The payoff

My second child is a force. Trust me, I mean this in the most loving way possible.

He’s a handful and a half to parent – everyday single day. He’s also utterly hilarious and so full of happiness that he’s bursting with love at the seams. At just three-years old, my little guy lives life larger than any person I know on this planet.

This kid has kept me on my toes, and sometimes the edge of my sanity, since the day he was born. Unlike his older sister, he barely slept as a newborn. He started walking and talking early.

He’s also “that kid” at preschool. You know what I’m talking about, right? He’s that kid who impulsively hits another child in the sandbox, flushes something down the toilet, or calls someone a poo-poo face (okay, that one is kind of awesome).

But we also can’t get through dinner every night without cracking up at him and he doesn’t allow us to be lazy, ever. There’s no sitting back and taking it easy – we’re on the go, go, go.

In these three short years we’ve been to the emergency room for broken teeth (stumbled while carrying a metal water bottle), a concussion (ran headfirst into a bathtub), and sliced gums (ate pieces of a broken mug). He’s not clumsy. He moves at lightning speed, constantly.

But underneath all of this kid’s energy and vigor, he has a heart that’s soft and mushy. He will ask, even demand, hugs when he needs to slow down. He tells us when he’s feeling frustrated, angry, or sad.

At bedtime every night, he asks me to sing this to him.  Unfortunately, at 5:30 the next morning, he’s ready to go full speed again. I take a deep breath and climb out of bed, long before I’m ready.

But last night, Brain told me about a conversation they had in the car coming home from preschool:

“Daddy, I miss mommy.  I want her to pick me up from preschool.”

“Are you a momma’s boy?”

“Yes.”

And there it is. The payoff – the moment that will keep me going through the challenges that I know are ahead, like teachers who will complain about how he can’t sit still, or the first time he shows up drunk after a night out, or the first time his heart gets broken.

Because this nutty kid is mine.

Mommy monotony

Everything is the same, all the time.

This thought has been plaguing me for a while now, chipping away at me and every effort I make to be good: a good mom, a good wife, a good friend, a good daughter…

It’s not that I’m bored.  I don’t have time to be bored. God, how I wish I had time to be bored!

I’m just a little tired – of working so hard all the time. Sometimes I think this is the way it’s supposed to be, so why complain? We’re supposed to work hard, build a life, start a family, get a house. But once you have all of that, then what? This is the big lesson of my 30s. That all of the things other people say will bring you happiness sometimes don’t.

And here comes that thought creeping back into my head…”everything is the same, all the time.”

My husband joked, in a half-panicked tone (poor guy), that he thinks I’m having a midlife crisis. Man, I wish that’s what this was. That sounds fun. Fake boobs! Spray tan! Sports car! Fruity drinks! Instagram selfies! But that’s not what this is.

Friends tell me this is what happens as you start to emerge from the time when your kids are small – those ten or so years when you pour absolutely every ounce of everything you have in your soul into tiny people who crawl into your bed at 5:45 a.m. to brightly announce, two inches from your still asleep face, “I peed in the potty, it’s time to get up, mommy!” Disclosure: this happened today. Please, get me a coffee.

I love my kids like no one else. They are my whole world. But who am I now? Surely, even after a billion diaper changes, toddler tantrums, and sleepless nights, I’m more than just “mom”. Right? Or should that just be enough? For me, I suspect that it’s not.

I’m now trying to wage a conscious battle with that idea that I have to be good for everyone else, all the time. This is not easy though. Even as I’m writing this, I’m worrying about the words not being good enough for other people. But, I know that we all have inner struggles, even people who seem like they have their shit together. Some of those people are, in fact, deeply suffering.

This morning I searched online for advice on this topic. Frankly, the advice sucked. It went like this: you lost yourself after you had kids, but they bring you so much joy so get over it lady. How lame is that? Fuck you, Internet. You’re such a buzz kill.

The way I’m starting to see it, the answer to “everything is the same, all the time” must be change.

I don’t know what that means. But I know it doesn’t mean getting fake boobs. Yet.

The man on the bench

Mornings in this city are busy and loud. The rush starts at about 8 a.m. as thousands of commuters descend on the downtown core in an army of city buses and vehicles thundering through intersections, and dodging in an out of the gaps in traffic. There are also a good number of people on foot and bicycles weaving in and out of, and around that chaos – until 9 a.m. when the noise dulls to what sounds more like an organized hum, pierced only by the occasional ambulance siren.

