{2018} values: now, not later

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Last year, I did a little values exercise courtesy of my friend Jami. You take a set of 200 words or so, and you give yourself a few minutes to categorize each one as important, somewhat important, not important. Then you take everything under the important pile (doesn't matter how many words you've put there), and give yourself a minute to pick five. That's right, five words. Don't overthink it. (Reminder to self: I also need to duplicate this exercise so I can give it back to her eventually, ha.)

New year's resolutions always feel like too much, and I like having five themes or buckets to consider as priorities or goals. My words in 2017 were honesty, passion, growth, humor and solitude. I did the same thing for 2018, and my words were family, mindfulness, solitude, generosity and humor. 

FAMILY

For me, it's specifically related to quality time together, because even though I don't want to freak myself out on a regular basis, the reality is that you never know what tomorrow brings. And I want to know, most days, that I am truly connecting with the people I love. That sounds nice, right? The reality is that even though this is, duh, always my intention, daily life gets in the way. Like going through the motions of chores and work and parenting and errands. Like changing diapers and being patient through tantrums and wondering how children outgrow clothes and shoes so far (but like really though). Like paperwork and returns at the post office and a muddy dog and going to the car wash but 25 cars were in the line so coming home. Like the television blaring 24/7, like rushed leftover dinners, like skipped hugs.

So I'm limiting phone use in the mornings when I wake up for at least an hour, and in the evenings between 5-7 because that's when we are all home together from daycare and work. And I downloaded the Moment app to keep habitual phone use in check. We aren't ridiculous about it - I mean, some days you just need to zone out with Instagram before bed or clear out email at 6 a.m. - but MOST of the time, I'm on my phone as a distraction. And that's dumb, and I want to do less of it.

Also! Monthly date nights where we trade off planning. I'm super stoked about this on the relationship front. (#parenthood)

MINDFULNESS

Lest you think I'm about to deep dive into how I started meditating, I'll go ahead and redirect: all I'm aiming for in 2018 is to be mindful about letting my brain chill out on a regular basis. Maybe that looks like a meditation app and a face mask in the morning. Maybe it's being on my phone less. Maybe it's being intentional with stress, anxiety and worry - to notice when it's real and when it's a silly self-told lie. Maybe it's slowing down and kissing my husband. Maybe it's not multi-tasking when my parents call. Maybe it's playing with Ezra and not letting my mind drift, but instead noticing his dedication to stacking dinos and playful little smirk. Maybe it's going to yoga or taking a bath, to give myself one hour to reset. Maybe that's sitting on my couch with a blanket eating grapes and staring out the window, doing absolutely nothing on a weekend with no plans.

I've been reading Shauna Niequist's Savor as a daily observance, and she advocates for savoring your life. Everything, all the little and big moments, good or bad, annoying or boring or delightful or sad or unusual. I also read somewhere recently that weekends aren't supposed to be extra weekdays, and I was like, whooooooa I have been doing this all wrong! I 100% use my weekends in that way, usually, to check off a bunch of to-do items and feel productive and pack in activities. And lately, I'm trying to flip it around: I work in all kinds of ways during the week, but on the weekends, I actually give myself pockets of time to REST. And to savor.

SOLITUDE

This one is a continuation of 2017, and I'm slowly but surely finding a rhythm. Waking up at 5 a.m. three mornings a week tends to be enough, alongside a few yoga classes. As an introvert, I use this time to recharge my batteries and do something just for me minus any scrap of guilt. I journal or blog or read or catch up on freelance work; it varies. It doesn't always pan out, but I know when I am intentional about checking the solitude box - even if it involves walking the dog around the block for 15 minutes in total silence - I feel like I can breathe. 

One tactic that I'm loving? Reading before bed. My friend Katy told me she tries to read as many books as her age every day, and I was equally impressed and motivated by that, so I'm making a huge push to swap phone or television time for a real, live book in my hands a couple nights a week. It's strange - I'm someone who ingests a fair amount of content, but I realized last year I wasn't reading many books, and there's a tangible difference between that medium and others, like social media or articles or podcasts. It makes me happier to read before bed, and I sleep better. And I'm reminded of how much I ENJOY reading a book - learning something new or being challenged or feeling riveted to a juicy fictional storyline. It takes me back to my elementary and middle school days where I lounged around reading anywhere and everywhere, and in that way, I feel reconnected to my sense of self. More importantly, I'm working to expand the authors I read, making sure there are women and men or color with very different experiences than mine.

Also: I've switched my mental mantra of "I don't have time" to "I make time for what's important to me." (Thank you, Jen Wille.)

GENEROSITY

Last year, I struggled with figuring out how best to show up for causes and communities in need. 2017 was a year of watching the news and repeatedly thinking, what the fuck is going on. And then I'd get fired up and donate some money and call my representatives and write a letter to the editor of my local paper. And then I'd return to my regular, normal life where I have a roof over my head and plenty of food to eat and a solid job and funds to vacation and really no risk whatsoever. Even the sense of astonishment at women's rights and reproductive rights being sliced away felt far away because nothing tangible touched me, if that makes sense. I was perpetually horrified and perpetually stunned into apathy, despite windows of action. 

