Saturday, December 31, 2011

To Stay

I'm writing this in a little nook of our house that I like to call the "cafe."

We moved the dining room table into the greater part of our great room and have this little seating area now that allows one to sit in the sun, or gaze up into Rupert's branches, or read, or do puzzles.  It's quite lovely and peaceful.

Don't look out the window, though.  There are 60-mile-an-hour winds right now and everything outside has been strewn about the yard.  It sounds like our house is going to blow away any minute now.

I don't know why I'm writing about all this, except that I'm trying to figure out a way into what I really want to write about, which is mindfulness, being present.  I want to point your attention to this post, which is lovely, and also to this post from Amy at Sweet Sweet Life, excerpted here and titled "stay," which I've read several times now and keep thinking about:

I'm realizing how very, very important it stay.  To stay with our loved ones, to stay in the scary or painful moment, to stay in the tired and boring and dirty bits of life.  To not run, in one way or another, to a place where we can attempt to feel nothing.  For one thing, obviously, these types of moments far outnumber the prototypically joyful, beautiful, neat moments by far.  So if we were to run from them, we'd be running an awful lot of our lives.  More importantly, I realized from all my reading that these are the moments when love and growth and real healing happen.  If we're honest with ourselves when we're struggling, we can grow emotionally and spiritually as human beings, here to help one another.

Most of my problems in the past came from not wanting to stay.  And I say this as a very unadventurous person:  I almost never travel, have never left the states, have been married for 20 years with no plans to leave ever, I am and always have been a really good and present mom, I don't really enjoy new things and I will fight change with every bit of my being.  But not staying doesn't have to be physical--it can be emotional, too.  I can not stay by going shopping on the computer.  I can not stay by pouring a glass of wine.  I can not stay by holing myself up in my room with a really good book when my children or husband want to spend time with me.  I can not stay by eating another brownie, or two or three.  And I can not stay by going to bed at 8:00 in the evening and sleeping for 12 hours.  (I'm not saying that any or all of these things are not fine now and again, but you know and I know when we're running away.  We just do.)

Boredom, fear, pain, fatigue, anger and annoyance.  All things we feel when we are with other people, a great deal of the time.  Not just our families, but everyone, everywhere, all the time.  At the post office, at the stoplight, at work and at home.  So if this is the way it is, what can that tell us?  Is life supposed to be annoying 95% of the time?  Really?  Is this it?

I don't think so.  I think that these moments are teachers, and that we had better take good notes and learn the lesson.  It's about us, not them, and staying present with these moments in a non-judgmental way is the only path out.  When we are annoyed, we are upset because we aren't coming first for some reason.  But who ever said we would, or even should?  I don't remember getting that memo:  "Dear Amy, you are the most important person in the world.  You should be at the head of every line, have the least amount of trouble and pain, and never, ever have to suffer anyone you deem to be less savvy than you.  Amen."  Nope.  I believe the wording was actually something along the lines of "Love one another and don't be mean and selfish."  Or something.

But let's be honest:  why else are we here?  What else would be our purpose in life, really?  We are placed, somehow, on this earth together.  And it is only together that we will find a way out of the scary bits.  We are meant to be here for each other, through words and actions.  Not to run, but to be there, in the boring, messy moments.  And to work through them, to help each other, and that helps us.

There were times in the car, and more than a few hours during our stay in San Diego, where I did not stay.  Sometimes this was on purpose--I needed to take care of myself by checking out.  But if I'm really honest, the truth is that I very frequently and mindlessly do not stay.

I'm misrepresenting our visit.  Now that I've been out of the car for a few days (those last few hours coming into Colorado were murder) I can say that it was a really lovely visit.  E.'s family is welcoming and loving; we had some beautiful moments around Christmas trees and on the beach and in Balboa Park; the kids did great on four 9-hour days in the car.

But I did have a meltdown the first full day we were there, which necessitated me needing to leave my father-in-law's house for an angry and fearful walk, and a tearful emergency call to one of my best friends.  I won't get her words right, but she basically helped me to see that I have trouble being still--trouble staying--because there are some things I haven't wanted to deal with.  I've been running away so long and so persistently that my staying skills are quite poor at the moment.  My ability to "be" is fine when everything is quiet and I'm by myself; I'm not so good when there are things I need to deal with, or people to interact with when those interactions might be difficult, scary, or boring.  I haven't been able to see this because I work a lot and rationalize the heck out of a lot of my choices.

I don't have any of this all figured out, but I can say that something in my consciousness is shifting.  They are just little micro-changes, but I'm practicing talking to E. when I'm bothered instead of avoiding or hiding in sarcasm.  We may need more than this; we'll have to see.  My interactions with the kids are different.  I'm meditating, sometimes several times a day, and working to both physically and mentally stay.  This all seems cliche.  And also it helps.

I don't know how to finish this post.  I'm grateful to have had this time off and away from work to see things more clearly.  I feel vulnerable to getting sucked back in once work begins again.  The winds howl all around sometimes and I struggle to stay still, and to stay.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Speaking of Gratitude

We're taking down all of our Christmas decorations, which is always a weird feeling when Christmas hasn't quite arrived yet, but I prefer this weird feeling to the feeling of getting home after Christmas and feeling like, ugh, have to deal with all this stuff.  So we do it before we leave.

