Calendar Carving

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Simplify – that word has as much buzz right now as essential oils. Maybe it’s winter. Maybe it’s that a good number of people are actually admitting that they are exhausted. I admitted my own exhaustion 4 ½ years ago when I stopped teaching my kids at home and filled out the papers for public school. At the time, I felt like a failure. I looked around me and there were all these other moms that could pull it off – along with swim team, club soccer, traveling baseball, dance team, etc… And of course, many of them were growing organic food in their backyard or raising chickens or dashing off to foreign lands to adopt children or build clean water sources for African school children or some other mind-blowing venture. I couldn’t get my kids to finish their math workbooks, and all the plants in my house were dead or dying.

So, I stopped, or at least i slowed WAY down. I still had stuff going on, but I can’t begin to list how many things I cut. If most moms saw the empty space on my calendar today, they would either die of envy or sneer with scorn at my obvious laziness. Believe me when I say my empty calendar is not a source of pride.  I am confessing that I just can’t do it.  I don’t have the energy – physically, emotionally, spiritually. And honestly, my days are still quite full, just not full of lists and set activities.

Every now and then, I’ll hear it from my son that he wishes I had put him in tennis at 7 because he would be higher up the ladder. And there are nights when my daughter mumbles at me under her breath because I am not willing to drive her 30 minutes away for volleyball skills training 3 times a week. But I think my kids need this time and space too. Maybe they just inherited this need from me, but I think it’s more than that. They have so much thrown at them at school and from the media and from their own developing brains that they desperately need room to unwind it all and to process. Sometimes, we need to be free for those big conversations that require a lot of time and space. When I realize it’s been a while since I really talked with my kids about something significant, I know it’s time to step back and see what’s crowding us.

Sometimes it is lonely. There are many days when I am free to enjoy a walk or lunch with a friend, but it is really hard to find anyone else with time for that. My kids often have time to play at the park or hit tennis balls on the weekend, but the rest of the world is booked solid. It’s good to keep that in mind if you intend jump on the simplify bandwagon. You won’t fit in the stream of things, and the quiet can be a little haunting at times.

There is no moral to this story. I watch some of my friends from afar and they seem to be much better at juggling than me. Some families seem to be thriving while fitting 10 times the activities that we do into any given week. What I would say is that it is a good thing for everyone to evaluate every now and then.

If you do feel that you are drowning, try being absolutely ruthless for a season. By ruthless, I do not mean that each of your 2, 3, or 4+ kids gets to pick one activity (on top of their obviously vital music lessons). I mean go for the calendar kill – NOTHING that is not necessary to core education and basic health. Maybe just for 1 semester – just to see – just to breathe. Check out Bill Hybel’s book Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul. Also, read this fantastic article by Louis M. Profeta MD. If you live around here and things get too quiet, maybe we can go on a walk!

A note to my NJ friend Roslind. Thank you for modeling a simpler way for me and showing me the joy of doing life with a friend. I still miss you – 6 years later! Can you believe it? Still hoping we get to be neighbors in heaven.

Kindness

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On the morning of my 43rd birthday at 5:30 sharp, I was awoken by my dog throwing up. Great start!

After clean-up, I climbed back into my bed and thought about what it might look like if I tried this year to be as kind to myself as I try to be to everyone else. What a thought!

I started by telling myself happy birthday and considering how to make that sentiment more likely to come true. I thanked God for the incredible weather, that my kids would be home, and that I would have meaningful time sorting groceries with at least one of my favorite people at the food pantry.

Then I did something that I have been doing for many mornings past. As I slowly stretched my very functional muscles, I noted that, sure enough, the insulation that softly cushions all those muscles was still there. That was more clearly confirmed by a glance in the mirror on my way to the shower.

But this birthday morning, I stopped and did something new. I looked squarely at my uncovered form in the mirror and thanked God for making the female form to begin with. It is one of the lovelier things in creation after all.

Then I laid out a comfy tunic to wear to church that would not completely hide the fact that I have added some curves of my own to God’s original design. Actually, maybe this is God’s original design and it’s our culture that has been photoshopping away those extra curves. Regardless, I told myself, “This is who I am at this moment. I am not who I was. I am not whoever I will be. And this moment is good!”

I put maple syrup in my coffee because it makes me happy and black coffee does not, and I did not record the calories in My Fitness Pal. I thought of the care I put into feeding my family and of how I try to respect their time and wondered how I might do the same for me. I know and have known for a long time that my inability to care fully for myself is a great detriment to them as well as me.

But time is tricky. It presents actual limits, and it does not offer us a pause button. Deep caring for me takes considerable time and space because time and space are my primary needs! I need adequate sleep, oceanside walks (haven’t had one since last summer), time to write, time to think about what I write, time to listen carefully to music, naps following nights when I’m awoken to write at 4 a.m., lots of quiet, time to exercise, time to prepare real food to eat, time for authentic conversations. So, when in the heck am I supposed to vacuum the house and bathe my dogs? Anyone? And when I do not vacuum the house or bathe the dogs, I feel like I do right now – typing with my eyes wandering once a minute to the fluffy little ball of dog hair at my feet.

The time management “solutions” I have encountered recently were in creative self-help books written by men. And, no offense, but these particular men seem to be easily afforded blocks of 8 hours a day to do their work with no concern for children, animals, laundry, meal preparation, or potential phone calls from the school nurse. They can be “ruthless” with their time and their personal worlds still magically operate – either because they are unattached or their good fairy wife is behind them quietly juggling all the balls leaving them blissfully undisturbed. I’m sure these talented fellows would have plenty to say about my oversimplification of their existence, but I do not find some of their methods very applicable in this stage of life.

So you see that this writing exercise has solved little. I still don’t know how to completely care for myself the way I care for others. But I can begin to change my internal dialog. And if the rooms in my house are never all clean at the same time, or if I never get a chance to record in a studio or write a book, or if I am never “bikini ready” like the magazines all scream at me every May, at least the words I speak to myself will be kind. That kindness is with me no matter what comes my way.