This summer has gone by in a flash. A flurry of activity. Our lives have changed and forward progress has been made. A new normal is beginning to set in; a way of life that feels brand new and yet simultaneously familiar, like maybe this is where we were meant to end up all along.

We are a two income household and parents of a high school sophomore (w.t.f.). We are on the fast track to bigger and brighter, though right now feels awfully successful, too. Working in the trenches of healthcare has renewed my fervor to finish school. As a result, I have made the commitment to apply to grad school this coming April. Should I get in on the first cycle, our family will have to make some adjustments. But if history has taught us anything, it's that this clan can make things work. In the meantime, I have to focus on writing a stellar essay, taking the GREs (eep) and fulfilling all those little requirements that can sneak up and bog you down once that pesky application deadline approaches.

I'm going to have to be disciplined in the coming months, a quality that doesn't come naturally to me. As a family, we are making great strides: a chart dividing up the weekly household chores; a new tear-away calendar on the fridge, color-coded to list all of our various activities...even a plant watering schedule. I am more on top of things than I can ever remember, which makes me feel optimistic about things like establishing a weekly GRE study session, long-term meal planning, and, well, making it all work. Have you ever noticed that having less free time makes you more productive? It's a phenomenon I am currently experiencing.

I wax poetic about balance a lot on this site. How everyone talks about it but few truly achieve it. Heading into this new adventure, I had visions of days off spent writing and reading and exploring...preserving the time needed to do the things that fill my bucket. I'm not there yet. (Not even close.) But I'm also not too terribly sad about it. That new blog? It can wait for me instead of the other way around. And this space? It's always here for me when I'm ready to sit down and share my thoughts. (Though I aspire to spend more time 'round these parts.) Right this very moment I'm perched at our neighborhood Starbucks, across the workbench from Kiddo, who is attempting to tackle those last 130 pages of Angela's Ashes, his AP English summer literature assignment.

I steal moments where I can take them and that's just fine. Now is the time to give myself a break, a chance to ease into the changes that are taking place. I'm finally learning how to get off my own back already. My schedule hasn't stabilized, so my days off are inconsistent: one day here, two there, and plenty of weekends spent on the job. Mario's company has a clause that requires spouses to switch to their own insurance if it is offered by their employer. Which has meant devoting nearly every day off this month to health-related appointments before the September 1st switchover. The perk is that I can get contacts and glasses in one year, but the siren's call of the couch + Netflix must regularly be resisted. I'm busy, but good busy; busy in a way that my time feels well spent.

The boys have settled back into life at home after eight weeks away, and I've (re)acclimated to living with my messier counterparts. I've been making up for lost time by way of mother-son days spent eating Portland's cuisine, plant shopping, and painting pottery. (Also: his first pair of glasses, freshly shorn hair, new t-shirts, and scuff-free Chucks.) Yesterday we picked up his school schedule (I got a spot in Graphic Design!) and shopped for shiny new pens and crisp college-lined notebooks. We slurped ramen noodles and he painted a hedgehog with the utmost attention to detail. I made sure we dated the bottom of our creations in an effort to preserve the really beautiful moments we share. I never want to take them for granted. I'm still cool enough to spend an entire day about town with him, and I'm not letting a second of that go unnoticed because I was scrolling through Instagram when I should have been asking him about his life, loves and dreams for the future. I want to be able to look back on these days with some clarity, because boy is parenthood fleeting.

If being "well-rounded" is synonymous with a healthy individual, Kiddo is, well, rounding. Months of chores on the ranch, driving lessons in the wheat field, and boat rides on the lake have smoothed his edges. (Lessons learned during a bumpy freshman year probably had something to do with it as well.) What came home was a more focused, less fastidious version of the boy I know and love so well. His blossoming maturity, combined with a newly working mom, will force him to take on more responsibility when it comes to his schooling. I've been holding my breath for years, waiting for the day when my apprehension about his lack of focus would subside. When he'd find that fire in his belly that drives him to succeed without constant cajoling. I think we're getting there. (Boys, I tell you.)

