As you know, I’m a big fan of to-do lists.
Personally, I like to write mine down in ink on paper; on the blank, waiting page of a notebook, or scrawled on Post-its that I stick to the edge of a table while I work. I like sharing them on this blog, too, as I have in the past, making lists of "summer goals" and having a lot of fun trying to complete them, then sharing the experience.
I like to cross off completed tasks as I go. Sometimes I cheat, jotting down, “have coffee,” for instance, when I know full well I’m going to have coffee, list or no list.
But that's part of the fun. Mixing significant items with the not-so-significant is where I find the joy in this endeavor. Casual to-do lists, in their disregard for priorities, make big tasks less daunting, and elevate the little ones. I like seeing “take the recycling out” next to “work on a book proposal for one hour”; the juxtaposition seems to put everything in perspective.
Plus, you never know the stories that completing even a small task may yield. And completing a major task almost always means bettering your life in some significant and lasting way.
My first list of summer goals in 2010, for instance, included “go to Poland” (an easy addition as we’d already booked the trip), “see some fireworks” (piece of cake), “bake my own bread” (still haven’t done it) and directives to read a variety of books.
I did a fair job, completing about half of the to-do items on the admittedly overzealous list.
The best part, however, wasn’t the satisfaction I got crossing off completed items early that autumn, reveling in my successes. It was the stories that resulted when I forced my way out of the usual routine, making life a little bit – or a lot – more exciting.
Impulsively joining a walking tour of Yale one afternoon – instead of heading home to the normal domestic routine – was not only interesting, but exhilarating, as it reminded me that even as a parent I am allowed to do things purely for myself, and purely for the experience. I love historical tours (strange, because I did not enjoy history classes in high school or college) and learned a lot of interesting facts about New Haven. I happily checked “take a walking tour of Yale” off my list of 2010 summer goals.
Running in a Labor Day road race that year – which required regular workouts throughout the summer – was so much more fun than my normal role of acting as my husband’s cheerleader and, since then, realizing how much more satisfying it is to be a participant than a spectator at these things, I’ve run in countless road races, including two 20Ks and one real half-marathon. That goal revived a hobby I've had since high school, but had let go of after becoming a mom.
In 2014 I didn’t push myself too hard. I was pregnant and due in August, so figured “take a nap,” was a fair goal to add to the list; one I happily completed repeatedly, including midday snoozes with Gabriel in the weeks before Adriana was born.
We slept in my room, where we had an air conditioning unit installed in the window. Gabe and I would crank it up to borderline freezing, then shut the door and get under the covers. He’d been so grumpy, perhaps coming to grips with the new reality about to unfold, and I was so huge. But those naps were a calming indulgence that broke up challenging days, and we still talk about them.
The point of all this reminiscing is that I've been thinking recently about how the goals I've made in years past have not only created intense and lasting memories, but also made my life better by reconnecting me to activities and ideas that were once - and are still - important to me. Maybe that means getting enough rest, getting more exercise, reading, writing or simply taking time out of the day to do something interesting.
I don't think it's a bad thing to let your interests fade when you get older; so much gets in the way. In my case that includes having children, being married, working, owning a house, caring for my geriatric dogs who cannot, for the love of all that is holy, help but wait until I am sitting down at the very end of the day to whimper right in my face, reminding me that their water bowl is empty.
Like I wrote in May, I've realized how easy it is to let yourself slip away when you have young children and more importantly, that if you don't work at it a little, you won't get those interests back.
That's my life anyway. For you it could be a different scenario entirely, including keeping up with your interests well into adulthood; I'd like to hear suggestions on how you do it. Because I'm going to try something new in 2016.
One year. Ten goals.
Each one is related to an interest or hobby I once had and have mostly lost -- or that I have halfheartedly maintained, but not as enthusiastically as in the past.
"See a show" because I used to love discovering new music more than almost anything else. "Learn Spanish" because I'm actually pretty good at languages, and always wanted to learn another after taking many years of French in high school. "Try one new recipe every month" because I love food and cooking, but it's become such a chore. "Run a marathon" because I'm crazy.
I don't feel the need to come up with a complicated explanation here regarding the importance of this endeavor. I'm an incredibly lucky person. I feel like I won the lottery when I look at my life. I love being a mother and while - yeah - I sometimes feel like I'm going to lose it if I have to make breakfast for one more ravenous little person, I adore being with my kids. I have fulfilling and exciting work. I have a supportive family. I'm healthy and optimistic.
Yes, I feel like spending more time nuturing my interests will make me a better person in all of my various roles; I think women especially are quick to say that self-care is incredibly important, and are also quick to abandon it for seemingly more important tasks.
But that's not exactly why. It's just that life has gotten so comfortable lately in it's strangely relentless way. It's not that we aren't busy. We are so busy. For me and J, the day begins before we even open our eyes in the morning. Someone's awake and needs a diaper or a walk or an explanation about how, yes, it IS morning even though it's still dark out, because that's what winter is like.
So it's easy to do what we need to do to get through each moment. Work and caring for our family are top priorities because you have to do that stuff. It's never, ever boring, but the easiest thing is to preserve our particular brand of frenzied momentum. It's easy to stay on autopilot. It's hard to make and sustain a change of pace. But I want to try. I know for a fact it will make life even better.
I love New Year’s. I love the optimism, perhaps foolish yet heartening nonetheless.
Countless individuals greet January 1 with a steely certainty: “This is going to be my year,” they say. I’m often one of them.
Most of the time, it isn’t everything you’d hoped it would be. And that’s just fine.
But I think it’s best to go for it anyway.
Because every once in a while, it is.
To do, 2016
1. Read “Ulysses”
3. Run a marathon
4. Plan a party
5. Go to South America
6. See a show
7. Learn Spanish
8. Try one new recipe every month
9. Apply to…?
10. Write a book