Category “Family Matters”

At The End Of The Day

I told myself I’d find balance. Demand it if I had to. I believed that there were enough hours in the day to do all the things I love despite my new go-to-work status. Turns out there are.

If I give up sleep.

So here I am, a week into my new old job, and I haven’t written a single blog post since the day I started or a spent any significant time editing my novel. Two of the five nights this week, Lil Mil was already asleep when I got home from work. I haven’t cooked a single meal, read a single page of the book I’m reading or spent a single minute working out.

I have, however, spent roughly 2500 minutes working.

Oh balance, where art thou?

I could lament the state of things. I started to, when I left work yesterday evening and looked up at the building that stole my week. But as I gazed up at the steel and glass and the bright blue behind it, I realized something.

I had a good week. Unbalanced, and certainly not perfect, but overall, pretty enjoyable. Surprisingly fulfilling.

And best of all? The weekend had arrived.

A Lesson I Should Learn

The night before we left for Scotland, Sister’s boyfriend, 3G (a person, not the cellular network), gave Niece H a collection of trip-oriented presents:  a journal, a mini-accordian file for keepsakes, and a digital camera.  It was sweet, of course (I was instantly jealous that I hadn’t thought of it), but none of us were sure if Niece H would actually use her travel collection.  Was she old enough for a journal?  Would she want to collect keepsakes?  Could she operate the camera?

The answer was a resounding YES.

Niece H (who, by the way, was awarded the Best Traveler Award by her Grandad, an honor she richly deserved), journaled and collected and photographed her way around Scotland.  Her journal entries were drawings, but they documented our travels as well as any words could have.  An airplane.  A castle.  A bagpipe player.  A flower.  When the tiny accordion file wasn’t big enough for the brochures she decided to collect (which she informed Sister and me that she intended to sell, along with a glass of lemonade, for $1.00 each), Niece H turned a discarded cookie container into her Treasure Box.

The camera, however, was the biggest hit.  Niece H wanted to take pictures everywhere we went.  But she was discriminating:  she’d survey an object she encountered, making the shape of a camera with her little hands, trying to decide whether whatever it was warranted a photo.  Sometimes we’d hear her making a clicking sound as she looked through her imaginary lens.  Click click! Then, a moment later:  ”Mom, can I have my camera?”

Since the idea behind the camera was to take pictures for a scrapbook she and 3G would make when she got home, I wanted to make sure she had shots of herself on her camera.

“Hey, H, lemme get a picture of you,” I’d say.

“But I hate my smile.”

“What?!  You have a great smile.  Here, stand right there.”

And usually, she would.  Then, after I’d taken the picture and given back her camera, I’d see her looking at it with a pained look on her face.  ”I look so bad!” she’d moan.  And then, as often as not, she’d delete it.

I couldn’t tell whether she actually thought she looked bad, or whether she just thought that’s what you’re supposed to say when you look at a picture of yourself.  I’m not sure which would be worse.

On one level, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  It’s what we all do, right?  Edit immediately, erasing our bad smiles and awkward angles and limp hair and flabby arms.  Bemoan our unsightly whatevers.  We disparage ourselves so often that we don’t even hear ourselves doing it.  And on the rare occasion that we see a shot we like, we stay silent.

Watching Niece H grimace as she looked at a picture I’d taken of her, I saw myself at that age, when I first decided that I had an Eighth Angle.  My family is laughing (or crying) right now, because they’ve heard about the Eighth Angle for nearly three decades.  I discovered it while in a dressing room as a kid, looking into one of those accordion mirrors.  I was examining myself from all angles when — horror! — I saw one (of nine) that I deemed horrendous.  Since then, I’ve refused to let that particular angle be photographed (my wedding photographer was thoroughly  instructed on this point).

Niece H doesn’t have an Eighth Angle.  She’s objectively adorable.  But even if she did have one, I wouldn’t want her to start obsessing about it now.  Or ever.  She’s too smart, too funny, too delightful to be walking around with some stupid hang-up about her looks.

And so, as I watched her hit the little trashcan icon, I reached out and snatched the camera from her hands.  ”Don’t be like that,” I told her.  ”Be confident.  Confident people don’t waste time saying negative stuff about themselves.  Confident people are too busy being happy and having fun.”

She looked at me with her enormous blue eyes, weighing my words.  ”It’s cooler to be confident,” I said then.  Not particularly eloquent, but true.  She nodded, accepting this.  Then she took her little finger off the delete button and went back to taking pictures.

I looked up and caught my reflection in the car window.  There she was, the girl I’ve been criticizing for the past 25 years.  That day, I cut her a break.

You’re too smart, too funny, too delightful to be walking around with some stupid hang-up about your looks.

The Whole Story

Over Thai takeout last Thursday, a close friend and I caught up.  It’d been over a month since I’d seen her, and even longer than that since we’d had a talking-really-talking-conversation.

As we munched on spicy green beans (her) and gingery mushrooms (me), B said something that stuck with me.  “Reading the blog makes me feel like you and I are talking regularly,” she mused.  “But I realized the other day how little I know about what’s really going on with you.”

My first thought was “but if you read my blog, then you do know what’s going on with me.”  But then I ran through a mental list of things I don’t blog about and realized how little I actually do blog about.  Book and baby.  And lately, only baby.

So I filled her in on all the other stuff.  Marriage.  Family.  Finances.  Work.  The meaty stuff I never write about.

The meaty stuff I never write about.

I write about struggles for time and conflicted feelings and sleepless nights.  I write about my pursuit of productivity and my quest to live in the moment.  But I don’t write about how the three Bs have affected my marriage.  Or the toll my elective  unemployment has taken on my bank account.  Or the fact that I will eventually have to go back to work full time.

If you’d asked me eight days ago why I don’t write about these things, I would’ve been ready with an answer:  my blog is about writing a book while raising a new baby.  These other things are peripheral.  Not the point.

But last week, giving B the full picture instead of just snapsnots, I realized that, when it comes to the pursuit of our dreams (writing that book, producing that film, starting that company), nothing is peripheral because everything – every part of us – is implicated.  You can’t compartmentalize.

And yet we do.  Not only on our blogs, but in real life.  We talk about work and life and the give-and-take between the two.  Our struggle for the illusive ”work/life balance.”  And then we proceed to relay snippets about our jobs or our creative endeavors.  Tidbits about our kids or our spouses.  Rarely acknowledging that the struggle exists not because we haven’t figured out how to balance Work and Life, but because these two categories aren’t actually separate.  Work intersects with Life.  Work sometimes is life.  And then there are the elements that don’t properly fit into either category.  Where do mortgages go?  Work or life?  Hobbies?  Housekeeping?  Health?

I write about book and baby and blog.  I mention boy.  But those four categories aren’t the full picture of my life.  And those four categories aren’t actually categories.  They are people and passions that overlap and intersect in places and in ways that aren’t immediately obvious, and they bump up against and compete with other people and other passions (and other people’s passions).  When I neglect to write about these intersections and friction points, I leave out crucial pieces of the puzzle.  I don’t tell the whole story.

I want to tell the whole story.

Inevitably, my conversation with B turned to this blog.  Its future.  What the next 100 days will look like, and the 100 after that. “What’s next?” she asked me.

I didn’t have the answer ready then, but I have it now:  what’s next is the rest of the story.  The rest of my story.

Five months ago, I set out to write a draft of my first novel in the first 100 days of my baby’s life.  That’s the story I’ve been telling here, in snippets and tidbits, since the day Lil Mil was born.  But it isn’t the whole story.  It was never meant to be.  It’s just the first chapter of a longer, fuller, better story, one that ends with a cover and a spine.  A book.  My book.  Sitting on a shelf in Barnes and Noble.

Or maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe it ends somewhere entirely different, somewhere I don’t expect.  I won’t know til the very last page.

In the meantime, I have a dream to pursue, a little girl to inspire, a husband to love and a mortgage to pay.  That’s the story I want to tell.  The real story.  The whole story.  What embracing the detour looks like, every day.

I don’t want to leave anything out.  I want to talk about the gritty stuff.  The not-so-easy to talk about stuff.  The meaty stuff.  The stuff that makes pursuing our dreams both the hardest and the greatest thing we’ll ever do.

The whole story is worth telling, I think.  It’s the only one that matters, anyway.

On or Off?

An elephant dressed in a clown costume could stroll by me and I wouldn’t notice it.  I know this, because it happened yesterday.

Kidding.

Seriously, though – how do I completely miss things that Husband sees when we’re walking down the same sidewalk?  The large dog careening towards us.  The altercation brewing between two neighbors.  The people waving at us from across the street.

He sees it all.  I see none of it.

I’m trying to be better about this.  More observant.  More aware.

I mention this because it’s the only reason I noticed the new Dos Equis billboard on Santa Monica Boulevard this morning.  Lil Mil and I were strolling from church to Husband’s lawyer league softball game when I saw it:  the face of the Most Interesting Man in the World and this quotation:

The bulk of your life should be off the record.

It’s an enticing idea.  It’s meant to be.  Instinctively, I want it.  A life lived “off the record.”  But here I am, putting more of mine on it.

