Finding Joy in the Chaos

Cut Yourself Some Slack

By: Janelle (6/5/14)

Yes, time certainly does help.  Jenny and I agree on that for sure.  You know what also helps?  Cutting yourself some slack. It’s this proposition that I have the most difficulty with.  Pretty much every day my mind is plagued with one or more of the following thoughts:   "Well, you only billed __ hours today.  Now you’re behind.” “Good job getting that one project done.  Don’t forget about the 12 other ones you didn’t get to.” “This closet is so disorganized.  You really should clean it out.”  “Look at this home office.  There is so much filing to be done.” “You haven’t scrapbooked photos in nearly a year.” “Big brother really should eat something other than a waffle for breakfast.”  “Maybe it would be good to actually fold the boys’ clean clothes this week instead of leaving them in the dryer.” You get the idea.  Basically nothing I ever do is good enough for me.  I feel like I’m always failing someone.  But the people in my life aren’t bringing these “shortcomings” up.  It’s like Jenny said, I’m creating the drama.  I’m being too hard on myself.  The truth is that when we as moms stop and think about it, we accomplish a hell of a lot in most days.  And on those days when we don’t?  Well, we have some wine (or in my case, some ice cream), kiss our spouse and children, vent to a friend, go to bed and then try again the next day.  This is the lesson I’m slooooowly learning.  And it starts with the recognition that there is no such thing as “having it all.”  The successful career mom in a size 2 designer suit and heels with perfectly styled hair and make-up, clean and well-dressed children, and a spotless house 24-7 only exists in the movies.  Or if she exists in real life she has an entourage around to help her (Gisele, anyone?).  It’s ok if your shirt is wrinkled today.  It’s ok if you put dirty socks on your son because you don’t have clean ones.  And it’s ok if you buy new baby bottles to avoid washing the dishes.  It doesn’t matter if you have a spotless house or handmade scrapbooks of every. single. moment. in your kids’ lives.  What matters is not having it all – whatever that even means.  What matters is loving and being loved and putting one foot in front of the other.  So, yes, give it some time.  But also give yourself a break.  You’re doing the best you can. 

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Time Helps

By: Jenny (6/1/14)

