Confessions of a High Achiever 

I have a confession to make. For those who know me personally, it’s one that will shock you. And I’m probably breaking some kind of Alpha Mom Code by saying it. But I cannot pretend any longer. 

I hate being busy. 

We all talk about how busy we are. And honestly, I am the queen of busy. Look at me! I can be a freelance performing arts teacher and blogger while advocating for my child’s special needs, all while keeping up a social life! Wheeeeeee!!!!

When I was in the first grade, I remember telling my teacher (quite proudly!) that I had an activity after school every single day. 

In high school I won the top service award for my senior class. This was just code for This Girl Is Crazy Busy. 

My freshman year of college I was a cheerleader for women’s basketball. I would cheer for the women, run into the bathroom to change, and play in the pep band for the men. This only stopped because the schedules changed and they stopped being double headers. 

It’s been part of my personality my whole life. So it makes sense that by February of this year I was teaching 20 classes a week during the school day, 15 piano lessons a week in the afternoons, and ending my week teaching 2-hour classes at homeless shelters. All while getting my daughter settled in a new school. 

It was a decent amount of money. And everyone wanted me to teach for them. 

And I was miserable. 

If I wasn’t literally standing in front of students teaching, I could hardly have a conversation without crying. I was grumpy and snapped at my family. We didn’t have clean laundry or groceries and we were constantly eating at restaurants because I had no energy to deal. Most of the house looked like this. 


Now, a lot of this was out of necessity. A series of events led to me being the primary breadwinner of the family. My husband was working like crazy, but new businesses don’t provide immediately. 

But a lot of it was beyond that. Being busy had become my lifestyle, and my habit, and quite frankly, a bit of a bragging right. People want me! Hooray! Look at how many people want me!

But I knew something had to change. We were told over and over by therapists that we needed absolute consistency for our daughter to manage her anxiety. And I couldn’t do it. For a while, I was hard on myself. I blamed my own mental illness on my inability to provide consistency. I just couldn’t give enough. I couldn’t do enough. I couldn’t BE enough. 

Then, a friend offered to start a gofundme campaign for our family. The money we raised allowed me to say no to working like a crazy person. (Still working! Just not like a crazy person.) And the answer to our chaos seemed clear. 

In order to declutter our lives, I would need to declutter my schedule. 

Right now, I am sitting at the kitchen table. There are healthy snacks here, and I am sharing them with my husband, who has space to work. We just had a calm discussion about transportation for the afternoon. (Complicated, when we only have one car, I teach piano lessons in students’ homes, and our daughter has therapy every day until 6…) I know what is happening for the week. I know what we’re eating  and when I’ll do laundry and how much money we have and what bills are coming up. And this is very different indeed. 

Over the past month, I have decluttered my schedule. Our lives are still very much works in progress. But for the next few weeks I’ll share what we’ve done. Maybe we can all declutter together!

Argues With Wolves

This page has been quiet a long time.

We’ve been dealing with a wolf. And we kept that wolf hidden for a while. But the wolf got too big, too noisy, too strong to deal with on our own.

So slowly, quietly,  meekly at first, I asked for help.

The help I have received has given me the strength to keep fighting the wolf. There is still fighting to be done. But I know we’ll come through.

This week (or longer, if there’s more to say) I’m ready to share our journey here. 

  
I spend most of my days so exhausted it is literally difficult to breathe.

It’s getting hard to turn my head. The tension is so bad I’m just in pain all the time.

Last year at this time I was training for a half-marathon and eating with intention to fuel my body. But I haven’t been able to work out for months. I’ve lost weight, I’ve lost strength, I’ve lost energy.

Even during the rare moments when I can forget about the illness, it’s there in the back of my mind. Shoulders weighed down. Tears forming.

I’m not sick.

But my child is.

My daughter’s disease has always been lurking. But over the past year it has gone from something that is probably there, to something that has taken over our lives. My husband and I wake up in the morning without knowing what the day will bring. Will we be able to get to work? Will she be able to attend school? Will this be one of the days when she ends up in the hospital again?

I’ve heard all about the toll being a caretaker to someone ill can have on a person. (Does it count as being a “caretaker” when it’s your own child? Isn’t that just being Mommy?) But I have also watched communities gather around families in crisis. I’ve seen fundraisers and meal trains organized. In fact, I’ve organized them. So I always assumed that if, God forbid, the time ever came, we could reach out to our community.

But we haven’t.

