Just One More Minute

We have a dog. He is getting older and with his aging comes changes. Baxter has always been a little different compared to our other dogs.

animal-animal-photography-black-and-white-113883Our previous canine companions were attention hogs. The first dog, a terrier mix, was a committed face licker and was most definitely a people person. He always just wanted to be exactly where we were, preferably on us, especially if it meant he could be on both of us at the same time. Our second dog bud was a little more standoffish initially – he had clearly been an outside dog and had not been treated well before us, but it didn’t take him long to decide that he, despite the fact that he weighed in at over 100 pounds, was in fact a lap dog. It was only when I got into my 8th month of a twin pregnancy that Gus had to give up having his head and torso on me. I had no lap for his giant cow head anymore.

animal-breed-canine-544269Baxter came to us as a five year old rescue. He was trusting from the beginning, but from his extremely matted and overgrown hair and allergic flea-bitten skin to his lack of interest in physical affection that our other dogs loved, it was pretty clear that his care had been spotty. He was never hostile, has never growled (even if you messed with his food), but he just didn’t seem to enjoy our attention the way our other pals did.

It has been a slow process for Baxter, but he has become a dog who LOVES physical attention. He went from a dog who would walk away while we were petting him to a dog who will lean on you so hard while you’re petting him that it can knock you over if you’re not firmly planted (he’s kind of big). He’s been hanging out in that space in a committed way for about two years and we’ve been relishing it.

And recently things have begun to change again. Baxter hasn’t been joining us on the couch as often. He is more hesitant to jump up on the bed, even if it’s storming (which is the only time that behavior is encouraged as he really is sort of pony-sized). He doesn’t seem to enjoy his walks for such a long time anymore. He’s aging. He’s getting a little uncomfortable. I see the pain in his hind end when he stands up.

I’ve seen those changes and have changed my own behavior in ways that make things easier for him, but I didn’t think of everything. I didn’t add it all up and find ways to give him that physical contact even though he is not as interested in getting up WITH me anymore. I didn’t catch on until he began walking up to me and making a request when I am on the couch (in my usual position). I always invite him to assume his previously usual position next to me. Sometimes he takes me up on it, but oftentimes he just puts his face in my lap.

He does this when he returns from bus stop drop off with my seminarian. I am usually already on my laptop, doing a little writing, preparing for my day, working. In our previous arrangement, this was fine. He would get up on the couch next to me. I would type and occasionally rub his head while it was on my lap. I would multi-task and we would be together.

It is far more difficult to multi-task when he just puts his big old head on my keyboard. And I didn’t see what was happening. I didn’t see that this was what he could do right now. I didn’t see that this was the opportunity for both of us to have the connection that we’ve had these past few years. I gave him a little rub and then encouraged him to lie down.

IMG_6593This morning I caught myself. Just as I was about to ask him to lie down, I stopped and wondered how long he wanted me to rub his head, how much longer it would “take” for him to be the one to end the moment. I closed my laptop. I put both of my hands on his big sweet head and I just dug in to love in that moment. I did all of the things I know he likes best. I scratched right behind his ears. I rubbed his lower jaw. I rubbed his ears. He leaned into it as he does. It was wonderful. His pleasure was palpable, and I felt him relax. After what couldn’t have been more than three minutes, Baxter had enough. He backed up, found his new spot on the floor and lay down with a big sigh.

Everything changes so fast. So often I don’t see it as it progresses. And then I hit a moment where the changes become more obvious. And when I’m paying attention I see that. But even then I don’t always have the presence to give that change the extra moment that is sometimes required to figure out how to proceed with love. But what I know, thanks to my super zen teacher dog, is that more often than not figuring out how to proceed with love really only takes a pause, a breath, just one more minute. And if I can give that change the moment it deserves, I get to experience all of the richness, all of the love, and all of the connection that this life has to offer.

Where Does Your Energy Go?

I can’t even put a number on how often people tell me that they are tired. It’s almost like this is the assumed first part of the answer to how they are doing, and then we get to the rest. We are a nation of exhausted people (I’m speaking of the U.S., although I’m fairly certain we are not alone here). I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

First and foremost so many of us don’t get enough sleep. If you’re about to argue with me, ask yourself if you’re feeling argumentative because you’re tired, and then google sleep deprivation or sleep deficit and you will find all of the research you need to accept the reality that a huge number of Americans simply don’t get enough sleep.¬†This is something I struggle with.

pexels-photo-269141-2My husband is a night owl. We have children. I need quiet time. These three circumstances don’t always play nicely together with the idea that more sleep is good. I HAVE, over the course of the last couple of years, taken the time to notice my own sleep patterns. My conclusions: the amount of sleep I usually get is not enough – period. How do I know this? When I have the opportunity (and an eye mask and ear plugs, yes I am high maintenance), I will sleep longer than my usual allotted time by at least an hour. I also know because I feel tired a lot. That’s a pretty good indicator.

Now, I have a lot to say about why I don’t get more sleep. Some of it is cultural, some of it is micro-cultural (my family), and some of it (probably the most important part, duh) is what’s going on in my own head, the messages I send myself, the stories I tell myself about my priorities and how I should be using my time. And those messages don’t just impact how much sleep I get. They also set me (dare I say “us”) up for fatigue in other ways.

There are other bits that are making us so very tired. I was reminded of the rest of this equation when I was reading an article that mentioned James Clawson’s book Powered by Feel.¬†The premise of the book is that we spend a lot of time doing things that actually make us feel drained, tired, just plain BAD.

What?! Who would do that?

I do. Yep, I do. When I’m not paying attention I most certainly do. Extended time on Facebook makes me feel bad. Certain television shows (well, whole categories of television shows) make me feel terrible. PTA functions… yep, you guessed it.

How did I figure this out? After all, it’s not like these things make me feel straight up sick. For the most part the impact is more subtle, but cumulative. It all piles up to one big lethargic ache. So what would it look like to figure out what activities are draining the life out of us?

It would look like checking in on how you feel as you go through your day.

As you finish activities, take 5 seconds to notice how you feel. Keep it basic; are you sad, mad, glad, tired, frustrated, energized? Check in on the body and the heart. Take 2 more seconds and make a note of it.

Why all of this data collection? Because the way you feel is telling you something. It’s begging you to consider how you are spending your time. When you actually notice for a few days or for a week, you can sit down and really see where your energy is going. You can really see what your choices about how you spend your time are getting you.

Can you eliminate all of the stuff that doesn’t make you feel amazing? I don’t know. Maybe not. And so often that’s where the conversation ends, right? Well, adults just have to do ___________. Yeah, maybe. But do YOU have to do all of those things? What is flagging itself as purely obligation without payoff? What is making itself known as an activity that makes you feel crappy and yet you continue to do it? Is that time you are spending helping you feel the way you want to feel? When you are honest with yourself, you have the power to make some adjustments. When you are honest with yourself, you can tweak pexels-photo-595747things without tipping the whole adult responsibility apple cart. When you are honest with yourself, you can actually address the choices you are making that are draining you of your precious energy. When you are honest with yourself, you can pursue the feelings you WANT to feel.
What’s the use in that? Some of that is pretty obvious, but there is another layer (I love layers). When you choose and pursue activities based on the feeling you get, the outcome – your ability to win, score, be the best – becomes less important. Life really does become more about the journey, the moment you are in, your connection to everything that makes you undeniably, inimitably YOU. And THAT feels amazing.

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.