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Do you wish your life were more private?  Does social media (facebook, twitter, myspace) make living *off the record* impossible?  Is a life *on the record* a consequence of blogging or the impetus for it?

Unextraordinary Measures (Day #99)

I meant to write about Five for Ten on Friday, so that by the time today arrived, you would know all about the Momalom duo and their quest to foster connection and conversation.  I wanted to tell you how important I think these things are and how cool I think it is that that Jen and Sarah have made it so simple.  Give five minutes.  Get five minutes.  Connect.  Converse.  I wanted to do these things last week so that I could encourage some of you (all of you?) to participate.

Best laid plans.

So here I am today, forced to rely on the old “click HERE and HERE to find out what Five for Ten is all about.”  I could blame my book (it being Day #99 and all), but I won’t, because it’s not the reason I didn’t post on Friday.  I didn’t post on Friday because I didn’t write on Friday.  Not a word.  It was Day #96 and I took the day off.  And then I took the next day off.  And the next one, too.

Does that mean you’ve already finished the book? you ask excitedly.  Expectantly.

I just smile mysteriously.

On first glance, you might think this is the smile of a pleased, confident person.  A person who has finished ahead of schedule.  But if you look closer, you’ll notice that this smile of mine has an edge.

Because it’s forced.

I am wearing the tight, oh-crap-what-have-I-done smile of a person who lives in a world where time is limited and moments are fleeting.  A place where opportunities are easily missed.  A universe where once-in-a-lifetime means exactly that.

No, I did not finish ahead of schedule.  I wanted – needed! – days 96, 97 and 98.  But I wanted something else more.

I wanted to spend Friday morning having a talking-really-talking conversation with Husband.

I wanted to spend Friday afternoon on the couch with Mom and Lil Mil.

I wanted to spend Friday evening at happy hour with my family, drinking white wine and munching on sweet potato fries.

I wanted to spend Saturday (yes, all of it) cleaning out my closet with Mom, laughing at the bubblegum pink mini dress I wore on New Years’ Eve the year I met Husband and the scores of lingerie I got at my bachelorette party and have never worn.

I wanted to spend Saturday evening talking to Dad about the post-Day #100 future of this blog.

And I wanted to spend Sunday celebrating my daughter’s baptism, exactly one year after she came into my life.

I wanted to do these things.  I also wanted to spend the weekend finishing my book.  But I wanted to do these things more.

So here it is Monday morning, Day #99, the day before my big deadline, and I am forcing a smile.  Telling myself that I made the right choice, that those things I did mattered more than game plans and word counts.  Reminding myself that the smile I wore yesterday wasn’t forced at all.  Because it wasn’t.  And if I had it to do over again, I would choose to spend my weekend exactly the way I spent it.  Not pursuing my big dream.  Not chasing my passion.  But cleaning my closet.  Eating with my family.  Sitting on my couch.  Watching days 96, 97, and 98 pass by.

This is hard for me to admit.

Setting big goals, pursuing big dreams, taking big risks – we don’t hesitate to call those acts courageous.  They look courageous.  They feel courageous.  Deciding to spend a Saturday afternoon cleaning your closet, that doesn’t look or feel anything like courageous.  It looks and feels… sorta lame.  Very average.  Painfully ordinary.

And you know what?  It is.  Average.  Ordinary.  There is nothing extraordinary about the existence of messy closet or the desire to clean it.  Just like there is nothing extraordinary about a meal with family.  Or an afternoon on the couch.  There is, however, something quite extraordinary about finishing a novel.  And yet, I chose to do the ordinary things instead.

Because I wanted to.

Which makes me look and feel … sorta lame.  Very average.  Painfully ordinary.

Because I am.

Not always.  But sometimes.

I am ordinary.  An ordinary person who enjoys doing ordinary things.

These words, they scare me.  I don’t want to be ordinary.  And I certainly don’t want to be perceived as ordinary.  By you.  By Husband.  By Lil Mil.

It takes courage to be extraordinary.  But it takes courage to be ordinary, too.

It takes courage to be real.

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(Do you struggle with feeling ordinary?  To you make an effort to to be extraordinary?  Is it hard for you to acknowledge the parts of yourself that you think make you less desirable?  Do you agree that it takes courage to be real?  Are you participating in Five for Ten?  If not, you should!  Hop on over to Momalom and sign up!  For those of you who aren’t into clicking, here’s the deal:  if you will commit to spend five minutes at Embrace the Detour for ten days in a row (and leave a comment!), then I will do the same on your blog.  What if you don’t have a blog?  It doesn’t matter!  Leave me a comment and I will spend at least five minutes emailing you back.  The whole point is to make connections and start conversations.  We all need both!)