January 21st: How do we recreate the boundaries around work life and personal life?

Parkinson’s Law asserts that work expands to fill the time it has been allotted. Thanks to modern technologies, work has also expanded to fill most places that we find ourselves.

This year, I’ve deliberately set boundaries around my primary job (as I’ve mentioned before, I have three). I come when my contract begins, I leave when my contract ends, and almost without exception, I do no work at home. This has resulted in feats of last-minute creativity and strategic problem-solving that make my heart race with adrenaline. I’ll admit, I like the rush! And I think that by working smarter, I’m taking my work to new levels. Plus, I’m a much happier employee. The problem is that our culture has engrained in us that we must work harder. I feel more than a twinge of guilt when I arrive and leave on time, and when I turn down opportunities to work at things like school open houses in the evenings. And I have to wonder how much longer I can keep it up before my image as a hard worker takes a major hit.

Making Parkinson’s Law work in our professional lives is one thing, but making it work personally is entirely another. Parkinson assumed that people overestimate the amount of time it takes to do a task, and this leads to procrastination, and to psychological energy being spent on the task even when it is not being performed (thus the work has “expanded”). In my case, the opposite is true. No matter how many times I get ready in the morning, without fail I think it will take me less time than it does. (In fact, I can’t name a household task that I could reasonably estimate it’s required time for completion.) As a result, I’m one of those people who ends up being 5-10 minutes late No matter what time I need to be somewhere. Especially work, and especially since I’ve created my firm boundaries around work.

If the problem is boundaries and time, effort and balance, how do we give our best at work and at home, while maintaining the integrity of our efforts in both halves of our lives?

January 19th/20th: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” MLK, Jr.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Re-springing Your Step.”

Step aside, “I have a dream.” Today, I had the pleasure of being introduced, through my school’s MLK Day professional development, to some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lesser known but equally profound quotes. This question resonated with me not just because of the undercurrent of social justice with runs through all of MLK’s speeches and letters, but because of its core message of humanity, and it’s potential to bring vitality to our lives.

The question above was presented in the environment of education, and appropriately so. As a group, we reflected on its meaning in the context of the diverse student population that we serve, and much could be said on that topic in this forum. But in addition, I immediately recognized its application to my personal life. And since 365 Questions is devoted to personal development, this is the angle I’m taking here today.

It’s not always easy to remember to help others, especially when your professional (teaching) and personal (parenting) lives demand that you spend every minute doing just that. How is it possible, or even reasonable, to do more? Isn’t that elusive “me” time just what we need to find a little happiness?

As it happens, I lost a little “me” time a couple of weekend ago when I volunteered to do a teacher training for an adult refugee education program. I haven’t felt more energy and enthusiasm toward my work in recent memory.

Then the other day, after battling the morning routine to get us all out of the house and off to preschool, I was completely frazzled. My attitude was in the toilet, and I was ready to kiss my kids goodbye and get on with my day off. I was on my way to the library and then to yoga. Instead of rushing away, I stopped to talk to the director of the preschool. Before I left, I found myself scheduled to volunteer for a half day…on my next prized day off. And as I walked away, I realized something. My energy and attitude had done a 180 degree turn. I was content.

Maybe it’s something about freedom, about control. We can do things for others because it’s our job, our responsibility, our obligation. But when we freely go out of our way to make room to help others, we exercise control over our situation. And by helping others, by creating space for humanity, we energize our lives.

January 19th: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”–MLK, Jr.

Step aside, “I have a dream.” Today, I had the pleasure of being introduced, through my school’s MLK Day professional development, to some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lesser known but equally profound quotes. This question resonated with me not just because of the undercurrent of social justice with runs through all of MLK’s speeches and letters, but because of its core message of humanity.

The question above was presented in the environment of education, and appropriately so. As a group, we reflected on its meaning in the context of the diverse student population that we serve, and much could be said on that topic in this forum. But in addition, I immediately recognized its application to my personal life. And since 365 Questions is devoted to personal development, this is the angle I’m taking here today.

