Late last night I submitted an entry to a writing competition for the first time in my life. Okay, one time in 5th grade I entered a school writing competition. Our class had a writing assignment – we had to choose a picture from a magazine and write a story about it. I wrote a story about a glass horse. My teacher liked it so much she strongly encouraged me to enter it in the school’s essay contest.
I won. But I was 10 years old, and there wasn’t any pressure. I wrote the story without the pressure of competition, and I only entered because the teacher and my mom said I should.
This is different. I was emailed the details of a contest in a routine newsletter for Medium, a writing platform I follow, but have never submitted writing to before. I wasn’t going to do the contest, and I was about to delete the email, but Aaron said I should. So I looked at the email again. There were four prompts, and I read each one carefully, trying to decide if I even had anything worth saying related to those topics.
I don’t like to write when I don’t have anything to say, because I feel my words come out stilted, forced from my brain like the papers I had to write in college. Back then, I didn’t even write the draft for any of those papers earlier than the night before they were due. One night, I even researched, wrote, edited, and turned in a 25 page research paper I’d procrastinated for three months because I hated the topic so much. (Spoiler, I actually got an A- on that paper!)
I didn’t have anything to say, so I deleted the email.
But they sent another email a week ago and as I scrolled through, one of the prompts caught my eye this time. A topic I want to write more in-depth about immediately bubbled to the surface of my thoughts; I stopped to reread the prompt more carefully. Okay I said to myself I will do this. I can write for this contest.
In true Lizzie style, I actually marked the deadline down wrong, and realized on Sunday that the deadline was this Tuesday, 8/24. I had one day to write, edit, have my essay peer-reviewed, edit some more, and submitted.
I spent as much time on the essay as I could, throwing my preciously time-blocked schedule for Monday to the wind in favor of cultivating the essay. I have never published writing with something at stake before. I have never entered a writing contest of any kind, because I struggle with imposter syndrome.
Despite having two short stories published, and a few poems along the years, I never got the courage to submit more than a blog post to any website let alone an essay for a contest. I write my fiction under a pen name, and I post my non-fiction here. But my blog feels safe. I have complete control of the content, editing, and publishing here. I’m the only person who takes a red pen to the words here, figuratively speaking. I might get feedback, but at the end of the day I write about my life, and no one can change my past, no matter how much red ink they throw at it.
Last night, I took an important step toward shaking off my imposter syndrome and moving toward the career in writing I deserve. I submitted an essay to Medium’s Writing Challenge, and now I cross my fingers and hope the people reading my essay like it as much as the peers I asked to review it for me. And while I feel like my heart might pound out of my chest, for better or worse, I’ve taken the next step.
“The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a step.” – Lao Tzu
I took the kids on a long weekend trip a little while back so we could visit some of our friends in El Paso, where we used to live. I wanted to get back to visit before school, but also to return the gesture. A friend of mine came to Houston to help me while Aaron was deployed, because my son had to have surgery. It was an incredibly difficult, although blissfully brief, season for me. I was incredibly grateful to have the help.
Originally I planned a trip back in March, then rescheduled for April, but we couldn’t get the trip coordinated on both ends. In May we went to a family wedding, and I couldn’t schedule a back-to-back trip because Aaron was coming home at the end of May. June and July were spent with Aaron, getting used to having him back and celebrating his 40th birthday. As the end of July drew near I knew we needed to see our friends soon. School was looming for both of our kids, but we were finally able to make concrete plans for the last days of July.
I didn’t want my friend to think I had forgotten her, and I certainly didn’t want to be the friend who never visits. I have a lot of those – friends who have never visited me, but somehow always wonder if I can visit. I’ve moved many times, though only a few were military moves, but I can only count two friends who were willing to make the trip to my newest homes to see me. That’s within the past 10 years, and trust me, I’m counting.
It’s an unfortunate aspect of military life, but I know plenty of civilian friends who share the same experience. They move out of necessity, a job, a relationship, school, to be closer to (or further away from) family, and for many of my most recent friends, the military sends us to new duty stations.
Since marrying Aaron, I have only had one friend make the trip to come see me, so I knew I had to get back to El Paso and repay the favor. I often complained to Aaron that we don’t have friends who will visit, but they always want us to visit – I refused to be a hypocrite. I was determined to make the trip, even if we had to reschedule a few times so the timing worked for both of us. I finally made it, albeit nine months later.
I have always felt the best way to show gratitude is through my actions. Saying thank you is polite, but I’ve found people remember what you do far more often than what you’ve said. I tell Aaron with more frequency than I’d care to admit that it makes me sad that friends don’t visit me, and I want to teach my children it’s important to show gratitude through action in the same way we show people we are contrite.
Teaching my boys it’s not enough to just say “sorry”, they have to change their behavior feels like a near-daily lesson – they’re still really young, and I have a feeling I will be reinforcing this often for years still to come. I am able to model the behavior with Aaron and even when I make mistakes as a parent, but I don’t often get the chance to lead by example showing gratitude in friendship, especially for something that meant so very much to me.
