Post Vacation Reality Check

IMG_0427(Throw-Back Thursday: This post originally published 4/18/13.)

I had just survived a 22-hour car ride home with three teenagers in the backseat.  My bottom surely expanded another two inches from the countless hours of idleness.  Despite these truths and the annoying grunting by my family as they finally exited the minivan, I was mentally renewed, well-rested and highly motivated to commence a more adventurous, interesting life.  It’s not like I was inspired from touring cathedrals in Europe.  We were simply on the beach in Florida, but for a busy Mom, the absence of daily routine and chores was ample incentive to get moving on a few dreams that I had buried under the weekly tasks of raising a family.

Facing loads of laundry, necessary grocery shopping, and a mountain of snail mail and emails, I remained steadfast in my resolve.  Tomorrow, I would break the hum drum sound of my life by reducing the number of “urgent” tasks that consume my days, and pursue “important” goals and interests that I’d been ignoring for years.

Best-selling author and management guru Dr. Steven Covey, promotes a time management theory known as the Urgent vs. Important.  He states that urgent matters “press on us; they insist on action…  But so often they are unimportant!” He continues his explanation of what’s essential in his national bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  “Importance…has to do with results.  If something is important, it contributes to your (personal) mission, your values, your high priority goals.” (Emphasis mine.) I teach this theory to business students at a four-year college.

Three days into my post-vacation resolution, I had made progress by refusing to fold clothes other than my own, and I would no longer load the dishwasher.  Ever.  Three teenagers can certainly handle kitchen duty and their clothes are always crumpled by the time they reach the drawers anyway.  The bunny food spilled.  I delegated the clean up.  The kitchen floor was muddy.  I asked my son to wipe it down.  Still, I wasn’t yet spending time on my mission or my goals.

I felt anxious to achieve something of significance, yet remained immersed in what would be considered trivial to the world-at-large.  I wondered, particularly while in the trenches of motherhood, should the urgent be ignored to pursue the important?  Is the urgent often equal with the important?

That third night post-vacation, after grading a heap of student essays, I scanned 124 emails and checked on the cherub-looking teens in their beds. It was 1:10am and the alarm was set for 5:45am.  I stayed up until the wee hours of the morn determined to finish the “urgent” matters of kids’ school correspondence, washing hockey jerseys, baking brownies for my daughter’s class and sewing missing buttons on a lacrosse kilt.  Completing those tasks through the night would free me tomorrow to finally address a few of my long-lost plans.  I would query book agents (for the completed novel in my hard drive), send out a few cover letters for a full time university job (I’m part time faculty), research missions trip financing for my youngest (she’s asked to visit children in Zambia since she was seven), and quite possibly, even work on the family scrapbook collecting cobwebs in my basement!

Excited to be caught up with the menial jobs, my subconscious joy awoke me at 5:00am.  I bounced out of bed, turned off the alarm that didn’t have to ring, and headed for my office computer.  I envisioned the interview I would certainly have by week’s end at the “big” university in town.  We would finally be able to upgrade the minivan and do some landscaping!  En route to my new professorship, I found my daughter on the sofa, doubled over crying with a stomach virus. She bolted from the couch to the bathroom, with me on her heels, holding her hair away from her face while she vomited.  By the time I tucked her back into bed, the others were up, lunches and breakfast were underway and “important” just became a trip to the Pediatrician.

I shuffled two of three kids and one husband out the door by 7:15am, did my hair and makeup in 12 minutes, drove to work to pick up new textbooks, stopped to retrieve packages that were on hold at UPS, then to the bank, arrived home, and left again for the doctor with sick child.  My husband met us at the house afterward to care for our daughter and I went to the pharmacy.  Catching my breath in line, I encountered a lovely gentleman I haven’t seen in several years.  He updated me on his children and grandchildren before asking,  “ahh… you were working part time as a teacher when your kids were little, right?” “Yes.” “So, what do you do now?”  I sincerely felt like apologizing that I had nothing new or “important” to share.  No trips overseas (his son was in Belize), or major promotion (his other son was relocating to Chicago for an exciting new job).  I was still running a household, being the Mom who brought forgotten gym clothes into school by 3rd period, and hosting all kid gatherings at our house since I was the one at “home” most of the time.

Who wants to hear about the pancakes you made this morning or the clean house?

The lackluster responsibilities that make life good for my family appear very small when having those once-every-ten-years conversations with people.

Paying for my daughter’s prescription, I remained surprisingly delusional.  Though discouraged by the errand-running, I resolved to at least print the final manuscript of my novel that afternoon. Then, I remembered the vacation photos still to be downloaded for the grandparents, and the recipes my daughter needed typed and copied for her girls group that night.  Walking out the door of Rite Aid, I marveled at how the years had passed. While my college girlfriends were growing their portfolios, I was feeling invisible much of the time and insignificant in the scheme of the modern bigness of our gender.

