Stress Free New Year’s Resolutions

                               

by Lisette Cheresson

Making New Year’s resolutions is, for some, the toughest part of the holidays. The origin of making resolutions to mark the New Year dates back to the time of Ancient Babylon, when the New Year was celebrated at the vernal equinox. It is thought that the Babylonians made promises (such as to pay off debt or return farm equipment) in order to earn favor with the gods. Today, in a world in which we are constantly bombarded with implorations to be happier, skinnier, prettier, and more productive, resolutions can cause anxiety and feelings of disappointment, thoughts of aging and loss, and lack of self-confidence.

Part of the intention of New Year’s resolutions, however, is to set goals that help us overcome these very feelings. If you’re someone for whom the thought of resolutions has always caused stress, there are several things you can do to change that perception. Goals, in the form of resolutions, can be a great way to keep your life organized and healthy. If you’re considering setting some, here are some things to keep in mind.

Keep it real.

Having a tangible goal—something that can literally be checked off a list—can help to cut down on a lot of the anxiety surrounding resolutions. Rather than your resolution being a vague missive to “lose weight,” for example, set a workout schedule: “On Mondays and Wednesdays I’ll go to the gym.” Don’t just assume your schedule will include your resolutions, either. Pencil them into your calendar. Make resolutions commitments you can check off your weekly to-do list. This not only helps to firm them up, but also provides for a sense of accomplishment once they’re achieved.

Stay positive!

Rather than writing a resolution that dictates what you WON’T do (ie: “I won’t have a cup of coffee every morning”), write in the affirmative (ie: “I’ll only have coffee twice a week”). The way you speak to yourself matters. It’s much easier to be negative with oneself than with anyone else—you wouldn’t speak to your children or your friends in “no” terms all the time. Why do it to yourself? By making your resolutions positive, you relieve a lot of the stress that comes from rules and regulations.

Make ‘em short and sweet.

If you’re doin’ it, you’re doin’ it—which is why many people tend to bog themselves down with resolutions in the New Year. Don’t give yourself a massive list of things to keep in mind. Instead, try one serious resolution (“I’ll do a better job being patient, even when my son’s dawdling makes me late”) and one fun one (“I’ll go out—sans kids—with my friends at least once a month”). Once you’ve completed those resolutions, or they’ve become a part of your everyday life, it’s not as if you can’t make new ones. Evoke the Babylonian within and make new ones on the equinox, or mark a birthday with a new resolution if you’ve achieved the one you set at New Year’s.

Resolutions are meant to help with stress—not cause them. Here’s to a 2014 full of low-stress, high-performing, intentional living. Happy New Year!  

 

Krayons & Karma managing editor Lisette Cheresson is a freelance writer, editor, and filmmaker living in New York City. An avid traveler, dirt-collector, composter, hiker, dancer, and lover-of-yoga, Lisette’s work has appeared in Off Track Planet, The Huffington Post, a selection of New York Times books, TheRag literary magazine, and as a Glimmer Train contest finalist. Her films can be watched at www.flyoverpics.com.

 

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Turning Sick Days Into Childhood Memories

                          

by Ariana Brookes

A version of this article originally appeared on the author’s personal blog, Not A Hipster Mom.  

Winter is brutal when it comes to children and illness. Runny noses, itchy throats, bellies sick from too much rich food—the season is the perfect storm for a sick kid. A few weeks back, I spent three days at home with my daughter who was sick with a sinus infection. Let’s just say that it was nice to converse with other adults again once she was feeling better!

I’ve had many challenges since I became a single mom, but by far the greatest challenges have been health-related. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely fortunate to have a healthy child (my Jewish upbringing dictates that I ward off the evil eye here, pupu). I can’t imagine what it must be like for the parents of chronically ill children. But out of necessity, my daughter started going to daycare full-time when she was 14-months old, and since then I have been playing a game called, “How long can we go before she gets sick again?”

No parent likes to see her child feeling ill, but when you are a single parent who has a challenging career this experience can be devastating. When my daughter gets sick, there is no one else to watch her. I don’t have a spouse to trade off with; I don’t have the option to be a stay-at-home mom. In my case, I don’t even have family that can step in to take care of her. When my daughter gets sick, I am forced to take a sick day. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it was only every once in a while, but as anyone with children in daycare or preschool knows, little kids get sick a lot. My daughter’s immune system is finally starting to build up after more than a year in daycare, and she now gets sick much less often, but for a while there, it was really tough.

