On My Mind

I should clarify that this post does not officially count in “The New Plans for the Blog,” but I wanted to pop back in to say a few things.

For one, you guys. You’re great. I got a lot of nice comments and feedback from people who, apparently, like what I do on here even when I don’t. That was really nice to hear. Blogging is like throwing your thoughts into outer space sometimes, and anyone who has spent a lot of time talking to no one knows how disheartening speaking into a vacuum can be. You guys should really feel comfortable commenting whenever you want — I promise, I’m nice!

For another, I just wanted to let you know that I’m actually making good on my plans so far. Over the last two days, I’ve been compiling a list of posts I want to write in the next few months. Can you believe that? By dedicating an hour or so, I was able to plan out content for weeks at a time. I have no idea why I never did this before.

Oh, right, because I’m a doofus. Sorry about that.

I also decided that, in addition to improving the writing, I want to up my photography game as much as I can. I am by no means a professional photographer, but Joey has gotten me a really nice camera and a couple good lenses for our last couple anniversaries, and, gosh darn it, it’s time to put them to good use. So get ready for PHOTOS!

Anyway, there’s no need to get long-winded here. I just wanted to say, stay tuned!

That’s a question I ask myself a lot about this ol’ blog these days.

Are you ready for a mind-boggling fact? I’ve been writing this blog for seven and a half years. I didn’t even realize that until I went to check the starting year so I could tell you how long I’ve been writing it. Isn’t that insane?

To put it in perspective, I’ve been a month for seven months. The longest I’ve ever held a single job was a little over two years. The longest romantic relationship I’ve ever had (hey, babe) has been seven years. The longest I’ve ever lived the same residence was about nine years.

This blog is one of the biggest commitments of my life.

And yet…lately, my life has been really busy. I’m raising a baby and working almost every minute of the day, and at night I mostly just want to collapse and do nothing, but I usually have to catch up on work from the day. I’m tired. And more importantly, my brain is tired. It would be so easy to shut down this little site and call it a day.

And yet…I can never pull the trigger. And when I talk to friends who are just beginning to blog or thinking about starting their own, I feel a spark of excitement as I remember what blogging can be. It makes me want to start a blog all over again.

I started this blog out of a weird sense of obligation as a fledgling journalist. I kept it going as a creative outlet when my career wasn’t particularly creative. In a lot of ways, it is my diary, my record of wins, losses, and all the feelings.

The blog has brought me emotional connections with people all around the world, including a few now real-life friends. While it has never been a source of major income for me, it has brought me business connections and opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

And, to be honest, I don’t want to stop blogging.

I think the struggle I’m having is that I don’t feel like I’m blogging well these days. I have all these ideas of things I want to do, but I’m not making the time or effort to put them into action. And it’s not that I don’t think I have good excuses why it doesn’t happen — I just wonder if I put a little more effort into time management, if maybe, just maybe, I could do it all.

(Welcome to my brain’s constant chorus: I never think I’m doing enough.)

So here’s what I’m thinking: I want to publish three times a week. And to keep myself accountable, I’m assigning a category for each post. And to keep my passion for the post alive, each of those categories will be one of my favorite things:

Post one will be a recipe or DIY, post two will be a product review or style-related (whether personal or home), and the third post will be a story. Because stories are what started this blog, and stories will always be what it’s about. My plan is to start next week.

I’ll be real with you guys, I’m a little nervous to publish this post. I’m nervous to say I’m going to do something when it will be extremely obvious and open if I fail. I hate failing. And I hate failing publicly.

But, you know what? After seven and a half years, I think I still have a few stories left to tell.

Recently, I had a small stress spiral.

I started to say I had a meltdown or panic attack or something equally dramatic, but, for one, I don’t want to make light of actual panic attacks and two, it wasn’t nearly so overt or overblown.

What happened was, I came to the sudden and almost paralyzing realization that I have a lot on my plate.

SURPRISE, self!

This probably should not have been as shocking as it was. I’ve got a husband, an almost-seven-month-old, three secular jobs, an apartment to take care of, spiritual responsibilities, friendships to maintain…it’s a lot. But, listen, we’ve all got our ways of dealing with stress. And if mine includes a healthy dose of denial, that’s my business.

