A friend of mine invited me to do a podcast on motherhood for her friend / client Lisa York. I agreed! You can find it (and also a brief summary of it) here (warning: loads a little slowly), on Lisa York’s SuperMum website.
Yes…. SuperMum. I have to admit that my friend asked me to do a podcast and I was all “yeah! yeah, sure!” and never really asked what it would be about (I know.. I know). Then ON THE DAY of the podcast I listened to some of the archived podcasts (which I loved!), and dug around in the site and found out that it was all about tips for motherhood. Interestingly, not parenting per se, but motherhood – how to keep sane, or keep happy, or just keep going while “mum-ing”. For example, there were tips on how a quick morning meditation can help your day, and how to have a quick “mummy reboot” or how to “Find Your Lost Identity”. So, my immediate reaction was to look at my unwashed hair and creased clothes, and the general disarray of my life, and think “Cripes, I have got literally nothing to offer here”. It is not unusual for me to wear the same clothes three days in a row because I didn’t have time to wash / choose / think about anything else. There. I admitted it. Be grateful I use Febreeze y’all.Plus, I was worried Lisa would also want parenting tips, and I don’t give parenting a lot of thought. I’m not saying I am a brilliant parent-er, but through a combination of over confidence and and inertia (I like to think inertia sounds better than laziness) I I just mostly do what feels right at the time, somewhat in consultation with the other ‘alf, and rarely actually take stock of what I am doing. I mean, I am prone to suddenly going “ermagahd we all need watch less TV” or “waaaaah, the minions are not being adequately controlled by their masters and anarchy is on the horizon in this household” but at these points I can’t think of a time where I have investigated HOW to watch less TV, or HOW to control the parasites. I just sort of try to do it for a little while, and when a new panic comes [“We all need to take Probiotics everyday or we’ll be 20-stone and ridden with ebola!”] I forget about the old one, and who knows if I actually effected any behavioral change.
I am totally on board that I could do things better, and that my kids could be better in some areas, but I am just not motivated enough to like, read a book about it, or an article. Or, let’s face it, even a listicle (unless it has super amazing gifs, including one of Ryan Reynolds (Greatest Dad Ever TM) in his underwear). I do love that plenty of my friends read this stuff, because then when I am whining that my kids can’t do a basic human act like sit at the dinner table, I can absorb their collective wisdom (nicely digested, synthesized and often tested) as I sob into my Malbec.So, I totally freaked out, but Lisa (who runs the website and its podcasts) was ah-maz-ing and told me just to be myself and then gave me a write-up that made me even want to listen to myself (to be clear: I have not! Ha! I am way too awkward and worried that I’ll sound like a fool or spend all the time fretting about my answers to do that). But, I am glad I did it. As we talked about things like differences between the US and the UK, and the fact that I don’t read parenting books, I am super worried that I will offend someone – but still, I am glad I did it. And I definitely enjoyed it. And Lisa seemed to think that the message of “Oh, I’m just winging it because I guess deep down I don’t think what we do makes an enormous difference anyway…” was an OK message to put out there. Or maybe even a reassuring one. So, if you needed to here it – there we go.
I’m winging it and you can too 🙂
But also, it was good that one of Lisa’s goals with SuperMum is just to tell mum’s stories… and I really enjoyed listening to those – kind of like an audio blog if you will. I’ve subscribed on itunes and I am trying to listen to new podcasts on the way to work, so maybe some tips will seep in after all…
Oh, and at the end of the podcast every person is asked to give their definition of a SuperMum. Apparently the most common definitions involve happiness and health. I won’t tell you what my definition of a SuperMum is (go listen to the podcast!) but can I just make a plea that we stop tying success to happiness and health? Both of those are gifts that are only somewhat within our control. It’s easy to agree that someone who has cancer / has children with cancer (i.e. the health part is tough) is no less a SuperMum than someone without. So, can we generalize and say that someone who is depressed / has children with depression – or is even just struggling to be happy and content right now – is also no less a SuperMum. And this obviously goes beyond parenting: your success, and your worth and your value does not have to tied up to your health and happiness. It’s up to you to decide what it is tied to…
I ended up picking just 2 goals for January: keep doing what I need to do to give Caroline exclusive breastmilk (I don’t even know why this is important to me at this stage, but I picked it so there we go) and to get my family into a workable daily routine. Actually, giving my kiddos exclusive breastmilk from my non-maternal breasts is such a huge challenge that it needs a whole routine in itself, so these two dovetailed nicely.
The long and short of it is that yes: at the end of January I feel like I achieved my goals, if not the sub goals like “take Fridays as vacation” (I only managed one 1/2 day as vacation… Sob…). With breastfeeding I did not remember all those darn supplements and every glass of water but I did keep to a reasonably healthy diet, stay fairly well hydrated, get some Reglan and end up pumping an extra 4 oz a day while also breast feeding evenings and weekends. So, I am going to call that job done.
