It has been 22,017 days since my children went to school full-time (as God so clearly intended), but today—finally—was the first day of school. The most glorious first day of school of all time.
There have been years where the first day of school brought me to tears. When Oliver went to kindergarten—and I had to rip him off my leg and leave him alone in this brave, colorful, new world—it was rather heart-breaking. Come to think of it, when Sydney went to kindergarten and asked me to stay in the car, while she strutted right in without looking back—heart-breaking in an entirely different way.
But today there were no drop-off tears from this Mom because MY KIDS WILL NOT BE HOME TODAY!
We were a little rusty at the morning routine, as it’s been a long time since I packed a lunch or we had to be, well, anywhere really, at a specific time. It turns out even if your son is going-on-two-years older than the last time we were rushing out the door for school, getting our shoes on in a timely fashion remains an issue. And we had to run back in to get our masks, but such is life in these unprecedented times, amiright?
BUT MY KIDS WILL NOT BE HOME TODAY.
When I got back home, and walked in the house it was almost unnervingly quiet, and I sat down at my desk and although I sit here every day, it felt unfamiliar. What was this new feeling? Oh, right—uninterrupted thinking, actual focus, clarity, mental margin. Cue the tears.
Not to get all sappy on you but too late probably? So, I’m just going all the way here… I sat there a second just recognizing the hard thing that I did and I was grateful, and perhaps, a little bit proud even.
This season was HARD. At some point, it became our new normal, and I forgot what it felt to feel any other way than frustrated I wasn’t as productive as I planned to be, or that I couldn’t bring myself to plan ahead for dinner or fill-in-the-blank as the list of perceived failures was looooong. Somewhere along the way I forgot that I was carrying this extra 150-pound burden (approximate weight of one 5th grader and one 2nd grader), but instead just beating myself up for my inability to rally. Suddenly, with that weight gone (I swear, I do love my children), I could just breathe easier. The air smelled cleaner, the sun shone brighter, and well, you get the idea…
BECAUSE MY KIDS WILL NOT BE HOME TODAY.
And you know what I did? Nothing. I worked. Without interruption. I sat. In solitude.
It was just…..relief. Sweet, sweet relief.
The Burden of Mental Overhead
Of course, this was an extreme set of circumstances, you know global pandemic and all, but it got me thinking how many of us are walking around day-to-day, living a half-life in a similar way, because of some external pressure pushing down on us.
As I work at a budgeting company, of course my mind is always a mere two steps away from making a money-related connection, here it is: there was a weighty mental overhead of entertaining and educating two small humans while they were under the same roof as me 24/7. Never knowing what important meeting was going to get interrupted, trying and failing to summon how long division works from a deep and dusty crevice of my brain. Trying to figure out how to explain what is going on in the world.
But mental overhead comes in many flavors, not just figuring out how to answer the 3,145th question of an elementary-aged kid. The most popular mental overhead? It just might be financial stress. How much weight are you carrying from the mental overhead of money stress? How often does the burden of our debt make us feel so tired? How many times does our inner voice parrot out some warning or poke because we are living one unexpected expense from a financial disaster on a daily basis?
Despite how terrible it is—how much it diminishes our life-force—it becomes so normal to us that we forget to imagine what life could be like without it.
What Would Life Be Like Without the Stress?
Imagine what it would feel like to be out of debt, freeing up that stress and all the money you have to channel keeping it at bay every month—what could you do with all that extra mental space? Not only that, but what would you do with all that extra money?
Imagine what it would feel like to just pay your bills when they come due without a second thought, to have money saved for Christmas, to be able to cover an emergency without it even feeling like an emergency.
I can’t just pay off your debt today and give you that MY-KIDS-WILL-NOT-BE-HOME-TODAY feeling, but recognizing that you aren’t crazy, the weight you are carrying is real, and when it is gone, you will have margin that you didn’t even know how much you needed.
If You’re Lacking Mental Margin
No matter what shape or size your mental stress takes, there are strategies for combating it and giving yourself more space.
- Build in some rest in whatever form that can take. Even if it’s just five minutes a day and you just stare at the nearest wall.
- Give yourself a phone pause. I heard of one person doing a 24-hour phone break from Friday night to Saturday night and they said it’s been the most recharging thing to feel fully present for her kids.
- We don’t need one more productivity system, but I keep hearing about the GTD mindset and a coworker shared an earth-shattering approach to managing his mental clutter. I might just give it a try.
- If your mental burden is financial, you can finally get it out of your head with the help of a budget. Of course, I’m a full-on believer in YNAB for allowing me to reclaim my mental space when it comes to money. What have you got to lose?
My revelation is that margin might just be the key to life. In parenting and finances—we need margin. If you don’t have it, there is light at the end of the tunnel and I wish it for you. For all of us!
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