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

Confessions of a Recovering Judgaholic

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I am a recovering judgaholic.

Chances are, if ever we have crossed paths (me in my pre-parent days and you bearing kids) I have judged you.

I won’t lie, the road to recovery has been messy and bumpy. You see, I have been blessed with beautiful, healthy, intelligent children. Capable children. Children capable of bringing me to my knees and who have ruined any iota of pride I ever held with respect to my own ability to raise another human. I am proud of them for their diligence and tenacity, they have done well.

These children—children who have taught me the very depths of love—have challenged me each step of the way, and have also taught me the depths of karma’s love for parents. For every judgment I have ever made, I have been tested in kind. Not only did I earn it, I deserved it.

Karma may have been worried that I wouldn’t get the hint so chose to throw the book at me. Night terrors, fierce tempers, authority-opposition, decibel-shattering loudness and shrill whining for which there is still no cure, I have been challenged. Uncontrollable hyperactivity in public, the looks of bystanders judging me for the uncontrollable hyperactivity, I have been challenged. Poop murals on walls, hunger strikes, attention pees and children who prefer to take off than remain with their parents, I have been challenged. I know there is more to come. And I know I’m not the only one. Because we’re all in the doo doo of parenthood together. Because every day is a call to be the best mom I can be. Because sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I eat chocolate and hide.

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Once upon a time I was a judgaholic. I would witness a parent carrying a four year old and guffaw at the lack of independence. I would witness a parent being openly manipulated by their two year old and look down on them with shaming eyes. I used to think getting a kid to sleep was easy, and that getting a kid to cooperate was equivalent to training a dog to sit. I thought it was a given that the parent is the boss, rather than something that requires daily reminding. Obviously, I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about.

I have looked at moms and used the words “I will never…” And now that I am a mom, and that I am that mom to whom I previously referred, I can only use those words when followed by these: I will never look at another mom and quickly judge without knowing. Because I don’t know anyone’s story but mine. And none of our stories are the same. Except for this story: that we are each going day by day and doing our best. And that this requires kindness and respect.

For all whom I have judged, my deepest apologies. For all who have judged me—lest you forget, karma loves parents. I urge you, please, bite your tongue and carry on.

 

Baa Baa Goes the Black Sheep

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Growing up I was the black sheep of the family. At times this made me feel special, indignant, feisty—ready to fight the good fight. At times it made me feel different, separate, like a sore thumb rather than one amongst the clan. Much of my life has been driven by this push and pull—wanting to live full throttle by my black sheep ways, and wanting to feel a part of the family flock. Teenagehood was especially defined by my fight to express the person I naturally am (colourful/wild/free) against the backdrop of reasonable, nose-to-the-ground practicality. I won that fight eventually, my family learned to let Maria be Maria, to not ask questions, and to keep their opinions out of ear shot. I was okay with making mistakes if those mistakes were all my own. I only wanted the freedom to make whatever decision felt right, to experience circumstance and consequence, and to know it was I alone who got me to that place.

Somewhere in my twenties I lost colourful/wild/free me. It may have been amidst some personal dramas that left me emotionally dry. It may have been after meeting my husband—also colourful/wild/free, and me feeling the need for one of us to be reigned in. It may have been not knowing how to be colourful/wild/free around my salt-of-the-earth in-laws (for being a black sheep around your own flesh and blood is not the same as being a black sheep around your spouse’s). It may just have been the realities of adult life, the spiritual toll of being out of my home 50 hours per week, working to afford that home… I don’t know. But lost it I did, and life for a while was lived in a stress-induced state. When you are not living as your natural self, you are stressed. Your body responds physically to what is not right within you.

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I’m currently reading How to be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World, by Colin Beavan. It’s interesting…to a black sheep like me. Someone who, by Beavan’s definition, is a bit of a lifequester.

How to be Alive is a book about living authentically rather than following a protocol on how we think we should be living. Specifically, its premise is that if you live your life by doing the things you deeply enjoy, that you will naturally share what you love with the world around you, which will naturally enhance your community and society, and thereby naturally bring meaning back into your own life. So, basically, you get what you give. Choose to give value, and receive value in return.

Value is a concept I’ve been working with a lot lately. As is authenticity. I find people shy away from the word authentic because it’s come to be related to new agey hippie talk, but that’s stupid. All authentic really means is truth. Being true means exhibiting your values; living by your values. That’s all. If you shy way from that, you shy away from life. As I was, as I in some ways still do.

The road back to black sheep me has been a slow one, which is something I’ve come to accept— change takes time. I’ve found it necessary to take baby steps, and I’ve decided that baby steps, as long as they are in the right direction, are more than okay.

