The “Nice” List (of Links!)

KathyTiffany and I will be back in a couple weeks with some end-of-the-year thoughts, but in the meantime, here are some things I’ve been reading lately — on holidays, parenting, and introverting! I hope you are all finding some time for yourselves during this busy month.

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As a mom and a writer who works from home, this piece by Vanessa Hua for the Washington Post had me nodding again and again. I’ve been feeling unhappy lately about giving more time to the “life” side of my work/life balance, mainly in the form of holiday prep. It’s not just guilt — I really do feel happier when I’m writing. The whole point of having a flexible schedule is being flexible, though, so why can’t I let myself feel grateful for having that extra time? I need to find a way to embrace it, not beat myself up about it.

Along those lines, here are some tips on being kind to yourself during the holidays from The Business of Introverts. I’m personally giving myself the gift of sleep, or trying to, anyway. My brain is giving me the gift of waking up an hour before I need to. Thanks?

Raise your hand if you’re looking for ways to minimize your time in a mall this season. Yeah, me too. Lots of great ideas in this post from Parent Hacks. I am all about food gifts, experiences, and donations.

Anglophile alert: If you have been extra good this year check out Sacred Introvert’s 2015 retreat tour to the UK, which includes Glastonbury, Stonehenge, and the city of Bath, AKA some of the coolest places I’ve ever visited. The tour is designed for introverts and will include plenty of chances to set your own schedule.

Finally, I’m blocking out this afternoon for Carolyn Hax’s Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors, one of my favorite holiday traditions. You can’t get much more festive than this chat filled with holiday disasters. If you can’t join in live, read the transcript later. Warning: Then you will want to go back and read ALL the transcripts, but that’s okay because this definitely counts as downtime. Consider it my holiday gift to you.

— Kathy

BOOK REVIEW: Overwhelmed, by Brigid Schulte

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

by Brigid Schulte, 2014

KathyThis book stressed me out. Just sitting on the sofa reading Brigid Schulte’s descriptions of how thoroughly Americans are tying themselves in knots, trying to do it all, made my body respond with the same rush of adrenaline it usually sends me for things like hosting Doodlebug’s birthday party. No one wants to live like that. So how can we fix it?

Schulte, a journalist at the Washington Post, explores solutions to the condition she calls “the overwhelm” – that feeling of complete imbalance we manage to achieve while trying to be the perfect employee/spouse/parent/person. She looks at factors that drive the stereotypes of the Ideal Worker and the Ideal Mother and shows how our society has placed them at odds.

Since women have entered the workforce, we’ve been struggling unsuccessfully to meet both of these standards. And as Schulte points out, men are also being pulled in opposing directions as they become more involved parents. So what loses out? Among other things, taking time for oneself. By now your introvert alert system should be flashing DANGER DANGER DANGER.

And there’s more! Multitasking, time fragmentation, overscheduling our kids, parental leave policies, gender roles. This book points out so many problems with the way we live, but in the end there are so many potential solutions. And the good news is, many of the strategies Schulte explores will seem familiar to introverts. We have something of a head start in (and maybe a biological imperative for) seeking balance. But I still found a lot that was useful, enlightening, and just plain fascinating.

There are three main sections to the book: work, love, and play. Each one deserves its own post, but I’ll try to pull out the parts that spoke to me the most.

Work:

One of the most important points in Overwhelmed was that flexible work schedules help everyone, not just parents, and I hope things will change as more people realize that. Maybe you need to leave early because your kid is performing in the kindergarten play, or maybe you have no kids and it’s just a nice afternoon for a bike ride. Or maybe you DO have kids and you just want to go for a ride before they get home from school. Any of these reasons should be okay, as long as you’re getting your work done.

Schulte talks a lot about the culture of face time and ways to break away from it – sometimes you have to be in the same room with your co-workers, other times it doesn’t matter. iDad and I are both very lucky to work from home, and I know that’s key to maintaining our family’s balance. Things were much more chaotic when he left every day for “the office” and had to travel several times a year. I don’t miss it one bit.

