Recalibration

Family, Mornings, Motherhood, Parenthood, Working Mom

After the relentless five-day grind of the work week, I fall into my Saturdays like a warm down comforter. It exists as this glorious standalone entity – the laborious days before it seems to dissolve into oblivion and I pay no mind to Sunday. For Sunday is the day before Monday, and therefore is the most foreboding of all the days. And so, Saturdays are sacred.

For some people, Saturdays are about laughs with friends, concerts, rock climbing, and water sports — at least that’s what I’ve gathered from every beer commercial I’ve ever seen. And then there are others who spend Saturday eating things off toothpicks at Costco or pulling weeds from the cracks in the driveways of their starter homes. But for me, Saturday falls somewhere between jet skis and Costco meatballs. It’s about slowing down, clearing the to-do list, and recalibrating my lens.

All week, I am rushing, rushing, rushing – to work, to rehearsal, to an endless barrage of red lights and road construction during rush hour. And as I rush around, my children slowly become myopic figures in a picture of cluttered obligations. On Saturday, when my kids storm my bedroom at sunrise, I rub the sleep from my eyes and watch their faces sharpen while the rest of the world blurs in their wake. There are no conference calls or deadlines to steal my attention on Saturday.

On those Saturdays in which I’m feeling particularly fresh and maternal, I’ll commit to taking the kids to the park. “Who wants to go to the playground?” I exclaimed in my SUV one such Saturday, watching the kids’ faces light up in the rearview mirror. The words escaped my lips before I considered warmer alternatives like, “Who wants to lie on the couch and watch Mind of a Chef all afternoon?” It was February in Chicago, so the ground was frozen solid and the wind had a substantial bite to it. Of course, to children, this is of no consequence; their warm blood makes them tiny little space heaters that can play tag in below-freezing temperatures for a very long time before suddenly realizing that Midwestern winters actually suck.

We parked at the playground and I was very happy to see the place empty. It’s not that I’m anti-social, it’s just that while I’m recalibrating my life lens, I don’t want to have to passive aggressively correct someone else’s kid when they try climbing up the slide while my kid is sliding down. Like, don’t be a snot-nosed tyrant when I’m trying to harness my chi, you know? So there we were in this empty park, the sky a bright, saturated blue, the trees bare and cold-looking, my two in-focus children giggling on the swing set as I took snapped photos.

This is what being a parent is all about, I thought to myself. A whimsical weekend with the kids, making it count. This was work-life balance and I was nailing it.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car pull into the parking lot. Shit, I thought. Other people. Now I can’t take a “Having fun with the kids!” selfie without looking like an idiot. It was a minivan with a variety of school bumper stickers adorning its rear window. Surely it would be packed to the gills with kids, cold and flu strains, and a couple of dogs. Instead, only a woman in her 30s slid out. She had the Suburban Mom aesthetic down – brassy blonde hair with smidge of dark roots grown in. Her skinny jeans were tucked into UGGs and she held a Starbucks cup identical to the one in my hand. She grabbed her coat from the backseat, which I saw filled with empty booster seats. I waited for the dogs – maybe she was taking them for a walk on the nature trail – but she slid the door shut and walked over to a nearby bench alone.

“Push me, Mommy!” my daughter yelled from her swing. I kept the woman in the corner of my eye as I gave the kids another push. Who voluntarily sits in nature if they don’t have their kids or dogs along to frolic in the winter air, I thought. That’s not whimsical. That’s just weird. Then, I watched her pull out a pack of cigarettes and smack them into her palm. She drew out one, placed it between her lips, and lit it with a match. Entranced, I watched her inhale deeply, close her eyes, and blow the smoke into the same golden sunlight that was blanketing our day of family fun.

Here we were, two women sitting 50 feet from one another in the quiet epicenter of the suburban sprawl. On the surface, we appeared to be doing two completely opposite things. But, as I sat there watching her smoke that cigarette with the same determined focus as that of an artist painting her masterpiece, it occurred to me that we were doing the same thing.

