Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Little Miss Perfect?

I never considered myself a perfectionist. I am the queen of "good enough" when it comes to work products, house cleaning, etc... (ask  my husband). I'll put in the 50% of the work to get to 90% done quickly, maybe add another 5% (if I have time) and move on. Some call it half-assedness.  I call it efficiency. Its how I get everything done and still have time for my family, exercise, hobbies, and sleep.

My therapist disagrees and thinks I do indeed hold myself to very high standards and get anxious at my inability to meet them. I was skeptical for a while. But thinking through how weird I've gotten with the budget thing...which by the way is exactly how I got weird with the calorie counting thing...which is similar to recurring patterns of similar behavior throughout my life...I had a thought.

I don't know if its called "perfectionism" or something else, but its about control. When other things in my life get out of control, I seize on small areas that I can manipulate. And I get a lot of satisfaction from "winning" at these things. Staying in my calorie count, saving $100 off my grocery bill, logging 20K steps a day...little boost to self-esteem that helps motivate me in meeting bigger goals.

There is a huge undercurrent of stress in my professional life right now, with uncertain funding, and papers rejected, and experiments disproving hypotheses. I'm not sure what's going to happen to me next July when my current funding runs out. I don't actually want to talk about this, but its a background. This situation is in many ways out of my control. Yes, I'm trying to write grants, papers, modify experiments, find new areas to focus on...but whether or not its going to work? I can't say with any certainty. I recall feeling this way during our infertility and way before that when all (I mean ALL) my friends were pairing up and I wondered if I'd ever meet a partner or be the 5th (7th, 9th, 11th, 19th...seriously ALL my friends) wheel forever. 

So I turn back to the things that I can modify. And when it works---when I'm meeting my standards of frugality or nutrition or fitness, I feel good about myself & can translate that into productivity and creative thinking. But when it backfires---when I slip up and eat something "bad" (ugh) or my pants are tight or we go over budget---I feel deflated, unworthy, like a failure. And THAT translates to wanting to give up, what's the point, I'm never going to succeed, etc...

Areas that I think I tend towards this perfectionism/control include but are not limited to: money, food, fitness, body image (I could write a whole post about this, I thought I was over it but I'm decidedly not), parenting (not yelling, feeding healthy foods, no screen time, planning activities, etc...) and even my attitude (this is the one my therapist picked up on---I get down on myself for being negative/ungrateful/pessimistic/etc...). I rotate through one or two of these and get really hung up on them for a while, and then I get exhausted, give up, and move on through the cycle.

I like holding myself to high standards---it motivates me to improve--but I also realize that I need to keep things in perspective. Spending $50 more on a self-imposed budget shouldn't lead to self-flagellation (or worse, husband-abuse) nor should 200 extra calories. My kids get over it if I yell at them, and an extra movie or ice cream won't doom them to childhood obesity. And my body...well, absent some serious plastic surgery, the wrinkly belly pooch is here to stay.

Is this really perfectionism or something else? Isn't it normal? If not, is the answer something sappy like "be kind to myself" or "give myself grace" (ugh).

Friday, August 28, 2015

Letting it go

The weather has been truly lovely this week, and we're trying to take advantage of it. G & I are both getting over being sick, so our energy isn't at 100%, making some of our outings a little more exhausting than fun, but we've made some nice memories.

We went on the annual daycare trip to a nearby amusement park. B is old enough to truly enjoy the rides & water fun. Everything was "Again! Again!" and the enthusiasm was contagious. L was still scared by a lot of the stuff---his expression at the end of the roller coaster (a really basic, made-for-kids short one) was of utter betrayal. "did you have fun L? wasn't that cool?" "---" (silence, with a look that read "why did you do this to me?! I thought you loved me?!". B had that same expression his first time on the trip, 2 years ago, so I recognized it instantly.

The only thing that marred the trip was my anxiety over spending money on over-priced unhealthy treats throughout the afternoon, when we had perfectly nice grapes, carrots, and cheese puffs left over in our back pack. My feelings that afternoon actually led me to write my last post; I composed it in my head on the bus ride home as I sighed and shrugged and snapped at my family.  It was one of the many instances when the act of writing and thinking through my feelings to get them down, as well as the interactions in the comments, clarified and maybe even changed my thinking on the issue. Why fret over a few dollars and ruin a perfectly nice day? That is not the point. Not the point of budgeting, not the point of frugality, and not the point of life.