I also stuck to a hellacious family routine. Combining pumping and returning to a demanding job with Houston’s horrific traffic has meant that I am up at 5.30 every day and it is go, go, go from then: 5.30 feed Caroline, 5.45 get up and get three people out of the house and fed by 6.30. 7: Arrive at daycare, feed at leave in time to be pumping at 8my desk at . Pump at 10 for another FORTY minutes. Leave the office at 11.30 and feed Caroline driving to be back for 12.30 meetings. Pump at 2 for another faking 40-45 minutes. Leave work at 4, feed Caroline, drive home for 5.30. Make dinner. Eat dinner at 6. At 6.30 Feed and bath Carokine. At 7.15 Bath and bed Sam (<— one of my favorite times of day) to get him down for 8.15 (pardon my French but fuck those sleep consultants with their 15 minute nighttime routines. I swear they don’t have actual children, just cats or something). At 8.15: Sort out the milk for tomorrow, sort out dinner for tomorrow, pack car and pump again at 9. At 9.30 collapse in bed with this little bundle of gorgeousness sleeping beside me. Then do it all again in 8 hours time.
I’m sorry, cry me a river and all that, but isn’t that just exhausting to read? Is it just me? Am I emerging from some deeply sheltered and pampered life blinking angrily into reality? I don’t know but it seems like a crazy exhausting schedule to me, but it is all that works for us right now so do it we will (and it is only going to get easier as I pump less, kids get more independent yada yada yada).
In unrelated news: I also eat a lot of chocolate and drink a large glass of wine every night.
Anyway, the point is not to moan, but to say that slowing down, calming down, climbing down and focusing on just one thing – the daily routine – has been very interesting to me. It has allowed me to see how exhausting it can be and how much energy it needs. Last year, I would have been focusing on that and 20 other things and nothing would have got done properly and I would have been stressed. Just doing this – life – properly has been eye opening.
I have had meltdowns – huge meltdowns. I have got through the check-out at target and realized my wallet is at home (and got bailed out by an amazing friend!). I have needed my friends desperately (all of whom been wonderful). From my friends’ behavior towards me, I have learned how to actually help someone, not just want to help them. I would have failed utterly without Wes (howl – where is my independence?). I have thrown pity parties all for myself and had a little tantrum if it is mentioned that many people do this every day and many people have it worse than me. It’s been exhausting and humbling, so humbling. But so rewarding. It has been so nice to think “I should fix my postpartum figure” or “I need to get my stampin’ Up! Business going or “I really should write a blog post” and just think “No. Those are not my goals right now, right now I M just getting my family trough this transition”. It’s been freeing! And I feel like I have achieved something! I feel good.
I am also amazed that I haven’t completely given up on future goals: we’ve cooked at home all but 2 meals a week, the house has been liveable, I have made some cards, I have seen friends, I have lost 1 lb… All these little things have just meandered along at a snail’s pace. I am also amazed at how relaxed about them I can be when I have a focus and when I give myself permission just to go with the flow.
I have started to adopt this at work too – just focussing on one thing and trusting that everything else will get done adequately. I have focussed on my main twin study, and the second grant to find that. I got the grant in (Friday!) and am pleased with it. This month I am focussing on my twin papers, and saying ‘no’ to things that don’t align with that goal. Whether that works for not I will let you know – academia seems a separate beast to personal life.
Amazingly, I have been so happy this month. So, so happy. Busy Lekki = happy Lekki, and my children delight me daily. I have realized that for now, building my family and getting the home right is my joy. I have felt a deep contentment and peace (I have also been renewing my relationship with God which has helped). I have felt supported and surrounded by so much love and friendship and understanding. And I have felt so lucky! Tears and grumpiness and meltdowns not withstanding, I have felt gloriously like I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing.
For February… I am not so sure. Probably more of the same: get through the month with home cooked meals (not thinking about actual nutrition right now), and no late starts, and with feeding Caroline breast milk). I feel like I need one thing to add onto this base, but something small (like, being presentable at work would not be an option right now – as I sat in my oversized hoodie, maternity pants and glasses, my co-worker commented that I looked ‘depressed’). Maybe staying on top of our finances – that’s something that I need to get back to. Or building a family recipe book. Or doing craft activities with Sam (not sure if that is for him or me.. probably walking with Sam would be better for him). I’ll pick something and let you know.
Did you set any goals for January? Make progress on your New Year’s Resolution(s)? How do you stay on track?
I tend to shy away from making New Years’ Resolutions. I am not sure why. While I love the idea of setting goals so maybe it is the years of my attempts to achieve them not going past 2-3 weeks that have left me jaded. Or, perhaps it is that right now smaller goals (go to the gym, read books, try new recipes, that kind of ilk) are not what I need. I wrote at the end of 2014 that I had not been that happy that year, and was resolved to rectify it in 2015. Sad to say that I didn’t. I mean, I don’t want anyone to think that I was sitting in a pool of misery the whole time, but something big was missing from my life for me to say: yes I am happy with this. Certainly I had a lot to be happy with: a great son, a much wanted second pregnancy (and then a much wanted daughter), a job I love (although I don’t perform at it in a way that makes me happy), and a hobby I love (card making). I also make strides forward in 2015: I developed a bigger friendship group, was the recipient of several grants and a National-level award, including one from NIH and improved our home no end. So, perhaps a lack of contentment is a better word, because overall there were very happy moments. I just wouldn’t say that I was happy.
