20 October 2011

Elizabeth O'Neal - How She Does It - Secrets from a Geneamommyblogger

I became a mom late in life. My husband and I got married the week before my 40th birthday, and for 2 years we gave getting pregnant more than a good try. 20 years of stage IV endometriosis would not make that easy. Surgery, fertility drugs, ovulation predictor kits, internet “remedies”… we threw everything at pregnancy we could think of. I had even located an IVF clinic in St. Louis that specialized in “lost causes,” which we most certainly were.

Imagine my surprise when, upon arriving in Maui to take care of my cousin’s family while she spent time with her dying mother, I discovered that, no, I did not get food poisoning on the plane. Three pregnancy kits and a blood test later, I finally believed that the impossible had happened: I was pregnant.

My husband and I both knew that this would probably be our one and only shot at having a child, so the pressure was on. After age 35, a woman is considered a “high risk” pregnancy, and at that point, I was a few years removed from 35. The pregnancy was not easy, and the delivery almost killed me. Literally.

But I finally got to hold my beautiful baby girl in my arms, something I had dreamed of my whole life.

And then the real fun began.

*   *   *

Someone once told me that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person. I really think that statement should be amended to say that you should ask a busy woman. Busy women already know how to get things done, so adding one more thing should be easy, right? We can fry up the bacon, talk on the phone, type an article, sweep the floor, and make a child to stop pulling the dog’s tail… all at the same time. W-O-M-A-N.

Before I had my daughter, I was an elementary school teacher. It was hard work with long hours, and let’s just say I was not sorry to give it up to be a stay-at-home mom. But it was good that I had that experience because I developed The Teacher Voice, which frequently comes in handy, and the word “no” practically rolls off my tongue with no effort whatsoever.

Towards children, that is. In my own life, I am just learning how to say no.

I don’t know why we women find it so difficult to say no. Do we feel it makes us seem weak to admit that we just can’t do one more thing? Personally, I believe it makes us stronger, and is more honest to those who are asking us for help. As I’ve discovered over the past few years, there really is a point where you are overcommitted, and something always suffers. I don’t want that something to be my daughter.

But I must confess: I am terrible at following my own advice.

For example: I currently serve as the Senior State President of the California State Society Children of the American Revolution (C.A.R.). It’s a big job, but I love working with a fantastic group of kids, including my own. The DAR keeps me busy as a national chairman, webmaster, and the state society’s social media coordinator, among other things.

Genealogy-wise, I was recently named the Social Media Coordinator for the San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society, and I’m the main voice behind their new blog and Twitter account. Oh, and I’m also the coordinator of ProGen 9.

Hello, my name is Elizabeth, and I’m a volunteeraholic.

Don’t get me wrong: I love what I do, but I really wish there were a few more hours in the day. And a seriously large pot of coffee.

In addition to motherhood, my genealogy business, and a volunteerism addiction, I also homeschool my daughter. Actually, we made the decision this year to send her to a part-time charter school. She attends classes 2 days a week, and I homeschool the remaining 3 days (weekends are free, unless we miss one of the other days). So – less driving time to and from school – that leaves me with about 10 hours to myself each week. And let me tell you, those hours go by FAST.

I keep it all straight – or try to, at least – with a good, old-fashioned, Franklin Planner. That bulging book is so 20th century, but it’s the only thing that works for me. I’ve tried Palm Pilots, a Sony CLIÉ, and a half dozen or so smartphone calendars. But I never looked at them. And the missed appointments and deadlines were testimony to the fact that a planner not looked at, no matter how technologically cool, is useless.

For extra nagging support, I use the calendar on my computer, which I sync to my iPhone, and I have numerous reminders and alarms that pop up throughout the day. Seriously, if I didn’t get a reminder to eat lunch or pick up my daughter from ballet, I’m sure I would forget. And the laundry would be in the washer for a week if I didn’t have an alarm telling me to put it in the dryer.