Love:

Schulte is honest about her marriage and the unsatisfactory division of labor she and her husband drifted into after they had kids. So it’s important to set clear expectations with your partner and reevaluate as you go. It seems way too easy to shift into traditional gender roles as new parents. I know this happened with iDad and me, mostly because I was home full-time. And it was a surprise, because up until then we’d had a pretty good division of labor. I think that, for introverts especially, it’s key to be part of a strong team with your spouse and talk about this. A lot.

Play:

Take time for play, without the dose of guilt for focusing on something besides your kids, your spouse, or your job. Introverts know this one, but personally I still struggle with it, and Schulte has a lot of interesting evidence that women have never really had much of a “leisure culture.” But she makes such a good case for the importance of play that I almost felt tempted to try one of the crazy moms’ playgroups she writes about. Or maybe I should just find a book club instead. Introvert fun is still fun!

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So is this book worth the blood pressure spike? I say yes — if we can get this balance right, or at least take steps to improve, that will be really good news for our kids, both now and when they have to navigate this crazy landscape themselves.

— Kathy

Bonus materials:

Schulte’s web site at the Washington Post has links to articles she’s written, many about aspects of work/life balance. She also has a personal website with a blog and more info about the book.

I Am … Queen LaTeacha

tiffany_head_128“So, if you’re such an introvert, how are you going to manage interacting with a hundred students each day?” — Dreamy

“Wait, you’re an introvert?  Why do you hang out with us then?” — Anthony, eighth grader

I asked myself these questions, or variations of them, multiple times over the past few years. The best answer I can offer goes something like this: remember a few years ago when Beyoncé released an album called I Am … Sasha Fierce? While promoting the record she explained Sasha Fierce is her onstage personality who emerges during the superstar’s showstopping performances. Sasha is confident, in control, and a force to be reckoned with. In other words, as Beyoncé’s alter ego, Sasha owns it.

My teacher alter ego is named Queen LaTeacha. She takes the stage Monday through Friday from 7:50 a.m. to 11:17 a.m. The Queen is animated, expressive, outgoing, and – dare I say? – an extrovert. That said, however, by the end of my last class I am wiped. out.

Recharging begins at precisely 11:21 a.m., after my students have left and the hallways have cleared. I close my classroom door, sit down, and exhale. Sometimes I stare at the wall for a few minutes, sometimes I put on some music and begin puttering around the room, stacking chairs and tidying up. Organizing helps me feel in control, and that feeling, combined with a few moments of quiet , has so far helped me to refocus before taking on grading, planning, and preparing for the next day.

What I wondered about most was how does this switcheroo happen, exactly? How am I able to suddenly and seamlessly switch from my introverted self to Queen LaTeacha?

As usual Susan Cain comes to the rescue. Chapter nine of Quiet is simply revelatory. She profiles Professor Brian Little, a popular lecturer and professor whose work on personality and motivational psychology is groundbreaking. Little’s work helped me to identify teaching as one of my “core personal projects” (p. 209) and thus helped me to understand how these two parts of my personality work together in service of a larger goal or mission. I am motivated, passionate, and plain ol’ excited about this new path, and feeling this way enables my extroverted traits to take center stage.

How does this alter ego business affect parenting? Now more than ever I am acutely aware of the need to better manage my energy levels. And, as we’ve seen, I am not very good at this.  It is critical I reserve energy for my own kids, not just the ones I teach. My husband needs some too, as do friends and other family members.

As Kathy notes, parenting is also a core personal project which requires loads of additional energy. So do I still feel crunched and pressured to be “on” most of the time? Of course. But here’s the thing: my job makes me happy, and this seems to offset some of the adverse effects of so much extroverting. As long as small chunks of the day can be reserved for recharging I am confident this new lifestyle will sort itself out. That’s the only way I can see these various pieces fitting together to create a healthy and unified whole.

Unless you, dear readers, have ideas. The Queen is taking any and all suggestions.

— Tiffany

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KathySchool can actually be a great place to be an introvert – for students, I mean. Lots of structure, stretches of quiet where you’re expected to focus on your own work, and plenty of opportunities to read and write. But it can also be loud, chaotic, and severely draining.

