What you miss when you’re really efficient

Isn’t there some old maxim about “he travels the fastest who travels alone”?   At the risk of sounding like a real misanthrope, I think it’s one of the truest statements ever made.  I also believe that you could put just about any verb in place of  “travels,” and it would still make sense.

Moms — especially moms of young kids — know this better than anyone else.   Try these variations:

“She shops the fastest who shops alone.”
“She folds laundry the fastest who folds laundry alone.”
“She bakes cookies the fastest who bakes cookies alone.”

All true.

At the same time, though, I’m constantly in a mental tug-of-war over whether I should invite my kids (especially the oldest, four-year-old Matthew) into my errands and tasks.  Yes, I’m exponentially more efficient when I grocery shop alone, which is why I often roll into the supermarket parking lot at nine o’clock on Friday night, a time when most normal people are home with a celebratory weekend drink.   But I can’t deny that the kids love running errands with me, and that they often soak up valuable new experiences when I let them help (or “help”) with tasks around the house.

The other morning, for example, I wanted to go buy some flowers and a new terracotta pot for the patio.  I could have gone alone; Scott was home to watch Matthew, who was happily ensconced on the sofa with some  computer game.  Maybe the sight of him playing it was the tipping point for me.  Even though we ration his screen time pretty carefully, he still spends more time on computer games than I’d like.  I realized that I could be the super-efficient solo shopper, or I could be the mom who prys her kid away from technology, takes him to a place with rows upon rows of colorful flowers,  and helps him learn something about the beauty of the natural world.

When I framed it that way to myself, I couldn’t not invite him along.

And we had a great time.  We went up and down the aisles of the nursery, looking at the flowers and the garden statuary and the lawnmowers.  We picked out some white impatiens and some blue-violet violas and snapdragons the color of a sunset, vivid orange fading to coral fading to pink.  We also bought a pair of Matthew-sized, bug-printed gardening gloves, for future planting sessions together.

At the checkout, we were helped by a kind elderly gentleman who was a dead ringer for Clarence the Angel from It’s a Wonderful Life.  He thanked me repeatedly for  my honesty when I told him that he’d forgotten to charge me for one of the snapdragons, and I thought: This is a good conversation for a little kid to hear.

And yes, the outing took longer than it would have if I’d gone alone.  But it was very sweet to have my little helper there, exclaiming over the fountains and the flowers for sale.  And on the way back out to the car, as Matthew sat in the shopping cart with a potted snapdragon next to him, one of its floppy stalks brushed against his cheek.

“Mommy!” he said joyfully.  “The flower is kissing me!”

Efficiency isn’t everything.

3 responses to “What you miss when you’re really efficient