I’ve mentioned it here many times before, and I’ll mention it again now: clutter is my nemesis. It has pursued me no matter where I have gone, what I’ve been doing, no matter how hard I have tried to beat it back. It is a constant presence in my life and a constant struggle. This blog post about clutter actually blew my mind a little because — how did she get inside my head?

(Seriously, why is it so hard to keep a clean house? Clean house makes me happy. Messy house makes me stressed. This should be so much easier. But that is a topic for another day.)

ANYWAY. I said in my last post that these days, I’m having to use my time much more wisely and efficiently, not just in regards to clutter but in every area. I’ve redoubled my efforts in this area this week and you know what? I’m seeing progress. I’m seeing results.

  • After too many days in a row of sleeping until the kids get up and then feeling rushed as we start our day, I got up early this morning so I could shower and feel ahead of things before the day started. It made a huge difference, even just mentally. Getting up early is not easy for me, but it is absolutely worth the effort.
  • After walking past the same pile of clutter on the dining room table and thinking I need to put that away for the eight hundredth time, I actually put some stuff away.
  • After spending too much time digging through baskets of clean laundry to find the black leggings I wear almost every day, I did three loads of laundry and folded and put them away that very same day.
  • After months and months of cookies, ice cream, Dove chocolates and cake-just-because-it’s-Tuesday, I am eating less sugar. I actually think this is having a bigger impact overall than I expected. I am eating way less sugar and a lot more protein and I’m feeling a big difference physically. Much more energy, and (get this) I’ve lost a few pounds too! I guess it’s worth passing up those extra handfuls of Dove chocolates.

These are pretty simple, obvious things but it’s so nice to actually feel the benefits of making positive changes. Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before, is on my reading list, so the topic of habits has been on my mind. I know I don’t need to read a book about habits in order to change my own, though (although that is my instinct), and just thinking about habits has me analyzing my own. Maybe it’s the warm weather, maybe it’s another symptom of coming out of hibernation and getting more used to our new normal. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying reaping the benefits of putting good habits back into place. Whew.

books
New bookcase from Ikea. Ten months later we unpacked some books!

Also, full disclosure: I spent the last half hour writing this blog post while Anna naps and Will has Daniel Tiger Hour instead of, you know, being productive. But this is productivity of another kind!

So for about the last six months, I’ve had two kids.

945

Strangely enough, Anna is going to be six months old next week. I say strangely because it really does seem like she was just born. My memories of the newborn days are becoming hazier and hazier, but I still feel like I’m running on a treadmill at a speed just slightly too fast. Out of breath, struggling to catch up, eyes darting around desperately for a reprieve. (Okay — that’s a bit of an exaggeration at this point, but it describes the first two months pretty accurately.)

Having two kids is so so so different from having one. I knew it would be, but there’s no way to adequately prepare yourself for the lifestyle change. The first two months were absolutely brutal. I’ve mentioned before that Anna is an incredibly easy baby, and she was a very easy newborn, but the postpartum period was very, very hard on me this time around. Anna’s birth also coincided with Will giving up his nap for good, so the daily rhythm we had lived with for over a year and a half was suddenly shattered, and we had no rhythm, nothing felt familiar, nothing felt remotely easy. I talked to myself a lot in those early days and one day I said to the clothes I was folding, I don’t even feel like a person right now. I don’t even feel human.

So that was the first two months. Now, postpartum hormones (and my eventual diagnosis of postpartum depression) explains a lot of that. But truthfully it’s just a big lifestyle change and it was a really tough adjustment. I knew what I was doing one day, and the next day I knew nothing.

1726
This picture was taken the day before I called my doctor to get help, and I think of that every time I look at it.

We turned a corner when Anna was about nine weeks old and I began to get my feet under me a little. Will had been without a nap for two months by this point and he was really starting to fall apart, so I spent two weeks driving over the mountain to a drive-thru Starbucks every afternoon so he could catch up on his sleep. This was in December, so I would listen to Christmas music softly, drink a peppermint mocha, and read in the car. Those afternoons saved me, I think, because I could finally take an hour or two every day to exhale. I was so, so tense and that break, which I rigidly enforced, kept me from breaking in two.

