Keep On Keeping On

Keep trying. So, I went to the PTO meeting. And spoke, very briefly, about greening up the activities they run. And yes, my voice shook.

Prior to going, I had asked for some help in honing what to say. Less is more, was the advice. Don’t lecture. Change takes time.  Although I railed (internally) at the latter rejoinder, I think the advice was probably spot on: I didn’t alienate anyone that evening. (Because (apparently; who knew?), alienation is unhelpful and makes people dig in their heels.) I’m now planning on attending all the upcoming meetings, and speaking up at each one, addressing each issue as it arises. What’s more, I’m starting to see that seeds I’ve sown over the years are finally starting to sprout: people I’ve talked to are now starting to talk to others. It’s just as Deborah told me in a comment following my last post: Don’t assume that if you don’t win them over, you’ve lost. Never underestimate the possibility that someone (or several people) there will go away and think about something differently as a result of your intervention.

Keep reducing.  Determined to do even more to shop local, I spent this summer’s Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market. I brought my own cloth grocery bags, but also made sure to bring my ugly lace produce bags as well as plenty of clean plastic bread bags. All the sellers were more than happy to dispense their fruits and veggies into my bags, rather than providing me with one of theirs, and I managed to not take ANY new plastic bags home from the market this summer. This counter-of-all-things is very happy about this small victory.

I’ve also been doing more shopping at my local bulk store. This past February, Bulk Barn began allowing customers to bring in their own reusable containers. This has proven to be dead easy: I make my list, pack the required number of containers in a bag, stop at the cashier for pre-weighing, and then simply fill the containers.

The end of the summer also saw me on what could easily be described as a TEAR through the house. I was literally flinging cupboard doors open, looking for things to purge. This week, I heard about the latest decluttering craze: Swedish death cleaning. Funnily enough, this meshes EXACTLY with what I was feeling at the time: the instinctual and deep-seated desire to take care of things now, rather than to keep putting off the inevitable, not to mention the uncomfortable realization that if I don’t step up to the task of taking care of things then that burden will one day fall on my children. (To be honest, I was also feeling rather desperate about finally, finally getting to the promised point where I will have cleared enough (literal) detritus to see a (metaphorical) clear path forward.)

Keep the existentialistic nattering at bay. I’m trying to drown out my existentialistic thoughts. Which are pretty damn loud. They seep through and attempt to drain the colour from everything.

Pre-parenthood I listened to music all the time. U2, REM, Barenaked Ladies, The Pretenders, The Tragically Hip, Tom Petty. And when I wasn’t listening to music I had the radio tuned to CBC.

Enter parenthood: bawling babies, talkative toddlers, prattling preschoolers — and suddenly it was all too much. Sensory overload. And worse: the Wait, what? missing of things. The only way to cope was to turn everything else off.

Now that my house is emptying of children, now that the silence sits on my shoulders, a weight compounded by worry as my thoughts wander too much into jungles best left unexplored, I need noise. Radio programs. Podcasts. Music, music, music. This is such a night-and-day shift that I believe I surprised my 19-year-old son. He came into the kitchen one day this summer to find me chopping veggies to Coldplay. Who are you and what have you done with my mother?, his expression seemed to suggest.

(This past week has been The Tragically Hip, on repeat. My fellow Canadians will understand; for others, there’s this song, my favourite.)

Keep reading. I abandoned Beatrix Potter – A Life in Nature. I’m sorry, Linda Lear; it was just so.long. On a whim, I picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Because, what a name for a heroine! And such promise, that title: maybe if Eleanor is completely fine, I’ll be completely fine too. (Because that’s how fiction works, right?) It was part laugh-out-loud quirkiness, part cringeworthy Oh-don’t-be-doing-THAT-Eleanor!, part heartwarming love story, and part heart-wrenching life-can-be-cruel, dontcha know …

After that, I went on to Station Eleven. Perhaps a post-pandemic-civilization-has-collapsed-now-what? kind of novel was not the best choice for the summer I was having. But although the story was often grim it was also, ultimately, one of hope. Its back-and-forth movement between past and present as it told the tale of a travelling Shakespearean symphony roaming amongst new settlements (“because survival is insufficient”) — spoke directly to my story-loving heart. Apart from that, I loved its utility as a thought-exercise (what happens when there are no longer any doctors, nurses, hospitals, medicines? What happens when there is no one left to transport fuel to a gas station? What happens when stores are emptied of goods but the supply chain is irrevocably broken? What happens when law-and-order goes missing, never to return?).

