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Forget The To-Do List—You Need A To-YOU List

The kids and I made cake pops on Sunday, an activity otherwise unremarkable except for what I did afterward. The kit came with reusable plastic sticks and when I stored the pops in the fridge, I realized there was a good chance either the kids or the babysitter would toss the sticks. And so I wrote, in blue permanent marker on the bag, “Please save the sticks!”

I am fully aware this seems like excessively anal behavior but thing is, if damn sticks ended up in the trash, it would be up to me to find replacement ones—and that would be one more thing to do on my already endless to-do list. It’s just easier to label a bag and hope for the best.

Like many women, I am the person in my marriage who deals with the details of running a family. I’m the one who notices when we are out of breakfast cereal or paper towels or that the kids have no pants left that actually fit them or that it’s time we all visited the dentist. I stay on top of it all because I am super-responsible that way. But I am not taking care of me. Forget saving the cake pop sticks; somebody needs to save Mommy.

Years ago, when I was a junior editor at Redbook, the magazine came out with a “Juggler” ad campaign. It was about the working mom who puts her kids first, her job second, her husband third and herself last. I was single at the time and I thought that sounded like a rather crappy existence. And now I have become that woman.

Yes, I know: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy! Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child! [Insert more self-help blah blah blah.] Yet taking care of myself is so far from my reality. Maybe once a week, I work out. I don’t have time for mani-pedis. Haircuts? Only when my split ends make me look like this:

Sometimes, when I’m walking home from the train at the end of the work day, I’ll squeeze in a call to a friend. When I actually have time to chill at home, I find it hard to stop doing stuff. The other weekend I sat down on the sofa to read while the kids were at activities, and I noticed streaks on a nearby window so I cleaned them. Then I realized I hadn’t watered our plants and then I decided to finish cleaning the breakfast dishes and then I paid some bills and swept the front porch and then the kids came home.

That was insane.

It’s not just the lack of R&R; I’ve been ignoring my health, too. For the last five months I’ve had this pain in lower part of my stomach. It comes and goes. I mentioned it to the doc at my annual and he thought it might be disintegrating fibroids, which sounded as if a sci-fi flick was taking place in my nether regions. The pain’s only gotten worse, and I haven’t dealt with it because I have many, many other priorities in my life. Like writing dire messages on Baggies.

But something happened Sunday night after I’d put the labeled cake pops bag back into the fridge: I couldn’t stop thinking about them. It was bugging me that I’d taken the time to do something so trivial and that I’d barely done anything for myself the whole week, unless you count tweezing my brows (which, sadly, I did).

I called my friend Wendy. “Do you ever feel like you put yourself last on your to-do list?” I asked. She instantly knew what I meant.

“I’m not even on my list,” Wendy answered. We laughed and laughed at her half-joke.

When we hung up, I decided to make a list of stuff that I needed to do for me. My “To You” list, I labeled it. First up: Make a doctor’s appointment. Also: Take an actual lunch break during work instead of scarfing down food at my desk. Buy myself new heels. Join the gym. Read more books. Get more sleep. And a bunch of other good stuff.

Yesterday, I made the doctor’s appointment. I had lunch with a friend. I watched the debut of Smash without once returning an email, filling out a school form or working on a post.

This is exactly what my life needs: More stuff on my “To You” list. Less labeling of Baggies.

Join me: Make a “To You” list. What’s at the top of yours?

 

Animal/Ben Sutherland

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