A Safe Place to Fail

Lately I have been purposely putting myself in situations where I don’t expect to succeed. That might sound a bit sadistic. As if I’m trying to set myself up for failure. But that’s not the case. I’m just exploring things where I don’t expect to be good, where learning could be frustrating, where I have little to no knowledge to do well.

It wasn’t intended to be a part of a greater plan, but I realized the hobbies I were selecting had a theme. They were all outside my comfort zone. I like to be good at everything. Don’t we all? And perfectionist runs deep for me. The idea of not doing something well, of looking dumb in front of others, is a tough one for me to get over. It doesn’t help that self-confidence isn’t my strong suit.

Thus I had a need- a safe place to fail.

First, I tried pottery. I love the concept of working with your hands, of creating something out of nothing, of molding clay into beauty. I struggled with harboring fantasies of unleashing my inner ceramic artist and discovering I was fantastic at this. But ceramics is an actual art and a craft that one must work at. I spent my 6 week intro series creating odd shaped bowls and one extremely shallow mug. When the class ended, I felt a bit embarrassed by the outcome but proud I’d tried. I wasn’t ready to commit to another series, but I wanted to continue learning and explore.

If pottery wasn’t the ticket, what could I possibly choose next?

Pole dancing. Or pole fitness if you prefer.

I am not particularly in tune with my body. Or graceful. I have very little core or upper body strength. These are all good things to have in pole. While I love to dance, I do not have many sexy dance moves in my repertoire. Again, that would be helpful. Needless to say, I knew this would be a challenging hobby. But I signed up for 3 weeks, then 6 months and I’m still going. None of it is pretty but I am so much stronger and confident.

And pole dancing has turned out to be an incredibly safe place to fail. It’s a class full of people who are equally intimidated and eager to try something new. Everyone supports each other as they conquer a tough move, but most importantly shares in the laughter of messing up and trying again. People who make “there ain’t no way I can do that” faces in exercise classes and laugh when moves are hard- those are my people.

I didn’t realize this space I had created for myself initially, but now I recognize the value it’s brought to me at work or in other aspects of my life. Reminding me that I can grow my courage each day in small ways, the practice of which benefits my life in big ways. A pottery class, a Toastmasters club, my small garden (where I fail repeatedly), taking pole dancing, even this blog, has provided me more value than I understood. They weren’t skills to master but places to grow.

Where is your safe place to fail?

Intentional Parenting

Intentional parenting means letting everything else go.

Earlier today I was sneaking in a few minutes of Instagram and realized I was struggling with that feeling that so often occurs with too much social media. That feeling of jealousy or inappropriate admiration for someone’s home, family, garden, life. That feeling that starts off as just being impressed by something and quickly spirals into “how can I do that too” which evolves into “why aren’t we like that” and ends up somewhere in feeling just not good enough. Instagram often tells us that “comparison is the thief of joy” (credit to TDR) as we scroll through perfectly curated content of “keeping it real”.

I am quick to feel jealousy or insecurity which tends to make social media (and Pinterest) a bad idea. And yet each day I go over my allotted time, ignoring my phone’s optimistic 30 minute limit warning. Good intentions…

I find a lot of value and information in the content I follow but I also find it comes with a cost. This is particularly the case when it comes to parenting. Children doing cool things? I swoon and feel failure. So I unfollowed most every parenting ‘grammer.

I realized the common threads in the accounts that I still follow is their intention. There is something that they focus on for their children, something that’s important to them. Perhaps it’s teaching them about food and cooking. Perhaps it’s sensory exploration and playing independently. Maybe it’s just prioritizing being outside.

And they let the other stuff go.

Children are not good at everything. Parents are not good at everything. We cannot have it all. So pick what’s important and let the rest go.

It was a bit of an epiphany this morning when I realized Tyler and I are already doing this. We have a few things that are important to us and we have mostly let the rest of go. These things that we focus on in parenting don’t necessarily look or feel they way we imagined pre-children, but what does?

