It’s a line that many a proud mama spouts easily: we’re women, we’re multi-taskers. It’s something that, either innate or cultivated, is worn with distinction, as a mark of this territory that we command. And it’s something that I have come to face as my enemy.
It is easy to do many things at once, but I find that I’m not always very good at doing them well. The laptop sits open on the counter in the kitchen, four different internet tabs open. I flip between the ingredient list of a tonight’s dinner recipe, culling appropriate utensils from my kitchen drawers, and the NY Times editorial I’ve been reading in three sentence chunks. I’m peeling stickers for the Littlest to plaster over construction paper, and ooh-ing and aah-ing appropriately over the latest masterpiece from the Eldest. Music is playing. The dog needs to go out. The phone rings. I answer an email. Back to preparing dinner, and can I even remember why this news article grabbed my attention in the first place? I’m getting it all done, and if this day is all about productivity and survival than, yes, I think my multitasking skills are setting me ahead.
But I want more than survival. I know in my heart that if I’m spread this thin, that while it’s all getting done, nothing is getting done well. There will be something to eat for dinner, bills will get paid, kids will have been looked after. But the little ones know the difference. They know that I was just nodding my head, “actively” listening to their tales, while my mind was on some other task. They know that I tend to lose patience, with them, the dog, myself, when I’m multitasking. And I know the difference.
The false promises of productivity are robbing me of my moments. If my mind is on so many things at once, it is missing it all. I cannot breath this very breathe more than once, at one place, at one time, and so I follow it. Inhale, exhale. The present moment calls for my attention, intention.
With a gathering of women a few weeks ago, a thread of conversation gained strength that was contending with why it is that we seem to have so little time to pause, to think, to pray, to reflect as a woman in our modern culture. Though we all have mountains of responsibility, I know that it is no more, and in many ways less burdensome, than the women who have come before us. One wise voice spoke up, suggesting that because it is so easy in our time to do so many things at once we lose the forced quiet of menial tasks that previous generations of women had come to rely on. So much of our work is made easier by our technological and industrial advances that we no longer need to set aside time to hang our laundry dry on the line, or hand wash our dishes. These jobs, though tedious, required full physical attention, forcing focus on one task at a time, but not as much though,t affording a woman time to pause and breathe. Maybe these things don’t have anything to do with each other, reflection and multi-tasking. But I think they do.
Often I find myself answering the frequent demands of my little ones by saying “I can only do one thing at a time.” I have found that I send a mixed message to them, by engaging in common multitasking of my choice, but forcing them to wait. I fully believe that their patience in getting their desires met is a good and necessary lesson, and I am beginning to embrace this mantra for most aspects of my daily life as well. I will be patient for what is next, whether it is luxury or tedium. I can only do one thing well at a time. How am I choosing to spend this moment? To be intentional with my time, I am walking away from my woman’s badge of multi-tasker and daring to be more than my productivity. I will only do one thing at a time.