Tag: Workaholism



The world is too quiet when I’m the one locking up. Some sense of maternal duty I never asked for moves my hands to check thermostats, unplug coffee machines, and tuck an entire building of offices in for the night. The parking lot is isolated except for my car huddled like an island in the fog, but even in this vacuum of sound and light is the ever-present rush—to pick up the girls from the babysitter’s and carry them sleeping to their own pillows, to redistribute the mounting mess of our house, to hang the laundry already gone stiff, to herd myself into bed far too late and sleep poised on the edge of the next overfull day.

Recharge time is a luxury out of my price range these days, and so I stop counting coffees. Health is not a priority. Relationships are not priorities. Art isn’t, peace isn’t. There is no room for these things in 10-hour work days, no space for them in the file folders crammed with lesson plans. The only portrait of the future visible from here is a whiteboard, but I don’t have time to quantify the stark sense of loss that brings.

This is no way to live, but it feels like the only way for now… so I put the office building to bed, do the same with my family, and conjure back that fog-enveloped quiet to bring sleep if not rest.


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.


Sluggish with Shoulds

Today is one of those days in which good intentions flop belly-side up just as I’m congratulating myself on their vitality.

It’s one of those days in which prodding myself out of bed just as the sun melts upwards is no guarantee of productivity.

It’s one of those days in which I punish my brain by assigning it menial tasks… and then make messes of those as well. (The subsequent words I lob at myself aren’t pretty.)

It’s one of those days in which ants crawl around the inside of my skin and I think “If only…” without being able to finish that sentence.

It’s one of those days in which the minute hand slips through my fingers as I watch from miles under water.

It’s… well, you know, one of those days, and iced coffee and happy children and good news and TGIF vibes aren’t enough to reset the defensive sluggishness in my mind, not with the big bad shoulds still glaring through every window.

I’m the one who spoiled the view with shoulds, I know. In an effort to feel more productive and thus more fulfilled, to stop tiptoeing around the monster of inadequacy every night, and to finally make something of those dreams eternally cramped by time, I’ve been loading myself up with motivational strategies:
Cut out the unimportant and make every moment count.
Apply the 80-20 principle to every facet of your life.
Limit input, expand output.
Give yourself impossible deadlines to sharpen your focus.
Figure out what you want and only do what is absolutely necessary for achieving it.

And the result is that I’m frozen.

Attempting to regiment my creativity seems to  have drained its life force, and so I find myself sitting next to a half-empty coffee mug at 7 am, completely free of distractions and focusing with all my will on output, output, output, and… nada. Or I plant myself in my studio corner while the girls are playing quietly across the house, and I’m desperate to squeeze every drop out of the opportunity, but still… nothing. I would hit myself upside the head if I thought it would do any good. (I sometimes do it regardless.)

The energy just isn’t there—not when I’m feeling the pressure to perform on cue. The fun has fled, the magic’s evaporated, and I’m dredging the bottom of a concrete tank for words rather than plucking them from the air. But isn’t this a necessary part of life for serious writers? The need to type on a timeline under the weight of deadlines and conjure up magic anyway? I’ve watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk about a bajillion times, and I love what she would say to her genius as she worked on Eat, Pray, Love:

“Listen you, Thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant, that is not entirely my fault, right? ‘Cause you can see that I am putting everything I have into this, you know, I don’t have any more than this, so if you want it to be better, then you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal, OK? But if you don’t do that, you know, the hell with it. I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job, and I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”

Only I want to know what happened after that, on days when her muse remained AWOL and other responsibilities clouded her mindwaves and the sentences already on her paper looked all wrong and no more would come. Is the stubbornness to keep showing up all it takes? Does my creative center just need awhile to get used to the shoulds and ticking timers staring it down?

Or are these expectations I’m putting on myself unnecessary and counterproductive? Am I sabotaging my instincts by trying to conform them to others’ techniques? Am I wasting this precious commodity of time by staring at an unfinished document trying to threaten a balking imagination into moving forward?

Or is this just one of those days and nothing more?


Indecision LIVE!

And now, for your intellectual betterment, a peek into my complex and highly rational decision-making process:

3:44p – As I put the girls down for their nap, my thoughts skip ahead to this evening when I’m scheduled to teach a one-on-one English course. My thoughts abruptly stop skipping and slump to the ground in passive aggressive gloom. For one thing, my special vacation-edition sinus infection rose from the grave only hours ago, scaring all forms of energy and intelligence into hiding. For another thing, I’ve worked every single evening this week and am progressing from the Denial stage of mother-guilt to the Weepy. Plus, my intuition is gently insistent about me needing a break.

3:45p – On the other hand, my brain chides, my paycheck this month could use a little fattening. It hardly makes sense to pinch pennies at the grocery store if I’m going to go around canceling work hours, and what if my student is really counting on this lesson? I can’t just avoid my job on a whim; freelancing doesn’t work if you’re not responsible enough to actually, you know, work.

3:46p – I fall back on the old standby:

Pros and Cons

3:49p – Things get a little heated:

Pros and Cons fighting

3:52p – I fall on the other old standby: rocking in a corner with my thumb in my mouth until the need for responsible decision-making magically disappears.

3:53p – It doesn’t.

3:54p – I contemplate checking myself in to a mental institution to get help for my blossoming schizophrenia… but mostly to avoid deciding anything about this evening.

3:55p – Crickets chirp unhelpfully.

3:56p – My student calls and cancels our lesson.

3:57p – I dust off my hands with the satisfaction of a competent, professional adult and the reward of yet another decision well made.



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.




Mrs. Bean

It’s summer break!

…Or at least that’s the word on the street. “Summer” implies a certain temperature range which this soggy gray July is failing to reach, while “break” seems to indicate time off, and oh my goodness gracious. I can remember times of my life in which I must have been busier, surely, but my here-and-now has a competitive streak and refuses to concede the Most Likely to Drop Own Skull While Juggling Schedule award to any former time period.

This is the first summer that I’ve worked in addition to having the girls home from school, and I’m basically feeling like Mr. Bean on both fronts. My children have to call “Mommy!” in a steady crescendo for an average of four minutes before I hear them because I’m too busy making lesson plans or translating, and my bosses have to accommodate babysitter dashes and my awkwardly-sized schedule openings. Ideally, I just wouldn’t work over the summer, but our family has some big adjustments coming up, and every chance to bolster our bank account eases a bit of stress.

As with 95% of the things I worry over, the Mr. Bean routine probably shouldn’t register as a big deal. After all, most of the other moms I know also work. However, they also tend to have nannies (or willing grandmas) and housecleaners (or extra-willing grandmas), and summer camps siphon off their children’s excess energy quite nicely. Here is where I start to feel [rightfully] ashamed of my first-world problems, because my outlook keeps boiling down to Waaaa, I want a nanny! Waaaa, I want a housecleaner! Waaaa, I want an investor to cover my children’s summer camp expenses for life so I don’t have to keep agonizing over their lack of organized fun! Good grief.

What I really want is to feel sure that I’m meeting my family’s needs in the right way, and please tell—Does any mother ever feel truly, completely certain that she has found the right balance between parenthood, finances, and good old-fashioned sanity? If so, I could use her secret before parenting or working morale drops any lower around here.

Sanity has left the building (Sanity, as you can see, has already left the building.)


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