While I had the kids with me visiting my friend and her boys for the weekend, Aaron was stuck at home as the on-call physician, unable to leave the area. I had hoped he would be able to catch up on some sleep and get some studying done, but it turns out he was restless while we were gone; he cleaned and organized the entire downstairs. And although I was somewhat annoyed at being unable to find some of my kitchen items when I got home, I was also relieved. (That’s not a photo of my husband, in case anyone was wondering.)
The project was something I’d been avoiding because it was daunting to clean an entire downstairs, and even more-so to try completing the task with 3 children clinging to my every move. He managed to finish it in one day and he even had time to study and get to bed early.
I can’t remember the last time I finished a task in that short a timeframe, and I was a little envious. Aaron admitted he wanted to get it done while the kids were gone. He wanted to avoid the chaos of keeping the kids otherwise occupied and not underfoot during the cleaning and organizing, and I can’t say I blame him.
Fast forward to August 9th, and I received a delivery – a lovely bouquet of flowers from my husband. They’re actually the featured photo for the blog. The blue flowers in the gifted bouquet are not forget-me-nots. I think they’re alstromeria – I’m definitely not a florist, so you’d have to ask someone else. Forget-me-nots, though, are beautiful; they’re somewhere on the list of my top 10 favorite flowers, although the order changes nearly every time I give it, even if the flowers remain the same.
I sent my husband a message, emphatically thanking him. I wanted to encourage the behavior, because I really love getting flowers for no reason. I love flowers, but I don’t have the knowledge or a place to garden here in this small space. And with small children and cats, I’m not confident trying to cultivate an indoor garden. I am confident it would end in tears. For both the plants and me. Probably the children? Mostly the former, though.
The response I got was not as enthusiastic. It was more, well, bewildered. Aaron informed me he hadn’t sent me flowers. Included was a beautiful message, signed from “Sparky”, a nickname I’ve called my husband since before we were married. (His favorite holiday movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I used the nickname a few times and it stuck.) I sent him a photo of the message, but his reaction remained the same: he hadn’t sent them.
I am not a particularly forgetful person, although since I had kids I have to write things down more often than I used to. Aaron can be forgetful, and he frequently sets reminders or puts our dates on the calendar so he doesn’t forget to speak my love language, appreciation. Read: not being forgotten. (That’s not one of the languages from the popular Gary Chapman book The 5 Love Languages. If that’s our measuring stick, my language is quality time.)
I don’t like people to feel I’ve forgotten them either. I do my best to both stay in touch and do things that remind those I’m close to I haven’t forgotten them. I have sent cards and flowers to friends in the past, but I remember doing those things. I’ve never been so forgetful I couldn’t remember a gift I’d sent someone, and seeing a thank you for the gift would have immediately reminded me.
Not Aaron. Later that day, he told me he had placed the order while I was in El Paso, because he knew he would forget if he didn’t do it while he was thinking about it. The flowers had been scheduled for delivery for later in the month so it would be a random gift, not a return home gift. He forgot he had sent me flowers. I was practically shaking with laughter.
In the grand scheme of things, one of my greatest fears is to be left behind by those I love, obsolete, past usefulness, and forgotten. Moving around a lot and having my closest friends scattered across the country brings these fears to the surface – social media allows me to see constant reminders of my friends’ and loved ones’ lives moving on without me.
Even day-to-day life can weigh on me as I watch myself get lost in the identity of motherhood and being a good wife. My personal dreams and goals forgotten or abandoned as I sacrifice to keep my family together. I struggle with feelings of guilt for wanting to be defined as something other than a wife, mother, or homemaker; I genuinely appreciate feeling as if I, an individual, haven’t been forgotten. My husband is, probably better than many, very good at this.
Whereas my beautiful bouquet may have been forgotten, it serves as a lovely reminder that I am not. I am loved, appreciated, and seen even in the midst of our busy lives by the person who means the most to me. It is impossible for life to stand still just because I left a physical area. I don’t hold onto that expectation, but sometimes the reality of it is heavy on my heart.
Moving away doesn’t mean my friends have forgotten me, either, it just means we have to look for the reminders in other places. Through other delivery methods. A text, a card, a silent like or follow on a blog post. A snap on Snapchat from a snippet of their life they want to share with me, though I am absent. I may be gone, and I may move again in a few years, leaving this chapter of my life behind, but I am not forgotten. And by a few, I am missed.
In that vein, I’ll leave you with two quotes I think are great for this post. I’m off to find the best way to repay Aaron for the flowers, and remind him he isn’t forgotten, either.
“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.” – Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
“If you really love someone, time and distance will not make you forget them.” – unknown
Aaron’s last duty station was in El Paso, TX at Fort Bliss’s medical detachment. Because he was there for his general surgery residency, we were there for a total of six years. Five years of residency and one year of research in the surgical field. In that time Aaron bought a house, we got married (twice – there’s a fun story there), I graduated from college, and we expanded our family 3 separate times. We built an entire life.
Then we got uprooted, Aaron got sent to Korea, and we moved to Houston to await his return for a fellowship in plastic surgery.
