Waiting for the Storm to Pass

I had an uncomfortable learning experience this weekend, a reminder of some of the very principles I’ve shared here over and over and over again. If I believed in being tested, I’d say I was tested and that I failed for quite some time before I finally rejiggered and aimed for mastery instead of a good grade… Let me explain.

My son had a piano recital this weekend. Now, let me further explain that my son does not like to perform. He doesn’t like crowds. He doesn’t like being watched. He doesn’t like any of it. So why make him do it – you may be asking and it is a fair question.

His Dad and I rationally sorted out that these recitals, being held in our church where our son feels very comfortable, and being a not terribly big and very kind crowd, would be a good place to get over some of the performance anxiety, to stack up enough positive experiences that it might spread into other areas, make the whole idea less scary. I still think this is a reasonable idea in principle.

However, in practicing this idea a couple of days ago, it didn’t seem so great. My son was really agitated. I had to Mom/coach talk him through preparing for the event as he moved from joking around about how awful it would be to repeating that he didn’t want to go over and over again in a quiet voice in the back seat.

I stuck to my guns, and it wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time I’ll regret that particular habit.

alone-boy-child-256658He did play in the recital. It was not his best performance. And then he sat and quietly wept for 30 minutes. He chose a seat at the end of our row and cried. I gave him a few minutes to himself and then moved to be next to him. I offered to go out in the hall with him to talk. He had no interest. I quietly assured him that his performance was good. He shook quietly. It then dawned on me that while I surely needed to revisit our approach to recitals, right now, in this moment, he didn’t need or want to be convinced of anything. He didn’t want to talk to me about how he felt. He didn’t want me to remove him from the room. He just wanted to feel how he felt and to have someone be kind about it.

adult-black-and-white-blur-735978I stopped talking. I stopped even trying to soothe him. I just wrapped my arms around him and held him while he weathered the internal storm, knowing full well that it was of his own making and that I had tools that could help him change the weather. He didn’t need that from me. He just needed compassion. He just needed safety. He just needed someone to be with him to make the feelings less scary for having a companion in them.

So I held him. And after a few minutes, he began to relax. He leaned into me. His breaths became deeper. The tears slowed. He stopped fighting with himself and with the words he knew I wanted to say and had said earlier. He just let himself feel the way he felt and I told him that was allowed.

We have reviewed our recital policy and are making changes based on the fact that we don’t care if he wants to perform or not; we want him to love to play the piano. That change was important. We needed to see what we were communicating to him and what we were expecting. But I personally needed to remember how good it feels to just let the feelings be, to be kind enough to sit with them rather than applying logic to them in an attempt to change them, to be patient enough to offer compassion and love even when we don’t understand those feelings and why they are happening.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to remember this important lesson with my son, and to have the time to offer that same lesson to myself in this season of mixed emotions, of loss amidst the joy. I can be patient enough with myself to continue to offer compassion even when it seems like it shouldn’t be necessary. I can sit with it, and wait for the storm to pass, rather than trying to change the weather.

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.

Teaching Her the Most Important Thing

My daughter came home with a story today.

She said a friend had pushed her aside physically on the way to complete a classroom task.

adolescent-adult-back-view-710743I say friend with a lot of hesitation and air quotes because this particular girl was at one time the best friend, the slumber party friend, the every day lunch companion. This girl was the secret keeper, the note writer, the one my daughter was sure she would miss the most when they go to different middle schools. Then we had a long period of hot and cold, like a confused faucet. Slumber party on the weekend and the icy treatment a few days later with no explanation. I realize I was only getting one side of the story, but honestly I found it hard to keep up with what the status of their relationship was on any given day.

I encouraged my daughter to ask questions. “How can I when she won’t talk to me?”

I suggested that she make a conversation a prerequisite to returning to the relationship when the ice melted. “I will, just not right now.”

We talked about the fact that you teach people how to treat you.

We talked about how lovely forgiveness is but that it doesn’t mean you have to let someone continually hurt your feelings.

I asked if she needed me to intervene in any way. The look on her face told me we are both well past and not anywhere near that stage. “I am too old for that.” I said that was okay with me unless things changed, escalated, became physical or took on aspects of bullying instead of just being a really bad friend. She nodded, not in approval, but more like “Yeah, I knew you’d say that.” My girl talks a lot and yet so many things can go unspoken.

