Puzzling Through

Know what grace looks like for me? It looks like reckoning with a 1000 piece puzzle. It looks like family. It looks like gratitude.

It’s been a few weeks since Jane and I embarked on our Epic Puzzling Adventure. One day at Target, more or less on a whim, I picked up a 1000 piece puzzle because I am a glutton for punishment adventurous. A puzzle seemed like a nifty, wholesome way for Jane and I to do some quality time. I mean, usually I opt for giggling with her as people face-plant on AFV or expressing my deeply held belief about Pilgrims in our spare time. But, I mean, a puzzle could be fun, too.

 

We dumped the entire puzzle on the dining room table and set about sorting through ONE THOUSAND PIECES to find all the edge pieces. The sheer volume of little funny shaped cardboard pieces meant they got shuffled all about, some teetering precariously on the edge of the table. Our boxer pup slimed at least one of them as she sniffed to figure out if they seemed edible (that dog and I have VERY different ideas about what might be edible). Occasionally, Jane and I would hear a piece quietly thunk to the floor. And then we’d yell, “DON’T LET THE DOG GET IT!”, as we both scrambled to find it before Delilah used it as her daily dose of fiber.

Pro Tip: If it’s going to take you weeks to finish a puzzle, you probably shouldn’t leave it on the dining room table. If you do, pieces will get shuffled under papers. Someone might use your puzzle as a coaster. The dog might occasionally try to snag a piece off the table, not really because she’s interested but because it’ll get a rise out of the whole family.

Jane and I took to doing the puzzle in spurts. We’d start on it and get really engrossed in finding a specific kind of piece. I liked the aqua camper. She got entranced by the fire. Then, invariably, one of us would get bored and wander off (usually her) while the other puzzled on valiantly (usually me). But even if Jane wandered off, she’d pop back in frequently, always finding a piece to snap into place or cheering me on when I was on a hot puzzling streak (you wish you were me, don’t you? I know. I’m hella cool.)

These moments, when we were working together toward something that seemed almost unreachable, they gave me hope. The whole trope about mothers and daughters not getting along really bugs me. I love my kid a lot. But I also really LIKE her. I value her input. I think she has stellar ideas. She’s introspective and kind. I want her to choose me when she’s an adult. I am hyper aware that children do not have to choose to allow parents to be part of their lives. I hope I am the kind of mother that she will want to rely on, that she will trust, that she’ll look to for encouragement and support. And the fact that we could work together on this damn puzzle, even when one of us got frustrated, meant something to me. It meant a lot, really.

As we got close to the end, Jane kept wanting to count the pieces. And I tried my hardest to stop her. I just knew, after all the shuffling, falling, coaster-using… I knew we’d be missing some pieces. Well, I didn’t know. But I assumed. And I didn’t want to know for sure. Because why would it be worth it to do this crazy big puzzle, if we couldn’t even get all the pieces together?  I mean, what would be the point even?

And sure enough…

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But, in the most bizarre twist, I realized that I wasn’t bothered. Not really. Because if you leaned back a little, that missing piece wasn’t as noticeable. My eyes kept landing, instead, on the parts of the puzzle Jane & I had adopted as our own, the ones we’d worked so hard on.

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And if I stood back even further, all I could really see was all the bright colors, and the woodland creatures wreaking havoc on a hapless campground, and the hours of fun and camaraderie. Unless I looked for it, I really couldn’t see that missing piece at all.

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Jane keeps asking if it bugs me, that we’re missing ONE piece. I get why she asks: I kind of acted like it would be the dawn of the apocalypse if we lost a piece. But I keep assuring her that it doesn’t matter.

For my first 33 years, I spent so much time fixated on what was lacking. Looking back, it feels like sometimes lack was ALL I could see. I missed lots of beautiful people, experiences, moments … they were all muted, drowned out by what I thought I didn’t have.

Know what grace is for me? Realizing that lack no longer defines my worldview. That each day, I’m astounded by what I do have. Because my whole life could’ve gone down so very differently. Getting sober taught me to see all the beauty that weaves itself together, so that lack isn’t apparent. It taught me to look at the bigger picture–and to be grateful for the 999 pieces that we do still have.

