The Art of Idling

Learning to let go and see positive
January 6, 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged that on the day I have a long-ago scheduled doctor’s appointment or an important meeting or even once-in-a-blue-moon plans for a social activity that one of my boys will awake with an unpleasant, uncomfortable – though, thank G-d, in no way life-threatening – ailment that will require him to stay home from school.

I will cancel my appointment/meeting/frivolous outing post-haste. I will take him to the doctor and, if necessary, the pharmacy. I will allow him, in between naps and for durations unheard of in healthy times, to watch all the puerile television shows I generally prohibit. 

Now imagine a gerbil wearing a sheitel, logging miles on one of those little toy carousels. I spend my average day scampering to and fro, getting a million things done, but very little that leaves me feeling accomplished. There are exceptions, like my teaching and writing, and when I turn on the music and shimmy about with my (real) hair up in a pony, doing my crafty-girl thing.

But with sick children at home, almost nothing happens. Time stops, a challenge for someone like me who remains unskilled in the art of idling. Exasperated, I stare at my must-do list, a mountain of tasks 

I fear I’ll never manage to climb. 

I do a lot of sighing while ministering to the coughing child on the couch.

Of course, I don’t want to see the boys lying there – miserable, febrile, red-nosed. I want them well for wellness sake, but full confession: I also want them well so that we may all get back on the road at our standard mph. They need to return to school and I need to resume trying to do to everything. 

Stuck as we are, I gradually begin to see these sick days not as a hindrance to productivity, but as a chance to let things go and take stock of my blessings. Two of my three are old enough to be mortified by my proximity during a public event, but sick, even they allow me – without rolling their eyes – to stare at them longingly like I did when they were very young.

They doze, and I begin to nest. I steal a moment for some housekeeping – straightening up a cabinet, organizing a shelf – and not begrudgingly. I dare say that I come to cherish what I do get done instead of stressing over what I do not.

The television is back on, so I’ll set a pot of chicken soup to simmer and a batch of challah to rise. Happy smells, these provide the olfactory backdrop to our family life, both on sick days and healthy ones. Hopefully, these memories will eclipse the ones of my running around like a chicken without a head when my boys look back fondly on their childhood.

Alas, what happens when it is I who get bit by the stomach bug or the flu or a terrible cold? There’s no nesting, just resting, and in that challenge I find the wisdom of the oracle: Most must-do list items can wait.

The boys are probably taking their favorite shirts out of the laundry to wear dirty when I’m not looking anyway. 

There is an art to letting go, too.