Wednesday, April 8, 2015

One Thing At a Time: An Evening at Urgent Care

This Winter really gave me a run for my money as a stay-at-home mom. I found myself losing my temper and resorting to an octave I didn’t even know I could register. Sometimes I would descend into a lion-like growl, depleted and desperate to get the kids to listen to me, surprised by the new shapes my face could contort into. 
Typically I love being with my kids – and regularly volunteer to help watch friends’ and families’ kids. We just got our license as foster parents and are in the process of adopting internationally. Kids are a part of my every heartbeat, and in many ways I feel most myself around them. And yet, being with my children can also be one of the most discouraging, draining, downright miserable experiences I know. 
Take the other day for instance. At two o’clock, kids down for naps, I found a second to finally text a friend about the plans we had made for that evening. Our original goal was to meet for an exercise class, but after the post-Easter, sugar-induced craziness I had experienced with the kids all morning, I was rapidly faltering in my motivation to intentionally exert more energy. I texted her, “Hey! Kinda a rough day with the kids. Thinking of canceling class…”
Within seconds she responded, “Dude, I’m having a super rough day with the kids too. I haven’t even brushed my teeth cuz they’ve been walking tornadoes of fighting and destruction.” 
After a quick, audible chuckle in my silent house, I replied, “Haha, yeah I haven’t brushed my teeth and I am still bra-less...and I just got caught by my neighbor for an impromptu half-hour conversation outside! Let's cancel class.”
Now, two or three years ago, I would have snuffed a haughty, “Who doesn’t have time to at least put a damn bra on?!” Okay, I probably actually said that exact thing last week. But who’s counting? 
The truth is, I don’t have a newborn or a terminally-ill child. I don’t even have sick or particularly difficult kids. I have a husband that is extremely supportive and helpful, doing his fair share of cleaning and laundry and kiddo-rallying so that I can go on adult-only outings and take time alone to write. We are a relatively comfortable middle-class family, meaning that although my husband’s teaching salary is limiting in many ways, we in no way struggle to feed ourselves or even enjoy regular, fun outings. I have a great support network, family and friends within a minute’s reach. So, it’d be fair to say, I don’t have any excuses.
And yet, here I was, at two o’clock in the afternoon, bra-less, grimy, trudging around the house in sweats and trying to find the energy to take a shower. I had been having chest pains all morning, which I assumed were due to stress, and had found myself breathless and needing to sit down on a few occasions. 
Feeling so exhausted, I had sent the kids to play in their rooms on their own while I made a business call, which resulted in muddy feet, thirteen wardrobe changes, clothes and toys scattered in every room of every floor and obscene amounts of Easter candy quickly snuck and as quickly consumed. 

This is a purchased image, not me! :) 
A little over two years ago, I wrote this post about transitioning to being a stay-at-home mom. I was giddy with joy about finally being able to be home with my babies, whom I had very unwillingly left every day for the first two years of their lives. I believed in and was motivated by the privilege of getting to be their primary life-lesson teacher, adventure-partner and nurturer.  I was desperate to be a part of all those little moments that I had missed over their earliest years. 
Today, I still believe being home with my children is an enormous privilege and I still get teary-eyed about the enormous honor it is to be their mother. But, seven hundred some days later, my idealistic SAHM goggles have been wiped clean with lots of snot and mud and poop and I can see things with perhaps a little more realism. I can see, many days, how my brain seems to melt into mush within an hour or two of having only toddlers around to relate to. I can see how the constant awareness of such a huge responsibility wears away at my energy, causes chest pains and leaves me bra-less at 2:00. 
Perhaps the biggest difference in what I expected SAHM life to be like, and what is has actually been, is that I never originally factored into all my calculations continuing to work while staying home. 
I had started a small business on Etsy prior to the transition, but was spending minimal time outside of my day job investing in it and did not foresee it becoming a significant source of income. However, within a couple months of making the switch to being home full-time, NBrynn Designs started to take off and by the end of the year was requiring almost 20 hours of my week. The business continued to grow into the next year, when a family tragedy also revealed the deep need I had to incorporate writing as a regular part of my life for mental health. 
So here I am, just over two years into my “dream job” of being home with my kids, also running a thriving business and investing significant amounts of time into writing and self-care. 
On any given day, I am mentally and physically torn in a minimum of three directions: The needs of my kids - lofty dreams of learning together and creating together and emotionally engaging throughout the day. The needs of my business – responding to customer requests, dealing with finances and creating and shipping products. The needs of my heart and mind – finding time to write, to edit, to connect, to read, to process the days. Then, of course, there are floors to sweep and nourishment to prepare and friends to text and, uhhhh, well…that’s how I end up bra-less at 2:00 in the afternoon.   
I listened to an interview with Arianna Huffington, creator and CEO of the Huffington Post ( recently and was struck by a comment she made. She said that a few years ago, she did away with multi-tasking. She said, up until that point, she had never taken off her make-up or prepared a meal without also making a business call or responding to an email. She worked 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week and usually slept less than five hours a night. 