It’s not always easy to remember to help others, especially when your professional (teaching) and personal (parenting) lives demand that you spend every minute doing just that. How is it possible, or even reasonable, to do more? Isn’t that elusive “me” time just what we need to find a little happiness?

As it happens, I lost a little “me” time a couple of weekend ago when I volunteered to do a teacher training for an adult refugee education program. I haven’t felt more energy and enthusiasm toward my work in recent memory.

Then the other day, after battling the morning routine to get us all out of the house and off to preschool, I was completely frazzled. My attitude was in the toilet, and I was ready to kiss my kids goodbye and get on with my day off. I was on my way to the library and then to yoga. Instead of rushing away, I stopped to talk to the director of the preschool. Before I left, I found myself scheduled to volunteer for a half day…on my next prized day off. And as I walked away, I realized something. My energy and attitude had done a 180 degree turn. I was content.

Maybe it’s something about freedom, about control. We can do things for others because it’s our job, our responsibility, our obligation. But when we freely go out of our way to make room to help others, we exercise control over our situation. And by helping others, we create space in our lives for the power of humanity.

January 18th: How can we take the bubble wrap off our 21st century kids?

I’m forcing myself to tackle this question tonight. There are two or three other easy targets for today’s activities and interactions, but I realize that none of them would really make me face myself and my own fears.

We took our kids swimming today. We go to an exercise pool at our fitness club where the water is blissfully warm but five or so feet deep all around. We have friends that usually go at the same time, and their daughter is just a little younger than our son. She swims like a dolphin at age four! It’s delightful. Her parents toss her around, dunk her, and enjoy themselves while generally letting her do her thing. I on the other hand can’t let my boy out of arm’s reach. Swimming is just not even fun these days. Between him (without a life jacket) and my two year old twins (with life jackets) I have no idea why I put myself through this! I am going to die of either a heart attack (from watching him come up for air and sputter) or of embarrassment (from screaming my husband’s name every time my boy stays under water for more than a couple of seconds).

The superficial solution to this problem is easy: get the kid into swimming lessons (and have his dad take him–not me!). Get his sisters into swimming lessons shortly thereafter. This would be helpful for today, but I can’t help but think that this situation is just going to repeat itself until…well forever really, because you’re never done being a parent!

A friend of mine said recently that if her husband had his way, they’d wrap their son in bubble wrap. Not such a bad idea! Still, if our job as parents is to raise confident, capable children, we do them no favors by protecting them and never letting them take risks. But how can we get around our own issues and anxieties enough to let this happen in a healthy and productive way? How can we stand supportively on the sidelines while our children take the risks they need to take in order to learn and grow?

January 17th: How can we reclaim “me” time?

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who can get up at 5:00 a.m. and run a few miles before coming home, showering, and getting on with my day. There must be something so invigorating, so centering, about taking that time to be whole with your mind and body like that at the start of every day. Too bad for my calves that I love sleep so much that even after a good 8 hours, I’m always ready to roll over and try my best for a little more shut-eye. (I’m kidding about the calves part. I have naturally rockin’ calves, and judging by my grandmothers, always will. So maybe that’s why I lack motivation…) Add to my natural laziness an almost impulsive bent toward procrastination, three kids, three jobs, and a husband, and I’m left with zilch in the way of “me” time.

I’m not sure what that even is anymore, to be honest. This evening my husband took our son to a hockey game, so I got some extra time with my girls. I love time with my girls. I love time with my son too, but it’s just different. Toddler boys are basically like mini-men. You know they’re capable of giving more than one or two-word responses, but they seem uninterested in anything but their cars, their tools. Toddler girls are basically like gold star-elementary school students. They carry around stacks of books to read. They choose just the right strawberry socks to go with their strawberry sweaters. They sit down with you and do puzzles, and if you give them crayons and paper, can entertain themselves for hours on end. They clean up after themselves, and sometimes after each other. The other day my daughter got mad at repeatedly cleaning up after her brother–so mad that she stopped cleaning right there and marched off with a stack of books to her bed and read by herself in absolute silence. She really showed him! (On second thought, that’s less like a gold-star 3rd grader and more like my mother.)

