The biggest thing that happened this May was that I finished my graduate school course. I was required to enroll in an eight week long class about special education, and it was rough adding an additional responsibility to my already-chock-full plate for two months. But I survived it, and I am excited to now focus on wrapping up my school year and readying myself for summertime bliss.
This month was the first time I set personal goals rather than writing goals, and I think it helped me a lot. I definitely maintained my blogging schedule, and I exercised pretty much every day. I did not entirely rid myself of my bedtime candy habit, but I decided that right now is too tricky of a time to successfully abandon that habit – too many late nights, too little sleep, and too little mental energy to make good choices. (Ironically, once I abandoned this goal, I actually improved a little and ate less candy than I’d been consuming. So that was great!)
Oh, and also – what were all the things this May?
Things I’m Reading: I finished reading This Is Where I Leave You, a novel that I enjoyed a lot. I’m still reading The Mindful Kind, and I’m enjoying it tremendously – I am in no rush at all to finish it! I also read two other novels, The Silent Patient and Jar Of Hearts, which were both major page turners.
Things I’m Contemplating: SUMMERTIME! Making plans and schedules in my head. Excited to wrap up the school year and enjoy two months of parenting and writing.
Things Up Next: Look out for my summertime post – with my planned schedules and agendas for days with the boys and days to write. I am so excited to sketch out what I want my summer to look like!
I’ve had a version of this post drafted for several years. It’s about flow – a concept I also refer to as life alignment. The idea is this: it’s possible to have all the aspects of my life aligned with who I am and what I value most.
For example, I have a friend who has always loved softball. She watches sports, coaches teams, and teaches P.E. I have another friend who loves the environment and nature; she lives in a gorgeous, wild place, and she’s studying to become an herbalist.
This post has been unfinished because I don’t feel like I have that kind of flow connecting the different aspects of my life. For the past few years, I’ve really been wishing for that kind of connection between all the things I do and am, but it continues to elude me. I’ve continued to update this post and save the draft, hoping that eventually I would be writing a post about how I suddenly, miraculously, had achieved this kind of life alignment.
Sadly, such is not the case. If I publish this post today, it will talk about how my life does not feel aligned in the ways I’d like it to be. My job doesn’t match my hobbies. What I read for pleasure doesn’t mesh with what I pursue professionally. The ways I spend my time aren’t always in sync with who I am and what I’m passionate about.
I don’t think I’ve ever had this kind of life alignment. The closest I’ve gotten might have been during the times when I lived where I was working – when I served with AmeriCorps or when I worked at an outdoor learning center. I was living in a community of like-minded people with similar hobbies; there were lots of friends around to engage in my passions alongside, and my work life had a strong and simple focus. Even then, I don’t think my life had quite the kind of flow I am wishing for – but I think my life was more aligned during those years than it feels now.
For me, one of the challenges of getting my life aligned is that I have a lot of different interests. This is true for many people, though there are some people who have one passion that is stronger than any of their other interests. When I was young, writing was my thing. I studied journalism in college and my plan was to be a newspaper writer. Things shifted at a certain point, and while I continued to journal and write in my free time, a second passion emerged – helping children with special needs. I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work and I’ve been working as a clinical social worker with children and families for the last eight years.
Now, as I’ve entered my thirties, started a family, and started to reflect on how my career is aligning with the way I want to live my life, I’ve realized that I don’t have the kind of flow I’ve seen in the lives of others. And I’d like to have that kind of flow someday. I don’t know exactly what that kind of flow would look like for me! Would it be writing children’s books about kids with special needs? Would it be starting a private therapy practice that includes mindfulness, journaling, and creativity as strong components? Would it be starting an outdoor ed center for children with special needs? Would it be working with children and families with a focus on adoption and parenting?
I don’t know.
If I knew, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post.
This playful + peaceful blog is often a way for me to explore things like this – a way for me to think about and write about the ways I want my life to be. A few months ago, I started a post by writing these words at the top: What would my life look like if it were a genuine reflection of who I am? The result was this rambling list:
Mindful. I’d be fully present in all of the moments of my life. I would WANT to be fully present in all of the moments of my life.
