Well, the Year of Family is officially winding down. Last week I attended a four day training, next week I will work for three days and the week after that I will be back at school for professional development. My maternity leave has ended and soon I will receive a paycheck again (which is exciting!). As I reflect on the year I’m struck the number of things I’ve done that have really altered my outlook on life.
De-cluttered stuff (and life!):
I landed on Minimalist Mom’s blog back in December, and discovered a whole new (minimalist) world. I devoured books (The Joy of Less, Organized Simplicity, etc.) and started decluttering. I whittled my clothes from a full closet and dresser into one small closet. I culled my two bookcases down to two shelves. As a consequence I have read more (hello library!) and worn a greater variety of clothes in the past six months that in the past two years. It’s a paradox, but it is exactly how things worked out. I’ve started saying “no” to personal and professional requests that I would have felt obligated to say “yes” to before. I’ve unsubscribed to the multitude of e-mail newsletters and magazines that I always languished in my inbox or coffee table, making me feel guilty for not reading them cover to cover. All of the decluttering I’ve done has given me more space to enjoy my life, to live in the present and to help me discover the difference between the things I do that give me joy and the things I do that I think should give me joy. There is a wider gap than I would have thought.
Stopped eating out . . .
. . . and instituted a multitude of other cost-cutting measures. I start with the fact the we stopped eating out because that was probably the biggest life-style change for us. Gone are the weekly take-out night. Gone are the quick run to Chipotle on our way home from Costco. This has not only saved us money, but has also changed how we view dining out. Rather than feeling deprived, we splurge occasionally on specialty grocery items (like Daiya) and then have the added enjoyment of making something tasty and fun at home. When we do eat out it is a special treat that we look forward to, like a summer excursion to the (vegan) ice cream store. I’ve learned how to make my own peanut sauce, veggie burger and other treats that we usually ate our for. Eating out was just one of the spending items we cut that enriched our lives far more than it deprived us. As a result of our spending cuts we have decreased our monthly spending by an average of $150 a month. That might not sound like a lot, but this decrease, along with a re-thinking of our priories, is what has allowed me to go back to work part-time.
Ran a 1/2 marathon and started yoga:
For so long my fitness routine has been confined to the thirty minutes I could put in at the gym before work, rounded out by any bike riding I happened to do during the week. This year I got to focus in training for my first 1/2 marathon, which was doubly enjoyable as I did long runs with a good friend. I also had time to start taking yoga classes, which have been increasingly awesome at helping me increase flexibility and focus more on living in the moment.
Enjoyed time with my children:
Speaking of living in the moment, this year with my family reminded me that living in the present is not as easy as it should be, especially with my personality. I like to have projects and goals. I thrive on long-term plans. And I suck at focusing on what is happening in front of me since I always seem to have my to-do list scrolling through my brain. This year I was purposely taking time away from work to be with my kids. At some point around November I found myself obsessing over some small work plans while I was watching LP play. This was also around the time I stopped getting paid, and it really hit me. Not only was I not getting paid, but I took this year off, this year away from career advancement, this year away from professional goals, to have time to enjoy my children. If I was spending all this time with them, only to focus on my ever-present to-do list, what the hell was the point? It hasn’t been a quick change. I still struggle to just be, whether it is when I’m at the park with the kiddos, or even just giving myself a little break during naptime. This is probably the main aspect of my life, of my persona, that I have worked on, and that I still really need to work on. As all parents know, the days with your kids can feel long, but the years are so, so short. I’m not saying I enjoy every single moment with my children (hello poopy diaper. Oh yeah, and the the time LP said “damnit”). But I do want to pay attention to what is in front of my face, not what’s on my to-do list, or what big plans I have a week from now.
As the Year of Family winds to a close I’m at a strange cross-roads, a place I’ve never been before. Every since I can remember, I’ve had a plan for what to do next. When I was in high school I knew which colleges I wanted to go to, and planned my academics accordingly. When I was in college I figured out I wanted to teach with Teach for America and I planned accordingly, all the way down to the summer internship I did after my junior year. After teaching for a few years I wanted to live on the East Coast, something I had actually thought about doing for a number of years in college. Once we moved to the East Coast it was time to start thinking about a house and/or children. After LP was born the next project was to figure out my new life as a working parent, and start thinking about kiddo number two. Then IP was born and the Year of Family, with the blogging, the spending shift and the life-stlye changes were my new project.
Well, now the Year of Family is done and, for the first time in my life, I don’t know what the “next thing” is. I’m going back to work, but I’m going back part-time – not the most ambitious career move, but certainly the move that is making me excited (instead of depressed) about teaching again. I don’t have new career aspirations, beyond continuing to become a better teacher. I don’t have new family aspirations, beyond keeping the house remotely clean and our kids healthy and happy. While these task are certainly enough to keep me and the G-man busy, they are all about treading water, not swimming forward. This makes me a bit antsy, a bit nervous, because I’ve never been in this place before. But, as the summer days wind down, as I push a giggling IP in the swing, as I read the Lego airplane book to LP for the umpteeth time, as I plan out the new close-reading lessons I’m going to use in my classroom, I’m starting to think that treading water is going to give me a chance to find joy in my surroundings instead of rushing past them. I’m finally ready to start looking for the joy instead of searching for the next goal.