YOLO

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There are times in your life when you are given something, a message to heed or advice to hear, or a sign of sorts, and you’re meant to pay attention. And when you ignore it, as undoubtedly we all do, the messages tend to get louder.

I remember when I was a pre-teen, I received the book The Blue Castle as a gift. I read it repeatedly, and in the 30 or so years since, have thought about it often. As much as I adore Anne of Green Gables it has always been, for me, the L.M. Montgomery story which most touched my heart.

It’s the story of Valancy, an old maid by 1920s standards, living with her dreary family, destined for a dreary life, until the day she is issued a terminal diagnosis. This sudden news was her get out of jail card. It liberated her from having to worry about what people thought, what her family would say about this or that, and of all things, her propriety. She began acting on whim and literally changed her life, one spontaneous decision at a time. She got married, moved to a cabin in the woods and found love, in that order. And she became herself, her true self, the self that had previously been hidden away unseen. She learned happy.

As an angsty pre-teen, one who hated being kept on a leash, this story offered me a path, an escape into beauty, a way of living. I understood it’s truth and appreciated it.

But that doesn’t mean I was ready to hear and heed. It was way too easy to stew in feelings, brooding against the oppression I felt having protective parents. I honestly felt like my life couldn’t start yet, not until I moved away from home.

So I moved away for university, but my life couldn’t start yet until school was done.

And then…

And then…

Bills, mortgage, kids, school, work, hating this work, needing new work, more bills, that reno to do, homework, this bathroom is disgusting, so much work to do, so many things to plan for, and anyway, what’s for dinner?

There is always something going on ahead of me, just out of reach, that I need to take care of and plan for. Something that stops me from committing fully to living.

It’s that quote you hear about being on a train and waiting to arrive at your destination for the journey to begin. The destination is death. The journey is the train ride. We never get that. I didn’t. On a cerebral level maybe, but I never let it sink in.

There have been times in my life when it should have. I had a depression at 25 that I bounced back from, but rather than grabbing life by the horns I kind of sat back with the attitude that I got myself out of the hole, life needed to do the rest. Didn’t happen. There was that near car accident. And that other actual accident. There was that time I was standing at the edge of a cliff in Newfoundland and the ocean jumped up and threw a wave over my head, knocking me off balance. There are my thyroid flares, which are a constant reminder that I’m holding on to too much shit. My miscarriages. That time in my 20s when I had severe leg pains, and the doctor tested me for cancer, that was scary. And there’s that time a few months ago, when an unknown mass was found in my uterus. There was that “c” word again.

When you don’t listen to life knocking on your door, it will just knock harder the next time.

In life I have learned the value of humility, the deception of ego, the impact of karma. I don’t like to harp too much on anything concrete—I don’t like to say that I know anything for sure. But I do actually know one thing for sure, and it’s that I am responsible for this life of mine. Just me. Not the kid who teased me on the bus when I was a kid, not my mom for not letting me go to that party, not the boss who micromanaged me to insanity, not my kid for throwing that epic tantrum in public. Just. Me. This life is mine to live, or mine to waste. That choice it mine. That’s what free will means, I have the freedom and responsibility to make that choice.

And it is a choice. There is a light switch inside all of us that gets flicked, or not flicked, with every decision we make. Flicking the switch is not always easy, it’s actually often quite hard. There can be anxiety in your chest, your breath caught in your throat. It can require bravery and conviction. It requires a fair amount of surrender—also known as not giving a shit about the outcome. There are tools out there to help us.  Aisles of self-help books, yoga classes, vitamins, psychologists, and crystals. Mediation, exercise, diets and adult colouring books. But these are just tools, they can do no more than assist.

If you want to remove a screw from a wall you use a screwdriver. If you don’t have a screwdriver, you’re going to try a knife, a coin, your fingernails, a credit card, or even get in the car and go to the store to buy a screwdriver. But one way or another, you’re getting that baby out. You have conviction. You’re taking action. This is not a passive activity. That screw comes out not because of the tools used, but because of your conviction.

And it’s the same with life.

I know this. I have always known this.

The past few months have awakened this awareness within me. That switch has a glowing neon arrow pointed right at it. It beckons me. It says, you can keep giving a shit about meaningless shit, or you can come this way and focus on what’s actually real. What’s your choice? Are you brave enough to flick? Or are you too busy cleaning the bathroom?