This pattern continued for most of this school year, without any real escalation and certainly no physical contact. And here we are 3 days before the end of school and this girl, who I’ve been trying very hard NOT to say unkind and childish things about all year put her hands on my kid. I know better than to demonize her, and that I’m STILL only getting one side of the story, but my hackles are up. I want to get in touch with this girl’s Mom so bad I can taste the conversation. She is a very reasonable woman, by the way. I don’t know that we could fix anything, but I have no reason not to talk to her other than my daughter’s wishes expressed in the past.

My girl is out playing with friends. And that’s probably best, because it’s giving me a few minutes to stew in my discomfort. And having had the opportunity to stew, I see that I’ve been handling her problem the same way I so often handle mine.

I’ve come at it with a list of practical suggestions and solutions. I’ve instructed her in qualities that I think will help her in the long run. I’ve said the things she knew I would say. I’ve let her know she has choices. Don’t get me wrong. There is really nothing wrong with any of these things, except that in whipping them all out so quickly I’ve glossed over the most important thing, how all of this made her feel.

We’ve had some tears throughout the year and I don’t just tell her to suck it up, but I see now that my desire to get her past the discomfort and into solutions may have given her feelings short-shrift. I’ve been demonstrating to her that the important thing is to figure out a solution rather than making it safe for her to acknowledge and experience how she feels so that a solution can develop or unfold over time.

“How can a solution to someone putting their hands on your kid unfold over time?!” If you’re inclined to scream this at me, rest assured, I’ve got that track already going full volume up in here. And I will honor that message by asking her more questions over dinner, trying to discern what we’re really talking about here. And will see what, if any, next steps are necessary, but there is another discussion I want to have with her.

beautiful-female-girl-35839After her brother has finished wolfing down his food and has run out to play soccer in the front yard, I will sit with her and ask her how she’s feeling. I will ask her what it’s like to have this girl, the former BFF, treat her this way. I will let her know that its safe to feel whatever it is and that I can sit with her if that would help. I want to teach her strength through practicing and learning that she doesn’t need to be afraid of experiencing any feeling. I want to teach her gentleness with herself. I want to teach her that there are always people who will sit with you in your grief, sometimes you just have to figure out who they are. I want to teach her that the most important part of this WHOLE thing is how she feels and who she is in this moment. I want to teach her what it feels like to accept and honor herself and all of her feelings.

And as I do this I remind myself to slow down, to notice when I am skipping the hard parts and moving straight to solutions for my own discomfort, to see when I am applying spreadsheet logic to a wound as though it is any kind of appropriate bandage. I see the pattern for both of us. I’m working on it, slowly and with my heart rather than solutions in mind.

Wish me luck. I’m going in.

Just Stop It

There is an SNL skit with Bob Newhart playing a psychiatrist. His method of treatment, he explains, usually only takes about five minutes. The joke is that what he does is to tell his clients to just stop it. It’s really funny, at least to me and folks who do work like mine. It’s particularly funny because there is some truth to it, as brazen and unfeeling as this approach seems. Today I want to talk about a situation where “just stop it” is really probably the best advice that I could give you.

design-desk-display-313690One of the complaints I hear the most frequently has to do with busy schedules and the amount of that time that is spent doing things that aren’t fulfilling, often for other people’s fulfillment: the scheduling, the kid ferrying, the going the extra mile at work because of someone else’s stupidity, the saying yes to every opportunity to help anyone. If I were to say: “Just stop it,” I know the look I would get. It’s that “You don’t understand. My life is not like yours. Maybe that works for you. I thought you had children. Where ARE your children?” kind of look. I couldn’t possibly understand.

And yet I do.

Because I have had a calendar like that. I have had days like that. I have had months and years like that, where nearly all of what was on my schedule was distasteful to me and was solely for the benefit of someone else. Truly I have. If you know me and you weren’t the beneficiary, that doesn’t mean this wasn’t happening. It just means you didn’t get in on the action; and just so you know, that window is closed.

If you’d asked me why I was doing all of that I would have told you it was all completely necessary. In retrospect some of it was completely necessary, but a lot of it was not. And THAT’s that discernment that would be so great to have when you’re actually in that moment, when you can’t catch your breath because you’re too busy doing all of the things.

