It was Monday morning. My to-do list was massively long, the house was a mess, the laundry pile was enormous, and to top it all off, I was recovering from being sick over the weekend.

I got the children up and fed, bathed, dressed, and helped them do their morning chores. All the while, I was thinking of a fun activity they could do that wouldn’t make much additional mess and would occupy them for at least an hour or two so I could tackle my ever-growing to-do list.

Inspiration struck as I picked up an empty cardboard box. “Hey, children,” I exclaimed enthusiastically, “do you want to make cardboard dollhouses for your little dolls?”

The girls squealed with excitement, and I knew this would be the perfect solution. Thrilled that I was about to buy myself a little peace and quiet, I went out to our recycling bin in the garage and rummaged through it for more dollhouse materials.

Hands full, I made my way back into the house to find my girls eagerly chatting about their dollhouse plans. I handed them the stack of materials, gave them some suggestions for what they could use the various items for, and then headed off to get as much done on my overwhelming list as I could while they were contentedly creating their dollhouses.

Not five minutes later, both girls came and found me. Each bore very sad expressions, and one was on the verge of tears. I was perplexed, as this was in complete contrast to their mood just moments earlier.

“We can’t do it by ourselves, Mama,” they chimed together.

“But I thought you were so excited to make dollhouses?” I replied.

“We were because we thought you were going to make them with us,” Six-year-old Kathrynne’s words pierced my heart.

Being the Type-A person I am, I wrestled with what I should do. The laundry pile was beckoning, the dirty bathroom was screaming for attention, and cardboard dollhouse-making was nowhere on my self-made agenda for the day.

But I saw their eyes, and I stepped back and asked myself a question I try to ask often: What will matter 25 years from now?

That settled it. I set aside my agenda, sat down with them, and started cutting, pasting, and dreaming up dollhouse plans. We made walls, beds, tables, and stairs. We concocted wallpaper, discussed flooring and wall-hangings, and even sewed a pillow for one of the beds.

Their eyes lit up. Their faces showed sheer delight. And I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that making cardboard dollhouses was more important than any seemingly-pressing item on my to-do list.

Truth be told, I never made it out of my pajamas that day. We had leftovers for dinner, and the laundry pile greeted me in the same spot the next day; but somehow, none of that mattered so much anymore.

Copyright © 2011 by Crystal Paine. Used by permission.