Make. Your. Choice.

But, it reminds me, the next time I’ll just have to knock even louder.

 

In my life I have constantly sought moments of freedom via experiences I have chosen. Whether it be ziplining or skydiving or scuba diving, or simply long hikes or sojourns by the sea, these experiences have offered me temporary relief from caring about inconsequentials. They also have been tools, providing me nothing more than a few minutes of insight. It’s enough to know that more is possible, not enough to push me over the edge. Only I can do that.

Make. Your. Choice.

 

People use YOLO as an excuse to allow them to do stupid things. Selfish things even. Mid-life crises because YOLO. No. You only live once means be smart. Use your heart. Don’t take love for granted. Be a kind person. It means, you will die, so how do you want to live?

Make. Your. Choice.

 

It’s all the idioms and axioms and euphemisms you’ve ever heard of in your life. It’s the barrage of quotations and the advice you give to others that you never give to yourself. It’s much ado about nothing.

Flick the switch. Or not. It’s actually quite simple.

Live life, or not. Totally your call.

My call.

Am I brave enough?

Are you?

 

As for Valancy in The Blue Castle, it turns out she wasn’t dying after all. But man, did she live.

 

-mtg

Six Truths Bad Moms Has Opened the Can On

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Recently my Facebook feed has been filled with moms excitedly flocking to their nearest movie theatre, taking giddy selfies and eagerly waiting for the lights to dim. Why? Why are moms so excited to kiss their kids good night and scurry for the door? It’s because, for a few brief and glorious hours, one film is giving moms permission to be bad and, it seems it feels pretty good.

Bad Moms. This movie that is slapstick comedy at it’s most crass, containing more swearing than a boatload of sailors could compete with, is also hilariously liberating and undeniably spot-on. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard.

But cut through the ridiculousness and hilarity and you get to the real truth of the matter– this movie speaks to the very core of today’s moms. It literally pulls back the blinds and opens the can on some very real truths that today’s moms are presented with. I’m not generally one for writing list-based articles, but this is a list that writes itself.

So here we are, Six Truths Bad Moms Has Opened the Can On:

1)Today’s kids are overscheduled.

When I was a kid my parents never put me in camps or anything extracurricular, it wasn’t in the budget. But what I did get was freedom to roam the backyard, freedom to spend entire days reading, and freedom to construct any project my imagination brought forth. This experience made me the writer and crafter I am today. My husband grew up in a small coastal village with only one channel on the television. Although he did have some extracurricular pursuits, much of his childhood was spent finding ways to fill the hours by his own devices. If he was bored, he alone needed to find ways to change that. If he took to the outdoors, if he took to his books, it was because he had time, freedom, and boredom driving him.

Time, freedom and boredom, three things significantly lacking in the lives of today’s kids. Some parents, I believe, feel they are doing their kids a disservice by not signing up for every different sort of activity. Some parents are so overscheduled themselves that it is easier on them to keep their kids busy. But is it? My family does not respond well to the constant rush of work, activities, meal-planning, and home management. When we feel rushed we are stressed and tired. When my husband and I are stressed and tired, so are our kids. Because it’s not just us rushing around, it’s them too. When sometimes, all they really want to be doing, rather than soccer practice or learning tennis or piano lessons, is playing in our own backyard.

2) Let kids be kids.

My sister is a primary school teacher, and after too many years spent watching kids get pushed beyond their readiness, she herself adopted the attitude of letting kids be kids. I learned it from her, and I’m totally OK with it. It’s why I don’t agree with hours of homework, in pushing young kids to sit for long spells and concentrate after already sitting for long spells in the classroom. Kids need play, they need time to figure life out on their own, they need to make messes. They also need time to unwind, to allow the day’s stresses to leave their bodies. They don’t need expectations on their accomplishments or to be held to competitive standards. This doesn’t mean allowing our kids to be lazy, but it does mean recognizing that each kid is different, and adjusting how much pressure we as parents must apply. And, it also means saving time for fun!

3) Doing too much for our kids raises the bar on their sense of entitlement.

I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count. I’ll be with another mom and we’ll be talking about our kids, and it often comes back to how entitled today’s kids seem to feel. The conversation usually ends with one of us saying something like, “I would never have spoken like that to my parents when I was a kid!”

