Reflections on a new year

I am sitting at the table in my father-in-law’s unit in Queensland. After a long year punctuated by some huge milestones and changes that we are all still coming to terms with, we needed a change of scenery and pace. 

So much has happened that challenged me personally and our family. 2022 is a chapter of my life I’d like to close the door on and never speak of again! The year did bring its joys and some necessary changes. My eldest daughter finished college and turned 18. I found work that fits in with our schedule, and I have learnt to loosen my grip on how life unfolds. 

Our biggest challenge was moving away from our community and home of 10 years. It is one of the primary downsides to renting. Ultimately, you have no security. The property owner was ageing and needed to redirect his attention to his and his wife’s health. He put the farm on the market for vacant possession, and we were staring down the barrel of finding a new home in the current housing market at a terrible time of year, ending a decade of history on a hilltop farm. 

Moving is the pits. Trying to find a new home that can accommodate a large family with (too many) animals in the middle of a rental crisis and with a deadline looming was enough to induce panic. Of course, things could always have been worse. While there was a legitimate concern we would be rendered homeless as there were very few houses to view, and most were either small units or simply too expensive, we were offered a place in the 11th hour. So we moved away from our community, the garden, the views, the river, the peace (and the wind!). But we have our health, food on the table and a roof over our heads, which are blessings.

Aside from the big move, life was busy, and I never quite got used to the extra responsibilities. I was perpetually tired, and while I had many, what I thought reasonable, plans for the year, I never felt on top of things to make them happen. I believe in making space for joy, personal development, fun and laughter and filling your days with productive and creative activities. But all of that needs energy. When you are tired, it is all you can do to put one foot in front of the other. And I was frustrated with being tired. It has taken me longer to recover my spirits while on holiday, but I want to take this time to reflect on last year and work out what went wrong and what I need to change to create balance in my life.

I acknowledge that my life is comparatively easy. We generally have our health, we eat well, we have opportunities to learn and grow, our neighbourhood is ‘safe’, and we have family and friends to share our journey. We also live in a society that is not war-torn or struggling to survive. In many ways, life is good, and I should quit whingeing. But the thoughts and wishes that often drive us personally, or our communities forward, is the desire to make things better. I want to improve my life and that of my family. I hope personal improvements will have far-reaching effects on the community and environment around us. When you feel on top of things, you have more time and energy to help others and make sustainable choices.

It can be difficult to dissect your thoughts and see where to begin making changes. I don’t want to think of solutions as new year’s resolutions either. Resolutions are not concrete enough to have lasting results, nor does life begin and end with the calendar. A template is more effective. Creating a broad skeleton of how you want your life to work provides flexibility and allows you to add or take away as the year unfolds. While we can start with a set of principles or a list of priorities to guide our ‘life template’, it is good to remain prepared for life’s curve balls. 

Something that stands out clearly from 2022 is that there were some things that I did not particularly enjoy, such as the multiple trips into town for kids’ sports and work, that I could not change without robbing the kids of opportunities they need for growth and development. We set limits on how much sport or work could happen, and we tried to coordinate those as best as possible, but the schedule was far from seamless. I have to accept this one as a non-negotiable and try to make the other elements of my life work around it!

Another element of 2022 that I felt was not ideal was the work-to-remuneration ratio. Working in the education system has proven ideal for my situation. I am free to manage the kids’ needs during the school holidays, and I am generally free after school hours to act as a taxi driver! Unfortunately, the work does not pay particularly well, and despite working three full days and two half days a week, I brought in only enough to cover groceries. I intended to use my free time to develop freelance work I could do from home. But the reality was, I was too tired to think at the end of the day, let alone start up a business. 

Feeling exhausted impacted my health, my attention to the kids’ schooling, feeling satisfied with my work and home life and like I was fulfilling a life purpose. Every day was groundhog day. Suddenly seeing the elements of my life I feel were compromised and would like to improve are there before me in black and white. Now I can take the next step and address them.

The kids’ journey is theirs. We guide them. Demonstrate what we hope is a good model of humanity and humility. And we provide the opportunities and space to work out who they are and where they fit in the world. I have always had a conflicting view of how much I intervene in their school work. I expect them to try their best and to create goals and a routine around school work to encourage good habits and self-motivation. But I don’t edit their work or do it for them! Nor do I call their teachers weekly to check on their progress. It goes against the grain to be needy and expect my little Johnny to get priority over all the other students in the class, and I know how difficult it is to balance your attention across a classroom of students. But time and again, my experience with the education system proves that you need to be that visible, questioning, constant advocate on your child’s schooling journey. I must step up and become the ‘school mum’ to ensure my kids achieve their goals. Just tell me how because I have said the same thing every year and am yet to figure out how to do it?!

After a brief foray into using hormonal birth control, I have struggled with my health and weight. It seems nothing I do gets the weight off, and I am frustrated as I am not used to being this heavy. It is not out of control and not to the extent most people would consider a problem. But I weigh 10kg more than I have ever been (aside from full-term pregnancy!). And every little hiccup – sinus infections, stress, eating a single ice cream or piece of celebratory cake, enjoying a glass of wine, covid – represents a setback in my journey towards a healthy weight. I can’t say I am completely healthy. I currently suffer from vertigo, and a few months ago ended up in ED with a suspected stroke (it wasn’t!). Something is amiss. I am trying to get to the bottom of those oddities. Meanwhile, my weight remains a constant problem, frustratingly a problem inconsistent with my lifestyle. I eat well and am active (not sweating it out in the gym or running, I must confess!).

