Facing down my to-do monsters

Okay — the situation is, I have LESS THAN 2 hours to do . . . a trajillion things.

(Why am I bothering with this blog post that probably nobody will read? Because I would be writing this note to myself regardless; I might as well put it here in case anyone else ever finds herself in this same situation and needs to know she’s not alone. OR in case anyone else wants to feel reallllyyy good about themselves in comparison to me).

“I could so easily freak out right now.” – Rachel Green, FRIENDS. Also, me, now.

So how the f*** did I get myself into this place? That’s a BIG question for another day. For right now, the issue is this:

A.N.X.I.E.T.Y.

That’s not an acronym or initialism for anything, it’s just a written way of expressing how terrifying it is, how big, it is, and how impossible it seems sometimes. It gets in the way of me being honest and authentic with people, it gets in the way of me getting stuff done when I’m supposed to, and it really gets in the way when I’ve been procrastinating.

So I freak out. But not outwardly — outwardly I’m so cool, calm, collected. I am neutral, I am Switzerland. I’ve got this.

And inwardly, I’m pretty damn cool, calm and collected — or so I think. But really I’m numbing the panic and whatever else is behind this nonsense with unnecessary tasks, important-but-not-urgent tasks, Netflix, and food.

There it is, laid out plain and simple. The truth I don’t want to admit to myself, and definitely don’t want to admit to anyone else.

So, I can sit back and take a good look at that sentence — and then grab a handful of popcorn and the next episode of Gossip Girl. And deal with it Later.

Or.

I can set aside some time to figure out why this is happening and how to fix it, and right now, in my less than less than two hours, I can get something done.

So here goes — setting a timer for 20 minutes, in which time I will have made progress on one of the tasks I have been behind on.

Because I think, “at the end of the day,” to use that tired and irritating cliche, it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other. Doing one thing that wouldn’t have been done if I sat and numbed out.

So here goes.

Thanks for listening. If this is you, I encourage you to pick up one foot and set it down in the general direction of where you need to be. And then do the same thing with the other one. And after you’ve done something you need to do, give yourself a big hug. Sometimes this shit is hard, y’all.

UPDATE: 20 minutes later

Dude. I am doing the hardest task that was on my list. And I am getting through it. BAM.

 

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Signs You Have a Little Boy

Not to gender stereotype, but these are things I do NOT hear my friends with daughters mentioning!

1. Your child is obsessed with body functions.

“Say ‘poop,’ mama!” “I sneezed out of my butt!” “Daddy poops! Mommy poops! Everybody poops!” -all quotes from my 2 year old this week.

2. You get That Call from daycare

Thankfully, NOT the “come get your child, as he is projectile vomiting on the sensory bin” call, but the “everything is fine, but we wanted to let you know that he was about to take a nap when he announced he had a sticker in his nose. We used tweezers to fish it out, and looked in there with a flashlight and we don’t see anything else. We reminded him that stickers don’t go in your nose.”

3. You get excited when you see a digger, a train, or any type of unusual vehicle

I swear, I was *this* close to elbowing a coworker and shouting when we were outside and a news helicopter flew overhead.

4. Rocks — everywhere

Being handed to you at the playground, rolling around in the washing machine after falling out of a pocket, sitting on the front porch, in the dog’s water bowl. There is just something about rocks!

5. The obsession with the pen15 (<– avoiding being flagged as an “adult” blog + any opportunity to harken back to those middle school days!)

Some boys start this in infancy, some wait until toddlerhood, but at some point the penis becomes a main focus. I was changing my son’s diaper outside on a windy day (he was standing up) and he looked at me with concern and said, “my pen-iss blow off, mommy?” (That’s how he pronounces it)

6. You worry about how to help him grow into a good man.

How can I make sure he respects women? That he will stand up for himself? That he stays away from violence, drugs, and decisions that lead to making a girl pregnant before she and he are ready? That he stays away from hurt in general and keeps at least some amount of his little boy sweetness? That he grows up but doesn’t grow away too much? That the world doesn’t replace his innocence with anger? That he will know he can always count on me, no matter what? That he will forgive me one day for talking about his “pen-iss” on the Internet?

