Things I Wish I Wanted To Do

Things I Wish I Wanted To Do

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”

– Paulo Coelho

My book club recently read and dissected The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  Over water and lime wedges (turns out that while I’m no longer pregnant, everyone else is), it became clear this writer’s year-long experiment culminated in a “love it or hate it” book for our little critics’ circle and beyond – as all pop culture hits seem to do to some degree.  What do they say – there’s no such thing as bad press?

While this book was a slow, underwhelming start for me, suddenly around April (the book and the topics and resolutions it entails are divided into months), it was as if a switch flipped and I was ravenously hooked on this Manhattan lawyer/writer/mom/wife’s musing on hundreds of minor tweaks we can make to our daily routines (no Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage required) to partake in a more fully-examined existence, boost our quality of life, and thus that of those around us.  Things like buying the nice $4.00 pen instead of the crappy 25-cent pen that just feels cheap and always runs out of ink.  Changing the lightbulb yourself instead of nagging your husband to do it.  Listening contentedly to others and resisting the urge to jump in with a competing story of your own.  Accepting a limitation (or more positively, my God-given uniqueness) such as the fact that a certain hairstyle – try as I might – Will. Never. Look. Good. On. Me.

I could go on and on about the author’s simple yet pointed insights on things from learning to laugh at yourself and lighten up with your kids, to the liberation that comes from “tackling a nagging task,” be it a cluttered hall closet or a toxic relationship.  I was obviously in the “love it” camp.

But the section of the book that provided the biggest “aha moment” for me was about how to distinguish between things I truly want to do, and things I wish I wanted to do.

The phrase “I wish I wanted to do that” resonated with me so clearly.  How often do we trick not just others – but ourselves – into believing this forcefully painted picture of our supposed hobbies, inclinations, status, interests and overall identity?  Maybe you love the idea of buying everything organic but you hate the sticker shock you experience in the check-out line.  Or perhaps you think you want to take a big family vacation every summer, but spending a week with your in-laws/great-aunt/cousins/stepchildren actually induces widespread panic attacks.  You wish you wanted to do these things, but when it comes down to it, you just don’t.

True introverts may feel like they wish they wanted to get dolled up and mingle over cocktails and loud music on a Friday night, but what they really want to do is stay home with a book and pajamas, power off their phone and read until their quiet little heart’s content.  Can I get an Amen from all the introverts?

As this book goes on to point out, “…relinquishing my fantasies of what I wished I found fun allowed me more room to do the things that I did find fun.”

Being so struck by this notion of real vs. illusory desires, I couldn’t help but make my own list.  Without much thought and totally off the cuff, this is what I came up with:

Things I Wish I Wanted to Do:

*Work out more

*Not eat cookies for breakfast

*Play complex family board games (my in-laws are way into games and it’s freeing to admit I could spend the rest of my life mastering Scrabble)

*Chaotic playdates combining two or more of the following: toddlers, junk food, bouncy house, water parks or long car rides

*Camp (as in, outdoors, devoid of proper toilets, with the possibility of bear attacks)

*Go to a grad school (I must face the fact that a few proud extra letters after my name does not a happy homework-haver make)

*Have a third baby (our second is six months old and we’ve hired an overnight nanny and professional sleep coach in recent weeks – this talk is tabled for now.).

*Spend time on my hair (all roads lead to dry shampoo)

*Seek out cool indie music (Top 40 ‘til I die)

*Read classic literature (see grad school reference above)

*Embrace early mornings (maybe this will be The Happiness Project: Age 60)

As I immediately scribbled into my journal upon completion of this hasty (yet pretty darn honest) list:

Wow – there’s such a freedom to just admitting – if only to myself – “I don’t actually want to do any of these things!”

What would you not do, if you knew you could not fail?

Maybe it’s worth cancelling some unwanted plans and sticking around to find out.  Gretchen Rubin would definitely give you a gold star for that.

 

(*featured image by Anne Taintor*)

Hibernation

FullSizeRender(3)I’m going to share something personal with you. Which is ironic because it has to do with my not wanting to share personal things.

The photo above is part of a journal entry I wrote on New Year’s Eve. I like to carve out time on the last day of the year, to reflect on the previous 12 months – things I feel good about, and things I want to improve upon – and lay out a plan of attack (aka resolutions) for the new year. This year those hopes and goals largely revolved around a theme of practicing quality over quantity – in things ranging from my relationships to time spent online and in social settings. We’ll see how that all fleshes out, but I promise my intentions are good.