Yesterday, G called me at 5:15 pm stating the kids are complaining about being starving even though they just ate the last of their snacks. He wanted me to meet him for some food somewhere. I braced myself for the spendy suggestion, but he actually decided we could get prepared food from the grocery store and have a picnic. Great idea! I brought toys & a picnic blanket & water and he brought a huge spread of chicken salad, fried chicken, 2 kinds of pasta salad, cheese, veggies, fruit. We all ate and then played frisbee for over 30 minutes in the almost-chilly evening. It was amazing. Yes, we spent more than we would've eating at home (I had defrosted some fish and we had some bread and salad stuff to eat with it) but we would've had so much less fun. The kids are already asking to do it again TONIGHT but we do have to eat that fish.

Last weekend I went to the gym while G took the boys to the park for over 2 hours. I came home & showered and relaxed. It was a nice morning. It was also hot out, and a couple of hours after the breakfast, so everyone was thirsty and hungry at the park so they went to a coffee shop and had food & drinks and then spent more time at the park. They came home happy and tired. And I fretted over the $10 spent at the coffee shop.  I mean, what were his choices? Listen to them complain about being hungry & tired and haul them home? Or say "You're hungry? So am I! Lets go get something and then we can play some more". (Yes, there is the option C, my favorite option, which is never to go anywhere without a stash of snacks and water, but I realize not everyone thinks 2---or 3 or 4---steps ahead of every decision, and as I mentioned before, its mentally exhausting to do that)

In terms of the snacks on the way home or taxi rides---I try to remind myself that G makes this 2 mile trip in snow & rain & heat & sickness and in health ten times a week. Its easy for me to say I would always walk or take the bus &  never give into whining for snacks when I don't have to deal with it. Its not every day or even several time a week. Maybe it averages out to once a week? Let it go.

This weekend is set up to be anxiety-provoking, money wise. The fifth weekend in the month, with little to nothing left in most budget categories. We do have some free fun planned---a birthday party, swimming, a park trip. But my goal is to not get upset about minor spending. We only have 3 more weekends of summer. I'm going to let it go.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dribs and Drabs

Edited because I hit post instead of save...

Money, again. And how it just sort of slips out of our pockets in exchange for mundane little goods & services. My angst over wasting spending money this way is leading to some marital strife and a fair amount of personal stress.

I'm not going to go over the details of who spent what where, but in general, my husband definitely has a looser hold on the purse-strings. Specifically, he not only tolerates, but seems to find pleasure in buying little treats and snacks for the kids (and himself, on occasion) and is not averse to taking taxis/uber instead of waiting for the bus or walking. And this behavior does not appear to be impacted by how far we happen to be over budget in the given categories for these purchases.

This makes my twitchy. I get annoyed. I start to fret. I get snappy and grumpy. I say fine in a voice that is not fine.

I think I set reasonable amounts in our categories, if I increase them, I have to take money from elsewhere---there isn't "extra" sitting around. Those $5 and $10 add up, and leave nothing to show for it. Sure they stop the whining, maybe prevent 15-20 minutes of boredom or discomfort, but at the end of the day they are forgotten. If we didn't spend those dribs and drabs we'd have a good amount for something memorable---dinner out (delicious food for all of us and no cooking or cleaning!) or a new bike (hours/days/months of fun, exercise and fresh air).

And its not just the budget and the numbers, its the philosophy behind it. I can't bring my kids home from school without them asking for chocolate milk from Starbucks like daddy gets them, or "why can't we just take a taxi" when the bus doesn't come right away or they get slightly tired/bored. I'm OK with being the bad guy here, I tell them "no" and "because I don't think its a good way to spend money/you have to learn to be a little hungry once in a while/you'll never get stronger if you don't push yourself!" (OK that all sounds mean but the latter two we are seriously working on with B & L respectively, B is STARVING every 1-2 hours---how will he handle school? and L walks 10 feet before sitting himself down on the sidewalk and refusing to go further---he's four and objectively healthy, we are not keeping him in the stroller forever).