On the work front, all is well. Better than good, actually. My preceptor was on vacation the last couple weeks, which put me squarely in the trenches...solo. After ten years spent out of the workforce, I knew I'd have to shake off some cobwebs. But my inner perfectionist rears her head once in a while and, after being unable to hit a vein two patients in a row, I began to wonder if I'd lost my touch. (Maybe I'd never had it?!) I had a brief but acute existential crisis before putting on my big girl scrubs and going back the next day. Of course I quickly found my groove, and all my worries were cast aside. Earlier this week I got a totally unexpected fist bump and "Great job today!" from a trauma surgeon I'd only just met and thought Hey, I've got this. I've only been at this position for six weeks, but I've acclimated quite beautifully...I certainly found my calling in medicine all those years ago. Thank goodness I didn't let go of the dream.

Goals for September:

Establish schedules for school days, studying, etc.
Get organized. (Master those paper piles!)
Exercise. (More.)
Meal plan like a boss.
Write about something. Anything. Just write.
Find and preserve regular alone time.
Keep up on my reading goals.
Date that sexy bearded fellow of mine. (And make it a regular thing.)

These days. (More of the same.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

 First touch-up since February. Blonde(r) hair, don't care.
 Lunch planning. (Pyrex for the win.)
Kiddo's new cactus shelf built by yours truly. (Now I have room for more, Mom!)
Watering schedule established.
Working some color into my uniform. (515 by New Balance)
Dream houses. (Been dreaming of our dream house a lot lately.)
Costco made me buy them. 
 (Container) garden. (First crop!)
Six hours at the dentist meant finally finishing this book. (Read it.)
Am I the oldest person alive still wearing an orthodontic retainer at night? (Until last week, I'd been wearing the glow-in-the-dark wire retainer I got when I had my braces removed 19 years ago.)
Work day breakfast.
 Day off breakfast.
It's a rough life.


These sandals (on order),
one pair of flip-flops,
and my classic Birks are all the warm weather footwear I now own.
(Others didn't make the cut.)

Marriage in real life.
(Celebrating 9 years + 2 months sans family has been cause for reflection.)

Not just for the elderly.
(10-hour shifts have been killing my feet. These have helped so much.)

The floral tonic to end all floral tonics.
(My face glows.)

The best cat toys we've ever purchased.
(Watching Vista play with them is more entertaining than Prime Time.)


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

After nine long weeks, the boys are heading home this weekend. I haven't seen them since July 6th, and although there have been Skype dates and iPhone photos exchanged, it's not the same. I've forgotten what it's like to get wrapped up in one of Mario's bear hugs (he hugs all of me and I feel so loved in those moments) or Kiddo's pecks on the cheek followed by his trademark "I luuuurrrv you, Mom".

Friday marks a whole month at The Job, and by month's end I'll be out of my 45-day probationary period, which means they have to keep me. And despite being out of the workforce for the better part of a decade, employment suits me. I like having something to anchor my day to; a purpose outside of the home. I won't lie: it's going to get tough. I've not had a family to contend with and schedules to coordinate since June. My wants and needs have come first. Boy, did I need that. I've been needing a break like this for, well, ever. My life has been defined by my roles and for once, it was about me. For much of my life I would have felt too guilty and selfish to take all this time to myself, but I've evolved emotionally and come realize I make a miserable martyr and it's time to stop saying yes to everyone else and no to myself so darn much.

Truth be told, I love being alone. Like, really love it. Solitude suits me. But I have come to understand that, contrary to my nature, I love having those boys in my life so much more. They are the yin to my yang and living proof that I've done good things on this earth. Mothering that boy and marrying that man are my greatest accomplishments. I appreciate some regular alone time, but I don't ever want to live life without them by my side. So while this was an awesome opportunity to get acclimated to full time employment and center my chi, it was always in preparation for making our lives together that much better.

For the first time since graduating (two years ago!?!), I feel like the future is within my grasp. Enduring that lengthy, ego-crushing job search caused me to falter for a bit. I began to negotiate for something less than I deserved (and wanted). It took time, but I absolutely scored the best job for where I'm at and what I need to take the next step. For the first time in ages, I have a pretty good timeline for taking the GREs (and studying for them), getting my application in tip-top shape, and applying to grad school. I even have a Plan B should I not make it in the first cycle. I'm not wringing my hands and fretting and trying to figure out what else could make me happy-ish. Because there is no need. As always, things are falling into place on their own time.