Before we left, I made a friend or two. Both were pregnant with boys at the same time I was. One friend gave birth a month and a half before me, the other a week after me. So my oldest kiddo has a couple friends that are very close in age, and I had the pleasure of mom friends I actually liked seeing (I’ve heard that’s rare as the kids get older). One of those friends moved to Colorado while we were still stationed in El Paso, but another was a civilian.
I don’t meet too many civilians who are willing to get close to me and form a lasting friendship. They all know I will leave eventually, and keep a polite distance. Occasionally though, I got lucky. Not only did I make a close friend, but she even traveled here to Houston when my son had surgery to help out for a few days.
I’ve had close friends since childhood, and I have a huge family, so it was surprising that the person who reached out to help me was the person I’d known for the shortest amount of time. In another post, I talk about not wanting to be or feel forgotten. I was touched by such a gracious act from a friend, and I know that no matter how far away we end up moving, I will not forget that friend or that one act that irrevocably changed how I felt about “family”.
As we drove back into El Paso we were immediately barraged by dust – a trademark of the desert climate I had escaped when Aaron’s new assignment sent us to east Texas. I shuddered at the thought of baking sunshine and unyielding allergens, and the inevitable runny noses, cough, and sneezing that accompanied allergies in myself and my kids.
All of that rushed away, replaced by a feeling of coming home when I turned onto the street where my friend lived. Happy memories surfaced, and despite the climate my dread evaporated, a smile and a sense of calm and safety returned. This was a place where we could be ourselves, where we were happy, and where we had been accepted. I never imagined associating that feeling with anything from El Paso, so I was also surprised.
My children strained against the belts on their carseats, eager to get out of the car after a long trip, and stretch their little legs. Thankfully, there was a nice, safe space for them to run out all that pent up energy with friends. We changed into swimsuits and they ran out to the water bouncy castle while I caught up with my friend as if no time had actually passed.
Water was a fairly new experience for my kids, they never particularly liked it before, but our beach trip at the beginning of July was a turning point. I found they enjoyed playing in the water, as long as I wasn’t holding soap and a washcloth nearby. You see, they still hate baths.
The kids played in water, played with all their friends’ toys, we took them to a playground and splash pad, and we had some movie time. Meals were certainly eventful with five little boys at the table, and for a few days, my friend’s house was filled with laughter, shrieks of joy, and occasionally some tears. We cooked meals together and took turns cleaning up after the kids.
So much joy packed into two-and-a-half days made my heart sing.
It would have been a perfect trip if my husband had been able to come, and despite having fun and getting the chance to play with their friends, the kids frequently asked for Daddy and talked about missing him. I missed him, too.
Being at my friends’ house always inspires me to try to be a more crafty parent. She is incredibly talented at being a stay-at-home-mother, something I struggle mightily with, and she always has great ideas and activities to do with her kids. Being around someone as sweet and nurturing as my friend is can make me feel inferior at times. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but my constant struggle to be a better mom is a bit of a sore spot for me.
When we left, a goodbye that had plans for a visit in the not-too-distant future, I left with ideas on things to do with my own kids. My boys are more destructive and much louder than hers, so some of the things she’s able to do wouldn’t necessarily work well if I tried to do them with my kids. But it did inspire me to adapt some of her kid-friendly solutions, and as a result, my downstairs has become more kid friendly.
I came home with a new plan; new activities and intentions to be more present with the kids, and a new appreciation for the concept that family doesn’t have to mean a blood relative. When you live far away from your family, you tend to create your own.
They say it takes a village, and maybe some of that village are friends and acquaintances. People in your life superficially or temporarily, like teachers, babysitters, pediatricians, neighbors, etc. But I truly believe some of those people are more deeply involved, and those people who are there in the lurch, when you are at the lowest and really need help.
We had a “kid-venture” trip to El Paso, a trip for the kids to see friends and have a good time before school starts. But I hope the kids also learned a valuable life lesson while they had all the wonderful and new experiences with different toys and activities. I hope they felt what it was like to be safe, able to be themselves, and accepted for that.
They’re too young to understand the lesson of gratitude that this trip taught me, but as they get older, I hope it’s a value I can continue to instill in them as they gain friendships while we bounce around from assignment to assignment in the military. I want them to understand the value of friendship, and putting effort into friendship in order for it to survive, and that true friends can become family.
“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.” – Harry Dresden in Proven Guilty a novel in The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
“Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” Stitch, from Lilo and Stitch.
This is embarrassing to have to post, but when I set my schedule to post I accidentally set the time for 8 pm. This post should have gone live this morning, while I’m trying out my Tuesday-Thursday schedule. My apologies!
A few days ago, I broke down into tears after a long conversation with my husband. After a year-long deployment and readjusting to a new work schedule, my husband was burnt out. Usually this is where I step in and shine. I’m pretty good at taking care of people, and I take joy and a bit of pride in taking good care of my family.
The problem is, I was also burnt crispy. Extra crispy. I was so charred you could brush it off me like the blackened remains of a piece of bread left in the toaster too long.