This sounds strange, but I have fond memories of the spring after my two miscarriages. I was filled with sadness, rage, helplessness and resentment, but because of that I had immense compassion for myself. I felt a little like I needed to protect myself (my inner life, I think) from the trauma I had gone through, and so I spent a lot of time running, practicing yoga, listening to music by the Avett Brothers and Florence + the Machine, and just waiting to feel better, trusting that someday I would. So I remember that time more than anything with a sense of fierce protectiveness.

I did the same this winter. At first, my top priority was just survival. (I’ve always found that concept vague, so I’ll clarify that in my case that meant getting through the day making sure everyone was fed and healthy, and for me, without a long crying jag or losing my temper.) But after those two weeks of anchoring our days with a long drive, I began to feel a little braver. I experimented one Monday with staying home all day long, just to see what would happen. And the neatest thing happened: we had so much fun.

1913

That was a turning point. It was a big relief for me to know how much I could enjoy being a mom again, and how much fun (yes, fun) I could have staying home all day with a toddler and a baby. It helped that Anna was no longer a newborn and I could put her down for short periods of time, and that Will was becoming more and more accustomed to long days without a nap. I was (and am) so tired, but also so happy.

So that was the first three months. The last three months have, thankfully, been MUCH easier and I finally feel like I am getting my feet under me a little. However, it’s nothing like life was before. These are some of the big changes I’ve experienced:

  • I am forced to use my time more wisely. This is hard for me because procrastination is one of my spiritual gifts, so the learning curve has been steep. When I don’t use my time well, I wind up stressed and feeling behind in almost every area, so I pay for my procrastination more dearly now than I used to. (Real life example from right now: I should probably have taken a shower today. I didn’t. Now I’m going to have to either figure out how to shower very early tomorrow [not likely, nor a given opportunity] or fool everyone I see into thinking I’m the kind of person who showers daily. Guess which one I’m going to choose?)
  • My priorities have changed again. I’ve written about this before, but I care much less about exercise, organizing my home, and losing the last of the baby weight. It’s not that those things aren’t important to me, but I can’t prioritize everything and these are some of the things that have had to fall to the wayside right now.
  • Related: losing the aforementioned baby weight has been a much slower process this time around. When Will was a baby I used to devote one of his naps to a workout almost every day, but I don’t have that luxury anymore, so I’m not exactly in the best shape of my life, and I’m sure it doesn’t help that I’m 35 now. At this point I’m only about five or so pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight, but I am still decidedly lumpy. Now that it’s spring, I’m finally feeling a little more motivated to get moving (and back into my old clothes, if it’s possible).
  • Time is passing much more quickly. You only get one first year with your baby and I’m stunned that Anna’s is halfway done. Some days I dream wistfully of both kids being older and more self-sufficient, but most days I really just want to freeze time for a while.

2091

2085

I actually like having two kids better than I liked having just one. I’m not sure why — probably because now I have two kids to love, but I don’t feel completely overwhelmed by them. And I really, really, really love being at home with them. Many people think of being a stay-at-home mom as something intellectually stagnant, but I find being at home with my kids to be the opposite. Changing diapers and managing tantrums don’t feel like a waste of my time or my abilities; they feel like the reason for them. It’s great.

We moved in nine months ago this week. Someday I will write out the story of the week in June that Will and I moved into the house (it was a few weeks after we closed and we stayed with my dad while Steve painted). The week we moved in began with a stomach virus, culminated in admitting Will to the hospital for 2 nights, and finished with the loss of my beloved cat, Teaker. It was pretty insane and not a week I ever want to relive, but that is not today’s story. Anyway: we moved into somewhat more of a fixer-upper than we intended to, really. It’s a 1964 ranch and I love every inch of it, but this is what the kitchen looked like at closing:

349

The glorious coil stove, 1980s microwave, and miniature oven are now fixtures of my day and I actually kind of love them for their ugliness. Our bathrooms are in a similar state — usable, but not very pretty. The basement has a cold tile floor and wood paneled walls, and at move-in, the trim in every room was painted the same dingy beige as the walls, and the light fixtures and light switch covers are all in need of replacing.

(Except this one:

219

YES that is a sputnik lamp and it’s staying forever. Sorry for the poor picture quality — it was taken while we were house-hunting.)

