Living Beyond the To-Do List

Rachel Petroff Kessler
January 17, 2013
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I love lists. Shopping lists, pro/con lists, packing lists, and, most especially, to-do lists. At work and at home, on white boards, Outlook calendars and post-it notes, many of my mornings start with making a to-do list. More than creating the list, I love crossing each item off after it has been purchased/packed/accomplished. In fact, I am not above adding an already completed task to my to-do list just to have the satisfaction of crossing it off.

I like getting things done. I like knowing I have accomplished something and can now move on to the next something. At work, I like to start my day tackling all the small, concrete tasks that are in front of me before diving in to bigger projects. That way, I know I will have the satisfaction of having gotten a lot done at the end of the day. At home, a to-do list is often all that stands between me and a day full of nothing but Facebook and trashy TV.

In the months before the birth of my daughter, my to-do-listing ramped up. At work, preparing for my maternity leave set my list-making into overdrive as I checked and double-checked that everything was prepared, clear, and ready-to-go during my absence. At home, I tried to keep my hormones in check with lists meant to prepare my husband and I, and our home, for the arrival of our little one and our transition to parenthood.

And now, three months after our daughter made her way into this world? We successfully made it past the early, foggy weeks with seemingly endless cycles of nursing, diaper changes, rocking, and napping. The only item on our to-do list was keeping her alive and we anxiously tracked feeding times and diaper counts. It took awhile, but I came to relish the rhythm of our days, even knowing that every task I accomplished would need to be repeated just a few hours later.

Now I’m back at work, and while my work to-do list has become even more important in my less-than-perfectly-rested state, I’m trying my best to relax on the home list. Yes, bottles and pump parts need to be washed as soon as I get home in order to be ready for the next day, and yes, we are doing laundry more frequently than ever before, but really, all I want to do at the end of the day is reconnect with my baby girl and husband. This means being okay with not getting everything done on my list, and keeping a lot of items off the list in the first place. True, our apartment might not be spotless for visitors (sorry mom!), we might never be without a load of laundry in need of folding (hey, at least they’re clean!), and I might never start exercising (at least, until it gets warm enough to walk outside). But at least at the end of the day, I’ll be able to look back and know that I was doing what really mattered, even if it wasn’t something I could check off a list.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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