Sunday, March 20, 2016

5 Tips For Surviving A Busy Season In Your Family or Marriage

Most of y'all lovely readers out there know that I'm a tax accountant, which means from about February 1st to March 31st I work 55+ hours a week and from then until April 15th I sell my soul to my employer.   In the olden days this wasn't such a big deal since it was just me and Trent, but now with three chillens in the picture, and a disaster of a tax season last year with only two chillens, we approached this spring with some planning and some fierce determination for it to be a success.  And you know what?  So far so good.  So I decided to impart to y'all some of our strategies we've landed on, in case it could help anyone else out with a busy or challenging season in their family or marriage.

Maybe you're a tax accountant too (may the odds be ever in your favor).  Maybe you're in some type of ministry that has busy stretches, like summer for youth ministers (been there).  Maybe one of your kids is on a select sports team that requires intense devotion, time and travel.  Maybe there's an illness in your family that is pulling certain members away from normal roles in order to provide care.  Whatever the season may be for you and yours, I hope these tips can help out at least a bit.

1. Make a plan
Coming into this tax season, we discussed what my overtime schedule should be, how we should tackle daycare drop off and pick up, under what circumstances we'd call in OmieJean as backup help, who would generally be responsible for different chores, etc.  We set up a routine and we have stuck to it as much as we can and as long as it has worked.  It is not, however, set in stone, but I'll get to that.  You gotta have a plan though to start out.  Discuss expectations and hopes for how the busy time will go.  Allow space for each other to voice concerns or things that are scaring you to death about how this is all gonna go down.  Pinpoint areas of your normal routine that are normally handled by one or the other of you that may get turned on their head because that person simply won't be able to handle those things for a time.  Our main goals for tax seasons are for Trent to not be a single parent for three months and for me to actually see my kids and remain a present parent.  We've made a plan that splits the daycare duties and has me home in the evenings and most of each weekend.

2. Be intentional about date nights and family fun
Our plan involves me going to work at 6:00 am six days a week and Trent getting the kids up, dressed and to daycare by himself.  I pick up the kids from daycare four days a week and we generally have our normal, chaotic, fun evenings at home.  We also try to throw in fun trips to parks and such on weekends.  I work when my kids sleep so that I can see them when they are awake, but then once they are back asleep, I'm soon to follow.  Because my alarm clock begins with a 4...  Then on weekends there are chores to catch up on.  Where in all that am I supposed to hang out with my husband??  We made the decision before this busy season cranked up to put a bi-weekly date night on our schedule.  Our fabulous babysitter, Carlie, has us penciled in every other week and we pay her real dollars to give us a few real hours out.  It's a break, it's a chance to sit still and talk to each other across a restaurant table, a chance to reconnect, a chance to pretend it's not tax season.   Best. Decision. Ever.  Prioritize family relationships and your marriage to the degree you can and you won't regret it.

3. Budget accordingly
Leave it to me to bring dollars into this, but it's a valid point.  When life is out of whack for a busy time, your regular household budget may no longer be accurate for that situation.   For us, we end up eating out a whole lot more than we otherwise would, whether it's quick lunch dates for me and Trent or drive thru trips for the whole family.   I also make more trips to Starbucks than I otherwise do, because of that whole alarm clock beginning with a 4 thing.  Thankfully, my busy time includes overtime pay, which helps with these increased or different expenses, but that may not be the case for everyone.  So take a look at your family budget, think about what could be affected because of this wacky season and adjust accordingly.   While some expenses may increase, like eating out, others may likewise decrease, like leisure activities or entertainment, since you ain't got no stinkin' time for them.

4. Adapt
Just because you made a plan in the beginning doesn't mean you have to stick with it the whole way through.   Have regular check in discussions to make sure things are still working or see if you need to tweak how you are approaching your routine.   Trent and I had a conversation recently in which we asked questions like is this working for you, what are you struggling with, what can I do differently, what do you think we need to do differently overall, should we shift this schedule item, should we prioritize such and such more or less, etc.   In that discussion, we changed some of our plan, mostly because I'm to the point in the season when I need to work even more hours.   I'm gonna shift my arrival time earlier and he's going to handle daycare pickup a few more days a week.  I may pull some second shifts, working more after kids go to bed, and we did indeed have to call in OmieJean recently for backup.  If your busy time stays the same all the way through, it may be more possible for you to stick to the same plan all the way through, but if yours ramps up at the end like mine, you'll need to roll with the punches and adapt.

5. Encourage and acknowledge
This is hugely important.  It is less about logistics and more about attitude and sanity.   If one of you is busting their butt to accomplish the busy season tasks, that means the other is picking up some slack in some way.   Acknowledge that both are working hard to make this work and encourage each other in the roles that you have taken on.  Our busy season abounds with "thank you for handling the kids each morning" and "thank you for working so hard to make our money" and "you're a rockstar dad" and "you're an asskicker CPA" and "thank you for doing the laundry" and "thank you for doing the dishes" and so on and so forth.   This attitude of appreciation and encouragement lightens the whole dang thing up a few notches and make you feel like a valuable part of a team instead of just a slave to this challenging season.

In conclusion, in the words of my mother, the aforementioned OmieJean... Go! Fight! Win!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Dear Kids, Always Stay Humble And Kind

Dear Kids,

Tim McGraw wrote a song for you.   Or I guess he wrote a song that I wish I had written for you.  It encompasses so many things I want to tell you, so many little pieces of wisdom I want you to internalize and live by.  So here, let him tell you...