That’s not just my perspective as an adult returning to volunteer (or sneaking in to drop off cupcakes). I have very clear memories of seventh grade and the relief I felt when I was finally deemed old enough to come home to an empty house. Before that I went to a series of babysitters after school with bunches of other kids, and while that was definitely fun (kind of like having a rotating group of extra siblings through the years), it added an extra couple hours of “on” time to the end of an already-long school day.

Middle school was also when all the angsty friend/boy drama kicked into high gear, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after school I gorged on alone time, happily watching Guiding Light, playing Tetris, and writing stories until the rest of my family got home. High school wasn’t much less draining in that respect – I can remember sighing to my mom that “At school you have to be nice to everyone all the time.”

So I think I’m extra aware that my little introvert needs her own downtime after school. Doodlebug’s only extracurricular activity right now is Brownies, and that’s one night each month. On top of a standing appointment she has once a week, that’s it. I would love to get her into an art class or swimming lessons, but I’m wary of messing with a schedule that already seems tight for her. On afternoons when I have to drag her on an errand or three, I grit my teeth and anticipate a dinnertime meltdown. Possibly from either one of us – it’s draining for me, too!

And after reading articles like this interview with our hero Susan Cain, I’m wondering more about ways Doodlebug can grab pockets of quiet time during the school day. Her class’s schedule seems to have several self-directed components, which is great, and they have reading time each day. But they are still sitting at tables, not desks, even though they’re third graders. I hope this ends next year – sometimes everyone just needs their own space, even extroverts.

Doodlebug has been lucky so far to get teachers who understand that she needs time to warm up and who push her just far enough. And I’m excited about the ways technology will let her and other younger introverts contribute in class at their own speed. I never felt comfortable jumping into a classroom debate at 90 mph, but I would have loved having a class blog or message board.

Or a Guiding Light message board! Ohhh, the hours I could have wasted after school on that!

— Kathy

The Introvert Table

KathyAs Doodlebug’s preschool teacher used to say: I have wonderful news! I survived the Brownie fall festival. You remember the Brownie fall festival, right? Last year it wiped me out so completely that I started dreading this year’s immediately afterward.

And even though last year I felt like I’d been smart, this year I was determined to be even smarter. I made a conscious effort to save my energy for the day of the festival and not use it up in the getting-ready phase, as I realize I did last time.

There were several danger zones. The first was the meeting on Thursday night before the festival. I knew it would be easy for me to get sucked in to helping, but I also know from past experience that Brownie meetings are incredibly draining for me. Solution: iDad dropped Doodlebug off so I wouldn’t be tempted to linger.

Then, on Friday night the girls had another meeting to start setting up. Last year I went along, which meant I helped supervise the decoration of the haunted trail. Herding twelve girls wielding fake cobwebs and skeleton hands is not part of my skill set. This was also when I got stuck with Costco duty. We all know how well that went.

iDad to the rescue again – he’s more likely to be amused, not exasperated, by third-grader antics, so he went along with Doodlebug while I stayed home and made pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins for the bake sale. Win-win.

On Saturday morning, then, my Introvert Energy Tank was pretty full. Luckily this year the entire event was more organized, with each family being in charge of one station instead of the floating mystery assignments we had last year. Even better, the girls chose the game or activity they wanted to run, and Doodlebug decided to set up a puppet-making station. We had coloring sheets left over from last year, so we brought those along too.

This turned out to be such a genius idea, because I realized halfway through the festival that we were running the Introvert Table. We didn’t get a ton of kids, but the ones who stopped by stayed for ten, twenty, thirty minutes, coloring or applying stickers or making bats. Some kids needed that. I needed that.

I didn’t have to supervise the hay pile, or explain the rules for pumpkin bowling two hundred times, or drag other Brownies back to their stations. It was perfect. I’m not saying that I loved every minute, but I didn’t feel sick and pathetic afterwards, either, so it was a huge improvement.

halloween_puppets

Smiles all around

It was a reminder to keep adjusting, keep tweaking, and keep playing to my strengths. I won’t say that I’m looking forward to next year, but hopefully I won’t start losing sleep over it until at least September.