And it probably didn’t help that I was coming off a week of vacation and a 24-hour flu, both of which rendered me exhausted and had set me back in terms of what I was able to accomplish on my to-do list. The point is, it all hit me hard and I ended up staying up until 2 a.m. one night catching up.

Because that’s how your brain works when you’re stressed: You’re so worried about being exhausted that you stay up late and get five hours of sleep. Perfect plan.

You’ll be pleased to know (unless you’re, I don’t know, a sadist) that I ultimately got it together. Everything on the list got done. And while I’m still feeling the effects of sleep deprivation a bit (you never really catch up, do you?), I’m a little less panicked about everything I’ve got going on.

It’s just…well, it’s hard being a work-at-home mom. There are days when, even though everything is getting crossed off, you’re just not doing anything all that well. There are days when writing deadlines get pushed back because I had to reschedule source interviews because Vivi didn’t take a nap as planned. There are days I find myself responding to emails one-handed while I play blocks with Viv with the other.

I would love to tell you I spend every single breastfeeding session staring lovingly into my daughter’s eyes, but, honestly, sometimes I’m posting a new photo on a brand’s Instagram account.

And sometimes I feel guilty about that. And others, I feel totally okay with it because it’s these jobs that mean I am home breastfeeding my daughter instead of pumping in an office somewhere so I can leave milk with the daycare attendants. Because I’m sure I would feel a whole other kind of guilt if that were the case.

Because the fact is, motherhood almost invariably means guilt about something.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the guilt and the responsibilities ever since my semi-all-nighter, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

I’m probably always going to feel bad about something. Even if I wasn’t working at all, I would most likely not always be 100 percent on as a mom. I would have tired days where I would be a lazy mom. I would have irritable days where I would be an impatient mom. I would have drained days where I would be a boring mom. But I think as long as I’m still being Vivi’s mom, I can make my peace with my imperfections.

And I have to remind myself that these are not new or unique feelings — every mom feels this way at some point about something. So…maybe I can just let it go. I can just keep doing, rather than let myself get caught up in the thinking.

Because I’m doing this. I’m being Vivi’s mom, and I’m working and taking care of my home and maintaining my relationships. If I’m doing it perfectly or not, I don’t know. (Probably not because, ya know, I’m not perfect. I know, I’m really sorry to shatter that charade.) But I don’t think perfection matters in this case. I’m doing my best, and my daughter is happy and healthy.

And that sounds pretty perfect to me.

 

It’s not really a surprise that I don’t have a hard time confronting businesses that don’t provide a good service. Amin my friends, I’m actually the one people go to when they have to write a scathing letter to customer service or are looking for a discount after being treated unjustly. (Yes, I did just refer to being lied to by a restaurant hostess as injustice.)

Which is why what I’m about to say might actually shock you: I am terrible at complaint to hair stylists.

I don’t know why this is, but whenever I get my hair cut or highlighted and they ask what I think, I immediately give them my cheesiest smile and proclaim the “I love it!” Even if it’s not exactly true.

I can’t tell you how many times I have actually left the salon with hair I straight up did not even like. This is so not like me.

There’s something about someone providing a service that, on some level, I deem as superficial that makes me want to do whatever I can to appear not high-maintenance. (In terms of other people I will let get away with unsatisfactory results, see also: nail technicians.) So as a result, I’ll fork over my cash just to go home and tug on my hair in front of a mirror for a few hours.

So, recently, I’ve been trying to speak up a bit more. I’m not looking for a confrontation, but I do feel that I should get whatever result in paying for.

I recently went for a highlight, had a great conversation with the colorist about what I was looking for, and then settled in with a magazine while she went to work. A couple of hours later, I found myself blow-drying hair that looked…well, looked exactly the same.

“What do you think?” The stylist asked cheerfully.

Cue my mental struggle. I liked this gal, and the hair didn’t look bad, per se. But the last thing I wanted was to drop another couple hundred bucks a month or two from now to (hopefully) get the hair I wanted. I took a breath and listened to my voice leap a couple of octaves.

“Um, it’s okay…I think I thought it would be a bit…lighter?”

Her brow furrowed.

“Really?”

She’s really going to make me do this, huh?

