Monday, January 12, 2015

The Productive Parent

It’s a pretty typical Sunday morning. The house is a disaster. I survey the damage.

There are boots and coats and toys and books and dishes and rapidly aging holiday cards as far as the eye can see. And socks. My god there are socks everywhere. For a reason I can’t quite explain, my children go through 3-4 pairs of socks each day. They take them off immediately whenever they come inside the house and replace them with a fresh pair. And they leave their old socks just about anywhere. It is a horrifying and disgusting habit and I can always tell just how much we’ve let things slide on cleaning by how many stray socks are in my line of sight.

I review the list in my head of what’s on tap, of what needs to get done. Sunday will be busy indeed. I’ve done two loads of laundry already and the laundry hamper is still completely full. I have no idea how this is even possible. We’ve got two different birthday parties and three different cards to make, the grocery shopping is a high priority, at least 1-2 naps for the baby, both Phil and I want to exercise, Dylan’s basketball game, bills, chores, oil changes….

At some point I just give up mentally listing it all out knowing that the odds that all of it will get done are slim. Already, somewhere around 9:15AM I feel a sense of futility about the day. I know I will go to the bed and the house will still be a mess. The hamper will still be full. Those three phone calls I needed to make? I probably won’t have done them. I will be so busy, but to what end?

I head downstairs to see if Dylan is ready for his first birthday party of the day. He is working on a birthday card and I see his favorite board game by his feet. I know he leaves it close by him because he is hoping that if someone walks by unsuspectingly, he will make them his board game victim and lure them in to play. Even at 37 I remember so acutely what it is like to want a grown up’s attention so I quickly say without even thinking, “Will you promise me one game today? It probably won’t be till much later, but I want you to promise me that you and I will have a game.” He does, and off we go into the busy of the day.

I’ve been very stuck on the concept of busy lately – of what constitutes busy, what makes us feel that way. Lately I feel like I’ve been stuck in the cult of busy. I talk so much about how busy I am because I think that makes me feel relevant and important (to whom?) but I’m not sure that the swirl of mental and physical chaos I’ve been operating in actually constitutes relevance or importance. Recently, I watched a short clip of Kory Kogon, one of the authors of The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, talking about how too often we fill our lives and commentary with busy; that is, we focus on the transactional parts of the day. But in fact, everyone is busy, but only some of us are actually productive. She says that the difference between busy and productive lies in the answer to these questions: am I getting the right things done? Am I getting the important things done? Being productive means shifting your emphasis away from all the mindless little crap that is always going to fill up our day, instead to the 2-3 big rocks that are going to move you forward toward your goal.

If I take Kogon's words at face value, being a productive parent on any given day means I have to actually know what the goal is (which I don’t always) and to do something each day that reflects that I am moving toward it. Sometimes it just so easy to forget in the busy-ness of life, that our job is not to just exist as their caretakers, their laundry do-ers and grocery shoppers, but that there is bigger stuff at work. That we must always keep our eyes on the real prize, the real goal: that of raising men and women with empathy and curiosity. I’ve always despised how few handbooks there are on this. How you just have to love and feel your way through it. How you have to model and teach something that is nearly impossible to wrap your fingers around.

The day unfolds much as I expect. We are busy. We are seemingly in constant motion and the baby never even gets to nap. She eats lunch on a basketball court, the rest of us in our car. Dylan shows some questionable sportsmanship on the court and we go home and have a difficult conversation about what it means to be a teammate and friend. There is lots of crying and it feels like a complete waste that everyone has exhausted themselves and most of their afternoon doing something that he declares as officially the worst day ever. The hamper is still full. And there are fucking socks everywhere.

But we limp toward the finish line of bedtime. We get everyone bathed and mostly fed with something that mildly looks like dinner and involves at least one fruit, one vegetable, and many nitrates. Dylan reminds me of my early morning promise and of course, he’s right. So I walk away from the tower of dishes and we play a rousing game of NFL Game Day. In the end, my Dallas Cowboys narrowly defeat his Arizona Cardinals. He is gracious in defeat.

As he cleans up the game, I ask him what the best part of his day has been. There was two hours of Super Mario Brothers, two birthday parties, a cupcake and cake, one basketball game, and NFL playoffs on the television all day. Despite all of this, I am sure I already know his answer. Without hesitation, he smiles and replies, “this!” I can’t help but smile back. I kept my promise to him and I think he’ll remember that. He’s a good boy. I’m proud of that.  That feeling of pride in my chest flickers like a tiny reminder of what is really important, of what it is Phil and I are actually doing here.

There are socks and dishes everywhere, but he lets me kiss him on top of his head while he cleans up our game. I feel pretty productive.


  1. Aww, this truly made me smile and you are right sometimes all the organizing and cleaning in the world doesn't make up for the real moments as you just described above. Beautiful ;)

  2. Love this! I sometimes get so caught up in my to-do list, but then even taking 10 minutes to play is so worth it. We're usually the ones worried about the laundry and the cleaning-- the other peeps in the house won't remember all that. They'll remember the time we spend with them!

  3. Sometimes trying to be productive is what makes me meshugah. Only so much time in the day and so much to do.

  4. I love this, mostly because we have socks everywhere too! What is UP with the socks? xox

  5. This was wonderfully representative of my Sundays, too, and with four kids I honestly feel like if I don't run things tightly it will be more chaos than I can handle. But I do feel I miss more random moments of just being with them than I should.