Like any good (recovering) perfectionist I began 2016 all thirty-six hours ago with plans and intentions. The official, grown-up name: resolutions.
Precariously perched on the freshly painted, unsullied doorstep of a new year, I looked back over my shoulder nostalgically at all that had now passed, the beautiful and the baffling, the tried and the trying, the welcome and the woeful of 2015, and I thought to myself — how can I make 2016 better?
I assembled my lists and strategies. I would go to bed earlier. I would wake earlier. I would start the day on the right side of the bed, step out on the front foot, and toe-tap my way through the day in a purposeful, even rhythm, in synch with all and sundry. I would be a better friend, a better wife. A better parent.
And alongside my lists, I assembled my next best device: books. All those parenting how-to books I failed to read in 2015, well, 2016 was their year. I built literal and imaginary towers in the air, each new book, each new resolution, another building block in my own little empire entitled The year I get it all sorted.
And then not one but three little bodies came along and screamed, stamped, frolicked, messed, huffed, puffed and blew the whole thing down.
If I leant anything in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, anything at all since our first little miracle forged her way into the world, splitting open and expanding our hearts, reassembling the fabric of our lives, it is this: parenting is inefficient. And no amount of lists, strategies, resolutions or experts can change it, not entirely anyway.
And it’s not just parenting. Life itself is inefficient, unpredictable. It’s just that life with young children brings any glitch in the system, any loose stitch, any bump in the road, glaringly to the surface. And then you trip over it.
No matter how many ingenious how-to’s you have in your tool belt (or on your iphone screen) no matter how many hints, gadgets, game plans, it comes back to this. Parenting small children is not linear. It is circular. Literally. Some mornings (okay, most) are spent at our house with me, and/or Dr M running in wild circles, changing dirty nappies, changing clothes, cleaning messes, making messes, containing tantrums, and basically trying to keep us all afloat on the stream fed from our own fragility.
But in amidst the circularity is this: unexpected moments of beauty. The child’s warm hand on your cheek. The bright eyes staring right into yours, unblinkingly wide and guileless. The laughter rippling purer than birdsong. And the realisation that all this — every last little bit of it — is given. A blessing. A heritage.
But this doesn’t take away from the fact that it is sheer hard work. Few areas of life are so out of our control, and yet require so much of our energies.
Parenting strips back, humbles, exasperates. It requires patience, ironically the quality we spend so much time trying to drum into our resistant children.
But it also teaches. Us, as well as them. Where does it ever say, after all, that love, the greatest commandment, the great coverer-overer, the all-we-need quality, is ever meant to be efficient. Love, when done best, is lavish.
I would suggest that the greatest danger I face in 2016 isn’t a messy house, or a scrambled routine, but a stream-lined heart. A heart that doesn’t make room for others, the least of which is my own family. A heart that doesn’t resemble my saviour’s in excessive generosity.
So, rather than fighting inefficiency with all I’ve got, an unassailable foe forever standing in the path of the future I desire, why not choose to embrace it. Like any weak point let it be fertile ground for growth, not the neatly mown, tidied up, on the surface sort of way, but the deep roots, long-lasting, character building stuff.
Will I stop making lists? Reading books? Probably not. But I hope I do so with this caveat. The thing itself matters more than the theory. Daily life lived in love is more important than perfect execution. A million messy moments lived well top one dust-free day of whitewashed surfaces.