Laughter & the Stressed Out Mother

by Paige Ray in , ,

Dear baby.

I hope you like the sound of my laugh. I hope we both hear it a lot.

polar vortex snow day laughter and the stressed out mother

Recently I text a good friend after seeing that the polar vortex had closed down her children's school for the day. "Enlighten me- How do you get anything done with three elementary school children in your house?" was the paraphrase of my text but the real question rolling through my brain was much more cynical.

How do you not go crazy when you realize that you’ve unexpectedly have to play mom when your plans for the day were previously ‘be a grown up and be productive’?
— Me, stressing out for a friend.

Her answer was simple, "I lower my expectations for the day."  
Experience had taught her that trying to be as productive on a "snow day" wasn't the best way to look at the day and by temporarily lowering her standards, it made it easier on everyone: her children and herself. 

ne of my biggest fears is being a stressed out mother.

From my perspective, the definition of stressed out is "high responsibilities and higher expectations that lead to a shortage of laughter or calm." In my exchange with my lovely polar vortex friend I wonder if she has chosen to take the "expectations" part out of that equation on a daily basis.

Yes, there will always be deviations.  Shoes will be misplaced and the blizzard will occasionally arrive, but most of these things have no way to be controlled. It's only the expectations, both the ones we heap on ourselves and the ones from others we choose to hold onto, that are able to be controlled. And wouldn't it be a shame to look back on your life and realize that your children (or friends or partner or coworkers) can't recall the sound of your laughter because of someone's silly expectations? 

Image : Ali Inay via Unsplash

Notice changes around here? 

Me too.  
It seems as if I've stockpiled months worth of essays on / around motherhood in my brain during my time away from the blog. Yes, I still have thoughts on things outside that sphere but, for now, this is where I'm at.  

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Love and Cravings

by Paige Ray in , ,

This is the essay I would submit to the Listen to Your Mother show (specifically the Little Rock version) if I wasn't going to be in the very midst of the "surviving a newborn" phase of my life while the show was in production.  While I'm sure there are more eloquent words to explain the fear of of the unknown that a first time mother faces, this is my story.

The child I am carrying has caused me to lose my appetite.

I realize that this makes me the antithesis of every pregnant woman caricature out there, but I have actually lost my sense of craving for my favorite foods. 

ginger tea - fear of the unknown motherhood preganancy

I can remember a time not too far past that I would get a craving. A overwhelming visceral memory of specific food: often savory, occasionally sweet, almost always soul warming. The type of food that you sigh over. The type of food that you eat slowly and cherish and almost mourn a bit once the experience is over. The crunch and sigh of my grandmother’s friend chicken and gravy on a Sunday afternoon. The slurp and twang of the noodle house I visit every time I go to New York City. That first perfect bite that is raw tuna and rice and soy sauce and wasabi. All my favorites were always a perfect combination of flavor and texture and memory and craft. 

Now: I’m plowing through plates of french fries. Loads and loads of french fries. Condiments not optional. Please pass the ketchup or the mustard or whatever special sauce the particular restaurant, in which I currently find myself sitting, serves. I force myself to eat salads. Partially because it’s the right thing to do and partially because I have overwhelming amounts of french fry guilt. Oh and oatmeal - a daily serving of the power food that multiple generations of women raised on “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” have learned supposedly acts as baby growing fuel.

And I worry: 

What if I never get my "real" appetite back? What if, after this lovely miniature human inside of me decides to come out, he chooses to take with him the remnants of my palette which I have worked to expand and refine over the last thirty years of my life? Will I be doomed to a never ending cycle of grease laden fries and its exculpatory partner of greens and vinaigrette?

This, of course, leads me to the larger, more pressing, question:

What if motherhood causes a similar loss of creative craving? 

I look back at the not too distant past of the first trimester haze and remember how the mere thought of considering the words I wanted to write proved to be too much effort. During that mythical first three months I felt as if my urge to anything other than take a good long nap was out of the question. Will the onset of motherhood be an extended version of this?

I worry that as I step into the unknown that is new motherhood- the breastfeeding, the bonding, the early morning, early afternoon, and midnight cries that seem to have no resolution- that my appetite for the goodness of life will fade away. Similar to my current dependence on the fast food line, will my creative urge be replaced by a resigned reliance on the processed foods of entertainment? Will I, in my desire for story and plot, be forced to consume the saccharine stories of the real house wives of wherever the heck they currently reside? Or will even that desire fade away where I will simply fast from anything artistically expressive? A place where my life is infinitely less likely to be documented and treasured, and instead, merely survived.

As I write this I don’t have an answer.

