Friday, July 27, 2012

Keeping it simple

A handful of my mom-friends have spouses that travel regularly for work.   There are a multitude of single parents out there who always take care of their kids on their own.  I have nothing but the utmost respect and awe for all of them, because on the rare occasions that my husband is out of town for a few days, it gets challenging around here.  One positive thing for me, though, about solo parenting for a brief amount of time is that I allow myself to shut off the angry gnome and the to-do list, pretty much because there is no choice.  So even though it might appear to be hectic, it actually kind of calms down for me mentally.  But during this last week while hubby was away, I began to consider the simple things in my life that would disappear if I had to parent on my own for longer than a few days.

  • Clothes without wrinkles.  This requires getting laundry out of the dryer, folding, and hanging as soon as it is done.  That rarely happens even with help.
  • Meals made with more than four ingredients.  I barely even wanted to bother with cooking fresh vegetables, which adds two minutes to the cooking routine.
  • Sleeping more than 5-6 hours a night.  Again, I find that challenging as it is, and it would only get worse.
  • Gardening, weeding, watering, pretty much anything that requires regularly tending to the nature outside of this house.  
  • Watching tv that is not animated.
  • Shopping for myself.  Internet all the way.  Maybe it fits, maybe it doesn't.
  • Printing the pictures I take.  No chance.
  • Keeping plants alive.  What's the problem, I just watered you last month?
  • Feeling relaxed.  Ever.
To all of you who do this on a daily basis and do it so well, many, many kudos to you.  Hubby, I appreciate all that you contribute to this organization and would like you to consider signing another long-term contract. You don't need any vacation time, though, right?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

More than enough

I have reached my limit before.  In many ways, at many different times in my life, I've hit that point where it was very clear to me that whatever my limit was, I had found it.  I am confident it's not the best way to handle it, but it takes that point of explosion before I am able to finally hand over the controls.  This time, the limit reached was in regards to too many things.  Obligations, commitments, chores, tasks, work, hobbies, all of it.  It has been a frequent pattern of mine.  I say yes, I plan more, I underestimate the amount of rest I need, and it all goes great until it doesn't.

The past few weeks have brought some changes.  Work has gotten busier and later, time has decreased, stress has gone up, balls have been dropped.  Never in my life have I just completely forgotten plans that had been made.  I might confuse dates, times, need to look at the calendar a few extra times, cancel on short notice, but never just forgotten.  Until I did.  That was the limit this time around.  A kick-to-the-gut announcement that this just can't continue.  So I started making changes.  Things that I wouldn't even consider discontinuing a few days prior were suddenly the things that had to go.

I heard a story a few weeks ago about an Olympic athlete and the after-training recovery he endures.  Rather than ice packs or ice baths to soothe muscles and joints, he goes into some kind of cryofreeze chamber.  For 30 seconds, it gets so cold that the body abandons all hope for the limbs and pulls all the blood flow into the core.   When he comes out of the chamber, the blood that rushes back into the limbs has gone through a filtering process that has removed much of the lactic acid that causes soreness and swelling, etc.  I think it sounds absolutely crazy, but I like the metaphor that it creates.  I am going through my own similar process.  My limbs are important to my body, just like many of these to-do's are important to who I am.  But in a crisis, those to-do's need to be abandoned to take care of my core for a while.  And when I'm ready to start reaching out and getting back into some of those things, the energy I am able to put into them is increased ten-fold.

I am getting a lot of positive reinforcement that I am doing the right thing.  Have you ever had that experience where you hear something you've never heard before, and then all of the sudden it keeps coming up?  Ever since I decided to start pruning things, I've read blogs, seen pictures, heard stories, had discussions, all about exactly this topic.  And every decision I make to reduce the list makes me feel a little bit better.  I know I am doing the right thing, as much as I wish I didn't have to let some of these things go.

One of the blogs I read makes the amazing point that sometimes you have to get rid of some of the extraneous good things to make room to really enjoy the important good things.  That is a great explanation for myself of what I am trying to do.  I have been blessed more than I can ever understand with so many things.  Everything I am pulling back from is important to me somehow; I don't want to let it go.  But if I can't  truly be in the present and enjoying any one thing because I am focused on trying to juggle 50 things, then there doesn't seem to be much point in doing any of them.

I am on the right track and feeling better.  The long-term challenge will be maintaining a lower level of stuff so that I can go through smaller cycles of building and pruning instead of hitting the wall and sliding downward.  I'm not ready for that challenge yet.  For now I just have to focus on enjoying the important good things...

 ....and saying goodbye to some others.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

...and then stop thinking.

I went for a run tonight with no distractions: no music, no GPS, nothing.  In the absence of distraction, my brain was overflowing with things I didn't want to think about, including the desire to be done running.  I have no idea how far I ran or how long I was gone.  But after about halfway of whatever that final distance was, I was too tired to focus on anything but my own breathing, yet not tired enough to quit.  So I kept going until tired was winning.  And then I went a little more.  In total brain silence.