Like most crafty bloggers, we had a gratitude tree again this year, though instead of making a tree or posting one on the wall, we just used Rupert, the two-story ficus who is rooted in our foundation and grows up through the middle of the house.  I wrapped him in, what's it called, organza?  And then the girls wrote their gratitude cards a day or two before Thanksgiving and we pinned them to Rupert.

Here is a run-down of Addie's cards:

I'm thankful for earth and sun
I'm grateful for skiing
I'm thankful for books and art
I'm grateful for my freinds
I'm thankful for my pets
I'm thankful for art, music, and P.E.
I'm thankful for learning
I'm grateful for my family
I'm thankful for holidays!
I'm thankful for Blue
I'm thankful for fun!
I'm thankful for Ms. George
I'm thankful for my grandparents
I'm thankful for my sister
I'm grateful for food and water

And Nolie's:

My dog
Peace Love and Musick
My school
My Family
I Heart Ranbows
Abbie Mommy and Dabby
Mrs. Tubbs
My cat
when happy
jen and eric

I love these lists.  I love my girls.  I'm grateful for their gratitude!

Monday, December 19, 2011

a few soul things

I'm choosing to shut the semester down, even though things remain undone and there are projects to which I have committed that I am unprepared to finish.  Instead of stressing and scurrying, I'll aim for quiet for the next few weeks, and time with my girls, and time to figure out why I've been feeling grumpy, angry, and/or blah the last month.

Just deciding to take this time, I already feel lighter.  That's a sign that I'm moving in the right direction.  There lies some peace, which has been frustratingly elusive lately.

My friend N. lent me Elizabeth Lesser's book Broken Open.  I started it a few weeks ago then didn't pick it up again because I wasn't in a position to listen to what it had to say.  But it's calling to me, so I opened it back up and had to share this with you:

When you tire of your own constriction and you open, come what may, to the flow of life, you and your soul become one, and you feel a river moving in you, a joy.

Yet so often we resist the pull of the river.  We tune out the call of the soul.  Perhaps we fear what the soul would have to say about choices we have made, habits we have formed, and decisions we are avoiding.  Perhaps if we quieted down and asked the soul for direction, we would be moved to make a big change.  Maybe that wild river of energy, with its longing for joy and freedom, would capsize our more prudent plans, our ambitions, our very survival.  Why should we trust something as indeterminate as a soul?  And so we shut down.  I have shut down to my soul enough times to know what it feels like when the river is dammed.  I know the feeling of deadness; I know how the river diverts itself and breaks through in other ways--as a desire to blame, as an emotion of anger, as physical illness, as restlessness, or weariness, or self-destruction.  The soul always speaks, and sometimes it speaks the loudest when we block its flow, when we live only half of a life, when we stay on the surface.

If we don't listen to the voice of the soul, it sings a stranger tune.  If we don't go looking for what lies beneath the surface of our lives, the soul comes looking for us.

My soul has come looking for me, apparently, so as we make the long drive to San Diego in the next few days, and as I have time to sit, unplugged, and chill with people we love, I'll do some listening, too, and see what undamming might happen.

In the meanwhile, please do yourself a favor and go watch the movie Life in a Day.  It's streaming on Netflix, if you have access there, or you might check YouTube here.  It's so great, and talk about the soul speaking.  I'm so grateful for beautiful things like this.

Also, I'm so grateful for you.  You know that, right?  I'm grateful you're here, and for all the blessings and gatherings and togetherness that lie behind my amazing community of friends and loved ones.  Thanks for visiting me here now and then.

Monday, December 12, 2011

More on Balance

You know that question, "How do you do it?"  It's intended as a compliment, right?  And also has a bit of judgment in it (I haven't seen the movie yet, but there are plenty of judgments in the trailers alone)?  I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (thanks to S. for lending that to me for an entire year, which is how much time it took me to finish that slim little book).  And now I think the answer to that is, "With luck and a shitload of help."  In other words, I worked hard and tried some things and failed a lot, but also I "do it" because I was born at a particular time in a particular location and into a particular social class and ethnicity.  Apparently Idaho, circa 1975, was a fortunate time and place to be born.

I don't mean that facetiously.  I would just have to make sense of what I mean, and I'm not able to do that yet because I haven't had a cup of coffee yet.  I gave up coffee.  Until about 10am.

I think I've tried to say something like this a few times, about how the notion of "balance" for working mothers (and maybe for everyone) is a culturally-constructed mirage.  But here's Martha Beck on it, writing in her funny and eloquent way (and with inappropriate cocaine jokes, which make me feel better about my own inappropriateness.  And skip down to the bottom for another useful article if you don't want to read this one):

