Thursday, August 15, 2019

Admitting defeat...and smashing the patriarchy?

Doing it all, its tough ya'll. For years we ran ourselves pretty ragged every evening picking up hangry and tired kids and bringing them home from various after care facilities (some better than others) only to get home to a dog needing walking, dinner to be made, and homework to be done (completely forgotten during "homework time" or purposely left for parental help). Every weeknight was a whirlwind and bedtime was getting later and later as we tried to do all of the above plus find some time for connection.

We muddled along like this for a few years until I had an epiphany last spring and tried out having an after school sitter a couple of days a week. You was a GAME CHANGER. The kids LOVED it. They would come home, have a snack---as much as they wanted until they weren't starving anymore!---get homework done, and then play with the sitter, go to the park, read, whatever. Then I could get home & walk the dog as she was gearing up to leave, and they were happily occupied while we got dinner together.

We had to struggle a bit with the cost difference and the lack of structure (the kids what they want after homework?) and reliability (our aftercare was open for unexpected half days and had camps on random off days) and having someone in my home, but in the end we decided that we would get an after school sitter for this school year. I did not realize how much time & mental energy it would take! I placed an ad, got replies, started writing back and setting up phone calls and asking for references and quickly became frustrated with flakey people who never called back, or applicants that had already taken a job, or only available 1-2 days of the week, were allergic to dogs (it was clearly in my ad that we had a dog!) or lived an hour away in another state and had their own kids, but swore it would be totally fine to drive here and park and never be late.

Finally, I found 2 people who sounded great on the phone, and had references who responded to my queries, called me back, and enthusiastically supported them.

First we met candidate 1: perfectly nice and sweet, loves dogs, had experience as an au pair, spoke fluent Spanish as well as flawless English, charged reasonable rates,  and lived in the city.

And then we met candidate 2:  funny and easy to talk to, loves dogs, had worked as a teacher for years (but became disillusioned with the school system is in transitioning careers) offered to do food prep, teach chess, and teach an instrument if we wanted, had a flexible schedule and could commit to covering half days, lived in the city (and had easy bus access to our house) and charged only slightly more.

While it seems like a no brainer, there was actually a lot of internal discomfort with our decision (mostly on my part) because candidate 2 was male. In the end I got over myself and offered him the job (pending security check) and everyone is very happy and all my mom friends and jealous.

I am honestly disappointed in myself for my knee jerk reaction---I discussed this with a colleague and she realized she had the same bias---"why is a man in his 30s looking for a babysitting job?" that is based on societal expectations and sensationalist news. As a mother trying to raise two boys to be feminists, I have always tried to be cognizant of the fact that feminism involves erasing the (patriarchy-approved!) distinctions of "men's work" and "women's work" and for women to have the freedom to run the world, the men may have to watch the kids. Play to your strengths, whether they are corporate ass-kicking or nurturing young lives!

My kids are actually really excited about having a "boy babysitter" and I'm glad they will get to see more examples of men in different kinds of jobs (obviously G has already instilled into them that dads raise kids, clean the house and cook dinner). And I will hopefully get to come home to a less chaotic evening.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Digital Minimalism, High Quality Leisure, and Real Life

So I just read Cal Newport's latest book, Digital Minimalism. I had recently finished Deep Work and loved it, so I was expecting to enjoy this one as well but I gotta say that while he had some good ideas about the role of social media in modern life, he completely lost me in the second half of the book in which he expounded on what you could (should?) be doing with all the free time you've gained back from not scrolling and posting and what-not, this "high quality leisure" concept.

While he did put one tiny line in their about mothers and kids, it really struck me that his key audience was the young and childless. While I completely agree that life can be better by opting out of the intrusion and competition and mindless time suck of most social media, I am not suddenly going to have hours and hours of free time to need help filling.

