At the end of each day, I take stock of my “accomplishments,” which sounds harmless. But it isn’t.
Yesterday was a banner day:
- Read to Sophia (Sophia: "Read this book!" Wham!)
- Bathed Sophia (Sophia: “Mommy, how do you spell “Kevin?)
- Cooked breakfast: (Me: “Just one more bite and you can get up from your chair.”)
- Took Sophia to Spanish: (Me: “Sophia, ven! Come back here! Sientate!”)
- Picked up farm delivery: (Sophia: “You bought me my eggies?”)
- Read to Sophia: (Me:“ No. NOT the Dora book. I’m throwing that book away. I’d be embarrassed to GIVE it to someone.” Sophia: “YES DORA!”)
- Cooked lunch: Me: “Just one more bite, and I’ll sing you a song.”
- Practiced Spanish with Sophia: (Me: “Dame el circulo mediano, por favor.”)
- Read to Sophia: (Me: “It’s time for us to get snuggly.”)
- Ran 10 miles (Kanye: “Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger)
- Cooked dinner (Me: “Just one more bite and you can have some ice cream.”)
- Did crossword with Kevin (Kevin: “What’s a six-letter word for “histrionic?”)
- Read 40 pages of my book (Louise DeSalvo: “If my husband had his way, I think he wishes I wouldn’t have written about our life, wouldn’t be writing about it now….”)
This act of keeping score is how I measure my success as a parent, a spouse, a friend, an employee and a “balanced” human being. If my list meets with my approval, I feel somewhat self-satisfied. If not, I beat myself up about it, focusing on where I think I fell short that day of some invisible ideal that matters to no one but me.
I already know that today is not measuring up: I haven’t exercised (the pool was closed due to a swim meet), I didn’t bathe Sophia (I do it every other day, but I still like a slacker on the days that I don’t), and I haven’t so much as kissed my husband (who had a stomach virus yesterday that I really, really don’t want to catch). There have been some accomplishments, but they are overshadowed by what I deem my failures.
Failure is not doing something poorly; it’s simply not doing. There’s nothing I hate more than a day of doing nothing. Laying around, letting the laundry pile up, letting the kid run wild, letting the minutes pass without getting a single…thing…done. It’s not because I don't enjoy it. It’s because I feel so…guilty. And yet, the truth of the matter is I’d love to be able to fail in this way…fail without the guilt, that is. But I am relaxation-impaired. When I have free time, I fill it.
In contrast, Sophia has nothing but free time. As far as I can tell, she experiences no compulsion to complete a task; she has no obligations to meet. She fills her time pursing happiness and acting creatively. If it is quiet, she’ll fill the air with song. If I turn on music, she twirls. She invents new purposes for objects, new narratives for books. She plays, she dreams, she dances through life.
My demands creep in…take a bath, eat this, put your coat on…and these are moments of resistance, for they seem unnecessary to her. They interrupt her flow. I’ll suggest a new activity, “why don’t we go out and play in the snow?” And she’ll decline, “No, mommy. I want to stay right here.” She sees no need to go anywhere to do anything other than what she is doing in this very moment.
I don’t mean to romanticize Sophia’s way of living in the world. It is not always practical. We do have to eat, and take baths, and occasionally put our coats on, and she probably doesn’t do enough of any of these things.
But when I think about balance, as an adult, I fear I am valuing the wrong things. Balance is traditionally thought of as managing a family, a career and self. But when “self-care” becomes yet another chore, another obligation…it is drained of all its pleasure and restorative properties. When I need a checklist to determine whether I should feel good about my day, I have sacrificed the joy of doing for the joy of getting it done.
I want to stop keeping score. I want to mentally burn my lists. I want to play and dream and dance through life as much as I possibly can…and not be concerned when I can’t.
I want to be more like Sophia.