Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Musings on Midlife Motherhood

HHOS via Pixabay
I've been thinking a lot about motherhood lately, for several reasons. First of all, it's a theme that is emerging in my writing projects, as I pull together some of these thoughts and try to shape them into a book project. And, perhaps more important (and more of the reason I'm always thinking about this on some level), my "baby" turned 22 last week.

Parenting is one of those jobs that, of necessity, shifts and grows, changing along with those we are parenting. Parenting a toddler is very different from parenting a teen, and parenting a teen is different from parenting a young adult. At 22, my daughter is the keeper of all things with her name legally attached to them, from grades to student loans to medical records, and I've discovered there's something of a learning curve involved in figuring out what role I play in these areas. When she was little, all of these things were in my hands and I'm still adjusting to the fact that she needs to grant permission for my access to these things. I'm not so much annoyed by this as bewildered by it. When did the little girl I dropped off at daycare or the preteen I drove to middle school dances become grown up enough that her signature (or the lack thereof) carried so much weight?

Right now, in the first year seminar I teach, we are reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I teach this book to a different group of freshmen every fall, but each year, one quote pops up in the discussion: "The days are long, but the years are short."  Needless to say, my eighteen-year-old freshmen make different connections to this quote than I (or the author), but it's a powerful one, reminding us to seize each day.

In retrospect, the theme of motherhood was in my writing all along, something that both of the main adult characters in my novels grapple with. Whether we become mothers at sixteen, like Marita or thirty-six, like me, motherhood changes us. Together with our kids, we face challenges, celebrate successes and navigate obstacles, all the while intertwining what was a life that was ours alone with another life we are responsible for creating. Some days this goes smoothly; other days we wonder what we were thinking.

I'm happy to report that, twenty-two years and nine months into this experiment, I'm happy with the results. I have a kid who makes me proud, has good taste in friends and good judgment to boot. She's someone I would, as my mom used to say, want to hang out with even if she weren't my daughter. She makes me think, she makes me laugh and she makes me tired.

But just as I can't imagine my life without her, I know my life has changed -- I have changed -- because of her. I'm both softer and tougher, more patient and more impatient and every decision I make is imbued with emotions, knowledge and priorities that have arisen from this singular experience.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, November 18, 2019

My Love-Hate Relationship with Routines

DarkWorkX via Pixabay
On Saturday, I wrote about routines. Beautiful, boring, productive, persistent routines.

I think I first came to appreciate routines when I was a new mom. Routines allowed me to feel in control when, in fact, I was at the mercy of a hungry little person who might or might not deign to nap on any given afternoon. Getting into a routine soothed us both, its structure giving predictability to days that sometimes stretched on endlessly.

But, as Gretchen Rubin says in her book, The Happiness Project, the days are long, but the years are short. Those sometimes challenging, sometimes fulfilling days of infancy and toddlerhood gave way all too soon to elementary school, then middle school, then high school, each bringing new routines and new time schedules by which to abide.

Now an empty nester, I've established routines of my own and, when they are disrupted, I get cranky. Somewhere along the way, I stopped being the free-flowing flexible person I thought I was and turned into someone who loves the control and send of calmness and expectation that routines provide. While a day off is always welcome, a day knocked off kilter is less so.

These days, I have to remind myself of the flip side of routines -- that too much routine can become boring and rob my days of the joy that the unexpected can sometimes bring. That routine day after routine day can kill spontaneity and wash away the potential for new experiences -- the ones that spark a sense of wonder and awe, or perhaps simply rejuvenate us and spark new ideas and a fresh perspective.

The trick -- the sweet spot, I think -- is to break routines on our own terms. To declare a day off in the middle of a week or to schedule a vacation whose very nature is to leave routine behind and immerse ourselves in the kind of come-what-may, do-as-I-wish days that remind us that, while routines have their benefits, so too does the free flow pursuit of life outside of the box.

Today, for example, this post started off as a list article -- the kind I've been having fun writing for several weeks now -- but, along the way, it turned into something different. I could have tried to whip it into shape and insist upon its submission to my structure, but that would have been silly. If it works better this way (and it does) forcing it into the format I initially planned would have been a waste of time and energy.

And yet, that's exactly my first reaction when my routine falls apart. I try to pick up the pieces and put them back together like some sort of wayward jigsaw puzzle instead of remembering that, sometimes, routines are meant to be wriggled out of. Exploded, even.

