You don’t get to keep it

Tonight, as I talked to my mom on the phone as I do so many nights, I went on and on about nothing in particular. I sensed she was tired and ready to go to sleep, but I hung on the line, asking little questions and planning details with her for the coming weekend.

When we finally hung up, I felt a little sad, which is strange since I talk to my mom on the phone once or twice every single day.

But tonight, I remembered it was my grandma’s birthday–she would have been 87. She was a woman I loved dearly who was my own mother’s mother, and who died when I was 10 years old. It seemed even more cruel than could be possible back then, I think because, as a child, I assumed I could keep her forever.

Now with my own mother, time and experience have taught me just how much I do not get to keep her forever–but it doesn’t change my desire to.

I also remember being 11-years-old and dreading my 12th birthday. I was a very happy child and I was acutely aware of what the passage of time would cost me–I would have to grow out of my toys and my childhood innocence. I have no idea why I was aware of it, but I was a very introspective child and I grieved the loss of my childhood much like I grieved the loss of my grandmother. The things I loved and cherished most were like water in my hands–I could grip tightly, but I could not keep them forever. The friends went to new schools, we moved out of the beloved house and neighborhood, I learned some of the scarier and meaner lessons of the world. Things changed, as I knew they would. I didn’t get to keep my childhood.

I also think about the things we all take for granted that we can lose. Things like our health, our plans for the future, or even our memories. I see now as my grandfather struggles to remember the ones who he loves, even those closest to him. We don’t think of recognizing loved ones as something we can lose, but it turns out those things are never ours to begin with. My father-in-law, who lost much of his independence in an instant to a stroke. Or my husband, who goes to a dangerous job each day, and reminds me that I can’t control how long I get to keep anyone.

Watching my own children grow up brings the same fear of change and the passage of time I experienced so profoundly as a child. I experience each passing milestone with them, rejoicing in their growth, marveling in how quickly they change, and fighting the ever-present dread that I can’t slow it all down or catch it in a bottle. That it will pass quickly and I will never ever get back the baby snuggles or the sweet, innocent-voiced questions of young childhood. That they have already grown so fast and every day it seems like it is the “last” day we do something we used to do. It turns out those things, as beloved as they are, were never mine to keep at all.

It feels a little helpless. You love and cherish things and people and places and experiences but they are all well outside your realm of control. Loving them feels almost scary–it can all be yanked away at any moment without notice.

But, it turns out that I’ve learned my perspective on keeping was all wrong. People, experiences, seasons of life, were never meant to be owned, or kept. Part of the beauty and the magic of it all comes from the fleeting nature of it. The kicks in my belly while pregnant with my babies were magical–but they sure wouldn’t be if I had to stay like that forever! It is the change and the growth that has made the room and the space for the new things and the most beautiful experiences.

I grieved the loss of my childhood, but that was because my childhood was beautiful. But I had to lose it in order to gain adulthood and then motherhood, which is even more beautiful and fulfilling. And life, in many strange and sad ways, is even more beautiful because it ends. Because we can’t keep it this way forever. Because one of the biggest, hardest lessons for all of us is that we only have right now. This moment. This breath. Nothing else is guaranteed.

And it also means there are many other things you don’t get to keep.

You don’t keep regret. Or fear. Or self-doubt. Or even grief. Someone could read this and hate it and that’s OK! I don’t get to keep that. That judgement in itself is fleeting. There is truly nothing to be afraid of.

 

The House is a Mess

Not long after I decided I needed to be home full-time with my sweet little baby, reality (and overdraft protection) kicked in and I realized after six short months I would head back to work full-time.

I didn’t go without considerable angst—I cried some of the most utterly hopeless tears that first week of daycare (and also, conveniently, my first week on my new job), but I soon settled into my new reality of working mom. I can now say with pretty decent confidence that I’ve made the right decision for me and my family by working outside of the home.

