My job description could read: Spend all day putting things back where they started. Matchbox cars, pretend food, books. Wash, dry, fold, put back. Repeat. Maintain. Keep needs met, keep everybody alive.
Most of the things I do get undone again before the day is through and I rarely feel like I’m making progress. I am not even the type that thrives on checking things off a list, I make lists and then lose them. Still, I have a deep need to accomplish something each day, to progress toward a goal, to feel like I’m getting somewhere. I want to follow through on my great ideas. I want something to show for all my effort, like a finished project and a clean bathroom. I know that this season of having tiny kids is largely about survival, but that knowledge doesn’t keep me from wanting the best out of it.
While I was in college I had a gazillion jobs. One of them was in a big pink Queen Anne style house helping a family manage their life. When I say help, I mean childcare, housecleaning, carpool, tutoring, overnights, errands- you name it. The wife was a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom who left her career to focus on her two little girls, her home and her incredible garden. What I wouldn’t give to have my college self to help me run my life right now. I spent every morning from 8-10am (before my design studio class at 11am) putting their house back together. I made beds, did breakfast dishes (and last night’s dinner dishes), took out trash, walked dogs, polished brass bathroom fixtures (seriously) and any other chore that needed to be done. I would occasionally ponder (in my naive 20 year old mind) how on earth this brilliant and hard working woman who had been a successful lawyer, could have such a difficult time holding down the fort.
I get it now. Sometimes I think my fort is holding nicely, but recently I crawled into bed at midnight only to remember how early that morning one of the kids came into our bed and peed in my spot. I forgot about it all day and then as I’m exhausted and dying to go to sleep, I actually smelled it to see if it was bad enough to constitute changing the sheets. I can hear my 20 year old self, “How exactly do you forget that someone peed in your bed? And then consider sleeping on it all night?” I don’t know “young on-the-ball Steph,” I don’t know. These days are wild.
It’s not that my pink house mom friend was incapable of running her own household, it was that life pulled her in so many directions that getting stuff done just didn’t happen everyday. She was able to pay me to make sure her sheets were clean and so she could major in what she really cared about; enjoying the people in her life and the beauty around her. At this point, I’m not contracting out my less desirable tasks, but I’d still like to find ways to major in what I care about.
I heard somewhere that the key to being a good parent is to lower your standards. To which I gasped. And then I considered the reality of having the cleanest house, the most manicured lawn, the perfect nutrition, the next promotion and the best students, ballerinas and soccer players in town. High standards, but at what cost? What will suffer to keep those standards up? I must lower some standards so that I can elevate others. It’s a balancing act of more of this and less of that. If I want to give my best effort to what I care about most, then some other things are going to fall through the cracks. More often the valuable things fall to the wayside while we make productivity and “being the best” our idols.
What are the things I value most? What are the destinations that I’m trying to progress toward anyway? A life that reflects Jesus, a strong marriage, connection with my kids, a stable home that people feel welcomed in. Time to have meaningful experiences, to be present in relationships, to care for others and to enjoy beauty. Time to BE and not always DO. They say that goals should be measurable, but how do I measure all of that? They’re hard to check off a list and tricky to quantify, but if these are my goals then progress is bound to look different than an empty sink.
If I keep my house as clean as I want it, then I will not have time to sit and play trains. If I want to be present with my husband, I can’t always be multi-tasking. And if I refuse to bend on how I want an experience to pan out, I will miss the beauty of it unfolding.
Stuff does have to get done- digging clothes out of the dirty hamper every day is a bummer of a way to live. Work is good and necessary, worship even. And it allows room for the sweet stuff. But, there is only so much time in the day and unless I hire a domestic staff, I will have to leave the birdseed that spilled all over the carpet until tomorrow. I just didn’t get to it today.
The truth is, intangible rewards are tough to hold on to. We have to look hard for them and recognize that our baby steps will eventually turn into miles down the road. The satisfaction of seeing the tracks my vacuum made is nothing compared to watching a life lesson in the midst of being learned. The perfectly balanced meal I just served is pale in the light of my son squeezing his sister and saying, “I just love your sweet little arms Harper.”
I guess sometimes progress might just look like a mountain of laundry on the guest bed and birdseed on the floor.