And the community isn’t to blame. We haven’t reached out. We haven’t told many people that we can’t even keep up with our rent and other bills because of all of the missed work. That my husband actually lost his job because he “just didn’t seem to be available lately.” That I worry every day the same thing will happen to me. That we both lie awake at night wondering what to do. That we do our best to put on a heave face but we can’t hide it from our daughter all the time. That she talks about it at school. That she’s worried that we’re worried.

We haven’t shared how frustrating it is to have her doctors tell us that the cleaner the house is, the healthier she’ll be. But that we don’t have the time or energy to clean or do laundry on a regular basis because of how all-encompassing her disease is. And that the mess sets in as guilt. Which leads to depression.

We haven’t shared the depth of our struggles for the most ridiculous reason.

My daughter’s illness is not a physical one, but a mental one.

And what difference should that make? I mean honestly. And yet.

There have been times- several times- when we’ve publicly shared what is happening with her. And then it is privately suggested to us that we don’t share too much. Maybe people shouldn’t know that about her.

When she returned to school after a long hospitalization, her teachers had told the other students that she just wasn’t feeling well. They suggested we leave it at that.

But she doesn’t want to leave it at that.

My seven-year-old, who can explain the function of the cerebral cortex and its effect on her behavior, who describes her disease as an angry wolf, and who is quite literally the most loving, empathetic person I have ever met, does not feel any shame. She doesn’t know what stigma is. When asked, she tells people, “I get really mad and sad. And sometimes I need help with that.”

So today, I am learning from my daughter.

I am the mother of a kid who sometimes gets sad and mad.

And sometimes I need help with that.

There are days- like today- when it feels like too much. But parents don’t get to give up.

Nevertheless, she persisted — Amiright?

So I stop. And I breathe. And I make lists. What is a “Have to do?” What is a “want to do?”

And I think about the victories we’ve seen. Like her newfound love of learning at her school.

And I let myself enjoy my work.

And if it’s still too much, I ask for help. And that’s okay.

Note: A version of this article appeared at Pregame Magazine on March 1. Since its original posting, many members of our community have reached out with offers to help. You can continue to follow our story here, and on our Facebook page: Lily And Her Angry Wolf.

A gofundme campaign has also  been established for our family. We are so grateful for all of your support.

G is for Greenwich

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Ten years ago we moved from a small town in Ohio to NYC to become artists. We lived in Bushwick (bad idea) and on Wall Street (expensive idea) and Forest Hills (comfortable but not very convenient idea). I loved living in New York. It was part of my identity.

Then just a few months after we got Lily, Ryan got a new job in Greenwich, CT. He spent the next year doing what is commonly known as a “reverse commute.” It’s a nice way of people saying “Why would you live there and work there?” I was home alone with a baby in Queens with no car. He felt so far away. It would take him hours to drive home. We finally decided to move to Greenwich.

The night before we moved I could not stop crying.

We arrived in Greenwich, and I stopped crying after about an hour.

Here’s the thing about Greenwich. It’s really easy to bash. Yes, it’s the preppy capital of the world. Yes, there is so much money that if viewed through a certain lens it can make you sick to your stomach. Yes, a lot of the people here are a little out of touch with reality. Yes, there can be a lot of pressure.

And I see all of those things.

And I ignore them.

And I kinda love it in Greenwich.

It’s important to note here that we do NOT have a lot of money. Like, really not. Our situation has slowly improved over the past three years. (Probably because we live in an area that can afford our services- piano lessons and interior design.) But we will never be able to keep up with the Jones’. In fact, the Jones’ have no idea who we are. We’re much more likely to hang out with the Jones’ nanny.

I just don’t let it bother me. As simple as that. (Well, as simple as that after ten years of therapy.)

I let people compliment me on my clothes. And then I tell them proudly that I got them at Second Time Around. I am ecstatic to send my daughter to public school in (gasp!) about 18 months. She’s zoned for a language magnet school for goodness sake. We’re active at the YMCA, and she goes to an amazing preschool that also happens to be the most cost efficient. I am confident she’ll learn her ABC’s. In fact, she already has, and now she’s working on the sign language for each letter. (Something the children of my friends know nothing about, despite going to the most expensive schools available.)

Greenwich has resources I’ve never seen in any other town. The beach is ridiculous. The library is ridiculous. The parks are ridiculous. The hospital is ridiculous. The schools are ridiculous. And all of those things are available to us as citizens of Greenwich. So thanks, people with money.

And when it comes to the Greenwich attitudes surrounding money, I know there are people who are concerned with how it will effect their children. And I get that. But you know what? I decide what my daughter’s outlook on money will be. Not my neighbors.