The vast majority of the time, I can hold the fire at bay. I hold it in my hand, examine it, and then forget about it, even as it travels up my arms and across my torso. “I don’t have time for you right now,” I say, “but I will take a break to deal with you soon.”
I had often been complemented as a superhero, juggling a job, my children, and my husband’s deployment. Since his return home, I left my job. When I tell people how many children I have, or if my to-do list comes up, the response is still similar.
I definitely don’t feel like a superhero. More like… a super zero.
Caregiver burnout is characterized as physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion resulting from the excessive and prolonged stress of caring for another person, associated with caring for elderly family members. Similarly we have compassion fatigue, which can be referred to as secondary trauma. It’s when someone takes on the suffering of another person suffering from trauma or extreme stress, leading to diminished ability to empathize with or show compassion to someone, and it can have physical or emotional manifestations.
But what about parental burnout? Why is it that we don’t ever talk about that? Parental burnout has a definition nearly identical to caregiver burnout, but refers specifically to the stressors surrounding child-rearing.
I felt something inside me dislodge when we were talking. Suddenly an avalanche was pouring out of my mouth – needs and stressors I had shoved viciously to the back of my brain, in haste to forget they were there. Over a year’s worth of thoughts cascaded from my mind unchecked to bombard my husband.
As I recounted how heavily that year weighed on me, I was reminded that it wasn’t easy for Aaron, stuck on the other side of the world. Being away from everyone you know and love for a year is soul crushing in a very different way. He wouldn’t say it now, while I was melting down, but he admitted it before and I thought about it often.
Still, a dark, loathsome thought clung perseverantly to the back of my brain, and it saw it’s way out on the backs of all the ignored needs and internalized stressors that flooded out of me.
“How hard could it be to only have to worry about taking care of yourself?” I found myself asking. “Do you know what I would give to have even 48 hours where I didn’t have to meet anyone else’s needs, let alone a year?” We will touch on how awful that was again later. I did mention “dark” and “loathsome”, right?
The crux of the problem, my problem at least, is I never got any relief from being responsible for our entire family. Anytime I did have a few moments, I avoided spending them on myself. I felt overwhelming guilt if I did something for me when there was so much more left undone for my family.
A lot of people experience this throughout parenting, but I don’t often see articles on the subject. I’ve seen the articles and the mom-blogs or social media accounts where they write about “the mental load” and other topics like parental struggles or marital struggles, and I know I’ve written about at least some of it as well. The articles and social media posts are meant to be relatable, and it is to a degree. Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone in your daily grind is enough to get some people through.
Frequently, though, it’s not enough. People look for solutions. They ask questions, make fervent wishes. My parent-friends have all mentioned feeling drained at one point or another, often yearning for “a spa day” or “a night out”. In comments on articles and social media posts I see pleas for some extra help, understanding, or other ways to destress. I’ve seen suggestions that include gems like taking a few hours to myself, or waking up before the kids.
I don’t mean to laugh, but that isn’t going to fix the problem. Not even close.
Trying to put pressure on the hemorrhage of my own problem, I was at a loss. I couldn’t articulate what I was feeling, but I know it isn’t Aaron’s fault. I had a lot of strong emotions about my day-to-day life. Guilt. Self-loathing. Pity. Sympathy. Sorrow. Horror. Neglect. Desperate, mind-numbing need.
Parenting is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never envisioned doing the majority of it alone. In my situation, it also isn’t something I can really change. Marrying Aaron meant choosing a life knowing he wouldn’t be around much – his job hours on their own were unaccommodating, let alone the amount of work he puts into his job at home. Instead, I had to adjust my expectations, and overall I’d always thought I was dealing well.
My outburst proved otherwise. I was obviously not dealing with my feelings or problems, but boxing them up and compartmentalizing them. This was an uncomfortable wake-up call.
Once I voiced all the thoughts, Aaron asked for a solution. It was a fair request; I’d presented him with a lot of problems. I didn’t have a good solution. I realized I was experiencing burnout – I had tried to use “band-aids” like letting go of certain things (folded laundry, cooking every meal, constantly picking up clutter instead of weekly, and more). None of those had worked. I didn’t know how to fix it.
I decided to start researching what I could do to solve the problem, and I found that most of the resources for caregiver burnout are specifically geared toward caring for elderly family members, and not kids. Most of what I found geared toward parents was focused on those of children with special needs. I did find a good article on Parents.com that describes burnout, but not really how to deal with it. The best description was on Psychology Today, and broke down the symptoms and potential fixes well, but didn’t give a ton of solutions. There was a good article by Zero to Three that gave tips on how to beat burnout.
In my Part 2 article, I will discuss some of the solutions I find as well as the things I’ve done to help over the years that keep me from being consumed by the burnout.
“Just because you take breaks doesn’t mean you’re broken.” Curtis Tyrone Jones
A few posts ago I talked about changing the frequency and days I post content, and also I wanted to write about my experience with time-blocking. Why not kill two birds with one stone? I spend about 1.5 hours time-blocking my week. Although this form of time management is not new to me, it’s something I’m slow at doing. I handwrite all of my blocking, and I do a week at a time instead of doing it each day. I haven’t looked into using an app because I have a non-digital planner that I love, although there are well-rated apps available to utilize.
