Throwing my burdens off my shoulders

I could have easily titled this post “laying my burdens down,” and you would have likely visualized peaceful, hymns-playing-in-the-background visions of me letting go of all the things I carry.

I’d like to picture it just a bit differently.

In the past year, I threw my burdens off my shoulders. It was as if I had bees landing on my shoulders on a hot summer day and I frantically shook and danced and ran in the other direction until they got off my back.

And instead of hymns, you can hear just about any tune by Florence & The Machine. I recommend “The Dog Days are Over,” “Shake It Off” and “Ship to Wreck” as the anthems of 2018.

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I took this photo summer of 2017 when I visited my sister at work – a beautiful estate with a public garden where she cares for the grounds. She played with Joey in the fountain and I tried to breathe. It was a beautiful day but I know I felt so overwhelmed with life.

The struggle was real

In the slow of the Thanksgiving holiday season, I took the time to review “The Simplified Life” by Emily Ley, a book I purchased for myself last year and read through during the Christmas season. It’s part book, part guided journal. And you can feel the weight of the words I scrawled on those pages a year ago.

I remember standing in Target last year even struggling with the decision to buy the book because we were so tight on money. The business was doing OK but we were still trying to pay off debt from our first year of operation. I was desperate to get out from under it and stop the cycle of month-to-month wondering if we had enough cash to pay all of our bills.

I was overwhelmed with being a mother and a business owner. We were fortunate to have childcare help two days a week from my Mom, but it wasn’t enough. The rest of the week felt suffocating as I tried to figure out how to care for a toddler and grow a business that was desperate to take off.

I was short tempered. I felt overcommitted. I hated how I treated Will when he was only trying to help.

The baggage I carried was heavy. And the $13 or whatever it was I spent on that book felt like an enormous amount of money to spend on myself – but it was a glimmer of hope. If nothing else, a chance to reflect, an effort to uncover clarity.

Along with “A Simplified Life” I remember checking out at the library a copy of “The Spender’s Guide to Debt Free Living” by Anna Newell Jones.

I spent every free moment of the Christmas slow season devouring these books. And I made some tough decisions that helped me toss the weight of what was bringing me down. And slowly, things got better.

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We said “yes” to more of the things that added meaning to our life and “no” to things that added unnecessary commitment and stress. And it led to more beautiful days together.

Giving myself what I needed

Finding regular childcare

I started with researching and deciding to put Joey in a daycare. It was closer to our home than my Mom’s place and he started at three days a week. Now, he goes four days a week, an addition we made just a short time ago because I learned how to identify when I need help.

You may ask how that decision played into our debt repayment plan. The easy answer is that putting Joey in daycare gave us time to focus on our business – as many hours as if we had hired a part-time person. That blew my mind. And it made sense as this was our only source of income.

Taking things off my plate

I looked for ways to take things off my plate. I let my membership run out on networking groups that weren’t growing my business but I continued to attend. I started saying no to attending every event – not only to save on the cost of admission but to remove the hassle of a babysitter and give me more time to spend at home.

With Joey in daycare, it was even more important to me that the time he was home was heavily focused on family time. That meant being home. Such a simple concept. So hard for me to grasp before.

We got rid of so. much. junk.

We read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up the year Joey was born and did a fairly large clean-up shortly after. Will was more onboard with it at the time. I was still trying to figure out how to take care of an infant and really just wanted him to stop asking me if things in the closet brought me joy.

But reading both Emily and Anna’s books reignited this idea that we had way more than we needed. Most of it was stuff we never used – old clothes, kitchen gadgets, gifts that we received but never touched.

I sold many items and put that toward our debt or grocery bills and the rest went to the thrift store as a donation. It was so freeing. I remember looking at my kitchen counter and thinking, “I don’t need a glass jar of flour when it already comes in a bag and can sit in the pantry.” And then I cleaned the entire counter of clutter.

Cleaning up did more that calm my nerves (I get stressed when the house is a big mess and will sometimes say, “Can we take 5 minutes to straighten up?” Will knows this is a signal that I’m feeling overwhelmed.) Having less stuff meant it took me less time to get dressed in the morning. I could find what I needed in a pinch while cooking dinner. And I just felt less suffocated by things that didn’t add meaning to my life.

Being grateful when it felt like we had little

I also can’t really tell you how I started being a nicer person to my husband but when I became less stressed, it helped. We committed to getting childcare help together. We committed to paying off our debt as quickly as possible together. We knew we only had to go up – together.

I also started focusing on gratitude. And you may hear a lot about this from other people. I’ve tried to focus on gratitude in different ways, from a gratitude journal that I write in every night to just jotting things on the refrigerator’s dry erase board on days I feel overwhelmed. For me, turning stressers into moments of gratitude has been attitude changing.

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Everyone loves this house. Even Tito.

Getting some space – literally

Living in a two-bedroom apartment added to the stress. I didn’t think so at first. But we were cramped in there. Add to that the fact that we never could “clock out” of work (our home office was where our dining room table used to be – in the middle of our open floor plan apartment) and I was constantly overwhelmed.

