Thursday, April 28, 2016

And I'm going to be 40!...someday

Someday meaning less than one month from now, so yeah, that is happening whether I like it or not. And for the record, no, I do not. I have no idea why! I've never before minded getting older but maybe that's because I was never of an age I considered "older" when I got there.

In honor of this milestone, I've been having a little existential freak out. I've been mourning the loss of possibility that comes with aging; and since possibility amounts to hope, I think its worth mourning, at least in a controlled and limited fashion. In my younger days, I had a fabulous coping mechanism for when life was getting me down. I would just daydream about the future, when everything was amazing. It worked every time---I remember being able to FEEL my heart slowing down, and the ache in my chest releasing. It was like taking a sedative, only slightly less addictive.

Now these daydreams ranged from the fantastical (having a huge swimming pool IN MY HOUSE, marrying a member of NKOTB, writing the next "Sweet Valley High" series---as an autobiographical take on my teen years as the most beautiful and popular girl in school) to the mundane (living in paradise, having 3 kids, having a daughter). Regardless, they were a soothing balm to my battered and bruised soul through my awkward teens, lonely 20s, and the hell of infertility that came after.

I don't daydream anymore---I've tried---there just isn't anything big and GOOD* left that isn't already set. I've got my marriage, my career, my children. I won't have a daughter. I won't marry anyone famous. I probably won't live by the beach (my husband doesn't want to) or write teeny bop fiction (ummm. I don't want to). Swimming pools are expensive and having one INSIDE your house is just...stupid. If I think too hard about the future I realize that people I love may be gone, my children will be TEENAGE BOYS, my joints will be creakier & my hair grayer and oh my god this is terrifying STOP. Life, and circumstance, and common sense have taken all the FUN out of daydreaming.

I know full well that I can make changes, but they seem small in scope compared to the wide open field that was "the future". Every year going by leads to some narrowing of possibility. I see it with my children. When they were born, they could be ANYTHING. And now I'm seeing their strengths and weaknesses; of the infinite paths, some are closing off. There are still multitudes left---and the choice is theirs alone, of course---but it happens, that is life.

And when you realize there is nothing really enormous (and GOOD*) ahead, your mind falls into the quintessential "Is this all there is?" mid-life angst.Yes, I know there is a lot of good stuff in my life. There is a lot left for me to do and experience and I have ambitions and plans and hopes and dreams for how I'm going to fill the next several decades should the universe grant me them to fill. But that angst is sitting with me right now.

Months (years?) ago, Xykademiqz wrote a comment that pretty much summed up everything I didn't even know I was thinking and feeling. In fact, if there was a theme to this blog, this is it, including (most especially) the "shiiiiit": 
The blahs in middle age come from no longer there being concrete, inspiring milestones in our future. It's saddening and disorienting, especially for very driven people. I spend a lot of time brooding "Is this all there is? What is the fuckin' point? We are all so insignificant and short-lived in the grand scheme of things... Shiiiiit (The Wire style, http://shiiiit.com/)." But then I try to find the time to better myself or for creative pursuits, or enjoying the creative works of others, or focusing on how cute my kids are, and then I feel better. For a little bit at least.
Which is exactly why, after my family was complete, I've set my focus on self-improvement and seemingly flit from one personal goal to the next and back again. I'll never win Olympic goal, but I can train to shave a few seconds off my running speed, and be just that much fitter and stronger than I was before. I don't have the family I imagined, but I can be the best mother to my sons. I don't have a talent that can become my career, but I can try different things until I find something I'm good enough at to be a fulfilling hobby. I may never marry Leonardo DiCaprio but I can make my own marriage better. And if I can enjoy it all, along the way, I guess that is the fuckin' point. It has to be.