 I think you shouldn’t make big life decisions in the first six months that you have a baby.  Blame it on lack of sleep, too many hormones, a rush of the most intense love you ever felt, guilt, anxiety, whatever…but just ride it out, I say.  It’s not easy to learn a new way of life, and for me, I felt like it meant I had to completely remake myself.  My schedule, my body, my job, my relationships—all of them—my car, and my guest room, and where had I gone in the midst of all that remaking?  
It’s not news that women feel lost in the beginnings of being a mother—both in good and bad ways.  It’s not a groundbreaking revelation that it takes time to remember who you are in the midst of who you are trying to be to a child.  But it’s hard.
I will say, unequivocally, that I love being a mother.  I have loved it since New Year’s Eve 2009, when my first little monkey made her way into the world.  But it’s been four years since then, and sometimes I wonder exactly when I started feeling like myself again and not just someone’s mommy.  After my first little girl was born, I thought there was no way I could keep up with a life that had heretofore kept me plenty busy in the first place.  How could I possibly work crazy hours, adhere to ridiculous demands, and make it back and forth to the chores of motherhood without losing my mind?  For three months at home I was doing well if I managed a shower before the afternoon.  All of a sudden you’re expected to leave this little thing you feel physically tied to, show up at a job you feel entirely disconnected from in heels and professional attire, and make all of those gears turn together in one big motion that keeps everyone happy?  Impossible.  I needed a new job.
After a great deal of stress and consternation on the topic, my sweet engineer of a husband, logical to a fault, says to me, “I’m not sure it’s your job that’s the problem.  You won’t feel great about leaving every day to go to any job, will you?  But it won’t always feel like this.”  After fighting and thinking how could he possibly know that, I tried to let the words settle in while I carried on the best I could, just knowing I couldn’t do it.  I’d get through the holidays, then figure something out.
But on Christmas morning, I learned another baby was on the way.  And so I soldiered on, not wanting to think about how to do all of that, look for the perfect job, be a good mom, and be pregnant all at the same time.  Thinking my odds of finding that job pregnant were seriously decreased. 
But life gives us little gifts in unexpected packages.  Because I didn’t think I had much of a choice, I had nine months of time to make it through before any more big decisions could be made.  And during those months, I learned that my husband was right—at least for me.  The problem wasn’t the job I had, the problem was (mostly) my outlook.  When you are determined and conditioned to be the best possible student, the best possible worker, the best possible mom, it’s hard to give yourself the space just to get through the day.  But if you let them, the days will pass.  And if you quit looking at your life like it’s a race to be won, you might find you are actually a pretty good runner.  [To be clear, I cannot run a mile all at one time, in the literal sense.]
By the time baby #2 arrived, I realized a few things.  First, I was a good mom.  I didn’t do everything the way my awesome, book-certified mom friends did, but my kid was still happy, healthy and loved.  Second, I was a good lawyer.  I remembered that I didn’t just work because I had to, I worked because I was good at it, it was fun, and it was challenging.  I wanted to work.  Finally, I learned that I just needed to calm the hell down.  Most of the time, the person who was most upset about any one of my many failings was me.  I was creating the drama.  Because I couldn’t just stop and say, “good enough is good enough.”
I still haven’t lost all [any] of the baby weight.  I still can’t figure out a time to work out, and I still don’t get to see friends nearly as often as I’d like.  But four years into it, I can see these beautiful, smart, funny girls, and I haven’t ruined them yet.  This morning, the oldest said to me, “But the other mommies pick their kids up at school”—a comment that would have undone me a year ago, or maybe last week on the wrong day.  Today, I said, cheerfully, “Some mommies work, and some mommies get to pick up their kids from school.  We get to do lots of fun things together, don’t we?”  And that was that. 
I’m not the best mom, but I am their mom.  And no one could love them more.  So now, instead of worrying about what any other woman does at home, or about what any other lawyer does at work, I just play to my strengths.  I focus on what makes me good in both places.  No one is going to give me any plaques, and it’s not always going to be easy, and I’m never going to get enough sleep and maybe I’ll always be chubby.  But I remember who I am now—I’m a smart, sometimes funny, hard-working, easy-going, quick-tempered fighter, who is also now somebody’s mommy.  Sometimes you just need the time to settle in and remember.  You have to give yourself the time.

I'm So Confused!

By: Janelle (6/15/14)

     Lean In!  Recline! Sit at the table! Demand flexibility!  There is so much well-meaning advice being thrown at working women, half of the time I just want to throw my hands in the air and hide under the covers.  I'll read an article about stepping forward, being assertive, and taking charge of my career and think "I can do this."  But then I'll read another one about having "balance" in the midst of a chaotic world and question why I'm working so hard instead of asking for a more manageable day-to-day schedule.  We are told to take ownership of our careers, but then we hear stories of women who did and were chastised for being "too aggressive" that we question the level of our own assertiveness on the job. 

     People get so mad at Sheryl Sandberg's message.  I was for a time.  There is no question in my mind that being a working parent is more manageable with unlimited financial resources.  But then I realized that Sandberg is still a mother.  She still faces the same emotions all of us face.  And then it hit me - she's right.  Women have a tendency to "lean out" of their careers before they have to.  I've done it.  I panicked after I had my first child and went back to work.  I would sit in my office and sob because I missed him so much.  I dreaded going into work every day.  I stopped volunteering for work.  I eventually accepted another job offer that I thought would solve my "problems."  Ultimately I decided to stay at my firm and I remember telling one of my mentors that if I was going to stay, I need to be "committed 100%" to the job.  That I couldn't do it "halfway" anymore.  Looking back, I can't believe I said that, given the reasons that led to my panic in the first place.  But now I think about that conversation and realize that the career woman in me recognized I was leaning out. 