The problem is that every time I call in sick, I fall behind at work. In the past I have missed meetings and fallen behind on deadlines—this causes me major stress. Each time it happens, I ask myself what I can do differently to prevent rapid reoccurrence: getting her a flu shot early in the season; being sure she eats a healthy, balanced diet; encouraging an almost OCD dedication to hand washing. But what I have learned, of course, is that no matter what I do, she will get sick, because that is what children do. It is part of childhood. And as a philosopher once said, we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control our reaction. 

It was with that mindset that I approached her most recent bout of sniffly-feveritis. Something clicked in my mind, and I had a revelation. I realized that I had been approaching the situation all wrong. I couldn’t always prevent her from getting sick, but I could control what those sick days were like, for both of us. I thought back to my childhood, and what I wanted from my parents when I was home sick. I remember wanting nothing more than to spend the day watching TV in bed, eating comfort food, and being allowed to sulk in my misery while having my every need attended to. I didn’t have that experience as a child, but when I became a mother I told myself that I would do everything in my power to make my childhood dreams my daughter’s reality. Why not dreamlike sick days too?

With this in mind, I thought about what I could do to make her days at home as special as possible. I decided that she could watch as much TV as she wanted (though I tried to discourage her from watching back to back “Mickey Mouse Club House.”) I offered her any food her heart desired, tripped over things for her amusement, and pretended to be a baby, which really cracks her up. In short, I dedicated those days to her. 

It may have taken me a while to figure this out, but the only thing I can truly control about my daughter’s sick days is the quality of day I create for her at home. Work concerns will always be there, and that won’t go away, but her childhood will. Day by day, she is getting older, and this is my chance to create her childhood memories. I know now that it is a waste to see it any other way.

 

Ariana Brookes is a professional writer and single mom who works in Marketing in San Francisco. A lover of all things literary, she received her MA in Journalism from New York University, and now spends her days writing copy and nights writing Young Adult fiction. When she isn’t writing, Ariana and her two-year-old daughter are busy eating their way through the Bay Area and searching for the ultimate toddler playground. You can follow Ariana’s adventures on her blog, notahipstermom.blogspot.com, where she writes about the toddler years, single momhood, momhood in general, the work/life balance, getting back out there, having a social life… and anything else remotely related to those subjects.

 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lessons in Letting Go: Angel Mom Part III

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by Coleen Ellis-Maguire

This very personal essay seems a good one to share as we approach the holidays. For many families who lost loved ones during the year, the holiday season can be challenging, lonely, and bittersweet. If you missed Part I and Part II of this three-part series, read it here and here.

She had been on her deathbed for less than a week. On the third night I woke up at 3am to give my mother the necessary morphine. Her breathing had intensified; it was no longer soft and accepting. It was labored and painful. As I gave her the medicine, everything went black. I had fainted. When I opened my eyes I immediately began to dry heave. I dropped to the floor, unaware of what had come over me. My barely conscious mother who had been leaning on me, now slowly fell toward the bed on her side. I was powerless in so many ways. I crawled to my dad in the other bedroom yelling for help. My father, not knowing who to help first, ran to my mother and eased her safely back to bed. I dragged myself to the hallway, still heaving, but managing to shout, “Dad! There’s already morphine in the pear juice! Don’t add anymore!”

It was Friday, hour 144. I had to fly to Rhode Island that night. I knew I’d be back on Sunday, but something that I couldn’t put my finger on felt terrible. I wouldn’t allow myself to let in the truth. I had a 6pm flight from New York to Providence, and had scheduled a cab to take me to the airport at 4pm. My Mom had deteriorated even further. I asked if she wanted help putting her pajamas on before I left. Silk, smooth feminine pajamas. They barely stayed on her shoulders. As she sat on the bed, with the mirror behind her, I could see her frail, pale frame staring back at me. A shadow of my Mother. Her Angel wings were growing while her flesh and bone shrank. I sat in bed with her again. Time passed too quickly—minutes were hours to her. She was aware of how unaware she was: I think I just called you Eileen. I’m sorry honey, she said, giggling. Only she could giggle at this. Only she could find lightness in these moments that were so very dark to me.

