Slow and steady wins more than just races.
It was the final leg of our cross country trip to our home in Burlington Vermont from Austin, Texas. My wife, two boys and me were spent, of course. Tired of the road, tired of the car, tired of the cheap food and tired of each other. Plus we were tired, because there had been precious little sleep – what with the stiff pillows, stinky hotel carpet and of course, the dogs. Did I mention we brought our dogs?
So the day was already set up for an challenge: a tight, angry, messy challenge where children whine and weep and adults grumble and yell. Everyone wanted to just get home as quickly as possible but we still had hours to go. Yay, traveling!
But then something happened — perhaps a fairy whispered in my ear, or my lizard brain freed up, or grace interceded. Suddenly the image of a tortoise came to mind: slow and steady, with the most serene look on her lovely tortoise face. She was the image of peace. And peace, I realized, was exactly what I wanted.
Before I say what I did next, you should know that I am a professional writer and storyteller for children. My wife and I own a small media company, where we produce audio stories each week for families around the world. It’s my job to create fresh stories at a rapid pace. So when faced with this traveling challenge, I did what comes naturally: I became a tortoise.
And everything slowed down. I started moving slowly, speaking slowly – even thinking slowly . In that moment, I came up with a whole new ‘traveling with children protocol’: slow and steady wins the day.
When we recall the fable of the tortoise and the hare, we often focus on the hare’s attitude and arrogance. We warn against being overconfident and resting-on-laurels, because the slow and steady one will overtake you through sheer perseverance.
But there is another interpretation of this fable – a very basic interpretation – that going slowly is the better way to go. And it might even be more fun.
This will take some unpacking, because in most of society, fun is analogous to exciting, stimulating and fast. Think about our media: movies, music, flashing lights, fast jokes, fast dancing, fast fast fast. But what often comes with fast is stress. Fast may hold young attention effectively, but it does so through rapid stimulation – boom boom, flash flash, hoot hoot!
And with young children (and to a certain degree, everyone) there is fall-out when the stimulation stops. When the game is over, the TV show is off and the music quiets, my kids tend to freak out. They need time to unwind and get all of that “action” out of their bodies. My wife and I often come out of a movie-watching-in-the-car experience wondering if it was worth it.
So, with spring break season upon us, many of you may be looking for an alternative to the distract/freak out dynamic that we’ve all fallen into.
Try on slow and steady. What happens when we slow the car down, just a little bit – let a few other cars pass. What happens when we stop watching the clock to see if we’re “making time”? What happens when we speak more slowly? Try it for a while. Speak as slowly as you can to your children and note how you feel. Note how they respond. And then – make room – for surprises.
Once we brought slow and quiet to our road trip home, a space opened up. Everyone suddenly had new ideas. “Want to play a game?” I asked. “Sure,” they responded. And the weirdest travel game was born. It involved fruit, and family trivia. We made up the rules as we went.
“What was my nickname when I was little!”
“Ding ding ding, you won a papaya!”
The point was not to make a cohesive game with perfect rules; the point was to enjoy each other’s company, and to make the trip as much of an adventure as the destination.
From that moment on, every part of the trip was open to wonder and surprise. The restroom breaks became explorations. The other cars on the road became characters in a story. The sudden appearance of a hawk or helicopter or biplane overhead brought pure delight. My wife and I told stories about our childhood, and theirs, and we laughed and hooted.
And ironically – slowing down our trip – made the time go by much faster. By enjoying the moment, we accidentally enjoyed 3 hours of being ‘stuck’ together in a car. Magic.
So maybe the Tortoise won – not only because the Hare got over-stimulated and needed a nap – but because he went slowly enough to enjoy the ride.
Photo: William Warby/Flickr