Choices, Parenting, Purpose

Single Mom Playbook

Stormy Sea

Be a more attentive friend. Make meals at home. Save every penny. Walk. Take the metro. Clip coupons. Go to the gym, to Zumba, to the mountains. Find a group. Be the least awkward. Breathe through the irritation.

Lift weights. Smile at everyone. Ignore the men. Take the pills. Take the vitamins. Go to counseling. Go to church. Bike there. Carpool. Pack water bottle, reusable mug, hand sanitizer, glasses.

Respond without yelling. Appreciate out loud. Remember mom. Remember all the birthdays.

Get to work on time. Stay on task. Buy the groceries on lunch break. Run on lunch break. Walk on lunch break. See friends on lunch break. Take lunch from home. Stay until the last possible minute. Leave with enough time to get to child care. Run for the train. Push through the crowds. Run for the bus. Shake it all off. Greet your child with serenity.

Empty the sink, the dishwasher, the backpack, the laundry basket. Meditate. Pet the dog. Give her a long walk. Look over homework. Manage dinner, shower, teeth, clothes, packing up, settling down. Read to the kid. Watch the clock. Ignore the clock. Speak gently. Breathe. Don’t cry in front of him.

Write in the journal. Post to the blog. Update the resume. Go to a social event. A networking event. A lecture. Take a class. Get a certificate. Learn a new skill. Read something edifying. Plan a party. Be mindful of the guest list. Befriend successful people.

Respond to the emails. Upload the photos. Pay the bills. Track the money. Notice the steady shrinkage. Resolve to create wealth somehow. Rethink the financial plan. Resolve to apply for all the jobs. Try not to notice the absence of jobs.

Speak with positive problem-solving language. Ignore feelings. Schedule a meetup. Wash. Iron. Fold. Put away. Keep the wardrobe up to date. Make a hair appointment. Restock the toilet paper, the dish soap, the dog food, the baking soda. Use less. Shop smart. Read ingredients. Note materials. Consider the planet. Eat vegetarian. Think of landfills. Think of Indian trash-picking children. Do we need it? Can we make it at home? What is a less toxic alternative? What other store sells it? How much? Unit cost?

Feel the pull to be doing anything but this. Ignore the pull. Inhabit the aisle. Save pennies, save packaging, save for college, save the world.

Pay attention to the calendar. Note the upcoming holiday. Figure out summer vacation. Hope the money will come. Map out the weekends. Sign up for after-school activities. Show up for basketball practice, for karate, for games. Pay for all of this.

Make new friends. Remember names. Don’t give male friends the wrong idea. Be kind but not flirtatious. Check the pantie line. Check the body language.

Remove dog hair. Patch worn places. Get another year out of the coat, the shoes, the Goodwill purse. Blow dry. Apply lips, cover blotches, rinse the pits, glow. Count calories, calcium, miles, pounds. Brush, floss. Walk with bold steps. Don’t scowl.

Kiss better. Send sweet notes. Remember to ask questions. Learn the love languages. Appreciate. Communicate. Pause. Give the benefit of the doubt. Speak your truth.

Don’t complain. Don’t gossip. Bear the weight of this list alone. Shut the door when you cry.

Resist the craving. Sleep more. Shut off the phone. Look past magazine covers and success stories and smiling facebook families. Try not to notice the cracks. Avoid schadenfreude.

Learn their secrets. Trust yourself. Live your full life. Don’t measure yourself against them.  Aim high. Simplify. Dream big. Think less. Take account. Shed what you don’t need. Be honest. Know your heroes. Listen to the still, small voice. Follow in the footsteps of great ones. Be yourself. Picture your future self. Know that what you have is enough. Strive. Be quiet. Create. Count blessings. Resist inertia. Meditate. Spark a revolution. Fake it til you make it. Honor your shadow side. Write your own story.

Keep moving. Be here now. Be kind. Be fierce. Be better. Be you. Become someone. Surrender. Fight on.


Image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1801, “Dutch Boats in a Gale” (The  Bridgewater Sea Piece) from the National Gallery, UK.

community, Friends, Giving, Uncategorized

A Gift of Need

We are embodied spirits who need raw material, both physical and spiritual, to create. But we forget that we are also social beasts who need not slash through the bramble of those needs alone.


