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I woke up in 2003

Before Thanksgiving Day 2003 I had been asleep, going through the rise and fall of daily life like waves on an ocean. I believed the key was to make my children’s lives better than my own and to create the fairy tale, the one with the white picket fence, big house, and happy family. Back then I had three major goals: Have a house that my children could call their childhood home, stress education so my kids would go to college, and educate myself and have a career so I wouldn’t be dependent on anyone. I finished my degree, we built the house and my husband, and I set high expectations for our children’s academics. We fell into the rhythm of early mornings, school, after-school activities, bed, and repeat.

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I have this terrible habit of creating long “to do” lists in my mind. They’re never realistic. I seem to have no sense of time just an endless list that goes something like this. Today I’m going to write a blog post, do three loads of laundry, grocery shop, workout, fold all the laundry, pay the bills and vacuum the downstairs. Oh and drive to drum lesson by six. Cook dinner, do the dishes and if I’m teaching the next day, organize all my materials. I never calculate the amount of time each job will take. I simply tell myself what I’m going to accomplish.  I set myself up to fail because once one task is completed another takes it place. This endless list that never includes sitting on the couch and reading for an hour or driving to our local beach and watching the sun set is often responsible for my irritable moods or feelings of not working hard enough in our work focused society.

To make matters worse I don’t allow myself to be mindful while completing a task. For instance I’ll be in the middle of folding laundry and instead of simply folding the laundry and being thankful that I’m getting it done, I’ll mentally beat myself up because I only have an hour to shop and make dinner. Or I’ll feel bad because I didn’t make it to the gym or edit enough pages of MYSTIC. If I’m not careful I can go an entire day feeling incompetent, inadequate and mentally exhausted. Instead of looking at all I have accomplished and feeling good  and letting go all the chores that wait unfinished.
At what point do I get to sit down and read or enjoy a sunset? Never? When I’m sick and stuck in bed?

As usual life has a way of sending strong messages that make me stop and think. In one day, Valentine’s Day, I received two of those messages. First, I came across an article titled Top 5 regrets of the Dying. Number 2 on the list was – I wish I didn’t work so hard. In the two or three minutes it took me to read the article I was also berating myself for taking the time to read and not accomplishing anything on my list. Kind of ironic.
Since that wasn’t a strong enough lesson for me I received another one later in the day. My daughter called me in tears because she was in a car accident. I answered the phone “Happy Valentines Day! ” and I heard gasps and sobbing on the other end. Suddenly, I’m yelling over my son’s piano playing “We’re leaving now!” Half way to the accident I remembered the candle I left burning in the living room.

Everyone was okay and the three teens that were in the car were very shaken up. I felt bad that they had to learn such an adult lesson at a very young age. My heart broke for them.

Then one of them told me through tears of things they had yet to accomplish that evening.  The haunting “to do” list rearing its ugly responsibilities even after a car accident. I looked at the teen and in my mind was thinking … no… you need to go home and rest and take care of yourself, sweetie. It’s okay. You were just in a life changing event. All the other stuff is just stuff. Go home, cry it out, write it out, and understand that behind all the stuff we do every day is life. Precious life. But I just nodded, listened and offered a hug.

This, of course, led to more thinking and it dawned on me that in all my teaching of the importance of getting stellar grades and keeping a high GPA and fulfilling responsibilities, how did I teach slowing down and truly noticing the small details in life that bring joy? If I never allowed myself to sit and read for an afternoon or drive to the beach and watch a sunset then how would my kids ever learn that it was okay? If they see me leaping from one task to the next and getting frustrated for all that I still have left to do then that is the life lesson I’m teaching. Go, go, go until your body gets sick and you have to stop or life sends you a wakeup call. A car accident, a friend diagnosed with cancer, or a sudden loss of someone close to you.

I’ve learned that’s it’s okay to slow down. It is okay to add myself to my “to do” list and sit and relax. I look at it like this. If I were dying I wouldn’t feel particularly proud of the fact that I always had my laundry done or that my closets were perfectly organized or that my house was spotless. I wouldn’t beam at the notion that I worked endless hours and achieved highest success because of those endless hours. What would matter to me would be that I taught my children the joy of every day living. The joy of reading and the joy of sitting on the beach and watching the colors in the sky change as the sun slowly fades out of sight.