My advice to you? Just stop it. Stop it all, at least for a day. You’ll figure out pretty quickly what’s truly necessary – like feeding children. You may also figure out that those people you are serving can do far more for themselves than you realized (hungry children are actually remarkably capable), but while that’s a great thing to learn – like a SERIOUSLY great thing to learn, even that is not my point with the Just Stop It exercise.

attractive-beautiful-blonde-1101726The point of Just Stop It is to make the yuck that’s down in there come up when you stop. When you just stop doing all of the things that you are doing to make it okay, what happens? What thoughts and feelings come to the surface?

Are you worried about what people will think of you? Are you afraid of looking like a failure? Do you need to have a super clean house to maintain some kind of parenting standard you’ve secretly bought into? Are you keeping yourself busy serving everyone else so you don’t have to figure out what YOU really want or face the fact that you don’t believe you could EVER EVER do that so it’s safer to not try? Okay, I meant to slip that last one in, but that wasn’t all that subtle, was it? My capacity for subtle is fleeting at times. Sorry (not sorry if that’s what you needed to hear).

When we just stop with the behaviors that we think are completely necessary and totally driving us crazy, we find out why we are choosing, yes choosing friends, to do them. We find out where the healing needs to happen. We find out why it’s so hard to get off the merry go round and take a breath. And when we figure out what’s under all of that activity, we can address it. We can ask questions about it: “Is that really true? Will they really think I’m a bad Mom? Do I care if they think I’m a bad Mom? Will I really get fired? Will I feel so guilty I actually can’t stand it?” We can check out that baggage and either repair the zippers or decide it’s time for a new super sleek and helpful carry-on, a new way of thinking.

attractive-beach-beautiful-1097781I so want that for you to be able to get off of that merry go round. If you think it’s not possible, I extra want it for you. Because love, I want you to breathe. I want you to breathe in the idea that there are an infinite number of ways to be in this world and that you haven’t found but a small fraction of them. I want you to breathe in the idea that nobody else really cares if you’re meeting some Pinterest perfect standard of anything. I want you to breathe in the notion that there really is a big gap between letting a few things go and having all of the wheels come off the bus in some catastrophic and irreparable way. I want you to breathe in and entertain the notion that your discomfort is trying to tell you something and that the longer you ignore it, the louder it will get. I want you to inhale the possibility that the things you want, the way you feel, and the experiences you crave really do all matter, every single one. I want you to know that you are still in there, and we would all really love to meet you.

Not Selfish, but SelfFULL

Those of you who know me know I love words. I love to write. I love to play with words (the sounds, the meanings, the options). My love of words is not just based on play, but on the power of words: the power of words to instruct, to share, to create community, to heal. I cannot acknowledge that power without also recognizing the shadow side of that power, the power of words as weapons, the power of words to limit us, to harm us, to wound us.

The words that have wounded me the most in the past are the ones I chose for myself.

ancient-antique-armor-339805More often than not those words were also supplied by fellow humans, but it was my decision to consume them, to make them part of my own self-talk that did the most damage. One of the words I ate was selfish. It was tossed at me by someone who, in retrospect, didn’t really know me at all. But it must have been offered at just the right time because WOW it landed. I took the hit. I ate the word and made it part of my internal dialogue, the place where I could categorize my flaws. Selfish. I am selfish.

Believing that I was selfish was incredibly powerful. It explained why I wanted things, AND why I shouldn’t want them. It explained why thinking of myself happened and why it shouldn’t. And as I got older and had kids, my selfish diagnosis explained why I should put all of everyone’s needs before my own all of the time. It explained the perils of bad parenting. It explained the difficulty of raising twins. It even explained the pain of watching parents age while taking care of small children. I was just selfish. If I had not been selfish, all of that would have come easily, right? I ate it. I ate that word. I grabbed that linguistic sword and used it to cut an ever perilous path towards selflessness.

Selflessness, the hallmark of people like Mother Theresa and other icons of generosity. If only I could cultivate selflessness. If only I could not want or think of myself or need anything. THERE. There’s the answer. I should just not need anything, ever. I should shrink my desires until they are practically nothing, until I am practically nothing (have you seen a picture of Ghandi?). I should shrink. And so I did. I said all of the yeses and I did all of the things. I paved the way for an amazing childhood for my children and filled the gaps for my poor overworked husband. I did all of so many of the things in an effort to prove that I could defeat my selfish core.