The child will, hopefully, stay tucked away a few more months while he grows and develops and pushes both of us to our limits. In the meantime, I will also be growing and expanding and testing my own boundaries. Every night that I or my husband cook something that is beautiful and delicious will be considered a success. But every night I opt for McDonald’s will be regarded as a success as well. Because every meal that passes means I have made it one day closer to meeting my son. And because I realize that his appearance is not the end of this creativity thing, just a different course of meal that is life.  And I fully expect life to become more sweet and delightfully savory once he arrives.

image : Dominick Martin via Unsplash

Now go write your story and submit it to your Listen to Your Mother crew.  All of our stories are important.

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TCOYOS // Quarterly Retreats for Creatives

by Paige Ray in ,

The general premise...

of the TCOYOS weekend is stated in its name: one is responsible for Taking Care Of their (Your) Own... Priorities. (Yes, I realize that makes it TCOYOP... You must use your own imagination for the "S".)  

TCOYOS Take of Your own Stuff - Sunlight in Woods

If I were writing...

the copy for the (nonexistent) TCOYOS website here's what it would say: 
"Imagine this: A weekend in the woods (with Wifi, heat / air conditioner, and real beds) that allows you to focus on yourself and your priorities for two days.  This weekend would allow you to get away from your normal responsibilities of mother / employee / wife / small business owner.  How would you spend that time?  

How about writing down those family stories you've been meaning to record?  Or maybe you'd like to launch that handmade business that you've been talking about for months?  Perhaps adding a few chapters to that children's book manuscript that has been gathering dust on the back of your desk?  

What if I told you could do this for the cost of one hotel room and planning / preparation of one meal?  Bonus: A small intimate group of cohorts who, after four separate weekends, have begun to understand your strengths, weaknesses, and goals in such ways that they make the best cheerleaders outside of the time spent together?  Are you in... or would you rather another Monday morning arrive where you think: Where did my weekend go?"

Yes, I just made that description sound terribly cheesy, but it's also 100% true.  I have found that TCOYOS's mix of decreased responsibilities, increased camaraderie, and specially reserved time to focus on one's own project at hand are like a special kind of magic.  The mix of laughter and learning and tears and truth and the resulting work (so much work) that happens is perfection.

And truthfully, even when it's not all that productive (says the woman who battled pregnancy related illness two of the four times TCOYOS has convened) the time is invaluable.  At least, it has been for me. I have been fortunate enough to find myself in a group of women whom I deeply respect: women who are doing amazing things in their personal and professional lives.  Women with whom I gain wisdom when I remember to simply shut my mouth and listen.

As I mentioned, there is no website for TCOYOS; we are simply a group of women who cobbled ourselves together and found out we made a great match.  While I'm encouraging our group to create some type of resource to help others (maybe you?) create your own TCOYOS experience, for now you will have to live with being introduced to the ladies who I'm honored to have on my team.

Jaqueline Wolven
Terra Butler
Sarah White
Sarah Hood
Eileen Jennings

Let me know if you'd be interested in learning more about how you can implement the TCOYOS experience: Instagram, Twitter, or in the comments below.

p.s. The first time I wrote about TCOYOS (before it even had a name) was when my camera went missing.

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Laser // Cutting Through the Distraction

by Paige Ray in ,

When defining "laser"... 

there are two definitions which I'm choosing to implement. One is the "intense focus" that I have spoken about in Part Two and Part Three. The other defintion is more about what a laser does once that intense focus is achieved: cutting, slicing, and all other manners of destructive buzzing about. 

While I don't think my laser-like activity will directly cause any destructive buzzing, I do foresee removing all manner of distraction as a part of my personal challenge this year. 

Sunlight over traffic - One little word laser

I especially want to apply this to my creative sphere where, for the last two years I have given myself, mostly, free reign.  In the name of discovery and exploration and inspiration I have  followed every interest that has been piqued.  Knitting, quilting, watercolors, acrylics, photography, fashion, cooking, illustration: I did it all with varying levels of natural capability driven by high levels of curiosity. 

In my professional life I also found myself searching endlessly for the thing on which I should focus. What it social media like some encouraged? Or was it a broader calling of public relations? Perhaps marketing, internal communications, or event planning? What about small business owner? None of these was a perfect fit but I was so quick to race to the next that I never gave myself the time to consider why none of these options "fit".

This recent experience, the unfettered searching and exploring and dreaming, have been nice.  As someone who grew up in a household where work ethic and practicality were emphasized above most other things, this chance to wander through multiple options was a gift.  But now, I've realized that it's time to focus in on the things that I choose to emphasize and subsequently cut out the rest.