Then came Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time. This was a lovely read: an interesting concept (the protagonist’s life stretches on and on and on); spare writing; a light-handed sprinkling of humanistic pearls of wisdom. My copy has been dog-eared, and I’m well into another of his novels: The Humans, which I am completely loving. Next up will be Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive. And then, what the heck, ALL of his other works. (Thank you, Lynda; I love your reviews and recommendations.)

Keep learning. Keep my eyes open. As much as I’d like to look away, to start humming Mmm-I-can’t-hear-you, to bury my head in the sand, I simply can’t. If this means tears are streaming as I watch A Plastic Ocean or Chasing Coral, so be it.

Keep knitting. Socks, socks, socks. Hockey season has started, which means I’m once again that mum who knits in the stands during practice. I’m also determined to knit while watching TV, because although multi-tasking usually makes me feel I’m doing two things poorly, productivity is key to dispelling the icky feeling I get when sitting in front of the TV. We’re making our way through Star Trek Voyager, determinedly turning our 12-year-old son into a Trekkie. We must have missed quite a lot back when it originally aired in the 90s and we had to be home on Mumblemumble night in order to catch it, because until last weekend I was quite in the dark about how Seven-Of-Nine came to be freed from The Borg. (And inquiring minds do love to know…)

Keep exercising. I’m leaning on a phrase former friends used when describing their über-strict parenting style: Once is a habit. This is the phrase that broke my inertia and keeps me going. I have walked on the basement treadmill every.single.day since mid-June. (I refuse to stop, even for one day, because I know that (with me) Once is a habit is a concept that works both ways.) I get up early enough that I can do sixty minutes … seventy, seventy-five, even eighty on occasion. Once I pass forty-five, I feel like Forrest Gump: I could happily run walk *forever*. My 19-year-old son tells me that’s the runner’s high. (Related: I’ve told my husband when marijuana is legalized next year, I’m going to buy some. I think he thinks I’m joking.)

Keep reaching out. It was just Canadian Thanksgiving, and I’d like to say thank you; I’m so grateful to those of you who not only bear with me as I go on my philosophical — and, ahem, oftentimes depressing, lecturing, alienating — meanderings, but who also take the time to reach back to me. You make this earnest-and-anxious fish-out-of-water feel less alone.

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14 thoughts on “Keep On Keeping On

  1. Oh Marian, I just love you!!! Your comment on marijuana had me chuckling out loud.

    1) I love the blue and rust colored yarn. Such pretty socks those will be! The gray with colored specs are also right up my alley!

    2) I’m so glad you listed of some books! I’ll probably steer toward the more light hearted ones for now but I’m going to have to bookmark this for later.

    3) I found the death cleaning post (and bookmarked to share it later) too! Love that you linked to it! Such a great concept. (Personally, I find it much more relatable than KonMarie)

    4) It makes me so happy to see all the things you are keeping. You inspire me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love you too, Kate 🙂 . I’m glad the marijuana comment made you laugh (because goodness knows, we could ALL use a few laughs right about now…). I actually debated omitting that sentence — I can’t even pick up a bottle of vodka from the liquor store without feeling vaguely like a criminal (I’m making vanilla! I want to explain to the cashier), so who knows if I will be able to *actually* work up the courage to someday walk into a weed store!

      Oh, I totally agree — Swedish death cleaning seems to be MUCH more relatable than KonMarie! From the sounds of it (the book is due to be published early 2018, I believe) it’s a practical, down-to-earth, no-nonsense, stoical approach, which is so much more appealing to me than the whole sparking joy schtick, which has always struck me as privileged.