     So I stayed.  And guess what?  Everything was OK.  I kept working full-time, but (for the most part) I've done it on my own schedule. That means working nights and during weekend nap times, but it also means being home for dinner and bed time and enjoying the occasional impromptu donut breakfast on the way to daycare.  I've had my second child, been to trial, co-chaired a subcommittee of a very large professional organization, and been elected as a board member for a wonderful foundation - all in the last year and a half.  Is it hectic and tiring?  Of course!  But it works for our family.  And so I keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I try not to worry about what will happen when big brother starts kindergarten or how things will work if God blesses us with a third or fourth (gasp!) baby.  If this "balance" that we have ever stops working THEN we will reevaluate and, if necessary, make a change.  Maybe I will make the change.  Maybe my husband will.  There is no point in worrying about it now.  There is no point in pulling back from a rewarding career that I enjoy.  To me, that's Sandberg's message.  So yes, lean in.  Don't lean out until (and unless) you really have to.  But don't forget about the little things in life either.  YOLO, as the kids say.   

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On Leaning In

By: Jenny (6/10/14)

 Frankly, I don’t get why people got so upset about that book.  Obviously, we value traits in men that we snark at in women—assertiveness, directness, all kinds of ness.  Obviously, in a world full of ego, women aren’t going to just be invited to come sit at the table and eat some of the proverbial pie.  Obviously, if you lean out of a career before the need arises, your career will look different than if you made a different choice.  I agree with most of what Sheryl Sandberg said.  Having said that, do I think she is far more Type-A and accomplished than I am?  YES.  But that’s cool—her point is valid.  The point I walked away with was one I believe in—you can have the career you want, you can have kids, you can have a good marriage.  Just don’t assume that balance looks like an everyday equation where a certain number of hours can be devoted to each thing without fail.  You have to learn to roll with the punches, and make those punches work for you the best way you can.
I know all kinds of different women, who’ve made all kinds of different decisions.  Every one of them is valid, even when the decision was unintentional.  Most of the women I know are happy or at peace with their decisions, or are considering where the next one might take them.  My husband once gently suggested that all my work-life balance “stuff” wasn’t the problem, but maybe it was the way I was looking at it.  That’s a dangerous thing to say to an anxiety-prone person in the throes of panic.  But he wasn’t wrong.  Is it hard to be a parent?  Yes.  Is it hard to be a lawyer working at a big firm, hoping to make partner?  Yes.  Is it hard to worry all day every day about things you can do little to control?  Absolutely.  But his point was that all of that worry wasn’t getting me anywhere. 
Basically, his advice boiled down to this:  Don’t quit until you’re sure it’s what you need.  I think that’s Sandberg’s point, too—that sometimes, if you try, you’ll be surprised at what happens for you.  But all the worry can drive you completely insane.  My husband pointed out that my kid was happy and healthy, and still preferred me to anyone else.  That work was going fine, despite all of my fussing and worrying about what next.  And he reminded me that if things weren’t fine, he would be there, and another career opportunity would arise.  I think “leaning in” is really just the process of removing worry and “what if” as much as possible, and allowing your efforts to take you where they can.  Some days are better than others; frankly, some years are better than others.  Do I work every spare minute of my time?  No, I do not.  Did I find time to watch House of Cards and The Mindy Project all year?  Yes, I did.  I even read two books on airplanes last month.
Sometimes we have to fight for ourselves.  Sometimes we have to earn our success.  But sometimes we just have to get out of our own way, and quit the anxiety by whatever means necessary.  You don’t have to apologize for your downtime, or talk about how you “earned it.”  It’s yours.  Have it.  It’s a life.
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On Girlfriends

By: Jenny (6/30/14)

 So Janelle said something like she never considered herself one of the girls, which is funny to me because neither did I.  My very best friend for all of childhood was a girl, but beyond that, I felt like I wanted to set myself apart from all the “drama” of girls in a pack. 

