Carol, my longtime Brandeis roommate. For me, it's very special to read the answer to what she thought of herself at 18, since we've been friends since then. When Carol wrote me a letter after finding out we were roommates, she said "Sleep is for dead people, right?" Clearly not much has changed since then. Here's how Carol is having it all.
Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am a Unitarian Universalist minister working for a congregation half-time in Great Barrington, MA, and a full-time Associate Director coordinating Reunion at Amherst College. My husband Tadd is a United Church of Christ minister and serves a congregation full time. We have been married for almost ten years and live in Northampton, MA in a small apartment with three cats and two teenagers. I am thirty-four years old and the step-mother of two kids in college, Abbey and Sam, ages 17 and 19. They did not go to traditional high school, got their GEDs and entered community college early. Sam will be transferring to a 4-year school next year, and Abbey is planning to join the circus in a year or two, for real. They came to live with us full-time in 2009 and I was in charge of the homeschooling process for my step-daughter for two years.
What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
Each day in our house is different, but often the day of the week is the same. For example, Tadd has most Mondays off and I drive Abbey to circus classes on certain days of the week after work. However, as ministers, each week we have different meetings on different nights and have to work to find time together. It is impossible to do anything at the same time every day, but it is possible to find patterns in the chaos. My “weekend” is from 5 p.m. on Friday to noon on Saturday. I try to hold unstructured time for myself on Saturday morning, with no responsibilities, or I get really rebellious and cranky. We also have tried throughout our relationship to have at least one date night a week, even if that date is takeout on the couch with a movie. We check in about the weekly schedule on Sundays and plan for when we are going to see each other. Tadd and I try to exercise together at least 3 days a week for some couple time. We keep separate calendars and communicate about the schedule via email and text so we have the reminders in writing. I live by my Google calendar on my phone, Tadd is a paper guy. When something goes wrong and we need to deal with repair folks or car problems, Tadd is usually able to work from home and take care of it. He also does 99% of the cooking for the family. The system only works because his schedule can be so flexible.
Another factor in managing the chaos has been the educational model we used with our kids. We have trusted in the un-school model of raising our teenagers. We have let them be the guides of their educational interests and activities. They both attended a homeschooling resource center called North Star in Hadley, MA and have chosen very different paths from each other in many ways, but for the moment are both in college at the same school. This model has helped them to be more independent than the average teenager, and has made it possible for Tadd and me to work as much as we do.
Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
A couple of weeks ago, Tadd and the kids all had a stomach flu at the same time. I had to take Sam to the hospital because he is diabetic and needed fluids, so we were up late one night, and then then next the Tadd and Abbey were up sick the whole night. I was on bucket and cold compress duty. I wasn’t really able to sleep, but I meditated in the downtime and that made it possible for me to get through the next day. The next week, when I got the bug, Tadd took his day off to run getting me crackers and ginger ale. We are lucky that we have jobs that allow for sick and personal time and that maintaining spiritual practices are part of our jobs. That said, it is just as easy for us to fall out of the good habits for taking care of ourselves and our spiritual lives as for anyone. I work to carve out time to be attentive to my own spiritual needs and some months am better than others. Most of all I try to remember to hold life a little loosely and luckily everyone in our family is very funny, funnier than me, and that makes all the difference.
Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I was blessed with the opportunity to be in seminary with a group of amazing people, many of whom I am still connected to. I have tried to take the best advice and models from my colleagues, professors, and mentors and carve out a life in ministry that works for me. I am not able to engage in spiritual practices that require me to do the same thing every day, because no two days are the same, but I am able to hold on to practices that help me to do my work. For example, before I lead worship, and throughout the service, when we are in a time of meditation or silence, I have a mantra to keep myself from being nervous that I will say something wrong and to remind myself it is not about me: “not of me, but through me.” Someone taught me that once, and it has really stuck. Also, Tadd and I remind each other when things get bad that G_d can hold our anger. Sometimes it is okay to yell and cry in the car when no one is looking, or even when they are. I try to listen to what I preach for others (minister heal thyself) and take my own advice.
Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
When I was 18 I imagined that I would be a social justice radical in my 20s and 30s. I am radical in my beliefs and committed in justice work, but I have not taken all the chances that I imagined I might. Being responsible for the welfare of elementary aged kids at 23 definitely shaped the trajectory of my young adulthood. I wouldn’t change it for the world, I love my kids and am grateful for the life I lead. I recognize that I am not going to be able to keep up this pace of life forever, and am doing the best I can to be attentive and aware through everything. I never want to wish away a day.
Relate to what Carol is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!