Time for one thing: Just Do It

Who needs a man when you can buy yourself a bucketful of lilacs?

Published September 29, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

on "The X-Files," alien abductees experience the phenomenon of "missing
time." I think I'm an abductee and I know the little alien who did this to
me. Before I had a kid, I never used to say, "Wait a minute! Where did that
weekend go? Wasn't it Friday night an hour ago?" I used to have gobs of
time, enough for work and play and chores and fun, fun, fun. But parenthood
has taken its toll. I'm not just talking about the big stuff, like being
your child's fount of all that is good and right. I'm talking about getting
the freaking trains to run on time. Soccer practice. Raffle tickets. Sunday
school homework (give me a break), play dates, haircuts. Remembering to
pack a spoon in his lunch box along with the snack-size JELL-O. This
is the stuff that eats your brain. I have turned into a complete slug in
the parts of my life that are not about work and kid raising. I can't get a
blessed thing done.

My to-do list has gotten so unwieldy, I don't think I can choose just
one thing to make time for. Should I finally get my son's "Toddler
Milestones" recorded in the "Baby's Memories" book? He turns 6 next month.
Should I sort through those shoe boxes of photographs, maybe join one of
those artsy-craftsy cults that indoctrinates you in the fine sanitarium art
of making snapshot collages? Maybe I should do something practical, like
call somebody about my Macintosh which I have to boot up from the system
CD, restart, massage, coddle and pray to, just to get it to start every
morning. Maybe I should do something good for me, like go outside and do
that thing I've often seen people do, where they put one foot in front of
the other, briskly, while wearing headphones. Or I could do a combination
mental health maintenance and fall clean-sweep by weeding the stacks of
paper that grow on every surface of my office at home -- my favorite being
the foot-high pile of yellowing newspaper clips from my old job, which I
left two years ago.

Or maybe I should try to finish one of the books I've started over the
past six years. Here's my partial -- and I do mean partial -- reading list
and the pages on which I stopped: "Time and Tide" by Edna O'Brien, 139;
"The Night Manager" by John le Carré, 113; "Middlemarch" by George Eliot
(undertaken when my son was an infant, in what I can only surmise was an
advanced case of denial), 141; "Ladder of Years" by Anne Tyler, 50.

Then there are the videos, too numerous to mention, that my husband and
I have rented but never watched because by the time the kid finally went to
sleep, it was 10 o'clock and we were too exhausted to make the two-hour
viewing commitment. One weekend, I felt so guilty over being out of the
movie loop, I stayed up after my spouse hit the sack and watched a double
bill of "Broken Arrow" and "Sense and Sensibility." I dreamed about Jane
Austen stealing thermonuclear warheads, but at least I crossed two movies
off my wanna-see list.

You know what ticks me off? When a friend without kids asks me if I
watched "Charlie Rose" last night. Oh, yeah, right. IF, by some miracle, I
happened to be in an upright position in front of the tube at midnight, do
you think I would waste my precious hour of viewing time watching
"Charlie Rose"? No! I would watch that episode of "Buffy the Vampire
Slayer" that I taped last week but haven't had time to look at. Now,
technically, I could watch that "Buffy" tape during my workday because
watching TV is part of my job, but then I would have to lose an hour
(actually, 45 minutes if you fast forward over the commercials) that I
could have spent writing or researching my next article. And it is a well
known fact of parenthood that if you indulge yourself for 45 minutes
instead of getting something done, that squandered 45 minutes will
come back to haunt you.

All these tasks undone and videos unwatched and books unfinished -- what
a gnawing sense of defeat. For a long time now, I've been thinking that
what I need is not more time, but more confidence. What I need is the
clarity of thought to not panic in the face of all this STUFF, to be able
to pick just one thing, focus on it uninterrupted for as long as it
takes and JUST DO IT.

"Baby's Memories," prepare to be vanquished!

By Joyce Millman

Joyce Millman is a writer living in the Bay Area.

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