Regarding the blog schedule, I want to post new content a minimum of two times per week. It’s something I will play around with and see which days work best, but right now I’m aiming for a Monday-Wednesday release schedule. Next week, I might try out Tuesday-Thursday to see which is a more comfortable deadline for releasing new posts.
I have a lot I want to get done before the kids go back to school, though, not just my blog. In light of my looming deadline, it was important to me to get into the habit of scheduling my days for productivity instead of drifting. I tend to waste a lot of precious time on “low value” tasks because I am easily distracted. I finally got tired of not finishing even a short a to-do list because I lost time doing low-priority things.
While time-blocking isn’t new to me, it wasn’t something I was using until recently. If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs, I mention how the only way to ensure I get something done is to put it on my calendar. I frequently put things on my schedule I haven’t finished, like I’m making an appointment, and I realized I could time-block my schedule to use that tendency to my advantage.
In one of the many school curriculums I’ve matriculated in, time-blocking was a required assignment. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I’d been prioritizing my work in a school curriculum for a long time, but a few weeks ago I realized what a valuable resource I’d overlooked. The method the school taught had me schedule my time down to 5 minute increments, but I feel that’s too specific. What I needed was to block out specific chunks of time for work.
In the end, I changed my calendar around by blocking out chunks of time to complete work instead of just putting appointments on the calendar. I scheduled my day based on how much time I thought a task would take, and tried to follow the schedule to a T. But I was still having trouble finishing tasks.
Something time blocking taught me was this. Effective time-management requires an understanding of how long it takes to complete an activity.
That might seem like common sense, but it didn’t occur to me right away. I didn’t give up on time-blocking when it didn’t immediately work for me. Instead, I timed myself doing each task. After a week, I was forced to admit I had no actual understanding of the amount of time it took me to complete tasks that I perform regularly. As embarrassing as that is, at least I had come to the root of the problem.
Now, with a more realistic idea of what my schedule should look like, I use my time-blocking efficiently. There are a few ways to time-block. Setting chunks of time aside with a specific task assigned to them is blocking. Grouping together related tasks in one day is “day theming”. And then there’s “time-boxing” which is a specific sub-aspect of time-blocking where you give an activity a specific, timed deadline. A good example would be I will only check social media for 15 minutes.
Regardless of the method of time-blocking you use, the idea is that you put everything on your schedule in blocks of time. So your calendar doesn’t have white space between “events” the way it might if you only filled in appointments, meetings, etc. Instead, everything you plan on doing would be on the calendar.
The idea is to increase productivity and focus. So instead of only planning out things that cut into your day, you set aside dedicated time for the tasks you want to complete. I have tried a lot of different methods of time-management, but none so detailed. I’ve also not tried anything as efficient. I got more done in one day than I usually get done in a week. Not because I’m lazy, but instead because I was never quite this efficient at managing my time.
Before, I scheduled my day by writing out a list of things I wanted to accomplish then I would put the list down, and do a bunch of things that weren’t on the list. I’d go back to the list, smack myself in the forehead as I remembered all the things I still needed to finish, and proceed to do 1/4 – 1/2 those things.
At the end of the day I was tired, frustrated, and a lot of my tasks were left unfinished. My first week with time-blocking was similar. Partly because I had to remember to check the list, but mostly because I never realized how much time it took for me to complete some of the things I put on my schedule. Now, with a more realistic picture of how long it takes me to accomplish certain tasks, I can schedule my day effectively and prioritize my to-do list.
It’s worth noting that not everyone is as unaware as I can be of how long it takes to perform an activity. In part because I try to multitask a lot, but also in part because I allow many interruptions, and gauging the time I spent actually completing a task is challenging. That being said, flexibility is a must in any calendar. Life does happen, and nothing on your calendar is written in stone.
I’m still working on my time management; I’m far from perfect and I’m incredibly quick to be annoyed when my day doesn’t go as planned. Today, for instance, as I write this my day has unfolded very differently from what I blocked. I built pockets of flexibility into my week, though, so instead of melting down I was able to shift my perspective and adjust accordingly. That’s a huge win for me!
I hope you’ve learned something about time-blocking from this post. I did my own research, but these are the websites I found most helpful when I looked further into the concept:
Here’s some food for thought. I read somewhere only a whopping 13% of married parents report they’re satisfied with the amount of time they get to spend as a couple with their partner after having children. I didn’t do the research and I don’t know where the statistic was pulled from, so I’m not claiming it’s true. I will say, however, that it doesn’t surprise me.
Honestly I have to say I don’t fall into that 13%. Aaron works in medicine, and even pre-covid the field was busy. During quarantine there were no elective surgeries, which drastically cut back his hours. I don’t think I’d ever seen him so much since we’d had children. Overall, though, the pandemic hasn’t changed his schedule. A regular, non-quarantine schedule has him gone before the kids are awake and – more often than not – back after they are in bed. Add parenting into the mix, and he’s working two full-time jobs. He is my Super Man.