He was inspired by frugal living/early retirement bloggers (the most annoying ones, in my book) and urges us to "fix something every week" and waxes poetic about 3 glorious weekend hours spent repairing the bathroom fan. Cal advocates that this was a noble use of his time and we should all do something like this every weekend. Sure, its satisfying to fix something yourself, and to learn some new skills while doing so, but what Cal doesn't clarify is what his wife and 3 children were doing in those 3 hours. Or more importantly, when did SHE get to spend 3 hours fixing something in the house with no kids underfoot? Furthermore, the thought of fixing something as a leisure activity seems a bit masochistic to me. There may be a certain kind of person who enjoys that, but not all of us would. I wish he'd been more broad in his advice---the idea of "learning a skill" or "trying something new" sounds much more appealing to me. This could include a yoga position, a knitting stitch, a recipe, a language, a craft---possibilities are endless and don't need to involve studying YouTube videos of appliance innards.

Other recommendations for filling your time: joining groups (social activity too!), journaling, enjoying "slow media", walking, etc... These are all great! I do most of these things. I also read a lot, do puzzles, exercise, and occasionally enjoy an intentionally selected "high quality" TV show. My free time is full. Should 3 additional hours open up in the middle of a Saturday I will consider finding something to fix but more likely I will take a nap (or play a really long Monopoly game with my children, which is how I spent Sunday afternoon).

I was also turned off by the dismissal of digital communication as a tool to strengthen relationships. The argument (illustrated by the bizarre example of a rock-paper-scissors tournament) is that humans are built to discern social cues conveyed by tone, body language, and other subtle nuances that can only be transmitted in person or, at least partially, on the phone. So texting/emailing is a very weak social connection and may actually hurt your relationships since you can use this to avoid actually picking up the phone and navigating the tone and tenor of a true conversation.

OK, maybe this is true, but for an introvert like me, the thought of actually calling someone to talk after a full day of complex and emotionally charged face to face interaction sounds awful. I would never ever ever do it. I will, and regularly do, have long back and forth texts with my sister about our kids, work, lives, whatever. I've revealed a LOT more in those texts than I ever would in person, and I do think our frequent texting is making us closer. We certainly do try to get together when we can, but those visits are full of logistics, kids, and spouses and one-on-one conversation is sparse.

My dad texts us regularly, we have an ongoing family chat (that I have silenced notifications for, so I only look at it at the end of the day usually---I know they will call for emergencies) and we share practical things and random tidbits of our lives. I do call my parents, we talk about once a week, but those phone calls tend to be short and interrupted by my kids.  My mother-in-law doesn't text, she prefers phone calls. You know how often I call her? I can count on one hand. Sure it'd be NICE of I called her more, the absence of me or her having a personality least SOMETHING would be better than NOTHING.

All that said, I did have some useful take aways from the book. I appreciated and agree with his overall argument that the urge to scroll continuously is not due to laziness or personal failing but the purposeful machinations of tech companies to commodify our time and attention by making their product addictive (or "sticky" as they say). And I really liked the re-framing of avoiding any platform as the default (rather than the reality---that everyone is on it and if you're not, you're the odd one) unless you can find a compelling benefit that outweighs any potential cost to your time/productivity/mental health. Since I finished the book, I deleted IG and the news app from my phone and I decided to stop listening to podcasts while I walk so that I can use that time to think and reflect (I'll still listen in the car or while doing chores!) I've already been (mostly) off FB for a while now, I log on now and then to post things or buy nothing or double check event details (because I can't convince my neighborhood/school group/book club, etc... to move off FB). Its only been 2 days, I'll have to report back after a month or so to see if its helped.

Have any of your read Digital Minimalism, and what did you think? Any suggestions for how to stay up to date on the news (I tried and disliked The Skimm and the NPR UpFirst podcast)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

One more month...

Of summer left. We had an extra week or 2 this year and it feels absolutely luxurious!

I leave on Thursday to go pick up the kids, so we are trying to make the most of the kid free time with lots of dinners out and also simple and quiet dinners in. Instead of working out every day I've been sleeping in, which means I have the energy to stay up and hang out with G in the evenings, which is fun. We've played some board games, watched shows, went for walks.

