Nov 6, 2012

Best Thing/Worst Thing


This year has been a challenging one for our family. While not awful/horrible/no good/very bad like 2011 was, 2012 has forced us to dig ever deeper, drawing on reserves of endurance, patience, thrift and faith (not in a God, but each other).

My husband went back to school, and has been gone all day and night throughout most of the last 10 months. The burden of child care falls on me, and I also work from home. That we don't have family nearby who can help out (or the money to spend on a babysitter) is exhausting. I never, ever get a break. And even when I sleep, I am worrying. After all, we've spent thousands we don't even have on the hope that his talent will lead us to a more prosperous place. 

But the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is within view. He's now interning, which is wonderful because he loves the work and is hopeful it will lead to an actual job one day soon. But for right now, life can feel grueling. I cry every other day just worrying about Christmas. The election keeps my husband up at night.

Also, four-year-olds are not the most understanding individuals; just when you are bearing the biggest load you've had to shoulder in your lifetime, they will hand you one more thing to carry — literally and metaphorically. Like, you're carrying five bags of groceries, a backpack and her scooter, and then she'll try to hand you a booger. This has actually happened. (Also, just when you're feeling terrible about yourself, that your hair needs a new cut because it's starting to look like a sheitel, that's when your kid will decide to start calling your upper arms your "chubbies." This has also happened.) 

Aside from all the work, no play and ceaseless whining, the challenge for me is being happy with what we've got for just a little bit longer. It's a difficult thing to do, though I sometimes feel like I've mastered getting by with nothing new. But then I look at Pinterest, or the well-lit blogs of those more affluent than I, and I'm down in the dumps that I have big ideas that must all wait until another day. I struggle all the time with wanting to do more, write more, sew more, create more. But all that demands resources we just don't have. 

So I'm trying to focus this week on being grateful for what I've got — and learning to enjoy the things I can do now, rather than lamenting all the stuff I want to do but can't. 

When we're feeling stressed about paying the rent or job prospects or our future in the uncertain run-up to the U.S. election, we try to calm ourselves by taking stock daily of the good things we've got going for us. It's now a nightly game to play "best thing/worst thing." We ask each other over dinner what was the best thing that happened that day (often it's just Lucy and I because Ryan works so late on weekdays), and the worst thing too. It forces us to acknowledge that even if we're feeling shitty and stressed (or are just coming down from a tantrum, as the case may be), there was something good that happened in the day, even if small. And acknowledging the worst thing of the day gives us a chance to talk it over, enjoy a little empathy, maybe find a solution, and not feel so alone in our worry over it. 

(It's also funny as hell to hear what our four-year-old will say. She's so much like me, often her "worst thing" is something that she didn't get to do — as in, "I didn't get to watch three episodes of My Little Pony. I didn't get to play with my best friend. I didn't get to eat a whole bag of Halloween candy.") 

One longer-term project I have planned for my family is a jar like this one I saw pinned on Pinterest (the source seems to have disappeared, but you can get the idea from the description below):

But instead of waiting until New Year's Eve to take stock of all the good things that have happened to us, we'll allow ourselves to read a few whenever we need to come down from an anxiety high. It will take some follow-through to remember to add items to our "good things" jar, but the benefit of perspective will hopefully be enough encouragement for me to stick with it. It's a little Oprah-iffic, I know. But it turns out I'm not all that positive a person at times. I need to work on it. 

Likewise, instead of rueing all the projects on the backburner right now because fabric is not in our budget, I've decided to take on a few meditative projects — stuff that's satisfying, but doesn't endanger my ego if it doesn't pan out. Like knitting, which I used to do (I must have; I have a large plastic container full of yarn!).

Check out this cool cuff I saw on Pinterest (which is not all "thinspiration" and hair tutorials, after all!): 



How cute is that? I used this tutorial on tying a Turkish knot (though I did two fewer twists than the tutorial suggest because I wanted it to look like the one in the above photo). It took about an hour and a half of knitting I Cord to make this. I think it could make a decent Christmas gift for friends and sisters-in-law. 