In my life leading up to this year, I have never considered myself a runner.  I was a two-sport varsity athlete for four years of high school, and couldn't run long distances.  I kept in on-and-off shape in college, and couldn't run long distances.  I played beach volleyball for six months a year for five years of adulthood, and I couldn't run long distances.  I have been exercising relatively regularly for about seven months now after a two-year parenting hiatus, and all of the sudden, I can run longer distances.  It's certainly not magic.  I've been working hard, losing weight, building muscle, so it makes logical sense that it is improving my distance running.  But after a lifetime of defeat, I cannot wrap my brain around this new ability.

As I sat stretching and recovering, I considered what I just did, and was really fascinated about the idea that when I stopped thinking and kept pushing, it just worked.  Much of what I have been doing the last seven months has been P90X, which has done amazing things for me.  In the yoga workout, there is a point where you are standing tall on your toes and reaching toward the ceiling.  To help keep balance, Tony Horton (the guy responsible for the P90X workout), says "Don't think about your feet on the floor, think about your hands in the air.  And then stop thinking."  And it works every time.  I go from wobbly and shaky to stiff as a board, just like that.  The power of anti-thought.

Am I on to something here?  Is this what I need to do in other situations too?  Consider parenting.  A good friend asked me how it works, how you are able to put it all aside, the exhaustion, frustration, scheduling, etc., to be a parent.  I think about childbirth, sleep deprivation, hour-long temper tantrums, balancing stressful work days with calmer family time, and I know I have used that same strategy.  Too tired to focus on anything but my own breathing, and not tired enough to quit, so I just keep going.  I think this is a solid strategy for sports.  For other areas of life, I'm not so sure.  But it's an honest strategy, and I would hazard a guess that I'm not alone in using it. Unfortunately, it works well for the short-term, but completely unravels in the long haul.  It's helpful when your newborn is crying at 10 pm, 2 am, and 5 am.  Don't think, just do.  It's not helpful when your schedule is so full that you forget the plans you just confirmed 24 hours ago.  Must think, can't do.  There's a balance there somewhere that I just haven't found.  Better go for a longer run.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Maybe next year

This was supposed to be it.  Right now.  Over the past few years, every time I uttered the words "Well, I guess we can't right now, but next summer we should (fill in the blank here)," I was talking about this summer.  Three summers ago I was pregnant.  Two summers ago I had a wobbly, nap-taking, one-year-old. Last summer I had a determined, quicker-than-lightning, two-year-old.  But this summer, this summer, I have a child old enough to safely join in most activities and I am so very experienced at being a Mom that it should be easy to schedule life in order to accommodate anything.
.....Is there a font for sarcasm?  I guess not.  You'll have to improvise.

The air in my house is thick with laters, not yets, and soons that are looking for a place to land.  My son doesn't take very kindly to hearing those words, and I really can't blame him because I don't either. The current focus of my impatience is our garden.  I was so looking forward to the flowers we were going to plant, the landscaping we were going to complete, and endless summer nights of relaxing on our newly-painted deck enjoying the view.

At least the deck is painted.

I don't consider our yard anything out of the ordinary when it comes to the amount of work required to maintain it.  It takes quite a bit of time and effort throughout the spring and summer, but for anyone with a suburban yard who doesn't employ landscapers, that seems normal to me.  And I enjoy doing it.  But the time just isn't there right now.  Every year we research, measure, sketch, plan, and we end up weeding, pruning, watering, and wishing.

I suppose I should be grateful this year, as we sit in the middle of one very long Midwest drought.  Just keeping the few perennials watered enough to stay green is a nightly task that would take much, much longer  if we had planted everything we had wanted.  But seeing all of the empty, dry beds of dirt every night does not give me peace.  I recognize it is more frustrating because it is a symptom of my larger issue with scheduling, but that perspective doesn't put color in my yard.

However, we did manage to try one new thing this year that isn't dead yet.  Back in March we placed an order for a native plant kit from Conserve Lake County, an organization that works towards land and water preservation and conservation in our area.  The kit arrived just after we came home from our June vacation, thanks to some customer service and a purposely delayed shipment, and we were able to plant it right away.

When it comes to planning a garden, it doesn't get much easier than how they set it up for us.  It came like this.....

.....with a little map like this.....

....and once we got them all in the ground, we had ourselves a little area of life that had a plan and purpose:

They look a little tiny and sad in these photos, but a few weeks later, the plants are taller and thicker and generating new sprouts, so we may well be on our way to something successful.  I will wait a while before posting updated pictures; right now there is not much more to show.  In theory, there should eventually be flowers and butterflies, which will make for much more exciting images.

I'm pretty sure these are all going to come back next year, as long as they grow and get established right now.  So next year will definitely be the year that our yard is going to look great.

It's no wonder I am a Cub fan.