I did get the gift of 12 weeks maternity leave right at the end of the year. It was a glorious reset. For the first time, I got to sit and do (relatively) nothing. I only went into the office once a week, once Caroline was 3 weeks old (delivering a successful presentation nonetheless!) and did an hour or so emails a day. The rest of the time was gloriously mine. With no pressures and no demands, it was interesting to see what I did. I made wall displays in our house. I redid the kiddos playroom. I built a china display cabinet and started collecting Emma Bridgewater pottery (thanks to Clio who sent out several pieces while I was pregnant, and much to the dismay of my poor parents who are now being forced to source and purchase pottery and – even worse – get it out to the US!). I kept Sam home way more than I should have from the perspective of ‘giving preschoolers good routines’. I spent hours getting to know Caroline: playing games, holding her, soaking her in. Because I had so much more free time I spent evening time just soaking in Sam too, in all his glorious preschooler-ness. All his quirks, and his loves. I appreciated the joy in being his mum.
What didn’t I do? I didn’t write any grants or papers. I honestly thought that I would, but given the choice I chose not to. That is not to say that (1) I don’t enjoy these things (I do), or (2) there is no space for them in my life (there is. There had better be, anyway). But it became clear to me that these were not to be the sole things I focussed on to be happy. Along those lines, it was interesting the work tasks I missed doing (being part of my twin study, discussing and writing up new ideas, getting that first set of exciting [though often wrong] results), and of course, those I didn’t.
I knew that going into 2016 I needed to make a change. It seemed clear that I needed to set some goals and figure out steps to achieve them. So, I started looking into planners. Just a subjective impression, but it seems that planners are a very American thing – big binders full of pintrest ideas, to do lists, trackers and so on. But they appeal to me – I need ways to organize my thoughts and my actions, figure out my goals track if I am achieving them. I use a lot of planner-style apps and of course my blog is a ‘brain dump’ and a planner. Turns out this idea (using a planner), is not so revolutionary after all. There are bloody millions of planners, and even more forums, facebook groups, blogs and even Meet-up groups dedicated to them. Wow. Where to start? I did read some reviews, and had my planner choice whittled down to 4 or 5, but was loathe to drop $40-80 (yes really!) on something I have never used before.
The came the Passion Planner. The passion planner was already in my top 5 because it met all of my requirements: blank ‘brain dump’ spaces, daily time slots broken into smaller sections, prompts for goal setting and reviewing and lots of space for to do lists. Oh, and it was one of the cheapest at $30. What held me back was that it was black and white and that I wasn’t clear if it was actually any better than any of the more expensive, but much prettier ones. What made me pull the trigger? You can get it free. Yes free. All you have to do is share this link on social media (http://www.passionplanner.com/downloads-2/) and you can download the whole planner as a PDF file. No outlay, so Passion Planner it is.
Passion planner does have prompts and charts to help you goal set, but I suspect my issue is more global than that. I want to do things well, and I want to do a lot of things. My goals include: spend quality time with my kids, work at my job hard, run a toddler craft group, run a stampin’ up business, collect Emma Bridgewater pottery, keep a really nice house, write a personal blog, write an academia blog, write a crafting blog, see my friends, read non fiction books, volunteer, look after my animals more, be more present and more purposeful, eat better, exercise, get Sam a regular out-of-the-house hobby, bake more, cook more, commit to a regularly weekly food shop, stop wasting money, breast feed for another 10 months, stop wasting time so much on the internet and, and, and. Clearly I cannot do all of this – even without a toddler and infant and a deep need for a lot of sleep (I am one of those ‘8 hours a day or else’ people). So what to choose and what to prioritize?
My friend chic in academia to the rescue… She wrote this lovely post on writing a goal statement. She gives much more guidance in her post, but the idea is think hard about your values, strengths, needs and talents and write an overall statement summing those up. From there you goals should flow. So that is what I am off to do. I am hoping that at the end of this process (mission statement and goal setting) I will have a much clearer path forward; I will know what to say yes and no to, and how to fill my time. I hope it will give me motivation to spend the time I currently spend glazed over on the internet more purposefully and I hope it will also give me the gift of guilt free relaxation. I am looking forward to sharing my process with you.
Edited to add: writing this post has made me reflect on how gloriously lucky I am: I have the kids I wanted, a job I love, enviable health and many, many superficial trappings (‘things’). I am still on a goal setting path though 🙂
Do you set goals? How do you do it? How do you keep track of important things? Does anyone use a planner regularly, and if so, do you have any tips to share with me?
