Rethinking What It Means To Finish


I’ve realized lately that I’m not a finisher. At all.

Oh, I start things well, eagerly and enthusiastically – usually when I’m manic and full of optimism, seething with vim and vigor and the ridiculously strong belief that I can get things done. In fact, I am a terrific, world-class starter! I could give starting lectures, or write a book series: How to Start Things, in Five Easy Steps. In the past year, I have set out to train for a half-marathon, started a business, for Pete’s sake, committed to write weekly blogs, made ambitious housekeeping schedules, and given myself strict work/leisure routines. Sounds great, right? I may just be the coolest, most put-together working mom in the history of the universe, right?

Except I ran on the treadmill for six minutes one day, walked briskly for twenty minutes the rest of the week, and decided that a half-marathon would be too likely to make my lungs explode and my toe nails fall off. It took me only seven days to quit that goal entirely.

In the same way, I spent a weekend feverishly working on an idea for a new business. I designed an entire website, joined the local Chamber of Commerce, did the paperwork to start an LLC,  created a Facebook page, and launched several ad campaigns. In one weekend. Granted, I was riding the manic train at the time – sleeping about four hours per night, forgetting to eat, freaking Dustin out with my vacant, wild eyes, etc. – but still. I was so exhausted by Monday morning, and so discouraged by my inability to attract customers, that I just stopped altogether. I’ve barely worked on my business since.

As for all the other things, well, my plans have gone much as you might expect. This is my first blog entry in months. My housekeeping schedule now consists of loading/unloading the dishwasher. When I can, that is. (Sorry showers and toilets – I’ll get around to you at some point. Stairs, let’s be honest, you’re not going to get vacuumed.)  And my lofty ambitions to achieve a healthy work/family/leisure balance? Well, let’s just say that the other day, I was toiling away on my computer when Penelope grabbed my face, physically turned it towards hers, and tearfully yelled at me to listen to her words, make her a sandwich, turn the Curious George Christmas special back on, and for the love of all that is good change Malcolm’s diaper! My daughter shouldn’t have to yell at me to get my attention. My four-year-old shouldn’t have to be the one to tell me that my baby has a poopy diaper, and has been reeking for the last hour. Something is very wrong with that picture.

What became of all the amazing things I started? Why couldn’t I finish even one of them? I wish I knew. I wish I was a finisher. I saw a Facebook meme the other day that slapped me in the face. It said “I know how it feels to quit. Now I’d like to see what it’s like to keep going.” What is it like to keep going, after all? What am I missing by flaking out every time something gets hard or boring or inconvenient?

If I’m honest, there’s another, perhaps more troubling side to that question as well. Why one earth am I attempting to add all these things to my life? Why am I effectively setting myself up to fail? I’m the mother of two children, after all, one of whom requires constant care, vigilance, and medical attention. I’ve got to get Malcolm to multiple appointments each week, make sure he’s not fighting infection, give him his medicine, clean his feeding tube…sometime I feel like I am single-handedly responsible for just keeping him alive. That’s a lot of pressure, I can tell you. I’ve also got to get Penelope to and from play dates and back and forth from preschool – not to mention deal daily with her enormous mop of hair! Where did that hair come from, by the way? I’ve spent my whole life trying to tease up my dead-straight coif into an acceptable level of volume. How did my daughter end up with an unruly, gorgeous mane of curls?

I’m a working mom, as well – the managing editor of a large website, with a lot of responsibilities. And I’m trying to keep on top of my own health. The truth is that Bipolar disorder takes a lot of effort to manage. A lot more effort than I can give it at times. And to add insult to injury, I have no molars right now. Okay, that’s an exaggeration: I still have three brave, uncracked little souls up top! But I can’t chew things properly. I deal with chronic pain. There’s a lot on my plate, in other words. Why do I feel like I need to be adding half-marathons to the mix? When is enough, well, enough?

I think there is a simple answer, actually. I don’t feel like I’m doing enough, planning enough, working enough, mothering enough. I don’t feel like I am enough, a lot of the time.  And so maybe, just maybe, if I throw that marathon on the pile, or sign up for yet another commitment I can’t fulfill, I’ll finally make the grade. This is a common curse for women of my age and generation, and I’m not the first to blog about the tremendous pressure to have everything together – not by a long shot. We all feel like we need to be superwoman. And every time I read a Facebook status where someone talks about their amazing new exercise regime, or their amazing (frankly ridiculous) new caveman diet that is changing their life and saving the planet, or the amazing new Pinterist birthday party they are planning for their child, I start to panic a little. Because I don’t have time for fad diets and life-changing exercising and cupcakes that look like little owls. I don’t have time to be that amazing. I’m barely keeping diapers changed around here, people. Penelope sometimes has popcorn for dinner. All my laundry all goes into the washer together (whites and colors together, in one delightfully unsegregated load) and afterwards, I don’t hang up  a single piece of lingerie to air dry. Not even one.

I’m starting to think, as I write all this down and take the time to process, that my trouble finishing is all of a matter of how I view things. Maybe I – maybe all of us – need to look at finishing another, more constructive way. Maybe some days, finishing looks like two kids that have clothes (or at least diapers) on, and have eaten enough to fill their tummies. Maybe finishing looks like keeping up with work email and paying the mortgage on time and remembering to go to the bathroom once in a while. Or maybe finishing just looks like surviving another day however we can do it. Maybe finishing, in reality, gets all confused and muddled up with failing, because we don’t give ourselves credit for how much courage it takes to live, and keep living.

There are so many things I’d like to do in my life. So many good habits I’d like to create. I would feel so good about myself if I drank enough water every day and didn’t fill up on empty calories (Cheezits. KitKats. Peppermint M&Ms. Y’know. The good stuff). I would feel a great sense of accomplishment and peace if I blogged every week, and honed my craft. I would love to meditate every day and train my body to do great things – climb mountains and run marathons and swim channels. But for now, I’m deciding that for once in my life, enough is enough. I don’t need to finish anything major right now. I’m doing enough, planning enough, mothering enough.

Right now, I am enough.

One thought on “Rethinking What It Means To Finish

  1. Whew! I’d be exhausted trying to accomplish 1/4 of what you tackle each day, and I don’t have children or a spouse who are vying for my attention. Glad you are becoming aware that you don’t have to do everything. Our culture, with its stress on “doing,” is a huge contributor to the problem. Takes a strong woman to say “No” or “That’s enough!” Way to go Julie.

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