Single-Tasking Summer

One recent morning I went to Mass by myself. I was glad to have the opportunity and thought I might pray — actually pray. I know, I know, it’s a novel idea to some of us — to spend an hour or so in church focused on worshipping God instead of fighting a Battle Royale of mother versus toddler.
But even without a toddler in tow, praying proved to be difficult. When I closed my eyes… my brain just buzzed. It leapt relentlessly from one thought to the next.
The reading, I scolded myself. Focus on the reading. But still, worries, questions, thoughts, and ideas flashed fast through my brain. Midway through the homily, I had a great plan for Sunday dinner, but no clue what the priest had been talking about.
It was difficult to slow down and focus, I realized, because I almost never slow down and focus. Many of us don’t.
Mothers especially are notorious multi-taskers. We nurse the baby while typing. We fold laundry while making phone calls. We cook dinner while holding a baby, reading a magazine article, and quizzing a second grader on her spelling words.
We pause to check our email, but do we ever pause to consider the damage our doing-doing-doing might be doing-doing-doing to our minds? To our souls?
Why is it that, no matter how much we do, many of us can still be plagued by an anxious feeling that it’s not quite enough? Or that we are neglecting some phantom responsibility?
I like to think of the summertime as God’s special invitation to slow down. Longer, lazier days beckon us to spend more time outdoors, connecting with nature and perhaps our souls, in a more meaningful way.
I have been taking advantage of relaxed summer schedules myself recently by visiting with family. I am typing this column from my sister’s kitchen in Connecticut, where I am staying for a few days with some of the children.
Cousins have been splashing together in the kiddie pool, eating ice cream, and giggling — side by side in sleeping bags — till all hours of the night.
I drove the gang of us here in our giant green van… you know, the one with the broken air conditioning.
Perhaps all the rainy days we New Englanders have suffered so far this summer have skewed my perspective a bit, but I think there is something to be said for truly experiencing the sensations of summer — including the prickly heat. The chocolate bits in our snack mix turned to a dark and sticky liquid, but the children were astonishingly cheerful about our warmish circumstances.
About three hours into our drive, I hurriedly exited the highway, worried that we had missed our exit. I pulled into a gas station parking lot to check the map and found that we were heading the right direction after all. We were good.
As I pulled back onto the highway, the van erupted with spontaneous applause for my remarkable accomplishment.
“Yay Mama!” small Daniel shouted above the noise as his siblings clapped and whooped.
I thanked my fans, turned up the radio, and we all sang along loudly to “If I Had a Million Dollars.”
As we hurtled down the highway, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw happy, sweaty faces making memories. I marveled at the fact that all of these children were not too long ago small babies and toddlers who occupied my every waking moment with their ever-pressing physical needs. But now they are turning into their own people. Fun people. Cool people. People I just plain enjoy spending time with.
And so I promised myself to enjoy a bit more of that time. This summer, I will “multi-task” less and “single-task” more: one conversation, one thought, one action at time.
I want to focus — to drink in a little more scenery and a little less caffeine. Even in the midst of chaos, I want to be quiet. To be content. To just be.
Because I know that it is enough. In fact, it’s more than I deserve.


Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

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