“I just feel, like, it’s not…that different? It looks kind of the same? Around the roots…?”

For the record, she was totally cool about this criticism. We quickly cleared up our miscommunication, and she offered to fix it.

The really sick part? I still had to be convinced to take the correction.

“Oh, um, are you sure? I…I mean, if you’re, sure, ok, yeah, if you don’t mind.”

Spoiler alert: I did actually leave with hair I liked. But is that enough positive reinforcement to make me speak up next time? Only time will tell.

But I’m curious: Do other people feel this way about cosmetic services? Or is there another business that you have a hard time complaining about? Or is this just my own weird insecurity?

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I think, like most people, I had an idea of what motherhood would be like before I became a mother. (I initially wrote “a very specific idea,” but, if I’m honest, I think I knew on most levels that I probably had no idea what I was getting myself into.)

And, before I get into the subject of this post, I want to confirm that I think I’ve made it pretty clear how much I love being a mother. We’re on clear on that, right? I feel obligated to reinforce that I do before I say what I’m about to say next.

Because sometimes being a mother makes me sad.

Whoa, whoa, WHOA, you say. Motherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to a woman, right? How can you possibly not love every second?

Well, I’m really sorry to be the one to tell you this, but, besides that statement being entirely untrue for some people, it’s also impossible for it to be true for every single woman every second of the time.

And I’m not even talking about postpartum depression, which, I’m told, is a whole other bear. I’ve been fortunate thus far that I haven’t really dealt with that, at least not in full force. My sadness is rather run-of-the-mill, I’m afraid. So sorry.

But whether or not it requires a diagnosis, my sadness is just as real. Because, even though I love being a mother, it is not always easy.

Being a mother means giving up a lot of yourself. It always makes me think of this line from The Bridges of Madison County:

“You don’t understand, no-one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops.”

Because, you guys? That is IT. And even though it’s not always a bad thing, there is always a level of mourning when it comes to letting a part of yourself go.

And besides the existential struggle, there are parts of being a mom that just kind of suck. Your time is not your own. Your body does weird things. You can’t do everything you want to do. You often have to go into hiding to breastfeed. You can’t eat whatever you want to eat. You are almost always tired. You are more often than not covered in some kind of bodily fluid. You get screamed at (a lot) by a tiny, irrational dictator despite your every attempt to please them.

The good part is that your baby usually finds a way to make it up to you (those smiles and sweet coos are life-affirming at times), but the fact remains that often those sucky moments still just suck.

But wait, you say, isn’t this a blog post about joy?

YES. But more than that, it’s about the choice of happiness.

Remember almost four (!!) years ago when I decided to stop being unhappy? That sounds silly, I know. I even acknowledged the silliness when I said it. The Happiness Project was less about truly never feeling unhappiness and more about make a concerted effort whenever possible to choose joy. It probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found the more you practice mental discipline, the easier it can become over time.

I’ve found this practice helpful in a lot of areas of my life, from friendships to marriage, from running a marathon to having a baby. I’m not sure I would have been able to enjoy pregnancy as much as I did if not for my previous practice in seeking the good.

And now I find myself putting it into practice again as a new mother.

Before Vivi arrived, I would spend a lot of time thinking about when she was finally here. And I made a promise to myself: I promised to enjoy everything, from the lack of sleep to the discomfort to the frustration.

Because this was my parental rite of passage.

These were the things that bonded millions of parents across time and space. These were the moments that plenty of people who wish to have a baby would give anything to have. So who was I to take my baby’s 3 a.m. shrieks for granted? Who was I to bristle at irrational tantrums when she hasn’t mastered a new skill? Who was I to throw up my hands in frustration after the sixth spit-up and subsequent outfit change of the day?

And besides, who would I be helping if I did any of those things anyway?

So, instead, I shifted my focus. I learned to live in the moment when things were good and to look at the progress when things weren’t. I learned to appreciate the fact that even the worst moments will make for a good story some day and to tell my war stories with a laugh and an eye roll — my baby might be trying to kill me…but at least my tiny tyrant is adorable!