The older I get, the more I believe that exploding routines aren't all bad and a that we are where we are meant to be. On days when I remember this, I can take a deep breath, laugh at the detritus of my routine and look for new opportunities that pop up as a result of a routine gone awry.

Definitely beats my cranky toddler impression.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Friday Feature: Routines

The past few weeks have been peppered with a variety of things that have wrecked my routine. Some were mundane, others more serious and needing immediate attention, but the end result, once everything had been taken care of, was me feeling overwhelmed and off-kilter.

This week, I've been trying to fall back into my routine, but everything from sloth to interruptions to an unanticipated need to recover from all of this routine-busting has created a pile-up of obstacles. Yesterday, my husband came home sick and spent the day resting in order to recuperate. I had a list of things I'd intended to do to get me back on track but, once I'd finished the ones outside the house, I quickly fell into a rest-to-recuperate cycle of my own, accomplishing only a fraction of what I'd set out to do. Even this blog, a regular part of my week every week for over a decade, was one of the casualties.

Once upon a time, I equated routine with boring, something that becomes increasingly less true as I get older and crave the sense of calm (and accomplishment) that routine can bring with it. Routines, as it turns out, are good for us not only in terms of productivity, but also in terms of creativity. Putting some things on autopilot, or on o a perpetual to-do list keeps us from having to worry about when -- or whether -- they'll get done. They can actually be an important part of our mental health as well, easing anxiety and keeping us focused when simply staying focused requires more energy than we have available.

If you're a regular reader, I apologize for disrupting your routine by making this post unavailable on its usual day. If you're finding me for the first time, I hope you'll drop by again. I'm here on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

It's part of my routine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

World Kindness Day
Today is World Kindness Day.

In other news, the impeachment hearings began in Washington, D.C.

Those who know me know I have a very definite opinion about the hearings and about this presidency in general, but this post is not about that. Instead, it's about how much we need World Kindness Day today.

This morning, I introduced a new book in my first year seminar -- the last book we'll be reading this semester. Ironically, the book I introduced on World Kindness Day was Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. As part of this morning's discussion, I shared what research has found about how much control we actually have over our our own happiness. According to studies, our genes make about a 50% contribution to our happiness while our circumstances contribute about 10%.

The rest -- 40% -- is on us, meaning that we are, to a significant extent, about as happy as we make up our minds to be.

Does this mean that those suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues merely need to cheer up? No, of course not. And, to suggest as much would be anywhere from woefully misinformed to downright cruel.

But it does mean that, even when circumstances beyond our control make us unhappy, we can choose to take charge of our own little corner of the world in big ways and small ones. We can step out of our preoccupation to look up and around us to see the beauty of the colors in the fall canopy. We can revel in good news, despite the bad, celebrate our blessings and make our favorite meal for dinner to try to salvage a bad day.

Most important, we can be kind. We can smile at the barista who makes our drink, yield to another driver in traffic, make a donation to a charity that matters to us. We can take ten minutes to meditate, twenty minutes for a quick nap or thirty minutes to immerse ourselves in a good book.

Last night, it turned cold where I live, temperatures dropping close to 40 degrees from morning until bedtime. Whether it's the world or the temperatures that are cold, kindness -- whether toward ourselves, others, or both -- can make the world seem a little warmer.

There are a wide variety of things over which we have little to no control. Some matter a lot, others hardly at all. But we can choose to be kind. Doing so takes very little time, yet it is perhaps the best investment in happiness -- ours and other people's -- that we can make.

Happy World Kindness Day. Spread joy.

Monday, November 11, 2019

4 Things I like about Facebook Parties

Last weekend, I was part of a multi-author Facebook event, something I really enjoy. These are some of my favorite book events because, although they lack the face-to-face benefits of in-person events, they can be less stressful, while still offering the benefits of a book event.

Here are four things I like about Facebook book parties.

1. Dress is semi-professional casual. While it's not unusual for me to roll out of bed and up to the computer where I write in my pajamas, I don't get that casual for Facebook parties. Instead, I dress comfortably and even put on makeup (though no one can see me) because a professional event demands some semblance of professionalism. Still, it's nice to know that I could wear pajama pants and a sweatshirt if I wanted to.

