Shop the fall collection ➔

I was lucky enough to earn my master’s degree at a presidential library. This alone was pretty amazing, but the icing on the cake was that this library’s namesake was still living and very much involved in “his” school. “41” (as we affectionally called him) walked our halls and participated in class discussions almost daily. President George H.W. Bush, Mrs. Bush, and their bevy of spaniels were familiar figures in my life, and for those two years, we all felt special.

One afternoon during a rather difficult econ lecture, President Bush walked in and sat down. He always sat in the back, with his secret service and his dog. He often raised his hand like a regular student, to ask if he might contribute (please, um, yes).

And despite our differing political views, personal opinions, social or economic perspectives, we would listen.

RELATED: At the End of Your Life, This is What Will Matter To Your Children

And on that particular day, the gods loved me because they allowed 41 to interrupt and essentially kill the dreadful economics lesson to impart a much more important one.

And it went like this:

We all know what it’s like to dump rocks into a bucket. We’ve all done the experiment at some point in our lives where you have a gallon of water and a bunch of different sized rockssome very big, some tiny pebbles. And the teacher tells you: if you put them in the bucket correctly, they will all fit AND when you pour the water in, none will spill out.

People always dump the pebbles in first. Every. Time. (Looking at each of us, in the eyeballs, like he was our grandfather, fussing.) Then they try to stuff the medium-sized rubble in, then finally, they pray the big rocks will fit. And let me assure you, from experience, they never do.

You must choose the big rocks first. You must pick them up, prioritize them, place them in the container ahead of everything else, THEN start filling in the leftover spaces with the little stuff. Only then, will they all fit and hold the water. Only then, will it make sense.

In life, you have to know what your big rocks are. You have to choose those first. If you don’t, if you forget who they are, or what they are, and then try to stuff them into your day, your week, your heart last . . . they won’t fit. And all you’ll be left with is the rubble that’s not important.

As you can imagine, I think of this all. the. time.

When I’m loading the dishwasher (big pots, first, Katie). When I’m thinking about my day and all that needs to happen (most important things, first, Katie). When I’m in a conversation with Steve and I’ve begun to feel angry or confused or discouraged (OK, what was my point? Big ideas first, Katie).

And then when I’m living this strange COVID reality, like all of you . . . what are my big rocks? Is it my kid’s writing assignment, uploaded perfectly with the correct font? Is it all clothes picked up, socks matched, chalk put away, counters wiped off? Is it the living list of “wishes”—toilet paper, canned beans, ham steak, Clorox wipes—that stays taped to my kitchen cabinet and doesn’t change much, only causing me stress and worry?

RELATED: Love Them Harder

It’s not. It’s none of those things. Those are all important, for sure. They cannot be denied or forgotten. But. They are NOT what I’d choose first to put in my bucket. At least, they better not be. I better not get confused or distracted about my priorities, for I think, my sanity and my family depend on me choosing wisely.

Mental health. Laughter. Sugar. Bike rides. Affection. Friends. Coffee. Compassion. Forgiveness. Support. Conversations. These are my big rocks lately.

What are yours?

Previously published on the author’s blog

Katie Gale

Hi. :) I'm Katie, and I'm a wife, mom and, what I refer to as a "human in training." I tell my kids all the time we're all just trying, every day, to be the best human we can be! And that means we're in lifelong training. I write and feature stories primarily about being a good human, motherhood, design, friendships and what my family calls "the high, low, and unexpected" of every day. I live in Boise, ID with my husband, children, and two Labradoodles. Steve is currently fighting COVID-19 (he's a trauma surgeon), so we don't see him much, but the kids and I are surviving on Zoom meeetings, boxed cake, and lots (and lots) of bike rides!

Our Friend Steve Is Back! Get Ready for the “Blue’s Clues” Live-Action Movie

In: Kids, Living
man in a trench coat and green tie looking out door

We just got a letter, we just got a letter! Except this time, it’s even better! ’90s kids rejoice, because one of our favorite classic Nickelodeon series, Blue’s Clues, is getting a live-action makeover. Not only that, but it will also feature all three of the show’s hosts, which means our beloved Steve Burns will be returning to the screen after all this time! You may remember, Steve popping back into our lives unexpectedly last year for the 25th anniversary of the show to explain why he had departed so suddenly. He hit us all in the feels when he...

Keep Reading

My Daughter is Almost the Age I Was When My Grandfather First Molested Me

In: Living, Motherhood
Back of little girl's head with braid and ribbon

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse My daughter is swinging, head tilted up to the sky, pondering the shape of the cloud—is it a puppy or a tiger? Or maybe a dragon? She picks a flowering weed from the yard and brings it to me, so proud of her gift for Mama. She sits down and draws one of her imaginary kitty superheroes and the tale of how it saves the day—her lips pursed, then open, then pursed again—concentrating as though it’s the most important story she’ll write in her life. I pull her close, breathe in all of her joy and...

