Summer by the Book

KathyThe story of my summer usually goes something like this: trying to balance fun, carefree family time and productive writing time. I’m planning to use some of the same strategies as last year – tag-teaming with iDad, grandparent help, a couple weeks of camp – but I also want to be sure I get to spend time with Doodlebug doing stuff we both like. Who knows how many summers we have left before she wants nothing to do with us? She’s already started reminding us that she’s practically a tween. (What? I mean, she’s right, but . . . what?!)

So, inspired by the snow day writing labs we made up this winter, I asked Doodlebug if we could do our own reading and writing week this summer. And she said YES! Of course my planning brain immediately went into overdrive, but then my introvert side kicked in and reminded me that I don’t need to schedule us to death. So maybe we will get to do all of these things, or maybe just a few. But here are my ideas so far:

  • A shopping trip for new notebooks/cool drawing supplies
  • Visiting the library to pick up a summer reading log
  • Scrabble (sneaky vocab time)
  • Writing a story together – we’ve done this before, where we trade the notebook back and forth every few sentences. It’s fun to see where we end up!
  • A trip to the used book store
  • Making food from books – I’m thinking of things like these Harry Potter-inspired pumpkin pasties or just something simple like bread and jam for a snack (like Frances!). Hmm, we’ve never made our own jam . . .
  • Reading time, of course
  • And writing lab, where Doodlebug works on a story while I work on a story of my own!

I’m sure iDad and Doodlebug will also hang out at the pool, so between that and the writing lab time I think I should be able to get some good work done AND have fun with my sweet girl. This is her last week of school and then we’re going to jump right into it, and I’m actually excited. About summer! Who’d have thunk it?

If you have any other ideas for wordy fun, please share. I’ll let you know how it goes!

— Kathy

Okay, Listen Up

KathyI think the car is an underrated space for downtime. Even if I’m driving, even if traffic is a nightmare, I use music to turn it into a happy place. On family trips growing up, I remember plugging into my Walkman and mouthing along with my songs for miles. (I realize now that this was probably hugely annoying. Sorry, family!)

I think Doodlebug uses the car to decompress, too, but she’s an audiobook girl. Not just for long trips, either. We listen while we’re driving around town, and actually sometimes at home if she’s bored or not feeling well. I think it’s a great strategy for carving out a little alone-but-not-alone time, and I’ve come to enjoy our rolling storytime. Usually. There are some narrators I don’t care for, but the following are all kid and parent approved!

shopkins_van

Road trip, anyone?

The Cat in The Hat and Other Dr. Seuss Favorites and Green Eggs and Ham and Other Servings of Dr. Seuss

John Cleese! Billy Crystal! David Hyde Pierce! And more – these are two fun collections for younger listeners, with great narrators. Each set includes about ten complete stories.

 

The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, read by the author

Good news – these will last you for months. There are currently over 50 books in the series, and we have heard them ALL. I love the concept of a time-traveling tree house, I love the Arthurian legend tie-ins, and I love the historical facts you absorb by osmosis. I just worry that Jack and Annie are going to end up traumatized by all the catastrophes they’ve witnessed.

 

The Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate, read by Jared Goldsmith

First-grader Roscoe greets you at the beginning of each book from time-out. The stories explain how he got there. Funny and cute.

 

The Pain and the Great One series by Judy Blume, read by Kathleen McInerney

Told in alternating chapters by the Pain (the little brother) and the Great One (the big sister), these four books are full of everyday worries and crises that kids will definitely relate to. Judy Blume herself reads the final word from Fluzzy, their cat.

 

The Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, read by Jessica Almasy

My personal favorite. Sometimes I’m wary of audiobooks because I don’t like hearing the reader’s voice take over my own version of the character, but Almasy is perfect here. Clementine is the kind of kid who always tries to do the right thing but ends up messing up anyhow. So far our library has only had the first five books in the series on audio, but I just checked and the last ones are on order, WOOHOO!

 

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, read by Cherry Jones

I devoured this series in fourth grade. Doodlebug is less of a fan so we’ve only listened to the first few, but they’re really well done. I especially like how they’ve included some of the songs and Pa’s violin music.

