When You Accomplish Nothing

I opted not to teach any classes this summer.  I teach college public speaking and writing, and during the fall and spring semesters my husband and I juggle our work hours so one of us always can be home with the girls.  It's ideal, except for the days when our parenting style resembles tag-team wrestling as one of us immediately leaves the ring when the other enters it.

But this summer hasn't been like that.  It's been slow.  It's been leisurely.  It's been as relaxing as things can be when you're constantly in the company of a six-year-old, a three-year-old, and a one-year-old, which means that hasn't been very relaxing at all.

Without speeches to evaluate, essays to grade, and work emails to address, I ought to have so much time on my hands.  This is why I'm frustrated that I have nothing to show for it.

I'm not accomplishing anything.

This weekend my in-laws were in town, and I took two hours on Saturday afternoon to clean our front porch.  I scrubbed the grime off the shutters, wiped down the dusty siding, banished the cobwebs in the corners, and washed the windows.  Each time I plunged the rag into the water bucket and rang it out, I surveyed my work.  Progress was being made.  Siding that was once grungy was now clean.

You don't witness these instant results in parenting.  Parenting involves a great deal of repetitive minutia.  Scraping plates, sweeping floors, wiping bottoms, cutting food into bite-sized portions, adhering band-aids, breaking up arguments, folding laundry, stowing toys, and doing it all again the very next hour, the very next day.

It doesn't feel productive, and I thrive on productivity.  I relish crossing items off items off to-do lists and observing progress.

Of course, when I'm up late with a stack of papers in the fall, my selective memory will edit the monotony from these lazy summer days, but right now I'm floundering a bit.

Yesterday afternoon, though, I was driving the girls between errands.  Reese and Brooke both wanted to sing, and they both wanted a captive audience.  Each would launch into her own song -- Reese belting out a mash-up of Dynamite and We Will Rock You peppered with the Wonder Pets theme song, and Brooke repeating Twinkle, Twinkle.  They'd yell at the each other when the singing overlapped.

It's my turn.  You need to listen.

No, I'm singing.  You need to be quiet.

I offered a solution.  One girl would sing for one minute while everyone listened.  Then, the other would sing for a minute.  Then there would be a full minute of silence when I mentally detoxed.

During those minutes of silence, I thought.  As a mother of three young children, perhaps my greatest achievements aren't the ones that I can visibly measure.  Perhaps my greatest achievement each day is handling these everyday moments with patience and grace, treating these little charges of mine with care, and attending to the daily routine with focus and whole-heartedness.

I thought of Dr. King's What Is Your Life's Blueprint speech:

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it.  Don’t just set out to do a good job.  Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.  

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera.  Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

These words make me feel like I can go on, like I have fresh winds in my sail.

If my current lot in life is to referee one-minute increments of singing every time I drive around town, then, Lord, let me do it better than anyone has ever managed.  Let me be so full of grace and patience and attentiveness that I can rest my head on my pillow at night, review the day, and realize: I accomplished something today.

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  1. Motherhood is a very important job.

    Glad that MLK gave you the inspiration you needed to see how well you are doing with your children!

  2. Love your blog. We share many of the same thoughts and sentiments. Thanks for writing and keep it up.

  3. Amen. I loved the MLK excerpt too. This is what I needed to read today. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for writing this.. I was really down today, this has helped heaps thanks

  5. i need more patience and grace, thank you for reminding me what I need to pray for!


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