Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Being Accomplished

This post has been sitting unfinished in my drafts for weeks because I wanted it to be perfect. It's kept me from writing other posts, and the sad thing is, stopping this perfectionism is exactly what it's about. So I'm just going to call "pencils down!" and throw it out here as is (well, I finished the last sentence. Oh, and added pictures).

Sunday evening, I was sitting on the back steps with my head in my hands, thinking about how little I managed to cross off my to-do list. All I'd wanted to do was hang the porch curtains and a blackout shade in Mr. T's room, and all I'd done was bring the drill up from the basement and plug in the battery charger. Even that trip to the basement was full of reproach -- the laundry piles snickered and mocked and grew and grew, in cahoots with the laundry baskets full of clean clothes that mocked me from the upstairs landing. I had expectations for when Chris came back, and nothing can be more dangerous, since expectations are rarely grounded in reality. So I sat outside long after I'd taken the laundry off the line, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and wanting nothing more than crawl into my craft room alone and spend a week. But even that was out of the question, since it's such a mess I couldn't begin to work on anything (even the ironing board cover needs ironing).

pressure gauge
Pressure Gauge by SnaPsi Сталкер, on Flickr
How did I get here? First, those expectations. Somehow, my mind tricked me into believing Chris being able to change, play with and bathe Mr. T when he wasn't at work would make each day last 10 hours longer and give me 6 extra hours of sleep. This is the same mind that used to convince me I could read the entire fourth floor of the library over lunch and get that 5,000-word essay finished by my 3 o'clock seminar in college. Of course Chris can't do that. He doesn't have a timeturner, for one, and he doesn't have magic food-giving boobs for another.

Second, I'd also spent the better part of two weeks trying to "train" Mr. T to take naps in his own bed. I was going to get so much done when he napped. Never mind that he wakes up after 45 minutes and has to be soothed back to sleep immediately, or else, which meant I was nursing him for the first 30 minutes and hovering outside his room for the last ten, waiting for that first peep, leaving only five minutes to get so much done. And half the time I wasn't able to get him back to sleep, so the nap was short and I was left totally demoralized.

This all built up to Sunday, when faced with Chris being gone for a week brought me crashing into what I thought was failure. Some tears, an early baby bedtime and some snuggles later, I had several a-ha!s (wow, that's a punctuation nightmare).

  • A to-do list is a great tool but a lousy dictator
  • Do what works best for us, not them
  • Make use of the time you have rather than try to use the time you don't
These are pretty banal, but they took a lot of weight off my shoulders. In conjunction with some fantastic articles I've caught out of the thousands of unread feeds in my RSS reader, these truths will (hopefully) help me change my ways.

Do Work Gocco screenprinted lined notebook from Etsy seller TwoGuitars

A to-do list is a great tool but a lousy dictator
I love to-do lists. I have one on my fridge and two on my phone, one of which links to an account online so I can get to it from my computer, too. I also have several notebooks and loose pieces of paper. This is wonderful, in some ways. I don't forget to pick up bread when I'm at the grocery, and I get the satisfaction of crossing things off when I finish them (I've been known to put "get dressed" on my list just to give myself something to mark off). But when my life is ruled by thousand-mile-long lists of everything I want to accomplish ever, it's overwhelming. So I've scaled back. I have a permanent list of things I need to do every day, a long-term list of projects I want to make and a list of possible blog posts for when I have time to write. The only one I look at every day is my, erm, daily list. The others are so I don't forget the blindingly genius gift idea for great-Aunt Mabel I came up with in line at the supermarket, or whatever. Which reminds me, I've also stopped letting myself be guilted by all those "Handmade Holidays!" cheery blog posts. I'm not Martha; hell, I'm not Not Martha. All those dream gifts are going on my list for next year, and whatever I finish is great. That's why I have a long-term list. Use lists; don't let them use you.

Do what works best for us, not them

Should my sweet baby be on a schedule? Maybe. Guess what? He naps for 1.5-2 hours twice a day, at 11 and at 3. He just happens to nap in my arms, and that's ok with me. When I was stressing over getting him to sleep in his bed like "everyone else's baby does," he was tired and miserable, and so was I. I wasn't getting anything done because I was pacing up and down his room shushing and jiggling and patting trying to get him to sleep. What works best for us is for him to sleep on me. Does eating lunch at your desk work better for you than going out every day with your coworkers? Great. Do it. Would you rather just write a check to the local women's shelter than spend hours crocheting blankets for the needy? Great. Do it. You're the one who has to live with your choices, so make them the best for you.

