Lessons in Margin

>> Monday, February 2, 2009

Almost weekly in college, I was given the assignment in one class or another to write a one-page reflection paper about a book or article or experience, etc... One page. No more, no less. Probably in part because the professor didn't want to read 5million pages of random thoughts. But there was also value in learning to condense and edit your thoughts into one, concise page. I am sure I was not the only one who wrote my paper and then played with the font and page settings until I made it all fit on one page. Most of the time to do that, I had to reduce the page margins to the very minimum allowed, defeating one of the main objectives of the exercise. I find myself doing the same thing lately, although this time it is not the margins of my paper I am cutting. It is the margin of my life.

I have alluded before that I am currently reading some very clarifying books, trying desperately to get life back to a manageable place. Before the holidays, our counselor introduced us to the concept of personal margin- the space you give yourself, build into your life, so that you are not constantly living on the verge of overload or, even worse, complete breakdown. That was me. Is me. I do live life constantly on the edge of insanity, keeping my head above water but sometimes just barely. I try hard to cram so much "life" into my days that I am missing life. Does that make sense to anyone? Metaphorically, I am typing out my paper, putting in all the thoughts and paragraphs I think make it a better piece. But in the end, my one page paper turns into three. Instead of cutting out the things that don't need to be said or could be said a better way, I reduce the margins.
I cut, and cut, and cut... until there is no margin to spare. "I can add this one more thing, this one playdate, this one extra commitment or project or...." You get the idea. It is the whole "camel's back" scenario.

Well, enough. I am taking back my margin, one cut at a time.

It usually takes things coming to a crisis moment for me to remember why I have to vigilantly protect my space. One such moment came today. I have to beginnings of a sinus infection, no food in my pantry, a messy house, a toddler that has resumed his habit of getting up a 2:30am.... all while planning a toddler valentine party, potty-training, managing my baby that won't nap, trying to pick a preschool, re-teach Caden to take a bottle, planning some upcoming travel, going on a playdate with a good friend, coffee with another... AHHHHHHH! All good and real parts of life. But all together, too much. At least for me. There may be some women who can manage all these things with a hand tied behind their back and do it with grace and time to spare. But not me. I need more margin than that.

I stood in the kitchen this afternoon and cried. Overwhelmed, tired, feeling sick,... My sweet sympathetic little man says, "mommy, don't cry. Jesus loves you. I love you, mommy." That makes me feel a little better (how could it not!).
Then Hubby made dinner, let me nap for 30min, and then gave Lucas a bath and did bedtime while I schlepped my exhausted (and self) to a local coffee shop to meet a friend and get out of the house. It was another thing to do, but actually did wonders for my sanity. So did coming home and cleaning the house a bit while Caden (thankfully) continued to sleep.

My life margins are still smaller than they need to be. But I am getting there. I am learning what things need to be cut and how to best manage the rest. And I know that there will always be extra things that pop-up or cannot be avoided. But the good thing about building in margin, is that when they do, I will be ready. I will be better equipped to handle it because I will have room instead of constantly living at the intersection of overloaded and overwhelmed.

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Catherine February 3, 2009 at 3:21 PM  

Good for you! I am all about margins - I protect mine probably more aggressively than I should sometimes...

Atwood-Family of 3 February 4, 2009 at 7:07 AM  

I have weeks like that sometimes and I get quickly overwhelmed and want to do that same exact thing you did-cry and run to my bed and cover my head like I used to when I was a little girl. Fortunately those weeks are not so often-if my life was like that I could completely get why you would need some more margins and space.

Melinda February 4, 2009 at 6:29 PM  

I totally feel you on this. I used to do the same thing, take on too much and then think there must be something wrong with me because the house was messy and I couldn't seem to keep up with the laundry. Meanwhile I was missing out on the joy of living life. You keep cutting, and you'll be surprised how great you feel when you reach a sane point.

And oh my gosh your little man is so sweet!!

tiger April 6, 2010 at 4:44 AM  


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