How to stop being a perfectionist

There was a time when I would change my sheets weekly. I did this with pride, it was the chore that always got done over the weekend, even if there was no food in the fridge (common) and a drying rack covered in sweaters and underwear in the middle of the apartment for days. 

This year the sheets fell behind. And I am so over my smug weekly sheet washing. If there’s one thing babies do, it’s trim the fat on your time. 

This is the advice to new mothers about housekeeping: lower your standards. Aka get over yourself. Choose happy self and happy kid over perfect house. You can’t do all three. 

I listened to this great interview with Margeuerite Deslauriers (philosophy professor and founder of McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminisit Studies) about the emotional work that women kill themselves doing. They are stressed out and exhausted and it’s completely off balance with what men give in this area. This is a real issue of course, but the professor had  a suggestion for managing it: ask yourself if it actually needs doing. And if it does, must you always be the one doing it?

Like emotionally supporting your coworker through her breakup?  Sending birthday cards to every friend every year? 

Is doing these things moving you toward a more enriched, fully lived life? Probably not. Is weekly sheet cleaning? Nope.

I’m talking about living life as an active verb, here. Not dragging your feet from obligation to obligation. 

Which means letting go of the things you think you should be doing and instead finding better stuff to do. 

Better stuff as defined by you, for you. 

A good friend came over today and brought a Christmas card.  And inside there was a gift card. The thought to reciprocate this hadn’t even entered my mind. What can you do? Say thanks sincerely, make her a grilled cheese sandwich and drive her home. Then let it go. 

Christmas is a vulnerable time for measuring yourself against other people. Everyone’s getting together, dressed in their finest, on best behaviour and exchanging gifts. If you’re feeling down and perfectionistic after the holidays, find something to do that moves you toward a more enriched, fully-lived life. 

Not laundry. 

Not gratuitous emotional support. 

Not unhealthy comparisons to people who are more planful gifters than you are. 

Mine is writing this. What’s yours? 

Surrender

I’m taking a refresher on how to write. Things like: tell an interesting story, have a conflict that gets resolved, include self-discovery. Be a little bit scared about each post.

J is always telling me to shake up my routine. As a way to shake up my thinking.  I look at baby F and think about all those neural pathways that have yet to be formed.

Actually, one unexpected benefit of baby F’s early wake ups is that all she wants is to get up at 6 am and play with her cup collection and edible book. So while she’s doing that  I’ve started meditating.

In other words, she forges neural pathways while I attempt to clear mine. Continue reading “Surrender”

You will have sex again

J and I were asked to visit a prenatal class at the birth centre where we had baby F and share some of our experience. To get ready, I thought about what would have been helpful for me to hear heading into labour and birth. Here are ten things. For more (possibly too many) details, check out our birth story.

10. Stay as active as you can. I believe long walks were the key to my labour starting on time and progressing well. I was out for hour+ walks in the park near my house up until the day before I went into labour.  Good for the body, good for the mind.

9. Talk to your partner beforehand.  Talk about what’s scary. Talk about what you think you’re going to need. I puked a bunch during labour. We didn’t know that was coming and it was weird doing it in front of him. But we had talked about the wild wonders that we would experience. We were ready for anything.

8. Visualize your labour and birth.  What are you going to be doing. Where are you going to be. How are you going to feel. What are you going to listen to. Eat. Etc.. Its been proven that people can practice and improve their golf game from jail cells using only their minds. This is the power of visualization.

7. Give yourself a break. One of the pieces of advice I got before baby was to have sex! But I wasn’t feeling it. So I had the added and totally unnecessary stress of worrying that I was not taking advantage of what could be my last months of good sex, ever. Do what you feel like doing. You will have sex again when you feel more like yourself. Some report improved orgasms following vaginal birth.  So that’s something to feel good about.

6. People are the worst with their parenting advice.  I hated when people I didn’t know that well joked with me that I would never sleep again. It’s not funny guys, It’s Terrifying.  One of my best chats during pregnancy was with a former colleague with four kids who said that expecting your first child is stressful.  Yes it’s also beautiful. But for most people it’s stressful and the messages we get as new parents-to-be don’t always honour that. So don’t listen to annoying advice that makes it more stressful. Those people are insensitive and they’re also not telling you that having your baby is going to bring you immense joy.