Writing. I’d be writing a LOT, either for work or for pleasure or for a little bit of both. And my home and my life would be FULL of books and reading!
LOTS OF PLAY! At work and at home.
BALANCE. I’d have a rich and fulfilling work life that did not interfere with my rich and fulfilling family life.
Being MYSELF all day every day!
Feeling like my everyday choices lined up with what I believe and how I feel about the world.
The OUTDOORS! I would not spend my entire work day in an office with no windows. (Which, sadly, is the case right now.)
Lots of laughter, fun, and joy.
Passionate about what I do – to the point that it’s fun to talk about.
Service to others, in day-to-day life and in my leisure time, too.
MOVEMENT and EXERCISE – I love it when my work has a physical component, when I spend all or part of the day moving or running or walking.
Activities that support a peaceful mind, heart, soul, and body. (A friend is very nourished by yoga, and she’s now a full-time yoga instructor. I’d love it if I spent my WHOLE day doing something that nourished me like that!)
The blog is often a way for me to explore who I am, what I want, and how I want my life to be. The kind of flow I am seeking is out there in the universe, and this time in my life feels important – like this is a time when different things will come together and help me to actually find the flow. We shall see.
Once again, I am thinking about the need to slow down and do one thing at a time.
Every few months, I think about slowing things down. It’s on my mind this week because I’m reading a wonderful book called The Mindful Kind by Rachael Kable, an author who hosts a podcast of the same name. I’m enjoying this book so much. And when I read about mindfulness, it reminds me of my extremely unmindful tendencies. I have a tendency to multitask, to have a podcast or a TV show on as background noise. I have a tendency to get caught up in the whirlwind of other people’s schedules and emotions, even when I’ve set an intention myself to slow down and do one thing at a time, fully.
I looked through old blog posts and I found one from 2015 called Introducing Mantra Monday. (SPOILER ALERT: I don’t think I ever wrote about Mantra Monday again!) The mantra I chose for that day was do one thing at a time, fully.
Sigh. So simple. So challenging.
My phone is a big barrier to this – always there to pick up, check a text, write an e-mail, distract me from the task at hand. Just technology in general makes it difficult! At work the other day, I started to write a note, then got an e-mail and drafted a reply, then went back to edit something in a treatment plan, and suddenly was planning a group I’m running on Thursday.
Other than my phone and technology, I would say that the biggest barriers to doing one thing at a time are my tendency to stress and overthink; my habit of having background noise; and my talent at multitasking.
The background noise thing is tricky. If I’m about to do something I don’t want to do, like clean the bathroom or wash dishes, I automatically reach for the iPad to put on a podcast or a TV show for the background. This obviously interferes with my ability to do those jobs mindfully. But it even becomes a problem with things I do want to do – like writing. Sometimes I will put a TV show on in the background while I’m writing – and I love to write!
Rachael Kable wrote about this in The Mindful Kind. She talks about how we sometimes practice self-care but do it mindlessly – like, taking a bath while watching a TV show, so that the bath is not a fully mindful and relaxing activity. I totally related to that. Sometimes I even put a TV show on in the background while I’m spending time with my kids, which is the time in my life when I want to be the most mindful, the most present! It’s a lifelong habit, and it’s hard to change it.
And then – my tendency to stress and overthink. If I am not careful, my sensitivity to other people and my stress level can combine and make it so that I am incapable of focusing on one thing at a time. My brain is racing to figure out how to respond, what action to take – or I reach for something distracting or numbing to avoid the painful feelings associated with overthinking and stress.
Finally – the multitasking. Which is sort of a talent and sort of a curse! I noticed it this morning; I was melting butter for our pancake breakfast, and I started to change out of my running clothes while I waited for the butter to melt. WHY? The butter was only going to take 30 seconds! At some point in my life, I started doing little things like this, increasing my speed at getting things done but decreasing my ability to stay in the present moment. I’m so glad I noticed it today, because we can’t change what we don’t notice.
