Parenting and Grad School: Some Surprises

When I took the GRE, three weeks after I gave birth, my biggest concern wasn’t so much passing the test, as finding a place to pump breastmilk before I spent well over 3 hours in a room in front of a computer away from my son.

That’s the sort of surprise I’ve run into continually as I make my way through my part-time master’s program.

I thought finding time to study would be an issue, but between naps, bedtime at 7:30 pm, and babysitters, the real issue has been finding time to think coherently.

I wake up in the morning with my mommy pants on (that look suspiciously like sweatpants), make breakfast and read a half dozen Curious George books.  Then I get the kid set up with his train set, and sneak in a few paragraphs of my latest text book.  When he needs a snack, I stop underlining, and start making a peanut butter jelly sandwich.

After cooing through “The Wheels on the Bus” to send him off to nap, I switch into grad assistant gear at 1:30 and spend time collating, updating social media, and doing mailing list material.

While I’m making dinner, I’m planning how to respond to the latest case study post on the online discussion board.  When my son is brushing his teeth with daddy, I’m packing my school bag to get in a few hours of study and reading at the library – or I’m heading to class with peers who have just put in 8 hours at their jobs, a whole different environment.

It can be pretty difficult (for me) to transition between these different type of thinking and the differences in reacting to scholarly vs. juvenile literature.  In fact, the surprising thing I’ve learned is how to re-frame my mindset in order to get work done to switch between strategic thinking, planning, or simply being creative.  This act of switching gears, I think, could help me in the long run.

Unfortunately, another surprise is that it requires a tremendous amount of mental energy to switch between these types of thought.  I’ve learned it’s pretty necessary to take the first five to ten  minutes to identify the goals of the study session and how I’m going to achieve them.  It’s also necessary to identify time when some thoughts won’t be allowed to intrude, or I won’t allow myself to access certain materials (eg: facebook!). Since much of my work happens at home: the site of school, parenting, writing, relaxing, and work, It’s very easy (too easy!) to let boundaries blur into each other.  It takes a little lot of work to get those boundaries to the perfect state of impermeability.

If you’re a parent looking to start grad school, as well as stay home with your (young) children, I recommend recognizing that the mental effort involved is totally different than either working, or school sans offspring – BUT – It’s not the type of difficult you might be expecting.


Your Priorities aren’t just another “To Do” list

I bit off more than I could chew and it’s been weighing on my mind for a couple weeks now.

When I calculated how much time I had at the beginning of the semester – there was an ample amount of time to study and balance work.  I only needed about 35 hours total – and there are 168 in the week.

I immediately, of course, threw out the 56, give or take, I spend sleeping, and all the time I spend with E pouring water on the floor, watching buses, fighting to get the coat on, and all the other activities of daily living.  I’m smart about that stuff – I know I can’t read textbook chapters and eat oatmeal with a toddler on my lap (or can I?)

That brought me down to about 42 hours of time per week.  See!  Look!  I’d planned for 7 hours of wiggle room no less!

Haha.  Wiggle room.

Like always – I glossed over the fact that life changes.  That I would have new ideas about the best way to live – and those ideas might involve amounts of internet and book research which also has nothing to do with class – and wouldn’t fit into those left over 7 hours.

I didn’t budget in for feeling overwhelmed and sitting on the couch watching Modern Family, and Once Upon a Time over and over.  I didn’t plan for buying new furniture, or non-routine shopping trips.  I didn’t plan for just not wanting to work some nights – or not being able to figure out what needed to get done the first time around.  I didn’t plan for planning, or questioning my decisions.

Who can plan for that stuff?

Real life takes up time – and even though people say it can be organized – (Even though I’m trying to be organized – and there are purportedly more tools than ever via apps, the internet, and experts – I get the feeling that’s not really helping anyone – it’s just kind of putting off disaster a little further.)

One Problem? These tools aren’t doing what needs to be done – they won’t tell you a single thing about your Priorities.

These tools are trying to tell us we can have it all, if we can just pull together by trying another solution, or working harder, or just smarter.

It doesn’t work like that.   You have to say ‘No’ to some things – and you have Say ‘Yes’ to the Right things.

You have to do your best, forget the rest – and then not try to fit “the rest” in later in the day.

