On not doing everything better

I love the illusion of being able to do it all, and I’m fascinated with people who seem to do that, who have challenging careers and beautiful homes and vibrant minds and well-tended abs…

Out to lunch one day with my friend Denise, I asked her about it… And this is what Denise told me: she said it’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about…

I’m a list keeper. I always, always have a to-do list, and it ranges from the mundane: go to the dry cleaner, go to the post office, buy batteries; to the far reaching: stop eating Henry’s leftover Dino Bites, get over yourself, forgive nasty reviewer, wear more jewelry.

At one point, I kept adding to the list, more and more items, more and more sweeping in their scope, until I added this line: DO EVERYTHING BETTER. It was, at the time, a pretty appropriate way to capture how I felt about my life and myself fairly often. It also explains why I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like it was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they all knew that I didn’t. This is how I got to that fragmented, brittle, lonely place: DO EVERYTHING BETTER.

Each of the three words has a particular flavor of poison all its own. Do: We know better than do, of course. We know that words like “be,” and “become,” and “try,” are a little less crushing and cruel, spiritually and psychologically, a little friendlier to the soul. But when we’re alone sometimes and the list is getting the best of us, we abandon all those sweet ideas, and we go straight to do, because do is power, push, aggression, plain old sweat equity. It’s not pretty, but we know that do gets the job done.

Everything is just a killer. Everything is the heart of the conversation for me, my drug of choice. Sure, I can host that party. Of course, I can bring that meal. Yes, I’d love to write that article. Yes, to everything… One of my core fears is that someone would think I can’t handle as much as the next person. It’s fundamental to my understanding of myself for me to be the strong one, the capable one, the busy one, the one who can bail you out, not make a fuss, bring a meal, add a few more things to the list. For me everything becomes a lifestyle. Everything is an addiction.

And then better. Better is a seductress. It’s so delicious to run after better, better, better. Better is what keeps some women decorating and redecorating the same house for years on end, because by the time you get the last detail of the finished basement home theater just right, your countertops are just ever so slightly outdated, and so you start again. Better is what makes us go to a spinning class–or maybe two, or maybe three today, just for good measure. Better is what makes us get “just a little work done,” after the last baby, you know, or just to look a little bit fresher and more well-rested. Better is a force.

The three together, DO EVERYTHING BETTER, are a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul-shriveling garbage that infects and compromises our lives… the “do everything better” way of living brought me to a terrible place: tired, angry, brittle, afraid, hollow.
–Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

This is very much the place I was right after Sprout was born. When I couldn’t keep up, I felt like a tremendous failure.

And then I gave myself permission not to do everything and not to do everything better. To focus on the things that really mattered to me.

It’s brutal, making the list of Things I Don’t Do, especially for someone like me, who refuses most of the time to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a limit to her personal ability to get things done. But I’ve discovered that the list sets me free. I have it written in black and white, sitting on my desk, and when I’m tempted to go rogue and bake muffins because all the other moms do, I come back to both lists, and I remind myself about the important things: that time is finite, as is energy. And that one day I’ll stand before God and account for what I did with my life. There is work that is only mine to do: a child that is ours to raise, stories that are mine to tell, friends that are mine to walk with. The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being.

This year, one of the things I decided to give myself permission not to do is homeschool. I could give a variety of reasons why. You could give a variety of reasons why I should or should not. They don’t need to be listed here. Mostly because then it just becomes another comparison, another debate, etc. This is just the decision that was right and best for our family and our circumstances and that is really all that matters.

One problem we encountered in this was the cost of preschool and that Bean’s birthday misses the cut-off date for some programs just barely (we’re talking a couple weeks to a few days). We finally found a “Just Teacher and Me” class at one of the community centers for 2.5-3.5 year olds that was reasonably priced and that she met the requirements for.

So for an hour and a half, twice a week, Bean gets to interact with other kids, not be the “big fish” at home, do an art project, read books, sing songs and play.

Her teacher has been so sweet and Bean has really become quite the character since joining the class this past spring.

One day she wore her sunglasses to and all throughout class, prompting her teacher to dub her “my movie star.”

Bean has gone from shy and sitting by the door by herself waiting and watching for my return and asking a million times if I will come back for her when we’re on our way to school, to being super excited about class, running right in and sometimes not even saying goodbye to us. Sidenote: Sprout always says bye to her and it’s so cute watching him wave and say, “buh-bye seestor!”

Today was the last day of the summer session. We are so looking forward to the fall session that starts in three weeks. Here are some pictures from when I picked her up today:

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Bean giving her teacher a big hug.

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Bean and her teacher.

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We brought her teacher a little thank you gift today, inspired by these ones that Jimaie made.

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Cupcakes on the last day of class.

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Sprout riding bikes with the big kids.

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Getting her backpack ready to go all by herself.

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Last day of class!

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3 Comments

Filed under Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

3 responses to “On not doing everything better

  1. Barbie

    Loved this! I’ve really been loving your blogs lately. Makes me miss really blogging. I’ll add it to my list 😉 Bean is getting so big! I saw so much growth with Aubrey in preschool too.

  2. Sunny

    Bean’s preschool program sounds so fun! I’m glad she enjoys it. 🙂

    I just read a blog post on there being only one RIGHT way to educate your child: whatever works best for your family. And that is absolutely true. We homeschool, for now, but I could never say with certainty how long we will. I don’t think everyone should homeschool. Keep doing what’s best for you and your family and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

    It is so hard not to compare myself to other people. Love this post!

  3. Sunny

    I just read this http://thehappiestmom.com/?p=4157 and it made me think of your post. OK, I need to shut up now. Ha ha!

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