I’ve been using this blog as a personal writing and reflection platform for a little over two years now. Though I may only post once or twice a month, I think about writing all the time. For those who don’t know me as well as others, I am painstakingly aware of my conscience, agonize over things like, “Did I say that right?” or “Did she understand where I was coming from?” am an obsessively thorough proof-reader and perfectionist editor. And I struggle with guilt over really wanting to write when the urge strikes, while also really wanting to be a devoted, undistracted mother who doesn’t get enveloped in a heated essay-writing spree while her son watches reruns of Sesame Street.

This last year, I wrote some stuff that really put my heart, insecurities, flaws and personal beliefs out on the line. I think that’s hard for anyone to do, but I always tell myself that some things are just important, even if they’re not fun, easy or comfortable. The reason I know that wearing my heart on my sleeve is important, is because I know how important it is when others do that for me. The truth is, I know I am my own worst critic, and it’s been a while since I’ve written something I was really totally pleased with. And then sometimes, when I feel like I actually really poured my heart, brain and time into something important and said what I wanted to say – **vulnerability alert** – I’m disappointed because it gets two likes on Facebook and I feel totally unvalidated, OR what I wrote is apparently important enough to be controversial and I get super stressed out if I sense conflict or disapproval.

Deep exhale…

Here’s what I actually set out to write: I’ve learned that in the month of December, I get busy, busy, busy! And festive, festive, festive! It’s Christmas and everything is so put together and pretty and peaceful (OK so not really 100% of the time, but I keep telling myself that it is to keep the Christmas spirit meter up) and I just want to soak it in and pack my calendar with red and green frosted social engagements and I think to myself, “What am I ever going to do when Christmas lights are down and we’re just stuck with drab, gray, uneventful January?” It always sounds so depressing!

And THEN – all I want to do is go into hibernation mode. Meaning – I basically just want to disconnect my phone and computer, pull out my best apron, be a June Cleaver mom and wife, and bake apple pies all day while no one bothers me or picks my brain.

This year as I seeped deeper and deeper into the holidays, I was all busy and social and Mrs. Party Planner and Ugly Christmas Sweater on the outside – and I’m not knocking that stuff; it was festive and great and important in its own right and I’ll probably be just as excited to do it all again next year- but on the INSIDE, I felt like I was burrowing deeper and deeper into an introverted, “don’t look at me,” “don’t analyze me” hole. I realized that this year I had made myself and my real, fragile emotions available possibly more than ever, through essays I published, through sharing personal struggles with people I barely knew, through hot button issues I weighed in on over Facebook, and even in smaller scale personal conversations.

By the end of the year I found myself feeling a little proud and brave, but A LOT over-exposed, drained from “putting myself out there” and kind of just wanting to hibernate. I felt sort of emotionally spent. And I still kind of do.

I had extreme visions of ending my blog after two years (my husband says he won’t let me), closing my Facebook account (but that’s such a dramatic thing to do, and I’ve already done that before – it didn’t fix life), and fleeing to Amish country where they don’t have the burden of electricity (OK I made up that last part, I probably couldn’t handle the early mornings, and actually really like electricity).

I’ve spent the last few weeks being less connected to social media than I have been in years, without quitting cold turkey. I’ve genuinely tried to be more unplugged, less reactive and more intentional with how I set out to spend my time each day. I’ve tried to step back and do a cost-benefit analysis of being emotionally naked.

I happened to briefly log on to Facebook tonight, which has been a refreshing rarity for me in recent weeks, and two of the first things that caught my eye were posts from fellow blogger friends (Abby and Emily, I’m calling you out – I loved reading both of your posts and they made me drag my butt out of bed and get my laptop out to write this).

So in reality I have felt like I have had writer’s block THE ENTIRE time I’ve been writing this, but here’s to being imperfect and posting it any way.

The truth is, I don’t want to stop writing. I know I would regret it. Maybe it can be hard, and maybe it can be draining, and definitely it is hard to balance with everything else as someone who struggles to be disciplined with her time.  Maybe I’ll write more privately and less publicly this year.  I don’t know yet what the right decision is for me.  But I’m making this public so you know my intentions to figure it out.

But I have to believe that it’s worth it. That it’s worth slogging through the writer’s block and the half-finished stories and the endless rough drafts, for the unbeatable feeling of FINALLY writing something that makes you lean back, look at your monitor with sheer amazement and say, “That’s it.”

