Finding Presence As A Work-At-Home Mother

When I got pregnant over 6 years ago, I knew I wanted to try for the best of both worlds. I wanted to work, and I wanted to be the primary caregiver for my daughter. I figured I could do this by starting my own business and working from home. I was wrong.

While I may have been home, I was not always there. I had tea to mix and invoices to bill. I had marketing to do. I had a website to manage. I tried to run the business alongside raising my kids. Literally. Which meant I did neither at full speed and I always felt spent.

Possibly my greatest regret as a mother so far is that I have not always been present for my children.

But, there's a light and a shadow side to everything. I was able to breastfeed my daughter on demand through her toddler years. We spent copious amounts of time together. We still do. She received plenty of unstructured undirected play time. Now, she has a wild imagination and she can play "pretend" like no body's business.

I had high hopes for working at home. I thought my daughter could learn a strong work ethic by seeing me work. I planned to automate most of the business so I could make money and still be at home with her AND have time (and money) to write. I thought Timothy Ferris' book, "The Four Hour Work Week," offered the perfect blueprint. I just needed to fill in the blanks. Reality proved far more complex.

When my second daughter was born, my attention became divided once again. My older one came up against a brick wall of jealousy, and I struggled to carry her over it. I could not physically care for everything and everyone. Running the tea business became a burden that ceased to pull its weight. I learned the lesson we all learn sooner or later, sometimes more than once: I needed to do what I loved most. I couldn't divide my attention into so many pieces. I needed to edit and discard.

I continue to grapple with presence. I carry around books and notebooks, hungry to read and write at every opportunity. Though the books mostly remain unopened, I like to have them close by. They bring comfort. As I mentioned in my post about winning, you never know when a thought may strike or the children may become so absorbed in their play that I can read a few lines.

Modern humans have a billion different things to do and watch and read and be. Meanwhile, a bit of undivided attention goes a long way, whether it's applied to a child or a website or a novel or a movement. When faced with a gamut of opportunity, how do we prioritize? Ideally, we do it according to love. Not prestige. Not expired ideals. Not outside expectations. Not habits. Not other people's passion. But our love and our passion.

When my daughter erupts with emotion, what she needs is my full and honest presence, with a side of snuggles. In those tender moments, I see how motherhood can be simple. But this simplicity requires, without exception, presence.

This is day 11 of 30 consecutive days of blogging. I’m glad you’re along for the ride. If you liked this post, please share using the buttons below. If you have something to add, feel free to comment openly or anonymously.

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There's A Lesson In This

There's a lesson in this. This mantra is how I'm learning to approach struggle everyday, the inevitable hiccups that wrench my insides, literally and metaphysically and metaphorically. This is how I open to the purpose of struggle, bringing clarity, and eventually, freedom.

It's what I think when I lose patience with my little children and I say or do something I regret.

It's what I think when I spend money on something that makes my body contract instead of expand.

It's what I think when words slip easily from my mouth and I find myself wishing I could repossess entire conversations.

It's what I think when I drink liquor and I wake up in the middle of the night to vomit the food I could not digest.

It's what I think when I share something on social media only to delete it later.

It's what I think when I stay up late and I have to survive the next day.

It's what I think when I hear myself spewing venom to someone I love dearly, whether it's my husband or my child or my sister or my mom.

It's what I think when my two older children fight and I don't know how to make them stop.

It's what I think when I stay home for too many hours or days and I forget to enjoy the landscape of this tiny yet massive planet.

It's what I think when I compulsively check social media or get caught up in the world wide web in all of its sticky splendor.

It's what I think when I stop writing every day.

It's what I think when I feel in the pit of my stomach that something isn't right.

Sometimes, the lesson is simply a reminder: this is not for you.

I can drink wine in moderation because my body processes it, but I must stay away from the liquor.

I can buy anything I really need, but I should never go shopping for entertainment or therapy.

I can stay up late, but for the love of God, I must put down the book by midnight.

Sometimes the lesson is to think (and breathe!) before I speak, to make a schedule and stick with it, to not speak at all, to keep calm and carry on, to get out of the house, to fill my cup before I run dry.

Sometimes the lesson is that something needs to change. That I have beliefs to release and edges to find.

The same challenges show up in our lives until we learn from them.

So, the next time the struggle has you in it's clutches, why not ask yourself: what is the lesson in this? You might be surprised at what comes up.

This is day 4 of 30 consecutive days of blogging. I’m glad you’re along for the ride. If you liked this post, please share using the buttons below. If you have something to add, feel free to comment openly or anonymously.