And then came a day when the urge to have something of my own, which may well have first demonstrated itself as the simple desire to pee in private – without child or dog in the room, became to great to suppress. The desire to have something, ANYTHING, actually be about me overrode my ability to shrink. It felt like a total failure in one moment and like a glimpse of freedom in the next. And that moment allowed me to really question this whole setup – this selfishness nonsense.

This selfish story was based on some pretty important assumptions. It relied on the belief that it is not possible to take care of yourself AND take care of other people. This selfishness story was grounded in a fundamental flaw being the most important thing about me rather than the idea that there are plenty of important things about me, who I am in this world, that may actually need to see the light of day. The selfishness story is based on the idea that my needs didn’t have anything to do with goodness and light and the unfolding of a stunningly miraculous human as I actually satisfy those needs and imagine wants that take me to new places. The selfishness story is a load of bull.

birthday-bow-box-264771So I’ve developed a new word, a new goal: Self FULL ness. Unlike selfishness, selfFULLness rests on the idea that taking care of my needs is actually important. SelfFULLness acknowledges that I am unlike anyone else on this planet and that I deserve to be here, be well, be peaceful, and nourished, and growing. SelfFULLness looks not for a glass that is half empty or half full but a cup that is actually overflowing.

I didn’t just think of this as an idea. I’ve done it. I’ve arranged my life so that there is actually the possibility of me feeling MORE instead of LESS. I’ve set things up so that I can actually allow myself to want WHILE I acknowledge and appreciate the abundance with which I am surrounded everywhere I go. I’ve rewired my brain to notice my pleasure, my joy, and to follow those. And now my cup fills up and overflows. It overflows in all of the necessary care-taking ways (so good news you need not come save the children), but you know what? It overflows with joy and affection in ways it hasn’t for years. It overflows with warmth and openness that selfish me couldn’t dream of. It overflows with good things for all of us. My cup overflows all of the time and I fully intend to keep on pouring what I need in there.

I have laid down my sword of selfishness. I heard it clank as it landed with all of the other swords I’ve dropped over the last few years. Selfishness as a word, and as an idea, and as a soul meal, it really doesn’t work for me. SelfFULLness is a feast we can all enjoy.

How to Get Out of Overwhelm

Even When You Have to Do It ALL…

You have so much to do, a really big list, and it all feels important and then it happens.

You shut down.

Your brain refuses. Your body refuses. You can’t even imagine what you should do next.

when you have to do everythingIt’s overhwhelm. The big cloud of too much-ness that cuts us off from our intentions and keeps us from getting things done, and usually makes us feel like crap about that. Yep, overwhelm.

Here’s a secret about overwhelm, though. It’s really just a cloak. It’s a shield. It’s a protective device.

And just saying that makes it seem a little different, doesn’t it? Like so many of our thoughts and feelings, overwhelm is just trying to keep us safe. If we can loosen it a little, we may find that we don’t need all of that protection.

So how do we get out of it, without dumping all of our responsibilities (even if that’s what we’d most like to do)?

I’ve got some pretty simple (notice I didn’t say easy) suggestions on that front.

1) Check in with how you feel about that list of things you have to do. Many times overwhelm is your brain’s way of protecting you from becoming angry, afraid, or my personal favorite when it comes to domestic responsibilities, resentful. I don’t like thinking I have to do everything. It gets me all jammed up. Makes things feel unfair, makes me feel like a drudge. When I am overwhelmed, I don’t have to really feel those things – they just percolate gently in the background instead of coming to a full boil.

Overwhelm often protects us from fear as well. When we have a list that will help us make progress on a big project or includes some risks, steps forward, new territory our fear shuts that stuff down. Nope, we’re going to be overwhelmed instead of afraid because afraid – afraid sucks. No thanks.

Ask yourself if there’s a feeling you might be avoiding by being overwhelmed. If you can admit how you feel and maybe feel it just a little, the fog may lift.

2) Check in with what you think about that list of things you have to do. Sometimes our thoughts make forward motion simply impossible. Let me give you a couple of examples of thoughts that might spur overwhelm:

  • I have to get all of this done today – the trick about this one is that there’s usually a second half to it about what it means if you don’t – some version of you’re no good.
  • I have to do all of this perfectly.
  • Nobody else does anything around here.
  • I’m the only one who can handle this stuff.
  • Sure would be nice to have 5 minutes to myself.