Since we’ve had a ton of work to do on the house (and still have a long way to go), furnishing it in any sort of nice-looking decorative manner has gone by the wayside. Just a few weeks ago we finally hung something on the walls — my jewelry holder — and the only rooms with curtains are the kids’ because we needed blackout shades for them. Our windows let in gorgeous morning light, but they’re still bare.

594

I’ve also hesitated to decorate much at first because we didn’t really know how we were going to live in the house. I wanted to wait and see how things felt and what made sense for us before doing much. Now that it’s been close to a year and spring is peeking around the corner, I’m excited to make not just more needed updates and changes to the house (I’m coming for you, bathroom facelift), but ones that will make our home look more like a home. We have a trip to Ikea planned and I need to get my shopping list finalized.

So today I brought a little springtime indoors:

image

It’s just a potted rose from Trader Joe’s, but it’s a start.

Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that I spent about 70% of my time in middle and high school writing novels. I tend to have to do this when I’m going through a period where I feel like I have little in common with the people around me, which happens from time to time. My early- to mid-20s were one such period, and I remember feeling more than anything like an alien who had been stranded on planet Earth only to have to try and make her way back home.

I’m saying all this not to expound upon what a unique and special snowflake I am, but to give you some background to understand my reaction to this line from Quiet, which I read last month:

I look back on my years as a Wall Street lawyer as time spent in a foreign country. It was absorbing, it was exciting, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people whom I never would have known otherwise. But I was always an expatriate.

I had to stop reading for a minute when I finished that line, and just look up and blink. I had never seen or heard it (“it” being this feeling that has followed me my entire life) phrased this way, but reading those sentences made me realize that back in the early 2000s, I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t the only alien stranded here on earth. I wasn’t the only expatriate.

The above paragraph gets to the heart of the matter, but really, reading Quiet was deeply gratifying. Not only did it show me that many of the things about myself that I have always thought (or were told) were character flaws aren’t, but it just made me sit and think about some other things that I’ve taken for granted. Like what I want out of a career (if I even want a traditional “career”). What that says about me. What makes me happy, and what merely feels like an obligation.

Much of my career was spent in the social work field, which I found satisfying and interesting, and for a long time I was bound and determined to resume that once my kids were old enough. But these last several months have me rethinking everything, including my dedication to my old career. Did I pursue social work because I felt a true personal passion for it, or because I felt a moral obligation to help other people? Why do I view helping through such a narrow lens? Why do I feel like being a stay-at-home mom is selfish sometimes? Why do I believe that taking my own nature into account when I’m making decisions is akin to cheating? Why do I think that spending my time writing, and finally challenging myself to write a good novel, isn’t a good enough use of my time?

1634

I don’t have any pictures uploaded of myself as a 13-year-old novelist, so this idyllic scene will have to suffice. You can’t see the cat that’s just out of the frame.

I should say that I’m closer to letting those things go than I ever have been, and reading books like Quiet and March have helped a lot. I didn’t realize how much I reflexively resist my nature or deny it, but I suspect that goes a long way toward explaining a lot of things: my mental struggles with not working; my lack of writing; even that feeling Cain describes above in relation to work, feeling like almost every job I’ve ever had was like being in a foreign country. Truthfully I think a lot of my struggles with being a stay-at-home mom arose from a sense of guilt or a reluctance to allow myself to enjoy it.

Does this all sound painfully neurotic, and certainly too neurotic for one’s mid-30s? (You should have been around in 2003 …) I just feel like my compass is finally facing the right direction. I am finally taking the steps that will lead me home. I don’t have to be an expatriate forever after all.

I’ve been back at the gym once or twice a week for the last few weeks. Not enough for me to feel like I’m working out regularly (or enough), but often enough that it feels like part of our routine these days. Before I became pregnant with Anna I was running regularly; I trained for the Charlottesville ten-miler and for several years running was my main form of exercise. But during my pregnancy that began to take a back seat to swimming.

These days my favorite forms of exercise are swimming and yoga. I was thinking about the similarities between the two the other day while I was making my way back and forth across the pool, and I realized what it is about both that I enjoy so much:

I can’t multitask.

I can’t watch TV while I’m swimming like I can on the treadmill. The only music in yoga is what the instructor plays in the background. I’m not listening to music or an audiobook while I work on the weight machines. The only thing I’m doing is swimming laps. The only thing I’m doing is trying to balance. Now that it’s warmer out and lighter out in the evenings I can run outside again, and the only thing I’ll be doing is putting one foot in front of the other.

