I am a hopeless list maker. To me, a to-do list is so much more than an agenda. It is the promise of a gloriously productive day, and a delicious feeling of accomplishment.
I started making to-do lists when I was twelve, jotting everything from homework to wardrobe plans into a spiral notebook that became the map around which I would navigate my day. Every night before bed the list was carefully reviewed, and accomplished items crossed off with dramatic flair, like a knight thrusting the final stab into a smoldering, defeated dragon.
Twenty years and an infinite number of spiral notebooks later I am still making to-lists, although recently they seem to have encountered an insurmountable problem.
The problem now with my to-do lists, is that I am a mother.
Every morning I wake to the sound of my alarm, the sight of a new list, and the motivation to tackle it.
Just as soon as I finish nursing the baby.
Once the baby is fed, I’m ready to go. Right after I pack the girls’ lunches, that is. And fix their hair. And walk them to the bus. I promise myself that I’ll start my list as soon as I get back from bus. And put away the breakfast dishes, of course. And sort the laundry. And comb the gum out of Cal’s hair. Then! Then I’ll be ready to go. Feed the baby again. And pick the playdough out of the carpet. And reattach Barbie’s head. After that, and grocery shopping, I’ll be so productive. Wow, is the bus back already? Let me just get Jolie’s homework started, then I’ll finally get myself started. Actually, I’ll get dinner started. And baths. And the bedtime routine…
I nurse the baby again, and collapse into bed myself. The day has ended, and my to-do list remains untouched. It is not the smoldering, defeated dragon I hoped it would be. Rather, it is still breathing its fire and I am the defeated knight, incapable of rising to the challenge.
Or am I.
I look again at my to-do list, and I imagine it years from now. It hasn’t changed, but everything around it has. There is far less laundry to be done, and no more messy piles of toys. Plastic dinosaurs no longer roam my couch, and my cell phone isn't hiding in a box of Goldfish crackers. Years from now, invitations to tea parties have ceased, and Eddie’s hungry cry has been replaced with quiet. Footed pajamas have been outgrown, bunk beds given away, and outside, the school bus passes without stopping.
Years from now there is no more “Mom, I’m hungry!” “Mom, this hurts!” “Mom, watch this!” “Look at me!” “Fix this!” “Play with me!” “Read to me!” “Change me!” “Carry me!” “Help me!”
“Mom, I love you.”
Motherhood is discovering that when I wake up tomorrow, my to-do list will still be there. But a day in the life of my children will be gone, and I will never get it back.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It's not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it's when you've had everything to do, and you've done it."
Today, I had everything to do.
And I did it.
Today, I was a mother.