My 7 1/2 Minute Lesson

For how much longer
will his little hand seek mine,
earnestly, in love?
”””””””””””””””””””””’
At work today there was a celebration – a “thank you” for everyone for their hard work. One feature was free chair massages, and I happened into the room where they were set up just as a cancellation came in. Bonus! I got my massage straight away.

It was a very good one. She instantly found the knot in my shoulder-blade that keeps lighting off every time I lift my arm. She had a firm but gentle touch. I could hardly believe I was at work.

And then I started to worry… how long had she been at this…were my 15 minutes up yet… wait, was that a “wrap up” move… she’s working on my hands, that must mean she is almost done…damn, I wish this could go longer… 15 minutes is so short…I wonder if I can have another appointment…

And that’s how I ruined the chair massage. I spent half the time in my head asking myself all these questions and worrying about the next moment. I wasn’t enjoying the massage itself or how relaxed I was able to get. I was thinking and thinking and thinking.

In a flash of insight, I realized a terrible parallel and asked myself a question I didn’t want to answer: How much of my life do I spend not in the moment, enjoying the sensations, but “in the worry”, anticipating what’s next? The answer? A lot. And I’m not ruining chair massages with this worry, I’m missing the small, intimate moments with those I cherish most. I have worked a lot harder the last 3-4 months to be more present with my husband and kids. To not work through my “to do” list mentally while with them. To actually just hang out and watch TV and not also feel compelled to dust or straighten up at the same time.  To not ask about what’s next while in the middle of what’s now. It has been hard.  I’m not used to that level of intensity and focus (or, for that matter, self forgiveness for things not completed). I am the product of our times, addicted to moving from one thing to the next, not penetrating (with attention or action) any one thing very long. Or worse, I’m a guilt-ridden working mom trying to do a little of everything to seem like I’m able to handle it all.

But my 15 minutes in the chair helped me understand the tragedy of this. Here I was at a physical level, feeling the difference between a massage where I was present and one where I was worried — and the difference was astounding.  I grew sad that I never fully recognized how diminished my mental, emotional and/or spiritual engagement was in other situations where I was sacrificing my present focus.

I know I’ve been doing better, being more present, and yet I still have capacity for more.   I’ve decided I’m done ruining the metaphorical chair massages of every day life.

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Making Choices – My 5 Roles

Embrace the choices:
They map your way forward and
Soothe the looks backward.

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I learned something a few years ago from an executive at my company that has helped me with my work/life balance. He (yes, it was a he) hypothesized that each of us can reasonably have 5 roles in life that we are committed to. A role is something like wife or mother or tennis player or gardener.  If we decide to take on more than 5 roles, and want to fully commit to those roles (meaning we want to do them well), then he claimed something or someone will suffer.

I’ve been experimenting with this concept for a few years now and I think he is right.  Once I started thinking in these terms, I quit beating myself up for not “doing/having it all,” a self doubt-a-thon that I think many working moms engage in.  Instead, I decided that “having it all” was as simple as focusing on these 5 roles such that I was doing them well. Not perfectly, not full on all the time, but in a consistent way, with focus.  If I am able to do that, then I count myself successful, consider myself living the dream, and cut myself some slack on the things I’m not doing.  How powerful would it be if we could all see 5 reasonably well-executed roles as cause for celebration.

That isn’t to say that this is easy. Take a look at my current list of 5 roles.

  1. Wife (this is purposefully first, because it is too easy to make it last; I still struggle to give him as much time as I’d like)
  2. Mother (there may be a time when I won’t need to have this on the list, but not for a long time…)
  3. Employee (another “not really a choice” choice for our family, but still, have to acknowledge it is a role and it takes time)
  4. Healthy person (writing it down gives me permission to choose a work-out over coming home early)
  5. Writer/Blogger (new this year, yeah! Finally made it to the top 5)

These may seem obvious choices, to you, but to help dimensionalize how hard it is to pick the top 5, let’s list some of the things that didn’t make my list.

Daughter. Gasp! Really!?!? How can I do that? First, it doesn’t mean I don’t call my parents. It just means than I don’t focus time and attention on cultivating that role. Time and attention would probably mean more trips South to see them; a regularly scheduled phone call; more emails; home-made videos of the kids, etc. But I haven’t made this choice. So we talk about every 2 weeks while I’m driving home from work or on a random weekend when I get a moment. There may come a time in the future when their health drives “daughter” right back on the list, but I’ll clearly know it can’t be an incremental role, something will have to go.

Housekeeper.  If you ever visit me you will find dust. And likely a floor that needs to be swept assuming you can find it under the toys. If you are lucky enough to see upstairs, then you’ll see unmade beds and likely a dirty sock on the floor. Get over it. It isn’t a priority – I don’t put money or more than minimal time against this role. We don’t live in squalor (don’t worry, the kitchen and bathrooms are quite clean, the clothes are washed – even I have standards), and I do clean the house on a regular-ish basis, but I’m sure there are those out there who would frown if they visited.

House rehabber. This was a role last year (when writer wasn’t on the list). That’s because last year was our first full year in this amazing 86-year-old house which requires a lot of time and attention (not to mention money). Last year we focused on the house. This year, we don’t need to as much.

Sister.  Just like my daughter role, I don’t make this a priority.