Planning is Performing

It was one of those days — overslept just a little bit, and then spent the pre-work time finishing one task only to realize there was another yet to do. Prepare the baby’s bottles. Get the kids’ bedding into the car to take to daycare. Round up stuff for the drycleaner’s. I got to work and realized I hadn’t packed snacks or my lunch or the adapter for my breast pump.

Fail.

As I started to lose patience, I reminded myself that better planning would have solved most, if not all, of these frustrations. I know this. When I do plan ahead, and everything runs smoothly, it feels great. So why don’t I do it?

Why do I skip planning, the thing that will make all of this so much easier?

I think it’s because I am results-oriented. I love when things come together and work. I love when I have a completed project or product to be proud of. I love doing work on a deadline, when the thrill of anticipation is highest and the deadline-gauntlet is just looming. Planning doesn’t usually come with adrenaline, or results to step back and be proud of. It can be downright drudgery at worst, and even at best you kinda think, “all of this is for tomorrow-me? But what about right now-me? She would love to just write or watch “Shark Tank” or take a Buzzfeed quiz.” Performing feels good; planning — in the moment — really doesn’t.

But here is my paradigm shift: Planning is performing.

planningisperforming

The performance — the end results — just aren’t going to be as great as they can be without the planning. Strategic planning is required for making sure the work you’re doing means something and is going somewhere, and planning for the next day via all the small tasks that come with running a household (especially one with children in it) is essential as well. So really, planning is part of the performance. It might not be the part that people see or that you can point to in your own mind as a success, but it’s just as integral to your goals as the larger-scale efforts.

So, yeah, the banality of the small tasks (especially the ones that repeat themselves! Like, I got dressed yesterday — I really have to do it again today??) can wear thin, and it’s helpful to find “life hacks” or strategies that help lessen the drudge-y-ness (like preparing meals ahead of time so you don’t have as much daily cooking, or getting help with household chores), but if we think of planning as part of the performance, it helps to put things into perspective. Just because you aren’t actually delivering your important speech or throwing your perfect party (or whatever you aspire to do) when you’re washing baby bottles or doing the umpteenth load of laundry doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress toward your goals.

How do you make the planning part of your life a little easier? I’m all ears!

For comic relief, here is Calvin struggling with the same thing:

calvinhobbes

Work-Life Balance is a Myth.

justice_scalesI’ve been thinking about work-life balance a lot, and I’ve come to a conclusion:

It. Does. Not. Exist.

Because the idea of “balance” implies an equivalency between the two: work on one side, life on the other. For the work and the life to come to a balance, there has to be an equivalency in weight. The implication is that you work (meetings, tasks, commute, strategy, etc.) should take up as much time and space as your life (significant other, kid(s), pet(s), faith, friends, volunteering, relaxation, exercise/health/self-care, eating, family, citizenship, etc.)

I am sure that when people talk about work-life balance, they don’t necessarily mean it this literally. But to talk about work and life as a dichotomy is to potentially train your brain to think that way. Once you see work and life in that way, you will never feel like you are giving enough to either. The more time you spend on “life,” the more you may feel you are shortchanging the “work” side. The more time you spend on “work,” the less time you have to allocate to all of the facets of the “life” side.

I’ve experienced myself this constant pendulum effect, and I’ve watched it affect my husband, as well. Particularly since we are both so driven, if we are not running around doing housework or activities, it is difficult to put down the iPhone or the laptop and just be, either with each other or our son or our friends and family. If we are not doing a “life” task, we should then be working on a “work” task. But then we lament the presence of constant stress and pressure. I imagine that others who are self-employed or have significant responsibilities in their professional life find themselves in the same place.

So I propose that we get rid of the idea of work-life “balance,” that we throw out that scale entirely. Instead, we need a vocabulary that acknowledges that work is just one part of the whole that is our life. Work is important and sustains us economically and in other ways, too, but it should not be presented as somehow equivalent to the other precious pieces of our life.

