Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lies my mother told me, part 3

Sometimes I feel like my life is a continuous process of weeding through the pile of hoarder's child messages mounded in my brain, discarding the ones that no longer fit, are flat-out wrong, or simply make my life untenable. That would be, ahem, most of them.

One of my mother's recurring refrains is "As soon as I get my ducks in a row..." or its near cousin, "As soon as I get my life in order..." This is delivered in a wistful, wry tone of voice and always followed by something she would love to do, but refuses to allow herself the pleasure of actually doing it. Growing up with this constant refrain (especially in a family of sturdy, German-descended farming folk with a mighty Protestant work ethic), I learned that you must complete all of your "shoulds" before there's any room for enjoying yourself. I must clean the house/finish grading papers/call Grandma before I can take a bubble bath/read that book on my nightstand/go hiking/and on and on. You need to tick off all the items on your to-do list before you deserve to take care of yourself.

I recently had an epiphany about this. Life is pretty damn daily, you know? And there's a reason it seems like every time I cross an item off my list, I have to add another one. It's because every time I cross an item off my list, I actually do have to add another one. Life is ongoing. I'll always have more to do tomorrow. So screw it -- I've decided that now I'm going to take care of myself first. Do I want to go to Starbucks before I do the grocery shopping? Why not? Read another chapter before I finish the laundry? Certainly. Do something fun before I've checked off every last item on the list? You bet. Because, at the end of the day, there's always going to be a duck or two that isn't in a row. I say, smile and wave at them as you head out the door to do something that will make you happy.


  1. Yes! Fantastic post! There is always going to be more to do, but no one else is going to stop and take care of you. It's all about priorities and your health and happiness should be number one, no matter what those hoarding mothers of ours have to say.

  2. This is pretty great advice for anyone, really. It's not like we'll get to our death bed and ever say "I'm so glad I spent so much time washing dishes."

    That said, that kind of stuff does have a way of piling up, and then it becomes overwhelming. And I think that's where things start to breakdown for your Mom and mine.

    What a delicate balance this all is.

  3. Very wise post. My own mom's version of this was "when I get my head together." I now see this tendency in my husband, who acts like (but never says directly) he thinks the kids and I are slackers for pursuing pleasurable things like games, hobbies, movies and books when there is potential work to do. Which is not to say he is always working -- alas, life is an on/off switch for him, either work or nothing.