Lose Your To-Do List

There will always be a million things to do. The best way to take it in stride is to get on baby time.

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In my dream, Daniel Day-Lewis is piloting me in a two-seater plane over Iceland. Vials of a plague-curing serum clink in the box on my lap. The radio alarm pops on. Day-Lewis recedes.

I reach over and smack the alarm button on the radio before the sound can wake my 8-month-old, Spence. His morning nap should last another 40 minutes. Head fuzzy, I reach down to the carpet next to the bed, grab my list and review.

Looks like I could call Milly while I look for the green pants and throw the chicken on the counter. I swing my legs off the bed and head for the phone. On second thought, the health insurance claim is the most pressing thing. I find it on the dining room table, under my unread Anne Tyler novel and an unopened box of nursing pads.

I pause with the insurance claim in my hand. God, I'm smart. I'm getting everything in place before Spence wakes. I've learned that Spence will distract me from the simplest of tasks by reaching for a paper clip, rolling under a chair, or spitting up—providing an unexpected meal for the cat if I don't intervene with precision and speed.

Yes, it's best to anticipate these calls to action. In fact, I'm going to toss the claim and the shopping list in the stroller right now. Then I won't have to remember them when I whisk Spence out the door after having subverted some domestic disaster or another. This is good. I'm multitasking and prioritizing. If I were on a reality show called How Moms Do It, the judges would lean over to each other and whisper appreciatively: "This woman can get through 20-odd tasks in just one day, just eight months after her baby is born. And look at her—not bad. Sure she's still got 20 pounds to lose, but you can barely tell under that loose-fitting hoodie."

From behind Spence's door I hear a peep. He's up. Early. OK. Shoot. I toss the claim form back on the table.

I open the door to Spence's room and stand waiting for him to see me and smile. "Hello, baby." I lift him out of the crib, immediately seeing the leak from his diaper on the sheet. He is completely soaked. OK. OK. I support him in the crook of my arm as I pull the knob of the drawer under the crib with my toes. In the drawer I root around with my foot, lift a towel and kick it to the floor. I squat with Spence and spread out the towel. I'm a miracle of efficiency. I can even open the baby wipe container with my nose and retrieve a wipe with my teeth. True, this talent is rarely needed, except in particularly gnarly public bathrooms.

As I pull off Spence's Onesie, I re-prioritize: bath for Spence, re-dress him, pull off the wet sheet, wipe down the mattress cover, put on a clean sheet—forget the green pants and whatever else was on the to-do list. Where is the list? Never mind, I'll find it during his afternoon nap.

The afternoon nap never comes. During what would be the nap, I lie around with restless Spence. His head rests on my forearm while he waves his feet in the air. I think of a friend of mine who told me that when she was a new mother, her husband came home to find her still in pajamas, dirty dishes still in the sink and nothing cooking in the oven. He was a great dad, supportive guy, but he was truly curious. "What did you do all day?" he asked innocently. My friend looked up at him, her son asleep on her chest, and said, "He's alive, isn't he?"

True, I think as Spence rolls to one side. Isn't that the main thing? There will be years of lists of things to do. And nothing on those lists will be as important as this moment and the fact that he's alive.

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