Today, before starting my official work day, after dropping my daughter off at school, loading the dishwasher, filling the wild bird feeders, tossing another load of laundry in the washing machine, and tucking away the last of the winter decorations, I had a moment. It wasn’t a glorious moment. It wasn’t a “Hey, I did it!” moment. It was a “Wow, I’m really tired” moment. It was an utterly exhausted “I’m never going to get this done” moment. It was a moment in which I briefly thought that someone should invent a “Rent a Marching Band” service, so that I could call and say, “Hey, I did housework!”, and they would come right over and parade through the house. Just for a minute – wouldn’t that be nice? Except, if they did, I’d have to sweep the floor when they were done, which would make me feel even more tired. Also, I’d probably feel a little silly. It could also get expensive. I daydreamed briefly about asking a friend to be my “celebration buddy”, so that I could call and say, “Hey, I got the dishes done!”, and have her cheer me on. I’d do the same for her, of course. And then I think (and this is why my mother says that my motto seems to be “When in doubt, start a group”) that it would be great to have a support group for Standing Ovation Night. We’d all gather in a circle, and have the opportunity to stand in the center of the circle and proclaim our accomplishments and take turns giving and receiving applause and cheers for one another. (That one, I’ve actually done before as part of a class series I was teaching. It was great, though perhaps not practical on a daily basis.)
Then, I remember a time when my daughter was tiny, and my boys were very young. Oh, I was tired – truly bone-weary. I wrote in my journal, “What is it new mothers do that is so exhausting, when it looks like we are doing nothing at all?” Yup, “nothing at all”… I was homeschooling two kids, tending my home, baking my own bread and making cheese, nursing a baby, running an organic food co-op, and co-leading a holistic parenting support group. I was active in my spiritual community and my local neighborhood, and finishing Naturopathy school. THIS was what I was willing to look at, and judge as “nothing at all”, because I still had the massive to-do list, that never got to done. There was no joy in what I was doing, because I knew before I even started that no matter what I did, it wasn’t going to be enough.
Oh, right, I recognize this feeling. It’s the Inner Critic at work, again. Everybody has one. Actually, I don’t have just one – I have The Critical Chorus (further demonstrating that clearly, everything work doing is worth doing as a group, even when it comes to self-criticism.) My friend Katie calls hers the “Itty Bitty $#itty Committee”. Another friend calls hers “The Manager”. Whatever name you know it by, it’s that voice running on the hamster wheel in the back of our minds repeating every negative thing we’ve ever heard about ourselves from birth until last week. “You don’t do enough.” ” You don’t have enough time/energy/money/brainpower/looks/gumption.” “You’ll never get that done.” Not enough… not enough… not enough… on endless repeat.
I hear it from new mamas all the time, “I’m not getting anything done!” I always remind them that, with a new baby, if you’ve brushed your teeth by noon and changed your shirt by dinnertime, it has been a good day. I pass along the wisdom shared by my own great-grandmother, who said, “Be grateful for your dirty dishes. They mean that your family is eating well.” Having lived through times when families having enough to eat was a struggle, she knew what she was saying. She told me to pay the dishes no mind – to just walk by the kitchen and wave at them once in a while. Dishes didn’t mind waiting while I held the baby.
Behold, the power of Gratitude! Such a big shift, from changing our thinking in such a small way. And so, I share with you what has worked for so many others: You do enough. You have enough. You are enough. Right here, right now, just the way you already are. The Manager, the chorus, or that nasty committee? They’re just doing their job. At one point in time, they thought that what they were really doing was keeping you safe, or encouraging you to be your best. You listened to them and let them call the shots because you believed them. You don’t need to do it that way anymore. You now have a choice. It’s ok to thank these critical voices for their opinion, and send them on their way. Catch them in their chatter. Acknowledge them, thank them for sharing, and tell them to stop. Shift. What are you grateful for? Can you name three things, right now? I’m grateful for the home I live in, and for the people I love who dwell here in safety and comfort. I’m grateful for the food on our table that has been on the dishes that just went into the dishwasher. I’m grateful for the birds that fill our yard, and brighten the day with their songs. Ahhhh, better. Choosing this better feeling thought might not get your list any closer to done, but it sure feels better while you’re doing it.
And so what if the list doesn’t get done? Turns out, the “Should Police” have never actually shown up at my door to carry me away for a load of unfinished laundry. How about, just for today, we make a list at the end of the day of all the things we actually DID do, and then check them off, one by one? We can tell ourselves and each other, “Hey, you did it. Good job.” Then, if that feels good, we can do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that, too. No marching band required. You can do it. You already are.
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