Recalibrating.

While my grueling work week tried its damnedest to relegate my family to fuzzy background of my mind’s eye, perhaps her days of car lines, dinner prep, and field trips had done the same – but in her case, maybe it was she who had become a blur. And isn’t that the perpetual cycle of parenthood? A tricky balance between the needs of self and the needs of everything (and everyone) else? Most days it’s a constant exercise in zooming in and zooming out, and every once in a while – if only for 15 minutes – it all lines up.  Sometimes it takes a Saturday trip to the park, and sometimes it takes a secret pack of Marlboros.  In the end, though, we’re all just trying to make it work.

As my swing-pushing hands grew cold and the kids’ teeth began to chatter, we began the slow trudge back to the car. Their whiny protests echoed off the trees as I buckled them into their car seats, and I felt my shoulders tense in anticipation of the cranky drive ahead. As I walked back around to the driver side, I exchanged passing glances with the woman before she got into her van. We drove off in opposite directions, headed to the same place.

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Razor Burn is the New Pilates

Mornings, Self-Help, Working Mom

Routine-01

At the turn of the 21st century, Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was the self-help go-to for middle class dreamers on the brink of greatness. Be proactive. Begin with the end in mind. Put first things first. There are four more habits, but I’m a Millennial, so I don’t have the tenacity to get through all seven for you right now. (Actually, Mr. Covey later tagged on a staggering eighth habit, God love him.) And though 7 Habits maintains its status in the American self-help lexicon, the Age of Oversharing has transitioned the motivation business from paper pages to the sumptuous feeds of Pinterest and Instagram. Hence the birth of today’s topic: The Morning Routine.

The glamorous love child of Stephen R. Covey and Gwyneth Paltrow, the morning routine is one of the most popular features in women’s publications right now, alongside “How To Be Skinny Like The French” (steady diet of cigarettes) and “Which Doe-Eyed Caucasian Actress is Our New BFF?” (hint: she’s probably tripping on a red carpet somewhere). It is designed to show young professionals how establishing an optimal weekday morning regimen can lead to sexy jobs in tech PR or museum curation. There are whole websites devoted to it. If you scroll through any number of morning routine profiles, you’ll see a number of common themes emerge: sunrise Pilates, overnight oats, artisanal coffee, and lots of time answering important emails on mobile devices while en route to New York Fashion Week.

Themes that I noted as demonstrably absent: children, plumbing emergencies, traffic jams.

Which is why I present to you, young urban professionals: My Morning Routine.

I start my day hitting the snooze button on my annoying Tibetan peace chime phone alarm approximately six times over the course of an hour. Maybe monks find those twinkling bells to be peaceful, but I find them nagging at best. I doze off and then jerk awake every single snooze session, each time thinking for a moment that it’s Friday, but sadly this is only the case 1/5 of the time. On the seventh snooze alert, I force myself up from the puddle of drool and the mound of legs and arms infringing on my personal space. My daughter prefers sleeping in our bed, where she magically expands her dimensions to ten times greater than in her waking hours. It’s truly remarkable. Ever slept with a child’s foot resting on your cheek? It’s almost like the foot is ergonomically designed to be affixed to a face. I’m usually too tired to move it, so that’s how I sleep now.

I slink past my desk, upon which workout clothes are laid out with the intention of being utilized for a morning jog, but instead will silently mock me as my ankle joints crack their way down the upstairs hallway. “I’ll workout tomorrow morning,” I lie to myself. I’m usually pretty self-aware but as far as fitness goes, I’m in total denial. As if putting a FitBit and an overpriced sports bottle in my Amazon cart is an act of wellness.

As I pass my one-year-old’s room, my arthritic gait slows to a tiptoe, so as to avoid waking him prematurely. This attempt fails every morning because all houses have an obnoxiously creaky floorboard installed directly in front of every room where a temperamental baby sleeps. “MAAAAAAA,” I hear him yell as he throws a rubber dinosaur against the door. I pretend not to hear and lock myself bathroom so my husband has to get up and go change the first shitty diaper of the day. Full disclosure: I’m an awful wife and mother during this morning routine.