2 1/2 years in, and I am definitely still adjusting to motherhood. 3 years in, and I am still adjusting to Houston. I have written before that I was unhappy for much of 2014, and 2015 was looking to possibly shape up in a similar way (albeit a little better). And honestly, partially because I don’t really recognize myself as unhappy (maybe a bit ‘flat’ or a bit ‘whiney’) until I get it right. Until I realize that I have made myself happy. That happened this weekend.
Saturday morning I took Sam to a kids’ swimming pool (Noah’s Ark) and we just had a blast. It was lovely to focus totally on him, and to be a big kid myself – yes, I climbed through all the water tunnels (so elegantly with my whopping bump), went down all the kiddos’ slides and picked Sam up and threw him in the water fountain (much to his delight). It was delightful, silly, exhausting fun.
Cue a stupidly large Mickey D’s, and then an unplanned nap on the sofa. Although I was woken by Sam waking from his nap (after only 2 hours! 3 hours at the pool is supposed to buy me more than 2 hours!) he then played happily for several hours while I made a new card for my Etsy shop (<— still a work in progress) and updated my Stampin’ Up! blog. Pizza dinner, easy night down for the dwarf and then movie night with the Husband – we watched St. Vincent which was pretty good.
Today I played hard with the kiddo in the morning and then went and helped a friend set up her Stampin’ Up! website. She fed me lunch and I got a delicious frozen StarBucks on the way home. Sam woke the second I got home (again, after only 1.5 hours! What is up with this kiddo?) so we tidied the house together and then hit the garden.
One of the best things Wes & I did was fence off a small area of our garden for Sam. We put in his sandbox, my hammock, and small IKEA table and chairs, a bench, a slide and a paddling pool. If Sam and I go out there I can get snatches of anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes to myself blogging, surfing the internet or reading. And when he does want to play, it’s easy for me to engage in water fights and sandcastles and chalk pictures on the wall. We usually have a blast and today was no exception.
We finished up with snuggles in the hammock – occasionally Sam will take his sippy cup and drink it like he would drink from a bottle as an infant, seeking out things to play with with his hands, his eyes going heavy and going into the ultimate snuggle mode – it’s BLISS.
Now the little one is in bed, I am finishing my blog post while eating delicious pecan toffee, and somewhere in there I even managed a face and a hair masque.
So – why was this such a blissful weekend? What made it feel perfect? It wasn’t tantrum free (you try telling a hungry 2-year old that is 1.5 hours past his nap time that he has to leave the swimming pool of awesomeness). I bought a new nail polish and don’t like it (damn you Essie). I didn’t get time to blow dry my hair and it looks a mess. I did, however, have time to really play with and engage with Sam – both at home and out and about. There was time for my hobbies, and some friend time. But what is most surprising, is that there was no work. Not a single email, nor a review. I didn’t open anything I am working on to poke at it, and yes, I let a few overdue things just sit in my inbox (I am certainly not luxuriating for time at work right now).
It’s odd. It’s uncomfortable if I think about it, and yet it seems like the most natural thing in the world. I realize that even 2.5 years in, I am definitely struggling to adapt to (working) motherhood. When I became a mum, I tried to carry on just like before – keeping work the same and fitting the kiddo in around that. When I couldn’t fit everything in, I dropped the ‘me’ things – make-up, skin care, crafting, blogging. I squeezed Sam in when I could (after a whopping great 3 weeks of maternity leave), and I did whatever it took to keep work going.
It’s not working for me anymore (sorry for the pun). Academia is hard – the way funding is (pretty nonexistent) it seems like a lot of input for not a lot of payback. At the end of the road, when I have focussed so much mental energy on work, and I have nothing to show for it it is hard to look at my beautiful son and think “I am glad I put you second” and “I’m glad I don’t know you as well as I could” and “Sure, I read you stories, and tuck you in, and I’m the one you run to when hurt – but I don’t mind having missed out on those little interactions that are your whole world right now”. It’s hard to look in the mirror at an uncared for reflection and say “I am glad I look a mess”. It’s hard to look around the house and say “I don’t mind that this doesn’t reflect my personality”.
I don’t have the answer. Academia seems to get harder and harder, and survival seems to depend on more and more publications and collaborations and grant submissions. And truly, I love what I do! When I can focus on my real work (not work I have foolishly agreed to do for others, so I am working on reducing that), I truly am fascinated by behavioral genetic questions and I love answering them and writing on them. But kiddos don’t wait, and papers don’t hold me at night. It feels like the wonder in Science is getting less and less, while the wonder in my son grows daily.