What we focus on:

  • Saying yes more than we say no. There’s not a lot of rules at our house but we say no when it comes to safety, causing physical harm or material harm (no holes in the wall, etc.) and things that might just make us lose our minds. Parental sanity matters.
  • Getting outside. Every weekend morning we go for an adventure whether it be off to the beach, on a nature walk or just to the playground. If it’s not raining, we get outside.
  • Bedtime. See parental sanity matters.
  • Parents decide what food goes on the plate and kid decides what they eat and how much. This sounds minor but food is a battlefield in any house with children. We do not battle the kids on what they eat but I pick what goes on the plate with little input from the kids. It doesn’t make dinner easy but at least everyone knows what to expect.
  • Being kind. The kids know we value learning and treating people with kindness over anything else. That doesn’t mean they’re totally on board but they do know what the expectations are.

We haven’t enrolled our kids in sports (at least not yet) or focus on learning letters, reading, art, etc. That stuff will come to whatever degree they are inclined to. This is not to say we do not want the boys to be athletic (Tyler’s dream) or avid readers/creatives (mine), but it’s not our priority and for the most part we let it go. Sometimes the kids are disasters. They tear apart the house. They’re not particularly good with strangers. Arts and crafts is over before it starts. We haven’t signed up for swim lessons because it will likely be a battle. You win some, you lose some.

Just like everything else in life, you choose what’s important and you let the rest go.

Why Did I Stop Writing

I last wrote a blog post for my birthday last year, a little over a year ago. I had already slowed down my posting but then it suddenly stopped. I gave myself a million reasons. All of them were accurate. 

I didn’t want to write about the pandemic. Writing about the pandemic was everywhere and I had nothing to add to that story, especially as a family who was relatively unaffected. But it also felt insensitive to avoid it. 

I didn’t want to write about the racial reckoning of our country. My day job is in diversity, equity and inclusion and all day long I was writing, talking, arguing about what was going on so I didn’t want to say anything more about it. However as a DEI person I felt I should be talking about it on all the platforms I had access to, but as a white person, I also had no desire to take up space with my voice. 

Blogging has become a thing of the past. Blogs aren’t really what they once were so I thought maybe it was time to let it go. But what to do with the energy I normally invested in this? 

This evening though it hit me, these were all part of why I had stopped blogging but it wasn’t really the cause. At first when we started working from home, I was really enjoying it. Like most, I thought it was a vacation of kinds. No getting dressed, a little working from the couch and I even got to set myself up a nice at home office space. Fun. 

But after months of no social plans, after long days with no work breaks (because who is there to talk to?) after telling everyone I was never going back to the office, I have recently realized that perhaps this is not working well for me. 

My office building will be opening for the first time since COVID in July, for those who are comfortable returning. I didn’t think I wanted to go back, but I have come to realize that the more I am away from others, the more I withdraw from everything. I knew this about myself in theory, but the pandemic and working from home made it abundantly clear. And withdrawing from the world can mean not reaching out to people to make plans, not wanting to go back to the office, not having the motivation to go for a run/go outside or not making the effort to write. Not wanting to put words out in the world.

And so while I’m tempted to wait for something beautiful to write, for inspiration to hit me, I know that the first step is always the hardest. So the moment I realized why I wasn’t writing, I started typing. Got to start somewhere. 

Stay Present

I have spent most of my life thinking about what’s next.

What will we have for dinner? Will the boys actually eat it? 

What do I want to try to get done tonight? Check the budget or take a bath? 

Do we have any plans this weekend? What can I plan? Who should I call?

When can we take a vacation? Where will we go?

I hang signs all of my cubicle and write in my journal, “slow down”, “one thing at a time”, or “be present.” I am never present. This has always been the case for me. I have always dreamed of a life just out of reach. My high school self believed that happiness was waiting for me in college. My college self sought my life’s true purpose backpacking through Australia and then by putting down roots in Austin. As a parent of young children, I often think how much easier things will be when the kids are older, despite that everyone with older kids tells me this is not true.

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23 year old waiting for an epiphany in Australia

If not now, when?

The pandemic, for all its havoc on the world, is teaching me to be more present. Most of my questions these days are pointless or cannot be answered any time soon.

