Awhile ago I was having a conversation with my best friend, then about 8 months pregnant with her second child. Her husband was away for work at the time and she was dealing with a three-year-old and a heat wave. She was obsessing over getting her son’s new room perfect so that they could move him in there before the baby was born. I was trying to convince her to take it easy, and it all seemed so logical to me that she should just be able to let some things go and give herself a little grace. I could practically hear her eyebrow arch over the phone. The pot was on the phone to tell the kettle she was black.
Fair point. I do this all the time. I take whatever life event is stressing me out, and I seem to find some project that I think will fix everything and give myself a million tasks around it. It’s my way of trying to take control of the situation. About a year ago, I started a bullet journal to keep myself a bit more organized and fell into an Instagram hole of amazing bullet journalists. All of a sudden I decided my handwriting was bothering me, so I needed to incorporate 20 minutes of handwriting practice a day.
Plus my new daily workout to fix my mummy tummy.
And cut back on processed foods.
And have a “no spend” day once a week.
And a weekly meal plan for the whole family where I cook dinner most nights.
But I couldn’t figure out why I felt so stressed and unhappy. Why I kept wondering if I needed to call my psychiatrist to up my medication for the first time in ten years. The idea that I was putting extra pressure on myself never entered my mind.
These skills are all lovely things to put into practice, but now is not my time for most of them. I’d love to have beautiful handwriting, but I think everyone would prefer I use that time to shower. Because there is only room for one of the two.
While part of my desire for all these projects is certainly about a wish for control and keeping the outside of things looking perfect, I think it harkens back to something else too – the freedom that I had before I became a mother.
But being a mom is a skill that takes more than one year to learn. I don’t know if it’s one I’ll ever master. It’s trickier than say, learning the piano. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out — everything changes.
I am also constantly reminded in subtle ways that I won’t always be so strapped for time. The way my son’s head suddenly appears above the top of the kitchen table instead of skimming beneath it – when did he grow? A couple of months ago, I could count how many words he knows. Now I have no idea. Hundreds?
I have always hated it when mothers look at me and say– almost as a warning – “It goes so fast…” I believe it. But it irks me because my attitude has been, “Yes, I get it, but what do you want me to do about it other than to be sad?”
Maybe this is part of the answer – to put some things I want to do on hold because there will space later in my life. When my son is moody and hormonal and just wants me to leave him alone. When he goes off to college and they have to pull me off his doorjamb. Maybe that’s the time for calligraphy.
The limits of time have never sat well with me. I remember crying as a child once when I realized I would never have time to read all the books I would want to in a lifetime. I’m still that same girl. There are too many things I want to do in this life and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I probably won’t get to do them all.
For me, there is a simple truth that I can’t both DO ALL THE THINGS and enjoy all the things. There is something in knowing the limitations of time. It means your choices must be considered. What we choose is special because whether we think about it or not, it’s what we’ve prioritized at this moment above everything else.
I also know I could do everything else on my list, but if I had never gotten to be a mother, it would have felt hollow. So what if I got to see Kyoto but didn’t have the full human experience of having a child? This is certainly not the case for everyone nor should it be. It’s just what’s true for me. I have always wanted this. It is special, and brief. It deserves my full attention.
I still have and use my bullet journal. It helps me keep track of play dates and meetings. And I even have a page for “Stuff I Want to Learn”. Having a place to park those ideas somehow lessens the anxiety that I will immediately blank on everything I was ever interested in the moment I am left alone with my thoughts. When I get that down on paper and out of my head, I can then look up and focus on where I am right now. I can see the way my son’s hair sticks up because he’s gotten banana in it again, and notice how he smells like sunscreen and dirt from the playground. And I can know that even if it’s not a skill I can put on my resume, or impress people with at parties, I’m still always learning.