But then there is the matter of the home itself. Working two full time jobs is pretty much everything my fears told me it would: stressful, unyielding, and completely exhausting. I’m not complaining, exactly—just giving credence to the tales of the “second shift” told by the many who have gone before me. It’s not so fun to be a grown up sometimes.

That sweet baby of mine is now two and a half, and thriving at his daycare. He grows more and more each day. And I’m doing just fine in my work. I get to contribute to a good team and I genuinely enjoy the company and people I work with. But just as I assumed in my earlier posts, a working mom really can’t have it “all,” if her definition of “all” is a perfectly maintained career in harmony with a perfectly maintained household. Something just must give.

One of the hardest adjustments is the realization that I will not (WILL NOT!) have a clean house. For my years of being THAT girl with the overly-organized refrigerator and the color-coded closet, I must relinquish the idea of that level of order these days. If I am lucky and the weekend plans permit, I will enjoy the cleanliness I crave for a few short hours on Saturday afternoon, after toiling throughout the morning to restore order, only to have that feeling dissolved with the paw prints from dogs running inside from the rain.

The good news is I’ve slowly been transformed by the busy-ness. I finally feel OK with the mess. Each night, after dinner, my son pleads me to play with him. I know I get a few spare hours each weeknight for this—so I do. The dishes are on the counter. The dog fur is collecting in the corners. The laundry is unfolded on the bed. And I can’t realistically put all of those matters out of my brain. But I can distract myself and enjoy Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.

Life seems like a series of unfinished things. But really, who wants to finish things? Then there is nothing left to do.

The good thing is that I’m learning (and luckily before it’s too late) that the good stuff happens in the midst of the mess—and if the trade off for nightly snuggles and stories is a sparkling house, then I’d say I struck the right deal.

(Note–this is an old post. As I was dusting off my blog, I found this draft and laughed out loud. Same story, it’s just that my sweet two-and-a-half year old boy is now six)

All I want for Valentine’s Day is my two front teeth…

…Well, not mine. Little guy is in misery. 

The poor baby can’t sleep and just kind of whimpers all day when he is not chewing on absolutely everything he can get his little grip on. I know this teething affliction can’t be avoided, so I have spent some considerable time searching for ways to alleviate the discomfort without resorting to medicine. I’ve come up with a few things that work best for us. These tips are not new, I just wanted to offer a summary of the advice I’ve gotten and what has worked best.

Ice in the pacifier. I read this tip online somewhere when I was pregnant and thought it was kind of odd. But desperation can make a lot of crazy things sane, so I gave it a try. Once little guy was cleared by the pediatrician to drink a little water, I decided to try this trick. Compress the bulb of a pacifier and submerge it in a glass of water to fill the bulb part-way with water, then throw it in the freezer. He absolutely loved this. It was like the teething ring, but he didn’t need to hold it and test his luck with his sometimes shaky hand-eye coordination.

Sophie the Giraffe. When I got pregnant, mom friends couldn’t stop buzzing about this little rubber toy. My aunt was kind enough to give it to us as a shower gift.  I have to say, when I opened it I was unimpressed. It just looks like a cute little animal toy that squeaks so my dogs also find it irresistible (which is a bit of an issue!) However, this little toy seems to be the only thing that comforts little guy sometimes. I think it must be just the right texture and size for his little hands. I do well to never leave it at home!

My fingers.  I was hesitant about trying this one (um, ouch!), but my neighbor recommended it as the one thing that really helped her boys when they were teething. So I wash my hands really well and just sort of gently rub his gums and let him chew. It’s mesmerizing. And it seems to let him know I know what is hurting and I’m trying to help. That last part may be totally in my head, but it makes me feel better.

Distraction. Little guy is at an awesome age where movement really fascinates him. He loves to to try to anticipate my moves when I tickle him, or to fly like and airplane, or drop like an elevator when I do squats. It is one heck of a workout “flying” him all around the house and squatting with him (did I mention he’s 21 lbs at 6 months?!) Plus, he is just starting the belly laugh, and that is worth anything I can do to hear that adorable giggle.

