2020 Word of the Year: Intentional

Are you a habitual scroller? I can lose hours on social media. HOURS. I scroll and scroll and I don’t even think I’m actually paying attention. But I love it.

It’s a problem.

My word of the year for 2020 is Intentional.

I want to be intentional with my time and energy. To have a clear purpose. To be goal-oriented and focused. To ensure that everything I do is driving those goals and purposes forward. And, lastly, to be present in every moment I can.

This means implementing discipline around my social media usage. So, I’m sitting down now to make a plan and shift through those goals and intentions.

An Unexpected Confidence Boost

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a nail biter and a nail picker. It’s a terrible habit that is made worse by stress and anxiety. Earlier this year I shared a post about this. At the time, I was stressed at work and at home. I was also knee-deep in my first round of querying. I’d written 3 books and was planning to start another.

My hands were awful. Like, I hated having them visible. They also hurt. It was bad—possibly the worst they’d ever been.

I kept seeing these gorgeous imPRESS press-on nails on BooksAndMargs Instagram and loved them. They looked amazing. They didn’t look anything like my hands.

On a whim, I picked up a set at Target and decided I’d use them as a reward. I needed some form of incentive to stop biting and picking.

In a moment very on-brand for me, I didn’t wait until my fingers were better. I think they sat on my desk for two whole days before I caved. I was shocked at how easy they were to apply. Even more shocking? They looked good!

Within a week of applying the first set, my fingers were already healing. They were starting to look really good. Five weeks and four sets later and they are completely healed. I can’t believe my hands are the hands in these photos. I’m definitely not embarrassed by these fingers anymore and I’ve kicked a bad habit in the process. And, I’m officially obsessed with imPRESS Manicures. I’ve started collecting sets and my son’s favorite thing to do is pick out my next set. Me too, kid, me too.

Discouraging Silence

Silence is the most daunting side effect of putting yourself out there. Silence is the sound that haunts your thoughts at all hours of the day and night. It creeps into the crevices of your biggest fears and doubts and eats its way further and further until the wounds fester.

It is in the most silent of moments that you either choose to give up or strain to hear the music. These are the make or break moments for me because in silence, it is very easy to hear the nagging of my inner negative voice. She screams as loud as the silence, their voices creating a chorus of You’re Not Good Enough. Silence calls for me to join in her pity party. As tempting as it can be to dive head first into the Silence’s negativity, I’m working to stay out of it.

That pity party offers nothing for me. It doesn’t invite me to write or create. It places a spotlight on every flaw and mistake and reminds me that those moments are defining.

But they aren’t.

Silence is a liar. Her pity party is a drag and a bore, and it is not one I ever want to RSVP to (though there are times I do attend despite my better judgement).

When Silence creeps in, I like to drown her out with music or audiobooks. If I fill my ears and mind with words and music, Silence can’t get a work in edgewise. Her voice is muted. Her negativity stifled.

It is in those moments that I remember I have the power and the control, not Silence.

A Dear John Letter

Dear Fear,

I’ve given you nearly 38 years of my life. I’ve let you guide and dictate nearly every move.

You’ve made decisions for me that I’ll always regret. You’ve made me wonder what if far too many times.

You’ve made me say no when yes was all I wanted. You’ve pushed me to say yes when I needed to scream no.

But this relationship isn’t working anymore.

It’s not me. It’s you.

Of course, we’ll always be friends. Perhaps not the fondest of friends. After all, we’ll never have Paris as you’ve forbidden me from flying over the ocean.

So, while this isn’t goodbye, it is a departure. I’m sure we’ll meet again soon. More likely than not, our paths will cross when I most expect it. I’ll be ready and waiting. A quick hug. A peck on the cheek. But that is all. Nothing more.

I’ll always carry a piece of you with me, but you’ll never have all of me again.

Cozy Reading Nook

When you’re a mom, you rarely get space that is just yours. Even the toilet is shared space when you have small kids (one day, I’ll remember what it’s like to pee without an audience).

Ever since I started reading and writing again, I’ve been bugging my husband for a reading chair. A recliner. A giant bean bag chair. Whatever as long as it was mine and only mine.

I’ve found approximately fifty chairs I HAD to have. But, none that were perfect. That is until this beauty came into my life. I found it at Bargain Hunt, but it is originally from Target. The Target regular price was $232, it was only $150 at Bargain Hunt. Score.

