A to-do addiciton

On movement and motion


This weekend, we went to visit my in-laws in Nebraska. It's not a particularly long truck ride, about three-and-a-half hours if I drive and only three if my husband drives. He seems to approach car trips like my Dad did - racing some invisible opponent against which we cannot relent for snacks or pit stops. The drive there takes just long enough for me to question why I would ever agree to be trapped in a vehicle with two little boys for more than an hour.

We listened to every song about volcanoes you can think of - headlined by Jimmy Buffet (of course). Apparently, my sons are starting to work on their plans for where they're a-gonna go when the volcano blows. I declined to traumatize them with information about Mount St. Helens because Mama is tired, and I don't need to provide them with additional nightmare fuel.

Once we got up to my husband's family farm in Nebraska, we sat down for sliced cheese, summer sausage, chips, and cocktails with my parents-in-law, and I felt the stress melt away. Not because my kids were well-behaved in front of their grandparents (they weren't) - but because there was nothing else I felt I should be doing at that moment.

We caught a catfish and drove around the farm in the side-by-side, watching the river flow in and out of the shadow of the bluffs behind it, and trying to instill in our sons a sense of home.

I only noticed that low-grade constant "I have something I need to be doing" stress had been eating at me once it was gone. At the farm, there was no laundry I was behind on, no "work work" to be done without wifi, no animal pens to clean, and no blue painter's tape framing the wood trim, reminding me of that time months ago I swore I would finish it in white. When it was just us, sitting together as a family, telling stories and laughing, nothing else was pulling me elsewhere. It was lovely.

Also, and this is a true story - I wanted to stop with the boys in front of one of my favorite murals, which happens to be on the back of the small community bank. As I was trying to get an Instagram-worthy picture of the family, my three-year-old son decided he would try to use the bank’s keypad to open the door. I got a picture just before the green light on the pad turned red and started flashing. It’s still unclear if he unintentionally alerted the authorities he was trying to break in, but I grabbed them all and booked it out of there before we found out the hard way.

Luckily, we made it home this afternoon without a police escort. As soon as we pulled back through the gates, I felt that familiar pull in my chest. I never don't have something in front of me to accomplish.

I will never complete the to-do list; it's just a matter of knocking the "must-haves" off the top each day. Each morning, I wake up and flip Maslow's Hierarchy upside-down to ensure the base is covered for all people, animals, and plants - and some days, that's as far as I can get.

Only after every living entity has its basic needs met can I move on to other to-do list items. No matter how far down the list I churn, though, it feels like it will never end. Yet, I also feel some odd satisfaction from always having a next step. A next thing on the agenda means someone or something needs me. It makes me feel relevant and important.

The problem with always having more to do, though, is that it's easy to confuse movement with forward progress. When I'm busy, I don't have to sit and think too hard. I'm not forced to contemplate that last time I'll hatch an egg, milk a goat, or hold my family close and tell them how much I love them. But, also, without contemplating those things, I can get caught up in the daily grind without appreciating the fleeting nature of it all. My work is a luxury.

There's a comfort in busyness - it's an addiction. The flurry of activity fills the quiet spaces in my home and my mind and never forces me to sit for too long or think too hard. The danger is in losing the purpose of those actions.

So, this weekend I got away to appreciate our beautiful family. But, I also got a break from "the list" just long enough to remember that life is a constant balance of contemplation and deliberate motion - and I won't take a second of it for granted - even if my child sets off a bank alarm.

After he’s done figuring out where he’s headed when the volcano blows, I’ll teach him the important phrase, “Am I being detained?”