She stared at me. Her blue crystal eyes had become like translucent glass and she was more beautiful than ever. Her face had become like a child’s, wide-eyed, open, soft and gentle. Mine were ridden with pain and grief, betraying the truth that I was facing the greatest of life’s disappointments—the end.

She said sweetly, I think it’s getting to Dad. You know…. all this. I couldn’t respond. My Father had been a pillar of strength throughout the four years of her illness. If it was getting to him now, he showed no signs of it. He held her hand. He made her laugh. There was so much love between them. Forty-five years of life together hung in the air with the ease of a conversation between childhood friends. He stroked her hair and told her how beautiful she was. How much he loved her. My Angel Dad.

Hour 150: I stood at the door of her bedroom. For the last couple of days, I had kissed her, held her, slept side by side with her, and had done everything I possibly could but say goodbye. As I stood at the door, five feet away from the bed she lay in, I said, “Bye Mom. I’ll see you…” afraid to say soon or Sunday or any other word to describe a timeframe, I whispered “later.” Hour 152.


Over the course of the next 12 hours my family pulled together in the way families do, but should never have to. My Mother had “let go and let God” for so many years now—her life emulated this catch phrase. She died with grace and dignity in a room filled with love and strength. She left a history of lessons in love and acceptance that so many have learned from. I try every day to be the version of myself she led me toward. When we move through disappointment with love, we find peace. When we move through forgiveness with love, we find joy. And finally, when we accept things as they are, and really let go, we are free. And as I make mistakes everyday as a mother, a daughter, a sister, friend, and woman, I realize it’s all a process to freedom. Disappointment, forgiveness, and acceptance are all there for the taking. My Mother was wise enough to tap into them and found peace, joy, and love. Because in the end, as she always said: That is all you remember. The love. Nothing else is real.

 

Coleen Ellis–Maguire is the founder and Editor–in–Chief of Krayons & Karma. She started Krayons & Karma as a personal outlet that would allow her to stay connected to her family. She holds a BA in Humanities from Pace University, and began her career in financial special operations for the F.B.I. Before she had “placenta brain,” back when she could still remember things, she worked as a business analyst for Deutsche Bank and as a Global Project Manager for Deloitte Consulting. Coleen received her 200-Hr Yoga Teacher Training from Om Yoga in 2003. She’s a lover of good tapas and good flamenco (probably why Spain holds a special place in her heart) and a sucker for a good indie movie (probably why Cillian Murphy does). She lives with her family in New York City.

 

Image courtesy of voraorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Easy Holiday Family Crafts

                           

by Lisette Cheresson

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is stressful. Visitors can make the house seem more crowded than ever and kids are home from school, brimming with excitement. It can feel like there’s always a little person underfoot, who’s overflowing with energy and looking for an activity. This isn’t an issue endemic to our busy modern lives, either—the old song proclaiming that “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” notes that Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again. Holiday crafts can be a great way to get the kids to slow down and harness their exuberant cheer for something productive.

Ornaments

These can be as simple as making paper items that hang from a paperclip, or as complicated as this wire star ornament we love, created by Alyssa and Carla. The old popsicle stick and glue routine shouldn’t be overlooked either—kids are great at turning junk into weird things that warm parents’ hearts. Provide yarn to hang ornaments from, which can be incorporated into their design. Try to avoid giving any instruction, and allow creativity to run wild—even if what they come up with has nothing to do with the season.

Keep in mind that ornaments aren’t just for trees! No matter what holiday you’re celebrating, you can hang ornaments around your house to keep things festive—from drawer handles, standing lamps, etc.

Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread houses are some of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to holiday crafts. You can get a complete kit from sites like Gingerhaus.com for under $50 if you want to spare your kitchen the hassle, but gingerbread is surprisingly easy to make. Because they’ll likely be used as decoration instead of a holiday snack, don’t hesitate from using cardboard to help prop up the cookie. Provide sugared gumdrops, small candy canes, icing, Twizzlers, and gummy bears.

Placecards

Looking for a way to enlist your kids to help with those massive holiday dinner parties? Task them with creating personalized placards for your guests. They can be as simple as index cards and markers, or can as fancy as cute sun-catchers that your guests can take home. For a kid-friendly sun-catcher project, simply place cheap, translucent plastic beads in the cups of a muffin pan. The more complex your arrangement of beads in the pan, the more complex your craft will turn out. Bake them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes—they WILL slip right out of your pan once they’ve cooled.

