current city: Memphis
living situation: I share the home with a husband, a dog, and two sons: Gus, age seven, and Solly, age two-and-a-half (listed in order of arrival).
how do you structure your time and space? My office space is in a nook between the kitchen and the dining room, which is great when I’m writing about food or cooking from a recipe I’ve gotten off the web but lousy when my desk is messy — which is most of the time — and the kids start fooling around with my stuff. To structure my time, I’ve tried everything from hour-by-hour scheduling (I still have “shower” listed on my iCal daily plan) to caroming intuitively from one task to the next. Right now, what seems to be working is establishing a set of general priorities and making lists. On the top of my list these days is to write for at least a couple of hours and then spend some time managing and promoting my blog.
Then comes home stuff. I’m always motivated by food, much more than by housekeeping, so I usually write a plan for the week so there’s no last-minute shopping and brain-racking. We sit down most nights to a pretty good home-cooked family meal.
However, there’s a part of me that feels uneasy folding clothes or organizing our belongings. I actually think that’s kind of messed up. There’s a toxic stew of self-denial and feminist angst that makes me feel like ironing is retrogressive, time-wasting, and even frivolous, when it’s actually productive and meditative.
I have trouble taking time to meditate, even though I know it enriches me. The best compromise I’ve come up with is running without my iPod, which is pretty close to meditating. In fact, the best thing I can do for myself is simply to monotask — to do what I’m doing without distracting myself with podcasts or Facebook. Sometimes this includes music and other times it’s just quiet. Otherwise, my self-care consists of regular exercise and trying to connect with other people who are also trying to be present, patient, and useful.
Both of my kids go to a school that I love for its community and what my kids learn there–so much beyond the ABCs. After teaching for ten years, I began to question the way conventional schools — even the really good ones — function. I thought about homeschooling when the older one was little, but there’s a reason I have to work on being present, patient and useful. It doesn’t always come easily to me. So homeschooling was out. But I found a school that nurtures their inherent desire to cooperate, learn and grow.
using the metaphor of seasons to describe the phases of women’s lives,
-what are the particular challenges and highlights of your current season? I’m tempted to say it’s the tired season right now. Having two young kids and being a freelancer is busy and exhausting in a way that’s very different from other tiring, busy times I’ve had in my life. It’s different from the laser-like focus on reading and writing of my grad school days, for example. It’s not all about me.
Taking things a day at a time is important to me whether I’m packing lunches and laundering diapers or trying to pull in a few more readers each day for my blog. But for the most part, my life is the result of my choices, which means that I’ve signed up for both the pluses and the minuses. I have to review that fact periodically so as to remember how lucky I am to have choices.
The highlights are pretty great. I get to do fun stuff with my family — eating, traveling, exploring, playing, reading — and then write about it. My kids try my patience, but that’s how they teach me patience. I get to grow up. And they are lovely, affectionate, original, and so utterly themselves.
-what season(s) preceded this one? There was a waiting season while the adoption of our younger son was processing. But of course waiting wasn’t all we did. You don’t live your life waiting, especially if you already have one bright shiny kid in your lap. So it was also a time of exploration. With just one kid, I was able to volunteer at Gus’s school, at the Farmers’ Market, and take on projects that seemed like they might contribute to the community, even if just in a small way. With two kids, I’ve had to shed most of the extracurricular stuff.
-what season(s) might your future hold? I have mixed feelings about entering the period when my boys will become more independent and I’ll move back into putting more of my energy into my writing, teaching, or community work. (I didn’t have the stamina to teach and raise kids, and am seriously amazed by people who do.) But a friend of mine was reflecting on how she keeps herself in balance, and she said that it was necessary for her to avoid hanging her identity on any one of her roles — mom, worker, wife. Because it’s almost guaranteed that things will change. Well, not even ‘almost,’ in the case of the mom role.
favorite family activities: I love exploring with my kids, biking, hiking, camping, trying new foods, and visiting state parks and weird places no one else ever visits. My husband and I have to compromise, because he’s not so crazy about camping and its discomforts, so we find budget-friendly ways of staying in hotels and cabins. At home we do a lot of lying around and reading.
favorite solo activities: lying around and reading, cooking, eating, knitting, killing plants, and traveling alone (one thing I miss about my single life)
When you travel alone you can stand in front of a picture in a museum for as long as you want, or read a book in a cafe if you like. It’s just a different kind of adventure.
source(s) of inspiration: I am inspired by my grandmother, who co-owned a travel agency in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She traveled by herself to Austria this summer, weeks before her 91st birthday, to go to a friend’s wedding.
Another source of inspiration is my dad, who reinvented himself as a poet and then started a post-retirement career publishing an Edible magazine. He’s got enormous integrity.
best MakeShift moment: The other day when the kids were extra-wild, I bought myself time to cook supper by letting them entwine all of our downstairs furniture in a giant yarn spiderweb. It’s taken me a while to recognize that messes like that don’t matter, especially when they allow me to get something done with the kids nearby.
follow liz on twitter: @GoWithFamily
[if you or someone you know would make a good “mother of invention,” please check out the nomination process and questionnaire located on the sidebar to your right.]