Here is typical scenario from when my children were younger: It’s five o’clock in the morning. I’ve been awake for about 23 hours, having struggled vainly to fit in writing between yesterday’s tasks: getting the car fixed, taking the dog to the vet, answering email, grocery shopping, driving my kids to music lessons, seeing clients, picking up deli sandwiches for dinner, and cuddling one of my children through some of the horrors of growing up. I finally sat down at my computer around midnight—and looked up just now to see the sun rising. 
Since I’m up, I decide to set a historic precedent by preparing breakfast. All goes well as I awaken my children and head to the kitchen, at which point I remember how much I hate to cook. I even hate to toast. The kids arrive, yawning, and ask what I’m planning to serve them. I think for a minute, then say, “We have Oreos.” 
My children roll their eyes. 
“We have cocaine,” I venture. I’m pretty sure they know this is a joke. I’ve never seen cocaine, much less tried it—although frankly it’s beginning to sound like a good idea. Isn’t that how Sigmund Freud got so much done? 
Understand three things: (1) I don’t have a job. I am a writer, which means I procrastinate and get away with it; (2) my children are not young. They walk, talk, bathe, diagnose their own viruses; and (3) I’m kind of supposed to be an expert at combining career and family. I conducted years of sociological research on the topic, wrote several big fat books about it. Plus, I’m a life coach. You’d think I could live a balanced life as a 21st century American woman. 
Ha. In fact, having done all that research, I can tell you with absolute assurance that it is impossible for women to achieve the kind of balance recommended by many well-meaning self-help counselors. I didn’t say such balance is difficult to attain. I didn’t say it’s rare. It’s impossible. Our culture’s definition of what women should be is fundamentally, irreconcilably unbalanced. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the very imbalance of our culture is forcing women to find equilibrium in an entirely new way. 
Henry David Thoreau’s classic book Walden recounts two years the author spent living in solitary harmony with the wilderness. The book’s premise is that all humans could live simply and naturally, as Thoreau did. As a teenager, I loved Walden. Years later, as an exhausted working mother, I learned something Thoreau failed to mention in his journal: The entire time he was roughing it, his mother and sisters helped care for his needs, hauling in food and hauling out laundry. The reason Thoreau didn’t write about this is that he took it for granted. Like most thinker’s of his generation, he saw “women’s work” as a product of natural female instinct: Birds fly south for the winter, and women show up to wash men’s underwear. Okay, so I’m a little bitter—but only because this attitude pervaded American culture well into my own lifetime. 
Early American feminists fought for the right to participate in the workforce by assuring everyone that it was easy to do women’s work—perhaps with one’s toes, while simultaneously performing jobs traditionally reserved for men. I once believed this, and I have the colorful medical history to prove it. Women of my generation thought we could have everything; experience taught us we could have everything but sleep (one sociologist who studied an early cohort of working mothers wrote, “These women talked about sleep the way a starving person talks about food”). Bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan while never letting hubby forget he’s a man turned out to be a logistical challenge to rival the moon landing, but without support from Houston.

Three Ways to Lose Your Balance 

I spent the last decade of the 20th century interviewing American women and found that no matter how they sought balance, virtually none of them attained it in their culturally prescribed role. Some of these women were like Meg, a stay-at-home mother who sacrificed her career to care for her children, only to feel devalued by a society that equates professional achievement with fundamental worth. Others resembled Laura, a 43-year-old lawyer who never got the marriage or children she’d always expected. Laura’s heart ached every time she attended yet another baby shower. At work, married people dumped extra work on her, figuring she had no life. But most of the women I spoke to were like Stephanie, who had a good job, two children, and chronic fatigue. For years Stephanie’s boss complained that her work was inadequate because of the time she devoted to her family, while Stephanie (and her relatives) worried that her children were suffering because of the energy required by her work. 
Many of these women were haunted by the fear that others were judging them negatively. They were right. Our culture does belittle women who cannot be both professional high-achievers and traditional moms. It questions the devotion of women who attempt to combine the two roles. My conclusion? Balance, schmalance. Trying to establish a harmonious equilibrium between our society’s definition of What a Woman Should Be is like trying to resolve the tension between two hostile enemies by locking them in a room together. But there is hope. 

The Joy of Being Unbalanced

If someone condemned you because, say, you failed to prevent Hurricane Katrina, you wouldn’t dissolve in shame or work to overcome your inadequacy. You’d probably conclude that your critic was nuts, then simply dismiss the whole issue. That’s the wonderful thing about seeing that our society makes impossible demands on all women. You free yourself to ignore social pressures and begin creating a life that comes from your own deepest desires, hopes, and dreams. You’ll stop living life from the outside in and begin living it from the inside out. 
That’s what happened to Meg, Laura, and Stephanie when each lost her balance in a dramatic way. Meg, the stay-at-home mom, hit the end of her rope when her husband left her for a “more accomplished” coworker. Laura’s turning point was an emergency hysterectomy that meant she would never have the baby shower of her dreams. Stephanie finally realized she was trying to do the impossible the day her mother-in-law scolded her for working too much and she was fired for being too concerned with her personal life. 
There will moments when you really “get” that the expectations you’ve been trying to fulfill are unfulfillable. This epiphany was terrible, because it meant relinquishing the goal of total social acceptance. But it was also the beginning of freedom, of learning to seek guidance by turning inward to the heart, rather than outward to social prescriptions. After her crisis, Laura discovered a passion for gardening that led her to quit her corporate job and start a floral nursery business. Meg spends her time contributing to the local schools and developing relationships that help her see her own value. Stephanie got a new job by developing a proposal that showed how she could add value to a company while working from home. 
On the surface, these aren’t revolutionary acts. But they filled each woman’s life with authenticity and satisfaction. If you feel trapped by contradictory demands, you may want to join this gentle rebellion. You can help create a new cultural paradigm, one that replaces conformity with honesty, convention with creativity, and judgment with kindness. That, in the end, is the gift of the disequilibrium that society has bequeathed to all of us. Being forced to seek balance within ourselves, we can make our unsteady, stumbling days feel less and less like disaster and more and more like a joyful dance—the dance of a wildly, wonderfully, perfectly unbalanced life. 
And also here is the editor's introduction to last month's issue of More Magazine, which says something similar.  The stories reminded me a lot of my own, especially when the girls were younger:

