Discovery

So much of my identity was wrapped up in being “mother” for so many years.  I lost connection with myself; once I recognized this, I was determined to fill the “Year Ahead” portion of the YearCompass with worthwhile, personal goals.  I just needed to find out what those were, and that has been an exercise in trial and error.  Several pages into reviewing the year prior portion of the assessment, we were asked to write down the title of our past year.  Mine?  “Directionally Complacent.”  And the three things that I wrote to say goodbye to?  “Not knowing what I want; not believing in myself; not putting myself first.”  My first challenge was to change that title, and really walk away from those sentiments.

In determining the root of these three offenders, I started to recognize how much time I wasted on completely insignificant things, on feeling frustrated but not knowing why, on feeling unfulfilled.  My life was consumed with day-to-day busy-ness: things that “needed to get done”, grocery lists, meal plans, sports schedules, appointments, chores, the lists are never ending because there are always things that need to be done, to be remembered, to be scheduled.  Mothers hold so much in their heads; we have so much minutia on our minds on a daily basis that it’s not a wonder that we slide into the blurry sidelines; if we are not intentional with our time creating goals and actually focusing enough to accomplish them becomes less and less of a priority, and we become consumed by all of the things.

The next few months for me were filled with the consumption of self-development books and blogs, following suitably inspirational Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, stalking life coaches (a career territory I wasn’t familiar with prior to this endeavor; I’ve followed Cara Alwill Leyba across every platform she is known, including purchasing her books), downloading podcasts and generally trying to consume as much get-off-your-ass-and-make-something-of-yourself content.

Perhaps one of the more consequential actions I took was enrolling in a Facebook Group program called Morning Routine Refresh.  Paula Stang Stinnett, Chief Possibility Officer at The Art of Being Queen offered a free five day program that focused on mothers who are feeling lost, frustrated, tired, drained, chaotic, stretched too thin, discouraged…the adjectives that were used by the participants in my first round were among all of these (she does not just focus on mothers, however this particular program was designed specifically for this).  These vapid, desolate words resonated so loudly with me.  The premise of the program was to focus on yourself first and foremost, to set your day up in such a way that by rising earlier in the morning you would commit a section of time to yourself, and you alone.  Not to clean your kitchen or rotate a load of laundry, not to commit to an exercise program, but to focus on and reconnect with you, the woman that you are, by whatever means felt right to you.  Self-care (at the time of enrolling in this program I hadn’t quite acknowledged this term), journaling, yoga, meditation, reading for personal growth; the rules were loose as far as what activities were allowed, as long as it benefited the growth of you and you alone.

This simple idea was eye-opening for me.  My days up until that point were cyclical; I was up at 6am if I was lucky, showering, getting the kids up and ready, packing them up for the day, dropping them at their respective places, spending 8-9 hours at the office with its own demands that bleed not just slightly but into each and every hour outside of the office, leave work, pick up at daycare, pick up at school, head home, start dinner, do laundry (there is always more laundry, it is a never-ending constant), help with homework, facilitate baths and showers, enforce nighttime routines, and then prep for the next day if I was feeling up to it; if not, that meant that the next day was already starting behind, which was most days.  Most days I wasn’t sitting down until 9:30 at night, and I just wanted to drink a bottle of wine, watch something mindless on Netflix, bury my head and sleep.  In the mornings I was pressed for time, on edge, stressed and absolutely lost my shit on more than the occasional basis.  At night, I ran a drill sergeant’s time clock: homework, dinner, shower, bed.  In between tasks or while waiting for dinner to cook I zoned out scrolling through Facebook catching up on other people’s lives, which had no significance in my own life but felt overwhelmingly important.

Just reading that makes me exhausted.  It weighs on me in an almost physical way.  Because under all of the tasks and routines and busywork, there are the things that I would have liked to do for myself: exercise, read, a hobby, something creative.  I always felt frustrated that I didn’t have the “time” to allocate to these things that I desperately wanted to be doing.

