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Leaned So Far In I’m Falling Over

I’ve been asked by a few people to talk about an update on the Year of Writing project I signed up for. I started to write this post about that, but then it perhaps turned into something else.

I am nothing if not ambitious. I’ll give myself that much. And right now even I am exceptionally short on time and sleep.

Trying to have a full professional life (which for me means working beyond the 9-5), a full social life, married life, family life, be an attentive mother, make dinner most nights, and so on… is fucking HARD.

I talked many moons ago about “having it all,” and how I thought YES, it is possible! Because “Having it all” is not a cookie cutter statement, bu now I am not so sure. I want to be all the things.

  • I want to work out regularly.
  • Have creative writing time to myself.
  • Have freelance writing time to myself.
  • Have blog writing time to myself.
  • Have other creative activity time (photos, painting, reading).
  • Be a professional power house at work.
  • Have more than 1 child.
  • Be an amazing, giving wife.
  • Make my own salsa/bread/jam/cheese/etc.
  • Plan parties and baptisms.
  • Occasionally keep up with a show I love on TV.
  • Occasionally see a movie.
  • Sleep like a normal person.
  • Play.
  • Give myself the freedom to occasionally do nothing.

That list could be a mile long. Truly. I’m trying to be someone right now, I’m trying to create something outside myself and inside myself. I’m trying to build my life, my career, my family. All of the scaffolding is going up at once, then the walls, and roof. There are babies to be made and money to be saved and meetings to prepare for and many, many, many things to write.

And I’m starting to feel a little bit like Pride and Prejudice up in here. How can we be an accomplished artist, piano player, and no 6 languages fluently? When would we ever live our lives?

The thing I can’t really figure out is whether or not this is a woman’s issue manifesting in my own lady-parts life, or if it is just me and my ambitions. Kamel is an amazing partner. And if I wanted to squirrel myself away every single evening, close the door, be alone, and write, he would support me. He would handle the baby and give me the time. We are excellent partners in our life. Sometimes we don’t feel like stepping up and being the adult, but in the end we’re both awake at 345 Wednesday morning, trying to coax a Gabriel back to sleep after a nightmare. We tag team diapers and hosing the kid down, we give each other the space to have our own interests and not let the business of life swallow either one of us whole.

So I am not the victim of an absent partner. I choose to be present in the evenings with my family until the baby goes to bed. Gabe is already in daycare 9 hours a day. He spends more awake time with other people than with me. So, yes, even though there are evenings where I would so much rather be alone to my thoughts, I spend the 2 hours I get after we get home with him. It’s my job. I’m his mom. This is the gig.

But Kamel has way less hats to wear, balls to juggle, shoes to fill. Way less. His job is his interest and passion (one of them), like mine. He has side interests, like I do. But his world is pretty straightforward: Video games, work, Family. We talked about this yesterday while I was thinking this post out loud. He doesn’t feel pulled in nearly as many directions as I do. Why?

Having a child didn’t affect him professionally nearly as much as it did for me, that’s true. He joined a secret dad club at work, a club full of knowing nods when you have to run out early to pick up your sick kid, of understanding email responses when you tell your boss you have to work from home today, the employer who tells you to “head home early, man… you have to get out of here and relieve your wife,” when I’ve been on vomit patrol all day. It’s partially his industry. Video games has the perk of being pretty relaxed. But, even when I was pregnant and super sick, I wasn’t met with much sympathy, and you’d think the one actually carrying the burden of making a human would get a shred of  sympathy, a little bend here and there of the rules. I still had to come into work and take a sick day, no work from home flexibility for me, no real flexibility whatsoever.

But ok, we’re kind of past that. New job, no pregnancy, no breast feeding. Is it expectations? On myself from myself? I don’t think my drive is so outlandish. I’m still trying to establish myself, still trying to pull myself out of uncertain employment, still climbing the ladder, still building my empire one stone at a time.

The thing is I just can’t do it all, even when I need to. Some things have to fall away. I have to pick and choose.

