~by Jill Clingan
I have been a teeny tiny bit bitter lately.
I did a little experiment a few weeks ago after reading the book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam. Vanderkam studied 1001 days of time diaries from professional women who agreed to record how they spent their days (and nights) in neat little 15 minute slices of time.
The book itself, while inspiring and challenging, contributed to my teeny tiny feelings of bitterness, because apparently, when one is a successful woman, dinner prep, the eating of dinner, and cleanup of dinner only take thirty minutes. It appears that some successful women have magical fairies who manage the detritus of the dinner mess, and I just can’t wait until I have saved up enough successful woman tokens to buy me such a fairy. Many of these women also had magical fairies who folded laundry, cleaned toilets, and grocery-shopped. These women were also often able to work while caring for their children at the same exact time, an idealistic scenario that just doesn’t work for me.
Writing this essay is a case in point. Since I didn’t get my writing time in today while my kids were in school, I had a grand plan of sitting at the dining room table after school while my daughter did her homework and my son worked on a Lego set. The stories from middle school my daughter told me were significantly more interesting than this essay, and the mechanical chain reactions my son was trying to build with his Legos required more than a little parental supervision. So the only writing I got done before it was time to start dinner was to compose scattered, bitter thoughts about my scattered, bitter writing in my scattered, bitter brain.
I became so bitter during my week of time-logging because I realized how much time I spend on quotidian tasks. The thing is, I will be the first to admit that I actually like quotidian tasks (although perhaps I would not mention this fact in the company of Vanderkam or her time-logging subjects). I find chopping vegetables meditative, folding laundry contemplative, and I only feel truly serene if my surroundings are calm and orderly (this does not mean, however, that my surroundings are always calm and orderly). However, there comes a time when one is, perhaps, spending too much time on such tasks, and where, perhaps Parkinson’s Law, which states that work “expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” becomes a looming probability.
However, during the week of recording my days, and, admittedly, for several weeks afterwards, I succumbed to very martyr-like feelings of bitterness, and I even waxed quite poetic about my status as a domestic slave. Had you walked by me while I was trudging upstairs with yet another load of laundry or while washing stacks upon stacks of dirty dishes, you might have heard me muttering the words, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons,” from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Aflred Prufrock.
Eventually, after quoting Eliot and using the word “bitter” in my vocabulary much more than was perhaps necessary, I finally pushed through the bitterness and into a very different space. I suppose this is the point where it would be lovely if I could smile serenely and announce how God changed my heart and showed me the utter joy of folding mountains of laundry and washing precarious piles of dirty plates.
Alas, such a miracle did not happen, but honestly, I’m kind of glad about that. I mean, sure, I suppose such a domestic marvel would have been nice, in a way, but the truth is, despite my love of the quotidian, I’m not convinced that my sole purpose in this life is to be the Quotidian Queen. So instead of God granting my wish of becoming or bequeathing upon me a domestic fairy godmother I learned a few things instead.
I learned that I can ask for help. I am really bad at this. I would rather suffer in (passive aggressive) silence than admit that I can’t do it all. But I am learning. After dinner tonight, for example, I was still really stuck in the middle of this essay (perhaps you think I am still stuck in the middle of this essay. I just might have to agree with you.), so Matt and Jack cleaned up dinner while Amelie did homework and I floundered through this thing called writing. And right this very moment Matt is listening to Jack read Big Nate, and in a few minutes he will read another chapter of the final Narnia book, and while I will miss reading to Jack, Narnia will not cease to exist in my absence (well, it might, actually).
I am learning that I can let things go. Just because it’s on my to-do list doesn’t mean that it has to get done, and I also am discovering the need to re-prioritize my to-do list. Just because I feel like I “should” clean a bathroom rather than write or play the piano or wander around my property to visit my chickens and ducks does not, in fact, mean that I actually “should” clean that bathroom. Yes, of course, I need a clean bathroom. And don’t worry–I can’t stand a disgusting bathroom. But sometimes…even a clean bathroom can wait (or see above paragraph about asking for help).
But the biggest thing that God is gently teaching me about my busyness and bitterness is that they are a smokescreen for fear. If I don’t have time to write because my “should do” list is too long, then I don’t have to worry about failing at writing. The odds of me passing a white glove test for a clean living room are way higher than the odds of me getting something published. So because of fear I hide behind those tasks I know I can do well and avoid what my soul is called to do.
And I’m done with that. Now there’s a really good chance that my living room might be dusty AND I may not ever get something published, but my soul longs to write, not dust. Honestly, I feel really scared and kind of alone and really, really vulnerable, but this time I’m not succumbing to either the bitterness or the fear. I may never be successful enough to qualify for Vanderkam’s time study, but I refuse to measure my life in coffee spoons. I am choosing to measure my life in buckets of love and life and risk and creativity. And if you would like to measure your life in buckets, too, come on over, and we will stir our coffee, but not our lives, with our coffee spoons.