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Balancing Act: Learning how to slow down

My life is an Alvin and the Chipmunks song.

I am the lyrics, sped up to a comical pitch, while the background music plays at a respectable, sustainable pace.

I’m in a permanent hurry. I’m so accustomed to rushing to meet a deadline, pick up a child, drop off another child, attend a meeting, fold the laundry, feed the dogs, hit the gym, catch a cab or arrive at an appointment that a mild sense of panic sets in when I find myself with four spare minutes.

I don’t know how to not rush.

My friend Krista emailed me Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop newsletter the other day. She knows that it makes me laugh, with its weekly tips on choosing the right stem cellular booster serum and how to settle on the perfect $900 clutch.

This particular installment included a recipe for “overnight oatmeal.” It calls for 15 ingredients, one of which was buckwheat groats, and it takes 7 hours to cook.

My oatmeal has two ingredients: water and the stuff you shake out of the tiny paper bag. It takes about 60 seconds to boil the water and 5 more seconds to stir.

This would have been a perfect time to invoke my favorite Amy Poehler-ism: “Good for her! Not for me.”

(Isn’t that the best? “That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again,” Poehler writes in her new book, “Yes Please,” which I highly recommend. “Good for her! Not for me.”)

But the recipe caught me during a moment of weakness. A moment when my insecurities were firing on all cylinders. A moment when my “Good for her! Not for me” reflex was broken, and my “I’m doing everything wrong” reflex was on high alert.

Ever have those days?

Anyway, I rushed (ha!) to the conclusion that I am incapable of savoring life’s pleasures, be they overnight oatmeal or sunsets.

I decided I needed to learn how to slow down. Here’s the problem: I have, like many of you, I’m sure, engineered a life for myself that doesn’t really allow slowing down. A demanding job, a spouse with an equally demanding job, three children, two dogs, a rickety old house, a teaching gig on the side and a maze of children’s extracurricular activities.

I need a way to slow down without letting anyone down. I decided to start with hot tea.

Hot tea has to be drunk slowly. Coffee, one might argue, also has to be drunk slowly. But I’ve found a way around that: lots of cream.

Hot tea demands to be sipped, preferably while seated, so as to avoid splashing it on your arms or spilling it down your shirt and scalding your clavicle.

A few times per week, I am now trying to end my evenings with a mug of hot tea. Sitting down.

Sometimes, I talk to my husband. Sometimes, I read. Sometimes, I sit in the window seat of our living room and stare outside. Until recently, I was staring at the majestic piles of blackened, frozen-solid snow, wondering why the alderman didn’t use some of it to fill the potholes on my block.

The point is, I’ve slowed down. It’s sort of heavenly. Eventually, I hope to branch out and adopt one or two more slow activities.

For inspiration, I decided to ask some friends on Facebook what they do slowly. Lots of us, I discovered, are searching for small ways to reduce our pace.

“I make an effort to greet my daughter at the end of the school/workday with a slow, relaxed conversation,” wrote my friend Tina.

“I massage my son’s feet and legs every night at bedtime,” wrote Jill. “I take my time, almost falling asleep myself.”

“Drive slowly,” wrote Bill. “Especially on the way home from work.”

“Knit,” wrote Karen.

“Bake bread,” wrote Maggie.

“Journal,” wrote Alison. “As in writing on paper.”

I can do these things! (Except knit.) I can find moments of tranquility and deliberation, even within a life that’s full to bursting. This is fantastic news.

Best of all, I don’t have to figure out what buckwheat groat is.