We’re going to the Bronx Zoo today. Because New York City is right down the road. So come visit us soon. Bring a bathing suit and a strong sense of self.

Screen Shot

This is my ipad:

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Yesterday I watched a video about people who spend so much time with their faces in screens that they miss life.
It was a wake-up call, and a reminder that I need to bring back the once-a-week Media Fast Day. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Let everyone know you’re turning everything off, and turn everyone off.
As I prepare for my school year, I’ll need to figure out which day will be most appropriate for this. I’ll write all about it.

But for today, this is my ipad.

I’m sharing it with you because there’s some cool stuff on there. And as much as I need a break from it, some of these apps really help my crazy life as a freelancing Mom.

As in, I am a Mom who freelances at other things. The job of Mom is pretty full time 😉

A big portion of the screen is filled with my regular ole’ everyday apps. I’m going to assume you’re familiar with everything through Pinterest. But after that, we have some things I’ve found along the way.

So here we go, some of my favorite apps. I didn’t get paid for this or anything, I just really like ’em.

Wisdom:

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It’s the app I use to write. In fact I’m using it to write this right now. Because of this app, I haven’t opened my laptop in over a month. Really intuitive, easy to share documents, things end up looking like I intended.

Cozi:

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This one is a game-changer. It’s a family planning system. Shared calendars. Shared to-do lists. Shared shopping lists. And you can download Flylady’s routines. This is the only calendar I use. If you are overwhelmed with life, (and who isn’t…?) check out Cozi.

CVS pharmacy:

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I just think this one is fun. We go to CVS a lot because if you play the game correctly, those extra bucks ADD UP. You can get a lot of stuff for free, and you don’t even need to be an extreme couponer. You just have to pay attention. But the app is fun because it looks like the store and you feel like you’re actually shopping and as a Mom, sometimes that’s as close as I get to leaving home that day.

ThredUp:

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Speaking of shopping. Oh my goodness ThredUp has changed my life. It’s basically an online kids consignment shop. I’ve been using it for two years or so- way back since people shipped each other boxes directly. The company has changed a lot since then, but I’ve loved the improvements. It’s where I get most of Lily’s clothes, and it’s where her nice stuff that she’s just too big for now ends up. They ship you the bag- shipping label included. You don’t even need to leave home. WHAT? I know.

And now they have women’s clothes too!!!

A shameless referral plug. If you’re interested in ThredUp, check it out through my referral link. You’ll get $10 off your order. And I’ll get a $10 referral credit too. I know it sounds a little pyramid-schemey. That’s not my intent here. I tell strangers on the street about ThredUp. But hey. If they’re gonna give us each $10…

Mint.com: (There’s no picture for this one because, it’s like, my finances and stuff…)

This has been huge for us. You do need to have an online banking account and allow it to access your account. But this is a really reputable company, and the benefits are so worth it. Mint tracks your budget for you. And it does it automatically. And it is so in line with the principles of Total Money Makeover. Totally easy to use, easy to set up your own budget. A great way to keep yourself on track.

There you have it! My top 5 favorite apps. What apps get you through your day?

Debt Collectors and Dementors

(Originally posted May 12, 2011 on blogspot.)

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I see the caller ID on my iphone- Unknown. Or maybe an 800 number. Or some far away location where I know I don’t know anyone. Like North Dakota- and my blood runs cold.

Should I remain still and hope they go away? They’ll leave a message. And they’ll just keep coming back.

So maybe I should face them, and try to fight. But I know I don’t have the resources. It’s useless.

They are debt collectors. And they are the Dementors of the Muggle World.

The more I think about them, the more I think debt collectors are exactly who she had in mind when J.K Rowling created her terrifying creatures.

-They are faceless.

-They can swoop in at any time.

-They work for someone else.

-They make no distinction between the ones they seek and those who get in the way. Just ask any of my friends or family members who have ever received a call about my debt.

-They make me feel as if I’ll never be cheerful again.

-The more sadness I have in my life, the stronger their effect on me.

-The only thing that can make me feel any better after an interaction with them is chocolate.

Even the names. DEBTCOLLECTORS. DEMENTORS. I can picture Tom Riddle rearranging the letters mid-air with his wand.

I started to make the comparison a few weeks ago after the phone call that put me over the edge. Ryan and I talked about it, and I wondered- if debt collectors are our Dementors… what’s the patronus?

For a while I thought it was something silly. General happy thoughts. Warm fuzzies. I wondered what animal my patronus would be.

But then last Friday I got another phone call. It was a Dementor- er, debt collector. And I felt calm. And so I answered the phone.

The woman on the other end immediately identified herself and the company she represented. And then she told me something surprising- that she had Ryan on conference call. “Hi, sweetheart,” he said.

It turns out she had called him, and then he gave her the usual “My wife takes care of all this and has the numbers” excuse. But when she suggested they call me, something very different happened. “Yes,” he said. “Let’s do that.”

Because this time, I did have all the numbers. It wasn’t just a line. It was the truth. And he knew I would answer. And he knew I would say exactly what I said. “Just a minute. Let me pull up your file.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say that balance was?” I asked. “OK, that’s a little different than what I have here… And you represent Company XYZ? …Can I reach you at 555-123-4567? …Ah, there’s a better number, let me fill that in. …And what was your name? OK, that sounds like a reasonable payment, we can fit that into our budget. We didn‘t plan on it for this month- can we start the first week in June?”

Spreadsheets. Accurate information. A plan. That is my patronus. That knowledge gives me the peace to deal with all of this head-on.

We got off of the phone with a plan that will have the credit card paid-off in seven months. I moved the debt from the “Need to set-up payment plan” list to the “Making payments” snowball list. And the details become clearer and clearer.

In a few years, the Ministry of Magic will be unable to find any fault with me, and the Dementors will have no choice but to slink away. And then I will have a different patronus: I won’t owe anything to anyone. Take that, big ugly black-cloaked creatures.

It’s All In The Timing

(Originally posted May 7, 2011 on blogspot.)

Last week after I posted my blog about debt, I received several private messages. It seems there were a lot of people out there who understood where I was coming from. Two of the messages really caught my attention, because they suggested the same book- “Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. One of my friends even went so far as to send me a copy. They both said it had changed their lives, and I anxiously awaited my package from Amazon.

But when it arrived, something crazy happened. My husband read a book.

Don’t get me wrong. My husband is extremely intelligent and extremely literate. He just gets bored easily. But something about this book captured his attention. I was a little irritated, truth be told. The book had been sent to be. Not to mention, I became a book widow for an entire weekend.

By Sunday evening he emerged from behind the book really fired-up. “We need to do this” he said. I told him I would have a stronger opinion about that when he allowed me to read MY book. And so I did. And my opinion is…. we need to do this.

Dave Ramsey’s book outlines a step-by-step method for getting out of debt. It’s rough, it takes sacrifice, but it works. And we’re not just talking about those pesky credit cards, either. (As ours are minimal. If that’s all we needed to do, we could do it on our own in a few months.) We’re talking car payments, student loans, even mortgages. And then it outlines planning for retirement and college and just general wealthy living. As freelancers, this is stuff that just seemed out of reach.

After reading “Total Money Makeover” and starting to work out our plan, I highly recommend it to anyone who’s ready. In fact, if you decide to get it and read it and follow his plan, I’d love to work on it together. (I’ve already had several conversations with my friend who sent the book. It’s a lot to process, emotionally, and having a strong support system is key.) However. It’s all in the timing.

This book suggests radical life changes, and it has to be the right time. Fortunately for us, it is.

You need to be really angry about your debt. Angry enough to make huge changes. Obviously, I was angry enough to write a blog about it. So. Anger. Check.

You need to be willing to sit down and figure out a really specific budget and follow it. We’ve been doing this in our household since January. We write down everything- every cup of coffee, every toll, every load of laundry. Every penny is accounted for. So. Budget. Check.

You need to give up using your credit cards entirely. We haven’t used ours in years. OK, it’s because they’ve been maxed-out. But still. No credit cards. Check.

You need to be willing to “live like no one else” and not try to keep up with the Joneses. We live in one of the wealthiest cities in the country. We have no hope of keeping up with the Joneses. And when it comes to living like no one else, well, currently my fingernails are painted with a fishnet pattern. So. Comfort with living like no one else. Check.

You need to be willing to give up expensive fun for a while. Have you ever gone to a restaurant with a two-year-old? Have you ever gone on vacation with a two-year-old? Have you ever gone to the movies with a two-year-old? On the other hand, have you ever spent a Saturday afternoon at the park with a two-year-old? Suddenly this doesn’t seem like a sacrifice as much as just good common sense. We’re choosing to give some things up during the one time in our lives when those things are difficult anyway. So. Give up expensive fun. Check.

You need to be willing to drive an inexpensive used car. Uh… check.

