Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Minding My Margin

Have you found yourself wishing for more hours in the day? More time for personal pursuits that fulfill you? Same here. While there is no way to squeeze more hours into our daily allotment of 24, there is a way to create margin for what is important. In Richard Swenson's book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, he describes margin as:
"The space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin in the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating."
When I was in my single 20s, I filled all the days. Friends, dates, concerts, community groups, events, weekends away, volunteering, school, work, films, you name it. Going at that pace was fun and fulfilling (for a season). But now I'm married (to an introvert who needs downtime) and I'm a mother (to a preschooler who needs present, active parents) and I work full-time to support said family. I also still love to do all the things. I want to go to movies, and playdates, and girls nights, and weekend getaways, and museums, and concerts, and I want to be the room mom, and volunteer for non-profit boards, and love on my friends, and donate my talents, and make all the crafts. But what I've learned (slowly, because sometimes it takes me a sec) is that while saying "Yes!" feels great, it often comes at the expense of my margin, and squeezes my gap between rest and exhaustion, breathing and suffocating.

Some of us need more margin than others. And that's why minding my margin, is a lot like minding my business. It doesn't matter that Susie travels, and volunteers, and makes the best muffins for school events, and has a spotless house, and does yoga daily, and makes her own kombucha. Susie may need less margin that I do (or she may be over-extending herself). Either way, it's not a competition or comparison game. 

So that's why as the New Year has crept in with its promise of all things being possible "if you just try!" I've had to keep my Type A/Do All The Things/ Get my Gold Star/Say Yes tendencies in check. Resolutions in and of themselves aren't terrible, but they do set me up for shredding my margin and therefore, sabotaging my efforts and ultimately failing.

I was recently listening to a podcast (Oprah's Super Soul Conversations - because, Oprah) with Shawn Achor, Harvard-trained happiness researcher. In the course of their conversation, Shawn shared several "happiness habits" on how we can cultivate happiness in our lives. The thing I loved so much about his approach is that not only was it based upon legit scientific research and multiple case studies, but the total sum of the habits he suggested would take approximately 22 minutes out of my 24 hour day (hello margin!). Here's my synopsis/snapshot:

Happiness Habits: (to make it a true habit, make these a consistent part of your day for 21 days)

  • Take 1 minute each day to list three things you are grateful for (these must be different each day)
  • Take 2 minutes each day to praise or thank some one (in person, via email, text or phone call). This can be for anything (big or small) as long as it is done with sincerity and gratitude. Not only will this make you feel good, but it will increase and develop your social connections and breadth and depth of your relationships.
  • Take 2 minutes at the end of each day to jot down 1 meaningful experience from your day. It doesn't have to be huge...a conversation, an idea, a beautiful sunset. The trick is by writing it, you're helping your brain to relive the experience.
  • Take 2 minutes to meditate and focus on your breath. Amazingly just 2 minutes enhances happiness and reduces stress. 
  • Take 15 minutes for exercise. It trains your brain to believe 'my behavior matters' which breeds optimism and positive habits. 

(You should absolutely listen to the full podcast to get all the fun nerdy research bits as to why this handful of small actions makes a big impact.)

As I've been sitting and thinking about my intentions for 2018, for both me and for my family, I keep coming back to happiness. It's been hard to consistently find my happy in the last year and a half. If you have eyes and ears and look around at our world, I'm sure you could say the same regardless of your personal situation. 

So rather than make resolutions to lose the weight I want to shed, or go to the gym 5 days a week, or train for a 5K (for the 15th time),  I'm going to focus on these happiness habits. I'm going to practice gratitude, I'm going to praise and thank people, I'm going to be still and meditate (for 2 minutes, because that seems doable) and I'm going to move my body whether it be a 15 minute walk around the block, or chasing my son at the park, or doing yoga in my living room. Because I can create 22 minutes for happiness each day while minding my margin.

Monday, January 1, 2018


My husband and I used to talk. Like really talk. About our days, about our plans, about our goals, about TV shows, about sports, about favorite recipes, about the type of vacations we wanted to take, etc. etc. Then we had a child. Quickly our conversations evolved into to-do lists, mono-syllabic grunts, whispered words over the head of a sleeping baby, or when little ears are nearby the spelling of illicit words ("it's almost N-A-P time" "Where's the C-A-N-D-Y?).

Now our baby is almost four and he has ALL THE WORDS. So many words. They bubble up out of him from the moment he wakes until the moment he drifts back to sleep. Now our margin for real conversation is even smaller. Our talks tend to go like this:

Me: Hey babe, let's talk about this weekend and our plans

Hubs: Great, I want to get an early start on Saturday and...

Arlo: Mommy, Daddy, I can't get this LEGO pulled apart!

Me: Here you go, love. So you were saying, an early start?

Hubs: Yeah, I'd like to hit the road no later than 8:30 to miss the traffic and that way we can get to...

Arlo: Hey guys! PWEW PWEW PWEW (Star Wars laser blasting noises) I'm Darf Vader!

Hubs: Yeah bud, you are, let me finish talking to mom for a minute, Okay?

Me: ...that way we can get to???

Hubs: Huh?

Me: You were saying 'that way we can get to' ?

Hubs: Oh yeah, that way were can get to that Mexican place we love by lunch time and then still make it to Dad's before it gets dark and we could...

Arlo: I'm hungry!


So yeah, I know other parents can relate. And I know I only have one child, and can only imagine the chaos with multiple kiddos at once. We tend to save important conversations for post-bedtime, but lets get real, who has the stamina to talk after full days of work, school, errands, forcing children to eat-their-damn-dinner, and household chores? I just want to collapse on the couch, and mindlessly stare into my phone screen or mindlessly stream something on Netflix. My brain and my words need a time out. 

So we do date nights (which we love) at least once a month, and we talk, and we flirt, and we remember what it was like when we could complete a sentence and thought without fixing a broken toy, or shoveling out snacks. 

I guess the frequency of the conversation doesn't matter as much in this stage as the fact that you still want to make the effort to talk to the one you're with. Life will ebb and flow as it does. Our son will be grown in a flash, and we will have the luxury of long conversations and dreaming again. But today, I'll make a to-do list on the chalkboard in our kitchen and make a quick note in my phone of things I don't want to forget to tell him, and if I can keep my eyes open to make thoughtful words, I may remember to tell him tonight.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Lesson in Kindness: Don't be an Asshole

The day after my mother passed away, I had to stop and get gas on my way to the funeral home to make arrangements. I pulled into the pump in a daze at a haphazard angle and was filling my tank. Suddenly a car pulled up next to me, the driver rolled down the window and he and his female passenger proceeded to flip me off and shout "FUCK YOU, IDIOT! LEARN HOW TO PARK!" and then angrily pull out of the parking lot, tires squealing. 

Did they know my mom just died in a hospital bed 12 hours before? No. Did they know I was barely functioning on caffeine, adrenaline, and emotions? No. They saw an idiot who didn't pull far enough forward to let another car pass, and let their anger spill hatefully onto me. Would they have been less likely to shout at me if they knew the situation? Maybe. I'll never know. I'm sure they sped away feeling better. Somehow superior that they had "given that girl the 'what for'" and felt vindicated and lighter after having spewed out some of their emotions. I however, was left stunned, holding a gas pump the victim of what I can only call a rage vomit, wondering what the hell is wrong with people.

When did we forget to be kind?

My son is three, and kindness is a big deal in his world. We're consistently talking about it, trying to emulate it, and praising him when he exhibits it. His teacher told me at preschool pick-up one day about how his friend was sad and he gave her a toy and a hug so she would feel better.  His little chest puffed out and he smiled and said, "Mama, I was kind!" 

We get older and the luster of kindness fades somehow. Our capacity for empathy lessens as we focus on what is best for us. We turn to countless books, blogs, coaches, and podcasts for tips to help us increase our social circle/raise our profile/garner goodwill/climb the career ladder. While many are excellent resources, I'm pretty sure I can distill them all down and find one common thread:


Seriously. It's that simple. When faced with a situation you have a choice in how you will handle it. Will you take the high road? Give benefit of the doubt? Offer empathy and grace even if the other person may not? 

Now, before I go further a disclaimer: I'm not talking about engaging in toxic relationships, or giving kindness to an abusive person. This is more of your day-to-day social interactions with colleagues, acquaintances and strangers. And I can already hear you, "But why should I give the benefit of the doubt to someone who is probably just rude/inconsiderate/you insert the adjective?"


When I was 25 I worked for a group of surgeons in Austin, TX. I helped run the front office and one of my duties was the lunch run. Every Thursday, I'd drive up the hill to Luby's (for those of you not in Texas it's a cafeteria and a little slice of heaven) and pick-up my called-in order. Every Thursday, I would see *Myrna a middle-aged and surly woman behind the counter. She would demand my name (even though I'm sure she knew it) bark out my total, snatch my payment, and shove the bag of takeout my way. EVERY. SINGLE. THURSDAY. 

Here's where you get a little insight into my 25-year-old personality...I was not going to let Myrna's grumpiness win. I was going to win her over. I was going to make her like me. So over the course of the next 6 months, I would cheerfully pick up my order, generously tip on the credit card receipt, and wish her a good day every Thursday. One week a few months into our dance, the cooks were backed up and we all had to wait for our food longer than usual. The other lunch-goers were pacing, impatiently huffing, and Myrna was extra surly as a result. When I finally picked up my food, I once again thanked her, tipped, and wished her a good day. This time she responded, "You too!"

Over the next few months we developed a rapport. I'd make small talk while I paid and I learned that this was Myrna's 2nd job. That she also cared for her ailing mother, and helped look after for her young grandchildren while her daughter was in school on her rare days off. Her exhausted surly attitude was well-earned, a fact I never would have learned if I had dismissed her like so many other patrons, or hadn't persisted in being kind. She began to slide extra condiments, napkins, and the occasional treat into my bag. Turns out, Myrna like a lot of people, had a solid gold heart inside of her gruff exterior. 

I realize that this is all a bit Pollyanna, but hang with me. What if we committed to being kind to one another even 50% of the time? Can you imagine the kindness revolution we'd start? If instead of honking angrily at someone at a stop sign, what if we waved them on? What if we shrugged off a rude salesperson instead of complaining to their manager? (I'm so guilty of this one! I may have a heart for kindness, but I have a quick trigger when I perceive an injustice or slight.) What if we left a solid 20% tip even when service was terrible instead of making a point by leaving spare change. What would the ripples of that kindness be? Here's the thing, you'll likely never know, it may feel at times like you're going around depositing kindness and your own account is empty, but I choose to believe as Aesop said "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." 

And to the couple at the gas pump. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you were having a shitty day too.

*name changed because privacy and kindness :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Learning to Mother (v.) without a Mother (n.)

You haven't heard from me for a while. Almost a year. So much has happened over the last 10 months, but the biggest shift has been the loss of my mother. 

We lost mom on October 12th. She had been battling health issues for some time, but the loss was still sudden. Until the day or two before she passed, most of us thought she would rebound with time and treatment. I'm still fresh in my grief, and now, four months into "life after", I am starting to see that the most difficult part of losing her is learning to mother (v.) without a mother (n.). 

When people tell you that motherhood is hard they aren't kidding. It is challenging, important, stressful, joyous, and often monotonous (pack lunch, wipe nose, wipe bottom, brush teeth, tie shoes, find the lost toy, lather, rinse, repeat...). It is also doubt-inducing. Even the most confident woman will doubt herself once becoming a mother. Am I feeding him enough? Too much? Am I too strict? Too lenient? Does he feel secure/loved? Am I teaching him the right values? SO. MUCH. No wonder we're exhausted. But in all of that headspace, I had my mom as my sounding board. My advice-giver (even when I didn't take it). Who can understand and empathize with the highs and lows of motherhood like YOUR MOTHER?! Plus, who else on God's green Earth, other than a paid licensed therapist, would be willing to listen to it all? 

A few days after she passed, I had loaded up the family car to drive me and my son back home to stay with my dad and make preparations for the memorial service. It's a 5-hour drive with lots of open West Texas country roads so I let my mind wander, and it occurred to me that my son is the same age that my younger brother was when our grandfather passed away. I immediately thought, "I should ask Mom how she talked to Matt about death at a young age." Let that sink in. My first thought/instinct/urge was to ask my deceased mother how to teach my son about death. 

Life has been full of these moments over the last few months. Reaching for the cell phone to tell her about a new milestone with Arlo (She swore vehemently that he was "advanced" from 3 days old and never stopped, just ask the ladies in her Sunday School class). Craving her support and delight when I was offered a fantastic new job. Wanting to lay out all the Pre-K options and get her feedback. It doesn't stop, I don't think it ever will. 