A really great baseball player still only gets on base a third of the time. And a world-renowned surgeon may only cure a fraction of the patients she treats. Why should it be any different for writing? The only way to get better is to write. And you can’t hit a homerun by hibernating.

“Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Higher Highs and Lower Lows

Dyrehavsbakken, Copenhagen

My husband and I got into a big fight two days after finally moving into our long-awaited “dream house.”

But to be honest, I would have been more surprised if we hadn’t.

Robin Williams’ laughter and smile were larger than life. They’re still painted in my memory and ringing in my ears.

But his pain was deeper than the ocean.

And parents, especially new parents, are thrust into the greatest joy, purest bliss and calmest peace of life with a precious new child…

So why do so many of them report suffering from the deepest sadness, most severe loneliness, and isolating ineptitude they’ve ever felt in their lives?*

The common thread in each of these scenarios is something that has taken me a long time to learn about life: with higher highs come lower lows.

With the house example, I’ve learned that even good stress is stress. The overwhelming work of packing your life into boxes and unpacking it piece by piece as you get to know and operate and secure each quirk and cranny of a foreign new place is unsettling, even if it’s also exciting. Add to that exhaustion, chaos and competing opinions about priorities and I’m willing to bet many a husband and wife have “gone at it” – in a way that’s far from the christening fantasy they envisioned.

Then there’s the raw, painful story of one of the world’s most beloved comedians suffering so severely he took his own life. I’m not a psychologist but I know many mental health professionals have said in the aftermath of this shocking death, that it’s often the people who smile the brightest on the surface, that are fighting the darkest demons inside. That smile is their armor; it’s certainly not their whole truth. High highs….low lows.

Finally we have the true roller coaster that is parenting. It can lift you, windswept, to breathtaking heights you never knew existed, and then drop you so fast it leaves you spinning and wanting to throw up.

So why does this happen and what can we do about it?

Well.

One more thing I’ve learned about life is there’s a hell of a lot we have very little control over. Like where our husband puts the coffee maker. Or the unbelievable number of times in a day our little one….fill-in-the-blank (Spits up! Wakes up! Cries! Makes me cry!).

What we do have control over, friends, are the expectations we set for ourselves, as parents and as people.

When we expect things to be picture perfect, easy and happy all the time – we’re setting ourselves up for a freefall into disappointment. How can anyone live up to that bar, set as high as a trapeze artist? I’m pretty sure the only thing new parents have in common with a trapeze artist is sometimes feeling like they live at the circus.

Expect yourself to be human. Expect yourself to do some things well. And forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned. Learn to be happy in your home with dishes in the sink, and a baby with spit-up on their onesie. You’ll wash them and change them eventually, but maybe right this second you really just need to pour yourself a cup of coffee or spend 5 minutes zoning out to E! News.

And that’s OK.

Hopefully once we learn to expect that life isn’t roller coaster highs all the time, the lows might even out as well, and we’ll begin to settle into something resembling – what do the trapeze artists call it?

Oh, yeah. Balance.

*PS –  I recognize and respect that sometimes these “lows,” when related to mental health are beyond our control and require the help of a trained professional, and/or treatment such as medication. If you are experiencing something you suspect could be a postpartum mood disorder, please know you are not alone, and you deserve to find the support you need. Here are a couple of resources available to you:

*Postpartum Support International of Washington:
http://www.ppmdsupport.com** has info on PPMD, list of recommended resources and Support Groups
*Peer Support Phone Line (a “warm-line” not a crisis “hotline” – support from women who have recovered from PPMD – if you leave a message, someone will call back within 24 hours). 1-888-404-PPMD

This essay was originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows.

*photo credit

When in Doubt, Don’t Ask About:

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Today’s blog post will be a gentle reminder in etiquette for us all.  Myself included.   My name may be on the byline here, but I’m guessing I speak for many of you reading who have experienced the awkwardness, embarrassment, anger or hurt that comes from being asked things that are none of anyone else’s business.

The inspiration for this post was sparked by a friend’s bewilderment over the many people in her life who inquire about her age (and hair color…. “Is it natural?”), and the list goes on… and cemented by my being asked one time too many (just this week, in fact) if I’m pregnant – when I’m not and haven’t been for almost 16 months, but thank you very much for asking.

