Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mama Meditation: Running on Emotional Empty

When the advice "Sleep when your baby sleeps," was passed on to me as a new mama, I could not imagine that same wisdom would still apply when my daughter was seven. Those days were overflowing with physical exhaustion. Middle of the night feedings; early mornings getting two people ready for the day; the awkward carrying and lifting of a car seat into the ill-fitting back seat. There were never enough naps for me to catch up on the sleep I lost.

My baby buckles her own seat belt now. My body isn't taxed the same way--except perhaps on the three-mile hilly bicycle rides I take with this baby-turned-almost-second-grader. My brain is what needs the breaks these days. I'm getting a taste of what my chatter-box tendencies were like for my parents. Ugh. Incessant questions, directions on what we're going to pretend and what part Mom is to play. Tonight I asked that we all not speak for five minutes. I just couldn't take any more input and remain kind and patient.

My energizer bunny has conked out on the "couch bed" in my room. I love watching her sleep now as much as I did when she was an infant. There is a peace in her gentle audible exhalations. There is peace in the quiet. There is peace in uninterrupted moments. It's like a treat found at the bottom of a cereal box when I am awake after my daughter has fallen asleep.

There is a strong temptation to jam in a ton of house work now that I have this free time. There is never an end to the work I could be, dare I say, should be accomplishing. But tonight, I'm updating the adage to better fit the stage I'm in. "Keep your activity level low and restful when your grade schooler collapses at the end of the day, ahead of when you expected." The dishes can wait. So can the laundry. The house work looms large when I'm running on empty.

The same chores are a moving meditation when my tank is full. I'm filling up on writing, listening to music and reading a great book. These activities ease the tension between working and resting. How do you fill your tank?

Rest easy, mamas. Sleep tight, too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rejection #2

I meant it when I said it: submitting this brief reflection to Literary Mama Magazine online was a win-win proposition. I'd either be selected and would be able to add Literary Mama to my writer's bio, or I'd have something to blog about here.

Essay specs:
Write about your resistance to and need for rest as a mama writer
800-1200 words
Due February 3, 2014

A brief bio was also requested, so this is what I proffered:

Julie Mahoney is a Midwestern mama who carves out writing time in the midst of full-time work, motherhood, and restful episodes by writing at her blog www.300rejections.blogspot.com and filling her 18th journal.

I'm pleased to now present, Rejection #2:

The house I grew up in could have been featured in a magazine. My mother lovingly decorated with wallpaper and hardwood trim, and she made an art of keeping it organized and orderly. This home, the place she worked each day, helped to define her. Keeping it clean and ordered was her occupation. She was the queen of efficiency and multi-tasking. The bathroom counters were spotless. The kitchen sink was always empty. The beds were made daily. I cannot remember my mom doing the work. My own occupation was to play “school” and “grocery store” in the unfinished basement, so I had little appreciation for the hard work that it took to maintain the sparkle and order. What I remember is her always being busy. When her favorite soap opera was on television, she folded laundry as she watched. Her only down time came in the evenings. Snuggled under a blanket, drowsy as we watched Matlock and asleep by the mystery's conclusion.

I am a different mother. My work days are spent outside the home seated at a desk and writing words on behalf of a medical executive. My housekeeping is accomplished as my mood and energy levels allow. When an energetic spurt strikes, I knock out half a day's worth of house work in 90 minutes. I set the timer, and race against the clock. Or I catch up on DVR'd television, and make commercial breaks productive. But when another mood strikes, I sit and read and let the dishes wait until my mood shifts again. My daughter, Cadence, and I play “hotel” when the sheets need to be changed. We play “cooking show” when it's time to cook and clean the kitchen. Just the other day, she started playing “store” as she folded the family's laundry and sold the clothes to her customers. She bolted up the stairs weighed down with freshly folded towels, “Mama, my arms are full! Please open the closet door for me!” I met her at the door and helped her place her work on the shelves. The towels' corners didn't match, but I appreciated her efforts and put the towels in the closet just as they were. With more play and practice, her corners will come together one day.

The time I spend at home not making my house sparkle is dusted with guilt. If there is housework to be done, it must come before fun or rest. This is one of the unspoken messages I took with me into adulthood. But as a Gen X mother, I have also been introduced to the ideas of living in the moment, being present for my daughter, and balancing the needs of my child, my employer, and my washing machine. These messages resonate with me better than they likely do for my mother. This is why I seem to be a lazy undisciplined housekeeper. I convinced myself that good moms get their work done first. But then, when is a mom's work done? Unlike my mother, I am so easily overwhelmed by the fact that there's really never an end to the housework. The mental fatigue of a long day in the office coupled with the mess of daily life at home can render me paralyzed with exhaustion. And yet, the guilt doesn't keep me from doing the things I love: reading, journaling, and playing with my daughter. But it absolutely robs me of feeling relaxed as I do these leisurely activities. The voice quietly reprimands. “You know you should do the house work before you do anything else.” “Reading should come after the dishes, not before.” “What kind of example are you setting for your daughter?”

What I hope I am teaching my daughter is that living in a messy house is not ideal, but neither is all work and no play or no rest. I hope I'm teaching her that keeping house is important, but isn't the only thing. I hope she catches on that tidying up our living space can be a meditation, even a joy. I also want her to grasp that it takes energy to keep a house neat and tidy. I want the unspoken message she takes with her into her own adulthood to be that I trust her to do what she wants and needs on her own time line. I'm working really hard at showing her an example of a woman who spends her energy wisely and understands that burning a wick at both ends serves no one.