Maybe it is because I only dabble in yoga, but when I am in downward-facing dog I find it hard to be present in the moment. I think about how my knees now creak, after years of bending down to pick up toys, and how my belly after two pregnancies hangs looser than its' nulliparous self, and how my hair is now a few shades darker since I stopped having time to highlight it. The yoga instructor reminds me to stay present, focus on my breathe, she whispers in an impossibly zen voice. I run a to-do list through my head. Grocery store, check. Switch over the laundry, check. Sign up for parent-teacher conference, check. Start writing a journal article for work, check. Buy new toddler socks... oops. I think about whether or not he can squeeze his 4-year-old feet into 2T-3T socks for another week. And now we are in a warrior pose. Isn't that what mom's are? Fighting our way through daily battles, philosophical and logistical.
Life gets so hectic that, like yoga class, I often need to remind myself to stay present. Like actually remind myself, with words. Hey, Katie, enjoy this moment! my mind yells. Even strangers warn of "how quickly time goes" and other cliches that guilt me into measuring my kids on growth charts and taking photos and scrapbooking. Although as the pressures of adult life started to pile up, I found myself resenting anything that interrupted my time with my children and occasionally the opposite was true, in that I resented the loss of activities I enjoyed because motherhood was always prioritized. So I developed a few coping strategies to help me stay in the present even outside the yoga studio:
1) Stop judging myself. I have lowered my expectations of what it means to be a good mother. I stopped comparing myself to other moms and the ideals that I held for myself and simply appreciate the mother that I am. There are days that are monumental successes (victories at work and home!) and others that are epic failures (stressful day at work and missing bedtime!). All of these moments have value and teach me lessons that move me forward on my motherhood journey.
2) Outsource the things that do not give me pleasure or add value to my life. Cleaning my house is an almost constant process with two little tornadoes running through my house. There are smashed animal crackers on the carpet in front of me and used tissues in most of my pockets, but I am content to let those sit for a few minutes while I write, because writing makes me happier than cleaning up crumbled crackers ever could. Every few weeks, we pay to have someone clean our home, to get a deep clean of areas of the house that we just do not have time to tackle the way that we should. And once in awhile when the kids need for a nap is in opposition with my ability to get healthy, fresh food for them, I order groceries online for delivery. Outsourcing these errands allows me to spend more quality time with my family, relieves stress, and meets our household needs.
3) Plan ahead. Every Sunday I look at our family calendar and plan out how we will address our schedule. My husband and I discuss meal planning, after-school events, transportation, meetings, and anything else that pops up and needs some strategizing. We write our meals on a white board to keep ourselves on task and help us resist the urge to order out or go through the drive-thru. Knowing what challenges are coming helps me brace us for them, because I know that there will be plenty of challenges that we cannot anticipate so I should prepare for those I can.
4) Unplug. My iPhone is rarely out of reach, but when I am playing with my children I keep it off and avoid checking email or social media so that we have quality face-to-face rather than face-to-screen time. If I want my children to engage in imaginative, screen-free play, I need to role model this for them. My children think an iPhone is simply for taking pictures or FaceTime with grandparents, and I like that they are unaware of its other functions. However, after the kids go to bed, I turn on my favorite TV shows, clutch my phone, and open my laptop in a gluttony of screens and love every minute of this mindless downtime.
5) Work at work, and play at home. Wherever I am, I am all in. At work, I stay focused to my tasks and try to make the most of whatever downtime I have to accomplish things that would otherwise creep over into my home life. Most of my lunches are spent answering emails or returning calls, but with each one I complete between bites of lunch I know that is less work that I will have to do in the evenings. At home, I disconnect from my work emails until after the children are asleep. Other than taking call, I rarely need to interrupt time with my children for work demands so that I know each aspect of my life is getting my full attention.
6) Don't be afraid to have some ME time. After months and months of bouncing between work and motherhood I learned how important it was to have time that was saved for me. Whether it be time to get a hair cut, manicure, call a friend, or read a book, having time for myself that is fully in my control is rejuvenating. These rest stops in the roller coaster of life allow me to jump in with the energy and passion that I want to give it.
Saving the joy amidst all the chaos of parenting is much like being a beginner in a yoga class. You have to push all of the negative thoughts from your mind, take a deep breath, and focus on the now. I can't be sure that in ten years I won't look back and realize I was doing it all wrong, but right now I need to find the way that works best for my family and prioritize the tasks that are most important to keeping us happy and healthy. The village that helps me do that not only includes my husband, family, and coworkers, but the stylists, delivery services, and yoga instructors out there who help me reclaim a sense of peace about my untameable wild life.