I once had a job that required I do ten things at once and rarely ever finish anything. It was a challenging, if frustrating, situation. Too many days ended with my office strewn with project after project and my desk swimming in papers. I’d turn off the light and sneak out, stressed beyond belief and anxious to get some sleep so that I could get back at it the next day. I kept a quote taped to my desk in those days, after staring at it for six years, you’d think I’d have it committed to memory. It went something like this, “Do it right the first time, because there isn’t time to do it over.”
This mantra is one that has gone the way of high heels and sleeping in. It’s no longer realistic since having children. In the early years, it was just do whatever the hell it takes to get it taken care of, covered up, cleaned up, or hidden, and move on. This was true not only of my house, my diet, my wardrobe, but my garden too. I’ve gotten really good at getting a lot of things done, but please don’t look in my office, or my basement for that matter. Chaos rules. There are piles of books to be read, projects to be finished, papers to be filed, and they don’t hold a candle to the mounds of things to be put away, sorted out, given away, or mended. But generally I just close the door and sneak away and manage to neaten the piles when guests come to stay (the spare bedroom is my office).
This weekend as I began the huge project of tearing out our raspberry patch, I meditated on my long forgotten belief that you should do it right the first time. If we had taken the time to build a proper bed for the raspberries when they were first bequeathed to us six years ago, we wouldn’t be fighting the entrenched grass, mile-a-minute vine, and quite literally a small poplar tree as we struggled to save the raspberries that were being slowly suffocated by the interlopers. Back then I dragged some plastic over the ground, poked holes in it and plunked the raspberries in the holes. I mean, raspberries are really weeds, they can beat anything, right? Wrong. It was a long morning.
When I was just over half-way through the patch, my darling husband joined me in the battle. We talked about other options for the space (more tomatoes? How about moving the blueberries up here?). But in the end we recommitted to raspberries. Only this time we tilled the ground thoroughly, yanking out stubborn grasses and unidentifiable roots. We sunk a wooden border around it which would keep the grass out and the raspberries in, and debated the mulch options. As I re-planted the salvaged plants this morning, it felt really good. Good to be giving these beauties a new start instead of scrapping the whole mess and giving up. And hopefully this time we’ve done it right and it won’t be necessary to plant the raspberries a third time.
Satisfied with my efforts, I leaned on the pasture fence and surveyed the new garden. It looked so neat and tidy. I just wish the rest of my life were neat and tidy. I can’t help but think if I could apply my do-it-right-the-first-time strategy to the rest of my life it would be neat and tidy. If we just put away things as soon as we finished them – laundry, dishes, the newspaper, puzzles, games, clothing, SHOES, homework, and all the crap that fills my car, think how neat it would be! But we don’t. Life is just too busy. And I don’t want to spend my days nagging. All I can do is try to create places for everything and bribe children to put things where they belong. Besides, I do love to see the masterpieces that my youngest son creates, even all seventeen of them as they are displayed throughout two rooms in the latest version of his “art sale”. Of course the clutter from the masterpieces and the accompanying sale signs taped to the walls contribute to the “broken windows theory”. The theory that says if the neighborhood has broken windows and graffiti, people will treat it badly. They’ll assume that no one cares and add to the trash, crime, and general apathy that erode the area. I think that’s what’s going on in my car. Not that there are any broken windows, but there is graffiti in the form of yellow crayon on my window and some kind of black goo splattered on my ceiling. I think we need to embrace the broken windows theory and get things in order before we can begin to live the Do-it-right-the-first-time belief.
I just wish for once I could get my house and car, and perhaps my life, in order. Make it all beautiful and neat and organized, kind of like the new raspberry patch. It’s a fantasy. This I know. Because for this season in my life, the mess is my life. Hubby, kids, animals, gardens, and friends are much more important than a clean house (or a clean car although that doesn’t seem as far out of reach). Still, I think I will attempt to resurrect my mantra of “do it right the first time.” This may make my kids a little nuts and I’m sure it will make my husband smile knowingly. But just maybe it will be the push I need to re-claim some of my house. And maybe it will help me to stop trying to do everything. Instead of starting ten new projects, maybe I can do one (or two) right the first time.