The reviews on Target’s website say it isn’t comfortable, but the are wrong. The chair is firm and supportive, which is perfect. And, I can curl up in it comfortably. It’s also amazing for writing.

In a word, it is perfect.

Tired as a Mother

Sleep regression. Leaps. New routines. Teething. Sickness. Fears. Anxiety. Nightmares. FOMO.

Whatever the reason, whatever the name, babies and toddlers have incredibly fickle sleep habits. Just when you think you’ve mastered the whole sleep thing, it all changes and your kid is up at 2 am and ready to PAR-TAY.

As a working mother, this is my nightmare. It always seems these moments strike on the nights, er, mornings, before I have important meetings or projects due. While I live and die by my lattes, there is little they can do when I am living on four hours a sleep three nights in a row.

My son, 3.5, and daughter, 11 months, appear to be on the same sleep regression schedule. It’s almost comical how predictable it is. He wakes up at midnight and she’s up at 12:01 am. Worse is his cries or yelling will wake her up more than hers do him. His propensity to slam the toilet seat has resulted in her waking more than once. We’ve not mastered our use of inside voices or gentle toilet lid closing. One day.

Aside from the obvious, the biggest thing impacted by this is my health. Building a fitness routine has been damn near impossible since #2 was born. I am a morning fitness person (just don’t talk to me). My ideal workout time is right around 4 or 4:30 am. (Yes, I understand this may seem insane, but if it doesn’t happen then, it ain’t happening). My daughter loves waking up raring to go around 3:45; this after waking around midnight. I can handle a 4 am wake up if she rocks or nurses back to sleep, but that fifteen minutes seems to be catastrophic to my workout mojo.

The lack of sleep also results in more caffeine (LOTS of coffee and lattes) and really, really shitty food decisions as I seek out desperate (and fleeting) attempts to fuel some sort of energy.

Before you lecture me on the energy provided by working out, I know this. It’s one of those Catch 22 things… I need energy to workout, working out provides that energy, but I need to have it to do the working out part. Aye.

My poor husband is right there with me. Except, he gets the added bonus of my downright tyrannical bitchiness from not sleeping (bless his heart). Honestly, that’s a kind under-exaggeration. It’s more like an unleashed wild rage. At times, the exhaustion is enough to bring tears at just the thought of sleep.

I know these days are numbered and one day I may look back on them fondly (should I do so, please point me back to this post), but right now in the moment, they suck. They suck so much I am at a loss for words to adequately describe how sucky they are.

Saying this does not make me a horrible mother, nor does it mean I don’t love my children in the stage we are currently in. All it means is that this shit is hard, so hard, and sleep is a fundamental need for human beings. I miss it. I miss it more than I miss the feeling of my pants fitting without digging a canyon into my gut.

One day, I’ll sleep a full eight hours. Until then, bottoms up my fellow coffee-loving mamas.

Adventures in Breastfeeding

The familiar feeling of an impending letdown alerted me that I was now thirty minutes past my normal pumping time. My shirt and bra were getting tighter and the pain was beginning to distract me from my current task. I glanced towards the back of the office to the room that was supposed to be reserved as the “Mother’s Room.” It had a sign posted and a reservation schedule by the door – because my boss thought it would be too awkward to have the room listed on the calendar as “Mother’s Room.” He’d nearly vomited at my original suggestion of “The Milk Barn.”

I sighed audibly and got up. As I walked back to the room I contemplated all the mean faces and side eyes I would give the person who’d ignored every sign and was occupying the very room I needed. My irritation was growing by the second and I almost pitied the person on the other end. Almost.

I knocked quietly and waited. No answer. I knocked again. After the second non-response, I tried the handle. The door was locked. Awesome. I knocked one last time, but again, no answer. Someone had locked the door and closed it behind them as they left. I could feel my eyes starting to burn as my breasts reminded me again that I desperately needed to pump. Taking a deep breath to quell the tears, I found our office manager and asked for the key to the room.

“We don’t have one,” he said. “How badly do you need in there?”

My face flushed and I had to again force back tears, “Pretty badly.”

My co-workers, sensing my frustration, sprung into action. They tried to jimmy the lock with a paperclip, personal credit cards and random keys found in the office. Nothing worked. My pumping room was locked down tighter than a white collar prison, with my pump and supplies inside. Had they been at my desk, I likely would have just popped by boobs out and started pumping in front of everyone.

