Category Archives: Downtime

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.


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

You’re On Vacation. Relax, Dammit.

The first person who uttered the words “I need a vacation after that vacation” must have been an introvert. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some of our favorite travel tips – share yours with us in the comments!


KathyI love traveling, especially if there are really, really old buildings (preferably castles) involved. But I’m not going to lie, I find it incredibly draining for the following reasons:

Eating out all the time. I don’t miss cooking and iDad doesn’t miss dishes, but after about a day and a half of restaurants I. Just. Can’t. Any. More. Ideally we stay somewhere with a full kitchen, but at a minimum we make sure we have a fridge in our hotel room. We have employed any and all of these strategies:

  • Breakfast in the room (bring cereal, single-serve milks, and fruit and you’re good to go).

  • Picnics for lunch.

  • Dinner in the room. There’s room service (clearly invented by an introvert), takeout, or even (gasp!) cooking something simple if facilities are available.

You can use paper plates and plastic utensils. I will not judge.

Being with extra people. This means the ones you know and love (hello, extended family) and the oodles of strangers you are forced to make the dreaded small talk with – hotel clerks, tour guides, that nice family sitting next to you on the ferry. For an introvert, that gets overwhelming fast. I have learned to:

  • Use car time to recharge. Doodlebug loves audiobooks, so we usually alternate between those and a family-friendly music playlist. That provides a lot of time when I don’t have to talk to anyone, which is ideal when you’re going from one fun-but-intense activity (family reunion picnic!) to another (amusement park!).

  • Sit some things out. I am a big fan of the hotel pool, and by that I mean I send iDad and Doodlebug there while I grab some alone time in the room. If you still have kids who nap, volunteer to hang out with them while your extroverted companions go off on another adventure.

  • Get a suite at hotels, if possible. Like I’ve said before, having time to recharge in the evening after Doodlebug goes to bed is key for me. If we have a bedroom with a door and a separate sitting room, she can fall asleep while iDad and I chill out for a while. Priceless.

The pace. Some vacations are laidback by design (a week at the beach), but some definitely are not (Disney World). And while you want to get your money’s worth, racing around hitting every last thing in the guidebook is a recipe for introvert burnout. And little kid burnout, when it comes to that. So:

  • Make peace with the fact that you will not see everything. Have everyone in your group pick their number one most important activity and put the rest on your “if there’s time” list. Repeat after me: You can always go back.

  • Build in downtime. There is nothing wrong with relaxing on a bench for a while, even if you’re somewhere awesome. I can give you detailed reviews of London’s playgrounds because we visited one almost every day on our trip there last summer. (Psst. The one by the London Eye has a cool rope-climbing structure and miniature sheep. Miniature sheep!)

  • Divide and conquer. If half of your group wants to look for shells while the other half is off to the boardwalk to play mini golf, pick the quieter activity. You’ll have more energy for whatever comes next.

If all else fails, remember my favorite kind of vacation – the one where everyone else goes somewhere and you stay, alone, in your blissfully quiet house.

— Kathy

tiffany_head_128On Saturday we four will pile in the car and begin our sixteen hour road trip to rural Illinois.  I plan to deploy all of Kathy’s excellent strategies as well as maybe some duct tape and age appropriate doses of Benadryl.

Once we arrive we will be joined by another faction of the family.  By the time all is said and done there will be approximately 19 of us running around, including nine kids under the age of seven.

That’s a lot of people.  That’s a lot of interacting.

A moment please.  I’ve got to go take a deep breath.

Ok.  How does this all work, you ask?  This is an incredibly fun trip – exhausting, yes, but something I look forward to all year.  It works because as Kathy notes above I’ve learned how to step back and identify opportunities to recharge.

One of the first things I try to do after we arrive is to go for a walk.  Alone.  No iPod, no phone, nothing except nature sounds.  It looks a lot like this, minus the hills, ocean, crown, and ermine robe.  Because where I am from is so rural there is a distinct lack of noise – introvert paradise!  This walk serves as decompression from those hours of forced togetherness in the car and the overnight hotel stay.  It is also an important signal to my brain to slow. the. hell. down.

The second strategy is snoozing with Señor Lunchbox.  He plays and runs himself into the ground while we are at the farm and fortunately he still takes naps.  We’ll read a book or two while he drinks his milk and then BAM!  He falls asleep and I’m usually right behind him.  If for whatever reason I don’t sleep, lying next to him in the stillness, listening to his soft breathing and again, the silence, is enormously restorative.  This means I miss out on time with my family and some activities but trust me, it is better for everyone when I have had some quiet time.

Finally, driving around by myself is another way to carve out some breathing space.  I usually have a few errands to do while home and they provide the perfect opportunity for getting behind the wheel and taking the long way around, as the Dixie Chicks sang.  Open windows, no traffic, and lots of empty, straight roads await.  Hopping back in the car after such a long drive seems counterintuitive, but when I’m alone, no one is chattering or throwing Rice Chex at me from the back seat.  I can stop and wander around an old cemetery or pick wildflowers from the ditch or simply stare at the neatly planted (and oddly soothing) rows of corn in the fields.

