Accountability Post #1

*So this year, I resolved to increase the happiness in my home. I’m using Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier at Home” book as a loose guide. January was all about possessions…*

I went through a phase in my twenties when I thought that if I could just streamline my stuff enough, I would feel less anxiety. This led to some less-than-sensible decisions, like getting rid of all but one of everything in my kitchen (as a chronic non-dishwasher, this just resulted in my eating more take out), or donating my entire CD collection, then realizing I had forgotten to back any of it up. And, of course, simply getting rid of stuff, or trying to lead a so-called minimalist life, will not automatically cure anyone of anxiety. Indeed, if you are the kind of person who takes comfort in being surrounded by memorabilia or trinkets or heaps of books, then reducing could actually cause more anxiety, not less.

As someone who gets anxious when things are cluttered, but who also doesn’t want to reduce her children’s possessions to two books and a puzzle, I needed to find a balance between too much stuff and Spartan living. So that was this month’s challenge: carefully consider what is in our home, highlight the stuff that we love, and donate the things that would be happier living in another person’s home.

How did I do: Pretty well, actually.

Successes:

1) I finally donated the backup wedding dress that had been sitting in my closet since 2010, and that actually went to Israel and back again (WHY?!). This dress was my In Case I Can’t Fit My Actual Dress dress because it turns out having a baby two months before you get married is stupid. I had tried to consign it, or sell it on Kijiji, and it wasn’t moving. So off it went, hopefully to a happy wedding.

2) I got rid of all of the small appliances that we don’t use or that are broken. I tried finding a small appliance repair person, but nothing that was available was reasonable. Goodbye, broken space stealers!

3) Three (three!) garbage bags of my clothes left this house. If I didn’t love it, if it didn’t make me feel amazing, I reasoned it would make someone else feel good and so off it went. Also gone? All of my high heeled shoes. Because I hate wearing them.

4) I re-arranged some of our house to focus on what is important to the kids now. For example, I brought the desktop computer upstairs because Budsie has taken an interest in research. I moved Pixie’s play kitchen into the kids’ bedroom so she could have more elaborate adventures with her dolls, something that has become increasingly important. I created a puzzles and games area in our tiny living room. And I stocked the craft shelf with kits and supplies I had previously stored in the basement “for when the kids are older,” reasoning that they should just make use of everything. Both kids LOVED the changes, and more stuff is getting used.

5) I purchased things we needed. It may seem counter productive to buy stuff when you are getting rid of stuff, but our lives had become needlessly complicated because we didn’t have certain objects. A good, working vacuum cleaner, for instance. A working food processor. A recycling bin for the kitchen.

Failures:

1) It turns out, it is better if the kids have a laundry basket in their room. I had removed it because it took up valuable play space, and because the laundry room is next to the bedroom. But all that has happened is their dirty clothes are in front of a washing machine that is forever mid-cycle. Annoying.

What did I learn:

1) Even though our house is tiny, I can make it feel larger by creating centres. The craft area, the lego area, the puzzle and game area, a magic kit shelf for Budsie, a tea party + restaurant space for Pixie – carving out these spaces helps highlight the things that are important to the kids, and creates better flow in the house.

2) I cannot control what other people do (this will be an ongoing lesson). In my decluttering frenzy, I failed to inspire Andrew to tackle his own closet. But why should he? It’s his stuff, and it doesn’t make him anxious. And I don’t get to impose my anxiety on him.

3) Getting ready for the day is way easier when 3/4 of your wardrobe doesn’t make you look gross.

4) Less clutter definitely makes me feel less anxious. I feel mentally lighter. Yay!

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Resolutions and Happiness

For Christmas this year, A. gave me a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier at Home,” the follow up to her wildly successful “The Happiness Project.” Gretchen Rubin was a lawyer, and at one point clerked with Sandra Day O’Connor. These days she writes about happiness, and has the spammiest of blogs I’ve ever unsubscribed from. 