Kidding. Kind of.

— Kathy

Listen to the Frog

tiffany_head_128Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” series is big at our house right now. Sometimes we all pile in the bed and read the stories together while sometimes just Lunchbox and I cuddle up. This was the case last night when we chose “Alone” from Days with Frog and Toad.

In short, Toad shows up at Frog’s house all ready to hang out. Instead he finds a note from Frog saying “Dear Toad, I am not at home. I went out. I want to be alone.”

Fair enough. Frog is the introvert in this relationship.

His note got me thinking about the difference between solitude and being lonely. My last post touched on this a bit but I am still struggling how to define exactly what it is that makes these ideas so similar yet distinct.

Merriam Webster defines solitude as “a state or situation in which you are alone usually because you want to be” while loneliness is a feeling of sadness from being apart from other people. In other words, solitude implies choice – one chooses to be on one’s own rather than having it imposed upon oneself.

What I experienced during the last few months was definitely loneliness. Technically I was by myself and (most of the time, anyway) enjoying the work I was doing, but there were definitely moments when I would have preferred to be with my family or when I was annoyed at having to decline dates with friends. Thus the loneliness was imposed, not chosen. Can you see the light bulb over my head?

Kathy helped me distill this down even further:  when I chose to enroll in a demanding program I expected my down time would be adversely affected. This was a sacrifice I was willing to make. I did not choose, however, the accompanying sense of isolation that occurred as a result of the added work.

Solitude, as Frog wisely notes, allows time to reflect on the good as well as the bad.

“Our lunch is spoiled,” said Toad. “I made it for you, Frog, so that you would be happy.”

“But Toad,” said Frog. “I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a frog. And I felt good because I have you for friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.”

Solitude was non-existent from January to June. There was simply no time to reflect or to process the good or the bad; it was a six month struggle to stay afloat. By mid May I was sufficiently waterlogged to adopt an attitude of “I need 80% to pass.” So while I didn’t say “I won’t do the work,” I did say “This assignment gets an hour and that’s it.” Did I get more solitude? Nope. But reclaiming that time time did help battle back some of the loneliness.

Thus I find myself back where I started: with the concept of choice and of knowing when, as an introvert, to say enough. It is mildly alarming to observe that I am still learning where the “E” line is on my Introvert Energy Tank and how to pay attention to it more.

I’m also thinking about how we, as introverts, learn to recognize the difference between solitude and loneliness. And how do we nurture the practice of solitude in our children? More importantly, how do we as moms foster our own practice of solitude given demands of family and work life?

Maybe I should talk to Frog.

— Tiffany

 

KathyProbably the he loneliest stretch of time in my adult life was after I quit my job as a librarian to focus on writing. I didn’t like most parts of my job – the research and writing portions were fun, and so were (some!) of my co-workers, but overall there was too much interaction with the public, too much time spent being “on.” Or on alert for possibly being “on,” which was maybe even worse. The reference desk can be an uncomfortable place for an introvert.

So I jumped ship, and while I was happy to have time (so much time!) to focus on the novel I had started, suddenly I was alone all day. Doodlebug didn’t exist yet. iDad was at work, and so was everyone else I knew. Even though I saw friends and family on weekends or evenings, it wasn’t quite enough. I guess I don’t even need to say that this was 6 years BFB (Before Facebook).

Luckily, I discovered a place that offered amazing writing workshops (The Writer’s Center) and joined a group for people who write for children (SCBWI). I met two kindred spirits in a workshop and we started a critique group that has been meeting for ten years now. (They are the people who introduced me to Susan Cain’s book, so clearly it was fate.)

It was not a fast process — I took at least three workshops with nice people I didn’t click with and went to an uncomfortable conference or two before I found my zone. But since then I’ve extended my group of writing friends to just the right level – people I see occasionally but keep up with online, and who have helped my writing improve immeasurably.

Now that I’m typing all of this out, I can see it was pretty much the same thing that happened when I became a mom – also an isolating event, one that shook up the status quo and plunged me into another new world I had no idea how to navigate. Most of my friends hadn’t had kids yet, and it took longer for me to assemble another network of kindred spirits. (It was still 2 years BFB!) New lonely spells, more trial and error.

