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Saturday, October 26, 2019

let's talk about self-care

"Make sure to take care of yourself," she said, wrapping her arms around me in an embrace. "Those kids depend on you, gotta fill up the well to give."

I know, I replied, guilt dripping off of me.

I hadn't been taking care of myself. Working nights, kids in bed. Running to various evening activities. Dammit forgot to send a check for school pictures to the pre-school. Checking off items on the to do list. Barely remembering conference calls, let alone their topics. Doctors appointments. Etc. Then the kid's principal calls, you can hear your child crying in the background, a moment of bullying at the playground, you are driving, barely getting home in time for a phone meeting. Can she stay? Does she needs me? Your voice catches. The principal reassures you. You hang up and sob.

Self-care is a topic we all hear about right? The above scenario happens all the time to parents. Young moms, exhausted, trying to see a friend for coffee. "Are you okay? You can't let yourself get so run down! Your baby needs you!" Visiting with relatives over the holidays. The chiding reproach from your family member, "You look tired. Try to get some sleep."

God. Another thing we have to do to be good at life.

So we schedule a massage. Sit and drink coffee until 11am on a quiet Saturday morning. Meet a friend for a glass of wine. Go to bed a half an hour early, even as the milk curdles in the sippy cups in the sink.

Internally though. I am, thinking about the cost of the massage. The hour wasted in the middle of the day that should be spent billing hours. The dishes sitting on the counter while I sip coffee at 11am. The kids who are with a sitter on a Wednesday night, because that is the only time your friend can meet, wondering if the pre-schooler wet his pants again or if the 5th grader got her homework done.

We should be in a thousand places at once doing a thousand things. Lists upon lists. But. I need to recharge, so I can do it all better! That is the internal cry. We try to relax at the massage. We try to not complain about work sitting with the friend. I am relaxing. So I can do better. Be better. Do more. Be more.

Is this self care?

Post-divorce my self-care tended towards a pint of ice cream and Game of Thrones, maybe with an entire bottle of wine (currently up to season 5, you can tell this has been my self-care of choice for awhile).

I would buy myself books. Wander a nice store. Go out to coffee. Try so HARD TO RELAX AND RECHARGE SO I CAN DO IT ALL.

We all get this. Not just divorced moms.

"I've got to get over this cold, otherwise I am never going to make it through this latest round of teething."
"Get some rest. The kids need you."
"You need to get in some therapy, so you can handle all of this."
"Take the afternoon off," your boss says, "I need you at full capacity for the presentation tomorrow."

Missing in all of this.

Us.

You.

Me.

The self part of self care.

I read something to this affect over the weekend. And its truth startled me.

Self-care has somehow become YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF SO YOU CAN DO BETTER AT TAKING CARE OF OTHERS. Apologies for the all caps. But. God. Right? This is what it is. This obligation to be in top form. This is why it is so acceptable. We have an obligation to be at full capacity. As women, especially. We tend the children. Clean the house. Go to work. Come home. Dinner on the table. Remember to sign the homework slips. ALL OF IT. So, better take care of yourself so you can DO IT ALL.

GAH. Right? This is why we are okay with it!! This is why we are allowed!!

Damn. Its a hard truth.

But, to say no to something, be it serving on the board of yet another fledgling nonprofit, or helping out with your kids school play, or serving store bought cookies at the church get together, instead of homemade because you forgot and didn't have time. That is lazy. Selfish. Not put together.

I say. It is self-care.

Self-care conversations we have today are missing an essential element. SELF.

We need to stop getting a massage or taking the day off or any of it to "recharge so you can fill up your well and give better to all the others around you," so you can "do it all and more and better."

Start doing it for you.

Because you matter.

Say no to the cookie bake-off fundraiser. Get frozen pizza in the middle of the week. Drink coffee until 11am. Get that massage. Take a walk. Make yourself a nice dinner with a glass of wine.

But, don't do it so you can do more do better do it right make everyone happy.