Anyway, after I put my BFF’s down to bed, my husband texted me saying, “good, now you’ve got some time for yourself.” Argh! Now there’s a good way to p!$$ a woman off! The simple fact is that for most moms, and especially the ones who hold down income-bringing, benefits-paying jobs, “me” time is just another chance for “us” time–as in, now I fnally have time to do the laundry/pay the bills/run the errands/get the groceries/clean out the closets/anything on your to-do list. Sure, I’ve got time to myself, and I’ll sit down and read for the next hour or two, as long as you don’t mind folding five loads of laundry with me when you get home!

True, there are moments in every week when I get to do something of my own choosing. And part of taking the time is that when you do, you’ve got to take it with gratitude and joy, and not with guilt. I’m hit and miss on this myself. I said “yes” to a yoga class yesterday morning (it’s my weekly ritual). I said “no” to an offer of a movie with a friend tonight (I’d have had to get a last-minute sitter…and yes…the laundry…).

Perhaps that’s also why I’ve committed to blogging a little bit, most every day. As long as I’m writing for myself, and reading blogs that I find engaging, I’m feeding that part of me that is independent of anyone or anything else. I don’t have to go anywhere to do it, and I’m limited only by the borders of my imagination.

January 15th: What do I enjoy most about my job?

So I decided to take yesterday’s question with me to work today! I have to admit that this question was an easy one. I just really, really like what I do. I’m so lucky. There are plenty of things that are a pain about working in the field of education. But in my specialization, I have a little more flexibility. And truly, working with students from every different language background means that I learn something new every day. I get to use my creativity to communicate with children about science, social studies, reading…some pretty amazing stuff (just don’t ask me about math!). I get called in to do brand new things, like support computer-adaptive reading testing for the entire school, which I did today. Could have complained about it, but no–what a great opportunity to support everyone in the entire school, and to learn something new. Plus it was fun to get to work with all that tech today. A natural Luddite, I got the routine down after setting up the computers several times today, so I felt very capable. I got to imagine how fun it would be to actually be all techie! I get to work with awesome kids and colleagues, and on the side I do some curriculum consulting in higher Ed, as well as doing teacher training at a local university. I volunteered recently to train volunteers at an adult ed program as well. I get to do a variety of things within my field, and that keeps me energized. Next time you’re feeling cranky at work, frame your day around this question. If it doesn’t turn your day around, maybe it’s time to find a new job!

January 14th: What do I love most about being a parent?

This question was handed to me last night. It was too good to pass up, despite the fact that it its original context, it was an ice-breaker at a mom’s night out for my children’s preschool. My original response is too lame to describe here. Like so many writers, I do better when I have a little time for things to percolate. I find ice-breakers extremely disconcerting, and responses to ice breakers little more than superficial social posturing. But as I reflected on this question further today, I found its incredible value.

This is not going to be a popular opinion, but there’s an awful lot about parenting (especially parenting three children who were born within 20 months of each other) that just isn’t fun. There’s a lot of drudgery, and only glimmers of reward. Raising children is sort of like burying a timecapsule. You put in an assortment of items that you hope will be significant later, and then put it away. Years down the road, if you’re around when your timecapsule enters the world, you might get to enjoy the novelty of finding out whether you put in anything worthwhile.

I love this question because it directs our attention toward the positive. There is a lot to love about family life. And regardless of the physical and emotional challenges, I am both enamoured with and delighted by my children. As I kept this question at the forefront of my mind today, I found that the moments that I had with my children were more positive. There was more fun, more conversation, and more laughter–at one point, hysterical, giggle-fit laughter–with my twin toddlers. I found connection with my children as I kept looking out for what I loved about our time together, and evaluating these wonderful moments against each other. This is one of the most valuable type of questions–the kind that opens us up to the positive and impacts our lives in meaningful ways.