The remainder of my afternoon was spent hearing about family activities, cooking dinner, caring for my sick teenager, and zooming out yet again to watch my other daughter’s lacrosse game.  The last thing I had time for that night was laying next to my pale-faced vomiter when she asked me to rub her back.  Yet, when her weary eyes connected with mine, there was nothing more “important”.  The next morning, I called a sick friend.

Immediately following the call, my husband texted, asking me to book a hotel room for my son’s next hockey tournament.  I researched the best price (very time consuming) and turned my office chair again toward my goals.  As I opened MSWord to print out a cover letter for a full time teaching job, I see the kids’ summer camp forms in my peripheral vision. The deadline for signing up is fast-approaching…

Husband texts, “did you get that room yet for the hockey tournament?”

Son texts, “Mom, I didn’t finish the application for the art contest…would you please?”

Youngest daughter asks later that night, “would you help me with this project?”

Five days post vacation, it was evident:  I choose the urgent.

Standing in front of my college freshman students a few days later, I felt like a hypocrite.  Was I not practicing what I was preaching about stepping away from the urgent to address the important?  No, I decided.  There are seasons in life.  My students are earning a degree, I’m raising a family.  My personal achievements are centered around family and friends – for now. Though previously undefined, I realized through my post-vacation reality check that for many Moms, or women caring for aging parents, or spouses with chronically ill partners, the important is the urgent.  For a season.

My Florida-pink fingernails are chipped and my spray tan has faded.  The manuscript remains in my hard drive and the full-time professorship has yet to be landed.  There is zero chance that I’m catching up on scrapbooking this weekend.

The hotel room?  My husband was thrilled to learn that I booked a suite $60 less than the other hockey Dads scored.  The art contest?  My son’s drawing is published in a national magazine.  My sick daughter?  She says the best thing about her virus was my reading a book to her that I haven’t read aloud since she was 10.

When this Mom-urgent season in my life concludes, I will move into a new time, resurrect some former dreams, and no doubt, make a few come true.

Quotes taken from: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 1989. Stephen R. Covey.

The Bedrooms Tell the Passing of Time

My times are in your hands. Psalm 31:15

Mama, will you sleep with me? This request came from my 15-year old and sometimes is even asked by my 17-year olds. I said “yes” and I woke up to this :):As I laid quietly, listening to the breathing of my girls, the birds chirping outside, the sun peeking through the blinds, I was overcome with the speed of it all. Harry Styles was “it” a year ago. She still likes him, but the “super” excitement over 1D has cooled slightly. I’m sure this will pick up again late this summer when we travel to see them in concert.  We’ve been at this house for six years. It was the beginning of middle school for my twins and 4th grade for my youngest, whose “wall” you see above. The girls share a room now, but in our last home, they each had their own themed rooms. For my youngest, Winnie the Pooh and the 100-acre wood ruled for 10 years. Winnie

For my oldest daughter, Belle from Beauty and Beast did, and still kind-of-sort-of still does hold a special place in her heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you look deep in their closet, you can still see old costumes squashed in the back: The inspiration behind a full-sized surf board in a home in New York State was back in 2011 when Bethany Hamilton’s story came to the big screen. My youngest loved (and still does) Bethany, her story, and above all, her positive attitude and faith in God.

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My daughter told everyone of her plan to save for that board, and surf someday. She did not stop talking about Bethany’s faith and resolved to save and surf. Within two years, my then 13-year old had accomplished both goals.

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Winnie the Pooh is still a favorite on a few shelves, but no longer wall-worthy. The “la la’s” that she was literally inseparable from until the 5th grade (9 years!), still remain on her bed, but not under her arm at night.

But, my oldest daughter can still be found nearly every morning clutching her “dollies” since the age of three.

While my girls have painted their room twice in six years and redecorated three times, my son’s room is not only exactly same, but when I’ve asked him a few times if he would like to update it, he says, “No!” Signed autographs, framed highlights, books filled with cards, sticks and piles of Hockey News fill his room. His love of hockey will be life-long. He’s also not much for change.

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Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Eph 5:15 Message

Every parent marvels at the passing of time. Penciling increasing height when they’re young morphs into part time jobs and driving cars, leaving little time to wonder about marking height on doorways anymore…. DSCN0440

I was especially sentimental that morning, as I woke to the wall describing my baby girl, and her interests. Adding to the sentimentality, my oldest daughter would be on an international flight to Europe in 24 short hours. I found their bedrooms last Sunday morning to be a place where old loves linger, new interests take center wall, and many trends change as they grow. There is history on those walls…on the shelves…stuffed in closets…much of the “material” things simply a reflection of where the heart was at the time.

They have to have fun, explore the world and enjoy what it offers. Their Mom must accept that what’s most meaningful might not have been reached for in weeks…

While she also thanks God that one particular shelf is used every single night…

We hold on to the hope that while teenagers enjoy various interests and check out this spinning ball of rock for themselves, they will eventually gravitate back to their foundation.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Prov 22:6

I take special notice of the word “old”. While some children seem to love the Lord with abandon, and their faith wanes little during the teen years, others begin to question and contemplate and absolutely need to be given space. Perhaps only then can they truly, eventually “live the life” instead of merely “going through the motions” of church.