We were ready, that was clear. But the first step is getting current on all debts. Frankly, I didn’t even know what was out there. And there was one loan- my student loan from NYU- that scared the bejeezus out of me.

And then yesterday my phone rang. A few hours after I had finished reading. It was from “Unknown.” I took a deep breath. We’re going to have to do this eventually, so here we go. It was from the company representing our very biggest loan. That really scary loan from my Not-Quite-Ivy-League graduate degree. My loan had just gotten to this guy’s desk… yesterday.

More on my conversation with Mr. So-And-So later, but the point was the timing. Just as I was feeling angry and confident and ready, God gave me the opportunity to face the scariest part.

It’s all in the timing, and for us, the time is NOW.

Oh, No They Can’t Take That Away From Me

(Originally posted April 27, 2011.)

Or, Why in the World I Would Write a Blog Series about Debt…

I’ve been crying really hard for about two hours. I know there are people who would rather I not share that, as my blogs tend to be more positive and hopeful.

But last week during a rare therapy session, I was discussing how I understand who I am. And I am a person who shares. I write to make myself understand, and I write to share my story with others in hopes that they will see they’re not alone. And so.

I’ve been crying really hard for about two hours.

It started with a phone call from South Carolina. I am not expecting any phone calls from South Carolina, so I didn’t pick up. But who knows? It could be a South Carolina transplant who now lives in New York. So I listened to the message. As expected, it was a debt collector.

She didn’t say that on the message, of course. “Hi Mindy! This is Jennifer (inaudible last name). Could you give me a call when you get a chance?” The fact that she called me Mindy was extremely disconcerting, as anything official says Melinda.

But I was feeling strong today. So you know what? Fine. Let’s talk.

The conversation wasn’t so terrible for a while. And it turns out she wasn’t calling about my debt, it was Ryan’s. I told her we knew, it bothered us, we were working on it, we didn’t have it. She offered me a reduction in the overall price if we paid it in full. You know the drill. But after a while, we were just talking in circles.

Me: Yeah. I know. That would be great. But we don’t have it. We’re trying.

Her: But it will save you money.

Me: It doesn’t matter. We don’t have it.

Her: Why do you get a loan to pay this off? (Yes. Seriously. That was her suggestion.)

Me: I’m not going in to further debt to pay off a debt. Can we please just talk about a payment plan?

Her: But this will save you money.

Me: It doesn’t matter. We don’t have it.

Her: Could you ask your family?

Me: No. How about a payment plan? I called you, remember? We want to pay it off, but can’t pay it in full.

Her: But this will save you money.

You get the idea.

But some of the things she was saying were, to be honest, truly hurtful. She asked why we had gone into default in the first place. While this was kind of hilarious to me, as if the possible explanation was that we just decided one day to stop paying for things, it also hurt. And it really hurt when she told me over and over that we just weren’t willing to do anything about it. Didn’t I call her? Didn’t I tell her we could make payments? I just wasn’t willing to do it her way.

Soon, I was crying. Naturally. I finally got her to say “OK, I’m gonna let you go for today.” (Yep. I got a debt collector to hang up first.) But when we got off of the phone, I just cried even harder.

I hate being in debt. Ryan and I both do. Everyone does. And today was my breaking point.

I know that our debt isn’t much different than the debt of many of our friends. It’s about student loans, and bad decisions, and changes in financial situations. And we all feel guilty. And we all lose sleep. And we all want to do something about it. And the truth is, there isn’t a ton we can do about it. We’re barely hanging on as it is.

But. There are some things we could do. And we’re not doing them. It feels too big. It feels like if we can’t fix it all, why bother?

I called Ryan and told him how upset I was. And I sent Jackie a text and told her how upset I was. And they both fulfilled their respective duties. Jackie told me how stupid the woman on the phone was, and that she was wrong. And Ryan told me we would fix it.

This weekend, we’re looking at what we owe, and to whom, and we’re coming up with a plan. We can’t fix it. But we’re not going to ignore it anymore.

And I’m going to share it here.

There are a lot of details I’m going to leave out- exact amounts, names of debtors, etc- both for privacy and security. And I have no idea what I’m doing. We’re not financial advisors. We’re pretty terrible about this kind of thing, really. But I know that sharing my experiences has helped me in the past.

When that woman told me I wasn’t trying and wasn’t willing to do anything. When she accused me of being irresponsible. I felt like I wanted to hide. I was ashamed. And I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening. Even though I know- I know- that most of my readers are in the same position.

I felt like I should ignore the one aspect of myself of which I am most certain- my voice.

And I will not let debt take that away from me.

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