Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Picking My Life Back Up One Step at a Time

Unknowns. Leaving without Goodbyes. Cancelled Work. Isolation. Empty Shelves. Rationing. Depression. Parenting. Practicing. Moving Forward.

Corona virus (COVID-19) has left its mark on my house, as it has for millions of households around the world. I attended my last live performance right before our state was to go in a quasi-isolation, schools and universities closed. Life upended. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students, one of whom this semester was our last together. We picked up and left, Skype our only means of seeing each other and teaching. I was devastated. I love my job, and I love my students. This was a tough transition for me, not only for its abruptness, but also for the lack of live human interaction, of laughing, playing together, just being. And when all my performance work was cancelled and my lost income mounting, I only too easily slipped into a world of dark cloudy days, wondering when (if?) the fog and dreariness would lift. Was I facing depression?

Parenting during this time of strain and uncertainty has also taken its toll. The strain of seeing empty grocery shelves and wondering how long food will be this scarce and having to ration food in the house is real and unnerving. The realization of lost income is scary. And when parents are stressed, kids can feel it. They get stressed too. During times like these, “cabin fever” also takes on a whole new meaning. They are even advised not to go on playgrounds! Kids act out when they are stressed. I felt like my neat little world was unraveling!

I had to take action. I had to pick up the pieces of what work was left to me, my teaching, and I had to get control over my own emotions, so I can still be the teacher and the parent that I want to be. If for no other reason, than to model how to be for my children in times of global stress. I made myself keep practicing. Knowing the positive effects of endorphins and sunshine, I forced myself to keep exercising and to get outside in my yard as much as possible. I have my kids go outside as much as possible. When they ask to play in the rain, I let them play in rain. Why not? Outside time is crucial for mental and physical well-being, and they need to get that extra energy out. The forced isolation has also given us plenty of opportunities (more than plenty!) to teach my children how to communicate effectively and politely to each other — how to best solve differences with each other. And you know what? It’s working. We have far fewer arguments as they are learning to compromise and solve problems together. The next thing we are working on pitching in a bit more around the house, since we are all always home and all contributing to the mess. We’re getting there… baby steps. As we have been through a few successful days of online teaching and gaining some control of our schedules back, I feel less uneasy and unsure, and the children are more themselves again.

I feel like I went through a kind of grief cycle. I was paying attention to the news, of course, and naturally I knew it would eventually effect us in the U.S. at some point, but the magnitude and the scope of the pandemic was overwhelming. I wanted to fight against having to leave the university, but there was no choice. I wanted to fight against home-schooling while schools are closed, but there was no choice. I wanted to believe that there would still be food on the shelves when I went to the store to pick up some regular groceries, but there was none. (Well, there was still some frozen okra.) I wanted to cry, but what would it help? By putting one foot in front other the other, so to speak, I slowly walked myself out of my slump and got on with life: keeping up with my practicing, keeping up with my exercising, keeping up with teaching to my best ability, keeping up with good parenting. Just as we all do. Just as we all have to. Baby steps.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Turned Dinnertime into a Fun World of Imagination

Big admission here: dinners at home were getting pretty dull or even frustrating. Some days we would just eat and leave. Other days the kids would talk or even begin to play, but then they would forget to eat! Mostly, it became an exasperating affair of start-and-stop chit-chat and interruptions to settle arguments, or just trying to get the kids to even stay at the table. Forget any real conversation and family time! We do have a no-phone, no-books-at-the-table rule at our house, but I kept catching my husband grabbing for his phone, and consequently because, “well, Daddy’s on his phone so I can read my book”, my daughter would immediately grab whatever reading material was nearest to her and start reading, completely ignoring everyone. Ugh! Dinner is supposed to be a respite from the day; a time to enjoy a meal together and each other’s company. But, it just wasn’t, and honestly, I was getting pretty sad and disappointed over it.

So, my daughter and I brainstormed some ways of having a more interesting and engaging dinnertime routine. Our answer? Conversation starters! Here’s what I mean. Most evenings, I would have my daughter sit down for a few minutes before dinner and write out on little bits of paper things that would be fun to talk about: What would be your favorite/ultimate dessert? What would be your perfect day? What mythological creature is your favorite and why? Favorite roller coaster? What do you like the most about [insert anything]? You get the idea. We fold the papers in half, then set them in the middle of the table. Once everyone is ready to eat, one-by-one we each take a paper, read what it says, answer it, then pass that question around for everyone else to answer.