So I would certainly not say I’ve found the perfect formula for never getting lonely. But both of these experiences helped me figure out what I need, mainly by showing me how bad I feel when I don’t have it. I am happy with five or six hours to myself each day, preferably in big chunks, interspersed with family, friends, and “co-workers” (my writing friends). Working alone, in the quiet of my office at home, is key to that balance. It took me a while and it wasn’t pretty at times, but in the end, the loneliness was worth it.

— Kathy

BOOK REVIEW: All Joy and No Fun

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

by Jennifer Senior, 2014

This is my newKathy favorite book about parenting, with my least favorite title (more on that later). It’s a great read for anyone who’s ever wondered “Am I doing this right?” or “People have been doing this forever – why is it so hard?” So, basically, it’s for everyone.

Jennifer Senior, a contributing editor at New York Magazine, is interested in how parenthood affects parents. She has pulled together data, research, and interviews with parents in the trenches to identify some of our biggest challenges. Senior is quick to say that this isn’t a parenting book, but I found a lot in here that could point people toward solutions.

As an introvert, the part that had me nodding the most was the section on autonomy, specifically how you wave goodbye to it when you have a child. I had known this would happen, of course, but I wasn’t prepared for how complete the shift would be.

It wasn’t just that I slept less, but that I couldn’t control when or how often I woke up. It wasn’t just that I had less time to write, but that I couldn’t be sure how much time I would have before I would get interrupted. It was a huge change. If you’ve been reading along with the blog, you know from posts like these about summertime that lack of autonomy is still something I struggle with.

All Joy and No Fun helped me figure out why, though – Senior talks a lot about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, the state of being so absorbed in what you’re doing that you completely lose track of time. I think flow must be incredibly important for introverts, whether we achieve it through our work or our hobbies. But flow can’t happen if you’re constantly being interrupted, so finding a way to secure chunks of time for yourself is crucial. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t put enough of a priority on that as a new parent.

This book is definitely not all about the baby stage, though – no matter how old your kids are, there’s something here for you. Senior covers the changing nature of childhood itself, challenges of maintaining a marriage while parenting, work-life balance, the extracurricular merry-go-round, and the teen years, among other topics.

And then, the last chapter. One of the things I liked best about the book was how Senior attempted to capture and acknowledge the good parts about parenting as well as the stress. She rightly notes that these highs are much harder to pin down in studies than the lows, but that they’re also the things that keep us going, often the reasons we wanted to have kids in the first place.

This is where I think the title is unfortunate – I know what she’s getting at, that sometimes the genuine drudgery and just plain difficulty of being a parent can eclipse the good parts. But I definitely wouldn’t say being a parent is NO fun, and I’d hate for Doodlebug to ever think that.

I already worry that one day she’ll read this blog and conclude that I must not like being a parent because there are so many parts I’ve struggled with. Yes, being a parent is challenging, but being Doodlebug’s mom is something I would never, ever trade. I am blown away by the creativity that pours out of her. I love it when we crack each other up. I get to read books with her, and ride roller coasters, and eat ice cream, and what could be more fun than that?

— Kathy

 

Bonus materials: Senior’s web site has a link to several interviews she’s done about the book, including a TED talk and a segment from The Colbert Report.

Rebalancing Act

KathyI didn’t make it to the farmers market this week.

I didn’t finish sorting Doodlebug’s papers from second grade. Or technically start sorting Doodlebug’s papers from second grade. I didn’t catch up on all the newsletters that I let pile up over the summer, or post more on our Twitter account, or get a handle on Mount Laundry.

I didn’t write a long blog post.

There’s a lot to do in the first week of school – not just filling out the forms, or finding my lunch-packing mojo, or pumping Doodlebug for intel about what goes on during the day. (Maybe this will be the year that I can finally keep all of her specials straight.)

Suddenly I have nearly seven straight hours to myself each day, and there are so many activities I could fill those hours with. Usually I am itching to get back to my novel-in-progress, but in looking back I see that I actually spent a good amount of time with it this summer. Thanks, Notebook of Power!

