June 16, 2014

Sometimes we place too much importance on productivity

Okay, maybe I'm being dramatic. Being productive is a good thing, right? I mean, it's such a positive word. We like being called productive. We like feeling productive. And for fanatical planners like myself, we like dreaming about and pre-scheduling all the productiveness we can. 

I don't know about you, but I plan to the point of obsessiveness, and I become irrational about completing things and checking them off my list. My calendar and my "To Do" list often rule my life. And...I'm pretty damned productive...most of the time. Until I'm not. Until I've scheduled, planned, and "produced" myself right into a corner where I rock myself back and forth and mumble under my breath.

Some people are naturally high-strung or easily stressed out. I'm going to assume (maybe wrongly) that more women fall under this category than men, because many of us truly try to "do it all". I think that may be why I only feel "normal" during the summer, when I'm not "working" (I put that in quotes, because any stay-at-home mom knows their job is just as tough as going elsewhere to work). Suddenly, I'm not doing it all. I don't even have to try. I can have a clean house and still have time to write, or sit on the couch and read, or do something fun with my son. 

At 3:05 last Friday, my life changed. My students, bless them, boisterously ran out the door, yelling, chasing each other; some were hugging and crying (even though they will see each other in a few days or text each other ten minutes after they part), because, let's face it, middle school is the land of self-initiated drama. 

I'm still a lot like them. Maybe that's why I stay there. Because, even though they don't make a darn bit of sense to a lot of people, they do to me (most of the time). 

This isn't so helpful for the people around me who are not daily mired in the beautiful insanity of "tweendom". They don't get it. And I'm afraid, that means, sometimes they don't get me.

But, in the summer, when I'm away from it all, I change. I'm not driven by the needs of 90 young people. I only have one. I'm not planning, and copying, and meeting parents, and phone-calling, emailing, grading, counseling, poster-making, website-building, tidying, going to meetings and workshops, trying to fit in a work out, a dog walk, homework help, house-cleaning, raising a child, yard work, running errands, keeping a budget, and trying desperately to find some time just to sit and relax, without 42 things that need to be done running through my brain.

Summer is when I reclaim my balance and my mental health. And for better or worse, it's when I reclaim my place in my family. 

It's common that we dislike doing at home what we have already had to do all day. Housekeepers might have a messy house. Mechanics might drive a nearly broken down car. Landscapers may have an overgrown lawn. Me...I've been "needed" all day. I've answered questions and mentored and discussed and demonstrated from one end of the day to the next. By 5:00, I'm tapped out. 

The problem is...I don't have the luxury of tapping out...so, I keep going - somehow. And I make up for what I couldn't get done during the week on the weekend. It leads to nine and a half months of constantly feeling overworked and knowing I'll never get it all done. Not good for the psyche.

On Friday, I did something very unlike me. I walked out of my classroom and left several things "undone". Yes, I'm likely to pay for it when I return, but, it felt good just walking away. My "To Do" list isn't going anywhere. All the filing and tidying will still be there in August.

And my summer "To Do" list? Normally, by this time, it would already be a mile long. I'll admit...I have planned to get the house in order this first week, one room at a time, cleaning things out and taking several trips to Goodwill, cleaning carpets and dusting places that haven't seen a cleaning rag since last summer. And I have signed my son up for swimming lessons and several day camps (both for his benefit and my sanity). But, otherwise, I'm really just going to work on not caring that my yard isn't perfect and that the dishes aren't done. I'm going to focus on doing things I like to do. It already feels weird. And I'm not at all positive how successful my plans will be. Because, while I'm a pretty darn good planner, but I will admit that rarely does plan A work out. I'm more of a plan B or C or F sort of person. 

It works sort of like this:

Idea + Implementation = Success (this is the ultimate goal)

Idea + Attempted Implementation + Moving on to Idea 2.0 + (Blood + Sweat + Tears) + Attempted Implementation = Good Enough (though possibly quite far from what I had initially expected)

And this can be done quite quickly. In the classroom, I can go from Plan A to Plan F in the course of about 30 minutes, depending on how the planets are aligned, how many announcements come across the loudspeaker, who's broken up with whom, changes in the schedule, snow falling, power outages...you name it.  I've learned over the years how to "let go" of things. I make plans, sure...every teacher does. But I make them knowing full well they'll be changed by lunchtime. I do all my planning in pencil and have a collection of large erasers. I'm flexible, and I've learned to re-plan on a whim. At home, I'm more resistant to changing my plans, and I can doggedly hold on to them until I've nearly driven myself mad. Maybe it's a product of having to give up so much control at school. I'm sort of a control freak...and I've got to have at least one outlet for my neurosis. Or do I?

I'm working on learning to walk away from things when they don't work out the way I want them to. Take some time away. Re-evaluate. Come back later and try again...or not. I'm working on living at home the way I do at work. Plan in pencil and deal with it gracefully when those plans fall through, accept that several living things call this place home and it cannot look the way I expect it to, and embrace the fact that the mess means this house is well lived in and activity abounds. Their idea of clean is not the same as mine...but, it's good enough.

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