This has proved to be a game-changer! Suddenly, we were laughing together about our ideas, or reminiscing on a perfect day. We would discuss our made-up events or just smile at the prospect of whatever crazy invention or scheme someone just laid out. We were enjoying each other! We were engaged in conversation. We were getting to know each other even better each evening. It was incredible! It has really become something that I look forward to. So, despite how challenging raising my kids can be at times, watching them open up their creativity and explore their imagination has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the day. We turned an often irksome time into some really fun memories that I can look back on and smile for years to come!

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Turning Life into Teaching Moments

It happens to every parent. You work hard to raise your children with a certain set of values, to choose right over wrong and good over, well, not-so-good. So, when I found out that my child, in an attempt to seem “cool” and “tough,” had made the not-so-good choice, I was disappointed and sad. I frankly questioned everything, forcing my brain to race back in time and try to sort out what I did “wrong.” How, after all of these years of coaching and training and explaining, how did he chose the wrong way to go in this situation? He knew the right thing to do, yet he stubbornly went for the puffed-chest, tough-guy route. Ugh.

On the drive home — yes, the principal called while I was teaching and in-between lessons (perfect.) — I had time to think, which was probably a really good thing. I wanted him to understand the seriousness of his decision and to go through, AGAIN, what would have been a better response to that situation and why what he did was so wrong. My other two children found out what had happened. While I was trying to keep it just between us, it did lend me an opportunity to discuss similar situations with them and how they should handle themselves in those moments. Because it had hit so close to home, I think they took it more seriously than maybe they would have otherwise. It was just the very next week when my youngest found himself in just a situation as I had described to them. When his teacher came out at pick-up time to tell me about it, she praised him on doing the right thing, making the right decision! So, what had started out as a pretty ugly circumstance, ended up as a powerful teaching tool with predicted success.

Really, every moment can be a teaching moment. Good times can be a teaching moment: “Isn’t this fun when we compromise and work together?!” Frustrating times can be a teaching moment: “You were really frustrated by this project, but you persevered and look at this great result!” (Two nights ago’s conversation.) Sad times can be a teaching moment: “I’m sorry your toy broke. What can we do differently when you want something your friend has?” (Last night’s conversation.) Proud times can be a teaching moment: “You worked so hard during your basketball season and really improved!” I think the more we can use these kinds of motivating words and teach from all angles of life, the good times and bad, we do so much for our children.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

The 4 Ways I Keep Myself Balanced

Between teaching at a university, playing in an orchestra, taking on freelance work, blogging, and being the mother of three active children, life gets a little hectic. And by “a little” I mean a lot. (Did I mention I am trying to continue building my French fluency, as well??) I love everything that I do, so I certainly don’t want to give anything up, but that means that I have to be on top of my time and organization. So, how DO I juggle it make it work? Here are the 4 ways I keep myself balanced and focused.

1. Prioritize. I set morning, afternoon, and evening goals for myself. My mornings that I don’t teach are almost always exclusively set aside for working out and practicing. It’s all that I do. I avoid setting appointments for this time block. It is sacred space and jealously guarded for that particular purpose. My afternoons are slated for grocery shopping (if needed), laundry, blogging, and/or cleaning. If I can arrange it the night before, I do try to use the grocery store’s pick-up service, where they will do the shopping for you. I definitely recommend this! It’s such a time-saver. If I don’t have rehearsals or a concert, my evenings are devoted to family: either taxiing kids around, making dinner, having special time, you name it. Prioritize your blocks of time, and stick to it!

2. Do your work in small chunks of time. Occasionally, life will throw you some wrenches in your plan. Your kids are home sick, or school has been cancelled due to weather, or you are called away unavoidably. Whatever the issue, stay calm and stay flexible. When I find I’m suddenly home with kids during the school day, I try to work in small chunks of time, grabbing 30-minute practice sessions here and there as I am able. It does interfere with my “block scheduling” as described above, but I find that it is much more efficacious to stay flexible and do work as I can manage it, while still being available to my children at home. Children are much more agreeable to their parents working in small batches of time, as opposed to all day, if they know their needs are going to be met sooner rather than much later. It works well for everyone.