Be warned, though, the fumes of melting plastic are gross and can be dangerous. Heading out to sled or look at neighborhood lights may be in order while your suncatcher-placards are baking!

Wrapping Paper

Have your kids create customized wrapping paper—another craft idea that will save you time and effort in the long run. Start with old newspaper or construction paper, and encourage them to create collages. If they’re too young to cut and paste, have them draw on the wrapping paper instead. Not only will they be entertained, you may just be able to recruit help wrapping all the presents when they’re finished!

However you get crafty this holiday season, you’ll be creating memories that far outlast winter break. And hopefully reducing your stress while you’re at it.

 

Krayons & Karma managing editor Lisette Cheresson is a freelance writer, editor, and filmmaker living in New York City. An avid traveler, dirt-collector, composter, hiker, dancer, and lover-of-yoga, Lisette’s work has appeared in Off Track Planet, The Huffington Post, a selection of New York Times books, TheRag literary magazine, and as a Glimmer Train contest finalist. Her films can be watched at www.flyoverpics.com.

 

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Making Merry with Music

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by Karen Lynn Johnson

In drug stores, malls, and even while in line at the post office or bank, we get bombarded with holiday music (or elevator muzak) as early as October. Every year it seems to start earlier. When you begin hearing holiday music before Halloween, by the time the season actually rolls around it can feel superfluous to add more sounds to our sensory-overloaded homes. Yet the season can be the perfect time to create some memories that are unusual and unique to your family. Music, like smell, has the ability to bring back memories linked to a very specific moment or event. Embed your favorite family moments by including musical activities that add a sparkle to your festivities.

Include special music while you decorate.

Choose a favorite CD or download songs that you play every year while you hang the stockings or spin the dreidel. Reserving these songs for that moment creates a new family tradition. Our daughters had their favorite albums we listened to while decorating and drinking eggnog. Though we’ve incorporated iPods and Internet radio, when we’re decorating today we still dust off the turntable. Make note of what you’ve used and put it with the box of decorations. It’s easy to forget what we think we’ll always remember!

Choose a different set of music for dinners together.

You don’t have to wait until the Big Day to let the sounds of the season fill your kitchen or dining room. This is a great time to introduce youngsters to classical orchestras or jazz artists, setting a different tone and ambience for your meal. While our daughters disliked our Kenny G Christmas album they heard it anyway, and I firmly believe that exposing children to things they don’t immediately like only helps to expand their horizons. (While neither daughter is a Kenny G fan today, they both truly enjoy jazz.) Finding new seasonal songs is also fun and you may discover another favorite.

Create your own holiday song!

Make up your own melody or use a familiar folk song that you can use with your own lyrics. This is a good chance for children to use words in a creative way. If you have more than one child, let them take turns making up lines, unless that causes anxiety or embarrassment. You may even want to add a few dance steps to your finished composition.

Evoke the Victorian era within.

It may sound old-fashioned, but caroling can be a wonderful way to add the gift of music to your family traditions. Take some cookies with you and set out for the neighbors next door or across the hall. Start with people you know so it’s not as embarrassing for your children, and when they’re old enough to protest, don’t push it so their memories stay happy. If you have extended family nearby, plan to “carol” to them when you get together.

Whatever your plans, creating new traditions with your own holiday music can add laughter and joy to your season. And that’s something we can all sing about with enthusiasm.

 

Karen Lynn Johnson holds an MS in Music Education and has worked as a school music teacher, a private lessons teacher, and as a church musician for nearly 40 years. She’s published one novel, Torn Threads, a work of historical fiction that spans two continents and several decades. When she’s not walking the beach or experimenting in the kitchen, she’s likely traveling, reading, or soaking in theatre performances and museums. She lives with her husband of more than 30 years, splitting time between Cincinnati, Ohio and Emerald Isle, North Carolina.

 

Image courtesy of Lisette Cheresson

Holiday Date Night

                                       

by Lisette Cheresson

The holidays can be an overwhelming time when it comes to scheduling. The season traditionally revolves around family togetherness and savoring personal relationships, yet parties, events, and the pressure to find presents often take precedence. If you’re feeling stressed out, sometimes the best thing you can do is to walk away from it all. While it may seem counterintuitive to take a break, taking time to enjoy your significant other can be the brightest moment of your season. It can also provide just the right amount of “time off” so you’re able to approach your long list of tasks with a renewed sense of vigor.

