A few years ago, I started collecting discarded grocery lists that I found left behind in baskets and shopping carts.
“Sprinkles, Ice Cream, Rotisserie,” one reads.
“Goat Cheese, Call Mike, Cupcakes, Guacamole,” reads another.
I enjoy finding these lists—catching a glimpse into someone else’s life, putting an imaginary face, imaginary hairdo to the hand-written notes.
But reviewing my own to-do list each day brings me exactly zero pleasure, because it’s not up to someone else to accomplish it all—it’s up to me.
Each and every morning, I glance at my itinerary sitting open on the kitchen counter.
I feel the stress creep up into my shoulders as it settles in for the day—a day working, cleaning, typing, feeding, scooping up and soothing—until I inevitably find myself carrying over, like some odious long division assignment from grade school, most—if not all—the items from that day’s list to tomorrow’s.
We’re told to strive for balance in our lives, that perfect bilateral symmetry struck between work and life, money and love, others and self.
On a rare morning the sharp smell of hot coffee climbs into my nostrils while I’m still in bed, when I have miraculously remembered to set the timer on the machine the night before. I believe, if only for a second, that today will be the day I cross everything off my list. I will actually achieve that elusive balance I strive for at the onset of each day.
Being caught up is a sweet thought—I savor it, snuggling for a brief moment into sleep-warmed pillows.
But then, my feet touch the floor. Each and every day I attempt to be an above-average, work-from-home mother. I give up after about two-and-a-half hour.
All hell breaks loose—I’ve failed gloriously and irreversibly at precisely everything I had set out to do.
Failure is the sound of 30 frozen peas being scattered across the kitchen floor in protest.
Failure is forgetting to mute the phone during a conference call while my toddler is screaming for me to rewind that single 3-minute caroling scene from Elmo’s Christmas Countdown (it’s February).
Failure is my daughter sitting too close to the television, for too many hours each day.
Failure glares from the previous day’s analytics report my editor emails me each morning.
Failure is feeding my daughter rice cracker after rice cracker for lunch because I’ve only done ⅕ of the work I needed to have done by noon—I can’t leave my desk to even heat up macaroni and cheese.
Failure is heating up three-day old take-out for my husband, who has worked 10 hours and driven home in sleet and snow. The same husband who, without prompting, has taken our fussy daughter out of my arms to give her a bath, and give me a break.
Failure is not remembering the last time I washed my hair.
Failure is not remembering the last time I made love to my husband—was it last week?
Failure is dust bunnies. Everywhere.
Failure is an empty freezer.
Failure is three rotten sweet potatoes in the fridge I never got around to pureeing.
Failure is exhausting. Its sense of humor is dark, ironic. It finds me in a moment of inertia, of progress, of unguarded confidence, and sticks out a leg to trip me up.
Failure stands over my sprawled-on-the-floor body, to remind me that no, not only can I not have it all, I will fall short in at least one aspect of my life:
each and every day.
I took a break at some point in the early afternoon yesterday, in that tumultuous hour between lunch and nap, to sit with my almost two-year-old daughter on the floor. She was voicing in no uncertain terms her frustration with her plastic building blocks. She couldn’t keep a stack of more than three blocks from toppling over.
I observed her for a moment, to determine whether this was one of those moments I should let her figure it out for herself, or step in and assist. At the fourth yowl of displeasure, I cooed and shh-ed, and left my desk to join her on the floor.
Together we built a tower four blocks high: two yellow, one pink and one purple. I clapped my hands, “Yayyyyyyy!” I cried, inviting her to join in on my self-congratulatory cheer.
Instead my daughter, with one flick of her chubby little arm, unhesitatingly knocked those four blocks clear down to the ground. Only then did she clap—not at my achievement but at her destruction, rocking back and forth with joy.
She grinned at me, then. Half-ruptured bicuspids peeking out from her swollen gums, drool dribbling down her chin, a fleck of dried yoghurt cementing a strand of hair to her flushed little cheek.
This was perfection, for her. This was balance.
This was a day of too much television and too little nutritional substance, of dispersing the contents of the Tupperware cabinet throughout each room of the apartment, of managing to stain her lips with blue marker before her mother managed catch her from coloring in her eyeball.
This was a day replete with toys that make noise and wearing snow boots inside the house. Of squealing with glee and crying in dizzying turn. To her, this was the best day ever.
There is beauty in the imbalance.
Especially in the exquisite and inevitable chaos rendered from the attempt to be everything, to everybody, all at once.
I remind myself, that this is not failure, it is a season—much like this long, cold winter driving us all indoors and out of our minds—this is a season that too, will pass.
Author: Megan Ritchie Jooste
Apprentice Editor: Melissa Tamura/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock