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Type “A” Mama Takes a Hint

Taylor Newman

Do you ever have weeks that you have to psych yourself up for, locker room pep-talk style? (Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!). This was one of those weeks for me. We eased in with a picnic-licious Labor Day, but come Tuesday, game time was on and I knew I needed to get out there and Tim Riggins this thing. Kaspar was about to start daycare in earnest, my more intense (and final) stretch of massage school would begin on Wednesday morning, and Aaron and I both had several big work projects-- on top of our usual loads—that would require time and attention in the coming weeks. I had one project in particular that I’d back-burnered to the now-or-never point. It was hanging over my head, but I planned to take the ‘now’ option on it this week. This week was the one. I just had to keep my focus, and manage my time well.

And have you ever heard the expression, “If you want to make God (/the universe/whatever you wanna call it) laugh, make plans?” Lemme tell ya: there’s really something to that.

First, I came down with a head cold on Monday night, though I pep-talked myself around that, too. Sure, I couldn’t open my eyes all the way, or breathe through my nose (which was also somehow running uncontrollably)… at all… but I’d sleep it off and be fine by morning. That’s exactly what I’d do. Kaspar, however, who’s normally a solid sleeper these days, had other plans in the works. He, ignoring all protest, thought 3-5 a.m. just perfect for a dance party. By the time our alarms went off at 7 on Tuesday morning, Aaron had just fallen asleep on the couch, and I was plastered with snot and barely human.

Still, we pushed through, made a big show of packing Kaspar’s lunch in his new lunch box, and put on our best enthusiastic faces so he’d feel confident on his first day solo at school. After dropping him off, I realized that I had several hours of alone-time ahead of me, assuming his school didn’t need me to come back early for any reason. I considered that I could start that big project I’d mentioned; it was a story I’d successfully pitched to one of my favorite magazines several months ago, and getting started would involve making some initial calls to set up my interviews. I sounded—and felt— pretty terrible, though, and since I hadn’t actually planned to work during this block of time (I’d normally be in class every morning, too), I also considered taking advantage of the down time, at face value. It was a now-familiar pull of wondering whether I should do everything, or nothing, while I had the opportunity.

Since I honestly felt like spending the day in bed drinking broth and watching Brat Pack movies (which wasn’t gonna happen), I went home, made some fresh juice, packed books into boxes (oh yeah, we’re also MOVING this month), and kept an eye on my cell phone. It didn’t ring, and by the time I picked Kaspar up, I felt relieved and excited. Head cold or no head cold, a major component of Operation Season-Of-Change was officially off the ground. Phew.

Then, on the way home, my moving car was hit by a moving deer on a six-lane major road, shattering my driver's side window. Which was unexpected. And terrifying.

Kaspar and I were both fine, but I was pretty shaken. By the time I finally got us home, I no longer felt like spending the day in bed--  I felt like hiding under the bed until the week was through. One of the untold up-sides of being a parent, however (although it doesn’t always feel great at the time), is that doing things like hiding under beds for days on end is really just never an option. Kids need feeding and cuddling and playing, and life moves forward, no matter what. Aaron took over for afternoon, though, so that I could go to the doctor for a post-deer-crash checkup— I’d stiffened my entire body upon impact, and my neck was a little sore.  

As I sat in the waiting room, um, waiting for my name to be called, and on hold with the car insurance people over the phone (also still unable to breathe through my nose), I realized that just as doing nothing isn’t a realistic option with parenthood in the picture, attempting to do everything usually doesn’t make sense, either. I know this, but I still try to do a million things every day. When everything goes according to plan, I can pull off superhuman multitasking feats. But life doesn’t always go that way. And the fact is: I am human. And on this particular day, I didn’t feel like testing the limits of that any further. I needed to scale my week back to some degree, to find ways to simplify.

As much as that piece I’d pitched would (theoretically) be fun to write, and as much as I’d be proud to include it in my portfolio, completing it at this point would mean piling one more thing into an already-full fall schedule. I could do it, but it wouldn’t be fun—I’d use every evening for work, juggling studying and my other jobs (which are thankfully largely self-scheduled, but definitely need to get done) around to make room for this extra project. I’d be tired and anxious during my afternoons with Kaspar, and I’d look at moving into our new house as an enormous chore, instead of an exciting change. I kicked myself for procrastinating into a corner, but then realized that I hadn’t procrastinated: I truly hadn’t had time—and didn’t have time—to write this thing by deadline.

What I wrote instead was an email that was no fun to write at all. I let the editor know that I wasn’t able to do the job, and recommended a writer friend who happens to have great clips and experience, and a totally open schedule this fall. She’d asked me recently if I had any work leads, and I called her before hitting ‘send’ to let her know an ideal one was coming her way. She was game—and grateful—and when I apologetically told her the deadline, she said, “Oh! That’s plenty of time.” The editor wrote back moments later, too, and welcomed my friend aboard. 

I felt semi-disgraced to have backed out of a commitment, and disappointed to have lost this lead in to my coveted mag. But, the publication will be there, and my sense of disgrace was self-imposed. I gave my friend my notes that afternoon, and said, “I’m not really a writer—this piece is much better for you.” She asked what the hell I was talking about, but as a musician/teacher/writer/non-profit temp herself, she understood the identity crises that sometimes come with self-invention, self-scheduling, and change. She reminded me that I didn’t have time for the piece because I’m enmeshed in other pursuits that I care about. People have to say ‘no’ sometimes. Especially people who are moms.

With the piece off my plate, the rest of the week went off without a hitch; Kaspar really got the hang of school, and I was excited by my classes, with the reality of massage certification in sight. My head cold hung on throughout the week, so I took it easy. I spent my afternoons cuddling, reading, and going for walks with Kaspar (who also got to watch Elmo while eating dinner a few times this week... Kaspar scores when Mom is tired), and my evenings with Aaron, just hanging out, or watching Mad Men on Netflix streaming (that show is my new Friday Night Lights... I'm physically addicted). I know I could have used that time more productively, but I was sick, and my car had been hit by a freaking deer. Obviously, the powers-that-be wanted me to chill out. Take a load off.

I can take a hint.

So now my head cold is gone, and I’m in my favorite coffee shop, breathing through my nose, eating biscotti, and getting work done without feeling rushed. I have time for all that I need and want to do, and I’ve learned a little lesson about slowing down, being-here-now, and not making too many plans. (Duly noted, Universe. Duly noted.) I feel sorry for the deer, but I'm grateful Kaspar and I weren't hurt, and even a little bit grateful that something pushed me past my limit for a little while there. Or at least right up to my limit. Being aware of my own limitations means I can pay heed to them as I make plans, take things on, and scale things back when necessary. It's an ongoing balancing act, but I think I'm catching on.

Have you ever tried to do more than you realistically can, or bailed on a commitment? How do you know when you’ve reached your max point? How do you decide what to say ‘no’ to? How do you find time to do ‘nothing’ in your life as a mom? Ever been hit by a deer? Looking forward to your thoughts on this post! 

Elmo's World at dinner time: Kaspar nodded enthusiastically in response to my (very-serious) assertion that "We're not going to make a habit of this..."