*because, lets face it, the older you get the more the chance of terrible things happening to you and yours increases. Circle of life. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Useless Emotions

I really loved this post (linked by SHU) about frustration. In a nutshell, he describes frustration as a result of reality not matching with the "stories we tell ourselves" about how things SHOULD be. And that to eliminate frustration, you have to just let go of the "shoulds" and be in the moment as it is. What I got out of it is that: 1) yeah, easier said than done and 2) in most circumstances, ongoing frustration is pretty useless and serves only to make me miserable.

Notice I said "most" and "ongoing" and I think those qualifiers are important because like all negative emotions, frustration can also alert as to something in our life that needs to be changed. Frustration can also lead to creativity and innovation when we actively endeavor to find a way around the frustrating event. But I think we can all admit that most of our frustration is aimed at things we can't or don't want to change. We have no intention whatsoever in eliminating the source of the frustration, we probably want to stop feeling that way, but we don't know how.

I've re-read that post a few times, and each time the advice actually becomes more murky and difficult to make actionable. But the fact that my frustration with certain situations is hurting only myself and created solely in my mind have led me to (want to) manage this feeling better. I'm not into the idea of acknowledging other's "suffering" but I try to attribute positive motivations to their behavior. And then to ask myself "how is this helping me" when I find my anger brewing. And then just letting it go. Thinking about something else, smiling and changing the subject, distraction---whatever works so I don't relive the slight and perseverate until I'm full of justified indignation.

My mother-in-law is here (day 11/22) so I've had a lot of opportunities to practice.

Which brings me to the more damaging, but equally useless emotion--anxiety. Without going into details, I'll say that there is enough history with my MIL to feel justifiably anxious about spending any amount of time with her. So yes, things could go horribly wrong and we could have an encounter that make confrontation-hating me nauseous and panicky. But...then again, maybe not. The amount of time I feel anxious reliving terrible moments from the past and fearing potentially horrible moments in the future is the size of the universe. And the amount of time actively spent in those negative moments is the size of the earth.

And its hurting only me. Its sucking the joy out of MY life, its making my stomach hurt and my sleep terrible and its letting the terrorists win. I used to (sort of still do) have this baffling inner belief that if I worry about something enough, it won't happen. I have SO MANY examples of when this actually happened! When I worried and fretted, and it all went ok and when I FORGOT to worry and look, the terrible thing happened, out of the blue. Obviously, there is recall bias here---I certainly don't remember the times (there must have been?) when I didn't worry and everything worked out.

When I feel the free-floating anxiety rise, I've been reminding myself "Nothing bad is happening right now" and taking a moment to notice something GOOD that is currently in my life. The sunny breezy day, my kids being adorable and loving, etc... And its actually sort of helpful? Not completely---I've been having terrible dreams, and definitely full of nervous energy and cocktails are even more helpful. But its something.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Updates, in Bullet Form

In no particular order:

  • F&^k insomnia. seriously. I got 2 hours of sleep last night. I do not want to talk about it
  • And I just STAYED IN BED the whole time because I was afraid to go back downstairs because the F&#&ing mice are apparently back 
  • Also I wrote "Stayed in bed" because the lay/lie thing confounds me
  • And when I was finally FINALLY drifting off, G started snoring. This happened 5 times until I moved into the guest room and got those 2 hours of sleep. 
  • G is at home with both boys. L is home sick so he decided to pick B up from school instead of sending him to aftercare. B had it last weekend---fever/tired/vomiting. OMG I CANNOT GET IT!
  • I am taking a break from proofreading the grant I'm turning in tomorrow as well as some talks I am giving Saturday
  • My MIL is coming tomorrow, for 22 days. Insomnia may or may not be related.
  • I am traveling to a conference Sunday-Friday (the conference is actually M-Th) Its an area of research I am trying really hard to break into AND I'm rooming with a BF that moved far away so YAY!
  • Bathing suit shopping. 7th circle of hell, amiright? I need to return yet another one. UGH. Recs for good separates where the bottom comes in a mid-rise but isn't TOO covering/frumpy and a bikini top that is actually supportive but also not TOO covering/frumpy? I can't find that holy grail. Also they have to have free shipping AND returns. 
  • I learned not to ask G for his "honest opinion" re: above. We shan't talk about that, either.
  • We finished all the evaluation with B and got our diagnoses=mild/borderline ASD and ADHD. He started a social skills therapy session weekly. The school was supposed to call last week to discuss further evals and IEP but I haven't heard so I need to call them. 
  • We finished House of Cards season 4. What to watch next?
  • To end on a positive note, its beautiful outside. I was falling asleep so I took a little walk and got lunch from a food cart. 
  • Also planning a nice date night plus a dinner with friends while MIL is here. 
Hope you guys are enjoying your spring! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What Really Matters, Part 2: Health

