There are two questions that I get asked almost everyday.
1) That’s your real name?!
2) HOW do you do it?!
The first question I’ve gotten used to. And it only requires me to say, “yes,” so I’m pretty okay with that one. But the second…
If you follow the blog, you know that I don’t do a lot of personal posts. I tend to do things my own way and while I’m always up for suggestions and constructive criticism, I don’t like wasting my time with negativity (especially when it doesn’t make sense). I am a genuinely friendly and happy person, but I also call it how I see it. And sometimes, people have a hard time understanding how those two qualities work together. I used to try to weed through the nonsense. I used to try to explain myself. I used to try to help others see why their logic was a little skewed. But then one day, with the help of a whole slew of trolls, I realized that some people are just intent not only on being mean, but on blaming the people they are hurting for their meanness. And I decided to stop being their punching bag.
The drawback of the decision to stop writing personal posts is that, regardless of what a few jealous trolls think, I’ve actually accomplished some really cool stuff over the years. Stuff that’s soooo cool, it makes a few other people want to do the same things I have. And those people are the ones who want to know just how we pull everything together around here. Obviously, the only way to answer that question is to let my guard down just a little. (Just writing that sentence made me laugh a little because my friends and family know that with decent people, my only “guard” is a bit of common sense. But online…yeesh…) And so, today, I’ve decided to try to open up just a little.
Because answering this question is important to me. Some of you may already know this, but statistically, I shouldn’t be about to graduate from a top law school. When I graduated high school, I had an eight-month old on my hip. I had two kids by age 19 and was divorced by 21. By 23, I had two more kiddos and was living in a two-bedroom basement apartment. My then-fiance (now my husband) worked factory jobs. We lived on maybe $900 a month and neither of us had a lick of education above a high school diploma. The sad truth is that based on these facts alone, where I am now was almost impossible. If you factor in my parents’ divorce, my former step-father’s temperament, the ethnicity of my husband, and the rural setting I grew up in, the statistics say I shouldn’t be this close to my law school graduation. But yet I am. And I think the very least I can do is use my many blessings to help others do the same. So, today, I’m going to make an attempt to explain just how I do it all.
Of course, the first secret is that I don’t do it all. I will acknowledge that I do a lot. Okay, a very lot. But not all. I know I don’t do it all because my head is full of ideas and inspiration for the future and all the amazing things I’ve yet to do. I think when people ask me how I “do it all,” they are really asking how I manage to go to law school (for only three more months!!!), raise five kiddos, homeschool those same five kiddos, keep the house clean, hold down two part-time jobs and stay sane. Throw in the fact that I also spend a considerable amount of time crafting and soap-making, and even I will admit, it does make me look a bit like Superwoman. For those of you who know me in person, you know that one of the first things you think when you meet me is, “Whoa! Not. Superwoman.” And, I agree. I am definitely not Superwoman. (I’m much more like Sillywoman.) But at the end of the day, I do manage. Let me tell you how. Not because I have all the answers, but because I’ve managed to make it work. And if I can do it, you can do it, too. No excuses.
I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but the very first thing I have to do every morning and the very last thing I have to do every evening is pray. Obviously there are lots of reasons that prayer is important, but as it relates to answering this question, I have to start and end every day by reminding myself that I am only human. And by asking God to do all that I can’t do. And, mostly, by remembering that all the things I get credit for aren’t my accomplishments at all. They are His. Because if I start taking the credit, pride will rear its ugly head and I just don’t even want to deal with that. For this reason, I also ask God to show me any areas of my life where pride might be a problem. (He shows me these a lot…but I probably didn’t have to tell you that!)
2) Put everything in its place.
No, I’m not talking about housework (not yet, anyway). When you have a lot on your plate, it’s important to keep it all in its place. I don’t mix my other household tasks with homeschooling. When I’m in class, I don’t worry about the grocery shopping. On my days at home, I don’t worry about law school stuff (except during my designated homework time). During homework time, I don’t take work-related phone calls. During family reading time, I don’t start paying bills or play on Facebook.
This doesn’t mean I don’t ever multi-task. It also doesn’t mean that I’m unrealistically rigid. I’ve been known to “like” a couple posts on Facebook while the kids are reading quietly to themselves or I’m on the train ride home from school. But I don’t try to do everything at once. I know that everything will be addressed in its own time. Just because I’m not responding to my emails right now doesn’t mean it won’t get done. I don’t need to think about them all day. This is really important if you are looking at long-term goals. You have to be able to manage what you are doing right now without getting upset about everything that is not done. Because with long-term goals, lots of things are going to be undone. I can tell you that at this very moment, there are plenty of other things that I could be doing instead of writing this post. But I know that all those things are scheduled into their own time slots, won’t be forgotten, and will be done on time.
