I don’t know how I do it (or do I?)

People are always saying to me, “I don’t know how you do it.”  By “it,” they mean  being a high school teacher while raising two young boys and writing on the side.

I usually joke and say, “I don’t know, either.”  And then I make some remark about how you have lots of extra time when you let the housework go to pot (alas, in every jest there is truth).

But really, “I don’t know” is a pretty weak answer.  Whenever a student of mine says that she doesn’t know why she didn’t turn in that big essay, I usually counter with, “Yes, you do know.”   That usually sparks some introspection on her part, and hopefully a valuable conversation ensues.

So let me try that tactic on myself.  How do I do all of this, while remaining [more or less] sane in the process?  I’m not implying that I’m doing it brilliantly, or that I’m some wonderwoman; frankly, the people who ask me this question are usually spinning even more crazy plates than I am, and there are plenty of moms in the world who face challenges that I can’t begin to fathom (more on that later).  But it might be enlightening to identify some of the things that make this wacky circus act of my life tick along, day after day, in the hopes that it’ll make me more mindful, and maybe help some other plate-spinning gal in the process.  (Ladies who are reading this: I hope you’ll share your tricks, too.)

1. I try to figure out when I’m most productive at certain tasks, and plan accordingly.  Honestly,  I’m not good at grading papers after dinner; I’m simply not.  But writing and blogging? I could do that till the wee small hours.  So I mostly grade during the day, and save the writing tasks for evening.

2.  I cut myself some slack in the kitchen.  I actually like to cook, but I save the ambitious meals for the weekend, when I have more time.  During the week, I often serve my family the kind of entree that you buy frozen in a bag and then push around a hot skillet for seven minutes.  Add a salad (with prewashed lettuce: totally worth the extra money) and it’s a meal.  My husband doesn’t mind that it’s not from scratch; Trader Joe’s has some tasty stuff, and he’s just happy that he doesn’t have to cook.

3.  My prayer desk.  I love having a little space that is an oasis, a corner that is mine and mine alone, a little retreat when things get nutty.

4.  My commute.  It is, admittedly, kind of stinky to spend one hour of every day on the road.  But on the plus side, it’s an hour of solitude where I can more or less let my thoughts unspool, and that’s relaxing.  Lately, I’ve been tuning into the classical music station, which is remarkably soothing (except for that stretch of road where the reception is bad and Brahms gets muscled out by hip-hop).

5. I am learning to ask for what I need.  If I need to take fifteen minutes after dinner to go to my room, shut the door and breathe deeply, I will tell my husband instead of playing the martyr and eventually letting my stress get to the boiling point.

6.  Trying to take inordinate pleasure in the little things in life.  See those roses at the top of this post?  They have been on the table for the last five days, and I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying them.  Ditto with clean sheets on the bed, and spontaneous hugs from the boys, and that first sip of coffee.  If I can stop for ten seconds in the kitchen in the morning and admire the sunrise outside my window, that’s a small investment that pays off big-time.

7.  Keeping perspective.  Yes, I have a lot on my plate, but there’s a lot that I’m not facing.  I am not dealing with the stress of unemployment.  I don’t have to raise my kids solo because my spouse is deployed.  I am not dealing with the physical and emotional challenges of caring for an ailing parent or worrying about a sick child.  I’m not wondering where my next meal is coming from.  Those are the moms who awe me, honestly.   They’re the wonderwomen.

So let me ask you, whether you’re a mom or not:  how do YOU juggle the different pieces of your life?  Is there anything in particular that helps you keep those plates in the air?

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