No tool in a magazine, on the internet, in a book, or in a day planner will tell you about your priorities.

You will need to figure out your priorities on your own.

Truth be told, you should probably get help from others too.  Cause if you, and all your little wants, and all your impulses are priority one – you did it wrong.

None of those other tools, the books, planners, and resolutions, will help you when the going gets tough.  For that – you need grace – not another “to do” list.

I’ve been clinging tight to the words of advice from Proverbs 6:6 that Donald Miller reminded me of and simply trying to do one thing at a time lately – and those things that have a lasting impact.  The right things.

Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise.

image via

For more of my thoughts on Priorities and Values : Check out my post “This I Believe.”

There is no Accidental Excellence

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”
– Aristotle

I’ve been thinking on this quote for a few days now – especially as it relates to what I thought I wanted to accomplish this year.

Oh, I wanted to accomplish so much!  But once again, I wanted to do it in breadth rather than depth – and every day the longer I live, as much as the media, this modern life, technology like the internet, and oh so many others scream at me to try out breadth – join this new social media tool!  Post more content!  Post everywhere all the time on all the platforms!!!

I can’t keep it up very long.  Inevitably I fall flat down on my face. We hold up “having it all” as though that were really some big good great kind of thing.  But I don’t think it is.

I also don’t think there are enough hours in the day to do everything you want, and especially not to do it all well. You must decide to want less, and do less.  And that’s hard – very hard.

Why I’ll be continuing to use Social Media

You might have already guessed this about me, but I love social media.  Although last week I advocated for reading old books, this week I’m advocating for using new technology, and I think that’s totally consistent.  In fact, wrestling with internet usage is a big part of this blog, as you can read here, here, and here.
A few weeks ago I read this article which argues for the fact that you can no longer say the internet isn’t “real life.”  And I’ve seen an increasing number of posts and news articles about people disconnecting (like this freshly pressed post from october 31st).  It’s also not uncommon to run into news stories about extreme cases of people dying from too much internet, or simply becoming addicted to internet usage.

So, where’s the balance in all of this? (remember: balance is one of my core beliefs.)

If there’s one thing social media does well, it’s connection.  And the biggest factor for my continued social media usage is the exposure to new ideas, education, differing opinions, and clever crafts.  It’s information, entertainment, and travel at my fingertips for an extremely low monetary price. It’s the ability to check out online classes at Harvard Extension school, listen to TED talks, read new social theories, and yes, obsessively stalk my old camp friends on facebook.

The psychological and emotional price is, of course somewhat higher, even my schoolwork is affected a little bit, but I’m going to talk about some solutions to that more on Friday.

Psychologically, I’ve noticed with increased internet usage my thinking becomes hectic, fragmented, and completely unable to self-regulate.  Everything seems to lead to one more thing. I didn’t really notice this until we went without the internet from February to March this year.  That’s when I realized it’s important to consolidate my internet time.  Limits are very very important when it comes to the internet-fascinated, like me.

Emotionally, many bloggers (women especially) have noted the general feeling of pressure to keep up with social expectations perpetuated on pinterest of the perfect house.  Or of constantly presenting your best face on facebook.

Another project on pinterest I might get around to this year… or next.

My personal tendency is to become obsessed with duplicating an exact replica of my life on the internet.  If I “like” something in real life, I NEED to “like” it on the internet.  Obviously, this is not really necessary.  And, as most people do, I do can fall into the trap of thinking that other people really do have it together and have a million friends if I only believe what I see on their facebook wall.

I love that many people are able to give up the internet (or at least the parts that are the most addicting to them).  It’s a little worrisome to me when everyone falls lock step into a particular belief without questions whether this particular technology is good for them.  (Cars, cell phones, TV’s, etc). One part of my continuing to use the internet will be the continuance of it being a “good” thing.  Something morally beneficial, useful, and of course, fun.

Are you a Social Media Zombie?