A part of the problem is that, in our striving for perfection, we moms have become enablers. I notice it even with my own young kids– as I naturally catered to their every need as babies and toddlers, the expectation was already set that I would continue to meet their every whim without any return effort. I am constantly met with surprise and resistance as they are gradually being made to do things on their own that would previously have been done for them.

Another part of the problem is that it is often simply easier for us moms to do things ourselves rather than wait for our kids to do them. Let’s face it, we’re busy as all heck. There are so many demands on our time, so much that needs to get done in a day. It’s so much easier to just do it and get it over with… except of course, for the expectation it builds in our kids that mom will indeed take care of everything. We end up inadvertently teaching our kids entitlement when they should be learning accountability.

It would be wise to remember that what’s easiest in the short term only screws us in the long run. And also, entitled kids grow into entitled adults, and nobody wants that.

4) Judgment between moms sucks.

Village. That is all.

5) Who said fun was supposed to end with motherhood?

One thing I’ve noticed, in the attempts at perfection and the judgment and the stress and the actually-I’m-flailing-on-the-inside-ness, is that we take mothering so seriously these days. Everything. Is. So. Serious. All. The. Time. And along with taking motherhood seriously, we ourselves have become serious. So serious. Uptight. High strung. Overall, less fun.

We have a thousand items on our check lists, we have a gazillion things to get done in every day, and we worry a lot about not getting it right 100% of the time. It’s exhausting and it wears us down, and we forget all too easily that we also have lives of our own that need living.

We don’t need to throw a booming drunken house party a la Mila Kunis (I’ve sadly never danced on a table in my entire life), but we can still have fun, laugh, and enjoy a life outside of our kids. And we don’t need to take our jobs as moms quite so seriously either. It’s OK to let go.

Seriously. It’s OK.

6) We all have a secret in the closet just itching to get out.

Perfection doesn’t exist. Although we still kill ourselves trying we all undoubtedly fail every now and then. And we all have something we are ashamed to admit.

Mine? I’m a yeller.

My mom was a yeller. I never knew that I would be one too, there wasn’t much indication pre-motherhood. But somewhere along the way– sometime past 8pm when I was exhausted and my kids were refusing to stay in their rooms and I was on my 100th trip up the stairs — the yeller came out. Once out, she was hard to put back in. I try hard. I shove her back into the closet, I push on the door with all my might, usually with little bits still poking out. Yet, every once in a while she returns, often lurking in the darkness late at night.

Here’s the thing, I’m not perfect. But that’s the point, none of us are. Being imperfect doesn’t make us bad moms, it makes us human. Yet even if it did make us bad moms by today’s very high standards, how liberating it would be…. if we could only allow ourselves the freedom to let go and be “bad.”

Which perhaps is a seventh final truth to add to the list: Sometimes being bad is actually very, very good.

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My Dirty Little Secret: What I’ve Never Said Before About Myself as a Mom

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I always knew I wanted to be a mom. It was an essential part of my story. In fact, I often feel as though my professional life was on hold while waiting for motherhood. I was that girl who liked to dream about the future, married with three kids and a house in the country (note, currently married with two kids and not living in the country). I never told anyone about it, but I quietly waited for that dream to become a reality.

I never understood it when people told me they didn’t want to have kids, and I never understood women who valued their careers as much as their kids. In the world I was raised it seemed that having kids took over your life, my goal was to allow that to happen. I planned to be with my kids as much as possible, to be home with them, to raise them. I wanted more than anything to be a stay-at-home mom and nothing made me more disappointed than, once I finally was a mom, having to return to work at the end of my first maternity leave. Placing my firstborn in daycare gave me many tiny deaths inside and the only thing that placated me was knowing that I was returning to work pregnant with my second child. I would soon have a chance to be home again. This was all that I thought about and all that I thought I wanted.

By my second maternity leave I was a different person. I kept my eldest in daycare and was happy to send her each day. She was home for only two months over the summer that year, by the end of which she was bored and I was ready for a break. Surprisingly, by the end of this second leave I was also ready to hand my second child over to daycare. There weren’t tears, there was willingness.

