Parents and Kids: Parallel Work

“Mommy! I’m ready to… “ The phrase I hear any time I am home - it’s never ending. I try so hard to accomplish all that I need to do in a day (like writing a blog post for instance) but inevitably everything gets squeezed into 5-min spaces between various activities my son Miles wants to engage me in. This can be incredibly frustrating when I felt that an hour of playing trains and blocks was sufficient and that I had earned myself some quiet time - but according to Miles, not even close. As I write this, he is sitting next to me showing me the roly-poly crawling on his arm and the fact that he cut a tiny triangle out of construction paper. “Mommy! The roly-poly is crawling onto the triangle and tapping his feet! TAP! TAP! TAP!” 

I have written about being busy before and I suspect I will again. The tasks of life never cease to overwhelm me even prior to having a child. But now it requires real thought and planning to get anything done - this includes showers, eating and complete thoughts. Miles is 2.5 years old and at the height of speaking, so, he basically follows people around and repeats what he has to say until he is satisfied with their response. Sometimes it is absolutely adorable. Other times it’s maddening. It’s like when you can’t get a nagging thought out of your head - it simply overpowers all other thoughts, like a 2 year old inside your head waiting to be acknowledged. 

My solution? I give in. When I sit back after a power-struggle with my child, I often start to feel remorse. I begin to think more about where he is coming from - a place of excitement and wonderment about pretty much everything he encounters. Music, books, animals, dancing, new things, old things… everything is amazing to him! How awesome is that? As adults it is rare that we get to feel sheer astonishment with something. I would love to feel that excited about everything I am doing again. I try to find enjoyment in all that I do, but as I’ve grown up there are definitely activities for which I lack enthusiasm. When it comes down to it Miles and I are butting heads because he wants to continue exploring with me and I need to find some time to do things I’d really rather not. I have to do these things because I am an adult and I have responsibilities, right? Well pardon my french, but ain’t that some shit? So, in a way I give up. I give up on the struggle for time and space.

When our family wakes in the morning, we all have some sort of job to do. Work, bills, exercise, cooking, cleaning… Miles’ primary job is playing. The more he plays, the more he learns. The more we engage with him in play, the deeper he gets into his imagination and creativity (which helps him play independently). I am not saying that parents can (or even should) drop all their responsibilities to simply play with their kids all day. But when I look back at all the times I’ve had to reason with Miles about why I can’t play with him because I have to get something done, I would say about half (or more) of the time I didn’t really NEED to put my tasks before play. I simply became attached to getting things done at that particular time. And the results are pretty consistent - Miles rebels and throws a tantrum and whatever task I was trying to do becomes 10x more difficult, frustrating or so half-assed that I end up redoing it another time.

This post is outlining my experiment with melding my tasks with Miles’. I committed to writing one blog post per week and because this week has been rather traumatic for Miles (we ran out of peanut butter, he had to take a bath and his toast was cut incorrectly), I had not found the time to sit down and write in a quiet space. But in my home, waiting for a quiet space is like waiting for it to rain tacos. I am forced to write in the midst of mania. The fact is there are several activities I have to work with Miles to get done, for instance exercising is definitely no longer a solo activity. Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping are all tasks that now involve a little person weaving in and out of every action. A big shout out to all the parents out there who seem to be able to do anything with their kids (multiple kids!). I’m just learning the ins and outs of simple tasks and it takes more patience than I have ever possessed. 

My choice to simply write while Miles plays around and with me has worked beautifully. Miles has the space to play on his own and when he wants to engage, I am available to him. When he moves on to the next thing, I write some more and he plays on his own some more. When children play next to one another but not necessarily with each other it is known as parallel play. At this moment Miles and I are engaged in parallel work and it’s paying off. Yes, it is taking longer than usual to write this. But I have dealt with zero tantrums, Miles is happy and doing things independently and I am actually accomplishing something without a struggle. In addition to the fact that we are spending time together, Miles knows that I am available to him, which in the end makes him need me less. Believe it or not, I am feeling a shimmer of reason within his 2.5 year old mind, and it’s beautiful.

Harvesting green beans

Doing dishes

Writing with Mommy

Miles challenges me on a daily basis - sometimes he’s aware of it, others not so much. But I have begun to realize how often a child’s needs will butt up against our (adults) attachment to responsibilities. Sure we all have stuff we have to do - important stuff that cannot be ignored. But does it always need to be at the expense of our availability to explore the world with our kids? Taking the time to simply watch their amazement at the things we have grown to take for granted is a gift. It’s a reminder that we don’t always need to take ourselves so seriously. 

Here are some things we have tried out - 

• Exercise is literally Miles and I running, jumping and twisting for as long as we can.

• I read my books out loud to Miles - sometimes he can get pretty engaged in the story, others not and we read his books (but I get to choose) :) 

• When cooking, I chop veggies and give Miles the refuse. He makes up his own meals. 

• If I have to sit in front of the computer, I let Miles sit on my lap and we talk about the pictures and icons he sees.