These baby steps have unfolded themselves in many different ways: They’ve brought me closer to my creative self, they’ve changed the way I write, they’ve provided me with a sense of purpose, they’ve gotten my head out of my butt, they’ve had me stop looking only at my own life but also at life all around. Because of these baby steps I’ve come to understand that one person’s decisions can indeed affect the world. They’ve had me doing things teenage me would never have questioned, like buying only fair trade coffee, thinking about how the animals who provide my family’s milk and eggs are treated, and upping my caution around owning too much stuff.

Mostly, they’re changing the way I parent.

I don’t want my kids to follow the grain, I want them to go against it. I mean, if it’s in their nature to. I care to teach them about being good people, about being grateful for their lot in life, about being kind to others, about caring for their community, and about following their hearts. I care to protect their inner freedom.

I used to care about what other people thought about my kids and my parenting, I’m letting go of that. I’ve realized that I can’t both nurture their inner spirit and care about what other people think. I also had allowed fear and paranoia, something I was most shocked to realize I’d inherited from my mother, to interfere with my parenting choices. It dawned on me that it isn’t fair to allow my unfounded fears to exist as a shadow over my children. This is the stuff that helicopter parents are made of, this is the stuff that inhibits rather than promotes a child’s ability to learn freely.

In How to be Alive Beavan states that “if you pursue Truth for yourself, you cannot help but pursue Truth for everyone.” I think, if all I do as a parent is encourage whatever idiosyncrasies my kids exhibit that make them uniquely themselves, and as long as I encourage loving kindness to others, that it will be a job well done.

What made me a black sheep growing up was believing that there is magic to life, being loud, being creative, wanting to experience everything, wanting to see the world, being fearless, believing I could make a difference, not being afraid to die, believing I was worthy of everything, being afraid to miss out on living.

There is nothing on this list that doesn’t still ring true, which makes me still a black sheep I suppose. Or maybe that just makes me alive, a lifequester, interested in getting the most out of this lifetime.

All I know is that at my worst, I didn’t own up to any of the above, and at my best, I am the above. When I am being that authentic me, I feel valuable and I want to share it. I want to give, I want to help, I want to do. If that makes me a black sheep, baa baa.

But what if we were all black sheep? What if we each did things we love, purely because we love them and without worry or excuse? What if we all went against the grain, and formed a new grain, a grain that spirals out in 360 different directions? How much better could we be, how much ground could we cover, were we all black sheep? What if it really does only take one person to change the world? What if we were each that person?

I’m not saying quit your job, sell your home, move to another continent (although I’m not not saying that either). I’m talking about baby steps. In my life, I have kids that just keep wanting to be fed, and the bank keeps asking for mortgage payments, and I’m not really willing to trade in my kids, and well, I’ve always been a homebody at heart, so, well, I kinda hafta work. All that means is I pay extra attention to how I use the rest of my time. We don’t have to make grand sweeping gestures, we don’t have to give up everything we own, we don’t have to do anything at all, except, of course, participate in a life filled with all you value. And in doing so, change the world.

Scriptures say it takes only the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains.

Baa baa, I say. Baa baa.

 

-mtg

Why I Don’t Care About My Kids’ Higher Education, and Other Things

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So I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the point of it. And I’ve come to certain conclusions about the kinds of things I care to encourage or discourage in my children.

Call me crazy, but I don’t care about my kids’ higher education. I also don’t care what work they do in life. And I most definitely don’t care about how much money they aspire to earn. I… don’t… care!

I really don’t.

But there are things I do care about, and these are them:

1. I care that they want to learn and choose to be learners in life, with or without school. My husband and I each have five years of university education under our belts, we are educated folk. But although I value my education, there is so much that I value from my years at university that had absolutely nothing to do with what I learned in the classroom. And there is also so much I feel I missed, certain regrets that are rooted in my decision to attend university.

I remember when I was in my graduating year of high school, the teachers brought all of the graduating students into an auditorium to speak about the next steps in our education. They made it clear that if we were smart, our only choice was to continue to university, and if we were not smart, well, too bad. In high school I was known as a smart kid, the only outcome that I and my teachers foresaw was that I would go to university. I remember being excited as I flipped through university course manuals, devouring all of the possible learning I could have. When I got to university however, I was more bogged by deadlines than excited by the material, I was more bored by the structure than inspired to devour. I heard about other kids from my high school who had opted not to attend university, who had either taken a year off to travel, or who had gone to community college to learn a specific trade and began in the work force right away, who had started living their lives, and I couldn’t help but feel envy. I realized that while I was initially excited about university, in hindsight what I was actually excited about was living away from home for the first time. That is what was driving me toward university, not the actual education. I was a fully independent spirit who had chosen a means of independence acceptable to my parents rather than do what my 17 year old self really wanted to do, which was simply just to live on my own and earn money for travel.

