balance · family · writing

Thoughts On Time

Sometimes Tamara takes the boys out to the coffee shop or the library so that I’ll have time to write. When this happens, it takes time getting used to having the house to myself – for the first thirty minutes, I keep looking around, expecting to spot J.J. asleep in his bouncy seat or Edgar quietly munching on Goldfish crackers. But they’re not here – they’re out, having an adventure, and I’m at home with a crackling fire, a cup of coffee, and my computer on my lap.

It’s always a challenge, finding time to write when you’re a working parent with two kids under three. And it’s really important to me to make time for writing. I haven’t made much progress with my novel – I blame the boys’ sleep needs for this – but I have managed to post on the blog twice every week since 2019 began, and I’m determined to stick to that routine for as long as possible.

I’m delayed on my novel – my goal is to finish a draft by the end of 2019, and I’m not as far as I’d like to be. But my delay is in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the novel, and planning things out, rather than writing it. It feels a little uncomfortable, at times. I’d much rather be writing than planning. But as I page through the book Story Genius, I find myself wondering if this whole novel writing gig requires more planning than I’ve ever tried before.

There’s a debate in the writing community about plotting versus pantsing. The plotters map out the entire story of their novel before they write it, and the pantsers just start writing and see where their story goes. I have always been more of a pantser. But the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron is arguing something in between; I’m not done with the book yet, but I think she advocates that the writer should know the story of what is going to happen ahead of time, though the writer may allow themselves to be somewhat of a pantser when it comes to the hundreds of little details that make up the eventual plot. (I’ll let you know when I finish the book if this is an accurate representation of the Story Genius method.)

So, the boys are out with Tamara, and here I sit, with a rare few hours of alone time to write and think. And one of the things I’m considering is re-evaluating the way I spend my time.

I’m going to have more flexibility with my time now that Edgar is, thank goodness, going to sleep by himself in his bed after about six weeks of bedtime struggles. That means that I’ll have a little extra time in the evening after Edgar goes to bed, and a little extra time in the morning before the boys wake up. I’ve been pondering what routines I want to create.

I thought about this in terms of the WHEN – like, when are the little pockets of time that I have available for exercise, writing, reading, self-care, etc? There are the mornings – the wee bit of time I can steal if I wake up early enough. There are the evenings, after Edgar goes to bed, when I can write or read if I have the energy. There are the weekend afternoons during nap. And there are the times like today, when Tamara takes the boys out for an adventure on a weekend morning and I have a few hours to use for whatever I need.

That’s what I have right now – little pockets of time. It can feel frustrating sometimes! I really wish I could start building up my writing stamina, spending 2 or 3 hours at a time sitting down to write. But it is what it is for the moment, and I have to accept that, enjoy my baby boys, and be ready for the pockets of time when they pop up.

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balance

Lower Your Expectations

I was thinking recently about the 2018 holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and everything that goes with it. I had a pretty fantastic holiday season this past year, and I think the secret was this: low expectations.

That sounded a little sad to me at first, but it’s really not.

I have always had a tendency to romanticize and fantasize. My expectations of life and love were tainted at a young age by television and movies with scripted, well-lit scenes that make you feel warm, fuzzy, and inspired.

This has gotten in my way at different moments in my life. I find that I get extremely emotional during significant life events – graduations, weddings, holidays – and it often is because my expectations for myself, for others, and for life itself have been high. I want every moment to be magical. Many moments are magical – but not all of them are. Combine high expectations with a highly sensitive person, and the result is often disappointment which almost always (in my case) involves ugly crying.

A month or so ago, my sister gave me some good advice. She told me to stop trying so hard. This was unrelated to the holidays; I was stressed about something very different. And she basically advised me to stop caring about it so much. Which is really hard for me to do, because I care about everything and I think that if I do things a certain way, then things will work out a certain way.

But, this advice sort of sounded good. So I moved into the holiday activities, reminding myself before each event: This activity might just be sort of okay. And it worked beautifully. Not every event has to be perfect; not every moment has to be life-altering. It still sounds a little sad to me, even as I write this! But I think it’s true. And I think it’s a key to happiness.

Lower your expectations. It will actually help you to squeeze as much joy out of life as you can. And isn’t that just a little bit wonderful?

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balance · goals

Now Versus Someday – Who Will Win?

One of Edgar’s books is titled Shark Versus Train: Who Will Win? He loves it. It’s a series of contests between a shark and a train, and it asks who will win in a variety of different scenarios – a diving contest (shark), a burping contest (train), playing basketball (train), or a hot air balloon ride (shark). At the end of the book, it turns out that the shark and the train are actually toys, being pitted against each other by two little boys. I’ll be honest – it’s not always clear to me WHY one would win over the other, and I guess that makes sense, since it’s two little kids applying the logic. But it’s a cute story anyway.