Maria Popova in the postscript to The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

Fruit Gathering

A friend wrote to me with an offer of help. A generous spirit by nature, she also follows Momastery which further expands the reach of her care. She has a modest surplus in her family this year and felt called to support the extraordinary Together Rising Holiday Hands project. After a bit of soul-searching she made a brave overture: she sent a note offering me a small financial gift so Bug and I could get through the holidays. Continue reading “A Gift of Need”

Career, Mindfulness

Leap Frog

leapfrog
The Provost’s office announced it is offering up to half million dollars to a lucky PhD program at our university. My team received the news with a collective wave of nausea. Great prize, slim odds. A seventeen page proposal would be due in less than a month.

We’ve hacked through the dense foliage of earlier iterations of the RFP for three years running, and the only thing to show for our noble effort has been “great language we can use elsewhere.”

We accept the challenge this fourth time. Despite unfilled positions, anemic staff, maternity leave, and faculty stretched to breaking (or maybe because of all these things), we have to try. We tell each other to phone it in because other programs always win anyway. We say it knowing the idea is absurd, knowing we will give it our all. Because this is us, an earnest clutch of A+ students.

Also, $475,000.

My first impulse is approach-avoid this the way I do so many other tasks I despise: evade, excuse, put off, then CRAM. My rather irritating Better Self reminds me that as appealing as procrastination is, a more effective tactic might be to eat the frog. So I carve out half a day from my overtaxed schedule, shove everything else to the side, and start working.

A few hours in, I realize something marvelous.

This is a blast!

How lucky can a girl-writer get? The boss decrees that I ignore all my other business and spend my workday drafting and reworking a writing project — one whose goal is to land cash for my students. It’s a pain in the ass but it’s total flow. Challenge, creativity, reaching past my abilities to generate something meaningful. It’s a test.

A game.

So I play.

Only when I look up at the clock, close out, and plunge back into my burgeoning to-do list does the sickening stink of workplace misery engulf me.

And right there as I descend into the morass, I understand the mistake of my perception.

It’s not the task that sucks.

It’s all the tasks.

It’s the clutter, the questions with their missing answers, the half-complete puzzles waiting for someone else’s missing piece.

The desk-turned-junk drawer.

The “Do you have a quick minute?”

It’s the persistent drumbeat of financial crisis, and the knowledge that piles are growing while help is shrinking.

The hissing awareness that the only way out of a slow but steady downhill career grade is to eject from the vehicle and get behind the wheel of something else going somewhere else.

It’s the anxiety.

I carry the burden of all the tasks all the time, keeping myself frantically aware of everything un-done even while in the midst of doing. The irony? Evidence suggests this is a totally pointless expenditure of effort. All the things I set aside while tackling the Provost Award waited patiently enough. When my attention returned to those tasks, I took care of them just fine.

The world continued to turn. I continued to do my work.

As for the Provost Award? We wrote a fabulous proposal.

Our jobs are tangled up with so much of who we are. Work is values and perceptions. Work is what we believe to be real, and it holds so many of our wishes for ourselves, our families, the world. How is our performance? Are we making a contribution that matters? Can we afford the mortgage or will we find ourselves sick, broke, and homeless? Is there any joy in the work? Are we filling gaps and creating new paths?

Our livelihood is means and end simultaneously, existing in a thicket of uncertainty. Does protecting time for our families threaten our ability to support our families? Are we making a positive impact or making enemies? During the day-to-day minutiae, can we tell if our chosen methods are effective? How, under so much pressure, do we learn to do things differently?

Anxiety grabs all these drifting questions and presses them into one dense, throbbing, mass. What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t cut it? These __________ (vague but terrible) things will happen to my family and me if I fail.

I can see the bold edges now of the lines that hitch anxiety to controlling behavior. It’s a comforting illusion. If I can clean up this mess or present this shiny object as an example of my capabilities or get this person to fall in line with my clearly superior M.O., then the giant black hole of chaos seems a little less threatening. The world feels safe (for the moment).

The problem, of course, is that this constant vigilance about every possible danger fails to keep that danger at bay. It also makes for a wretched existence, and it turns a person into rather miserable company for everyone in (her) orbit.

Life IS uncertainty and chaos. We know this. I know this.

Every so often, like when an award application turns a bright light on the flaws in my perception, I remember again that only one thing matters: This thing right here.

Like paragraph 3 of the Provost Award. Or composing this outline of a presentation. Or winding my way through one maze of inquiries that leads me to an answer a student needs.

