Keeping Track

Somewhere around my sixth month of pregnancy, after I took the oh-so-delicious glucose screening test loved by expecting women everywhere, my doctor recommended I be more careful about the number of carbohydrates I consumed.

Before going any further, let me state this: I love bread. I love bread, and pasta, and rice, and potatoes. Carbohydrates and I are good, good friends. A slice of warm sourdough with a generous slab of butter? Yum. Sign me up for that.

But concern for the sweet life growing within me provided willpower I would not otherwise have had, and so I dutifully began to limit my intake of all things delicious. (Okay, fine. That’s a slight exaggeration. These days, there are many, many savory options that do not involve carbohydrates. I admit this. Grudgingly.)

I had no idea how many calories I was eating in a day, much less what percentage came from fats or proteins or carbs, and so I did what any modern American would do in my situation: I downloaded an app. I carefully recorded every meal, every snack, every beverage, and watched the numbers add up.

It didn’t take long for me to get a feel for what to eat and what not to eat, to have a good idea of how many calories I’d consumed in a day even without consulting the app. While there were days when the accountability of keeping track made me think twice about dessert or made me reconsider whether I really needed seconds, I was soon at a place where I didn’t need to log every meal in order to know what I was eating.

But I continued anyway, long after Katie was born, and it became a kind of addiction, a little bit of an obsession. Something in me needed to keep a record.

* * * * *

When the lengthening days began to beckon me outside, I added a daily walk to my routine. It is a habit I’ve continued for a solid four months, one that is even more imperative now that I have a puppy who will drive me wild if he does not get his morning exercise.

At first, as I was exploring the various route options in my area, as I ventured down paths I did not know, I carried my phone with me and it tracked my steps, calculated mileage and elevation change, told me how long I’d been walking and what pace I’d been averaging. It encouraged me to push, this record-keeping, to go faster or longer than I had the day before, until I realized one day that I almost resented those neighbors I met along the way who forced me to slow or to stop to acknowledge their friendliness, for such pauses threw off my pace, skewed my numbers. How could I stop to have a conversation, to admire the flowers along the path, to watch a flock of geese fly overhead, when that would mean I showed no improvement over yesterday?

* * * * *

When I was in college, often overwhelmed by the many tasks needing to be done and the shrinking number of hours in which to do them, I was a great believer in to-do lists. At the beginning of the week or at the start of the day or whenever I was feeling especially swamped, I would write them all down – every paper, every assignment, every upcoming test or quiz – and then methodically cross each one off as it was completed.

It brought me a great sense of accomplishment. Somehow, I felt more productive, more worthwhile, when each item had a thin black line through it. There were days when I would make a list of things I had already finished, just so I could have the satisfaction of crossing them out, one by one.

* * * * *

And so it’s clear: I like to keep track of things, to keep a record, to mark progress, be it the food I eat or the miles I walk or the tasks I complete or the books I read. I note how much I’m writing, start to feel antsy if it’s been too long in between blog posts. I keep a mental list of the domestic tasks I’ve done each day – laundry or dishes or vacuuming or mopping – so that I can recite it back to Jonathan when he asks how my day has gone (even though I know he would not mind if all I did was hold a sleeping child all day). Something in me, a part of me that is not helped by our performance-driven culture, only feels productive when I’ve been keeping track.

I’m slowly realizing, however, that in this stage of my life, my primary “job” does not have outcomes that can be measured. How do you track the growth of a relationship? What numbers are there to describe the bond between a mother and child, between a husband and wife, between two good friends? What to-do list can be made to ensure I’m doing all I can to nurture my baby girl?

So I am intentionally letting go of my lists. I’m not recording calories or workouts, not writing down a bunch of tasks to cross out at the end of each day, because such things were clouding my view, causing me to lose sight of what really matters. In this season, the most important parts of my life – my faith, my roles as wife and mother and sister and daughter and friend, my time spent nurturing a baby girl – cannot be measured, cannot be tracked.

But then, perhaps that’s always been the case.

This Thing Called Life

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4 Responses to Keeping Track

  1. Whoa, Jenn, I could have written this! We are so alike! I would love to know how it goes, in a few months, with no lists and no tracking. There are areas where that has been hugely freeing for me (calorie counting, scale weigh-ins) but other lists (to-dos, work planning, etc) where the list alleviates anxiety and is, I think, more helpful than not. I wonder if you will find something similar, or if you’ll find it freeing to give them all up?

    • Jenn says:

      I’ll let you know! It’s been about a month since I let go of the workout and calorie tracking, and that has been very good for me. The verdict’s still out on the others. I still keep a mental list of sorts because there are still things that need to get done, but I’m hoping that not having a physical list will help me stop tying my view of a “successful” day to how many tasks I completed. Hopefully, I don’t drop the ball on too many things as a result! 🙂

      Oh. And I still track my books, because I like Goodreads too much not to. And because I find it helpful to have a list to refer back to – to remind me of what I liked and didn’t like, and to look for trends in my reading habits.

  2. jywatkins says:

    I like this post, Jenn. I find myself keeping track of everything, too. To-do lists are great to keep me on track at work or chores or tasks on a busy day. But I do find myself going way overboard, trying to overschedule time with friends and family, or keeping track of how often I’ve talked to this person or how much time I’ve spent with my husband and measuring the success of the relationships against those things. That doesn’t work though. Relationships are so much more organic and immeasurable. You can’t force intimacy and realness among friends. So while I find lists help me organize a busy day, I have to keep myself in check when I start trying to organize my relationships. Those things just take natural time and effort, not anything I can cross off a list.