By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Last week the mess on my desk reached the tipping point. I couldn’t take it another minute. So I dove into the stacks of papers, determined to get better organized. During the whirlwind cleaning, I flipped through a spiral notebook I’ve been using to write my weekly to-do list. Leafing back through those pages of old to-do lists made me realize how fast time had gone by and how eerily similar the busy weeks look in retrospect.
Each page was filled with items I’d scratched out once they were done. (I admit I get a little jolt of satisfaction when I scratch out another line.) The tasks that weren’t scratched out were carried over to the next page for the updated to-do list, and one list bled into the next and the next in an endless string of projects. There were at least 25 pages that all looked the same. I could tell by some of the tasks that the pages stretched back to the beginning of the year.
Looking at all those scratched out, completed tasks should have made me feel productive and efficient. But it didn’t. Instead, it felt a tad depressing. Because despite all those times I gleefully scratched another task off the list, my current to-do list is just as full as ever. I still feel like I’m behind on work, laundry, phone calls, and errands. And I still feel like my daily mission is to rush, rush, rush and do more, more, more. Those to-do lists are supposed to help me run my life, and instead it feels like they’re running me.
I’m beginning to think I could take a few lessons from our 4-year-old. Around here, Kate is famous for her ability to move at a snail’s pace. I’ve seen her take more than an hour to eat one bowl of Cheerios. Putting on her shoes has been known to take more than 20 minutes. I’m constantly trying to find new ways to speed her up.
Last night, I issued a challenge: “I’m going to set the kitchen timer for 10 minutes. Let’s see if you can go upstairs, put on your jammies and brush your teeth before the timer goes off.” She excitedly accepted the challenge and raced out of the room. When the timer beeped 10 minutes later, I went to check on her progress and found her at the top of the stairs – still dressed in school clothes and nowhere near a toothbrush.
“Kate, why aren’t you in your pajamas? Did you brush your teeth yet?”
“No,” she said. “I was going up the stairs.”
“You mean it took you 10 minutes just to go up the stairs?” I asked, exasperated at yet another failed attempt to hurry her up.
She just shrugged her shoulders and looked mystified at why a 10-minute trip up the stairs was even an issue. During that 10-minute stroll, she sang songs to herself, played with the cat and found a toy on the floor along the way. Meanwhile, I was about to come unglued because her “stop and smell the roses” approach to life was slowing down my mad dash toward the end of yet another to-do list.
They say parents are kids’ first teachers, but maybe this time I’m the student and my preschooler is the wise one. Kate’s insistence on taking things slow and enjoying the ride is just the medicine a to-do list junkie needs. If I don’t slow down now and then, I might fill up years’ worth of spiral notebooks but miss out on enjoying life “between the lines”.