I fell in love with him for many reasons, but the top five that come to mind when I get asked that question are always this:
He took the time to court me – and around his busy schedule, he still attempts to court me. That’s a really important point to remember for later in the post.
He handles absolutely everything with grace and a smile. He transitions seamlessly between work, social, and home lives with an amazing aplomb that I don’t know if I can ever achieve – and he does it all without complaining.
He is spontaneous, charming, and fun. I don’t think that even needs explaining. He has been my best friend since the moment I met him, and I fall in love with him more and more as time passes.
When things become difficult, he grabs a shovel and we dig into a trench together to fight our battles – he has never, ever left me alone when I need him. I know I can count on him to be there for me. We take care of each other, no questions asked. As a result, I feel very safe.
He is not afraid of challenging me to be a better person, and telling me no. What’s more he does it in a way that still makes me feel valued and loved, he doesn’t tear me down when he is helping me to become better.
I know that list doesn’t seem related to the topic, but I wanted to illustrate something. I can rattle off those reasons at will because we spent a lot of time and energy building our relationship. We have been through a lot, and we had to learn how to make our marriage work. Aaron is not afraid of hard work, and he’s created an amazing life for our family. It didn’t come easily.
Marriage on its own requires effort. Constant, daily, mental-gymnastics-worthy effort that comes from both partners. I did not know this going into marriage. In fact, I could probably dedicate an entire blog page and podcast to the topic of what “Happily Ever After” really looks like, because it isn’t at all what I pictured. What I desperately wish someone had told me was this: All the time, energy, and sacrifice necessary to learn and grow together as a couple gets exponentially more difficult when you decide to have children.
I naively thought that having kids would not change our marriage. Everyone I came into contact with told me how much my life would change – no sleep, no sex, no time, no privacy, etc. No one mentioned the toll it would take on my marriage. No one warned me that all the time, energy and resources children consume are precious resources that get diverted from your marriage.
Maybe it doesn’t look like this for everyone. I certainly can’t speak for all married couples. But I do think the feeling is somewhat universal – I often long to spend time with Aaron like I did before life was so busy, and I can’t complete a simple, five minute task without at least 15 interruptions. Marriage looks different now, and there’s a lot of planning and labor (physical and mental) that goes into preparing for a night out.
All that effort and preparation can suck the spontaneity out of connecting with your partner. It’s not just children, other things soak up time and resources – work, exercise, separate hobbies, etc. When kids are involved, though, it’s not just your marriage on the playing field. A child’s observations of their parents’ emotional connection has a direct impact on their development. A lot of children grow up to model the behavior they witness in their parents’ marriage.
I feel incredibly lucky. While I don’t get to spend as much time with Aaron as I want to sometimes, I’ve found someone who shares my opinion that a healthy marriage is important to raising healthy kids. To that end, I’m back to #1 on my list – Aaron didn’t just date me, he courted me. Although courtship is commonly thought of as dating, (I googled courtship, and they were all variants of this definition) that’s not what I think of when I hear the term “courtship”.
Characters of written works like Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing immediately spring to mind. I believe they had it right; courtship is to woo and win over the affections of the one you seek to marry. It is the flirtation, the gifts, the evenings out, the non-physical intimacy portion of the relationship. I personally believe it is something that should continue even after you get married. It’s not like your spouse suddenly becomes old news after you walk down the aisle. It can never hurt your relationship to keep treating someone as though they are the most precious and wonderful thing that has happened to you.
After children come into the picture, the frame shifts, and the picture isn’t the same anymore. Life happens. Some people don’t have children, but other things shape the relationship they are building.
From my experience as a parent, we grow and evolve individually and as a couple while we are learning to raise children. Children who we hope one day will be good, responsible people who add something to the world. A friend of mine phrased it well when we were talking about how uncertain parenting can be – the blind leading the blind. We are constantly guiding and correcting our children. We teach them passively as much as we do actively. They learn a lot from watching how we interact with the world. I hope that my sons watch their father and learn that love is more than words.
For me, although marriage is not what I pictured (and neither is parenthood), I am certain of one thing. I chose the right man as my partner. Yes, he is busy, and yes, we don’t spend much time together as a couple in this season of life. But he still courts me as we go through life.
I go to sleep every night – no matter what may have happened that day – without a shadow of a doubt that I am the most special, precious, and wonderful thing to him. Without each other, we would not have these children, or this life. It would look different. And we both cherish that knowledge, and work hard to show that love and appreciation in many ways. Sometimes it’s easy, most times it’s hard work. But it’s real, and it’s an exercise in understanding that even if life isn’t what we imagined growing up, we can shape the life we live.
“Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard” – lyrics by Coldplay from The Scientist.
This month is full of change! I talked about the changes I planned on making to my routine, and how I wanted to make them stick. The big goal for this week is creating an ideal routine for myself. What would my “perfect” day look like? I know that my days may not match exactly to the routine I’m trying to set, but some structure and guidelines are a good start.