Am I writing? Yes. I write a lot. I write here, I write at work. Am I writing creatively at this moment? I’m not. Since starting work I have had a hard time figuring out a balance. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Even with this crazy late sunset, I’ve gotta sleep sometime. Tomorrow is just as jam packed as yesterday.

So, with writing – this year is about the year of ideas. It’s about filling my thought box as full as possible. A year ago I had no ideas at all, and that really scared me. So I’m not expecting completed drafts or even submitting to anywhere, I just want a big list of things to write about, maybe some prompts that are half started. I want to be able to sit down and dive in once I do get some time to myself. It may not be for 5 years, but I’m hoping a few windows open up between no and then.

In the mean time, how do you do it? How does anyone? My life is incredibly full and successful, as lives go, but I’m not going to pretend it’s not a complete ass kicking. Fitting in a work out? Better get up at 5am to do so. Sneaking in dates with your husband at lunch because that relationship is most important. Writing or reading at night, sometimes on rare occasions watching a show or having an adult evening. Falling asleep at 10. When there is a baby literally knocking on the bedroom door calling, “Mama! MAMA!” How can you possibly get anything done?

21 Comments

  1. Oh gurrrrl. I hear ya on this one. I struggle with this a LOT, and I’m not even responsible for a small human being. I often get jealous of Byron, feeling like he just gets to “hang out” while I’m slaving away, trying to get a chapter edited or a blog post written or a freelance job done. But then that’s not fair — I CHOSE these things for myself, no one did this but myself. (And, to be fair, when I sit back and examine things objectively — Byron is rarely just “hanging out”. He’s cleaning the kitchen or cooking us dinner or mowing the lawn. Keeping our lives functioning, essentially.)

    I often wonder if this is a women’s issue, or an individual issue, or an EVERYONE issue. Maybe everyone struggles with this? I do think the burden’s on women a lot more in this area, but then again I know a lot of men who go to work, then go home and start working on their “real” work, their side projects, their passions.

    Some of my coworkers look at me like I’m CRAZY when I tell them I get up at 5am to get a workout in. And I’m like… WHEN ELSE AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?? There are only so many hours in the day!

    I’m trying to be better about letting some of the stuff on that crazy long list go… like, maybe I scale back the freelance work. Maybe I give myself permission not to respond to every single email. Maybe I need to scale back the blog to just once a week, to give myself time to work on other projects. But they’re never compromises that I’m 100% ok with. I WANT to be able to do it all, but man… we’re each of us only one person, ya know?

    • I feel like the big difference between us is that my ambitions stay at work. All the career growth, new experiences and projects rarely follow me home. That, and I don’t have other big projects to work on, which leaves me with tons of free time to focus on playing games, watching movies and playing with my family. While Lauren’s free time is consumed by so many important side projects. If I were to attempt to make my own game, for example, and use my free time to learn programming and game design, then I’d be in the same boat as her.

      Also, I feel like it’s easier for me being a guy/dad in the video game world. Since I’m part of the dad club and have way more flexibility than Lauren does. Even through pregnancy and delivery, I felt like I had a better deal when it came to time off and flexibility, even though I wasn’t the one delivering a baby!

  2. Oooohhh yes. I have been overwhelmingly feeling these feelings, especially in the last few months. And, I too, am without a little person to be responsible for. I think maybe it is even a generational thing and also a woman thing? As in…our foremothers did so much for us to be able to HAVE IT ALL…so we need to take full advantage of every opportunity. We feel this pressure to do all the things.

    More than that, though, I notice that Daniel is way better than I am at taking time for himself. I told him the other day that trait is the one I envy most about him, and aim to emulate more. Daniel gets in the gym every day. That is his thing. It doesn’t matter what’s on the agenda; he will squeeze it in. When he was working out 30 minutes before he had to stand in his best friend’s wedding, I said, “But, there’s no TIME!” And he responded, “well, it has to get done.” And it was that simple.

    I’m good at “it has to get done” when it is for other people, but not when it is for me. I want to learn that.