I am aware of the shortcomings of these books. This is classic white privilege stuff – Rubin is financially secure, well-connected, and hasn’t had to face the numerous obstacles that stand between most people and happiness (poverty being the big one). But there is just something about these books. Maybe it’s her writing, or her ability to acknowledge her own shortcomings, but I enjoy the read, and I really enjoy the guidance, however superficial it may seem.

“Happier at Home” is all about teasing out the happiness in your own space, an idea I find enticing. Maybe it’s because I spent a few years abroad, where my focus was really on building up a social network for my family and not my physical space. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved so many times over my adult life that I’ve never really felt I had a physical home, per se, preferring instead to view home as wherever the people I love are. Maybe it’s because for the last year and a half, I’ve basically never been home except to sleep and stuff food into children. Hmm.

Like Rubin, lately I find myself feeling homesick. I desperately miss the house I grew up in on Vancouver Island. It was sold years ago, after my parents separated. I haven’t set foot inside the place since 2001. But I can smell it and feel it. I remember the big window in the living room, which looked out over the front yard and the beach. I remember the kitchen, with the blue and brown flowered backsplash. I remember the wrap around deck, the giant back yard. I remember smoking and reading YM magazine in the rafters of the garage. I remember always feeling happy when I set foot inside that house.

I feel happy in my house today, don’t get me wrong. I love hearing the sound of my kids playing, love hearing Andrew in the kitchen, love the lighting in my bathroom. We are outgrowing our space, but it’s cozy in a good way. Yet, I could be happier. Sometimes I feel like the four of us are just floating through this house without really engaging with it. Some of that comes from knowing we’re always on the move, but some of it, I think, comes from the fact that we all four live busy, slightly disconnected lives. I want to tie us together better, and connect us to our home, even if it’s a temporary space.

To that end, for my new years resolution this year I resolve to follow Rubin’s “Happier at Home” book. Rubin takes 9 months to complete her project, but considering my life, I bet it takes me the whole of 2018 to get there. Given the terrible success rate of new years resolutions, I’ll try to remain accountable by updating the blog once a month.

My first challenge: Possessions. Here, Rubin isn’t suggesting I get rid of everything. Rather, she suggests that I make spaces in my house to highlight the possessions and experiences that are important to me and my family, then go shelf by shelf to remove those items that are not especially meaningful and serve no function. So here we go!

Late thirties

There’s nothing particularly exciting about turning thirty-seven. It’s not as big and scary as FORTY, but it’s not young sounding like thirty-two. It’s just thirty-seven. Married with a couple of kids age. Saving for retirement and worrying about a rapidly slowing metabolism age. Looking around and wondering why everyone looks so grown up and realizing you are too age.

Ugh.

But instead of letting the dull wash over me, I’m focusing on the awesome. At 37, I have the best kids, the funniest husband, the dearest friends, and a caring and insane family. I have a great cat. Rumour has it there will be burgers and cake tonight. I just joined a new book club. And I’m about to kick off my second year of law school, the craziest, stupidest and best decision I ever made (well, about my work life anyway). Also, 37 is a prime number. So that’s neat.

Yes, 37 will be a good year I think. Provided the Asshat Cheeto doesn’t destroy the planet, of course.

 

There’s no manual? Seriously?

Of course, I always knew there was no actual parenting manual. I guess I just thought that if I had kids, I’d know what to do with them. That this information would just appear in my head.

Unfortunately, like so many other Adult Things (cooking, buying a house, marriage, fixing stuff), parenting is just winging it. That’s right, my childless friends: everyday, I’m just waking up and guessing at everything. Some stuff you figure out pretty quickly. For example, it’s pretty much always a bad idea to let your kid stay up super late on a school night. Don’t feed them junk food all day, everyday. Probably avoid letting them play with knives and matches. Teach them how to use the washing machine as soon as they can reach the buttons. Force them to drink water, change their underwear, and brush their teeth occasionally. Hose them down every so often.

Some stuff is harder. How do you teach your kids to deal with bullies? How do you answer some of the difficult questions they ask about divorce, poverty, war, racism, in an age-appropriate way that won’t give them nightmares? How do you help them feel at peace with themselves? And when should you give them a little push out of their comfort zone? Should you ever do this?