My rules:

  • No new projects.
    I may give myself some leeway on (quilting, knitting, home decor, insert your preferred distraction here) the distractions that I am currently in the middle of finishing.  And I may not.  I may simply give that half knit cowl to my friend Sarah and tell her to do what she wishes with it.
  • No conferences/ workshops / classes / "how to" books that are unrelated to either writing or story-telling.
    All of the above generally require money and time.  Both of these are limited resources which could be funneled toward on that which I am choosing to focus.
  • Less social media distraction.  Thanks to my recent social media sabbatical I feel much more confident in my ability to ignore the siren song of social media in general, however, I'm cutting even more out in the following ways:
    • Unfollowing those whom I have followed in the past who served as inspiration for previous projects/focuses.
    • Using social media tools intelligently. I have multiple (private) Twitter lists that allow me to use my online time in a much more focused manner.  Want to interact with publications I want to write for?  There's now a list for that.  Want to support the work of other writers? There's a list for that too.
    • Getting over getting caught up in numbers.  In the past I have spent so much time using numbers / followers / comments / feedback as an indicator that I was "doing the right thing" or "on the right path".  Because surely the rest of the world should know what I need to do with my own life... right? **sarcasm**
  • Generally saying "no" to more.
    This includes both things which I enjoy (my local bloggers meet ups) and things that, over time, have become more obligatory.  Saying "no" really helped me keep my sanity last year and is a habit I hope to become more comfortable using in this next year of uncertainty.

My reasoning:

The majority of time, I realize that these projects, though I enjoy them, are just an excuse that I use to avoid productivity. What sounds like, "Oh, it's so cold and I won't be leaving the house today - I should knit," on the surface, is really, "Writing is hard.  I will most likely flounder for half and hour and then get distracted by whatever the dogs are doing."

A Confession

I have no clue how new motherhood will factor into this concept of subtracting for the positive.  None.
I figure it will make some things (saying "no") easier, but the overall experience will seem like addition.  I figure that this will just be one more thing that I will learn as I live it this year.

No lie: This is going to be the hard part of the year of the "laser".  Any suggestions, recommendations, general cheerleading is now being accepted. 

p.s. Feeling lost?  Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three.
Hopefully that makes this make more sense.

Image Credit // Chris Liu-Beers via unsplash

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Laser // My Daily Goal

by Paige Ray in ,

In my Laser introduction post

I mentioned Elle Luna’s wonderful essay on following one's heart instead of blindly following obligations.  It was this article that started me thinking about what exactly it is that I should be laser focused on.  What is my "Must"?  What is that one thing that I do regardless of emotions or mood or fatigue level or, at some levels, desire?  That one thing I do even when I don't want to?

Well used journal - One little word laser

I realized that, for me, writing is my Must.  The funny thing is I think I realized this back in 2013 after I discovered my old journals, but similar to what I shared then, maybe it's simply a matter of a fish not realizing that it is in water, it simply is.

The thing is with my writing is that it totally lacks focus.  Writing is something that I often do without thinking (the quantity and variety of notes on my iPhone is overwhelming), but not something that I often do with intention.

Choosing Must is a daily practice, a recurring choice.
Just because we chose Should yesterday doesn’t mean we’ll choose Must today. And just because we chose Must today doesn’t mean we won’t slip back into Should tomorrow.
— The Crossroads of Should and Must, Elle Luna

It's the combination of my clarifying my "Must" and wanting to institute some laser focus that made me want to pursue a daily goal this year.  It’s not something I’ve ever tried but after seeing Elise’s Make29 December project, I knew exactly how I would put it to use: 

15 minutes of personal writing, every day of 2015.

I literally just realized the 15 minute, 2015 similarity.  Please believe me that this is more about convenience and do-ability instead of cute matching numbers. 

My Rules:

  • I will write longhand for 15 minutes.  And yes, I’m using a timer.
  • I am viewing these as “morning pages” and not holding myself to any specific writing goal.  This, in part, has something to do with the big “stop sign” that I came across when attempting to do some yearly planning (Part Two).
  • The blog doesn’t count.  I foresee some of what starts as longhand in my "everyday book” eventually making it’s way to the blog but this goal is totally separate from anything that goes online.
  • I hope to do this first thing when I get up, but I also have enough self knowledge to know that early mornings aren’t generally my strong suit, therefore I’m allowing this to be any one 15 minute stretch of time.  

My Intention

Mostly, I’m hoping that this disciplines "stream of consciousness” writing acts as a daily reminder that I am a writer.  I want this time to remind me that I have words and thoughts and ideas that are valuable and meaningful. 

Secondly, my intention is that this daily activity will act as a sort of mental lubrication to help me stick to some larger (and yet to be spoken out loud) goals.

Tell me- Have you ever attempted a daily goal for any amount of time?  I'd be interested in hearing about your experience.

p.s. This is Part Three.  Check out Part One and Part Two.  Check out the upcoming, and final, Part Four soon.

Image credit // Death to the Stock Photo

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Laser // Intense Focus During a Year of Unknowns

by Paige Ray in ,

In case you missed the last bullet on my "to-done" list: I'm pregnant.  Not kind of pregnant or even new pregnant but all the way, 25 weeks along at the time of writing, belly button poking out pregnant.  It is obviously a huge deal and I am feeling all of the feelings but this is not a pregnancy post.  It is simply the quantifying condition to explain my mindset going into this year's planning.

