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.

—————————————

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

The Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging Mom

Review of MotherStyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths by Janet P. Penley with Diane Eble

Kathy

The Emperor from Star Wars. Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter. O’Brien from Downton Abbey. What do they have in common, other than being cruel, heartless, nasty pieces of work? They’re all INTJs on the Myers-Briggs scale.

Just like me.

I’ve known my type for a while now – iDad and I did a version of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment before we got married. It measures your preferences in four areas, each correlating to a letter:

  • Introversion vs. Extroversion: Do you draw energy from being alone or being with others?
  • Sensing vs. iNtuitive: Do you evaluate information pragmatically or by adding meaning?
  • Feeling vs. Thinking: Do you evaluate situations emotionally or logically?
  • Judging vs. Perceiving: Do you prefer to have a routine or go with the flow?

There’s a much more detailed breakdown on the Myers-Briggs Foundation website. And here’s a quick quiz if you’re interested in finding out your type. I have a strong preference for introversion and judging, and I was more middle-of-the-road on the other two. According to the people making up fun internet graphics, this adds up to being kinda evil.

So that’s why I was glad to read, in Janet P. Penley’s book MotherStyles, that INTJs are also “Individual Integrity” mothers. That sounds much more positive. The book talks about the strengths and struggles each of the 16 Myers-Briggs types faces as a mother. Penley argues that anyone can be a good parent by knowing what works (and doesn’t) for their personality.

Penley herself is an introvert (an INFJ), and she talks openly about her parenting burnout before she understood that fact. But she and her co-author interviewed hundreds of moms of all type-stripes, and after a nice introductory section that explains each attribute in depth, the book lists strengths and struggles for each type of mom.

I definitely identified with the INTJ challenges – the chaos of family life, having confidence in my mothering skills, and living a balanced life. And I will try to do a better job appreciating my strengths (according to Penley, that’s being a non-conformist, being persistent, thinking deeply, and expecting the best from myself and others).

Reading about the other 15 personality types will give you insight into how your own mom, your mother-in-law, your friends, and/or your spouse might operate. (Dads are definitely covered – Penley says 80% of what’s in the book also applies to fathers). One of the basic tenets of the Myers-Briggs system is that no one type is better than another – but people are different. Knowing what lights others up and what drains them is a good reminder that parenting isn’t easy for anyone, and that even though some things you struggle with come naturally to other people, the reverse is also true.

The technique applies to kids, too – starting around age 8, most kids are settled into their personalities enough for you to figure out where they land for each of these traits. Even if they’re younger, though, you can probably guess about certain things. Doodlebug has always loved imaginative play and art, which suggests she’s an Intuitive sort. And reading this book made me realize she falls on the Feeling side of the scale.

You can even type your family – if you know the personality type for each person, you can figure out which traits are dominant in your household. Like I’ve said before, our family is definitely an introverted one, which works great for the three of us. But if Doodlebug had turned out to be an extrovert? That would be challenging, for her and for her parents.

This led me to my biggest lightbulb moment – when I realized exactly why summer is so stressful for me. I always push myself to create a laidback, go-with-the-flow atmosphere for our family, which is exactly the opposite of how I prefer to operate. And, as Penley points out many times, working against your type is possible, but it’ll cost you.

So I will be taking my 2 hours of work time every day this summer. Because if not, I might turn into the kind of person who leaves bars of soap in dangerous locations, shoots blue lightning at Jedi knights, or joins the Death Eaters. You have all been warned.

— Kathy

P.S. There’s a whole MotherStyles website, with more info about the book, articles, and even a mini self-care plan for each type of mom.

Screens, Glorious Screens

KathyWarning: Loooong post ahead!

This morning, Doodlebug crawled into bed with us forty-five minutes before the alarm was supposed to go off and mumbled, “Screen-Free Week is over!” iDad and I didn’t appreciate the early wake-up call, but we both shared her sentiment.

Screen-Free Week is an initiative from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood that encourages people to unplug for seven days each spring. I thought it would be an interesting challenge – could I last a week without TV, without blogs, without Facebook? Lately I’ve felt the pull of the internet a little too strongly, and I thought a break might be refreshing and enlightening. I convinced iDad and Doodlebug to try it with me, and we were off. Literally. Ha.

Each of us planned to do the week a little differently. Doodlebug gave up TV, movies, and iPad and phone apps. iDad, as you might imagine, uses computers and other screens extensively for work, so his plan was to skip TV for the week and to put his phone away for three hours every evening. I also went TV-free, cut out all non-work-related internet use, and pledged to check my email just three times a day.

I am proud to say we all survived.

Doodlebug happily wrote stories, drew pictures, played with ponies, rode her scooter, read, listened to audiobooks, played games with us, and made an epic Perler bead house. She did miss her videos, but not at the times she usually watches (after school and on Saturday and Sunday morning) the way I expected her to. I especially liked having a snack and hanging out with her after school, since she wasn’t dashing off to the basement. iDad and I tried to point out how much more time she had to play and suggested that she might want to cut back her TV time a little – she was not into this idea, but we’ll see how it goes.