     This sparks two thoughts: (1) I actually failed miserably at this, and participated GREATLY in girl drama; and (2) in retrospect, it is a little disturbing that so many girls perceive that being "girly" was a less valid choice, even in childhood and teenaged years.  By so many girls, I obviously mean at least me and Janelle. 

     Now here is where I could digress into a post on feminism, but let me short cut that for you.  Janelle claims she isn't a feminist, and I was a women's studies major.  Ironically here, as in many places, our actual experiences and views on same are largely similar, but we look at them through different lenses--but that's a boring discussion that always ends the same, so I'll spare you.  (But you should know I'm right.)

     Back to the original point, if I can remember it.  I didn't want to be perceived as just "one of the girls."  But in retrospect, it is largely indeed "the girls" who have seen me through this life, and not in uncomplicated ways.  Here are, for me, some of the unextolled virtues of being part of "the girls":

 1. They listen and validate
2. They tell you gently when you are wrong (sometimes they tell you loudly, but sometimes you are being a bull
headed jerk, so…)
3. They sometimes send flowers or cards when something important happens
4.  They remember you as you were and as you are
5. They remember your pain for you, so sometimes you don’t have to
6.  They bring food when you’re sick or tired (some of them even cook it)
7.  They throw you parties/showers/spa days to make sure you know you’re loved
8.  They drink wine and laugh together
9.  They dance with you at weddings
10. They hold your baby so you can have seven solid minutes of independence and/or some hot food
11.  They show up
12. They provide a safe circle for bitching and complaining, when necessary
And the list goes on.  The trick is, the friends who show up at any particular moment may not be the ones you expect.  But there are women in my life who have been a part of it for 30 years, some just for 2 years, some I met only weeks ago—and I have come to realize and appreciate that these relationships have held me up when I no longer had strength, they’ve pushed me when I was afraid, and they’ve always, always made me feel loved and made me laugh. These are the good parts of being one of the girls.  And sometimes they let you borrow their purses, which is an added plus. And some of them bring you sweet tea and/or wine when they visit, so there’s that, too. 

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Girlfriends

By: Janelle (6/22/14)

     Growing up I always considered myself "one of the guys."  I played sports so I had friends who were girls, but when given the option, I chose to spend time with my guy friends.  I told myself girls were full of drama and that I didn't need them.  This attitude continued through college.  I had some girlfriends, but never really understood their value or that I really needed them.  I was that girl we all hate who got a boyfriend and then disappeared.  I remember convincing my husband that he had to cut down the number of groomsmen in our wedding because I didn't have enough really close girlfriends I could ask to be bridesmaids. 

     But as I've grown older I realize how foolish that mindset was.  What I wish I had known then is that a woman needs close girlfriends like she needs food and water.  Ok, maybe I'm being a little dramatic, but girlfriends are essential to our sanity and to our finding joy in the everyday chaos.  In short, they are a precious gift from God not to be wasted.  Now I am grateful to say that I have been blessed with a whole host of smart, loving, amazing girlfriends.  Some are down the hall at work, or down the street at home, while others are out of town or out of state.  Some were sent into my life for a season, but I know others will be there for a lifetime.  I have friends I share my deepest fears with, friends who get me through career frustrations, and friends who keep me laughing through the craziness of motherhood and the challenges of marriage.  Sometimes it feels like I'm leaning on them.  Sometimes they may be leaning more on me, but really we're always just leaning on each other.  We are always in each other's hearts.   

     If you're wondering how I "do it all," (which I don't, by the way) rest assured that I couldn't even begin to function without all the beautiful women God has placed in my life.  If you're lucky enough to have these lifesavers too, hold onto them.  Cherish them.  And thank God for them.  They are one of His greatest gifts. 

     When the sun shines, we'll shine together.  Told you I'd be here forever.  Said I'll always be a friend.  Took an oath I'm gonna stick it out 'til the end.  Now that it's raining more than ever, Know that we'll still have each other.  You can stand under my umbrella. You can stand under my umbrella.

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