This book keeps coming to my mind when I consider a debate that keeps popping up for me: now versus someday. When it comes to the things that need to get done in my life, will they happen now or someday? Which will win?

My word of the year is NOW. My 2019 goal is to stop putting things off for “when the boys are older” or “when I feel better.” I want to be able to achieve my goals even with limited time, energy, and resources, especially my creative goals.

However. However. HOWEVER.

If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, or have seen the dark circles under my eyes, or have had a disjointed conversation with me recently – then you know that I am exhausted and short on sleep and energy. Tamara and I have gotten into a better routine with the boys and sleep, but better doesn’t really mean awesome. 

So it’s hard to do anything NOW. NOW is a blissfully happy time that is not conducive to productivity.

I keep telling myself, Write now! If you can write now, you can write anytime! But the reality is, even if I do keep myself writing throughout this crazy time, I’ll still have to wait for Someday to devote the REAL kind of time I want to devote to my craft.

It’s an interesting thing to think about – now versus someday. It reminds me of another interesting debate – acceptance versus striving. Do I accept myself and my life as they are, or do I strive to reach what I want to have, to do, and to be? In the rooms of recovery, we are all about acceptance, and I do believe that happiness begins with acceptance. So much of my unhappiness in life has stemmed from desperately wanting things to be different when just accepting things as they were could have brought me peace.

But – we don’t want to stop striving, do we? It’s good to have ambition, to have a vision or a goal and to work toward it. I can accept the fact that I’m 36 and haven’t published my novel yet, but I can also strive toward the goal of publishing it eventually.

So maybe the answer to the acceptance versus striving debate is that it’s all about balance. A little acceptance, balanced with a little striving, makes a happy and fulfilling life. And perhaps it’s the exact same answer for the related debate, now versus someday. If I balance doing as many things NOW as I can, while also knowing that some big things (like hard core writing time) may have to wait until the summer, then I can feel good about what I get done each day while also knowing that more is possible.

So neither will win – now and someday will tie. And they’ll agree to be friends and co-exist (somewhat) happily in the toy box until the next time they’re taken out to play by a couple of imaginative pre-schoolers, just like in Edgar’s book. And we’ll all live happily ever after, accepting the now gratefully and striving for the someday with grace.

 

 

balance · self-care

Intervention

A few days ago, I woke up feeling like I’d spent the whole night running into a brick wall.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about this morning; I was just done. I was sick of eating junk food, watching TV all night long between J.J.’s feedings, going too many days without a shower, and forgetting to brush my teeth or wash my face.

That day – the day I woke up feeling like total crappity crap – I plotted out a little intervention for myself.  I decided that I was DONE with:I’m exhausted. My self-care’s been lacking ever since J.J. came home, and I just have not been able to figure out when to exercise and how to maintain some semblance of healthy self-care.

1. Eating junk food all night long during J.J.’s feedings;

2. Having a TV show constantly playing in the background while at home with the boys;

3. Ignoring self-care and hygiene; and,

4. Zoning out of my life because I’m feeling too overwhelmed to zone in.

It’s only been three days, but I’m already feeling so much better.

It’s so hard to keep from slipping back into old habits. When I’m stressed or overwhelmed, I always, always, fall into my vices of caffeine, junk food, and background TV noise. It’s inevitable; much as I wish it weren’t so, this is just what I do.

I’m not going to waste any time worrying about when I’ll slip back into these vices again. Today, I’m just grateful that I feel a little less out of control. I showered this morning; I’ve gone for a run every day for three days; I haven’t been watching TV on the phone while playing with my boys; and I feel hydrated and (somewhat) well-rested. Life is good.

I may be six years sober, but this still made me laugh out loud.
balance · self-care

Every Little Moment

When I am tired and overwhelmed, I fall victim to old habits. Specifically, I start to become addicted to reruns of my favorite television shows, playing them in the background throughout my days.

Ugh. I hate this habit of mine! It’s something that soothes me when I’m feeling anxious or stressed, and that’s not a bad thing. But it also is a habit that causes me to be less present in my life, and that is not a good thing.

Things are looking up lately. Our two-year-old has been slowly returning to his usual sleep routines after six weeks of tantrums at bedtime, nightmares (I think?), and wanting to fall asleep with the door open, a light on, and a parent lying in his bed. Our five-month-old has started eating solid foods, and I’m praying that a full night’s sleep will happen within a few months from now.  And, thanks to my new job working at a County school, I’ve been lucky enough to have several snow days recently, which have been great opportunities to rest and recenter in the midst of the chaotic life of a working parent.