Holiday Hangover (No Booze Required)

Ever had a emotional hangover? Like from all the ups and downs of the holidays? Yeah, they’re real. And they’re hella tough. So, this Monday, take it easy on yourself. You’re worth it.

When I quit drinking, the first miracle was that long string of hangover-free mornings. If that doesn’t seem in any way miraculous to you… well, you’ve probably never spent half an hour deciding if an egg sandwich sounded delicious or like something you might immediately upchuck, while anxiety zips through your body like a high-speed train.

Just saying.

Sometimes, even a decade later, I wake up marvel over the fact that I feel GOOD first thing in the morning. It’s glorious.

I wish I was immune to ALL kinds of hangovers. But I’m not. I’ve had a sugar hangover. And a caffeine hangover. (I know. Cute, right? But, trust me, dehydrated & fuzzy headed is not a good look on me) But the worst is the emotional hangover. And there’s nothing like the holidays to bring on a killer emotional hangover.

For lots of us, the holidays can be fraught. It’s like life gears up for these made-up days that we’re supposed to be full of joy & gratitude and love for our families. And that’s great. Except when it’s not.

Like when Uncle Bob thinks tear gassing refugees is the way to protect ‘Merica.

Or when Cousin Sally wants to know if you’re still living in sin with your boyfriend.

Or when half your family is racist (sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, fill in any other thing that makes your stomach clench as you’re trying to digest your cranberry sauce).

Or when you’re just trying to work up the nerve to come out to your family through the entire holiday meal, but all you can imagine is your mom running away from the table in tears and your dad disowning you.

Or when you just don’t measure up to anything your family wants you to be. And you just wonder why they can’t accept you.

Or maybe you suffered a loss this year, and nothing is the same. And it won’t be. And you have to navigate that hard truth as you walk through the emotional landmines of the holidays.

Here’s the thing, some version of one (or a fun mix-and-match set) of these things goes on in most families I know.

So what does that mean?

Maybe that you love your family but that they drive you batshit crazy. Or maybe that you have to fight falling into old patterns just to emerge from the holidays virtually unscathed. Or that the holidays leave your wrecked and depleted, instead of joyous and renewed. Or that you call out bigotry in the middle of the Thanksgiving meal & let the chips fall where they may.

All these BIG (and conflicting) feelings can add up to a massive holiday hangover.

Holiday hangovers leave me feeling especially stuck. And vulnerable. It takes me days to get over them. My inclination is always to muscle through, to woman-up and show them.

This NOT a good plan.

If I’m a frazzled mess (hypothetically speaking, of course), the last thing I need is to start trying to prove something. Because no one is watching. And there’s no one to prove anything to but ME.

So, I’ve tried to talk myself into being less black and white. Holidays are not good or bad. There are good & bad parts to everything (which really helps me delve into the moments of joy without wondering when the other shoe is going to drop).

And I try to remember that everyone’s got their own shit going on. And sometimes I don’t  now anything about it. So a little grace is required. Sometimes, a lot of grace.

But most importantly, I remind myself–frequently, consistently, insistently–that I write my own narrative. No one can take that power from me. I do not have to play a part in someone else’s drama. I can throw out the whole script and start over. And that knowledge shines bright when things get tough. It helps me hold on to who I am, instead of being called back into who I used to be. And who I am now is a helluva lot better than who I used to be–and it’s worth writing a whole new script for.

On this Monday after Thanksgiving, be gentle with yourself. Especially if your holiday didn’t look anything like you wanted it to. Your worth isn’t determined by how much you accomplish today. You ARE important. And worthy. Connect with someone that makes you feel that way. Do something special for yourself. And don’t let anyone else write your narrative. Not ever.

Parenting is Hard AF

This beautiful, little human is trying to kill me. I mean, not with anything as overt as knives and such. But with eye rolls and sighs, ingratitude and accusations. And if you tell me it will only get worse as she gets older, I will jump through this screen and kick your ass. 

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This beautiful, little human is trying to kill me. I mean, not with anything as overt as knives and such. But with eye rolls and sighs, ingratitude and accusations. And if you tell me it will only get worse as she gets older, I will jump through this screen and kick your ass.