I finally succumbed to the iPhone last winter and just as I suspected, it quickly attached itself to me like another appendage. It’s ridiculous. I know I need to do some kind of harsh, cold-turkey unplugging challenge eventually, but right now I am mostly observing myself — what’s going on when I feel the need to check my email or open instagram, why I feel like I need to carry my phone in my pocket all the time and why I feel so weird when I don’t. Spending an hour in the pool or the yoga studio forces me to unplug and I appreciate that. I feel like I am rapidly losing my ability to just sit and just be without any external stimulation, and letting my mind wander is at risk of becoming something I only do in the thirty seconds between turning off the light and falling asleep. So as a counterbalance, I find myself drawn to exercise that won’t allow me to do anything but that.

1631

Seen on one of the few outdoor runs I’ve done since Anna was born.

Right now I don’t have any expectations for my swimming apart from being able to take shorter breaks at the end of each lap, and I don’t want to. Once I’m running again, I just want to breathe the fresh air. In yoga I only want access to that sweet spot where discomfort melts into power. I want to use that time to strengthen not just my physical potential, but my mind’s eye as well.

I’ve realized that I spend a lot of time and mental energy focused on what’s not working. Things I want to change, updates I’m planning, what I need to improve. (I think it’s the INFJ in me; I am pretty much the model for that portrait.) Just look at the last month or so of this blog: all kinds of things I need to do differently. I need to get up earlier, I need to dry my hair, I need to create a better rhythm. And yeah, I think I need to do all of those things, but I also think I need to take a minute to focus on what is working. So:

Meal planning. I’ve been meal planning for a while now (since the summer?) and it makes life so much easier. Grocery shopping, dinners and cooking are all much more streamlined. I plan the week’s meals on Sundays and do my shopping that night (alone!) after the kids are in bed. I make a soup or crock pot meal every Monday and eggs every Thursday, so I have some structure to work around. I am planning meals that are easy but also enjoyable to prepare, since I love to cook. It’s been great. (Tonight? pasta with chicken, pesto and roasted tomatoes. Done.)

2233

A favorite: tomato soup and tuna melts. We keep it simple these days.

Preschool. I wavered a lot on whether or not to feel guilty or weird about enrolling Will in preschool at 2. He goes two mornings a week and after the first week I was so, so glad we did it. For him, because he has a speech delay (had? he might be caught up) and because he loves to play with other kids. For me, because I was having a new baby and felt overwhelmed already. And now because it gives me one or two quiet mornings a week to take a shower, do some writing, and in general just take it easy with said new baby. I will sing the praises of two-year-old preschool from the hilltops for time immemorial.

Daniel Tiger Hour. Will stopped napping literally two weeks after Anna was born. This didn’t come as a surprise because he started dropping naps more and more frequently over the summer, but the last time he took an afternoon nap was the first day I was at home on my own with both kids. About two weeks after that, after trying and failing multiple times to enforce an afternoon “quiet time”, he and I were both frustrated and upset, and most afternoons had us both in tears. Steve and I made the executive decision: no more quiet times, no more naps. It was the best thing we could have done. However, Will does still need some down time during the day, so after lunch he lays down on the couch for an hour and watches Daniel Tiger or another PBS kids show. I have mixed feelings about using screen time in general at his age (I honestly regret letting him watch so much TV when he was young), but I’ve been thinking about media in a different way lately: if he’s watching TV, what is he not doing? Running, jumping, playing, reading, learning, everything. And he’s laying down because he needs a break from that. So I have made peace with an hour of Daniel Tiger every afternoon. It’s working right now, and that’s what counts.

1772

Afternoon coffee. Almost every day this winter I have brewed a second pot of coffee after lunch to enjoy during Daniel Tiger Hour. It’s restorative. (Today I brewed mine early; it’s late-morning coffee instead. I’ll try to resist also having afternoon coffee too.)