Cuddles. I’m sleep deprived, so the constant neediness that accompanies teething can definitely be trying on my nerves and patience. But I am not the one going through the teething, and I know this won’t last forever. The best remedy I’ve found so far is lots of cuddle time and compassion. So for two nights in a row, I waited patiently while he fell asleep in my arms on the couch, since he seems too fidgety and uncomfortable to fall asleep like he normally does. One day I will be sad he doesn’t want to fly around like an airplane or fall asleep on my chest. 

It’s another phase that won’t last forever, but I sure do hope little guy feels better soon.

Improving my to-do list

My to-do lists are awful. They are scattered everywhere in my house, like the random thoughts tumbling around in my brain. I’m guessing it’s a good habit to write so many of my thoughts down, but not so helpful when they become more clutter on the kitchen counter (and office, and living room and car…)

Still, for all my to-do lists, I often feel like I’m simply shuffling of things around, like I’m moving but not necessarily going anywhere or accomplishing much of anything. Even after a productive day, I feel like I missed something important that I really meant to do, though I can’t always put my finger on why I feel this way.

It occurred to me in the shower (as most of my discoveries do) that maybe what I’m missing is a more complete to-do list: one that will make me feels accomplished no matter how many dishes are still “soaking” in the sink.

The list became longer than I was expecting, but I still think each of these things is doable on a daily basis.

1. Do something that scares me. This one has to do with my efforts to venture outside my comfort zone as much as possible. I’m naturally a bit of a homebody, and now that I don’t actually leave the house to work (and some days don’t leave the house at all), my comfort zone seems to be shrinking. Big or small, I want to do one thing every day on the edge of my comfort zone to keep it from collapsing in on me.

2. Un-procrastinate. This one will be hard because I am an expert procrastinator and queen of making excuses to myself. My time management potential would go through the roof, I’m convinced, if I just un-procrastinated one or two things per day. The hardest part is never the task I am procrastinating. It is getting over the hump of making me start something.

3. Connect with someone. Back to the homebody thing—I tend to go too long without reaching out to friends and family. For most people, this one is a given, but for me it can be tough to get outside my own head and make sure I connect with someone every day. Whether a phone call, coffee date, or email (though email is a stretch for real connection), I think this one is crucial to add to my daily list.

4. Make a memory. Somehow, little guy is already 6 months old. My dogs are both 5 years old! I’ve been married for going on 6 years. I don’t remember much of what has been going on for the past several years or so—I can see why people seem to think times speeds up as we get older. I used to remember all the Christmases, birthdays, and vacations. Now I find myself questioning how old I am going to be on my next birthday. Not all days are gems, but I every day has at least one thing worth remembering, whether in writing or photograph. Then I’m going to make a scrapbook! (yeah, right!)

5. Do something that makes me happy. Ever since I started writing this blog, I think about it all the time. I’m thinking of ideas for the future. I observe life in a different way through a writer’s eyes. It makes me happy. I love reading other blogs on different perspectives. Every single day, I want to devote time to my own thoughts and writing and reading. I am humbled that people actually follow what I write and care to comment, but I would do it no matter what. It makes me feel like I’ve still got something for just me (and you too, of course).

6. Take a step back. Absolutely everything benefits from a perspective shift. It is so, so easy to get caught up in the way things seem at the moment. If I can re-frame everything and ask myself if the so-called disaster will matter in five years or next week, I will be so much better off.

7. Get outside. And not just dashing to and from my car. I live in the country and it is gorgeous here. Even on cold days. And little guy loves the outside. So if we need to bundle up and take a quick walk in our woods so be it. We have woods! Lots and lots of mature trees, with a footpath right in our back yard! Why am I not taking advantage of this every single day?! Fresh air is good for the lungs and the soul.