Seed by Nicole Docimo/Blue Bicicletta

Make use of the time you have, rather than the time you don't

Lucky me, I now have three or four hours every day where I get to sit and read, catch up on email, knit, write letters, watch tv, nap, whatever I need to do! And all the housework I wanted to do while Mr. T slept is easier to do when he's awake than reading or working on the computer, and way more fun for him (except vacuuming. He's terrified of the vacuum, so that has to wait until either I or Chris can take him out of the house so the other can vacuum. In practice, this means I haven't vacuumed the rug in weeks). He loves "helping" fold laundry, but he isn't so helpful when I try to type emails. So take a look at your priorities, figure out what you need to do both to keep your job and to keep your sanity, and find the best time in which to do them. Take advantage of down time wherever you can.

Listen to others

And by "others" I don't mean me. I started reading through my backlog of unread RSS feeds and it seems the universe is trying to tell me something. Tara Gentile of Scoutie Girl always has something thought provoking to say, and this post on distraction, busy-ness and choice got me thinking about how I use my time. My pen pal Nicole of Blue Bicicletta, in addition to being a fantastic artist, has a great little series going on her blog on creative living. I loved her post about working softer, not harder.

It's been several weeks since I started writing this post, and things are much better. There are still projects that mock me -- the curtains on the porch laugh every time I open the back door -- but I'm making peace.

What kinds of things are you doing to stay sane this time of year? Are you cutting back on gifts altogether, or buying handmade rather than making your own (or buying commercial)? Serving leftovers a couple of nights a week so you're spending less time in the kitchen? What helps you?


  1. I LOVE this post. And it inevitably makes me miss you a lot.

    As to your question at the end (I hate when no one answers questions on my blog, and they never do!):

    There are some things I've done that have helped a lot. Like, I stopped working at my job (technically I still come in but morale is low, as I am changing jobs soon). So that helps the ability to email all the time. I realise this is not that relevant to you.

    I also just decide I am not going to be stressed about stuff. I can't really do this except when I am stressed about things I've already done. Like, Thanksgiving this year for a few dozen people: last year I was really stressed about the same thing. This year, I now there will be problems (where do you buy a turkey?!), and I refuse to be stressed about them. But since this is your first kid and first year, that probably makes it harder.

    But really I always fluctuate between coming up with to-do and "how to be better" lists all the time, which range from "lose 10 pounds" to "learn Arabic" to "get a haircut (haven't since June!)" etc, and then just saying "screw it" and letting my life have a bit of a break (er that's why I haven't had a haircut since June). The return to the list-driven life means I feel guiltier, but I enjoyed the holiday in between. It's confusing - like whether to check emails when on holiday. I wish I didn't fluctuate so much, but maybe that's just who I am.

    I also consistently overestimate how much time I will have in the "next" phase of my life - i.e., "when I move to London/new job/new flat/whatever I will have so much more time". This is always false, and that is hard. So I understand what happened re your expectations.

    Sorry. This is a long comment. Probably I should have emailed.

  2. It's okay, Tootie, you're getting there, and you're taking care of the most important job - rearing an adorable son.

  3. I would not worry one bit about Mr T sleeping on you. Izzie did that for the first 6 months. She would occasionally sleep in her bouncer or pack-n-play. I just realized that if she was well rested then I could get more done when she was awake, much more than I could get done in the 20-30 short nap she would take not on me. so you are right with the what works for you mindset!!

    I also agree 1000% percent about to-do list. they are handy to have but what i don't get done I just push to later. I usually just try to make one for the week so I don't have to feel bad about not getting things done in one day.

    I'm glad to hear you are doing good and have some healthy thoughts happening! I think every new mom goes through these thoughts. Especially stay at home moms!! I know I did!

  4. thanks, y'all. olivia, like you, this is not a new place for me to be. i go through a period of doubt about my accomplishments frequently -- my career's not exciting enough, i'm not doing enough whatever. and just deciding not to worry helps for a while, for sure. i hope you found a turkey! you can always use pheasant or something like that, i guess.

    shannon! so good to hear from you! i think one of the things that makes balancing life with parenthood is all the opinions everyone has about the ONLY RIGHT WAY to do things -- including your pre-parent self. but babies have a bad habit of also having these opinions, and they're the ones we end up having to listen to, even when they don't agree with us! a weekly to-do list is a good idea.

    and of course, thankth, mom :) see you soon!


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