5. Don’t buy all the things (unless you really take comfort in stockpiling). So you might need breast pads, nipple cream, perineum spray, one of those rings to sit on, giant pads, heat packs, etc. And you might not. If you’re a person who likes to stockpile and you feel good about it, then go for it. But for everyone else, send your partner or a family member out to get what you need when you need it. You’ll save money and if your partner is like mine, they will appreciate a useful outing.

4. Accept food from any and all sources. After giving birth I was so hungry.  And food tasted so good. You ran a marathon. Be nourished.

3. After you have your baby, stay in bed.  Don’t walk much. Take it really easy. Cuddle with your new cuddle bunny. Take visitors in your bedroom. Seriously, this is a time to be in your loungewear, don’t put real clothes on if you don’t want to. Keep your legs closed, literally,  for two weeks. Your body is healing so let it.

2. Do the skin on skin thing – it’s developmentally beneficial and it just feels nice. For both you and your partner and anyone else deemed appropriate by you.

1. Take pictures. I wish I had pictures from labour and delivery and more pictures from those first moments. You won’t feel like taking pictures. But you might love having them after the fact.

All the best to the parents-to-be! The path you’re heading down is well-worn with generations of parents who were like you, and who found their way.

Personality paradox and another reason to practice yoga

I have this friend who likes to repel down waterfalls. Or underwater. Or something. She has an adventurous spirit.

When you take the Quistic test to find your Myers-Briggs personality type (it’s free here), it asks you to agree or disagree with this statement: “a sense of adventure is close to my heart”.

As a Myers-Briggs enthusiast, I’ve taken the test more than once. I guess I like tests. I go back and forth on some of the questions, but historically not this one: a sense of adventure is close to my heart.

Until now. Because, what is an adventure?

Right now I’m watching my four month old inch off her playmat using exclusively leg and core strength – a little escape artist. A future yogi. An adventure I am at the very centre of.

This week the soundtrack for my walks with baby F became this unexpectedly inspirational podcast from Good Life Project. In this roundtable episode they talk about personality paradoxes – like when you’re really organized about some things but a complete mess about others. Or you’re intensely introverted but sometimes come alive when you’re the centre of attention.

This is one of those mental loops a lot of us get caught in: the desire to define ourselves, to discover our truth.

The podcast opened up the (totally obvious) option of having a paradoxical personality – being, embracing and using both sides of a given paradox. Accepting the paradox as a theme, rather than trying to pick one side or the other.

The theme of adventure, wild and tame at different turns.

The theme of self-discovery, admitting to an affinity for personality tests while also acknowledging we can’t be defined. And that we evolve. The right to change your answer on a test you’ve done more than once.

Yoga last week was all core and twists. I was ahead of the game since I play airplane baby every day. It was an adventurous practice – finding the limits of a core that’s conquered pregnancy, and gently pushing against them. It wasn’t about holding back or pushing hard though  – it was about the paradox – the theme of effort. Giving and absorbing it. And accepting the result in all its complex glory.

Every yoga posture has an element of opposing forces. Each one is a path to self-discovery. Another reason to practice yoga for today’s wild and tame alike.

 

 

Re-sizing your world

I was thinking about sharing my thoughts. “Everything I need to know I learned from parenting my three week old baby”. Or something like that. She’s bigger and I’m calmer. She grew a pound – a pound! That’s 12% of her body weight at birth. In three weeks.

I slept for six hours which is a huge accomplishment. Or a lucky strike. The sun has come out at last.

Today I learned that Lululemon is in the business of vision and goal setting. They have this great worksheet on the topic. Lulu has three main categories for goals: health, personal, and career. Could it really be that simple? I wondered – what about financial goals? But financial goals are a means to an end. Why think about what you want your investment account to look like? If one of your goals is to establish a scholarship for example, well then, maybe that’s a personal goal. Or potentially a career goal. The money isn’t the goal itself.

It’s interesting, staying home most days, not spending much money at all. And spending time with an infant who doesn’t know what money is. She will have to learn, one day. But she was born knowing what love is. That’s what matters.