Yet, I still hugely look up to so many great Scientists. I cannot let the dream of being like them go. It’s clear that I need to reduce work. I also need to streamline what I do (focussing on behavior almost exclusively) and be much more efficient when I am working (less Facebook, more papers…). Yet, I am scared I cannot be successful like that. It’s hard to let go of the 24/7 work mindset. But I am also scared that I won’t be be successful continuing like I am, and I will have sacrificed everything anyway and be left with nothing. Perhaps these are the ramblings of the third trimester, but I am scared of not having more papers than most people at my stage, of not having more grant submissions, of not having funding. I am terrified of saying no. Yet, I feel I have to take the plunge. I need to turn work off sometimes, and reprioritize when I am at work. I’ve never been like this! I have always been able to do anything and take on any task. I could work my way out of mediocrity. Perhaps this was the fearless I needed to be when I wrote back in January 2014. Anyway, I have to give it go. I have to make some changes.
I have no idea if anyone else struggles like this – I see so many people having careers and personal lives seamlessly, but I am happy to go out on a limb for a minute and say: I am struggling. I am not getting it right. I am changing. I don’t recognize myself and I am worried that the ‘old me’ would have negatively judged the ‘new me’ (what a bloody awful confession).
I am optimistic, I am scared, I am excited, I am terrified. I have no idea how this will play out.
Looking back, I think that 2014 was one of my toughest years yet. Simply because I was very unhappy for much of it. Which it feels churlish to say, since I landed an awesome job and watched my beautiful infant grow into a loving, happy, toddler from within a my large detached house and throughout all this neither I nor my family suffered from any major illnesses (somewhat of a first…). Clearly my blessings were manifold. Which goes to show you that happiness really cannot be bought, and is more complex to achieve than we think.
I hate being unhappy because I hate the person it makes me. I become negative and distant and difficult to be around. I complain. A lot. I am mean about the people I love to the people who love them. I consume the conversation around me with minor worries that can’t be solved. It’s boring. I am not there for my friends when they need me, because I am so consumed with my own problems. I lash out inappropriately and insensitively. I drain those around me.
So, when I got to thinking about 2015 and New Years Resolutions, all I could think was ‘I just want to be happy’. But where to start? Then I read this post by Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point in which she lists the ‘Things [she] did to make [her] life better in 2014′. And that seemed like a great place to start – if I can list the things that made me happy in 2014, I can strive to do more of them in 2014. So here we go:
Things I did that Made Me Happy In 2014:
1. Got Early NIghts
For some reason I had it in my head that I couldn’t go to bed before 10.30, and generally I would kill time until about 11 pm. Then on Christmas Eve, Wes and I watched Downton Abbey and it finished at 9.30. We couldn’t think of anything else to watch and so Wes said “Shall we just go to bed?”.
“No!” I exclaimed in horror, although I did admit that I was tired, and I proceeded to fail to think of a single thing I did want to do. So grudgingly I went up to bed, and lay down. Within minutes I was asleep, and got possibly the best nights’ sleep I have had in ages. Even better, instead of being roused from the depths of a dreamless sleep by the raw of an angry dwarf, I woke slowly and peacefully and gazed at the window quietly until I came to. When the dwarf did yell, I felt more than happy to go and grab him.
I have had 9.30 bedtimes twice since. It has been glorious. I may have discovered it late in the year, but so far just going to bed super early has been one of the things that has made me feel the best.
2. Cleaned up my Facebook feed
I am a feminist (so are you too, probably, you just might not know it), and I am politically liberal, and these stances mean a lot to me. I want to fight for gender equality and gender acceptance and women’s rights and universal healthcare. But Facebook is probably not the place for me to do that (too much). While those issues are very dear to my heart and I have no intention on being silent about them, getting into Facebook scraps and reading what the latest idiot teabagger was doing actually brought me a lot of stress. Much as I enjoyed Slate and some other online magazines, NOT reading about why I should be angry made me… well… a lot less angry.
I also ‘unfollowed’ some friends who frequently speak about being anti marriage-equality, or write things I feel are racist, the vocal anti-vaxxers, and some “friends” whose news feed I was checking only to have mean thoughts about them (come on, I was not the only one who did this, right?). I still follow people who challenge my views, but not those who anger them.
3. Sorted out my skin care
Ahh…. I discovered Kiehls. This is the first brand to moisturize my very dry skin, without making it dull or breakout, and the first brand to make a noticeable difference to my wrinkles. It’s an indulgence, but it is not crazy expensive.
4. Drank more water
I was plagued with headaches and migraines for months, and in the middle of a bunch of investigations, 2 doctors said to me “You might have diabetes insipidus – you should see an endocrinologist”. Diabetes Insipidus (DI) is basically a condition were you pee too much / don’t absorb enough water and when I looked up DI treatment for milk cases it was basically ‘drink a lot of water’. So… I have started doing that. Like 120 fl oz / day on top of my daily decaf coffees and other fluids. Boom – headaches gone and for the first time in my life EVER I have nice nails (oh wait, second time, the first time was pregnancy). Gone are the dry, brittle, flaky things I had and in their places are quite reasonable talons!
Water it is…
5. Ate Salads
I always feel good after eating a salad. I never wish I had chosen something else. Enough said.