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30 Intentions For My 30s

For my 30th birthday blog post, I started a few different lists, including 30 lessons I've learned, and 30 reasons I'm glad to be 30. But I realized I don't want to look back on what I've learned and how I've changed, I want to look forward. I want to ask, what else is possible?

I feel as if I have been waiting my whole life to enter this decade. I have idealized my thirties as a time when I will know I have arrived in adulthood. Of course now that I'm here, I realize I've been in "it" for years.

This decade of my life in this body is unwritten. My hope is that these intentions serve as the architecture for what is to come:

1. I go to bed at a decent hour.

2. I share my thoughts in personal and public ways.

3. I write and read everyday.

4. I make new friends and keep the old.

5. I practice patience and equinimity.

6. I see more of the world.

7. I submit and publish my stories, essays and poetry.

8. I enjoy the life I have built and the person I discovered in me in my twenties.

9. I speak nicely to my husband and children.

10. I choose love.

11. I moderate my internet and social media usage.

12. I move my body daily and I eat organic, whole, tasty foods.

13. I balance consumption with creation.

14. I feel my feelings without trying to numb them.

15. I am confident in my talents and abilities.

16. I value my worth.

17. I give freely and I receive freely.

18. I believe in the beauty of my dreams.

19. I do not worry what others think of me or say about me.

20. I stay true to myself and my values.

21. I measure time in inspiration rather than productivity.

22. I believe in miracles.

23. I notice synchronicities, and I let them guide me.

24. I listen to my intuition and I follow my heart.

25. I read to my children.

26. I date my husband.

27. I stay connected with my loved ones.

28. I practice non-attachment.

29. I relax into the present moment.

30. I allow the universe to show up for me in exciting ways.

Writing this list felt good. A wave of well-being moves through my heart each time I read it.

Thank you for being here, and please feel free to add your own intention for the next decade of your life in the comments below.

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The Moody Mommy

Confession: I can be a slave to my moods. I am not even-keeled, I am erratic. I don't think I used to be like this. It might be a product of motherhood. Hyper vigilance and sleep deprivation and all around lack of down time and intellectual stimulation.

But I also have great moods, and great days. Like the other day, which included exercising and creating, fresh air and real conversation.

I felt great, until the witching hour. Usually I throw myself into housework and dinner when it comes. But when everything was on the table and the chicken wasn't ready, I realized I still had time to kill before the sprint that is dinner-clean up-bath-bed.

I moved the kids to the living room. I put on the music. Not kid music. Hip hop. I turned up the volume. I danced.

I realized that if I stood in front of the window, the people in traffic would be able to see me dancing. Only at rush hour, which coincides with the witching hour, do the cars stop in front of my home for a moment. Maybe I could make them laugh. Maybe I could bring them back into their bodies for a moment. Maybe I could brighten one moment of the monotonous commute. Maybe I could connect with San Francisco in a new way.

When I started dancing, Giovanna ran towards me, squealing. She got down with it. At the sight of her big sister's moves, Skyla also squealed in delight. She rose up on her little chubby knees and found the beat. It was. So. Cute. I squealed as well.

I didn't dance in front of the window that night. But I did beat the mood and proceed to have a lovely evening in which Giovanna snuggled Skyla to sleep in her crib. When I looked at the video monitor and saw my big girl comforting my baby girl, the two clutching onto one another, one year-old head resting on five year-old shoulder, my heart exploded.

The next day at the gym childcare, Skyla was only happy if Gigi held her on her lap. Which was bittersweet. But God how I am grateful that these girls have one another, and that I get to be their mother.

I'll be dancing again tonight, trying to beat the mood.

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Things I Miss

There are things I miss when I'm focused elsewhere but the beautiful perfect present--distracted by the fierce competition of to-do lists, thoughts and the technology I keep forever close to my fingertips. I miss the details of my living room, the marble framing the fireplace, the blue chesterfield armchairs from my childhood, the columns that have showed up in five homes where I've lived and loved.

I miss the breadth of my child's smile and the depth of her questions. I miss the wonder in my baby's ever shifting gaze and the cadence of her babble.

I miss the whoosh of the cars on my city street and the sunshine soaking my garden. I miss sitting on my chaise lounge and tilting my face towards the great expanse.

I miss words that might come if I faced the blank screen more often, letting the discomfort scrape away the roughage to make room for something I can never know without trying.

I miss eye contact with my husband and playing with my children and ideas that only grace a spacious uncluttered mind.

