Marie Kondo folding clothesSomewhere along the line, women’s perspectives got majorly messed up. I’m not naming names (Sheryl Sandberg, Marie Kondo), but somehow we have absorbed the barrage of information and opinions coming at us and emerged with the idea that all successful women are killing it at Fortune 500 companies and folding their thongs. (Seriously! There’s a how-to video about it.) And also making adorable, creative treats for school parties. (Bear with me.)

It was the thong-folding and the treat-making that finally cut through my cluttered brain and gave me a perspective check. I know, I know: it’s impossible to have it all, or all at the same time, anyway. Who even wants to? It sounds exhausting. No one really does it all, all by herself. Work/life balance, blah, blah, blah …

I know all this. And still, I find myself consumed with shame when a contractor shows up at the house unexpectedly and I have to kick laundry piles and Lego towers out of the way to clear his path to the hot water heater.

Still, I feel guilty about not volunteering more at the kids’ school since I “only” work part time.

Still, I fumble for an explanation when my kids ask why WE can’t go to Disneyworld for spring break too, like so-and-so’s family who also went skiing over Christmas break. ($$$?!)

I know we all make different choices and have different priorities and all want the best for our families. And yet, it was still a wake-up call when I heard Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft discussing these matters on their podcast recently.

Quick aside here to say that I am a recent podcast convert. For years I thought, “Who has the time?” Then I realized that podcasts are, in fact, the perfect use of my time since I can listen to them when I want, like on the treadmill, before bed, or waiting for my kids at the bus stop. Now, I’m obsessed. I have about 4 or 5 that I listen to regularly, and several others if the topic interests me.

Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast is one of the more practical ones I listen to. In case you don’t recognize her name, she’s the author of The Happiness Project and a new book on habits, Better Than Before, among other nonfiction books. She’s very sensible and down-to-earth, as opposed to many of the other “woo-woo” spiritual, self-helpy podcasts I listen to where chanting and crystals are required.

Anyway, Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth fascinate me because they seem to really like each other even though they are polar opposites personality-wise. In this particular episode they discuss competitive parenting, among other things.

Elizabeth talks about how because she’s a working mom, but also because it’s not her thing, she doesn’t bake things for her son’s class. So at a class Halloween party, she sees these adorable treats another parent has made and goes into a shame spiral: “I’m a bad mom, I didn’t make anything, I work too much, etc…” before she checks herself and decides to just enjoy the damn treats. Not everything has to be a competition, or a reflection on your own parenting, the sisters conclude.

This was fascinating to me, because I AM THAT MOM who makes cute treats. Check out these BB-8 cookie pops that I made for my 7yo’s Star Wars birthday party:

Star Wars BB8 cookie pops

It never, ever occurred to me that my cookie pops could instill self-loathing in other parents. If anything, I was worried about them judging me for having too much time on my hands and pushing sugar on their kids!! We moms are so messed up.

In this same episode, Elizabeth and Gretchen also talk about how they tried and abandoned meditation, and how they rarely cook and so they don’t have a need for a recipe organization system. This was also fascinating to me, because I DO meditate and cook and organize my recipes! (On Pinterest, FYI.)

I ROCK! I’M WINNING!! Oh, wait … I mean: how great of them to admit they don’t prioritize certain things, and for me to recognize and give myself credit for those things I DO prioritize and do well. Whew! This deprogramming takes some effort.

It was new for me to listen to two successful, likeable, very different women discussing these topics matter-of-factly. They were not justifying, judging, or defending. They were not falling back on self-deprecating humor. (My default setting. Can’t look like I’m bragging about going to the gym regularly, must joke that I mainly go to read magazines and shower in peace. Also true.) They were simply talking about what works for them and what doesn’t.

Similarly, I adored this post by the Lazy Genius Collective on “The Magical Key to Doing it All.” Hint: you don’t. You define YOUR “all.” In this case, she has just 6 items on her list.

My list includes:

Exercising 4 to 5 times a week because I always have and it makes me feel better.

Eating nutritious food and cooking healthy meals for my family most nights. (I am resisting making a self-deprecating comment about their reactions to my cooking.)

Getting 8 hours of sleep a night, and doing my best to ensure my kids get enough sleep, too.

Building downtime into our schedule. This means not signing up my kids for too many activities and not accepting every social invitation. This sometimes results in boredom and sibling squabbles, but that leads me to …

Creative pursuits. It’s been proven that boredom breeds creativity. Having regular downtime allows us to build impromptu igloos with our neighbors, invent board games, make our own spring wreaths, and yes, figure out how to make cute cookie pops. Being creative and making stuff is definitely part of my “doing it all.”

Spring wreath featuring plastic eggs and yellow chicks

What’s not: I do not care much about spend much time cleaning. I am not good at doing my hair, returning phone calls, helping my kids with their homework, or keeping up with the laundry. I don’t fold thongs; I try never to wear them.

I care a little about home décor but you would not know it to look at my house. I care a little about fashion and not at all about nail art. I would rather go to a park or an art exhibit or out for coffee than garden or watch a movie or make a scrapbook.

There are some things I wish I cared about more (having a clean house and a garden), but not enough to spend the necessary time on them. On the plus side, I rarely complain about not having enough hours in the day because I mostly spend them doing the 5 or 6 things that are most important to me.