Its not a hardship to spend 15 minutes on a breezy sunny summer evening to chat about the day and wait for the bus. Its not a hardship to not stop for a snack on the way home from school when there is a healthy delicious dinner ready to go. You don't need to buy snacks at a coffee shop every time you go to the park! They are conditioned to these things because they have gotten them so frequently. Its hedonic adaptation for the pre-school set.

Overall I just want us to live within our means and build some financial security, and pass those values on to our kids. Its not that G doesn't share those values. I just think he is less into the frugality/stoicism/delayed gratification mindset than I am. I actually (perversely?) like the satisfaction that I sucked it up and didn't cave to a little hunger, fatigue, whining and kept that money in my pocket. Whereas he is more apt to pay for convenience and not have to deal with the stress or discomfort.

I'm struggling to find a way to deal with this without increasing marital tension and personal anxiety. I'm tired of feeling like the nag. Maybe I've drunk too much frugal-living Kool Aid? More likely I've always been frugal and averse to certain spending patterns that I consider wasteful, and now that we're tracking our spending, I'm noticing it more. I guess "wasteful" is a subjective judgement. One person's wasteful is another's "worth it". Considering the fact that we aren't in debt, have a nice emergency fund, are saving for retirement, and don't spend on big stuff, maybe I need to let it go.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Blue is not for girls

  • Girls can't like blue! That's a BOY color. 
  • Girls can't wear pants! Only BOYS wear pants! 
  • Hahahaha look at that girl who likes Batman and Superman costumes! Those are for BOYS. She is going to turn out to have issues isn't she! How could her parents let her wear that, isn't it embarrassing? 
  • Wait, you want to grow up and be a surgeon or a pilot? Well, honey, you see, usually MEN do that kind of work. Why don't you consider something else? 
  • Did you really by your daughter black and blue pajamas? And you let her wear them to walk the dog in the morning? Its just...weird...isn't it? 
  • Well, sweetie, the blue ones are for the boys---here take the pink one. You like BLUE better? Haha. well, that's different! 
  • Why are you taking her to sport class? Wouldn't she be more comfortable taking ballet? 
  • Is that girl riding a BLUE scooter?! Carrying a Ninja turtles backpack?
  • How could you let your daughter cut her hair so short? She looks like a boy. You should make her grow it out. 
  • And her nails are all dirty and unpainted, she looks like a scruffy little boy 
  • Are you buying this as a gift, or is it for your daughter? Oh really, that's typically a toy that BOYS like, are you sure she wants the army figurines/Lego space kit/cars? 
  • Hmmmm. Most of the Star Wars themed birthday parties I've been to are for BOYS. Did she really choose that theme? 
  • Well, hopefully she'll grow out of it and turn out to be more of a REAL GIRL as she gets older, because she's in for a lot of teasing once she starts school. 
 What the patriarchal/misogynistic/sexist bul!sh*t, right?

Well, as the mother of a kid who wants nothing to do with traditional gender norms, I've heard all of these things in the past 2 years, but turned around just a little...
  • Boys can't like pink! That's a GIRL color. 
  • Boys can't wear dresses! Only GIRLS wear dresses! 
  • Hahahaha look at that boy who likes Princess costumes! Those are for GIRLS. He is going to turn out to have issues isn't he! How could his parents let him wear that, isn't it embarrassing? 
  • Wait, you want to grow up and be a nurse or a pre-school teacher? Well, buddy, you see, usually WOMEN do that kind of work. Why don't you consider something else? 
  • Did you really by your son pink and purple pajamas? And you let him wear them to walk the dog in the morning? Its just...weird...isn't it? 
  • Well, sweetie, the pink ones are for the girls---here take the blue one. You like PINK better? Haha. well, that's different!  
  • Why are you taking him to dance class? Wouldn't he be more comfortable taking soccer? 
  • Is that boy riding a PURPLE scooter?! Carrying a Elsa  backpack?
  • How could you let your son grow his hair so long? He looks like a girl. You should make him cut it.
  • And his nails are painted pink and sparkly. He looks like a girl
  • Are you buying this as a gift, or is it for your son? Oh really, that's typically a toy that GIRLS like, are you sure he wants the Barbies/dollhouse/Lego Friends kit? 
  • Hmmmm. Most of the Frozen themed birthday parties I've been to are for GIRLS. Did he really choose that theme? 
  • Well, hopefully he'll grow out of it and turn out to be more of a REAL BOY as he gets older, because he's in for a lot of teasing once he starts school. 
I consider it more patriarchal/misogynistic/sexist bul!sh*t.

