I‘ve been thinking a lot lately about works in progress and finish lines.

It probably has something to do with January.  For most of us the new calendar means to-do lists with big fat deadlines attached to them:  things we have to finish, have to complete, and the fear that goes along with those deadlines of being behind.

It is a time for winding down, finishing up the old projects so that we can have new beginnings.  And, for the most part, I like that end of the deal. I love it when things are new and fresh and we get to start again.

In some ways it is a refreshing contrast to the rest of my life.  So much of the daily work and living associated with my life right now just doesn’t have a set end date and there is no number circled in red on the calendar for completion, no finish line in sight.

I can only see where we’ve been and compare it to where we are today. And, try as I might, I cannot predict the future.  No matter how carefully I plan, some things are beyond my control and some visions are murky.

But, the thing is, I like finish lines and due dates. They give me a sense of security. Nice, crisp, predictable order.

How do we know when we’re finished as parents?  How can we feel secure about this very monumental responsibility of raising children? Or, when there are times of upheaval or crisis, or plain old overwhelming circumstances, how do we know when we’ve caught up again?  How do we know when we’re back on track? How do we know how long we need to hold on?

Well, we don’t, of course.  Not really.  There’s no set number of days or finish line to cross.  We get there when we get there.  We are works in progress, as are our children. We hold on as long as it takes.

Now, I love a nice well written step-by-step knitting pattern and I’m a big fan of the household to-do list and the homeschool skills checklist.  I like ticking off those boxes and crossing out those lines completed. But my experience is that doesn’t often translate to motherhood. There aren’t many times parenting comes along with a nice, tidy line of boxes to check off.

Lately I catch myself in conversations using the phrase “when things get back to normal” and then I wonder what in the world does that even mean?  Is there really, truly such a thing as normal? Or am I using the word “normal” when what I really mean is “calm” or even “in control” or some other post-holiday, post-life change, or post-developmental stage of symbolic balance?

How can I learn to embrace the incomplete, the undone, and the left yet to do? The big, scary question marks that don’t have immediate answers?

Photo by Breibeest

In knitting circles, sometimes we talk about being a process knitter versus a product knitter.  A product knitter knits for the end result and is happiest once an object is finished.

A process knitter knits for the act of knitting itself, the experience, and is fine with projects that take a long time to complete and might even have several projects going on at once because they just couldn’t resist the call to create.

Most knitters fall somewhere in the middle, a mix of product and process in a ratio that works for them and makes them happy with the craft.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

Sometimes in parenting we’re aiming for the final product:  getting through a trip to the grocery store, sleeping through the night, potty training, the first day of school, driving, graduation.  Or, in my case recently, just one night where nobody throws up, please just one barf free night this week.

It is good to have goals, and a joy to watch our family reach them, so treasure those milestones, celebrate the small victories and the mental finish lines when you cross them.

But the bulk of parenting, the majority of our day to day living, isn’t about finish lines or milestones.

Most of parenting is about the process:  living, loving, and knowing these people we’re blessed to call our family.  Watching them grow, loving them – good, bad, happy, or sad.

It really is a lifelong calling.

Years ago, my mother, my grandmother, and I were watching my oldest daughter play.  I wondered something out loud about if it ever stopped being amazing to watch your child and my mother looked at me  and said,”It hasn’t stopped being amazing yet.“   And then her mother looked at her and said, “No, it hasn’t.”

Deadlines, patterns, and to do lists, they are pretty great tools for getting things done. But the process is pretty wonderful, too; being in the moment and simply enjoying the experience.

So I’m learning to embrace the finish lines and the works in progress.  I find they both have a sweetness worth savoring.