I am a blessed woman.
And yet, when people ask me how I'm doing, I often respond with, "I'm tired. I'm in Survival Mode, but I'm okay."
It's the way I live during the months of May to October, when Erik's job goes into its operational season and I enter into weeks, sometimes months, of parenting our children on my own. It's an exhausting season. The days are forever-long, it forces us to move away from our home for a time, and Erik has to spend a large portion of that time away from me and the kids. It's very difficult. And when you're on your own with two small children, one with special needs, it's easy to find yourself exhausted, empty, alone and frayed to the bone.
Last week, I went to a lake house with a group of my very best girlfriends. It was a time of true rest and rejuvenation. It was a time of opening myself up and allowing others to have a look, to speak in and encourage me. It was exactly what I needed. And during that down time of feeling rested and relaxed, loved and understood, I was able to take stock of how I've been living lately.
I came to the horrible realization that Survival Mode was my default, not the exception to the rule.
Parenting solo is hard. But it's made even harder when I don't give myself and my kids routine. It's even more difficult when I'm not taking care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually.
For me, it starts with putting my kids to bed on time, no exceptions. No more staying up until 10:00am to finish Wall-E. I don't care how big your tantrum is, you're going to bed because I'm the boss. This is a fight I'm willing to have, and trust me, young squire, I will win every damn time. When the kids are in bed at a reasonable hour, I'm able to do the dishes, read a bit to wind down, and put my own self to bed so I can feel rested the next morning. After a good night's sleep, it means waking up before my kids, so I have time to shower, make the bed, unload the dishwasher and eat a decent breakfast alongside my morning coffee and journal. When we're all on a sleep cycle that makes sense & actually provides us with enough rest, I'm not rushing from one moment to the next, I'm able to create order and peace in the mornings - both of which are incredibly important for my son who needs calm and easy transitions in order to function.
Just because I'm parenting alone for weeks at a time does not mean that I should order a large pizza for dinner, strategically knowing that if I order enough, I'll have food for myself for the next three days and I won't have to cook. No excuses. That's just straight up unhealthy and I feel like crap when I do it. Take-out should be the exception. I'm a good cook and I'm quite capable of cooking healthy meals with real food. In the morning, it means eating a bowl of cereal with a banana for breakfast instead of a few bites out of the brownie pan. It means drinking more water instead of quenching my thirst with more Dr. Pepper. And no more store-bought cupcakes unless it's a really special occasion. And "just because it's Thursday" is not a special occasion.
It means getting outside and taking the kids for a walk in the afternoons before dinner. It means turning off the TV and picking up a book. It means listening to good music for no other reason than to just enjoy good music. It means dropping Scout in the hourly childcare center at the gym and going to yoga. It means lacing up my running shoes & going for a run when I can.
It means utilizing my time to be productive. It means being diligent about writing & emailing when Scout is asleep and Rowan is at preschool, rather than trying to cram in a bunch of communication on my phone at the park, when I could be playing with (and keeping an eye on) my kid. It means putting a load of laundry in first thing in the morning and folding it in the evening to stay on top of the constant pile.
Survival Mode is sometimes necessary, and I know where the line is for me. There's no shame in using it when I really need it. There will be days when I need to wave the white flag of surrender and order Chinese Takeout and stay in our pajamas all day.
But, when I claim Survival Mode as my default, I've always got my nose down, just trying to make it to the end of the day. It's a self-imposed mentality. I have the power and the ability to change my circumstance, it just takes a bit of work. When I put in the work to be a better, thriving, whole person, I'm able to lift my head up and take a look around me. It turns out that when you live in Survival Mode all the time, you miss out on a lot. And I don't want to miss out on my own life because I'm too lazy to get my shit together.
So, I'm writing this to let you know that I've started the hard work of living better. I'm in the midst of another big chunk of parenting solo and it's really difficult. But I've decided that I'm not just going to to survive. I'm going to live my life, and live it abundantly.