room for gray

Friends, I’m here with some pretty big news.

You can buy pre-made meals at the grocery store. I know. I KNOW. They’re in the frozen section (or, if you’re fancy, the deli), and ALL YOU HAVE TO DO is heat them up. There is the optional step of anxious thoughts, like it would be so much cheaper and healthier if I made this myself or the sodium in here, my God, has anyone at this food place ever heard of a vegetable? You know what though? I’ve tried this step, and I do not recommend it.

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Jonah clearly only cares about the healthiest of foods.

If you’re like me (and the more I meet people the more I realize… at risk of sounding like a feel good ballad, we are more alike than different) — if you’re like me, you set some decent standards for how your day should go. From the moment your eyes open in the morning, you have things to do. Backpacks to fill. People to dress. Food to make. Cars to drive. And again, if you’re like me, you see all of this in black and white. If I get Boone off to the school bus with a full belly, clean teeth, and a backpack containing everything he needs for the day, everything’s white. I did it! On the other hand, if I’m screeching like a pterodactyl about shoes and throwing white bread in his direction as we run to the bus? Black. There’s almost no salvaging the day at this point.

You may not struggle with black and white like I do. You may be able to brush off a rough morning and carry on successfully through your day. But at night, once everyone’s tucked in, there may be a little nagging thought in your mind that says well, you didn’t win today. Even if you never think this (I assume you’re a witch, a good one, like Glinda, but still), pretend with me, won’t you?

“Jennie?” you may ask, “You opened this by talking about pre-made food. How on earth does this relate?”

First of all, thanks so much for asking. It’s much easier than coming up with a witty segue on my own. I’m only one cup of coffee deep, after all. Here’s the backstory: before I was the Mama, I was a choir teacher. I taught private voice lessons to prepare students for auditions. I lived and breathed music and, while all-consuming, it was pretty great. Then I traded it in for full-time parenting. To say parenting is “great” is an understatement. Sometimes also an overstatement. I know you feel me here, parents. All-consuming it remained. Once my kids got a little bit older, I decided to dip my toe back into the water of music through the medium of community theatre. To make a long story short, theatre made a huge section of my life white again. I was more than “just a mom.” I remembered that I was talented, I was unique, I was successful in other ways. That one tiny taste of the stage gave way to more — much more — I’m currently working backstage on a show, and as soon as it’s finished I’ll be diving in to three (THREE) more before the winter returns. And I’m thrilled!

But.

(Come on. You knew there was a “but.”)

My goals, you guys. The ones that determine if my day was black or white? The breakfast, the backpack, the enriching, engaging, age-appropriate activities, the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry (oh LORD, THE LAUNDRY). Before the massive schedule shift began, I was panicked. And my sweet husband said this,

“Hey, why don’t you give yourself a week where you buy like, frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets or something, and just plan on really easy meals.”

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What I basically heard: “Just feed our children giant pancakes for every meal.”

I didn’t even give him the chance to say “just so you can feel really caught up on other aspects of your life without having too much on your plate.”

I didn’t give him the chance because I was too busy squealing something like “I CAN’T LET OUR CHILDREN’S NUTRITION SUFFER BECAUSE I WANT TO DO A THING!!!”

Then I refused to discuss it for three days. I’m very mature that way.

In fact, I didn’t give it any thought at all until I was having a rare solo trip to Target. That’s where I get most of my epiphanies, to be honest. I saw a frozen pizza (Target brand) that had spinach and goat cheese on it. I’m going to be honest, that sounds great. Sodium be damned. So I bought it. And a Margherita pizza for the kids. And some mac and cheese, some whole wheat crusted chicken nuggets, frozen veggies, and apples and bananas, because my kids can eat their weight in those. And I realized that, should I send my children to therapy as a result of me one day, “my mom made me eat frozen foods for a week” will simply not be on their list of grievances.

But, I’ll be honest with you — it feels black. If someone were to come over at dinner time and ask what we were having, I’d feel incredibly compelled to offer an excuse. “It’s frozen pizza, we’ve just been so crazy LOL.” (In my nervousness, I’d probably just say “LOL” out loud; roll with it.)

So this brings us back to the big news. And it isn’t actually pre-made grocery store meals. It’s gray. GRAY. Black doesn’t have to mean failure. White doesn’t have to mean unattainable success. I always say I’m striving for balance, but that’s exactly what gray is: balance. Moderation. Something in the middle. When you’re gray, you aren’t setting standards that are occasionally possible to reach but usually easy to miss. When you’re gray, you realize not everything has to follow a rigid schedule to be measured as success. Black and white is easy. It’s clear. Gray is muddy, and harder to see. But if you look for it? It’s there. So this week, I’m heating up frozen foods and making room for gray.

hashtag mom life hacks

I love my babies.

Ooh, this fake snow with the consistency of soggy cotton balls was a great idea; good thinking, me.

You love yours too. I know this.

But sometimes… oh man, sometimes… the task of parenting is hard. There are certainly days when all I want to do is stay snuggled up in bed all day, totally alone, and yet, the kids need “breakfast” and “clothes” and whatnot. And so even though “stay in bed mom” is one of my favorite quotes from the cult classic Arrested Development,  I simply cannot adopt that lifestyle.

So here’s what I do when I am forced to maternally fake it ’til I make it.

BATH TIME

Sure. OK. Bath time can be a crazy splashy experience that leaves everyone feeling soggy and tired. BUT. When you do bath time at, say, 2 pm? You can let that sucker drag on until the water turns cold. If you need to, keep one eye on your child and the water cascading down the side of the bathtub and the other eye on your book/television show/website of choice. To extend the fun, throw glow sticks into the bath. Instead of making the bath the thing to get through before you can finally put your lovely little monsters to bed, take the power back and let the bath work for you.

PODCASTS

One of my favorite escapes is an earbud in one ear playing the podcast of my choosing. Thanks to my dear friend Leanne, that podcast is currently The Sword and the Scale, a true crime podcast that is incredibly dark and addicting. I think I like it so much not because it is wholesome and uplifting (NOPE) but because it really feels like the opposite of my everyday life. I can start a television show for my toddler and do the dishes while listening to people being totally, totally illegal. It’s a weird little macabre getaway, and I love it.

**NOTE: You can be less dark than I am and use music or happy podcasts in your ear too. I mean, you do you.

SPEAKING OF A SHOW FOR YOUR TODDLER…

Some days will have too much screen time. Some days will have none. Accept the fact that everything in life is moderation and don’t beat yourself up for a lazy, visually stimulating day, especially during winter in Michigan. Especially especially during winter in Michigan where there isn’t snow to go out and play in but it’s still too dang cold to easily go play outside. The warmth will come. Embrace the cold.

PAJAMA DAY

Self-explanatory. Love your jammies, love yourself.

GET OUT

This last one is a little controversial, even in my own mind. Some days I really don’t want to leave (especially if it’s a self-declared Pajama Day; see above). But sometimes — perhaps this is when your toddler has dumped out the same box of crayons for the fourth time in a row — you say, “NOPE!” and you run errands (made up if necessary), find an indoor park or museum, go to a movie theatre, visit a friend, get in the car and just drive… I’ve had great success digging my way out of a hard mom day by simply changing our location. Yes, sometimes this can be more stressful than just staying home and repeatedly cleaning up that *&%^ box of crayons. Use at your own risk.

Being a mom is truly the most amazing thing I’ve done with my life… but it’s hard, y’all. Let’s stop pretending like the hard days don’t happen. Let’s embrace the hot, crazy mess that is motherhood and survive it together, however we know how. What are your mom life hacks?