It got me thinking about all the things that are taboo to talk about – or should be – but people relentlessly talk about them and ask about them anyway. There are the old standbys of religion, sex and politics, of course – but in today’s world, or my life at least – those topics tend to be some of the rarer offenders.

Everyone has a different barometer when it comes to what makes for appropriate conversation topics with the people in our lives, and we all have things that we prefer to not talk about with anyone, except maybe our therapist, spouse, or the closest of family or friends.

I’ll share some of mine and maybe you can add yours to this list. My hope is that the more people are aware of how they might be making someone feel when they ask about x, y or z, the more they will slow down and think before asking.

One of my personal “hot buttons” is MONEY.  I really don’t think I’m alone in my feelings on this matter, but it seems to surface a lot, so here goes: I will take the lead and let you know if I want to talk about the value of my house, my family’s income, or how much I paid  for personal items. But in many circumstances, I  don’t.  If I don’t bring it up, it’s because I find those things unproductive or unnecessary to talk about – or just simply, private.  If you want to genuinely compliment my outfit or my hair or my home – like most human beings, I welcome that! But please make sure there’s a person (me!), not a price tag, attached to your compliment or lack thereof.

Another hot button issue for me (because I am a woman, on planet Earth) is PREGNANCY: Wow. Where do I begin? It would be exponentially quicker to compile a list of things that are acceptable to ask someone you suspect of being pregnant, than of those that are a social no-no. But since clearly many, many people are painfully unaware of this etiquette, for starters:

Don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant. Ever. Trust me, she’ll tell you if she wants you to know.

Don’t ask her if she’s “keeping it.” I can’t believe I even have to address this….but yes, I have been asked this. While at a wedding. After joyfully sharing with people that Aaron and I were several months along. That wasn’t an awkward moment at all.

Don’t ask a pregnant woman if she’s sure she should be doing that/eating that/drinking that. She probably knows a lot more than you do about prenatal health.

Don’t ask if she wants advice of any kind. Again, if she does, she’ll ask.

BODY: I think this is the one where well-meaning people are most likely to get tripped up. Even asking someone a seemingly complimentary question like “Did you lose weight?” can bring up all kinds of body image triggers for that person, like “Did I need to lose weight?” or “How closely have you been monitoring me?” or “I’ve actually gained weight – what did you think I looked like before??” Tread lightly, friends…we’re all fighting our own battle here.

Earlier this week, while out walking with Anderson, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time. We exchanged giddy hugs and happy updates, and she introduced me to her boyfriend. She seemed exceedingly happy in love and in life. She bent down to Anderson’s level and made him smile, and then she looked down at my not-quite-iron board stomach and breezily asked without missing a beat (and in front of this boyfriend I’d known for five seconds), “Are you pregnant?”

Standing there gripping the stroller, feeling frozen and numb, I instantly sucked in and plastered a fake smile on my face, groping for words that wouldn’t come and thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this is happening again.” (This has happened to me at least four times, many months removed from an actual pregnancy). Then, without even planning to, I lied.

“Haha,” I fake laughed. “No, we just had a big breakfast” I said, while visualizing the half bowl of raisin bran I had consciously limited myself to that morning, after running twice last weekend and intentionally trying to chip away at those “extra pounds.”

That lie was my armor, my safety net, my remote control for changing the subject. The lie kept me from admitting the simple yet complicated truth: there are some women who are neither pregnant, nor unhealthy, nor a doppelganger for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. I, among millions of others, am one of those women.

I’ve tried so hard to be an advocate for a healthy body image – my own and others – but standing there on that street corner reliving the humiliation of having to answer that question again­ – that question that essentially accuses that, if you’re not pregnant, there’s no justifiable reason for your body to look like that – I just felt like crying.

If this person I ran into today ever reads this, I would simply want her to know the same thing I would want anyone to know, who has asked me or anyone else questions that were personal to the point of causing pain, at worst, or discomfort, at the least:

“Dear friend – you are a beautiful and wonderful person and I’m sure you care for me and mean no harm. But please, please think of the impact your words may have on others before speaking them.”

One more note about sizing up someone else’s body, even without saying a word: we notice. I notice when I haven’t seen someone in a while and they look me up and down lingering a little too long on my midsection. I notice when someone is fixated on my stomach that happens to be a magnet for any possible pesky pounds I’ve yet to lose, or maybe never will. If I made it enough of a priority, I’m sure I could navigate this new body a little more effectively and customize workouts to get it back to more closely resembling its prior shape. But I shouldn’t have to explain myself to anyone in the meantime, and I shouldn’t have to constantly wonder if people are judging me because I didn’t “bounce back” like the Bodies after Baby! on the cover of People magazine.