When "girl" things are denigrated to our boys---we are denigrated GIRLS. And we are limiting our boys, denying their preferences and interests, teaching them to hide certain aspects of their personality. Break down those walls on all sides! Superheroes, princesses, football and sparkles for all. They'll grow up to be wonderful nurses, surgeons, teachers, pilots, mothers, fathers and anything else they dream of.

I've been sitting on this post for a while, for many reasons, but KeAnne's post inspired me to publish it.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Kindred Spirits

I just finished reading the first 3 books in the Anne of Green Gables series. I've read these books countless times, they are one of my favorite comfort reads. There are always multiple mentions of Anne's "gift for friendship" and lovely depictions of her deep friendships through every stage of life. She calls those friends---the ones that you connect with easily---"kindred spirits".

That's what I want need more of in my life---those friends that you can talk to about pretty much anything---including the hard stuff in life. The ones who will get where you're coming from and offer support or encouragement, or call you on your bullshit when you're being nuts. The ones that know about the bad stuff in your life, like your crazy MIL or kid's behavior issue, so you don't have to lie and pretend everything is hunky dory when its not. Who you can trust to keep things secret, like your problems conceiving or that you are going to therapy, because you don't want to tell everyone everything! The friend who knows you and gets your personality so (s)he can say, without you uttering a word about your feelings..."oh wow, that must have really made you anxious, I bet you're not sleeping much" and "whoa, lets go get a drink for this one". The ones that make you laugh like crazy just by reminding you of the "that one time..."

Here's the thing. I'm an introvert. I've read (can't remember where, likely multiple places) that introverts need these close friends just as much as extroverts. Its the superficial interactions that introverts can do without. These days, if I go to a party, my idea of a good time is to hunker in the corner with 2-3 close friends, and have a long conversation with a few glasses of wine. Whereas an extrovert would want to "work the crowd" and mix and mingle for hours. I much prefer to go to happy hour with 1-5 other people I could really talk to than a huge 15-20 people gathering where I would probably end up just listening as various conversation buzzed around me.  I've also read that introverts are drawn to blogging because you can connect on that level without having to deal with the small-talk that needs to comes first IRL.

Several of you commented in my post last week, about community, that their spouses didn't seem to have this need for companionship, and were perfectly happy with work and family. It made me wonder whether there was a gender difference in the need for close connections. I hear this almost universally, so I can't discount it (though I hate hate HATE most assertions of gender differences, since they don't play out the typical way in my marriage/family and also since many are deeply rooted in patriarchy).

But why would this be? Its definitely not an introvert/extrovert thing. My husband is actually (slightly) more into parties/mingling than I am. He wishes we had more couple/family friends to do stuff with, but I've never heard him lament the lack of "close friends".  I'm not going to entertain any evolutionary psychology-based hypotheses about hunters and gatherers and nurturers (sorry, sarah, but yeah, patriarchy) Maybe its nurture more than nature? From an early age, girls are expected to have their BFF to share bracelets and earrings with, and popular culture is not lacking in idealized views of adult female friendship (Sex and the City). Maybe we feel this lack in our life because we hold this worldview in which women are supposed to have lots of close friendships? I don't have an answer.

Another part to this is the idea that "work and family connections are enough". Sure you can have good friends at work. If you get to spend enough time with them at work, and get the serious talk and joking around during your 9-5, you may not need more. And some people are really really close to their family? I'm not, so this one is hard for me to get. Do people really tell their parents about their work problems or marriage issues? Their siblings? I text with my sister and we talk kid issues, our shared experience as children of our parents, and our exercise plans, mostly. But i do try to smooth things over for family and definitely avoid tricky subjects. I can't imagine family being enough.

I know that if I want something to change in life I have to do something about. I'm not going to make good friends by writing about it, and to get to that deep friendship involves swimming through the murky waters of parties and small-talk. Its like dating---you have to put yourself out there, and you probably won't connect with a good percentage of people you meet, but you have to keep trying. I need to look into new avenues to meet people and then actually follow-through. Its scary.