8. Let go. Each day that ends, I lament all the things I didn’t finish on my assorted lists. And usually the obscene amount of dog hair that seems grow out of my carpet no matter how many times I vacuum with my way-too-expensive vacuum cleaner (rant for another day). At the end of each day, I want to be able to let go of my expectations and disappointments and just be satisfied for another day lived.

Great Balancing Act

“So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I love reading this book to my son. I received it as a high school graduation present, and to be honest, I don’t think I read a word of it until one night searching through our bookshelf for something new to read to little guy. The book itself is beautifully written, and when I reached the page with this passage, I got goose bumps. It is a stirringly simple observation about life, and has become somewhat of a mantra me.

Balance in life means something different than I thought it would. I thought balance would mean keeping as many balls in the air as effortlessly as possible. Making it all work–home, family, community, career, health–without feeling the stress of near-certain failure, or the strain of never-ending commitments.

I am beginning to understand that balance may mean something entirely different. I am learning that balance means making choices and living with the consequences. I may want to do and be many things to many people, but balance can’t be achieved with all those things on my scale. They don’t fit. In order to find balance, I have to choose what is most important to keep in the equation.

Choices are tough because when something wins, something else loses out. But then again, that’s the point. I can’t do everything and do anything well. I have to make choices. I have to accept that there are consequences to those choices. There is simply no way to make all the choices at the same time. If this is such a simple concept, why do so many women like me struggle with the guilt in their choices?

My desires for how my life would unfold would be forever changed by the new outlook that was born right alongside my first child. Priorities changed for me, and I never saw it coming. Instead of doing everything as I used to, I would have to make some choices about where I would focus my energies, or else spend a good bit of my life fighting a losing battle to balance more than what fits on my scale.

Then came the guilt.

If I continue working, between the commute and my 9 hours, plus weekend events, I would barely see little guy. I’ll miss so much. Guilt.

If I quit, I will no longer contribute to my family financially. I will push us off the edge of “comfortable” and into the realm of “cutting it kind of close” every month. Guilt.

If I work, I won’t give it 100% because I’ll be thinking about what I’m not doing at home. Guilt, once again.

If I quit, am I derailing my career as I know it? Am I giving up on my potential as an independent and driven individual contributor? Oh, make it stop.

I am still trying to come to terms with my decision to stay home with my son. I am not torn as much because it feels right for me at this point in my life.

That’s the great thing about balance. The choices, though they guide the direction of my life, don’t need to forever define it. When my condition or needs change, I can re-calibrate as necessary. And I think with experience I will learn to fit more on to my scale.

I have also discovered that balance is an intensely personal in definition. What constitute balance for one person is torture for the next. I’ve had several people comment on my decision, saying things like “you’re staying at home? trust me, you’ll be b-o-r-e-d,” or “As much as I love my kid(s), I could never stay home. I need my time away to stay sane.” These are valid points for these women. And there is nothing saying I won’t change my tune at some point and find that being at home actually starts to disrupt my ever-changing definition of balance.

I have to highlight that because in addition to guilt, many women (especially moms) I know endure another stressful and persistent state: the feeling of being judged.

I don’t judge what other moms do–honest. I know the mental and emotional gymnastics that can take place for moms to make the right decisions for their families. I also know many women are not afforded the choice I have–circumstances dictate what they must do for work, and my guilt-ridden tug-of-war must seem somewhat trivial to them. This is not a judgment on what I think is the best decision, just the best for my family at this particular junction in our lives. I commend women who successfully balance more than I do, and hope to learn from them.

I haven’t mastered the balancing act yet. But I know I’m on the way to understanding a lot more about my priorities and how to make the right things fit into my life.

I have not abandoned my ambition and pursuit of my own career, simply made the choice to change course for a while and focus on raising my son and growing our family. That’s a choice I’ve made, complete with consequences. My goal now is to see where it leads me and try to let go of the guilt. After all, I have places to go.

“…you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

–Side note, I’d like to thank Leoarna, whose post “Career Mum or Career Woman? Let’s just let each other get on!” inspired this post. I’m not quite sure of the proper blogging protocol for such a shout-out, but I wanted to make sure it was noted!