 

The All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, read by Suzanne Toren

Another favorite from when I was growing up, about a large Jewish family in New York City in the early 20th century. Warning: these will make you SO hungry. All the meals and market trips are described in loving detail.

 

The Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald, read by Kate Forbes

These are just fun, again with realistic kids having realistic problems. One of Doodlebug’s favorites. There’s also a separate series about Judy’s younger brother, Stink, which are good too. Bonus: the book where Judy gets into solving mysteries may lead you to Nancy Drew.

 

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale

Well, of course I wasn’t going to leave this one out! We are almost done reading the series and I’m already getting sad, but in the car we’re only about halfway through Goblet of Fire. I’m glad we can make the magic last a little longer.

 

Do you have favorite audiobooks? Do tell — we are always looking for more. Happy listening!

— Kathy

Survival Mode

KathyWell, here we are in Week 5 of our bathroom renovation project. Five weeks of workers in and out of the house, of pounding and drills and dust. Last month, I optimistically put “Bathrooms Done!” on the calendar for next Monday. A couple weeks ago I changed it to “Bathrooms Done?” Now I’m thinking of updating it to “HAHAHAHA Yeah Right.”

Remodeling projects, it turns out, are yet another chance for me to practice being flexible, to remember that nothing ever really goes as planned. Of course they’ve gotten behind schedule. Of course the electrician says he’ll come at 8 AM and then never shows up. Of course the water gets shut off right when you arrive home with a tired kiddo who really needs lunch.

As I sat in the family room (AKA my makeshift office) trying to work but listening with one ear for the sound of a van pulling up out front, I had a flashback to Doodlebug’s baby days. Back then, I never knew when my focus would be broken either, if naptime would last three hours or forty minutes. I never knew if I had a nice chunk of writing time coming to me or an afternoon of soothing a tired girl who’d woken up before she was ready.

And I realized that, during this renovation, I’ve been drawing on some of the same strategies I used back then. For a couple of years I was lucky enough to have my mom come and stay with Doodlebug one day a week. I would head to the library with my laptop and enjoy the peace, quiet, and chunks of uninterrupted time. I’ve been doing the same thing off and on for the past month, at the same library, while iDad holds down the fort at home. It’s not my usual routine, but I remember it well enough, and that feels good.

One of my mantras these days is “Just get your two hours.” Two hours of work a day seems to be the bare minimum I need to feel like I’m moving forward, and I’ve been trying to stick to that. If I get more time, fantastic. But if not I’m trying not to beat myself up about it. This also takes me back to the little kid days when I would use Doodlebug’s preschool time for writing. It only ever ended up being about two hours in one go, but it was something. And something is better than nothing.

And, as I keep reminding myself, not writing does not = nothing. It’s just . . . something else. I spent most of Bathroom Week 2 wrangling Doodlebug during spring break, and then Week 3 was spent planning her birthday party. Did I get much writing done? No. Did I get other important family stuff done? Yes. I had that constant struggle for balance when she was younger, too.

Maybe the most important thing about this experience, though, is that it’s reminded me that those days are gone. The days of the baby monitor and nap schedules and preschool mornings—that’s not my life anymore.

Things DO change. That’s so hard to remember when you’re in survival mode, but it’s true. I’m not going to promise that things will get better, because with parenting there always seems to be some new challenge just when you least expect it. But nothing lasts forever.

Even bathroom renovations. I hope.

— Kathy

Book Review: Me, Myself, and Us by Brian R. Little

Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being

By Brian R. Little, 2014

 

KathyAll of you Susan Cain fans (which is hopefully all of you!) probably remember the story in Quiet about Brian Little, the introverted psychology professor who hides out in the bathroom after he gives a big presentation.

That story also appears in Me, Myself and Us, Little’s own book about personality, but he goes beyond talking about introverts and extroverts. He explores other personality traits and argues that it’s common to act out of character, especially if it’s in service of a project that’s important to you. The bad news is, that can come at a cost. But Little argues that, by carving out a “restorative niche” for yourself (see: bathroom hideout), you can help lessen the impacts.

As I said in my post about my goals for the year, parenting is of course one my personal projects, one where I’m willing to go out of my introvert comfort zone again and again. Here on the blog we’ve talked a lot about ways to balance out all the extroverting that goes along with being a parent.