6. Played hooky
Just occasionally 🙂
I hate to admit it, but I never regret getting down and really cleaning out a section of the house, and I ALWAYS feel great afterwards. I just have to bite the bullet and do it. I must be getting old….
8. Spent time intentionally
This was one of the things that made me most happy, but one of the hardest to do. When I had free time, it would often be in snatches and I found it hard to sit down and focus in on anything, so I spent a lot of time just reading Facebook and surfing the internet. That definitely did not make me happy. At all. But every time I sat down and did a project, no matter how big or small, I felt so much better after.
I was so delighted when I did a ‘craft swap’ with my friend Mandy at the end of the year – I was challenged to make a batch of Christmas cards for her, and so I was ‘forced’ to sit and create. Often sitting down was the hardest part, but once I started the time flew and I felt great afterwards (somewhat like going to the gym… but that is another story).
9. Spent time with my boy
It sounds obvious, right? You have a kid, you want to spend time with him. However, funnily enough, people often suggest the opposite. But when I was unhappy, or tired, or stressed, people usually said “Take some time for yourself! Get a manicure! Go shopping! Get your hair done!”. I can see that for many that is great advice, but for me: Sam is my happiness. Sam is my fun, he is my comfort, he is my worry and my bliss and wild side and my rest. I am never as happy as when he and I have done an activity together that we have both engaged in – I love to read books with him, bake with him, romp in the park with him.
This. This is what makes me happy.
I hope that being conscious of these things will being them more fully into my life. I am aware of all the friends who have stuck by me when I have done almost nothing but moan this year – I am truly blessed to know you and you will always have my heartfelt gratitude.
Here is to changing in 2015 and being ‘me’ again.
In the comments section of my last post, B wrote “I love that you incorporate fun stuff into your days despite how busy you are. I think it’s so important…”. It was interesting that was commented on , as it is something I have been very conscious of recently. My ultimate downtime activities are sewing, crafting, blogging and baking, but they have had a tendency to fall by the wayside recently.
We all have barriers to finding time to ourselves, and it’s not so much a matter of whose are bigger, less surmountable, or more noble. Rather it is figuring out what yours are, and whether and how you want to overcome them. In a post that started me thinking about seeking creative time, J wrote about her disability hindered her feeling that she deserved time to be crafty (crafts also being J’s “me time”). Its different for all of us, but guilt and tiredness are my barriers.
I get relatively little time with my son. If I get home at 6 and we have dinner until 6.30, it is just an hour to his bedtime. I realized that I experienced a certain amount of guilt every time I had non-work time and did not spend it with him. One evening I was sewing something on a deadline and I asked Wes to watch Sam. When I heard them giggling together I immediately felt like I had lost a bonding opportunity with my son and nearly stopped what I was doing. But something – perhaps J’s post – stopped me and I finished my project. My son still loved me, we still got quality time together, and I had done something fun.
Work guilt also holds me back – there is an ever growing to-do list in an ever harder funding climate as I become more and more senior with less and less funding (that’s the short and somewhat dramatic version). That’s not going to change, and I know I have to fight it. But I have learned that there is a limit of what I can give outside of 9-5; 3 evenings a week and one good weekend day stint, and I’m probably spent. Realizing this has helped me enjoy my non work time.
The other thing was tiredness – either physical (from my new fitness regime) or mental (see above picture for my working hours!). I used to think that I was only capable of zoning out into Facebook or TV. I’ve realized that a small craft project is just as relaxing, and that I feel much better afterwards. So, despite my Saturday morning gym routine, all Saturday afternoon and evening at work, and a 3-h drive to a rained out water park on Sunday, I still found time for the following ‘me’ activities this weekend:
Making Halloween packages to be posted to friends in Alabama:
Making pumpkin spice cupcakes to celebrate my MS student submitting her first (first-author!) paper:
And making a Thanksgiving onesie for Sam’s friend Hadley:
Oh, and time for a blog post written in the bath with a glass of wine 😉
How about you? I loved all the feedback on my Facebook break-up and health kick. What are your ‘me time’ activities? Do you find it easy to find time for them? What are your barriers if not? Share your ‘me projects’ with me!
I am looking forward to 2014. I have not made resolutions, per se, but there have been things bubbling in the back of my mind that I want to do, or change, or expunge. It’s been hard to put them into words or achievable targets – in the main because I am completely clueless as to what I can actually achieve anymore. Fitness? Health? Craft projects? I feel stuck that anything worth achieving seems out of reach (train 4x a week? NEVER), and anything achievable seems pathetic (get to the gym once every 2 weeks? Useless!). Then it hit me: fear. My goal for 2014 is to remove fear from my life.
