Tag: Prioritizing


New Skin

(Can you tell we visited Pisa recently?)

This morning was long awaited. Pencil sets deliberated over, text flurries exchanged with other moms, backpacks arranged and rearranged a dozen times, clothes laid out for a sunrise start. It’s a wonder any of us slept last night.

Even with plenty of time this morning to amble hand in hand to the local bar for breakfast and neighborly hellos, the excitement of new beginnings beat its adrenaline pace in our ears, and Sophie was the first to arrive at preschool. We left her with hugs and a new teacher who understands that nearly-four-year-olds need balloons. My heart still lurched to leave my littlest girl standing uncertainly in an empty classroom, but friends from last year were already trickling into the coat room, and I remembered her brimful happiness at pick-up times past. I remembered to walk out quickly.

One building over, I waited with Natalie, my ever-amazing firstborn who was suddenly small again under her pink backpack as her first school bell rang. There was a bit of a stampede, a noisy orientation, some half-distracted kisses, and then one glimpse through a crowded doorway of my girl sitting bright-eyed next to her best friend, expectant. I didn’t try to get her attention.

The girls’ excitement and internal rush have blazed out, and now it’s my long-awaited Monday morning. I kept my work schedule clear today so I could dive into the full potential of undisturbed time, but the sinking weight of my short Hope To Do list tells me that I need this time for adjusting instead. So much adjusting these days. I love new experiences, growth, and positive change, but I’m as quick to adapt as a faulty chameleon hand-dying new skin.

In light of this unsettled emptiness while I wait for my new skin to be ready, I’m boiling today’s Hope To Do list down to the following:
1) Be present for my girls when I pick them up in a few hours.

None of my goals for the day are worthier than helping make their adjustment a happy one, and who knows? Perhaps a single clear focus is just what I need to smooth the way for my own transition into the school year.



Autumn has taken over the evening shift for the last week, slipping into the dusk while I teach and then gusting the scent of dry leaves across my headlights as I steer home. The girls go back to school in three days. For better or worse, this summer has packed its bags, and oh I haven’t finished editing our photos from June, and oh my inbox is breathing Darth Vader-style down my neck, and oh there are so many fall courses to schedule and prepare, and details are beginning to riot, and the waves of time I glimpsed shimmering into distant horizons have evaporated, and it’s suddenly September, and how can it be September, and will the seasons ever, ever line up gently with the timeposts in my head?

Basta, as we say in Italian. Enough. Because as behind as I may feel at… well, basically everything, I really just want to sit down and tell you about our epic summer camping trip and pen a few letters and read myself hoarse with the girls, and I am sick of letting responsibility dictate my every breath.

I’ve been listening to a book which talks about letting small, bad things happen so we can achieve big, good goals. This particular wording has penetrated a part of my mind that endless priority evaluations haven’t been able to dent, perhaps because it acknowledges that focusing on what I want to do will create problems and that they will suck. This rather baleful assurance is the realistic coating which helps me to swallow the truth: that I need to start operating very differently than I do now.

I am both hard-wired and programmed to take responsibilities life-and-death seriously, which explains why it can take me days to pack for an overnight trip. I’m a good little automaton, following whatever marching orders my mind conjures and then worrying endlessly when I can’t keep up with them all (see: most of this blog to date). It will come as a surprise to no one that this does not improve our quality of life. When I look around the carefully labeled mess of my days, I see small, good things necessitating big, bad ones on repeat x infinity. For example, I get up in the morning and immediately start tackling to-dos rather than charging my batteries with some much-needed soul attention. I start dinner on time instead of committing a sudden burst of inspiration to paper. I help the girls clean up rather than play with their toys. I say yes to every job that comes my way and subsequently miss weeks of family evenings. I keep house instead of finishing my book, organize files instead of connecting with friends, and pile so much pressure on myself that I can no longer unwind at the end of each day. This is my routine, my parasitic pace, and how the hell can I stay so loyal to it?

The smug satisfaction of dutiful living does not equal joy.

So enough. Enough trying to find balance; no such thing exists. Enough putting those concerns which suck my soul dry at the top of my priority list. Enough sacrificing my “one wild and precious life” to feed a compulsive busyness disorder. Enough expecting perfection from anyone, including myself. Enough worrying what people will think about the way I choose to live (much, much easier said than done but probably the most liberating decision I could make). Enough grasping at work-beaten paths. Enough wallowing in the future and missing all the beauty in my here and now. Enough worry. Enough envy. Enough minutia. Enough needless stress. Basta.

What “basta” will look like in practical terms, I’m not quite sure yet… only that leaving a dirty kitchen to its own devices in order to unravel this post is a pretty good first step.


Prioritizing for Mummies

Our kitchen sink is piled like the discount bin in a store at which only desperate masochists or alley rats would shop. We have mismatched coffee mugs, pasta bowls stuck together with parmesan, cutting boards clinging to last night’s watermelon seeds, empty olive oil bottles, take your pick! Although I could swear I had it spotless at this time yesterday, the only proof that civilized folks occupy our kitchen is the vase of freshly-picked African daisies… sitting cheerfully in a pile of crumbs.

