Of Lists and Living, a guest post by Patricia Ellis Herr

I’m excited to feature a guest post today by Patricia Ellis Herr. I love reading about her adventures hiking with her young daughters on her site Trish, Alex and Sage.

In this guest post, Trish writes about the importance of lists in her life and shares her inspirational thoughts on needing a new type of list for herself.

Sept 6-11, 2012 NM, Mesa Verde, NV and Boundary Peak NV 275

Boundary Peak, Nevada

Of Lists and Living

By Patricia Ellis Herr

It’s 10pm and I haven’t finished everything on today’s to-do list. Do I stay up until each item is crossed off and go to bed with a hard-earned sense of satisfaction, or do I sleep now and wake with feelings of regret?

My kids and I live our lives adhering to lists — daily lists, weekly lists, monthly lists, and some-day lists. This may seem abnormally rigid, but lists bring order to our happily chaotic lives; we benefit from the written reminders of things we need and want to do. Lists bring about a sense of balance, they remind us that Forrest Gump was right — life is indeed a box of chocolates. A full life necessitates sampling all the flavors instead of always eating the strawberry creams.

We have hiking lists, homeschooling lists, chore lists, travel lists, grocery lists, responsibility lists, and movie lists. Some of the items on these lists reflect details of everyday living, some provide logical steps to desired educational achievements, and some celebrate our adventurous spirits. Each and every item is important. Yes, I need to balance the budget and yes, that wall needs repainting…but I also want to read Treasure Island to my kids and learn how to bake an upside-down cake. The responsibilities must be balanced with the adventures…when one’s life is ending, one will lovingly reflect on the time spent reading, traveling, and baking with one’s children. No one ever died wishing they’d kept their lawn trimmed.

These lists are flexible, of course. With the exception of our homeschooling to-do list, which always comes first and is non-negotiable, our lists are made to be re-written. The kids sometimes outgrow their goals, so we replace items as desired. Instead of wanting to see all the Pixar movies, they want to see all the Bond films. Instead of collecting temporary tattoos, they want to save up and have professional manicures. Etc.

As much as we value and enjoy list-making and list-accomplishing, however, those lists can all too easily become liabilities. Our ambitions are high and, more often than not, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. Sure, the basement needs decluttering…but our friends asked us to go to the playground, and isn’t maintaining friendships as important as tidy living? The upstairs needs to be dusted, but it’s a beautiful day and we could summit a peak on one of our hiking lists. My blog needs to be updated, but the dog ate a bag of Hershey Kisses and now we have to go to the vet. And so on. As the great John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

So what happens when the things that must be done aren’t? What happens when items pile up?  Well, for me, it can be stressful. I sometimes end up with a list of things that didn’t get done…and then that list is tacked on to tomorrow’s lists.

Take tonight. Here I sit, deeply unsatisfied, since I have not yet weeded the garden, answered my emails, or gotten my daily exercise. It’s late. I could grab a headlamp and weed the garden in the dark (and the pouring rain…the clouds just opened up), I could send tired and incoherent responses to people who have contacted me, and I could find all those flags on Wii’s Island Cycling. I could do all those things and still get to bed by 1am. It’s possible. Ridiculous, perhaps, but possible.

Or, what makes more sense, is that I get up early tomorrow and try to squeeze it all in. Or, even better, I decide which things on that list really have to get done. Such decisions are not easy. I don’t like abandoning projects or goals. However, when the list causes stress and prevents a good night’s rest, then it’s time to lower expectations.

My daughters and I recently had to alter a list we loved creating and enjoy pursuing — our own version of 101 Things in 1001 Thursdays. There were items on that list the girls simply didn’t want to do anymore, and they were becoming anxious if we didn’t cross off a certain number of things each month.  The list became more of a chore and less of a joyous exercise. My solution was to replace one of the outgrown goals with a newer, saner one — “Take a break from any list whenever you feel anxious about adhering to it.”  We’ve done that, my girls are happier now, and we’re casually pursuing everything we’re interested in without feeling officially tied down to a written agenda.

There remains one list that needs to be created.  My own, personal list. As a homeschooling mother, all the current lists involve my kids. There’s nothing I do without them — we travel, hike, and explore together.  They’re getting older, though — my oldest is ten and my youngest is eight — and the close mother-daughter bonds are showing their first signs of wear. Soon, too soon, both my daughters will start pushing me away. They’ll make their own lists, things they want to do without me, things they want to do as teens, as adults, as parents, as women of the world. I must make sure I have my own lists ready and waiting when the time comes. If I don’t have my own, separate goals and my own, separate plans, then I’m not sure my heart will survive the inevitable empty nest.

So, tonight, instead of weeding in the dark, instead of playing the Wii until midnight, and instead of getting myself in trouble by sending unintelligible emails, I’ll start my own, private list. What is it I want to do on my own, after my girls have left the house? What is it I can start to do now, in my day-to-day life, that does not involve my kids? Where do I want to travel — without my daughters?

This list will frighten me — I’m not ready to fully entertain the thought of an empty nest — but it must be done. I’ll be that much more prepared when my kids leave home to fulfill their own, individual lives and their own, individual lists. The written reminder of who I am as a woman, as opposed to a mother, will provide me with a sense of direction and peace.

Off to bed with me now. I’ve got to get up at 5am to weed the garden.

Patricia (Trish) Ellis Herr is a homeschooling mother and author of UP: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure. Trish and her daughters recently hiked 540 miles on El Camino de Santiago to raise $10,000 for Global Fund for Women and GirlVentures. Next year, Trish and her daughters will hike the 211-mile John Muir Trail to raise money for Feeding America. LISTS: Trish and her two daughters completed the New Hampshire 4000 Footers hiking list. They’re currently working on highpointing the 50 states, 52 With a View (NH), Trailwrights (NH), and the Terrifying 25 (NH). Trish routinely forgets things on her grocery list, but she does make sure the girls complete their daily homeschooling lists. Her to-do list for today includes trimming a tree branch and cleaning out her car.

Thank you, Trish!

About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.

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2 Responses to Of Lists and Living, a guest post by Patricia Ellis Herr

  1. Many thanks for hosting me, Marcy. The girls and I are big fans of your blog. 🙂

    –Trish

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