Do it for you.

Because. YOU matter.

And encourage others to do the same. We are all very very well aware that our families, our children, our jobs, need us in top form. A simple change from "Take care of yourself, your kids need their mama," to "take care of yourself, you need yourself," kind of mindset, even as we talk to one another, can start to shift this. We need to give and seek permission from others to self care, as a society, because we need to take care of ourselves, for ourselves.

And by the by, self-care and self-soothing are different. Sometimes Game of Thrones and ice cream is all I can manage. Self-soothing. Sometimes what I really need is to get to the gym. Or hike the bluff overlooking town. Or check off a couple dreaded tasks on the to do list because it takes one more weight off my shoulders. Or write. Or get my butt to my therapist.

Let's care for ourselves because our Self is a precious precious gift. Not because it helps us to be superhumans once again (or simply make it to bedtime.) But because WE matter.

God. It's so much harder though, isn't it? That shift of motivation. It requires what feels selfish, wrong. But I say we all start a movement, of shifting the conversation, giving each other, society, a new perspective of why this is so essential. Because we, as beings, deserve peace, health, fulfillment, joy. And we can't claim those things in our frantic lives if we are constantly under an obligation to "refilling the well" for others.

Okay, doing for others brings joy. I know this, but, the reasons shift when you are centered in yourself. Giving out of energy and love. Not out of a need to do so.

More thoughts on this to come. But please, can we make this a thing?

Much love on a sunny Saturday morning. Take care of YOU today, friends, for YOU.











Monday, September 9, 2019

thoughts on unravelling, authenticity, and wonder

So it is fall. You know my love of September. Schedules. Rhythm. Routine. Not to mention, now that I am back in the Midwest, digging out cozy sweaters, making tea mid-afternoon, all that.

What a weird year this is though.

Instead of hustling kids to get out there books and schoolwork, juggling toddler and home duties and canning the end of year garden produce.

Instead. Well, that hasn't been my September in a couple of years. Still, it feels like it SHOULD be my September.

Instead I am hustling big kids out the door to catch the bus a block away. They are big enough to set their own alarms, make their own toast, put together their own lunches (really they do!) Little guy and Green into the minivan, the clouds and sun mixing into shadows on the drive down our big hill to the elementary school and the little preschool next door. And then I go back home. Flip open my laptop. And work. Some calls. Some errands. Scheduling out my week. What deadline is approaching. What work is looming. What work I need to hustle to find. Then pick up the littles. Big kids come home. Victorious or not at another day in another new school. Swim practice. Dinner prep. A half a glass of wine as the wind swirls outside, leaves shuffling around the yard. Bring in the trash cans. Bath time. Bed.

Big sigh.

The day in and day out of life, as a single mom.

And yet. And yet. The emails from friends. Texts from colleagues. Intriguing ideas to float. New projects on the horizon. The ever present novel manuscript that needs revising (again).

It fills me.

I find myself surprisingly, able. Able. Somedays more than others. There is no panic, on the other days. Just a sense of exhausted pondering. Am I doing too much. Am I giving enough energy and time to the kids (the answers always feel yes, and no).

But I sit down with a friend for a glass of wine. We walk down to the river and talk. And I hear the heartache. The unraveling of bullshit that happens in the 40s seems to be all around me. Therapists and heart searching. Boundaries and bravery.

This is what it is.

Right?

The real.

I may not be crafting wooly hats for babies. Or writing funny posts about misadventures with applesauce canning any longer. Instead the "real" of this era of my life pushes into my present. So, I must write REAL. Not that I didn't before. There is so much goddam real in early years of motherhood. But instead, I realize, that part feels capable. I mean, I made a kick ass apple pie the other day. Two of them. With apples the kids and I picked on the way home from church one day. I mean, holy fucking June Cleaver of me, right??

Friends. I made the apple pies from scratch, no recipe. And they were amazing.