I forced Budsie to take skating and piano lessons, join Beavers, and go to swimming. With each activity, he said he didn’t want to, he hated everything, he just wanted to stay home. He now LOVES 3/4 of those activities (he really hates swimming). And a few weeks ago, I forced him to audition for the Variety Show at his school. He said he hated me, that everything was the worst. But then he got in the show, performed his magic ball trick in front of his entire school, and had an awesome time. He loved the attention, loved the clapping, loved it all. Sigh.

Sometimes I feel bad, pushing him into this stuff. He’s not an outgoing kid, more of a thinker than a doer. And sometimes I think I should just leave him be, let him pick what he wants to do. But honestly, if I did that, he’d pick nothing. And whenever he misses out on stuff, he gets upset. Sooooooo…yeah. It’s all about finding balance, reading signals, staying sharp. Gods, it’s all so exhausting.

Seriously, there should really be a manual.

that Mum look

This morning, I looked in the mirror and I didn’t recognize my face.

I’m not even sure when it happened. Losing my face, that is. I mean it was there in 1999. It was there in 2006. It was even there in 2012. I may have lost it in Israel. Honestly, I haven’t checked in a while. Most mornings, I frantically throw on the closest t-shirt and skirt and just bolt. Lipstick is applied by looking at a tiny mirror in the car, or on the bus. I never look at the whole picture, really.

But some time between 2012 and this morning, my face, and indeed my entire look, went missing. Replacing it: The Mum Face. With Mum clothes. And a Mum body. I stood in the bathroom today and I honestly stared at myself for a full five minutes, not recognizing this boring ass woman. I was wearing a t-shirt with holes in it, baggy men’s shorts, and black flats. I’ve been wearing the same outfit for an embarrassingly long time because I a) work from home, and b) have gained 15 lbs, and don’t fit my own clothes anymore. My unwashed hair, which is greying unevenly, was plastered to my face, presumably held down by grease. I suddenly noticed the permanent frown line between my eyes. I had a mascara smudge under one tired eye, which accented the gigantic bags beautifully. Funnily enough, I don’t remember the last time I put on mascara. There was toothpaste on the corner of my mouth. Like, a lot of it.

And I dropped the children off looking like this. I talked to people. Dear. God.

So I guess that’s this summer’s mission: Find my face. Because this look isn’t working for me. I don’t look like me! I look like some sad, tired, and puffy version of me. When did I stop caring? When did I stop paying attention? Well, no more. My kids deserve better. My husband deserves better. MOST IMPORTANTLY I DESERVE BETTER. I know I’m not 25 anymore, but surely almost 37 isn’t when everything goes to hell in hand basket, is it? Not for this lady.

REBOOT.

***
NOTE: Mums are beautiful in all shapes and sizes. This is not a slight on Mums. And this is not a post to complain about weight gain or aging, which is perfectly natural and also, it’s not like I’m enormous/old here. There are plenty of people with worse problems than what I’m describing, and I know this. BUT there is something disconcerting about not recognizing one’s face. I did not care for it.

 

 

 

 

11

Probably the most popular question I was asked during my first year of law school was “How are you doing this with kids?” My answer varied: “Oh, well, they’re not babies so it’s not that bad” (false: it is that bad), “You get really good at time management” (true, but it still sucks), “Oh, you know, you just do it because you have to” (false: I did not have to do this. I could have easily not done this. Wait, why did I do this? *jumps over rabbit hole*).

Anyway, however varied my answer was, it always included “with A.’s support.” Which was the understatement of the year. “With A.’s support” sounds like he was just sort of there, cheering me along. And he was, but he cheered while making dinners, doing all the bedtime, driving kids to piano/scouts/swimming/skating, never getting to sleep in on weekends, and taking many, many days off work to deal with sick kids. He cheered while setting his own career ambitions aside. He cheered while listening to me complain and question my abilities. And he continues to cheer even though he has at least two more years of this garbage.

