Every “mommy blogger” out there has probably responded to Amy Glass and her blog entry “I Look Down on Young Women with Husbands and Kids and I’m Not Sorry.”
I was not really outraged when I read it. I have met people with opinions like that before. Gosh, I have run many scripts in my own head questioning my decision to be at home with my family instead of off somewhere doing “important” things. But here’s the truth. There are other people who could do the job I used to do. And while I was quite good at it, the truth is that I was replaced very easily. The other truth? I am the only Mamma these boys have. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent a former colleague who asked “what I do with myself now”
I think the work we did at __ was important. I enjoyed it, particularly when I thought we negotiated a good deal for our stakeholders. But here’s the thing. The work I do now, is even more important. I used to shape transactions, and now I quite literally shape lives. I can’t imagine doing anything I feel more passionate about, or anything where the stakes are higher. I must be honest though, the pay sucks.
Right now, in these short years, I am the most important influence on my boys’ lives. Next year, Jack Jr. will be in kindergarten and from there on, my influence, while still strong, will become more diluted with every year that passes. I have these very short, and very challenging, years to shape their basic understanding of the world, of how people treat each other, of how we live together. The stakes are so high. I am not for a minute saying that you must be a stay-home mom to be a good mother. Most of my friends work full time in challenging jobs, and I know many of them to be deliberate, thoughtful mothers.
But here is another fact: while we can have it all, we cannot have it all at the same time. And if you keep sprinting through the craziness of life in America, running as fast as you can just to stay in the same place, you will eventually have to cut corners somewhere. Maybe you don’t have time to exercise, maybe you don’t have time to eat healthy meals. Maybe you can’t take time to be with your spouse. Maybe you have no time for a spiritual practice. Maybe you have to outsource more and more of your daily life until you are working to pay for your outsourcing. Maybe you can manage it all just fine. I know I could not be the mom I am today while I saw my children for only an hour or two a day, and on our very over scheduled weekends.
Okay, well that’s about as much controversy as I can handle.
This is my favorite response to Amy Glass:
And if you want to be inspired by deliberate moms who certainly are not choosing the path of least resistance, here’s a list of blogs I love in no particular order.
It’s been quiet here on the blog. I have a bunch of things in draft, but I am tired of my own conversation – the -almost complaint- statement that has become my introduction – oh, we’re new here and I’m living in the hotel. It’s usually met with an oh, half a smile, a nod of understanding, and then a glance down at my small children, followed by a capitalized Oh as they see the desperation and somewhat manic smile on my face for what it is.
The first weeks and months in a new place always has its challenges. We are slowly starting to find our way. I got my first haircut (a nerve racking experience as she cut off about 6 inches, and we had no common language. I found a school for the boys. I have taken a few taxis. Most importantly for any expat mom, I have made two friends that make me anticipate these three years before us with a grateful heart. Unfortunately, I still don’t speak Spanish.
I started the Abundant Mama Project this week, and it is exactly the right time for it. The assignments this week has been about gratitude. The children are fighting? The house is a mess? Find the beauty there. My motto, tagline, and personal mission has always been just that: find beauty, find truth, find meaningful work. It is everywhere. It is in the hotel room we are so done with, it is in the children playing with their toys everywhere – on the sofa, the beds, the floor, sitting in the windows. It is in the pictures slowly accumulating on my drives. Beauty is everywhere.
I’m going to hit publish on a few drafts – we have been exploring a bit, and I’d love to show you my new city.
PS: I have started a 365 photo project. If you want to follow along, you can see it at http://365project.org/vitalmommy/365.
This January, I have blogged in this space for 3 years. My life has changed so much – I had one baby, a full time job with lots of traveling, and lived in the Washington DC area. Since then, we had another boy, my husband joined the foreign service, and I stopped working full time (some days I think by choice, some days not.)
My original goal for this blog was to talk about all the things that were vital, as in life sustaining, necessary… well, vital. As moms we balance so many roles – working, mothering, wife-ing, housekeeping, writing, running, creating, cooking, cleaning, managing finances, traveling… For me, the list is very long, and I like it that way. I did not become one dimensional just because I had a child or two. That said, I firmly believe that while you can have it all, you cannot have it all at once.
I have made the obvious sacrifices. To fit in as much as possible, I gave up TV years ago. I don’t get as much sleep as I should, I read less than I’d like, and I multitask whenever it is productive (audio books while ironing, yes. Paying bills while playing with the kids, no. )
I still want to highlight what I think is most vital to be the best mom, wife, and woman I can be. In that way, this blog has not changed. However, what I think is vital has changed significantly. What is vital is to be fully alive, engaged, and present today. Vital, in the sense of vitality. What is vital, in the sense of necessary, is time spent learning, growing, being still, being heard, with friends, alone, and creating.