Are you trying to meet new friends? How? Are men just from Mars? What are your theories on the gender differences here?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Miscellany

For your Friday reading pleasure
  • Interesting discussion on my last post. See also Gwinne's posts for more on the topic. 
  • G & I talked about doing more with our weekend evenings (as a family). We booked a twice weekly dog-sitter, so we don't have to rush home with L while the other takes B to karate---we can go to a park or library or dinner. Its a cost, but we are searching for cheaper dogwalkers
  • G is joining me on the no-booze weeknights. This is week 3 for me, though I fell of the wagon one night this week (not counting the 2 happy hours, because my rule was "no booze at home" to curtail the automatic glass of wine or 3 every night)
  • I went way over my "allowance" budget for this month due to 2 happy hours and 1 lunch where I treated my leaving tech on her last day and my new tech as a welcome. Worth it. That'll just mean less times I buy crap food from the cafeteria next month
  • Finalized aftercare for B, starting the 2nd day of school (I took the first day off...I'm nervous for him, and we'll do something special since its a BIG DEAL!). There is a class everyday that we can opt into, too. I paid for 5 classes for the 2 weeks of September, and we'll see what he likes and then pay for only those going forward (art/drama/karate/gymnastics/dance). Cheaper than daycare, but just barely. But we can pay via CC & get cash back!
  • Worked from home yesterday. Productive & much less hectic. Will have to start planning to do that once/week. Had dinner ready to go by the time everyone walked on (in fact, they were late, and I was starving, so I'd already eaten and could run around getting things for them) 
  • Also need to plan for better weeknights for myself. If I'm not working I'm either watching TV or just scrolling through facebook/email/blogs on my phone. (or reading, but I have no books right now, they'll all come in a clump soon--I'm number 2-5 on a lot of holds at the library).
  • Plans for weekend: work out at gym saturday, run with B again on Sunday. Swimming at Y saturday PM. Family movie Sunday PM.  Very low key, but that's what we need right now. 
How do you spend your weekend evenings and nights? Any great weekend plans? 

 Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Review: I Know How She Does It

I finished Laura Vanderkam's newest book this weekend, and wanted to share my thoughts. Overall I really enjoyed it. It was an engaging and quick read.  Since I was familiar with Vanderkam's work through her blog and other books, none of the ideas were truly brand-new to me, but they were highlighted in a way that made things stand out that I'd never before given much thought. I'll disclose that I did contribute a time-log for her study and there may be some quotes from an email exchange.

I've noticed that her work is surprisingly divisive. This may be in part due to the privileged position she comes from, and assumes in her readers. I think this book dealt with the issue by stating outright that the numbers and stories in the book were all from working mothers making >$100K/year.  I get that this is a small subset of our society, but its all the very subset that writes these articles about not being able to "have it all" that invade and shape our cultural mindset. So it makes sense to delve into --and hopefully challenge--the idea that these women, who admittedly have the most privilege to deal with modern life, are consummately unhappy. Are all women who are successful in their career stressed and miserable, never seeing their kids, spouses, friends and never having a moment to themselves? And if not, why not?

Vanderkam likes to look at the big picture. She's not about elaborate to-do lists and fancy planning systems, but encourages removing the unimportant time sucks so you can fill your life with the things you value and enjoy. She disparages typical working-mom advice like cooking on the weekend (my lifesaver!) and tidying/organizing schemes in favor of decreasing overall chore/housework time by outsourcing or letting things go. I don't think her ideas are limited to the six-figure income demographic. If a family can't afford a house cleaner, they still can lower their cleaning standards (assuming they aren't at rock bottom to begin with!) or get kids/spouse to chip in so less falls on one person. Whether you drive to work in a fancy car or take a bus, you can listen to music or podcasts to turn your commute into leisure time. Anyone can take a close look at their life and see what can be subtracted to fit more good stuff in.

Something that really made me think is the prevailing assumption that less work=happier life. It never occurred to me that for some people (including me at some points) working more, enough to achieve the kind of forward progress that results in satisfaction, may actually relieve overall stress & angst.  Even in a salaried job where hours worked does not equal money in the bank, having more time to do really fulfilling and career advancing work may be worthwhile if it makes you more energized and excited about your career.


