I sat in the shallow end of the pool, shadowing my toddler as I watched my older boys take their turns on the water slide. We would need to go home soon, so I was calling to each one as they surfaced from their plunge and giving them a 5 minute warning.
One boy, one reminder. (I could tell a man nearby was watching the exchange.)
Second boy, another reminder. (He’s still watching me, isn’t he?)
Third boy, one more 5 minute reminder. (Here it comes….)
“Are those all yours?”
“Yup!” I said with a smile. “And this little guy too.”
“Wow! You must have your hands full!”
Juggling 4 boys with a 9 year span between them, I hear that a lot. Whether we’re making our way through a grocery store, across a playground, or into the library, I can feel the eyes that sometimes follow us, counting them like a row of ducklings.
I don’t really mind. We’re a happy (albeit raucous) little novelty. And the popular phrase, “You’ve got your hands full”? It doesn’t offend me. It’s usually right on the money. Try navigating a busy sidewalk with one squirmy preschooler, one first-grader whose shoe just came untied, and a set of “are those twins?” siblings pretending to be ninjas, without losing your kids, your purse, or your ever-loving-mind, and you have to agree that, at the very least, that your hands are full.
Maybe that’s part of the initial appeal to my friend Rachel Macy Stafford’s message as the Hands Free Mama.
“Hands Free, you say? Tell me more,” I think to myself, as I wrangle 4 boys, like wandering feral cats, into the car, while simultaneously juggling the car keys and one bulging bag full of swimsuits and towels.
But when Rachel writes about being hands free, it isn’t so much about physically emptying our hands (though she certainly writes about the place for that). It’s about letting go.
Letting go of control, of perfection, of pressure, of distraction. Letting go of everything that gets in the way of holding on to what really matters.
As Rachel writes in her newest book, Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More(*affiliate link):
“It’s placing your head on the pillow at night knowing you’ve connected with someone or something that made your heart come alive. It’s investing in what really matters, understanding full well that managing life is the tendency but living life is the goal.”
Yes, please. We could all use more of that.
As Rachel concedes, life is still full of responsibilities. Full of bills that still need to be paid, of dinner that still needs to be made, and dishes that still have to find their way to the dishwasher. But there are many spaces in between – or even in the middle of – these responsibilities. These spaces need to be filled with connection, with purpose, and with loving kindness (for others and for ourselves).
Rachel’s new book is full of beautiful reminders and encouragement, and I am learning so much from it as I turn each page.
One passage reminded me that maybe I am getting things right more often than I realize. Rachel writes: “Although we’ve been led to believe that our fondest memories are made in the grand occasions of life, in reality, they happen when we pause in the ordinary, mundane moments of a busy day.”
Instantly, I thought of a night much like the hands-full scenario above: 4 boys wending their way to the van after swimming practice, me fumbling with keys and small hands and wet swim bags. We got to the car and I pointed out that the stars were already appearing. I told them we should make a wish and chanted the time worn phrase, “Star light, star bright…..”
I had no idea that simple, ordinary moment was so magical to them. Their eyes lit up. They asked again and again for me to help them memorize the enchanting rhyme. (How had I never brought it up before?) And they began watching for stars and making wishes for many nights to follow.
It began with a moment. One sliver of time. But I chose in the middle of a very hands-full moment to pause and connect. To look up at the sky instead of down at my watch. To let go of the rush to keep moving for just a fraction of time. To hold on to a moment before the moment was gone.
That is the power in the ordinary, the power of the in-betweens. It’s the power of truly seeing and connecting with our loved ones around us. Rachel inspires me to find those moments — to make those moments. To grab onto them and hold them tight.
There are many opportunities, as I wear my many hats and chase my many children, for me to admit that my hands are full. But as I’m asked that question again and again, I use it as a sweet reminder. It’s a reminder to make sure they’re full of what truly matters.
Rachel’s new book, Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More(*affiliate link) released earlier this month. You can read excerpts from her book here or read summaries and reviews on Amazon through the affiliate link above. The House Rules print appearing above was a gift from Rachel (one of the first decorative items to be displayed when we finished our home) and can be purchased on her site here.