When we will go on a vacation? Hard to say.

Do we have any plans? Absolutely not.

Will the pandemic end? When will it be considered safe to do all the activities we did before? No one knows. Stop asking.

At first, I spent my initial pandemic days planning what I would do when this was all over. What adventures would I take? My mind still wanders there from time to time, but now I stick with today. Today’s project. Today’s fun. The little ins and outs of the day.

The boys help with their demands for right now. They struggle to think about tomorrow, let alone any time farther in the future. Anything they want is only in this very moment. It’s frustrating and freeing to live with people who have no concept of time, who believe they are being patient by waiting 20 seconds before shouting their desire again.

We spend as much time outside as we can stand. Each weekend we wake up to decide what adventure we might take next. Which nature trail will we go to? Should we take a bike ride? Go to the beach? We don’t know where we’ll go until that morning and then we pack up the snacks and hit the road.

Teaching the boys the joys of being outside is one of the things I dreamed of from the moment we decided to have kids, but it is typically far from idyllic.

Austin hates riding in the bike trailer, spending most of his time taking off his helmet and throwing things onto the road, but loves when we go on nature walks. At 18 months old though, he is constantly trying to wander off trail to grab everything and frequently cannot be persuaded to leave a mud puddle behind. We let him walk every so often but mostly carry him on my shoulders or in a carrier.

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Haines could ride all day in the bike trailer but refuses to walk any trails. We leave him on a bench thinking he will get up and follow us eventually, but have to go back and get him. So we take a stroller everywhere now, which drives me insane. Tyler, more tolerant, pushes him over tree rots and carefully navigates down hills. When I have to push him for even a few minutes I am instantly angry and annoyed.

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But when you are out 3 miles from home on a bike ride or mid-trail walk, you just have to deal. You pick the pacifier up out of the road and put it in your pocket for the 5th time in 15 minutes. You shove the stroller through the soft sandy trail and look up. At gorgeous green trees, at yellow butterflies, at birds. When Austin hears a bird, he will grab his ear to indicate he is listening or shout “caw caw”. He bounces up and down on my shoulders with delight. Haines wants to see every flower, wants to know about every animal that might live out where we are. What do birds eat? Why?

These bouncing boys, our beautiful surroundings, the world seemingly on pause, are constantly reminding me to just be present. And for once I am listening.

 

New Year’s Resolution #2: Me First

Me first can sound selfish or it can sound obvious depending on where you’re at in your mental health, self-care journey. I always thought I did a pretty good job before I had kids. I had ample hobbies and interests, friends and social activities that my life felt full and rewarding.

Kids totally knocked that out. I did not have a routine. I did not have a stable, dependable habit or thing that kept me sane during tough times. I was just floating by.

Side note: the most important unsolicited advice I would offer an expecting parent is that you establish a meaningful, flexible routine that allows you to keep your sanity in check. Daily meditation? At-home yoga practice? Friend that you can call day or night? Get it before that baby arrives in your home. 

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Sometimes the only answer is to leave the house, rain or no rain. I wanted to go hiking but didn’t want to risk messing up his nap so just hit a nature trail nearby. Compromise.

Now that we’re two kids in I have learned that I really don’t have any self-care habits. I had things I did for fun, not really for calm and it’s really made it difficult to have any emotional resilience.

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Another rainy moment but we rode downtown for ice cream. Totally worth it. 

New Year’s Resolution #2: Me First

I’m going to do something for myself every day. Some days will be small. A cup of tea after the babies go to bed. A long cuddle with Clara. Saying no. Ignoring chores. Taking the kids for a walk even if it’s dark outside or sprinkling rain. Perfect conditions not necessary. I don’t know what this will look like (I’m learning after all) but these are my plans:

  • Hot baths
  • Baking bread
  • Get outside, with or without kids
  • Stating what I need, am feeling
  • Declining invitations
  • Ignoring chores
  • Writing blogs, essays, gratitude journaling
  • Watering the plants
  • Eating food when I’m hungry, not waiting until the children leave me alone
  • Take a pottery class
  • Go to yoga
  • Crafting