The trouble with date night during the holidays is that it seems like an expendable expense. After all, you’ve got leftovers in the fridge from that office party… and toys for the kids aren’t getting any cheaper. The first trick is to lose the expectation that a holiday date night has to be fancy. While it can be fun to dress up in your best little black dress and hit the hottest spot in town, it can be even better to leave your winter finest at home and opt for fleece and boots instead. Walking through cold city streets taking in the lights is a free activity that can lead to some serious warm fuzzies. Remember being a teenager when walking through the mall holding hands felt like the most romantic thing in the world? Channel your inner adolescent and allow yourself to get giddy with seasonal cheer.

Most cities have free or cheap holiday activities such as ice-skating, museum tours, or antique train rides. Maybe taking a photo with Santa without your kids will bring back the joy you felt as a kid yourself—there are few things that bring a couple closer than a little bit of all-in-good-fun embarrassment! Cheesy holiday entertainment can be just the thing to remind you why you’re working so hard to make the season special.

If you’re worked to the bone and walking around looking at the sights is the last thing that sounds like a good time, you can also plan a special holiday date night in. Instead of ordering Chinese and vegging with some Christmas movies, however, plan on doing something together like making cookies for the neighbors or wrapping old giveaway items for charity. Dig out photo albums from your respective childhood holidays, and share stories you may have forgotten. You could also put on that best little black dress or tux and some Bing Crosby and turn your kitchen into a ballroom. If that’s your plan, splurging on a naughty little something could add some spice (and stress relief!) to the season. 

No matter what you do, holiday date night should be a priority regardless of how busy you are. Carving out time with your significant other is one of the best gifts you’ll receive this year—and one of the best you can give.

 

Krayons & Karma managing editor Lisette Cheresson is a freelance writer, editor, and filmmaker living in New York City. An avid traveler, dirt-collector, composter, hiker, dancer, and lover-of-yoga, Lisette’s work has appeared in Off Track Planet, The Huffington Post, a selection of New York Times books, TheRag literary magazine, and as a Glimmer Train contest finalist. Her films can be watched at www.flyoverpics.com.

 

Image courtesy of the author. 

Holiday Gifts, With Intention

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by Karen Lynn Johnson

While gifting is rewarding, around the holidays the pressure to provide can be an unenviable task. Because their interests change quickly, buying for children can be especially challenging. No parent wants to see her shopping efforts undermined by Aunt Rebecca’s awesome new clothes or cousin Austin’s cool new gadget. Our consumer-oriented society makes it extremely difficult to find thoughtful, fun, and worthwhile gifts while sticking to a budget. If you have two or more children, there’s the challenge of making sure your gifts for each child equal out. A parent doesn’t need much of an imagination to picture what will happen when one child gets noticeably “better” gifts than the other, especially after they enter elementary grades.

One solution is to scrap the whole premise of the traditional “find it, buy it, wrap it, give it” routine. It doesn’t mean you have to scrap gifting, but that the gift itself can be different. And oftentimes, considering gifting differently has benefits that exceed a reduced burden on your wallet and your schedule. Here are a couple ideas:

Give the gift of time. Wrap up a box with a Date With Dad or a Date With Mom certificate that includes a designated activity. Make the certificate special and unique, rather than just writing it in a holiday card. Your date could be an outing you already know your child will enjoy (like a day at the museum or the movies), or you can introduce him to something new. Check the family calendar and write in the day and time together. Including a meal as part of the date day, especially at your child’s favorite restaurant, can make the experience even more intimate and special. A Daddy or Mommy Date can be a family tradition, which will become especially important as your child gets older. When they’re teenagers, you may want to plan a weekend away, if you can make it fit their busy schedule. A date one-on-one with your child will create memories that don’t fade with time like the newest toy or electronic device. My husband gave “Date With Dad” gifts starting when our daughters were very young and they were always some of the most memorable gifts my daughters received. This idea works well for birthdays, too. Twice a year dates are even better!