Another area I realized needed a make-over/decluttering was in my approach to my physical and mental health.

Health
Goals:
  1. keep up with preventive health care
  2. eat in a way that is nourishing, increases energy, and maintains health
  3. exercise regularly for strength, energy, and mental health
  4. manage my anxiety
  5. restorative sleep
Steps
Goal 1: make appointments for dentist (I'm pretty sure I'm overdue) and gyn. Switch to new gyn to manage issues (I'd been going to an NP who was fine for an annual exam & rx for my birth control, but couldn't really answer any of my more complex questions and didn't seem up to date on recent guidelines)
Goal 2: sensible intake of carbohydrates, and always with protein/fat. Continue large quantities of fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. Limit sugars & processed foods in daily life. Drink at least 1.5 liters of water daily---even on weekends! Limit alcohol---do not resume daily drinking!
Goal 3: continue HIIT, buy a 10-class pack for barre and plan to go 2-3 times/month. go back to bodypump on Saturdays (took a break to do barre). run 2-3 times/month and work on speed.
Goal 4: meditation. journal. Limit social media and distractions and strive for mindfulness. resume therapy sessions when therapist returns from mat leave.
Goal 5: discuss prescription sleep aids with doctor. head up to bed before 10pm. quiet night time routine. DO NOT check email before bed!!!!!!!!!

How
This is even harder because, as astute readers will recognize, I have tried and failed at a lot of these steps multiple times in the past few years. Particularly in regards to goal 2 and 4. Part of it is just continuing to try, hoping that it'll be like quitting smoking, where you need to give it several tries before it finally sticks. But of course, I am also going to employ new strategies to increase the likelihood. For example, G agreed to give up the weekday drinking with me, and its way easier without having an enabler with his constant "I'm having a beer, you want one?" "I was going to open that new wine, you want to try it?"...it took SO MUCH self control to say no. and I have no self control left at 9 pm. For water, I do great at work because I have a 750 ml water bottle I refill twice and make myself finish it before I leave. At home, I use a glass and I lose count or we go out and I forget...duh...use the 500 ml water bottle I already have at home & make myself drink 3 of those before I'm allowed any wine!

In terms of the food, I worded this very carefully to not include ANY mention of weight or body shape because there I am so over navigating that minefield of emotions and self-criticism. I am at a healthy weight and am overall quite healthy. I don't need to make changes to my diet to achieve or treat anything. I want to eat in a way that feels good---doesn't leave me bloated or sluggish---and sets a good example of balanced eating to my kids. I love food of all kinds and want to enjoy it, and be able to have treats and celebrations without guilt or overthinking. On the other hand I know that eating, for example, a bowl of crackers for a snack does nothing but make me hungrier, and that shouldn't be part of my daily routine (2/3 nuts + 1/3 crackers=perfect). I tried switching my processed non-dairy creamer for almond milk, and my morning coffee became a sad sad affair, even after keeping with it for 2 months. So I will allow that one major exception in my life, because enjoying morning coffee is essential to my life!