What about you? What do you make time for in your life, and what do you intentionally avoid or not worry about? Help give me some perspective, please. :)


I’m Breaking Up With Winter

by Abby on February 16, 2016

Winter and I do not get along. Oh, it starts out promisingly, like a new relationship. Those first fleeting flakes, glistening romantically against the evergreens. The cozy fires and hot chocolate. The sledding and impromptu get-togethers with neighbors and friends. It’s invigorating. A break from the routine.

SleddingBut then things start to decline. One snow day off from school and work turns into 7, and suddenly that spontaneous thrill starts to feel a lot like an unreliable, unpredictable scheduling nightmare. Will we have soccer practice or not? Will the recycling get picked up or not? Should I line up a sitter or not? Will I ever meet a deadline or make a lunch date again?!

Stop messing with me, Winter. I have better things to do than wait around to see what you’ll do today and cater to your every whim, you know. It’s just selfish. And your fluffy white flakes? Not so pretty when they’re clumped in dirty piles by the side of the road where dogs pee on them. And not that romantic, either. Where’s the appeal of throwing out your back and slipping on a patch of ice?

The heating bills continue to climb as my patience and sanity continue to dip. I have spent a fortune on indoor play places and takeout. Who wants to cook dinner when you’re in the kitchen all the livelong day, serving meal after meal, snack after snack? And the dishes… Oh lord, the dishes. Never. End. Get a job, Winter! Do your part. I’m not your Sugar Mama.

At first, it’s fun to have endless play dates and drop-ins and stop by other people’s houses on a random weekday. But then it starts to feel like a chore. Clean the house AGAIN? What for, it’ll only get dirty again in 30 min. Get dressed and put on makeup? Why bother? No one sees me but my kids since I’m swaddled up to the eyeballs in cold-weather gear anytime I step foot outside my house. And what’s even the point of going anywhere? It’s freezing and the roads are treacherous.

trees covered in ice

Why do I have to make all the effort, Winter? What are you bringing to the table? Besides your frosty windowpanes (read: sky-high electric bill) and glittering icicles which, come to think of it, look like giant daggers that could fall and STAB and KILL YOU at any moment!! What’s THAT about? I can’t believe I was ever into you, Winter. We are breaking up. For GOOD. Starting NOW. Do you hear me?! Just stop with the wailing gusts of subzero wind, OK? Save that drama for your mama. ’Cause I am OUT.

Like the worst ex-boyfriend ever, Winter overstays its welcome. Every year. We could’ve gone out on a high note, with the soft snowdrifts and crackling fire. But no. As we speak, the skies are unleashing a torrent of icy sludge on the barren, brown, water-logged ground below. Get away from me, Winter, you disgust me. It’s not me, it’s YOU. Buh-bye. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. No, I won’t. I’ve got something new on the horizon, and I cannot WAIT. It is SO much better than you, you can’t even imagine. It’s called Spring. And it’s coming. Any day now. You’ll see.

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The Blizzard of 2016 in Emojis

January 27, 2016

You may have heard we got some snow here in the Baltimore area. Up to 30 inches, to be precise. But on Friday when they cancelled school I was confused. Because there wasn’t any snow. Yet. So I cleaned my house and invited the neighbors over. Fun! By Friday evening the snow was falling fast, and […]

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‘You Might as Well Dance’

January 14, 2016
Thumbnail image for ‘You Might as Well Dance’

My last living grandparent passed away last weekend, just a couple of weeks after he celebrated his 103rd birthday. I’ve written about my grandfather before. He was a great storyteller. One of my favorites was about the time he ran away from summer camp and supported his solo adventures by entering and winning dance contests. His […]

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A Book for Creative Types Who Believe in Magic

January 6, 2016

I don’t buy many hardback books, let alone the week they come out, not because I don’t like to support authors but mostly because my shelf-space is already overcrowded with the entire Captain Underpants series and a perplexing number of nonfiction books about LEGOs. And also, because I don’t usually re-read books after I’ve read […]

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My Year of Saying Yes

December 29, 2015

Typically, women are told we need to learn how to say no. We do too much, take on too many things. We feel guilty if we don’t, and resentful when we do. Having just run through the holiday party/cookie exchange/teacher gift/charity giving gauntlet, I can certainly understand the importance of saying no. It’s just SO […]

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What’s Your Holiday Face Look Like?

December 14, 2015

Sure, sure, the holidays are the happiest time of the year. For SOME of us, anyway. I mean, when you’re a kid, what’s not to like? There’s candy! And cookies! And presents! Who cares about cavities or credit card bills when you’re a kid? Also, all the presents you ask Santa for are FREE, didn’t […]

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A Thanksgiving to Remember

November 30, 2015

“We’re going to South Carolina for Thanksgiving!” I announced to my surprised but willing family. I’d caught wind that some relatives were gathering at my cousin’s house in Greenville, where he’d recently moved. I hadn’t seen him since his wedding. I thought, “Hmm, I also have this friend in Charleston… might be fun to get […]

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My Superpower

November 18, 2015

I caught the end of an episode of the new “Supergirl” show on CBS the other night. What captured my interest – besides a female superhero, yay! – was Calista Flockhart, who plays fierce media mogul Cat Grant. Ally McBeal is back on TV! Looking as good as ever at 50, I might add. I […]

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Flu Shots and Other Things I’m Bitter About

November 4, 2015

I opted out of school photos this year. I KNOW. I’m such a rebel! Every year, I get guilted into it, thinking, what kind of mother am I if I don’t participate in this timeless childhood tradition and capture every single one of my little ones’ school years with dozens of identical, retro-looking staged photos? […]

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