    I think the secret is going to be prioritizing, and maybe that is what we are lacking. EVERYTHING seems most important. How do you decide between the baby, the dog, your partner, your health, your career? All of those thins are important. They all need attention. I don’t know how or when we’ll ever find the answer.

    In the meantime, we can only be kind to ourselves. To forgive ourselves when the things don’t get done. To move on, move forward. To say…hey…for being just one person…I am rocking this!

    My cousin, who is a known perfectionist and do-it-all, is practising for 30 days using a Ta-Da List, instead of a To-Do list. As in, at the end of the day, list all the things you got done (TA-DA!) instead of worrying about all the things you must do. I kinda like that idea :)

    • I love the Ta-Da! list! I should try that.

  3. Yes!!! I have been thinking and feeling a lot about all these things lately too! I really think it is partly generational, party a lady thing, partly because of the education we got that exposed us to all the wonderful exciting things we can do, see, feel, experience, accomplish, have etc – and also just an American thing. I think it’s what makes us awesome, but also probably one of our flaws (but that ‘we must have it all’ american thing is a slightly different topic, so I digress!).
    Doing all the things we have to do as adults, is incredibly hard. Hard, hard, hard. I have such admiration for people (you!) that do this on the daily while also having a small child! For Christ sake! On a personal level, I have been running into this issue constantly over the past few months as I’ve added in running to my schedule, and also settled into serious relationship land with L. Investing in so many things is valuable and we are better for it, but it takes effort and time. What I am trying to do is replace my “oh no, you didn’t do that, you were supposed to, you are dropping the ball, oh, it’s okay, I’ll do it tomorrow” – with zero thoughts. I try to cut my internal monologue off and not apologize to myself for not doing it. Apologizing to myself or others seems to only add guilt (and confuse people, often, haha) and makes me send that note/email to myself as a reminder, and makes me lay in bed thinking about it, instead of enjoying things like sleeping with the windows open or hearing L shaving in the morning when I lay starfish on the bed.
    I think you are doing a great job. GREAT. And I really mean it!
    ps: that ‘want’ list is so awesome, it rocks!

  4. This is so hard. Like others have said, I don’t even have kids and I find it incredibly difficult. There’s just so much out there that I want to do and be and experience, and I worry that in my struggle for the first two, I sometimes miss the last one – that I don’t really experience things as fully as I could because I’m worried about whether I’m doing enough or what I have to do next.

    Also, it’s interesting how this comes across and a gendered thing. I definitely complain that R. and I don’t split household things perfectly equally, but it’s pretty rare that he’s sitting around doing nothing while I am being frantic about getting something done. We both have a lot of ambition and so he has just as many side projects as I do. They’re different, but for a long time, we both had two or three classes to go to each week, and now while I’m working on volunteer stuff, he’s taking a course on weaving. It all sort of balances itself out, I guess, although that often means that dinner doesn’t get eaten until 9pm and that the house is never clean. How we’d ever do it with a child, I have no idea!

    • (I hope this doesn’t sound like I mean Kamel isn’t as ambitious as you – obviously I know that’s the case. I just mean it was interesting to me that R. doesn’t fall into that Art-Work-Family pattern that it seems a lot of men have, and that it brings us balance in some ways and in other ways means we’re both being driven a little crazy sometimes.)

      • Obviously I know it’s the case that Kamel is also very ambitious and a great partner to help balance you. God, words are not working for me today. SORRY!

        • Haha! No! Don’t worry! I totally understand! Kamel definitely has the ability to keep his ambitions at work. He has the room to be ambitious and not have it suck up all of his free time. Is it luck? circumstance? I don’t know.But it is not my reality.