I was guilty over it. I didn’t want to admit it but I wanted my kids in daycare and I wanted to work. Deep down I was in need of something all my own, outside of my family. I wanted my own paycheck and to take my mind off the menial tasks I had become so obsessive over during my mat leaves (note, your dog will always shed, you can’t spend all your time following it with a vacuum cleaner). I wanted adult company and realized that I actually liked working and reminding myself that I was good at it.

Around my other mom friends who stayed home I lamented the fact that I actually needed to work, as though if I didn’t need to work things would have been different. I began working from home to allow some flexibility in my life but the kids were still in daycare. They were happy and I was happy. I got to do my work, I got to reconnect with my hobbies, I got to manage my home and I didn’t feel like my family was affected.

My time apart from my kids has allowed me to revisit and refocus my life. It has allowed me to come up with a plan. It has given me value as a person, woman and mom that I wasn’t experiencing before. That is not to say that being a mom full-time is not valuable– I know without doubt it’s value is immeasurable. It is to say that I did not feel valuable at the time and that I have since come to understand the measure of my worth, and it’s in time spent apart from my kids that this came to pass.

My daughter often tells me that she wants to be a mom when she grows up. I tell her she can be anything she chooses, and she always responds by saying that her choice is to be a mom like me. So I think I can’t be screwing up too much, and that it’s not such a bad thing to spend time developing my life outside of mom-hood. And that, if anything, demonstrating that I have interests in my life that don’t involve my kids is also valuable and a lesson worth considering.

This isn’t about being pro-working woman or pro-SAHM, it’s about figuring out what works best for you and doing that. Because I don’t think any family was ever well-served with an unhappy mother at the helm. I made a mistake way back when, in assuming I knew what kind of mom I would be. I cherish the time I spend with my kids, they are truly my heart… but my dirty little secret is that I love time spent apart from them too. I like not giving 100% of me to my kids because who I am has so much more to give. To them, to life, and to myself.

Will I regret not having spent more time at home with my kids? You know, I do have regrets from these years, but the regrets are mostly around wasting too much time wrestling with my guilt. Because really, my kids feel loved. And really, they are.

Life as an Introvert

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I am a loner. Meaning, I like to be alone. And it’s not just that I like being alone, I need to be alone for set amount of time each day. In fact, I’ve even been told that I, in particular, require more alone time than the average person. Alone suits me well.

This is not to say that I only ever want to be alone. I am married and enjoy spending time with my husband (thank goodness!). I am a mother and love time spent with my kids. I have a job that requires me to be a front man– in fact, all the jobs I’ve ever worked in my life have all required me to be openly service-oriented– and so I spend my days in communication with others. I enjoy talking. I enjoy the company of others. I enjoy the presence of family. Just, not all the time.

At the end of each day once the kids are in bed I require a solid hour to myself where I don’t want anyone touching me or speaking with me. I use this time to unwind from the sensory overload of the day. If my husband tries to speak to me during this time I am likely not to answer…. not… until… I’m ready. At work sometimes, if there are too many people around and very little opportunity to be alone, my brain will bug out temporarily. This will have me drift off to an imaginary land, even while surrounded by others. Escaping by myself in spirit is better than not escaping at all.

Being an introvert has nothing to do with shyness. I am not shy. I wasn’t born shy (I was born to raise hell truth be told). I did spend much of my childhood as a shy wallflower, preferring the outskirts to any real spotlight, but I can’t say that I’m shy anymore. I just sometimes choose to be alone. I just sometimes choose not to talk. I just often prefer the comforts of home to parties with strangers. I just often prefer my own company.

When I don’t get the alone time I need I become closed and cold. I turn into a grump, a real grouch that nobody really wants to be around (which is the desired outcome, although repelling people is not necessarily the desired means). When I don’t get enough alone time my brain begins to buzz, my body hums in an uncomfortable way– not so much hum, more like an incessant drone– and the buzzing and humming only gets louder, more annoyingly irritating the longer I go without rectifying the situation. I fall into a slump. I become overly fatigued in a my-brain-feels-dead kind of way. I act as a coffee-addict who hasn’t had her first cup yet, even if I have. Even if I’ve had many.