Yet I inevitably return to my real life exhausted.  It is a good, full kind of tired, though, the kind that used to come as a kid after playing outside all day and probably how Lunchbox and Slim feel after a day at the farm.  Recovering from the vacation is possible, however, only if I’ve taken the steps above to ensure that it is a vacation, rather than simply an exported version of our daily routine.

Oh, and taking an extra day off the day after we return helps immeasurably.

As does gin.

— Tiffany

Downtime Abbey

The Moms love their Downton Abbey, especially the Dowager Countess of Grantham (mostly because of quotes like this).  But when you don’t have a Mrs. Hughes, a Mrs. Patmore, or an Anna Bates, downtime can be difficult to come by.  When the Moms do find a few free moments, how do they decide what to do with them?


kathy_crayon_256I miss naps. It’s been more than three years since Doodlebug dropped hers, but I still think of them fondly. They were a guaranteed hit of free time for me during the day, and they were guilt-free. Little kids need lots of sleep to grow up happy and healthy. I’m not sure the same can be said of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, my current go-to.

Still, naps were not a perfect system. I never knew if I was going to get three hours or forty-five minutes, which made it hard to plan my time. And Baby Doodlebug seemed to have some kind of reading radar that signaled her to wake up the second I tried to sit down with a book. There were many days when I’d putter around, being productive, for two hours and when I finally took a minute to relax, boom, she’d wake up.

So I developed a simple rule for my free time: Do the most important thing first. “Most important” can mean whatever you need it to mean – maybe everyone is out of underwear and you have got to throw in a load of laundry. Great, do it. If you are covered in spit-up and various other bodily fluids, grab that shower. If you’re hungry, always eat first. If you don’t, you will end up with a baby in one hand and a sandwich in the other. I dripped a lot of condiments on Doodlebug before I figured that one out.

But it’s always been easy, too easy, to get wrapped up in all the stuff I have to do and run out of time for what I really need to do with my downtime, which is recharge. Last week iDad was out of town, which meant I was on for that long, long stretch from school pick-up to bedtime. But still, on the occasions when Doodlebug was happily playing on her own, I had to remind myself over and over to choose to stop, to slow down, to just sit with a magazine instead of rushing on to the next chore.

As we go into summer and my blocks of downtime again become shorter and unpredictable, I need to remember that sometimes the most important thing to attend to is myself. I can always start a load of laundry after Doodlebug goes to bed. Nothing bad will happen if I ignore those papers on my desk for one more day.

Even if I only have twenty minutes, sometimes the best thing really is just watching our crazy backyard chipmunks race around, or, yes, sitting down and reading an entire chapter of a book. I will be a happier mom if I take that time. Do the most important thing first.

– Kathy


Downtime is in short supply at our house.  While I cannot speak 100% for Dreamy I wager that he does not, in fact, get enough time to himself.  I am certain I don’t due largely to the superhuman (or “stupid human” on grouchy days) demands of commuting, mommying, and working.  Downtime is such a scarcity I’ve had to come up with a few tactics and strategies to help cope.

The first is something I like to call Compressed Introversion (“CI” for future reference). CI is essentially small pockets of time carved out during the day in which I am consciously doing something — walking to the car to pick up Señor Lunchbox or washing my face before bed —  but in reality I am checked out and in my own world.  It’s weird, I know, but it works.

Now, I’m not so oblivious that I would walk in front of a bus or use toothpaste as facial cleanser; rather I am thinking quiet thoughts and being mindful of my surroundings: listening to the birds chatter in the trees or enjoying the warm water as it splashes my face. Other folks have different names for this tactic, I’m sure, but by calling it CI I am able to play a mini-Jedi mind trick on myself and satisfy my need for a few minutes of interior quiet.

The second strategy is based on a question:  “What can’t I do when everyone is around?”  I can’t, for example, sit down and read.  I also cannot organize stuff, watch a show, take a bath, or exercise (ha — cue Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in “Clueless:”  “AS IF!”) with three other people in the house.  So I do these things when Dreamy thankfully takes Slim and Lunchbox to the park or the pool or on errands.

Anaïs Nin said, “When I cannot bear outer pressures anymore, I begin to put order in my belongings…As if unable to organize and control my life, I seek to exert this on the world of objects.”  True to Ms. Nin’s wise words, if given a bit of time to step back and maybe impose some order (or maybe just lie on the couch and catch up with the Dowager Countess) I usually feel refreshed and revived.

This was a difficult lesson to learn.  Ignoring full laundry baskets or a sinkful of dirty dishes is not easy.  But you know what?  I can deal with those tasks while everyone in the house. Sometimes, however, I feel selfish and guilty and that I should be listening to the nagging, needling inner voice that says YOU ARE A MOTHER AND YOU ARE ON, SISTER!

Fortunately I’ve gotten a lot better at telling that voice to STFU.

– Tiffany