My friend Colin once accused me of being a completer-finisher. Apparently that’s a personality type that likes to complete and finish a job. Yup, that’s me. I love the scratch of my pen across the last chore on my to-do list. I love ticking that empty box with a flourish. Making lists helps me to manage the home, my volunteer and paid work and my own interests and hobbies. Crossing off the items on those lists leaves me feeling accomplished, and able to sit down and relax at the end of the day.

Having three home educated children means that I don’t often get through my to-do list. There are days when I don’t even get one task completed. It’s all I can do to get up, dress myself and feed the family. Standards have dropped to the point where my four year old chooses to cut holes in a pillowcase and wear it as clothes all day, and I just shrug my shoulders and write an amusing Tweet about it.

But my true nature is to be organised. I complete. I finish. Colin’s right.

Summer Holiday 2013 379

Spinning wheels is frustrating. I sit down to make a shopping list and put together a meal plan for next week, and the 4 year old crawls into my lap with a story book. A moment later, the 11 year old walks in and picks up the pen I’d been using and walks away with it in hand, into the other room. “Hey, come listen to me play the violin!” shouts the 8 year old, so I get up, depositing the 4 year old on the adjacent chair, and take my seat for the impromptu concert.

Twenty minutes later, I’m back in the kitchen staring at that blank shopping list. The meal plan glares up at me with accusatory emptiness (“you don’t even care if we starve!”); I stare back, trying to marshal my thoughts and come up with some ideas. But of course I no longer have a pen.

Several more interruptions later and I’m left feeling like I can’t get anything done today. It’s one of those days!

When that to-do list goes untouched, I can feel the frustration and resentment building. I find myself saying things like,

“Why don’t you guys ever let me get stuff done?

“These things I’m trying to do are for you anyway; just let me finish!”

“Leave me alone, I’m busy!” (I only became aware of that last one when several years ago I heard those words spill from my toddler’s mouth. Uh oh.)

The mind attaches itself to results. Even when Yoga texts were written thousands of years ago, we knew this. In Yoga, we are taught to practice, practice, practice, heedless of results. We dwell in the moment, in this practice, in this breath, right now.

When we aren’t ticking off a box on a list, what are we doing instead? When we are missing out on finishing a job, what are we not-missing? For me, finding my volition in these moments can reshape them and turn them around. Instead of being a victim of the tumultuous and busy nature of our household, I own my choices.  I’m back to living in the moment, instead of in the not-done past.

So I didn’t write the shopping list. I not-missed a warm lap-snuggle with my son. I not-missed a brief encounter with my pre-teen. I not-missed several violin masterpieces played with vigour and commitment, if not precision.  Those moments weren’t wasted. And in the end, I admit to myself that I chose to let him climb into my lap; I chose to ignore her disappearing with my pen because I knew she’d do something lovely with it; I chose to go listen to the living room violin recital. I chose to put the meal plan aside (Maybe that’s why it was glaring at me. Playing second fiddle, as it were.)

The meal plan still lies empty and dangerous on the table before me. And yes, I still want to be able to do the things I want to do. I’m not suggesting we become slaves to our children and put all of our own needs and interests aside. Hardly. What I am suggesting is that in each situation in each day, find your choice. Find your agency. Consider what you are not-missing. Is it their fault I’m not getting anything done? Or am I choosing to follow my heart and put them first? Am I acknowledging to myself that the lists can come later, but the children need me now?

And when the day is done and I sit down to do that list, I look at it askance, trying not to make eye contact. It’s still blank. I think of Colin, and wonder whether I am still a completer-finisher.  Stubbornness boils up from within me, viscous and thick. I pick up my knitting instead.

Take that, Colin!

© Lisa Hassan Scott, 2014.