As I take stock of these tiny bits of progress, and as I start to feel more rested and energetic, I’ve started to think about all the time I spend listening to old television shows. And then I’ve started to think about what I really want to be doing with that time – reading books, listening to the audiobooks on my syllabus, and thinking about my novel, plotting it out in my mind.

All those little moments – while I’m doing dishes with Edgar, while I’m feeding J.J. in the middle of the night – they all add up. And I want to use every little moment of my life to be doing something wonderful – whether it’s being present with my boys, working on my dream project, or educating myself on the variety of topics of interest to me.

Every moment counts. Every little moment. Here’s to hoping I can use them all to be healthy, wise, and well.

balance · self-care

Snow Days

The very best thing about working at a school is not the kids, the hours, or the actual work I do every day.

It’s the SNOW DAYS!

Oh, boy. Nothing makes you feel more like a little kid then finding out that school’s closed because the world has been covered in a beautiful, playful white blanket.

This year, the snow days we’ve had have come at the absolute best times for me. They have magically arrived during weeks when I have felt completely stressed and overwhelmed with the monotonous chaos that is life as a working mother.

When I am overwhelmed, what I crave most is a free day. A day to relax and to reset. This has been for always, not just since I become a parent. I used to call them days of rejuvenation, and I would capture them with a page in my journal full of intentions and plans for how to regain my center.

DAYS OF REJUVENATION – that’s exactly what these snow days are for me, and I appreciate them even more this year. We got the call from the adoption agency about Baby J.J. on the second day of school, and then I used six weeks of leave (most of it unpaid) to be home with him this fall. Because of this, taking a personal day to address my mental wellness is not an option for me this school year. Which means that snow days are IMPORTANT and APPRECIATED to the max.

My most recent snow day was blissful – a lazy wake-up, sipping (rather than guzzling) my coffee, a run down the snowy road, some writing time, some cuddly baby time, a little time to get organized, and (sigh) an hour or so of tidying the house. It helped that this was a day when Edgar attended pre-school; his school was not closed, so the day had even more opportunity for rest than a typical weekend day does in my world.

I do a happy, silly dance every time there’s a snow day. I feel grateful, and blessed. And when the snow day is done, I typically go to sleep that evening knowing that the next day I’ll face the world as a calmer, more rested, and happier Kerriann than I was the day before.

 

balance

Adult Coping Skills

I spend the majority of my day talking with children, young adults, and parents about coping skills. This is typical for a clinical social worker. After all, everyone experiences stress, sadness, irritability, or discomfort, and even the best therapist in the world can’t make that stuff go away. What we can do is help others to develop healthy and reliable coping skills.

A few days ago, I woke up feeling extremely cranky. The night before, I’d lost my temper and spent the evening using my angry mommy voice with my toddler, and I was feeling sad and frustrated about that. And then, there was all that other stuff that’s been challenging lately – lack of exercise, which leaves me feeling antsy and sluggish, and lack of sleep, which leaves me feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

There I was, sitting at my desk at work, thinking: How am I going to get through today? And that’s what got me thinking: what are MY coping skills? What tools do I rely on to get me through a crummy day?

It took me longer than I would have guessed to come up with any – but, y’know, it’s hard to identify your coping skills when you’re right in the middle of an angry/cranky/tired day!

These are the skills I came up with:

Text frantically with Tamara, my sister, or a friend.

Drink a delicious latte. (Yay Starbucks!  The gingerbread latte has been lifting my spirits this winter.

Write it out. Drafting a blog post is a really good for me; it helps me to clear my mind and to recenter myself.

Buy something on Amazon. No one said these were good coping skills.

Start a brand-new journal. Even if you have to irresponsibly buy a new one when you don’t need it.

Check out a thousand books from the library. This is a slight exaggeration – but only slight. I think borrowing library books enables me to ‘buy’ a bunch of books without spending any money. It also feels luxurious to borrow 20 or 30 books, even knowing that I won’t be able to read them all.

That’s all I’ve got for the moment, and I’m not really happy with the list. Ideally, it would include a few more uber-healthy, easy, and free coping skills. Like a little meditation – a time for just being, for utilizing a mindfulness tool in the moment. Another coping skill could be silence – just spending a few minutes in the quiet, breathing in and out. But that’s not a habit I’ve been able to cultivate thus far in 2019, or throughout my life overall.

Progress, not perfection. Onward!

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Jane Lazenby Art (http://janelazenbyart.com)