In other words, he cheers me along while being the truest of true partners. Gods, but I love this man.

Happy eleven years, A. It’s been #sofuzzy.

 

 

 

 

my kids rock

Warning: this post is all about how awesome my children are. I’m totally going to brag about them for, like, 400 words. As the kids these days say, #sorrynotsorry (people still say that, right?).

My kids are amazing.

Ok, so they are 4 and almost 7, and sometimes they aren’t amazing. They fight, they whine, they need to be told to brush their teeth a million times before they will do it, they leave dirty clothes all over the place, and they complain about going to the bathroom/washing their hands/”boring” desserts/the lack of television in their lives/setting the table/going outside/coming inside.

But then there are days like today. Today I woke up to someone stabbing me in my ear. Or what other folks call an ear infection. I didn’t think it was that bad until the sound of pouring cereal into a bowl made me double over in pain. So there I was, sitting on the kitchen floor, unable to say or do anything because all sound was torture. And what did my kids do? Well, first Budsie asked if he should call 911. Having established this wasn’t an emergency, but that Mummy was clearly in a bad way, he and Pixie decided to have the quietest breakfast in the world. They whispered to each other, they didn’t fight over the cereal/water cup colour/seating arrangements, and they said nothing when it took me 300 years to cut up apples for their breakfast. Later in the day, when I was stuck in a dark bedroom, full of painkillers and antibiotics, they came in and calmly sat with me. They looked at pictures on the computer, and later just quietly watched my show (‘Friends’), and didn’t complain that it was boring grown-up television.

This may seem like a small thing, but this was huge to me. Because sometimes kids smell fear and pounce. Today, they were both caring and compassionate. Yeah, they rock big time.

 

#lawschoolwithkids

5:15am: Alarm goes off. On a good day, I get up and exercise. On a bad day, I turn off the alarm, ignore Pixie, who is kicking me in the head, and snooze.

5:45am: Actually have to get up now. Unload dishwasher, tidy kitchen, pack lunches for everybody. Write special note to Budsie. Make sure the library books/math homework/permission slip is in Budsie’s bag. Prepare breakfast. Forget to feed cat. If super organized that day, pop dinner in the slow cooker. Check calendar for any special school days. Find the required gear for that day.

6:30am: I *should* be showering here. But odds are, one or more of the following has happened: Pixie has woken up early and is freaking out about whatever breakfast I have chosen to make, Zoe has vomited at the top of the stairs and I’ve stepped in it, or Budsie is having a crisis about Something Very Serious (read: he remembered that time 3 years ago when I said I would give him jellybeans for a snack and didn’t). Spend 30 minutes dealing with this issue.

7:00am: Actually having a shower (read: toss water on body, forget to rinse conditioner from hair). Run around getting dressed/packing my school bag. Pretend to be a grown up person and put make-up on. Result is…troubling. Kiss kids, A., and sprint to the bus. Text A. at bus stop about feeding the cat.

7:15am-8:00am: Readings on the bus.

8:00am-4:00pm: Worry about children, go to class, meet with professors, miss the children, deal with club commitments, research, readings, wonder what the children are doing, job applications, special seminars.

4:00pm: Review class notes on the bus.

5:00pm-7:00pm: Deal with dinner. Throw in laundry. Clean a toilet. Check schoolbags for rotting things, dirt, sticks, newsletters. Colour with Pixie. Talk to Budsie about space/death/pokemon/starwars/zombies. Attempt to talk to A. about his job/my school. Tell one or both kids to stop interrupting. Convince Budsie to use utensils. Negotiate with Pixie over how many bites she has to have to get dessert. Have fight with children about the lack of television/Jell-O/candy in their lives. Get told I am the worst mother in the world for not stuffing their minds/bodies with junk. Bake stuff for the lunches. Forget to help with Budsie’s homework. Remember right before bedtime.

7:00pm-10:00pm: Say goodnight to the children. A. is bathing the children, tackling bedtime, and trying to keep the kids quiet while I work. Sometimes I am called up to bat if Budsie has decided to make it One of Those Nights. Most nights I cram in as much reading/summary-writing as possible.

