Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On taking responsibility for my happiness.

 ***Originally posted on 05/08/2013***

For the next few weeks, while I'm finishing school and settling into various other changes in my life, I will be revisiting some older posts that you may or may not have seen in the archives. I hope to be back soon with new content. In the meantime, enjoy! And feel free to find me on Instagram, @kathleenojo.  

Tea farm in Limuru, Kenya

I've been cranky lately.  Moody.  Stressed.  Mostly overwhelmed.  And I'm tired of it - life is too short and too wonderous to wallow in the negative. 
 
I've always been the kind of person who loves responsibility.  I take pride in being loyal and reliable, in keeping mine and everyone else's lives in order.  I come home from work and generally don't sit down until dinner is made, dishes are done, workout and shower are complete... and when I do sit down I pay bills, work on assignments for grad school, or blog (hi!).  I am not a person who enjoys relaxation on a daily basis.  Sitting on the couch and mindlessly watching TV stresses me out and makes me unhappy.

With a baby in the mix now, I find my energy levels are completely off the charts.  I'm doing what I've always done, but now I have the added responsibility of feeding her, the bedtime routine, prepping her food and supplies for daycare... then getting up super early to get her dressed and ready for the day (and yes, my husband is willing to assist with all these things... but what can I say?  Efficiency is my forte.  I do these things because I do them well).
 
Most of the time I get everything done, still have some time to devote to my personal interests, and end the day feeling on top of it all.... but sometimes, I get burnt out.  It's been happening more often lately; I've been constantly sick since Amaliya started daycare, and trying to go go go 16 hours a day when I really just need to lay on the couch is breaking me down.  I feel like every day is spent preparing for the next day, and I never get a second to sit down and breathe.
 
I know I need a reset, to refresh my mind and spirit.  Nobody is going to step in, force me to sit down, take away my responsibilities.  Nobody is going to go to work for me, finish my classes for me.  I don't expect the world to cut me any slack, and I don't really need it anyway - I've got this.  I just need to figure how to pause from day-to-day and smell the proverbial roses.  I need to take responsibility for my own happiness, for my own benefit and for my family, because they deserve the best of me all the time.  I've figured out a few things that work for me:

1.  Find inspiration.  TED talks on YouTube, really motivating music, poetry, people watching at the coffee shop.... all these things really give me energy and get my creative and intellectual juices flowing.  It's easy to get in a rut and simply survive day-to-day when there's so much on your plate.  Sometimes I feel like a pack mule, like I only exist to work.  When I feel inspired, I'm reminded that I have more to offer the world than wage labor.

2. Sweat.  I go for a run, I take a class, even just a long walk helps me to turn my head around.  Endorphins are my friend.  A good workout helps me stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future, and enables me to just be in my body, fully present in the moment.
3. Ignore the messes. This is a hard one.  I like a clean house.  I can't STAND waking up to dishes in the sink.  I scoffed at everyone who told me that my place would always be a mess after having a baby.  And it's true, it IS possible to have a very clean house and a baby simultaneously, even while working - the cost is your sanity.  I've realized that to be happy, sometimes I have to let go and embrace the chaos.  Sometimes, an evening on the couch is more important than filing, dusting, or scrubbing the shower.

4. Take a sanity day.  I took one of these today!  If you're lucky enough to have paid time off of work, well, use it people!  And use it in a way that's going to make you feel fantastic.  For me, that means dropping the baby at daycare, making an enormous list of projects that I want to tackle, and knocking them out.  For you, that might mean a morning with a good book and an afternoon pedicure.  If you don't work, or can't take time off, try and carve out a couple hours here and there to focus on you, and doing something that fortifies your soul.  No guilt allowed - a happy you makes a better world.

5.  Get help.  Now, asking for help is definitely not something I'm good at, but I am working on it.  Every time I start feeling resentful about my workload, I consciously pause and think, "did I ask for help?"  I never do, I just expect my husband to be a mind-reader, sense when I'm feeling frazzled, and do exactly what I need him to.  That isn't realistic.  I have to ask him for his help.  And you know what?  He has never once refused or even complained.  He is more than willing to assist with anything if I ask nicely instead of just expecting him to share my priorities.  Bottling things up, working myself to exhaustion, then unleashing all my frustrations on him solves nothing and just makes both of us feel crappy.

Life really is too short to be unhappy.