My mom also called me on my bullshit. She would have watched me dive headfirst into work after her death and told me to slow down. She would have seen through the smiles and "I've got my shit together" facade and told me that I needed to process things instead of avoiding my feelings. She would have told me to get over myself with my self-prescribed guilt trip and focus on now. She would tell me to wash my face every night, put on lotion to moisturize, and dab some Carmex on my lips because I needed to take care of myself.   

Tonight as I was tucking Arlo into bed and reading his bedtime story, I looked down and surveyed my boy. Tousled hair, long dark eyelashes, arm clutched protectively around his prized stuffed hippopotamus, and was so filled with love and pride for this child. It hit me hard knowing that my mom adored me in the same ways. That even at almost 38 years old she still looked at me with that same awe and pride. That may be the toughest loss of all because no matter how old we are, deep down we still want the love and approval of our mommas.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

4 Tips to Keep Your Sitter

When I finally broke down and realized momma can't do it all, all of the time, I waved the white surrender flag and started looking for a babysitter. We have been fortunate to find some amazing young women who not only give us breaks for work, date nights, and general mental health, but also really love our boy.  I often hear other moms talk about how they have a hard time finding and keeping a long-term babysitter and I can tell you that it's not all just luck. Once you find a great sitter, you need to go about keeping that sitter. He or she is your greatest resource!

These tips have come through trial and error and most of them came at the insistence of my husband. I love that I married a man who is thoughtful. I don't know that we would have kept our awesome sitters as long as we have if it weren't for him. 

  • Pay fairly and well. We had a sitter who told us her fee was $2/hour less than all the local competition. That was music to my ears as a budget conscious momma! But my husband insisted that we pay her the going rate. His point was that if she had multiple requests for a Friday night sitting job, we would obviously rise to the top because we pay her more. She went on to be a long-term sitter for us and frequently made herself available to us when we had a last minute need.
  • Keep your word. If you request a sitter in advance, he or she has cleared their schedule to be there for you. They may have turned down other work, or social engagements to care for your child. Things come up, I get that, but if you need to cancel, give as much advance notice as possible. Our policy has always been that if we have to cancel within 24 hours, we still pay our sitter. Don't simply think, "Oh they're just kids, this is fun money for them, it's no big deal." Our sitters use their income from childcare to pay their car note, insurance and cell phone bills. Similarly, if you decide to call your date night early and come home an hour before you planned, go ahead and pay your sitter for the full-time.
  • Schedule in advance when you can. Going back to my previous point, you need to value your sitter's time. Don't be disappointed if your sitter can't drop everything to be at your house with just a few hours notice. Line up your important events in advance. Better yet, schedule a regular monthly date with your sitter so you're always on their calendar. If advance notice is the norm, they are more likely to juggle things when you have a last minute need
  • Be considerate. If your sitter is going to be at your home all evening, have something there for them to eat and drink. I like to ask my sitters if they have a favorite food or drink or if they have any food allergies. Better yet, leave some cash and takeout menus! 
Bottom line, treat your sitter like the valuable resource that they are and they will keep coming back to give you the break you need.

Monday, March 14, 2016

#MotherhoodMonday - Motherhood Motivations

Motherhood and Motivation...those two words haven't always clicked for me. Growing up I was always motivated to do well in school because I loved the positive feedback I would receive. A big fat gold star on my report, a "Book-It" button full of stickers so I could go eat at Pizza Hut, a certificate at the end of the school year for citizenship, and that National Honor Society collar at graduation. As I finished college and entered the work force I was motivated to do good work for the "attagirl"s and end of the year bonuses. I flourish under positive feedback and appreciation, and am motivated to exceed expectations because I definitely do not want to be on the receiving end of a bad performance review.

And then there was motherhood...

I don't know if y'all know this, but newborns don't rain down praise when you soothe them and cure their diaper rash with coconut oil. Toddlers don't high five you when you sneak organic veggies into their diet and manage to teach them their colors in a fun and playful manner. There is no performance review. There is no bonus structure. There is no climbing the ladder, and guess what, there is no absolute right way to do your job. (I shudder)

For a while this frustrated me and scared me. How will I know I am measuring up? What if I fail?! The short answer is, I have no effing clue. Motherhood is the single most amazing and terrifying role to embark upon and carries an incredible responsibility. You mean, I'm charged with shaping the heart and mind of this tiny malleable human? I'm the one who needs to  model empathy, patience, and goodwill towards others? 