One segment that made me feel warm & fuzzy was the one about the mother coming home on the bus and coming up with a fun, close-to-home evening plan for her little family on weeknights. Go to the park, go for ice cream, jump rope, play board game---nothing was BIG or expensive or required too much advanced planning, but it was intentional. Rather than rushing through the dinner-bath-bed routine, they took some time (30 minutes?) to do something that felt special. I really want to do that, at least a couple nights every week. It was actually reading this chapter that made me feel hopeful and positive about my ability to make life less of a slog and got me out of my blah mood this weekend! The bit about the woman who takes walks or shares wine & food with fellow moms at her kid's soccer game also made me happy---what a great way to combine so many values---exercise, supporting kids, being outside, friendship.

I also really like Vanderkam's focus on noticing what you already have. The  narrative of working parents not having any leisure time, when in fact we have plenty of time to spend on our own pursuits, made me examine my days with more scrutiny. Was I using my non-work, non-kids, non-sleep time in a way that was relaxing/refreshing/energizing, or frittering them away.  I exercise regularly, write this blog, read a ton of books, have watched multiple series of television shows, go for happy hours with friends approximately once/month, work on my garden. But if I eliminate some of the Facebook and stupid internet time, I could do those things more often or even incorporate something new into my life.

She encourages us to figure out our priorities and then make them happen---find a way to fit them into our lives. I've done this, with great results (thus the exercise, happy hours, reading) but its been several years. Especially with kids, things can change pretty dramatically in 3 years, so its good to revisit this---reading the book was a good reminder. I mentioned in my last post that I anticipate more periods of at-home time where I'm not actively needed by a child (B can play independently but needs me in eye sight, or I'll hear MOMMY WHERE ARE YOU within 30 seconds; L still wants me to play with him most of the time)  I need to think about what i want to do with that time, so I don't fill it with internet surfing or chores. Its not that hard to handle both kids at once anymore, either. I've given G plenty of time to himself to work on his projects. Maybe I need to claim my own time (he does offer, I'm just not sure what to do with it, so I'm "saving" it, but actually I'm forfeiting it).

The negatives: I did not read the time logs. On the Kindle they were too small to see. There was a link so that you could get an enlargeable version of the page, but when you made it larger, it didn't fit on the page so I had to scroll left-right and up-down to see the whole page, which made it really hard to see any patterns. Also each page of a log was a separate link, and some logs were 4-6 pages! You had to click the link, enlarge, scroll around, close out, flip to the next page, click the link again... I did this for 1-2 logs and then just skipped them altogether. I didn't find them interesting, to be honest. I prefer the narrative, with the whys and the hows then just blocks with "did this" "did that".

While I like day-in-the-life narratives, the "statistics" presented in the book in narrative form were hard for me to get my head around. 15% of women with X situation did Y. But how many women were in X situation? Was that an average? I'm used to figures with "n" and error bars and significance, so I find numbers thrown around distracting and hard to really believe (I trust the numbers presented are correct, just don't trust that I know exactly what they represent, if that makes sense?)

And of course, not all the advice pertained to my situation or my personality. I like prepping meals ahead of time because I don't work from home, and we all descend together & starving---its a huge stress saver to have something that can get on the table in 5 minutes on a weeknight. We can't afford a twice weekly cleaner, so we do have to clean the kitchen and yeah, we have higher standards for cleanliness (but not neatness--I do not pick up toys at night, but I do get why people do...its ingrained and hard to change). I'm not lucky enough to be able to fall asleep in 5 minutes (ha! hahahaha! the past 2 nights it took me over an hour, even after reading for 30-45 minutes!) after stopping working at night, so I need to schedule a good amount of down time and "lying in bed" time if I want to get enough sleep. No one is going to give me advice that is 100% pertinent. I take what I can use from various sources (including my own experience).

Tips and tricks aside, the best part of the book was the overall positive message. There is plenty written about how hard it is for working mothers, its easy to fall into the pity party mindset. I found it refreshing to hear someone reaffirm what I already know to be true:  I can indeed have it all, and more.