The Capacity of Stomachs and Schedules

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Our stomachs are incredible organs: like the stretchiest of balloons, they can expand in size from a fraction of a cup to well over eight cups when full. Think of the hours after a feast like Thanksgiving Dinner: cups and cups of turkey, pie, and mashed potatoes sloshing around, with those who didn’t wear stretchy waistbands squirming in discomfort.

Experts call this amazing stretch-and-shrink capacity of our stomachs distensibility. And in truth, it’s amazing just how distensible our stomachs are. Experts are also quick to point out, however, that eating large meals regularly doesn’t “stretch” our stomachs, and conversely, we can’t “shrink” our stomachs by eating less. But eating smaller meals more often will change our perceptions of what hungry and full feel like. And therein lies the difference for those of us who would learn to listen to our bodies’ wisdom more attentively: a stomach that’s always stretched to capacity cannot learn what hunger feels like.

This is not an essay about stomachs, though. As a new year rolls around, once again I am engaged in an annual reflection on how our lives are going. What rhythms are healthy, which are less so? As always, my Mom-sized family calendar is my accomplice and accuser: how did I fill this last year?

Just how distensible are our schedules? Depending on what we cram in, our to-do list can both shrink and swell by massive amounts; and it begs the question: how do we consume our time? Or, how does time consume us? Have we so filled our metaphorical plates that we have lost the ability to listen to our bodies? Are we so stretched to capacity that we don’t get a chance to rest and reset? Are we so satiated that we never get the time to develop a true appetite?

Partly because of financial constraints, and partly because I’m just that sort of parent, our kids participate in almost no extra curricular activities. With the exception of one in-home piano lesson a week, our kids come home from school and that is pretty much where they stay. Sometimes they run errands with me, sometimes we work on projects, and sometimes there are play dates. I battle with them to get homework done and somehow, the afternoon fills up and bedtime comes too soon. For all that we don’t do—swimming or soccer or ballet or fencing or drama or girl guides regularly (all wonderful things in themselves)—life still feels really full.

Our year planner stares me down: will this be yet another year where we celebrate with friends as they become brilliant gymnasts and make incredible advances in sports and the arts, while we—by not participating—seem to fall behind? Yes, it will. The Fear of Missing Out is a real thing, and all the more acute when we fear that those we love will be missing out on life opportunities because of our decisions. Perhaps my son could have been a virtuoso violinist… if I’d just taken the opportunity to put violin on that blasted weekly planner.

But instead, we keep the afternoons clear for now, and I face down this new year thinking of the lessons learned from distensible stomachs. Perhaps our capacity is lower than others’… who knows? But this much I do know: we cannot fill our plates much more without getting that we’ve-bitten-off-too-much feeling that feels like we’re navigating life in a pair of pants a size too small.

Perhaps it is true that our schedule—like a stomach—could accommodate and even digest far, far more than it does.

But that doesn’t mean that it should.

And I’m okay with that.

Life offers us a banquet of opportunity, a feast of possibility. But maximum enjoyment doesn’t necessarily come with maximum consumption. Sucking the marrow out of life can sometimes make me gag. Instead, we’re learning about the beauty of coming to the table hungry, and the wisdom of a serving size that suits our stomachs. Therein lies the fullness of wisdom, and indeed, the fullness of life.

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Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born writer-mama, raising little people in California and raising eyebrows at bronlea.com. Fueled by grace, caffeine and laughter, she writes about the holy and hilarious in life, faith and family. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea

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Bronwyn Lea
  • One year my New Year’s resolution was this: Do less and enjoy it more.

    I think I’m there again. Your wisdom (combined with Megan’s exhortation based on her “Short Cup”) is hitting the mark in this January season of the new planner.

    • Do less and enjoy it more: YES! I’m going to write this on a posit and put it in my office right now!

  • I am so this mom, too. My kids are learning how to use their imaginations and enjoy time at home (but still always ask, “are we going to DO something today?”) BUT I, on the other hand, often fill my own plate too full and am having to really work at learning to live in my own capacity!

    • You are so right: I am sometimes more sensitive to my kids’ limits than my own and I need to watch my own plate, too!

  • Helene Burns

    Bronwyn, this is such great advice that I wish every parent would heed. If we would all fill our plates out of a sense of personal conviction rather than comparison to others or FOMO, I think we would all be on the right path. Everyone’s plate will look different but ultimately we are responsible for how we fill ours. Thanks for sharing this wisdom today. xo

    • Thanks for sharing this piece, Helene. Parenthood is one long learning curve, isn’t it? About our kids, ourselves, our stengths, our limits…. and above all, about grace.

  • I’m with you–my kids participate in one extracurricular, plus a youth group for my oldest. And whenever we’ve added just one more, we all complain. Yes, it can feel like very little, but when I get nervous, I look at my husband’s family for inspiration–they had no money for extracurriculars, and he and all of his siblings achieved quite amazing success through interests they developed at home, with very little formal training (and parents who supported them in those efforts, though usually w/o a lot of money). Sometimes, having the free time to obsess over drums or drawing or programming does more than any amount of lessons. And I think seeing -parents- creatively and actively engaged in their own lives does more than any after-school activity.

    • Thanks for this, Heather – great encouragement.

  • Sarah

    I love hearing your perspective. We are the family always on the go, and as much as my kids love what they are learning, I know it’s a trade off. Thank you.

    • Cheering you on from the sides! Thanks for being gracious 🙂

  • “But maximum enjoyment doesn’t necessarily come with maximum consumption.” YES.
    As my husband and I are making a big move and life transition soon, and talking about starting a family, we’ve also been talking a lot about intention and time. And how to live many of our intentions and values–home cooked meals, supporting local infrastructure, working towards justice, reading, learning, relationships–it requires time. And what does it look like to take the time to live out the ethics you want to live, while also keeping it from inhibiting relationships with others too much. Thank you for these thoughts, and the encouragement that while the path we wish to choose is less travelled, it is not uninhabited.

    • Ethics ARE costly: it takes both time and often money to invest intentionally in a certain set of values. Cheering for you!