Which brings me to the environment you’re in and how it shapes you. What you choose to let in. My mother described life with an infant as having your world shrink down. Which is a true observation. But how often do we change the size of our world? And what an adventure it is – to make that shift.

Last year when J and I were in Italy, I felt my world expanded. It was awe-inspiring, stepping back and forth in time, seeing world famous works of art up close, feeling tiny standing in the Roman Forum, or seated in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Caring for an infant has the same world-shifting effect, but it gets smaller. We are the centre of our own universe, my baby and me – we eat, we rest. It is so beautifully small and simple, our world, there are no unnecessary trappings. We don’t care about make-up or expensive shoes or anyone else’s schedule but our own. And even then, our schedule doesn’t require a clock most of the time – just our instincts and urges.

Not everyone can have an infant (and I get that not everyone wants one!). But everyone can experiment with shrinking their world on purpose – even if it’s just for a day. A day where time is irrelevant, where you follow your whims through the day. Where you wear something perfectly worn and deliciously comfortable. A day where you leave the house only to walk around the block one time, slowly. Where you eat what’s in the pantry and love it, or just order pizza. Where you barely notice current events or much of anything at all outside your home. Where you daydream and nap by a sunny window. Where you find another person and share their body heat.

While you’re at it you can consider your vision and goals – health, personal and career. And where and how re-sizing your world can fit into your plans – to shift your perspective and stretch yourself in new ways. Perfectly simple. And it doesn’t cost a thing.

Joy

Some days the world feels so harmonious. Some days everything clashes. The media figure / possible sexual predator is acquitted and everyone is up in arms. Easter is eclipsed by icy conditions fit for January. Unsafe to drive, unsafe to walk. Unsafe.

The full moon came and went. The Easter lilies are blooming on the counter along with the African violet. The neon green tropical plant is still alive against all odds. Joy.

I am thirsty and stiff and sentimental. I am wishing someone would come and visit, but only a selected type of someone. Someone who’s easy, quiet. Someone who will talk to me but who I don’t need to talk back to. Maybe what I need is a podcast.

When not watching Netflix, I have been listening to podcasts. Lots of CBC and BBC. Canadian literature and the alluring combination of chemical drugs and sex among men who have sex with men. Light stuff mostly. Joy.

Today is Good Friday. It’s the anniversary of the death of the most famous figure in human history. It is said to have been a brutal public affair, crucifixion among thieves. About 2,000 years ago, give or take. Today for most people is just a day off work. A cold icy day off work. To snuggle in and listen to a podcast. To reflect on the winter passed (just about) and the warm changes ahead. Complete with flowers that grow outside of pots, in the actual earth, and sunshine and shorts and joy. Complete with joy.

 

 

 

 

 

Adult choices

Found myself in a university building – the kind where students either kill time between classes or schedule group meetings with people they don’t know very well. Everyone looks tired and a bit bored, but also vibrant because they’re twenty years old and all evened out – equal opportunity available to everyone, theoretically.
I’ve come from an appointment at the community health practice where I’m going to get a new family doctor. For me and my baby. I’ve never selected a doctor as an adult – I’m impressed with how they handled it, thoroughly informative and professional.
Campus feels like a funny and appropriate place for me to be – after all I’m preparing for a big exam called childbirth. It’s one where I finally understand the risk of over preparation. Over-preparation was never my problem at school. Preparing for childbirth is also teaching me the value of unlearning – unlearning society’s ideas on childbirth so that I can be free to have my own experience. Empowered. I give a different answer on my plans depending on who asks – I feel I’m observing myself interacting on the topic, like I’m not really there. Like I have this set of answers that I toss in the air and then whichever one lands in my fist, I say out loud.  Why do I feel there is so little room for sharing  authentically?  Because I’m afraid of people judging me? Afraid of putting a stake in the ground and then backing off later, changing plans? And then they could all say, ya, of course. That was a dumb idea. We knew it wouldn’t work.
I think this is just the beginning of parenting choices. Choices that matter more than any other choices made to date. Choices that affect other people more than any others to date. This feeling – that birth plans are personal – perhaps it is legitimate. Really, what is more personal?
Here, at the world’s quietest Second Cup in this remote university building, I think about the staff. Probably University Staff, not Second Cup Staff. Cushy job. Or boring. Different sides of the same coin perhaps? These students are pulling out their homemade lunches, saving their dollars. Good for them. I’ve been inspired lately to do the same. Even as we contemplate increasing our housing budget by 15 percent. Because the market continues to be prompt us. And because, actually, we can afford it. Opportunities are not equally available to everyone, for better or worse.
Adult choices. Good thing I went to the doctor intake appointment, to remind myself I’m a grown up because someone was good enough to treat me like one. And good thing I can feel this baby moving inside me, reassuring me regularly that it’s doing well. “A sign of well-being” is what my midwife said. A comforting thought. This baby is on its way – and then the ultimate adulthood begins. I’ll make the best decisions I can on its behalf, sometimes involving more or less candor, because that’s an acceptable approach to choices that matter.