Starry night - One little word laser

The good thing... 

about being halfway through a pregnancy during the holidays in the Northern Hemisphere can be summed up in three words: It's not summer.  
Growing up in the South means watching woman after woman, year after year, suffer through the most uncomfortable part of her pregnancy during the most uncomfortable part of a hot and humid summer.

The bad thing about being halfway through a pregnancy during the New Year's goal making season can be summed up in three words: Inability to plan. 

I was excited...

to get started looking into 2015 once I had locked down "laser" as my word for the upcoming year. I started writing down the things I'd like to accomplish, dividing it into months as seemed appropriate. I front-loaded January with a combination of writerly & "real job" duties as month 6 of pregnancy is supposed to be the last of the "magical" second trimester with its rumors of extra energy. February I wrote about being a laser of love letters spewing forth into the universe. In March, inspired by last year's 30 birthday celebratory 10k run, I wanted to laser into my inborn strength with yoga and a pared down version of the Victorian Classic. But while considering April, it seemed as if my pen ran out of ink.  I had no idea of what the experience of laser focused motherhood called for. 

You see, I'm due in mid-April. And while I have this knowledge of wanting to "be present" and fully experience the storied process of childbirth as well as the often fuzzy weeks of newborn-ness, I don't know what that lives like. I know what it's like to set a work goal and the extended hours it takes to hit that. I know the discomfort of a physical goal and the need for incremental training leading up to it. I know the concerted concentration of brainstorming and action items and next steps. But that blank space labeled April made me realize I have no clue how to introduce my child to the world. 

How will that small human react to all of the bigness that is life?

What will new love look like? Will I recognize it immediately or will it sneak up behind me and catch me breathless during an early morning feeding?

Moreover: Who will I be as a new mother? Will that woman be equally hard to recognize or equally familiar? 

It was the culmination of all these questions that made me cut my yearly planning short. And, even now, several days and many hours of contemplation later, I still can't begin to answer.

My solution is simple:  

Whatever it is that this year may hold my intention is to do it with as much love, the most focused attention, and the best effort I can muster.  Love, attention, and effort - that's my leading set of action items to carry out "laser" for the next 12 months.

Any good word on my "I have no idea of what's coming?" conundrum is appreciated in the comments section.  I super value your thoughts.

p.s. This is Part Two.  Check out Part One and look for Part Three and Part Four in the coming days.

Image credit // Juskteez Vu via unsplash

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One Little Word // Laser

by Paige Ray in ,

Part One

According to a quick Google search the word laser is an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation".  That sounds terribly scientific doesn't it?  But really don't we all kind of have a decent idea of what a laser is/does?  In my mind, a laser is beam of light that is so focused and intense that is makes a big difference.  At least, that's the definition that I"m choosing to use for my word of the year: Laser.

Sunlight above clouds - One little word laser

Want to know a funny story?  
The concept of intense focus actually got started after reading my "2015 horoscope" in Cosmo shortly after Thanksgiving.  Yep, it was within the pages of the terribly insightful and serious (**sarcasm**) magazine Cosmo that encourage me and all my fellow Pisces to know that this would be the perfect year to "focus" and put our immense creative talents to use (emphasis my own).  But it was Elle Luna's article, The Crossroads of Should and Must that really helped me switch from simple "focus" to a more intense "laser".

A friend of mine once compared focus to the beam of a mag light — if you keep the light unfocused, light shines everywhere. It’s bright, but it’s blinding. If you focus the light and tighten it, the light becomes a laser beam. Focused and strong.
— The Crossroads of Should and Must, Elle Luna

It was because I was simultaneously reading, The Happiness of Pursuit that I was also thinking about the concept of quests, and, the smaller baby sister, goals.  It was while reading that book that the concept of sacrifice stayed with me.

To pursue a big dream you must give something up along the way. Sometimes the sacrifice is apparent in the beginning; other times it becomes apparent only later on.
— The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris Guillebeau

It was only after finishing the book and sitting with my word for a few days that I realized that lasers are used for cutting.  The question then became, "What do I have to cut out of my life to be intentional, focused, and as "laser" as possible in 2015?"

I am genuinely exited about One Little Word this year.

I've done this project before and I fully realize that the word itself has no special power.  What excites me is my attitude toward making this word come to life within my next 12 months.

Check out the upcoming:

  • Part Two for how I plan on putting "laser" to use in my overall upcoming year,
  • Part Three for a very specific way I hope to be "laser" on a daily basis, and 
  • Part Four for the discussion on what distractions I will be intentionally committed to subtracting this year.

What's your word?  Feel free to share your post or thoughts below.

Image credit // Liane Metzler for unsplash

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