For myself, I noticed the biggest change in the evenings, when I often watch TV with iDad or go online to “just check a few things” and close my laptop, slightly dazed, hours later. I read more this week than I had in a long time, which is definitely a win. iDad and I finally tried out Carcassonne, a game we’d had sitting around for ages, and realized it would be fun to play with Doodlebug. And I got a little more sleep, but only a little. (Books. Too. Interesting!) All of that was good, so I’m going to try to incorporate 2-3 screen-free nights into each week. When I do go down the internet rabbit hole, I’m going to start cutting myself off at 10:30 instead of 11:00. Baby steps, people.

During the day, I was surprised to notice that I didn’t miss much by not checking my e-mail as often. Maybe it was a light week, but it was perfectly fine to reply to messages three times a day. I didn’t miss anything crucial, I didn’t leave anyone in the lurch. It made me realize that a lot of the time, I’m checking messages (and Facebook) because I’m bored. I should cut that out.

But I also noticed that I use checking in as a motivational tool – I’ll tell myself that I can go on Facebook after I finish editing a chapter or writing a draft of a blog post. So I’m going to try limiting my check-ins to five times a day, which I think will be plenty. Also, I loved not feeling tied to my phone while Doodlebug was at home. iDad reports that he didn’t mind being unplugged for those few hours every evening, either, and that he thinks he’ll keep it up. Yay!

All that being said… I didn’t really enjoy this week. Not that it was hard, because overall it wasn’t too bad. I just didn’t ENJOY myself that much. The evenings especially were kind of dull, because they were repetitive. Yes, reading and sleeping are two of my favorite things, but variety is good. I like watching TV. Sometimes I just need to laugh at Mindy Kaling or Jon Stewart. I like Mental Floss and Young House Love and Forever Young Adult because the stuff I read there is interesting, or gives me cool ideas, or leads me to great books.

Also, I work at home. We have zero water coolers. I did see some of my friends and family IRL last week, but many, many more of them don’t live nearby. Facebook lets me talk to them and hear what they’re up to and feel connected. Maybe that’s just a sign that I’m addicted to screens. But to me, it says these things serve a purpose in my life.

Maybe you’re thinking, what about your family? Shouldn’t less screen time translate to more family time? In our case, no. Maybe this is the ultimate proof that we’re all introverts, but we basically used our extra time to do our own thing. Obviously, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But the experience pointed up ways in which screens actually bring us together as a family – movie nights, or checking out photos of the beach house we’ll be staying in this summer, or watching videos like this seriously cool drone orchestra. Again, I think that’s a good thing.

So will we do it next year? Maybe not – I think this week has shown me that our screen-life balance is not so out-of-whack that we need a whole week to recalibrate it. There are definitely spots where we can cut back, but we don’t need to go scorched-earth. Still, it was an interesting experiment and I’m proud of us for trying it out.

[Finished my post. Off to check in on Facebook. BECAUSE I CAN. Woo-hoo!]

— Kathy

Tripped Up

KathyIt’s not like I thought our two-night trip to New York over spring break would be relaxing. We hit the Empire State Building, took a ferry ride past Lady Liberty, and fit in visits to Grand Central, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Central Park, plus Books of Wonder (awesome), FAO Schwarz (crowded but fun), and Toys R Us (insane). I knew we were going on a trip, not taking a vacation.

Vacations are about slowing down. Trips are crazy, fun, busy, hectic, stressful, memorable. I like trips if they’re short, which this was, or to somewhere interesting, which this was, and if they’re surrounded by plenty of downtime, which this… wasn’t. Once we got home and switched back to our school routine, I realized that our entire spring break had been filled with trips, even though we’d only spent three days away from home.

iDad was trying to finish up several work projects before we left, so I took Doodlebug out of the house as much as possible. This meant playdates with friends we hadn’t seen in far too long (yay!) plus lots of errands and shopping (ugh). Without meaning to, I’d packed the week full of draining outings with too little time to just chill out at home.

All of this has gotten me thinking about summer, and, once again, that tricky fun/structure balance that I’ve struggled with for, oh, the past eight years. Summer is a chance to do things we can’t while we’re in the grip of school-year busyness, but spring break reminded me how easy it is to fall into a pattern of too many trips, not enough vacation.

School ends super-late this year (thanks, polar vortex), so I’ve basically got July and August to work with. The end of our summer is pretty locked in with camps and (low-key!) trips. But we’ve got several open weeks, and this year I’m leaning toward a more structured routine.

I would like to:

  • Work at least two CONSECUTIVE hours a day. And I’d like this to be a formalized, scheduled arrangement between iDad and me (possibly with an assist from our babysitting neighbor). Call me a control freak, but I can’t stand the catch-as-catch-can aspect of grabbing time here and there all summer. Too often it results in my productivity grinding to a halt, and I’m not willing to go there this year.
  • Make time for family outings or projects. iDad and I are lucky enough to work from home, and while Doodlebug is still willing to spend time with us (sniff!), we need to do Fun Stuff together. I know some families make a summer bucket list, or pick a theme or a project to last them until school starts again. I’d love it if 2014 could go down in history as “The summer we…” Tried 15 popsicle recipes? Read all the Little House books? Found a geocache each week? We’ll see.
  • Guard our downtime carefully, although I want to do it in a free-flowing way. Sounds easy, right? I don’t want to skip fun things that pop up unexpectedly, or turn down a friend’s invitation because it’s Tuesday and we only do playdates Monday/Wednesday/Friday. But I am vowing to keep the vacation in our vacation this time around.

What about you? What are your summer strategies? If you’ve got any tips (or popsicle recipes), do tell!

— Kathy