When I do get my precious alone time, I rejuvenate. It’s like each cell of my being was dehydrated and the time alone slowly replenishes the cells until I am back to my natural form. Like a withered plant sprung to life. Or those Dollar Store putty figures that quadruple in size when left in water. I have a sense of humour after time spent alone, even if I am only telling jokes to myself. I feel as though I have pep in my step, sparkle in my eye and bounce in my pounce. I dance. I chase my kids and laugh. I seek conversations rather than run from them.

I often use the analogy of the filled cup and I know it is an analogy that is overused, yet it’s just so apt. Me without enough time to myself is an empty cup, just a shell with nothing in it. Me, filled with the goodness of alone time, is me filled with something yummy and tasty and warm to the belly. Alone time gives me tingles up my spine. It gives me the same kind of happy place feeling I get when my three year old is stroking my hair. Time alone is a hug I am giving myself.

For an extrovert, alone time is the analogy above in reverse. An extrovert feeds off the energy of others and uses that energy to fill their cup. To an extrovert, the empty cup is what happens after too many minutes alone. An extrovert needs people like I need the opposite of people. My mother is an extrovert, she will continue to seek my attention even when I am holding a book a mere inch from my face. My husband is an extrovert. He likes to talk, I like to not.

Growing up my need for alone time turned me into an angsty teenager until I got my driver’s license and use of the family car, and then escape became my sanctuary. Finding alone time in adult relationships was never a problem either, not before having kids. I would always find a way to steal away while still balancing my relationship and my work. I could escape on my own to a coffee shop or dinner out and there was nothing to it. I didn’t even recognize my need for alone time as something that required voicing or scheduling. I would just go on a feeling, like I felt like being alone so off I would go. It wasn’t anything I ever put my finger on, just something I did. After having kids, and especially after having two, things became a little tricky.

My kids (like all kids) were always on me. They always needed me. They fed off me, tugged at me, peed on me. I loved it, I loved all parts of raising young babies. I loved being their favourite person and the one they called to. I loved feeding them and rocking them to sleep. But it was also too much for my sanity. Like it never ended. Like there were just little people taking from me all day long and I never got to be alone. My firstborn was constantly at the breast, she would never give me a break. My second was constantly in my arms. I was never alone.

The old joke about how a mom never gets to pee alone is true, and true because all moms feel a need for just a few minutes of peace and privacy. For an introvert that need can lead to the uncomfortable buzzing and humming mentioned above. I survived by cocooning myself at the end of each night. As soon as my kids were in bed so was I, vegging on Netflix just to drown out the noise. This wasn’t replenishing alone time, this wasn’t a long walk in the woods or gardening in the sun, this was the basic minimum needed to maintain composure. Even then, I’d say that composure is relative.

My kids are three and four now and as they grow older and more autonomous, as I have learned that finding time alone as a mom, wife, and worker is necessary to my personal balance, as I learn new ways to replenish myself by being alone. It doesn’t always take much either. I like to get up an hour before everyone else which has become my favourite time of the day. I like to buy a cup of coffee. That cup of coffee and subsequent minutes it takes to consume while still hot brings me immeasurable joy. I like to go for walks. I like to sit on benches in parks and do nothing. I like to listen to water.

I like to create. I love to create. I love to create so much that I have made a pact with myself to create all the time. Sometimes that creating is just random words in my journal. Sometimes that creating is writing posts like this. Sometimes I paint, sometimes I DIY, sometimes I decorate. Whatever it is, as long as I am creating I am alone. And loving it. And filling my cup.

The most important tool I have as an introvert is my mind. In my mind I can escape into my imagination. I can dream. I love to live in my dreams. It presents some difficulty with reality sometimes, yet there it is. My mind is precious to my life as an introvert. In those times when I can’t be physically creating I can imagine creation, in those times when I can’t physically escape a crowd I can mentally go elsewhere. In those moments when my kids have been on me all day and I feel like I need a break, I can take 5 minutes and imagine myself… perhaps on a beach…. feet in the sand…. with nothing tugging at me but the call of the waves.

I am a loner. I am an introvert. This is a defining quality of me. I have learned once again to understand the feeling I get when I’m in need of me. I’ve learned that even motherhood can’t stop the need. And I’ve learned that I’m a better mother when my cup is full. When the back of my neck is tingling I speak in soft voices to my kiddies. When the buzzing in my head keeps buzzing I shout to tune it out.

