When I married my husband, I remember feeling overwhelmed by planning a wedding and preparing for marriage and moving to a new state. I wish I could say that this is the only time in my life that I have felt this way, but I have moved five times in the past eight years. Like most people, I go through periods of time when I feel beleaguered by too many items needing my attention and not enough time to get them all done. I have been feeling this way recently. We were gone for a little more than two weeks at Christmas-time this year. I had a wonderful time, but I returned home exhausted and struggling to return to our normal routine. (I have to admit that I use the word “routine” loosely. In my mind I am extremely organized and have a set daily routine. However, in real life I thrive on flexibility in my day.)
As I was emptying the dishwasher a couple of nights ago, I was feeling overwhelmed once more. If you have small children you know that unloading the dishwasher is not simply putting away the plates and glasses. Emptying the dishwasher involves drying off everything as you pull it out of the dishwasher because plastic does not dry like other materials in the dishwasher. Sippy cups stay wet. Then they drip all over the other dishes. Plus you have all of the little pieces to dig out of the bottom of the dishwasher. I also only run the dishwasher when it is completely full…and I do mean completely. As I was beginning this seemingly arduous chore, I went through my usual mental pep talk that includes reminding myself to be thankful for modern conveniences such as dishwashers and washing machines because, really, it could be so much worse. Then I looked at all of the dirty lunch dishes sitting on the counter waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher. Then I glanced at the clock and noticed it was almost time for my husband to come home…and I still had not started dinner.
As the panic began to rise, I remembered something my father-in-law told me when I was newly married and overwhelmed. He asked me, “How do you eat an elephant?” I remember trying to determine if this was another one of his jokes or if he was trying to distract me. I told him I didn’t know. His answer was, “one bite at a time.” He then explained that when I look at everything and it all seems to be too much, to simply focus on one small piece of it at a time. This profound bit of advice disguised as an absurd question has stuck with me. When I get that feeling, I stop and remind myself of that silly question and the lesson to take it one thing at a time…one fork out of the dishwasher, or one step while running, or one toy off of the floor. Somehow focusing on the smaller details makes overwhelming days seem much less daunting.