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Spinning wheels & not-missing
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14 thoughts on “Spinning wheels & not-missing

  • 07/02/2014 at 2:50 pm

    Thank you, Lisa. I love the idea of looking at what we are “not-missing” – in fact might borrow it for our “what about me?” series meeting next week…

    • 07/02/2014 at 7:59 pm

      Good, Helen. You can find my address for the royalties cheque in the directory.


  • 07/02/2014 at 2:51 pm

    I’m also a completer-finisher! It just takes much, much longer these days. 🙂 I’ve found it helps to look at my own personal to-do with a long view, much like I used to regard my toddlers’ eating habits. Remember the advice to pay attention to what they’re eating over the course of a week rather than just in one day? And how invariably, they were getting enough nutrition for the week, it just might all be in 2 1/2 days? Some days the to-do list looks like it’s starving, and then three days later it all balances out.

    I also like the concept of a “done” list. On days I’m feeling particularly unproductive, if I write down all I actually did, it’s visible proof that I actually accomplished quite a bit.

    • 07/02/2014 at 8:01 pm

      Wow, these are great suggestions Amy. I love the analogy to a toddler’s eating habits! Yes! take the long view, look at the big picture. There is a forward trajectory!

      Does writing down what I just did (simply for the sake of crossing it off) count as a done list? If so, I’m an expert at that too.


  • 07/02/2014 at 4:52 pm

    Thank you : )
    Beautiful & spot on —
    right down to the disappearing pen.
    I haven’t been a completer-finisher for ten years now & I am the last one to notice ; ) Since the last crib sheet was handsewn & lovingly tucked.
    Yes, I have been aware of & stood by my choices all of these years. And now I will officially let go of that outdated agenda!

    • 07/02/2014 at 8:04 pm

      I hope you plan to hoard, I mean save, that crib sheet, Jen. Hand sewn and tucked! Remember when we had time for that?!

      By the way, have you seen my pen?

  • 08/02/2014 at 4:55 am

    Oy! I have been feeling this more than ever right now. Soooo many lists that can’t wait with three weeks counting down fast to the move. Thanks for the reminder to stop. Lots of choices to be made right now and keeping these little ones in the forefront with uncertainty swirling around them is extra important at this time.

    • 08/02/2014 at 5:07 pm

      Hi Dawn,
      With everything going on, they need you more than ever, don’t they? I can remember being so taken up with everything when we moved house several years ago. I wanted the children to just be ‘normal’ because I was so stressed with the legal stuff, etc., but of course they saw I was stressed and that affected them.

      I am sure you’re managing the change beautifully. I hope your lists are helping you to do that, and that your transition to your new home is smooth.


  • 08/02/2014 at 12:02 pm

    thank you i needed that this week…after a week of getting ‘nothing’ done this week and saying why can’t you let me just…although I have been telling my DD she has chosen that path, she isn’t being made to do something…lol

    • 08/02/2014 at 5:05 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Vicky. Yes, I guess it counts for the children too. Maybe seeing where we have choice is a good lesson to learn in childhood. That’s set the wheels of my brain in motion… thank you!

  • 08/02/2014 at 9:34 pm

    I’ve been going to a weekly yoga class now for 4 weeks. I understand now why your words always resonate with me so much. Like my yoga teacher you teach without teaching. You show without holding it in front of our faces. 🙂 If only we lived next door to each other.

    • 13/02/2014 at 5:48 pm

      That would be so wonderful, KC. I’m so delighted to hear that the Yoga class is benefiting you. Yoga is such a gift to my life; I hope it is to yours too.

  • 09/02/2014 at 4:55 pm

    Lovely Lisa. As you say, so much of this is about owning our own choices.

    Thank you! (And btw did you mean spinning wheels or spinning plates? Because when I thought about it I thought it could mean both things. Interested to hear your take on it.)

    • 13/02/2014 at 5:49 pm

      It was more about spinning wheels– putting in a lot of effort and going nowhere, like a car up on breeze blocks. It might be a phrase used more in the US than here in the UK. Sometimes things get lost in translation for me!

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