There’s a man who sits on a black metal bench almost every morning on one of the busiest blocks in rush hour. He’s dressed like a business man, in a beige trench coat, pressed slacks, polished shoes, and groomed snowy white hair. While the rest of us have our eyes on the ground, trying as hard as we can to get from “point a” to “point b”, he sits on his bench slowly eating breakfast out of a small brown paper bag from McDonalds.

Amidst the visual turmoil, the man’s hand slowly moves from the bag to his mouth as though he has all the time in the world. He looks completely at peace, almost as though that bench of his is a recharging station that is boosting his internal battery with all of the downtown core’s energy. This man is an example of someone who remains centred and at peace, even when faced with an uncertain and ever-changing environment or situation.

The man on the bench reminds me of this Collective Soul music video, which starts out sad but turns a corner at the three minute mark. Just for fun, here are two more videos (Gob) (Zerbin) with the same theme.

The lesson of the man on the bench, for me at least, is that peace is not something we find outside ourselves – it’s always within us, no matter what our circumstances are.

Abandoning ‘Perfect’

Grit. It’s a word I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

The folks at Meriam Webster say grit means “very small pieces of sand or stone” and “mental toughness and courage”. Grit is a personality trait I value in others – and also look for in my surroundings. Gritty attitudes and ideas inspire and motivate me, and more importantly, keep it real.

Let me explain…

One of my regular running routes takes me through an industrial area of downtown and, normally, I plod my way through those streets focused on not much more than making it back home. But, I recently noticed a graffiti wall on that run that was so colourful and so gritty – it was stunning! That’s made me think about how beauty can be found in some of the most imperfect places.

Plain and simple, gritty beauty isn’t faking it. It can’t. Beauty that comes from grit requires us to acknowledge how something that at first looks imperfect is really quite perfect after all, and brave and courageous – just as it is. The art on that graffiti wall was haphazardly painted, tucked away in a wild urban setting, just above the gravel shoulder on a two-lane road. I loved it.

Discovering beauty in gritty people and places flips the narrative, from negative to positive. Another example of this idea is where I live. Our home is in a neighbourhood some might consider to be on the “other side of the tracks”. But it’s that grit, and the area’s visual diversity and realness that is so appealing to me.

Our neighbourhood doesn’t pretend to be what it’s not. You’ll see any number of fun characters here on any given day, like the man who takes his parrot for daily walks and odd assortments of people stumbling home from the pub – and I love them, grit and all.

So often, there is beauty hiding in plain sight in our lives.  The cliché for this is “diamond in the rough”. The Japanese call it “wabi-sabi”, an aesthetic view that is centred on the acceptance of imperfection.  Derived from Buddhist teachings, characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, and simplicity. Wabi-sabi abandons the search for perfection.

This is an idea I’m now keeping in mind as I find ways to simplify my life. Abandoning the search for perfection is freeing. So, this week as I continue to downsize my belongings and streamline my daily routine, I will also focus on looking for more examples of gritty beauty, just like that graffiti wall, because I’m certain it’s there.

Wabi-sabi your life: six strategies for embracing imperfection. 

Five characteristics of grit – how many do you have?

The key to success? Grit. 

Letting go

This was supposed to be a recap of my weekend keeping up with the 30-day minimalist challenge. But life very often has other plans for us.

My maternal grandma is dying – there’s no less blunt way to put it. She’s 93 years old, stubborn as heck, and has decided that it’s time to go. It’s something she’s been wishing for, for some time now, as her mind has slowly started slipping away from her over the past year.

My daughter and I visited her today, to say good bye. There was so much about the short 10 or 15 minutes we were there that surprised me. We’d been warned that she was very sleepy and not making much sense. Yet, when she realized I was there, she said my name very clearly and smiled. She did the same for my daughter. Grandma was a loving woman, but not ever particularly very warm and I was fascinated that in her final moments, she seems so much more connected with us…with everyone.

Looking at her, her body frail and preparing to leave this world, I began to think about how important our flesh is to who we are. For much of my life, I’ve struggled with body image – sometimes viciously. But today, I am grateful for every ounce of my body and especially my fleshier parts.  They are proof that I am alive and living. Death and the process of dying takes this from us, sometimes quickly. Sometimes naturally over years as we age. I am thankful for this body of mine today, that carries my grandma’s DNA.