I’ve been a little sick this past week – a fever and a sore throat. Illness sometimes helps me to be more mindful. I have less energy to zoom from task to task; I can feel myself walking more slowly and giving myself time to think before I respond to questions from others. I set four alarms on my phone one day, with messages like slow down , speak slowly and softly, and stretch and breathe; the alarms were ineffective at reminding me to slow the pace of my day.
But my book, The Mindful Kind, is helping a lot. And my blogging helps.
Slow down. Do one thing at a time fully. Enjoy every moment.
The list of things I need to do to feel grounded on a day-to-day basis is long.
I didn’t notice how long the list was until I became a parent with limited time available for self-care.
The things I need to do to feel grounded every day are: read, write, do yoga, go for a run, spend time outdoors, spend time with my family, meditate, and go to a recovery meeting. It was hard to get to everything on the list every day even when I was an adult without kids. Now, it sometimes feels impossible.
Last Saturday, I hit a bit of a wall. I woke up to Jonas’s crying, which is never my plan. I almost always plan to wake up before the boys so I can squeeze in one of my grounding activities before the day gets going. Lately, however, I can’t seem to get myself up and going until it’s absolutely necessary. I’ll hit snooze over and over and over – and I’ve never been a snooze button person! Throughout my life, I have bounced out of bed the first time my alarm sounds, excited to go for a run or write or just get started with my day.
Not these days. I’m exhausted. And I feel trapped, because the strategies I have previously used to unexhaust myself – a weekend away, a mental health day from work, a long run – are much harder to arrange than they used to be.
This past Sunday – the day after I hit my metaphorical wall – I forced myself to wake up at 4 a.m. ON A SUNDAY – a day when there was a chance I’d be able to sleep until the luxurious time of 6:30 a.m. I need sleep, but I decided that what I needed more was an hour to myself in the morning. I hate rolling out of bed and crashing into the day bleary-eyed and half-asleep.
I woke up a few minutes after 4. I sat on my yoga mat and did some mindful breathing and a short body scan. I did six minutes of yoga and stretching. Then I climbed back into bed with my laptop to write. I did this again on Monday and Tuesday. Then on Wednesday and Thursday I found it too exhausting to get myself up that early. On Friday I went for an early morning run, which was a great start to the day. On Saturday, I got myself up before the boys (Tamara goes to market really early on Saturdays), and I squeezed in a few minutes of grounding activities before the boys started to stir. On Sunday, I went for a run early, and then on Monday I was so exhausted from night feedings that I hit the snooze button five times before I finally put my feet on the floor.
What I’m saying is – it’s hit or miss. Some days, I wake up early and use that first hour of the day to center myself. Some days, I’m wiped and I crash into the day with bleary eyes. And that’s okay. I love when I am able to start my day feeling grounded and centered. On the days when that can’t happen, I’m going to practice self-compassion and do my best to incorporate activities throughout my day that will help me to stay grounded. (More on that soon!)
Today I squeezed in a quick run, a few mindful moments, and a little writing time before the boys woke up. I also listened to my mindfulness audiobook, The Mindful Kind, on my way to work. I feel happy and calm and Kerriannish, and that’s a lovely way to start the day.
I’ve been reading a lovely book about mindfulness. It’s called The Mindful Kind and it’s written by Rachael Kable.
Currently I am reading the chapter on self-care. Which is wonderful, because I continue to a) be obsessed with learning about and talking about self-care, and b) suck at actually doing self-care myself.
One thing the author talks about is her previous practice of saving all her self-care for weekends and holidays. I thought about it for a long time, and I realized that I do the same thing. I will elaborately plan out my snow days or my vacation weeks with self-care activities, but on regular work days, I pay little or no attention to my daily self-care. No wonder I am burned out by Friday afternoon!
I wrote about my adult coping skills in a February 2019 post. I didn’t love my list. The healthiest and most reliable coping skill for me was to write. Utilizing writing as a coping skill is talked about a lot in The Mindful Kind. It’s actually mentioned as a therapeutic way to transition from work to home – and that’s how I’m using it at this exact moment. Right now, as I type this, it’s the end of a work day, and I’m in my office at my job. I am feeling squirrely – antsy and overwhelmed. I’m excited to go home, but my afternoons are tricky. I often make unhealthy snacking choices and end up feeling lethargic and cranky until I’m able to crash into bed at the end of the day. (SEE? My weekday self-care sucks!)