I generally eat a whole-food diet with lots of gently cooked vegetables, meats and gut and skin-nourishing foods. I often cook bone broths and meat stocks, adding these to soups, stews and sauces. I try not to eat much wheat (but can whoof away a dangerous quantity of rice and potatoes – could be the problem!) or dairy as these don’t agree with me, but the best foods invented come from those two food groups, and I am human after all! And I enjoy baking, but mostly leave the cakes for the kids, as they have hollow legs and can afford to indulge. I honestly don’t think there is much more I can or should do about my diet (aside from the rice and potato addiction). Isolating the cause of my weight continues to be tricky. If anyone else has had a similar problem, please share. I would be grateful for any solutions you have discovered or even to know it is a journey shared with others.

I wrote the first part of this post while away on holiday with the kids. We have since returned home to our school and work routine. So I have had a chance to put my solutions (which I will return to below) into action and see which ones appear to be working. 

The kids’ schooling has long been a sticking point for me. I am just not comfortable with being a vocal parent. My solution has been to take care of things on the homefront. I have scheduled an hour on our free afternoons to be present and assist the younger kids with their homework and to ensure they remain on task. You might well wonder why I have not tried that before. And I have! But previously, I have allowed myself to get on with other ‘pressing’ chores while the kids do their homework. I can’t do this anymore if I want my kids to develop the habits necessary to achieve their goals. The internet provides a wealth of distracting materials. My most challenging task will be to ensure they are not just watching cat videos! I also set up a trolley (I purchased this one from Ikea) to store away their Chromebooks, headphones, stationery and math resource books. The trolley is close to hand near the dining table so they can grab what they need. 

My middle child has started college, a completely different ball game from primary and high school. The students learn independently with minimal reminders from the teaching staff. To avoid conflicting expectations, I will mirror this philosophy at home and let him get on with his studies with the usual check-ins and ‘how are you going with…’ questions throughout the week. Fortunately, the college sends weekly summaries of work due (or overdue), which makes keeping tabs on his learning easier.

I have left my most impactful problem to last, which is perhaps not the right to go about things. But it requires the most creative response. I only returned to work a week ago, and our first week is a planning week, which I thoroughly enjoy. I am a list maker and organiser, so I find these initial weeks of setting up our term plan very rewarding. It satisfies the left side of my brain. But the right demands its equal quota too. I love and seek creative expression through writing, reading, gardening, cooking delicious meals for my family, making the house look inviting, finding beautiful yet practical homewares, and choosing beautiful fabrics and yarn to fashion into clothes (very slowly developing my sewing skills) and knitted garments. That is where I find joy. And this was severely lacking in my life last year.

It might seem selfish to even consider the lack of joy in my life to be my biggest problem. You might think my health or the kids’ schooling should take priority. But I have always found that we are more able and willing to approach our problems when in a positive frame of mind. Nothing encourages positivity more readily than experiencing joy. But last year, lack of energy prevented me from finding that joy. 

I have only been at work a week, and our regular program, which is often mentally and emotionally challenging, has not yet begun. I do not know how exhausted I will be after work or how long that exhaustion will sit with me. I have reduced my work to three days a week. The remuneration will not be so generous, but I will always prioritise quality over quantity. That has provided a couple of days to take kids to appointments or other commitments that come up, walk with a friend, and spend time with my eldest daughter, who is learning to drive and needs a gentle introduction to adulthood. I hope to find some gaps in this schedule for writing, embarking on a sewing project or learning a new skill, creating a vegetable garden and simply wandering. It was also imperative to make time for regular rest. An essential that we often overlook. I have deliberately scheduled nothing ‘chore-worthy’ on Sundays. Sundays are now for family togetherness, fun outings, and peaceful endeavours. Our Saturdays are a bit packed, but that is ok so long as Sundays remain sacred.

I have not yet pulled out the sewing machine, and those knitting needles have not resumed their rhythmic clicking. But I am writing this, which is a milestone in itself!

So far (one week in!), things are looking good. They are not perfect solutions, but they are simple and not overscheduled, and I have lowered my expectations to maintain them long-term. I have purposefully not scheduled freelance work, as it is too early to know if I will have the energy to follow that pursuit to the best of my ability. If I can maintain this blog regularly, I will be happy.

I would be keen to know how last year’s experiences have informed your plans for this year. Please share in the comments below!

The beginning of the year can feel like a fresh start, like starting the school year with faultless books and smooth, sharp pencils. It is yet unmarred by experience. But, after all, it is not a new beginning. It is only the next step in our journey, a continuation of our history and a reminder to pause and reflect if it is heading in the right direction.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, and apologies for not visiting you in your space these past many months. I hope this is the turning of the tide! 

Until next time, much happiness to you xx

2 thoughts on “Reflections on a new year

  1. Paula, I think you are doing a lot of things right to take care of yourself. You are eating well, keeping a Sunday family day, reducing work time commitments. All this is really important as you are in that crazy time of parenthood with so many demands. Finding those moments just for yourself is the challenge, but an important priority too.
    Play with that beautiful fabric, pick up those knitting needles, you said it brings you joy, and these things are as essential as a healthy diet!


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