Monday, January 16, 2012

The Rat Race....and ME...

About 10 days ago, in the midst of Christmas vacations, when everything had slowed down for us and we just enjoyed being, I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I wouldn't let myself be caught in the rat race again once our daily routine returned. I was hoping I could find pockets of time where I could take the time to breathe, slow the pace down, and appreciate quiet moments in our busy life.

A week into our every day, and I'm catching my breath. Last week was the first week back of school, dance, client meetings, gymnastics, hurried suppers, late nights, and round we go again at the dawn of the day. It didn't take long to feel that I was going through the motions and trying (failing) to slow down the pace.

It seems like it was all "go-go-go" with rarely a "slow-slow-slow". Don't get me wrong, in that I feel privileged and fortunate to have such a busy, full life. I'm happy that my kids are so involved in activities they love and I don't mind playing taxi. I volunteer for a few organizations that I love to be a part of. And I don't mind saying "no" to obligatoins when it feels too much and I need to catch my breath.

What bothers me is the feeling I have that I'm constantly spinning, or running in my wheel like a hamster, expanding huge amounts of energy just to try and keep up with life. Maybe it's a sign that I don't feel in control of the pace, and so the question is, how do I get that feeling back.

I've accepted that my kids are at a stage when they are busy, and so my life isn't going to slow down for quite some time yet. That's fine. But I don't want to get so caught up in the motion that I stop noticing the moments that make life meaningful and fun, and rich and beautiful. I don't want life to go by so fast, because we're so busy, that I look back at the end thinking "I'm done already?" Because I have noticed that the years feel shorter and shorter, and as I age and think of my youth and early adulthood, I think "seriously, already".  I want to feel that I have lived every day to its fullest, savouring the passing of time, delecting in the seconds that pass and feeling satisfied at the end of the day, rather than simply go through the rat race, at a crazy pace, not realizing that while I'm busy keeping up with the day, I forget that life is happening around me.

So. What's a girl to do with that dilemma? Accepting that life is busy while living it to the fullest and not letting the rat race take over? How do I keep my ME from being swallowed by the daily grind? I think it happens by reminding myself every day to try and create some pockets of time just for ME. From connecting with my body, rather than staying in my head, by feeling the chair that I sit on, savouring the bites of food and the flavours that I taste, and whenever I can, affirming that I can slow the pace down in little moments taken here and there through the day. It's a conscious shift of perspective that I need to remind myself to do in order to keep my head above the current. It's do-able, and it needs to be a priority, daily. I might even try praying once a day, to see if connecting with a higher power, can somehow help me feel more peaceful and settled, rather than rushed and overwhelmed.

Enter today. An opportunity to slow down, with no appointments. A chance to clean up my desk and catch up on administrative duties. A happy day, where my efforts are taking care of myself are starting to pay off. And at 3 p.m., a calm Mom ready to face the afternoon business. Until.....Logan arrived home with a tooth trauma, as a result of a face-plant on an icy patch of the school yard. A mad rush to the dentist. A return home to Jaime going with Tyler to dance, a quick makeshift supper of soft foods for the boy....and now that quiet has returned, a beer and writing this blog...for ME. A thirty-minutes pocket of time I am grateful to have gotten. Sure I was supposed to go workout while Jaime went dancing (my routine), but in the light of today's event, even though I felt a bit guilty, I decided that what I needed most was quiet, writing, and simply put, a chance to slow things down a bit.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Friends with Benefits

Now hold on! Before your mind goes any deeper in the gutter, take a deep breath, cause this won't be THAT kind of a post. Disappointed? Sorry, I'll consider writing one of those posts when my blogger legs are a little less wobbly. In the meantime, this post is about the important roles that friends play in our lives, and how sad life would be without the benefit of having close and amazing friends.

You see, I'm feeling a little bit sheepish because I'm realizing that I am not a good friend, in the sense that I have never really been good at nurturing my friendships. In a word, I've taken my friends for granted many a times, and I am determined to work harder at treasuring and maintaining my close friendships. So this is a love letter to my besties because without you, my life would be lonely and missing a lot of depth.

