Monday, March 31, 2014

A lot to do, a bit at a time

I've been busy spackling, purging closets and assessing ceilings to see what needs to be done before putting the apartment on the market. In a way this is stress-relieving: I've long had this cool idea for a vacation that involves sending everyone else away and hiring a dumpster. This is not because I'm a neat-freak, but because we  live in an apartment. There's no attic, no basement, no garage. Everything we own we live with, intimately. It is a relief to live with less.

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I used to hate household chores. I'm still not fond of them, but I've made significant progress from my days as a single working woman, when I loathed doing laundry so much that I would buy extra underwear rather than waste a Saturday morning at the laundromat. The buy-more-undies attitude doesn't work when you have five kids.

I've long aspired to look at housework in the way I look at brushing my teeth: something I don't necessarily like, but can do without anguish or rancor because, well, it just needs to be done. One mindshift that's helped has been to think of chores as filler, rather as a separate (and hence onerous) list of things to do.

Honestly, this did not come about as a stroke of genius, but in a surge of desperation. (This is true for most of my ideas.) As I had to cram more and more (paid) writing into my day, I had less and less time to tend to the house. I found that whenever I came up against a mental logjam while writing, if I took a 10-minute break and tossed in a load of laundry (or wiped down the toilet and sink, vacuumed the living room carpet, etc), two good things happened. The first was that the physical labor cleared my mind so I could return to writing productively. The second was that things got done that needed doing.

The advantage of having formed this habit is that now when I get overwhelmed by the thought of moving, I can deal with the feeling effectively by plastering a crack in a wall. It's gratifying to transform stress into progress.

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Still, moving is stressful. No one here wants to go, and I find myself in the position of having to drive the troops forward, relentlessly. I do not like having to do this, but I am intent on keeping things (and people) on track. Perhaps I am also finally old enough to be (mostly) past getting annoyed about having to do things I don't want to do.

My heart bleeds at odd moments. I cauterize the wounds by doing productive things. Do more, think less, I command myself. Focus on what needs to be done. There will be time to grieve later.

I used to say that one reason God made days 24 hours long was so that there would always be a 2 a.m. in which mothers could cry. For the next month or two I will be too tired to be awake then.

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I am just entering the busy period of the spring. I am editing eight masters' theses and a PhD thesis proposal in the next six weeks, writing a quarterly newsletter, and doing my usual monthly and weekly projects. There's also Eldest's college graduation to think about, then Big Guy's high school commencement. Did I mention we're moving? Homeschooling? Eating?

Make it smaller, I tell myself. Look at just a little bit at a time. You can do this. You will do this. 

And then, as my inner child starts to whine that it's hard, too hard, and I don't wanna, I get out the putty knife and spackle, and fix another crack in the 1933-era wall. It's the nice thing about cracks: you can only fix one at a time. And when you've fixed one, things actually do look a bit better.


  1. My heart aches for your family and you. Your sharing of both the ups and downs of real life remind me, as one of your faithful readers, that I am not alone in my day-to-day struggles. Please know that you are often prayed for and are indeed a true inspiration to countless numbers of us. Thank you for the wisdom you impart, Julia.

  2. I truly and selfishly wish that you had more time and energy to write something everyday since I so enjoy your blogs. You are a true inspiration to me and so many others. Your plate is filled to capacity, but I have no doubt that I will read about your handling of it all as the weeks/ months go by. Best wishes in everything. Your faith , courage, and tremendous strength will get you through it all!!

  3. Just wanted to say that I think you are a very talented writer and an amazing person. I find the way you write about the difficulties of life in general and parenting in particular to be so honest and insightful and I really look forward to reading you.

    I hope this phase goes as well as it can. I can't say I'll keep you in my prayers as I'm an atheist (sorry!) but I really will keep you in my thoughts.

  4. Julia, I love your blog, just discovered it this morning after reading Daily Guidepost. It truly amazes me how you accomplish so much while taking care of your family, home schooling, writing and the many other things you do. I can't imagine how you do all this living in a big city with out driving. My husband and I live in Round Rock, TX, just outside of Austin and think we've got traffic, guess we really don't know what traffic is until being in New York.
    Wishing you and family the best and looking forward to following your blog.
    Irene Shooter