The other day I had lunch with an old friend who could be the poster child for the overstretched, do-it-all female. Not only is she the editor of a successful magazine but she is also its publisher. So she does two full-time jobs: creating great content for her readers and then, in her spare time, performing the equally challenging high-wire act of courting the advertisers. Oh, and she lives on the Pacific Rim, has to do business in New York and Europe several times a year and reports to a boss in Milan—she flies there regularly to meet with him. Still not seeing any problem? Well, let me add the last salient fact: She's also the mother of two kids. So it shouldn't have surprised me that when I mentioned that both my kids were now out of the house, away at school, she looked at me like a marathon dieter who'd just seen a three-layer chocolate cake: “That means you can devote all your time to work!” she said with a wistful sigh, laced with heavy doses of jet lag. “Oh, I can't even imagine!”
Only two years ago, I couldn't have imagined it either. With my kids then still at home, I too was run ragged by attempting to do it all. Take the time, for instance, when we had just moved from the city to the suburbs. Our son, JJ, had entered the local kindergarten, and somehow our name had not made it onto that small-town bible: the official school calling list. My husband had already cleared out for the 5:30 am train to his job in the city while I got JJ ready for school and our newborn daughter, Lake, out of her crib, dressed and fed. I was in full supermom mode—slipping into my best work clothes and blow-drying my hair while simultaneously microwaving JJ's bowl of instant oatmeal (jail me for high crimes against nutrition; the kid wouldn't eat anything else!) and coaxing the baby to take her bottle. Somewhere in the background I'm sure the TV was blaring the news of an impending snowstorm, but I was in move-forward mode. It could even have been one of those days when I'd gotten up at 5 am to make cookies for a school bake sale—you know, the kind you find out about from a flyer you pull out of the kid's backpack the night before. Those notes from school were always very clear: Everyone needs to participate, and they need to start from scratch … The flyers would actually specify “No Entenmann's!” (Yes, I could have disobeyed, but goody-goody moms like me never do.)
Our full-time babysitter arrived; I kissed Lake good-bye and bundled JJ into his puffer jacket. Driving him the half mile to school was one of those small maternal pleasures I refused to delegate. I pulled up to the curb and watched JJ tumble out, lean all his weight into the heavy school door and disappear inside. I grabbed the train. Ten minutes into the trip, my cell phone rang. “Is this Mrs. Seymour?” an unfamiliar voice asked.
“This is the assistant principal from Murray Avenue School,” the voice said as panic rose in my chest: Something had happened to JJ! He was kidnapped walking down the hall! He was crushed in the stampede for the classroom after the bell …
Uh. No.
“I found him wandering around the school, which is closed for a snow day. Didn't you get the call?”
“What call? We're new in town,” I said as my subconscious released little balloons of guilty recognition into my consciousness. I was sort of surprised at how easy drop-off had been—no waiting in line with 20 chuffing cars, no PTA moms hauling kindergartners out of the backseats. Pop. Pop. Pop.
“The class mother is supposed to have called you. But don't worry, I can wait here with JJ till you get him.”
Well, umm … Given the busy workday that lay ahead, I called my sitter and asked her to go, which made me feel even more like a candidate for Uber-Bad Mom. And my list of failures to balance work and parenthood goes on from there. Which is why I always squirm when I meet women who ask, “So how did you do it all?”
The answer, of course, is that I didn't. And the reality is that balance only happens over a lifetime—there will be years when you must choose family over work and years when you must do the opposite. And some, frankly, when you will run around with your hair on fire until you figure out what works for you. So it was actually comforting when I recently had dinner with a group of late-bloomer moms who reject the idea of doing it all as “unrealistic” and “self-defeating.” These women accept the necessity of making choices. One terrifically successful pediatric dentist works only three days a week and spends the rest of her time with her kids. Some of the women are staying home full time, at least for now, while others are working full time and more. I was impressed: We have come a long way. Somehow, however, I forgot to mention to them that when I was editing Redbook, I was the genius who came up with the tagline “Balancing family, work, love, time for you.” But hey, it was the ’90s!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mistakes with Money Were Made

I don't write much about the nitty-gritty of our finances here.  There's all the status and shame wrapped up in it, and not wanting to burden you too much with details, and needing to respect our privacy.  But E. and I are going through some interesting financial transitions, and it's on my mind, so I'm writing about them here.

Our history, in brief:

I grew up without much money, and with a personality predisposed toward the material (nurture+nature on that one).  Then we inherited money when I was a teenager.  Not a ton, but enough so that things got easier and my level of material access increased quite a bit.

I have always worked hard.  I have made good career choices, have frequently been privileged or lucky, and have consistently moved up the salary ladder.  At the same time, I have made really bad spending choices.  I am a spender.  I like to have clothes and little treats and eating out and all that.  I'm not good at telling myself no.  I have been in debt, different kinds of debt, for a long time.

E. grew up without a ton of money either (I think--his history is always hazy).  He also worked really hard, but didn't always make awesome career choices.  It took him a while to get through college.  He has not been disposed toward the material, except in the form of large expenditures.  He's willing to pay money to buy exactly what he wants, but is able to save for it, and doesn't spend money on lots of little things like I do.  He has always earned more than I have, until this year (by choice, for him) and is willing to argue hard for what he is worth to employers.

