Recently I keep coming across references to the inefficiency of life. First it was in Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson and most recently it was in The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. Disparate books to be sure, but both making the same point in their own way. And that point is that life is inherently inefficient, even though we devote much of our lives to trying to make it efficient, and are often disappointed in the results.
As much as life is inefficient, raising children, making a home for them, and educating them is even more so. I believe that much of the frustration of parenting stems from this one simple fact. We expect to be able to order our lives in an efficient manner and that often extends to our children as well. And there is nothing so frustrating as when things don't meet with our expectations. A perfect example of this is trying to get anywhere with a toddler. The key to sanity is to allow enough time and try not to put yourself in a position where you will be rushed, because it is nearly a law of physics that the more you rush a toddler, the slower they go. If we could harness this phenomenon, we could probably learn to stop time. But more often than not we try to be efficient; we try to squeeze in too many things to make the most of our time.
We have been brainwashed by our surrounding culture that wasting time is bad. Wasted time involves anything that cannot be itemized,or checked off a list, or sold as billable hours. Homemakers try to cram as much as possible into a day because society already implies that what they do isn't valuable. There is a certain level of guilt involved in sitting down for a few minutes and putting up ones feet... even if there are no bonbons involved. (See, the stereotype is right there.) As parents we also have difficulty with our children "wasting" time. They are scheduled from morn to night, in good things, mind you, it's just that there are so many good things. But at least they aren't sitting around doing nothing.
I am always a little amazed that one of the first proselytizers of efficiency was Frank Gilbreth, the father of Cheaper by the Dozen fame. How a father of 12 could claim that life can be made efficient is beyond me. Because everything worthwhile in life is not efficient. It is not efficient to spend all your waking hours carrying and nursing a baby. It is not efficient to play endless games of Candyland with a preschooler. It is not efficient to drop everything to help care for a sick friend. It is not efficient to spend long hours at the bedside of a dying loved one. Life is not efficient because life at its best involves loving people. Loving people can be messy and time consuming and costly, just the opposite of efficiency. But also far more satisfying than a check on the to-do list or an item in a ledger.
So embrace inefficiency in this new year of 2011 and waste some time loving the people in your life.