one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams

Oceans of Time

Over breakfast recently with an editor, I marveled at all the books he has read lately, and the fact that he manages to moonlight with freelance work on top of his already packed schedule as a full-time magazine word man. “You have time to do that?” I asked. But then I quickly realized why. “Oh, that’s right,” I said. “You don’t have kids. You have oceans of time!”

Right there, I caught myself perpetuating one of parenting’s great doomsayer dictums: There’s not enough time.

But what does this mean, really? Is time a commodity? An excuse? We speak of being short on time, of wasting time. We are greedy for time. Especially if we have any creative ambitions, goals, or dreams.

Sometimes I’m jealous of my former self who loafed on a weekday morning, took long walks with her husband, worked in pajamas, and pored over the Sunday New York Times. Yet even before I had kids pulling at my skirt hems, I felt time-starved. And I think my childless friends often feel it too. Time is just one of those things, like chocolate, ice cream, or unconditional love. There can never be too much of it.

The truth is that when we really need time, it’s there. I needed to get corporate gifts for my clients on Monday, so I spent practically an entire blessed morning in my favorite sweets shop, putting the baskets together. Every Thursday (tonight included) I manage to get out and teach a yoga class in town. And despite all odds in our hectic house, when our stomachs growl, dinner usually gets made.

Time, or the lack of it, can’t be an excuse anymore. If I want to accomplish my goals for the year ahead I will have to, like my wise friend the creative coach, yogi, and writer extraordinaire Jeffrey Davis says, “show up and shape time.” (All you creatives out there: Check out Jeff’s fantastic website and blogs via his portal. It’s totally inspiring.) I know that Michael will help me, as I will help him, open up windows of time to do all the wild and wide-eyed things we have planned for our 2011 year of adventure.

So I need to reframe my ideas about the clock. I need to move from having a poverty mentality about time to having the feeling that there really are, even for mama me, oceans of time.

Are you in a time quandary? I would love to hear about how you wrestle or dance with this elusive, shadowy partner we call time.

Thank God It’s Monday

Michael's deskBefore we had kids, we looked forward to the weekend, along with the rest of the working world, it seems. “Thank God It’s Friday” was our mantra as much as anyone else’s.

It’s different now. Now it’s the work week we look forward to. It has taken us practically the whole five years we’ve been parents to finally stop expecting to relax, unwind, let go of the cares of work on the weekend. It’s parenting that’s the more demanding of our jobs, and parenting is pretty much all we do on the weekend

Handling last minute work assignments? Scrambling to answer queries as a magazine goes to press? Juggling three or four jobs at once? Piece of cake compared to chasing a sticky-fingered toddler around with a wet washcloth, mediating sibling conflicts, fishing poop bombs out of the bathtub, flying to the scene of some crisis or another at least two or three times a day….

Work is our sanctuary, our refuge. It’s a place where things stay where you put them down. It’s a place where the eye isn’t continually snagged by distracting clutter, where one can walk, head up, without fear of  twisting an ankle on an unseen piece of colorful plastic garbage, where one can follow a train of thought from start to finish, and wonder, of wonders, start another one! There are so many simple pleasures to be had in sitting at a clean desk, blank slate for the work of the mind.

It’s the routine of the week that makes it all possible. During the week, we all have jobs to do—kids go to school or friend’s house, Mamma and Daddy go to the office. Play dates, lunches, ballet class—it’s hectic, to be sure, but we all get what we need, most of the time, and somehow, the work of running a household and paying the bills gets done.

Friday brings a sense of dread. That’s when I’ve learned to look forward, already, to Monday. Because I know that, chances are, all the balls I’ve been juggling during the week are going to come crashing down. Someone’s going to have a bordom-induced tantrum. Someone’s going to have enough of little people tugging on their pant legs asking for something to do and blow their top. Someone needs to be entertained. All. The. Time. Someone thinks not too much of just relaxing and doing nothing.

A routine for the weekend is what we need. Something for all of us to enjoy doing together. And something for each of us parents to enjoy doing (or not doing) separately. We’ve been floating the idea of a weekly brunch out. Seems like a good place to start.

Any of you parents out there have a good weekend routine? What gets you through the weekend, anyway?

Rhythm Quest

Do Re MiMaybe it’s because I live in Woodstock, famous for the ’69 music fest. Or maybe it’s because my five-year-old has watched The Sound of Music about 25 times now, and I can’t get the alpine image of a strumming Julie Andrews out of my mind. But over the past few months I’ve heard this curious and rather insistent little whisper in my head: “Learn guitar.”

For me, this is completely out of character. My only prior experience with a musical instrument was with the recorder – a simple wind instrument with which I produced shrill, decidedly unmellifluous sounds, despite the best intentions of my middle-school music teacher.

But this project of ours, this Party of Four “year of adventure,” is about breaking through any rigid, long-held notions of who we really are. It’s about expanding our very idea of ourselves. And so I will listen to all those little whispers of yearning, including this dogged inner urge to find my rhythm.

My first step is to seek out a good guitar teacher (and believe me, Woodstock is swimming with them). I plan on bringing Amelie, my Rogers-and-Hammerstein-singing kindergartener, along with me to a few of the lessons (she already has a lot of enthusiasm and a $30 kids’ guitar, which just needs a little tuning). There is of course the question of just how expensive this musical experiment will turn out to be – but I’ve already offset the cost by borrowing a friend’s guitar (thanks, Kristin!).