I still haven't figured out the meditation. I tried to wake up 15 minutes early this morning to start. B woke up 20 minutes before he usually does, so that 15 minutes was spent making him eggs and listening to his chatter. I have tried doing it at bedtime, but I can't if G comes up with me---and he's been trying to get more sleep, so he is doing this more often. Lunchtime? Leave work 10 minutes later? I'll have to experiment with this. I REALLY REALLY want to make it happen. I have drunk the kool-aid and I truly believe it can be helpful for me, but I haven't stuck with it long enough to tell.

I am overall doing better with the social media. I don't have any clear "rules" because I break them anyways (not an upholder) but I know that spending less time in other peoples' lives and more time actually getting things done and enjoying my own makes me feel infinitely better, so its a good incentive. On that note, back to my grant.... I'll post the 3rd part of this series tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What Really Matters: Part 1, Parenting

So I did get a little time for deep thinking this weekend, and I jotted down a list of what areas of life are most important to me, what my goals are in those areas, and what needs to happen to achieve those goals. Of course, #1 is how parenting my boys.

Parenting
Goals
  1. providing a calm, loving, safe environment for my children to grow up in
  2. having fun together as a family
  3. supporting my children in their education
  4. fostering independence
Steps
Goal 1: Strive to follow "no drama discipline" philosophy---stop (minimize) yelling, threats, "punishment". Continue working with therapist re: B's behavior and best ways to handle.
Goal 2: Once weather better, weekday evening outings 1-2 times a week. Continue to plan weekend acivities and vacations. Loosen up at home---regarding treats, screen time and other things that make kids happy and ease tension.
Goal 3: join PTA next year (so I can get updates/emails even though meetings are difficult/impossible to attend). Work on HW with both kids (alternate days?). Make time for listening to B read. Chaperone field trips 1-2 times/year per kid
Goal 4: By this summer, list of chores for each child. Making bed(I don't even do this, who cares?!) feeding dog, helping with laundry, put away dishes. Also start allowance for B (not tied to chores) to teach him about money.

The HOW
Of course doing all this isn't easy. I need to also work on "self care" so I don't burn out and lose it. Sleep, exercise, therapy. But I also need to be willing to spend a little money to make things easier. I realize I can be a bit of a martyr and run myself ragged trying not to spend a single penny. I'll walk miles in the rain when exhausted, let myself get hungry (and hangry), and even listen to the kids endlessly whine and meltdown about hunger/thirst because I don't want to buy a water bottle or a snack. Yes, I try to be prepared and bring everything with me, but sometimes I forget!

When I was away last week, G only cooked breakfast and made pasta once. He decided he wasn't going to deal with cooking and cleaning every meal on top of everything else (and he did, indeed, do EVERYTHING else). It was absolutely the best decision---the boys said it felt "like a vacation". They also had more time/energy for outings when they didn't have to trek home before someone melted down from hunger! I also scheduled the dog walker after work, and they took advantage of that, plus the nice weather, to play at the park for an hour each weekday.

I realized that, had it been me, I would've used G being away as an excuse to have a ridiculously frugal weekend. And I'd have been exhausted & miserable. Its not only about the money.

I also have to...yet again...re-evaluate my time and my work schedule. Our evenings are exhausting the way they are set up right now, with all of us getting home around 5:45-6 and then having to do: dog walk, make & eat dinner, check homework,  baths/brushing, stories, bedtime for kids, clean kitchen, other chores. All in a 3 hour span. Last Monday I worked half the day at work and then came home for the afternoon since L had no school. I got home by 1:30. I worked a little. We picked B up from school at 3 and I worked some more while they ate snacks and played together. I showed B how to do his homework and he did it. Then we walked the dog and I gave them quick baths. I dealt with the mail and started some laundry, made lunches for the next day and was making dinner when G came home. We all ate and had 90 minutes to play before starting the bedtime routine! It was so relaxing.