 It's warm and cozy, and chunky too — just like my chubbies (damn kids).


So how do you maintain perspective when hard times have you down?

26 comments:

  1. Wow. What a load. We've been in a similar place, education wise, and I do know how hard it is. I'm very glad to hear the light is shining at the end of your tunnel and my best positive thoughts are going out to the universe for you.

    I've also had a challenging 2012. First my husband was given a 12 month notice (at age 60+... but not yet 65) that he would lose his job. We were facing relocation if he was lucky enough to find a new job. Our 5-year-plan for getting our house ready to sell became a 5-month plan (which we didn't achieve, BTW). I handled the stress by making lists. Best case/worst case how would we manage. What was our strategy for a partial move (him) followed by a post sale move (me)going to be. If I could keep my mind busy and productive, I didn't have time for anxiety attacks.

    We had a happy ending. After almost moving to Seattle (to a job that would have paid a bit more, but not enough to make up the difference in living costs), my husband's company decided to keep him after all. I wish a happy ending for you, as well.

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    1. Happy to hear you had a happy ending, and that you didnt have to sell your house!

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  2. These are great ideas and I hope things only continue to get better for you. I can't say I've been there because I don't have any kids to look after but I understand the stress part from being a grad student. So many times I just want to make something so I can feel just a little productive so I dig through my scraps and make a tiny stuffed animal/monster-thing, what ever I feel like and it always makes me feel better. Even though it isn't the most useful thing in the world :)
    I love your bracelet, I'm not much of a knitter but I think I could make cord like that.

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    1. It's just i Cord, which is super easy. There are a tons of online tutorials around. It was a satusfying small project for sure!

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  3. I'm here on the other coast in Portland OR. I have FOUR little darlings hanging around my neck at all times. I understand overwhelmed feelings - trust me. Thanks for sharing your journey because it helps me! I don't feel as weird for not having a shiny happy home or body at all times. I'm just getting through it - one day at a time! And yes, we too, being a family of six and one income have severe budget constraints. Crazy tough, huh? Anyway I enjoy your blog and will keep reading :-)

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    1. That puts it in perspective! Hang in there.

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  4. I really like the idea of a good things jar. It definitely is Oprah-iffic (love that word) but I think it will be a really nice way to gain perspective and shine a positive light on life.

    I can understand the need to feel productive vs. having the resources. Things are changing around my household in preparation for this new baby. I haven't always been so responsible with money and now I really have to get tough to get it all sorted out. Paying for childcare is something that will be in the cards soon for us. Anyway, I'm starting to feel the pressure. It won't be pretty for a while. Hell, maybe indefinitely...

    I agree with Molly about doing small projects. I also like to focus on the art projects I do at school with my students when I'm really feeling down. It is, after all, still creating. Maybe some four year old artwork would be fun? Also just know that when you are really feeling down about your appearance, the worst thing you can do is teach a classroom full of kindergarteners. God forbid I have a zit or something cause there will be ten children ready to point it out to me. I was talking with a student the other day, explaining one on one how to do something in class and he all of sudden stopped and started squinting at me while I was talking. I thought, uh oh, here it goes... He asked me why one of my bottom teeth was in front of the other two. I told him that my teeth were a little crooked. He told me I should really get some braces. I had to walk away.

    Anway, sorry for the essay. Sending positive thoughts your way.

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    1. Love the essay. I have a friend who teaches grade 1. And she's heard everything from those kids. One day she was looking at a few pictures from years past, and a kid said, "You look so young! Huh, amazing what a difference a few years make." Little bastard.