      Thank you for number 4, Kate. Most days, I feel the polar opposite of inspiring; most days, in fact, I feel as though if I stop keeping on, even for one moment, I will come to a complete standstill and never be able to get moving ever again…

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  2. My Canadian Sister, I love you. You speak my innermost thoughts so precisely that I almost do a double-take to be sure you’re not really me. The only things is, you are light years ahead of me in taking action on those thoughts. Aiming for zero-waste is about as mainstream here as tie-dye and floral headwear. In other words, even my meagre attempts are seen as hippy dippy.
    I’ve invested in some lovely beeswax-wrappers for the lunch sandwiches. I’m secretly hoping they might catch on in our primary school but in the mean time, fortunately, my kids are accustomed to being seen as quirky!
    I too have just completed a massive and overdue clear-out. If only Christmas didn’t bring so much STUFF!
    I have made the same promise on the marijuana. In fact, I have plans to take a holiday in Amsterdam. No-one believes me either.
    I’m off right now to seek out The Tragically Hip.
    Wishing you a worry-free day, my friend.
    Lynda.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love you too, Lynda — it’s actually spooky, how very much we have in common 🙂 . I got a laugh out of the fact that you’ve also made the marijuana promise, but my goodness I envy you your close proximity to Amsterdam, as I will be nowhere exotic when I do (finally) light up. If I really can. Hmm. (We may need to make a pact, you and I…)

      Our small city is extremely non-green, unfortunately, so I do feel very much on the fringes here as well. There are, however, signs that the tide is turning: recent conversations with cashiers (sparked by my eccentric produce bags as well as by my use of cloth tote bags for regular (ie. non-grocery) shopping) indicate that others are finally catching on. (“This is the third time today I’ve had someone come through the till with their own produce bags”, for example.)

      My kids have never minded having their lunches packed in reusable containers, and fortunately, have also been really responsible about looking after them and bringing them home at the end of the day. I do know that some kids fight this (growing up, my brother refused to do my mother’s bidding and always threw away his plastic sandwich baggie as well as his paper bag; I, on the other hand, probably used the same bags (plastic AND paper) for an entire school year). I often wonder if the mathematics of the thing wouldn’t be enough to sway reluctant kids (and grown-ups!): 200 (ish) school days = 200 (ish) bags thrown in the garbage! I confess I often do this math at home, aloud, in a really pointed fashion, all the while harbouring the hope that my kids will be so moved/horrified that they will speak up at school.

      Maybe someday you could do a blog post about your de-cluttering? I, for one, would love to hear your take on all this. I often get stuck when it comes to sentimental items, especially those items made BY my children or FOR my children. Your most recent Instagram photo (sewing a Halloween costume) reminded me I have a very large box of sewn-by-me Halloween costumes that I *should* get rid of, but in all honesty *can’t*.

      The Tragically Hip — THE quintessential Canadian rock band. Their singer/songwriter passed away last week of a brain tumour, at the oh-so-young age of 53. It would be accurate to say Canada is collectively mourning. They never really made it big outside Canada, probably because so many of their songs were imbued with political/historical meanings only we Canadians would understand. But others? So deeply philosophical and poetical they make me catch my breath. It was hard to pick one favourite song for this blog post, so here’s a list you might appreciate: It’s a Good Life if you Don’t Weaken; In a World Possessed by the Human Mind; Ahead by a Century; Gift Shop; Scared; Grace, Too; Love is a First; Poets; Bobcaygeon; Fully Completely.

      Thank you for the worry-free wishes; sending the same back to you, Lynda.
      xo Marian

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Marian, thank you!
        I have The Tragically Hip playing now in my headphones — I love their sound and the lead singer’s voice. I love that I can just about hear that Canadian twang in the lyrics. What a tragedy that he has passed away. I can appreciate your sorrow.
        BBC’s Autumn Watch, which is a week long live nature show they run, did a special feature last night on the problem of plastics in the oceans. My children were properly horrified which I think was a good thing. I have probably protected them too long from some of the more gruesome images. To be fair, they have willingly come on board with my efforts but I think they understand better now why I rant so much about packaging.
        I need to do a bit of research and, definitely, a blog post!
        To return your musical recommendation in kind, may I suggest my favourite album to blast on big speakers when I’m cleaning or cooking:

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This has made my day, Lynda — first books, now music 🙂 ! I love that you’re now playing The Hip! I should tell you that it was your June post, in which you shared the video of Coldplay playing at One Love Manchester, that got me digging deeper into their music, and which resulted in a very-nearly exclusively Coldplay summer: Talk, which was THE metaphor for how I was feeling this summer; Don’t Panic; Us Against the World; Fun; Fix You; Everglow … oh my gosh, I could go on and on … (And I did, which led to my husband suggesting I *could* try seeking out other bands.) Thank you for the link — I’m so excited to listen to your favourite album; I don’t think I’ve ever heard of The Frames, but I think we definitely have the same taste in music (in ascertaining that it was indeed YOUR post that included that Coldplay video, I came across your Dark O’Handsome post, which was just SO LOVELY … plus, U2, my goodness, their music completely defines my early days with my then-boyfriend/now-husband).

        I know precisely what you mean when you say you’ve been protecting your kids from some of this environmental stuff. My youngest is 12, so I really can’t protect him anymore, but I certainly DID try my best in previous years, with all three kids, to not let on as to how bad things were. Two of my three have already gone through phases of deep existential questioning (which chilled my maternal heart like nothing else ever had), and layering loss-of-hope due to planetary crises on top of all that? It is a very, very, very difficult thing to be a mother these days 😦 .

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  3. Wow, what an inspiring post Marion! and well done you for facing up to the difficult stuff and doing it anyway. That in my opinion is real bravery. Doing stuff that looks difficult but comes easy to you? well no bravery there at all. And how wonderful to find that in fact you’re not the only one fighting these battles even in your neighbourhood.
    Swedish death cleaning?? I’m going to have to look that one up. Sounds like some of those Scandanavian noir series we’ve been watching on TV but even more gruesome. But seriously, I know I need to practice being more ruthless in my efforts to declutter so maybe this is the answer.
    Keep on keeping on, and I hope you’re having some fun with it along the way. Because I’m increasingly convinced that fun is as important as all the serious stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Deborah 🙂 .
      I may have to look up “Scandinavian noir” series! (Because Star Trek Voyager isn’t going to last forever…) I’m guessing that the Swedes call it death cleaning because it’s done with one’s mortality in mind, but not in a morbid way, just in the practical sense that “you can’t take it (stuff) with you”. My mother, who is Dutch and very practical, has been slowly clutter-clearing for several years now, with the express intent/awareness that she doesn’t want to keep hanging onto things that serve her no purpose and which, if left in large quantity, will be a burden to my brother and me to have to sort through. She’s already passed a sentimental item to me: a bracelet that my grandmother always wore, which I greatly appreciated receiving, along with the story behind it. (If I had just happened upon the bracelet once my mother passed on, I would never had known it was once my grandmother’s.) It seems to me there are a lot of horror stories out there about grown children taking months (if not years!) to sort through their parents’ belongings, and when you consider the fact that we all seem to be accumulating more and more stuff, it seems to me that this is a really thoughtful approach to adopt. (Although I can completely see that some people may be put off by the mention of “death” — my in-laws moved house fairly recently and are continuing to struggle with letting things go, and the idea of mortality — when connected with HIM, personally — really, really bothers my father-in-law.)

      I absolutely need to find a way to put some fun back into my life; things have been way too serious lately…

      Best wishes, Deborah, and good luck with your decluttering efforts!

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  4. But…but…if you declutter everything now, your descendants will be deprived of the opportunity to review your life and character as they sort your stuff! I guess there are people who don’t like doing that? Three of my grandparents died when I was a teenager, and the surviving one asked his kids to come clean out the house before his retirement to a smaller place; I helped sort out both grandparental homes and LOVED the interesting things we found! Of course, there are things like “every electric bill stub since 1958” that you just chuck after a quick glance, but then there are all the old photos and report cards, the things that are interesting just because they’re old, the meticulous collections you didn’t know they had (one grandmother had written poems for many people’s special occasions; we knew about that but didn’t know she had saved a copy of each, clipped to the birth announcement, death notice, etc.–a family friend my age was moved to tears when I gave her the adorable adoption announcement her parents had sent when they brought her home, which she’d never seen), and the odd little projects they left behind (same grandmother was working on a Silent Alphabet: A is for beaver, B is for lamb, etc.)!

