Suburban Relay

The conversation goes something like this:
“Hi, good to see you. How’s it going?”
“Good, everything’s good. How about you?”
“Great. Crazy busy, well you know how it is. Never enough time! Great seeing you!”
“You too!”
And on and on it goes, the passing of the busy baton. You busy? I’m busy! We’re all SO busy.
It’s understandable how it happens. We, the relay team, save our real conversations for friends and family. And then we run the busy race with the people we kinda sorta know, or used to know, or have no interest in knowing.
I often leave these conversations wondering where I am on the spectrum with the people who’ve flung their baton my way. Inevitably I end up passing the busy baton quickly to the next person and worry that it is obvious how much I loathe the exchange.
I’ve found ways to shorten the ritual. In my experience if you are loading multiple kids into a car, you get a pass. No one expects anything but a wave. Or, you can always answer your own question. “How’s it going? Busy?” All my fellow racer has to do is nod. We swap knowing glances and move on.
Lately, I’ve had this little pipe dream, it’s more like a daydream really. What if I were to really answer how I was, day by day, minute by minute?
Early in the morning, my answer might be:
“I’m great. Kids are wonderful. I’m writing every day, exercising most days too. I’ve got balance right now. And you?”
Imagine the snotty, “Who does she think she is?” looks I’d get.
By mid-day my answer would most likely shift:
“I’m good, I think. Not really sure. Writing is going well, but it’s hard to tell where I am in the process. And you?”
And, by the evening hours:
“Eh. Working from home can get a little lonely sometimes. At least I’m close to the washing machine to throw in the forty-seven daily loads required to keep up with two growing boys. That’s fun. Gives me time to contemplate what the hell I am doing with my life. And you?”
I bet I’d have a lot less of these conversations once the word got out. When the racers found out I was the weak link. Most definitely not a team player.
I’ve spent a little more time than I’d like to admit on this daydream. So much time that when the daydream became reality recently, at first I wasn’t sure if I was hearing the little narrator in my head or an actual out-of-body person.
There I was dropping my son off at his evening activity, engaged in the latest leg of the race with a Mom who I barely knew.
“Hi Holly,” said another voice quietly to my left. It was an old acquaintance, a friend of a friend. I’d shared some wine and coffee and screaming kids with her, over the years. She greeted me quietly not wanting to interrupt my “conversation.”
“Hi, how are you? How’s school?” I blurted, more than ready to leave my other exchange.
The last time I saw this person we were out with a bunch of couples, a group that didn’t know each other very well. It was a fun, festive night, and she and I had talked for quite a while about how she was back in school, in pursuit of a career change. The light danced between her eyes as she described her classes and the juggling required to make it happen.
“,” she said, fumbling for words.
Thud. The baton dropped on the floor. Oh no. This was exactly why we racers stay on task, to avoid just this moment.
“I’m not in school right now. I had kind of a breakdown in January.” She smiled as she said the words, signally she wasn’t using the term clinically. She glanced nervously at the other woman, who I had been talking to, and to my surprise, continued.
She explained how she wasn’t sure if the new field was right for her. That the program was costing a lot and meant tons of time away from her kids. She felt badly for having wasted the money and was still trying to figure out if there was a way to make it work. Then, she said, as if to add a ray of hope, “I took a part-time job, in the schools, and I’m loving it.”
Her raw pain hung in the air. I knew what came next and I was determined it wouldn’t happen. In two minutes she would get out to her car, and promise herself never again to pour her heart out to almost strangers.
“You’ll figure it out,” I said, as though certainty could be passed like a baton.
Then, an amazing thing happened. The woman, standing next to me, the one I had been exchanging cursory pleasantries with leaned in, as though gathering the three of us into a huddle.
“We’re all in the same boat. Never quite sure that we’re doing it right.”
We nodded, knowingly. It was a whole lot of working, parenting, spousing, vacationing, housekeeping, bill paying, obligating—a cesspool of busy that required no further explanation.
But, for one decidedly not-so-busy moment, there we were. Relay suspended.
“Nice running into you,” my old friend said, finally. “And, meeting you.”
Our new teammate smiled.
“Take care,” I replied.
And, we were off…
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