  5. Before I go off on a rant about how terrible the American workplace is and how it feels like we’re all trying to lean in to a brick wall of abysmal vacation time, non-existent maternity/paternity leave, undervalued workers with no work/life balance that has been exacerbated by the recession and ridiculous Boomer generation work policies, I want to say this…

    More than once, when looking at your photos or hearing Gabe, I’ve thought that you reminded me a little of my mom when I was kid. Which I hope is not as weird as it sounds! But my mom had a really successful career, and still made dinner almost every night and made bread and jam and salsa and went for runs and sewed us halloween costumes. I know she was making sacrifices because I’m an adult now, but I didn’t really see those sacrifices as a kid. Now as I’m thinking about it I realize that she probably had to give up a lot of creative projects when my brother and I were little, but she has only been doing more and more the older I get. Is that hopeful or not?

    This also made me pull out my notebook and look at the notes from the AWP Parent Writer panel. I wrote “This is temporary” and circled it. Which I think is always helpful to remember. Interestingly, on the flip side of that page are the notes from the Women and Travel Writing panel, and I wrote this note: “Writing is traveling = making something from moving through the world.” That’s kind of beautiful, right? I don’t think it has to just be writing and traveling that does that: so is taking photos or raising a kid or building a marriage.

    • Yes to this: “Writing is traveling = making something from moving through the world.” That’s kind of beautiful, right? I don’t think it has to just be writing and traveling that does that: so is taking photos or raising a kid or building a marriage.

    • Damn, that’s beautiful. And thank you for comparing me to your mom. I think that’s an amazing compliment.

      I was also thinking of that parent writer panel this AM and what I kept remembering was their advice of “Just write. Find the time and do it.” Which made me feel a little AHHH! About things. And like… how do they have BOOKS? and I was thinking about the creative ppl I read online and realized: but they don’t work! Their writing world is their world. And then I felt like… fuck, well… whatever.

      It is so complicated. This life.

  6. I guess a couple of people have already said similar thing, but one thing that has helped me feel more balanced in my life at times is taking the long view. Maybe it’s all the things you do over time that can make you feel fulfilled and doesn’t have to be all the things you do right now?

  7. Every day this is in my mind. I don’t think it’s a strictly gendered thing, myself, since I know people of all genders who represent both the hyper-driven and chillaxed attitudes. People who take time to watch TV amaze me, since I ordinarily feel like every spare second must be spent on one hustle or another, and I perpetually feel like I’m behind on something I meant to do, or owe someone, and like I’ll never finish enough current projects to make time for the next super exciting idea on my list.
    And one solution could be to just stop. Stop something, stop it all.
    But when I can’t think of even one thing I’d cut, no matter if I can only squeeze it in once in a blue moon, when the thought of cutting back makes me sadder than a wet dog, I know I’m on the right track.
    Also, I know every time I slow down too far, it takes way too long to ramp up production again. At this point, I’m better off just plowing on and through. (except I’m back in a ramp-up phase, and it’s killing me)
    The fact that you accomplish so much with Gabe around actually gives me a lot of hope for the future, since I’m actually a little panicked about where time will go if/when I have kids. And as Margosita says above, it’s temporary. And that is at least a small relief.

    • I think about pulling out, turning off something or other, letting something fall by the wayside as well. But when I have done that, I feel so overwhelmed and it makes it so much harder to start back up again, creatively.

      With career-y things, I feel like if I stop now, it will only get so much harder with age. With more kids with more interests with more and more. I am trying to get somewhere solid. And that means padding my resume, writing my brain out, jumping at every opportunity so that I can have more moments like I had a few weeks ago where I think, “holy shit this is what i DO.”

      I feel like I’m missing the punch line. How does everyone do it? How do the very successful – no matter what the means, and it is not always money, it can be other success markers – how do they get to where they are and not have the sacrifices eat them from the inside out? Maybe they do make those giant sacrifices, but I’m damned if I don’t find away to do what I need to without selling out my kid or my husband or my inside self.

      • “How do the very successful – no matter what the means, and it is not always money, it can be other success markers – how do they get to where they are and not have the sacrifices eat them from the inside out?”