As a student of yoga, and as a Libra, I am very attracted to the notion of “balance.” I do fear that too much concentration on that term can bring into the mind an idea of precariousness — like a spinning top that is balanced as long as it is in motion, but falls to one side once stillness arrives. But if we think of “balance” as something more fluid, where sometimes more attention is given to some things than to others but we are addressing the important items on the whole, then I think it is a term we can still use. But let’s strike “work” from the equation and just go to “life balance.” Not an equivalence among all of the pieces of our life; it would be totally unrealistic to say “I spent 1 hour playing with my child, so now I must spend 1 hour cleaning my house and 1 hour in prayer and 1 hour with my friends…” But an acknowledgment that our lives are comprised of many factors, and they all require and deserve attention.

So instead of a scale, with work on one side and life on the other, envision a pie chart. The pie is your life, and you can divide it into triangles of whatever proportions work for you on this day, this week, this month, this year. Work is one part of that pie, but it does not need to come out as equivalent to any one part, and certainly does not need to come out as equivalent to the whole.

There is no such thing as work-life balance. It’s just life-balance.

On “Mommy Guilt”

A friend recently posted on Facebook about leaving her baby for the first time to go on a business trip, and how it was hard to decide whether to go on the trip or not. I commented that, in my experience, Mommy Guilt is freely available regardless of what choices we make.

In the midst of all my recent vacillation over whether to work at home or work full time or stay at home or whatever, I started to feel drawn to the idea of part-time work. It seemed like the perfect balance between the opportunity to stay at home and raise my kids during their early years, and the opportunity to keep my professional life on track. And then I was hit with this yesterday: The 5 Types of Part-Time Working Mom Guilt.

Great.

Now, of course I understand that Mommyish is a blog like I am, and headlines get pageviews, but the post nevertheless opened up a whole can of things I hadn’t even considered about working part-time. So, as I understand it, there is now:

  • Full-time Working Mom Guilt: “My kids are going to love the daycare lady more than they love me. I have to stay up till 1 a.m. finishing this product report and baking fresh cookies for Little One’s birthday tomorrow. I am missing out on key parts of my child’s life. Maybe I would be a better mom if I stayed at home.”
  • Full-time Stay-at-Home Mom Guilt: “I am depriving my children of a positive female role model who is independent and able to provide for her family. I am depriving my family of the money that a second income would bring. I am making my working-mom friends jealous when I post about our mid-day zoo outing on Facebook. I should never feel isolated or trapped or lonely since I am so lucky to be able to stay at home. Stay-at-home moms have higher rates of depression — maybe I would be happier and a better mom if I worked.”
  • Work-at-Home Mom Guilt: “Every second that I am addressing my clients’ needs, I feel like I should be with my kids. Every second that I am with my kids, I feel like I should be working. People might think all I do is work and let my kids raise themselves in the playpen. I should never hire a babysitter — I’m at home, after all! Maybe I would be a better mom if I worked outside the home, or stopped working altogether.”
  • And then the part-time working mom guilt alluded to above: “My co-workers are disadvantaged by my lack of constant availability. I’m not really advancing my career by working fewer than 40 hours a week. The income I’m bringing in isn’t enough. The time I do spend with my kids isn’t enough. Maybe I would be a better mom if…”

So, what’s a mom to do?

First, make sure you’re surrounding yourself with people who will be supportive of whatever decision you (and your partner if you have one — all of this is intensified in some ways for single moms) make for your family.

Second, remind yourself that this decision is just one of many you will have to make for your family. No amount of blog posts or books is going to tell you that you’ve found the One decision (trust me, I’ve looked!) and something that works in the now may need to be adjusted in the future. So, make the choice that works well for the situation you are in right now.

Third, for some, a decision to try out one of the “mom roles” doesn’t necessarily preclude you from changing roles. If you try working at home and absolutely hate it, perhaps there is a way to transition into a different role. But even if there isn’t:

Fourth and finally, can we all just make a pact to get rid of the guilt? Can we just reassure each other every time we talk that we are all doing the best we can with what we have, that as long as we are being mindful and caring about parenting our kids are going to be fine? And by “fine” we mean “not too messed up?” 🙂 Joking aside, the experiences that will shape our kids’ personalities and futures are by and large going to be things over which we have no control anyway.