All of these thoughts (and others) signal to your brain that you need a break, that the list is not possible, that it would be dangerous to try to complete it (because if it’s not perfect you’re screwed or whatever). So you brain complies with a nice bit of fog. There, break granted. If you can find the thought that’s making the list too awful to do and face it, the fog may lift.

your brain needs a break3) Create your own break. I know, I know! When you are overwhelmed by everything you need to do, the last thing you think you can do is take a break, but let’s be honest, when you are overwhelmed you’re not getting anything done anyway, right? Why not give your brain what it’s asking for, a break? How you do that depends a lot on what feels like a real break for you, but I can make some suggestions to get you started, in case you are wrapped in brain fog at this very minute:

  • Take a short walk outside. The fresh air, the movement, the nature will all help release that fog and help you get some clarity on where to dig in.
  • If you are a meditator, do that even if it’s just for five minutes.
  • If you aren’t, make yourself a cup of your favorite warm beverage and sit somewhere pleasant and just drink it for five minutes. Don’t do anything else. Just drink your drink, look around and take some deep breaths.
  • If you suspect that what you really are is tired and there’s any way to take a power nap, do that. If you can’t, try my favorite trick and set a timer for 15-30 minutes, put your feet up and close your eyes. Trust that the timer will let you know when your time is up.

Giving yourself that time may be all your brain needs to release that fog for you.

Once the fog is gone, you can consider what’s on your list, but I won’t suggest that you edit it because I promised from the start I wouldn’t argue with you about whether or not you really have to do it all…

But do you?

So Much Love,

julia

The Scorecard

I’m reading Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes for a bookclub I’m in. I’m also, honestly, reading it because it speaks a lot to the rebalancing of my own personal yes and no distribution as mentioned here. Ok, I’m also reading it because it was finally so cheap on Kindle that I figured I would save myself the inevitable library fine and just read it digitally. (Are you deeply saddened to find out about my consistently poor library record?)

As I was reading, just before I allowed myself to doze off for a brief afternoon siesta, I read her description of The Mommy Scorecard.

The Mommy Scorecard is a thing I keep in my head. On it is an imaginary series of zeros and tens that get dished out by some imaginary judge-y bitch who looks an awful lot like me. The zeros hit the card when I fail: when I miss a recital because I’m traveling, when I forget that it’s my turn to provide food for preschool snack day, when we don’t make it to a birthday party because the introvert in me just can’t face the magnitude of all the social interaction.

She continues to talk about The Mommy Wars (where women argue over what the BEST way to parent is in excruciating detail) and she caps it with this: “The only mommy I am ever at war with is me.”

Boom.

I had to breathe for a minute after I read it. This is one of my big bugaboos. I’ve been working on it, but it’s, well, BIG so it’s going to take some time to unhook myself from all of the insane ideas I’ve fed myself about parenting, setting up nearly impossible to meet expectations even as I feel the pain of failing to meet the ones I set up yesterday.

Today I took a nap, even though I had work to do, even though I was resisting it with every fiber of my being, even though I didn’t want to need a nap. But I was SO tired. So tired I couldn’t think clearly. I gave the scant energy I had this morning to a client (and we got some amazing work done, BTW), and after that I felt like I was walking on marshmallows and thinking through syrup. Even if you’re a big sugar fan, you have to acknowledge that that situation doesn’t sound either pleasant OR productive. And the reason I’m so tired? Well, one of them anyway, is my Mommy Scorecard.

pexels-photo-531970My husband is away for January term at seminary in Chicago. He is in Chicago in January, so I’m pretty sure that’s adequate revenge for leaving me to hold down all of the forts. But the part of that calculus that I haven’t been paying attention to is what I do with The Mommy Scorecard when he’s out of town. I realized that I feel like I need to UP my game. I pay more attention. I interact more. I allow things that I don’t usually and sometimes they’re even things that get on my nerves. I set things aside that I would normally finish before I attend to my children. I try to cover all of the emotional bases. My Mommy Scorecard gets WAY more judge-y when Daddy’s out of town.