This weekend unfolded in amazing family time and sullen attitudes, in turn. By the time we inched our way toward bedtime last night, I was done. Done being artfully insulted, accused of unfairness, and in general not appreciated. Also, done with a 7 year old acting like I couldn’t possibly, ever know as much as she does.

It’s exhausting as hell, this mothering thing. Trying to act magnanimous, when my feelings are hurt and I just want to cry. Feeling thwarted at every turn. Wondering if, perhaps, I’m a terrific failure at parenting after all.

Lately, I’ve been wanting to spend more structured, thoughtful time with Jane, and I’ve been turning over questions of spiritual principles and practices, so on our epic tour of bookstores in Atlanta, I picked out a Buddhist book of bedtime stories that we could read together. If you’re a parent, you probably know where this is going. Because there is a direct correlation between how much a parent wants something to work (to be special or really to matter in any significant way) and how much the child DOES NOT WANT ANY PART OF IT.

As she was headed to bed, I told her I’d like to read her a story.

So far, so good.

Then she saw me turn a few pages. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO START AT THE BEGINNING,” she instructed, haughtily.

Ahem.

I kept my shit together pretty well. “Yes, usually, But you’re going to have to trust that I know how to read this book.” I swear, I was speaking in melodic tones while trying not to lose my mind.

“Now, close your eyes. And take a…”

“I DON’T WANT TO CLOSE MY EYES.”

“Jane. For real, dude. Just chill. You’re going to like this. It’s like when you meditate…”

“I DON’T MEDITATE.”

Now, I needed to take deep breaths. “OKAY. But you do yoga. So it’s like that. Now, point your toes down, then up…”

“How long do I have to DO THIS. JUST READ ME A STORY.”

I closed the book, said good night, and walked out of her room. I did not yell (on the outside). I did not make her responsible for my emotions. But my feelings were hurt, for sure. And I was frustrated as hell by her general crappiness and her snotty attitude.

The irony: I got the book so she could learn to manage her emotions when she doesn’t get her way. Or when things don’t go 100% as expected. (I guess we could all use some instruction on that realm). Her go-to lately is just to spin wildly out of control. Not cool. Not cool at all.

I mean, at least she showed me that I wasn’t WRONG about her needing a way to create some balance in her inner world.

Then, this morning, after I’d worked pretty damn hard to shake off the night before, I asked her if she’d like a hug. “Nah,” she said, walking away and tossing her hair over her shoulder.

My 7 year old blew me off.

I spent the whole ride to school chanting (in my head, mostly): She is not responsible for my emotions. She is not responsible for my emotions.

But, GOD, I felt like she stabbed a tiny knife in my heart and the wound might take an eternity to heal. I’m not sure why it smarted so much. I know she’s just trying to prove that she doesn’t need me all the time. She’s separating from me in ways that are normal and age-apporpriate. But, I guess lately I’ve just felt like she doesn’t respect me. And that is where I feel like I’ve gone horribly wrong. Because I deserve respect, for no other reason than that I am a human sharing this world with her. And somehow she’s come to believe that respecting me is an optional endeavor.

None of this is a plea for affirmation or sympathy. I share a lot of the joyous moments in parenthood. And I focus on redemption a lot–because so many of the beautiful parts of life revolve around that them. But this is a real, honest assessment that parenting is hard as fuck. It’s brutal and exhausting. And sometimes, it just feels soul-sucking.

And that’s why Facebook invented the Memories feature. So, when I’m contemplating moving into a yurt in the middle of the Montana wilderness just to get away from my ungrateful, disrespectful offspring, I can be taken completely unawares by a picture of her when she was just two years old and thought I hung the moon. Then I can remember that, despite what a little shit she’s been, I love her more than anything else in this world.

And then I can saddle up for another day.

5 Bucks

We’ve got a BIG push in this house toward personal responsibility. Maybe it’s because I didn’t even know how to do my own laundry when I left for college. Or maybe it’s because, as an addict, I refused to take any responsibility for the chaos that followed me everywhere (like Pig Pen in his cloud of dust)…

So, I was kind of an asshole this morning. No reason to sugar coat it. And I feel bad about it now. Sort of.