My kids want me to find time for myself (although they don’t yet know it). My husband wants me to find time alone although he may not understand it. I choose to be alone. Oftentimes. Because I need it. I require it. Because this is the life of an introvert.

-mtg

The Woman Behind the Mom: Finding Balance in Motherhood

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Back when I was in my early 20s, my neighbours, a young married couple, found out they were expecting their first child. The mom-to-be, Cathy, was working full-time and continued to do so until her baby was born when she became a full-time mom. A few years went by and they had a second child; a few more years went by and their firstborn started school. Cathy began to reinvent herself. While she was still at home with her youngest she took the required training to become a registered real estate agent, she developed her image, she readied herself to re-enter the world as a professional.

I’m reminded of Cathy now, some 15 years later, as my own firstborn will be heading off to school in the fall, and my own desire to reinvent myself has ignited.

Reinventing the self as a woman is not necessarily about going out and finding a new career. It’s about finding balance. So maybe you are a full-time mom and spend every day having little people take from the well of mom, and are not finding any opportunity or inspiration to fill yourself back up. Or maybe you work full-time outside of the home, and your remaining hours are a whirlwind of family and kid-related tasks, only getting an hour to yourself at the end of each day. Either way, as a woman and a mom, you feel stretched in many directions, live with the knowledge that many people count on you, love your family and yet crave something that is outside of them. This is how it’s been for me: out of balance.

The first key to finding balance is to make a decision for yourself and take action. I noticed this with other moms when I wasn’t yet in a place to make this decision for myself. One decided, for example, that even though she could have stayed home, she really wanted to go back to her previous career. Once this decision was made she stopped trying to do everything and be everything. At work she prioritized her career, at home she prioritized her family. Another friend as a full-time mom made a decision to get her body into shape. It became a priority, something she did that was just for her, to feel good in her body, to gain confidence and to feel pride in her own accomplishment.

While these women were making these decisions and taking action, I was hemming and hawing. I didn’t want to commit too much time to working away from my kids; I didn’t want to commit to exercise because I thought perhaps that I’d have more kids. My perception around my kids and their need of me kept me at a standstill. This was not balanced.

Balance is getting out of the home an evening per week, whether on your own or with friends. Balance is volunteering your time to a cause that means something to you. Balance is carving out an hour per day to do something that brings you personal joy (aside from your kids), whether it’s baking, exercise, painting or reading. Balance is taking on projects that are all your own, for you, by you, from you. Balance is organizing girls weekends away from homes, partners and kids. Balance is not letting your work or career be more important than your family, but not letting your family be an excuse that keeps you from expressing yourself or your vocation. Balance is being confidently, fearlessly, happily, a mom with a mission. Balance is having yourself as that mission.

Balance, ultimately, is a state of mind. It’s allowing yourself to count. Allowing your goals to matter. It’s not about saying the heck with everything else—that isn’t balance. But in a life where your employers may make demands, your spouse may make demands, and your children most definitely feel entitled to all parts of you, it’s important to know you are also entitled to your time. And to follow this knowledge with action, by actually taking the time you need.

Currently, it is a Saturday morning. I have carved out this time to write because writing is my happy place. My kids are naked, running around the room gathering blankets and pillows into forts. They have emptied clothes from my closet with the intention of putting on a fashion show. I have not planned any activities to occupy them with today so they are finding ways to occupy themselves. And my husband, noticing that I have no intention of emerging from my bubble until my writing is done, is washing dishes and doing laundry. Currently, this is my balance.

I had a mom blog for a while and it went something like this: The first year it was all about the oh’s and ah’s of life with a newborn. The second year was about validating my mom-worth. The third year with a baby and a toddler, I barely made it to post anything at all. And in it’s fourth and final year, I made the realization that that blog wasn’t about the kids at all, but rather about the mom behind the blog. That is to say, being a mom is integral to who I am, but it isn’t all of who I am. And this is kind of what I’ve come to think motherhood in general, that we should be defining ourselves not by our kids, but by the women behind the moms.

It’s not that I’m not pro-kid, because I am. But I’m also pro-woman, pro-mom, pro-caring for yourself and pro-women caring for women. Because, I think, that makes us better women. Because, I think, that makes us better moms. Because, I think, that’s how we achieve balance.

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-mtg