Relax (Advice from a Wise Seven-Year Old)

The other night, my seven-year-old son looked up at me and said,

“Mom, you should really relax.”

What? Me—not relaxed? I mean, how could I not be relaxed, we were sitting on the couch watching a movie, as I aimlessly surfed the Internet, reading status updates and deleting an endless stream of unread emails. I’ll admit, his question caught me off-guard. There were so many other things that might have come out of his mouth at that moment:

Mom, you should really pay attention to the movie. 

OR

Mom, you should really make me some dinner.

OR

 Mom, you should really stop staring blankly at the computer.

But telling me “to relax” was not at all what I had expected. As I thought about it, however, I realized that he was right­—I wasn’t relaxed. I was tense. In fact, I’ve been tense for months. Even when I think that I am relaxed, I can’t seem to lose the knot that is perpetually gnawing at my insides. When I try to identify the cause in an attempt to make it go away, I am flooded with images of my job, my husband, my kids, even my blog—all of which in some way contributes to this feeling of unrest.

A side-effect of this ever-present anxiety is that I sometimes forget to smile. It’s not that I’m frowning, or even unhappy. I’m not even thinking about one thing in particular. Instead, I find myself lost in my own head, thinking of nothing and everything all at the same time. When this happens, I don’t know which thought to grab hold of, which thought to analyze in order to finally put it to rest. So, instead, I am left unable to focus on a movie, to write in this blog, or to be as connected to the world around me as I need to be.

With my son’s simple statement, I realized that it was time to confront the one thought that pains me the most, the one that runs through my head over and over again like a negative mantra—my daughter is growing up. I know, not a surprise as I have said this too many times to count—so what the hell is my problem? The answer is, I honestly don’t know.

Looking back, I think it all started when she graduated from elementary school a month ago. Watching her standing on the stage, I had the terrible realization that she is closer to the end of her childhood than she is to the beginning of it. She is physically changing before my eyes, and I am in awe each time I see this tall, beautiful creature walk into the room. At the same time, I am overcome by emotion when she shows me the little girl that she still has inside of her.

Even as I write this, I now see that it is this in-between stage that is causing me so much pain and anxiety. If she were already a teenager, I believe I could deal with—or at least try to deal with—all of the things that come with it. And if she were still a child, I would find comfort in knowing that I am the one person in her life that has all the answers. Instead, I am somewhere in the middle, just waiting for it all to change. And although the waiting is unbearable, I still dread the day when the only time I see the little girl that she once was is in photos from her childhood.

So, I guess that’s the answer—I’ve never been good with waiting, and I am especially bad at waiting for the “unknown.” However, now that I know that this is the crux of my problem, I am beginning to feel the knot lessening, and I may even feel a small smile playing at the corners of my mouth.

I wish I could adequately express how thankful I am to my son for giving me his simple words of advice—you should relax­. Starting today, I will do just that. I will stop living in my own head, and I will begin to look forward to getting to know the young woman my daughter will soon become.

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Neglect

I am sad to confess that my blog has become like a neglected child. Until recently, I would check on it numerous times a day—lovingly responding to comments, feeling proud of it as its readership grew, spending hour after hour nurturing it with my words. Now weeks have gone by without taking a single peek just to be sure it hadn’t been attacked by Spam or to see if anyone had visited.

The rush that I used to get after clicking publish on a painstakingly-created post, has now been replaced by a feeling of complete and utter guilt. I did not intend to stop writing, but each day as I wracked my brain for what to write next, I realized that I felt barren—I had lost my creativity. So, when life suddenly became more demanding—as it has a tendency to do around the holidays—I willingly allowed it to take over the time when I used to write, always telling myself that I would begin again tomorrow . . .

The reality—the difficult-to-admit-reality—is that I am really an all or nothing kind of person. I am not saying that I am a quitter . . . but I do have a tendency to let things fade. People who know me best would probably describe me as someone who throws herself into new things wholeheartedly. I love a challenge. So, when an opportunity arises, I jump in with both feet. I become consumed with its planning and execution, spending endless hours focusing on how to get this “new thing” done. Looking back on the last two years, I see a trail of starts and stops—each one leaving me feeling just a little bit more disappointed with myself.

The one that consumes me every other year or so is my health, specifically my weight. I drive myself crazy being such a yo-yo dieter. Each time I get close to my goal, the intensity begins to ebb. It’s usually at that time that something else takes over my focus. About two years ago, the shift in my focus came when my husband asked me to transform his smaller store (he has two next door to one another) from a place to keep his rugs to one that sells home accessories and gift items. I became obsessed with researching new products, spending endless hours in the evening looking for the perfect things to sell. Six months later, our new store was born, I had regained about twenty pounds, and I was completely burnt out. Later that year, I was so disgusted with myself that I turned my focus back to eating well, and I even began exercising.

Enter my new obsession.

I soon found myself getting on the elliptical twice a day—once during my lunch break and once in the evening. The time I used to spend surfing the Internet looking for vendors was now spent reading health articles and looking for new fitness equipment.