    I do sometimes worry that if I die suddenly, my family will find embarrassing things. But I try to believe that I will have time in my retirement to tidy those and clear out the most boring clutter.

    I am disappointed to see that Eleanor Oliphant is not an elephant living in disguise among humans. That’s what I pictured.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi ‘Becca!
      I don’t know why, but your comment went to spam and I’ve been offline for a couple days so didn’t see it there. Sorry about that…

      Your first bit made me laugh out loud 🙂 . The thought of having my life and character reviewed (through my things) actually fills me with more than just a bit of terror! In the last couple of years I’ve gotten rid of things (like photos and letters) which I knew for sure I didn’t want my children to someday come across. I’ve also been struggling with feeling the need to journal/diarize (with the hope of quelling some recurrent but unhelpful/unhealthy thought processes) but I’m simultaneously feeling very uncomfortable with the possibility that someday my private words will be read! I think, personality-wise, I lean heavily to wanting to remain a closed book, so I think this tendency is reflected in my wanting to get rid of things. (Plus, clutter makes me anxious, so I’m doing it for mental health reasons as well.) That being said (and yes, completely conversely), I would have been very, very interested in going through MY grandparents’ houses, as YOU had the opportunity to do. I think there are definitely two kinds of people out there: ones who are keenly interested in the lives and histories of others, and ones who are really not so very interested. (But I also quite firmly believe in the maxim, “a treasure is only a treasure if it’s rare”, so if one is having to sift through an entire houseful of stuff that’s never had even one round of de-cluttering, that’s quite a monumental task!)

      When I saw the book Eleanor Oliphant I immediately thought of The Lord of The Rings 🙂 … But no, it’s not about that either!

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  5. I am always so late to your party. But I’m here! And so glad you are. I am SO glad you went to the meeting and used your voice. I loved Eleanor Oliphant and Station Eleven. I wish I could figure out what it is about books I love so I could keep finding them. When I was young, I read so much, all the time. I consumed all kinds of things, but now it is harder and harder for a book to keep me. I’m currently reading The Ninth Hour (Alice McDermott), and it’s doing the trick for me. Also Snowblind (a thriller set in Iceland). Two very different reads. I need to add How to Stop Time to my list.

    Like you, I’ve been listening to music in ways I never did when the house was filled with kids. I’m there alone half the time, and I play music almost all the time I’m there and no one else is. Pandora is my friend. My favorites are the women I refer to as “me emo country women.” They’re not all country–probably more folk than country. But I do like some Kacey Musgraves.

    I’m glad to hear you are doing better. (You are, right?) I’m guessing the walking helps with that. I’ve noticed, now that I’ve been back at school for two months, how my sedentary work is affecting my mental health. It’s not just the lack of movement, but when I’m purposeful about adding some back in, I feel the difference.

    Marijuana is legal where I live, but I haven’t indulged. Maybe I should. I wouldn’t know where to start. Maybe you can figure that out for us and share it here? 🙂

    I like your new blog design. Hope to see more of your words here. I always enjoy them so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rita!
      It’s never too late around here!

      The Ninth Hour looks like it would be my kind of book too. But I just can’t do thrillers anymore, even though I used to be able to. I’m very nearly done The Humans and am absolutely LOVING it. I would put it into my top ten books of all time, I think. It’s got a really interesting premise, it’s both funny and touching, and has a lovely philosophical bent to it as well. Lynda (sultanabun) reviews a tonne of books on Bookwitty; maybe some of those might be ones that keep you reading? Just a thought…