E. is a saver.  He is not haunted by the material in the way I am.  Before meeting me, he had more than enough money and rarely needed to check his bank balance.  I, on the other hand, would spend my checking account down to the last penny.

Then we got married.  We were in a lot of debt because E. was out of work for a while, I didn't make much money, and I spent too much.  Then I took over the finances, created spreadsheets and a debt payment plan, we started making more money at work, we made some more money on a real estate transaction, and we made the decision to get out of debt.  Or, I should say, credit card debt.  We still owe quite a lot on my student loans and we have a mortgage.  But we've been out of credit card debt for a long time now, and plan to stay that way.

A few years ago, E. took over the finances.  We have been fighting and fighting about them because we just fundamentally do things differently and see spending differently.  Like I said, I'm a spender, but he's also had unrealistic assumptions about how much it takes to keep a vibrant family of four going.  Clashes ensued.  I relinquished control and waited to be told what to do.

More clashes ensued, but we soldiered on.  Life was good.  We make good money, and I often make extra money at work that back-filled any gaps that arose now and then.

Around that same time, we decided to put all of our monthly expenses--utilities, cable, groceries, gas, etc.--on two credit cards, one from Frontier and one from Southwest.  The idea was that we would pay these cards off every month and earn frequent flyer miles, which would help defray the insane travel costs of visiting our families a couple of times of year by air.  Four tickets would easily run us $1200, so it seemed like a good idea.

We've stuck to it.  We've always paid those bills every month.

But then we noticed something, and fought for a long time about fixing it.  The thing we noticed was that we somehow weren't saving any money (other than what automatically went into our 401ks).  Even worse, we were sometimes spending more than we earned and the savings accounts we had been so proud of were getting depleted.

This didn't make sense.  We're earning more money now than ever, and our substantial childcare costs have decreased significantly.  Certainly there was some lifestyle inflation in there (thank you, new bathrooms; thank you ski tickets; thank you my Boden addiction), and E. started taking one day off a week, but on paper we still should have been okay.  Things just never added up in reality.

Well, the problem turns out to be those credit cards. See, when you put all of your expenses on the credit card, it gets really hard to track how much money you actually have, because the statements for the cards are timed differently from your bank statements.  Plus, both of us were spending on two different accounts, and had no idea what the other had spent.  E. would reconcile at the end of every month, but we still didn't have a good sense of the big picture as to where the money was going, or how much we had left in the bank at any given time.

All this leading to years of not saving as much as we should have and spending more than we should have.

It's all going to be fine.  We're not in any real trouble.  A couple of months of belt-tightening and I think we'll be in excellent shape.  E.'s going to have to work Mondays again for a bit, and is considering taking a promotion at work. We're both committed to scaling back the lifestyle inflation, getting back to basics, and beefing up the savings.

But now we're in this transition phase of having to get off the cards and go back to spending directly from our joint account for tracking purposes.  There is a time lag, so we essentially have thousands extra to pay off of the cards to get them down to zero while we transition to spending from that joint account (this doesn't sound right, but it's just because our credit card payment date happens late in the month, and meanwhile we will have been spending on the joint.  It just puts the squeeze on for a few months while we make up the lag).

So, Merry Christmas to us.

I'm really glad we're doing this, though.  I prefer simple, transparent systems where we can see how much we have, and when the amount we've allotted for certain things is gone, it's gone.  Then you get frugal and creative, and I really like that.  I like that challenge and enjoy it.  I'm also overwhelmed with how rich our lives are, and how lucky we are to get to choose this particular transition rather than have it forced on us.  I'm grateful to all the family members who agreed to opt out of giftmas this year.  I'm also excited to begin saving so that we can build our savings accounts back up and maybe also start to save for vacations or other treats.  I think this will be good for us.

Long story short:  we broke that first rule of personal finance--track what you spend--and now we're paying for it.  No amount of frequent flyer miles is worth that (what were we thinking?).  And if I spend time with you personally, you might see some shifts in the kinds of choices I make for a while till we get things figured out.  But I think E. and I both are ready to try to fix things, and feel optimistic about where we're headed now.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Over the Threshold

Oh, God, I hesitate to say it, because who knows what pox will befall my house as a result (I'm so superstitious now), but I think we might have finally gotten Nolie well.  She's pretty much been sick since Halloween:  the impetigo, the cold, the never-ending stomach flu.  She finally went back to school today.  And not a day too soon:  she was working in her workbook last night and couldn't remember her letters and numbers.  She could tell you about every episode of Johnny Test ever made, though, I guarantee it.  We have watched a lot of t.v. these last few weeks.

Anyway, maybe dealing with 30 days of five-year-old whininess and sleeplessness was getting the best of me.  Or maybe it was the relentlessness of this semester, which seems to have gone on about two weeks too long.  Maybe it's some mid-thirties blah thing, where everything has sort of fallen into place around you, and you blink and look up, and wonder what now.  There's also the hormones, this going back on the pill thing, which has mostly been really great (skin and weight problems beginning to resolve themselves; sleeping better; have more energy; not spending half my life in pms- or period-land) but has also involved some hormone-induced blue periods.  I think I can tell when I'm in a biological stupor vs. one incurred by external circumstances at this point, but that's probably a weird or artificial distinction to make, I don't know.