So, this summer we bought our first home. It did slow down the debt repayment for a couple of months while we made repairs to the home and purchased items we needed. But in the few months we’ve been here I already feel better. The backyard alone has been a refreshing concept where we unwind and spend time together. And the space to have people over has changed our social life. We even hosted Thanksgiving dinner this week.

I’m still a work-in-progress 

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I’m still working on me but that alone is a big step.

Last weekend, I was in a tizzy. Someone sent me an email on Friday with an off-handed comment that did more to stress me out than they probably ever intended. But it got to me and left me overwhelmed well into the following week.

I wish it hadn’t impacted me so strongly but I immediately felt like I was back in the same place I’d been a year ago. Each moment felt like it was not my own but was stolen by my wandering thoughts.

It was when I got coffee with a friend on Tuesday and decided to share this stressful moment with her that she pulled some lavender essential oil from her bag, rubbed it on her wrists, handed it to me and said, “We’ve all been there.”

And that changed everything.

That moment to share this mental burden with someone else, and learn that I have support and others who care – and that I’m not the only one to feel this way – was everything I needed.

I’m still learning patience. I’m still learning to manage my stress. I’m still tackling debt one dollar at a time. I’m still identifying moments to ask for help and how to get that help. I’m still striving to live a life of grace. I’m still working on me.

But, man, I’ve come such a long way. And I’m really grateful for that.

Saying goodbye to mom guilt

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Mom guilt is not good for me or my family and I’m learning to let it go.

I was not sure how today would go for me.

Today is the first week where we increased my son’s weekly daycare visits from three to four days.

And it was a great decision.

But I wasn’t confident in that until now.

You see, it’s the end of the day and I’m really proud of my accomplishments. I went to a networking breakfast, checked off my to-do list, planned for the week, set up new sales meetings, caught up on emails and paid some bills.

While this was all happening, my son was in the care of others about 5 minutes down the street.

When it was time to pick him up, I felt ready for that transition. Now he could come home and my focus could be on him alone.

Instead of trying to push him in front of the TV so I could answer emails. Or take him to the park so my husband can get some work done. Or entertain him and the barking dog so both would just CALM DOWN.

It pushed me to frustration. I found myself short tempered. And at the end of the day the dreaded “mom guilt” crept in. I wasn’t happy with how I handled the day because it’s tough to run a business and coordinate finger painting at the same time.

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We have found ways to have more quality time together because I asked for help and brought some balance to my life.

Joey has only been in daycare since March. We managed to get help from family up until that point but when that stopped working as our best option we looked for an alternative. Daycare has been great for us. He loves the play time and friends and his teachers.

It was also three days in daycare versus the two days of family help. It felt like we’d hired a part-time person with the time we got back. And when we had Joey at home, that time was quality time, not rushed or pushed aside or please-let-me-multi-task time.

Then, we got busier.

Business has grown tremendously this year. We even hired a full-time person.

The workload was growing and Joey was yet again being served as many cream-filled cookies as he could hold and given the iPad to watch whatever really weird thing toddlers are into on YouTube these days.

It wasn’t working for us anymore.

I loved this idea of owning a business and having my kid home at the same time. Until it felt like I was living a pretend life where I was a working woman and a stay-at-home mom.

It was time to ask for help.

So, we decided to add an extra day.

I still love the idea of a three-day weekend (kind of, there’s still stuff to do), but one where Joey can have more of my attention and I don’t feel like the worst business owner putting off returned calls and emails.

Even with that in mind, I felt guilty up until the moment I dropped him off.

It hit me that the only reason I felt guilty was that I was afraid of what other people would think.

It wasn’t because I was worried about Joey or how he was doing in school or if he was feeling a change. I actually think we’ll all start to feel more balanced – all because I wasn’t afraid to admit I couldn’t keep up.

***

I’m pretty certain there is no perfect mom. There is no perfect parenting. There is no perfect way to do it.

Just as each one of us is different, so is each family.

We have to be OK with choosing our own way. We have to stand up for ourselves, our kids and our spouses and acknowledge that we can make sound decisions.

No matter what someone else may think of our choice, how they may do it differently, I have chosen a way that works for me and my family. And that feels really good today.

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The kids are OK, Mom. And you are, too.

I’m sure it isn’t the last time I’ll feel mom guilt creep into my life but it also isn’t the last time that I look at the situation and realize that I can let that feeling go.

And now, excuse me, I have some quality family time to get to.

Go out with a bang, not a whimper

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If I mentioned Rachel Hollis in a blog post, you’d probably recognize her from the popular book, Girl Wash Your Face. I am currently patron 133 on the list to get her hard copy at the library. And patron 41 on the list to get the audiobook.

My sister told me, “The book seemed like one you’d really like, but I think you already do most of the things she talks about.” So I don’t know what that means.