The thing I absolutely love about my friends is that they are so versatile, unique and all have a special place in my heart. There isn't one I love more than the other. I love each of them for the special and amazing person that they are. I remember as a younger self, trying to rank my friends in some random and arbitrary level of importance and feeling that the title of "BFF" was one of honour and reserved for one special person. I don't think that's true anymore. I consider all my close friends to be my BFFs because my life is made better by their presence in it and the fact that they each have taught me something that make ME a better person through inspiration, courage, laughter and the love that they have shown me.

I was bullied a lot as a kid and didn't have meaningful friendships for a long time. Instead, whatever person seemed to like me became my instant BFF. I would do whatever was needed for my BFF to like me back because I was worried if I did anything wrong, my BFF would ditch me like an old towel and I'd be alone. Sounds pathetic doesn't it? It does and it was. But when you get called nasty names, have false rumours spread about you that make the whole school treat you like a pariah, and are mocked for how you look, it's hard not to grab onto the first person that makes you feel like you matter. Anyway, along the way as I grew into an awkward teenager, I was fortunate to be part of a group of friends that accepted me for who I was. I learned so much from some of these friends and when I left France to move to Canada, it was really hard to leave them behind.

It was even harder to arrive in a country in which I knew noone, and land in the world of university residence where I was clearly the odd-man out. I struggled to make friends, and struggled even more when so-called friends turned superficial, catty, and started mocking openly and bad-mouthing behind my back. One of the friend I had made at one point told me she didn't want to be bothered by my "concerns"....that was the end of that friendship. Two of my room mates, who were sorority sisters, professed that the special bonds they shared with their sorority sisters made them the best of friends for life. Yet, they took any opportunity possible to stab their "sisters" in the back. I quickly realized that I'd rather be alone in life than have "friends" like them. Thankfully, I had the friendship of an older and much wiser woman who took care of me, making sure I was adapting well and inviting me on week-ends to her house to make sure I wasn't feeling alone and homesick. She had a huge impact in my life, I love her very much and I will forever be grateful to this amazing friend. In my second year of University, I made friends with a couple of women in my program, and one of them introduced me to my husband.

It's fair to say that for after being hurt by superficial friendships, I was very hesitant and unsure about what friendships meant. I had a few close friends, but I guess I still felt at the time that the more friends I had, the more it meant I was likeable. I equated my worth as a person to how many friends liked and appreciated me, not realizing at the time that if people didn't appreciate me for who I was, they weren't worthy of being my friends. When I started working I thought I was entering the world of mature grown-ups, but I quickly realized that in an office made 90% of women, office politics, gossip and superficiality still reigned supreme. Thankfully, a few of the women I worked with became mentors and friends that I truly appreciated. And when I started working as a Doula, I was lucky to meet inspiring, loving and supportive women, a few of which I am lucky to now have as close friends.

Once we moved to Ottawa, with an 8 month-old baby in the middle of winter, we knew noone there either. It took a long time to build friendships, but then with the birth of Jaime came the opportunity to welcome new, enduring friends. My Doula at the time (now a wonderful friend) invited me to a playgroup at her sister's house which became my lifeline in those years. Even though I was initially nervous about being in the company of these women I had just met, through these women, I experienced the first meaningful, trustworthy friendships I had in a very long time. We were by no means as glamourous as Carrie Bradshaw and her friends, but the bond we developped over the next few years, meeting every Tuesday so the kids could "play", was definitely the close bonds that is often idealized on TVshows. I felt nurtured, supported, loved and appreciated in ways I hadn't experienced in a long time. Joy and love are the words that come to mind whenever I think of playgroup days.

Life took us our separate ways when the children started school, and more friendships developped through doula work and school. One of my closest friendship budded, flourished and ended in the saddest way. I had never "broken-up" with a friend before, but with this friend I did. I realized that although this friend meant the world to me, she was dragging me down a very dark road of self-despair, pessimism and negativity. Our families were really, really close and the "break-up" was hard for more than just me. When I realized how negative and sour I had become as a result of that friendship (a discovery I made in the presence of my oldest friend, my cousin, whose laughter and love of life tugged me back to my self), I decided I had to step away from the friendship. It was the hardest, and most courageous thing I had done in a long time. It was also the most liberating, in that I was reclaiming myself and standing up for Me.

I have since made new friends and feel very blessed by the friends I have chosen to have in my life. Because it is a choice to decide who you want to have in your life. To cherish the friends that will bring you joy, make you laugh hard, be there for you when you need it the most, and also forgive you when you screw up and do something you wish you didn't do or when you don't call often, even though you mean to. It's also hard to make the decision to end a friendship and realize that the relationship is done. But it must be done so that your Me can flourish and grow. 

