Buzz, buzz, buzz. So many to-dos, demands, ideas, plans, whiny cries and…not…enough…sleep. That’s the usual pattern of my days. I wake up, gratefully acknowledging the new day, the possibilities brimming: I will be patient and loving toward my children and everyone else I encounter; I will knock off my to-do list with efficiency and bliss; I will take time for me and may tackle a few of the long-standing projects always waiting in the wings; I will spend quality time with each of my children, my dogs, and my husband; my house will be neat (not necessarily clean); I will prepare a nutritious, delicious, sit-down family dinner; I will go to bed early after some quiet reading time.
Yep, those are the probabilities I envision just about every night as I plan my tomorrow, and every morning as I picture the day ahead. An hour after the alarm, as I’m yelling to my sons to stop wrestling and start tying their shoes, my dream has already come undone. Most days, not much goes as I expect. I lose my patience with the kids at breakfast and prefer solitude to exuberant friendliness. I don’t check nearly as many boxes as I “should.” Time with my kids feels harried and hurried. My husband and dogs get quick bits of affection thrown their ways after the kids are tucked in, and I stay up too late folding laundry, finishing tasks, and watching the Daily Show and Fallon.
And the cycle repeats.
Except around this time of year there are even more, greater expectations. With the holiday season we heighten the normal chaos with shopping, social events, the pressure to buy the perfect gifts, coordinating schedules, all while maintaining budgets. Beyond that, I want to make this time of the year special for my kids. I want to bake cookies, watch holiday movies, see the lights, make tree decorating a family event. Build traditions and make memories. Inevitably, I struggle to fit it all in and the special moments turn into hassles or battles that no one wants to recall.
I feel like I’m trying to maneuver one of those slide around brain puzzles. You know, the ones that encase all of the pieces incorrectly in the frame and you have to decipher how to move all of those pieces into just the right spot to create the perfect picture. And, I’m doing that puzzle while being pulled in four directions. I’d insert the big eyed emoji here if I could. Gulp.
Even meditation can’t quell the storm of thoughts whirling inside my brain. “Why can’t I get this all pinned down? Where’s the ‘On’ button to this streamlined life I imagined?” I wonder. In my former life in an office, I managed multiple publications, articles, and projects, dealing with vendors, co-workers, artists, and even animals on occasion—all quite efficiently, if I do say so myself. But now, in this business of house, home, and holiday, in my role as wife and mother, I am failing (Gasp!—I do NOT fail!). I can’t get everything done, perfect the behavior of my three children, alter my true personality to fit in, create the storybook holiday, or wittily chat with my husband over cocktails and the latest must-read novel after the kids are asleep (without any bedtime arguments, of course). Nope. Not even close.
What I am getting better at is remembering that it’s all about perspective and recognizing there’s more to life than the to-do list. Believe me, I LOVE my lists. I get a little euphoric every time I cross something off. Sometimes I complete a job not written on the list, and I add it just so I can cross it off. I’m coo-coo for lists, but I’m learning slowly that there’s more to each passing day than knocking off projects and busywork.
Living life is not the same as getting stuff done. So now, instead of beating myself up over the imperfect, incomplete, unproductive failure of a day I’ve had, I need to celebrate that every day, EVERY single day, I accomplish SOMETHING. That something may not even have been on my to-do list. I may meditate, clean out the junk drawer, or appease the kids with one of their many requests. I may go out of my way to help someone or simply, so wonderfully simply, pay an unsuspecting stranger a compliment. I may take 15 extra minutes to cuddle with my son, even though it is past his bedtime; and I have lunches to pack, gifts to wrap, and a kitchen to clean. I may not lose my mind when the kids act like wild beasts instead of human beings. Or, I may let some of it go in favor of the important stuff: No Cheernastics tonight so we can cuddle on the couch and watch the Grinch steal Christmas.
I’m trying to prioritize what absolutely, no-excuses needs to be accomplished (bills, laundry, grocery store, registrations, etc.) and what makes me feel alive (quality kid time, adventure, creating traditions, family and friends, creativity, meditation, and making memories ) above all the nipping, nagging extra things that I’ll get to when I can or will circle back around next week. If I don’t tackle something, back on the list it goes day after day after day until it fits, and then I will gleefully cross it out. Until then, I’m choosing to focus on what I can do and want to do and remember that’s what living is really all about. The extras can wait.
And, if I happen to have one of those days when my reverie is realized and all of my boxes get checked, I’ll be sure to celebrate it too; maybe over that cocktail with my husband in between quips about current world events. Until then, at the end of every day as I review and rewrite my to-do list, hopefully all that I didn’t accomplish will remind me of all the actual living I did that day.