Arianna's own mother called her out on her addiction to multi-tasking one day, as she opened and read mail while catching up with her daughters after work. Her mother very plainly said, “I abhor multi-tasking.” And soon, Arianna realized why. When we try to do more than one thing at a time, we’re not fully invested in any one thing. We lose the benefit of “getting lost” in the moment by focusing all of our creative energies on the task at hand. We’re always a step ahead or behind the moment we are actually living. 
I know we all know this, but do we know it. I don’t. 
These ideas were soul-crushing for me, an entrenched multi-tasker for as long as I can remember. I have been applauded for and have congratulated myself for my multi-tasking abilities more times than I can count, brushing my teeth while finger-tapping a one handed email, responding to a customer while going to the bathroom, making doctor appointments while driving to a playdate.  In college, in order to fit more into my days, I would schedule hangout times with friends at the laundromat so that I could wash my clothes at the same time. I would change my clothes in the car while driving to my second job (God knows how I and all those around me are still alive). I would even take friends to the grocery with me, “killing two birds with one stone.”  And today, I listen to a book on tape while making a bow tie while talking to my husband about the day. I have never done one-thing-at-a-time well. 
At first, I thought my propensity toward multi-tasking served me quite well as a new stay-at-home mom. I could grow a business, keep the house clean and still get to spend large chunks of the day with my babies. I could write during naptime, learn to cook nourishing food with the kids by my side and spend more time with friends during playdates. But now – chest pains and several bra-less days later – I wonder if I have gotten something wrong. 
I wonder if in all my multi-tasking, I am robbing myself of a single focus essential to mental and physical health. I wonder - in my own words from a few months ago - if fitting more into the day is not the legacy I really want to leave?  If instead I am missing the gift of the present moment by cramming so much into my days.
If I’ve heard it once, I have said it a thousand times: There is never enough time in the day. A few years ago, I made a similar comment about our home. Feeling cramped and like perhaps we had outgrown our 1,800 square foot home, I commented to a friend, “I think we may start house-hunting soon. I just feel like we don’t have enough space in our house now.” She very boldly – and very wisely – said, “That is awfully American of you. You have more space than most people in the world. Maybe you just need to figure out better ways of using it.” 
I took her comment to heart, knowing she was speaking to values that I also held. It wasn’t actually more space that we needed – I had bought into a lie. Soon, we turned our master bedroom into a family art and learning space and moved our now-frameless queen bed into the tiny front office. We adjusted and restructured our space to align with our priorities as a family. And we have been happier ever since.

I have never done one-at-a-time well. I try to coach myself into slowness with Yoga and gratitude lists and hours of writing and reading. But still, I wonder what it would look like to give up on multi-tasking and to restructure my minutes into moments of singularlity. To give each activity my undivided, unstressed attention and to let the next task simply be the next task.  
I wonder, today, if not having enough time in the day is just another lie I have bought into. 
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  1. Love this post so much! Thank you so much for voicing my thoughts and day yesterday!!!

    1. Lisa, thank you so much for reading! I am sure many stay at home, and especially working at home mama's can relate. We have our bad days and our better days. Grace to you!

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