3. Manage your time well. This seems an obvious one, right? Let me explain. On the days I am home (not teaching at the university) I decide what I am better able to accomplish while the children are at school, and what items are still manageable when they are home. For example, if I need to run errands, be on the computer for a while, practice, — work that needs my attention to be absolutely on the task at-hand — I work hard to finish those while the children are at school. Other tasks like laundry, dishes, a quick check at email, and the like, where I can have my attention diverted for a bit to help with the children if needed, those I save for after the children return home from school. I want to make sure they know that I am always available, and they can have my attention immediately if necessary, but I am realistic enough to know that they don’t want me hovering over them constantly and can continue with whatever I was doing previously.

4. Meditate. I can’t stress this one enough. Find time to meditate. Lately I have switched to meditating at night, which has greatly helped my sleep (I have blogged about it earlier), but there are definitely merits to meditating during the day. Meditating greatly reduces stress and anxiety, as it helps to put space between your mind and your day-to-day worries. It helps you to focus on the here-and-now and puts your body at ease. This is great for helping you to stay balanced and focused during your day. The more you practice mediation, the easier it gets to calm your mind and ease your body, so you can continue on with your day in a more relaxed and focused way.

This is just a small snapshot of how I stay balanced and focused as a busy working mom. Yes, my house may not always be perfectly tidy. Quite the contrary at times!! There is no hiding the fact that I have three busy and active kids running around. But, to me, an overly tidy house is not what is always important. Maintaining my professional level of playing, raising good kids in a loving and nurturing way, and keeping my relationship with my family and work healthy are important to me. I hope I have given you, my lovely readers, some good ideas to help you find that balance that works for you. What are some things you do to stay balanced? I want to hear about it!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Working Parent

Why I’m Switching to Nighttime Meditation

I really love sleep. That blissful drifting to dreamland and waking up renewed… I do love it when I can get it. Yes, I blogged several months ago about how I defeated the insomnia demon. And I really thought I had! I blissfully slept reliably for 7-8 hours each night for weeks on end, after struggling and struggling with too little sleep. However, I have let the busyness of my life and my children’s school and athletic life take over. Does this sound familiar? And, of course, what is the result? For me, it’s increased stress, disorganization, and dropped routines — not my children’s routines, mind you, but my own. Sadly, the first thing I dropped was mindfulness practice. Big mistake!

The benefits of mindfulness are vast. A quick google search will bring up a whole host of articles to read, of course, and I’ve blogged about my experience here. What were the natural results of dropping the practice for weeks on end? Loss of concentration, loss of mindful control, and, most significantly, loss of sleep. It took me a while to realize what was happening. It wasn’t until my son accidentally dropped and broke my phone, and I was retrieving all of my apps for my “new” (to me) phone that I realized I hadn’t opened my Calm app in quite a while. Then it hit me: I hadn’t been practicing mindfulness.

So, a few nights ago, I had decided to switch from meditating in the afternoon, when I am just too busy either teaching, practicing, or being a mom, to meditating just before I go to bed. That small change has made such a difference in my sleep, and I love it! It has helped my mind to wind down significantly. Since I have nowhere else to go but my bed and my children are silently asleep in their beds, my thoughts don’t start to drift to where I have to be next or what I have to do later, so I have a much easier time clearing my racing head as I lay down. Just after 10-12 minutes of peaceful, quiet meditation, I am more relaxed, my breathing is slower, and I am better prepared to fall asleep. In fact, I would say it is so much more effective, for me, just before bed than in the middle of the day. Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly benefits to pausing in the middle of the day to unload and rest yourself, but those benefits simply won’t present themselves for you if you forget or your phone decides not to remind you that day. So, if you are someone who does practice mindfulness during the day or even someone who is new to meditation, give it a try at night and see what you think. Clear those racing thoughts and sleep better!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Stay Ahead When Time is Short (in 3 easy ways)

Let’s face it: there is simply not enough time in a day. How many times have you said that since having children? I have probably said it or thought it 1-2 times per week every week for years. There is so much going on in our lives and in our children’s lives. And while some aspects of life do get easier once your sweet babies are in school during the day, the whirlwind rush of activities once that final bell rings more than makes up for the child-free time beforehand. I find it quite easy to let ongoing projects (mine and theirs) slip in the flurry of activity once they get home, and it doesn’t take long, then, to feel like your drowning in unfinished work. Sound familiar? Below is how I break down our duties and maximize what little time we have.