      “Me emo country women” … that made me laugh. I can definitely relate to the “emo” part; I am very emotional these days, and music (iTunes for me, alternative or rock) has resurfaced as a long-lost friend, a much-appreciated companion in an empty house. I so get that, Rita. I think that out of all of these things I’m keeping on with (or rediscovering after a long absence) the walking is probably the one that is helping me the most. I know what you mean when you say it’s more than just a lack of movement that can affect a person; it also essentially boils down to a lack of purposeful caring for one’s physical self, and maybe just that fact alone can bring a person down. For most of my 21 years as a mother, I put exercise last on my list, which meant it really never got done (or, at least, it never got done in more than a one day here, skip two weeks, do another day here, skip six months kind of way). Even when I was encouraging/enabling my husband to exercise, and driving my kids home from sports that I actively encouraged them to take part in, I never made any effort to make it happen in my life. It does feel, finally, as though I’m taking care of me, which is a really good, purposeful way to be feeling. You asked if I’m doing better… Quite honestly (because I can never be anything else), I think I just somehow manage to put on a good show; I continue to be highly functioning even when I feel like I’m falling apart. I doubt I will ever be able to stop the existentialistic questioning and the worrying about everybody and everything; that would be like telling me to stop breathing. I wonder, sometimes, at what point do I seek help? When do I decide to haul myself off for therapy? I do feel like it’s all taking a toll on me. For months now, I’ve been sleeping horribly. Funnily enough, there’s a great dry line to this effect from The Humans — “I couldn’t sleep. Of course I couldn’t. I had a whole universe to worry about.” — which had me nodding and saying, Yeah, exactly.

      Someone (I won’t say who) told me I didn’t actually have to smoke the marijuana — I could bake with it. And hey, I’m a damn good baker — these would be THE healthiest whole wheat, flax, wheat germ, (and, ahem) THC-filled brownies ever created! I will let you all know if and when I figure things out 😉 .

      Thank you, as always, for your encouragement, Rita. I hope you’re finding your words easier to come by these days as well. (Your last post went missing though…?)

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      1. “Better” is always a relative term, isn’t it? I’ve been seeing one therapist or another for more than three years (ever since both kids blew out at the same time). I keep wondering when it’s going to stop being so much damn work to just be OK, and I’m coming to think that maybe the answer is “never.” But the therapy does help. Helped me tremendously in getting through the long, long time of ever-shifting crisis we seem to be sort of past. Or at least have come to terms and some peace with. I recommend it. You can think of it as part of your self-care program. (Like you, I struggle with sleep. Even though I am doing lots of the “right” things now, I can’t seem to make a ton of progress with sleep, which seems to be the true barometer of how I’m doing.)

        I was thinking about the issue of self-care/kids/etc. this past week. Like you, I just never did that when I was actively parenting. And I felt crappy about it, like I was just undisciplined or too co-dependent or something. Now that I’m doing it, what I can see is that it takes a lot of damn time to take care of ourselves. Eating right means shopping and planning and cooking. Exercising takes time. Seeing the therapist takes time. Going to bed at a reasonable time means that other things can’t be done. But I’m working at doing all of those, and mostly have been. I am feeling physically better than I usually do during the school year. We’ll see how it goes when the holidays hit. Those are usually when it all falls apart.

        The words are coming. That’s another part of my getting better program. There’s a story about that last post that I’m working on. It didn’t just disappear. Off to go work on it now…

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      2. Yes, “better” is *totally* relative! This is actually the key reason I will likely never seek out therapy: because I can always manage to conjure up the worst case scenario and use it for comparison and then tell myself I feel “just fine!”. Everything you went through over the last several years? I can completely see how therapy was not only a good thing-to-do, but was totally essential. In my case, it’s not really current problems I’m having to deal with, but rather the fact of how I’m wired (and therefore how I see the world and how I react to the world). The “promise” of therapy helping is counterbalanced by the very real concern I have that therapy will actually make matters worse for me, that the childhood trauma I have boxed (and which I determinedly stand on while muttering gratitudinously, “things could have been worse”) will be completely upended and I’ll never recover. I have done some reading (aka DIY therapy) and know of the tools one can use to rewire harmful thought processes; these do work to a certain extent. I, too, feel like this attempt to merely feel OK is really hard work. And I often find myself feeling angry that this is my lot in life — that I got wired this way and have to struggle with all these difficult thoughts and emotions. But then when I consider the alternative — going through life in a superficial and oblivious and unthinking manner — I know I wouldn’t want that either.

        I’m so glad that you’re finally taking the time to take care of yourself, Rita. You’re absolutely right — all these things do take time. I know many women who’ve somehow managed to find a better balance between motherhood and self than you and I managed to do. But maybe that ability/inability also has to do with the way we’re wired? At least we’re finally in places where we CAN start to take better care of ourselves; that’s something to be very grateful for 🙂 .

        Looking forward to reading your story…

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