I am who I am today in part because of the friendships I have had and what they have given me. These friendships have taught me much about who I am and what I stand for. My confidence has soared thanks to these friendships. And I share bonds with many women that I hope I will have for the rest of my life. I couldn't imagine my life without the special women I call friends and I want them to know how grateful I am that they are in my life. I may not call often (it's not that I don't want to, sometimes I'm worried I'll bother you), we may not see each other as much as we want to, but please know that you hold a special place in my heart and I love you very much. By the way, I have a few guy friends (just a few) that are very special to me too, and one in particular that, though I haven't been great at maintaining my relationship with him, made a particular year in my life so much fun and so wonderful that I will always be grateful to him and feel lucky that he came into my life. Can't wait to see you in Toronto in May...:)))

I had been planning this post for a few days, when I received a message yesterday from my former playgroup friends asking if we wanted to rekindle the tradition and start seeing each other once a month like in the olden days....but sans kids. I felt the surge of excitement as soon as I got the email, because YES! for sure I'll be there and I can't wait to renew the tradition with some wonderful women that make my life so much more colourful.

I'll be trying to work harder at maintaining my friendships from now on, because I realize that it's easy to let life go by and ignore the meaningful relationships in my life. To all my friends: I love you and I'll be talking with you really, really soon!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Happiness Project Day by Day

"The days are long, but the years are short." Isn't that the truth? As I grumble about winter, and days that sometimes stretch on forever, I am also often reminded at how quickly it all happens and how my memory is often sketchy about things that I once thought I would never forget. There are glimpses of my kids childhood that draw blanks when I try to remember them, and yet I swore I would recall every little thing about their life. I have been home with them for almost 12 years, so you think I'd have a grand opportunity to remember all the details of their life as they grew up? Not so much. I also was never disciplined enough to record their daily achievements/tantrums/plain funnies in a perfectly and gorgeously bound journal. If only I had started blogging then!

This year, they will turn 12, 10 and 7, and though the grey hairs starting to sprout on my head are a testament to this timespan, I am often shocked into realizing just how quickly it is all going, and how little I remember of the day to day. This doesn't just go for watching my kids life happen on the fast lane, but I am also more aware of how quickly my own life is going by, and call it a reaction to aging, but I find that I want to record more and more of it as it happens. The thing is, I've never been a journal keeper. I have often felt overwhelmed by a blank page on a journal, and though I admire friends who have kept journal for years and can look back and see how far they've come, it isn't so for me.

As I have a tendency to focus on the negative, I also want to record the good things that I accomplish so I can realize with words on paper all the good things that happen daily and not let the quick and fleeting moments of happiness be burried down under my feelings of frustration, anger and just plain grumpiness. Choosing to find and focus on the bits of happiness found in the day to day, might just be the solution to keeping the nasty feelings at bay? Quite possibly, but taking the time to record and put those happy bits on paper once a day is an affirmation of that choice to choose happiness against negativity, and that really is a sure-fire way to make ME happy.

I had been pondering on all this, how to choose happiness and shut up the nonsense that sometimes goes on in my head when I received this from a very thoughtful friend:

This little treasure happens to be the best compromise between journal writing....and not writing. It's not a blank page that causes me to clam, it's not a gratitude journal that requests for a minimum of five things that you're grateful for in a day (because there are days when it's hard to come up with five things!), it's simply a one-sentence journal that's got me excited! It's a great and easy way to keep track of your day-to-day highlights, and each page contains 5 possible entries for five consecutive years, so that at the end of the five years, you end up with a great collection of the moments you lived.

Getting this quicky journal made me really, really happy and I absolutely love it. This journal was created by Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Happiness Project". The book is fantastic, her website has great tips, inspiring quotes and videos, and this little journal is the icing on the cake. It didn't take me long to fill today's entry...just under a minute actually! If that's the only thing I can do for ME today, then I will be content. Some days, you just don't need much to feel that you've done something worthwile for your ME that brings lasting happiness for the rest of the day!

Wishing you lots of happiness and as much ME time as you can bank today and every day!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beautiful pictures make ME happy!

