I was recently interviewed by the SortaAwesome podcast about making time for your passion. The host, Megan, asked me how I make everything happen in a day, and I gave her a philosophical answer rather than a practical one. Because the truth is, nobody can or should duplicate my days or my life. It’s far more important that you understand the “why,” rather than how one single person does it. And yet, I can’t help but offer a few specific practicalities and more navel-gazing, just because…
I view my life and my roles in terms of “hats.” Unless you are Kate Middleton, hats are borderline “too much” on a good day. But wearing more than one at a time? Utterly ridiculous.
In the same way, I can’t do more than one thing well at a time. I can multi-task, sure, but it doesn’t mean I should. Because so many of my everyday jobs require full-time attention, I can’t make hard and fast rules about exactly how many hours a day I will wear which hat. And every day of our week is slightly different with co-ops, learning therapy, and general chaos. Instead, I give myself permission to move in and out of hats throughout the day, while still recognizing that I can only reasonably wear one hat at a time.
For instance – I wear my “homeschool teacher” hat from 9 to 12 in the morning. That’s when we buckle down and git’er done. We power through the math lessons, memorize Shakespeare, grade all the book work, and fall down the YouTube rabbit trails about past US presidents. I ignore my phone, ignore my to-do list (most of the time – what I’m saying is I TRY), and give my full attention to teaching.
When lunchtime arrives, not everyone is done with school. But my time of hard-core school focus is over. My kids carry on with their independent work and, while I’m available to answer quick questions, my role quickly moves into “homework supervisor,” not necessarily Teacher and Instructor. This means I can quit worrying about whether or not I understand the math lesson of the day and can switch my focus to some of my other jobs.
*Files mortar board up on the shelf until the next day.*
(On co-op days, picture me in a page boy cap, chauffeuring my little charges and demanding bigger tips.)
After lunch, I dole out some mom instructions and then we all buckle down to our independent work. I have independent work, too. This looks different depending on which project I’m currently embroiled in. Sometimes I don my online teacher hat (which looks a lot like a fairy godmother hat with a magic wand) and plow through some Brave Writer work or plan my co-op classes.
Other times, I’ve got my Regency bonnet tied under my chin and I’m flying through edits on my historical fiction.
Rest assured, I only write blog posts in a smoking jacket and fedora, so I don’t look ridiculous at all while typing this.
At the end of the afternoon, I’m in full-on chef and mom mode, pulling together dinner, supervising the last of the homework, admiring Lego creations, switching over laundry, hunting down that suspicious smell in the pantry, and pulling all the people and threads together from our day to join together over dinner and conversation.
Once the dinner time crush is over, sometimes I pull out another hat and get more work done, and other times I’m content to cram all the hats into the far reaches of my closet and rest my weary brain with a book or some Netflix.
Now here’s the important part: Mothering isn’t a hat. Neither is wife-ing. (It’s my blog, I can make it a word if I want to.) My people? They are my heart, the beat of my drum, thudding away all day long, all night. The interruptions are ever present, they thump-thump with alarming regularity. And that is as it should be. Hats fade in and out of style, but my people and my relationship with them are the most important. If any one hat gets too weighty, too onerous to wear, then we have to trim it or retire it. End of discussion.
I don’t get to unzip the Mom role or shimmy out of the Wife title. I wear them like a second skin. So when the interruptions come, which they will, I try to remember the difference between that which can be removed -a hat of questionable fashion- and that which makes up my whole. And then, with some prayer and some Jesus help, I choose to say yes, to take a deep breath and find the missing shoe, to kiss the scrape, and break up the fight. I do the Relationship first and always.
The rest is just headgear, y’all.
Like any normal middle schooler, my daughter is searching for her identity. And, maybe because she’s in the middle of a passel of kids, she finds identity in what she can claim. “Mine” is hard to come by with six siblings. But “mine” is what she wants to define her.
Currently, she defines herself as a “pet girl.” She wants something to nurture that doesn’t talk back. So she’s been saving for a dog. She’s spent hours googling non-shedding dogs, setting her heart on a mini-golden doodle that could live inside. And this particular kid – if she sets her mind to something, she can do it. She requested “big jobs” and I gave them to her. She alphabetized my pantry and cleaned out a room in our basement. She knew it would take patience and saving up all of her Christmas and birthday money, but she was determined.
A few days later, we all got a little Christmas money from a beloved relative. I collected everyone’s envelopes and put them in my purse. It had been a particularly trying week for us: several injuries (one that landed my husband in the ER), exploding appliances, and one very large pay cut had that wrinkle in my forehead pinched tight.
I sat in church with my little ducklings by my side and tried to breathe deeply and trust – to remember Who is faithful… always. Because it was December, the church was presenting examples of how they use our global offering to help meet needs and spread the gospel around the world. I don’t even remember the story they told, I was crunching our budget in my mind. I knew we’d give to the fund later in the month, once we’d figured out our new financial situation.
As soon as the music started and anyone who wanted to give was invited to drop their offering in a basket up front, my daughter shoved her way down the aisle to me. With an urgency in her voice and a set to her chin, she whispered, “Can I have my Christmas money? Please?”
I bent down and pulled the envelope with her name on it from my purse. She tore it open and dashed out of our row and down the aisle. She pushed that money – intended for her dog fund – into the basket and was back in a jiffy, while I stood with my mouth open and tears streaming down my face.
To her, a dog meant identity – something that was hers. But when faced with the idea of proclaiming the gospel, of helping others in the name of Jesus, she gave freely and, yes, even recklessly. She set aside the idea of “mine” and the hoped for dog – I know this kid, I know she counted the cost in those few tiny seconds – and she gave to Christ. I saw her little heart learning to love Him, growing and changing, in spite of her human desire for “mine.”
I knew she’d go home and google puppies, but she wouldn’t regret her decision or ask for her money back. I knew that this didn’t end the dream for her, but she was willing to postpone it for the sake of Jesus. Meanwhile, I clutched my dollars, quietly fearful, afraid of want, afraid of the future… utterly humbled by this kid in single digits of life, loving Jesus with reckless abandon and selflessness. I said I was clinging to His faithfulness to see us through, but I was also clutching my wallet tightly.
Later, during the sermon, our pastor reminded us: Jesus doesn’t want piles of money, or piles of animals sacrificed in His name. He’s always only wanted our hearts. Our love. Our trust. Our faith.
Now let me tell you the rest of the story…
Two days later, a sweet little dog showed up in our driveway. A stray, outdoor dog, not at all shed-free. But our current dog tolerated her, a first, and she made nice with my daughter immediately. We were going out of town, so we prepared her for the possibility that this little pup would move on when we didn’t come home. But four days later, when our van pulled back into the driveway, New Dog was still there.
We had a nice long talk about how this wasn’t the dog she wanted – “I know, but an indoor dog wasn’t really a good fit for our family – I could never be gone for long!,” and that a dog was still a responsibility, “I’ll keep working and I’ll pay for everything, but look how much I saved not having to buy the dog!,” and we even covered the idea that, while this dog certainly made a great story, it was not a guarantee that every time she gave money away, the sky would rain puppies. Despite appearances. 😉
God is not a vending machine. But, as I look at her curled up contentedly with New Dog, I know that He is good. He is kind. And He loves my little girl’s heart that is growing and changing to be more like Him. And He loves me, too, despite my wallet-clutching ways, and His plans for me are good, too.
I hope I can be more like her – and Him – when I grow up.