Inevitably things in my life always begin to suffer.

I wish I could say that my children weren’t one of those things, but in small ways, every time I turn my attention to something new, they become affected. During these times, I slowly stop being the ever-vigilant mother I strive to be: my children’s bedtimes slowly begin to creep later and later; the brushing of their teeth is lost in the chaos of bedtime; and their arguing only gets more and more intense.

During this “health phase,” before I knew it, I did feel better physically, but the world around me was slowly falling into disarray. I then found the outlet that would give me the perspective I felt I was lacking with my children, and the place to focus my creative energy: my blog.

It was perfect.

Then I went overboard.

Again.

The time I once spent focusing on exercise and eating well was now spent writing or reading fellow bloggers’ posts. I don’t think I could have anticipated how much I would love writing. It’s all I could think about—I even carried a notebook in my purse so I could write even when I was without a computer. It wasn’t my children that suffered because of my writing—although I may have spent a little too much time on the computer here and there—it was my weight, once again. As I started to gain back the weight I had so painstakingly lost, I slowly found myself feeling unhappy and out of control, and ultimately that is what contributed to my loss of inspiration when it came to my blog.

So, that is where I am now, or should I say, that is where I was last week. I don’t want to call it a “resolution” that word is tinged with failure. Instead, I am calling it “having a new awareness about myself and doing something about it” (okay, not as succinct, but I’m having trouble coming up with the perfect word). I’ve decided to once-and-for-all find balance in my life, but I now think I have the key.

  1. To do anything well, I have to first feel good about myself—both physically and mentally—therefore, I need to eat well, and exercise at least a couple of times a week in order to lose/maintain my weight.
  2. I need to be a mom that provides my children with love, structure, and follow-through.
  3. I need to write, to create, to have this one thing that is only mine.

I believe that if I make these three things a priority in my life,  I will be able to attain the balance that I so desperately seek. My advice to my daughter is simple, I want her to take care of herself—both physically and mentally—so that she will be able to go out into the world and achieve all that she sets her mind to. Just as I hope to do now.

Balance

I feel I have lost the balance in my life. To some, this might not be that surprising—it doesn’t really take much to throw things off kilter. It could be a sudden business trip to Boston, a school function that didn’t make it onto the calendar, a family gathering that hasn’t had all the details worked out. The point is, it doesn’t really matter what I have to do, if it isn’t part of my everyday life, it is more than likely going to disturb the tenuous balance that exists among all of the things that divide my time.

Of all the things that I juggle, the two constants in my life seem to be my children and my career. These are the two areas that take nearly all of my focus, and definitely most of my time. A true day off from motherhood is a rarity for most—for me, it occurs once in a long while, and even then, just for a few hours at most.  My days off from work, although a welcome break, usually involve doing something with my kids—so is that really a day off?

A normal day for me begins with a cup of coffee in front of The Today Show—something I look forward to each morning at 7am. This usually lasts until the first commercial break, at which time it is interrupted by my daughter asking for any number of things: something for breakfast; a towel for when she gets out of the shower; a review of items for a test later in the day—there is always something. It is the signal that my real day is about to begin, and I had better be ready.

I work from home, so I have a 15 second commute from my bedroom to my office. From the time my children leave for school until just about 5 o’clock, I am on the phone, running meetings, working on documents—basically, I am working. The biggest challenge that working from home has for me is when I am confronted by the messiness of my home. If I go into the kitchen for a cup of coffee, there are the dishes in the sink from the night before. If I walk down the hall, there is the unfinished laundry waiting to be washed and folded. If I happen to glance in my children’s room as I pass by on my way to the bathroom, I cringe at the site: clothes strewn all over the floor, toys of every make and model littered along every available surface; half-filled glasses of milk or water sitting on desks and dressers. It’s enough to make me dread the end of the workday when I will have to turn my attention back to my home. That being said, between my son’s taekwondo and my daughter’s dance classes, I don’t try to get it all done each day, I do my best to make it look tidy and I leave the heavy lifting until the weekend. Normally, I am not phased by all of these domestic chores—they are just a part of normal life. But, when I add something else to my day—like my Monday night kickboxing class or trying to find time to write—it seems like I can’t find enough time in the day (or night) to get it all done. When this goes on for days, and then for weeks, the feeling of imbalance takes over and I am left feeling as if I am failing the people around me—the friends I don’t email back, the messages that get ignored, my husband who barely sees me . . .

This is how I have been feeling—until today.

I drove up to Boston this morning. I was barely across the Hudson River when a sense of peacefulness overcame me as I thought about my family—especially my children. I remembered my daughter crying as I tucked her into bed the night before. Although I don’t want her to be sad that I am away, being reminded of how important I truly am to her—I am her rock, her center, her place of comfort—makes me know that I am succeeding in the one area that matters most—being a mom.

The advice I have for my daughter is to not overload herself with more “things” than she can handle at any given time. However, if it does happen, she needs to recognize those things that will bring her the greatest joy and to focus on those first. The rest of the stuff will find a way to work itself out  . . . sometime.