2016 – The Year of Words

As I sat down to make my new year’s resolutions for 2016, one particular area of life stood out as having been sorely neglected last year. A long-time lover of the written word and so-called aspiring writer, I realized that I spent the majority of 2015 pining over books I never made time to read and “writing” essays in my head but never actually putting them down on paper.

The thing about writers, you see, is that they WRITE. A blaringly obvious statement to be sure, but what makes me different from Isabel Allende or Donna Tartt or (insert your favorite author here) is that I am completely lacking the discipline (and probably just a bit of talent) that the aforementioned writers possess.

Ah, discipline. That pesky little detail that separates the dreamers from the doers. As I approach my mid-thirties, I’m being smacked with the stinging realization that I’ve spent most of my life being a dreamer. I’ve had many enterprising, elaborate dreams (e.g. jewelry maker, lawyer, paper artisan, healthcare administrator), but few that came to fruition. That’s not to say my life has been a complete failure – far from it, in fact. But, as I consider my life thus far and how I want to shape my future, I absolutely want to be more on the “doer” end of the continuum of life.

For years I’ve wanted to be a writer. My inner monologue is mostly narratives, as though I’m writing my life the way someone else would read it. Every time I read a particularly terrible book/blog/newspaper article/etc., I always think “I could do better than THAT.” And yet, I don’t even try. Whether it’s from fear, laziness, or a perceived lack of time, I’m not sure. What I do know is that it’s something that has been lingering in my heart for years, calling out to me from some distant place lost in the fog.

So, dear self, I hereby declare that 2016 is the year to stop dreaming about becoming a writer and actually do it. Here’s how:

  1. I will write every day.
    I’ve gone through “seasons” of writing in the past, but have never made it a daily habit, which is something all writers do. Whether I get out 1,000 words of literary magic or a couple paragraphs of pure drivel, I will write every single day.
  2. I will read a minimum of 2 books per month.
    In order to be a great writer, one must read. A lot. And while 2 books per month doesn’t seem like much, it’s a huge improvement over the 3-ish books I read last year (did I really just admit that???).

I feel more strongly about these goals than I’ve felt about any others in quite some time, so I’m definitely up to the challenge. Here’s to 2016, the year of words!

20 Minutes in My Brain

In an effort to develop that writing habit I’m always talking about but never acting on, I signed up for The Daily Post’s Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit.  It’s essentially a daily writing challenge with prompts and support to help get into a blogging habit and grow as a writer and blogger.

This is going to be a HUGE stretch for me since I can barely post once a week, but I think it’s just the kick in the pants I need to get going.

So, here we are on Day 1 and I finally got around to today’s writing challenge at 10:00pm.  Better late than never, right?  Today’s challenge was 20 minutes of stream of consciousness writing – just sit down and put anything that comes into your brain on paper.  So, as a treat for anyone who happens to read this (aside from my mother), here’s a look at 20 unedited minutes inside by my brain:

I am tired, oh so tired, it’s amazing how tired I feel! 

I sang “I Feel Pretty” to Georgia the other day and she clapped in delight and asked for it again and again.  I think she loved just listening to me sing, but she also maybe loved a song about being pretty.  We have perhaps told her she’s pretty way too many times because she will often look at herself in the mirror in the morning after getting dressed and say “I look beautiful!”

I’ve worried that we tell her that too much, that she’s going to become narcissistic or too full of herself.  But yet, another part of me thinks what is so wrong with a little positive self-esteem?  I certainly never look in the mirror in the morning and tell myself “I look beautiful”.  If anything, I look in the mirror and think “Ugh.  I need to get a haircut/brow wax/facial/makeover/whateverwillmakemelooklikeasupermodel.” And is that really any more healthy than telling myself I’m beautiful everyday?  I truly don’t want my daughter to be narcissistic, but I absolutely want to raise her to have better self-esteem than I have.  I’m not sure where I lost it.  Maybe somewhere among the scoliosis back brace, the 2 bouts with braces, acne that I could never seem to get rid of. 

That’s part of the amazing thing about young children.  They are so pure and untouched by anything bad or painful that they think life is beautiful, they are beautiful.  It’s beautiful to watch, and yet a little sad to realize that it won’t last forever, that they will end up jaded just like the rest of us.  I know I can’t keep my daughter little forever, but oh if I could just freeze time a little longer.  Every day she is older, acting more like a big girl than a baby, more like her own person (and what an independent, strong little person she is!)

She also has the most incredible spirit.  I am in awe of her everyday, of her tenacity, her boldness, her strength.  Yes, I am absolutely glorifying what can be, if manifested properly, the worst traits of a toddler, but in truth they are traits that will serve her well in life if we can shape her into a good person and not a horrible rotten stinker.  When I get frustrated with her and maybe raise my voice a little louder than I’d like, I worry that I’m going to crush her spirit.  Am I going to be the reason she loses that spark?  Will she look back at her childhood and feel like she wasn’t able to be herself?  It’s a fine line, because I’m absolutely in favor of boundaries and rules and limits, but I also don’t want to squash her developing little personality.  

Ah, the perils of raising children.  Everyday it feels like it’s too much and not enough.  Like I can’t get it right.  I remind myself that tomorrow is another day, but inevitably I tell myself that the next day too.  That said, even if there are no perfect days, there are perfect moments.  Simple moments even.  Today Georgia was thrilled to have me sit down with her and share some goldfish crackers and an apple for 20 minutes.  She smiled her million dollar smile at me, cocked her head in that impish way and said “I just love you Mom.”.  Well, I just love you too my Georgia. 