So why do people ask such intimate, personal questions? I’m not a psychologist, but I have thought a lot about this, and I do have my own little theory. I believe that people ask overly personal questions for two primary reasons: to connect and to compete.

Best case scenario, these people simply like you and are looking to find more personal common ground on which to connect. They feel closer and more bonded to you upon learning you’re both fill-in-the-blank (rich, poor, 39, blonde via bleach, struggling with your sex life, looking to lose weight….). I totally get that these people, sincerely seeking to connect, have good intentions. I get that, and I’m not saying they’re the bad guys for asking these unknowingly loaded questions. But the questions often are loaded, and we could all benefit by being a little more thoughtful about how deep we dig (and with who, and how soon into the relationship) and how these personal questions might make someone feel.

Worst case scenario, people are delving into your private life to see how your sex life/weight loss/income stacks up to theirs, in a quest to compete, not connect. This is the most toxic version of this question asking, of course. And I think most of us have probably been guilty of it from time to time.

In closing, I’ll state the obvious – I realize we all have people in our lives we have chosen to talk to about money and sex, babies and body image, wars and weight loss. So how do you know if person A will be down with talking about topic B? If you really want to talk about religion, paychecks or politics, put your personal data out there first. If that person wants to reciprocate with private info of their own, they will. If not, well…now you know. At the end of the day, if you’re not really really sure the person in your midst is cool opening up and answering that burning question on your mind, it might be better to leave those hot topics for the ladies of The View.

High Five: What I’ve Learned from a Half Decade of Marriage

Before I even begin writing like I know anything about marriage after five years, I want to dutifully acknowledge that many a marriage veteran might argue that Aaron and I are still in our “honeymoon phase,” haven’t even reached the “seven year itch” yet, or been outnumbered by children (“You just wait!” I can hear them saying, fingers wagging…).

I told Aaron the other day that I am nicknaming five years the “Cupcake Anniversary” – not something grandly celebrated with the elegant tiered cake of a wedding, or worthy of the giant inscribed sheet cake of a 25th anniversary. But I do see five years as marriage’s first mini milestone – and I think we’ve earned at least a cupcake.

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So how have things changed since 5 ½ years ago when I was sitting on a snow-covered dock at Green Lake on Christmas Eve, cracking open champagne with the man I’d just gleefully agreed to marry?

Well, at that point in our relationship, Aaron would often brag, with astonishment, that he had never ever seen me mad, unhappy, or generally in anything other than a good mood.37

So, obviously, that hasn’t changed, right? Right….

Aaron has seen me roaring mad, sobbing sad, toilet-hugging sick and ugly as a stick. He’s seen me pretty, pregnant, in shape, out of shape, in Spanx (which is when you’re out of shape/naked, but in shape/clothed), jetlagged, sleep-deprived, road-raging, praying, cursing and everything in between. I like to call it “Fifty Shades of Cray.”

And yes, newlyweds, it can (and will) happen to you. But don’t lose heart – it gets better!

Over five years there has always been excitement in our relationship – it’s just that the causes and manifestations of that excitement have morphed dramatically. The excitement of five years ago was butterflies in my stomach sneaking off at work to read Aaron’s countless romantic texts. It was our first kiss on his couch and spending endless hours in the hot tub of our apartment building. Wearing fancy pajamas to bed more often than not and cuddling even if it was uncomfortable.26-SQUARE

The excitement of today is different, but deeper. Instead of the rush of emotions that come with all those heart-fluttering “firsts” in a new relationship, now we get excited about things that were far from our radar back then. Like picking out throw pillows to spruce up our new house, or ordering the highest-reviewed baby swing from Amazon. Or putting that first deposit into our baby’s college fund. We get excited about buying ingredients for dinner at the farmers market, reading each other passages from business magazines and self-help books, and the rare yet blissful occurrence that is sleeping past 8 a.m.

