I like efficiency. I like quality. In the midst of some mundane household chores, I desperately want my mind to be fed. I fell across a podcast recently that I really love. It's called "Inspired to Action" and the host is Kat Lee-- a Christian mom on a mission to bring out the strength and gifts of other mamas. I've been so encouraged and inspired by all of the guests she's had on. One of her guests is a wise, articulate mother of five named Chrystal Evans Hurst.
Hurst wrote a book called "She's Still There" about the dreams she had pre- or intra-motherhood and how she works to do the things she loves while doing what is required of her. Hurst identifies herself as "an achiever". So do I.
I'm not sure if that simple truth really clicked until she said that's what her StrengthsFinder test revealed. I'm married to a guy who is a passionate achiever, so maybe my own desire for achievement gets overshadowed because Matt's achievement standard is soooo high. But the lowest I've felt in life is when I feel like I'm wasting my time...drifting in and out of days...not actively using my gifts. Not achieving.
Swimming fed my need to achieve for years. I had numerical goals and I knew how close I was to them at all times. Writing doesn't have the same clearcut measure for success, but I've always had writing goals for myself. But how do you know if you're "achieving" in motherhood? Especially when you have an almost 1-year-old (!) who's not yet using her words? She smiles a lot, so I do consider all of those to be achievements. :) But I'm not sure I can take credit for every gap-toothed grin.
I, like most (all?) new moms, was surprised by the time commitment of motherhood. It's not a 9 to 5. Working moms don't stop thinking about their kid as soon as they go to work. No, your baby is still there, in your mind, oft the subject of your worry.
I somehow thought Skylar would fit nicely into my pre-existing work regimen. There are a few reasons why this has not worked:
1. Mobility which comes with an unintentional lust for danger.
I bought a Summer Infant Pop 'n Play to put beside my desk. The PC term is a play yard, but it's really a hexagonal baby cage. I don't think it's quite spacious enough to call a "yard". I assumed I could just stick Skylar in there and write. And I can...for all of 10 minutes. Then she gets bored and wants to explore the house-- something that requires every 10 second check-ins. So, yeah, writing time while Sky is awake is very limited.
2. I don't want to miss a thing.
Skylar changes every day. And I love watching my baby gain stability and independence. I love watching her wave. Or give hugs and kisses to her stuffed animals. Or chase the dogs (or robo-vac) around, thinking that one of these days she'll be fast enough to catch them. I don't need to be constantly playing with her, but I do love observing her.
3. Just priorities.
I used to go insane if I had more than one day out of the pool/gym. I've always believed I'm a better human being when I get to exercise. But the definition of "exercise" has morphed drastically in the last five years. It used to mean four to five hours per day of swimming, running or lifting. Even after retiring from my swimming career, I was an exerciseaholic. Swimming year-round for 15 years will do that to you. I now go on morning walks with Skylar and the pups and am content calling that my exercise many days. When I'm particularly motivated, I'll use some precious Skylar nap time to lift free weights in our living room. (Update: we just got a Peloton bike and I've ridden it nine days in a row [queue the "Bueller's been absent NINE times" voice]. I understand the Peloton craze now.)
Before the baby was my alarm clock, I'd rise "early" (7 a.m.) and get cracking on emails. I liked to knock off as much work as possible in the mornings. I've read recommendations not to start your day with emails but that never made sense to me. My mind was fresh. I was operating efficiently with my dear friend Coffee. I got 'er done.
Now...I wake up to my sweet snookems (Skylar), nurse her, play with her, feed her breakfast, then go on a walk. Emails might be hastily checked on my phone, but I'm not firing through my to-do list like I used to. And that's OK.
One thing Hurst says in her book is you don't need the answer, you just need an answer. I've realized my mom role is a dominating one in this season of life. Does that mean I don't need to exercise or write or tend to any of the gifts I feel God has given me beyond nurturing my child? No. Can I write a book right now? Probably not. Can I practice writing every day? Sure. Not with a 1800-word feature story each day, but with a brief journal entry before I go to sleep. Or a blog every three (?) months (...I'm always aspiring to be a weekly blogger). If I ever learn to wake up before Skylar, that can happen (reminds me of another good Kat Lee podcast-- Hello Mornings). *P.S. I write three to five stories each month for Swimming World Magazine. So, go ahead and subscribe. I don't care if you don't care about swimming. :D
I look back at all my mom did in awe. She never hired anyone to clean the house. She taught art and a Sunday school class. She was constantly redecorating our house and hand-making people gifts (useful handmade gifts! They do exist!). She made us every meal. She wasn't an exerciseaholic, but she was perpetually moving every day of her mothering life. She's always sketched floor plans/home renovations for fun. My mom worked really hard at being a stellar mama and did a lot on the side to nurture the creative nooks of her brain.
So yes, motherhood is a ton of self sacrifice, but I don't think God ever intended us to lose ourselves in motherhood. I want to strive to be like my mom. To be there for my husband and my kids, but to somehow find time to develop my other gifts. I know there's more to that than writing it down, but that's how I started every swim season-- goal sheets.
I'm reading a book called "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron that is all about restoring the blocked artist inside you to be a world-serving force. It can be as flowery as that sentence I just wrote, but the methods Cameron outlines have been proven effective...I hope to employ them if I can find the time.
This Good Book has some solid advice too:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
1 Peter 4:10