On Being a Little Less Responsible

On Being a Little Less Responsible

Yesterday, I dragged Sam out on some errands, and for the first time I happened to notice that there is a pet store next door to Costco. Now, let me make it clear that I am not, strictly speaking, a pet person. I am allergic to everything imaginable, plus I am already raising a small wild 22 pound human that I am fairly certain is 90% Jordan, 40% puppy, 10% lion cub, and 4% pterodactyl. But I love pet stores. Yesterday at 3:30 pm, I didn't really have time to wander the aisles of another store; I was on a mission to buy food in bulk and scramble home before rush hour. 

But I heard this little voice, which nags at the back of my mind every so often and which I obey on particularly spontaneous days. It tends to say things like "Veer over and stop to look at that view!" or "Writing timely responses to emails is so boring; ditch it and go to the beach!" or "You really need a mint mojito iced coffee" or "You should move to California." Today it said, "So what if you sit in rush hour traffic on the way home? If you feel like taking Sam into the pet store to walk the aisles and gawk, do it!" 

So, in we went. It turns out that pet stores in our great state aren't allowed to sell cute, normal pets like puppies and kittens (no surprise there), but they did have some birds, crickets, hell-bound adorable furry mice, a snake, and feeder goldfish. 

Goldfish! Sam was really into the goldfish. I mean, we both were. Cue the voice again: "You really ought to buy a couple of goldfish. They're only 25 cents! Oh, and a good fishbowl, and a cute little rubber plant for them to play in!" 

I told it to shut up, left, and went to Costco  (where I bought things I desperately needed, like five pounds of mangoes and a ticket to Six Flags. Okay, I didn't buy the ticket, but I did buy the mangoes). 

An hour later, loading my rotisserie chickens in the car, the voice appeared one more time. "Goldfish." In my mind, it felt like this epic moment of decision. Should I follow this instinct, or go home? We could pencil it in and come back and buy a fish any day next week. But it also occurred to me that if I waited for a "better" time, the fun of it might fizzle out, or by then I'd have talked myself out of it. So we went back in and bought a couple of goldfish. And the plastic plant, and those smelly little fish food flakes. The fish rode shotgun with me, and traffic wasn't nearly so bad as I was expecting. We brought them home to our kitchen and built them a little home in a big ol' mason jar on the counter, eye-level with Sam's highchair, and watched them for a while. "Sam, did we buy goldfish today?!" "MmmmHMM!" "Do you love my--I mean, your goldfish?" "MmmmHMM!" And suddenly our Tuesday afternoon, partway through an uneventful week, was just a little bit more memorable that it otherwise would have been. To me, that is worth considering.

It takes a childlike enthusiasm and game-ness to cultivate that spontaneous, unabashed, sometimes irresponsible little voice (which just occurred to me might possibly be the voice of my five-year-old self--"MOM, CAN WE GET A FROSTY?!?"--poking its pitiful little head up from the depths of my now distracted, responsible, calendar-constrained grown-up brain). When we're small, that little voice is usually the voice of our curiosity. It says things like, "What is that flower? I have to pick it and pull it apart or I will die. Is that a boa constrictor? What does 'constrictor' mean? How does that thing work? Why? Can we try it? Now? Why not?" I'm convinced that that part of us never really goes away, but we do all we can to squelch it, though it keeps on surviving in a pathetic baby-Voldemort-style half-life. We are sure that it would get in the way of "real work" or "productivity," and we forget that it is both God-given and life-giving. The very exciting news is that with a little effort and a willingness to occasionally be late or use stain remover, we can rehabilitate it. Of course, it also takes discernment to know when not to listen to the little voice. There is a time for everything. But I think in general we tend to err on the side of boring and safe and not messy. 

My mom is a professional little-voice cultivator. When I was pregnant with Sam, she shared with me one of her journals from when I was about five years old. Flipping through, I found this tiny gem: "Today, Elise and I were driving home, and we stopped at the beach for a minute to look at the water. And then we jumped in with our clothes on."

I want Sam to thrive within the order that a certain amount of routine and structure gives us. But I also want to give him this great gift: of what it means to jump in with your clothes on. Of following that little voice at the right times, more often than I'm inclined to. Of pulling over at scenic vistas. Of getting good and grubby sometimes--in church clothes. Of spontaneous goldfish. Whose names, in case you were wondering, are Greg and Phil.