I don't want to leave work at 1PM but I would LOVE to be able to pick B up from school a couple of times a week, take him to the park & hang out with him, help him with homework and also get through our evening chores so that we can have a relaxed evening. I also think it would be better for him. Its a really long day for him to go from full day school to aftercare where he gets scolded for "running" and "jumping" and "being loud". I know some of his evening wildness is due to having to hold it together for so long and needing an outlet. I would be willing to start work very early in the morning to do this; alternatively I could work later on other days. I need to test drive both methods soon.

So, yeah, this was useful. Nothing completely earth-shattering but doable changes that could improve our quality of life. I'll write later about: marriage, work, and health---all of these revealed similar actionable items.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Notes from the Road

Just began day 4/4 of my work trip. Its been a mix of diligently attending sessions and taking copious notes, furiously working on my laptop, and lounging in the hotel room drinking wine and watching Gilmore Girls (Rory came home to Lorelai!) I got in a lot of walking and exploring the city which is good because its 28 degrees and heavily raining right now, so the walking is over. I got to meet a new blog friend for dinner---she was lovely and her children were adorable! And also had an awesome run and chat along the river with a BBF (best blog friend, of course) who happens to be here for a wedding.

I used to get major FOMO* at meetings, thinking that everyone else was hanging out without me** and feeling sort of lonely when I was on my own. These days? I am delighted to have time to catch up with myself! I look forward to the evening when the conference ends and I can work, or relax, go shopping, or wander aimlessly. I actually felt ambivalent at other meetings when I had plans that took up the whole evening and I didn't get to do this---while it was very fun to go out and socialize, and really really nice to be included, I also lament the loss of my precious precious "me time".

It is refreshing to have a break from caring for others. I am responsible only for myself. While I haven't gotten through my overly-ambitious plan for catching up on work (I underestimated how tired my brain would feel after 6-8 hours of sitting in sessions and taking said notes), I've made some good headway and feel much more on top of things. I've also had some time to reflect---more to come.

I started to really miss my family yesterday. G kept sending cute pictures and audio recordings of the boys that were melting my heart. Apparently they were uncharacteristically well behaved. We joked that one of should always go away, since they were also relatively angelic when G was gone last weekend.

I'm sure Monday morning will NOT be easy (I get in really late tonight) but I'm ready to be back in my real life.

*G had never heard of this term as of last week. I thought it was part of the standard current vocabulary. He spends plenty of time online. I was shocked. 
 
**On the plane I read Mindy Kaling's other book, which I actually liked better. I can't work on the plane, especially these tiny rickety regional ones. I'm too full of terror to do anything but read fluff and repeat under my breath "flying is safe. flying is safe. flying is safe."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The True Magic

Its really all about attitude, isn't it? Why else can I feel incredibly content and grateful about my life one month and completely exasperated and overwhelmed the next...when nothing has fundamentally changed? Sure, sometimes I can pinpoint a particular stressor, like an illness or a deadline or a rejection that I can blame the bad mood on. Often, though, there is nothing different beyond the alignment of the stars or the firing pattern of my neurotransmitters.

I still absolutely think evaluating my priorities and how I spend my time is important, and I'm planning to do it...but I don't think I'm going to find anything earth-shattering there. Most of what I do just has to be done. I know from past experience that listing everything out, and seeing how much my life DOES actually revolve around the things that are important to me, actually helps me feel more satisfied with my choices.

I also realized the source of most of my discontent is not my actual activities--the kinds of things you can enter into a time log---but the countless things I'm thinking about, worrying about, "working on". My mental space is cluttered with shoulds and what-ifs and what-thens. Its crowded in there, and I can't see the forest for the trees---what am I really trying to accomplish with my parenting, my work, my relationships, my health? Not all the things I read and internalized and felt I should do, but the top 1-2-3 things that actually matter to me.

And somewhere in that list, I'm going to make sure that "fun" is included. It seems to have slipped out of my life lately. The fun should not come at the end when everything is done...because it is never done. I keep waiting to get to some magical place where all my responsibilities are taken care of and THEN I can relax. But I never get there. I just need to make it happen.