I go to sleep by 10 p.m., wake up with the crack of dawn, and love naps. My skirts have elastic bands and I refuse to wear anything that isn’t comfortable. I don’t like to clutter my days with too many activities. For instance if I have a doctors appointment, and I have carpool, I will tell my friend that I can’t meet her for coffee, because my day is filled up. I hate surprises and repeatedly remind my husband never ever to make me a surprise party.
For that matter, I don’t much like regular parties either–for myself or others. I get nervous when something unplanned crops up (I know, I am a mother of four and it happens all the time, but I still don’t like it).
There was a point in college when I tried to be more spontaneous. Staying out late, meeting friends last minute, cramming for midterms. It did not help–I hated that stage. Spontaneity is overrated when you are an old lady at heart.
Then came motherhood. It is hard to be a young/old lady when you have little kids. It does not gel well with the kind of lifestyle that you need to adopt: the sleep deprivation, putting out fires every minute, unending amount of activities, and the endless whirl of birthday parties and playdates. Being an observant Jew made it even a little more complicated: cooking for Shabbat every week and the holidays that seem to come out of nowhere, always.
It was at this time that I had to come to terms with my limitations, and it wasn’t easy. In this fast paced modern world, I was losing steam. I simply could not keep up. Someone suggested that I read Julie Morgenstern’s book, Time Management from the Inside Out.
In one part of this wonderful time management book she asks readers to assess how they work best. She says and I quote:
There are no right and wrong answers. Do you prefer to: Concentrate in short bursts or for long stretches?
Long stretches of course!
Focus on one thing at a time or multitask?
Hello! Hello! One thing at a time.
A busy, fast paced schedule or a slow, easy schedule?
Didn’t I just mention this? Slow, easy schedule!
Predictable plans or spontaneity?
Predictable plans, predictable plans.
Make quick decisions or think things over?
There is nothing quick about me. I need to think things over. I think I could plant seeds in my carpet and grow a garden, where I have worn it through pacing and thinking.
Relaxing alone or with others?
Working with quiet or with noise?
Quiet! Absolute quiet!
Working with your head or working with your hands?
My head! I hate cooking, cleaning, and most forms of crafts.
Morgenstern then entreats her readers to stop fighting who they are and pay attention to their natural rhythms; to use their strengths to schedule their days in a way that supports their personality instead of doing the stuff that works against it.
Well, I was finally was being validated. Being a young/old lady wasn’t so bad when you look at it from this perspective. I was finally able to recognize my quirks as strengths. But I also realized that everything about raising young kids and being a stay-at-home mom seemed to work against my natural strengths, my personality. It just seemed to highlight all my weaknesses.
So it was in one of those rare quiet moments when the question that came to me was how could I use my old lady-ness–I mean my strengths–to be a good mom?
I started to do a bit of soul searching (something that I am very good at; a strength!). I realized that nap times or quiet time for the older kids could be more strictly enforced to help me get the quiet I need. Bedtimes needed to be sacred and routines needed to be set. Babysitters needed be hired so I could shop by myself. Keeping the playdates at a minimum and utilizing our backyard instead of going to the park could keep the running around at bay. Elaborate art projects like paper mache should be nixed in favor of projects that used markers, glue, paper, and scissors. Complicated recipes in my cookbooks needed to be relegated to the back of the pantry. Simple dinners and making double batches of cakes and kugels and soup would keep the cooking under control.
Operation “I am a young Mom but I feel like an old lady” was launched with some great results. The changes did not happen overnight but nothing ever does, not with kids at least, but I was happier and calmer and so was my family.
I still have to say that four years ago, when I put my youngest child on the bus to kindergarten, I was filled with joy. She would be gone a whole day and I would not have to labor so hard to find ways to work with my strengths. Between the hours of 8 and 3, I could embrace my inner old lady once again.