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From the Desk Of: Redesign for the Better

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Kate Payne gives tips on how to embrace the New Year with grace and perspective.

By Kate Payne, Photo by Jo Ann Santangelo

Kate Payne is a writer based outside of Elgin, Texas. She lives on 2 acres with her wife, their nearly four-year-old daughter, several hairy pets and lots of visiting neighborhood chickens. Payne returned to Austin from Brooklyn 10 years ago, just as her first book, Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking (HarperCollins, 2011), was soon to be published. She followed that book with Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen (HarperCollins, 2014).
Creating connection and community is at the core of the Hip Girl’s platform. Since creating that space, Payne has taught hundreds, if not thousands, of people how to pickle, ferment, jam and preserve seasonal produce safely. Beyond teaching, she worked for many years with the Texas Farmers Market. Developing communications and marketing, then served as the group’s first executive director.

In her current role at the Design Institute for Health within UT Austin’s Dell Medical School, she serves as team storyteller. She translates design methods, mindsets and tools into stories illustrating the work of provoking systemic change in health through design.

Similar to and oddly reminiscent of building community around making a space to feel at home, Payne felt it imperative to post images and discuss the real on-the-ground experience of working at home with small children as the pandemic rolled on. She unmasked the traditionally edited-for-Instagram space that is parenting. Sharing these five takeaways from her eight months of pandemic parenting.

It’s okay to not be okay.

We can only hold so much. Sometimes we must break into a thousand pieces. Find the best way to do only what’s essential in times like these. Compile food that will suffice for dinner, uphold boundaries around sleep, feed the dog. A friend shared the analogy of assessing which balls are rubber and which are glass so you can confidently drop a few for as long as you need. Outside of the pandemic, there are plenty of things in life that shatter us. Require strategies for gluing ourselves back together. Whether that means walking ruts in the asphalt on your neighborhood streets or Marco Polo ranting to friends or seeking professional support. Let go of the shame and expectation that you have to keep it all together. Find some relief in that space you allow yourself.

austin-woman-kate-payne

You are a priority.

At the height of running a home preschool while also attempting to work my job remotely this summer, parenting became a series of triggering moments. These activated shame and genuine concern about whether or not I was turning my child into a monster. My own dysregulation—having zero wind in my sails—was surfacing in how I showed up and provoked behaviors in my child. Which then triggered reactions in me that I didn’t feel proud of. Focusing on supporting my mental health and well-being and understanding the stress-response cycle became a necessary first step in turning that parenting ship around. (Add Emily Nagoski’s books to your Audible list.)

Everything changes.

Even my worst weeks did eventually come to an end. The seemingly long yet short-lived seasons of parenting hold so true in this crazy science experiment we find ourselves in. Kids pass through developmental stages (read: holy-terrorizing times) and emerge unscathed on the other side. Emulate their resilience and willingness to direct their gaze solidly in the here and now that emerges.

Expect awkward.

None of us have flexed our social muscles regularly. Since none of us have anything resembling a normal life that includes interacting with others how we used to. Feeling rusty at communicating with other parents, friends even, at social-distance yard dates is to be expected and totally normal. Knowing that you and others are all in the same boat might help alleviate social anxiety after the better part of a year without friend engagement.

Redesign for the better.

I can’t think of anything more urgent that this time invites us to do than rebuild our lives toward a more sustainable new normal. I don’t know about you, but if I look really hard at my life pre-pandemic, honestly, I wasn’t doing very well. I felt overwhelmed by the tug-of-war demands of work and mothering. The measly scraps left for well-being and social connection. What if I work from home a few days a week moving forward? What if I go for a walk during meetings when I don’t need to be at a computer? What if I work fewer hours; is job sharing an option? Asking these what-if questions now will help you create a new normal that will support you better as things evolve with the pandemic.


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