Somehow she knew it was time to go. Weeks ago she started talking about it, earnestly. Then about a week ago she became sick with a cold, stopped eating and drinking, and announced that she would be gone soon. This has given the family comfort – we know it’s what she wants. She’s been so uncomfortable in her own skin for such a long time that this really feels as though her suffering is coming to an end.

I have been terrified of death. About ten years ago I found a lump on my thyroid that my doctors monitor every year or so. And every year or so, my mortality slaps me in the face and I lose my shit. Now that I have kids and so much to live for, the thought of being sick and dying, and losing my kids, can bring me to my knees any time anywhere. And let me tell you, having one lump in your body (even if it’s benign) leaves you worrying about every other lump that could be hiding in you somewhere. Like a bomb.

But seeing how peaceful my grandma was, and is, as she lets go of her own mortality – and willingly doing so – is amazing. Even beautiful. So this woman who I’ve struggled to feel close to throughout my life has given me this gift in her final days: the wisdom that there is peace in death.

Day Two – Meditate

So, about yesterday…ew.

Decluttering your digital life is harder than I thought it would be. And can I be honest? I spent most of the time judging myself – was I keeping too many digital files? Not enough? Were my new folders labeled properly? Did I delete enough emails?

I did not feel good after that process was over. Plus, there are still twenty gazillion pictures in twenty gazillion folders on my home computer to go through…which never used to bother me, until yesterday. I don’t think this “minimalist” stuff is supposed to make me feel this way.

I did make some headway though. My work desktop looks better, at least. I guess you can call that progress.

Today the challenge is to meditate for 15 minutes. Love it. I’m already doing this almost daily anyway now. So today I’m going to really challenge myself and try meditating without any guided audio. This will definitely be challenging because I’m a thinker, to the extreme. Plus, my ears ring all the time and the high-pitched sound drives me crazy when there’s no background noise. But, they say meditation takes practice – so I figure it’s worth a try.

Now, about this weekend…chocoholics unite!  My kids are beyond excited because the bunny is coming, as is my husband because, like most loving parents, we sometimes help ourselves to their candy stash. Ssssssshhhhh.

This year, I’ve got a game plan in place to keep my chocolate binging to a minimum.  Here are some of my favourite “almost tastes like chocolate” chocolate treats:

Healthy Chocolate Chia Pudding

Five ingredient avocado pudding

Sweet potato brownies

And one more I really want to try:

Coconut Fudge

Have a peaceful Easter weekend.

Day One – 30 Days of Minimalism

So, it’s 8:00 a.m. on April 1st and that means it’s time to start Into Mind’s 30-Day Minimalism Challenge.

I need to switch the order up a bit in the first week, as does my friend who is doing this with me (she’s going to keep me honest and accountable through this), due to work and family needs. So today, my challenge is to “declutter my digital life”. According to Anuschka’s guidelines, I am to take care of my digital clutter today by Spring-cleaning my desktop, delete any files I don’t need anymore, and set up a simple, no-fuss folder structure.

I have to be upfront and say that this particular challenge will be easy for me, for the most part. As I mentioned yesterday, I hate stuff and that includes unneeded digital stuff. But there’s always room for improvement in everything that we do in life, so it will be interesting to approach this with a focused mind.

Since I don’t really use a desktop computer at home, I’ll be attacking the digital clutter on my work computer and also my social media. I actually started some of this yesterday – I brought the number people I follow on twitter down to 213 from 237, and I purged another 50 or so folks last week.

There is one area of my digital life that needs some attention though: email. Anuschka doesn’t mention cleaning up our email, but this is probably because she doesn’t get 200+ emails a day like some of us do (seriously, it’s madness). This is where I’ll focus most of my efforts today and I’m dreading this a little bit…which is a sign that it needs to be done.

I’m pretty good about staying on top of it all, but I have email that needs to be sorted going back to early February right now. And I’ve already received/deleted 60 emails this morning. Gah! Clearly, this is a source of stress for me. But I can’t simply stop it – because mommy needs her paycheque. So I have to find a way to manage it.

Wish me luck.

Stuff Buster

Tomorrow is my first day of the 30-day minimalism challenge. Yikes! This should be an interesting ride.

