One Year Later, I Had a Normal Morning

This morning, I made oatmeal and stirred in just the right amount of honey. I pulled curly blonde hair back into a braid and tucked in the requested sparkly bow. I nursed Ada, I slipped on some pants, I kissed Jason. I changed a diaper, I sipped scaldingly hot coffee, I dropped Charlie off at preschool and gave Jason a ride to work. It was a normal morning. 

The date on my phone reminded me what today is: today marks a year. One year since that first morning back in our house after the addition. That morning, all I wanted was normal. 

Our first morning back in the house, a year ago today.

Our first morning back in the house, a year ago today.

Last summer was anything but normal. Jason got the call that he and his team were laid off in June, right when we broke ground on our ambitious home addition. The next six months were harder than we could have imagined they'd be. At night, I'd toss with restless anxiety and pregnancy aches while Jason lay awake next to me, too sore from 12-hour days of physical work on our house to sleep. Those six months tested us in ways we didn't anticipate. 

Strangely, those six months are still something I struggle to write about. Yes, me: the chick who started babbling about everything as a baby and hasn't shut up since. I somehow don't have the vernacular to describe that it was hard and refining, important and stretching. I don't know how to tell you how scared I was, and yet how sure that around every corner was safety and normalcy again. And that safety and normalcy were around the corner, it just turned out to be the very, very last corner we turned. 

Our home was liveable (though without countertops, an oven, electricity, siding, and many other things) only four days before Ada was born. Jason got three job offers—finally—the second week of December, the week that the mailman delivered our last severance check.  

The only way I can describe it is: manna. Give us this day our daily bread—none leftover from yesterday, none for tomorrow, just enough. Enough for today. 

This morning.

This morning.

Now, a year later, I'm free to feel grateful for the gift of normal. We're still living on a manna paradigm; we're still recovering financially from the lay-off and the expenses of adding on. The house isn't finished (but are houses ever finished?). There are still plenty of day-to-day struggles and worries. But this morning was so deliciously normal, and it feels important to mark it. 

June 2016: foundation and framing going on around our tiny 700-square foot home.

June 2016: foundation and framing going on around our tiny 700-square foot home.

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Just looking at this photo gives me anxiety. I was seven weeks from giving birth and my house looked like this!

Just looking at this photo gives me anxiety. I was seven weeks from giving birth and my house looked like this!

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This morning.

This morning.

10 Things I Wish People Would Say to My Daughters Instead of "You're So Pretty"

My daughters are beautiful. 

I'm not being vain—I just believe this. And I hear it every time I leave the house from well-meaning strangers, so I know I'm not simply biased. My oldest has honey blonde curls and my youngest's long, dark lashes fringe deep blue, smiling eyes. 

They're beautiful. And frankly, that's the least interesting thing about them. But based on the sheer number of comments they get, I know it's the attribute they hear about most often.

I'm a believer in the power of words. I think words shape us from a young age, and words said repeatedly, by people we trust, and at formative times in our lives have a profound and lasting impact. Some of us spend most of our lives undoing the damage of words we heard too often or we have told ourselves over decades. And the words my daughters hear every time—without fail—we're in public are some variation on the theme of, "Oh, sweetheart, you're so pretty!" 

The fact is, I can't blame people. I've done it myself, even after I've problematized and rethought this common cultural interaction. It's knee-jerk and acceptable, and when I'm just trying to interact with the funny toddler in the check-out aisle, it probably won't get me far to ask if they've read the latest edition of The Atlantic. I get it. It's a conversation starter; a way to interact politely. 

But it's not all that innocent, even with the best of intentions. When we talk about things to the exclusion of others, we signal that those things have value. Especially for little girls, this can be incredibly damaging. I recently saw a YouTube video—a light-hearted interview with a two-year-old on her birthday—where she was asked, "How do you stay so skinny? Tell us your secrets!" Hold up, what? A two-year-old? Skinny? Would they have asked a boy that? Nope. I can't count how many times I've heard (and stumbled into saying myself) comments like, "Look at those chunky baby thighs! Enjoy them now, honey, because later on in life it's not cute to have fat rolls!" Meanwhile, we're wondering how it's possible that kids as young as five struggle with body image issues. 

