The three of us clustered in the square of sun on the floor of my office. We each had our own, color-coded goal sheet in front of us and I was encouraging the girls to just brainstorm for now.
"Think about three things you'd love to accomplish this school year."
"What's 'accomplish', Mommy?" the youngest furrowed her brow.
"It means three things you want to learn how to do or do better. Like, my three goals for the school year are to finish writing my book, exercise at least three times a week, and get a lot better at speaking Spanish," I wrote these three things in the green spaces on my sheet.
E. flopped down onto her stomach, pencil in hand, staring at her page with her bottom lip tucked in. Through the open window I could hear the neighbors' little terriers yapping at the lawn mower.
L. started firing away, "I want to learn how to do a bridge kickover and turn on the XBox 360 by myself with no help from anyone, and I want to learn how to ride my bike with no training wheels and do my own bath and write my last name. Maybe I'm too little for riding my bike like that now. So what if I try to write my own story with no help or pack my own lunch for school. And I want to read a chapter book all by myself."
I flipped her bright pink goal sheet over and began scribbling.
"That's way more than three things, dork!" E. shot her an eye-rolling, head-shaking, big sister look.
"That's okay. If she accomplishes one of her first ideas, we can look on the back and add a new one," I pointed out the spot on the table where we can write the date of completion of each goal to both girls.
"Okay, now can you pick the three you most want to do for now?" I read off the list. She chose bridge kickover, completing her own bath independently and learning how to set up the XBox 360 by herself. I filled in the lines and she took off to post it on the wall in her room.
E. was struggling. "I can't think of anything, Mom."
"Well, how about some things at school? Like getting no more than one spelling word wrong on your tests for three weeks in a row? Or something at gymnastics like your sister? How about doing a back handspring? The goals are meant to be something you work on for the next nine months so there's no pressure to do them right away - just work on them slowly and steadily."
She looked away and let her long bangs fall over her face, "I don't want to do any of those things."
"Okay! I did the first one!" L. came bounding back in to my office waving her hot pink paper, a huge grin splitting her face. "Let's mark it off and put another one in there."
E.'s head jerked around, "Whaaat? Does she get something for doing one already?"
This wasn't exactly going as I had planned.
"What did you do?"
"I just did a bridge kickover in my bedroom. After we choose another one, I'm going to go to my room and try to read a chapter book so you guys need to be quiet in here."
"Sweetie, I was hoping these could be things you would work on for a while. There's no prize for completing them, other than the knowledge that you worked hard for something you really wanted to do and figured it out," I rubbed her back as her smile shrunk a little.
"I want to learn how to knit, Mom. That's something I really want to do, " E. spoke in a soft voice.
"Great! Put that one down, then."
"Do you know how to knit? Can you teach me this afternoon?"
We finally finished filling out the goal sheets. L. was frustrated that I didn't consider her first goal 'complete', but she's determined to convince me. I am struck by how desperately they want to get to the finish line instead of accepting the reality that so much of life is the journey and the struggle to determine just where you think you're headed. I can't say that I don't feel some of their anxiousness, and I certainly understand it. I'd love to sit down for a week straight and work on my book without taking breaks to pee or eat or cook or walk the dog or tuck the kids in or run them to school. There is a part of me that wants it done - something tangible in my hands to produce as evidence of my work. The other part of me realizes that that is why it's been so long since I worked on it. I lost the joy of the journey somewhere along the way. At one point I made no promises about when it would be done. At one point I was simply loving the process of interviewing people and hearing their stories and trying to tease out gems of light and hope. The goal sheet is posted on the wall in my office as a reminder of my desire to get these stories out. Perhaps going through this process with my kids is the bigger reminder. If I don't embrace the path I'm taking to reach that goal, it will be an empty victory.