On my fifth birthday, I got a Hello Kitty wallet. It was plastic and pink and had a pocket inside for coins. I immediately filled the pocket with money from my piggy bank, but was sad to realize I didn’t have any bills for the billfold. Eager to use my new wallet, I found a piece of paper and wrote out an inventory of all my coins: 3 quarters…4 dimes…1 nickel…6 pennies. I folded the list and carefully placed it in the billfold. My father says that was the moment he realized that somehow my mother and he—two ex-Peace Corps volunteers—had given birth to an MBA.
In elementary school I convinced my dad to pay me to double check all the math in his checkbook. In high school I learned to type faster than anyone else because word processing paid twice as much as jobs at Baskin Robbins. As a freshman in college, my parents encouraged me to take classes I enjoyed rather than immediately worrying about a major. Instead, I decided to get a double major and a minor and to spend my junior year studying abroad so I could learn a foreign language. There’s no time to waste, I thought. And, yes, I did get that MBA my father quietly predicted 30 years ago.
Even when it came to love, I approached it like a job. When I was 31 and convinced I would never meet “him,” someone gave me this practical advice: “Alisha, when it comes to dating, you’re allowed to be picky; but, if you’re going to be picky then you need volume.” So, I opened an account on Match.com. It worked. I met my husband; we married a year later, and had two boys in two years.
I’m now home on maternity leave with our second son. Many days I’ll look at the clock and realize I’ve spent an entire hour lying on the floor watching my son move a rattle from one hand to the other. Other days I’ll go to my older son’s school during their music class and spend the morning spinning in circles and stomping my feet and hopping up and down. On the weekends, I’ve been known to drive slowly behind a city bus…ready to pick up my husband and son, who are riding that bus to nowhere, whenever the excitement of the ride wears off.
Now when I lie awake at night thinking of all the things I should have done that day or building the mental list of what must get done tomorrow, I conjure up imagines of my toddler’s deliciously huge smile. Or I think about the extreme peacefulness of holding my newborn as he sleeps. Those images remind me that the list doesn’t matter.
I believe my children have succeeded in teaching me what I’ve always refused to learn. That, sometimes, the most wonderful days are the ones when you accomplish nothing at all.
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