Its really nice to have this time--for us and also for the kids to bond with cousins and grandparents--and we will definitely do it again next summer. I am also thinking that it would be fun to do a staycation week with the kids, so we can explore the summertime city. Its hard to cram everything into the weekend, especially when we have chores and other routines we need to get through.

Here I am, planning out Summer 2020 already! Its much more cheerful than looking at my fall schedule (Call weeks galore!) or figuring out the logistics of how we will handle half days and random no school days now that we are no longer using the always-open aftercare program. And there are the doctor and dental appointments I have to schedule, FUN!

I am excited to see the boys again, and I'm really working on my expectations for the next few weeks so that I can handle the angst that will surely come our way. They are going to a new camp for a couple of weeks and have been complaining before it even began, and they aren't getting picked up until 5:45-6 since they offer aftercare and its near G's work. We are also going back to no screen time on weekdays, "treats" only a couple of times a week, and bedtime at 8:30. I'll give them a while to settle back in before I throw in the new chores (that I have yet to figure out, but they definitely need to do more than they are doing currently, which is: folding and putting away their clothes every weekend, and alternating collecting trash or towels from all 3 bathrooms for trash/laundry day).

We do have a week of vacation left too! Our camping adventure, that I am also trying to temper expectations about, because it could literally rain the entire time. I'll post about it after the fact.

Alright, back to work/organizing calls with potential after school sitters. Its like a part time job managing these logistics!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Catching Up and Looking Ahead

Still here! Just really overstretched the past 6 weeks with travel, summer schedules, and a pretty intense work schedule. I've been trying hard to keep focus on the things that really matter and giving myself slack on everything else.

The kids are away again and I really miss them this go-round. We dropped them off with my parents last week and they are there, with their cousins, being loud and having a blast until later next week when I go pick them up.

I was planning to use this time to work and exercise and cook and clean and organize and overall be ridiculously healthy and productive. This is not happening. Two days in a row I overslept by 2 hours and skipped exercise. I've cleaned nothing. And we ordered pizza last night because I couldn't fathom cooking for the two of us. So yeah...I guess I needed to rest.

We did have some fun in July. We had a really fun camping trip with friends, and brought the dog along. We had friends over for grilled foods & sparklers on the 4th. Many weekend days were spent at the pool, and the kids did a lot of biking despite the heat wave. I was on a roll with BeachBody workouts in the basements, and read a lot of books too!

But I also submitted 3 papers, and have 2 more awaiting some co-author input. I have added several more clinics to my week, including a bi-monthly trek to the 'burbs to staff a satellite. So now I (sometimes) have a driving commute, which does allow for nice podcast/audiobook time but really just sucks. I need to make some major decisions about my career in the next few months, and I've been working through some weird and hard stuff with my therapist. I stopped my birth control pill that I was taking continuously to avoid migraines, just to see if I still need it, and hormones are going wacky. I'm also tapering the P@xil, yet again, but much slower this time, with therapy and other strategies to manage the anxiety. I was starting to feel numb and while its nice to not feel the bad stuff, I was also missing out on the good stuff. Throw in having to see extended family and all the feelings that entails, and its all just...a lot. And I'm physically, emotionally and mentally tired.

Nothing like the clean slate of a new month to energize me, though!

August Goals:

  • Work out at least 4 times/week (BeachBody supplemented with some barre/HIIT at the gym as time/schedules allow)
  • Find after-school sitter and finalize aftercare/sitter schedule
  • Plan a fall/winter girls trip (off season travel to the south is economical and enjoyable!)
  • Organize for and enjoy (hopefully?!) our long family camping adventure
  • "Quiet" time in the morning---no podcasts while walking to work, no social media scrolling (I read "Deep Work" and am starting on "Digital Minimalism" and am experimenting with some of Cal's suggestions to improve mental clarity and focus
  • One on one time with each kid at least once (I can't swing more time off work for a whole "mommy day" but I can do an evening activity/dinner date)
  • Submit the 2 papers that are mostly ready and start on 3rd

Honestly not sure if anyone is still reading, but if so, thanks for sticking around!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


When the kids are away, the mom will...organize and declutter all weekend! I got rid of SO MUCH stuff and now there are clean surfaces, empty spaces, and things grouped together in logical ways. It gives me so much joy to look around our living room alone, not to mention the bathrooms, guest rooms, kids room, and basement that I also tackled.

