Every once in awhile I get to feeling pretty overwhelmed. That generally happens when I believe I’ve got so much to do that I can’t even begin to choose what to do first. That’s when the list comes in. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t write down every single chore needing attention. That would just begin the feeling overwhelmed cycle all over again. I write down no more than a half dozen things I want to do. A half dozen chores seems manageable. And very quickly I am able to cross things off of the list.
Arnold Lobel wrote a wonderful serialized children’s story about a Frog and a Toad who are friends. In Frog and Toad Together Toad wakes up feeling pretty overwhelmed, too.
He decides to make a list so he can remember all of the things he has to do that day.
The first thing he writes down is “Wake Up” and he immediately crosses that item off of his list because he has already done that. Right away Toad is enjoying success and increasing his sense of self efficacy — his belief that he is capable of having an impact on his life.
Toad adds other items to his list: Eat Breakfast. Get Dressed. Go To Frog’s House. Take A Walk With Frog. Eat Lunch.
Once Toad has his day written down it seems much more manageable. His life seems under control.
Unfortunately Toad lets his list take control of his day instead letting it be a tool to guide him through the day. When the wind blows the list away, Toad can’t run after it because running after the list wasn’t on the list. Frog, who has no list, tries to catch it but the wind is too strong.
Unable to decide what next to do, Toad sits down and does nothing. His good friend Frog sits with him. Finally when Frog announces, in darkness, that is is time to go home and go to sleep, Toad remembers that “Go To Sleep” was the last thing on his list and so, happily, wishes his friend a good night and goes home to sleep.
It’s a good story which makes important points. Lists are helpful but only as tools. They don’t get to run the show.
I made my list today and crossed things off of it. Tomorrow I will make another list because this is a good way to not feel overwhelmed.
Liminal times can be unsettling. We aren’t where we were nor are we where we will be soon. So we feel off balance. The expectation is that once we cross that threshold things will be steady again. Not so fast, bud. Regaining balance takes some time. Always looking for the quick fix, we naturally believe that once the change happens life will return to normal. Problem is ‘normal’ no longer exists and while we adjust to the new normal life may continue to feel out of sync, off balance. Perhaps knowing this will help us adjust sooner or at least be a bit kinder to ourselves.
I don’t know how to use them and on some level they terrify me. But there they are always rattling around in the trunk of the car. One morning during this past week circumstances forced me to venture out to the nearest grocery story. It was cold and windy. Earlier that morning snow fell in heavy clumps. Had we not been out of milk and bread and, well, just about everything else I wouldn’t have even considered leaving the condo. I pulled into the first available space in the parking lot of the Stop and Shop. Only when I was getting out of the car did I notice the man standing in front of the van parked next to me. The hood was raised. He stood in front of it staring into the mystery of the internal combustion engine. Back in La La Land I probably would have just gone on about my business but cold and snow and wind seem to change the way people interact.
“Hello,” I said loudly because the wind picked up just as I spoke. “I have jumper cables. Would that help?”
The man smiled and said, “That might just fix everything.”
“I have them but I don’t know how to use them.”
“I don’t have then but I sure do know how to use them.”
We were shouting at each other because that’s how you speak in a windy snow storm.
While he taught me to use jumper cables he said that he had just moved down from upstate New York.
“Where it’s warmer?” I shouted.
“That’s right,” he shouted back.
Today was his wife’s birthday and he had gone into the store to buy her flowers. His battery had been failing and, when he accidentally left his lights on while he was choosing the flowers, it died.
With the jumper cables it started right up.
“I felt so lost,” he shouted over the wind. “I didn’t know who to call and then you just appeared. It’s a miracle.”
“Tell your wife happy birthday for me,” and with that I tossed the cables back into the trunk and went inside to buy oatmeal.
Welcome to New Jersey.
Okay, so they don’t have four hooves or cuds even though they may re-chew their food from time to time but over the past several days I’ve had multiple opportunities to observe thousands of Canadian Geese and during my life I’ve had thousands of opportunities to observe multiple varieties of cattle and my conclusion is that cows and geese have one particular and striking similarity. Side bar comment — That’s about as long as I can make that opening sentence. Now onward to the very short point of this post. Geese when not flying and just standing around tend to all face the same direction. So do cows except, of course, that cows are never flying. They do on occasion jump but that’s just over the moon.
Heather Halperin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a professor at the University of Southern California, and a constant and enthusiastic supporter of Steel Cut Press. She has just received the National Association of Social Worker’s Life Time Achievement award and we congratulate her on this well deserved honor.