So this week included work, but also stuff like exercise (oh yeah, that), and remembering which doctor’s appointments I need to schedule, and planning meals before I go to the grocery store. Maybe if I’d spent less time reading posts from Brain Pickings I could have squeezed the farmers market in too. But we have enough food. Maybe I should have started another load of laundry instead of turning on The Daily Show, but we have enough clean underwear to get through the weekend.

This week was a chance to let my brain relax, expand, readjust. I have next week to get caught up, and the week after that, and the week after that, all the way until June. Happy back-to-school, introverted moms. I think it’s going to be a great year.

— Kathy

Kathy’s Summer Reading List

KathyYou know that thing where you’re running around like crazy and when you finally stop you can’t even think straight? This summer has had a lot of that. Nothing bad – we’ve taken several trips and gotten to see people we haven’t seen in ages – but it’s been a lot of switching gears. We are almost in the home stretch, and hopefully in the next week or two I’ll get back to posting more regularly. In the meantime, here are a few things that I read recently but didn’t get a chance to post about.

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Travel Tips by Introverts, for Introverts from Introvertology

Tiffany and I did a post last summer about travel, but there are lots of great points here I’d never thought of. I love the tips about how to stay anonymous. One thing I’ll add from this summer’s adventures: make sure you bring enough reading material! Doodlebug only brought one book on our most recent trip – hopefully she’s learned her lesson on that one.

 

People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone with Their Thoughts from The Atlantic

The people in this study were obviously not introverts in the middle of a hectic summer! The craziest part of this to me was that the people had already had a chance to feel the shock before they were left alone – I figured some of it was just curiosity, but nope.

 

Sleep Study Shows New Moms Are Dangerously Exhausted for Months from PBS Newshour

I can certainly believe this, and I would love it studies like this led to longer maternity leaves. I also think it’s a good argument for better paternity leave policies – iDad was up just as often as I was when Doodlebug was tiny, bringing her to me so I could feed her, then changing her and putting her back in her bassinet. He also fed me yogurt at 4 a.m. and listened to my half-asleep dream ramblings about placemats. Tip: Don’t reproduce with someone who wouldn’t do that for you.

 

I’ve just fallen in love with Gemma Correll’s artwork – she is the person who made the Map of the Introvert’s Heart illustration I posted on Facebook, and she seems to have lots of other introverty themes in her work.

 

How to Maintain Your Energy During Busy Times from The Business of Introverts

Speaking of busy times! One thing that has been helping my family stay grounded this summer is our nightly reading time – we sit together and read to ourselves for about half an hour as part of Doodlebug’s bedtime routine. If things get too crazy and we have to skip it, I’m always sorry. [And if you were hoping this was about my real summer reading list… My top picks are Landline by Rainbow Rowell, the two Cormoran Strike novels by Robert Galbraith, and Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue by Tom Angleberger. And I can’t wait for Louise Penny’s next mystery, The Long Way Home.]

— Kathy

Hello? Is It Me You’re Looking For?

  Tiffany  As a child of the 80’s this Lionel Ritchie song pops up in my head every now and then. And I figured it would be an amusing way to re-introduce myself to the fabulous Introverted Mom community. To refresh your memory you can read more about me here.

Three cheers to Kathy who has so brilliantly run the blog since January. Hip hip hooray! (Repeat two times to yourself.) I am thankful to her for picking up my slack and for growing our group, and I am super excited to be back.

So where the Hell have I been?

The short answer: school. Because I am a masochistic lunatic.

Earlier this year I enrolled in a professional development course. It turned out to be a lot more work than I anticipated. “This is like taking a firehose in the face,” one of my fellow panic-stricken colleagues said. Weeknights and weekends (and, let’s be honest here, workdays) were suddenly consumed with reading, researching, and paper-writing. While it was exciting to engage long-dormant parts of my brain, it was almost paralyzing to realize how much more I was suddenly responsible for. Dreamy took on the brunt of the domestic responsibilities and it is only thanks to him that we somehow survived five months of Utter Nightmare Class. It wasn’t pretty but we slogged through.