We’ve got a BIG push in this house toward personal responsibility. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t held accountable for much as a kid (I didn’t even know how to do my own laundry when I left for college). Or maybe it’s because, as an addict, I refused to take any responsibility for the chaos that followed me everywhere (like Pig Pen in his cloud of dust).

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But, by God, I’ve been determined since before she was born that this child of mine would be fierce, independent, and that she would take responsibility for herself.

Except that she’s, you know, SEVEN.

And she lives life with full on, knock-down-drag-out enthusiasm–which can make her forget mundane things like grabbing her clean capoeira uniform out of the drawer and putting it in her book bag. Which I’m gonna cop to being kind of annoyed by. Because, look, right now my house is in disarray. Lots of stuff is still in boxes. I feel disoriented and a bit anxious because I don’t feel settled. But I managed to pull my shit together enough to wash her capoeira uniform so it would be clean & ready to go for class today. Do I deserve a gold star? Yes. Yes, I do.

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So, yeah, I was miffed when she told me she left it at home. And I told her, calmly, dispassionately, that she’d just have to live without it today because I wasn’t bringing it to her. But then shit really went off the rails when she said, “You’re acting like this is my fault. It’s not ALL my fault…”

Hold up, kid.

Who’s fault is it, EXACTLY?? I did my part. Washed? Check. Folded? Check. All you had to do was stick the uniform in your book bag. Did you do that? NO. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY, friend.

Capoeira is part of the after school program, so the good folks there are used to kids forgetting their entire uniform, pieces of their uniform, etc… and they would still let Jane  participate, albeit in her school jumper. Then something registered in the back of my brain, and I eyed Jane in the rearview mirror… “Did you put shorts on under your jumper today? Like I asked you to?”

Her little face fell. Both because she knew no one was going to let her turn cartwheels in a jumper with no shorts underneath AND because I’d specifically told her to put shorts on. And she did God-knows-what-else instead. She was probably applying (fake) nail polish to her dolls. Or building a fort out of twine and broken pencils. Or performing her own musical in her room. But she definitely was not putting on shorts, like she was told.

Let’s just say, at this point, some tears were shed. None of them mine.

Then I took a deep breath. And I realized things had gone too far. I’d fussed WAY too much over a forgotten uniform. I wracked my brain for how I could fix it without REALLY fixing it… because if you give this kid an inch, she will take a mile. So, tears or no tears, I couldn’t just cave. But I hated that she was so upset. That I had taken a teachable moment and used it against her. Then I had it…

“I’ll bring you your uniform, if you give me 5 bucks.”

Sniff. Sniff.

“You’ll bring it to me?” she asked, incredulously.

“Yeah. For 5 bucks.”

And suddenly I was the hero again. The best mommy in the world. But I still felt shitty. Because I’d gotten too mad. Accused her of being irresponsible (she’s not). And, overall, just been kind of an asshole. About a uniform.

So, I apologized. And reminded her that everyone makes mistakes. And that we aren’t defined by them. She’s still a responsible kid, even if she forgot something one day.

And, I suppose, I’m still a good mom, even if I acted like an asshole on one random, rainy Thursday morning.

(By the way, I’m going to use that 5 bucks to buy a latte. In case you were wondering.)

I’ve Unfollowed the God of My Childhood

This God question is still lingering about. And it’s weighty as hell. Okay, it’s not really a GOD question. I’m all down for my higher power, which sometimes I call God & sometimes the Universe, and sometimes HEY YOU, if I’m feeling really impatient. It’s more a spiritual practice question, I suppose.

This God question is still lingering about. And it’s weighty as hell.

Okay, it’s not really a GOD question. I’m all down for my higher power, which sometimes I call God & sometimes the Universe, and sometimes HEY YOU, if I’m feeling really impatient. It’s more a spiritual practice question, I suppose.

And like all good questions, emotional dilemmas, and garden variety baggage, it stems from my childhood. Because the God I was raised with was scary as shit. He was a God to be feared. Not to be questioned. He was capable of taking things away, if I happened to love something more than I loved Him. So, I was always worried about my family. Because OF COURSE I loved the people who lived with me & cared for me more than I loved a God I couldn’t see & who seemed to be capricious as all get out. I was constantly re-praying the salvation prayer, because if I hadn’t “really meant it” God might deny me at the moment of judgement. I was afraid of God. Because I had good sense. I surely didn’t want to get smited. Or have everything I love snatched away from me. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the weight I felt to save each and every one of my friends who hadn’t acknowledged Christ & who surely were bound for hell in the proverbial handbasket.

