The Importance of Checking Boxes

I officially started my half-marathon training schedule this week. Today was the track work-out – something I don’t always particularly look forward to – but I did it, and it felt good. It is the definition of gorgeous weather out today, so there wasn’t any reason NOT to run, other than the 150 or so excuses I can muster up in a pinch. This was one of the big reasons I signed up for the half marathon – the goal – which has, leading up to it, a schedule. My running and exercising, in general, had become sporadic instead of regular, or more accurately, regular for sporadic periods of time. But this is the magic of a training schedule. It gives me a task to do each day (unless it’s a rest day, which I am happy to oblige that task as well), I do it, and it feels good. It is not only the running, which I enjoy so this does feel good, but also the fact that I say I am going to do something and then I do it. So, walking back from the track today, I was pondering this particular point about humans that I find so fascinating ….we love to tick boxes, scratch items off of our lists, or send a reply, “done”. It seems too simple to be true, but over and over again, life keeps reminding me of this.

While humans love to check boxes, (and I am going out on a limb here and say all humans because I believe this to be true) there is one particular career path that does not contain a lot of them – motherhood. There are a lot of things to do, of course, but not a lot of them that lend themselves to lists and marking them off. Many of the household and mothering duties are very much of the reoccurring nature, so after some time, the accomplishment felt by carrying out the same task 1,000 times diminishes. I am sure the first few times I changed my son’s diaper, I was pretty proud of how I handled the situation, which was new and scary in it’s own way. But it didn’t take long for that task to lose any luster than it might have ever had. And then add about 50 more tasks like that to your average day. SO, after our second child and me not working for over a year (by choice), I found myself going a little, well maybe more than a little, insane. While I do believe that all humans like to ‘X’ boxes, I do believe that humans differ on the types of activities and accomplishments that fulfill them, and some parents are fulfilled staying home with their kids. And others, like me, are not. I have found, since starting to work again, I am so much more centered, more balanced, more sane. And really, it is because I get to fulfill on something that I find rewarding, in addition to the reward of raising my children. On this note, I have to reach out to generations before us and say THANK YOU for the choice.

We recently had a friend visit us for a weekend visit. She was a high school teacher of my husband’s and they have had a life-long friendship since then. She is a lovely person – very intellectually curious and worldly so we had lots of interesting conversations, many of which centered on education, working and motherhood. As a teacher and mother herself, and a mother that worked as a teacher, she had a lot of interesting things to say, and my ears were perked. One of the things she mentioned, which was less about herself and more about her mother, really stuck with me. It was a short blip on her growing up in England and how her mother, with at least several children, was evidently operating somewhere near having a nervous breakdown. Her doctor prescribed something for her. Given this cross-generational tale, what, can you imagine had he prescribed her? A task. He suggested she start a garden. How lovely this sounds, in comparison to our doctors today who seem to automatically prescribe medication. Lovely or not, given the woman’s dire mental state, she started the garden. And she had the garden for the rest of her life. It was her link into a functional, contributing role. He gave her a big ‘To Do’. A huge project with lots of smaller projects that crop up (pardon the pun) at different times of the year and that when not done, have consequences worse than not feeling a little bit bad about not getting around to it – a task that kept on doling out tasks. And in return, it gave back to her not only food and flowers, but the opportunity to continue to raise her children and to stay sane in the seemingly hopeless circumstance she was given (not to sound too dramatic, and I don’t know much about her circumstance, but I know enough about depression to know that hopeless was probably something she felt).

And then, because this theme has been so present for me, Revolutionary Road showed up from Netflix the other day. It is not a particularly original story – it’s about a couple in the 50’s who are doing all of the coupl-y things and had children and live in the suburbs. And the mother character is clearly more of the mental-wiring variety, similar to myself, and less the wiring of those who are fulfilled staying at home (if I may add, I would love to be this type). She essentially goes a little nuts (sounds familiar), tries to perform an abortion on herself , and dies (also, THANK YOU, Ms. Roe, despite her changed feelings on the matter since her landmark case). One feels that at least she found peace there – something she wasn’t clearly going to find in her suburban housewife role, which in the 50’s, was, practically speaking, her only choice. She needed boxes to check and she didn’t see a way to make them. If only someone had told her about the garden! But the movie would not have been able to end on it’s depressing note, a movie characteristic I actually like.

I hope I am not making light of a subject that is very real and can be very serious. I’ve been in a place where there are too few boxes to mark as complete. Or the boxes just are not fulfilling enough. I’ve also been in places where there are too many (full-time working days), and that’s definitely not the key to happiness either. Like everything, it always comes down to balance. I’m getting kind of tired of writing this bit, about balance, but it’s just so darn true.  Anyway, I’ll be shooting for more days like today. Running 6- 400’s? Check. Post to blog? Check. Snuggle and love up my husband and two children? Check, check and check.