Maintenance finally showed up an hour later and I ran into the room to relieve the pressure. I may have also given in to the tears that I’d been fighting.

Now that I am nearly seven months into my second go-round as a working, breastfeeding mother, I am quite used to the variety of hurdles that come with this.  am committed to providing for my daughter as I did for my son. I do believe that breast is best (for my children) and worth every sacrifice. But this does not mean I am immune to feeling the stress and frustration.

With both my children, I started new jobs around their fifth month of life. Both times I agonized more about when to tell them I needed to have a space and the time to pump than salaries or benefits. I constantly worry that my need to pump will be an inconvenience to others, but I also find myself becoming highly annoyed when they are inconvenienced or weirded out when I mention my need.

image2While I was pumping for my son, I started traveling for work. Thankfully, I produced enough to have a freezer stash to use for him. Work travel as a pumping mom is a challenge – calling ahead to ensure your hotel room has a refrigerator only to find out upon your arrival that they do not, but you can bring your breast milk down here and we will store it (and accidentally freeze it, meaning it will thaw and spoil before you make it back home), getting excited to learn the airport has a mother’s room only to learn it is in the terminal you are not flying out of. You haven’t fully lived if you’ve never had a twenty-something TSA agent ohh and ahh over how thick your breast milk is, “WOW this looks like whole milk! I normally see watery milk, but this is THICK! And, dang, it’s like a gallon!” all while your boss and co-worker wait patiently for him to finish scanning the bags so everyone can make it to the gate in time.

Aside from the travel challenges, far too many companies do not consider the needs of working mothers. The law requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide a private space that is not a bathroom for mother’s to pump (the laws are a little more intricate than that, but I am going to skip the legal ease), but many either do not care or do not have the space for it.

I am fortunate to work in a corporate setting, but I have seen how difficult it can be for mothers that work in retail or restaurant environments. My career has led to be in those positions momentarily as I am pumping and starting new jobs. During those times, I pumped in my car because the restaurant or store I was in did not have a private space that wasn’t a bathroom or monitored by cameras. These instances were rare inconveniences for me, but for many moms, this is a reality of life every single day and most don’t fight it.

Part of the issue is the fear of asking – similar to one of the arguments of why women are paid less – because we are afraid of making requests or asking for what we deserve. This is something I struggle with regularly, both in pay negotiations and asking for time and space to express milk for my child. At some point, we as women need to stop apologize for existing and start demanding for our proper space.

However, like any mom, I make the best of the situation and make it work. Even if that means pumping in my car in the heat and humidity of a Nashville summer.

An excerpt of this originally appeared on Our Epic Blog and can be found here. 

The Threenager

My son turned 3 in June. Everyone warned me about this age. Two isn’t the terrible year, they told me, the year of the threenager is. I remember thinking, yeah, two hasn’t really been that bad. I braced myself for three. At least I thought I did.

Nothing could  have prepared me for three. Especially the three that comes after your sweet, gentle soul of an only child becomes a big brother in the months leading up to the big third birthday.

The tantrums. The mood swings. The willful disobedience. The potty training regression. The sleep regression. The behavior regression. The yelling, the hitting, the arguing … I was not prepared for any of it.

Lord, help us all.

I am going to be brutally honest here (judge me if you must), no age or moment has challenged me as a parent more than three. I doubt my decisions daily – both my parenting decisions and my decision to become a parent. This boy tests me in ways I’d never even imagined were possible and I fully understand the words my mother used to say to me when I was a teenager – “I love you always, but I don’t like you right now.”

Typing that I realize just how big of an ungrateful asshole I sound like. But until you’ve been kicked, slapped, screamed at and peed on by your adoring child all within the span of a minute, you have no idea how trying these moments are.

Every once in a while I will start to wonder if maybe my child is worse than the other threenagers I know. Could there be a bigger issue? Then, as if the Facebook Mom Group Gods are listening, a fellow threenager mom posts a story that mirrors the one I’d just barely survived.

Nope, he’s a normal threenager. Thank you Jesus. I think.

But, three isn’t all bad. We have so many amazing moments and are making lifelong memories – this kid is a steel trap and remembers everything. EVERYTHING.

He adores his baby sister and loves to help with her. He can make her smile and laugh in a way neither her father nor I have mastered yet.