Keep Reading

When Storms Come: How To Help During Hurricane Ian

In: Living
When Waters Rise, You’ll Struggle to Put One Foot in Front of the Other. You’ll Do it Anyway.

When waters rise and spirits fall, you’ll listen anxiously to weather reports from your neighborhood. You’ll watch angry waves swirling on the sacred ground of familiar streets. You’ll feel a sickening, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. You’ll try to grasp fleeting thoughts of hope that maybe, just maybe, they’re all wrong. Surely it won’t be as bad, as devastating as they say. You’ll try to overpower Mother Nature by sheer force of will. But she is a determined and destructive houseguest. You’ll understand futility.  You’ll go through motions, completing necessary tasks in response to catastrophe. You’ll cry,...

Keep Reading

Things I Wish My Therapist Would Say

In: Living
Little girl looking out window

Things I wish my therapist would say . . .  Welcome. Sit down, have a tea or a big coffee. The latest studies say caffeine does wonders for your anxiety. Now, tell me everything . . .  You’re not crazy. But if you are it’s okay, all the best women in history were crazy. You don’t need medication. But if you do, it’s okay—I can get you some right now. You don’t have to call a thousand pharmacies or drive or wait, here it is. It will work right away and has zero side effects. You don’t have to change...

Keep Reading

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s…Jupiter?

In: Living
Boy looking through telescope

It’s a great week to gather the kids and train your eyes on the night sky—the planet Jupiter is bigger and better than ever! Well, at least it’ll look that way this week.   Jupiter reaches what’s termed “opposition” during the final week of September this year, and that makes for some fun stargazing conditions. Quick science lesson time: “opposition” is when a planet is directly opposite the Sun in the sky. And all those orbits out there in space have the Earth sandwiched between Jupiter and the Sun right now too, meaning our Solar System’s gasseous giant is closer to...

Keep Reading

I’ll Find Her Again One Day

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother holding baby at night

It happened again. Took 15 months this time. But I found myself in the same spot I said I’d never be in. Lost, drowning, on the brink of a mental breakdown—however you want to put it. I was gone in motherhood. With the diapers piling up around me, I was getting mad at my husband for nothing, screaming at my oldest son, crying along with the babies, and in a fog. RELATED: To the Woman Who’s Lost Herself in Motherhood I couldn’t do anything—literally—I couldn’t even pee without hearing a demand. When my children were quiet, my house billowed with...

Keep Reading

I Want Friends Who Grow Old with Me

In: Friendship, Living
Friends laughing

When I grow older, I want my friends to come with me. I want us to sit on porches sipping tea and watching the young walk by. I want us to scoot around on our scooters or on golf carts because none of us want to walk back home from the beach. I want us to sit in restaurants and order whatever we want because life has become too short and we know it, so cheesecake it is. RELATE: Life is Too Short for Fake Cheese and Fake Friends I want morning strolls together to get the willies out, and...

Keep Reading

To the Mom In the Trenches: Make Room For Yourself

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother and daughter on beach black and white photo

“I need to make room for myself,” I think quietly as I shove toys aside with my foot and toss the dog-hair-covered blankets onto the couch behind me. This endless carousel of shuffling clutter weighs on me, but I try not to dwell on that fact right now. Clearing a space for a quick strength class between Zoom calls requires almost as much effort as the class itself. Plastic play food and melodic baby toys lay strewn about the room (the whole house, really). Scattered LEGOs and Hot Wheels wait to attack unsuspecting bare feet at any moment. To say...

Keep Reading

“Old” Seems Less Old the Older I Get

In: Living
Mother and teen daughter smiling

Growing up, my grandparents hosted birthday parties that involved all of my dad’s aunts and uncles gathering around the kitchen table with a deck of pinochle cards dealt among them. After a few games, a “lunch” of sandwiches, cake, and hot cups of coffee would be served.  I remember looking at the people gathered around that table—wrinkled fingers raking in cards, deep, scratchy voices calling out bids and naming trump, laughter mingled with German words I didn’t understand. The kids were never invited to the table, only allowed to watch from the outskirts.  We were too young. And they were...

Keep Reading

I Love Being a Mom, But I Miss That Party Girl Sometimes

In: Living, Motherhood
Girl at bar in black tank top

It’s 7 p.m. on a Saturday night. Freshly showered and ready to take on whatever the night brings. I’ve just gotten dressed and am finishing up my makeup when the phone rings. “Hey, I’m about to leave in half an hour. Do you want to meet around 8 p.m.?” “Sure! I’m almost ready. I’ll be there at 8!” I say excitedly. I finish my makeup and start working on my hair when a text comes through. “Hey, Ash! Just wanted to let you know we’ll be there around 9 but we’re definitely going to make it! I can’t wait to...

Keep Reading