Shortly before Christmas, our Moms’ Network had a Christmas party: 15 mom and 15 babies. Potluck lunch. Cookie exchange optional. I opted in for the exchange. The night before, Claire miraculously went to sleep at 10 [we’re now sleep training so she sleeps closer to 8 or 9, but 10 was good at that time], so I started baking and enlisted Jeff’s help making a butternut squash soup. I picked a favorite Christmas cookie my mom makes every year.
I realized very quickly that I had made a huge tactical error. Tradition dictates that the cookies be rolled into little candy cane shapes then iced after they cool. I rolled cookies until 1 in the morning, while directing Jeff with the soup. Then I went to bed. Then Claire woke up for her first nightly nursing session. First of 4 or 5. Needless to say, we slept in until 9. That gave me 2 hours to ice 60 cookies (40 for the exchange, 20 for Jeff’s office party), finish soup, feed baby, dress baby, dress self, get baby to nap, get baby to wake up from nap, get baby into car, get cookies into car, get soup into car, survive baby’s inevitable car melt-down, and get to party on-time.
Needless to say, I was late. I got lost on the way, turned a frantic U-turn because Claire was screaming and I was losing my mind, and the vat of soup spilled all over the floor of the car. The party was almost over when I got there. Most of the people participating in the cookies exchange were gone or leaving; I missed the thread that said people were going to bring the cookies all parceled out (mine were on a huge cardboard fruit flat), so no one was able to take mine home. My soup arrived in a half empty sloppy bowl and no one ate it because lunch was over. I begged one of the moms to take some of the cookies to the moms who lived near her, and I passed off the remaining soup on the host. There was also a collection for the foodbank; I had bought food the night before, and forgot to bring it. All in all: disaster.
The mom who had to deliver my stranded cookies showed up in a beautiful dress, with beautiful hair (as always), and little decorated jars of homemade hot chocolate in pretty gift bags for everyone. And beautifully packaged cookies for the exchange. I’ve written before about human extremes, and this lovely girl is a prime example. My go-to response when confronted with such a shining specimen of organizational perfection is usually to feel like a complete failure, but I quickly realized (while scrubbing butternut squash soup out of the car carpet) that the example I needed to look to was that of the mom who agreed to take part in the cookie exchange only on the grounds that she could buy cookies. This is a woman who knew her own limitations.
This all reminded me of the time in third year PhD when I was one of 2 lucky students who got that year’s tickets to the Governor General’s award gala at the Governor General’s residence (a mansion straight out of a Jane Austen novel). My friend Kate came to help me get ready, which really meant we sat in my kitchen drinking wine and eating olives for far too long and then trying out updos and falsies. I ended up standing on the street in Chinatown, at the last minute, frantically trying to flag down a cab — not an easy task during the dinnertime rush. When I finally got one, I sat in the back of the cab as it struggled through downtown Ottawa rush hour, frantically checking the time on my phone.
Looking kindly at me in his rearview mirror, the driver said: “if you rush all the time, you miss your life.” I never forgot that.
I usually end up rushing because I’ve tried to do one too many things. Doing one too many things is usually the result of trying to Do Everything. I don’t know what it is about parenting that can bring on the compulsion to do everything, but it was this compulsion that made me sign up for the cookie exchange, even though several of the other moms simply opted out and even though we were heading to my parents’ the next day where there would be loads of Christmas cookies. I don’t know why I stayed up icing cookies until 1 AM and then rushed around and stressed and cried. But I do know that that cookie exchange was the one thing too many that I should have skipped.
And of course the irony is that in trying to do everything, I did, as the cabbie said, miss life, or at least part of it. I missed most of the party (and, also ironically, the cookie exchange itself), and more importantly, Claire missed being in the group photo of all the babies at the party — it seems like a little thing, but she might have loved to have seen herself with all her little friends some day and now she won’t. But there will be other parties and other photos and other chances to do less, rush less, miss out on life less.
So here’s to 2015, a year of knowing limits, not doing everything, and living more.