No wonder I was an anxious child with questionable self-worth. This God’s love totally needed to be won. And I just wasn’t sure I was up to the task. You see the problem, right? Because this God was the one I learned about in church.

This God of my childhood is so diametrically opposed to the God that’s been presented to Jane that, if I were to tell her what I’d learned about God as a kid, she’d call bullshit on it immediately. Because we’ve always attended a church where first & foremost, God is love. And, in every discussion I’ve ever had with my kid about God, I’ve shown her the God I met in AA. That God (the Universe, my Higher Power, whatever…) is big and expansive and loving. That God can’t be pinned down, pigeon-holed or co-opted. That God loves without strings or conditions. There’s no fear, because there’s nothing to be saved FROM. That God loves Jane simply because she exists. And she knows it. It’s intertwined with who she is. I see that every day, in the joy she exudes, in the choices she makes.

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Jane just being Jane.

This morning, as Jane & I were meandering toward the front door of her school, she said, “Mommy, I’m so excited.”

“About what, love?” I inquired. Because, I don’t know, she kinda said it like maybe a circus was coming through.

“I’m excited about everything about today!”

This kid. I swear. I think she knows more about God than I do. She sure does radiate joy & love. At 7, she seems to have access to an inner peace & sustainable joy that I didn’t have until my 30s. So, maybe, with this kid, it’s not so much a question about what to do on Sunday morning. Maybe it’s more about teaching her the Judeo-Christian* stories and just opening up the conversation. Being more transparent about my spirituality & inviting her to participate with me. Maybe that’s enough spiritual practice for now.

Maybe.

 

*Yes, I totally agree that stories from other traditions are important, too. But I do want her to know the stories I grew up with. So, we’ll start there.

That First Cup of Coffee

I love mornings: the sun’s slow, upward climb; the quiet; the COFFEE. But I don’t wake up perky. It’s a little fuzzy in my brain first thing in the morning. And I’m real sleepy until that first cup of coffee.

I love mornings: the sun’s slow, upward climb; the quiet; the COFFEE. But I don’t wake up perky. It’s a little fuzzy in my brain first thing in the morning. And I’m real sleepy until that first cup of coffee. Here’s a visual representation of my mental state first thing in the morning:

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But that’s fine. Because Simon sleeps later than I do. And after a cup of coffee (and a quick browse through social media), I’m all like this:

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But there’s one wild card in this morning situation: JANE. Jane wakes up like a shooting star every morning. She hops out of bed and greets the world with all the sunshine, rainbows, and sparkles she can muster. It’s A LOT of perk. Trust me.

And she gets up early. Really early. 6 a.m. early. Even on the weekends. I know. I know. I’ve tried to reason with her. She just can’t help herself. She’s SO EXCITED TO BE ALIVE.

So, when it comes to forging a bit of quiet time for myself in the morning–and believe this: I am a MUCH better mother after that first cup of coffee–I have to get up early. 5:30 a.m. to be exact. That gives me half an hour to wake up in the relative quiet (the dog snores, so there’s that) before facing the day (and other people).

Years ago, this was my everyday practice: up before the kid so I could have coffee and be charming and whatnot. But Jane & I, we know each other well. So well that sometimes it’s uncanny. (Like I really think sometimes she can read my mind. I wish I was joking. SO not joking).

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Jane can sense when I get up (the squeaky hardwood floors probably clue her in, too). When she was young, and not yet as familiar with the ways of the world (and the moods of her mother), she used to come in and climb on me when I was trying to have quiet time–which by it’s very nature is child-free time.

But this morning, I heard her get up. And slam her bedroom door shut. And slam the bathroom door shut. (She means nothing by all this slamming. It’s just her way). Then I heard her stomp into the kitchen like a baby buffalo, where she commenced slamming cabinets making her lunch.