In a rut

I feel a little uninspired.

I have started to write several posts over the last few days, but nothing feels authentic or worth publishing. I am hitting a road block and hoping that writing about my lack of original thought might help get the juices flowing.

When the writing works for me, it is truly therapeutic  I don’t have to think too much, the words just come. Now, I think I’m forcing it a bit; however, I think I have to. If I always wait for the right moment, the right feeling to strike, I won’t write much of anything at all.

I have stagnated in my plans to get more freelance writing work as well. I have leads to follow and some self-marketing to do, but I am having trouble getting the ball rolling. Something is holding me back.

Staying at home with the little guy is unpredictable (despite the daily eat/play/nap schedule I printed out and posted on the fridge. I think I can hear more seasoned moms laughing at my naivete) The lack of real routine has caused me to get a little too comfortable with a weekend-style day on the weekdays. I play with him, we read books and take walks. All well and good. But when he naps, I fold laundry. I Facebook. I don’t do the work I said I was going to do. Heck, sometimes I don’t even shower, which just leaves me feeling unready for the day.

As he gets older, he is content for longer stretches just bouncing in his little bouncer, which leaves me with even fewer excuses for not getting my act together and working more. 

I desperately want to make working from home work, but I seem to be standing in my own way. Even blogging has not provided an outlet–I keep feeling like I have nothing worth writing.

So I’m in a rut. 

A little home office inspiration. Credit: hgtv.com. Designer: Meg Caswell

So tonight I am reorganizing my office space. If I don’t lie to myself, I realize that this project is just another form of procrastination from the task at hand. However, I hold tight to the hope that a reorganized, refreshed office space will leave me more inspired to get to the real work…starting tomorrow.

Any advice on how to overcome this creative drain? Anyone else in a creative slump?

When a child is born, so is a mom

When I was pregnant, Carter’s baby clothes was running a commercial on TV. I’m not sure if it was the hormones or my generally over-sentimental nature (probably both), but it definitely got me teary-eyed. The spot is narrated by a small child and details life over the first years of life as mother and child learn and grow together, and ends with the closing “when a child is born, so is a mother.”  See the spot here.

(as a side note, the video now ends with the phrase “when I became yours, you became mine.” Not sure why, or if I have the wrong video, but I’m pretty sure this is it!)

Now, a mere 6 months into motherhood, I have taken some time to reflect why that idea resonated so strongly with me. It comes to no surprise to mothers who have gone before me that having a baby changes your life in ways you can only begin to understand through experience. Becoming a parent has profoundly changed my perspective (surprise, surprise), and I think I’ve seen the biggest changes in my life occur in my relationships. As a mom, I have begun to see the other people in my life in a new light, both good and bad, in ways I never expected.

My relationship with my husband is different, and not just because of our shared sleep deprivation and lack of date nights. Parenthood, for me, has made the previously-defined “hard stuff” in marriage seem silly and the really hard stuff seem surmountable. Plus, I get a kick out of the subtle hints of my husband’s personality emerging in our son, even though I know it means he will be a handful!

My husband is no longer just the guy I married; he is the father of our kid. Not that marriage vows are anything to sneeze at, it’s just that now we have our vows and the well being of our little family to uphold. Kind of changes what I see when I look at him, but in a good way.

As I get older, I enjoy how I see my parents more and more as human beings and not just mom and dad. I see myself stumbling through some of the growing pains of motherhood and think of how my mom handled the same situations. I always thought of her as supermom who just knew how to make things work for our family, but I now think she must have once been awkward and inexperienced like me, which makes me feel better. Plus, I can make sense of the things my parents did and sacrificed in ways I never understood before. I may be uneasy about parenthood, but I am never lost because I had excellent roles models.