This week’s to do list is pretty long, and I didn’t put everything I have on it. I don’t want to bore you with the day to day; as a stay-at-home-parent, though, keeping my to-do list visible and prioritized is the best. You can keep an eye out for a blog post on how I organize/prioritize my tasks, somewhere out there with time-blocking, probably to be released next week.
New blog release schedule
Dedicating time to journal
Washing the minivan
Kid activity schedule and new ideas
Culling the herd (toys edition)
Triple check kids’ school supplies
Short story mapping
Changing the way we do our budget
Some of those activities are needs for my family for the week, chiefly to keep my kids happy and occupied, but some of those are only for me. I struggle putting my needs at the top of the priority column, and Aaron always likes to remind me that I can’t pour from an empty cup. Some of the projects on my desk are definitely “me” projects. One of the big ones was my newest purchase.
A few weeks ago I took a plunge – I don’t often log into my social media and scroll, because I feel for the most part, social media is a time-suck. I fall into a black hole of scrolling and before I know it, there goes my productivity time. Still, I do see the occasional ad. Silk + Sonder popped up enough in my feed that I eventually took notice, and I finally got curious enough to check out the hype.
It was the pens that did it. As a writer who began writing at the ripe age of 8, I used paper and pen. Mostly because we didn’t have a typewriter, which at the time was still about as common as a computer. I loved writing with pens, though, and even well into high school I still enjoyed putting pen to paper more than typing a story. Unsurprisingly, the sleek, colorful pens in the ad practically screamed my name, and I could see myself using them to write in the parchment colored pages of the journal. I clicked on the ad.
The self-care journal isn’t exactly a new concept. While I’m just seeing ads for it now, it’s been around a while, and there are many other brands that have similar layouts. The pens drew me in, but I found I could see myself using the journal. After some hemming and hawing, I wanted to buy it. So naturally, I bookmarked the page and tried to forget about it.
A rule I try to maintain is: If I’m still thinking of a potential purchase a month later, then it’s something I actually want and not an impulse buy. I have wasted a lot of money on impulse buys that I never use, and I wanted to avoid that. Because I didn’t need the journal, I was able to put it on a shelf and give it some more thought. I first bookmarked the ad in May, when I was looking for Mother’s Day gift ideas to give my husband.
Here I am, a few months later, with my first Silk + Sonder self care journal/ planner/ tracker.
I wrote out my first week and I am incorporating it into my new routine. I went to the equivalent of a journal filling out party – pictured to the right – and listened along with a glass of prosecco while I filled out the planner using some of their ideas and suggestions, and some of my own.
Switching gears, though, I have high hopes for this week. It has been strange, returning to writing. I think about ‘what’s on my desk’ as a metaphor for the work I have to finish this week. But literally, what’s on my desk right now is my husband’s computer. His furniture and other household goods still haven’t arrived from his time in Korea. Before he started work, it wasn’t a problem, because we don’t need any of the other furniture he took. You know what we do need? His desk.
Between general surgery oral board exams and studying for plastic surgery fellowship, he clocks a lot of desk time. To help, I’ve graciously lent him my desk; except writing and editing at the kitchen table where the kids can see me has proven to be difficult. Instead I’m sitting at my desk, with my laptop at the edge, and suddenly wondering how I ended up with a desk that is so very small. I will leave you with this quote, which I hope resonates like it does with me.
“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” – Katie Reed
Before I go any further: yes, I know that ‘uncommonality’ is not a word. I’m choosing to use it anyway because I like the way it sounds. It’s been two months since one of my posts went live, and I realize this is unusual, especially in the early days of a growing an audience. I had quite a whirlwind situation on my hands. My husband came home from Korea, which I mention in a post or two from the end of May, and things were a bit quiet at first while we all adjusted to having him home. Then the jet lag wore off, things picked up quickly, and I was swept into the chaos of everyday life.
I thrive on a routine. I almost need it to function. My husband being home meant settling into a new routine, something that takes me about two months to accomplish. This may seem like a long time, but science actually backs me up! One study from the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (found here) suggests it takes 66 days to form a routine on average. That’s insane when you think about it, right? But when you break it down, a routine is just a series of habitual actions. Habits take a while to form. A little longer than two weeks, according to the same study I linked above, and I’ve come across varying opinions on the subject.
Each person is different, so the length of time required for me to form a habit or routine may not match the average. I won’t pretend I’m special, although I believe I handle organization quite well, but even I require more optimal circumstances than I have for creating a workable routine. With my kids out of preschool for the summer, my husband off for a month before beginning his new job full time, and his work schedule changing from day-to-day, the inconsistency makes setting a normal pattern challenging.
My “routine” did a vanishing act. Where did it go? Why did it abandon me? Why was I unable to return to my routine when my husband returned to work? These are all fantastic questions. I lost the routine I had, and I’m now trying to get my footing by creating an intentional, new set of habits.
As it happens, I fell out of the habit of writing regularly. I haven’t put fingers to keyboard to write something for some time and I have several drafts of blog posts with a few random words written on them. I don’t know what the ideas are supposed to be, it’s been too long and the words no longer spark the return of the thought. I am scrapping them to start over, and taking the opportunity to roll out a new publishing schedule. Because the only way to form a habit is to perform the action, repeatedly.