So I was just feeling a little blah, maybe, like in the routine of things and realizing that you've sort of set a track for yourself by this age, and you're in it, and there's a lot of inertia built in, so change is possible but less likely, and jeez maybe even you're a little bit trapped, or at least bored.

Maybe things weren't even as existential as all that.  Perhaps I had just been shut up in the house with my cranky kindergartner for too long, or maybe the trees lost all their leaves but the snow hadn't begun to fall yet and it was just that in-between time where nothing appears to be moving.

Then yesterday I had this crazy, obvious epiphany as I was walking in the house with Nolie, who tried to go to school but just wasn't quite well enough yet, and I normally would be a little peeved because I really wanted the day to sit home and drink tea and coffee in the quiet and work on a paper that is due very soon and now it would be checking email at best while the Johnny Test marathon and whinefest happened all around me.  I realized that I was setting myself up for another day of being annoyed, and that I didn't want to be annoyed.

In my head I had a quick string of thoughts about how I must change my thinking on all this because, frankly, it was getting old, feeling grumpy and stuck, and I had a vague sense of myself as not being very fun to be around and also feeling bored with my own blase-ness.  There was the whole who do you think you are strain of thinking and what is your problem and get over it.

And, in a flash, here is the thought that came into my head:  "You are so blessed.  You have everything you need."

No, still not right.  Boring.  Obvious.  Self-help treacle.

Then, this:  "You are so blessed.  You have everything you want."

Holy cow.  That's a big deal.  I mean, yes, having everything you need is a blessing.  Don't think I don't know that.  Don't think I don't see how much people are struggling here and around the world just to meet needs.  Don't think I don't know that I'm quite spoiled and selfish and materialistic most of the time.

It's just that there's really something to put it together that not only are my needs being met, but I am living exactly the life I have always wanted, and yet am choosing to look at the little things that fall out of place rather than the tremendous big picture that is always holding together.  What an odd way of living life!   What a waste!

I mean, how much time to I spend feeling anxious about papers needing to be graded or articles that are due or staying in touch with friends and family?  About the dirt on the floor?  About my muffin top, missing a meeting, needing a haircut, getting tenure?  About sixteen-hundred times more time than I spend thinking about what a sweet life this is, that's how much.

What a dumb-ass.

I dropped my bags right there in the hallway and laughed.  Then, weirdly enough, this weight that I didn't even know was around my shoulders also lifted.  Nothing else about the day outwardly changed:  I had exactly the day I pretty much expected in my grumbling imagination.  Except that it felt great.  I had this total awareness that all of the choices I had made in my life up until now, all of the thoughts and dreams and imagining I have had, have led me to exactly this moment.  Instead of feeling trapped, I felt good.

I think it's this:  the unnamed need to look for what is next or what is missing vanished.

Maybe that chafes.  Maybe we're not supposed to stop looking, yearning, longing, visualizing, visioning.  And I'm sure there will be times in the future when I'll do those things and will need to do them.

But realizing that I don't have to look anymore because I have everything I want right now takes away so much anxiety for me.  It means I don't have to shop.  I don't have to feel anxious when we run low on food.  I don't have to look at ads for jobs.  I don't have to be making anything.  I'm not missing anything.  I can do more of what I want and feel good about it, and what I want becomes much clearer.  All those millions of choices, some dumb and some not, they just led me to this moment of reality, and that reality is perfect.

Forgive my totally obvious ramblings.  It's so simple you must wonder if I am ever going to get it.  And no doubt this is a lesson I'll have to keep learning.  I'll forget again.  But this was my earth-shattering realization from yesterday, accomplished while walking in the door.

Monday, November 28, 2011

First Commission

I've never had someone pay me to make a gift for someone else before, so it was pretty exciting when my friend C. commissioned a cowl-neck scarf and fingerless gloves for her sister-in-law for Christmas.  Here's how they turned out:

As usual, my photog skills leave something to be desired.  And, truth be told, I might not have gone for such vivid colors myself.  But that was the order, and I love this yarn and how the texture turned out (I prefer the chunky, purled side out).  It kind of ended up Missoni-esque, I think.

Here's the matching fingerless:

Hairy arms not included.

I hope she likes 'em.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ransom-Treaty-Forgiveness Note

The sleeping bag plan is working like a freaking charm, thank God, but Nolie's streak of death-defying tantrums continues.  She is always very contrite afterwards.  I found this on my desk yesterday:

I am sorry mom i hope we can work it out!

And then we had a big impromptu party the night after Thanksgiving and someone gave a child a camera.

Man, I love our neighborhood.

Thanksgobbling, Thanksgiving, Thanksgoodtimes

I'm pretty sure I still owe you a Halloween post.  Those pictures are on E's camera.  That's the hold up.  It's all his fault for owning a camera and hoarding the pictures.  Harumph.

But on to Thanksgiving, which long-time readers will know is my VERY favorite holiday because it involves puttering around the house all day, sipping cocktails and eating olives and pickles while E. conjures an insane feast, whether for 20 friends we are lucky enough to host or for just us four.  This time we had our dear friends M. and S. (back from the brink of disaster with a really, really broken arm, but here and smiling, always) and our new friend W.  We were too busy pigging out to take many pictures, but rest assured it was a delightful, peaceful time together.