My relationship with my friends (and the list of those I still consider a friend has changed in itself) is also different from what I was expecting. I have friends who still call and visit and have stuck through everything with me, regardless of where they are in their own lives. I feel so fortunate for that. Now that I have a little life to care for, I have gained a much deeper appreciation for the friends that actually care when they ask “how are you?”

Many of my closest friends don’t have children, and though I need to make more “mama” friends for the shared experiences, I secretly love having less attached friends to let loose with (or at least lead a vicarious life from time to time). They still go out on Friday nights. They still do weekend getaways. And even if I can’t go along, I enjoy hearing all about it. That might seem strange–enjoying friends who have less and less in common with me as far as family goes–but I think it does wonders for my perspective, and reminds me that “fun” does not always have to include a diaper bag. Plus, these girls are amazing people no matter how different our lives have become, and I’m in it for the long run with them.

All in all, being a mom seems to have changed my perspectives about my relationships more than the relationships themselves. One exception to that is the relationship I have with myself.

As a mom, I want to be a better person. No just in a new-years-resolution-guilt kind of way, but in the most authentic, motivating way I have ever experienced. I am living more healthfully. I am following my passion. I am going back to church. I am on a mission to be a better wife, daughter, and friend. I’m far (far!) from perfect at these things, but I am more inspired than I have ever been before–all because I have big shoes to fill, and because I really want my son to be proud of his mom.

Those are the biggies I’ve learned in my first six months— I’ve learned that when my baby was born, I was “born again” as a mom. And although I am well aware it won’t always be rainbows and sunshine, I am sure it was what I was always meant to be.

Outside my comfort zone

My daily muse

My daily inspiration

My life is calling for a little disruption. Things are going a little too smoothly (nighttime antics from my little one notwithstanding).

Since I left my job in November to be home with my little guy, I’ve really managed to reduce my stress, include more healthy habits in my days, and even land a few jobs doing some freelance writing work. Life is good.

But life as a stay-at-home mama and writer can getting a little lonely. And though I have introverted tendencies, I also have a pressing desire to expand my social life and meet new people.

I’ve come to the realization that in the adult world, making friends is can be a challenge. Its not like those beer commercials and formulaic sitcoms would have you believe–twenty-somethings don’t just automatically travel in super-tight friend groups who always manage to grab the exact same seating at their preferred dining establishment. Beyond college, it takes work to get out there and meet people, especially once you have a family and live off the beaten path like me.

I’m OK with the work. The problem for me is my introverted tendencies. I tend to get caught up in my own world and can be awkward in new social situations. I am extremely conscious and overly analytic of my own social presence. And I require an annoying level of assurance that I am not a bother to others.

I know what I need to do is branch out of my comfort zone to meet people. It’s just that my comfort zone is very, well…small. All through my life, things others may have regarded as small changes or bumps in the road, I have viewed as positively earth-shattering. I changed schools twice growing up. When my family moved to a new town when I was a freshmen in high school, I barely left my room for months. But I made myself get out there–I joined sports teams, clubs, and went to parties despite my inner panic at each new experience.

Since then and all through college and my early career, I have challenged myself to do things that terrify me. From traveling across the country, navigating new cities alone, and speaking onstage to a concert arena, I have pushed my limits on a regular basis and  I am a better person for it.

In my new life at home, however, the opportunities to push myself to do things that scare me are more limited. Here, it is easy to remain in my bubble for extended periods, and I am at risk of getting way too comfortable.

This blog is a start for me. I have really had a hard time putting my thoughts out there, but like most things, it get easier the more I do it. Plus, I have been so lucky to be introduced to the amazingly supportive blog community. I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read my ramblings and provide encouragement. I may have never met most of you, but you rock.

As far as getting beyond my comfort zone, I have a few ideas on where to start. I’ll be sure to hold myself accountable and post an update soon!

It won’t be like this for long

My husband and I are both a little sleep deprived this morning. For the fourth night in a row, our 5-month-old son has not slept much, and therefore neither have we. 