If there’s one “key to a good marriage” I think we’ve found it’s this: Find sustainable joy. What I mean by this is find everyday habits, hobbies, and routines that make you – as a couple – happy and connected, even in the simplest of ways. For us, there are certain things we’ve just always done, that have never changed – like taking regular “coffee walks” (first with dog, now with baby and sometimes dog) through every neighborhood we’ve lived in, going to bed at the same time, even if it’s just to sense each other’s company as we read (or email…) side-by-side to wrap up our day. Curling up on the couch for an episode of our TV addiction du jour, or carving out a couple of hours each week for a meal out and a well-made cocktail. These are the traditions we have sustained that contribute to our rhythm as a couple. They are the simple, everyday things that make us tick, and give us little things to look forward to each day and each week together.039

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Things may be less “exciting” in some ways – there is nothing like those early days of getting to know each other and pinching yourself as you’re falling in love – but in other ways, our life has gotten more exciting every year as our relationship, family, business and personal interests have grown and changed us.

I know that we’re still young and fairly new at this marriage business, but I feel like we’ve graduated from the “honeymoon” stage. My life is more t-shirts and ponytails than hot tubs and fancy hairdos these days, but at the end of the day (even the crazy ones…) I am overall happier in a deeper way, wiser for the wear, and more comfortable in my own skin.

When we go out to dinner now, our dates may not have quite the same carefree flirtatious flutters of five years ago, but these days, we have so much more to celebrate, and so much more to hurry home to.

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Happy 5th Anniversary, Aaron. If I could, I’d erase a few of my most cringe-worthy shades of cray… but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

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Flying Solo

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Earlier this month I took a big leap outside of my stay-at-home mom bubble and hopped a plane – alone! – to Chicago for three days. My old college roommate, Catherine, was about to turn 30 and graduate from med school and I thought it was the perfect time to plan a trip to celebrate. I also selfishly was ready to spread my wings a bit and prove that I could do this – be apart overnight from my 14-month-old for the first time ever!
I eagerly awaited this trip for weeks and weeks and dreamed of it being this relaxing, rejuvenating and luxurious time where I could stretch my legs walking the big city, read for four uninterrupted hours on the plane, indulge in bubble baths in my OWN hotel room…. You get the idea.

In some ways the trip was exactly what I had felt I needed and hoped for, and in some ways it wasn’t.

First, the flight:
The last four flights I had been on included Anderson, so it was quite the change not having to juggle a diaper bag, nurse, change diapers, or get a baby to nap on my lap while on the plane. It almost seemed too easy, like I was cheating or something, to board the plane with just myself, a small bag and a book. It was nice to be able to listen to music and zone out, to get lost in a book and not be accountable to anyone else on the plane. But I also got nostalgic and a bit homesick every time I heard a baby cry. It never annoyed me in the slightest, in fact I actually found the sound comforting. I sort of missed the sweet soft skin and warmth of a baby’s body against mine on the flight, of shuffling through board books and watching the hustle and bustle of an airport and flight through a baby’s eyes. There were things that were nice about flying alone – don’t get me wrong – but I was reminded that the extra baggage required to take a baby on board was ultimately pretty priceless.

The hotel:
Yes, it was nice to have a bed to hog and a TV to watch whatever I wanted, but I was also loneliest at night all alone, towering above this foreign place. I had the hardest time sleeping and tossed and turned until well into the early morning hours both nights. It was almost as if things were too quiet, too sterile, too simplified. I missed my own hastily made bed, the hum of Anderson’s monitor beside me, the random knocking sound of our quirky refrigerator. A hotel, no matter how nice, doesn’t hold a candle to home (and mine wasn’t THAT nice…. Here’s looking at you tiny square pillows made for a guinnea pig).

The celebrating:
It was good to see my longtime friend. We had a lot of catching up to do on our very different lives. She introduced me to three amazing restaurants and made sure I was well-fed and well-acquainted with where I was going (I would have been lost without her…). I was reminded that emails and texts can’t replace the ground you can cover catching up in person. I’m glad we made the time for each other, and that I got to walk with her in her home city of the last four years before she moves across the country yet again. I find it fascinating to witness a life path so different than mine, and am so proud of all she has accomplished!
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The city:
It was a bizarre sensation to be so completely untethered to the identity I wear like clothing every day here in Seattle – that of a mother. I have typically one or two small blocks of time on my own each week at home, to run errands, do my appointments and so on. But having an ENTIRE WEEKEND devoid of my mom hat entirely was a strange and almost disorienting feeling. As I walked for miles through the city, smelled the food and crossed over the river, window shopped, and got coffee, I figured I probably could have passed for a single, local woman about town. I did things I never ever do by myself or at home.