And I knew it wasn't working, that approach. I still don't exactly know what does work, but here are a few things on my list:

Donating on a monthly basis to causes I care about. Everyone can do this. I often felt like donating $5 or $10 dollars here and there "didn't count," but then volunteering my time never seemed to pan out either, and both were just an excuse to do nothing because I felt a little paralyzed. The reality: if I have money to buy dinner or a coffee, I have money to give back. And if I have time for self-care (a true, important thing, but also a privilege and luxury) in any way, shape or form, I have time to give back. Going forward, I'm picking one of them, time or money, every month. I'm also thinking through which organizations matter most to me. It gets overwhelming, the amount of need in the world, and in 2017 I kind of threw money at whatever came up, especially at the end of the year for tax purposes. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I want to feel like I know what my root causes are, and stay dedicated to supporting them.

Keeping a little cash on me at all times. When I lived in Chicago, people who were homeless or in need were everywhere; I don't say that to be flippant, but you got accustomed to being asked for money and you figured out a way to respond. I knew people who always said no, and redirected to a service or organization that could help; I knew others who always handed over an energy bar or a couple bucks to whoever asked. I landed somewhere in between. Then I moved to Des Moines, where the homeless population is *somewhat* invisible. (Disclaimer: It is NOT invisible, but in comparison to a city like Chicago, it's much more under the radar, at least in my social and work environments - which I know are bubbles themselves). Meaning, I forgot about it. I know. That's terrible. But I really did. And then when I ventured downtown or drove past someone with a sign asking for money, I felt so uncomfortable. In response, I've challenged myself to act - because I am not interested in being the kind of parent or person who models detachment. I don't want my son to grow up and see me avert my eyes and ignore someone asking for help and pretend like I'm in a rush; it doesn't model my values and it's a copout to the type of community and service I was raised to believe in. I just forgot for a little bit, I guess. So now, I'd rather have a dollar to give to anyone who asks than walk or drive past, feeling stupid and selfish. (If you have a better strategy for this or perspective to share, particularly as a parent, please do tell.)

Listening to the women (and men) who are already doing the work. At one point last year, I saw my friend Nancy was collecting hoodies for youth at her church. I wanted to help. Then I thought, wait, why hoodies? Why not winter coats? It was December in Iowa; didn't these kids need something better and warmer? I offered to donate coats, and Nancy kindly said: "Thanks, but we've been doing this a long time and the kids prefer the sweatshirts; it's a cool, status thing for them to have and they actually wear them more than coats." Ha. Right. I felt slightly embarrassed because I should've just ASKED her. Or listened to what she already said, which was "we need hoodies!" Of course, Nancy was more than gracious in her response, but why did I automatically question her subconsciously or think I knew better? I don't. She is the one doing this work, like many of our brothers and sisters.  I swear I'm not being hard on myself - I mean, awkward moments are how we all learn - but it was a good reminder for me to listen to the people who are already in the trenches. I don't need to be a savior or reinvent the wheel or offer more suggestions; I just need to respond when possible when there's a need and space for me to help. i.e., one version of how I needed to take a hard look at my own white feminism and privilege.

HUMOR

I read this letter a female leader wrote to her teenage self, and she said "Take things seriously, but not personally." (It was HRC in one of the final print issues of Teen Vogue, if you're interested). I love that. It's incredibly easy to be serious in today's world, but you will burnout so fast and forget about how much doesn't matter in the long run. I want belly giggles with my toddler, cackling with my husband on the couch about our dog snoring, funny texts and memes between girlfriends, and smile wrinkles around my eyes (with a semi-effective eye cream, let's be real). 

I'm trying to be less precious about everything. My work: criticism is welcome, but not reflective of my value or ability; a no doesn't mean I suck, it just means no, which probably has little to do with me. My home: it can be messy, with play-doh bits on the carpet and dog hair all over the rug and blankets that don't match. If E draws on the floor, we'll wipe it off; if my bedroom isn't Instagram-worthy, it's not the end of the world. My reputation: I want to be known as generous and compassionate, so if that means I'm no longer cool because I don't go to social events or relevant enough because I don't hustle constantly or pretty enough because I have gray hairs, that's fine.

Because all I want is to enjoy my life and do my part to make someone else's life better. Not later, when I'm done paying off student loans and I've written a book and our basement is perfectly tidy and I've mastered the five cookbooks I own but forget to use (lol) and I finally have the resources to write a check for thousands of dollars and my capsule wardrobe is legit. Now. Now is now.

{on motherhood} 365 days later

Last month, E turned one, so naturally I wanted to write up a little something-something for his birthday. It got me thinking about an email from a reader, who said she appreciate that I write about motherhood versus writing about my son

I would've never thought to word it that way, but she was right, and I felt grateful for the distinction. I will always want to write about my experience of motherhood in order to find the lines of similarity with other mothers, and note what seems unique or unusual or even commonplace to me. I will always want to talk about the stuff nobody else is really talking about, not openly, and I will always want to read other stories of motherhood as well on a whole range of topics.

