you believe in angels, Mama?”
I gave an elementary explanation of my belief in angels both in heaven and on earth and provided a concrete example using someone she knew. We talked about the beautiful Miss Elliot, our beloved neighbor and friend, who just weeks ago was an angel on earth is now an angel in heaven watching over her precious children.
“What do you love about me?” was her next question. “And you can’t say my curly hair, my kindness, my hugs, my big smile, or that soft spot under my chin that you like to kiss,” she added with a smile.
After coming up with a few positive attributes she hadn’t mentioned, my child had a follow up question that unexpectedly left me speechless.
“What do you love about the world?”
Suddenly the contents of our entire conversation rose to the surface and collected as tears along the rims of my eyes.
I thought about the beautiful angel Elliot whose life was cut tragically short … I thought of her precious children missing their mama’s voice, her touch, and a love that only she could give … I looked at my own beautiful child, this child who knew every precious thing I loved about her … I looked at the clouds that had “heavenly” beams of light peering though … and suddenly the world looked beautiful—more beautiful than it had just minutes before. What really mattered had been brought to the forefront, directly into my field of vision.
And I will tell you, in that moment, I couldn’t speak. “The Hands Free Effect” was working overtime, and I could barely contain my emotion.
Sensing I needed a moment, my daughter took my hand in hers and said, “Well, while you are thinking, I will tell you what I love about the world. ”
Then she stopped walking so she could peer up into my face and speak directly into my soul.
“What I most love about the world is YOU.”
I am simply the messenger on this journey to grasp what really matters, and it is by the grace of God that I have this message to give:
Grab a stack of index cards, sticky notes, or whatever you can get your hands on and fill them.
Fill the empty lines … fill the blank spaces.
Fill them with small actions of meaningful connection.
And in the process,
Fill your life.
Fill your heart.
Fill your soul.
Fill your memory bank and the memory bank of someone you love.
And then be prepared to experience the eye-opening, life-changing effects of your actions …
Because there’s a beautiful world out there.
And an even more beautiful one staring up at you.
The reader who shared “Challenge Yourself to a Worthwhile Summer” made a note worthy statement regarding Mary Schmich’s notion that engaging in “summery activities” – even for small increments of time – can be meaningful.
She wrote, “I was having a hard time accepting that I have to work out of the home, and I am missing SO much. This made me remember that I can have my hands free moments with my kids; I can still have a meaningful life. I need to let go of what I cannot control and grasp the time I DO have. Even if it is only one hour, that is MY hour, my hands free time for who really matters.”
Thank you, Rhonda, for sharing both the article and your powerful insight.
*On a personal note: Both my blog and “The Hands Free Revolution” page will be quiet this week as I enjoy a break from online activities. I will be spending that time filling the index cards of my life with meaningful connection. I’m quite certain I will enjoy the positive effects of these actions now, but something tells they will be even more rewarding in about 30 years when I see my children being “Hands Free” with their children.
“My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” ~Clarence B. Kelland