I used to be fearless. I used to be known for being fearless. I once needed a reference for a job application, and asked my supervisor. S/he said ‘I am so sorry to ask this, but could you draft it, and I will edit it?’. I agreed, and they sent a list of words to describe me. Brave or some such synonym was the first and last epithet, and featured throughout. When I left UAB, David called me into his office and said nice things about how nice it had been to have me part of his research group, and why. While I know he does this with all his trainees, I also know David well enough to know that he would not be disingenuous and his complements would be honest. For me, he commented on how fearless I was, and said similar things in his speech at my UAB leaving party. I remember that talk so well, and now I am left wondering where that girl has gone.
I live a life of fear now. I fear losing my job, I fear my son not loving me, I fear people not being interested in my blog. Basically, I fear not being good enough (good enough for what? Not sure about that…). It’s a dark thing that has come into my life and paralyzed me. I desperately try to spend time with my son, making me late for work. When I get home from my shortened hours, I try to spend time with Sam even though I am tired and distracted. I must be with him… must bath him… must do the pre-bed routine. When he goes down at 8, I am tired, but I don’t make time for myself. I feel guilty and worried about work, so I sit at my computer, often fruitlessly, wasting time being unproductive – which feeds into my fear that I am failing at my job. Then it is a downward spiral: I am afraid to do any of my hobbies because I should be working / with my son. I am afraid to invite friends out to do anything because ‘oh, they probably won’t want to and I’ll just bore them’. I am afraid to write a blog post, because I have nothing to say, distracted as I am with worry. I am scared to do anything in the house because ‘I’ll probably mess it up’.
Basically, I am not doing anything because of REASONS, PEOPLE. Because of fear.
Enough! It is time to stop. I am a good academic. I am a wonderful mother. I don’t know if I am a good friend (depends on the company I guess…), but my friends are old enough to just not hang out with me, if they don’t want to. The world won’t end if I restore a piece of household furniture and don’t do it very well, just as the world did not end when I accidentally unleashed a spray can of green spray paint on our cream stairwell. It’s all good. I just need to go for it. Work hard, trusting myself. Spend time with Sam. Not spend time with Sam, when I need to do other things. Write a blog post. Buy a print. Make a coffee date. Carpe diem exactly as I used to.
I remember when SSG (my old academic group) went canoeing. At the end of the river we came across a rope swing into a lake. Everyone hesitated, except me. IT WASN’T EVEN A QUESTION. Of course I was going on the rope swing. And I did (ridiculously, because I let go too early and screamed too much and swallowed 1/2 an Alabama swamp). And then everyone else did. And it was an awesome time.
That is the Lekki I want back in 2014. Fun-loving. Fearless. The only standard I hold myself to is my own. No goals, no check boxes, just a desire to not be afraid. To trust myself and do what my heart wants.
Of course, I hope some things come out of this… I hope that
(1) I blog more. I hope I create more time and actually blog more.
(2) I get an exercise routine. I hope I stop being scared to fail at a training plan start moving at pace on a semi-regular basis.
(3) I go for it and decorate our depressingly student-esque house. I hope I stop waiting for everything to be perfectly assembled and just get some nice pieces here and there.
(4) I read more. It has been so long since I have read anything because I feel all my time should be work or Sam. I welcome some guilt-free time to lose myself in a book.
(5) I see my friends more. I stop worrying about being too boring / frumpy / whatever and just hang out with people.
2014 is going to be good.
I am at the Christmas party. It’s been a long, tiring week. There is is another, longer, probably more tiring week ahead. Then a break, and while my colleagues are relishing their Christmas holiday, I will be working over it (thanks double grant deadline). A fellow faculty member skipped out of the party, but I felt too guilty. I mostly talked about Sam (I have been out two nights this week, and only put him to bed once!). Everyone asked if he was walking yet, and I replied “He can, but he doesn’t”. We have seen two steps, three steps, four steps, five… OK. Not five. Sam’s walking was confined to a few wobbly paces when he was making a beeline for his bottle. Once he realized what was happening, he plopped straight to the floor.
I missed the little munchkin, but my decision to stay was rewarded when a student said that she appreciated me being there and she was “sure I would rather be with my husband and Sam”. Well, yeah. But also, not yeah. This is my School, and my students, and I feel loyalty to them and want to go and show my face, contribute a little bit to the School spirit. Plus I like the people – they are all my friends in one form or another.
Then my husband sent me this:
Aaaaargh! Real actual, proper walking! I was so proud of my boy! Everyone had to see the video – from friends up to the Dean.
And then I was gutted: how could I have missed this? Missed it for an optional work event? A work social event?
And how many more firsts would I miss? How many more moments would Sam and his dad share that I would partake in via text message?
I raced home, and Sam walked about the kitchen for me. Although not much as he was, touchingly, only prepared to walk if it was to get a cuddle from me.
- Through the Eyes of a Three Year Old (barefootbarn.wordpress.com)
How does your garden grow? Well, as this post will tell you, very well. It will also chart, in far too much detail, my weekend, before segueing off into some random thoughts about where I want my career to go.
I am amazed, and excited: my watermelon seeds have actually sprouted. I spent today thinning them out and hoping the seedlings I left will survive (I probably should have let the plants grow for more than a week before doing that, but hey – I was excited).
