The One Thing
NOTE: This piece was originally published on 2.18.16.
One of the biggest surprises about the last six months is how easy parenting is.
Now, our daughter is barely half a year old right now. She’s still stationary. She drinks from a bottle. She doesn’t talk, so she doesn’t talk back. I’m fully aware that all of those things will change. Very soon. And when they do, parenting is going to get a lot more complicated.
But right now it’s a breeze. Right now I can change a diaper, in the dark, by muscle memory alone. Right now I can prepare a bottle with one hand. Right now I can make up songs, because I don’t have to fret too much about the moral and instructional content of a six-month-old’s entertainment.
So, right now, the actual parenting stuff is a piece of cake. The hard thing, though, isn’t what I have to do during the day. The hard part is giving up all the other stuff I want to do, or like to do, so I can focus on getting done what needs to be done.
As an introvert, I like quiet, alone time. I like walking alone and I like solitude. I like having big chunks of time to putz around the house, tinker with a creative project, close my eyes while deeply listening to a favorite album.
I like to get lost in my head. It’s my favorite place to be. Comfortable, well-worn, inviting.
But I was also raised to be a contributing member of society. A person who gives more than he takes.
So I’ve learned how to become a very productive person. I’m used to getting stuff done, on time. It’s a defense mechanism, really, against my professional insecurities and my Imposter Syndrome. It’s a crutch. A shortcut to feeling whole, valuable, necessary.
I’ve had to give up this crutch after Jolene was born. Being productive is no longer the holy grail. In being attentive and responsive to our daughter, I’m learning that my schedule is only as solid as the next 5-minute block. I can’t plan ahead for the evening or the afternoon. I can’t wage war on a monster To Do list just to feel like I’m deserving of my spot in the world.
Instead, I whittle my day down to One Thing. One achievable goal that moves my life (and I mean my life, as opposed to my life as a dad or a husband or an employee) ahead in some measurable way. And even that is sometimes wishful thinking. I focus on One Thing that isn’t bound by time or geography (“Watch the sunrise from the river” won’t make the cut, for example.)
That One Thing might be a genuine and thoughtful response to a friend’s email. It might be a chapter of a book — after Jolene is asleep and the house has been properly “turned down.” It might be a few minutes of mindless strumming on the guitar.
I want to teach Jolene how to balance the drive for achievement with the necessity of mental peace. I want her to grow up with big, wild, too-big-for-this-world dreams. But I don’t want her to be a slave to a schedule.
Mostly, I want to her to learn to do One Thing well.