  1. Make Lists. I love lists! They are simple, you can look quickly at them and know what is next, and best of all, you can cross lines out when you finish with the item. It’s a great feeling! I have always been a list-maker. Recently, I’ve started applying that skill to help keep my middle-school daughter on track with her three projects she has due at the end of this month. We broke down each project into manageable “bites” or tasks that she can accomplish each week leading up to the due date. By doing this, each of the tasks feel less overwhelming and allows her to stay organized and on top of the workload. We keep the list on the fridge, so it’s kept safe, and we can refer to it quickly and easily when we need to. You can easily apply this technique to your own work or responsibilities. Perhaps your own tasks change from day to day like mine often do. I keep a small dry-erase board in my kitchen so I can list my daily or even weekly responsibilities and stay on track.
  2. Use Calendars. Seems obvious, right? Of course most people keep a calendar at home and work. Perhaps you keep another one on your mobile device. Use these to help you stay organized, not just to jot down your doctor visits or upcoming appointments. Yes, I use the calendar on my phone for the aforementioned visits and appointments, etc., but I also use it to remind me of my daily tasks when I’m not at home. I actually find my Google calendar so much more effective at reminders than the reminder app itself! For my children, I put together a separate calendar (simply printed a blank one off the web), and I use that to list when homework and projects are due and when they have quizzes and tests. I stuck it on the fridge, so they can easily see in advance when these items are coming up. I love that I can quickly refer to it and remind them what books to bring home to study that afternoon and what they can expect at school each day. It has completely taken away that feeling of stumbling around in the dark and surprises when it comes to their upcoming events.
  3. Start Early. Finally, look ahead at what may need to be done in the coming month or two months, create a reasonable timetable for accomplishing it week-by-week, and begin working on it as soon as it is possible. For example, since I am a performing musician, I can look at my upcoming performance schedule and begin to work on the most demanding or technical music very early on. So, by the time the concert approaches, I’m a lot less stressed about learning the music. Of course, you can adapt this example to your own working lifestyle or career. Deadlines come sooner than you think, we all know that. By being prepared and ready early, you can avoid the hectic and frantic feeling that often accompanies those deadlines.

Yes, time is really short, and there never seems to be enough of it. We live busy lives and need every second we can get. By using basic organizational tools and a little forethought, we can stay on top of our tasks and help our children stay on top of their responsibilities, too. Not only do these 3 simple ways above save time in the end, they can teach our children about the benefits of organization, as well. It’s a win-win for the whole family and allows us a bit more time at the end of the day for snuggles!

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Every Parent is a Working Parent

Here is a typical day for me, and probably for most of us parents: I get up after not nearly enough sleep. I stumble into the kitchen to pour myself that treasured first cup of coffee and begin the process of getting breakfast started for my children. I go wake them, and after several attempts, they begrudgingly trod into the kitchen and sit down at the table, where I finish laying breakfast. After they have taken way too long to eat, because they started playing, having animated conversations, or they took a long time waking up, then it’s a mad dash to try to finish getting ready for school. I quickly grab their things, making sure they’ve hurried out the door with their backpacks, computer bags, and lunches. Then my own work begins. I quickly workout or run, I practice my music, get ready for teaching (or travel to do the teaching), do the shopping, cleaning, and when I have a minute blogging(!), and then it’s off to the races again once school lets out. We have after school activities to drive them to nearly every day, homework to do, dinner to make, play time, reading, and bed. Unless I’m meditating or blogging, I don’t even take time to sit during the day, including breakfast, because there’s hardly a point. It’s enough to wear anyone out just thinking about it!

None of us parents are alone in this hectic day. It’s typical of daily parenting life, regardless if you work inside or outside the home. So, when I’m having a conversation with someone, and they state something like, “oh, you stay home, so what do you do all day?” or “oh, so you’re not really doing anything all day.” it kind of makes my head spin. Parents work. We work hard. We work around the clock. Whether you are blessed with easy going kids or kids who require more special attention and have special needs, you are working. Whether you are working inside of your own home or outside your home, you are working. Constantly. You’re not just the captain of your ship, you’re the cook, the navigator, the boatswain, the quartermaster, the nurse, the carpenter, everything. We wouldn’t expect only one or two people to run an entire ship, but we expect it of parents.

I think it’s crucial that we change the perception that stay-at-home parents aren’t really working parents. This attitude diminishes the value of the work we do at home and for our children. In many cases, we have sacrificed promising careers for which we have spent significant time in college, not to mention tuition money, in order to raise healthy children in our homes. All parents are working parents, and I will not let others tell me or hint at otherwise.