Did I miss anything?  What do you do when you need a mental reset?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Self(ish)lessness - Why I'm glad to be a working mother

***Originally published on 02/24/2013***

For the next few weeks, while I'm finishing school and settling into various other changes in my life, I will be revisiting some older posts that you may or may not have seen in the archives. I hope to be back soon with new content. In the meantime, enjoy! And feel free to find me on Instagram, @kathleenojo.   



Taking care of a baby all day is no trifling task.  On the surface they are not complicated creatures - keep them fed, dry, rested, and entertained - but oh!  The physical, but more importantly, the mental energy it takes to do this day-in day-out should not be underestimated.  Your child is just discovering the world, and can spend 20 minutes smiling at a red coffee cup.  You'd think this would be a great opportunity for us adults to cast aside our cynicism and world-weariness, rediscover our childlike sense of wonder, and delight along with our babies at all the mundane details of life. 

Sometimes it happens that way.  But let's be real - more often than not, I am not content to spend my afternoon holding up a spatula for my little one to marvel at.  I'm guilty of sneaking Facebook time on my phone while "playing" on the floor with my daughter.  I find myself occasionally hurrying through the bedtime ritual in order to get to the wine, novel, and couch waiting for me on the other side.  

Do I feel bad about this?  Sometimes.  Not too often.  I am doing my best, and I really do find myself pausing numerous times a day to be in the moment with my daughter. I see the world through her eyes, hold her close and smell her, and let my heart balloon with gratitude.


I am also happy to disengage now and then.  The 40-hour work week is taxing, but sometimes I enjoy being able to throw myself into the work that crosses my desk.  I love my family so much that when I am home, I am emotionally switched on, all the time.  It's sweet and intense and very, very draining.  It's a relief to pack my heart away for a little while every day, to engage in activities that come from a place of intellect or routine rather than love and dedication and selflessness. 

Selflessness?  Well.  That might be somewhat of an exaggeration.  There is so much pressure on a woman to be selfless - as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother.  Men are born free and live free until the day they decide to take on the responsibility of a family, and even then, their roles are clearly defined.  Men do what men are supposed to do, like ships that sail from port to port, one mission at a time.  And women?  We're the water, flowing in and around, filling in all the gaps and keeping everything afloat.  I don't feel remotely bad for casting off this role now and then and living just for me.   


It hasn't been easy to balance, for sure.  I will certainly not be running any more half marathons soon - after working all week, I have no desire to leave my baby for 4 hours on a Sunday to get a long run in.  The work day is draining, not only because of the work, but because my breaks are spent pumping breastmilk in a storage room, and my lunches, rushing home or to daycare to feed my daughter and trying to make it back in under 45 minutes.  I refuse to let dad take over the bedtime ritual so that I can make it to a class at the gym (besides breastfeeding, it's the only quality time we have together some days, and I regard that time as sacred), so between doing what I need to do for class and prepping everything for the next day, I often don't have time to exercise in the evenings.

And yes, I have had several crises of confidence since returning to work.  Especially when I have to leave Amaliya at daycare, instead of at home with her daddy or grandma.  Truth - I still fight tears every time I leave the infant room at daycare, and I reward myself with a Stell coffee each time I make it out without leaking a tear. Why do I have to leave my daughter with strangers?  Why do I have to be the one to work full time while my husband works part time?  Why can't we be financially stable enough for me to stay home with her?  Why why why....

Traumatized daycare face.  "Mama don't leave meeeee!"

The whining and fist-shaking doesn't last long though.  Because here's the straight-up truth, and what I believe many women feel but are not allowed to say:  I am selfish, and glad that I'm selfish.  I unapologetically put my happiness first, before that of my family.  And I know in my core that we are all better off for it.  I need to embrace, every day, that part of me that is not defined by the love of my family.  It makes me a better person, a better mother, more patient and gentle and present with my daughter and husband.  This is not to say there are not sacrifices - there have been sleepless nights comforting a sick baby, days where I'm so busy taking care of her that I forget to eat, and if it ever came down to a choice, my life for hers, I wouldn't hesitate.  But I am still a human, still a woman with an identity of my own, and just because my daughter is worth the absolute best that life has to offer, doesn't mean that I am worth any less.

So, I work.  I run.  I cook, clean, occasionally find time to blog, read books that are not even remotely related to babies or children, and indulge in a glass (or two) of wine in the evening while simultaneously patting myself on the back and congratulating myself on keeping it all together.  I don't do everything, and what I DO, I don't always do well.  But I do my best, my family is loved, and I am happy.

My teeny tiny 1-month old
 I'm ready for you, Monday...