I also think it helped that I was mentally prepared for struggles. I expected frustration and exhaustion and tears (hers and mine). I expected to feel at some point that I had made a terrible mistake or, at the very least, to mourn my less-tethered childless life. What I’m saying is, I deliberately kept my expectations low. But I’m very grateful that I can honestly say I’ve loved every stage of getting to know Vivi. I expected to grit my teeth through her newborn-ness and to tolerate her fussy infant months, but the fact is that I daily find myself in awe of something about this wonderful little person I get to raise.

Maybe she really is just that wonderful (I mean, I know I think she is). But maybe I’ve just gotten better at focusing on what’s wonderful about her.

Because, most of the time, being a mother is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

I get to watch her tackle new challenges and develop an ever-sunnier personality. I get to revel in first smiles, giggles, babbles, and kisses. I get to celebrate her new milestones and soothe her pint-sized frustrations. I get to discover the world again through her big blue eyes. I get to wake up every day and be Vivi’s favorite person. I get to be Vivi’s mama.

And, for me, there are few greater joys than that.

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If you had asked me two years ago if I ever thought I would be a full-time freelance worker, I would have answered unequivocally “no.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t see the merit of leaving the office behind — setting one’s own schedule, prioritizing work I actually enjoy, working from home…the list goes on.

What always held me back, though, was the fear that I would never be able to make it work for real — or that the anxiety of whether or not it was working would crush the joy of freedom. I liked knowing that I had work to go to every morning and a paycheck coming every two weeks without fail.

So, I would have said no, and I wouldn’t have hesitated.

When Joey and I had discussed our work plan post-baby, we talked a few options, but rarely did we discuss the option of me staying home. I made good money, and, more importantly, I liked working. I like what I do for a living. (Most of the time.) I like working on a team, and I’ve even liked a few of the office buildings I’ve worked in. Me working full-time was something that made sense in my brain.

Then I got pregnant.

And from the moment I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, I knew things were never going to be the same again. With every sonogram, every inch my belly grew, and every feisty little kick, it became clearer and clearer to me that there simply would be no going back to work for me.

Which isn’t to say that my decision is somehow better or more noble than anyone else’s. Parents choose to go back to work for a variety of reasons — and in some cases it isn’t a choice at all. For me, though, there just wasn’t an alternative.

So, quietly at first, I started to toy with the idea. And as Vivi’s due date drew closer, the possibility and the options I actually had in front of me became more real and ever more likely every day.

When I first put my hands around that tiny baby, I forever let go of the idea of leaving her to go back to work.

Every time she looked at me, Vivian steeled my resolve to find a way to make this work-at-home-mom thing a reality. A month into my maternity leave, finding and applying for remote and telecommute jobs, as well as reaching out to everyone I knew who might be hiring freelance writers, editors, or social strategists, became my full-time hobby.

By the time my “return to work” date rolled around, my mind was fully made up and I turned in my official notice. (For the record, my boss could not have been kinder and more understanding of my decision. We even discussed the possibility of my freelancing for the team in the future.)

And then, quite suddenly, my dream-turned-plan turned into a reality. And I felt…well, I’m still not quite sure. I’m completely happy with the decision and what it means for Vivian and me. But when you have defined yourself by your career for much of your life, it’s weird to suddenly change course.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to handle these changes better than I did five years ago (remember this?)(also, remember when I thought I was leaving journalism for good? lol), so I’m not panicking or even all that worried. I’ve learned that life is rarely finite decisions. Instead, it goes in seasons, and right now, I’m just in a new one.

I’ve had a tendency in the past to throw myself completely into things, only to later wonder if I had given up too much of myself for this new self. But this feels different. I think, with a baby, you really are made over new in almost every way. So even though I’m so different than I was even a few years ago, it doesn’t feel like something I’ve put on so much as something I’ve become. I don’t feel like I’m really giving up any part of myself.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve had some kind of metamorphosis into what I was always meant to become.

That sounds deep and heavy. It also sounds kind of silly or overly poetic. But, regardless of all that, it feels right now that I’ve finally put it into words.

So, for now, I work from home. I ignore the slight flutters of nervousness over this new, less certain career path. And I revel in every second I get to spend with my daughter, watching her become who she will become.

And that office life? Wouldn’t ya know, I don’t really miss it that much at all.

Vivi and Me