I realized something yesterday. I’m coming up on my birthday, and you know how you think about where you’d like to be in five or ten years on such occasions? For the first time in a quarter of a century, I might not have kids at home by then.
My eldest is 25, so for almost 26 years now I’ve been a mom, and that has been my main priority.The birthday in question is my 50th birthday (I almost don’t want to write that, as though my xanga friends will think “She’s that old?!” and never speak to me again), so I have spent more than half my life being primarily a mom. My youngest is 16, so he might very well be grown up and gone in five years, and certainly will be in ten.
The things that I put off while I was taking care of my kids might not actually be the goals I want to work towards any more. I’m not sure. I need to think about that.
I was in fact thinking about that on the way to yesterday’s morning workshop. It was supposed to be a normal grades 3-5 workshop, and I had lots of fun stuff for the teachers to do — we were going to make centers, and books with pockets, and learn the state song, and I would run through a witty and amusing cocktail-party level history of our state, much more Bill Bryson than Barbara Tuchman. Half the elementary school teachers in my workshops have never taken a class in our state history, and the others have generally forgotten most of it, so I try to give them a sense of the whole sweep of it, with some amusing anecdotes to anchor specific activities. I give them very few dates and almost no names of individuals. It is a low-key approach to history, suitable for people who are going to teach a unit to elementary school kids with no books available.
What I had in my workshops was eighth grade teachers of state history. They have the textbook and have been teaching a full semester of the state history for years.
It was a bit of a shock. I had to put away my plans, and we had a two hour conversation about our state history, with me sharing the cool stories and a few hands-on ideas, and the teachers getting a chance to share frustrations with their classroom circumstances. I think it turned out okay, but there were definitely moments when I wanted to offer them their money back and give up. (If you’re wondering why I didn’t, it’s because all our teachers are required to do two hours of state history training every year, and these guys had come a long way to get their two hours, so by golly they needed to get those two hours.)
My afternoon workshop was canceled. It doesn’t matter; we’ll bill them anyway, I still get paid, I’ll do it for them when they can come up with a time. But they called to say they had a conflict and would I come a bit later? I agreed and they said they’d work it out and call right back , and then forty-five minutes later called to say they wanted to cancel and reschedule later, so that was 45 minutes of doing random stuff while waiting for that call.
Not that there wasn’t plenty of random stuff to do.
Still, it felt like an odd day. And I had stuff on my mind — like getting my taxes done, a task which has several things I have to do first before I can go ahead with that — and stuff on my to-do list that I had not prepared to do yesterday because of the workshops, but which I could have gone ahead with had I known the afternoon one would be canceled. I skipped my Tuesday night class to rehearse with the choirlet, and it was a good rehearsal, so I felt better by the end of the day.
David Allen (is that his name? The GTD guy) writes about this reaction to changes in our work plans. We have our pre-planned work, our to-do list, he says, and then we have the work that arises and the changes made by people with authority to change our plans, and we also have the work like filing or planning that is involved in defining our work. We get stressed over the way other things come up and mess with our to-do list, he says, but we shouldn’t. It’s all work.
Among his ideas, the one that I have found most useful so far is Ubiquitous Capture. I would have said I was already doing that, but it wasn’t as Ubiquitous as I had thought. Yesterday morning, for example, I noticed we were low on coffee, and thought I had better get some. This morning, having not gotten any coffee, I noticed it again and thought that again as I made a pot. Then, when I poured my husband’s coffee, I thought it again — and finally got out my planner and wrote it down. I buy coffee from the Fair Trade table at the church, I’ll be at church for rehearsals tonight, so I wrote it on my to-do list for today. Had I done that in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to think about it three times. I have a show coming up next week. I started to put it into my software when the hostess booked it, but didn’t have her address. I took her packet to her yesterday, failed to get her address, and came home and started to put her show in and realized that I don’t have her address, and then this morning put the computer work for her show onto my to-do list. So once again, I had three thinking-about-it spells, and inefficiency, before actually writing it down. I’m working on getting to one thought, capture, and processing.
For today, I have 11 tasks on my to-do list, plus my normal workday, plus the gym, book club, study group, bells, and choir. It would definitely be stressful to be thinking about things over and over. Things like coffee, I mean, or getting an address. Instead, if I have thinking time, I can put it toward contemplating my future life as an empty-nester, or the role of greenhouse gases in mass extinctions since the Permian era. That’s the kind of thing that’s worth thinking about.