Of course the boys return in 3 days, and our nightly facetime sessions have revealed that MIL has pulled no punches when it comes to overbuying clothes and toys and books that we will all need a new home.

I gotta say there are mixed emotions about the big return. I miss the kids so much, I want to cuddle with L and have conversations with B, read books and play games and start working through our summer fun list. But...its also really nice to have some SPACE in my life.

It took about a week for it to really sink in---the first week I kept super busy, was out with friends or G most nights, and was frantically getting through my list of long overdue projects at work and at home. And then there was a moment Sunday evening when I realized that...I had done enough. I started working on a puzzle, I took a longer than necessary walk with the dog. I walked to the grocery store to get the ingredients for ONE completely unplanned dinner (I just went there and picked what I felt like preparing and eating THAT DAY). And as I walked, my mind wandered and I actually had a sudden flash of inspiration for a novel that I've spent the next few days writing in my head as I commute and cook. I'm never going to write it, but its been YEARS if not decades that I've had a creative impulse of any kind. It was FUN.

So yeah, I love being with and caring for my kids. They are at an amazing age, and I am thoroughly enjoying seeing who they are becoming. But its also nice to get to know myself again.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Step Ahead

Hello again friends! The last few weeks at work and at home were exceptionally busy so somethings (including writing/reading/commenting on blogs) had to give. Then we all spent some lovely days swimming, biking, eating delicious food, and watching movies in MIL-land.

But now I'm back and it is DAY NUMBER 1 of our first kid-free stint this summer and I have PLANS. The general theme of all my goals is to get ahead and build a cushion for when life...happens again. At work this means longer days and weekend hours to get several lingering papers out. At home, I'm doing a full-scale decluttering and organizing spree, figuring out childcare plans for the fall, and planning travel for the next academic/school year.

I also, of course, want to have some fun, so G and I have planned some dinner dates, friend outings, and a weekend hike. Add on the usual exercise, chores (though these are MUCH diminished by the absence of the kids! so much less to clean and no need to have hunger-avoidance plans for every minute of the day), and my ridiculous large TBR list (why is it either feast or famine for my Overdrive hold?!) and I know these 2 weeks will fly by. Which is good because I do miss my little monsters. I love this age with them, and am already looking forward to our later summer adventures!

More soon! Now back to work.

Friday, May 31, 2019

In the Flow

I've read and thought about the coveted "flow state" as it relates to thought-work, but my sessions with my new therapist have made me realize that its really the ideal for all aspects of life.

I was talking to her about the past weekend, and how it was glorious. Sure, some of it was just regular ol' good planning and the fact that it was my birthday and G unofficially gifted me a chore-free weekend. But I also just felt more present with my kids and fully immersed in the moment. I wasn't thinking about what was ahead or ruminating on what happened before...and it made each moment much more relaxed and refreshing.

I've been noticing this during my clinic sessions as well. Sometimes it just flows well and I feel like I'm giving each patient my full attention and meeting their needs and the day flies by, and sometimes I get hung up and derailed by little annoyances, delays, or a bad interaction and I'm counting down until the end of the day. If I can let it go (easier said then done!), or just table it until I have the bandwidth to think about it more clearly, I can be more effective AND actually enjoy the work.

Even in my morning workout class yesterday, I caught myself thinking about my to-do list and mindlessly doing the exercise and I forced myself to really pay attention and make each rep count.

I get that this is nothing groundbreaking and is just rehashing the trite concepts of "mindfulness" and "being present" that are part of the current zeitgeist, but something did click for me. As I plan my summer goals (today!) I am going to think about how to best incorporate this intention.