He shows compassion for his friends, sister and family. I can already tell he is going to be empathetic and caring towards others.

He gives the best hugs and is always up to a bedtime snuggle. His favorite thing is to give “Avengers” hugs … we have a Hulk big, a Black Widow hug, a Spider-Man hug … you get the idea.

 My son has become his own person – he has ideas and an amazing imagination. He makes up stories and loves telling them to us. My favorite? The one he insisted his teacher hit him and his friend on the head with a broom and ended up in timeout. It took some work, but we finally got him to tell us he’d made up the story. We’re working on learning the difference between the truth and a lie and when and how to use our imagination to make up stories.

We can hold real conversations and he is capable of telling me what he needs. He’s observant to the world around him and can, for the most part, hold his own.

Some days it’s hard to remember that he’s still a toddler. He uses complete sentences and has moments of pure genius as he works through his own logical approach to life. At times, he’s so mature that I forget how quickly he can slip back into threenager mode. I have to constantly remind myself that he is still just three years old and he has all these big emotions that he’s just now learning to cope with and process.

And, I am still learning how to parent a threenager. I’m sure I’ll figure it out sometime around his fourth birthday.

My Kid Won’t do THAT

Y’all remember life before kids? Back when you were on the outside looking in and full of wild ideas and judgement … you know, all those “when I have kids …” moments? Don’t look at me like that, we all thought it. We’ve all said it.

So, to make us all feel better and laugh at ourselves (or, maybe, just at me), I wanted to make a comprehensive list of all the things my kid won’t do that he does, in fact, do.

  • Eat McDonald’s. Weekly. Sometimes twice.
  • Know there are toys in the Happy Meal & he certainly won’t play with them before he eats.
  • Watch TV.
  • Have a tablet.
  • Throw a tantrum.
  • Throw a tantrum in the middle of Target.
  • Scream in a restaurant.
  • Run away from me in a restaurant.
  • Wake up at 4am. Every. Single. Day. Of. His. Short. Life.
  • Have a pacifier.
  • Suck her fingers/thumb.
  • Have play weapons.
  • Take over the house with toys.
  • Eat different dinners/meals than the rest of us. I will NOT cook two dinners.
  • Eat candy. Definitely not as an entire meal.
  • Be bribed. I would NEVER bribe my child with any of the above tactics. Nope. I will never negotiate with candy, toys or screen time.
  • Eat in the car.
  • Tell strangers about his penis.
  • Lick the handicap railing in the restroom at Costco. )Wait, that’s super specific. Who’s kid did that? That’s horrible. Yeah, that was my kid and I had no idea I was supposed to add that to the My Kid Won’t do That List.

What are some of the things you swore your kid wouldn’t do, but totally does?

Setting the Tone

I try to make my bed every morning. I don’t always succeed, but I try. I do this for two reasons … first, because my son absolutely loves messing up the pillows and it’s his bedtime “treat” and because it helps set the tone for my entire day.

I haven’t done any scientific research, but anecdotally, I have noticed a dramatic difference in my level of productivity on days I make my bed versus days I don’t. I believe (also, not scientific) that this is all psychological.

The visual of the bed being made is usually the last thing as I see as I head out the door and one of the first things I see when I get home. When the bed is made, I feel like I have my shit together. The bedroom feels more orderly and it’s almost inspiring.

Same goes for the dishes. My husband will be the last person to tell you this … though he should be the first, he’s just too nice … I suck at dishes. I suck at cleaning. I suck at housework.

I’ve found that when the dishes and laundry pile up, I won’t do it. Period. I will leave it for him to do. (Sorry hubby).

Conversely, if the dishes are caught up or there’s just one load of laundry, I am all over that shit. I’ll unload the dishwasher and get (unjustly) irritated when my husband leaves dishes in the sink if the dishwasher is dirty and not full. One load of laundry? I’ll fold that bitch as soon as the dryer buzzes.

Since returning to work after AB was born, I’ve been making an effort to stay on top of these things because I know they won’t get done if I don’t. Well, they will, my husband will just do it all (sorry, again). Part of this is due to being insanely inspired by The Simplified Life by Emily Ley (its life changing y’all), but also because I have always felt guilty for not helping more with housework.

That said, I’m still not mopping the floors and I won’t stop asking for a house cleaning service. But, I will (try to) make the bed every day and help keep the dishes and laundry from exploding (like they did this week).