The Challenge of Achieving Zen When Your Kids Are Wrestling On The Floor

The women of the 2017 Liturgical Composers Forum

I spent last week hobnobbing with my fellow liturgical composers…which means I got to geek out about hanging out with people I have looked up to since I was old enough to pay attention to the names in the copyright line at the bottom of the hymnal pages. And yes, I am fully aware that this paragraph outs me as a complete Catholic nerd. But I don’t think that was a big surprise to most of you, so…y’know. It is what it is. I am who I am, and all that.

(Bracing for the lightning strike.)

Long days and late nights….my camera tells me I took this picture of the Eagles jam session at 10:45 p.m. That’s an hour past my bedtime. 🙂

It was an intense three days, during which I played for two morning prayers, an evening prayer, and Mass. Oh right, and the big Forum concert. But it was also very calming. Which is surprising, in a way, because I realized about 12:30 on Day One that I was poised at the edge of a spiritual cliff—a result of an extended neglect of the quiet stillness that keeps me spiritually and emotionally healthy.

I knew I was pushing it a couple weeks ago. You can coast for a while, but sooner or later you have to feed the soul or you fall to pieces. At least, I do. And I could tell I was getting close to the danger zone, but there’s just so little time this year. Last year, Michael was in a.m. preschool and napping after lunch; this year I only have afternoon preschool. And there’s always a dentist appointment or a Christmas party to attend. (Or a kid’s birthday gift to buy, as was the case today, because doesn’t everybody wait until two days before their daughter turns ten to think about what to get her?)

So my daily mantra this year has been, “Next year…kindergarten…next year…kindergarten…” A way to keep myself from getting too frustrated at the lack of work time. And I’ve been substituting mantra for spiritual food. I haven’t taken the time to go out and sit by a creek or under a tree.

So when, last Tuesday afternoon, I recognized the first stages of anxiety and a potential for a real crisis of faith, I knew I had to ignore the feedback on two novels sitting in my inbox and focus entirely on faith and music for a few days.

The great thing about a conference, even one with an intense schedule, is that I can do that. Somebody else is responsible for the cooking and the cleanup and I’m a hundred and twenty miles from the chauffeuring and the “did you brush your teeth?” and the “where are your shoes/coat/backpack?” and the “is that any of your business?” Oh yes, and the “so-and-so forgot his homework, can you bring it to school?”

Last week, even though I had very little down time, I was focused on what I was doing. (As opposed to this moment, when I’m sitting on the couch at the piano teacher’s house and trying to decide whether to intervene in the wrestling match going on between my oldest and youngest.) I prayed several times a day. I played my flute every day.

And I came home tired—very tired—but also much more calm, with my heart in alignment.

While he's still small enough to hold like this...
While he’s still small enough to hold like this…

The trick, of course, is figuring out how to carve time out of real life to hold onto that calm. How to import a modicum of last week’s spiritual focus into days when I am, once again, on chauffeur and KP duty, and trying to make sure I don’t waste the last days of small childhood—that I spend time playing Blokus with or reading Batman to Michael.

And if you’re expecting some pithy resolution, I’m sorry to say you’re going to be disappointed. This blog is about my wrestling with questions, not providing bullet point answers. I just share my journey in the hopes that others will recognize themselves in my words and know we’re not going through it alone.