In the corner of the top picture you can see my banana pepper, which is a bit of cheat as it is not grown from seed. Inside things are not too shabby, either. My roquette and tomato seeds are doing well, and there are three tiny purple tomatillo shoots coming up. I have got to decide how on Earth to thin these out… The tomatoes I am thinking just pull 1/2 out and plant the plot, the roquette I am thinking divide in half and repot all into 2 much bigger pots?As well, just for funzies, as my favourite cut-flowers are gladioli, I planted those and they are winning the growth war by a long way.
Not doing so well is my herb garden 😦 Except for sweet basil:
Next up, we have cantaloupe planted today, some green bean seeds (well… beans…) soaking and some cherry seeds ready for their 90-day chill. And an experimental attempt to grow seedlings outdoor in the punishing Texas heat, not in my little indoor greenhouse.
This weekend has been fun 🙂 And, importantly, relaxing. Saturday involved saying goodbye to Wes’ car and picking up a new, family-friendly one. Wes’ cars are the epitome of his Lekki-orientated sacrifices. He gave up his beloved Jeep Cherokee to be able to get me a truck, while he rode around in his terribly beat-up BMW (that often smoked on the road). Then he traded that in not for a cool car, but some 4-door Nissan with hatch back (dog / grocery room), good mileage and an excellent safety record. Poor lad. I however kept my fun, but child-Unfriendly purple truck.
Then we had lunch while we were out, and found an awesome Mediterranean buffet (link included for other Houston peeps). Buffet food is always going to be mass produced, but here there were stacks of salads (pasta, fatoush, tabbouleh), different grilled veg and meat, and then LAMB SHANKS all for $12. We were most pleased. Stuffedm we wended our way back home, I dyed my hair one or two shades closer to its natural colour now (baby steps… baby steps…)
and out to see Moonrise Kingdom – one of the funniest films Wes & I have seen for a while. The characters pulled of their quirkiness in away that was utterly bizarre, yet completely hilarious. Murray was a gem, and Bruce Willis impressively understated. But, I think the kids stole the show. Think: Napolean Dynamite meets Amelie. (Although I hate Amelie).
Sunday we went back to Life Pointe church, to hear a sermon about treating those you love with kindness and respecting their God-given uniqueness to help build them up, not break them down. It was another great message from a church Wes & I are so far very happy at. Grocery shopping (boo), work (double boo – I always save my boring tasks for the weekend) and then Sunday is chef’s (Wes’) day off, so I made meringues and spag bol for for dinner. For the first time in America, my meringues turned out perfectly: gooey and light, chewing down to a sticky gooey ball, and holding their shape in the oven to a perfect ‘nest’. Whoop.
Tonight I have one review to do (boo) and then it is settling down with my new book. They didn’t have the third in the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ series (just finished the second one) so I took a chance on:
Then an early night before off to UT 🙂 The first week went well. It was frustrating to be finishing up UAB work that I thought was done, but good to be shifting that into the realm of ‘submitted’. I spent the week talking to people, learning the structure of the institution, the things people were working on, the available data. I feel I am at a cross roads, and have to decide whether to (1) do my own, utterly independent thing or (2) fit into the workings (and data and analysis) of the very successful groups already at UT. Tough call. I was brought in to do 1… but that is much riskier than 2 when one thinks of tenure and promotion and not getting kicked out, grantless in 3 years. I’ll write more soon on how much I decide to burn the boats, follow my heart and my passion, and how much I play it safe.
Hmmm…. sounds like the answer is pretty obvious there 😉 But for this week ahead, I am just looking forward to meetings with both my mentors, and to continuing to count opportunities at UT, and to feeling blessed.
I, as yet, have only one tip for new faculty. Walk up to everyone (even if you have to go into their office), hand outstretched, and just say “Hi, I am so-and-so and I am new faculty in the department of X’. I have met so may people this way, and learned so much. I think changing institutions challenges you in a ways you both could and could not imagine – but then again, from the greatest challenges come the greatest growth 🙂 You are, I guess, playing off ‘papers and grants’ progress against ‘developing as a Scientist’ progress; and I know I am glad I picked the latter – it was right for me. More papers would have been wonderful (man, would it have been wonderful), but I think I personally would feel less fulfilled. I guess that is why I was glad I made such a radical departure for my postdoc, and and why I am glad I have done it again for my first faculty position. It is scary though: to be alone, to trust in your ideas, to follow your (Scientific)-heart. None of the relative safety of incremental Science (I found X to be associated with gene Y, so I am going to deeper sequence Y / sequence another region of Y, or look in different populations, or switch drug X for drug Y in my analysis). Incremental Science has the highest chance of success – we need it for sure. It is just not for me. I’d rather fail at my hypothesis than support the current one.
But again, ask me in 3 years when I am failing to feed my family. Speaking of which, got to go and finish my ‘Daddy’s night off duties’…