One of my cats frequently chases her tail. She stares at it as she would a bird or a chipmunk, and when she thinks the moment is right, she pounces. Her prey always slips out from under her paw just when she thinks she’s got it, and she’ll often turn in circles of pursuit three, four or more times in rapid succession to see if she can catch up with it. Then she rests before trying again.

My husband thinks Spaghetti chases her tail because she doesn’t understand the nature of the thing always following her. But of our two cats, Spaghetti is “the smart one.” I’ve long maintained that she knows exactly what she’s chasing, but she keeps pouncing on her own tail because it’s just so much darn fun.

I’m glad my cat is so skilled at amusing herself. But I do not share her enthusiasm for chasing one’s tail.

As a human, I am, of course, speaking metaphorically. I don’t literally keep trying to capture my own hindquarters. (If I did, that would be an entirely different blog post. Or perhaps a different blog–or psychiatric state.) But I do feel these days like I am perpetually looking behind me, trying to catch up to what I see there. And I never succeed, so I just keep trying. I suspect I’m not the only one.

Feed family. Go to work. Take this kid to soccer. Take that one to dance. Write some stuff. Go to doctor. Make an appointment for that kid. Note the change in schedule for this kid. Cancel that appointment because of this email. Reschedule that. Pick this up at the pharmacy. Clean up the cat puke. Wonder what she ate. Give up; no one knows. Pay the bills. Try for the twelfth time to get that caterer to call back about the bar mitzvah. Forget it. Consider not feeding people; decide that’s lame. Find another caterer. Pick a name from one of the many friends you’ve been ignoring and call or email. No, no one wants your phone call at 1:00 a.m. Push that off until tomorrow. Write something. Read something. Kids are fighting again. Ask what it’s about; upon hearing the answer, regret you asked. Check to make sure that dust bunny is not something alive; whew. When was the last time you went to the grocery store? It can wait; no one is starving yet. 1100 emails in the inbox; delete some. Answer one. Look into arrangements for mom’s headstone. Daughter asks if you can spend more time together; explain you can as soon as her Nutcracker rehearsals and performances are over. Who is driving the soccer carpool today? Doesn’t a relative have a birthday today? Rats; send an e-gift card. Where are my jeans? Oh yeah, somewhere in that pile of clothes that’s bigger than my car. Someone calls to ask if you can volunteer time for a political campaign. Ask caller if he has kids. When he says no, laugh psychotically and hang up the phone.

And so on. You know how this goes. I bet many of you live your own version of this scenario, feeling that if you could just check off x, y and z on your to-do list, you’d be able to start tomorrow with a clean slate. But it doesn’t ever happen.

Here’s the part of the post where I’m supposed to offer you The Solution. I tell you I’ve done X, and it worked, and my life is reformed. Or The Resolution, wherein I am going to do Y, and I’ll let you know how it goes (but I suspect the results will be miraculous).

But I have neither Solution nor Resolution today. What I have is awareness, frustration and a sense that life has drifted toward imbalance. So I’m sharing this with you because it’s so easy for this to happen in our twenty-first century, American world of parenting, and because now that I’ve identified the problem, I do plan to implement one change in my life–starting immediately. (Um, okay, I leave for a conference in a week, so maybe when I return from that conference…)

The to-do lists aren’t going away. Neither, to be honest, are any of the other obligations. But what is going to disappear, within just a few years, are my kids’ childhoods. Separately, I’ve given a little thought to the things that make me happy, and realized that I’m not spending enough time on those things–my family, friends, reading, writing, cooking, taking walks, and one or two other activities–so I need to make these things priorities for my time in the way I make my to-lists a priority. I’m not kidding myself that this will be easy, but I believe it can be done.

Life can be overwhelming sometimes, and in a crisis, there really isn’t much to do about that. But after the crisis subsides, you have to ask yourself what kind of life you want to lead. Do you want to spend time doing the things you value the most, or do you want forever to be chasing your tail?

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