Creativity fuels us, links us to our deepest selves, and is not optional. Whether it is creativity in negotiating a solution to a need, creativity in putting dinner on the table, creativity in an art journal, in sewing, in recording our kids’ lives, or our own. We need to create, we need to see something we made. Creativity seems to be an vital part of the human experience. I will continue to highlight opportunities for creativity here, just in case one person could be inspired to find more space for a creative life for themselves.
Because of our foreign service life, another part of my life has become vital – learning about places and people. (Oh, and spanish. My nemesis, spanish.) I will continue to write about the people and places we encounter, and lessons learned along the way. I hope it will provide some insight for those who follow the same path, or an opportunity to live vicariously for those who don’t.
2014 will be busy – we are in a new city where I’d love to do more exploring, and I plan to get back to many things that were impossible with tiny little guys around – running, sewing, cooking more than mac and cheese. You know, normal life. Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.
Happy 2014 friends.
In my mind, 2013 will always be known as the year of upheaval and displacement. We lived in four homes this year, downsized from a large apartment in Cairo to a small apartment in Arlington with only what we brought in our luggage, and then downsized some more into a hotel room in Lima, still with only what fit in our luggage. We did some things right, we did some things wrong. This is what is vital.
Move in right away: No matter how long you’ll live somewhere, unpack the boxes (or the suitcases) put up pictures, bring out some cloth napkins, stick the kids’ artwork on the refrigerator. Do whatever you need to do to make it feel like home. I’m a huge fan of those fathead type stick-on things. You can personalize a space, especially for the kids, in minutes, and take it all down and take it with you to the next spot.
Know what you have: Take an inventory of your belongings and update it every single time you toss something or bring something new home. If you lose everything and have to claim insurance you must know what you had. In our case, our apartment was packed in our absence. Many people had access to our belongings and by the time it all gets here, it will be 8 to 9 months since I last saw it. Will I know if something is missing? Only if it is on the pictures we took, or the list I didn’t update as frequently as I should have. There is another reason to do this. Our movers claimed we were over our weight allowance. While I find that hard to believe (I decluttered like a madwoman in Cairo, we didn’t buy very much, plus we used plenty of the consumables we took with us), I can’t argue when I’m not there and don’t have updated records. It’s costing us $2000 in additional moving expenses.
Kindle and iTunes: I used to think my Kindle was a nice diversion, but could never replace my favorite books. You cannot take your entire library with you if you have paper books. You cannot pack all your CDs in your luggage. But my Kindle and my iPod came, all of it is backed up online, and just like that I have access to my favorite books and music which makes me feel much more at home anywhere in the world. Besides, books and CDs weigh a TON – see above.
Emergency fund: We were really diligent about saving my last few paychecks since I didn’t know when or if I would start working again. I got a job right away, but it didn’t start for several months, and then we were evacuated, and I never started at all. Evacuation is very expensive. It cost thousands of dollars to care for and move pets, pay household help you are no longer using (after all, its not their fault you are out of the country.) We chose our health insurance based on being overseas and it turned out to be an awful plan for being stateside. Small necessities add up – a vegetable peeler, sharp knife, a larger cutting board, a cheese grater, a steamer basket, bath mats and non-slip mats, childproofing locks and latches, command hooks to hang and organize our things in a very small space. Not to mention all the duplicate items: winter clothes, a double stroller. I even had to buy duplicate christmas presents for the kids as everything I diligently purchased early is in a shipment somewhere on the ocean. There are allowances to help with some of these things, but no matter how frugal you are, you will need reserves.
Learn when to say yes. Learn when to say no. My biggest lesson this year was to accept help. I even asked for support, and it made a huge difference. A desperate Facebook message had friends and family from everywhere reaching out immediately. Even if they can only say they are thinking of you – say yes to that. Say yes to opportunities to see and do and learn. Say no to over scheduling. Say yes to quiet time spent outside. Always yes to more time with friends. Always no to pressure to be what you are not.
Don’t take anything for granted: Not people, not opportunities. We made amazing friends in Cairo. In fact, I was at a party with many of them when we got the call that we would be leaving in two hours. I would love another cup of coffee with those friends. I’ve written elsewhere about the opportunities I missed in Egypt. It will not happen to me here. I have a list, and I’m checking it frequently.
Know what’s vital: It’s not the stuff. It’s not the place. It’s not “home” however you define it. All you can really take along are the lessons you learned, the experiences you had, and the love you shared. My family is safe, and we are all together. That is what’s vital.