Give a gift to charity in your child’s name. This one’s tough, yes. No child wants to be told that his gift this year is in the form of a Bolivian llama that he never even gets to see. This type of gifting is better to start small, accompanied with other tangible items. As your child gets older the charity gift can become more substantial. Organizations such as Heifer International are great outlets that provide livestock, seeds, or trees to families in developing countries who need them most. Let your child open a package with information and a picture, and explain how their gift, their generosity, will affect that child’s family. You could wrap up a small stuffed animal if you’re giving an animal rescue in your child’s name, or a kickball if the donation is to a fledging girls’ sport team in Afghanistan. Let them feel part of the bigger world. Decorate your “honor gift” box with an ornament from 10,000 Villages, a non-profit marketplace that serves small cottage industry in developing countries. After gifting in our daughters’ honor for many years, we were in turn given back that same honor when they gave to other organizations in our names.

‘Tis the season! Rather than stressing out in long lines to get the latest gadgets your kids don’t necessarily need, try some alternative ways of gifting instead. The good karma will follow you into the New Year.     

 

Karen Lynn Johnson holds an MS in Music Education and has worked as a school music teacher, a private lessons teacher, and as a church musician for nearly 40 years. She’s published one novel, Torn Threads, a work of historical fiction that spans two continents and several decades. When she’s not walking the beach or experimenting in the kitchen, she’s likely traveling, reading, or soaking in theatre performances and museums. She lives with her husband of more than 30 years, splitting time between Cincinnati, Ohio and Emerald Isle, North Carolina.

 

Image courtesy of the author.

Lessons in Letting Go: Angel Mom Part II

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by Coleen Ellis-Maguire

This very personal essay seems a good one to share as we approach the holidays. For many families who lost loved ones during the year, the holiday season can be challenging, lonely, and bittersweet. If you missed Part I of this three-part series, read it here.

Cancer had taken hold of my mother’s body. She had been strong—my normal, vivacious, golden, untouchable Angel Mom—just a couple weeks before. And then just 96 hours after I arrived with the transport chair, her movements were confined from the bed to the chair and back again. There were a couple of funny moments when the morphine kicked in; once she thought I was asking her to run away with me out the bedroom window. Wouldn’t it be nice, I dreamed, a horse would gallop up to the window and we’d slip out together, off to somewhere else, anywhere else, anywhere but here….

I laid in bed with her, two grown women, my arms wrapped around her frail body. I held her like she must have held me, a child with a nightmare she couldn’t shake. Hours, days passed like this. I listened to her breath; soft at times, and then labored. The smell of her breath was like cotton balls—pure and clean despite the many toxins pumping through her body. How was she so pure? My Angel Mother.

It felt like an eternity since I had seen my boys, aged six and two at the time. It had only been two days. But I knew, God willing, I’d be able to be a Mother for the rest of my life. My moment to be a daughter to this woman was passing quickly. I knew I couldn’t be anywhere else. Days were marked by the ticking of minutes on the clock. From hours 120 to 132, I didn’t sleep much. My Father and I worked together to move Mom into a comfortable position. When we sought solace in each other’s gaze it felt as if the world was moving in slow motion.

Death is funny: the questions that surround it postpone its acceptance. What is happening here? How can this be real? How is it possible something so cataclysmic could happen without real warning? I’m alone and helpless and nothing matters outside of this room—make it stop!  Everything had moved as fast and furious as a tsunami, ripping to shreds my ability to comprehend. I had walked to the beach with her on Sunday. On Tuesday we had spoken on the phone while she was cooking dinner. On Wednesday she was tired, but getting around. By Friday she wasn’t without morphine.

The lessons stored in my heart are unfortunately too many to remember when I need them most. There’s one, though, that takes the amorphous shape of either a security guard—arms folded in contempt: “Why don’t you see me? I’m enormous? Open your eyes!”—or an angel—wings open, fluffy and tender, gently whispering “I am here. Whenever you are ready. Always”. Their lessons are the long-lost siblings of Disappointment and Acceptance. I wasn’t ready for them during the passing of my mother, but I’m ready for them now. If utilized properly, these lessons have the capacity to break the chains of resentment and anger. They release the fear that results from expectations and limitations.

I didn’t understand that while my mother was dying. I couldn’t accept it, and I couldn’t see how acceptance was freedom. My Mother would say, “The only way out is through, Coleen.” She said this over and over while she watched me deny what was happening.

There was only one night that my Dad left me alone in bed with my Mom. I was hoping he would sleep through the night—just once, after years of dealing with her illness—though I knew deep down it wasn’t going to happen. As I lay next to her, I selfishly draped myself around her like a wet wool blanket and held her as if holding her could make her stay. I truly believed I could stop it, but attempting to control the inevitable is a trying task. Once it wears you down, you’re worn down forever. The chains of fear that result from trying to control something you can’t are only broken when you lose the battle.


