Take a Hike, To-Do List

About a month ago, I was sitting on the driveway holding my three month old girl while doing sidewalk chalk with my two boys, but…I really wasn’t. I was actually stuck in to-do list land in my head, not even realizing how perfect it felt outside or how happily my kids were playing. I was silently repeatedly going through all the things that needed to be done as though I was accomplishing something by torturing myself or as though forgetting one, single item would put a hole in our ship.

An unexpected brisk breeze interrupted my train of thought.

I suddenly noticed the weight of my baby in my arms, the sun on my skin, and my boys laughing. I then sternly told myself, “Just be here, Katie,” and after a few minutes of “being there,” I came up with one of the simplest, most notable questions of my mothering journey yet: If the never-ending to-do list were complete, what would I want to be doing right now?

This.

This would be my reward for accomplishing the endless jobs I assign myself.

It’s hard to admit and I will often deny it to my husband and myself, but I know the to-do list will never end. I will forever be adding jobs, big and small, to the tail end of it. When everything is checked off, I’ll start looking for things to add, like cleaning out the van, reorganizing the attic, or touching up paint on the very lived-in walls.

There’s nothing wrong with clean laundry, dinner on the table, empty kitchen sinks, or taking baths minus soap scum. I think we all love indulging in a hearty home-beautifying marathon every once in a while, and get a little high from scratching items off the list. Keeping the ship afloat and clutter-free is important for mom-sanity and our to-do list items typically have purpose and value, but sometimes the value of pausing and ignoring those chores to refocus, outweighs accomplishing things. I just think I, and many moms, are too hard on ourselves. I think we expect too much from ourselves. During this uber-busy time in our lives, being productive feels good, because it helps us feel in control of at least something, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we can’t do it all. I need a daily reminder that I cannot conquer the world and that’s okay. I CAN love my family well by being present and not worrying about the things I can’t seem to get done.

Ultimately, I yearn for the freedom that completely completing the list would bring.

It will never happen. I do all that I do to try to attain free time that I never give myself permission to enjoy. If I keep telling myself to do the non-fun work first, because we don’t have time to fully
enjoy life until everything is finished, I will miss out on being present for what’s most important. I don’t want to be looking down at wrinkly, age spot-filled hands, to finally be able to say, “Alright kids, let’s go have some real fun now!”

So, this month, I have put my list on the back burner a bit more. I have really noticed the sweet joy that is my family without allowing myself to drift away while staring at all of the messy, disorganized non-living things around me. I’ve pulled out the paints and canvas for myself, have sat on the floor to play and teach my kids with less mental fretting, and have joined in more cooing fests with my baby girl without letting the needing-to-be-vacuumed floors surrounding us bother me so much. Ignoring the to-do list while I’m focusing on my kids, husband, and our hobbies not only makes them feel more loved, but it also helps me to re-center.

Life is so extremely beautiful right now. I’m hoping that I can always see beyond the self-imposed to-do list shackles to be present, doing NOW what I would do if the list were complete.

What would you do if your to-do list was complete right now?

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