Motherhood, and also just adulthood in general, comes with a long list of menial, repetitive tasks. The dishes must be washed, the laundry must be folded, the grass must be mowed, the floor must be swept, the oil must be changed, the windows must be scrubbed, the garden must be weeded, the meals must be cooked. Over and over again, forever and ever, from now until the end of your lives.
No one tells you any of this in their peppy graduation speeches. There's a lot of, "You can be anything you want in this world! You're going to do amazing things! Go get 'em!" and not a whole lot of, "And, oh yeah, those piles of laundry don't wash themselves. Have fun with that." (They also never tell you that, yes, you can eat ice cream on the couch after the kids go to bed--so there are some hidden perks.)
There are days when I feel like my life is slowly evaporating in monotonous tasks. Sometimes it seems like I have nothing to show for these hours and days that I'm living. It can be kind of a discouraging thought to realize you could live your whole life and come to the end of it, and no one will really care that you've folded 23,541 loads of laundry. It actually doesn't look that impressive in an obituary.
But then, there are also days when I don't mind those boring tasks one bit. When I don't have to think about what I'm doing, then I can think about whatever else I want. My hands are busy, but my mind is utterly and completely free. There's something quite pleasant in that.
When I was reading Emily's Quest a few weeks ago, I came across the following passage. And it was satisfying to find out that Emily Byrd Starr agrees with me:
"This evening, just when I was in the middle of a story Aunt Elizabeth said she wanted me to weed the onion-bed. So I had to lay down my pen and go out to the kitchen garden. But one can weed onions and think wonderful things at the same time, glory be. It is one of the blessings that we don't always have to put our souls into what our hands may be doing, praise the gods--for otherwise who would have any soul left? So I weeded the onion-bed and roamed the Milky Way in imagination."It sounds fairly romantic--especially that bit about roaming the Milky Way--but there's a lot of truth in it. There are so many things I enjoy doing when I don't have to be fully engaged with the physical task at hand.
The first, and probably most obvious one, is to "think wonderful things," as Emily put it. I don't know that my thoughts are always wonderful, but I love to just let my mind wander. I stew over problems (and brainstorm solutions), I formulate new blog posts, I ponder eternal truths (which sounds much more impressive than, at least in my case, it actually is), and I make plans for the future. And for me, I actually think a lot more clearly if I'm busy doing something instead of sitting still and trying to think.
Monotonous tasks also give me the perfect opportunity to indulge in some inspiring or entertaining listening. For the last few months, I've been listening to a conference talk first thing in the morning before I listen to anything else (I've had this one and this one on repeat lately). It gets the day started right and reminds me to focus on the important things. I tend to listen to audiobooks when the kids are asleep or occupied (I'm listening to The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton right now--so good!) and podcasts when they're likely to need my frequent attention (two recent favorites: Bringing Up Betty and The Yarn).
I'm not much of a singer, but occasionally, I like to sing while I work. It makes me feel happy and alive. But even more than that, I like to put on some upbeat music. It's energizing--for me and my kids. Sometimes--usually--dancing ensues.
A task like washing the dishes gives me the perfect opportunity to call someone on the phone. It's almost always my mom, but once in a while I branch out to a friend that I need to catch up with. The truth is, I don't love talking on the phone, but if I'm busy doing something else, it can be fun.
Not recently, but quite a bit in the past, I used those mindless tasks to memorize scriptures or poems or hymns. Wiping down the bathroom sink took the same amount of time as five repetitions of a certain phrase. I should get back into that.
I've also found that if I'm doing something fairly stationary (like making dinner or folding laundry), it's a great time to have some quality time with my kids. I can help them with homework or projects. I can let them help me with whatever I'm doing. I can ask them questions and take the time to listen to all their grand ideas.
So yes, I've definitely found ways to enjoy doing almost every task in our home. My problem now stems from the fact that it's almost impossible to "think wonderful thoughts" if I'm being interrupted four different times by four different people. But I happen to be quite fond of those four little people, so usually I don't mind.
What do you do to engage your mind while your hands are busy?