I miss reading books and seeing strangers, really seeing them. I miss eavesdropping and people watching. I miss conversations with people whose name I've yet to learn. I miss meeting people. I miss knowing them in the flesh.

I miss the dreams I don't write down and the phases of the moon and the guideposts planted carefully by serendipity.

I miss teaching moments and learning moments. I miss the direction of the wind and the full body of my coffee and the sweetness of a crisp cold apple.

I miss the fullness in my belly after a good meal. I miss the tension in my shoulders and the strength in my legs. I miss the brightness in our eyes and the softness of their skin and the shape of their cheeks pressed against me.

I miss the smell of leather and the silhouette of a beautiful boot. I miss unexpected art exhibits. I miss the chance to help people with a smile.

I miss loneliness etched in faces. I miss the moment when someone opens their mouth to speak to me, then stops. I miss imagining an entire lifetime from the three words an old man says to his companion on the bus.

I miss questions. I miss answers. I miss jokes. I miss chances for laughter. I miss knowing them better. I miss understanding.

I miss looking up.

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Modern-Day Royalty

An interesting thing about (average middle class American) children these days is that they are so well tended. There's no scavenging for water when their class goes on a field trip. They carry BPA-free bottles in their backpacks, filled that very morning by loving attentive parents.

They can play in the rain without getting chilled because they always have a change of clothing nearby, and if not, the school has something they can borrow.

There's no sliding around in the backseat. They sit in five-point car seats and high tech strollers like modern-day chariots.

They may as well be royalty.

We work to support them and when we aren't working, we entertain them and care for them and clean up after them.

Before they are even born our friends throw them baby showers and after they come we remember their arrival by hosting annual birthday parties. We shower them with gifts on Christmas and we set up elaborate egg hunts on Easter.

We want everything to be magical for them.

We want everything for them. Everything we had, and perhaps more.

I think kids are so well tended these days because parenting builds on the previous generation. We parent the way our parents took care of us, compensating and occasionally over compensating for the gaps that may or may not have existed in our own childhoods.

But are there dangers to over compensating? Can we possibly give our babies too many gifts or too many parties or too much attention? If we overdo it will they grow up to be generous with high social and emotional intelligence, or needy and dependent on all sorts of addictions?

I think it's something for us to consider as we finish our holiday shopping and embark on long school breaks. Can we find balance in the season of excess?

How do you find balance? Tell me in the comments or email me lucymiller7 [at] gmail [dot!] com. I would like to know!!

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Great Expectations

At some point my husband and I began likening our children to little animals. They play in the mud and they jump on the furniture and they fight over food. In the past week one has peed on the floor, one has (innocently) taken a bite of her daddy's finger, and one has broken the slat on a brand new bed. They are hardly house-trained and certainly not civilized. We started calling them so. Little animals. It became a term we used often to cope with the exhaustive forces of parenting three children.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps they (the older ones, not the sweet baby) were acting more beastly the more we pointed out this aspect of their personalities. Or maybe we were noticing it more? No matter, I decided we should accept our children's behavior for what it is. They are not miniature adults, they are wild and free and uninhibited. Perhaps I'm putting a damper on their childhood by admonishing them for having a scuffle in the museum or forbidding ice cream when they aren't listening. Clearly I myself am imperfect seeing that I offer food bribes.

When I find myself repeatedly disappointed by their animal behavior, I wonder if I'm the one with the problem, not them. Are my expectations too high? What happened to my patience? Was I too harsh? Am I a terrible mother?

But James reminded me that it might be good to have high expectations for our children. We give them something to work for. We show faith in their ability to change. We force them into cleanliness in hopes that it becomes a habit. We teach them manners and norms and how society expects them to act.

(The rebel on my shoulder responds: who cares how society wants us to act?)

What do you think? Do we let kids be kids, or do we demand they clean their room before dinner and stay seated while they eat? How do we strike the right balance? Tell me in the comments or email me lucymiller7 [at] gmail [dot] com with your thoughts on parenting. I love hearing from you!

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Trapped

Sometimes I feel trapped. In my body, my mind, my house, my life, none of the above, all of the above. I am neither depressed nor ill and I know I'm not the first happy person to wrestle with a dull claustrophobic ache now and again.

Maybe it's because children/job/school/life/whatever demands so much out of us. We live in a culture of do-more-be-more-have-more. Which can be fun and rewarding. And draining and overwhelming. We become trapped by our to-do list. We become trapped by our fears. Worst of all, trapped by what (we think) we want whether it's a social life or a career or money or children or a partner or something I cannot even imagine.

For some reason the things we want the most can also take the most out of us.

