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.
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.