Sanctuary

It’s Christmas. It’s the last quiet Christmas morning for a while, since as of March 2016 we – we who were blithely two – we will be three. And one of the three will be small and scrunchy, adorable, but probably loud and demanding too. Teetering on the edge of that produces weird sensations.

Being pregnant is a hormonal experience. So far I haven’t been experiencing wild mood changes, picking fights, ending friendships dramatically, etc. What I have experienced is that any time I think about no longer being two with J, I tear up. Tears actually come into my eyes. Am I excited about being a parent or what?

I am, actually, I’m just getting to know myself better. The challenges in life bring your jagged edges into the light. You’re stretching (well, some of us are literally stretching too). But for all of us, when we get stretched in the figurative sense, some places where we have work to do tend to show.

The end of the year is an introspective time for many people. Even though the year has a week yet to live out, since I plan on spending it in my pyjamas/loungewear/bathtub/kitchen/bed recouperating from the year (old life) gone by and resting up for the year (new life) ahead, I’m thinking Christmas is as good a time as any to let go of the past, reflect and plan for the future. Christmas morning this year – quiet, if balmy in Toronto (record temperatures yesterday), peaceful – this is a New Day if ever I met one.

I have been raving about my prenatal yoga teacher because she is so knowledgeable. She taught us how to lie down and get up again without putting our (weakened, literally stretched) abdominal muscles at risk of separating (it can happen). She incorporates kegels into the class(!), and modified pushups, both of which I’m grateful for. There’s a but. I miss pushing myself physically. I miss feeling limitless physically and I miss the spiritual in yoga class. Life creation should be a spiritual time, no? Not finding that in yoga class.

I am finding that in the shower, where I’ve started singing this song from my summer camp days:

O Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. And with thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.

I sing it over and over and I recognize my body as a sanctuary, and the baby is inside, growing in time with the vibrations.

Yesterday we had a debate about the spiritual life of our child. Not an easy subject. So much is wrapped up in it – culture, religion, family expectation, moral code, Sunday morning. And then we sat down together, because the extended family dinner we were going to go to got cancelled, and we ate eggs and we watched three documentaries in a row. The last being The Secret. And it said a lot of things, my word for many of which is “bogus,” but it also said this:

When you drive at night, you can only see 200 ft in front of you. You trust that the road ahead exists, and you keep on driving, and you cover miles of road, 200 ft at a time. 

And that is a message I need to hear as 2016 beckons. I doubt I’m the only one.  I’m going to take this one month at a time, which means no decisions are needed right now on baptism, let alone religious upbringing, and healthy right now doesn’t mean doing 100 sun salutations, it means getting enough water and vegetables and walking in nature whenever I can. And if yoga right now isn’t spiritual, then my hypnobirthing class might be, and if not, then my showers definitely can be. Each 200 ft of road brings a sweet change, and it’s our privilege to rise to the occasion. Otherwise why bother with the drive?

 

 

Warming up

We know that admitting you have a problem is the first step. To everything. What about admitting that you don’t have a problem, or that you used to have a problem and now you don’t. What about admitting that you’re awesome. Watch this TED talk if you want to know how to become awesome at anything.