I was learning, and I am grateful for what I learned, but I wasn’t following a deeper instinct I had, a deeper craving for life that at the time felt way more important than anything a textbook could provide. When I look at my university degrees on the wall, I don’t look at them with pride, but rather with a tinge of regret.

Now, my husband would not agree, his university education is in fact highly valuable to him. He did not feel as I did that his life was on hold, but rather that he was fully living a very important stage of his life. I respect that. And what I respect about it is that he knew he truly wanted to be there. Which is what I wish for our kids down the line. Not that they attend university for the sake of attending university, but that if they attend, it’s because they truly want to be there. Or if they attend a trades school, it’s because they truly want to be there. Or that if they decide to travel, or if they decide to enter the work force right away– that whatever it is they decide to do, it’s because they truly want to be there, doing that thing, and learning all they can from it.

There are so many forms of learning that life can provide. The most important, in my eyes, is learning to listen to our insides–our hearts, our guts, our souls– and marching in any direction we feel called toward. Whatever I or my husband or their teachers have to say, I feel my kids will serve their lives best by learning to listen to themselves first.

2. While I don’t care about what work they choose in life, I do care that they are workers, and I care that they choose meaningful work. If they choose to be waiters, they’d better be the best damn waiters in all of town. If they choose to be engineers, they’d better do their work with integrity and social awareness. If they decide to be doctors, they’d better remember that people are made up of many inter-relying parts, all of which require their due respect. If they choose to be artists they’d better damn well be producing art. And if they choose to be teachers, they’d better remember that their students are open vessels, capable of being inspired to go forth and make the world a better place.

While I don’t care about the work they choose, I care that they have work ethic up the wazoo, I care that they are doers, and I care that they are socially minded to bettering life in and out of the workplace.

I care that they’re happy. I care that they’re happy because when you are happy, the world is automatically a better place. I care that they are doing work that is aligned with their values, because when you are doing work that is aligned with your values, you automatically are grateful for the work that you do, and so do better work. I care that they are fulfilled, because when you are fulfilled, you are automatically more inspired to be service-minded and begin helping others.

3. I care about money. But I don’t care about how much money my kids earn.

I care that money allows us to do the things in our lives that we love to do. I care that my kids earn enough money to support whatever lifestyle they choose. But since, for example, living the high life in NYC would require they earn more income than, say, living in a one room cabin in northern Quebec, chopping their own firewood in the winter and growing their own vegetables in the summer, this is all very relative. Which is all that money is, relative. It’s just paper that people use to exchange for things they value. It’s purely subjective. So while in my life owning my own home was always something that held importance to me, I have to admit that it’s a huge pain in the butt. I continue to do it because it holds value to me, but I wouldn’t begrudge a child of mine for wanting to avoid the headaches and hassles of mortgages and maintenance. If my kids chose instead to work from their laptops and live like nomads, I would be OK with it, as long as they were working, and as long as they were consciously supporting their lives, and as long as they were fulfilled.

I want my kids to earn to live rather than live to earn. I don’t want their paychecks to be their only purpose in life. I don’t want them to be owned by their homes, I do want them to own their lives.

Parents throughout history have talked about wanting what’s best for their kids. Often these “bests” are defined by the parents in very specific ways, and often based on things the parents themselves found lacking in their own lives. We might hear, I want my child to be a doctor, I want my child to go to the best schools, I want my child to have solid investments, I want my child to give me grandchildren, or I want my child to run the family business. How often do we hear, I want my child to beat their own drum, and to march by the beat of their own drum?

I want my children to be courageous enough to choose for themselves. I want my children to follow their instincts. I want my children to care about society. I want my kids to live in eco-conscious rather than ego-conscious ways.

I don’t care if they don’t have ivy-league educations.
I don’t care if they are not six-figure earners.

I don’t care about what profession they choose.

I care that they be happy.
I care that they be free to choose.
I care that they love and are loved.
I care that their lives be filled with a million little gratitudes.
I care that they are good people.
I care that they are curious.
I care that they read.
I care that they serve.
I care that they are served.
I care that they value themselves above all.

I care that they share that value with the world.

That’s pretty much all I care about.

