Friday, December 6, 2013

The Having It All Project: Phyllis Myung

Phyllis has what has to be one of my favorite blog titles out there: The Napkin Hoarder. I'd first heard about her after she appeared in the Providence version of Listen To Your Mother last year, and I've so enjoyed getting to know her as we co-produce this year's Boston show. Here's how Phyllis is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
Hmmmm… My life, right now, feels like one big stride and that I’ve hit a nice little groove or flow despite how crazy it can be at times. I’m a Boston transplant that hails from Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia (woo hoo Bryn Mawr College!), and Manhattan. My husband was a former Canadian that grew up in the way out there suburbs of New York (anyone heard of Rockland County?). Together, we created a mini-me who is now 4 years old and can claim the birthright of Boston, therefore the right to have the Boston Red Sox as her home team.

I was a stay-at-home mom until my daughter was about 20 months old. My background is in education, but I've had the chance to do things not necessarily related to teaching. Most recently, I run the Toddler Program at Mama & Me in Jamaica Plain, do some social media consulting on the side, hoard napkins, and blog at The Napkin Hoarder. I also have signed on to be a co-producer for the first Listen To Your Mother Show in Boston with two other amazing women – Cheryl Stober (editor's note: hey, I think I know her!) and Jessica Severson.

I think there are a few things that make my life unique. I’m a child of immigrant parents, but since I was born in the States and grew up here, I have this interesting mix that both my husband and I are passing on to our daughter and we are trying to figure it out as we go along. Another thing that makes my life unique is that I have been able to build a community in Boston that is my family since I live across the country from my blood-related family. I think it’s rare to find a group of friends that you could call family and rely upon like close family. It’s also so great because we all have kids that are just months apart in age. I love being able to raise all our kids together – it’s like my daughter has a whole bunch of siblings!

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
Here are my top-secret tips for staying sane in the midst of the chaos:

1. Try to prep things the night before. I always thought my mom was silly for suggesting that I pick out my clothes for tomorrow the night before. As I’ve gotten older, I see the wisdom in that advice. I try to do that for myself and for my daughter. I usually end up picking out two outfits that she can choose from since she is a little fashionista. I also try to pack bags/backpacks and lunches the night before. It helps me to have those few moments in the morning when we are always rushing out the door!

2. Lists are friends. When I was in high school, I had a hard time remembering my friend’s phone numbers. My remedy was to have a little notebook with them all written down. I’ve never been good about remembering things in my head and now, with a million things going on in my head, my memory has gotten even worse. Lists help me to make sure that I haven’t forgotten anything and it also gives me a sense of accomplishment when I can check it off. I usually keep a running list on my fridge for grocery items too so that I can just add it when I finish up things like the milk or eggs.

3. Make space to have some down time or "me" time. It might be having a cup of tea, getting a pedicure, or even something as simple as taking a short walk. For me, my special time is early Saturday morning around 8 am. I even run some errands around that time at Target and it is heaven. Everything is neat and orderly in addition to it not being crowded. It's my special place. I also recently found a salon that opens at 8 am for hair cuts! That's my second special place. It helps me to recollect myself and gives me a chance to breathe.

4. Give yourself lots of grace. Sometimes, the universe just goes awry and there isn't much you can do about it. It may feel like it was because you weren't prepared or because of something you did, but at the end of the day, you have to give yourself grace in the chaos. We beat ourselves up so much and tend to be extra hard, so we could use some loving on ourselves as busy women. Oh, and don't be sorry about it.

5. What's your family vision or where do you see yourself headed as a family? What are your aspirations or goals for your children? For my husband and I, we want our daughter to grow up as a kind, generous, inclusive, and happy person. We talked about what we thought that would look like and then made our decisions about her schooling, activities, and so forth with those goals in mind. Whenever things get crazy, we try to think about where we want to be as a family and the kind of family that we want to be. It really helps us to say yes or no to activities, events, pressures, etc. without thinking too much about it.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.

When my daughter was about 18 months old, I pretty much lost it. I found myself being really frustrated and hating being a mom. I also found myself walking the edge of depression and taking it out a lot on my husband. I thought to myself, "This can't be it. There must be more to my life than this. I cannot continue on this path." I felt like a complete loser because I was a stay-at-home mom and didn't feel like I was contributing to my family or to the society at large. One of the first things that I did was enroll my daughter in a toddler drop off program where I could get a few hours to myself each week. It helped me to find myself again and also gave me time to look for a part time job. Luckily, I found a fantastic part time job with an awesome mentor and boss. The next thing I did was I went and got a pedicure and a haircut. After that, I went out with my friends for a much needed girls' night out. For me, these things signified self-care and made me feel so much better as a woman. It also gave me some time to be away and let my husband take care of our daughter and whatever needed to get done at home. Finally, I decided to let go of some control. I'm a bit of a control freak, so this was hard and super theoretical, but I sat down and listed out a few ways that I could practically and tangibly let go. I also ended up reading this book about being a missional mom which really helped me to put my faith, my identity, and my present circumstances in a life-changing perspective.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?

Hmmmmm... I don't have one particular balance role model, but I probably end up looking to many different women - from friends and my own mom as well as Michelle Obama. I try to take little bits of wisdom from all different women and then mash it into something that works for my family and me. One thing that I do try to avoid, though, is comparing myself to others. Everyone is different and runs differently with varying capacities. What works for one woman, may not work for another. We just need to be there to support one another and help one another figure out this whole balancing act.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?

Wow, I was so naive and immature at the age of 18! I thought I would have at least three children and be a lady who lunched, but then would later become the President of the United States when I was really old at the age of 35. HA! I currently only have one child, but have lived the life of a lady who lunched (albeit briefly) and I have no plans for a presidential campaign at the moment. I no longer think that 35 is old, but that it's the new 25. I also thought I would be well established in a career, but have realized that people evolve and can have several careers throughout their lifespan. I would like to think that my 18 year old self would be proud of who I am today and also quite happy with where I ended up!

Relate to what Phyllis 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

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