Shall we move on to the living room? Here, you can find the ruins of several Lego empires, dismantled by four children in the space of an hour and arranged strategically so as to be tread on by bare feet when least expected. While removing plastic palm branches from your soles, you can observe my mending pile which is second only to my ironing pile, the abstract art that is our formerly beige rug*, and what’s that? You need a tissue? We have one in every nook and cranny of the room for your convenience, and most of them are only slightly used!

* For the record, beige rugs were never meant for use by children, dinner party guests, or people with feet.

Bolts and nails and who knows what else is scattered on the floor around our bulimic tool box in the utility room—the same room that mysteriously accumulates bird poop and produces spiders the exact size of my fleeing dignity. Every single toy with the ability to hold water or to stir water or to be dunked in water without electrocuting anyone is drip-drying above the tub in our bathroom. Papers waiting to be sorted into overcrowded filing cabinets are covering every sit-able surface in our bedroom. Dust bunnies are shacking up with cobwebs anywhere they think they can get away with it (which is pretty much everywhere these days).  I’m trying not to think about it.

Of course, trying to block out the din of Messes, Messes Everywhere only makes them squall louder.  The ever-annoying shoulds like to join in too: You should be scrubbing the dishes! In fact, you should have done it already! We shouldn’t even be having this conversation! I’ve always found the shoulds both logical and persuasive (in their ever-annoying way), but I can’t give in to them this afternoon, and here’s why:

My children are napping.

Did that sentence read with the weight of a divine decree? If not, try reading it again. Slower this time, maybe in Morgan Freeman’s voice.

My children are napping. In about half an hour, they will wake up and ask me to snuggle the sleep away and then clamor for shows or snacks while I say no, no, and bluster around getting supper together and changing for work and getting the girls presentable and fed and all three of us out the door on time to pick up their dad so I can hand over parenting duties and win a little bread myself and return home to kiss sweet faces goodnight and then plop down on the nearest available surface. And as the day’s energy slowly ebbs out of my toes, it won’t matter to me whether or not the kitchen is pristine; the dishes will likely survive until morning. I won’t care that our living room has been taken over by Legos; it’s instant playtime for the girls tomorrow. The feral utility room won’t even register; who needs to do laundry anyway?

I’m discovering that at the end of each day, my delusional drive to be June Cleaver evaporates, and the only thing left is a pulsing, present need to be me
a mama who treasures her daughters’ imaginations and sleep-drenched hugs
a wife who loves undistracted time with her husband more than just about anything
a friend who can’t wait to write back, call back, come over
a soul-searcher who meets the sacred in unexpected ways
a writer who feels ridiculous even considering the title but who begins shriveling as a mama, a wife, a friend, and a soul-searcher when she doesn’t allow herself the gift of words—
which is why our kitchen will have to live in a squalor for a little while longer.

My children are napping.




A Clumsy Apology

Hello there, neglected little blog.
Hello there, neglected friends.
Hello there, neglected pages, fingertips, heart.

We’re home from a rather dizzying eight countries in three weeks, and I’m still stumbling around on disoriented feet, tripping over an unpacked suitcase here or there. Not having written in even longer, my sense of direction is totally shot. Everything feels unfamiliar… fingers on the keys, the transference of inklings into ink, even (wince of pain) Facebook.

I’ve had to do more on-the-fly prioritizing the last few months than ever before in my life, and of all the mosaic tiles that make up my days, writing feels the most expendable. Make an appearance in the blogosphere or accept the translation project? Work on my half-finished book or run the weekly errand gamut? Journal or attend the girls’ school dinner? Respond to emails or clean up our natural disaster of a kitchen? Even during our vacation, I made a daily decision against snuggling up with my laptop and instead ventured out to experience new places with my family. I wouldn’t have chosen any other way.

But damned if I don’t miss this.

(This being my neglected little blog, my neglected friendships, the neglected passageways from my heart-tips to my fingertips, and the simple pleasure of snuggling up with my laptop despite the kitchen’s resemblance to Mount St. Helens.)

Please to forgive? And to stick around until I regain my footing again?

P.S. – No time or energy for a birthday list this year… but if I can show up around here a little more often [than my current trend of never], I’ll consider every moment of it a gift. Ribbons optional.



(Un)Excused Absence

Saturday is when I should have clued in.

November had stashed away one last jewel of an afternoon, and it glittered emerald and gold in an unexpected flood of sunlight. Some friends of ours were taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to harvest their olives—another regional tradition that I’ve wanted to participate in since we moved to Italy—and they invited us to join them. I couldn’t imagine a lovelier way to spend the afternoon… soaking up the beauty of our friends’ country home, teaching the girls how to climb trees, rolling smooth olives between my fingers, and connecting with nature and laughter again after a stressful week.

