When I was still part of the working world, I was forever crafting mile-long to-do lists, oftentimes writing down things I’d already completed just for the thrill of striking them through with a heavy-handed double line. If you flipped through my spiral notebook with the green patterned whales on the cover, you’d see each day’s minutiae penciled carefully into uniform lines—every task from showering to laundry folding to playdating—satisfyingly crossed out as each is completed. I thrived on the feeling of contentment I got from seeing a day of hard work spelled out on the page, tangible and real.
Then I became a stay at home mom and, suddenly, I found myself with endless days of blank pages stretching out before me. There were no more meeting agendas or returned phone calls to cross off my non-existent lists. Only mountains of laundry and breast pump parts piled high in the sink with last night’s dishes.
I felt adrift, displaced, unfulfilled.
Over time, my son and I fell into a routine. We met other moms and began penciling playdates into our list. I was finally comfortable enough to tackle multiple errands with a baby in tow—“deposit check at bank” and “go grocery shopping” popped up on the same day’s list with a reasonable chance of accomplishing both. I began writing again and, suddenly, had whole lists dedicated to scheduling blog posts and editing pictures, social media sharing and content planning.
The lists grew longer by the day and, while I was exhausted and frenzied when I finally crossed off my last item well after midnight, I experienced a soaring sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t since my 9-5 days. I felt grounded, important, fulfilled.
Several months into this new routine, I was at the kitchen island–covered in chicken guts, cradling the phone between my ear and shoulder, juggling a thousand to-dos in my mind. Suddenly, I looked over at my son, his back to me as he hefted a bag of all-purpose flour from the pantry shelf on his own. In that split second, I realized the little boy I still called a baby was fast becoming a toddler, and one who needed his mama less and less each day.
He’d become so self-sufficient and independent, learning to entertain himself while his mother sat hunched over the keyboard. My heart broke into a million pieces—I was prioritizing my to-do list over my son. With another baby on the way in a few short months, I knew I needed to make a significant change before my toddler’s only-child days expired.
I’ll admit, the change did not come easily at first. Though I vowed to keep my phone out of reach during my son’s waking hours, the loneliness of being disconnected from the world felt stifling. Without the distraction of blog posts and status updates, the days felt longer than ever and I found myself back where I was in the newborn stage, counting the minutes until the front door opened and my husband, blessedly, saved me again.
In time, I stopped doing anything writing-related when my son was awake; instead we sat on the floor and made vroom vroom noises as we pushed his trucks across the carpet, sang Patty Cake, read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to excess. When the weather got warmer, we began venturing out for morning walks, taking trips to the zoo, discovering the playground and the beach, splashing in the baby pool in our backyard. I still made to-do lists every day, but I accepted that some items would remain unfulfilled until the next day or the day after that; the only one that was important now was the line that read “Do something fun with Chase.”
It’s still on my list every single day.
Slowly, I started to notice a marked change in my son. Once a stubbornly independent little boy who enjoyed his own company more than mine, he suddenly wanted to be near me more often. The child who used to cover my mouth when I tried to kiss him now offered unprovoked affection: letting me rock him to sleep, planting unexpected kisses, wrapping his arms around my legs while I cooked dinner.
His vocabulary also began to improve by leaps and bounds. Because I was taking the time to really engage with him, he was absorbing a handful of new words each week and growing in his ability to understand what was said to him. He learned the word for the animals barking in our neighborhood; he pointed at trucks on the highway and said, “Vroom vroom,” just like I’d taught him at home in his bedroom. It was humbling and gratifying in a way that no job-related task could ever be.
With time, I’ve begun to realize that this is more than just a normal part of his development—he is thriving in this new routine where he is a real priority in my life. The realization is often sobering—what if I’d been doing this all along? Still, even with my staggering guilt, I feel a sense of bone-deep fulfillment I haven’t experienced in the past 18 months of motherhood. Though it took me too long, my priorities are finally in the right order.