When I think about some of the things that truly make ME happy, then beautiful pictures are high on the list. I love taking pictures whenever I get a chance, and I enjoy certain blogs specifically for the pictures they contain ( and I love how pictures can trigger profound emotions, bring back memories, and capture so easily and eloquently images of things and people that even the most powerful words would fail to describe. I am by no means a professional photographer, but when I am able to snap a picture at the right moment, under the right light, and without disturbing the mood, and then look at the picture and see that I've somehow managed to get "IT", then I experience profound happiness and pride.

A few weeks ago, when we took the kids to the Tree farm to find our Christmas tree, the conditions were perfect to allow me to snap some really fun pictures. The sun was shining bright, the weather warm, the colours spectacular, and with pure glee, I just put my fingers down on the button and went "trigger" happy. I love digital cameras for this. I remember in the olden days (dear God!) when I used to only have films, I would be scared to take pictures and run out of film. One of my biggest photographic disappointments were pictures I took after Logan's birth. I had bought black and white film to try and get some nice pictures, but they all turned dark and ugly...despite the very cute subject. So when I went all digital, I experienced freedom from the ever-present worry of "wasting the film" and not getting "the right one". It's not uncommon for me to take many, many pictures at a time in the hopes that I might get "THE" photo.

When I came home from the tree farm and looked over the more than a hundred photos I took that day, I found this one and I knew, that somehow, I had gotten "IT" that day.

I can't put my finger on what it is exactly about this picture that speaks so much to me, but I think it's a combination of a few things: the fact that all three kids are just being natural and nothing is posed, that it represents a moment when they are getting along and enjoying being together. At the same time, it is full of colours and it feels very warm, the perfect representation of a fun day spent together. This picture is the best one that I've taken in a long time and it has become my favourite. And I think what I love the most about it, is that every time I look at it, I smile and I am happy.

I'll be sharing more pictures in the coming weeks. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year to ME!

I've never been good at setting goals for myself, and I've been even worse with keeping New Year's resolutions. Goal setting draws blanks in my mind, and when I do set a goal, I put pressure on myself to complete it and I beat myself up when I don't at which point panic sets in, I stop working towards the goal and feel like a complete failure. Resolutions feel the same, and inevitably, when I fall off the resolution wagon, I feel defeated that I have failed...yet again. So, experience makes one wiser, and tired of making myself feel like a total failure, I have decided that I will not this year have any resolutions. The term "Resolution" is so rigid and inflexible anyways, that I don't want to use it anymore. It beats down on my self-esteem and it seems to laugh at me whenever I attempt to use it ("You're gonna make a resolution again? Haven't you learned that you suck at keeping them? Didn't you vow to lose weight last year and ended up finishing the year 3 pounds heavier than last? As if YOU can keep a resolution!). So here's what I say to Resolution this year: "F.U. Resolution. I don't need you in my life. Go and harass someone else." Ah, that feels better!

One thing that struck me, though, at the stroke of midnight on January 1st, was how fun it is to take stoke of the things I accomplished last year, and to think of what I could possibly accomplish this year. The year is fresh and new, and I have 365 days to try and make my life as interesting and exciting as possible. This is opportunity I'm hoping I can take as much advantage of as I can. I do believe in evolving and making ME better and I really hope this coming year brings me experiences that will help me become a better person.

So even though I don't believe in resolutions anymore, there are some things I would like to work towards in 2012:

1. I want to work on my self-esteem and see it grow so I can be stronger than the voice of self-doubt and judgment that likes to nag at me from time to time and prevents me from loving ME.

2. I want to continue to appreciate and take care of ME, all of me, the good parts and the parts that still need working on.

3. I want to create more moments of happiness and spend less time worrying about things that don't really matter.

4. I want to spend more time laughing till my eyes cry and my belly aches, whether it be with family or friends.

5. Most of all, I want to work really hard at becoming more positive, optimistic and loving this year.

I know I can do this, and the key thing for me will be to live with intention every day. To start the morning by taking a big breath and saying: "Today I intend to be happy and to take care of ME".

Are there specific things I want to accomplish in 2012? For sure. Yes, I would like to lose weight, and I would also like to run two half-marathons this year....but honestly, the most specific thing I want to achieve is to stop beating myself up for everything I do or don't do, and to feel peace with the decisions I make.