The messages these comments send our girls are hurtful, damaging, and devastating. There is the argument that positive comments aren't damaging ("What's wrong with complimenting someone?"), but this isn't the whole picture. When a little girl only hears comments about her body, clothes, and looks, this is what she really hears.

"Your worth is tied to your appearance."

That's why I'm writing this. Maybe you, like me, have had to bite your tongue instead of focusing immediately (and exclusively) on a girls' outward appearance when you meet her or when greeting a friend's daughter. I'm known for getting tongue tied, because hey, I know what I don't want to say: now what do I say? 

The messages many comments send our girls are hurtful, damaging, and devastating. There is the argument that positive comments aren't damaging ("What's wrong with complimenting someone?"), but this isn't the whole picture. When a little girl only hears comments about her body, clothes, and looks, this is what she really hears: "Your worth is tied to your appearance."

Next time you see a perky child you want to interact with, try these instead. (Bonus! They work for any kid, not just girls.) 

10 Things to Say Instead of Commenting on Appearance

  1. Are you doing fun things with your family today? 
  2. I see you're eating an orange lollipop. Do you like the color orange? 
  3. Good job being a helper while your (mom/dad/grandma/grandpa, etc) shops for groceries! What's your favorite food? 
  4. It's fun to play at the park, isn't it? Is the slide or the swing your favorite? 
  5. Is this your baby/big sister/brother? I bet you're a good sister/brother to her/him! 
  6. It's warm/cold today, isn't it? Did you wear your warm/cool clothes today? Tell me about them! 
  7. Are you having a fun day? 
  8. Do you like to read? What's your favorite book?
  9. What's your favorite movie?
  10.  I saw you running/jumping/skipping/swinging/bouncing! Do you love to run/jump/skip/swing/bounce?

We can't change the whole culture right now. But I know you and I can change what we say to the kids we interact with. And while I'm at it, I'll share what my husband says to our girls at every bedtime (with variations most nights): 

"I love your mind, I love your kindness, I love how you ask questions, I love how you played hard today. I love how you learn new things, and how you like to read books, and how you help around the house. I love everything about you!" 

That's what our kids need to hear. 

Moms: Here's What You Should Know About Working From Home

I enjoy working from home—I get to do what I love (writing), get paid (yes, English majors make money), and keep my professional network active during these intense years of raising young kids. That said, working from home comes with its own set of difficulties. Not the least of these challenges is feeling a little invisible, a little tribe-less; I'm not fully a "working mom" with a closet full of heels and the day care on speed dial. I'm also not fully a "stay-at-home mom" with the associated schedule freedom or routine. Like many other areas of my life, I find myself somewhere in the middle as a work-at-home mom

I reached out to a few other moms who work from home and asked them to share their tips, strategies, and secrets for staying sane and getting work done. Here's what you should know about working from home. 

Since I've felt tribe-less at times, I wanted to help other work-at-home moms feel less isolated. I reached out to a few other moms who work from home and asked them to share their insights, strategies, and secrets for staying sane and getting work done. Here's what you should know about working from home. 

It's Easy to Get Distracted

Many moms who work at home don't give up their primary caregiver job, and because of this, there's always something as pressing (or more pressing) than your email inbox or upcoming deadline. Blow-out diapers and toddler tantrums wait for no one. Every mom I interviewed listed this as their greatest hurdle. "My biggest challenge is distractions around the house," says Lindsay Koch, a photographer who stays home with her two sons. "I try to not let home chores and things that need cleaned interfere with work but I have a tendency to be a squirrel." 

A Lot of Work Happens in the Margins

There are serious perks to not working the 9-to-5 grind, but there's one major drawback: your work time can get squeezed out of the picture by plain old life (especially if you're chasing toddlers and babies or ferrying kids around town all day). Molly Flinkman is a mom of three and works from home: "The only time I have to get things done are the leftover hours that I scrape together." Nap times, after bed times, early mornings before the kids wake up—these are the shifts that work-at-home moms take on. I love what Molly added: "It's easy to get frustrated when you live in the margins of leftover time, but I'm learning, instead, that everything is better when I choose to take joy in making sacrifices for my family."