You know there's a light that glows by the front door
Don't forget the key's under the mat
Childhood stars shine, always stay humble and kind
Go to church 'cause your momma says to
Visit grandpa every chance that you can
It won't be wasted time
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you've got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

Don't expect a free ride from no one
Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why
Bitterness keeps you from flyin'
Always stay humble and kind
Know the difference between sleeping with someone
And sleeping with someone you love
"I love you" ain't no pick up line so
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you've got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

When it's hot, eat a root beer popsicle
Shut off the AC and roll the windows down
Let that summer sun shine
Always stay humble and kind
Don't take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you're goin'
Don't forget turn back around
Help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind

Love you,

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Dear Women, Grab At Friendship

Dear Women,

Once upon a time, my best friend sat in the cubicle to my left and we saw each other at least five sevenths of every week.  Then she took a different awesome job and the cube to my left became inhabited by a bright intern who slightly resembles Ron Weasley.   Kristin and I went from being automatically thrown in together almost every single day by way of our work to...not.  The short story is that we're still friends.   The longer story is that we floundered around for a few months after her exit and hardly saw each other as she settled into her new job and I fielded various waves of sickness in my household during (of course) tax deadlines. Then we decided that royally sucked, that we each needed the other in our life and we had a serious conversation or two in which we decided we needed to grab at friendship.

You see, at our age we're in that funky in-between when we are actually adults but mostly still feel like kids and wander through most days thinking "when did I grow up and how the heck am I this close to turning 30?"  We're past the points in our youth when friendship or at least social interactions were tossed our way left and right, arranged by other folks with not much effort of our own: school, youth group, college groups...   Now we're solidly in that stage of life when the things being thrown at us are mortgages, grocery trips, car repairs and, in my case, many babies.  Lost in all that hubbub of adult life can be one of the very things that is life giving.


How many women out there are blessed to have even one true, close girl friend?

How many women out there are lonely for that type of friendship?

The type of friendship where one shows up in literal pajamas for movie night after putting her many babies to sleep.

The type of friendship where one barges into the other's unoccupied house and leaves homemade cinnamon rolls in the microwave so the dog won't eat them.

The type of friendship that shares honest advice on life, marriage, and car payments and offers the use of their shower when the other has a busted pipe.

The type of friendship that texts ridiculous things back and forth, making each other stifle laughter for the sake of their appearance as calm, studious CPAs.

The type of friendship that goes about ten days without seeing each other and results in a "I haven't seen you in forever."

I've got that. I love it.  I'm doing it.  And you know how?  I'm grabbing at friendship and Kristin is grabbing right back.  We prioritized ourselves and we're succeeding.   We didn't stop at "We should hang out sometime" which a lot of women say to each other and never act on.  We went past that, all the way to "What should we do this week?" because it has become that normal for us to be in each others' lives.

But Anna, you are both so busy with adult life and you with your babies and how the heck do you do it?  How do you find time for friendship?

I put her on my calendar
I literally put my friend into a repeat-every-two-weeks calendar item called "Have you hung out with Kristin?"  I did.  That may appear super lame and make her sound like a chore, equivalent to trash day or bring-diapers-to-daycare day, but that's not the case.  No.  She is equivalent to Pay Day or Date Night on my calendar (both also bi-weekly).

Weekday lunches
We are both working women who are busy bees, but we still eat lunch.  E'ery single day.  Work day lunch meet ups are a great way that we get together and catch up for a bit, even if it's only a quick 30 minute break when we gobble some Chipotle and say see ya later till next time.

Hang out after kids go to bed
My little kids go to bed at 7:30.  That leaves lightyears of evening left..ok least two hours...let's be realistic, we are in fact busy, tired adults.  Many an evening have I plopped my children in their beds and left my husband to tend to the quiet house while I fetched or was fetched by Kristin to go grab a drink, or a dessert, or a movie.   Other times I drive myself the two miles to her house for Netflix plus brownies plus sweatpants.  Other times she drives herself to my house for Fixer Upper plus sorting six trash bags of hand-me-down kid clothes.

Low expectations
You can tell we are such socialites and the things we do to hang out are sooooo FABulous.  Baha, yeah right.  Most of our hangouts involve Chipotle, random adult beverages, sugar, and a TV screen.  So fabulous, lemme tell ya.  We keep the bar low.  The point is to hang out and share life together, not win Socialites Of The Year.  (If that were a thing, barf.)

No strict agenda
We mostly fly by the seat of our pants.  Just because I have a calendar reminder every two weeks doesn't mean we hang out on that day every two weeks.  Sometimes it's weekly, sometimes we go a while without seeing each other. Sometimes it's lunch, sometimes it's an evening outing, sometimes we eat too much, sometimes we talk until past our bedtime, and soon we'll go shopping to find me an Adoption Day dress. We're all over the place and don't box ourselves in.

Our husbands support our friendship
Our guys know that this is important to us so they help make room for it on both sides.  Trent keeps kids sometimes, will shoo me out the door, tell me to take my time and even pipe up with "you haven't seen Kristin in a while" if that is indeed the case.

Ladies, this can be done.  Do you have a little baby seed of a friendship that needs some nurturing to really flourish?  Grab at it. Ask your friend to grab right back. Have a super honest conversation with each other and decide to be super grabby.  Be intentional, be purposeful, ask your husband or significant other to help you create space for friendship.  It can be done and you will be so grateful for it.

Go get grabby!