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!

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!

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.

Having it all, or losing my mind?

The other day I did something I thought I would never do—I took a phone interview for a job I really wanted with a 4-month-old strapped to my chest.

Before you resign to thinking I’m crazy, let me explain. I recently quit my marketing job in hopes of truly having it all—staying home to raise my new baby while securing satisfying (not scammy) at-home employment, getting back my bikini body, and having homemade dinner on the table every night.

In hindsight, go ahead and think it. I AM crazy. In the first couple of weeks since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to take calls and speak with potential employers or clients at precisely the same moment my little bundle of joy starts to scream his head off. His crying may or may not be detected the person on the other end of the line, but for me it is slowly tearing away at my heart strings (and sanity) with each passing second and each labored wail.

“My baby needs me,” I think to myself desperately while not quite halfway engaging in the conversation. I lose track of what I’m saying, what they’re saying, and needless to say, I haven’t landed work from these fruitless and painful conversations. Luckily, he has remained asleep for enough of my work time that I’ve been able to get through a few successful calls and land a few jobs. But each call I wait with baited breath for the screaming to begin, and I can therefore never fully devote my thoughts to the matter at hand.

After all, as much as I want to be gainfully employed at the same time I stay home to raise my child, I always know in my heart that I’m a mom first. And it’s why his yells for me are so heart-wrenching—I feel just as I did when I was working a traditional 40 hours in an office—like I have to choose to put work before my son.

So that brings me to the baby carrier phone call debacle. My interview was at one, and like all my “phone call” days, I carefully planned his feeding and nap schedule to perfectly coincide with my phone call. But as anyone who has ever had a 4-month-old knows, they like to eat perfectly planned schedules for breakfast and throw them up all over your sweater.

Not me–this is a lovely model using the fabulous (and sanity-saving) Moby wrap

As the time drew nearer, I heard him begin to stir in his crib. I couldn’t bear the thought of enduring the entire (important) conversation with him progressively screaming louder and louder. I knew I would be useless. I needed a plan B.

As I frantically paced the house thinking of ways to make him happy for one full hour while I took the call, it came to me. The only time he is (usually) completely satisfied and calm is when he is tucked in his little Moby baby wrap: attached to my chest. I thought it was risky, but it just might work.
Initially, all was well. I could concentrate on the call because I knew my most precious job was taken care of. Baby was happy. Until he wasn’t.

About 25 minutes into the call, I notice the telltale signs of an impending tantrum. I panicked. What do I do if he starts to scream? What is my explanation? Here I am trying to convince this organization that I can easily balance remote work and maintain a professional demeanor, and I have an infant about to lose his mind directly into the phone.

Fortunately, the job to which I was applying involved mostly non-phone work and writing, so I thought it may be OK. And when the crying started, I dealt with it as graciously as humanly possible. He settled soon after I wrangled the binkie into his mouth and my interviewer seemed to accept my hasty apology.

I don’t know if I got the job, but at this point it’s not looking good. And that’s OK. I am continuing to learn how insanely tough and rewarding it is to be a mom, and how my strong motherly instinct continues to surprise me. As naturally ambitious as I am, I am far more passionate about being a mom than advancing my career.

Having it all may be tough, or it may be downright impossible. All I know is I am on a journey to find out.

Bear with me–I’m a recovering perfectionist

I have many big plans. I am going to read all the classics. I am going to write a blog post every day. I am going to start a vegetable garden, and teach my son sign language, and start my own business as a freelance copywriter.

But for all my planning, I have don’t have much going on. I am, it seems, overwhelmed by possibility and unable to see what I should do first. Combine that with past starts-and-stops that have ended in failure, and I have a recipe for stagnation.

One of the most paralyzing symptoms of perfectionism (and my tendency for over-analysis) is that thinking about things is great, but actually starting things is nearly impossible. For a recovering perfectionist, the entire process of a project must be perfect—I must be an expert and get everything right along the way. I struggle with the idea of learning as I go.

I have a pretty vivid memory of the burgeoning of my perfectionist tendencies when I was five years old and about to start first grade. I remember telling my mother that I was scared to go to school. I couldn’t go to school. In school, the children knew how to read and write and add numbers, and I didn’t know how to do any of that. “You don’t go to school already knowing those things,” she insisted, “you go to school to learn.”

I guess it is natural to be scared of what we don’t know. We derive confidence from knowing what to do and expect, but these things absolutely must come from experience. From mistakes. From sounding like an idiot from time to time.
My whole life I have felt like I need to do everything perfectly or else not at all. Which, as I mentioned, has a chilling and paralyzing effect on me. I shun criticism and rejection more than most people. I am extraordinarily hard on myself.

What I’m getting at is this: to this point, I have deprived myself of some great experiences due to my oppressive perfectionism and fear. And I need to stop this very moment. And I may fail, go back to my ways, and get frustrated with my failure. But I have to try again. Do something. Be humble. But be Interesting.