It's Awesome

Ask any work-at-home parent and they'll tell you: for all the challenges, working at home is flat-out awesome. Amber High works from home and has a 10-year-old daughter, and says, "The best parts for me are being able to be available to our kiddo when she really needs me (she is pretty self-sufficient at 10!), and not having to fight traffic on a commute!" Other moms shared that they love never having to take a sick day, witnessing their kids' firsts, and keeping a flexible, family-centric schedule. 

Advice from the Pros

Finally, I asked these moms to give me their top piece of advice for work-at-home parents. 

"Create routines for yourself and your kids and then live flexibly inside them. I've got a pretty good rhythm of productivity going right now, but I know I'm going to need to reevaluate and adjust in the fall when I send two girls to half day preschool and our schedule is rocked. Flexibility is key too because so often my deadlines have to take a backseat to another demand during the day." - Molly Flinkman 

"My piece of advice would be to prioritize your time to fit your schedule. I know that I get the most work done in the mornings and I'm the most focused so I work on any projects that have deadlines first thing in the morning. I also know that Hutton is in the best mood in the morning so I can get him focused on something that allows me some quiet time. Also, I have learned not to feel guilty about giving it 110% everyday. I have learned that balance is key and some days you give it 70% and some days you give your work 120%." - Lindsay Koch 

"My biggest tip is to plan ahead. Try to set aside specific times for your tasks. This can be more challenging when you have littles at home, and things have to be done around their schedules. But for me, making lists at the end of each day for the day ahead, helps me rest better at night and gives me a clear picture of what I need to tackle the next day when I get up and going!" - Amber High 

 

These Are the Short Years

Marriage takes a beating during the early years of parenthood, doesn't it? I've started calling them the short years. Because we're in the thick of them, and sometimes it helps to give things a label. We're short on everything. 

Short on sleep. Money. Alone time. Self-care. Time together. These are the short years, the pinched years, the years of tightening up and buckling down; hands-on, always on, hearts out, worn out. 

We're short on energy. Patience. Our words to each other are always cut short by cries and demands and crashes from the other room. We're short with each other. The emotions and the worries and the work and the exhaustion get boiled down into a few curt words, and we're too short on time to get to the making up part. 

We're short on passion, motivation, creativity—the things that used to attract us to each other—because these tiny people our love made take most of (sometimes all of) our bodies, minds, and spirits. 

We're short on money because we're in the expanding part of our lives: everything (everyone) is growing faster than our paychecks and our house and our car can keep up. 

We're short on time to spend together—and I miss us. I sleep next to him every night (and please understand, I use the term "sleep" loosely these days), but I can't remember the last time we relaxed together. I miss laughing with him, I miss hours without an agenda or the looming duties of bedtime creeping up. 

PC: Meredith Adams Photography

PC: Meredith Adams Photography

These are the short years. 

But they're short. 

If the cliches are to be believed, I'll look back on these years fondly. They're already whizzing by, leaving us breathlessly and stunned and half-smiling in disbelief. And isn't it good these full years only last so long? 

And there's no one else I'd rather be short on everything with. Here's to the short years. May we weather them well. 

5 Habits to Cultivate Peace for Work-at-Home Moms

Any mother will tell you: it can be isolating to spend your days picking up messes no one knew existed, making meals that are rejected, and living your life on a loop of mundane tasks. 

I've found that working from home can make this isolating effect even more intense. I feel like my work as a mom can be invisible; my paying work can feel invisible too. I don't put on a pair of slacks and heels and leave the house every day, but I put in my hours. Many of my friends don't even realize I work. My husband only knows how many hours I've worked in a week if I tell him. At times, it feels like I live in two worlds, and neither world understands the other.

Motherhood exists in a twilight zone where up is down and down is up. You work harder than you ever have—harder than you knew you could—but by the standards of business or finances or pie charts or performance reviews, your productivity is near nil. You feel superhuman when you manage to respond to your sick infant every hour through the night when your body should be pushed past the point of exhaustion. At the same time, you feel subhuman, reduced to celebrating wearing real pants and taking a shower; here lies a sad meme where once was a person. They tell you your "job" as a mother is worth tens, maybe hundreds of thousands a year, but they also wonder what you could possibly be doing all day since you left the office. 

You know your job, your time with these babies is priceless. But priceless almost means hard to quantify, difficult to measure, impossible to describe. And that's where the magnitude of motherhood and the pragmatism of the work-a-day world collide: at the intersection of priceless and worthless. The world outside parenthood doesn't like priceless, it likes hard numbers and cold cash.  