I look forward to the opportunities this year will bring and to look back with a smile and feel proud for the things I did accomplish. Have a Happy New Year everyone. May it bring you and your family happiness, love and success.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Time to refraME our priorities

Take a few seconds to answer this question. Have a pen and paper handy. Who are the 5 most important people in your life? Don't think about it, just name them and keep reading.

I just finished reading a few blogposts of women I admire who are openly and courageously expressing that they have stretched themselves too thin, are feeling overwhelmed, diminished, and reduced to going through the motions, and acting up their lives rather than living them fully. As a result, some of them have decided to stop blogging (or insert favourite activity), because of the demands that it places on their time. For some of them blogging (or insert favourite activity), or going online, is an outlet, a joy, something that fills them up and distracts them from the demands of their lives. Others may have turned blogging (or insert favourite activity) into a job that "must" be done and becomes a dreadful chore. So they come to term with the fact that in order to find time and balance, they must stop blogging (or insert favourite activity).

While I applaud them for their courage and for making decisions to reclaim their life, at the same time it breaks my heart that the one thing they have chosen to end is the one thing they were doing for their "ME".

Remember that question at the top of my blog post? So when you look at your answer, is your ME at the top of your list? Is your ME even on the list?

I'd wager that none of you even included your ME on the list, and in the rare event that you did, I bet your ME didn't come first. How do I know? Because, coincidentally, I saw and answered this question today, and my ME was MIA from the list. And I know that I am just like you. I know, because I have read all those posts today and I know that the curse of our generation is that we are too busy for ME, that we put every other priority ahead of ME, and that unless we are willing to stop that way of prioritizing by putting ME first, we will never, ever, ever find balance, peace and happiness with our lives.

So I would love to take each of you beautiful, harried and overwhelmed women, give you a hug and tell you this: 

"I am sorry that you feel this overwhelmed and stretched thin. I understand. And you are right to want to shorten your to-do list so life becomes enjoyable again and not a chore. But in choosing which activity to let go of to have more time and find balance, remember ME. The ME that nurtures you and makes you who you are. The ME that strives to find a voice, and that we so quickly shove down in the name of other priorities or responsibilities. The ME who brings you joy and fills you up, that gives your soul purpose and spirit. That ME that we put last but should always come first, because without ME there is no WE. WE the couple, WE the family, WE the community. So if your ME needs blogging, gardening, knitting, or running to feel happy, then why deny yourself that pleasure? Your ME is worth 15-20 minutes per day, sometimes less and sometimes more, and if you're worried about being selfish remember that by showing your children that you need time to care for yourself every day, you are modeling a behaviour to them that will allow them to grow into well-balanced individuals. Reclaim time in your day by chopping off other to-dos or "responsibilities" (are they real or expectations) and instead, honour the time you deserve each day to nurture your ME."

From ME to your ME with all my love.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Taking care of "Me" when there's little time for "Me"

Last week my husband was travelling to California. So from Friday night to the following Friday night, I was on my own with the kids. I knew it was going to be a tough one as we had many appointments and commitments to attend during the week, so I wanted to be organized as best as possible. I also knew from the onset that I would not have a lot of "Me" time at all during the week. And so from the get go I decided that I needed to have no expectations at all about how the week would unfold and to take it day by day. If I could get some Me time at some point, great. If not, I knew I'd be able to get it once Tyler was home.

The strategy that helped me the most, beside having no expectation, was prioritizing what would be important during the week and letting go of what wouldn't. It was about getting rid of external or internal pressure to do and  be everything in the world. I had three priorities: getting the kids to their various appointments/commitments, having fun times with them so this week would be easier for them and they wouldn't miss their dad too much, and trying to get one moment during the day when I would be alone so I could catch my breath, even if it was only for a minute. The rest: blogging, chores, phone calls, and even work, had to take a back seat for the week. Once I made the decision to prioritize, this week by myself didn't seem as overwhelming. And this strategy really, really helped. The kids were fabulous and I was relaxed  because I didn't have many expectations or "must-do" items. That being said, I tip my hat off to all single parents who do this job of child-rearing on their own day in and day out, because it really, really is tough. Being responsible for everything 24/7 leaves you no breaks at all. I'm sure you get used to it, but it doesn't take away the fact that it is a tough job.

Tyler came home mid-day Friday and since then I have enjoyed lots of "Me" moments. I especially went for a run this morning which was really tough but was all about making "Me" healthier and that makes me really, really happy.

Have you done anything special for your me lately?