Throughout this experience I was on my own a lot, hunkered down at a coffee shop or the library.  And you know what?  I was lonely.

Wait. What?

“I’m an introvert,” I thought to myself. “We don’t get lonely. We LIKE lonely.” But I was, and I didn’t like it at all. Feeling disconnected from one’s husband and kids is terrible and it served to amplify and exacerbate the school stress. When we did spend time together as a family I was bitchy and distracted by ever-present papers and projects. Not pretty, indeed.

We all suffered until I was able lean back (sorry, Sheryl Sandberg) and let go of the need to get perfect grades and to perform perfectly at work. Giving myself permission to not earn a  perfect grade on each and every assignment (hmm, sensing a theme here, are we?) liberated me from my own idiotic false expectations and empowered me to refocus and recommit mental and emotional energy to my family.  And voila – the loneliness vanished.  I still cared about doing well but “A Little Less Than the Best” became my official motto. Releasing those expectations felt wonderful and I regret not doing it much sooner.

Now that the course is mostly finished I have a newfound appreciation for the time I thought I didn’t have before; time which, while enrolled in the class, was necessarily highly structured and managed. I can see now how much time I DO have to devote to the kids or myself or to other things, like the blog or DIY home projects. Having truly free time again is a gift I will do my best not to squander.

Now then. Off to purge and organize the medicine cabinet. Just because I can.

 

Summer Shake-Up

KathyEvery year I think I’m prepared for summer, and every year I’m… not. As I was reading Jennifer Senior’s book All Joy and No Fun last week, I think I hit on part of the reason why. The book (which is great, by the way – I hope to do a review soon) starts with a section on autonomy. Senior argues that one of the toughest adjustments for new parents is giving up the control they’ve come to enjoy over their lives and their time.

And I realized that summer is, each year, a little like becoming a parent all over again. After a stretch of mostly organizing my own time, I have to readjust my schedule to make room for another person, meeting Doodlebug’s needs without losing myself in the process. And as I’ve already discussed, that was tough for me. Really tough. It’s not just the lack of routine that makes it hard, it’s also the loss of control.

I find myself falling back on some of the same strategies that got me through the baby days, especially Do the Most Important Thing First. When I have my precious two hours of writing time, I can’t let myself fall down an Internet rabbit hole or get distracted by laundry. I’m retraining myself to save those chores/rewards for times when I’m “on duty” with Doodlebug but she’s absorbed in her own play. Independent play = the new nap time!

Other strategies I relied on for staying sane, like Wear Her in the Sling While We Watch Lost, don’t work as well these days. And, while I love the fact that iDad and I both work at home now, it adds an extra layer of complexity to our schedule. Not only am I stressing that I’m not getting work done and that I’m not spending enough time with Doodlebug, now I’m also stressing that iDad isn’t getting enough work time.

Things will get both easier and more complicated as the summer goes on – so far we’ve been hanging out at home, letting Doodlebug decompress from the school year and squeezing in work time when we can. Coming up, though, we have camps and trips, some of which are of the grandparent variety (translation: sleepovers!). All that’s good, for Doodlebug and for our work schedules, but it’s a lot of changes in a short space of time. And we all know how well I do with that.

notebook_of_powerI do have one new strategy I plan to keep in place: my Notebook of Power. I am huge on lists – there is something so satisfying about finishing a task and then checking it off. I have even been known to write down jobs I’ve already finished just so I can mark them as done. (What? It’s something I accomplished! I should definitely get credit.)

So during the school year, every month I make a list of writing goals in my To Do notebook. Every week I make a list of tasks. And every day I write out 5-10 things I plan to do, including work and non-work items. In past summers I’ve let these lists slide, which means I lose that concrete proof that I’m getting things done. But this summer I’ve committed to sticking with my lists. Even if I don’t accomplish as much as I do during the school year (and I know I won’t), the summer won’t look like a giant black hole of wasted time when I flip through my notebook in September.

I know some of you guys have been in the summer trenches waaaay longer than we have – school got out crazy late here this year. How are things going at your house?

— Kathy