However, I could not go. Literally. I had been dragging myself out of bed before dawn for days and scraping out my brain until late at night for any bit of creative residue. My Saturday word quota was filled, but I was beyond exhausted. Over a late lunch, my mind ran frenzied laps around the manymany other things I needed to get done until it simply stopped. Total shutdown. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t respond to simple questions. I couldn’t hold my head up.

While the girls skipped out the door with their dad to enjoy the last perfect fall afternoon, I burrowed under piles of covers where I spent the next few hours shivering uncontrollably and dozing off only to snap back in a panic over everything I needed to do. That’s when I should have clued in that NaNoWriMo was costing us too dearly.

It didn’t sink in though until yesterday when I read this:

“Sometimes I think I can do this and do that and then do this after I do that. But the truth is, motherhood permeates everything. It trumps all. It’s the calling that interrupts this and cancels that and makes this look like it never mattered anyway.”

Her words thudded into my chest and jolted my eyes back into focus. I hadn’t actually played with my girls since, oh… Day 3. The priority of writing a book in thirty days had edged them out, labeled them as threats to my agenda, marginalized their need for a happy, attentive mother. I had told myself we could survive anything for a month, but that simply wasn’t true. The crusty dishes could survive. The unsorted laundry could survive. But we, with our beating hearts and fragile skins, were not surviving my absence from life, no matter how excused.

I parked myself on the girls’ rug yesterday evening to play Legos with them and practically had to glue myself in place. I wanted to be there, to be a mother again, but my mind was lost in a maze of Christmas lists, insurance policies, and an ever-looming storyline while a disembodied voice over the loudspeakers reminded me that I was still 3,000 words behind. I told it to shut up. It boomed an accusation of laziness. I asked it what could be more important than my family. It answered, “NOT FAILING.”

Wrong answer.

I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to understand that that voice over the loudspeakers, the voice of achievement no matter the cost, didn’t have any more control over me than I gave it… but I would rather clue in late than not at all. Before going to bed, I reset the alarm to give myself an extra hour of dearly-needed sleep, and I woke up smiling for the first morning this month. Throughout today, I’ve worked on extra-bookular activities and spent time with my family without guilt. I worked on the novel too, but I let myself feel proud for adding 500 words rather than despondent over not completing 2,000.

I’m not quitting NaNoWriMo, and I’m certainly not giving up on my strapping kindergartener of a book. However, one month is too long to devote myself to literary abandon. I have a worthier calling that interrupts plots and cancels characters and makes an impressive 50,000-word goal look like it never mattered anyway. My new goal for November is to make sure my girls know that I know this… and if I manage to write a large chunk of book in the process, well, that will just be olive oil on my bruschetta.



My grocery list has been blank for the better part of today. The cursor and I blink at each other, neither of us sure where to start. It’s not like me to be paralyzed at the thought of food; after all, I’ve built up a pretty good repertoire by now of seasonal menus that manage to be both healthy and delicious, inexpensive and simple. But this morning, I read about yet another lifestyle diet, and my easily susceptible guilt center went into lockdown.

Over the last year or so, I’ve heard a lot of buzz about eating local. The arguments in favor of organic produce, free-range eggs, and grass-fed beef are still going strong as well. Then there’s the vegetarian voice, which I hear in the back of my own mind from time to time, vying to be heard over the supporters for veganism. The case to go gluten-free chimes in from multiple angles, and fans of a raw diet cheer from the sidelines. Each new way of eating promises energy, balance, and happiness while passively decrying anyone unwilling to follow it, and I’m left feeling thoroughly muddled. If we only ate local, organic, vegan, gluten-free, raw food, our meals would consist entirely of olive oil.

I have no doubt that our eating habits could be healthier, but I don’t have hours a day to devote to food preparation. We don’t have the funds to swap our usual produce haul with its organic equivalent, and it’s not like we have a Whole Foods around here anyway. If we gave up meat or dairy, we would offend every single Italian cook who invited us to dinner, and beyond that, sausage is near and dear to my little family’s heart.  And dessert… Let’s just say that at my table, you will never bite into a key lime pie and discover pureed avocado.

I’ve been pretty far down the road of dietary deprivation before, and I know that it is not the right journey for me or my family, especially considering the food-adoring culture we’ve joined. I truly believe that the effort I put each week into designing a custom menu is valuable. Mealtimes at our house are happy occasions, and we each get up from the table feeling nourished (with the possible exception of the resident two-year-old who suspects vegetables to be poison). We neither have to wrestle with our beliefs nor risk indigestion when we accept dinner invitations, and I am so grateful my girls can grow up in a home where food is a peaceful subject (unless broccoli ends up on the two-year-old’s plate, of course).

I just wish I didn’t let myself feel so confused and judged by people whose right way of eating is different than mine. Don’t get me wrong—olive oil has its merits. But so do the foods we love drizzling it on. Perhaps that’s precisely where this week’s grocery list should start…

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