These are my ideas for everyday self-care:
Eat healthy food, all day every day. (THIS ONE IS SO HARD LATELY.)
MOVE all day long! (My current job is more sedentary than I’d like. I am encouraging myself to stretch and jump and dance and walk whenever I get the chance. Little dance parties with Edgar and Jonas are helping!)
Slow down. (I get so caught up in the pace that is set by others; I have to be intentional about allowing myself to speak slowly, take my time, and not rush from activity to activity mindlessly.)
Take mini breaks to write when you start to feel out of sorts.
Spend time outdoors. (I’d always rather be outside, but sometimes the need to clean the house means I’m inside cleaning while Edgar plays in the yard. That’s okay, but it’s better self-care for me to be outdoors.)
I’m going to write more about everyday self-care soon; the Mindful Kind book is really helping me to think about this topic, and there will be more to say! Stay tuned.
A few years ago, I reviewed every single blog post on playful + peaceful and sorted the posts into categories. It took forever, but once I started sorting, it felt important to categorize every post.
This blog started because I needed a creative outlet. I’d been an adoptive-parent-in-waiting for about two years, and we’d been officially on the wait list for almost a year. The blog helped me a lot. It gave me a space to process the thoughts and feelings I had about the wait.
My writing on the blog evolved as time went by. The wait continued. I wrote about the wait, but I wrote about other things, too – the books I read, my writing, podcasts, self-care, and anything else that popped into my head and then spilled out onto the page.
Then Edgar came home, and the blog continued. It moved from being a way I processed the adoption wait to a way I processed everything.
That’s why thinking about the categories on the blog is important to me. It helps me to organize my thoughts about what I want to write. I recently looked at the list of categories again, trying to decide which ones I wanted to keep in the mix.
When I reviewed the categories, I noticed things. One of the categories I haven’t used in a while is play; I love writing about play, but I haven’t written about it in forever! The same with grief + loss and personality, which are two topics I want to explore but haven’t much yet.
These are the categories I’m keeping in the mix. The list starts with the categories I usually write about the most frequently; it ends with the topics I rarely write about lately, but want to keep in mind when I am brainstorming and planning my editorial calendar.
playful + peaceful – blogging categories
Balance. (This can be about work/life balance, or about balancing being a parent and being a human, or about balancing the ways I nourish my heart, soul, mind, and body, which was the original theme of the blog.)
Self-care. (I write about what I need to read! My self-care sucks. I need to read and write about it as much as possible!)
Writing. (These three – balance, self-care, and writing – are the categories I use more than any others.)
Books + reading.
Mindfulness. (I am hoping to write about this more! I’m reading a great book on mindfulness and trying to start a daily mindfulness practice. I also have meditation and presence as categories, but I think those will end up being subcategories to mindfulness.)
Adoption. (I love writing about our adoption journey. I’m hoping to write about it more and more, especially as the boys grow and we start learning more and more about the experiences of being an adoptive parent in the world.)
Poetry. (Just something I use from time to time when I find a beautiful poem to share!)
Grief + loss.
All The Things or Thought Of The Day. (Just two catch-all categories I use for my monthly summary posts or for posts that don’t really fit into any other category.
This feels like a lot, but I like it! I like looking at this list and thinking about topics I want to explore. The category for this post is blogging. Enjoy!
I was chatting with two other mothers, a few months after my first son was born, and the conversation shifted to a topic I’ve always found strange.
“Thomas is already engaged to Elizabeth,” one of the mothers joked. Her son, Thomas, was three, and the other woman’s daughter, Elizabeth, was just a few months younger. “They’ve been betrothed since birth.” They laughed together and I smiled awkwardly, the way I do when I’m feeling uncomfortable but don’t want to cause unnecessary conflict.
