11 June 2008


I have a list problem. I’m so compulsive about my to-do lists that sometimes my lists have lists. This doesn’t mean that I’m an organized person; I’m always losing my lists and having to make new ones, then finding the old ones and making composite lists, which cross-pollinate into third-generation hybrids. But if I didn’t write things down, I might never get anything done. There’s a serious sense of satisfaction in crossing off a task that’s been accomplished in a timely manner.

As we all know, there are few things quite so antithetical to to-do lists as newborns. After the first baby came along, days would pass and my beautiful lists would remain untouched save for the tears of frustration that stained them. I was used to deadlines and schedules, to tasking my time precisely and efficiently. Six weeks after Boy One was born, I found myself in a whole new world, alone in a house full of boxes, holding an intense, often inexplicably Angry little bundle, regarding my lists with a mixture of wistfulness and helpless rage, wondering how a 12-lb. creature could so completely prevent me from accomplishing anything.

Then my wise mother saved my sanity (at least temporarily) by introducing my desperate self to the concept of the Reverse To-Do List. Rules: everything counts. If you do it, write it down, and then you get to cross it off. If you get the table cleared after breakfast, you get to write it down and cross it off. Feeding and changing the baby count (it takes time, and no one else is going to do it, are they now?). Walking across the street to the mailbox counts; trimming Baby’s fingernails counts; bouncing the babe while pacing and singing endless hymns or crazy rhymes counts. Yeah. You get the idea. Everything counts.

The Reverse To-Do List is also helpful if one’s husband is puzzled as to how the existence of just one small baby justifies him coming home to a messy house and an exhausted, disheveled wife who rages incoherently about the fact that he will be ordering pizza if he wants to eat that night or whimpers inconsolably about the fact that she hasn’t brushed her hair or teeth yet—that week. (My husband is fortunately of the understanding variety, and has never attempted to suggest that perhaps more could be accomplished in his absence. But sometimes it makes me feel better when I can present him with a list of what’s gone on while he’s been gone.)

With a new baby in the house again, I sometimes resort again to this sanity saving trick, though I do generally accomplish much more in a day with 3 kids than I did with just one. As an example, I submit the following: a recent morning’s list that I came across while I was, uh, organizing my lists.

Call vet
Call dr. (2 calls)
Sweep floor
Spot-clean floor [notice that the floor gets 2 separate entries—it was two separate accomplishments, after all]
Fed everyone snack
Fed baby—2x [this can be broken down into individual line items if desired]
Changed baby—3x including Bowel Event of the Week (details available upon request)
Load of laundry
Pay phone bill
Clean pee off carpet (mental note to delay potty training again till I’m seriously battle-ready)
Write 2 thx
Renewed library books over phone
Put away some clothes
Cleared kitchen counter (partially)
Didn’t kill children
Didn’t even beat children

Though for some reason he seemed rather amused, the father of said children recognized those last two items as perhaps the most significant, if intangible, accomplishments of that morning, given the rather un-charming phase the Big Brothers were going through that week. And writing it down helped me realize that my morning hadn't been a total wash and that my character was developing along with my household management skills :O. Ah, the power of lists!


Gauntlets said...

Reverse to-do list = brilliant! I like the way you (and your mom) think! :)

Rebekah said...

That is genius, especially the line items. Why garden when you can weed, hoe, and compost? :D

Glenda said...

"didn't kill children" and "didn't even beat children"

When my set was younger - especially the last three who are so close in age, I use to tell people, "I don't condone child abuse, but I sure understand the adult who does it a whole lot more now."

Reb. Mary said...

Glenda: For sure :O And I sometimes am amazed that single parents, or parents who have one spouse on extended overseas duty, are able to refrain from physically or verbally abusing their children. Sadly, child abuse is much more common in single-parent families--and I think that's awful, but I can also understand how it would happen!