March 13, 2019

How a Simple Question from my 7-year-old convinced me to Drop the To-Do Lists.


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“Mama, do we have to do anything after school today?”

This was a simple question from my seven-year-old son, but it stopped me in my tracks.

My guilt had been building for weeks that not only was my own calendar filled to bursting, but so was his.

Just that week, we’d already had coding class, a Boy Scout den meeting, and gymnastics—and it was only Thursday. Tonight was supposed to be the second of the twice-weekly coding class, which we’d go to directly from after-care. There wouldn’t be time to eat dinner until after class, around 7 p.m.

On most nights, even I was ready to chew off my arm by then.

“It’s coding class tonight, honey.”

He looked down at his shoes and avoided my eyes, a sure sign that he felt guilty. His little lips curved downward, expecting the usual rebuttal.

Normally, I’d see this as an excuse to play video games (and avoid a commitment). I would use the experience to teach him about responsibility, about the importance of showing up when we commit to something, an opportunity to instill a valuable trait in his developing mind. But he wasn’t whining or throwing a tantrum. He just seemed…sad, tired, spent.

His stunning blue-green eyes finally met mine. “I just want to be home. Can’t we just watch a movie? Like a family.” He looked so sweet and hopeful.

He truly just wanted quality time with us. He’d been shuffled around town all week and he wanted exactly what we all want—a break from the craziness to just be. I couldn’t honestly remember the last “free night” we’d all had together.

I found myself saying, “Sure baby. Let’s go home tonight.” And I realized that I, too, was now looking forward to this restful, easy night at home.

We get so overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done. We’re so busy filling up our days with tons of “necessary” stuff that we forget to leave time for anything that doesn’t feel immediately productive or useful.

We forget that our children are watching us each time we say “no” to ourselves or to them in favor of our massive to-do list.

It can be difficult to allow ourselves to stop running, to take a moment to reflect on the things that are actually important, to discover what truly fuels our desires and livelihood. But it is so worth it—for us and for them.

One of the most gratifying and compassionate ways we can guide our little ones is to offer them the example of self-care and unscheduled, quality time spent together. (But maybe keep one or two of their favorite activities to preserve your sanity and furniture.)

Sometimes, compassion looks like “playing hooky” on coding night to play Super Smash Bros. and watch “Kung Fu Panda.” Or, it can look like an unrushed bedtime, while we hold our little one in our lap and read a book together.

It’s in these little moments, these down times, that we can relax and enjoy the gift of life and each other. Without these special, irreplaceable moments, we’d miss gems like this one from my then five-year-old son: “Mama, why do you have your spikes out?” “My what?” “Your spikes,” he lovingly uttered, brushing his hand against my unshaved leg.

Our children have so much to teach us about life. They remind us of the best parts of ourselves (and the not-so-great parts, too). They remind us of who we were as children, and who we want to be as adults. All too often, we forget that they are just little versions of us, tiny creatures who will one day be running around in their own rat race of work, family, volunteering, and the bazillion other to-dos we create for ourselves.

Let’s commit to changing our focus—right now. It’s one of the simplest, most fulfilling ways to shower ourselves with love, compassion, and mindfulness.

We can show our children that it’s okay to slow down once in a while, to take a breath and re-prioritize. We can teach them that sometimes the most loving thing we can do for ourselves is to let the present moment unfold without any expectation or planning.

Let’s vow to allow time for the pleasurable little moments that engage our senses and connect us back to our bodies: the smell of fresh-baked bread, the taste of that first heavenly sip of coffee, the sound of our children’s laughter, the touch of their soft cheeks, and the sight of their wide-eyed amazement when they learn something new.

Let’s allow ourselves to opt out of a scheduled activity in favor of endless games of Uno. It’s so much more important in the short and the long run. It’s so much better than the rat race. (And we can still sneak in a lesson about not peeking at Mama’s cards.)

Next time we find ourselves making plans for next week or next month, let’s challenge ourselves to take a step back before committing to all of the things. Maybe, just for this week, commit to only some of the things. It may surprise us how freeing it is to just have a night off to play Mario Kart and snuggle.

C’mon, give it a try. I triple-dog-dare you.


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