I think this is part of why I've struggled to be a work-at-home parent. I have a foot in both worlds: the stay-at-home mom world and the working mom world. I'll admit, I'm drawn to the pragmatic. If I let my inner type-A overachiever have her way, I'd miss the reasons I'm staying home at all. I'd throw my mental health away and sacrifice my time with my kids on the altar of productivity—always telling myself that right after this month or once I finish this project, I'd get my time back. 

Thank God for motherhood. 

Motherhood has forced me to divorce productivity from value—from a day's value, from my value. These aren't billable hours that I'm counting ducks with my toddler or nursing my baby. I'm not doing my resume any favors while cutting up sweet potatoes or wiping runny noses. But somehow, I'm doing the most meaningful work I've ever done. 

5 Habits to Cultivate Peace for Work-at-Home Moms. It's not easy living in two worlds, and working from home can feel isolating. Sanity-saving tips!

That said, switching gears and setting aside time to be in the world of business and pie charts and deliverables? That's challenging. I've been working from home for over two years now—almost as long as I've been a mom—and I've learned a few tactics that help me keep my home (nearly) peaceful and my mental health (almost) intact. I'm not always great at taking my own advice, but when I do, my work-at-home maxims look something like this. 

1. Don't Live in the Margins 

Don't let your work and parenting push everything else to the margins. The everything else is your mental health, your rest, your marriage, your interests, and your alone time, to name a few. Too often, I'll try to squeeze in rest and connect with my husband and read a book, all in the 1.349 hours I've left for those things in a week. If you don't make time for rest, you won't get it. Don't let working from home take over to the point that there's nothing left for a healthy life. This is directly related to tip number two, which is...

2. Protect Your Time Off 

If you had a boss who forced you to work nights and weekends, who took every opportunity to get more production out of you, and who never gave you a break, you'd probably quit. Life's too short; toss a few files and walk out. But if you're anything like me, unless you intentionally give yourself time off, you are that boss to your overworked self. Before I imposed this rule in our house, there were times I dreaded weekends, because I knew Jason and I would be performing this mad dash of handing off kids to each other, trying to get work done, and squeezing in some "relaxing family time" that wasn't relaxing at all—it was just exhausted collapsing. Now the rule is it doesn't matter if the work is done—on weekends, we don't work. It'll be there Monday.  

5 Habits to Cultivate Peace for Work-at-Home Moms. It's not easy living in two worlds, and working from home can feel isolating. Sanity-saving tips!

3. Get Help 

Work-at-home parents have a conundrum to address: most of the time, they're working from home because a part-time paycheck + part-time childcare = zero. And working hard while handing off your children for a financial wash is cruel and unusual punishment. Thus, we work-at-homers tend to try to get everything done without paying for childcare. This isn't always realistic, and I've had to become more intentional about asking for help. My mom is an invaluable resource—and even on weeks she doesn't help out, I invest in a few hours of babysitting a week. 

4. Set a Daily Routine

Working anytime, anywhere can mean working all the time, everywhere. It has been key to my sanity to implement a routine for every day. In this routine, there's designated time to work and designated time to be with my kids. I avoid working while they're awake and in my care as much as possible, since that's not only counterproductive, it's a waste of my time with them. My routine allows me to relax a little: if I know that my work time is coming up in a few hours, I can focus on the now with my kids. 

5. Get Up Early

Finally, my least favorite tip of all that honestly, truly, absolutely works: get up early. I'm a night owl, everybody, a lover of sleeping in, so you have to know—if I'm suggesting this, I believe in it. Getting up early has made a huge difference in my ability to work from home. I spend the time catching up on an always-messy house before my kids wake up, drinking my coffee, responding to emails, and planning my day. When I forego this hour or two of quiet in the morning, I regret it—majorly. 

5 Habits to Cultivate Peace for Work-at-Home Moms. It's not easy living in two worlds, and working from home can feel isolating. Sanity-saving tips!

If you're still reading, bless you for sticking it out. Actually, why am I surprised—you're probably a work-at-home parent, one of the sticker-it-outers. I hope this post is a resource for you, and I'd love to connect and hear about how you balance working from home and being a parent. Connect with me on Instagram or tell me in the comments. I'm rooting for you!