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.

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Robots, Restructuring, and Finding Rest.

imustkillalloftherobots via www.explodingdog.com

A few weeks ago I was reading another doom and gloom article in TIME about how robots and automatization are taking over the world, people are losing jobs, and the only skills worth pursuing are those that involve creative thought or highly original movements (like human haircutting.)

I keep hearing how these decades-to-come may be called the Great Restructuring.

My first reaction when I read these articles is –

AHHHH I just spent the last 10 years of my life figuring out what I want to do, what if in 5 years I have to start this process again… from scratch!!  I better start hoarding cash and skills so I can beat everyone else in the job race!

Or – I am getting older and things are not getting better.  What if I’m in my late fifties and s*** really hits the fan?

Obviously – these are very healthy reactions.

Not.

As usual, I’m then laying on the couch moaning about living in a basement forever, or scavenging for in dumpsters for food that the robots unknowingly discard when my husband offers a little comfort.  Usually something scholarly; insight from a different angle.

Such as this (paraphrase) –

“You know – Marx used to dream about the day when the workers would only have 20 hour work weeks and be able to pursue their own interests.  It all comes down to whether they are able to support themselves, and are happily ‘unemployed’ or destitute.”

Oh.

Yeah.

Aren’t we all striving for an endless weekend?  That’s what these books about four hour workweeks are… right?

I haven’t made it my study to know all the detailed logic of how the robot economy will be structured, or how workers will get fed, or what money will look like, or how it will be distributed.  My gut instinct is not good (see above). I don’t want to ignore these questions especially because the pertain to issues of social justice and equality.

But one thing I do spend considerable time reading and researching and (as a stay at home mom) participating in is leisure time.  Especially (re: stay at home mom) leisure time without a lot of a cash.

If it’s true that in the future we will all have considerably more “disposable time” on our hands, which may, unfortunately, come in the form of unemployment, then collectively we must get better at educating each other, our children, and our society on how to spend that time and ultimately, how to save (or redeem) that time for both restful and creative use.  This will be use of time that ultimately should restore our minds and souls, particularly when we may be without roles we’ve counted on in the past – ie: those jobs and the distinctions of certain titles.

From a Christian perspective – it is part of our very nature to act as creators. Men and women are made in the image, after all, of their Creator.  In the image of God, they create.

From a psychological perspective (re: Maslow, Csizkzentmihalyi) people seek to become self-fulfilled, to achieve mastery, to be creative, to exist in a state of “flow.”  A place where they recognize that they are being optimally engaged in a process that stretches, teaches, and uses their abilities, then allows them to extend them.

Neither or these perspectives is fulfilled by the current ideal American leisure as protrayed in the popular media – shopping for yet another item of clothing – indulging in a mindless moral morass of reality television,* vacationing in Cancun.   It is precisely because of that word “mindless” that these activities are not suited toward expanded hours of leisure.  To resign ourselves to the majority of our lives attempting to live on the fruits of the creativity of others is to sink our own brains and bodies into slime.

(*Can you mindfully watch television?  Yes – I believe that you can.  I just don’t believe that you can mindfully watch 35 hours of television a week.  Any more than I believe you can mindfully eat 6000 calories a day, or mindfully accrue $10,000 of credit card debt. )

But where have we been instructed in how to creatively and uniquely pursue leisure? Many of our opportunities have been taken away from us by the cheap convenience of mass produced goods (who needs to create clothes anymore?), dwindling budgets (another story about cutting art class? How cliche) or too much time commuting to enjoy nature.

Furthermore, in our leisure time we are often sucked into the shrill shrieks of what claim to be urgent and important information we can’t ignore.  5 Ways to Avoid Obsolescence!  6 New Ways to Make More Money! 10 Things You need to Do before Tonight!  How can we pursue growth activities if we must hurry hurry hurry to acquire all of our knowledge.

This is something of an oxymoron. Hurry up and Become Wise.
But I digress.

Let me return to my original question – Where can we look for insight into how to regain creative hobbies, true rest, and searching for the meaning of life. I am interested in finding that balance between rest and creativity, as well as mindful growth and discovery.

So far, I’ve begun to look for different answers in past writers about self knowledge and current writers who advocate for rest and a return to a weekly Sabbath.  In the past, I’ve also tried to decrease the amount of time I spend doing mindless things – placing a priority on prioritizing – especially my core values, and knowing what those are.

What are your thought?

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 fineartamerica.com

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

Time is a River, an Ocean

May was a busy month, but honestly – they all are.  I found myself learning to give up more quickly on things when I hit a brick wall, and allowing myself to rest more often.  This is partly because I did my Time Inventory, searching out wisdom related to what makes a good time manager, and what little tips and tricks can help us make the most of each minute –  those elusive building blocks of life, those fleeting drops of water.

In the journey to discover these things I spent long moments in solitude and reflection.  At times I was so exhausted from digging into my brain that I fell into a near stupor on the couch reading dystopian novels about virtue and valor.   The more of these inventories I do, the more I realize the process of taking stock is two parts theoretical and two parts practical. What do I believe about time?  How does time work? (Very old questions, Plato wrote whole books about them, Augustine too.)  And then, How do I already manage my time, and how can I do it better?

In that quiet space of discovery and self-examination I learned that if your brain is ordered (or your heart, or your gut, or your soul, or whatever other body part you identify as the control center of your actions) then you will find your time management to be easier.  That week I took Proverbs 4:23 into my brain and made this little collage to serve as a reminder of what I was reading.

I also made this little sign to put on my desk table, where I do my work.

How do you order your brain?   I sorted through my priorities.  They are simple ones if you put them broadly enough: Taking care of my body and soul through healthy living, good relationships, and placing myself in a zone of proximal development as much as possible.  It is focusing on my family by extending grace, hospitality, and a listening ear or good lunch.  It is participating in church, community, prayer, and Bible Study and spiritual growth.  It is looking forward to making a small mark on the world though a not-yet-realized career.

Choosing what to pursue isn’t a matter of separating bad choices from good choices.  It’s a matter of discerning the best choices in an ocean of good choices.

These were some of the theoretical implications of time management.   The pragmatic?

There are only so many hours in a day.

And sometimes, you are too tired to do what you want to do.  As always, the key is balance, but the ability to gently say “No” to the things that don’t match up with our priorities helps too.  So does focusing on one task at a time or doing your hardest work when you’re freshest.  It involves deciding sometimes to do standing work, and other times to do sitting work.  It involves delegating some tasks to others more suited, or simply being content with something the first time you do it.