When I’m on my game, I plan out all – and I mean ALL – of our meals for the week, and shop about 2-3 times a month. When I’m off my game, we eat frozen pizza or whatever isn’t moldy in the refrigerator. I really don’t like to cook, but someone has to feed us. My shopping list is kept in an iPhone app called GroceryIQ, and since my phone is almost always with me, I can’t use “I forgot my list” as an excuse to blow off the shopping.

I also don’t like housework. When I pick up my daughter’s toys for the gazillionth time, or clean up after my elderly dog with bowel problems, I often find myself muttering that this is NOT what I went to college for. But again, somebody has to do it. Since I’m the one at home all day, the grunt work falls to me. Plus, my daughter and I both have very bad allergies, so we have to keep the dust and mildew to a minimum (easier said than done, living on the coast). I try to clean at least one part of the house each day, but I’d be lying if I said I was always successful at that.

When it comes to taking care of myself, like most moms, I typically wind up at the bottom of the list. To be honest, I hate to exercise, and my two favorite food groups are caffeine and sugar. I joined a family-friendly gym with a great, supervised, child play area earlier this year so I would have no more excuses not to exercise. But it’s amazing how many excuses I can still come up with. I really do want to live long enough to see my daughter get married and have kids of her own, and I was warned that if I didn’t whip my core into shape I could count on many, painful years of degenerative disc disease (DDD). So with that in mind, I try to drag myself to the gym 2 or 3 times a week. Eating right is another problem entirely… hence the planning of all meals so I won’t choose a cookie for lunch instead of a salad.

I do like to sleep, but I don’t get much of it anymore. By the time my daughter goes to bed at 8:00 p.m., I’m usually fried. My insomnia and my husband’s buzzsaw-like snoring often keep me awake for hours. On a good night, I get 5-6 hours of sleep. On a bad night, maybe 2. On a really bad night, I sleep in the guest room with ear plugs.

I started blogging four years ago as a way to save my sanity. My original plan was to be a "mommy-blogger,” since everyone who was anyone was a mommy-blogger back in the day. I soon found myself bored with writing about cleaning my house or my daughter’s swimming lessons, and the series I did about having a virus was not my best work (I blame the cold meds). So I began interspersing updates about Starbuck’s newest flavors with stories of genealogy.  And that’s how I became a geneamommyblogger. After all, genealogy isn’t just about our ancestors; it’s also about the memories we leave for our descendants.

*   *   *

Being a late-in-life mom gives me a different perspective. I’ve already had a career (several, in fact), so I don’t mind giving up time to spend with my daughter. I’m keenly aware of the fact that a good portion of my life has already been lived, so I need to spend what’s left of it doing things that make me – and my family – happy.

And when my daughter interrupts me while I’m writing to give me a hug and tell me she loves me (like she just did), or to ask me to play ponies, I remind myself that one day she’ll be a surly teenager, and her only acknowledgement of my existence will be a heavy sigh and rolling eyes.

I savor each moment while I can.

I want my daughter to remember her mother as someone who worked hard, enjoyed what she did, but was never too busy to make time for her… and that she was loved and wanted more than anything in the world.

When things get to be too much, I ask myself, “What’s the worst that will happen if I don’t get this done today?” If no one will die, and no blood is involved, I might just put it off for another day.

After all, we really do need to stop for hugs and ponies once in a while.

Those are the real memories that will last for a lifetime.

*   *   *

Elizabeth O’Neal is a professional genealogist specializing in the preparation of lineage society applications, as well as the use of technology and social media. She enjoys writing and lecturing about genealogy, and is the author of the award‐winning genealogy blog “Little Bytes of Life.”

Her daughter has not yet caught the genealogy bug, but spends time with mom and dad visiting local cemeteries. She still thinks they are just big parks with lots of stepping stones.

Contact Elizabeth at elizabeth [at] littlebytesoflife [dot] com, or on Twitter as @littlebyteslife.

beginning October 15, 2011. If you missed a day, click here.


  1. Elizabeth,

    Love this post! Thanks for keeping it real. I homeschooled my 3 children for 11 years, so I know how much of a time commitment that is. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oh yeah. The Smartphone. Setting an alarm to remind you to change the clothes from the washer to the dryer?

