This is the world's most pitiful and most perfect to do list.
One time I had a to-do list that consisted of 2 things. It looked a little like this:
That was it. Two pitiful items. At the time I recall thinking this list was a symptom of my defective home tending. The list felt like I was either sending up a flare or a white flag. Whatever I was doing I clearly had decided to throw in the towel with this whole taking care of home and family thing. At one time in my life I used to accomplish various complex tasks in one day. Now that I have a small child I have to make a list to remember to trim my killer toe talons AND dinner has been relegated to a maybe yes/maybe no category. I was feeling a tad shoddy at best.
Our culture is really into doing stuff. I suspect we do inordinate amounts of things in a day for what our brains and bodies were intended to handle. We’re scheduled to the gills, full of lifehacks for being more productive, and consult with experts on efficiency. It’s an intense whirlwind of a world and it’s easy to get carried away with it all. It can be easy to forget that this level of productivity is a brand new normal.
This lifestyle of endless productivity leads to a constant rushing. When you get one thing done, it’s onto the next, and the next, and on and on. It’s relentless. All the doing and rushing means you miss those metaphorical roses it’s nice to stop and smell. When I am rushing about getting things done I notice my senses seem to dull. I become focused, much like a horse with blinders on. Everything else becomes muted and blurry. I tend to get “in the zone” when I write or when I work in the garden. It’s good to be in the zone from time to time. And it’s good for my kid to see me in the zone and witness what it looks like to work hard and be focused. And yet other times I want to shift into a different way of being that includes less doing.
I want moments with my family that are more organic, open, and present. I want to be interruptible so that I can be available for the unplanned things that come up. The silly, delightful things as well as the tumbles and hard times. This doesn’t mean not doing things. But, it does mean doing the dishes or sweeping the floor with the understanding that I might need to stop and put everything down. My work as a parent isn’t just to get things done. It’s to be available. Availability means whatever it is I am doing can’t be the most precious thing. It means I have to take my blinders off and take it all in.
I’m not good at doing this. In fact, I just barely grasp the concept. That’s part of why I’m writing about this; to investigate it, mull it over, and start to drive it home. It sounds so zen and pleasant: do less, strive to be a human being not a human doing. But the reality is that I find it really fucking hard. Since starting this very post I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told my daughter, “hold on a moment sweetie, let me just finish doing this thing.” It makes me realize how frequently I am absorbed by silly things and allow those things to make me unavailable to my family.
This morning I took to saying to myself I am not what I do. I should probably get this tattooed on my ass cheek so I think of it every time I sit down. I am not my list of accomplishments and my accomplishments don’t equate my worth. I used to think of accomplishments as something like getting a PhD, but now I think of an accomplishment as getting to pee with the door closed or unloading AND loading the dishwasher in one go. Repeating that phrase to myself helped me break out of whatever nonessential thing held my sole concentration. I could stop attending to things and start attending to the people I love. I was interruptible.
So, with all this in mind when I look back at that silly to-do list that included trimming my toenails and maybe/maybe not dinner I think, yeah, right on. That is a totally great to-do list. It was a list for a day at home with my daughter. A day I planned on getting little done. A day I planned on being interrupted in whatever tasks I attempted. A day I planned on being more available than not. A perfect day to be with my daughter.