Balancing Planning and Doing

There’s two types of people in this world (in this case, the Western), those that make lists, and those that don’t.  I’m all for balance, which is why I find myself recalibrating my penchant for lists often.  Living in a (post)modern world has sort of tipped the scales in favor of the list-maker, and has also pre-destined most of us to become list makers.  Or to be made to feel guilty if we’re not organizing.  So, in the past whereas it was more common for both men and women to spend time scrupulously attending to self-development in journals and letters (but usually only at night), now it is more likely that we are all task oriented and much of the day via iPad, smartphone, or even just old fashion paper planner.

Now, If you’re a list maker, you’re probably not going to be convinced to put down the implements and just say “Yes”, regardless of how many times you watch Jim Carrey’s movie Yes Man. (for myself, that’s 2 times).  Nobody is going to convince you that you should stop, so you should in turn shower your fellow humans with the same respect of not trying to convince them to start. Chances are, enough articles aggregating in their RSS feed will convince them sooner or later.

That said, in my own life, I really do try to maintain the balance between list-making and life-living.  These are a few of my own strategies for when life becomes too much “to do” and too little “doing.”

1. Make a Top 5.  That is, what are the Top 5 things I want to do Today.  This simple tactic forces me to curtail endless “but I should do” regrets, arrests frustration over time limits in life, and magnifies what is important.

2.  If lists are longer than 20 items I try to Erase or Recycle them after three days.  Somewhat drastic, considering the amount of detail in some of them, but having Go to Babies R Us written down for two weeks hasn’t made me more likely to go.

3. Do RIGHT NOW the item that has made it onto the most lists, or Identify why it’s not getting done.  (For example, I’ve had “take boots to cobbler” on my mental list for ages).  Is there another “to do” that’s competing with this, a worry about what might happen if you do do this, or is the item too vague?  And, if you still find yourself recoiling from the item, just Let. It. Go.  You might want this to happen now, but if it really isn’t vital to your survival, or likely to slap you with a large fine, chances are it can be done later with little difference.

4. Avoid writing items you would normally do, or clarify the part of the task that is most important.  For example I sometimes write “Check Email.”  Yes, I do that daily (or every other day), but the onerous part is the five to ten minutes it would take to track down the documents needed to make a reply to someone.

5.  Take a walk.  If I find that in one day I’ve made more than two lists, it probably means I’ve been sitting down too much.  The best solution is to simply get up and see something new, the park, downtown Salem, the ocean. Anything.

Anyone else have any strategies for balancing lists and life?

Plenitude: A Reflection

Reading Plenitude reminded me of an old college goal I used to have, to grow up and live in a building with my floormates. At the age of 19 when I proposed this goal, I had a foggy idea that we’d all (or most) get married eventually, yet it was far off.   Also, at 19, I had no idea about bills, or owning pots and pans.

I’m older, married, and have a child now.  However, it would still be nice to live in a triple decker with a few other like minded couples/families.  I would also love to have a few fruit trees, a bee box or two, and don’t mind wearing used clothes. It’s the community that I crave, of course.  This is yet another aspect of the sustainability movement that I love, it champions social connection.

But, upon waxing rhapsodic about Plenitude’s self-provisioning plan, my husband made a face.  “Do I have to can stuff?”  he asked.

He doesn’t fear the unknown in this case.  Last fall in New Brunswick he got a chance to can and freeze for a day at one of the organic farms we wwoofed at. Any more than that day isn’t something he wants to do.  I sympathize. Canning is hot, sweaty, time consuming, and sometimes really messy!  Self Provisioning is Time Consuming (and sometimes hard).  Modern conveniences are, well, convenient.

Even I flounder when it comes to used clothes.  Sometimes what I really want is a pair of well fitting jeans.  I don’t want to spend several months trying on ill-fitting pairs and discarding them.  After this time of searching has gone on far too long, I’m back at the mall.  Once there I remember that everything is in style, probably on sale, and maybe it’s better to just buy all new clothes anyway.

Furthermore, sometimes I just want to be really rich. Like, a couple million dollars sitting in a safe place earning a seven percent return each year.  Why?  Because it’s hard to believe in this economy, in this day and age, that some good neighbors, a little garden, and a local swap are going to bring me absolute security or happiness.  Time Banks aren’t exactly common knowledge yet.  Because I haven’t been to Europe yet, and I would like to see some castles in Germany.

