Thursday, March 14

Sock by Sock


       Have you ever been in a situation in which you look at the task that lies ahead of you and it feels so large, looming and almost insurmountable (at least with the 25 minutes you have before you have to make a meal or pick someone up from school or your children come to find you in the kitchen because they need a band-aid or want to tattle on their sibling) that you shake your head, raise your eyebrows, and tell yourself, “Um, yeah, we’ll save that one for another day.”

     I do this ALL the time and I’m beginning to realize it is a sneaky form of procrastination that is not helping anyone!

     I had 25 minutes (the number of minutes in the Jake and the Neverland Pirates episode that was entertaining Ella) one day last week and went down into our basement (Oi! The basement!) to “clean”. 

     After shuffling past (on the stairs, mind you) several miscellaneous Christmas decorations, extra shoes, a clean vase, a bag of door hinges intended for a future project, a can of paint, a roller,  several mismatched 5 lb. weights, a box of beads…o.k. I’ll stop, but let me tell you there was more and this was just on the stairs leading down to the basement... 

     ...So, after precariously shuffling past all of it, I landed in the pile of dirty towels and socks hapharzadly thrown to the bottom of the stairs (intended for some later day laundry doing) and surveyed the task at hand.

     Then I had an asthma attack…even though I don’t have asthma…fell to the ground in despair, and needed to be carried back up the stairs by the paramedics…

     Just kidding…

     Though that started to feel like a very real possibility.

     What really happened is that I surveyed the situation…got briefly overwhelmed, almost threw in the towel (figuratively and literally!) and decided I was just going to go back upstairs and wallow in the misery of complaining about how organizing and sorting and keeping track of STUFF for the four, almost five, people in our family is IMPOSSIBLE.


     After a brief stay in my pity party…

    I decided that what I would do instead is take my own advice (or, rather, my counselors!) mentioned in my last blog post and lower my expectations!

    I did not have to clean the entire basement today…right now…in this moment. And, just because I would not be able to clean the entire basement today…right now…in this moment…did not mean that there wasn’t something I could do.

    Sometimes part of lowering our expectations is breaking down big tasks into smaller more manageable ones. And then being o.k. with only getting to the smaller more manageable tasks. For today. Maybe you'll get to another small task tomorrow. Maybe.

     So I cleaned the stairs.

     I put that vase on the shelf where it belonged and those hinges with the other “house project” stuff, also on a shelf. I threw a bunch of stuff in the trash and sorted the shoes into one area. I decided the Faith Hill CD that I have owned since living at home with my parents really wasn’t relevant to my life anymore and was simply adding to the clutter. I threw that pretty little CD into the goodwill bag…along with  Avril Lavigne, Madonna, and some obscure folk artist whose album I bought in a moment of inspiration 10 YEARS ago!

     They were soundtracks to a completely different season of life and it was time for them to go! 

      In Anne Lamott's often quoted book on writing, Bird by Bird,  she  says something that has long stayed with me about my own writing, but is also very applicable to other areas in my life, especially since becoming a parent.

     She tells us a story about her brother, at ten years old, working on a research project that he had procrastinated on and the bit of advice her father shares with him: 

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”   Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life


      That image and story has stayed with me for over a decade since I first read the book...I've used it to pull myself out of mental ruts when it comes to all sorts of things, writing and housework being at the top of the  list! 

     And so on those days when I wander around the house and survey the messes and the clutter that seem to appear everywhere and out of nowhere when you have children...

     On the days when I feel like I never may have a free moment to write anything valuable or read a book for pleasure again...

     On the days when there is a massive basket of mismatched socks sitting at the top of my stairs beckoning for someone to bring some order to it...

     ...You'll find me taking one deep breath (or several, depending on the severity of the tasks at hand!) and repeating to  myself...until it sinks into my soul..."Sock by sock momma. Just take it sock by sock." 

I'll leave you with two more great quotes from Bird by Bird...

Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived...Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation... Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.” 


  1. Ha ha! This made me laugh AND think, as any good writing is liable to do. I can so identify with this! Most days I felt burn out just writing my to-do list down; but this is a great reminder to take one task at a time, one minute at a time. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Great thoughts!!! I think I needed to hear that today, but I was pretty happy in my ignorance. Ok, I'm off to do one small thing. Then we'll talk about doing another. Small steps right. I don't want to over do it.

  3. Love this post!! So good for me to read.


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