One more note about putting everything in its place: Know when something doesn’t have a place. If you spread yourself too thin, you will accomplish nothing. There are lots of things I’d like to do right now, but I just can’t. I’m doing enough. It’s more important to do what you are already doing and do it well than to add on more just so you feel accomplished. For example, my kids’ education is super important to me. As an academic, I feel that NOTHING replaces a good education. Absolutely nothing. If I felt for a moment that anything was hindering their education, I would have to make some immediate changes. We completely block out 8 AM – 3 PM for the kids’ schooling. One of us (and depending on the time and activity, sometimes both of us) is interactively teaching them for that entire time because it is that important to us. Well, we do take a 30-minute lunch break. And we try to be creative teachers. We don’t just bore them to death for all that time. :)
We also block out time on the weekends for homeschool planning. Lucky for me, my part-time jobs allow me to work from home with only a few hours a week outside the house. But if they didn’t, I would have to make different choices. I’m not trying to encourage anyone to set themselves up for failure. Please make sure that you are not creating space that really isn’t there. It’s easy to schedule something in for half an hour. It’s not so easy to thoroughly accomplish the task in 30 minutes.
3) Write it down.
Putting everything in its place is great…if you can remember where you put it. And what “it” is. If I tell myself that I’m going to “run errands” at 4:00, but I don’t write down that I’m doing it at 4:00 and what “errands” I’m supposed to be running, it doesn’t matter that I’ve put errands in my 4:00 place. Because all day long, I will be reminding myself not to forget to stop at the post office when I run my errands. (Or, depending on the day, when I ask Jose to run the errands.)
I use two main tools to organize my time. The first is a schedule. For this, I just made a basic Word document, inserted a table, and typed up a schedule. The key is printing it out and putting it in a place where I can’t ignore it. The second is a Customizable Daily Docket from Money Saving Mom. I’m not sure what I’d do without this thing. It lets you edit as needed, but also has things on it that you can’t edit, like exercising. I love that because if it let me, I’d probably edit that out some days! Fortunately, I can’t stand leaving that box unchecked, so I make sure I do my 20 minutes of stairs everyday! It also has little glasses of water that you have to color in. Again, I can’t stand leaving those uncolored, so I just keep on chuggin’. It also has some heading spaces that are blank, so you can write in your own. I have “To Buy” and “To Go” on mine. I also have sections for my morning and bedtime routines.
Do you have to do all this? Does your daily to-do list need to be as extensive as mine? No, but you did ask how I do it. And this is how. Otherwise, it wouldn’t happen. Organization is the key.
4) Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Maybe there aren’t a lot of moms out there who are doing what I’m doing. Maybe they can’t tell me exactly how to balance everything. But there are plenty of homeschooling mamas out there. I learn from them for that area of my life. There are plenty of people who went to law school while raising kids. Maybe not five, and maybe not while homeschooling, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to teach me. There are also lots of people out there who have organizing and homekeeping down to a science. Jose and I follow their lists to make sure we don’t overlook certain household chores just because we are busy.
Everyday while we are making our daily dockets, we hop on over to FlyLady’s Detailed Cleaning Lists and divide the daily chores accordingly, depending on who has more time that day. Household chores used to be so simple when I was bogged down with law school all day, homework all evening, and Jose didn’t work! He just did all the cleaning, all the cooking, and all the teaching!! But this transition means I am only months away from graduation, so bring on the chores!! :)
And there you go. I know this list isn’t magic. I know it doesn’t explain how I got into UT Law (yes, it’s very hard, especially if you aren’t from Texas), how I won my scholarships (even harder than getting into UT), what curriculum I use for the kiddos, how we make our soap, how to crochet (or why anyone would want to do it), or what I’m doing after law school. I know many of you have asked those questions and will continue to ask them. But what this list should tell you is that following dreams isn’t about being perfect, not making mistakes, or having “good luck.” It’s not about what your parents or grandparents may have done (or not done). It’s about just doing it. Over the last fifteen years, there were plenty of times when I thought I’d never graduate from law school (or any other school). In fact, lots of people thought I’d never graduate. Some of them told me not to waste my time trying. That I hadn’t “earned” my right to dream. That I closed my own doors by having “so many” kids. They laughed at my attempt to better my life and give my family a strong future. But I don’t think they are laughing now. (And if they are, well, that doesn’t even make sense. Those ones might be a little tipsy…)
My point: Don’t let people laugh at you or discourage you. I don’t care if you have one kid, a hundred kids, or no kids. If you are broke, rich, or somewhere in between. All I care about is that you don’t give up on your dreams and you don’t let other people define your life. Keep going. You don’t have to do it my way. This is just how we do it. But I want you to know that if I can do it, anyone can do it. That means you.