These activities become a lot more fun when I’m not concerned about time, or keeping Miles distracted. I do my thing and Miles does his. Listening to his hilarious commentary and observations are totally worth the extra effort. 

Image by Ilona Barnhart

Everyday art… The Collage Wall

The Collage Wall is a piece of our home and of ourselves. Those who have known me for a while know that in my many apartments (and bedroom at my Mom’s house) there have always been pieces of paper, scraps of stuff and bits n’ bobs all over my walls, refrigerator and general living space. And as things work out they way they do, I ended up marrying someone who also had a growing collection of scraps adorning his work space. At the moment of cohabitation The Collage Wall was born. We melded our collection of significant, interesting or funny scraps of paper, pictures, cut-outs, business cards, fliers, coasters, etc. and it took on a life of its own. The piece is ever-growing as we add items we can’t bear to pass-by, leave behind or relegate to the trash. 

The Collage Wall, as it has come to be known, has moved with us three times, each time taking on a new form as it is dis- and reassembled in a new configuration. We sat back a few nights ago and took a look at it. We recalled how good it felt to put it up after it had been packed away after our last move. We realized that we gave it the largest wall in our house. Just like a plant, we knew it needed room to grow. This collection of items is a living, evolving piece of our family. It is made up of symbols that represent a memory or story and each holds a specific energy. This energy evokes emotion in us, which is why I say it is a living thing. I would say that 99% of the pieces that make up the wall would have otherwise gone into the trash or possibly a shoe-box. I feel connected to each bit and would feel genuine sadness if any were to end up in the garbage. I can see how this can seem like borderline hoarding, but these items represent parts of me and I respect each and every one. 

What I truly love about The Collage Wall is that it is totally unique to us. It represents us. It is the story of our family. If someone were to ask me what is important to my family, I feel The Collage Wall would tell a fairly complete story (via bits and pieces - the connection points being our intimate understanding of it). 

Traditional home decoration is much more manicured, doesn’t generally involve push-pins and probably doesn’t sway when a gentle breeze hits it - but I honor our wall as something absolutely fundamental to our living space. First, it sustains regular interaction with the space - as new things are being added by both my husband and I, we often take a look and notice something we hadn’t before. Second, it reminds us of our evolution and shows us on a daily basis how we got to where we are today, in other words it represents gratitude. Third, our son now has a heavy influence on what goes on the wall. His contribution is just as important as ours. He may not be old enough to press the push-pins yet, but his stories are now a part of our lives and they are significant. 

So why is this at all relevant? Some people don’t particularly think of themselves as artistic, creative or good at DIY stuff. I couldn’t count the number of times I have heard people say oh I am not creative, but I completely disagree. We may all have very different outlets for our creative energy, but I do believe everyone has a creative soul. Creativity is a form of expression, an outlet for who we are deep down inside. Often times creative projects show us more about ourselves than we realize. We feel good when we complete something and it is all the more beautiful when we have made it with passion. Working with your hands, evoking emotion, utilizing symbols, creating something new from various smaller parts are all creative acts. Expression is a key component to health. Psychology Today writes about Creativity as a regular wellness practice along with diet and nutrition. It may not seem like a primary need but the reality is we all need to be able to express who we are and what makes each of us unique. Creating is linked with reduced stress and anxiety, improved outlook on life and a reduction in negative emotions. Having an outlet for the darker side allows us to express emotion without a negative impact. 

When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” - Psychologist Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi 

We live in a super materialistic time. It may seem like there are so many products out there that we couldn’t possibly all have the same “things” - but hey, we all know how trends work. Something we were indifferent to becomes increasingly interesting because just about everyone we know has it. The Huffington Post presents the idea of creating more than you consume - read about it here. Take a moment to think about the conversations that come from interest in something someone has done on their own… imagine an amazing dish a friend made from scratch without a recipe; the piece of jewelry you made that gets more compliments than anything else you own; the sheer amazement (I personally have) any time you listen to musicians have a jam-session; the interesting painting on the wall that you did yourself. Yes, we could eat a frozen pizza, buy jewelry at the department store, listen to music online or buy a pre-framed picture at home furnishing store. But, would any of these be as interesting or spark as much conversation as the raw creations made with your own hands or those you are close to? The difference is authenticity. The difference is giving life to the things we own, share and consume. 

Self expression. Creativity. Being artistic. These are simply different names for doing things your own way. Sometimes we can get so used to the way things are supposed to be that it can be hard to know what feels natural - we might not even know what exactly is natural for us. Which is all the more reason to do it more often - try something new every so often. Experiment with your living space, concoct in the kitchen, dare to be artistic without judgement. In our case, most adults don’t have old concert tickets, foreign currency, photo-strips and pages torn out of programs tacked to their living room wall. But it is who we are and a part of what we love. The Collage Wall inspires me, so much so that I’ve thought about writing a collection of short stories telling the background of each and every piece. If something I am creating inspires me to create more, I know I am on the right path. 

 In what ways do you live uniquely and passionately? How does the way you live represent who you are? Please share your stories below. 