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  5. I so understand this (but then I'm old and have gone through just everything). My go-to thing when life caves in is to make a list -- on paper if you like, or just in your mind. Sounds way too simple, but here goes. When you're down you need to perk up, so choose anything in your daily life and list possible improvements; i.e., redo the monthly budget, make out nutritious menus, schedule some regular exercise (can't stress the helpfulness of this one enough), start a schedule to clean out all the cupboards/closets, redo the sewing stuff or the kitchen stuff or whatever stuff you love, write newsy letters (on paper) to your loved ones and mail them (perhaps they will respond in kind!). Keep in mind that life comes in seasons, and they aren't all delightfully warm. Some are chilly, but these have unique beauty as well, and it sounds like you're acknowledging the sweet things in your life. Take care -- remember when you were so excited when the baby said one word, and now at age 4 they just overflow with chatterchatterchatter. (At age 13 they shut their bedroom door and don't come out for about 4 years). But that's another season...ha

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    1. I love your characterization of life periods as seasons both balmy and bad. I know it gets better. Sometimes just saying your problems aloud (or writing them down) puts them in perspective.

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    2. Oh, and this: when my husband and I struggled with time and financial issues as young parents, we spent lots of time at the public libraries and walking/biking routes. You will forever benefit from these 2 free activities, the possibilities they inspire are endless.

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    3. At the library right now! (Working on my laptop while my kid is at pre-kindergarten).

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  6. I don't really have any advice for you, just sending good vibes your way. I find that nothing wears me down like non-stop childcare, as much as I love my children. Maybe you could swap babysitting with another mom? As to the grass always being greener, well, I look at your blog and think you live in the coolest place ever, have a cute family and sew adoable stuff, surely you have it all... :-)

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    1. That is so sweet of you. Just remember there are junk piles located strategically out of the frame! And last week I actually threw a box of pasta on the kitchen floor in anger. We all have our moments.

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  7. i TOTALLY feel your pain! we've been doing the living on a single income thing for the past eight years. initially we didn't need the second income. then twice within two weeks of giving birth to a child my husband lost his job due to companies going under. talk about stress! those days are behind us, but we're still paying for it (literally) which necessitates huge sacrifices. yeah, my fabric budget is pretty insignificant and i get depressed when a project doesn't work out for feeling like i could have spent that $20 better elsewhere. we have a light at the end of our tunnel and a plan to get through it all, but it is sooo hard to keep everything in perspective. hang in there, you are not alone!

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  8. this makes me want to show up on your doorstep with a bottle of rye, a bag of fabric, and a box of sugar.

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    1. Is "box of sugar" oonabaloonaspeak for a "big hug"? You're so sweet.

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  9. This isn't advice, but at some point I realized that sometimes Pinterest was making me feel like glossy magazines used to- before I quit them like an unhealthy habit. You are you. And you are A-maz-ing! Last Christmas my extended family did a "homemade" Christmas, and talent and imagination was suddenly more valuable than cash. I can appreciate that a 4yr old might not 'get it', but between adults at least? It's Inspiring! And look forward to the joy that will be when she shifts to loving Giving presents maybe more than getting them (or at least the anticipation of). Thanks for all your you-ness shining through!

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    1. You are so right on. Pinterest makes me want to consume...pretty clothes, fancy food, perfect coordinated sheet sets...just as reading glossy mags feeds my consumer urges. For Christmas I'm making caramels and ornaments. Only our kid gets store-bought stuff. But there are so many other expenses that add up throughout the holidays: work parties that require paying a babysitter for the night, postage for cards, and Christmas trees cost about $50 in NYC. I'm a terrible person for it, but I wish Christmas was like the Olympics and only came once every four years.

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  10. Lady, I'm right there with ya. Family of six on a housepainter's salary. Last winter was the worst - the WORST! - and by the time spring came we were pretty much destitute. No word of a lie: I had to bring my winter boots in to the repair shop to have a zipper replaced some time after Christmas, then never managed to get the $40 together to get them out until the snow was long gone. Sigh. Summer came, things picked up, and it's looking pretty good for the coming winter, but our "pretty good" is relative. Like, we might all have boots. Even with our folks around (thank the forces that be), I still have at least one child hanging off me / whining at me / asking me maddening questions / throwing food on my floor at all times. There is no point in the night when all four of them are asleep. Which at least means there's no risk of us ending up with a fifth, I guess. So that's something.