I decided to listen to Rachel’s Rise podcast. I mostly like her interviews with guests and was intrigued by Julie Solomon when she said that before she consumes, she creates. So before she looks at Facebook or Instagram or any other media, she sits down to create. And she feels much more satisfied and compares herself less to others and I found that nugget incredibly fascinating. I’ve even been practicing it the past few mornings – pushing off the moment when I check my phone until later in the day – and I like the results.

But back to Rachel. I found out she’s all about this 90-day challenge. It’s pretty much the idea of ending the year strong so you can get a jump start on your new year. Why wait until Jan. 1? Do it now.

And I like that.

It reminds me of one of the things an English Literature professor always used to say in class, “Go out with a bang, not a whimper.” It’s a phrase I use and recall often.

Now, Rachel’s Fab Five or whatever she calls them are usually about health and wellness – getting up early, drinking enough water, exercise – and while I want to treat my body well, I’m not necessarily pulled in the direction of losing a few pounds. I do like getting up early, though. If I can shower and dress and review my day before my kid gets up I feel so much more clear and prepared for the day.

So, my goals are not ones I can necessarily track on a daily chart and check off that I exercised for 30 minutes. I think those goals are great. I should probably add them to my list. But what if something so much bigger burns for me?

I find that lately, my goals require a little more longterm commitment, a bit of planning, some strategy to get there. And I want to reach them because they’ll help me take over the world, not just look good in my pants.

Just kidding. I would hate to run the world. I love Beyonce but I’ll let her keep that job and I’ll just jam to her girl power beats.

My goals put me in really vulnerable positions. They ask me to do things maybe not a lot of women have done. Maybe not a lot of mothers have done. Maybe not a lot of women younger than 40 have done.

And sometimes I don’t even realize that what I’m mentally tossing around should be a goal. Sometimes it’s pure survival, like when we had to start our business or when we had to pay down our credit card debt or when we had to buy a house because we were bursting out of our apartment.

And I realize I’ve not mentioned a single one of my more recent goals in this post! Ha!

Some of those goals are still monetary for us. We still have to conquer some debt we accrued in our first year of business. Others are personal for me – making an impact in my community by achieving a certain position in a certain organization (ask me about that later) or by pushing the envelope in hopes of positive change for others.

I’m not so sure it matters what they are – at least to you. You should have your own goals to become your version of Beyonce or drop two sizes or get that promotion.

Or listen to Rachel Hollis or don’t.

There’s something or someone out there who may inspire you or keep you on track or help you realize that goals are something you should make for yourself. But you’ll never really do it unless you decide for yourself that you want something.

And it doesn’t matter how vulnerable of a position they put you in. How uncomfortable or difficult or awkward it may be because in the end you’ve grown. And I think the growing pains are worth it.

Why I’m adding One More Thing

I don’t need to start a blog. My husband would probably ask me not to start a blog. But I’m the type of woman who gets an idea and can’t kick it until I at least try to put it together.

I used to have blogs. Of Pots and Pens still attracts about three people a day – mostly those who find my old food blog musings through Pinterest. And then when I was a freelance writer I kept a blog with story clips and photos and links and it was essentially just an online resume.

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Joey hasn’t quite mastered pedals. Thankfully, his Daddy doesn’t mind pushing him on a pretty heavy tractor made for kids.

I don’t need One More Thing on my plate. We have a toddler. Joey is 2 1/2 and this crazy ball of energy that loves us so much and sometimes in a way that I just can’t understand how even when we make him eat foods he doesn’t like or we boss him around as parents do that he. just. can’t. get. enough. Of me especially. Let’s be honest, he loves his mama and usually demands me most of all.

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Tito loves when I squeeze him just like this.

We have a dog. Tito is usually self-sufficient but, like his human brother, loves his mama and demands my attention above all others.

We own a business. Our York Media is a year and a half old. It’s growing like crazy and I’m in this weird space of trying to figure out where it’s going to be in 2019 – something I should probably be working on instead – but the house is quiet and I thought, now is a good time to add One More Thing.

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That’s me and my friend Kate Harmon at an event called Give Local York, which raised more than $1 million in 24 hours for nonprofits in our community.

I love to volunteer and be involved in the community. Starting our own business actually spurred me to finally sign up to be on boards or serve on committees and be like, screw watching Netflix, I’m going to organize and execute fundraising events!

And I really, really love that.

But I didn’t really need One More Thing.

In some ways, I think I need my own creative outlet. (Um, hello, silly, what was Our York Media?).

Or a place to talk about me. Because who doesn’t want to hear about my thoughts? Not just worries or blissful moments but just my thoughts? The random things that pop into my head? That’s what I thought.

Or – dream with me – what if this thing took off because you all love hearing my thoughts and I could sell ads or product placement or brands would send me free things like granola bars and coupons! (I can’t let go of that one time Kashi sent Of Pots and Pens a BOX of new-to-the-market granola bars. It was like I won the lottery.)

Regardless, I don’t Need One More Thing.

But I really think I want it.