Dedicating 20 to 30 minutes to meditation, yoga, personal growth, writing, journaling, anything that allowed me to focus on something that I wanted to do allowed me to really determine the activities that resonated with me the most.  Carving out time to focus on and to reconnect with myself, in the quiet of the early morning, and take a breath before diving into the day was simple and easy (minus the early set alarm) yet extraordinary.  I read books that sparked ideas, listened to podcasts that motivated, I meditated, journaled and focused on gratitude.  Once I had committed to creating that time that was solely for me, I found that I was much more at peace with the demands of the day, of the pulls from my daughters, my husband, my home and my job.

I highly suggest trying it for a few days.  Carve out time for you and you alone.  In the quiet of the morning (or whatever time of the day you can), pursue yourself.  Reconnect, invest and prioritize you.  Find the spark that will light you on fire.  It’s there, you just have to be willing to take the time to connect with it.  This was all a part of my journey back to writing.  To here, with you, the consumer of my thoughts.

I wouldn’t ever suggest that I have all of the answers, nor have I mastered the balance of woman and mother.  I’m simply sharing my journey.  However, as I developed a keen interest in developing myself outside of the role of mother, I saw a window of opportunity to share my story in a way that might scale to something that other mothers were feeling.  Mothers who were stuck, unhappy, and not living up to their fullest potential.  And I rediscovered a strong propensity for writing, the previous evidence of which was long ago burned in my parents’ fireplace.

Motherhood is all-consuming, if you let it be.  That is why carving out time to dedicate to and staying intentional about your growth and goals as a woman is paramount in finding success, in finding the illusive feeling of “balance”.

Catalysts

So, exactly what kept me from publishing my first blog post has kept me from, until now, publishing a subsequent post.  There is a large project going on at work, three girls starting and falling into the rhythm of school, Labor Day weekend, life.

Life gets in the way, doesn’t it?  Not the moments where you are engaged, not when you are doing things that are fulfilling, satisfying or enjoyable, but all of the things that happen around those moments.  When you are scrambling through, hitting snooze on the alarm, ushering children out the door and into their days, running late for work, eating lunch at your desk, leaving mere seconds before the kids need to be picked up at school, getting home to perform the endless tasks of laundry and cleaning, prepping for dinner, coaxing everyone through dinner, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed; paying the passing days, and the wasted time in them, no attention at all.  In a round-about way, life getting in the way and time slipping away unheeded prompted me to start thinking about writing again.

2016 was a tough year.  The challenges that year brought are thoughts for another day, but one thing 2016 will always stand for for me was that it made me question a whole hell of a lot.

For Christmas I received “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero as a gift.  This book was a catalyst for me.  It sparked a movement towards general change.  If you are looking for motivation, this book likely will cause you to start thinking a little differently and I highly recommend it.

What I discovered in reading this book was that I harbored a mix of discontentment, frustration, dissatisfaction; I felt unfulfilled in an area that I couldn’t quite pinpoint.  I hesitated to say these sorts of things out loud, or at least outside of the circle of a few close friends, because that would likely warrant plenty of unsolicited advice about being grateful for what I had and reminders of those who were less fortunate than I.  But you know what?  There are plenty of people out there chasing – what they are chasing varies from person to person, but chasing something.  Why not me?  I wanted to change my own status quo.

In December 2016, I sat down with three close friends who were feeling similarly to how I felt – overwhelmed, unfulfilled, looking for “more”.  We had consistently been each other’s sounding boards, each other’s support system, for years and were in similar seasons of our lives.  We had stumbled upon a workbook, the YearCompass; I forget how now, but the idea behind the workbook was that you would gather with your friends over tea (or cocktails) and have a great time analyzing the previous year and your accomplishments, your goals and your direction; the second half of the workbook focused on your goals and vision for the year ahead.

What I discovered in the first half of this workbook was a punch in the gut; I walked away from this exercise feeling a mix of shock, disappointment and sadness.  I catalogued 2016 week by week; of the standout moments, my children and husband were center stage.  Which was absolutely wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t list one goal or passion that was mine and mine alone – I could list my daughters’ accomplishments, the leaps and strides my husband had taken in his new career and his achievement in winning the Vermont Amateur – but I could not list one goal or accomplishment I had attained nor could I drum up a passion that I had.  I had nothing to add to the highlight reel, nothing notable of any measure.  I took time out to enjoy with my friends, I had taken a real interest in mountain biking, but I had no goals, no vision, no real successes.  In 2016, and for many years prior, my family was the sun and I orbited around both them and my career.  One section of the worksheet asked what the biggest thing that I had completed was, and the only thing I could come up with was a painting for my daughter’s bedroom.  One singular thing that surely didn’t deserve its spot on that particular page.