I shower, shaving my legs clumsily like a zombie wielding its own severed hand. I don’t know about you guys, but shaving is really hit-or-miss for me. Some days, my legs will turn out all smooth like an Aveeno commercial, and satin curtains will swirl around me as I step out of the shower. Other days, it’ll be exactly like scraping a gravel pit with a rusty rake engulfed in flames. When my legs look like I waded through a briar patch, I’ll typically have a dress laid out. I’ll slather some Victoria’s Secret lotion on my legs, like adding perfume to the razor burn is going to make me look like Miranda Kerr, not like a person who just rolled around in a fire ant mound.

I throw on some makeup and blow dry my hair in a still-humid bathroom, which is a surefire way to make yourself looking like Tammy Faye Bakker in a rainstorm. The damn bathroom exhaust fan has one job to do and fails every time. Sure, I could open the door and let the humidity out, but then my kids would come into the bathroom, and then I wouldn’t be the awful mom selfishly hiding from her family.

I always plan to leave the house around 7:30 but it always turns into 8:30. I have no idea what I do with that extra hour — probably digging through laundry baskets of wrinkled clothes to find an outfit my daughter can wear to Hawaiian Day at school. How did I miss that it was Hawaiian Day today? Why is it Hawaiian Day? Do most 6-year-old girls have Tommy Bahama button-ups hanging up in their closets? Do most 6-year-olds have clothes actually hanging in their closets, period? We have neither, which is why I am digging through a basket of wrinkled clothes, yelling “WHERE IS THAT SHIRT WITH THE PONY WITH THE FLOWERS IN ITS HAIR?” That’s not Hawaiian, she’ll say to me, disappointed. How do she know what Hawaiian apparel looks like? We’ve never been there because I use my vacation days to get my oil changed.

Routine-02

When I was younger, I would make coffee at home and take it with me to work in a cute monogrammed travel mug. I would pat myself on the back for being so proactive. Hey! That’s one of the Covey’s habits. I was so highly effective when I was 23. Saving the environment, saving my bank account, saving time. Now I spend roughly $10,000 a year in drive-thru Starbucks purchases, and I haven’t even bothered to get the Starbucks rewards card that everyone else seems to have loaded up on their smartphones, waving it at the cashier out the windows of their Audi SUVs.  All the other stores are so pushy with their rewards cards, but not Starbucks. No one has offered it to me, and it makes me self-conscious. Is it because I don’t have an Audi? Well, one day I will have an Audi, and that barista with the ironic bowtie will say things like “The usual?” when I roll up to the drive-thru and I’ll laugh and say, “Make it a double” and he’ll wink as he scans my phone. This is how it goes for the cars in front me every morning, I’m sure of it. Jerks.

I’ll finally make it to the office, right around the time that I start hyperventilating over the fiery inferno that is surely burning in my Microsoft Outlook inbox. I’ll step out of my non-Audi, trying so hard to sashay up the walkway like Meryl Streep in beginning of The Devil Wears Prada  – only Meryl is wearing, well, Prada, and I’m wearing T.J. Maxx platform wedges that my mom endearingly refers to as “Frankenstein Clompers.” Half the time, I trip on some invisible wayward twig, rolling my ankle and spilling my coffee. I suspect the front desk has an entire folder of Rachel Falling footage that they break out during security guard onboarding and holiday parties.

Once I make it to my desk on the 3rd floor, physically battered and emotionally defeated, I’ll dial into back-to-back conference calls for the balance of the morning, exploring with my colleagues ways to maximize ROI as I simultaneously dream of getting home to play with my kids, drink a couple glasses of wine, and fall asleep on the couch. Hey, that’s one of Covey’s habits. Begin with the end in mind. I may not do yoga, eat almond butter, or get invited to runway shows, but I’m alive, awake, and doing my best. I think even Gwyneth would raise a kale flax seed smoothie to that.

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Illustrations by Kelly Riker