Pretty much sums it up…

Since he was born, he has never been a very good sleeper. Since I’ve been home (for over a month now) I’ve been trying to ease him into some kind of schedule, while hoping he will remain flexible enough for the occasional outing or visit.

No such luck. He seems to want to eat, sleep, and play at random. Over the last week, I’ve managed to get the day schedule to have some semblance of structure, but the nights are always wild cards. 

We’ve gotten all kinds of advice, and tried everything short of the cry-it-out method, which most of my relatives insist is the piece of the puzzle I’m missing. While I pass no judgment on those who do this, I simply don’t want to. I suffered no lifelong psychological ills from this method being applied to me as a baby. Likewise, I really don’t believe not letting my son cry-it-out is somehow crippling his ability to be an independent sleeper in the future. It is simply a matter of preference.

So, I will press on trying to console him to sleep in some form or another. Lavender nighttime baths, nursing, rocking, singing, a funny little creature that projects blue stars onto the ceiling. And I will resign to the fact that this is a phase, like a zillion others I will face before I’m done raising babies.

This morning, while my little guy was belly-laughing in his high chair at my funny faces, I heard a song that happened to perfectly fit the moment. It won’t be like this for long. The sleepless nights go hand-in-hand with the most beautiful mornings I have ever had. 

Even if the sleeplessness seems like it will last forever, this moment in my and my son’s lives will be gone long before I truly appreciate them. Soon, I will be worrying about teenage driving, grades, and my baby leaving home. So, for now I will try my best to be present in the moment and try to remember to enjoy the fleeting joys of babyhood. 

 

Veggies for thought

Forming new healthful habits is difficult for a number of reasons: defeating old habits, maintaining willpower, finding the time to exercise and cut up all those veggies. But the reason that I am finding most maddening is also the most surprising for me: staying healthy requires money.

Fruits and veggies

Adding extra veggies, fish, and a multivitamin to my grocery trip this week cost me a small fortune and a gym membership is out of the question; meanwhile, ramen noodles are $0.30, a McDonald’s McDouble is $1, and sitting on my butt for hours is virtually free.

Sure, there are more frugal ways to be healthy. Start a vegetable garden. Clip coupons. Go running outside. But for those already stretched for time and resources, maintaining good habits with any kind of regularity may be a fruitless (pardon the pun) task.  It’s no wonder so many people abandon New Year’s resolutions by January 2, when real life takes the place of our good intentions, and the majority of us are carrying extra pounds and filled with convenience foods.

I’m now working part-time from home and am more fortunate than many because we don’t rely on my income to make ends meet. However, we certainly don’t have the wiggle room in the budget for a bunch of wild-caught fish or organic apples. Plus, after trying to squeeze some kind of  activity into the vast majority of my day, the cheap and easy gratification of a fast food burger is so much more appealing than another hour of cleaning, cutting, and preparing a slew of vegetables.

Of course, I could buy the veggies pre-cleaned and sliced, but I will pay a pretty penny for them. Or I could buy them in a can, but what about BPA? Carrots are easy, but no one in my house will eat them. Screw it–I’m going to the drive-through! Preparing healthful, tasty, inexpensive, and quick meals is so complex it’s almost contradictory. Something’s gotta give.

OK, so nothing groundbreaking here. Life is a constant balance between time and money, healthful choices for long-term gain or quick and easy methods for short-term satisfaction. It just never hit me before how much our culture and lifestyle mangles the message by extolling, and even guilting us with the benefits of health and wellness as a way of life, then encouraging the quick, easy, cheap foods and lazy life choices.

For me and many others, eating better and getting in shape will always be difficult because my human nature seeks the path of least resistance to nourishment. However, the ease and perpetual allure of cheap, quick, low-nutrient consumer foods makes it even more difficult.

And least I know the challenges I’m up against when creating a healthier life are not entirely internal. In order to improve my health,  I will need to battle the culture that sets unrealistic expectations for our eating and exercise habits, then offers a plethora of easy ways around those expectations. And the first step in any fight is to know your enemy.