The paint, photos, celebrities, interests…they will continue to change. No matter the speed of time, I have paid much, much closer attention in recent months (maybe because of One Thousand Gifts?), because I don’t want to miss anything.

I ask God to burn the memories into my brain, but just in case some fade, I thank Him for photography and the written word. And, for the written Word that is forever timeless.

Shhh…I’ve Been Doing “Nothing”!

Thayer Allyson Gowdy, via Real Simple
Thayer Allyson Gowdy, via Real Simple

My husband and I are both “A-” personalities. I know a few true type-A’s, and while I might admire their daily sanitized and shining kitchen floors, that’s not happening in my house! Therefore, I’m an A- to a B+ on most days. I share this with you to illustrate the truth that I am not the sort to “rest” during the day or “do nothing”.

 

So, you can imagine how I was reeling last year reading Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet. (This is mentioned in my June 2013 post, My Mid 40’s Identity Crisis.)  The book describes 10 activities (“menu items”) that if practiced daily, will lead to joy and help you discover your true purpose or career. Out of 10 daily practices, her #1 instruction to the reader is to “do nothing” at least 15 minutes a day.  Usually when someone wants to embark on a new career or unearth their true purpose, they are expecting to take action, not “do nothing”!

 

Before I read any words that followed menu item #1, I judged the “do nothing” recommendation as absurd. However, the further I read, the wiser her advice seemed. Even though it sounded great, I didn’t practice it for long.

 

That was, until January 1st, 2014. Something changed in my New Year’s routine. I didn’t plan it, nor did I feel entirely guilt-free as I practiced it. I didn’t expect it to continue, but it did – all month long. What is the “it”? Doing nothing. Often. In fact, sometimes more than twice a day. I thought it might be due to the two preceding months of holiday entertaining. But, after a couple of weeks of resting several times each day, I was plenty refreshed from the long Christmas season of serving. I was almost relieved two weeks ago when I came down with a cold, giving me an excuse to “do nothing” in between my hours of “doing something”!

 

This January, I found myself on three mornings waving goodbye to the kids at 7:20am, and (gulp) I crawled back into bed. I couldn’t fall asleep, but…I rested.  On several days, after chores, grading papers, checking emails, and the like, I sat on the couch. I didn’t turn on the television and I turned off my cell phone. I wasn’t tired. I just…did nothing. Can I tell you that typing this truth feels like I’m sharing something scandalous?!

 

One day I watched snow blow outside my window at 25 miles an hour for 15 minutes. Another day I sat in a chair staring at the family room curtains. I pondered how long it had been since I’d washed and rehung them. No, I didn’t take them down and toss them in the washer. On my daughter’s piano lesson day, when I usually blitz through the grocery store, I waited for her in the car and closed my eyes. I actually laughed out loud one afternoon, stunned by my own indulgence.

 

Normally, the only time in January I stop moving is to drop exhausted into bed. It’s a busy month in our house. My top 4 “usual” January activities look something like this:

 

  1. Make all returns at stores for my kids and all grandparents by January 3rd. This year? One lingering return bag for American Eagle is still sitting on my dining room floor.
  2. Throw my twins a family birthday party, followed by separate friend parties by the second week of January. Have I been that crazy for 17 years? This year? My daughter just had hers on Friday night and my son is still waiting….!
  3. Tear down all Christmas decorations, pack up over a 100 tree ornaments, re-organize the boxes in the basement, search out and vacuum every pine needle by January 5th. This year? Various ornaments lingered around until mid-January and after cursing my “do nothing” habit every time I hopped around with a needle stuck in my foot, I finally got into the nooks and crannies, vacuuming them all!
  4. Organize closets in all bedrooms. This year? I walked into each closet, and then walked out. I sat down on the closest bed and did nothing but stare into the closet for 15 minutes! Then, I got up and left. I suppose that will be my February project (when I limit my “do nothing” habit to the allotted 15 minutes a day).

 

The fascinating outcome is that for all of my “do nothing” time, I actually started an exercise routine. I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year, but I’ve kept up with the dreaded sweat-fest 4x a week. I’ve read a book. This is a big accomplishment for busy Moms. Being me, I also almost feel a little mischievous, like I’m … gulp again … enjoying myself. If you’ve read anything I’ve posted, you already know I’m a bit of a deep-thinker, humor-challenged, and this “do nothing” experiment became “fun”, the further into January I traveled.

 

So, in conclusion, my do-nothing adventure was quite unintentional. I hadn’t thought about Beck’s book until I was well into the do-nothing habit. I’m not sure how long I’ll continue, but what I’ve observed is that the house didn’t come tumbling down, everyone still had clothes, food and water, and Mom just happens to be a little more relaxed this New Year!