Lazy Brain Days: Sometimes success is measured by letting go

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“Our Lazy Brains redesign, imagination running wild but grounded in routine and shared magic. We build our own universe.” 

My six-year-old daughter pops her head up from the basement stair landing.

“Daddy, it’s time!”

“What time, baby?”

“Playtime Daddy, it’s playtime.”

My hands are dripping wet from dishes, stacked in uncomfortable piles about the sink. The floor is a mess. 

“What’s playtime today?” I ask.

“It’s camping!”

Today has been a long, cold day. My back hurts and I have a toothache. 

But there she is.

At the beginning of the week, I made a promise of time each night for her, no matter what. A promise is a promise.

I wipe my hands in a dirty towel, shut off the kitchen lights so I don’t have to see the mess, and head down the stairs for some basement camping.

We’ve been practicing something the two of us have been calling Lazy Brain, a way for us to recalibrate expectations during a time when it feels like we’re never doing enough. The pandemic has created a mindset of forced mindfulness, and my daughter and I sat down a few days ago to re-claim the mindful section of that phrase and dump the forced part.

I’ve felt recently like my efforts to educate her, play with her, make sure her needs were being met, had begun to spin away from me. But hitting our normal marks during a time that’s not normal makes no sense. We needed to rethink those marks so we invented Lazy Brain.

In their book, “Laziness Does Not Exist” Loyola University psychologist Devon Price writes about how culturally tuned-in we’ve become to equating personal worth with productivity. 

“Accomplishment and drive are equal to being moral,” Price said in a recent interview. “So, you feel guilty when you stop doing.”

Add a pandemic into the mix where it seems like we have all the time in the world and no time at all, and suddenly work and home and play now all overlap in a chaotic mix of stress and anxiety.

The answer is not to work harder no matter what, not to push through despite your emotional and physical exhaustion. Rather, we’ve attempted to turn to our Lazy Brain in an effort to set new expectations, to create an environment appropriate to the time in which we live.

In our basement, my daughter has prepared our campsite, setting up a dark blue beach tent and scattering her collection of stuffed animal friends throughout our “forest.” 

“We have to build a fire, Daddy,” she says, handing me some brown and orange construction paper which we cut into log shapes and fire shapes. Then I take two pieces of gray construction paper, rocks, and strike them together.

“Whoosh!” Little Bean says, tossing the red paper down. We now have a roaring fire.

We’re on the same page now, her and I, but the week didn’t start like that. We had to make rules. First, Lazy Brain meant no hide-and-seek, no wrestling or other physical shenanigans. Imagination and what we had within reach were enough. My wife called it Creative Time, and that’s close, but not exact.

This was more like my daughter and I were trying to find focus on our own terms. Lazy Brain isn’t about doing nothing, but rather taking control and being in the moment without regard for the limitations of the pandemic. This week was a values inventory. It was clarifying what was important.

Earlier in the week, we spent the evening building the most awful pirate ship out of Legos. The next day, we collected pine cones. The day after, we laid out a plan to build a heart-shaped wreath in time for Valentine’s Day for momma out of the pine cones. The fourth day, my daughter learned about Super Mario and I bathed in the pleasant nostalgia of my own video game days. 

And now, here we are, in a basement forest built from the daily routine of imagination, my daughter a living illustration of Wordworth’s proclamation that “the child is the father of man.” 

“I have an idea,” I tell her over our cotton ball marshmallows, “let’s go star gaze.”

I lead her to our L-shape sofa and we each lay down on a section, the tops of our heads touching. 

“Look,” I say pointing at our white ceiling, “the Big Dipper.”

She laughs and shakes her head. “No, no, but over there is the Big Light Square.”

She’s pointing to the reflection of a nearby lamp, in the form of a nearly perfect square above our heads. Of course, I think. Our Lazy Brains redesign, imagination running wild but grounded in routine and shared magic. We build our own universe. 

Mindful of how subjective accomplishment can be, my daughter and I set out to redefine what’s possible. I take a deep breath and begin my search for a new constellation there in the warm basement of my little home, my daughter at my side. Go deep. Relax. Everything you need is right there. 

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Dan Szczesny is a longtime journalist and writer who lives with his wife and energetic daughter in Manchester. Learn more about Dan’s adventures at