After absorbing this realization for some time (because let’s face it, our lives are not built for reflection and analyzing given their pace and everything else that begs our attention) it was clear to me that it was no wonder I was feeling shiftless, frustrated, unfulfilled and just a bit lost.  This is not to say that your passion and goals cannot be entirely wrapped within your family; if it is for you, embrace it.  This was simply my awakening to the realization that mine, after so many years of focusing solely on family and my career, were not.

So, I set out to find that spark, a passion, goals and a vision that I could define as truly my own.  I’ll take you down the rabbit hole in my next post.  Until then, share with me in the comments – what sorts of goals and passions do you set for yourself outside of your family and your career?  Something that is one hundred percent solely for you.

Transition

Our family takes a trip to the coast of Maine every year right before the kids go back to school.  For me, this week always signifies the close of a chapter, the initiation of moving into a time of transition.

In these waning days of August, we turn our backs on long summer evenings, less rigorous schedules and prepare for a new year ahead; one that is much more significant than any New Year’s Eve that I can remember.  Mornings and evenings are more structured, there is less time for family, less time for relaxing.  Everything is new and demanding, for both the children and us: classrooms, teachers, classmates, routines, schedules, extracurriculars.

This year I have been hit harder with this bittersweet transitionary period.  My baby is heading to preschool.  She will stand with her sisters in the obligatory back-to-school photos but this time she will be holding her own little back pack, most likely smiling and looking sideways rather than at the camera as she is prone to do.  I will leave her at school, rather than hold her in my arms, smiling and waving as her sisters disappear onto buses and through school doors.  I will drive away alone, and my heart aches for those ordinary moments that you don’t notice at the time, and don’t miss until they’re a memory.

Over the last week or so I have read a number of different posts about how the back-to-school transition affects our children: today, they will not be the same as tomorrow; they will be shaped by the experiences and education, the interactions and the lessons that they have over the course of this new school year; that this week, and the next couple to follow, will be fraught with exhaustion, acting out, possible sadness, and a host of emotions and behaviors while they find their way and settle into a rhythm.  I took the day off from work with them today, just to spend in their company with no expectations, obligations or distractions.  But I also took the day off to spend some time with me.

While it is important to focus on and nurture our children through these transitions, something that I am also focusing on is nurturing myself through this season of change.  I am taking care to take some time to acknowledge this mix of bittersweet sadness and happiness and overwhelming sense that time is moving too fast.  I am absorbing the moments that I can, both with my girls as they prepare to move into their new grades and also with myself, to nurture myself and take care to not get overwhelmed by the pace of change, the new routines, the schedules, and the increase in demand of my time.  Whether it is taking 15 minutes to take an Epsom salt and lavender oil bath, which is how I started my week, to walk outside in the sunlight with my thoughts, to read a book, listen to a podcast or sit here and write this out, I am measuring out my empathy and including myself in the mix of those that need to be nurtured through.

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For my youngest, today is the last day that she is my baby.  And that is something that I need to make time to both mourn and celebrate.

If you are a mom of school-aged children, I hope that you are taking the time that you need to walk yourself through this season of change.  Drop a comment and tell me how you will be nurturing yourself through.

Starting

I’m still not ready, but I’m starting.

I have thought about starting this blog for awhile, but I haven’t made it past the start up page.  I’ve been writing, but haven’t felt ready.  I have wanted to share my experiences, my thoughts, my insights on being a woman and a mother.  I became a mother first, and am just discovering myself as a woman outside of that.

I’m still not ready, but I am starting.  Because if I don’t, I will continue to delay until it is never launched.  The blog post that I will share next is timely, and wouldn’t have held as much resonance as it might today.  So, it forced my hand.  And maybe this isn’t the right way to begin, without having read all of the vast internet advice and how-to on starting a blog, without truly understanding how to manage a blog, without really having thought this all through.  But today felt right.  So, here we go.