Friend. There is an amazing women’s group that I get together with once a month. But I don’t have “girl friend” time the rest of the month for the most part.  Facebook keeps us connected, but I don’t foster the relationships like I see other people do.  I work with people I consider friends, and I like the moms of kids at school, so the itch gets scratched in those ways, but that’s it.  Sometimes I miss this…

Are there drawbacks to these choices? Sure there are. If it were painless, then it probably wouldn’t really be a choice.   But what keeps me committed to this concept is this:  when I think about how (even more) stretched I’d be if I also tried to put effort against more than 5, I realize none would be done well, and that is something I’m not willing to sacrifice.

Do I do some things outside of my roles? Of course, but I recognize that they will get less investment and thus lower returns. Or, I rethink my definition of it. For instance,  I’m a girl scout troop leader. Is that a new role or a “mother” role? I did it at my daughter’s request, so frankly I think of it as something special we do together – mother role, check.   I also keep a garden in the summer – is that another role? If you saw my garden you would agree it was NOT a focus area for me. Instead, I get the kids involved (harvesting carrots this year was a riot) or I treat it as exercise (healthy person role).  Again, you might see this as cheating, but I approach it holistically and it makes it easier. This doesn’t need to be any harder than it already is.

Lastly, you might ask “where are you on the list”? Healthy person – that is broadly defined to cover all the things I do to take care of my mental and physical health. Sleep in when I can, no work in the evenings when possible, Pilates class, etc.  Make sure you have you on your list too.

Reaching Out…

Friendship neglected
Doesn’t die, but lies dormant,
Waiting for sunshine.
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Have you ever had a friendship kind of fizzle? No real reason, but one, or both of you, simply stopped watering it. And then you realize 6, 12 months later that it has gone?

What do you do?

You reach out. Or rather, I reached out. A few weeks ago.  I felt bad that I hadn’t returned a call a million years ago and one of her Facebook postings brought the guilt roaring back. Ouch. So I swallowed (what’s the worse that can happen!?!?) and reached out. She reached back. (Phew!) Then we had a great phone conversation.

The funny part? She thought she had been the one to retreat. And I insisted that my life had just been so busy and narrow (by choice) and the kids and the work and although not a good excuse, it was a reason so it wasn’t you it was me… We both laughed and moved on.

I think I could be a better friend. I come from a long line of women who make great friends but we don’t always pay consistent attention to them. We come in and out of them, happily picking up where we left off, never worried that the “leaving off” might not suit some people.  Do I not want the closeness?   Am I lazy and unable to take the time to invest?  No, I think I just forget that the investment is easy and has a fabulous rate of return.  Then why does it seem to work with some friends and not with others? Clearly, I’m broken… it’s all my fault. Actually, I’m probably more normal than I think I am.

Well, that call was a wonderful reminder. I definitely got something from the reconnection. I think she did too.  It doesn’t take a lot of water and sunshine to keep a friendship healthy and growing. Yes, it does take some attention, but less than you think. And as in most things, you get what you give, and usually more in return.

Being intentional… or why I threw out my crappy mattress pads

Devil mattress pad
refusing to yield… brings me
to my knees, weeping

 

I am a working mom.    I sort of no longer believe in work-life balance… instead, I’m all about being intentional about what I’m doing — being choiceful about what gets my attention, my money and my time.  Across time, these choices make me happy.  So, here are a few things I’m choosing (and also refusing to feel guilty about).

Dirty shower curtains. Why do I spent time and chemicals to make these clean? They cost $4.99. I’m throwing it away when it gets cruddy looking and buying a new one.

Mattress pads that are a bitch to put on. A few months ago, I threw out every unrelenting mattress pad I owned. Life is too short to stroke out over mattress pads that are too small/have shrunk. I came to this decision during a middle of the night bed soaking during potty training. (There is a special kind of hell at 3am when you can’t get the god*&$@ mattress pad on the bed and your kid is slumped in the chair, now dry, whining, ready to go back to bed, and you realize your first conference call is in 4 hours…) So this is a slightly more expensive decision than the first one, but I don’t care. They are a pain in the ass and have to go.

A company-ready house. I have a new phrase to describe my house when we have visitors – “well lived in”. My stay at home husband keeps the kitchen spotless, the kids happy, the clothes clean, the pantry stocked, the yard mowed. He really isn’t into dusting; straightening happens irregularly… I can either be pissed about it,  do it myself, or get over it. I mostly pick door number three. Every once in a while I go a little ballistic and tear around the house picking up things: returning the coat hanger in the dining room to the laundry room; corralling the hot wheels into a single vessel; combing through the accumulation of crap on the front table (you know the stuff – no one knows where to put it so they put it here? I throw it away).  I think about how if I only spent 30 minutes a day at this, it would all stay under control. But I always find something else more compelling to do. Imagine that.

Not using every last ounce of shampoo/body wash/toothpaste. The effort required to extract the last 5 cents worth of stuff from a tube or bottle these days isn’t worth it. I’m all for being thrifty, but after three days of “bottle farts” – you know, when you leave it upside down and then squeeze it hard to get something out, and then stuff does come out — everywhere, messy, making a noise that would embarrass you in public… well, at this point I pitch the damn thing over the shower curtain in the direction of the garbage can and pull out a new one.  Frankly, after one day of bottle farts these days I give up. 

Chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac & Cheese. Enough said.

Paying extra for a good haircut and styling products. I seem incapable of controlling my weight, my kid’s behavior (at times), my acne… but I can get and keep a decent hair cut. So that’s where I spend some money. No matter what, the hair looks ok. It makes me happy.

So there they are: small choices that make my life easier and bring me peace, leaving me more time to focus on the important stuff.  What about you? What would you add to this list?

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