This morning I knocked on the door at the home of several of my 20-something nieces and nephews. No one answered. Pretty sure they were home and needing to pick up my husband’s drill, I knocked again. Again, no one answered, but as I was halfway back down the path to the car my niece opened the door. Dopey-eyed, bed-headed, and clad in PJ’s, she asked, “Hey, Auntie. Is it Saturday?” It was 10:30.
We exchanged pleasantries, discussed the late night they’d had, had a laugh when another member of the household expressed confusion over what day of the week it was, and I left with the item I’d come for. I was not two steps down the path when the self-righteous early bird inside stirred. I began to mentally list all the tasks I’d already accomplished today. I’d fed, watered, and cleaned up after 5 people for breakfast, dressed a family, read my book, started loads of laundry and dishes, prepped for tonight’s dinner party, had a shower, gone on coffee date with a friend, and taken my daughter to art class all before this household even opened its eyes and had the capacity to register what day of the week it was! I was mentally congratulating myself on my productivity–the early bird catches the worm and all that–but, not wanting to be a judgemental fuddy-duddy, I took pause.
Of course, I can do the math and I realize that one can theoretically have an equally ‘productive’ day between the hours of say, 10am and midnight, as they can between 7 and 9pm. It’s just that if memory serves me well, that isn’t necessarily the case–at least it wasn’t for me. News Flash. I wasn’t always the self-righteous early bird that knocked on that door this morning. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was a 20-something minus the one, two, or five huge responsibilities that I’ve accrued over the past 10 years. I know, I remember what those hours after 9 PM look like, and, if memory serves, they weren’t filled the dozens upon dozens of utilitarian tasks that now occupy 95% of my time. This little variance in waking hours is far from meaningless, but perhaps not in the way my inner judgmental early bird would like to think.
Productivity is subjective–it can be measured in many ways–and on the scale of sheer volume of utilitarian tasks accomplished, sure, my 30’s have been very ‘productive.’ Our household is a busy hub that includes, among other things, 3 kids, 2 businesses, and an active social life–all of which are tended to before 9pm. My husband and I often joke that nothing ‘productive’ other than sex ever happens at our house after 9. True as that may be for our going situation, we both know that wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t all that long ago that neither one of us would have been anywhere to be found before 10am on a weekend. Life looked very different then, and I don’t think any one would have accused me of running a ‘tight-ship’ at that point in my life. But to say that the days before I became an early-bird were somehow less productive than today? Well, that depends on your perspective and, as I said before, your measure of ‘productivity.’
If memory serves, the kinds of things that once filled the hours after 9pm were an entirely different kind of ‘productive.’ I used to read, journal, or go for long walks as matters of self-care that I scarcely have time for these days. I’d lose (and find) myself in aimless conversations with friends. I’d laugh, get silly, and talk philosophy to distract myself from dreaming (and stressing) about what I was going to do with my life. I was quick to judge and made all the right kinds of mistakes fitting for my age and the time I lived in. I fell in and out of love and learned a few hard lessons that would help me on my way an incredible and fulfilling romantic relationship. I worked different jobs, appreciated music, tried on ideologies, learned things, and mingled with people who were different from me–activities reflective of an entirely different kind of ‘productivity.’
Every time, every age in life brings its new challenges, wisdom, and brand of production. As we age, sometimes it’s hard to resist the temptation to be smug, thinking we’ve somehow got it figured it out, that we’ve got something over the next generation or at the very least our former selves. Occasionally we brand our older, ‘wiser’ selves with a nice, self-righteous label as I did this morning as I walked down that path pleased with my ‘early-bird’ accomplishments, but ultimately we know the truth. As each age passes, we live with the growing awareness that each age is as vital, even as ‘productive’, as the one before it, that we haven’t made our last mistake, and that, perhaps, we’ll always know ‘better’ tomorrow.