But we can never be trapped for we do not exist in a bubble, we are all-encompassing. We are waves in an ocean, the fingers of the same hand. Ego fools us into thinking we are separate or superior or inferior. Ego with its expectations and ideals and lies. The voice of knowledge, the snake in the garden. Highly conditioned, deeply programmed habits of thought about worth and meaning and value.

Who am I and why am I alive and what should I be doing that I am not doing? Why is there so much to do all the time and why can't I keep up?

Moving a family to another city and state has proven itself a beast. A beast worth taming. An exciting chase. An adventure that has barely begun. When I feel scared or displaced I realize something: this means I am growing. If it feels uncomfortable, it's probably good for me. Maybe I can learn to lean towards that kind of discomfort rather than away from it.

When I feel as if I should be doing something else or something more, it's impossible to be present in this precious moment. We are busy creatures. We say yes. We make promises to ourselves and others. We join groups. We start projects. We take on as much as possible because we think we need to master something. Our careers, our homes, our inner demons.

Perhaps you, like me, are stumbling along, wishing to be better than you are. I recently joined an active parenting forum in San Francisco where mothers go for advice and support (among other things). Mothers post about depression, anxiety, stress. Too-small homes, too-small families, floundering relationships. The struggle is real. Unassailable. Often the first step in overcoming these troubles is airing them. Letting them be seen. Letting your self be seen.

Like the author Gretchen Rubin who studies and chases and writes about happiness because she wants to be happier, I believe in my ability to change. I am made of life and life adapts. That's what life does because life longs to live. Plants have been known to start trapping and digesting flies for nutrients when the soil becomes depleted. Absolutely anything is possible.

Our struggles are like guideposts. They show us what we need to change.

I need to stay mindful about getting stuck in the drudgery of routine and caring for myself and several other people and do things that inspire me on a daily basis. When I feed my soul with inspiration, my mind is less likely to wander to what I need to "do" (and there will always be more to do), I am more present and able to see the sweetness and beauty of the moment. I set this intention one morning and just a few hours later I discovered a place called Inspiration Point. For the past couple of weeks I've unknowingly driven within 300 feet of it many times. Inspiration Point is a lookout with a smorgasbord of sights--ocean and island and tall trees and even a bit of city. A stone's throw from my regular path. All I had to do was go a little further, venture off of my beaten path. It made me think that if I make my world a bit wider, I won't feel quite so small.

How are you struggling and what do you think the struggle is trying to change in/about you? Please tell me about it in the comments or email me lucymiller7 [at] gmail.com. I love hearing from you!

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The Bright Side

Sometimes I have the distinct sense that the universe is looking out for me. As if my life is a partnership between me and the ether. And like any relationship based on love, whether it is between lovers or friends or family, the universe has the power to hurt me, and it will hurt me. But it also has my back. I didn't get the first home I applied for in San Francisco, but I did land in the best place for my family.

I had some negative experiences as a working woman (from 12 hour days and 45 mile commutes to a good solid Ponzi scheme), but those experiences made me that much more inclined to travel, explore, excavate my dreams, and do what I actually love.

I was never skilled at the dating game, but I ended up marrying the perfect man for me.

I feel deeply called to be a writer which is not necessarily an easy career to break into, but I was born with the persistent gene so at least I know I will never give up.

I was also born with the indecisive gene, but I've recently discovered that I am never indecisive about the things that truly matter. So when I catch myself in a vacillating state, I can flip the proverbial coin and/or go with my first instinct and know that I made the "right" decision. (Or know that maybe there is no "wrong" decision.)

I've struggled to balance my life and also build my business, but because of my openness about this struggle, I may have found some business partners who are strong in the exact ways I am weak.

I get the worst kind of hangovers, my body cannot handle more than a bit of alcohol, but because of this I stopped binge drinking.

I had unhealthy eating habits and a negative body image from a young age. In my attempts to lose weight I discovered a passion for health and wellness. Now I am (generally) mindful of the foods I eat and the example I'm setting for my daughters. I've also learned to celebrate my love of food rather than try to fight it.

I have mild scoliosis and a high risk of osteoporosis, giving me extra motivation to make physical fitness (and good posture!) a priority.

The list goes on. Call it a silver lining or the bright side. Call it providence or fate. Call it God or the universe or the ten thousand things. Just call it something. The struggle is real. "Good" and "bad" are in knots so that we cannot have one without the other.

Can you think of something painful that changed you for the better? Do you believe that the universe has your back? Tell me about it in the comments or email me lucymiller7 [at] gmail [dot] com. I'd love to hear about it. 

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