I realize that regularly updating a blog, then pulling the same vanishing act my routine pulled on me is bad for readership, and for my audience to trust that I will update regularly. I apologize to my subscribers reading this, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming back. Just know I’m genuinely contrite, and I don’t plan on an unannounced two month hiatus again.
A brief update on where we are – I bought a minivan; there will be a whole post on that. (I mourned the trade-in of my truck, Tess.) My 19-month-old is saying words and sentences we can understand. My kids’ summer vacation ends in just a couple short weeks. We are taking a weekend trip to see some friends soon, and I am creating a few new habits that I will share in upcoming blog posts.
“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – John C. Maxwell
This week as I waded around moving boxes, my husband swept in and stole my thunder. I had planned on building a playhouse with my children as a fun new idea that might help to break the monotony and pent up energy that came from a week straight of heavy rain that kept us indoors. While I was exercising and my husband was hanging out at home with the kids, he decided the best way to help me was to check something off my to do list that also helped with the kids. I can’t say I blame him, anything that helps to wrangle the kids and also checks a box off the list is a definite win-win, and I hadn’t told him about my plan to have the kids help me.
Imagine my surprise when I got done at the gym and I check my phone to read: “So the kids’ playhouse didn’t come with the doors. They weren’t in the box.” – courtesy of Aaron. I about fell over. The adorable little cottage playhouse with the red doors… well, it has no doors. My kids don’t seem to care, but I’m more than a little upset. I spent a fair amount on the playhouse, those things don’t come cheap. So I was upset to find theirs wasn’t missing one door, but both.
So I called my husband and we were talking about what to do. I drove home, but when I opened the door, I was greeted with giggles and shrieks of happiness. My kids weren’t just excited to see me, they were excited to show me their new house. I was swept up by their joy, and while I will still be calling the manufacturer to get the doors, I’m not as upset as I was when I first found out there were missing parts.
This weekend, my newest kid-venture is going to be a brave one. My son has been asking for several days now to go running with my husband or me. My husband can actually run, and I’m kind of a slow runner – in that I usually walk/jog my runs because I’m working up to running a mile straight. So the natural choice would be me, otherwise my son will never be able to keep up, and I want him to enjoy the experience. Hell, he might even be a faster runner than me, so maybe I’ll have something to aspire to. Wish me luck!
“Running is fun. This reminder brought to you by: Kids.” – rwdaily.runnersworld.com
I’m not the type of person who typically blows off commitments to others. I have a strong sense of obligation and guilt that rivals the best of the best, and I was raised to take commitments seriously If I am going to make a time commitment then I need to be prepared to follow through. And yet, even if I put it on my calendar, I cannot seem to follow through on commitments I make to myself.
I consistently will reschedule and put off things that I know I really want to get done in favor of ensuring that the things others need or want are adequately taken care of. I have volunteer responsibilities, dog training responsibilities, and social engagements on top of my childcare, household, and exercise obligations. I frequently struggle with enforcing the idea that I need to make my own needs a priority obligation, and recently, I’m getting better at changing that.
I have been more intentional about carving out the time to exercise and make meal plans and preparations, because my health took a backseat for a very long time. The majority of the time Aaron was in Korea, I was really concerned for my health, because when I finally took stock of what, when, how, or how much I was eating or exercising, I realized it had gotten pretty bad. There were whole days I wasn’t eating because I was so stressed, or so overwhelmed that I noticed one day I ate a week’s worth of calories in one day. I gained weight, which doesn’t just hurt my vanity or my cholesterol. I have bad asthma, and had begun to show signs of high blood pressure. I realized a couple months ago just how bad it had gotten, and made my health a priority.
Outside of that, though, I don’t often prioritize myself. It took serious health issues for me to put my diet and exercise habit changes at the top of the list. I have a whole host of other projects, though, (whose consequences aren’t life threatening) that have yet to make it to the top of the list with any kind of consistency. Writing and regular time for my crochet and knitting projects, among other things, are two things that should be habitual events on my calendar. I need to do just that.
Because I have been so scattered and unfocused lately, I forgot to write up my blog posts on time, and I didn’t get a chance to work on my novel idea this week. It’s really frustrating to have the desire to be creative and feel trapped by time constraints, unable to get the ball rolling because I have other responsibilities that have to come first. I will always care for my family before anything else, but I don’t want to be someone whose entire identity is tied to their ability to raise kids or complete housework. I also hope to bust right through the societal expectation that everything home or child related falls to me and me alone. My marriage is a partnership, not a dictatorship, and it’s good for my husband to help at home just as much as it is for me to support his work.
So although what’s on my desk this past week ended up being nothing, I know that this week’s failure to launch isn’t a forever deal. I will schedule and keep commitments to myself, and eventually figure out how to stabilize my personal needs versus my other needs. I’m still learning how to balance being a mom of three boys, a housewife, a writer, a crafter, a volunteer, a dog mom, physically fit, and whatever other hats I will learn to wear in this crazy little adventure called life.
“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward.” – Paulo Coelho