I have always found this habit – joking about babies or young children dating or flirting or marrying – weird and awkward. I’ve gotten a lot more uncomfortable with it since becoming a parent myself. It might have to do with not wanting to adultify children when they’re little, which I (unfortunately) see happening all over the place. Like when a mom at the library saw her toddler son smiling at me and asked him teasingly, “Are you flirting, Jacob?”
What is the follow up to this comment? I smiled awkwardly (yet again), and then I started thinking about my other concern, other than adultifying little kids. My other concern is about the assumptions we make about the sexual preferences of our kids from a very young age. I wondered if the Library Mom would have teased her son about flirting if I was a man. I don’t know this woman at all, so it’s impossible to guess. But my experience has been that people make these kinds of flirting jokes only in a male/female interaction, and to me that’s a sign that our society (or at least my neighborhood) is still a pretty heteronormative place. I don’t hear a lot of jokes about boy babies being betrothed to other boy babies, or about girl toddlers flirting with other girl toddlers.
There are so many assumptions that we make about the people our kids will grow up to be. We make assumptions about the things they’ll like and the things they’ll do. And when I say the assumptions WE make – I am including all the woke progressive people in the world as well.
Let’s take Thomas, for example, who is (jokingly) betrothed to Elizabeth. Let’s fast forward fifteen years to Thomas dating.
Why have we already decided that Thomas will be dating a female?
It’s 2019, and the world is more accepting of the LGBT community. The two mothers I mentioned in my opening story are both straight, and they have been welcoming and supportive of my same sex marriage and our adoption of two children. They are open-minded, welcoming, progressive, and loving.
But they are assuming that their children will be straight. And there’s a thirteen-year-old gay girl, ashamed and scared, inside of me that wants to cry when she realizes this.
One of the things that made being gay and coming out painful for me was that the world assumed I was straight. There was a default sexual preference, and it was straight; to be anything other than straight required me to “come out” of a closet, even if I hadn’t realized I was in a closet at all. Having to come out implies that there is a “norm” sexual preference and that you have to identify yourself as other if you don’t share that preference.
When I think about my two sons and their potential romantic lives, what I want is for them to never have to worry about “coming out.” They could be presumed straight, and then come out of the closet in adolescence or young adulthood, like I and many others did. But – should they have to? Why, in 2019, would we still be making assumptions about our children’s sexual preferences?
I don’t want to make any assumptions about my sons, but it’s a natural thing that we do. It’s human. We have to be extremely conscious and intentional if we want to not make assumptions about others. I catch myself caught up in it all the time when I meet an adult my age who is great with kids who doesn’t have any children of their own. I start wondering if they want kids, or if they’re hoping to grow their family. It takes intention and effort for me to remind myself that wanting to be a parent (a feeling that is intensely strong for me) is not something that every adult in the world feels.
It takes effort. It takes intention. It takes change.
We’re all learning and growing, as individuals, as families, as societies. During my experiences as an LGBT young adult, the world learned to accept, and to respect. The federal law for same sex marriage came into effect four months after our wedding day. The next step, in my opinion, is for us to move from accepting to not assuming.
Now, rewind back to my awkward smile after Thomas’s mother and Elizabeth’s mother were laughing about their children getting married someday. Remember how I often just smile awkwardly at these moments?
Well, that day, I sort of didn’t.
“What if your kids are gay?” I blurted out gracelessly.
I wish I could say that this conversation evolved into a courageous talk with me expressing my thoughts and feelings eloquently and the moms hearing it. But it didn’t. They kind of laughed and nodded, agreeing with me that this was possible. I didn’t say much else to follow up.
But I asked the question, and I asked it out loud. That’s big for an introvert and overthinker like me.
The main point of this post is that my sons, Edgar and Jonas, are not yet available for betrothal. They’re too young, and too unwilling to bathe, for any marriage arrangements to be made. They also haven’t decided yet if they want to get married, or who they’d like to be boyfriends or girlfriends with someday, if anyone. And my hope is that, rather than a big, significant coming out talk, what they experience is an ongoing, accepting, and loving conversation with their parents and their community about who and what they love, with nothing assumed and everything on the table.