Last month, we hosted a little “School Is Out — Oh, Yeah!” gathering for our son. It involved some fun snacks, a little juice, a handful of his 7-year-old friends, and one key ingredient: LEGO. And lots of it.
Actually it was a workshop happily disguised as a party. But you know 7-year-olds and details. Uh, they don’t need ’em. Just pass that box filled with LEGO bricks, parent!
Jokes aside, we were really pleased with all it all turned. Thanks wholly to Play-Well TEKnologies, a LEGO-inspired engineering group. Play-Well comes to your home and runs an Engineering with LEGO workshop. The group sends a master builder or two carting along approximately 20,000 pieces of LEGO to teach a 90-minute engineering workshop.
The boys got right to work and did a fantastic job of listening to their master builder (who was super patient and kind). Like when it was time to clean up, they totally did. I think I even heard them singing the “Clean Up Song” and everything!
Though no one is paying me to say this, I highly recommend Play-Well to any parent looking for birthday party idea or a major Winter Is Boring Us group play date that has a healthy mix of fun and education. Two thumbs way up!
It was our great philosopher in a bowler hat, Boy George, who said it best when he sang: Time won’t give me time. It’s one of those hard truths working mothers (hell, all mothers!) know too well.
And for us WAHMs … listen. The juggle is real.
I recently wrote a “y’all, there’s a better way” post for Cool Mom Tech offering up eight simple, smart tips to help work-at-home parents up productivity and get more done in less time. I’m talking legit, actionable tips that you could start using this. very. minute. Many of these tips were things that I knew were effective, but that I somehow — in the breathless swirl of deadline-juggling, tightrope-walking and other circus dark arts — stopped doing. (For ex., feeding myself properly and on time; turning off notifications.)
But then there were some newer ideas that made perfect sense to me, and I incorporated imeejetly, like this super smart one I picked up from book marketing whiz Tim Grahl called the 80-20 Rule:
Carve out 90 minutes from your busy workday — or 20 percent of an eight-hour day — to devote it to the most important tasks on your work To-Do list. So even if you squander the other 80 percent of the day on the Twittuh or mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest, you can still bank on those 90 minutes to focus on your top goals or priorities and get something important done that makes you feel satisfied at the end of the day.
I mean, come on. Brilliance, right?
However, even with my new and improved plan to be all, “It’s handle,” with my writing and editing deadlines, I somehow still felt like I was working triage with my vampire-like To Do list. I was still waking up tired, moving through the day with this spilling-over plate and trying to be a present, focused mother to my 6-year-old son. tl;dr… it was all tew damn much — still!
I kept researching, looking for ways that I could feel like I had a better handle on the day/my life. Then I decided to go old school with this. I took out paper and pencil (not pen, because there will be erasin’) and literally mapped out a schedule for myself — when I would wake up, what time I’d go running, eat brekkie, shower, write undisturbed, read books, mess with social media, etc. I even plotted out when I would stretch (something that was falling to the wayside too often), and what time would be Lights-Out so I could grab at least 7.5 hours of sleep.
Uh, you’re not an android, Blades. I know, I know. Some might think this level of detailed scheduling is a tad extra. But it’s what I needed to get into a groove, plant the seeds for a habit. And, you know what? It’s working. I’m one week into my new schedule and I’m feeling rested, prepared and focused. Sure, I haven’t watched any of my shows on the telly, but that’s why Al Gore created DVRs, yes? The point is, I feel more in control of my time and how it’s spent.
I’m going to see if I can keep it going and really make this stick. Remember, Beyoncé did tell us all — back when she was writing forewords for vegan diet books — that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. (Oh, who needs authentic scientific support for this? It’s Bey, people! :-| )
Nicole Blades is a novelist and freelance journalist who writes about motherhood, identity and culture. Her second novel, THE THUNDER BENEATH US (Kensington), will be published November 2016.
This post was originally published on BlogHer.com
If you’ve been reading MMM for the last five years, you already know how I feel about September. It’s always been about fresh starts, clean pages, and first steps in new directions. I call it my New Year. I usually meet the month with a smile and a bottle full of energy ready to be uncorked.
But this time around, I feel like I kind of dragged myself to the starting line. Yes, the month is only days old right now, but I’m already exhausted. The last couple of months drained whatever I had brewing right out of me. I’m waking up tired, missing meals, feeling perma-frazzled, and looking at my rude To-Do list sideways like it insulted my mother.
And I’m not down any of this. Not even a little. Don’t be playin’ with my New Year! I need my September to feel like fresh air and excitement. I need it to feel like this Earth, Wind & Fire classic:
My tiredness has to do with not getting enough sleep, for starters. But I’m already attacking that like it’s the last cupcake at a kid’s party. The lights were out by 10:30 sharp last night. Like I said, Don’t be playin’ with my New Year, man!
The other piece to this doesn’t really have that quick-fix. It’s the juggle, the one that so many — too many — parents are doing on the daily. The one that leaves us all feeling stretched, running late, worn out, beat up, and deflated. I’ve been thinking about this juggle, this dancing as fast as I can foolishness we’re all perpetrating. And it simply cannot go on like this.
A friend posted an old opinion piece by the NYTimes’ Charles Blow. It was from two years ago, but reading it again today, I think I was nodding my head even harder this time. The piece was called “The Passion of Parenting,” and Blow talked about the ongoing challenge of parenting (he’s a single dad of three). He shares some of the wisdom he’s been handed down from his own mother, when he’d turn to her in times of, Ugggghhhh, this shit is hard. (My paraphrase. Obvi.)
“She taught me that sometimes you have to make time for yourself so that you will have energy to give to your children. Allow them to have a pizza night every now and then. An occasional treat won’t hurt them, but working yourself to a frazzle will surely hurt you. Rest.