Rather than create a gratitude tree this year, we decided to just use Rupert, because we are glad to have a tree growing in our house.  The girls did all their own cards, which mostly centered around family, friends, school and teachers.  Here are some others:

Peace, Love, and Music

I'm grateful for skiing
Jen and Eric
I'm thankful for my sister

I'm grateful for all of you.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Grace Again

Ooh, I sounded pretty bad yesterday, huh?  I was in a rough spot.  Tired out.  Also, forgot to take the pill first thing in the morning (yes, I'm back on, didn't like being thrust into peri-menopause at 36, no thank you) and boy did that make me weepy.  Glad I didn't have to teach or I might have cried in class or something.  I almost lost it at a talk on fracking, I just felt so despairing that scientists would ever really talk with the public in a respectful way, they would always just condescend and ignore and so why they hell am I even trying?  Also I just felt profoundly lost about what to do and how to help my kid and was having trouble accessing any good love for her.  How terrible.  So everything got all wound up with everything else and things seemed dark.

I had a date with my friend N. to hear James Van Praagh at unchurch and even though I was worn out I knew I needed to go.  Yes, he's a medium.  Yes, he looks something like a gay Magnum P.I. (he is gay, and an amazing performer, and a shining soul).

He was funny as hell, and humble.  Direct but kind.  That said, I've never been to a medium and was really skeptical and, of course, tired, and not expecting much other than to be entertained.

But then watching him turned everything inside out and I had a memory of choosing not to be quite so busy.  I had a memory of my child laying on top of me, peaceful and quiet.  I had a memory of my grandparents and their love for me--inexplicable given how many grandchildren there are and how could I be beloved?  But still, there it was--and next thing I knew, that little leprechaun of a psychic had put me right back in myself, all just by talking to some other people's dead folks right in front of me.  I don't know what it was, but I sure felt like I had received some grace afterwards, and I can breathe this morning.

And then there's N., whose a former nurse and mother of three (now grown) and just a total light in my life.  She listened to me prattle on about these struggles with Nolie and told me, in her unassuming and lovely way, about how when her youngest was four, he couldn't sleep in his room at night either.  So they just put a sleeping bag at the base of their bed.  The deal was, he had to go to sleep on his own in his own bed, and the ideal would be for him to stay there.  But if he absolutely couldn't hack it in the middle of the night because he was afraid, he could very quietly come into their room and crawl in that sleeping bag and be in there with them.  But he couldn't make a peep, and couldn't wake anyone up.

I got home at 11 with that wild-eyed feeling you get when you're exhausted, and my head was totally spinning from the realization of, the proof I had witnessed of, life beyond this particular consciousness (and please don't send me any critiques of mediumship right now, because if this is a myth or a trick, it's a lovely one, and I'd like to hold on to it for a bit).  So I wasn't able to sleep very well right away, but then did fall asleep until 1am, our usual time for Nolie to wake, and she did.

I said to hell with it, and broke my rule that you never try something new in the middle of the night, and I explained the sleeping bag deal to her, and the relief that ran through her little body was just totally palpable, and I felt incredibly relieved, too, and she slept in her sleeping bag beside our bed all night, quiet as a mouse.  E. woke up rested and so did Nolie.  I didn't sleep that great because I was just too wound up, and sensitive to her being there and worried it wouldn't work.  But everyone had a smile on their faces this morning anyway, and I cuddled her and loved on her and we chatted for a while before cartoon time, and we're going to give it a try, our new Right To Sleep Without A Peep plan.  Just because it worked last night doesn't mean it will always work but I feel hopeful which is a step up from yesterday.

Today I mostly feel grateful.  I was going to try to get some work done.  I was going to catch up on chores and tasks.  But all that's out the window now, and instead we'll just go with whatever the day brings.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Croup...There It Is.

Addie's been pretty darn healthy the last two years, so maybe you won't blame me too much when I was totally surprised at her wicked bout with croup on Wednesday night.  It was one in the morning, and she came stumbling into our room gasping for air.  E. got her first, then I realized what was happening and got up too.  She was understandably panicked at not being able to breathe, so while he got the nebulizer set up, I held her face in my hands and tried to calmly explain what was happening to her, and how crying only made it worse.  It took a few minutes, but she finally got calmed down, but didn't fall asleep for a few hours.  She doesn't have any infections to go along with the croup--at least, she didn't when we were at the doctor's yesterday--so that's a good thing.  It appears to just have been triggered by the cold that Nolie was nursing for a few weeks.  But she does feel pretty puny and sounds like an old-man smoker, and had to stay home from school yesterday.

That makes five days of missed work for me in the last two weeks.

Also, E. has developed a wicked snoring habit.

Also, and this is the worst thing of all, Nolie is staging another sleep-strike.  A maddening, horrible, exhausting sleep-strike.  She is throwing a tantrum that lasts pretty much all night long.  We can get her to sleep fine, and she'll sleep for a few hours, and then she gets out of her bed every five minutes after, screaming and yelling about nightmares and growing pains and us being the woost pawents evah (still with that one).  She will not listen to us and is ferociously stubborn and there's nothing we can do.  She really wants us to let her sleep in our bed, but I just won't do it.  I won't go back to that.  So we fight all night long about her staying in her room and consequences and respectfulness and responsibility.

By 5 am this morning, I just hid under the blankets and willed myself back to sleep.