Life alone has been interesting. I go through spurts of keeping the house spotless and then failing to empty the dishwasher for five days. Late last week I mustered up enough energy after a 10-hour shift to make ground taco meat and microwave a can of refried beans, then proceeded to eat nachos for dinner every night for four days. After a hankering for Chinese, I picked up takeout after work and have had it for lunch and dinner the last four days (not including breakfast this morning whereby I polished off the General Tso's Chicken). I've managed to brown bag it every shift I've worked, a fact of which I'm quite proud, though more often than not it's nothing fancier than a simple sandwich, baby carrots and some Triscuits. An organizational and healthy eating victory nonetheless. (Our breaks are short so my only other option is the dreaded hospital cafeteria.) My plant collection grew quite a bit this summer, and I genuinely enjoyed conducting a first of the month cactus and succulent soaking. I decided to plant a container garden on the back porch with tomatoes, peppers, chives and basil, and have come to cherish the moments spent each night barefoot with a watering can tending to them. I think, more than anything, I crave the simplicity of these last couple months. Marriage and motherhood require compromise, of course, but the lack of bickering and cajoling (Put on your pants! Let's GO already!) is so lovely. Single life, though occasionally lonely, has been rather tranquil. I'm not sure I knew what that felt like before now.

There are many things that can be done to make a family unit run more smoothly. Meal planning, schedules on the fridge, budgeting, sitting down to family dinner sans electronics, standing date nights ... just a few of the plethora of tactics one can employ when aspiring toward a more organized (family) life. But inevitably there are squabbles and pushed buttons and Do your homework!s and Husbands who thrash in their sleep when work is stressful. So how does one go about tempering these frustrations when aiming to create a more zen home? How can you prevent a coveted week day off from being invaded by errands and orthodontist appointments and bill paying? Is it even possible?

A popular trend among members of the blogosphere is to choose a word for the year. I've never actually declared a word, it's simply not my thing, but as I write this I realize the word Balance has dominated my thoughts and intentions a lot over the past few years. You see, in order to fill my bucket, I always thought my life should be divided into three equally important and distinct sections: Wifehood, Motherhood, and Careerhood. I really struggle to figure out how to give each part of my life the individual attention it needs to thrive without sacrificing the success of another.

I've come to realize that, for the better part of my adult life, I have been grossly overlooking perhaps the most important facet of all: Me. The Sarah sans husband, son and career; the woman with hopes and dreams of her very own. The Sarah that likes to camp out in the corner of a coffee shop and write. The Sarah that likes to tend to plant life and watch documentaries about the ocean and its occupants. The Sarah that wants sushi when she wants sushi and can't be talked out of it. The Sarah that doesn't want to spend yet another Friday night watching things that originated from a comic book character. The Sarah that occasionally sacrifices a whole day to lay on the couch in her pajamas with raging bedhead but doesn't want anyone to know about it.

If trying to balance three life-fulfilling aspects of a person is hard, surely four must be nearly impossible, right? I hope not. Unfortunately, I'm not a person who feels settled so readily, and as such it is my lot in life to have several balls in the air. A balancing act brought on by my fastidious nature. It sounds like a lot, trying to do it all (Hollywood has taught us this doesn't end well), but I've learned the hard way that neglecting one or more of these roles, or letting the balance shift for extended periods (see my many posts contemplating the 10+ years spent chasing Mario's career goals) leads to a domino effect of malaise.

I'm in a really good place. The best in my life thus far. A year later, I'm still enchanted by the Pacific Northwest. I'm challenged by my job, sometimes terrified by it, but I love it just the same. I'm learning so much about the world of healthcare, and myself in the process. Kiddo is settled into school and Husband into his position at work. I'm on the brink of getting everything I have ever wanted, while living with the assurance that I can achieve every single thing I set my mind to. The proof is in the pudding. (Job perk: hospitals have the best chocolate pudding.) I have this rare and wonderful husband who cares as much about my happiness as he does his own. That glorious kid I gave birth to all those years ago? He's a beautiful amalgam of wit and charm and brilliance. He has the face of an angel and a heart of gold. He's a pain in the ass, but he's my pain in the ass, and I wouldn't sacrifice a single second spent being his mom.

At the end of the day, I do like flying solo. I'm perfectly content to try that new noodle restaurant and eat alone perched at the counter. I enjoy wandering through antique stores and undiscovered neighborhoods whenever I feel like it. But when twilight falls, I want to kiss Kiddo's sleeping forehead and watch a pre-bedtime crime drama curled up on the couch with that spectacular man of mine. Their mere existence makes life exponentially better.

It has been a looong road, but I've learned that you CAN have it all, if you want it bad enough.

I do.

Striking a balance.

Friday, August 14, 2015