Yesterday I realized that my daughter’s recital rehearsal falls on the day that I am leaving for Dallas for a quick professional development trip. I tormented myself for a couple of hours in bed trying to figure out how to make it work, who I could ask for help and if that wasn’t really too much to ask and I should really be the one doing this, after all didn’t I miss the rehearsal (not the recital mind you, the freaking rehearsal) LAST year? My Mom is staying with the kids, but she won’t want to do that and it’s a lot to ask to send her to the violin teacher’s house when it will be mobbed with people she doesn’t know and maybe I should ask my sister, but she’s already helped me this month and maybe we should skip it but then she won’t be prepared. I don’t feel so good. MAYBE I SHOULD JUST STAY HOME.

The looming zero on the Mommy Scorecard was just too horrible to face. As I’m writing this I still haven’t figured out what to do about the rehearsal, but I’ve not canceled my trip (deep breath) because that would be ridiculous. And while I wish my reason was better, more grown up, more enlightened, like my time is important, my needs are important, spending time on my coaching practice is important/fulfilling/heartfood, right now recognizing the ridiculousness of canceling is going to have to do.

Having gotten to the other side of the nap, which helped tremendously (thank you Amy English for urging me to sleep), I see what I’m doing to myself. I see how insane my standards are. I see how much time and energy I STILL put into making sure I’m doing things just right for them. And I have to ask myself when enough is going to be enough. What is it that I think will happen if I don’t do it all? What will it mean to them? More importantly I suspect, what will I make it mean about me?

Now I’m looking at the paragraphs above this one and seeing all of those highly charged run on sentences representing my neurotic scrambling and I worry for a minute that you will just think I’m nuts, but I’m going to publish this anyway because I KNOW I’m not the only scorekeeper out here in the big world. Maybe yours isn’t a Mommy Scorecard. Maybe yours is a Good Girl Scorecard, a Good Son Scorecard, a Great Employee/Team Player/Brilliant Colleague Scorecard. Maybe yours is more basic. Maybe yours is a Good Person scorecard.

pexels-photo-545016And I want you to know that I’m not suggesting that it’s terrible to strive to be a good ANY of those things. But when, oh dear lord, WHEN is enough going to be enough? When, in all of the millions of decisions you make every day, can you make the one that will allow you the freedom of just being okay, good enough, not bad, heck even sub-par and then just getting on with it? Will it be the imperfect meal you serve? Will it be the disappointing a parent by missing a family event? Will it be the B+ work you turn in (and are later surprised you got an A- and no scorn at all)? Will it be the time you DON’T volunteer to pick up all of the pieces? Will it be the silence you allow at a meeting when you COULD be solving all of the problems single-handedly? What would happen? Can you let it go? Can you let it be? Can you let yourself off the hook – maybe even only because you know hanging on is ridiculous? What would it feel like to believe you’re enough without getting ALL perfect scores? From one scorekeeper to another, I want to tell you that getting a full night’s sleep is well-worth the attempt.

What To Do When You’re Too Busy

I remember seeing a couple on a TV show (or maybe a movie) scheduling a time to have sex. I remember nothing else about the show, the context, anything else. I just remember my horror. I remember thinking that was crazy. I remember rolling my eyes at how people could let their lives become that busy, rigid, regimented. I remember all of those feelings. I think I was around 23. And now I shake my head at my own darned self.

Adulting Can Be Extremely Busy

My family has entered an extremely busy phase. I thought we were in this phase before, but it turns out that the previous phase was just a very busy phase; THIS is the extremely busy phase. The exact circumstances aren’t that important, but I will share that my husband is a full-time seminary student on top of working, so if you have any experience with some version of that, you may have a sense of what things are like here. I am also nurturing my fledgling business, and oh, right, the kids. I won’t go on and on, because like I said, the circumstances aren’t that important. What is important is the way that we handle this phase. We’ve been bumping around a bit, trying to get to the place where we can actually observe ourselves so we can make adjustments. It has been a rough couple of months, but we reached meta this morning – we took a look at ourselves and realized there was a lot to improve on.

How are we going to make this crazy whirlwind better? The short answer is that we’re going to schedule things that are important to us. This will now be a mark of the level of priority – if it makes it on the calendar, it is important. I realize, however, that that is a short answer indeed and that it is not very helpful if you’re not already good at the whole scheduling thing. So, let me break down some other things we’re doing.