But I'm not a mommy blogger. Nor will I write about my child's life at this moment in time, even though he can't talk or walk yet. That's an important distinction, though the two are entwined. 

Other moms might feel 100% comfortable sharing small anecdotes from their babies, and trust me, I looooove tagging along for that journey. I will like all your cute Instagram photos, I swear. I will tear up and laugh at your essays about what your kids are saying at age four. I will peer from across the Internet, kindly, or revel in what you choose to share with me real-time in real life. However, for me, the whole writing and blogging and posting experience is separate from my child. He is a part of it, sometimes, but not always. He is what made me a mother in the first place, so I'm grateful that his entry into the world shoved me up against the corners and cracks of my heart, mind and spirit—so I could see, and write, more clearly with all of you.

In honor of his first birthday, then, I want to share what he's taught me about motherhood thus far, which in turn, translates into what he's taught me about myself:

  • Lots of truly wonderful moments are simultaneously hard as hell. See: childbirth, marriage, buying property, career, time management, family, "balance", working out, patience, et cetera forever.
  • I often resent the endless neediness that accompanies parenthood, and at the same time, I cherish the gift of that same thing from my own parents. I think it's okay to feel the weight of responsibility, concern and love and also revel in the beauty of it.
  • "Mothers are keepers of bodies." I recently read these words by Courtney E. Martin, and they struck a chord in me. I never realized how much I would love the tactile parts of mothering. Some days, I miss breastfeeding: that sense of physical connection unlike any other. Other days, I miss being pregnant, which is funny because I didn't really love being pregnant while it was happening, but now I look back with wonder and awe about keeping little E by my side 24-7. And every time he grabs my hand, tugs at my shoulder, snags his fingers in my hair, gives an open-mouthed kiss and snuggles into my lap, I want to squish him back inside me. That's so weird, but moms, you get what I mean. It's the whole "your heart is living outside of your body" sentiment.
  • I can't do it all. And I'm not supposed to. 
  • Ask for help and then accept it. Seriously, accept the freaking help!
  • Most of the stuff I worry about is not important. Most of the things I'm looking at on my phone can wait. Most of the feelings I have will pass, for better or worse. Everything is temporary.
  • So many experiences are AMAZING: like dog tails, and light bulbs, and snowstorms, and books with flaps, and a bunch of people clapping in the same room at the same time, and raspberries, and music playing, and climbing two stairs, and long necklaces that jangle, and clothes hangers that click and clack, and walking holding onto someone's hands, and dumping a bowl of Cheerios on the ground, and opening and closing doors. The world is magical, and deserves a loud OOOOOOOH. 
  • My son thinks I'm beautiful, even when I've got three giant breakouts happening on different parts of my face, lines around my eyes, a wrinkled sweater that was supposed to go to the dry-cleaner a month ago, frizzy yet greasy (whyyyy) hair in a half-hearted bun and a crooked tooth. He thinks I'm beautiful, even still, and worthy of a giant smile and a big hug, so I try to offer that to myself, too. (Alternate title: how to come face-to-face with your own vanity and then get over yourself.)
  • Mac and cheese is a perfectly adequate dinner. Take-out is a lifesaver. Eating pizza for four meals a week is fine, especially if you eat a salad as your side dish every time. 
  • It is easy to put your kid first. It is harder to make time for yourself. Prioritize self-care, date nights with your husband, phone calls with your friends, yoga so you don't go crazy, and a quiet cup of coffee in the morning. But stop being a martyr. Quit with the self-imposed pressure around being perfect and doing everything right and living for your child 100% nonstop all the time. You're a woman, and a writer, and a wife, and a sister, and a friend, and a citizen, and a manager, and a runner, and a reader, and many more things. It's okay to care about these other things, too, and sometimes even more than your son for a given moment. 
  • You don't have to pick up your baby every time he cries, but boy, does it feel good to pick up your baby when he cries.
  • Find a breakfast and lunch routine and stick with it. Just makes life easier. For me, that's fruit and hard-boiled eggs in the morning, protein bar for a snack, and some sort of leftovers/sandwich combo for lunch. I don't overthink it.
  • Bathtime is the best. Making a mess is fun. Being naked part of the day is kinda nice. 
  • You are stronger than you think. 
  • You know when something doesn't seem right. Listen to yourself. Trust yourself.
  • Life is so very short, and it can change in an instant, so be present for the good and the bad. Hard days will shift into easier ones. Effortless, peaceful moments might be brief, but take all the pleasure you can from them; bank that shit up for later. 
  • Don't forget about the people who knew you before you became a mother. Those pieces of yourself matter, even if they've changed.
  • Anyone can have a baby, but not everyone can parent. It's so hard, and so incredible. Thank you to the mothers and fathers who have paved the way for me, and who help me parent better.

Happy first birthday, E. You light up our life.