It’s 9:30pm and I’m sitting at my semi-cleared off desk in the office and wondering if I can crank out a blog post before midnight. It feels unlikely. Especially when considering the last few I’ve written have taken me days to pull together. This is what I tend to do though. I make things larger in my mind than they necessarily are. This is how writing goes for me quite often. I want to start, but then I worry I won’t be able to tell the whole story. I convince myself that I’ll run out of time, or momentum, or brainpower, and sometimes even story itself.
The interesting part is, that the longer I continue to tell myself this, the longer I tend to resist actually starting. And suddenly the narrative starts to come to life. I ultimately find that I don’t have time, or I’ve truly lost the momentum or the idea I had in the first place. The narrative manifests itself.
One evening, in the beginning of December, I got super twitchy after putting the boys to bed and went into a cleaning/decluttering frenzy. I’m not sure what set me off. Perhaps it was the aftermath of overwhelming bedtime chaos. Maybe I tripped over a stack of books piled next to the door in my office (again). Or maybe I couldn’t find something I JUST had in my hand moments before. All I know is that I sat down on the floor in that doorway and started pulling EVERY book from the bookshelf next to me. Then I pulled the ones off my desk and the ones in piles spilling across the floor.
I started sorting them into stacks:
- ones I want to read
- ones I’m already reading
- self-help books
- how-to better parent/get organized/save money/be married books
- poetry compilations
- creativity books
- books to donate to the neighborhood little library
Can you tell I have a LOT of books?
After organizing my bookshelf, I turned my attention to my desk. I cleared it completely off, added a desk calendar, and hung a dry-erase board. I also hung up my personal manifesto that I wrote years ago. It is typed over one of my favorite illustrations by Brian Andreas (which he gave me permission to do). I finished up this project by adding one of my favorite candles and a black and white photo of my boys.
I can’t tell you how long I’ve needed to clear off my desk and organize my books!
But the root of this frenzy was directly related to feeling overwhelmed by all of the things I needed to be doing. This is another thing that I tend to do: get super productive about something that is less of a priority in order to procrastinate another task or tasks.
Bottom line is, I needed to clear some room in my physical space to create room in my mental space. It wasn’t without purpose and I don’t regret it. That kind of frenzied cleaning/decluttering is pretty cathartic for me.
// Earlier this week I decided to post one of those random question boxes on my Instagram stories to entertain myself for a bit. I’ve seen other people do it and I always enjoy how it offers some fun creative connection. So in mine, I prompted people to ask me a question or tell me something they’d like to see. The responses were quite engaging! One friend asked me to post a photo of myself as a toddler. I was asked what the biggest lesson I’ve learned in 2020 has been (which cued a 3-part answer from me). Another friend wanted to see my favorite Christmas ornament.
Somebody asked what I was doing that moment. My response? Procrastinating dinner and letting the kids watch “too much” TV for the day. Though, what IS too much TV in 2020? There was a request for a side-by-side of my boys. One friend asked when I would get to see her again in person (hopefully 2021!). And another friend asked me “how are you doing?” to which I replied quickly that I was “doing pretty great. Feeling grateful for so many things this time of year!”
It was a fairly peppy response and one that, in the moment, was an accurate reflection of my state of mind.
As the evening continued, that state of mind shifted into a less than peppy place. My husband was working an evening shift and I was on bath and bedtime duty. It had been a long day of being with the kids without a break (unless you count the extra tv time a break… which I’m not counting!). I was exhausted before we even headed upstairs. Now this scene is no new rodeo for me but it is also the most chaotic part of our day.
More often than not, the bewitching hour, full of toddler tantrums and relentless hooligan-antics, ends up being an anxiety and frustration-inducing chaos.
This is what I tend to do. First I use my calm, how-to-talk-so-kids-will-listen voice to no avail. Then I use my “ok Mama is getting frustrated, I need your help to (fill-in-the-blank: get the shampoo out of your hair, get your pjs on, brush your teeth, etc)” more serious voice. I might try on “let’s make this fun to encourage cooperation” tactic, then pivot abruptly to a “holy shit that didn’t work… we need to settle down” angle. Occasionally, on my more exhausted/less patient/increasingly burnt out days, it might escalate to my “angry mama” voice (which can also be called: yelling).
This particular night had turned into one of those.
After my quick “doing pretty great – feeling grateful for so many things this time of year!” reply earlier in the afternoon, I’d arrived at the dark side. I stood fuming in the boys’ room, patience hanging by a thread, and was suddenly completely overcome. I burst into tears and sat down in surrender on the side of my son’s toddler bed. Both boys rushed over to wrap their arms around me, my youngest saying “Mama don’t cry” and my oldest joining me in the waterworks. I said “it’s ok to cry when we need to” over and over again, as much to myself as to them. I apologized for yelling and explained that I was having some big emotions and feeling overwhelmed.
We sat in a heap of tears and frustrations and exhaustion for a short while. Then we took some deep breaths and hugged it out. And we moved on.
The boys went to bed without much further fuss, probably motivated by my parenting unpredictability. I made my way back downstairs to decompress. I have to admit that I spent quite a large portion of the remaining evening feeling extremely guilty. Guilty for losing my temper, guilty for not feeling more grateful for this fleeting time with my kids, guilty for worrying them. This is what I tend to do, and also where things get complicated for me.
It is very important to me that I always try to stay vulnerable and keep it real with you. Because I know how comforting it is for me to know that I’m not riding this roller coaster of life alone. I’m here to remind you that you aren’t alone either.
I really struggle to hold space for the “both/and” spaces in my emotional experiences. Space for the unwavering love and gratitude I have for this incredible life that I am blessed with AND space for the grief that comes when I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, unseen, unheard, under-appreciated, exhausted, lonely, disconnected, sad, angry, or disappointed.
What I’m learning is that these things can all co-exist. There is room in a day for both “doing great/feeling grateful” AND crying into a heap of toddlers on the bed. Heck, there is room in a moment for a multitude of different emotions. In this year of all years, we have to find a way to give ourselves grace. The hardest days can feel like endless stretches of night, with darkness so opaque it seems like it may never lift. This year has been so long and held more than its fair share of darkness. And yet, the light still exists.
Honoring all of our emotions, giving ourselves permission to feel all of them, and offering ourselves grace when we find ourselves in the darkness, is SO incredibly important.
This is what I’m learning to do.
What about you? Do you struggle with the both/and of emotional experiences? How do you hold space for yourself? What does grace look like for you? I’d love to know more, drop a comment below.