ONE TASK by Katy Newton Naas
My laptop rests on the kitchen counter. Beside me, potatoes boil on the stove and meat soaks in marinade. Behind me, my oldest son sits at the kitchen table, gluing Q-tips on a sheet of white paper, creating his “Book of 100 Things” for the 100th Day of School. Every few minutes, he asks for something – a pair of scissors (“No, not regular scissors, Mom, I need the ones that cut in a zig-zag shape”) or an orange crayon (“This one is broken. Can you get one from a different box?”). Below me, my youngest son bangs wooden spoons on the pot I pulled out of the cabinet for him. I praise his musical abilities and he grins up at me in appreciation. When his drumming quiets for just a moment, I hear the sound of the washer and dryer humming in the background. I eye the stack of narrative essays I need to grade and tell myself to start grading them, but my compulsion to write wins and I decide to start my grading later – probably while sitting on the floor of the bathroom while my boys play in the bathtub. If I don’t get them finished then, I can always continue them while I rock my youngest to sleep later in the evening.
I am the ultimate multitasker. I am every mother in America.
My to-do list is never-ending. At least once a day, I wish for an extra hour. My lesson planning is never completed too far in advance, and everywhere I look in my house, I see something I have neglected that week – dust on the computer desk, a stack of mail I have yet to go through, bills that are waiting to be paid. At any given moment, my mind is moving in a million different directions.
And while I tease my husband about my superior multitasking skills – something that his brain is just not wired to do the way mine is – the truth is, I’ve come to realize that it’s the very thing that’s hurting me and those closest to me.
Just the other day, my oldest son played a video game while I rocked my youngest to sleep for his afternoon nap. I patted his little back with one hand and scrolled through my e-mails on my laptop with the other. My oldest suddenly said with excitement, “Mom, did you just see that?”
I glanced up at the TV screen and saw Mario standing at the flag – a sign that he had beat a level. “Good job, buddy,” I said, pretending that I was watching the whole time.
He was quiet for a moment, and then he got up off the couch and walked toward me. He leaned on the arm of the rocking chair and put his face close to mine before he said, “Mom, would you please put your computer down for just a minute? I really want you to watch me play this. I’ve never been this far before.”
Ouch. “Of course I will,” I said, setting my computer on the table beside me and smiling at him.
He began to play again and I kept my attention on the screen, giving the appropriate responses as he navigated through the game. “Wow, that was close!” “How did you do that?” “That bad guy sure looks scary!”
At first, he kept looking over at me, making sure I was really watching. But when he realized I truly wasn’t picking up my computer, he began to relax and have fun again.
Granted, it was just a video game – not something that ranks very high on my list of important things to do. But to him, it was a big deal. And pretending to pay attention to him while he played didn’t fool him – if anything, it only made him not trust me.
A few days later, we had a rare spring-like day in January, and the boys and I decided to take advantage of it by going for a walk. They loaded into the double stroller and I started down our long driveway when I realized I had forgotten my phone. “Just a minute,” I said, turning the stroller around to head toward the house. “I forgot something.”
“Aw. What’d you forget?” my anxious little guy said in disappointment.
“My phone,” I said.
“No, don’t go get it,” he said. “You don’t need it.”
“I don’t like to leave home without it,” I said. “What if Daddy calls on his way home from work or something?”
The next sentence out of his mouth was so quiet, I almost didn’t hear it. It took a moment to process what he even said when he mumbled, “But if we leave it at home, you can’t text anybody.”
Ouch. I didn’t even respond, unsure of how to do so. Any time I am looking at my phone, he assumes I am “texting,” when in reality, I would guess that compared to most, I don’t send a lot of texts. But scrolling my newsfeed on Facebook? Guilty. Checking my e-mail? All the time.
I still went in and got the phone. But I put it in the cup holder of the stroller and told myself not to even touch it unless I received a call. When we stopped at the creek so the boys could throw rocks in the water, I even resisted the urge to pick it up and take pictures of them (I am definitely guilty of documenting every moment – and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I know how tired my son gets of my constant picture-taking), telling myself to just enjoy the moment with them. With my face away from the screen, I got to see the excitement on my boys’ faces when we passed a field full of deer. I noticed the huge flock of birds that flew over our heads and showed them to the boys as well. We laughed. We got dirty. And that night, when I asked my son what his favorite part of the day was, he said, “Going for a walk with you.”
This doesn’t stop with my kids. I know it carries over into my marriage, too. And while my husband understands that this life we share is busy, it doesn’t make it any more fair to him.
Lately, I’ve found it carrying over into the one relationship that is supposed to be most important to me: the relationship I have with God. I find myself praying throughout the day, but not finishing my prayer because my wandering mind takes control. When I’m studying my Bible in the morning, it only takes one phrase or sometimes even one word to remind me of something in my life, and once again, my focus is gone. I find myself apologizing to God and trying to regain my focus, only to lose it again a few minutes later. As I said before, my mind is always going in a million directions. The only direction I really want it to go is up.
Things have to get done. Clothes have to be washed. My family has to be fed. Papers have to be graded. Lessons have to be planned. But all of those things are just that…things. I can’t let them take over my mind at the expense of the relationships that are the center of my life. I have to make a conscious effort to let go. Let some of the items on my daily to-do list go undone. Put the phone down. Resist the urge to scroll mindlessly through social media or let my mind wander to things that happened earlier that day or that will happen later in the week and be present for my family, for my Lord.
Multitasking is an inevitable part of any mother’s life. In today’s crazy world, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all in. But I’m learning to let things go. I’m learning to be all there when it comes to my relationships. At the end of my life, I won’t remember if I took an extra day to get those essays graded or what someone posted on Facebook.
What I will remember is the time I spent – time I truly spent, physically and mentally – with those I love.