Which Came First, the Chicken or the Meds?

ashkey.001Several weeks ago, I discovered my days go a lot better if I start them with writing instead of with email. My general thought process has been “let’s just bang through these emails real quick before getting down to write.” Two hours later, the emails have sent me off into a flurry of activity to find, investigate, file and respond, and I am too tired and scattered to start the hard work of creating anything.

Thing is, getting through those emails doesn’t give me the same gratifying sense of accomplishment as writing, or creating anything, does. I love the intense focus I feel when putting pen to paper (or pixels to screen). I love that, when I’m done, I feel a sense of completion — closure, if you will.

So many of the things I do these days don’t have that feeling. They don’t promote focus, and they are never truly finished. There will be thirty seven more emails tomorrow, no matter how empty I get the inbox today. There will be more dishes in the sink five minutes after I get the kitchen clean. It leads to frustration and a lack of sense of accomplishment.

So now, I start with writing on the weekdays. I blog here, write for the magazine or do a freelance piece. I’ve also cut down on my freelance work, as much as it pains me, because between work, freelance, volunteering and parenting, I was beginning to feel like I was trying to cram three full-time jobs into the space of one, and I was scattered — doing a little of this and a little of that all day long, rarely finishing anything to satisfaction.

I hate the feeling of doing so much stuff I’m not doing any of it particularly well. The principal who went out on a limb and hired me for my teaching job back in the early 2000’s once said of our curriculum it was “a mile wide and an inch deep.” It rang really true with me, because I felt like I was being asked to cram more and more stuff into the children’s heads, without really getting into the meat of anything.

That metaphor can be expanded to everything we do. So much stuff is trying to grab our attention, it’s easy to run around all day long and never give your full attention to anything. Meditation helps with this problem, but it is truly a practice. You might not feel any differently the first time you do it, but if you keep it up, you start to notice better focus and more calm “off the mat” as well.

There are a few free meditation apps that really help me. I have several, because I refuse to buy a subscription, so I just use the few free ones in each app. Even just three or four minutes per day seem to help. I don’t meditate on the weekends, though. Weekends are for kids’ sports, birthday parties, cub scouts and sleeping.

So, I’ve cut down and prioritized, and I’m feeling calmer and more satisfied with my life now. Oh yeah, and I also went up on my meds, so I can’t take all the credit for the new, chill me. I never know which comes first; do my habits start to slip, so I get depressed or do I get depressed and so my habits start to slip? Either way, they feed each other.┬áIt would be disingenuous of me to pretend it was all lifestyle change when I’ve had a fair amount of help from chemistry.

I can’t seem to end this post; I just keep rambling and no clever one-liner is bubbling to the surface, so I’ll just stop. The point is, if you feel crazy/depressed/dissatisfied, maybe try simplifying your life, and if you try that and it doesn’t help or if that seems like an insurmountable task, maybe visit your doctor.

Too Much Information: Why Modern Parenting is Overwhelming

70424540 - child annoying his tired mother with headache
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_bialasiewicz’>bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I have to admit, I ignore a lot of the stuff I get from my kids’ school. I used to rant and rave about people not reading things I sent them. Then I’d get, “Wait, we’re having a meeting Friday?!” I’d sigh and lament people’s attention spans, so short they couldn’t get through a three-line email. But that was back in the early 2000’s.

Now, in 2017, I get multiple emails from the school and the district every day. Much of the information isn’t applicable to me or is a third repetition of information I already know. So yeah, I’ve stopped reading all the multi-paragraph, book-length messages from the superintendent.

The other issue, aside from the sheer volume of messages both electronic and on paper, that come from school is, usually, they want something. They want you to send in paper plates, volunteer for the Thanksgiving luncheon, sign up to be a room representative. Or, it’s about some new program your child, as student, is participating in — a leadership initiative, something to promote science skills, “home connection” notes with exercises to complete with your child to ensure their continued emotional health. It more than any one person should realistically be expected to pay attention to.

Don’t get me wrong; all these programs are useful. I’m glad we’re encouraged to volunteer, I love being able to send supplies and support the teachers and I’m heartened by the fact that public education has realized they need to address emotional well-being. There is just SO MUCH OF IT. I don’t have the bandwidth to take it all in, let alone participate in it all. So, I might occasionally miss something, because I’ve skimmed the school-wide news of the week instead of studying it carefully.

Here’s my coping mechanism as a person who wants to help and participate but does not have the capacity to consider everything that comes home in the children’s backpacks and each and every email that pings into the inbox: I ignore a LOT. I’ve picked out my things I like to do — things for which I’m well suited. I send art supplies to the art teacher every year (her budget is abysmal); I volunteer in my first grader’s class once a week, because I like getting to know the kids in his class; I chair the book fair, because I love books.

What I don’t do (like categorically don’t even consider doing, because I don’t even want it taking up space in my head): go to PTA meetings, sign up to bring food for teacher appreciation week, volunteer in the cafeteria or get coerced into being on the PTA board. I am glad other people do these things; they’re important things, but they’re not my things. I have a hard time paying attention in large group meetings, I don’t particularly like to cook and a cafeteria full of noise is overwhelming to me. As far as the board goes, I am so grateful to the people who do those jobs, because I cannot stand to be in charge of one more thing. Between work, family and the book fair, I’m tapped out.

Why am I sharing this? Because I know a lot of parents who feel the same way, and we’re not going to stop getting so many emails and requests for help anytime soon, so it’s important to work on what we do have control of: ourselves. I hereby give you permission to ignore any requests from school that are not at all suited to you. Don’t even consider them. Pick a handful of things you think are important or that work for you, and don’t let yourself feel guilty about the rest.

Now excuse me, I have 87 emails to delete without reading.