In a product-driven world, we’re always supposed to be producing something, whether it be money, stuff, creative ventures, children, etc. Since leaving the professional world, I have been forced to change my definition of productivity and what it means to have a productive day in my life, and sometimes, it ain’t pretty. In fact, I get pretty down when I compare a day in 2014 with a day in 2010, so this is my attempt to convince myself that I’m still being “productive” even though I might not have anything tangible to show for it.
Yesterday I made my usual to-do list. The first thing I almost always write on the list is “gym/run,” because if I don’t list it first and do it in the morning, it won’t get done. Taking care of my health is a huge priority, because if I don’t take care of my body, it’s going to shut down, rebel, and forbid me from doing all of the things I need it to do. So exercise is number one. Being a Tuesday morning, that meant taking Eleanor to the preschool drop-in gym program at our local community center, something we do at least once a week. It doesn’t translate into a huge amount of exercise for me, but it’s better than sitting on my duff all morning, and Eleanor takes full advantage of the ball pit, roller coasters, scooters and bikes, slides, tunnels, and balls. Added bonus: it wears her out, so I’m pretty much guaranteed she’ll take a full two-hour nap in the afternoon. Score. On the days when I can go solo to the gym, I usually run three miles and walk one mile, which happens about four times a week.
Before our trip to the gym, I had to rouse two sleepy schoolchildren from their beds at 6:45ish and feed them, like most days. I’m a bit of a food Nazi (more on that in another post), and I almost always cook breakfast for them, usually fried eggs and toast, but some mornings I make homemade waffles or french toast. I like knowing they’re off to school with healthy fuel in their bodies, and I don’t mind busying myself at the stove even at 7:00 in the morning. By the time their backpacks are loaded with lunch boxes, permission slips, books, extra shoes, etc., Eleanor and I wave “bye-bye” to the bus as it leaves our driveway, and it’s 7:50am; the day is mine. And we (meaning I) often collapse on the couch in front of “Curious George” and “The Cat and the Hat” on PBS Kids for an hour to regain my momentum.
Back to the to-do list. “Vacuum/mop kitchen floor. Vacuum/straighten living room. Clean upstairs/downstairs bathrooms. Laundry. Fold/put away laundry (my LEAST favorite task, though sometimes it’s tied with emptying the dishwasher).” You get the gist. Added to my list I include whatever errands need to be run (“Gas, Wegmans, library, bank, Target”), and whatever afternoon/evening activities are scheduled (“Cello, violin, Qabats, swimming lesson, bell choir”). The errands and activities always get done. The chores? Not so much. I consider myself having had a successful day if I can cross off one or two of the chore items from the list. If I get them all done, I earn a gold medal, but that rarely happens, because…
…inertia. Household chores are one of the most demoralizing things ever, because how many of us have experienced the three minutes when the kitchen floor is spotless, only to have a kid or a dog with muddy feet run across it? Why bother clean off the mirror when somebody’s going to splatter toothpaste or soapy water onto in within seconds? And I swear the cats secretly lie in wait as the litter box is being changed before immediately running in to have a pooping party. No chore feels productive when the fruits of one’s labors are undone so quickly.
Which leads to my second area of “productivity”–food production. I love to cook and I think I’m pretty good at it, which is a good thing since a huge chunk of my time is spent planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up meals. Fortunately for me, my family loves to eat (myself included), and I feel that on the scale of productivity, producing tasty, healthful meals and snacks made mostly from scratch is a big check on my list. There’s always the problem, though, of food being EATEN (therefore disappearing), dishes dirtied, kitchen sinks to scrub, and refrigerators that need refilling again…but for some reason, that cycle doesn’t bother me as much. We need to eat in order to survive, and I think home-cooked food helps my family to thrive as well.
Yesterday I felt like I accomplished nothing, which compared to my life as a music educator back in 2010, might have been correct. I didn’t churn out any lesson plans, or rehearse four pieces during Chamber Singers, or teach any piano lessons. I didn’t bring home a paycheck, and I didn’t really have any adult conversations with anyone other than the other two adults in the house. But here’s what I did do:
- I helped Connor and Adrienne get out the door for school; they were clean, dressed appropriately, had everything they needed for the day, and they didn’t miss the bus
- I took a shower and put on makeup (sometimes, this is a Big Deal)
- I took Eleanor to the gym for exercise and playtime, read a bunch of books, and built several towers out of blocks
- made two different pots of soup (pumpkin-white bean and spicy lentil-tomato-spinach), homemade hummus, lemon-tahini dressing, and two pans of oven fries
- practiced violin with with Adrienne, helped her shower and get ready for bed, and spent twenty minutes cuddling her on the couch while she told me about some troubles she was having at school
Somehow, when I look at it that way, it sounds like a lot, and it’s all pretty important stuff. And I was exhausted.