It’s an absolutely gorgeous, 60s and sunny Sunday afternoon, and after almost two weeks of snow and frigid temperatures, my girls know exactly what they should do today — play outside! But for some reason, I’m still in the house, struggling with one of my most recurring personal dilemmas: To work or to play?

Should I throw on some shoes and join the girls outside for an impromptu picnic in the one sun-soaked, snow-free spot in our yard? Or should I continue to knock things off the never-ending to-do list — from laundry to homeschool prep to business followup and, of course, more household chores — on my one “free” day this week? To work or to play? That is the question.

It’s a question that pops into my head every time a free moment presents itself. And as I watch my kids play and listen to my husband recount the enjoyment of his two-hour bike ride, it becomes clear to me that I seem to be the only one in our family plagued by this question. Is it that first-born sense of responsibility that keeps me stuck in a practical, “must-do” mode 24-7? Is it being a work-at-home mother that makes it more difficult to “turn off” and transition from work to play? Or is it that Type-A personality — the over-analytical “doer” — that can’t be bothered with anything but what seems like the most logical use of my time at any given moment?

Today I’m particularly perplexed because of another factor in the equation: My husband’s upcoming work trip this week. This means I’ll be single-parenting for several activity-packed days, and it makes preparing for the week with a clean, well-organized slate that much more important. The question continues to nag me as I work my way through the house, one task at a time: Continue to work or take a break to play?

The girls squeals and giggles from the backyard are beckoning me, but so far, I’m still indoors — working. By now, my husband has already escaped again — this time to exchange some new snowboard boots that weren’t quite right. And I have gotten the bed sheets changed, a load of laundry started, general downstairs pick-up done, some business emails sent out into the ether, and started prepping 150 goody bags for an important business event this week.

It’s now 3:30pm, and I know that soon the warm spot in the backyard will be shaded in, the girls will be back indoors ready to play games on their laptops or watch a DVD, and the opportunity to play with them and enjoy the sunshine will have passed me by. Why am I still asking myself this question?

I can’t help but remember how many times my Mom tried to institute a “day of rest” in our home on Sundays. In a family of 10-plus — eight kids, two parents, and many pets coming and going over the years — it was much easier said than done. Every spare moment in our home was usually filled with one meal’s cleanup, the next meal’s prep work, or another load of laundry being scooped in from a never-ending mountain of clothing that began creeping into the kitchen if not attended to daily. We were always working on something, but that was life in a large family — maintaining order in a home with so many occupants was frankly a lot more work.

Usually, though, there was some “rest” on Sunday: A big brunch following church. Quite often (which is surprising given my family’s size) my parents took us all to a restaurant, and I can remember how we filled up the largest table available and enjoyed delicious food, funny stories, and relaxed conversation that sometimes went on for hours. The best part for me was the fact that we didn’t have to prepare anything or clean up the mess we made — and that alone made the rest of Sunday seem so much more peaceful and relaxing. It was the one event of the week that could simply be enjoyed. Though it was probably not the “day of rest” my Mom was striving for, those Sunday brunches became one of my favorite family memories.

Both the back and front doors open almost simultaneously and snap me back to reality on this particular Sunday in February, 2011. The girls have indeed abandoned their outdoor adventure for another round of Internet games. My husband has successfully returned home from his quest with new, better-priced snowboard boots in hand and some other fun stuff he was able to score with the money he saved. He tells me about a blissful moment he experienced admiring the mountains while driving home on this perfectly beautiful day. Shade has descended upon our yard, and I know I’ve lost the battle between work and play once again.

The good news is that there are still a few hours left in the day to make a different decision. Although I missed my chance to play outside with the girls, there’s still time to turn off the busy bee and play — even if it’s just for a little while. Tonight, a game of Pairs in Pears with the kids and speed-watching the DVR’ed Grammys with my husband (while stuffing those goody bags, of course) provided some much-needed laughs, entertainment, family fun, and — dare I say it — relaxation.

Sure, I feel better facing this week knowing that I’m already ahead of the game. But that satisfaction is only temporary, because I know I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling compelled to work, work, work once again. I really could have used my own moment of bliss. And I wonder why I keep forgetting that rest, or time to recharge, is even more important when you have a lot on your plate. Even though I got some important things done, I still wish I had taken that “time out” today.

How do you decide whether to work or to play? Do you struggle with the pull to produce when your heart tugs you toward taking a “time out” for fun with your family? Are you learning to live in the moment, or are you putting off what you really want to do for what you think you should do first? I’d love to know how other Moms deal with the question: To work or to play?

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