I've been weepy and shaky all day.  I'm short-tempered.  I'm mad.

I don't know what to do to help her at this point.  If I had any ideas, my brain is too tired to process them.  I'm returning to the age-level of a five-year-old myself at this point.  I want to say that it's not fair.  I want everyone to leave me alone.  I want to abandon them all and go stay at a hotel.  I feel chubby and low-energy and unproductive.

I hope things turn around as we head into this holiday week.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Darkness Descends

Spooky title, eh?  But it's just referring to the fact that it is somehow, inexplicably, unexplainably winter all of a sudden.  And I'm so glad!  I love early winter nesting.  I rearranged things in the house again to make for some cozy nooks and open work spaces now that we're all indoors a lot more.  And the ladies around here have been wanting to do some crafting!

And yes, every time I use the word "crafting," I think of this hilarious Amy Sedaris book, which M&S bought me for my last birthday.  It is a good time.

We have a pretty nice collection of workbooks and other things to give us ideas.  Tonight, we worked from Fairy Things to Make and Do.  

It is also a good time.  Especially if you are five or seven.  When we first bought it a few years ago, though, we just ripped all the stickers out of it, stuck them all over our bodies, and ran around naked.  Then we never did anything with the book again, until tonight.

There is that terrible time between when we've finished dinner and when E. gets home and finishes his dinner.  It can become the tantrum hour if you let it.  The girls are prone to whininess and neediness in that half hour to hour, I'm antsy and distracted, and I don't want them to watch tv, it's too dark to play outside, and they're too grumpy to play nicely together.

So I typically try to make this weird hour "Family ________ Time."  The blank gets filled in with lots of things:  reading, knitting, art, writing, crafts.  Last week when I was trying to finish those damned Twilight books there were a couple of Family Reading Times.  It still amazes me that we can do this now that Nolie is reading chapter books.  Then there was Family Art Time, where I brought down the pastels Grambie gifted them a while back, the "special" markers (i.e., the ones that I don't want lost or chewed up), sequins, and glue.  And we went for it.  But other nights it's just white paper and markers, and that's fine, too.  And we're all knitting now, so that also works.

The key is to keep it short, maybe play some nice music in the background, have good, clear workspaces and defined boundaries, and offer lots of encouragement.  Oh, and be ready to ditch if people aren't into it.  Sometimes one feels like knitting and then one starts knitting and realizes one would rather be dancing instead.  In which case "Family Dance Party Time" should ensue.

Anyway, tonight's masterpieces were fairy castles.  Here's Addie's:

And Nolie's:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Things Seem Like It, Then They Aren't

It turns out Nolie wasn't just sad, but sick.  She had 10 days of antibiotics for that impetigo, and then a gnarly virus came and took her down, too.  As always, it's hard to tell when she's sick because it just seems like she's getting grumpier and grumpier and then finally her head spins around and she spits blood at you and you figure out, "Oh!  She's not just being cranky!  She's sick!"  In this case, she was just exhausted and had no appetite and she kept moaning around the house that we were the "woost pawents evah" because we wouldn't let her jump off the tree, or eat flames, or whatever ridiculous thing she was requesting at the moment in her delirium. So it was a virus that turned our normally sweet, loving five-year-old into a shrieking, hateful Maury Povitch guest.  This made it a little hard to access my empathic response.

Then, Friday night, she pretty much refused to go to bed altogether, even though she was burning up (despite the fact that I couldn't get the thermometer to catch a fever) and clearly dead-tired and completely wench-like.  By 3am neither E. nor myself were exactly our best selves, and some yelling may have happened.  Some unhappy memories were formed, primarily for me and E., since Nolie seems to have mostly forgotten the whole thing.  I am still tired from the whole ordeal and wondering who absconded with my sweet baby child.  I am also a little afraid of her.  She is incredibly strong and stubborn.  I'm grateful she's not sick very often.  I'm also grateful she's not my size because she could whip my ass, no question.  I'm especially grateful that she started to get better today, because otherwise I was going to send her back to Russia.

We stupidly thought on Sunday afternoon that it would be fun to get out of the house and make our virgin pilgrimage to Denver's newish Ikea.  This was E's idea, actually.  Which I'm still scratching my head over, because if there is one thing that man hates, it is shopping.  If there is one thing I hate, it is shopping with him. Throw in the kids, one of who is grumpy-ass sick, and it's my least favorite way to spend any time, ever.  I have largely kicked my shopping addiction, but I still view it as enjoyable me-time when I do it, and these people do nothing but defile the practice.

I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say that by the time we got back I was in a deep funk, dissatisfied with my life and my husband and my children, and pissed that we had to leave the store in such a huff that I couldn't buy three of these:

The ones I wanted were white with gold light and on stands and would have looked lovely in my house for Christmas.  I'd show you a picture of the ones I actually wanted except I don't have them because of the awful people I live with.

It's best, after all, that we didn't bring more crap in the house.  I realize that now.  But at the time, I was pissed.  Also, I was pissed about being in the car with E., which is where he does his quiet-time thinking/brooding, and I sit there bored out of my wits looking out the window.  It was a long drive to that Ikea, and even longer home.  So enjoyable.

All in all, I'd say the trip to Ikea was not that fun.

But I'll be going back by myself one of these days, friends, so you'll all be getting Ikea-themed Christmas gifts this year.  And you better freaking appreciate them.