Busy Times

It’s summer, which means summer vacation, complete with warm sunny days outside, having fun with friends, going to parties and playing in the pool. Then it dawns on me—I’m an adult. I look at my calendar and it’s packed with parties, holidays, work obligations, get-togethers, showers, events…you name it. As a kid, I would have been excited about this series of fun events. But what’s increasingly fleeting as an adult is an obligation-free day, where I get to choose what I want to do for 24 hours. 

To be clear, I know I am a lucky. I have all that I need, I am able to obtain what I want (within reasonable means), I have my health and so do my family and friends. People want to spend time with me, and that I am truly grateful for. However, this doesn’t mean I’m immune from flailing into a string of unreasonable stress and complaints when things get manic. I have to sit down and mentally sift through the day’s obligations and tasks. I often remind myself that all these stresses are minimal and the only reason I am flipping out is because I think I am overwhelmed. But it sure doesn’t feel that way. It can start to feel like I’m constantly racing from point A to point B. What is in your head becomes your reality. I had to take a step back and ask myself, am I growing or am I losing myself in staying busy? 

 “A single day is enough to make us a little larger or, another time, a little smaller.” —Paul Klee. 

Last summer was a particularly busy time for my family. Wedding season provides a busy schedule for my husband who works as a photographer, and between my own full-time work schedule and the bountiful summer events, we could barely keep up. Every weekend for 2 months was jam-packed as we reorganized our lives like a game of Tetris. We said yes to as many events as possible with the idea of honoring our friends. And with a small child, saying no to a family event is basically sacrilege. So we forged ahead as the stress continued to build up. I kept thinking I would just go to bed early and catch up on sleep the next night, but without some waking down-time, my sleep was devastatingly wakeful. I noticed increased anxiety, stress in my marriage, and a nagging feeling of not knowing what to do with myself. I ignored my own self-care and desperately needed to reorganize my priorities. I also struggled with maintaining a positive diet. When I’m on the run, I assume I don’t have time to cook. When I don’t cook, I don’t have leftovers for the following day, thus I end up purchasing ready-made food. So, my diet quickly devolves to healthy fast-food, sugar, tons of toast and butter, quick pasta, all while an abundance of fresh produce went bad before my eyes. Luckily, I stepped back and asked myself Why do I feel this way? Why is this overtaking me? I knew that nothing specific was wrong, but I felt wrong in almost everything I was doing. So, instead of going with every knee-jerk reaction, I decided to take a step back. 

After taking inventory, I realized that I was eating poorly, not getting enough sleep and saying yes to too many things. First, I ditched the 3 cups of coffee and went back to 1 cup half-caf and lots of water. I participate in AngOrg CSA and receive organic veggies delivered to my door each week. This helps me make cooking a priority again. What a difference eating a plateful of veggies does compared to shoving a huge slice of pizza in my face. Those two changes alone allowed me to begin to feel in charge of my life again. Then it happened: one day I found myself with nothing on the calendar. It was just my son and I all day at home. It was glorious. We played outside, read books, made lunch and had a picnic, had a dance party, and while he napped I took a long bath…we had a great day, plain and simple. It was essential down time and exactly what I needed. I felt fatigued and defeated because I denied my own self-care. How could I help my family if I didn’t first help myself? In saying yes to every event or social engagement, I lost the time I had to recharge and be present in the moment. 

Tips for staying on top of your game -  

Eat well. I cannot stress this enough, eating well will stabilize your mind and energize your body.  

Early mornings and evenings outside. Get up early and go for a bike-ride or take a walk at dusk, spending time outside in the cooler hours will energize rather than exhaust you. 

Drink water, not caffeine. Summer is hot and we need extra hydration. Caffeine dehydrates you, if you’re dehydrated you can suffer from exhaustion, fatigue and light-headedness. 

Say No. This is a tough one for many reasons. But, when it comes down to it you have to care for yourself to be able to keep going. If you’re feeling spread too thin, reconsider the next invite and be ok with your decision. 

Stack your life. In the book Movement Matters, Katy Bowman introduces the idea of “stacking”. This concept has you select events in your life that will accomplish many goals. For instance, do you need to exercise, get some fresh air and spend time with family? Go for a hike… oh and pick those fresh raspberries on the trail, all of the above and snack accomplished!  

Enjoy simplicity. Don’t get caught up in the fear of missing out. Take pride and pleasure in cooking your meals. Make your day revolve around your needs, not the other way around.  

Summer will always be a busy time and I hope that many more fun and exciting opportunities come my way as well as yours. But if we all remember to just sit in the sun and take a nap, enjoy the abundant fresh food available to us and go for a walk during sunset our busy lives might feel more like a gift than an obligation. 

Life is happening for everyone and we can choose to either let it take us over, or we can ride the wave and have a great time. The key is to be reflective about what we need to keep ourselves on-point. It is not selfish to care for yourself, it is honest. Be your own friend and be honest with your mind, body and heart. And be honest to those around you. Don’t let yourself fall to the wayside trying to keep up with all that is going on around you. You should enjoy all your blessings, but first you need to give yourself the energy to enjoy.