So I had a paradigm shift. I began to see the small, day-to-day rewards of motherhood and let those motivate me through sleepless nights and long weary days. I became motivated by:
  • Gummy grins (even if they were only because of passing gas)
  • Contented sighs
  • A heavy tired toddler in my arms
  • Messy hands that have been exploring the world
  • The first words strung together (Mama, I HUN-GEE! - aka hungry)
  • Belly laughs when I make silly faces
These are the gold stars of early motherhood. Recently I've been looking to the future, something I rarely did before becoming a mother. My long-term motivations are raising a brave, confident child who respects others (even if they have different opinions), has empathy for the feelings of those around him, and loves with abandon. It's a tall order, and I hope I'm up to the task. Someone just tell me that I can get a ribbon or gold star when he's a successful, self-sufficient adult, okay?

On a lighter note, here's a list of some of my other Motherhood Motivations:
  • Nothing motivates me to work like looking at the clock and realizing I have 30 minutes before Mother's Day Out pick-up.
  • Nothing motivates me to move like some French Roast first thing in the morning.
  • Nothing motivates me to exercise (y'all, never in my life have I ever wanted to exercise) like the thought of 30 minutes to watch Netflix on the treadmill while my son plays in the gym childcare. Also, I'm motivated to still be moving and shaking by the time he graduates college .(I'll be 56!)
  • Nothing motivates me to get through the bedtime routine like knowing my comfy chair, sweats, Hulu, and contraband cookies are waiting for me.
So mommas, tell me, what motivates you?

Don't forget to visit all the other remarkable mommas participating in this week's topic:

Lisa W. http://www.themotherblog.com
Alexis http://www.mrsmombie.com/ 
Farrah http://www.newandnaturalmom.com/ 
Tiffany http://www.stellarmama.com/ 
Natasha http://www.natashabyrd.com/blog 
Heather http://www.frugalsouthernliving.com/

Katie http://www.alwayskatie.com

Monday, February 1, 2016

#Motherhood Monday - Motherhood Miracles

Looking back on motherhood thus far, I can recall plenty of times where I said, "It will be a miracle if..."

  • "It will be a miracle if he ever sleeps": Thankfully he now sleeps through the night, even if that "night" ends at 5:30 am.
  • "It will be a miracle if I can get him to sleep without rocking or wearing him": He now nestles down in his big boy bed and falls asleep on his own!
  • "It will be a miracle if I ever get my bed back": At 20 months, he transitioned smoothly into a twin bed in his own room!
  • "It will be a miracle if he ever gives up the bottle": We've now been bottle free for 3 months!
In the midst of the day to day grind of motherhood (wake, coffee, adult, repeat) these milestones can feel so far, so insurmountable that they seem almost miraculous when they happen. But what I really want to talk about today is the miracle of becoming a mother.

I find conception to be pretty damn miraculous.

Did you know that even in your twenties you only have a 20% chance of conceiving each month? If you have healthy eggs, regular ovulation, a partner with good swimmers, a clear path in your fallopian tubes, and you happen to get busy at the precise time of the month that all these align, you still only have a 20% chance of getting pregnant that month. By the time you are 30, that drops to 15% and to 10% at 35. So, to my ladies who got pregnant their first time out of the gate after a few glasses of wine, YOU have a miracle on your hands. 

For me, pregnancy did not come quite so easy. My eggs were the culprit. At 29 years old I was diagnosed with severely diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) basically this meant that at not even 30 years old, I had the eggs (quantity and quality) of a woman in her mid-forties. For the next 7 years we tried a variety of treatments before hauling out the big guns and undergoing Donor Egg IVF. When I say that my son is our miracle baby, I truly mean it. It was a miracle that my faith, marriage, and bank account could withstand infertility (it's a beast. This pic is just the meds I took in preparation for IVF. It does not include the 12 weeks of progesterone shots I took once I was pregnant). 

It was a miracle that we found a donor who although we never met, gave us such a remarkable gift. It was a miracle that this teeny, tiny embryo decided to implant in my womb. 

It was a miracle that he stayed safe and cozy for 41 weeks. And boy was it ever a miracle when he finally found his way into my arms.

Now my miracle is almost TWO and is delighting (and challenging) us daily. It's a miracle I don't smother him in kisses.  I mean, get a load of this cuteness!

So mommas, how are you celebrating the miracles of motherhood today?

As always with #MotherhoodMonday, read the Motherhood Miracles blog posts written by these wonderful women: