As I went about my usual bustle out the door, I looked at Roman and told him, “Hurry up, or we’ll be late.” These words come out of my mouth as if they have been programmed into my brain by autopilot robots, and I wondered how many times I have said that sentence, in the exact same tone, standing in that very place of our living room. At that moment, my almost two-year-old daughter started unrolling the toilet paper with a gleeful shriek, and Roman looked at me with one sock on, holding the opposite shoe in his hand, and said with much conviction, “Mamma, the slower I go, the faster I am.” I didn’t know if it was because I was running on four hours of sleep and only two sips of coffee, but I was struck by how profound that was.
The slower I go, the faster I am.
Was my four-year-old, who I was now thinking I should have named Confucius, trying to tell me sometimes we just need to take a minute during the mad-dash of life, slow down, and ask ourselves, Why am I doing this? And, by returning to this root of what motivates us to do things, that will, in turn, make us more productive?
Dammit, you little four-year-old genius. May you always use those powers for good, not evil.
Last year I had to go to Budapest for a European Zoo Conference to talk about snow leopards and our conservation programs. We decided since my ticket had already been paid for, my husband, Akash, would join me at the end of the conference.
Two weeks prior to that trip, my beautiful sister-in-law got married to an equally beautiful Sicilian man, and they had a gorgeous wedding that spanned the course of an incredible week and ended on a Sunday. My daughter Rubina’s first birthday was on Monday and then on Tuesday at 6 a.m. I had to fly to Las Vegas to attend a week-long trade show. I got back from Vegas and left the next day for Budapest, so needless to say, the total word count between my husband and I leading up to the vacation portion of our trip equaled about 25 and the conversations consisted of some variation of:
“Have you seen the black suitcase?”
“Where is Roman’s tie?”
“Did you move my wallet?”
“Where did you leave the keys?”
“I can’t hear you… WHAT?”
“Do you need to vacuum NOW, while the baby is sleeping?”
“Did you pick up the cake?”
“I’m too tired.”
We were both giving each other space to operate in our own modes. Our family was functioning, but was doing so by each of us managing our different pieces of that equation separately. It may have been functional, but it was not working.
That is the tricky thing about space. A little bit is necessary, healthy even. But before you know it that space becomes a canyon and you can barely see the person on the other side of it, let alone hear them.
After twenty-some-odd hours of traveling, Akash finally made it to Budapest. He walked into the hotel where the conference was being held, and we were immediately ushered onto a bus to take us to the conference farewell dinner. We drove for about an hour, without any clue as to where we were headed, and ended up at a place that puts on customary Hungarian horse shows for tourists. The show was followed by a traditional Hungarian feast. We were sitting across from people from all over the world, eating delicious food atop carved wooden platters. The wine was flowing and people were starting to move out tables to make space for a dance floor as a Hungarian pop band started setting up on stage.
And here, away from the schedules and obligations, we looked at each other like we were strangers, and I thought to myself, If we can’t have fun here, we can’t have fun anywhere. We had gotten down to that seed. The question that lives at the heart of every choice we make, whether it’s putting on our shoes or looking at our marriage: Why am I doing this?
It was raw. It was vulnerable. It was exposed. And it hurt like hell.
Then, two miraculous days later, we were back to the place we were when we first met. Laughing, happy, in love, and, above all, connected. Maybe it was because we had time to actually have an uninterrupted conversation, or maybe it was the romantic setting of a foreign city, but it only took 48 hours for us to put reinforcements around that question of Why am I doing this? I felt the canyon begin to close. I recognized my husband and could hear what he had to say.
Fast-forward almost a year later. I am actually writing this piece from the mountains of Whistler BC, as we are here attending Akash’s cousin’s wedding. Last night, we went out looking for a restaurant at which to eat dinner and instead stumbled upon a free concert in the park. Michael Franti and Spearhead were about to go on stage, so even though the kids were cranky and hungry, I made us stand and dance because how many times do you walk right into a concert of one of your favorite artists?
Before the show officially started, we went in a frantic search of some milk, per Rubina’s request—who incidentally was the furthest along the ledge of an epic meltdown—and I was doing anything to keep the peace. Milk turned into a hot chocolate, which is a great choice for a kid on the brink of tantrum who hasn’t eaten anything besides road trip snacks, don’t you think?
When we came back to the concert, Michael Franti was on stage talking about how this world is a crazy place, but if we are lucky, we will find ourselves waking up next to someone we are excited to tackle the crazy with. Swept up in the romance of the music and the mountains, not to mention the crazy of a six-hour road trip with two small kids, I looked for Akash so we could have a moment where we gazed at each other and appreciated where we are and what we have. Instead of a loving gaze, my eyes were met with a panic stricken, also hungry Akash searching for our screaming daughter’s pacifier. Roman, in the meantime, tried to run off to climb a play-structure and was stopped by a kind Samaritan who noticed he was straying from his parents, and Akash looked at me and said, “I’m done. Let’s go back to the condo.”
Sigh, I am always doing this. I script little scenarios of how I think things should go and then get incredibly disappointed when those don’t come to fruition. I may have felt slighted by not having had my romantic moment in the park, but I also needed to remind myself this is the same man who brought me flowers in the middle of my Italian lecture, in front of the whole class, and it’s the same man who during the birth of our son hysterically jumped, fully clothed, into the birthing tub at the hospital just to help hoist me out, and last Friday he surprised me and all of my coworkers with coffees just because it had been a long week.
It’s a fine line between settling and being realistic, but I am finding that so much of marriage and relationships is about managing expectations.
My husband and I are college sweethearts. We met when we were 18 years old—nearly 15 years ago—so we have had a lot of exposure to the ebbs and flows that relationships endure and grow from. I have to trust that even when we are crawling on our hands and knees looking for a pacifier in the middle of a concert, or glaring at each other over a Hungarian pop band’s rendition of Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer, we will return to that place of joy and comfort.
Maybe it’s about slowing down at least enough to remind ourselves why we are doing certain things so the Why am I doing this? question, and its answer, can come from a place of appreciation instead of angst.
Hey, if it’s a philosophy that can motivate my kids to put their shoes on and get out the door in a timely manner, than it’s worth its weight in gold.
MARISSA B. NIRANJAN is a quarter Italian, only child, married to an Indian who happens to be an identical twin. When she’s not chasing after their tiny hooligans, she’s saving snow leopards, using too many exclamation points or warming up her coffee in the microwave. She loves her kids, but she really misses hot coffee!!