8 Steps to Fix “Too Busy”

  1. If it’s a triage situation – like you’re emotionally bleeding out/exhausted/freaking out: Get Real Clear on What’s Not VERY Important and eliminate it. I was going to say “scratch it off your list,” but ELIMINATE feels better right now. Get rid of it. My husband and I are both crossing one thing off our respective lists this morning because we realized he is leaving town and we needed to talk about all of this AND just see each other for a few minutes. I’ve been sick, and oh, yeah, the kids. We each found the least important part of our respective days and are eliminating them.
  2. Feeling better when you're overwhelmed.Stop allowing yourself to be “overwhelmed.” Overwhelm makes us spin, which is incredibly unproductive. The thoughts that create overwhelm are usually some version of: “It’s too much. I can’t possibly do it all,” or the classic circular: “I’m so overwhelmed.” Spinning won’t help that feeling. When I get that spin feeling, I try a thought like: “I need to figure out how to do this day/week/month” so that instead of feeling more overwhelmed, I feel determined to get down to business. That always feels better and is far more productive than the “I don’t know” freaking out that comes with overwhelm. This is particularly difficult if I am tired, which leads naturally to…
  3. Recognize the importance of, and schedule self-care. When we are extra-busy we have a tendency to make cuts in the worst places. We stay up a little later to finish one last bit of work or to have 10 minutes to ourselves. We get a little less careful with how we eat because we think we don’t have time to cook and eat proper meals. We skip taking a few minutes to just breathe because we’re sure we just don’t have time for that. I say all of this without scolding because I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else. I am especially guilty of the sleep part. And my body lets me know. I get less productive. I get WAY more grumpy. I get SO tired of it all. And if I keep pushing, I get sick. Usually not terribly sick and not for very long, but my body lets me know. Want to go from busy to totally UNPRODUCTIVE? Push hard enough that you get sick. Make your body force you to stop. The benefit? You may get some rest. You may recognize that you’re doing yourself in. The cost? All of that stuff you had to do just gets moved around more. Being busy does not get solved by being tired, poorly nourished and stressed out. It’s really that simple. If you don’t take care of you, it will all get worse.
  4. Sit with your goals/plans/big list for a few minutes each day. Check in. What is it you are trying to accomplish? What takes priority this month/this week/today? What steps do you need to outline for yourself to get from where you are to there? When are you going to do those things? Write it down or type it in – whatever your planner penchant is – do that.
  5. Make planning a part, but not a terribly LONG part, of every day. I’ve talked here about my morning meeting and how invaluable I find it. Every day I move from looking at my goals/plans/objectives to actually planning out when I’m going to do those things. I allot very specific amounts of time, not depending on how long I think it will take, but based on how long I want to spend on each item. 90% of the time I actually finish in that amount of time (which is always shorter than I think it will “take”).
  6. Check in with involved parties on a regular basis. We have in the past, and will begin again, having the Sunday evening meeting. This is when we review what’s coming up in the next month and in the next week so we know who’s going to be where and when. So we identify gaps (oh yeah, kids) in case we need to enlist childcare. So we don’t get caught off-guard by someone else’s meeting or travel. So we can prepare for events rather than constantly reacting to them. AND so we can thank each other for picking up one another’s slack.
  7. If it’s important to you, schedule it. And yes, I mean everything, including haircuts, naps, walks, extra long showers because you have a cold, trips to the drugstore because someone’s prescription is ready, lunch dates with your spouse. If it’s important, treat it like it’s important. Schedule it and honor your schedule… which leads me to….
  8. You can handle it all. Learn to trust yourself.Honor your schedule. If you MUST make a change, be conscious about it. Think it through. Recognize all of the implications. Review the rest of the day and see what impact it will have. Never do it because you don’t “feel like” doing what’s next on the schedule. Honor your commitments to yourself and the overload gets a lot less stressful because you will know that you can count on yourself to meet your obligations. You will know that you are reliable and capable. You will know that you are trustworthy with your own time.

You Are In Charge

There’s a lot more I could say, but I’m looking at this like an emergency room situation. These are the basics for moving from insanely and overwhelmingly busy to just plain busy – but busy that is directed, goal oriented, planned, and all-inclusive. This is busy that assumes taking care of oneself in all of the ways. This is busy that allows for productivity skyrocketing because you actually feel good AND feel able to do it all, and you can, OR you can make some decisions that make it all work.

