When You See the Cracks

This is the first week of summer break for my kids. So far things have been going pretty well. They’ve had volleyball camp for a couple of hours every morning and my husband had been doing pretty much ALL of the domestic heavy lifting in preparation for an upcoming absence. So, yeah, so far so good for me. No need to work out that balance when everyone else is doing the work.

adorable-animal-basket-167700Well, as luck would have it by the time he left my kids had worn themselves out staying up giggling (which they thought we couldn’t hear). I had worn myself out trying to get a bunch of stuff done in the evening. Even the dog seems tired. And we all know what a tired family means. Just in case it’s been a while for you, there’s a whole lot of grumpiness. In my case there’s a lack of good sense. I just don’t think as clearly when I’m tired and as a result everything seems to take longer. I make mistakes. And I’m not very nice about how all of that goes down.

Sounds like good old-fashioned summer fun, right?

I have a distinct recollection of my mother opening the door and telling us to come home when we got hungry.

We don’t roll that way as a culture anymore, and I’m not sure we’re better for that change, but that is a whole separate post.

I wanted to tell you about this moment I had today, in my fog and stupidity (don’t worry, I’m not berating myself, it’s temporary and totally sleep related).

It was when we got to the orthodontist’s office.

Back Story: I had always handled the visits to the orthodontist for my son. When my seminarian left his day job and I started working a lot more, we enacted a shuffling of the domestic realms of responsibility. Kid teeth responsibilities were part of that shift.

I’ve talked before about the importance of me acknowledging that running the household with all of its various parts and responsibilities is no small feat and I had a good long run at it. My efficiency rating, not my aesthetic rating mind you, was pretty darned high. I had several years to get good at all of it.

The reshuffle has caused some bumps in the road as has the further offloading of some responsibilities onto our growing kids. There have been several moments where I’ve had to put my standards, my expectations, and my even my desires in check because things just aren’t going to work that way. Please understand that I don’t say any of that as condemnation. We’ve got a lot of moving parts and in some ways dividing them up instead of having me as the domestic dictator makes things harder. Decision-making is less centralized. Scheduling requires more communication in less time. Keeping the larder stocked for all of the different kinds of cooking happening causes a level of inefficiency that makes my little teutonic soul cringe a little.

We’ve had some problems scheduling this particular orthodontist appointment. It had to be cancelled for one thing. It had to be rescheduled because of a traffic jam. It got so bad that the doctor called to see if we were actually going to bring him in. I admit I was a little embarrassed about that. I went ahead and scheduled an appointment. They slipped us in quickly, and today in the middle of a whole slew of prep for an out of town trip, we breezed in, on time, and as we were walking in my son said: “I forgot my retainer.”

I stopped in my tracks, right there in the parking lot. Mostly because I needed to take some deep breaths in order to not yell at him. It’s possible that a quiet “Damnit” slipped out under my breath. We went into the office anyway, just to confirm that there was absolutely no point in proceeding, which I knew but thought we’d check.

As we drove to our next of several thousand errands, I looked around at the lay of the family land and I’m seeing a few places like this, where the train is off the rails a bit, where we’re not quite making connections. Things are falling through the cracks.

A couple of years ago this whole set of observations would have created a shame spiral. I would have been furious with my husband for screwing it all up in the first place. I would have been furious for my kid for leaving his retainer at home. And all of that anger would have been a cover for feeling like a bad Mom, like somebody who couldn’t keep things together, like a failure.

Those of you who finished your intense parenting phase before social media might remember some pressure to get it all right, but I’m telling you June Cleaver and Carole Brady have nothing on Pinterest and the blogosphere full of amazing ways to make your family’s life enriching, engaging, and picture perfect. The comparisonitis that can develop when you’re tired or unhappy or unfulfilled or desperate to be good at something is pretty intense. And I felt a lot of that pressure.

boys-childhood-children-51349Today was a little different. Today I saw the gaps. I saw where our transition is not going very smoothly. I saw my part in that. I also saw other people’s parts but immediately saw them as learning curves rather than deficiencies. I also saw the grace we gained by allowing those gaps, the extra minutes spent reading, or sleeping, or NOT obsessively planning.

