Recently, I woke up to a disarrayed kitchen and family room — the aftermath of a party the previous night. Empty platters adorned the counters, and every chair in the house was in a circle in the family room.
Before any cleaning could get started, there was breakfast to fix, lunches to pack and three older kids to get out the door for school. All the while, my younger two boys entertained themselves playing amid the chairs that were a novelty to the family room.
While trying to finish the kitchen cleanup, my goal was to get to the baseboards. For some reason, the baseboards were at the forefront of my mind all morning. If nothing else got done but those, some progress would have been made on the never-ending to-do list.
As I returned items to their rightful places, my boys were bringing what seemed like every blanket in the house to go with what surely was every chair in the house squeezed into my family room.
Doing my best to ignore the blankets, I instead thanked my lucky stars the boys were quietly entertaining themselves, which afforded me some uninterrupted cleaning and straightening time.
I had mentally spoken too soon. Just as every last blanket in our house had covered a chair, I heard, "Mama, come get in the fort with us and read a book."
Could my son not tell a long to-do list was waiting? Was he not aware that the baseboards were going to come head to head with a cleaning rag today?
As I hustled to another task, the little voice continued, "Mommmyyy, come read a book in the fort." Slightly agitated, I replied, "There is time for one book."
I carefully positioned myself between the two boys, paying special attention to not displace any of the precariously balanced blankets covering us. After diffusing a quick spat about who would lay on my one available arm, while the other arm held the book directly overhead, we began the one promised book.
Then came a second request, "Read us another one."
Before I knew it, we had laid in that fort for five books! That's a long time in a makeshift fort, squeezed between chairs and bar stools while attempting to keep the blankets overhead from falling on us.
Guess how many baseboards got cleaned that day?
Guess how many times chairs and stools were put away after forts, trains and jungle gyms had been built all day?
Not sure. I lost count.
That evening and still the next day, I wasn't happy about the unfinished to-do list. I had baseboards that still needed cleaning. The top thing on that Friday morning list was undone.
A few days after holding a Buzz Lightyear blanket overhead in a homemade fort, I was with a friend lamenting the never-ending to-do list of a mother. Being sure to mention my still unclean baseboards, I grumbled to my friend that to-do lists are even harder to cross off when there are young children playing nearby.
As if on cue, my 3-year-old, wearing only underwear, entered the room, a poignant reminder of the elusive stages of childhood. In that moment, I was reminded that reading books inside homemade forts should win over a to-do list every time.
I realized, "You know what? One day the last of my children will walk across a stage to get a high school diploma. Do you think I'm going to say, "Sure wish our house had cleaner baseboards while he was growing up."
It is easier said than done. Some items on a to-do list can't wait. But too often we answer the to-do lists more than the voices that matter. It seems we must find the balance of what can wait and what can not. Clean baseboards or temporary forts?
Days later, my baseboards may or may not have been cleaned. In another six months, they'll need cleaning again. In 16 years, there will still be dusty baseboards somewhere in my house.
Will my boys still build forts in six months? Probably. In 16 years? No.
Dirty baseboards will always be around. Little boys will not.