But it was the other personality scales Little discussed that made this book most interesting for me. I ended up wishing I’d taken more psychology classes in college, because this is such cool stuff. The other scales and ranges included things like conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness (along with extroversion, these make up the so-called Big Five personality traits). Little also discusses self-monitoring, or how much you change your actions based on the situation you’re in; how much control you feel you have over your life; stress and resilience; creativity; and even how well your personality is matched to the personality of the place you live.

I was really intrigued by the idea that I might want to look at strategies to counterbalance acting out of character in some of these other arenas, too. I think we do this instinctively in some sense – I score pretty low on openness to new experiences, so if I have a day involving a new volunteer task at Doodlebug’s school followed by driving her to an appointment at a new doctor’s office, by dinnertime I know I’m not going to feel like tackling a recipe I’ve never made before. I’m probably going to want grilled cheese and soup, and that’s okay. In fact, Little seems to be saying I might want to plan an evening re-reading a favorite book, too. Works for me.

Little’s discussion of control reminded me that I’m someone who likes to think I can figure anything out if I try hard enough. Parenting, of course, is not something you can simply master and be done with – kids are always changing, and the strategy that worked great a week ago may be totally useless today. I’m not sure what a restorative niche might look like here – solving crossword puzzles or math problems or something else concrete? I’ll have to keep thinking about that one.

Ultimately, Me, Myself, and Us made me believe even more strongly that I need to carefully choose which projects I want to take on, so I don’t devote too many precious resources to things I don’t care about that much. I’ve always thought that was a good policy for introverts, so it was interesting to see it reinforced from an entirely different direction. Recommended!

— Kathy

Bonus materials: Dr. Little’s web site has more information about his theories and includes a downloadable tool to evaluate and assess your own personal projects.

Under the Wire

KathyOkay, so you know how introverts need time to think things through, reflect, not make snap judgments? Let’s say that’s why it’s almost the end of January and I still haven’t talked about my yearly goals. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it!

Before I started writing this post, I read back over everything Tiffany and I had published in 2014. I’m going to count keeping up with this blog as one of my major successes from last year. I didn’t post as often as I wanted to (see above!), but I’m so glad I have this space to reflect on my parenting journey. Also, I’m thankful for each and every comment we’ve received from our readers. Even if you’re just reading along, it’s good to know that you’re out there and that you get us. Mwah!

Other successes:

  • I found a much better work/life balance this summer than in years past, and the rest of the family didn’t seem to suffer – having some extra structure was not a bad thing at all. The two hour block of writing time each day was the key, and it helped me see that I really can accomplish a lot with limited time. I’m going to keep that in mind for other parts of the year — sick days, teacher workdays, snow days. (Oh, snow days. How I love and hate you.)
  • Doing things as a family – and not. In my goals for 2014 post, I talked about scheduling trips like Museum Mondays, which only lasted until the summer. But we’ve found other things that keep us connected, like the movie nights we’ve started doing once a week(ish). Still, our experience with Screen Free Week reminded me that sometimes we don’t want to do things together, and that’s okay too.

Things I am still working on: getting enough sleep, the jam-packed afternoons and evenings, and the ever-present choice between time to myself and keeping the house running. I must admit the house keeps losing. I tackled several bigger organizing projects during Doodlebug’s winter break and her first week back at school — I’d hoped to get more done, of course, and now I’m toying with the idea of folding some of that organizing time into December this year. I’ve already seen that I’m not very successful at getting writing time during the holidays, so maybe I should try to get a jump start on the January decluttering spirit instead. Or maybe that’s a crazy idea that will only make December more stressful. We’ll see . . .

The other thing I want to keep in mind for 2015 is something we touched on in Tiffany’s post about her new job – parenting is one of my “core personal projects,” something that takes me out of my introvert comfort zone for a very good reason. This year I want to focus more on the positives of parenting and stress less about the challenges. One good development in that department: iDad and I have started reading the Harry Potter books to Doodlebug. So far she loves them, and I love being able to share that world with her. Here’s to a magical year!

— Kathy

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!

———————–

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