Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deadlines, Lifelines

I lost yet another precious thing last week, continuing a theme of frustration in my life over a few characteristics God has not seen fit to change in me -- yet. No matter how many systems I implement, I still lose things -- shoes, coupons, earrings, cell phone headsets -- with startling regularity.

This time it was my Command Central Notebook. At any given time, I always have a spiral notebook in which I keep my housewifely to-dos, my Bible study notes, my guest lists for upcoming parties and on and on. This particular notebook had all my notes from the MOPS International Convention, notes from an important meeting with my prayer coordinator, a list of gifts for everyone on my steering team.

Worst of all, it was a notebook that I kept the year I was pregnant with Olivia, and the first couple pages I had left in, because they had nostalgic lists I had made. They were called "What to pack for the hospital" (so funny that I felt I had to write down "camera" and "fuzzy socks") and "Things to Do Before She's Here!"

The second list included Martha-Stewart-like efficiencies such as "Buy paper and envelopes for birth announcements" and "Make lullabye CD." But also, bizarrely, "Dust all window blinds." Note to other housewives, never, ever, order wooden window blinds in every room of your house. They are impossible to clean, and I'm not sure I've done it since before Livie was born.

As I ponder my "Things to Do Before She's Here" list now, before it fades from memory, I think about how having a baby feels like a major deadline to meet. I think that nesting instinct is about getting all things in order so that you can bring your baby into the best possible world.

In the last year, two of my best friends have had babies, and I watched them as they experienced the same biological compulsion to get things in order. Not only did they feel they had to have their houses clean and the crib bedding washed, but they began to try to reorder several relationships: work out issues with their parents, their in-laws and their husbands. They wanted to tie up financial lose ends. They tried to problem solve ahead of time every possible issue that could arise during the actual birth, and minutely planned childcare for their older children.

I reminded both of them, kindly I hope (but odds are it didn't come across too well), that life after a baby is born is in fact -- just life. The baby's arrival feels like a deadline to meet, but the baby will come and just become party of "life as you know it" the ordinary continuum of day running into day. But that's not how women think and feel, especially hormonal women.

In exhorting my friends, I was absolutely the pot calling the kettle black. Because in truth, I live my life from one deadline to another. At all my children's milestones -- their birthdays, starting school, etc., I get these urges to get all of my life in order, and make idealized lists for myself about what must be completed. Like, "Before Sophia starts school, I will clean out all the kids' closets and organize every piece of clothing in their drawers." Or, "Before Livie's birthday, I will re-pot all the plants in the backyard, make her a birthday shirt, and blog a 300 word essay about her."

If I had a boss, he might love this about me, and call me self motivated and goal oriented. But in real life, or at least my real life, there aren't really any finish lines to cross. What would be a valuable office skill is a crazy-making tendency for a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I get a lot done. But there is a cost to it. In trying to make everything look perfect before Christmas, or Halloween, or start-of-school, I can miss the joy of the actual moment. Hubby pointed this out to me the night before Olivia's baby dedication at church, as I was busily sewing matching felt broaches for the girls to wear (which, ironically, I forgot to pin on Sophia the next morning).

What I like about setting deadlines is the adrenaline rush, and the satisfaction and sense of control from meeting the deadline. I must miss this from my days in the publishing business: that gritty-eyed, caffeine-induced hyper-aware state when you're racing against the clock to get your story done on time. Now I just do this at my sewing machine instead with thread flying and scraps all over the kitchen floor. Now as a mom, the cost is not only my own sleep deprivation and an acid stomach, but whiny, neglected children and less connection with my husband. Dear readers, will you remind me of this as the holidays approach? I can feel myself beginning to ramp up with ideas of what should be done and decorated.

But far more damaging to the imperfectionist, joy-filled lifestyle I'd like to be living, though, is the personal growth deadline. Does anyone relate when I say I set goals for emotional growth? By Christmas, I will be happier. My daughter is six years old, so I should be more equipped at handling temper tantrums. My faith should have less holes in it. I should be more patient. I should be less insecure in my friendships. I should have less anxiety.

Let's focus on the last one for a moment. Last year I attended a series of workshops for people who struggle with anxiety and depression. You know what one of the most fundamental principals was? Don't set emotional time lines or deadlines for yourself. In the moment, deadlines feel like a way to manage anxiety because they give you a sense of control. But in the long run, they cause more anxiety, because they are essentially artificial, unnecessary and usually unrealistic.

Recently a wise friend told me that there are things she wishes were different about herself, but she's learning to be comfortable with the way God made her, and is trusting Him to change her in his own time, possibly just one characteristic at a time. This resonated with my spirit. It made me want to take a deep breath and say, "Okay, one thing a time Lord. If I'm meant to get there, you'll get me there." And maybe by the time I'm 70, I'll have learned to stop losing my notebooks!

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
--2 Corinthians 3:18

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