Let’s agree that we’re all doing okay. And the kids are going to be alright.

What tips can you offer to combat Mommy Guilt?

7 Steps to Finding the Right Daycare

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image credit Some rights reserved by flickr user njxw

Once my family made the choice to use a childcare center for our then-four-month-old, I agonized over how to find the right place. Thankfully, I found a great place where I feel my son is thriving and we have great communication with the caregivers, so I thought I would share my selection process.

1. Start at the right time.

When is that? As soon as you know that you will possibly need a daycare center. If you reserve a spot and decide when it’s time to start that you want to go in another direction, you can always cancel. In some areas, finding a daycare is hyper-competitive — if you are living in one of those areas, you likely know that already. Even in the non-NYC suburban areas of the country, however, it’s a good idea to get on a waiting list or reserve a spot once you get past the first trimester of your pregnancy. Do not panic if you didn’t start the process that early, though — it’s a suggestion, but you can still find the right place for your child. But do start looking as soon as you know you might need it.

2. Create a “master list” of in-home and other day care options in your area.

Most states have a list of licensed child care centers — this is a great place to start your search. I recommend creating a spreadsheet where you list the basics — name of center/in-home daycare, contact name, phone number, Web site, address, a column for comments, and a “status” column.

3. Visit each center’s incident reports and Web sites.

Many state licensing databases also include public “incident” reports and licensing records for licensed centers. Take the time to review these. Not every incident report will be a red flag — there are misunderstandings, of course, and incidents from awhile ago may have been remedied by a change in management. But some may hit your gut instinct, which I always believe is worth listening to. (One of the centers I found in my search had an incident report on file from when the center’s owner placed a toddler in a Pack-n-Play then tied a baby gate over the top so the toddler would lie down for his nap — way too creepy for me.) You may remove some of the listings on your spreadsheet based on this information alone. (Tip: don’t delete the listing — put “Poor incident report” or something similar in comments and color the status box red for that center — this will save you re-research time should you need to revisit your list in the future). You should also visit each center’s web site to get a feel for things. Some won’t have a site at all (particularly true for in-home daycare centers) or place much priority on a professional site, but those that do have a web (or Facebook) presence can still give you insight into what the center is like.

4. Ask around!

Read online reviews (but take them with a grain of salt — like any other business, there are going to be disgruntled parents out there who may have grudges against particular centers, or there may be positive reviews seeded by center employees) and talk to friends who have children. Also consider checking with your pediatrician’s office, your place of worship, etc. to see if people in those places might have referral ideas.

5. Prepare a simple list of questions for your initial phone calls. Do they have a spot available for your child when you will need it? Do they have full-time and part-time options for your child’s age, or just full-time? If you are cloth diapering, or if your child has allergies, will they be accommodating? How do they handle payments — weekly by check, monthly, by credit card, ACH debit, online, etc.? As you develop questions, keep the list relatively simple and definitely stick to your principles, but be aware of where you are open to compromise. If you know you have to have a center that offers infant sign language, that will necessarily limit your options — but if you think your child needs that, that’s okay.

6. Call!

Once you have a reasonable list of possibilities, start calling. Keep in mind you might not get all your questions answered the first time you call — many smaller centers do not have the staff to have someone in charge of answering telephones, so you might get a busy worker on the phone. Be prepared to make an arrangement to call back when the director or head of the center is available to talk.

7. Make visits. Once you start finding sites that have openings for your child, set up a time to visit each one. Only by actually going there can you get a sense of whether it will be the right fit for your child. You can see whether the facilities are kept clean, whether a TV is left on during the day, etc. You can meet the staff, and see how the children are doing (but don’t be dissuaded just because you see some babies/kids crying — some kids just cry a lot!)

What are your tips for finding the right daycare?