Now that the clocks have rolled forward and the snow is melting and there’s an Easter lily on my windowsill and a fruity beer six inches from my hand, I can admit that I used to have a problem and now I don’t. Winter 2015 brought me, like many Canadians, seasonal affective disorder. It was often a time of emotional vulnerability and low energy – there was unexplained crying, unexplained plummeting self esteem, unexplained eating caramel popcorn in the bathtub (love the bathtub references in this song by the way). A lot of things unexplained. And negative. But thanks to improved lighting and daily Vitamin D drops, all this is in the past.

Now, it’s officially spring and I am the proud owner of a recently procured white spring coat and several pairs of stylish sunglasses. I’m applying daily face moisturizer and it isn’t even a chore. Life has improved immensely. Things are warming up.

Just having returned from a week in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico doesn’t hurt either. With all the lazy indulgent rest and relaxation that implies. But even a week in paradise reminded me that changing seasons are a miracle. All of Toronto is breathing a sigh of relief together these last few weeks. We are members of a cult – its leader – COLD – sucked us in and brainwashed us back in November and we walked around, reluctant zombies for months, not taking care of ourselves like we should, not growing with the help of the sun. And now we are snapping out of hypnosis, all wide eyed awe, and wobbling on the edge of something we know is beautiful. Is summer in Toronto idealized? Yes of course. It is also a time of joy, sunburns, outside tennis and park picnics that secretly involve wine. And brunches, lunches, dinners and drinks all on packed patios with quirky furniture and twinkly lighting cobbled together under the big beautiful sky. All while wearing sunglasses. And boat shoes, sockless. Or long skirts and flip flops. All while enjoying a perceived freedom reminiscent of adolescence.

Things are warming up and it feels like a new start. Be awesome! Wear sunglasses! Happy spring!

Detachment

Finally, I’m starting to read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. The best part is that my book club is too. We are taking a spiritual journey together. So far I’ve read the introduction, which is worth reading. Tolle has a profound experience in which he eliminates the negative voice in his head and in doing so allows complete positivity to take over his mind. His breakthrough is in recognizing that that he has more than one voice in his head – and that the real, True Self voice is completely positive.

Can you imagine having a single, positive voice in your head?

This single positive voice gives us freedom to finally detach, silencing the endless chatter inside our heads.

A lot of my head chatter comes from observing life in action. At a conference earlier this week, I was listening to a panel talk about paying people for performance. Compensation professionals talk about that a lot. One of the panelists used the expression “motherhood and apple pie” to describe pay for performance. Putting that expression in the compensation context seemed to trivialize motherhood.

Positive mind overcomes negative thought: detachment.

Last night I was out with some girlfriends celebrating a recent engagement. We don’t see each other that often, so it’s special when we do. Before long we were talking about the cost of wedding things – venues, food, drinks, gowns. And having gone through all of this recently, I want to yell at them: don’t spend a fortune because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter! You’ll move on from it so quickly. It can be beautiful without being expensive. It will be more beautiful if it’s less expensive (at least to me). Positive mind overcomes negative thought: detachment.

This morning I watched Oprah’s Master Class – a program which consistently redeems some of Oprah’s bottomless commercialization for me. Successful people share their wisdom for an hour – staring into the camera with nothing but a black wall behind them. It is refreshingly – and shockingly – simple. Today Karen Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg) told a story about treating everyone the same regardless of social position. It made me think of the people gathered near the LCBO on Spadina, falling over with fatigue or probably something way more potent than fatigue, and less legal. I don’t avert my eyes when I see my colleagues at work, but I avert my eyes when I see those people. The unknown can be threatening. Positive mind overcomes negative thought: detachment.

On Friday my day started with a short meditation. Sitting quietly, breathing in and out, hands resting on knees, palms facing up. What a difference. What a beautiful thing. Positive mind: detachment.

A friend at choir told me this about her summer:

“I just puttered. I realize I love puttering. I like to use my hands and cook and clean and fix and build and stain and paint and just putter.”

That was the best thing I heard this week. It was the testimonial of a person who has found joy in her joy, not in her overzealous feminism or her wedding gown or her substance addiction – in her Joy. And when she putters, there is nothing but a single, positive voice in her head.

Positive mind: detachment.

www.meditation.com