I have a tendency to spend my days focusing on what I should or want to ACCOMPLISH. Every day feels like a race against the clock to get things done; laundry, a workout, yard work, house work, hobbies. As a result, I subconsciously measure the success of my days by what I HAVE ACCOMPLISHED or by how many things I checked off my to-do list, which is
usually not NEVER as much as I set out to. It is easy to see, therefore, why I often feel frustrated, agitated and discouraged by the end of most days. One day this week, I realized that very seldom do I focus on how I can ENJOY today, what I can LEARN or TEACH today or how I can SERVE God today. Turns out, when you build your day around these things instead of what you want to get done, a sort of transformation occurs in the way you approach life. Here is the story of how I made this discovery.
I began this past Monday in typical school day fashion getting up early enough to pack lunches, cook breakfast, and coerce my kids away from the TV and into their clothes. I threw on some “workout clothes” because they are the easiest thing I can come up with in the five minutes I leave for myself. Out the door we rushed at 8:20 to drive my girls the five miles through town to school. After returning home to see the morning’s aftermath, I cleaned up breakfast, fed John another breakfast since he refused to eat his first, picked up the dirty diaper and PJs strewn about, made beds and walked past the toys and clutter. John watched cartoons while I did sit-ups on the floor, still sore from my race on Sunday. I began to map out in my head what else I needed to check off my to-do list. “Order birthday invitations, a few important phone calls, sign up for summer camps, laundry, errands, etc.” With temperatures expected in the 70s I hoped to spend most of the day outside. Working in the yard while watching John ride in his Cozy Coupe seemed like a perfect plan.
Then as my two-year-old wandered around the house asking for gum, marshmallows and other “snacks” (not that the aforementioned count as snacks) every ten minutes or so, I began to realize that I was ignoring him. Sometimes he’s pretty good at entertaining himself if he needs to. Other times he gets into mischief rather quickly; climbing onto counters to find aforementioned marshmallows, coloring on couches, and putting on my make-up. I discovered that the times he gets into trouble are almost always when I am distracted and trying to get things done. I could see today was going to be one of those days and I felt guilty for all the times I made him keep himself busy. Sure it’s good for building his independence and flexibility, but he is only two.
Without really thinking about what I was saying, “Put on your shoes,” were the next words to come out of my mouth. “Let’s go to the flower store and you can help me pick out some flowers to plant.” A little while later, we returned with our purple pansies and some other goodies from the garden center down the street. He helped me shovel the potting soil into the urns, taking a break to play with the new tractor he conned me into getting there. We transplanted the flowers into the pots and gave them a good drink of water before heading in to make a picnic lunch. I was pleased that I had accomplished something I wanted to do, while also including John.
As I made him a plate of food, I thought about how much I enjoyed digging in the dirt with my little helper, even though I did most of the work plus a little extra to clean up the mess that he made. I reflected on how much more meaningful my yard projects are when the kids are helping me. Every time I walk by that pot of pansies, I will think of the day John and I planted them together. Just like every time I go by the plants we picked out together at our Amish friend Clara’s farm, I think about the adventure we took there and the day we planted our new treasures. I thought about how in just a couple of very short years John will be in Kindergarten all day and I will be here doing all these jobs on my own, with all the time, quiet and perfection I desire.
That’s when I decided today wouldn’t be about my to-do list. It would be about me and John.
So we laced up our old shoes and we headed across the street to one of our favorite escapes, the river! Down the trail we went. I carried him down a steep hill. We threw rocks, studied bugs, touched moss, and listened to the flow of the water and the wind. After awhile we hiked the trail even further where we followed horseshoe prints, stood on stumps and rocks and balanced on tree trunks.
When his little legs grew tired we made the short walk home. We were hot and tired and we needed a cool treat. Popsicles fit the bill.
As we waited for the girls to get home from school and I spent the next hour following John around the yard as he made new discoveries, I felt that familiar itch to start working on one of the many outdoor projects that were calling to me. Should I rake the leaves out of some beds? Dig up some bushes that didn’t do well over the winter? “No, Ashley. Play with your son.” I told myself. “The other stuff can wait. Never again will you have THIS perfect moment with him.” I thought about the sad story of a local family with three young children in which the father lost his life very unexpectedly this past weekend. That’s when it all came into focus for me.
Life does not begin or become happier when everything is done and checked off your list. Your life is NOW. Right now. Stop putting so much emphasis on what you need TO GET DONE today or on what you want to ACCOMPLISH today. Take some time to focus on what you can ENJOY about today. Design part of your to-do list around what you can TEACH your children, yourself or others today. Try something new and challenge yourself to LEARN today. Stop telling yourself you’ll go play with your kids when the yard looks the way you imagine it. Quit saying that you’ll be happier after you get as fit as you’d like to be. Don’t miss out on adventure, memories and happiness that is right at your doorstep waiting for you to experience it because you are too busy trying to make things perfect. Because tomorrow there will be another to-do list nagging at you.
Go to the river to throw rocks and ENJOY your little ones while they are little. TEACH yourself to sew or paint or fulfill a lifelong dream. Take a photo of something beautiful, reach out to an old friend, or do something that allows you to serve God today. Sure, we all have responsibilities and chores. But every so often, when you get the chance, choose your TO-ENJOY LIST over your TO-DO LIST.
And remember, sometimes the days we feel like we have ACCOMPLISHED the LEAST are actually the days we’ve done the MOST. We’ve sung our babies to sleep, we’ve fed our families, or we’ve nurtured a sick child. We’ve loved and we’ve taught our children to do the same.
Enjoy, teach, learn, love, TODAY.