I am really behind, people. Like, so far behind I think I could stop running a minute and just let life lap me so I’d look caught up. Except, of course, it doesn’t work like that. I can wait until March to change out the kids clothes (since I didn’t do it in November) and feel like I’m ahead of the game, but in the meantime they are wearing tank tops in January.
I’m not sure when this happened. For a while after my twins were born I was hanging in pretty well. But if you want to stay on top of this game you CANNOT.SIT.DOWN. And when my mother died I sat down for quite a while. Then, a year or so later, we went through the house-buying-scene-from-hell and I sat down again. I sat down by the tracks for so long that that the train came full circle, and it’s now more accurate to say the train is chasing me, than the other way around.
This poses a bit of a dilemma. All the experts in Bloggyland will tell you that if you’re gonna write one of these things you have a responsibility to help people solve problems. You gotta provide them with something they need. Something useful that makes their lives better.
Well, Bad News: If you’re looking for a way to fit it all in, I got nothing for you. I’m looking for that too. If you stick around, we can look together. In the meantime, I can share what I’ve discovered while sitting here by the tracks.
Life is a buffet, baby. And YOU get to pick what you put on your plate.
This is not a kindergarten cafeteria. Just because your teacher, or your mother, or your pastor told you you should choose the mushy fruit cup: the clean house, the well-dressed children, the high credit score, the punctual thank-you notes, doesn’t mean you have to obediently pick it up. I think we often get frustrated trying to fit in the things we want to do (I’m talking about the good things here, not the wine-box-Netflix-binge) around all the things we HAVE to do. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider what we HAVE to do.
“Priorities” is one of the most overused and least understood words in the English language.
When people talk about priorities we all begin rattling off the same list, like we are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. “Oh,” we say wide-eyed, thinking I know this one! I know this one! “Well, my kids, and my spouse, my job, my family, my home, my friends, my community.” A lot of people put God on the list too, and if they do, it’s usually close to the top.
But here’s the thing: there are millions of people answering this question. Millions of people who are all completely distinct from one another. So why does everyone have the same list? Because the list is MEANINGLESS. Most of us haven’t taken the time to think about what it means to put our children, or God, or anything else on our list of most important things. We just know we care about those things deeply, so we stick them on the list of “priorities” and scurry around trying to check off all the boxes that come preloaded under those categories.
But priorities aren’t the categories. They are the boxes.
Here’s an example: Tiffany Tiger Mom says her children are her number one priority. But what she means is making sure her children have an excellent work ethic, academic education, and handle on the Masterpieces of Classical Composers is her priority.
Now Angela Attachment Mom also says her children are her number one priority. But what she means is making sure her children feel validated, respected, self-actualized, all without the undue influence of vaccinations is her priority.
I’m being stereotypical for the sake of humor. Please don’t climb up my butt. Dealing with butt climbers is NOT on my list of priorities.
The point is, we need to get REALLY specific about what our priorities are. If you feel like you’re being chased by the train, perhaps it’s time to sit by the tracks and start eliminating boxes. Start dumping the creamed spinach off the plate to make room for the things you actually want. Cuz we’re grown-ups and we get to do that.
Here’s my list of priorities:
Helping my children discover who they are, training them to work hard to be the best version of that they can be, and teaching them that they and everyone else, is worthy of love and respect regardless of whether or not they succeed.
Spending time actually seeing and appreciating the man I was crazy enough to marry a million years ago, devoting the energy required to learn how we and our relationship has and will continue to evolve, and building a legacy of joy and respect that will not only carry us, together, into whatever the future holds, but will also give my children a vision of partnership and romance that they can use to make healthy relationship choices in their own lives.
Relishing, devouring, rolling around in the art that centuries of writers, painters, dancers, actors, musicians, and others have provided as a finger pointing toward the divine creativity that lives in all of us as a spark of the Divine Creator. Teaching my own children, as well as my students that this spark is their most precious birthright, that it can build community even in desperate circumstances, and that it is this community building that we are here to do.
It’s a short list. You’ll notice there is nothing on there about keeping my floors clean, only keeping my house stocked with books, music, and art. That’s because a clean floor, though part of a general category of “Home” is not one of my priorities. There’s nothing on there about keeping my children well groomed (which is good – see here) or highly educated. Those would both fall under the category of “Children” but they don’t make the cut. So while you and I might both say “Children” and “Home” are on our lists, our lists probably look much different.
Of course there’s a bunch of stuff that just has to get done as a matter of course. You gotta feed the children in order to accomplish any of your other goals with them. You gotta scrub potties every once in a while because layers of black mold cause disease and you can’t read every good book in the world if you’re dead. But, unless gourmet meals and sparkling toilets are on your list of priorities (and thank God they are on someone’s!) you don’t need to beat yourself up about doing a half-assed job.
Maybe we’re not really as far behind as we think we are. If we’ve been waiting this long for the train, it’s probably loaded with crap we don’t need anyway.