I’m dubbing April “Stuff Buster 2015” because it sounds so overly dramatic in a broadcast news kind of way and I enjoy making fun of my ridiculous, former career path. In radio news we had a sound effect for everything – if it was snowing outside, we’d play the sound of whirring tires stuck in a snow bank. Raining or thundering? We had those, too. If there was a rainbow in the sky, we had leprechaun sounds. I’m not fucking with you – we had those.

I’m definitely already a minimalist at home – I hate stuff, especially drawers, cupboards, boxes, and closets full of stuff. So in some ways I don’t know that the challenge will be all that challenging.

There is, however, one area where I have a bit of an…issue. Shopping is a major, major weakness of mine. And no matter how many times I swear I’m not going to buy any more clothes or spend on snacks at work, I always do. It’s frustrating and, quite honestly, embarrassing. Plus it causes lots of friction at home with the husband.

So, for this next month I’m going on a clothes shopping fast. In fact, I’ve reduced my wardrobe immensely this month to try and make sure I’m actually wearing what I own. I’ve already donated a big garbage bag full of clothes and last night went through my closet again, and took out another small pile to give away.

I’m not going to lie. This is going to be very hard for me. When I’m feeling bored, I shop. When I’m feeling down, I shop. On my lunch break, I shop. It’s become a normal every day function like brushing my teeth or eating a meal. But it needs to stop.

I’m hoping that once I get over the hump of not shopping for a few weeks it will be easier to keep it up. Because even I can see how my shopping habit makes zero sense for a girl who hates having stuff.

It happened

Last night I had the best sleep! I went to bed at 9:30 p.m., woke up briefly at 11:15 p.m. to get my son some water, and then slept soundly until around 5:45 a.m.  That’s a solid eight hours of sleep! As I’ve mentioned, that hasn’t happened for me in forever.

There are a few things that I think are making a big difference:

  • No more television immediately before bedtime.
  • No more electronic screens in my bedroom, unless I’m on call and must have my cell phone in my bedroom for work reasons (like this week).
  • Nightly meditation. This has been the biggest game-changer, IMO. And I’m feeling the benefits throughout my days, too. I am so much more relaxed about life, in general.
  • Going to bed by 10:00 p.m., 10:30 at the absolute latest.

You know, I was actually blaming my insomnia on age and hormones, and now I feel silly about that. Today I feel rested, balanced, and full of energy. Once again, proof that life change is always within our own reach.

I first started really thinking about the effects of bad sleep on my health after reading Whole9’s resources on sleep last year. Check them out – it’s great food for thought.

These days we’re so focused on everything that happens to us during the day (especially those of us with kids) that we forget how important it is to recharge at night. Trust me, your kids, spouses, and coworkers (yup) will thank you for getting your sh*t together and getting some sleep.

Four more days until I start the 30-day minimalism challenge. A good friend of mine is going to do it with me. I can’t wait to write about the experience!

Have a peaceful weekend.

Welcome

Here’s to new beginnings.

If I could raise a glass right now, that’s how I would toast this moment. But it’s the middle of the day and I don’t keep a bottle of wine in my purse. That’s where I keep my toddler’s change of clothes – am I right, parents?

Here’s the deal. My life is fantastic: great kids, great husband, great job, great house, great city…everything’s great. Except, that it’s not always. Friends, I am exhausted with a capital E multiplied by infinity.

You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you’re about to do something exciting or scary? I have butterflies in my tummy almost all the time. I know what this is – it’s stress. And I need to do something about it.

In the past, I’ve thrived in stressful situations, even happily welcomed them into my life. Until now, I’ve always been able to hunker down and plough through mountains of chaos. But as I near 40, my love of Crazy is starting to drive me crazy and I feel…uneasy.

I need peace. So, I’m going to use this space to write about my search for some calm in my life. Because, look, I’m also not delusional.  As a working mom with a young family, I know this is not going to be easy.

I’m also not interested in being Zen Mommy or losing my edge, entirely. That’s part of what makes me “me”. But, I do believe there must be ways I can reduce the messiness in my life and manage the stress it creates.

As part of my journey, on April 1 I’m going to start Into Mind’s 30-day minimalism challenge. To be honest, some of what is proposed in that challenge is terrifying (No internet for a whole day?!). But I’m hoping it will identify the elements in my life that are hurting and not helping me.

Let’s go! But, peacefully. Shhhhhh.