Things That Can’t Be Undone

My amazing mother-in-law gave me The Mother’s Almanac right before WInnie was born. It’s filled with useful advice about feeding, sleeping, diapering, playing, cooking… nuggets of wisdom that my tired eyes tried to take in during those early months. Fortunately, one item did stick to this used-up old flypaper that is my brain. Authors Kelly and Parsons suggest that mothers try to do one thing every day that “can’t be undone.”

I think of that suggestion often as I grit my teeth through another load of dishes or laundry, or another bout with the vacuum cleaner. Those dishes just get dirtied again, the clothes stained with marker and applesauce, the rugs appear – within hours, it seems – to be sprinkled with a crunchy coating of dirt and playdough. All these things come undone. And, then, so do I.

So when Winnie was about ten months old, I decided that I would spend my precious droplets of available time more conscientiously, focusing on things that couldn’t be undone. I made my peace with dirty carpets. The family acquired more socks and underwear, which doesn’t keep our clothes clean, but it allows for more time between trips to the laundromat. Here are some of the things that I’ve decided to focus on, in my little pursuit of happiness.

First and most of all, I’ve become a reader, even more so than I was before. Sometimes I can’t find the energy to do anything that requires physical activity – like, you know, standing up – so reading suits me perfectly. It rejuvenates me, gets me thinking, gives me something to look forward to, and makes me feel like I have some company on lonesome days.

I’ve committed myself to making time for yoga, even if I can only find time for one class each week. The physical and mental benefits are very real for me. However, what really gets me jazzed is when my teacher Carla demonstrates a pose that I think I could never, in a million years, not even after three weeks of daily yoga and meditation on a beach in Bali, accomplish. And, then, I try it. And I do it. (Or, at least, my body sort of flails around with my limbs going in the general direction they’re supposed to.) And then, I can’t stop smiling.

Really, learning how to do anything at all, especially something that once seemed intimidating or challenging, makes me stand up straighter and gives me something to crow about. I’ll be posting about some of these new skills I’ve got in my toolbox, from knitting hats to making croutons.

My friend Sara helped me to remember how essential and nourishing a good talk with a friend can be. The best kind of talks happen in person, over a beer, and without having to stop every few minutes to say, “Don’t touch that PLEASE!” An honest share-fest with a friend can keep me going for a long time, like a bowl of oatmeal. It’s the kind of thing that too easily gets de-prioritized. I need to remember that carving out the time is so worth it. Perhaps I should get a tattoo, to remind myself.

When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me stories of how her dad – my Dede – would take her and her brothers into the city for a lunch date and a special trip to the bookstore. “We’re making memories,” he would say, signaling them all to do just that – to notice, to make the event special. Lately, I find myself trying to do this in my life. A trip to the library, a ride on the bus… anything can be an occasion if we sit up and look around, noticing what makes it special and, even, joyful.

Some days, I don’t have time or energy to knit, or to write, or to even hold up my end of a coherent conversation. Some days feel so full of “to-dos” that I don’t feel I’m really doing anything. On those days, I challenge myself to be aware of my surroundings as I walk. Regardless of where I’m going, I wrestle my focus away from my destination and take note of the steps I’m taking. I take deep breaths of air and notice its temperature as it travels down my windpipe, as it brushes on my skin. I reach my feet out as far as I can to grab hold of the earth, then push it behind me before once again lifting each foot so that it hangs, for just one moment, in the sky. Those steps, they’re almost like leaps. At the end of those days, when I think back over what I’ve done, at least I have that.

It’s not much, but they can’t that away from me.

5 thoughts on “Things That Can’t Be Undone

  1. Peebs

    Hooray for knowing how to bring the people hand knit hats and homemade croutons. :) And for making memories out of our ordinary moments. As for the single gal perspective, I know these days I too often think of making memories as something I’ll be doing later on, once I have my own family, etc…but you remind me to do that more with my life, right now.

  2. The man who cannot be undone

    It’s funny how some of the circumstances that should make our days unforgettable – parenthood, living in NYC – seem to accumulate into a railroad track linking early morning to late, late night. Thanks for putting us on the local.

  3. shannon Post author

    Peebs, it’s easy to get into the habit of making excuses for not focusing on the now. I remember, too, when I thought that life would finally get interesting once I got started on the “real stuff.” Now, I occasionally find myself planning for the things I’ll do when Win’s finally a bit older. It’s important to remember that life is never, and never will be, ideal. But will it always be that, will always be life, with all the grunt work and the beauty jumbled together.

    Chris, honey, you’ve often helped me to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures. I like to think that this is part of what we do for each other.

  4. Jayle

    I love this.

    Things that can not be undone. What great advice.

    I’ve cleaned mud off my tile floor three times since yesterday. I’ve emptied and loaded the dishwasher nearly as many. I’m ignoring the mountain of laundry growing in the garage. With a 4-y-o and a 7-m-o it is hard for me to do what you describe and yet I’m aware that I should be doing it on a regular basis.

    Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone in this imperfection…and that working on it from day to day is good enough.

    I’m already thinking about what I can do tomorrow that can not be undone…can’t wait!

  5. shannon Post author

    Jayle, thanks for the comment. I know what you mean – and you with the two kids! How do you do anything at all? Honestly, sometimes I just find myself lowering the bar. So, if I am able to outline a blog post or read just for ten minutes in a prone position… then, I’m happy. And, in this case, I don’t think lowering the bar is a bad thing. Requiring less in order to be happy seems like a good skill to cultivate.

    Best wishes to you!

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