    Why the hell didn't I think of that? Seriously. That's brilliant.

    And? I use a grocery app too. Lifesaver.

    Your post made me feel better about a lot of the stuff I didn't reveal in my own post. Thanks. ;)


  3. Great post. I come away with ideas and a feeling of I am not alone. Thanks.

  4. @Valerie, I agree about the time commitment for homeschooling (especially for 3 children - how did YOU do it??), but the cool thing is that we do lessons when we're in the mood, not when a clock (or a school district) tells us to do them. And I can completely tailor my child's education in a way that suits her learning style. It's hard work, but hopefully worth the effort in the end. If she decides to be a coffee barista later in life, I will be so disappointed (unless she gives her old mom free coffee).

    @Caroline - when our old washer committed a painful suicide, we got one of those new-fangled, front-loaders. We were warned to never, never, ever leave wet laundry fermenting in there or it would smell like something died and went straight to hell. That's what spurred the washer alarm. Plus, I really would leave it in there for a week (did it before with the old washer). My husband also has the GroceryIQ app, which syncs to mine, making it easy for me to say, "Honey, could you please run to the store and pick up a few things?" He still comes home with all the wrong stuff, but at least I didn't have to waste time writing a list.

    @Hummer, you're so not alone. We're all out here just muddling through. {muddle, muddle}

  5. There's an app for grocery lists? That will definitely put me over the edge in convincing myself to get an iPhone!

    Great post, Elizabeth.

  6. Congratulations on your daughter. I always enjoy reading your posts.

  7. Great post, Elizabeth. As a husband of a great wife and three grown daughters, each of whom have lived some variant of your descriptions, I can appreciate each and every comment. Thanks for sharing! Many more will benefit from your remarks than will ever show up in these comments!!! ;-)

  8. @Debi, it's called GroceryIQ and you get it from the App Store. There are others now, but I got this one before the others came along. I wanted one that allowed me to scan bar codes (yes, I'm that lazy), and this was the only one that did it at that time.

    @Anglers - thank you. She gives me plenty of "blog fodder."

    Thanks, @Dr. Bill. So you really understand the crazy that comes along with a house full of women, don't you? 2/3 of our human family is female, but when my husband feels like the lone male, I remind him that our dog is also male. For some reason, that doesn't console him much.

  9. Elizabeth, You are one of my fav bloggers. Excellent post. In fact, this week has been lined up with nothing but superstars. Great selections.

  10. Wonderful post. Looks like I will have to get in and get a smartphone. With two daughters, my husband is the male 1/4 of our family; he refers to himself and our two male cats as the "Koehl Men's Club." He is always threatening that the three of them are going to rebel against the "Monstrous Regiment of Women."

  11. Elizabeth,
    Thanks for some great idea's. Love the grocery app and setting an alarm for the washer, like you, i let my wash sit unless I am down in my "office" whih is just a few feet from the laundry.
    I also use an old fashioned planner, I find it works better as well. Though, I also use the calendar on my iPhone for many things as well.

  12. An alarm for your laundry - I agree with Caroline - brilliant! I need to do that. Maybe I wouldn't have all stages of laundry going in my house 5 days of the week.

    I may go back to the Franklin Planner. I tweeted yesterday I need a new way to organize my week. Amy Coffin eluded to a daily to do list and what didn't get done went on the next day. I need to start that. I kind of make a daily to do list for the week and overload it and feel like I got nothing done, when really I did! Glad you recommended the planner! You may have just saved my sanity!

  13. @Jen, the Franklin system is really more than just a "to-do" list. It's more of a "goal-achieving" system that helps you prioritize and break large goals down into smaller, manageable tasks. It's based on "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" book by Stephen Covey. I've used it for years.

    For the record, I do not work for Franklin Covey, but I am an affiliate because I believe in the system so much. If you decide to order, I would be eternally grateful if you would do so through the link on my blog. Every penny counts these days!! :-)

    @A, @Greta, & @Terri, thank you for the very kind words. Still giggling at "Monstrous Regiment of Women!"

  14. I am really digging this whole series. It's so nice to see that other people struggle with the same stuff.


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