I’ve had practice wearing multiple hats — sister/friend, student/barista marketing coordinator/traveling salesgirl. So, it seemed, it shouldn’t have rocked me like it did to become a person with a walk-in closet stuffed with hats — some hats perfectly fitted, attained by expertise, well-worn and comfortable, with others that set wonky on my head, or squeeze my scalp, or simply don’t look quite right with any of my outfits.
I am still a daughter, sister, wife, and employee. I’m a real person who requires food, sleep, showers, exercise, and time to breathe. And, for the last three years, I have also been Mom. Mom is an umbrella term for provider, healer, storyteller, lullaby-singer, chauffer, playmate, arts-and-crafts-guru, snack-lackey, teeth-brushing-monster, rule-maker, enforcer, worrier, warrior, and…
I am also a writer. A writer desperately trying to protect the time I do have for my craft.
Today, tomorrow, I wake up at 4:30 and work for two hours while anxiously listening out for the sounds of stirring in the next room over. He wakes and I must make breakfast for my toddler and pack his lunch and pack his bag and wrestle him into his clothes and brush his teeth and hair and keep my cool and yank on my yoga pants and t-shirt and remember to brush my own teeth (forget the hair) and get him into the car and drive to school and — all this before 8 am. I used to wake up at 8 am.
It’s 2:40 pm, and my son is up early from his nap. I have worked through the morning and picked him up and remembered my lunch (a meal replacement smoothie, room temp with powdery clumps that didn’t shake out). I squeezed in a 15-minute Pilates routine and claimed my time for writing, drafting three whole pages I’m moderately pleased with. There are laundry piles dotting the hall and dishes stacked in and by the sink. There are 3,546 unread emails in my inbox and 4 voicemails I haven’t listened to. There is a toddler asking me to go outside and onions that’ll soon need to be chopped and my sweet, hardworking husband will be late tonight and I start to think, would having a sister-wife really be so bad?
My toddler wants an apple sauce and a cheese stick and a Lara Bar. But he does not want his dinner.
I want wine and chamomile tea, but I’ll have to choose just one because if I drink anything after 6:30 I’ll have to pee at 11:34 and 1:53 and 4:02, which is the worst when my alarm comes soon after.
It’s 7:58. I have tucked my toddler in three times. “Can we read one more story and will you snuggle me and rub my back a few minutes?” Of course, my angel. I know these days are short. I’ll collect them all while I can. “I love you and I hope you sleep well and have sweet dreams.”
I am lying in bed and I am tired and broken out and my back hurts and my hair is doing something strange because I fell asleep with it wet last night. My favorite pajamas are sitting damp in the washing machine and my eyelids are too heavy to read and my to-do list doesn’t seem any shorter than when I woke up this morning. For mere seconds, I wonder if it’d be worth it to abandon my feminist ideals in favor of reverting to a 1950’s sitcom way of life. Oh, to simplify and just be a housewife with a clean home, perfect hair, dressed in real clothes perfected with a single strand of pearls.
I wish I had a long weekend off to hide and write. I wish someone would invent calorie-free ice cream and develop a cure for lactose-induced acid reflux. I wish I had a friend who’d admit it, that she’s lonely, too, and isolated and in need of a Fixer Upper marathon and a nice bottle of something and a good cry.
And I am happy. I am needed and important. I am a problem solver and a guidepost. I am strong and capable. I am productive and only need to extend a little grace to myself. I am loved and appreciated. I am fulfilled and honored. I love my son, my husband, and they love me.
It rocked me, all the hats. All of the ‘and’ that came with motherhood.
But, I think it can be balanced with a little protected me-time, routine, with a realistic outlook. If only I can stand up to that crushing mom-guilt, that monster that tells me I’ve failed as a mother because I took five extra minutes to finish this paragraph. If I can offer myself a little clemency, restore my own cup before I drown in someone else’s, then I think, I believe I can find balance. That’s what I’m trying, anyway.
How am I doing?
I’m no 1950’s housewife. Did I mention my hair?
Instead, I operate with the understanding that I probably won’t get to shower every day this week, that sometimes it’s a-okay to say, ‘F-it. We’re getting take-out,’ and that sleeping in an old holey t-shirt probably equates to the same quality sleep as I get in my favorite jammies. Do I still beat myself up when I wake up in the middle of the night and realize I failed to complete the one thing I really needed to that day? Absolutely. But, by remembering that I’m a human, not a drone, I can move forward and do better next time (or not, and that’s okay).
For a long time, I believed that I was incapable of sticking to good habits. I was the worst at diets, exercise, resolutions of any kind. Then, last year, I gave up meat and cut way back on dairy, a fun thing my husband thought I’d get over quickly. Several months later, I realized that I could commit to positive changes if they were the right positive changes for me. It wasn’t healthy eating generally that was the problem. It was finding the right diet that made me feel good, that made me want to keep going. And yes, my husband is disappointed.
In a very scientific experiment, I started to apply this committing-to-only-what-works-for-me idea across other areas where I struggled. It wasn’t exercise in general that I hated with every atom of my being. It was all of the wrong exercise methods. It wasn’t that I was too old and tired to stay awake to read. Okay, maybe I am, but I found that reading earlier in the day works better for me.
So, with my new super-power, Constructive-Commitment, I devised a day using time-blocking that allows me to get everything I need out of each 24-hour cycle — time for the “have to’s” and time for the “want to’s”. Add a little grace for the things that don’t get done, a little “no” to the things I can’t/don't want to do, and...voila! I get my work done and even sometimes a load of laundry, folded and everything. Dinner finds its way to the table and often the kitchen gets cleaned-ish. I have time to enjoy playing with my son. And I have time to write. Yes, I get up at an insane hour. But I also go to bed satisfactorily tired, feeling like I had a productive day and I get roughly eight hours of sleep (it’s like magic or something).
Is burnout a real possibility? Of course. The ‘ands’ haven’t gone away. But, by claiming my writing time, guarding it like a savage she-warrior, I fortify myself against the overwhelming ‘ands’ and see more clearly the ‘ands’ that give me strength. I’ve committed to my writing because it makes me a happier, better-functioning adult human female.
I am a writer and a wife and Mom and…