Don't Hurry, Be Harriet

I was driving on the Hutchinson River Parkway the other day when I noticed that every car was passing me at a clip. I checked my speedometer. Sure enough, it was holding fast at 60, five miles over the posted speed limit. So I pulled back to 55. (It's always been my contention that the quicker the wit, the slower the driver.) Now even gravel trucks and school buses were leaving me in their dust. Where are all these people going, I wondered. And what in tarnation is the rush?

The rush, I suppose, is modern life. It whooshes all around us, and most of the time we whoosh right along with it. I know I do. But on this particular day I was in no particular hurry to be anywhere. I was just cruisin' while I was musin'. I was thinking about Harriet, the unhurried child. Harriet is six years old, and she never rushes. Harriet is the shared friend of my son and daughter.

Once while doing the rounds of after-school drop-offs (it was my turn to be car-pool commando), I asked Harriet if she wanted to walk with me. It's traditional in our town to hand-deliver, en masse, each child to his or her door. It makes an event out of going home. All the other kids had already bolted from the car, foiling the childproof door locks by climbing out the open windows. Not Harriet. She sat happily still in the back.

"No, that's OK," she replied, "I'll wait here and think. My mom lets me do that sometimes." After the dropped-off child had gone inside, the other kids shoved their way back into my car, where Harriet was happily lost in thought.

OH, for a world full of Harriets. Not that my kids are always on fast-forward (there's bedtime, for example, and getting ready for school, otherwise known as "the snail's-pace circuit"). But more often than not they're in a rush, and sad to say, I'm often right behind them, pushing. Which is why I encourage their friendship with Harriet. She has an Old World sensibility. She has a grin like the Cheshire cat's, and she moves about as quickly as the "Who are you? caterpillar" of "Alice in Wonderland." She tends to slow things down somehow, even when the three of them are running pell-mell across the playground. They enjoy the run; they don't rush it.

I always feel when I'm in Harriet's presence that I'm going to learn something. More often than not, I do. I learn to linger in the present moment, not to move so quickly to the next. I've never really understood the hubbub about being first, or learning fast. Walking at nine months, talking at one year, potty trained at 18 months, reading at 3. These days, the fast track starts at birth. No wonder we have so many harried, hurried drivers clogging the roadways. They've crammed too much into that sliver of time we call a day, and even though they were up at dawn, they're still running, late.

I hope that Harriet manages to maintain her inner stillness. It won't be easy, not the way things are going. Already the after- school activity options are spinning out of control. Ice-skating, piano lessons, horseback riding, soccer practice, ballet, karate, chess club, choir. Too much of too many good things. Are we having fun yet? I don't think so. Are we stressed out to the max? Very much so, thank you. And you?

Isn't it telling that the way we punish our children these days is to give them a "timeout"? Sounds more like a reward to me. We need a whole lot more timeouts, more non-Nintendo, off-line, unplugged moments of calm reflection. We need to slow down, and fast. Think of what all those speeding cars are doing to the highway infrastructure. Now think about what they're doing to the infrastructure of our selves. We need to start a movement, a slow one of course. We could call ourselves the Trail-Blazing Snails. We're always on time, and we don't mind waiting. We like to take long walks. We don't hurry, we don't worry. We don't speed, we read. And yes, we already have our poster child: Harriet, the Spry.

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