My Lame To-Do List

Joy Becker Spotlight

My husband came home to crabby children, a messy house and scrambled eggs for dinner, again.

I felt the need to defend myself, or more accurately, I felt the need to console myself and feel accomplished. I opened my planner onto the kitchen counter as my husband tackled the dishes.

“I am going to name for you all the things I got done today. You won’t be interested in most of these, and I recognize this isn’t for you – it’s for me. But when I’m done reading my list, I’ll need you to be proud of me. Maybe even clap.”

My husband is a good sport about ridiculous requests, so in an urgent yet mocking fashion, he turned off the water, and leaned across the counter to humor me with his undivided attention.

I proceeded to read the following list:

Fold laundry
Deposit check
Return stuff to Target
Call Verizon
Order the canvas print
Empty the dishwasher
Make eye doctor appointment
Cut the kids’ nails

What a sorry looking list.

It seemed foolish to rattle off a list that only reinforced my lame life, but my unshowered body and shriveled up mind needed to feel effective. By the looks of crabby child #1, tantrum-throwing child #2, and our “well played in” house, I had little meat to show for my day.

I desperately wanted to think back on my day and feel a sense of pride, but instead, my day was unimpressive and filled with tasks a trained monkey could do.

But he clapped anyway.

*****

For 12 years, I walked into school and knew a to-do list would be waiting on my desk. Sometimes it was a long one on a yellow legal pad and organized into categories like “To Copy,” “Phone Calls,” “Must Do Today” and “Must Do By Friday.” Other times it was a scattering of items jotted down on neon Post-it notes or a sliver of white space in the corner of my lesson plan book.

It was a never-ending list, and for every item scratched off, another two were added in its place. Nevertheless, each day was marked by tangible accomplishment: phone calls made, emails sent, lesson plans written, teachers observed, agendas drafted, meetings conducted, problems solved, presentations completed, papers graded, resources gathered. Boom.

I got stuff done. Impressive stuff.  Important stuff.

Months later, I am still adjusting to this stay-at-home-mom gig, and my list looks different, less satisfying. That rewarding feeling of an impressive, productive day is slipping away.

*****

I imagine I am not alone in my love-hate relationship with these lists. In a social setting, I complain, burdened by a to-do list that haunts my sleep, but secretly, I love that list. I love the sound a Paper Mate Flair pen makes as it crosses off a completed item, and I know I’m not the only one who adds already completed tasks to my list just to feel the rush of checking it off.

I spent three years juggling motherhood with a career and would have been grateful to complete a list like the one above in a week. I know the battle of getting nothing done, forcing myself to surrender the to-do list and play Candyland or cars instead. But these past few months, time has been on my side. With one in preschool, another obsessed with his train table, and afternoon naps still going strong (knock on wood), my Paper Mate Flair pen can swoosh through that to-do list.

Why isn’t that enough? Productivity ought to be satisfying.

My day is filled with doing, but what I’m looking for are a few items to activate the 80% of my brain that is turning to mush. Dishwashers? Phone calls? Errands? Ugh. I can practically hear my brain jingling around up there.

I used to get stuff done. Impressive stuff. Important stuff.

Don’t say it. I already know.

It matters. That lame to-do list matters.

*****

I am quite certain that tomorrow I will be cleaning up spilled milk for the umpteenth time while my brain wiggles and jiggles. I will mumble words unsuitable for my grandmother’s ears rather than remembering what my lame daily accomplishments really mean for our family. That’s the funny thing about truth – we know it, we speak it, we write it, but it doesn’t always play out in our hearts and actions.

Some days I ache for impressive – for pencil skirts, high heels, meetings and presentations. I want to learn something and be challenged by new information. I want to solve a problem and organize an event.

Instead, I make pancakes, sit on hold with Verizon, and entertain a toddler in the post office line. I make animal noises, talk about rainbows, and constantly answer the question, “Can I have a treat?” I organize toys, manage schedules, and buckle children into car seats a dozen times a day. I take my daughter to preschool and perfect my son’s forward roll during parent/child gymnastics class. I sing songs at storytime and prepare the guest bedroom for upcoming visitors. I fold, iron, tickle, paint, read, hug, cook, call, build, drive, laugh, wash, teach, play, sing, snuggle, and kiss chubby cheeks.

I get stuff done.

Nothing impressive, but everything important.

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Joy Becker is passionate about using my writing to point them to truth, beauty and humor in the midst of this messy thing called motherhood. I am a mama of three little ones and recently resigned from a 12-year career as a literacy coach to become full-timeme stay-at-home-mom. Her writing has appeared on The MOPS Blog, Coffee + Crumbs, Mothers Always Write and Her View From Home. You can peek even further into her life at www.44andoxford.com.