        I wonder if this is the crux of it? How do you define success? And I also think there are a finite number of things any person can prioritize in a day without something giving way (male or female, kids or no kids). Or I suppose you can prioritize more categories, if you don’t spend as much time on any of them/lower your definition of success for each one? Maybe that’s why Kamel feels pulled in fewer directions… “Video games, work, Family” seems fairly pared down.

        I feel like I have other thoughts, but I can’t seem to wrangle them into coherency, LOL. Interesting topic, though!

        • Oh, and reading this post also made me think of a fragment of an old David Sedaris piece:

          “Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove.

          ‘Gas or electric?’ Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter.

          This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. ‘One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.’ The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”

          http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/24/090824fa_fact_sedaris?currentPage=all

          But maybe instead of cutting off burners, it’s more about knowing when to turn them down to simmer? ;)

  8. No kiddo for me, and I even have a job that gives me a pretty good work-life balance, and I’m not super ambitious there. But I STILL feel like I am just overextended with all I want to do. Take next week’s post-work activities: mon, weekly volunteer gig; tues, haircut and softball; wed, concert; thurs, run a board meeting; fri, head out of town to visit friends and their new baby. How am I supposed to get to all these things (granted, of course things I signed up for and want to be doing) AND make healthy meals, work out, do house projects (just moved a month ago), hang out with my husband, have a social life, and get enough sleep? There’s always something that slips, which right now is unfortunately working out (also, I have a tiny blog that has now been neglected since January).

    I know it’s not exactly the same as what you are getting at, but I try to have a long-term mindset – this is the time for a and b to take priority, and eventually they will take a backseat to x and y. I also know the summer and fall are always crazier than the winter and spring for me. I try not to beat myself up over the things that are being dropped or the fact that it seems not enough is getting done. Doesn’t mean I don’t have panicky days where I just want to curl up with my head under a blanket and hide from everything, though!

    • I also meant to address the gender thing. I don’t think it is, not entirely anyway. There’s of course the mom guilt and the situations where moms do more of the at-home stuff and child care, but even adjusting for that, I think it’s a personality and circumstance thing. I know plenty of men hustling outside their day jobs, and women who have no trouble sticking to work, family, down time.

      • Your comment actually spawned an idea for me. I think the idea of “writing seasons” like how publishers have “reading seasons” might be super helpful. Instead of trying to do all the things all the time, spend 6 months devoted to 1 kind of butt busting, and then the other half of the year working on something else. Routine is important for my productivity, and also rules and schedules, but this way I can let some things go all of the time and free up some of that open space that I really need.

        Food for thought.

  9. Umm, I struggle with this a lot. I keep thinking of the Red Queen´s advice to Alice… you have to keep running to stay in the same place. I am functioning on lists, whereas before I was able to remember everything I had to do, all the time. Even making time for reading a book is difficult. And yet I do not stop all day, I do all kinds of things, I am always busy, always on the run. And I am “only” a stay at home mom.
    I guess it is about not having it all at the same time. I do foresee a future where I will be able to focus on my career again. At 33 though, I think I am already kind of too late in many ways, but I try to stay up to date reading, writing, finding collaborations or work related to my field. But I can not put it to rest, let it go, accept that I studied 10 years and never got to even work (other than with various internships) in an area that I love so much. At the same time I do want to be with the kiddo for at least a couple of years, and I am enjoying it, even through the really really hard moments where I want to pull my hair out and scream.

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Who the hell is she?


Lauren

I am a writer living in Seattle and I believe that life is a grand adventure and only boring if you believe it to be. Plus! You don't need money to have fun.

I live with my husband, a photographer by education and a maker-of-video-games by trade, and a baby named gabe in an apartment on the hill.

I am romantic about most things and I cry... about almost anything. I tell stories to entertain you, I spread stories to keep you in the loop. I am not a grammar freak, but I do know how to spell it. I am exceedingly proud of my scrambled eggs and I really could eat an entire pan of cupcakes. If I met me, I would be my best friend. I tend to be irreverent.

If you would like to chat with me or see what else I'm up to you can follow me on Twitter (betterinrealife), on facebook, or email me at betterinrealife at gmail.


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