You may fight me on this but you really are in charge. I know, I know, we’re not all self-employed, BUT we are all able to make can keep commitments to ourselves. We are all able to adjust our level of effort so that we can actually complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time. We are all able to use calendars and timers. We really are, and if you are where I was, if you scoff at the use of such tools to mark the time in your day, that’s okay. Just call me in a few months when you’re EXTREMELY busy and I’ll tell you how I do all of that.

 

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Are You Hanging Out On the Sidelines?

September 5th was the first day of school for my twin 5th graders, and just like all parents on the first day of school, I had a morning full of disbelief and wonder that they are already this age, that time is going just as fast as my parents and grandparents always said it would, and that the work I needed to do this morning to help them get there was decidedly less than it has been in the past. As their needs change, I have the opportunity to notice patterns that have developed, scratch that, patterns that I have chosen over the years. I’ve seen it all summer. I have chosen on many occasions for the past 10 years, to sit on the sidelines.

I noticed when we were at the beach with old friends and the other Mom quickly volunteered to go in with all four, because in the past I have not wanted to. I noticed it at the pool with my fabulous sister-in-law when she volunteered to go play sharks and minnows with our kids because in the past I have not wanted to. I noticed it when my kids were surprised at the amusement park when I went on all but one ride with them – they had forgotten that I actually like roller coasters and expected me to sit this one out as well.

Slide1Now, to be fair, raising kids can be tiring. Raising twins (especially the early years) can be insanely tiring. Raising twins as an older Mom – you get the picture. So I think a fair amount of my sideline sitting was initially an attempt to just grab a few minutes of peace while they were available to me. Everyone is happy, occupied, and cared for. I’m going to just be for a minute. I think maybe this was the intention, but I don’t actually recall ever really doing that. I don’t actually recall ever consciously choosing to make peace in that moment.

I remember worrying: watching the water, noticing their interactions, repositioning umbrellas, watching for sunburn, making sure the lunches were in the shade, wondering if whichever adult they were with was watching (they always were), running through the plans for the rest of the day, being mindful of pitfalls and problems that might arise, looking for lips turning blue, looking for missteps, watching for… This was one popular version of taking a break. I think another popular version involved me reviewing all of the ways I had been burdened.

I do tend to be the planner and preparer in the family, so I could bathe in some resentment about that. I could reflect on the injustice of all of the work I did to get us to that point in the day. I could reflect on the lack of worry on my husband’s part as evidence that I was STILL doing more than my share (my share of the neurotic worry pile). I’m pretty sure the times that I actually used my time sitting back, out of the fray, to REST could be counted on one hand, and that’s a 10 year period we’re talking about. I held myself back and then used that time to make myself feel terrible; sometimes I even just took the simple route and made myself feel terrible about holding myself back.

For the past several days I’ve been doing a freedom challenge. Each day I take some action that feels a little freeing, that makes me feel more free, less constrained, less confined, maybe even a little less tame, and it has made me think a lot about my time on the sidelines. Where were those choices coming from, if they weren’t really about rest and a breather? Why couldn’t I just use them as rest or a breather? What was I doing on the sidelines? Did it all just become a habit? Was my non-participation a default that then made me so uncomfortable I had to be miserable about it?

There are long answers to those questions, and considering them as I do my freedom challenge has really opened up some space for me to move, to feel, and to choose how I WANT to engage. I can still say no – as I did to the last roller coaster of the day when I felt like my head would explode if I allowed it to get rattled around again.

I’ve seen a lot of memes and posts that encourage us NEVER to sit on the sidelines. Be the Mom who’s in the water. Be the Mom who finger paints. Be the Mom playing on the floor. Be the Mom who’s in it. And I think there’s some value to that message for people who need some encouragement, but I think what really matters when we notice that we’re on the sidelines is our reason for being there and how we treat ourselves as we sit. Are you choosing it? Does it feel like freedom, like rest, like a pause rather than a default? Does it feel like a self-imposed sentence, something you “have” to do because…, something that allows you to hide?

Slide2The sidelines exist for a reason, and that’s because we all need to take a break once in a while. We all need to come off the field, hydrate, catch our breath, figure out what’s next. Some need to be there more than others. If you’re spending a lot of time on the sidelines, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you like your reason. Maybe it’s time to get back in the game. I’d love to help.