This evening, after Jay and Wally were in bed, I found myself walking upstairs in our new house in South Carolina, holding a single, dirty, kid’s sock. Moments earlier I’d been standing in front of the washing machine, warm water already pumping into the drum, holding that same sock and realizing my dilemma: If I threw it in now it likely would be lost forever among our linens, but in the chaos of our unpacking, I had no idea where to find the little mesh zipper bag we usually use for the boys’ socks. So, I let the wash run and walked back upstairs holding the sock. It’s sitting beside me now, and I still have no idea where to put it.
That’s been a common feeling these past three days. We arrived in at our new house on Friday night, after a week-long drive down from Maine (I’ll write something shortly about our summer there). We spent the first night in our house on air mattresses. The moving truck arrived the next morning. The boys mostly amused themselves while Caroline and I tore into the boxes: the boys’ room first, then the playroom, then the kitchen, then, finally, our bedroom on Sunday night. That effort, plus multiple trips each to Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s, has us basically up and running. The boys started school this morning and Caroline got the key to her new office. This evening, as we ran through our bedtime routine, it almost felt like we’d been here awhile.
But back to the sock. The mental experience of the last three days has felt like standing in the middle of a blizzard, where each snow flake is something we need to do: It’s hard to know what to do first, if we take our eyes off one task it disappears into oblivion, and there are so many competing priorities it often feels hard to get anything done at all. This is true about life in general, but moving accentuates the overload in two ways: First, there are just a gazillion more things to do when you’re setting up a new house, and second, settling in a new place creates all sorts of forward-looking, optimistic feelings about the great life you’re going to build with your fresh start. To put this is in specific terms, here is a partial list of the things I thought to do just in the last hour: buy a lawn mower, clean Jay’s lunch box, save for college, schedule pediatrician and dentist appointments, do more pushups, buy ramekins, send our neighbors a thank-you note for their welcome cookies, cultivate Jay’s interest in building things, attach a marker to the white board with a piece of string.
It’s no surprise, then, that there have been times these past three days when I’ve quite nearly had trouble breathing. But there’s a good and satisfying side to having such a long to-do list, too. While it’s been overwhelming at times, more often the scope of the tasks before us has made it easier to stop, accept that I’m not going to get everything done today, and ask the question: What’s the most important thing I need to do right now? And often the answer to that question has been satisfying. I need to make sure Jay and Wally get enough to eat and get to bed early enough so they’re fresh for school tomorrow. I need to spend time with Caroline, even if it’s just sitting with her while she hangs clothes in the closet. I need to lie on my back and listen to the sounds out the window of a place I never would have expected I’d end up living.
When life feels a little more in control, it’s easy to suffer the illusion that you can get everything done,and when you think you can get everything done, you don’t feel the need to prioritize. Moving is an exceptional time in life, but I also think it stresses a constant if easily forgotten truth: We all, always, have more ideas for our lives than we can act on, and the real trick is figuring out what the most important thing is to do, now.
Related post from Growing Sideways: “After the flood and the move, it’s good to see you again.”