“She taught me that you must allow yourself time to find stillness and so you can be moved by it. Sometimes we are so busy that we forget why we’re busy. We have so many things on our list of priorities that we lose sight of what’s really important.
I mean, sometimes we are so busy that we forget why we’re busy? And then, one day you must give them back to life? Come on! Mother Blow is dishing out truth stew, and I’m drinking it down!
And then I read something more recent that really drove the point all the way home — and walked it to the front door. It was “Is ‘having it all’ a feminist fiction?” by the always great Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan. Exhibit A:
“I love being a mom, and I love having a career, but I can’t help feeling like somewhere along the lines I was sold a bill of goods that anyone could adequately do them both. Someone is going to lose, and sometimes it feels like we are all losing. I’m working non-stop, foregoing sleep, and just wondering what new thing will crop up tomorrow to keep me from finishing the deadlines I needed to make yesterday, before my time got way-laid. I’m often tired and grumpy. I don’t get enough sleep, and I don’t feel like I have time to hit the gym most days. I am modeling a lifestyle of stress to my children and I am disappointing people right and left because I just need 10 more hours in each day to do everything I need to do.”
COME ON! Hell to the yessss! What we could all do with 10 more hours, right? Please. We’d probably quickly fill those up and still be walking around stretched and stressed. It all points to the fact — the fact — that this has to change. And I’m saying it here now: It will change. Because I want my joyful giddy back. I want my September New Year back. And I want it back now.
So… Welcome, September. Glad you’re here! Happy New Year!
To kick of this season proper, how about a little giveaway?
One thing that has been a total lifesaver these last couple busy weeks is this Peri Ultra-Slim GoCharge mobile charger.
It’s super slim, streamlined and specifically designed to fit into a small purse or clutch. I’ve got the gold one and it’s mighty stylin’, folks. I don’t even feel it in my bag. I’ve actually had to rummage around my bag for it once or twice. But that says a lot more about the state of my purse right now. ahem Anyway, the sleek charger has an integrated Lightning cable (iPhone) or Micro USB (Android) that just — spoop — tucks into the back of it, so no dangly wires to worry about. It packs about one-and-half full charges for my phone and has saved from dead battery hell a few times over.
So, who wants one?
All you have to do is leave a comment below about what you’re most looking forward to in September and you’ll be in the running to nab your own Peri Ultra-Slim GoCharge, totally gratis! The winner will be randomly selected in two weeks.
It starts at 6 a.m. Every morning, no matter what time I went to sleep the night before, weekday or weekend, it begins.
My brain starts up, my eyes pop open, and I’m awake. More than awake, I’m on. It’s a persistent stream of ideas; To-Do lists; reminders; goals; aspirations; turns of phrase, working titles, dialogue, and deadlines; appointments; house errands; if the weather will be kind to me on my run; random thoughts about the world and how I’m moving through it; and also how I’m guiding the way for my son to do the same.
Sometimes the mental calisthenics kick in a full hour earlier. I’m talking well before the sun unfurls over the dim skies, my mind, it’s flooded with all of this … stuff.
Over the last year, I’ve made a very specific effort to quiet that mad spill of thought and chatter in the morning before I even open my eyes. I take deep breaths. I speak my gratitude for waking up to a new day, for my health, for my family. I send out good wishes to those who I know need them. And I try to set my intention for the day, plus name three things that I want to get done.
(I know. This might sound a little woo-woo. And that’s okay. It’s been working for me.)
My three things are almost always about writing and work, so they will shift and change daily as my deadlines do. But often my intention for the day is the same: find balance.
I say it and mean it. I do. Still, there’s a side of me — a snarky, eye-rolling version tucked away behind my nerve — that snorts each time I say it. Find balance. Heh. Yeah, right. Good luck with allll that, homey. (See what I mean? Just shady as hell, that one.)
My chuckles and skepticism come from the fact that I’m a writer and a mother. Both of these things are so stitched into the fabric of who I am; they gobble up a lot of space and time and attention. The notion of balance feels elusive to me. Hell, real talk? Balance sounds like some sort of fiction that a halfway convincing snake oil salesman talked me into.
But I keep the faith, keep believing that finding balance is a real thing. In fact, I’ve been looking, in earnest, for ways that I might actually brush up against something that feels like it. I’ve made adjustments to my routines: reading a book in bed first thing in the morning instead of checking my iPhone; shutting down all tech everything by 10 p.m.; swearing off running errands before lunchtime; and even writing items down on my To-Do list that I’ve already done just so I can have the thrill of literally crossing it off the agenda.
Most of these changes have helped me, acting as a sort of course correction, allowing me to feel more mindful and calm throughout the day. Steady, but not necessarily balanced.
The thing is, despite any gains that I’ve made with these upgraded systems and routines, there are two conflicting memes that are at the core of my imbalance:
- Work Hard. That’s the only way to put a hand on success. Or as Alec Baldwin’s balls-of-steel character in the classic Glengarry Glen Ross said, “A-B-C. Always be closing.”
- Smell the Roses. Make time for self-care and living this life because, as we’ve often been told, you’ll never hear anyone on their deathbed say that they wished they worked more. Or, as the iconic Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Trying to find the line between Work Hard and Making Time to Live, that’s the challenge. It will always be a challenge. Maybe the secret sauce is knowing this, and accepting that some days you’ll teeter and even lean more to one side, but if you keep your eyes fixed on forward, you won’t fall.
Author of THE THUNDER BENEATH US. Journalist. Runner. Mother. Creator of Ms. Mary Mack. Living this life the best way I know how.
Originally posted on BlogHer.