2. I can sit the whole time. An author coach once told me that she doesn't allow her clients to sit at signings and events, and that's advice I've taken to heart. I do take advantage of available seating when signings are slow but if customers are in the store, I am standing. Facebook parties don't require this.

3. I meet new people. At physical book signings, my goal is to stand, smile and greet everyone who comes into the store. Most walk right by (some avoiding eye contact all the while), but a few stop to chat. Sometimes Facebook events draw a lot of people but, usually, only a few engage. Both situations are nice, but for different reasons. It's great when lots of people are interested in my books, but a small group that I can actually chat with feels more personal.

Bru-nO via Pixabay
4. They give me a chance to introduce/talk about my characters and my books. This is, after all, the purpose of an event like this, and it's something every author loves. If we're going to spend months (or years) of our lives developing characters and ideas, it's wonderful to have a chance to share them with the world -- especially an audience who wants to hear about them (almost) as much as we want to talk about them.

So, if an author invites you to a Facebook party, I hope you'll drop by. You can pop in and out as it
suits your schedule and, if you're feeling unsure, you can just hang out in the background and take it all in.

And you can even wear your pajamas if you want to.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Friday Feature: The Joy of Failure

In my First Year Seminar, we are reading Carol Dweck's Mindset and today, we talked about failure résumés. Technically, they're not a part of Dweck's work but they fit into the topic beautifully.

Then this evening when, at the end of a very long, very off-kilter week, I realized that I hadn't posted yet (another word Dweck is fond of), I came across this article on the benefits of set-backs, particularly early in a career.

Sometimes, the perfect resource lands just as perfectly.

I certainly don't fit the "early in my career" designation, but I'm a big believer in learning from what went wrong, a characteristic Carol Dweck attributes to those with a growth mindset. When we take time to assess our failures and setbacks, Dweck (and others) assert, we can use them as learning experiences in an endeavor to do better next time.

Does this mean we should run headlong into failure? Maybe. But, more likely, it means that we shouldn't fear failure. I love the description of failures as data because I can't think of a better way to de-personalize something that feels entirely -- and often painfully -- personal. When we can think of the endeavor as less-than-perfect (or even failed if that is indeed the case), it doesn't sap our sense of self but rather, it frees us up to troubleshoot, plan and establish new goals and new directions.

While the world (or our little corner of it, at least) would be a whole lot more comfortable if we always succeeded, our world gains depth and breadth when we have the courage to take a leap, even it if means we might fail.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Hanging Out on the Porch Swing

Today is International Stress Awareness Day. It's also National Saxophone Day and, if I played the saxophone, I'd not only celebrate, I'd play my stress away.

I considered using this space to share something I've shared before -- that how we view stress depends a lot on how we label it -- but since I'm planning a party this weekend that includes my characters, I thought I'd hand off to them instead.

So, here on the porch swing are Bets, Marita, Angel and Charli with some thoughts on stress.

Angel: I have a question. Do you get stressed easily?
Bets: No, not at all. Cool as a cucumber.
Marita: You're kidding, right?
Bets: I'm not any worse than you are.
Marita: You're just more dramatic than I am.
Bets: Oh. That's true.

Charli: Okay. I have one. How do you deal with stress?
Angel: I pray.
Charli: Does that help?
Angel: Almost always.
Bets: I shop. And when that doesn't work, there's alway happy hour. And Ri-Ri.
Marita: Why, thank you! You're one of my favorite stress relievers, too. You and Charli. A Charli hug can fix almost anything.

Charli: Okay. I have another one. What stresses you out? Besides Dad, Mom.
Marita: I wasn't gonna say that. Although "teenagers" crossed my mind as a possibility.
Charli: Gee thanks, Mom.
Angel: I worry more than stress. Mostly about Spencer. And you, Charli.
Charli: Me? You don't need to worry about me. Mom does enough of that.
Marita: I can't argue with that.
Angel: I know I shouldn't worry -- I should just trust God -- but sometimes I struggle. Do you think stress is ever good?
Charli: Ooh! I know that one! We talked about this in health class. Stress can actually energize you to do stuff.
Marita: Really?
Bets: Now there's a motivation I could do without.

Huh. What do you know? I got it in there after all :-)

Please join me on Saturday and/or Sunday from 2 - 3 EST on Facebook for this event.