Or sitting in the other room petting the dog while my son turns the kitchen inside-out so he can make his own eggs for dinner.

Or holding still the slack thread between my love and me.

Because I know the reel in my hands is a stage prop, and the only way to capture the shape of my longing is to let go.

When I keep such painstaking track of all things that need doing, and catalog all the possible disastrous outcomes if they are bungled or forgotten, then every single moment of my life is toil. Carrying around all that responsibility means that my feet are too heavy for skipping, my neck to bent for lifting, my eyes too fogged for seeing the wash of morning light on the willow branch across from the bus stop.

The only control I have is to give my full attention to what’s unfolding right here, engaging it as it is and freeing it from all the hooks of what it might cause or become. When I am here, I can do a much better job assessing what is effective. I can sense what brings value to my life and to the lives of the folks around me. When I see how we are faring right here, right now, I can choose my next move.

Keeping my head in the game means admitting it’s only a game.

Choosing a play.

And then leaping in.
 

Career, Determination, Learning, Things I Can

100. Things I Can Captain: This Boat, These Waters

mother child at sea

It’s taken two years to get here. I’ve skirted the edges of this reckoning so long I know every stitch in its hem. Now I sit in front of a screen, a calculator, and a pile of paperwork to ask the question straight out.

Can we make it on my salary?

I asked the same question back in 2012 when the house hunt began. The answer was a definitive “no.” Buying this home was a hard push into a choppy sea. I did the full assessment then and knew that my income would fall short. To cover our expenses over the long haul, I’d need to earn more. Continue reading “100. Things I Can Captain: This Boat, These Waters”

Choices, Things I Can

73. Things I Can Outlast: The Muzak

I do indeed want to receive the same high quality service you are currently providing other customers. Yes, I will continue to hold, thank you for asking so nicely. A wait time of greater than seven minutes is completely manageable.

Please don’t worry. I’ll stay right here on the line.

As you experience high call volume, I am enjoying the pleasant anticipation of severing any need for future attention from your eager representatives.

I do appreciate the musical distraction you’ve generously supplied. A goat hamstrung in the soundboard of a baby grand is fine accompaniment this evening.

I have 26 days remaining on my car registration. Please, take your time. Continue reading “73. Things I Can Outlast: The Muzak”

Home, Poetry, Things I Can

61. Things I Can Add: Music Room

piano keys

The piano may join us
in this corner we call the dining nook
where our family that is two
keeps a bucket
filled with markers and pens
next to the salt
shaker. When we move again
the table and sofa
remaking our one room
into the many we covet
this becomes the sitting
place and the piano
will be doing that already.
It can stay. A song now
glitches on a hand-me-down
laptop. These machines age
in dog years. The choice
is between upgrading or losing
one lyric after another
to the exponential rise
of force X point O.

Option C is none here,
the above too poor an excuse
for music. It is hardly a maker, 1s and Os
whipping in packs along circuitry
delivering a canned calliope, midway
carousel operating
by remote.

I also want to be new
as if mounting the horse with fresh
paint might offer a ride somewhere
other than where I started
as if I am the lucky one. You are young
enough to believe capacitive touch
means building with light. Still at the table,
you are angry that screens are not invited here
and I lift my wrists in an extended rest, too few
fingers for the chord
my angers weave.

The piano may make us
play the old music
as if for the first time. One note
yours. One note, mine.

All together now.

Soon we will trade these keys for those,
string the hammered
steel tight across wooden belly and let heavy
dampered echoes reach
between us, press down,
tumbling our separate weights
into a sound only four hands
can make. Like us, the instrument
will have to share
this room of a dozen uses. It will join us
at our sharp corners.

You empty your glass. The wall here
is the color of leaves, or maybe one leaf
of blank sheet music. We each draw
a marker from the bucket. The first lines
decide everything.

 

Creativity, Poetry

Economy Class

Here’s my kid in his Jack Sparrow
goodwill T-shirt, belly-down
in a spill of hand-me-down legos
pressing flat planes
into airplanes
singing
“I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket.”

What what?

The contraption has train wheels
on the front end and truck tires
backing mismatched engines
but it takes wing
with guns blazing, enemy fighters
crashing in a fiery screech,
no match for the patchwork leviathan
my kid is smoking
like threads
like foes
like the beat he pulls
with a what what
nod
from the hole
in his pocket.

Apologies to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Thrift Shop.