    Just in case you need some more anecdotes to assure you that someone else's life is as absurd/frustrating as your own, let me tell you that:
    - I have had to delouse my beautiful blonde daughter repeatedly since school started this year De-louse. De. Louse. Tomorrow Charlie gets the treatment, then me. I. Could. Cry.
    - The repeated delousings require laundering every single bit of bedding in hot water, which is costing us a small fortune.
    - There are 6 of us, but only 5 seats in our car, and only Mark knows how to drive. We haven't gone anywhere together in a vehicle since Eleanor was born.
    - Did I mention about the delousing?

    Anyway, I for one think you're amazing. Your talent and skill wow me every time you post. And you look like a million bucks all the freakin' time (or at least in every photo). If you ever say "eff it all" and decide to move to St. John's, I would bring you tea/booze and cookies/more booze weekly. At least. And I promise I wouldn't give you head lice.

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    1. I am so sorry to hear of your lice problem! That stinks. The hazards of being a parent. Ugh.

      I don't know how you do it. I bet having a great garden helps. I am jealous of you for that. I understand destitute. It sucks big time.

      I like how everyone is offloading their daily stresses! Best thing, worst thing! Spill it!

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  11. Part of the reason I love you and your blog so much is because you aren't afraid to be a real person, even on the Internet. Thank you for throwing the pasta on the floor and then admitting it to the world...im 8 1/2 months pregnant and recently I locked myself in the bathroom and ate 3 freeze pop Popsicles and cried while my toddler ate his snack and watched a cartoon I hate and he loves. I try to remind myself that everything is a phase; our finances, my hormones, the fact that I'm terrified of my serger, my son insisting on playing in the shower curtain even though it makes me feel insane...
    Sometimes it helps. But sometimes, I think, you just have to eat Popsicles and cry.

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  12. I can relate to everything in your post except for trying to work at home while raising a kid - that has got to be hard. When I got pregnant I was a cashier at Value Village - I know I had to go back to school and I did when my daughter was 10 months old. I went to school 5 days a week and worked 4 8-hour shifts at VV a week and things were very tight. If I had to do it again I would use the food bank. We ate - but it was very stressful going to the grocery store with my $10 or $12 in my pocket and trying to make it stretch. Luckily my kid loved Heinz beans in sauce. The schooling did lead to a better job (secretarial, not a doctor or anything) so it was totally worth it. Then when she was in kindergarten my husband lost his job for a year. In order not to be destitude again I took a 15-20 hour a week second job at the Dollar Store. I will say this about living in poverty - it can make one very bitter if your partner doesn't share it with you equally ie. if one of you is making more sacrifices than the other. I would much rather live with a poor man that shares everything with me than live with a rich man doesn't.

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  13. Hang in there my dear! We are all supporting you! I just love the jar idea...I absolutely love your blog and hope we can meet in person soon :)

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  14. Oh, man, I'm so sorry that you're going through such a rough time. Your situation really sounds trying. My husband has been working weekends for the last few months, so any time that I'm at home I'm alone (and engaging in a creepy one-sided conversation with my dogs... not weird at all). But he's finishing his freelance job up today so it's back to unemployment for a while. I struggle sometimes because I job that pays better than any other job I've ever had, but it's also pretty crummy and unsustainable (80 hours a week outside in all weather, getting yelled at by people all the time). I want to look for something new, but I'm really afraid to since my husband spends half the year or so unemployed. Ugh! But no matter how bad it gets, I know we won't go back to the days of surviving by eating leftovers from the restaurant I worked at. This is a tough city to live in, but I'm hoping that things take a turn for the better for you guys and that your husband's schooling really helps his career to take off. I like the idea that someone mentioned above about swapping babysitting time with another mom-- maybe even just one afternoon to yourself a week would make you feel saner!

    Love the cuff! That really does look like a great gift!

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