And then there is the boy.  My sweet little baby, so easy and willing to do anything to keep the day moving along.  So content with life.  As long as he’s fed and can be close to someone he loves, he’s a happy little dude.  He’s the one I really, really want to freeze time with because he might just be my last baby.  Every moment is so, so precious.  I don’t think I realized it when Georgia was a baby because everything was so new and exciting that I just wanted to see what was next.  But with him, oh if time could stand still, please, please, please.  If I could bottle up those tiny baby sighs for a rainy day I would.   The first smile, his first giggle, the way he cuddles right up onto my shoulder every time I hold him.  It’s just so incredible to be needed that much.  To have this tiny little person that completely relies on you. 

I think about my kids a lot, more than I ever thought I would.  Obviously they dominate a lot of my thoughts as my stream of consciousness writing turned to them after one short sentence.  Probably because they take up so much of my time that there is little room for much else in my brain.  I was thinking about this as I walked out of the baby’s room at 10:06 tonight, that it is a before dawn til after dusk job.  Georgia is up at 6 and Jameson doesn’t go to bed until 10.  And I like to try to get 8 hours of sleep (with a short interruption in the middle of the night to feed the baby), so that leaves pretty much no other time.  None.  Zero.  You would think that I could have some time to myself during naps and such, but inevitably they nap at opposite times, meaning that one of them is always up and needing something.  I love being at home with them, I truly, truly do.  But sometimes I fantasize about going back to work just so I can have 30 minutes to eat lunch by myself and peruse the internet  without being interrupted.  That sounds really sad actually.  I want a job because I want to slack off and surf the net?  Not entirely true, but there’s a shred of truth in it. 

And there it is! Excited to see what Day 2 has in store!

The Work-Life Balancing Act

While I’m lucky to be able to be at home with my daughter for now, I understand the challenges of being a family with two working parents.   Around this time one year ago, my husband was traveling nonstop, I was working full-time and trying to finish graduate school, all with a 6 month old baby to care for.  I was eating tortilla chips for dinner on a regular basis and would go days without washing my hair.  I wasn’t sleeping, sometimes because of the baby but mostly because I couldn’t shut my brain off.  My daughter was constantly getting sick and kicked out of daycare with a fever.  I remember feeling like I was on auto pilot, just going through the motions of what needed to be done to make sure everything didn’t fall apart.  And it always felt like a full-blown system failure was just around the corner.

Needless to say that Marissa Mayer‘s announcement last week that Yahoo is doing away with flex time and remote work arrangements struck a nerve with me.   I don’t work at Yahoo, but it’s the principle that irks me.  Working parents are spread thin these days and when a high-profile company, and woman in business for that matter, takes such a negative position on flexible work it sets a precedent.

Work has become the cornerstone of American life.  According to The Center for a New American Dream, Americans work 1,778 hours a year and nearly 11% of employees work more than 50 hours a week.  After eating and sleeping, it’s what occupies the most of our time.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in hard work and the value of having a career.  But there is and needs to be more to life than work.  Working families, and all employees for that matter, need balance to survive.

Flexible working arrangements help provide that balance and so much more.  PhD in Parenting wrote a fabulous post on Mayer’s announcement and summed up the benefits of flexible working arrangements with this:

Flexible work location and flexible work hours give people quality of life. It can help talented people who might not otherwise be able to take a job to take it. It can help people be happier and more productive in their jobs.

Sounds pretty great, right?  Of course its more complicated than it sounds.  There are plenty of arguments against flexible work arrangements, many of which Yahoo has used as the basis for its decision.  Yes, there will be people who will slack off, but proper management should mitigate that.   Yes, working remotely also creates a “lack of serendipity” and reduces collaboration – if employees work from home 100% of the time and work in a field where collaboration is critical.  But that’s not always the case.

I wish I had approached my employer about flexible work options when things got tough last year, but I didn’t.  It might have made all the difference, or my request might have been turned down.   In any case, there has to be a better way for work and the rest of life to co-exist.  And Yahoo’s announcement is a step in the wrong direction.

Back in the Saddle, Again

I had big plans for this blog last year…a couple of times.  I was going to post three times a week, chronicling my adventures in whole living.   I was going to become a green domestic goddess and take fabulous photographs of my accomplishments.  I was going to write more than once every 2 months.

But life got in the way.

In October, my husband accepted a new job in Alabama and so began our whirlwind moving adventure.  In the span of 6 weeks we moved out of our house in Minnesota, staged it, sold it, moved down to Alabama and into an apartment, bought a new place, moved out of our apartment and into our new house.

Whew.

Needless to say I haven’t had much time for blogging in the past few months what with all the moving and such.  It’s been a long, hard road to get here but we are finally feeling a bit more settled and ready to make this new place our home.

With this new chapter in our family comes a big change in my professional life.  In November, after nearly six years, I left my job in Minnesota.  I have been focusing on our move and taking care of our daughter since then.  The time with Georgia has been so special and it has helped me prioritize what is most important at this stage in my life – my family.  My daughter is already 18 months old and the time has flown by faster than I’d like to admit.  She changes so fast and I get to witness the subtleties of her growing up everyday, an experience that is nothing short of incredible.

There are of course days that aren’t so wonderful too, filled with tantrums, food on the walls and reading Curious George and the Bunny for the billionth time.    Those are the days I miss working outside the home.

So I’m currently attempting to have the best of both worlds – stay home with my daughter and pursue freelance contract work at the same time.  I’m lucky enough to be able to give this a go, which isn’t something a lot of families can say, especially these days.  It’s scary and exciting, but I’m ready for the challenge.

That said, I’m not ready to give up on my whole living adventures or this blog.  Now that the dust has settled and things are becoming clearer, I have a renewed energy (again) for writing here.  I’m excited for all the new beginnings in my life and what this year has in store!