But. How do you write real, expose it, let it breathe out there in the open? I have been thinking so much about this era of unravelling. Is it in the air of the nation? Are we all kind of feeling the "real"? Or, am I hyper aware of it, now that my unravelling has happened, my story changed from the ending I thought I knew was coming, into something new? Something unexpected? Something liberatingly unknown?

The unknown is terrifying. But it is also insanely freeing.

As we open up to each other. About the real. The unknown. The unravelling. We find each other. And in that we find ourselves. And, I have discovered, we can still give, even as we feel undone. It is so possible. So beautiful. SO much more authentic.

Here is my realization for you in this month of September. This, the importance of LETTING EACH OTHER SEE OUR UNRAVELLING, but also. This.

When I find myself, now that my life has stabilized into a norm (work comes in, checks follow, bills get paid, and etc.) I realize my gratitude gets stabilized too. Now, I am not talking about gratitude, sure sure, healthy kids, place to live, meaningful work, no. Not that.

I am talking sheer WONDER, AMAZEMENT at life and how it is unfolding.

This is the gratitude I find myself need to go to. Gratitude is a cliche these days. So, yea, let's call it wonder. Eyes wide open, taking in the unbelievable goodness at life, in a wondering attitude of blessing, even amidst the shit life is always throwing. That goodness is there for the taking. GRAB ONTO IT.

Friends, who text to say GIRL, LETS GET A DRINK or, sure you can randomly stop by with your four kids for some coffee! Colleagues who say, OMG let's do this awesome cool thing together. Work that comes in from people who believe in my abilities and want TO PAY ME TO DO IT.

Wonder. Wonder and authenticity.

These are my words for this month.

Go and conquer friends. And, if you need an ear. Message me. We are all in this together. Maybe you are being asked to move a mountain to show someone else how it can be done.











Sunday, August 4, 2019

coach sara emerges

Here is the thing.

When you get to a certain age you start to see the trajectory of your life.

You think.

And when that far off road is altered, even in the slightest, it can stagger us. For weeks. Months.

Years.

So, I had that kind of staggering. But the thing is, it helped me see something.

Well, lots of things. But, for our purposes here in this conversation, it got me thinking about what I am good at, mostly.

Listening. Digging into problems. Giving advice. Helping people figure out their next steps.

I kinda have done that all my life, in one form or another. Even here on this blog, to an extent.

So I figure. Maybe I could just do...that. For like, a job.

Turns out this is a thing. A life coach. I mean, kind of. But my thing isn't really just that.

Here is what I am thinking.

You are at home with your kids. Watching Dora...again (Dear Jesus, why did they bring that show back??) settling fights, making Mac&Cheese, wishing to God you had SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT.

I was there.

I had a few projects. A bit of work. And it kept me sane in those years.

Maybe you have a degree, lying stagnant (so you feel) or you have a passion issue you always get fired up about when you are (finally) having adult conversations with grown ups.

I was totally there too.

And then occasionally you think to yourself, I wish I could DO SOMETHING, with x, y, z issue/pet project/community problem/skills set lying dorment under layers of stale crackers and playdough.

I WAS DEFINITELY THERE.

So. Here is the thing. I want to help those people activate their hidden selves, bring them out from hiding, and DO THE THINGS that get you fired up.

My thought?

CHANGE YOURSELF. CHANGE THE WORLD.

It's funny how your mindset impacts so much of what you are capable of. I, for example, had a shitty mindset yesterday, taking my children to the city's big annual festival this weekend. I pleaded with my parents to come with me and help. I dragged this kids out of our nice AC house with promises of treats and interesting things to look at, slapped on some sunscreen, and off we went. Two hours later (naptime) I am sweating in a 100 degree porta-potty wrangling a 3yr old who er, soiled, his pull-up inwardly (possibly outwardly) cursing the damn fair and my need to project some kind of FUN MOM vibe while really just wanting to go for an evening walk here and there. WHY DO WE NEED TO BUY ALL THE THINGS AT THE LOCAL FESTIVAL TO BE FUN.

My point. Yes.

My point is that my mindset needed swung out of the groove that it was in. We all know those moments as parents. But that is true of so many bigger things in life too. Asking for a raise. Saving money for a house. Going back to school mid-career. All of those moments where we are like, I can't, I can't, I have to, okay, shit, I CAN. And we find ourselves DOING THE THING.

I have been blessed this past year with some amazing friends and family who believed the heck out of me and my capacity. And I want to be that somebody for you too. So, this is my new little business venture. Over coffee (Facetime or Skype!) or the phone or email we talk. We connect. We explore. We figure shit out. We plan. Then we do.

Seriously.

Let's talk. sarajohnsonsteffey (at) gmail (dot) com

OR

www.sarajohnsonsteffey.com for more.




Wednesday, July 3, 2019

my next venture / this is what it is

Writing is unclogging my brain. Thinking through all of the mess. Finding the clumps and clogs, pulling them free. Letting the water flow again. What is it? And why not? Let's keep the juices going. Keep the rhythm flowing. Even if some words and images and thoughts and memories stick like gum to the bottom of the shoe and where are we and what are we and I am pretty sure that there is nothing left in my brain if I can't empty the good things too because they are there but there are so big they are foundational. Solid things that don't move. All of the toxins that have eaten them away though. I am not sure what they actually look like anymore. This is the discovering. After the years of wrong thinking. And now I lie here. Unsure of what is good. Sometimes it all looks like sludge in my mind. So. Get it out. Flush with cold water. Air dry in the sun to stop the spread of slow decay.

Fortify.

Solidify.

This is what it is.

And where are we then once the dry has come. Assessing the damage. Looking, sifting sorting, at all the pieces left. Hands cold from the icy water. Soggy mind comes alive as the piles grow.

Yes to this.

No to that.

Get that out of here.

And here we are then.

Standing above the piles.

Time for the slow burn.

And I watch a movie with the kids. The superheroes mother says to him, "Stop being who you are supposed to be and start being who you are."

Do you hear that? "Stop being who you are supposed to be and start being who you are."

But not just any self. Your fullest self. Your best self, not your basest instincts. The best you that is in you.

And what then? Become more of you. Keep becoming. It never ends. Find and be more of that person.

Sometimes though, people spend so long being who they are supported to be that they forget who they are, or they never discover that glorious person inside.

And oh my god. This is your 40s. Or where I am in my 40s.

Opening your eyes and saying, who has the world said I am supposed to be?
And...who am I really?
And...how can I be, more and more, who I really am?

I mean, if we all stopped being who we are "supposed to be" and stopped living in fear, resentment, drudgery, and started being who we are, our glorious best selves, alive, full of purpose and energy, can you imagine the vitality of such a world?

That isn't to say, shrink from responsibility, or spend your days on the slopes or on the beach or running from your problems or any of that. Thats indulging in our base side, our impoverished "lack" selves.

The full side. The whole side. The flourishing life side.

The side who says "I've been driving bus for 20 years but dang, I am going to cosmetology school." (An overheard conversation at church the other day)

The side that says, "I have been afraid of filing my LLC for years to start my own consulting and coaching business so I am going to do it, dammit. I am."

The side that says "My pieces of art doodles are worth my time. I am going to take a class and do this more."

Or. "My book manuscript is good but I am going to hire someone to look at it and help me make it better."

The side that says, " I've been teaching Sunday School because my mother in law wanted me to for 10 years but I don't actually LIKE teaching Sunday School, so I'm not gonna do it anymore!"

These are the pieces that we need to feed. This is the self we are unravelling.

Find your joy.

Invest in it blossoming.

The world needs you to flower.

And so. This is my next venture. Coaching. To do this. Filing an LLC (finally) to help others going through this. I have thoughts. Ideas. And I think you might just dig it.

More to come. Much.
xoxo
Sara


Monday, May 20, 2019

next, best thing

You know its been quite a year for me. I know you know.

But here is the thing.

THINGS ARE BETTER.

I mean, isn't that crazy?

I am kind of kicking butt lately. And feeling good.

I recently spoke to a mentor type person in my life who was giving me business advice (more to come on that later!) and this person said my voice sounded light, hopeful. I said, yea I feel that way. And the mentor responded, "So, why don't you write that on your blog?"

Um. Good point.

Its super easy for this space to become somewhere where I vent the hard moments. Although, I have hardly done that truly. The hard moments have been rather ugly this year. I've kept a lot out.

Rather, put another way, I tend to write when I need to figure things out. The cathartic moments. Often rooted in pain. Lately, those things that have come through here have been of that vein. And all the hopeful moments I have reveled in, soaked up, it's maybe like I can't let that energy go?  I need to contain in myself, hold on to every bit of it.

All that other stuff, well, work it out, write it out, good riddance. Lets just say a yet-to-be-posted-post is about a deer carcass slowly getting picked at by the crows. Um. Probably not pushing post on that one.

Another dear friend said to me too the other day. Here is the thing. The past. Its just the past. Its a non-thing. There is nothing there that you can change or fix. So. Let it be back there. And move on. You can try to unhinge car by car and deal with it all problem by problem or you can go up to your engine and pull the latch connecting you to all of that, and be done with it.

And this is where I am. God it is hard to write this though. I like sincerity and honesty. There are so many hard moments. But everyone has them. Right? No matter what your life is. So yes, I will say this. You can sit weighed down on the side of a mountain, your engine overheating with the weight. Or you can unhinge it all and climb to the goddam peak and be done with it.

So.

That is my thing to share.

The next thing. The next, best thing. It's there. Waiting for us all. Climb your mountain, find it, claim it. It's waiting.




Monday, March 25, 2019

thoughts on spring and etc


The ladybugs have woken up.

My mother declares this one day. They are not the cute tiny ladybugs in English gardens that are all over the adorable new rain jacket I just bought Little Green. They are ugly. A mottled dirty orange. They smell when crushed. At times in the spring they flock to the warm sides of the house. Sitting in the sunshine, waiting, for something, buzzing against the windowpanes, occasionally dropping into your hair. And the they come inside. Getting trapped in the light fixtures and promptly dying, leaving a mess of corpses to stare at as I lay in bed at night.

As I type there is one walking around the catch all box of pens and cords on my desk. Its following the charger cord up and around, then my earphones wires, then some pens, now its moved on to the cheery Target dollar spot wooden rainbow and blocks calendar next to my keyboard.
Around and around in circles. Searching for. Something.

I feel you little stinky ugly ladybug.

My Little Green tells me that ladybugs have a dot for every year of their lives. Could that be right? This one has six dots. Can you imagine, circling a desk, flying against a window, sleeping for six months, then doing it all over again, for six years?

Actually, sleeping for six months sounds pretty primo terrific right now.

I just made that saying up. Primo terrific. It probably came to me because of the latest Grey's Anatomy episodes in which Meredith (whom I think of as my good friend after watching her escapades for nigh on 15 years)  is suddenly in love with one of the residents she has trained up for the past several seasons and he, is, of course, Italian, and she, of course, happened to study Italian in college so of course they have lots of sexy dialogue, in Italian.

It is PRIMO TERRIFIC.

Highly recommend.

Circling, circling, the ladybug is still at it. Still ugly.

Ah ha. It has made it up my sign - also from Target, you see a pattern here, right? The one where all the cute Instagrammers write their pithy inspirational phrases and then post them, next to a plant and a cup of small batch roasted coffee in an Etsy purchased mug.

"Dare to Dreem" my Green girl wrote me the other day.

Her latest message for mama? "Keep on Looking UP!"

And so. It is spring. Late. I should be in bed. I now have to wake at 5am on Tuesdays and Thursdays to drive an hour to the city to teach a magazine writing class. What do I know about magazine writing you ask? I mean, something, a few things. Writing, yes. Its been interesting. Fun too. I make them journal for 15 minutes every morning, to get their creative juices going, as I guzzle my Americano with an extra shot of espresso and a tiny bit of cream, mercifully purchased (I am merciful upon myself that is) at the half way point in my journey up to the city every morning.

Last Thursday as I drove up the gorgeous big spring moon was still up, setting to the west. Smiling on me, following me, huge as it sank lower and lower, until, eventually, the light of the rising sun dulled it to a pale disk.

And this is my life.

Primo terrific.

Sometimes.

Other times, not so much. I am trying though. I am all about The Try right now. Through fevers and 5am alarms, and strained phone calls, and the interesting phase which is middle school (sweet Jesus, hold me) looking at rental house after rental house, and working after the babies go to bed, denying my sore throat, sipping tea and thinking about the buds on the plum tree outside, the shoots of irises poking out through the icy glaze over my mother's garden, the thick Midwestern mud that I slosh through as I trek to the door after class, my feverish toddler waiting for me.

All signs of spring. Mud. Shoots. Life. Slush. The call of the robin. The damn stinky ladybug, that has now disappeared from view.

Keep on looking up. And its true. The leaves are coming on the trees. Any day now. Any day.







Tuesday, February 19, 2019

on horizons and fear




It's funny when you are driving, focused on the road and the bend and that car on your left, you lose sense of your surroundings. The horizon becomes blurred. The clouds, the trees, the buildings, you lose sight of the big picture. Especially city driving, right? Pedestrians and snow plows and all the traffic and noise. You can't look at the sunset or the slant of light in the trees.

You just drive.

There is something nice about this of course.

Just drive. The road. The cars. The turns. Keep going.

I have been driving a lot lately. I commute to the city twice a week to teach. It is one hour each way. When its sunny and the roads are clear its actually nice. For all the above reasons. My mind has something to focus on. No real wandering. In the snow though. Damn. It is BRUTAL. It took me THREE HOURS to get home one day. THREE HOURS. I nearly had a heart attack. The wind was blowing the snow so hard I couldn't see anything.

But. I survived.

That is what we do right?

We survive.

So I feel like this is my life lately. I have been driving for a year. Turn signals. Roads. Pedestrians. Snow plows. Throwing the occasional bag of fruit snacks to the kids in the bag seat. Always something to focus on. Very little time for my mind to wander. To consider the horizon.


And then. You get to your destination. Or maybe a potty break. HAHAHA. And you get out of your car and you stretch and you look around and breathe in the fresh air and you are like DAMN WHERE AM I?

This is basically me this month.

DAMN. SO. HERE I AM. OKAY. UMMMMMMMMMMM.....

Disorienting as hell.

Freeing too.

But.

Mostly weird.

I am still stretching my muscles. Testing them. Everything works? Legs? Check. Arms? Check. Heart? Still pounding. Lungs? Deep breath. All is well there too.

And now. NOW. I am contemplating a step. Where do I walk to? What now?

So then I get all freaked out and I get back in my car and I circle the block and listen to podcasts and that one song blasting.

Then I park. I stop the car. I get out.

Stretch. Testing each step.

Okay. I am here.

I think I need to be out of the car now. Maybe? I don't know? Or I could keep driving? Where am I going again? Where am I? Who am I?

Sometimes though it is good to say all this out loud.

When you have been on a long car ride without a destination you can feel rather disoriented. Directionless. But that kind of confusion is often just freedom. Freedom. I mean. That is different. But often just as scary.

So. I bought myself some prescription sunglasses. Only noteworthy because I have wanted them for YEARS but just now can afford them. So here I am. Driving. Breathing the fresh air at each stop.  And squinting less at the horizon, in the bright sunshine of my new life.

Ride on mamas. And then get out and stretch your legs. Life is really damn good.











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