And so I sit here in this moment, really tired, but more than a little proud. I am proud of the work I’ve done to feel better about myself and my choices. I am proud of the shifts we are all making to grow and learn together. I am astonished by the changes we’ve made and am so delighted to be able to see our collective progress even in the moments when I’d really like to just rewind the clock a few minutes to retrieve an orthodontic appliance.

The Grind

grinder-hitachi-power-tool-flexible-162529I am writing this on a Monday morning and once in a while on Mondays I’ll sort of float the thought: “back to the grind,” in solidarity with everyone returning to work. But I don’t really think that at all and in fact, it is so far off the mark that it often makes me giggle a little. I never feel like I’m going back to the grind on Mondays.

This is not to say that I don’t sometimes find my job exceedingly difficult. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have days that are chock full, one thing to the next, a little frenzied. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have days that are all about massive productivity, sort of grinding things out, but it never feels like a grind and on the surface, I think that’s because I LOVE my work.

I have had many jobs. I come from a crew of multiple career folks; it seems to be in our genes to make major shifts more often than most, and I did my fair share of that. And it is tempting to say that NOW I found it. It certainly feels like that’s true now, and maybe it is true forever. Maybe this job is THE JOB, but I think my happiness with my work is more complicated than that and I think that complication might be useful to those of you for whom Monday really is a grind.

You see I had no intention of choosing this work. When I first began trying to make a decision about what to do for work after my kids went to school, I fully intended to go back to the classroom and things only got difficult when that idea started making me want to throw up. I think that’s a step beyond “the grind,” but maybe I’m just being dramatic.

At any rate, when I was trying to sort out what to do, I just kept looking at my options and their trade-offs and benefits. I kept sorting through the logic of all of it. And I kept bumping up against really old ideas about what I could and should do. “I couldn’t possibly… I HAVE to… What if I fail?” But that bumping was so old and practiced I didn’t even notice it any more. I just hit that imaginary ceiling, my self-imposed limit, and stopped, convinced I had laid all of the options on the table and I now needed to choose the one that was the best of the awful. And that made me want to throw up, as choosing the best of the awful is likely to do.

So I worked at all of that. I figured out where those limits were. I dug down to see what kinds of stories I was telling myself and there were quite a few there. Some of them sounded like my parents (although an old, more stressed out and judgy version of my parents). Some of them sounded like my siblings. And some of them sounded like the meanest version of myself. And I went through the process of unwinding it all.

SAMSUNG CSCAnd when I did that it was like opening a door. No, it was better than that. It was like suddenly removing the top of the building so I could see the sky (in a non-dangerous, totally non-creepy way). It was like looking up and seeing space and openness, limitlessness and freedom rather than seeing all of the reasons I couldn’t change things and THAT, that feeling changed everything.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been able to do that work WHILE I was still in the classroom. It’s not regret or self-abuse; it really is just a wondering. I don’t know that I would have stayed in teaching, but I know I would have felt differently. I know I would have experienced the difficulties of the job differently – and I’d say that about any of the jobs I’ve had. I would have been different in them if I had been able to free myself from the mental baggage that was weighing me down, chaining me to whatever desk I occupied. I would have been free and felt more like I was choosing, and freedom and choosing – they don’t feel the grind the same way. Freedom and choosing find opportunities for growth. Freedom and choosing feel like power. Freedom and choosing are possible, but may require that deep internal work to find. And that deep internal work can work wonders on moving toward freedom and choice in the larger world. Liberation from the grind is a two step process. I suggest you lead with your mind. If you need a guide, I’d love to help. If you’d like to work on changing those thoughts on your own, I’d like to recommend my mini book, How to Rewrite Your Story.

So much love,

julia