-mtg

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

Yessing It Like Shonda Rhimes

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I haven’t had cable television for over 10 years so Thursday nights have not meant to me what they do to some. I have one friend, for example, who has an entire ritual in place around her Thursdays in front of the tv. She looks forward to Thursdays in a way I didn’t understand. In fact, I only ever watched my first episode of Grey’s Anatomy once it came out on Netflix (at which point I watched all the episodes at once… until the episode where Derek was killed off, at which point I stopped watching altogether…. cause…. Derek!). But anyway, the point is that although I understood that a lot of people watched Grey’s I didn’t understand until that marathon how dramatically addictive Shonda Rhimes tv-watching can be. I’ve actually had to make it a point not to search for other Shonda Rhimes programming on Netflix because I know, if I find any, I will be sucked in as hard as the next guy.

So, when at my local library a few days ago, I noticed on display a cute little book with the words Year of YES written in large print, and under it, Shonda Rhimes, I became curious. It seemed to me that if she can write addictive television, that maybe there would be something to the book. Not knowing anything at all about Shonda before this book, this is what I have learned so far:

1- Grey’s Anatomy is the first program she ever worked on and ever created.

2- She was already a mother when she created Grey’s Anatomy.

3- She has had two more children since, both of which are younger than my two.

4- While creating storylines for Grey’s and having kids she also created and produced two other hit programs.

I have a hard enough time balancing things like feeding my kids and bathing them regularly, let alone keeping up with the demanding schedule of television production… BUT ANYWAY, again I digress.

So the reason I picked up Shonda’s book at all was not because of her name, because I didn’t notice that right away, but rather was because of it’s title. Year of YES. Year of YES. Year of YES. If it isn’t obvious, the book is about how Shonda decided that for one year she would only say yes to opportunities, however terrifying they seemed.

I don’t know about you but I am often reading blogs, books and articles of the inspirational variety, and more often than not I’ll read suggestions like, put post-it notes with the word Yes! on your bathroom mirror so you see it first thing every morning, or on your door so you see it before leaving the house, or plastered all over your house like wallpaper. While I generally think there’s something to it, I haven’t followed through. Not because I don’t think I should, mind you. Because honestly, I do. I am in serious need of a Yes-over and have been for many years– possibly my whole life.

I remember being in my early teens. A friend of the family, knowing that I am artistically creative, referred me to a company that was in need of some visual components to a presentation they were giving (this was pre the existence of Powerpoint). I spoke with someone in charge at the company, they sounded very professional to young me. It made me afraid to disappoint them by not providing a “good enough” finished product and so I said no.

No is what I said when I was in university, when I had a crush on a really great guy for months and months, and when he finally began showing interest in me I shut it down, fearing that I wasn’t going to be all that he envisioned me to be.

In my twenties I thought to start my own business selling self-designed note cards. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted with all my heart to be my own creator, but I quickly lost faith in my product and my ability to sell my product. Rather than approach new prospects I would simply tell myself, No, not today. Not today became everyday.

Now, I haven’t said No to everything in my life. I’m a bit adventurous, so when it came to traveling across the country alone, moving to a new province alone, jumping out of a plane alone (and without informing anyone that I was going to do it), these for me were Yes opportunities. Going to bars and concerts alone, zip-lining between Whistler mountains, renting a summer house in some remote corner of Newfoundland, all Yes.

But anything that had people counting on me, anything that wasn’t something I could do alone, anything that would require me to be out in the public eye and on display, these were always a No. I know it’s funny coming from someone who blogs about my life and is fairly open and candid about my flaws, but for me, with the written word creating a degree of separation, it is waaaay not the same. And by that I mean way less terrifying. Because terrified is how I feel when I am asked to put myself front and centre, terrified is how I feel when my physical and vocal presence matters to the success of an outcome.

HENCE why Year of YES stood out as interesting. Because a year of YES is exactly what I need.

I haven’t finished the book yet so I don’t know how it all works out for Shonda, although if she wrote a book about it I can only assume it worked out pretty good, but I’m thinking that if I were to create a year of YES for myself, it would have to place me in uncomfortable situations, speaking in public, interviewing for jobs I’m afraid to get rather than safe jobs I know I can get, putting myself on the line creatively, making myself known rather than an unknown wallflower, being public rather than private. My year of YES would have to include everything I normally, reflexively say no to. This is terrifying. To some not as terrifying as giving a speech to 16,000 people as Shonda is currently doing in the chapter I’m on, but by my own measurement, equally terrifying.

So terrifying that I don’t know if I can do it. So terrifying that I don’t trust myself not to say no.

But then I think, if Shonda can do it, with her three kids and Thursday night tv, who am I to say that I can’t.

Here I go….
Yeee……..
Y…yyyyeeee……
Yyyes….
Yes. (cough spit choke)
Yes!

YES
-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