Like spend two blissfully quiet, meditative hours meandering through an art museum:
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Or spontaneously attend an Aretha Franklin (yes, seriously – Aretha Franklin!!) concert at the famous Chicago Theatre:
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I had a good time in Chicago. But undoubtedly and by a mile, the BEST part of my trip, was coming home to this:
back home with baby
I did not fully realize how much I had missed him until he was in my arms again. We were glued to each other for about an hour; I didn’t want to let him go. My coming home again to Anderson was one of the sweetest moments of my life. He made these sweet cooing sounds and showed me smiles I’d never seen before at the sheer joy of our reunion. I knew in that moment there was no place in the world better than this.

How You Do Anything

How You Do Anything

We’re moving later this month, and that has sort of put the pause button on home decorating, but when we’re into our new place, one thing I am itching to do is frame and prominently display some quotes that inspire me.  One that has stuck with me as 2013 has faded into 2014, is this:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.” 

I came across these words as the cornerstone of the editor’s letter in Real Simple magazine’s current issue on balance. The RS editor writes that sometimes, when we feel so overwhelmed that we’re not sure we can do anything well – like we just don’t even know where to start – we need only to choose ONE thing, and do it well

For her, one harried, hurried morning, that meant spending 15 minutes she really didn’t have (know the feeling?) making her son the exact home-cooked breakfast he wanted.  Schedule and to-do list be damned, that morning, for that 15 minutes, she focused on making her son an exceptional breakfast.  And you know what I think?  I think her son, and his mom, will probably remember that breakfast more than they’ll remember what was on the news that morning, or who forgot to put the trash out, or how many minutes they may have been late to school or work.  She made that egg dish as if, by it, her life’s work would be judged.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

My husband is really, really good at this.  He is the type of person who will respond to each of the hundreds of emails that come through his inbox each day.  He’ll make time to call his mother on his drive home.  If he’s making us a meal, he often takes time to make me these perfect little bite-sized “snacks” of whatever he’s cooking, so I don’t get hungry while I wait.  He is extraordinarily generous and kind in the way he treats people, be it his employees, his neighbors, or a homeless man on the street. Aaron is someone who typically pushes just beyond what any given situation calls for.  He chooses to do ANYTHING the way he wants to do EVERYTHING.  I believe all those little “anythings” will add up to the big “Everything” that is the legacy of his life.

I have been meditating on why I have felt so compelled by these words.  To me they have felt like a call to action – consistent, character-molding action.  And I have questioned whether such a seemingly tall order can co-exist with my “Sometimes you just have to buy the cake” philosophy.  I’ve decided, it can. 

For me, this challenge isn’t about striving for perfection, or pouring 110% into all we do to the point of exhaustion.  It’s about being fair.  Fair to ourselves, fair to all of those around us, and even in our character.  I think there are several realms in which this challenge is particularly engaging:

One is in our public vs. private lives.  How many of us are guilty of talking, acting, ignoring, neglecting in private, in ways we would never dream of in public?  They say that our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, and our actions become our character.  What a challenge it is, to behave as if others are watching, even if they’re not. 

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Secondly, it makes me think about how unequally we treat the people in our lives.  For example, I might be bitterly rude to the barista who’s “making me late” for an appointment, then two minutes later be all smiles and easy breezy “life is good” as I float into that salon.  Or I might reserve all my patience for my baby, and none for my dog. 

This idea brings to mind a passage from the New Testament, which implies that, as Christians, our character is judged not by how we act in church, or on Facebook, or with the people we find easiest to be around, but with the most difficult, inconvenient, downtrodden, burdensome people in our lives:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  – Matthew 25:40

So if I’m rude to my barista, it’s basically like I’m being rude to God?  Yep, she’s His child.  He’s offended.  And Lord knows I could go on and on with examples…. You get it. 

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

So this year, I strive to be consistent with my character, with the effort I put into my words and my actions that mean something to others. 

Now, we don’t always have 15 minutes to spend cooking an egg.  And for that I have another quote I refer to often.  This one I want to put next to my bed, so it’s the last thing I read each night before I go to sleep:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Finally, never forget that no matter how you fill your days – by being a lawyer, or an egg chef for a 4-year-old, or a teacher or a CEO – the work you do matters and how you do anything is noticed by the people in your life. You have a chance, every day, to be GREAT at whatever it is you do.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”