Using a bank used to be risky.  Currency used to be risky.  It was for uncommon purchases.  Now money is ubiquitous and time is precious.  So we (I) hoard my time. I spend my time on myself, and so do a lot of other people.  Sure, if there were more of it, maybe we would spend it on others, but maybe we would all just use the internet a lot more.  After all, canning is work.

The transition to a Plenitude economy is all about this shift of community and money.  How do we percieve them now, and how can we change some of that perception to be more healthy.  How can be turn our economy into one that is an eco-friendly system of work, carbon usage, and consumerism.

Ultimately, this is the quote from the book that sums up my grappling with the balance issues which raises in life, between money and time, objects and people.

“Those in the vanguard of sustainability have found their purpose in helping to save the planet.  But for the vast majority of us, ecological living is not the object of our passion.  We will understand that it’s necessary and may enjoy it.  But deep meaning is found elsewhere, in family, friends, personal creativity, religion, music and art, social justice, science, business, or helping others.  Plenitude as an economic strategy cannot supply that meaning: it can only help achieve it.”

Notes on “Notes”

In a blog who’s mission is bounded by the desire to observe and report on culture and to promote regionalism, reading a book entitled “Notes Toward a Definition of Culture” seems de rigueur. Half the time ideological opponents find themselves debating topics they haven’t fully defined and making muddles because they’re talking about two different things.  To this end, defining a debate topic should be a premise, not an afterthought.

TS Eliot’s essay, written in 1949, thus begins by laying the basic groundwork for his belief in what ‘culture’ is.  Moreover, he believes the aim of culture is different for an individual, a class, or a society.  Culture is neither synecdoche (where a part stands in for a whole, for example, using the word “culture” as shorthand for “art” or “music.”), nor is it an achievable “goal” in and of itself, since it is merely a byproduct of actions. Note that a certain culture cannot be intentionally aimed at; merely eliminating some wrongs will change culture, but it is not possible to predict the culture that will emerge.  It is always possible to disintegrate what is, but not always possible to build what is not.

In his conversational critique of what could be termed ‘social reform’ he navigates through several sticky webs of rhetoric that accurately apply to 2011 as well as 1949. Here is a brief summation of three of his five points which relate to topics this author ponders frequently.

If there is an attempt to supply “mass culture” to a society it’s end result is to supply no culture to society.  Regionalism, friction, and disagreement are necessary for any culture to survive.  Certainly though there are plenty in the US who ‘get all het up’ about “Pressing 1 for English” and attending “multiculturalism’ seminars.  Fortunately the flip side of this is that sociologists have been able to finally distinguish what it is that makes “white” “American” culture.  (See, Stuff White People Like. And this Dunkin Donuts website.  Yes, my tongue is firmly planted into my cheek here.)  Seriously though, this desire for distinguishment (and some semblance of unity) is what is leading to a heightened emphasis on Small-Marts, and the “locavore” movement of late.

Next he states a fact not always perceived or admitted: that culture and religion are firmly bound up in one another.  In order to preserve culture one must preserve religion, “culture is the incarnation of the religion.”  Here he points out the embarrassing English fact that dog races and bishops have a lot in common.  In New England I would substitute the Red Sox juxtaposed with Catholicism slash Puritan sects (Congregationalists).  On the surface you may say, those two things are nothing like each other.  Yet since religion is what protects from boredom and despair, and if this is manifested in culture, I think the link becomes clearer with the Red Sox (or more generally baseball).  Preservation of Religion is what provides the link to older culture (this can hardly be argued in the face of Catholicism and it’s contributions to art, education, social programs, philosophy etc. in view of the last 1900 years).  Rootlessness does no good for plants, lack of religion does no good for culture.

Finally, let’s briefly discuss his with attempts to extricate the Education System from taking on the role of well, everything.  It shouldn’t be taking on the role of the family, the role of the church, and the role of culture imparter.  Although he agrees that education is desirable, it cannot produce happiness or equality or culture in and of itself, and therefore we must be careful not to fall into the role of believing it to be a panacea.   Unfortunately I often fall into this trap of believing in better educational systems with better “goals” in mind.  Certain literacy should be basic, but certain uniformity should not. (re: friction)

There’s a lot more tucked into this little essay, however, for now I’ll return it to the Beverly Public Library so that you can read it and argue with me.