A Recipe for Simplicity, In A Thousand Easy Steps - Cheryl Malik MotherHustle
“Externally, the distinction is quite clear, right? Shop and cook for blog = work. Shop and cook for non-blog = not work. But internally? There’s this drive, this inspiration that doesn’t let up just because it’s been 11 hours already today.”

I never get any work done.

That’s what I tell myself each day. The hours pass me by in an instant, spinning me around like a cartoon, zipped up into a tiny Technicolor tornado. I’m scrubbing dried yogurt off my toddler’s face one moment, the next I’m picking him up from grandma’s or preschool, telling him to stop taking off his socks and please don’t climb your mommy and what number comes after 2?, no, 3.

So I had a bright idea: keep up with my time like I do for clients.

I set up a “project” in my time-tracking app, selecting at sort-of-random a hang-gliding icon to represent this endeavor. I pressed “go” on Thursday morning, letting the clock roll through the day into a dinner I made from a recipe I’d written earlier that afternoon: a main course I then styled, shot, and served to my family by the time it was nice and cold.

The next morning was a mommy-Leo day, forcibly but happily, swooping in for another one of his Parents’ Day Out program’s frequent breaks. I pressed my hang glider on the way to a Super Target to pick up a very specific product for a sponsored post, asking Leo to grab it off the shelf over and over again, standing by with my phone snapping shots of him looking super excited about pasta. I let the timer keep rolling through our cake pop and tea time at the little Starbucks alcove by the registers, even though I made silly faces with him and asked him repeatedly what color the cake pop was and is that your favorite oh ok cool.

In between these mommy-Leo moments, though, I’m stealthily writing down topics for my upcoming podcast, articulating just how I am the expert at finding balance between work and motherhood, my thumb tapping blindly at the keyboard so I don’t break eye contact with my little one.

I’m so present right now.

The rest of the day was spent jumping at a trampoline park, watching my 2-year-old run (or, perhaps, gallop?) up and down the lanes in the Toddler Zone, chasing a 4-year-old around, entranced at how he jumps with both legs at the same time. When we left, it was kicking and screaming and fine you don’t need to wear shoes anyway and wrestling him back into his carseat like I was genuinely kidnapping him. I hoped for a good nap after all that drama, but I still worked hurriedly over the next couple hours, bookending my focus with taps on the hang glider, typing on the figurative edge of my seat, my FitBit congratulating me on my heart rate being in the “Fat Burning Zone.”

And later that night, I tallied up my hours over the last day and a half, anxious to show my husband that I never get any work done.

Wait. 19 hours? In a day and a half? 19? 9 ½ per day? OK, my math is still solid, and the translation is: holy shit. I work way too much.

My work is creative, divvied between my food blog and my freelancing life. And, truthfully, I should consider myself full-time with either of them separately, the food blog finally bringing in more than I was making at the agency job I left a few months back so I could return my focus to my family.

Except writing and shooting recipes for my blog enters an unattractive, murky gray area: we all grocery shop and cook anyway, so where does life-in-general end and work begin? There’s no clear distinction, I tell myself, even though the experience of writing a recipe to be shared with the world is far different from my cheesy Emeril impersonations when we’re eating just for us. I slap a couple cups of the dish on a Batman plate and sling it onto the table, garnishing it with absolutely nothing.

For the blog? I’m stuffing overturned bowls beneath a curry, sprinkling it with unwashed cilantro (Because, of course, washed cilantro clumps together, as every Latin and Indian food blogger will tell), balancing sliced chiles in attractive, haphazard(-appearing) patterns.

I’m arranging the bowls on linens that I’ve heavily styled to look supremely organic, daintily dotting the frame with antique spice grinders and matte vintage spoons.

I’m muttering resentment at the already fading light of the late summer, debating between pulling out my artificial lights or just throwing the camera on the tripod.

And so, externally, the distinction is quite clear, right? Shop and cook for blog = work. Shop and cook for non-blog = not work.

But internally? There’s this drive, this inspiration that doesn’t let up just because it’s been 11 hours already today. There’s this calling to go further, perfect my craft, or just get a damn bit better than I was before that doesn’t clock out when 5 p.m. rolls around; it doesn’t even fade. There’s this inability to stop thinking and planning and scheming, and the temptation to just shoot this recipe anyway only dissipates when I slap a couple cups of the dish on a Batman plate and garnish it with absolutely nothing.

But as a mom, I have to find a balance and boundaries. Without them, it’s 18-hour days with no permission to my brain to simply stop, to do nothing, to brainstorm nada.

The solution? I accept that I’ll work more than your standard 40-hour work week. I love what I do too much, and the space in my chest swells up with pride and ownership and attachment when something actually works. And to appease the fiery ENTJ, type A+ Aries in me, I’ve learned to view my time spent with my family as an investment in my future, in my business’s future.

It’s those afternoons stolen away to go make faces at the monkeys at the zoo with Leo, those are the days that leave me feeling brand new to brainstorm the perfect fall dessert and to care about the angle of the antique spice grinders and matte vintage spoons. It’s the mental rejuvenation I need, a space for my brain to stop and stretch and simply rest, while my heart takes over the efforts, verging on explosion.

It’s these moments, when I give in and press pause on my ever-present hang glider, that make me feel free to be super mom. And when I give both my all, that’s when I own it and grow. When I slide the phone across the carpet and out of arm’s reach to tickle my little one pretty close to actual hyperventilation, I’m free to let go.

Because, if I’m being honest, I get plenty of work done, and it’s time I gave myself permission to be satisfied with what is and what happens that day. It’s time to pass on the temptation to stuff extra tasks into my waking hours, choosing to edit an ebook over giving my son a bath and pretending he has some horrible bubbles on his head that we have to get rid of immediately.

It’s time to accept that daily pauses won’t stifle my creativity, but will, more likely, stoke it. And maybe then, and only then, I’ll actually be the expert at finding balance between work and motherhood.

Cheryl Malik is a food blogger, content marketer, and lady boss. She loves to stay busy and has a hard time saying no (she’s working on it). She lives with her husband and 2-year-old son in Memphis, and she loves to travel, eat, and throw rocks with little Leo (who, coincidentally, LOVES to say ‘no’). You can follow her food blog at 40aprons.com, read the work of amazing and real women at nofilteronline.com, and keep up with her passion for empowering female entrepreneurs at thequeenbeeschool.com. Find her on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.


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