Therein lies the silver lining, I guess. My Mother’s last gift: Let go and Let God, Coleen. Be a human being, not a human doing. Everything I understood about who I was came crashing down in those days, in a way that changed me forever. I had no choice but to let go. I had no choice but to give up control. The bittersweet lesson would make my future brighter, but meant the absence of my mother.

Stay tuned next week for Part III of “Angel Mom.”      

 

Coleen Ellis–Maguire is the founder and Editor–in–Chief of Krayons & Karma. She started Krayons & Karma as a personal outlet that would allow her to stay connected to her family. She holds a BA in Humanities from Pace University, and began her career in financial special operations for the F.B.I. Before she had “placenta brain,” back when she could still remember things, she worked as a business analyst for Deutsche Bank and as a Global Project Manager for Deloitte Consulting. Coleen received her 200-Hr Yoga Teacher Training from Om Yoga in 2003. She’s a lover of good tapas and good flamenco (probably why Spain holds a special place in her heart) and a sucker for a good indie movie (probably why Cillian Murphy does). She lives with her family in New York City.

 

Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Working Mom’s Struggle: Five Tips for Better Work-Life Balance

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by Ariana Brookes

A version of this article originally appeared on the author’s personal blog, http://notahipstermom.blogspot.com/

Disclaimer: I use the term “working mom” to mean a woman who works a second full-time job in addition to the 24-7 job that is being a mother. My intention is not to say that stay-at-home-moms are not working moms—quite the opposite, in fact. I don’t know if I would have the patience or strength to stay home full time with my daughter, and I give huge props to the women who do it every day.

You don’t have to be a working mom to struggle with work-life balance. The thing about being a working mom is that when you leave work for the day, you’re actually headed to your second and more difficult job. It can be challenging to give my daughter the interaction she needs after I’ve had a long day at work. Making the mental switch from work to home is a constant exercise in willpower. I don’t have an opportunity for “me time” until she goes to bed, and by that time, I am often too tired to do anything remotely constructive.

I’ve been especially busy these last few months, and maintaining a balance between work, motherhood, and everything else has been more challenging than ever. My response has been to read everything I can on the subject, and I have been doing my best to implement the most promising advice. And I have noticed a change. I feel like lately I’ve been doing better at leaving work at work, and when I do have to put in extra hours at home, I’ve been getting better at knowing when to call it quits.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my research. There’s no guarantee they’ll provide better work-life balance for you, but they’re worth a shot!

  1. Unplug. As much as possible, detach from work email outside of working hours, whether that means leaving your laptop at work, putting your Blackberry on silent, or simply powering down your computer. I find that if I’m checking my email, it’s nearly impossible for me to make the mental switch from work-me to mom-me. Turns out that most emails can wait for the next day. If your job requires you to respond in the evening, or if you work from home full-time or run your own business, try to establish certain windows of time for email, so that your entire evening is not devoted to work. 
  2. If you are friends with coworkers outside of work, make a rule that you won’t talk about work outside of normal working hours. One of the upsides to working full-time outside the home is the opportunity to meet new people. Some of my closest friends were/are coworkers of mine, and as a rule of thumb, we try not to talk about work outside of working hours.
  3. When you’re home, be home. Try to leave work at work, and be mommy at home. It really comes down to willpower. Because of the Internet, we are rarely in just one place at one time. If you’re anything like me, you have about 30 tabs open in your head at any given time. One thing yoga has taught me, though, is that it is possible to “be here now.” It really comes down to practice. 
  4. Try to make one day a week as schedule-free as possible. Like many moms I know, my work-week is scheduled to the max, and there’s little room for spontaneity Monday through Friday. In an effort to balance this out, I pick one day each weekend and try to make it as schedule-free as possible. I try not to make plans for specific times, and allow myself to choose activities based on what feels good to my daughter and me in the moment. Life intervenes sometimes, and I can’t always keep an entire day schedule free, but even an easy Sunday morning helps.
  5. Carve out some time for you, when you can be someone other than your work OR mom-self. For me it was all about getting creative with the time I had available. I now make good use of my lunch hour by going to yoga three times a week, and in the evenings I make time to write and to watch “Project Runway.” The truth is, even a long shower can count as “me time” if you’re really hard up.

Keeping work-life balance in mind doesn’t only help to make you a better mother; it allows you to become a better person. And that’s what intentional living is all about.

 

Ariana Brookes is a professional writer and single mom who works in Marketing in San Francisco. A lover of all things literary, she received her MA in Journalism from New York University, and now spends her days writing copy and nights writing Young Adult fiction. When she isn’t writing, Ariana and her two-year-old daughter are busy eating their way through the Bay Area and searching for the ultimate toddler playground. You can follow Ariana’s adventures on her blog, notahipstermom.blogspot.com, where she writes about the toddler years, single momhood, momhood in general, the work/life balance, getting back out there, having a social life… and anything else remotely related to those subjects.

 

Image: the author’s daughter, snapped while they were running out the door together. Used by permission of the author.

Alternative Holiday Celebrations

                                

by Lisette Cheresson

The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year, to be sure, but for many people who don’t have an abundance of family or live far from them, the holidays can be tough. According to Newsday columnist and work-life balance expert Anne Michaud, “the holidays can magnify both our feelings of inclusion and not belonging.” While many families resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, she writes in a recent Newsday piece, other families are so awkward and contentious they “are so post-nuclear they look like Fukushima I after the tsunami.”

Michaud notes that while at her daughter’s recent marching bad concert she remarked to another mother how wonderful the program was for their children’s sense of inclusion. The other mother replied that she thinks everyone needs that, and according to Michaud, “with perhaps a few exceptions, she’s right.” Human society is based on the premise that we all need and rely on each other to function.

This idea is especially pertinent in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death. Mandela was an outspoken proponent of a South African philosophy known as Ubuntu, which dates back to the 1950s and the writings of Jordan Kush Ngubane. Ubuntu, a Nguni Bantu term that roughly translates to “human kindness,” is a philosophy that propagates that human society—not a transcendent being—is what gives humans their humanity. In his Intellectual History in Contemporary South Africa, Michael Onyebuchi Eze writes, “humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation.”

During the holiday season, however, this premise backfires for many people who live far from their families or loved ones. Luckily, the emphasis placed on traditional holiday celebrations seems to be waning. The popularity of “Friendsgiving,” writes Michaud, is one such example. Friendsgiving, like the less-oft celebrated “Friendsukkah,” or “Friendsmas,” is a celebration that mimics the traditional holiday but celebrated with—you guessed it—friends instead of family.

According to Michaud, “the tradition’s exact origin is unknown, although it may derive from the old NBC sitcom Friends.” It may be less formal than a traditional family celebration: “Hey, we’re drinking rum from Mason jars and the centerpiece is a squash,” Michaud writes, “but at least no aunt is asking when we’ll be producing offspring.” Yet Friendsbrations like these have come to be just as important during the holiday season—especially for those who don’t have a relationship with their family or those living far from it.

Part of living intentionally is the willful consideration of those around you. This holiday season keep your eyes open and consider your friends, acquaintances, even strangers with whom you have regular contact. Would they benefit from an invitation to an alternative holiday celebration? Are you able to invite them to your personal celebration? Would hosting or throwing a Friendsbration be a boon to people you know and love?

The holiday season is prime time to initiate a more intentional, considerate way of life. One step toward this could be the creation of a new tradition, such as the ones Michaud suggests. But remember, writes Michaud, “just don’t tell Mom if you like it more.”

 

Krayons & Karma managing editor Lisette Cheresson is a freelance writer, editor, and filmmaker living in New York City. An avid traveler, dirt-collector, composter, hiker, dancer, and lover-of-yoga, Lisette’s work has appeared in Off Track Planet, The Huffington Post, a selection of New York Times books, TheRag literary magazine, and as a Glimmer Train contest finalist. Her films can be watched at www.flyoverpics.com.

 

Image from the author’s own Friendsgiving celebration. Thanks to Mina and Rich for the super special meal!

Living through a lens of consideration and good intention helps to create a balanced way of life. A benefit of this balance is true connection—human understanding and support, even in the digital world. Think of Krayons & Karma as a virtual neighborhood where you can pop in to borrow a cup of sugar, exchange homeopathic remedies for the common flu, or get inspired by a new fresh and healthy recipe for Sunday dinner. This is your guide to a healthy, considerate, well-intentioned way of life where family, simple pleasures, and true connection are paramount. Welcome home!

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