Dana K. White, the slob’s hero, who is the driving force behind, what for me, was a life-saving perspective on all things homemaking, invented a term for plasticity of time that “people like us” (that is, creative types who really, truly suck at the every day ins and outs of homemaking) experience. She calls it TPAD: Time Passage Awareness Disorder.
It’s not a real pathology, but it is, nonetheless, real. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (that link will take you to a TED Talk) describes something similar in his work on the psychology of creativity: time ceases to exist when we do something we love. He calls this state “Flow”.
TPAD, on the other hand, tells us, in part, that we over-estimate the time it will take to do something that we hate doing. Since we never will have that much time to get something done in one sitting, we would prefer to simply just not do it at all. This leaves us with a laundry list of undone chores that we just never get done because we don’t have what we think will be enough time to get them all done.
This is obviously no way to live, but because doing things we don’t like to do makes time slow to a crawl, and, through experience from our youngest, tenderest age we find that sometimes (but not always), things take longer than we expected, thus making it feel, in the moment, that we have been hanging up the laundry all day.
What does this have to do with summer?
I set up tons and tons and tons of goals for myself this summer. When I did it, I did it without thinking critically about how much time or what kind of effort or what kind of context I would need in order to make these a reality. I did exactly what I tell my ladies who are working through their Ideal Life Exercises with me not to do: I went at it from the perspective of what is not working, instead of what I want in my Ideal Life.
I realize now just how critical that little piece of the Ideal Life Exercise is: we are not here to fix problems. We are here to pursue goals.
But I messed that up this summer. There were goals I was able to make progress on, and there were others for which every single day I asked myself, “why did I put this on my list? Do I like feeling like a failure?”
The TPAD and Flow discussions are important because, given the right context, several of those on-my-list-but-tragic-fails could have been moments of Flow. Instead, they were sidelined by TPAD.
- Wear the same four dresses all summer
- Extend invitations
- Make checklists
- Make pretty food
- Get circus-ready
- Solve housekeeping annoyances
To track progress on these, I made a pretty little spreadsheet for each goal with relevant blocks to color in as I completed them. Yes, I treat myself like a preschooler. Short of giving myself a gold star, this is what I need to do to motivate myself. I recognize that it is childish, but there you have it. I have always maintained that I need to grow up. This should come as no surprise.
I had four dresses with a Cost Per Wear above 1€. My goal this summer was, in part, to reduce that, down to less than 1€. I also had a more wishy-washy goal of feeling less paranoid…less like people were watching me.
Except that I got bored. I got bored of wearing only four dresses, and had to diversify out of fear that I would start to hate the very dresses I had set out to make memories in. In diversifying, although it slowed my progress, it did make the experience more palatable.
My CPW is greatly improved, and that will only improve more as the summer reaches its last days.
I know that, at least in the current summer context, when we are out of rhythm, I lost almost entirely my paranoia that people were looking at me. My fear of it returning is real, though, as we head into a new school year, at a new school, where I will be standing at a gate with new parents who know nothing of my eccentricities. In many ways, it feels like I am the one starting at a new school, and not the boys. But, I digress. This article is not about my fears for the new year.
So…while I did not complete my original challenge, I was able to modify it without feeling like a failure and make progress on that one wishy-washy goal of feeling less paranoid now, no matter what incidence that may have in a new context.
While that Key Performance Indicator of being below 1€ per wear for all four dresses will not be met, I still feel like this challenge was successful.
The goal of this was to practice choosing to be with people, and, also, learning to say “no” by watching others do it.
I was really good at this in the first month of summer. I invited people over to the apartment, which had the added benefit of making it necessary for the apartment to remain somewhat tidy. Upon my mens’ return from their week-long hiatus, though, this became an impossibility.
Much of the impossibility had to do with how guilty I felt for putting the burden on my indulgent husband of refereeing the scalawags (who, let’s be honest, were more than a little bit hard to handle this summer) on his own while I visited with friends in the apartment over coffee.
So once I realized that we were in for some long-haul difficult parenting this summer, I gave up this goal entirely. I did, however, choose to accept a few invitations and issue a few invitations to participate in activities with other families: just not at home.
I made the checklists that I set out to make, and I also updated some of the older ones, like the packing lists I had made when the boys were babies for when we would travel with them.
Whether or not I ever used them is another thing. But while I didn’t really use them as checklists, the act of creating them felt like I was making progress. I only scratched the surface of the impact I could have enjoyed, had I been willing to take the time to actually use those checklists.
I was really really good at this in the first part of the summer. But again, I am going to plead scalawags. Anything that had to be done while they were around, such as making meals, was something that only received a half a thought. A good 90% of our energies this summer were spent making sure they didn’t karate-kick one another into next December.
When I did do it, though, when I did have a few minutes to turn meal-making into a creative moment, it went pleasantly and I enjoyed the eating.
This is where I actually want to cry, I am so disappointed. I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that the boys would be so difficult this summer. Any idea that I might have been able to do my Cirque Plus circuit flew out the window that first day I was trying to do it and my youngest body-slammed me.
Sure, I wrestled my boys. Sure, we did some acrobatics together. Sure, on the playground when no other parents were around I did a few flips with the boys. But my dreams of arriving in some kind of circus-ready shape at any aerial class in the fall (which, already doesn’t even seem like it will be a possibility, as apparently the adult classes at both circus schools have been suspended) is one that I need to bury.
This one is a mixed bag. Some small things, like the laundry issue were dealt with early.
But new annoyances, more serious annoyances are creeping up (when do little boys learn to aim, for example? How do I get into a routine in which I don’t forget to give the cat his insulin shot?) and I just can’t keep up.
This is the category in which, with some distance, I realize that I was trying to solve problems and not trying to live my Ideal Life. I lost the focus, and ended up incredibly frustrated.
Summer isn’t over yet. But what I really want to do is…nothing. I don’t like wanting to give up, but that’s where I am at right now, this morning.
I wish there was some iteration of Flow that would see me through the next two weeks with my family before school starts, when I will finally get back to doing what I love and what makes me feel happy and alive, which would make these two weeks go as quickly as the period at the end of this sentence.
Me, who only two days ago was “wishing I could number my days”, wishing I had an hourglass on my nightstand. That’s me, wishing I could While You Were Sleeping through the next two weeks.
Please promise you won’t tell anyone.