10:00pm-12:00am: Get stuff ready for tomorrow. Watch television with A. One or both of us pass out. Sometimes we’re both awake and try to take advantage of that fact. Pixie senses this and bursts into the room, thwarting all efforts at marital relations. Watch A. pass out. Lie there and worry about the kids. Fall asleep with a four year old’s foot in my eye.

Throughout: Be prepared for stomach flus, holidays, accidents, lessons, Epic Meltdowns, last minute birthday invites, bake sales, parent teacher meetings, tough conversations, and themed school days.

Huh, maybe two steps back

Once I had the kids, I started using this blog to draw attention to real life problems. Depression, parenting, abortion, posting abroad, healthy living. I think it’s important to write about this stuff, to be candid about these issues, so that other people do not feel alone. Because it sucks to feel like you’re the only one garbage is happening to. And things like Facebook, Instagram, and the dreaded parenting blogs, they all make it seem like everyone else is doing better than you are. Which is simply not the case.

So in the spirit of being open, and drawing attention to issues that some of you may also be facing, I’m going to tell you something: I cried today.

“Is that all?” says a longtime Ezmy Writes reader. “Ezmy, you cry over coffee commercials. And don’t get me started on Disney films.”

Yeah this was different. Today I cried in a professor’s office. Over absolutely nothing. She was talking to me, and I was listening and going “uh huh” and “oh sure” in all the right places and suddenly, I just burst into tears. The tears of someone who is clearly underslept and overdone. The poor woman – she didn’t know what she had said. Probably because she hadn’t said anything. Sigh.

I’d be embarrassed, but anyone who has travelled internationally with children has long since stopped caring about what others think. I stopped getting embarrassed by stuff around the time my daughter pooped all over me and I had to fly to Halifax covered in said poop. Or maybe it was when Ewan rolled around the floor of the liquor store screaming. Or perhaps it was when I was in labour, yelling at everyone, telling them all to fuck off, begging them to rip the baby out of my eye sockets because I was definitely going to die.

I don’t know, somewhere in there.

Anyway, it’s not embarrassment that troubles me now. It’s what the crying means. Because it’s not like this career is going to get easier. Still, maybe there are ways to control the madness. I’ve started meditating. And I’m pondering giving up *gasp*afternoon coffee, because it’s probably disrupting my sleep. All suggestions are welcome.

So there. That’s my real life post for today. Were you having a crappy day? Maybe it looks better now compared to this blubbery nonsense. Woot!

one step back

I lost my voice on Friday night. I knew it was coming. Thursday morning it disappeared briefly, as if sending out a warning signal. By late Friday, I was very hoarse but still able to speak. When I woke up on Saturday, it was gone.

I am annoyed by this voice problem, but not surprised. My body is amazing at shutting itself down when it gets overworked. And holy hellfire am I overworked. It should come as no surprise to anyone that law school with kids is hard. Even with a supportive husband, even with outside help, even with people rooting for you. It’s fucking hard. It means squeezing in the work whenever you can. It means early mornings and late nights. It means missing out on stuff – rescheduled classes which conflict with daycare drop off, or cool evening events which coincide with stomach flus. It means forgetting stuff – bake sales, birthday parties, PTA meetings. It means knowing that you’re always sort of half-assing everything.

Most significantly, it means you simply cannot compete at the level that the sans children students are competing at. You really can’t. Because no matter how hard you work, or how smart you are, if you are missing the things, if you have to cut yourself into so many more pieces, you just can’t be present in the same way. And therein lies the hardest part of law school for me. I’m a competitive person and I need to let go. I came into this with the mindset that I was doing this for me. I came into it saying I would not get swept up in the nonsense. But somewhere along the way, I forgot that focus.

So it’s time to take a step back. Today I work on my law review application, which is important to me. But then I’m having a nap, playing lego with the kids, and going for a walk. Will I do better tomorrow if I get ahead on the readings for this week? Yes. Oh well.