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?