1478

Relaxing. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since becoming a mom is a pretty obvious one. Life is different now and that’s okay. Maybe someday I’ll have the energy to pick up all the Duplos off the floor at the end of the day. Maybe someday I’ll manage to get all the laundry folded on the same day it’s washed. Right now, though, I don’t do those things, and I’m learning to accept that and be okay with it. I do what I can, when I can, and I know that right now is a unique time in my life, so I’m learning to savor it more and more, while letting the little things go. I’ll catch up with them later.

There. That felt weird but good. That’s what’s working. Now back to my regularly programmed quest for constant self-improvement.

I took a shower and blow-dried my hair today.

This shouldn’t be a noteworthy achievement, really, but it does signify one more step away from our winter hibernation and toward engaging with the world again. My habit these last few months has been 1. shower only when necessary, 2. ugh, blow-drying is the worst, and 3. expend as little energy on personal appearance as can get away with and still be seen in public. But this week I took it up a notch, and I’m glad I did.

The last few weeks I’ve been trying to be more intentional about getting out of the house more — going to the gym, mostly — and branching out ever so slightly from my personal uniform. I have been sticking to just the essentials in regards to most of my life since Anna was born, and I think that was absolutely appropriate and necessary (and I would do it again a million times) BUT she is now five months old, spring is on its way, and it’s probably time to open the windows again, figuratively speaking. I’ve reached the point where if I don’t do it now, I’m pretty much just letting myself go, and that’s not an option.

When I was in my 20s I partied hard by watching What Not to Wear every Friday night with a bowl of popcorn. One recurring theme on the show (God rest its soul) was the Frumpy SAHM. Moms who had gotten overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood and coped by shrugging off the attention they had once paid to their appearance. Moms who wore sweats all day, every day, who never styled their hair or wore makeup, who thought they were invisible, who had just stopped caring. “That will never be me!” I declared, week after week. And you know what? IT STILL WON’T BE. Even though the above description sounds eerily familiar.

download

I own these pants. I love them.

I feel like I am veering precariously close to frumpitude. I haven’t had a haircut since before Anna was born, meaning my grown-out bob is now aimless and flat. None of my actual clothes fit (still), and I’m not about to spend money on a pair or two of well-fitting jeans only five months postpartum, so I’m still wearing the same two outfits over and over again. I’m honestly too tired to spend a lot of time on my appearance, but time isn’t really the issue — it’s effort. My makeup routine takes about three minutes, if that, but lifting the mascara to my lashes sometimes feels like more work than it’s worth.

So, I’m trying to do something about it, tired or not. The first thing I did was schedule a haircut. It’s next month. Having short hair again will protect me from Endless Messy Ponytail Purgatory. The second thing I did was wear makeup on a day when I didn’t have to see anyone besides the moms at preschool drop-off. I also elected to wear “people clothes” that day when all I was doing was bumming around at home. The third thing I did was blow dry my hair this morning so I look a little more presentable — even though we’re snowbound, I am tired of looking so … desperate. I’m tired of looking like I don’t care, like I’ve given up. I’m tired of feeling that way, too.

hoodie

The magic hoodie. No regrets, but I think we need to break up.

Yesterday I wrote about establishing rhythm in our days — the rhythm of making the bed when I get up, of reading books together on the couch in the morning, watching Daniel Tiger under a blanket after lunch, baking during Anna’s naps. Along with adding early-morning writing and yoga into my daily rhythm, I also need (need) to incorporate better self-care, even though it’s easy to write off things like hair and makeup as unnecessary time-sucks when I have so many more important things to do. I now understand just how easy it is for a SAHM of young children to inadvertently let herself go, as well as just how gradually that happens.

My next task is to figure out a warm-weather personal uniform. I am not giving that up! I love having a closely-defined personal style (I call it “Goes With Leggings” or “Secretly Comfortable” or “Shh, I Just Had A Baby”), but I do need a few more options. I’m thinking maxi skirt, nursing-appropriate t-shirt and a lightweight infinity scarf. Or leggings and nursing-appropriate tunic. The only obstacle here is that I don’t want to spend money on clothes until I’ve started to approach a more long-term body shape, and I have to wear clothes I can nurse in, so no Boden for me just yet and (sadly) no skinny jeans to pair with all those plaid flannel button-ups waiting in my closet. I don’t have a ton of options, but I’m determined to look put-together this spring and summer, capsule wardrobe and all. Stacy and Clinton, I’m going to make you proud.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers