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Welcome to Stress Thunderdome

As I mentioned in the first post this year, one of my intentions for 2019 was to do exactly this – create this site for you, for me, for the greater Uncurated Mama community. And one of my other intentions over the last few years has been to get myself balanced and healthy, which seems to be a goal of most moms I know, yet so elusive to so many. But while some people get their balance through meditation, therapy, or church, I got there through giving birth to my second daughter.

Stay with me, it’ll make sense in a minute.

When my oldest daughter was eight months old, I got pregnant with my second. To say it was a surprise would be a lie, since Ian and I knew full well that we were playing with fire and no birth control. But for someone who was in year two of marriage and month eight of parenthood, I was a bit stunned. Cut to: nine months later and I now had a toddler and a newborn, a full-time job, and a cluttered mind of responsibilities. I also had friends, though I rarely saw or even talked to them, and oftentimes felt as though I was barely treading water to keep up with my life. At the same time, within two months of having my daughter, I’d gotten pneumonia and the flu. Six months later, I’d also had two sinus infections, been on three business trips, and was perpetually about one or two hours away from ever being fully rested. I was the opposite of balanced and healthy, and I was turning 40 years old. It was time to get my shit together.

During this boot camp through motherhood, I also noticed that stress had become this weird badge of honor to prove to other adults how busy, important, and/or successful we all were. It’s like Stress Thunderdome: who can be the most stressed and still be standing at the end of the day. Parents, it seems, are black belts in Stress Thunderdome. Partly because it’s the nature of the beast, but also because we think that’s just how it’s supposed to be if we’re doing it right. But mamas - if I can evangelize to you for just one minute – please, whatever you do, do not become a competitor in Stress Thunderdome. Do not believe that the busier you or your kids are, the better parent or adult it makes you. If anything, it just makes us sleepy, grumpy zombies who wish all of the other sleepy, grumpy zombies around us would cut it out so we could just exhale for a minute.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was the reigning champion of Stress Thunderdome for nearly two decades. I’ve spent most of my adult life over-booking the calendar and trying to be all things to all people. What’s funny is that I’d also be legitimately surprised when my annual sinus infection would knock me down so hard on my ass that I’d miss multiple days of work and literally sleep for 14 hours straight. Fall hard; take antibiotics; sleep; repeat. That was my genius success plan for life.

So like I said, what finally slowed this cycle for me was having my youngest daughter. I couldn’t afford to be out of commission for multiple days with two kids under two, nor did I like the fact that I’d spent the greater part of twenty years being able to predict when my lifestyle would literally make me sick. Somehow, being more tired than I’d ever been - with more responsibilities, juggling more balls in the air, and less time to myself - is what brought me a few steps closer to this intangible balance I kept hearing about.

Look, you’re reading this from someone who is a self-proclaimed Uncurated Mama – something I would have almost certainly considered a failure a few years ago. To admit that I didn’t have it all together, didn’t know what I was doing more often than not, or was so tired I could cry sometimes, was too high a bar to clear. But participating less in the Stress Thunderdome I’d been a part of for decades led me towards more contentment, comfort, and confidence than I’d honestly ever had. Which is ironic, since I have far more wrinkles and stretch marks and far fewer quiet moments and “me time.”

To be fair, I’m still a fairly busy person who still doesn’t talk to or see my friends as much as I’d like to think they’re all seeing each other. And I tend to thrive on being a little busier than not. It’s also probably why I’m the Uncurated Mama before you, with laundry on the kitchen table, dried corn on the floor, and a sock in my coat pocket that I found as I was riding up the elevator with a co-worker today. But understanding that my capacity and threshold for stress didn’t match my immune system or emotional well-being meant that I had to take just a few steps back to assess what might have to go. And since it apparently can’t be the kids or husband, I’d need to start figuring out what I might be doing to cause some of this. So, what might it be?

Have you ever done that? Have you ever look around and wondered how this all happened and where your sanity or car keys went?

So, my question was: what do I need to give up in order to live a more balanced life and achieve the goals I keep saying that I want? Mama, if I’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s this: taking the time to figure it out for yourself is everything. And in the hopes of sounding like Oprah, this I know for sure.

Maybe it’s part of turning the magical 40 and hitting my threshold for shit I couldn’t care less about. Or maybe it’s because I finally embraced that the appearance, not the reality, was what I was so often striving for. And for what? Everyone else was doing the same thing, so maybe we were just waiting for one of us to finally break? The appearance of a clean house (shoves all random socks, toys, and clothes into a closet as the doorbell rings), the appearance of contentment, the appearance that I’ve got it all figured out.

Now let me be clear: I have not yet mastered this. I’ve gotten closer, feel balanced more often than not, and haven’t gotten my annual sinus infection since 2017 (insert the Z-pack subscription in-hand in 5, 4, 3, 2….). Yes, I over-book, look outward, feel tired, and nag my husband over things that don’t matter just like every other red blooded American mama. But I also slow down more than I used to, talk about what I’m actually feeling more with my husband and friends instead of trying to just shoulder it all myself, and admit when I know things are going to be kind of nuts and off-balance for a while and ride that wave as best we can. Because part of living a balanced life is being totally off-balance sometimes, but knowing how to set limits and boundaries and stay within those more often than I don’t, has helped me more than I can emphasize.

For example: we all know the people who have been having the same conversation with their husband for years about how exhausted they are, how they need to get better sleep or more exercise, right? If you don’t? Hi! It’s nice to meet you, I’m Becky.

I used to complain about how tired I was on a regular basis, while also not wanting to stop binge-watching “Narcos” into the night, until I decided that arguing with my husband about the dishes because I was tired from staying up late and needing to pick a fight was not worth going to bed after nine o’clock.

NINE O’CLOCK? Yes, nine o’clock. There are nights I push it until nine thirty, but those are also the nights that I’ve already made the executive decision that tomorrow is gonna’ be a little less productive and a little extra grouchy. I’ve embraced the teasing I get from friends and family who laugh about me going to bed before some of their kids. If staying up late is a badge of honor? It’s one I will never wear with pride. But I finally got tired of how tired I was, and I especially got tired of my own voice complaining about how tired I was. There are lists that don’t get completed sometimes, laundry that doesn’t get done, and shows I’ll probably never finish. And as a Black Belt in Worrying, I’m concerned about the years to come when my kids stay up past seven thirty and I have to peace out and let them be single-parented by their dad past nine. But I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

On the other hand, the energy – physical and mental – that I have when I get the sleep I know my body needs is worth every raised eyebrow, joke, or panic when my three-year-old is just going to bed at seven thirty and I realize that I’ll only get one episode of “Ozark” in before I need to head upstairs and think about what a terrible money launderer I’d be. And sure, there are times when it’s just not possible. I get it. But if you’re reading this right now and you see yourself somewhere in here? Now’s the time to figure it out, mama.

Why? Because your husband is probably too nice to say that he’s sick of hearing you complain about this repeatedly. And if he’s not? Your best friend or co-worker is. And I promise that you’ll notice a better version of yourself waking up each day, whether your limits are an earlier-than-preschooler-bedtime, a before-sunrise walk or run, or time to yourself to just sit and have a complete thought. So give it a shot, what’s the worst that can happen? You already know someone (hi!) who has socks in her pockets – but at least I was rested enough to realize it before my co-worker did! See? It’s called balance, mama.

Hey, at least it's a matching set!


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