And never, not once, did she venture into the living room where quiet time had commenced. She did not bother, pester, or annoy. She did not ask to cuddle, tell a story, or launch into a million questions about the day ahead. She just let me be.

When I wandered into the kitchen to greet her, I was all full of sunshine, happiness, and good-mother-vibes. Because coffee. And love.

All of this is apropos of pretty much nothing–except to say that the children, they are trainable. Don’t give up. Just keep loving them, redirecting them, and drinking just as much coffee as it takes.

 

Kids Will Totally Eat Your Plans for Breakfast

Kids excel at two things:

  1. Making sure their parents can never, ever again have sex without subconsciously (or, too often, VERY consciously) listening for the sound of little feet approaching the bedroom door, and
  2. Waylaying even the best laid plans.

Fortunately for you, this post is about the waylayification of expertly laid plans.

I work from home as a writer/writing consultant. Which means that I plan my own schedule. Folks hear that & they’re all: “COOL! That must be so great! You can do whatever you want.”

Yeah. No.

I write for other people. I write this blog. I send in submissions for publication. I’ve got a manuscript that I’m (supposed to be) editing. I manage clients. Attend meetings. And do the everyday shit that makes life run.

Same as everyone else.

Except that I suck at time management. I mean, I never miss a deadline. For real. BUT, I have no idea how long the average task will take me. Not a clue. And, if something happens in the middle of the day–like a client meeting or an doctor appointment–it can throw my day into a spiral of UNproductivity. Simply put: I never learned to maximize my time to achieve my goals.

And, y’all, it’s holding me back.

So, after two days of Simon listening to me kvetch about not getting done what I need to do because THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME. THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH TIME, he gently suggested that we watch this video:

When I say “gently suggested” I mean he sat me on the couch with a cup off coffee, put the computer in front of  me, and pressed play. He watched too, you know, so he could drive home the finer points. The man loves an organizational system more than most. More than anyone, really.

Amy Landino charmed me with her wittiness and her warmth. And her togetherness. I mean, I was watching in boxer briefs, a taco cat t-shirt, with my hair looking like a wild tumbleweed on my head. I was vulnerable. And halfway through, she had me. I was all: Shit’s gotta change.

And so, I did this:

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I KNOW, right? I’m obviously winning at scheduling.

Per my new bestie Amy Landino’s suggestion, every minute from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. got scheduled. Even though you can’t see a lot of it, there’s totally self-care stuff scheduled. But that’s not really my problem. My problem is working the things that make me ME (like running, reading, walking the dog, writing) into my day in ways that make me feel productive. Instead of like I’m floundering around aimlessly. Because that sucks all the joy out of having freedom in my schedule in the first place.

Because I wanted to be valedictorian of this newly scheduled life, I popped out of bed this morning at 5:30 (there’s that “me time!”), had coffee, centered myself. Then I heard it… the sniffles. From Jane’s room. I went in to find a variation of this:

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Isn’t it just the saddest? 

Jane never asks to stay home from school. Like, ever. In fact, any suggestion that she stay home is usually met with weeping & gnashing of teeth. Except for today, the day of my perfectly laid plans. When I asked if she should stay home, she nodded, sniffled, and crawled back in bed.

Well, I’ll be damned. The kid is actually sick. And hear me when I say I KNOW how blessed we are that she never gets sick. But it also makes her a HORRIBLE patient. She’s baffled by this cold. She doesn’t know what to do with herself. She just feverishly pouts about being sick. It’s A LOT.

And, remember that lovely, color-coded calendar of all that I was going to accomplish today? Well… I had to improvise. (Most of) the things got done, albeit wildly out of order. I managed to get dressed and put actual pants on (this is apparently something successful people also do). And when I had a moment where I didn’t know what I should be doing with myself–between pitiful moans from the kid and whines from the dog because she didn’t understand why we couldn’t go for a walk LIKE WAS SCHEDULED–I could just glance at the calendar, pick a task I hadn’t finished yet and go from there.

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This is the look of someone who feels accomplished–AND is wearing pants.

On a day that could’ve gotten sucked into the void, I managed to make meaningful use of my time AND be there for the poor, sick bunny. And it felt good. And productive. And like I was actually living toward my best life.

That feels like something, for sure.