I know that I will never be as melodious as the effervescent Ms. Andrews. But that’s fine with me. I have no rock-star ambitions. I simply want more joy in my life and in the lives of my children. I recently heard a yoga guru say “Joy belongs to everyone.” I believe this is true, if we are open to it.

How do you claim joy in your life?

The Plan

Amelie at the Empire State BuildingWendy and I have spent a lot of time thinking about how this yearlong-living-our-dreams thing is going to go down. We have a couple of obstacles we need to work with, which will define the framework of our project.

  • We don’t have a lot of money, and we have to work for a living as we pursue our project.
  • We have two young kids for whom we share childcare, our youngest without much outside help.

Working within this framework means that sometimes Wendy and I will have to take turns following our dreams. That’s okay; we’re equally committed to helping each other realize our dreams as pursuing our own. In fact we made this idea the centerpiece of our renewed wedding vows. We really believe that you can achieve just about anything you set your mind to within the context of a committed relationship, as long as you’re with a partner who backs you up all the way. One of our aims with this project is to prove it so.

We’re planning to take the month of December mapping out the coming year, 2011, as the project year. Who’s going to do what, when, and where we’re going to get whatever money we need for it.

We’ve broken out what we want to do into these 8 categories:

1. Letting Go. Since we’re not independently wealthy and much of what we want to do takes money, we’re going to have to pare down other aspects of our lives. Interestingly, as soon as we started thinking about this, we realized that paring down was just as much a mental and emotional activity as a financial one.

2. Learning to fly. Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by flying machines. I flew kites and rubberband powered balsa wood airplanes and water propelled rockets, and I loved reading about the exploits of astronauts and pilots. As a journalist, I’ve interviewed many pilots and engineers and astronauts…but never really took seriously the idea that I could join their ranks. Now I’m going to learn to fly myself. The very idea puts a smile on my face and makes my palms just a tiny bit sweaty. A good sign that this is a good dream. It will cost money and time, both in short supply around here. For now.

3. Music. Wendy wants to learn to play guitar. I’ll let her fill you in on this one in a future post.

4. Vision quest. Wendy and I are of a spiritual bent, but don’t belong to any organized religion. The closest I’ve come to being a member of a proper church was when I was regular part of a Native American prayer circle in my native Minnesota. I’ve never felt closer to the divine than when sitting in a sweat lodge in the middle of the night gasping for breath as steam rose from a pile of glowing red rocks in the center. Time to get back to that. This is more of a time commitment than anything, though that’s not insignificant given that these ceremonies often last all night. A challenge given my current early-to-bed-early-to-rise routine.

5. Yoga mamma. Wendy’s a yoga instructor. She wants to spend significant time in the birthplace of yoga, India, to which she has never been. She’s been talking about this one for years. I’m going to help her do it, somehow, while watching the kids and holding down the financial fort.

6. Good friends. Someone said recently that having kids shrinks your world to the size of a teacup. I’ve certainly found that to be true for myself. A big part of that is that I’m out of phase with people who socialize at parties and other venues after work. If you’re in bed by 9 pm and up at 5 to work, you just can’t have much of a social life. Or so I’ve told myself. Time to make some changes, to my attitude, and my schedule.

7. Language. Wendy wants to learn another language. Amelie wants it to be French, because we named her after a character in a French movie. So be it. We’ll all learn together at home, and then travel to French-speaking countries to practice.

8. Love. A friend of mine’s dad took him aside just before his marriage and explained to him that his love life was about to die a slow and painful death. It’s just commonly accepted wisdom that married people stop having sex at some point. First it gets choked to a trickle, then after the kids come along, your gonads fall off. Or something like that. What a bunch of nonsense. More on that later, or as much as Wendy will let me tell.

You’re Invited

Party of 4 drawing Poof! Out of the ether, a blog is born. It is born out of our restlessness, our daydreams, our yearnings, and the toys-on-the-floor chaos of our daily lives.

We are parents raising our two girls in the artsy, ragamuffin town of Woodstock, New York, about two hours north of New York City. As freelance writers with flexible work lives, we go fifty-fifty in just about everything we do. That means equal childcare, equal housekeeping, equal cooking, equal income-earning. Or roughly equal. We are not anal about it.

We enjoy turning some common stereotypes about parenting on their heads—chiefly, the belief that only mothers can be primary nurturers. (Of course, we are not alone in blasting this myth; there is a growing population of fifty-fifty parents out there. See Lisa Belkin’s 2008 New York Times article, “When Mom and Dad Share It All”). But we do feel the burden of some other pretty pervasive stereotypes about family life.

One of these is the assumption that a life of adventure and self-fulfillment is incompatible with a life with kids. The assumption that once you have a child, life “shrinks to the size of a teacup” (see Jennifer Senior’s captivating cover story in the July 4, 2010 issue of New York magazine, “All Joy and No Fun”). Dreams of biking across France and finally learning to play an instrument take a backseat to changing diapers and filling snack cups with Cheerios.

This kind of assumption makes us squirm in our seats. It makes us want to throw some pureed sweet potatoes against the wall. It makes us want to rebel.

So we’ve decided to start a new project. We’re daring each other to spend an entire year living our dreams—or at least taking some significant steps in their direction—no matter what. This blog will chronicle our journey. And we’re hoping it will inspire some other people out there (maybe you) to live bigger, too.

Welcome to our Party of Four.

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