Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 Intentions First Quarter Results: Friendship

Original Intention: "I want to try to plan one social outing each weekend...[and] focus on growing the relationships I do have"
Grade: B

I have done pretty well with this. I've ignored the working-mom guilt, and actually spent some time with my friends on weekends. I also overcame my intertia and reached out to actually make the plans, since they weren't exactly falling into my lap. I've had a couple of brunches with my girlfriends and we even had all my lab friends over for a pot-luck dinner party [btw, great way for parents to hang out with their child-free friends...have them over after kids are in bed! no need for babysitter!]

I would say the biggest obstacle I've met here is my guilt over being the only one taking time to myself. As in, G just doesn't do it. He says he doesn't mind, but it makes things feel so...uneven. Yeah yeah blah blah these things even out over years in a marriage, but I don't like feeling like I'm the one taking advantage. Also, I know now how amazing it feels to get out on my own and I'd like to help him have the same experience. But again, blah blah can't change anyone else...etc...

I'm not giving myself an A here because I'd like to expand on this intention and really try to meet some new friends. I went to a "working moms" happy hour once this year, and met some nice enough ladies...maybe I'll try more of the activities scheduled through that group, or the neighborhood group that's trying to improve the local elementary school (i.e. the reason most people LEAVE and move to the burbs before the kids turn 5). My problem is, I just wasn't feeling it with any of the moms I met in those groups and so I kind of wrote them off. But, maybe I need to give it more those big group situations, you really can't tell one way or the other until you've hung out a few times. I thought all the women in my book group were super-weird, but I kept going, and now 3 years in, I've realized that only half of them are super-weird---and I like them anyways.

I've also been keeping in touch with my far-away friends. I need to just pick up the phone. Reading facebook status updates doesn't mean that I'm "caught up" on their lives. I really do value some of these relationships, and need to put the effort in to maintain them.

More happy hours, more phone gabbing, more book club...this sounds like it'll actually be fun!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 Intentions First Quarter Results: Self

Original Intention: So I will read and write. Whenever I get the chance...But I also want to keep trying new things.
Grade: B A

Before I get into the specifics of what I've been doing for "me" time, I'm going to rant a bit about our society's obsession with busyness and martyrdom. When asked how we are doing, when don't we answer "super busy!"? How often do we complain about "not having enough time" for XYZ or scoff snarkily about "who has time for that?" 

I really like the attitude expressed in this quote by Laura Vanderkamp in the Wall Street Journal (full article here):

          Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.

 Her blog is full of practical advice on money & time management, with a focus (as I see it) on abandoning this cultural narrative of the frazzled working mother with no time to herself. Some of the research on these topics is fascinating (especially fascinating is the fact that people do research on these topics!) One statistic that struck me was from a lame internet poll asking working moms "when was the last time you had "me" time?"---51% said they "couldn't remember". This was taken to mean that it's been so long that they can't remember (what a great mother! what a great worker! always on the job). I call BS on that. How many people go even 3 days without doing ANY of the following: watching TV, reading, surfing the internet, talking on the phone? The problem isn't that the "me time" is so infrequent, the problem is that the activity was so unsatisfying and un-energizing as to be unmemorable. I think most people do have free time, we just tend to fritter it away and then wonder where it went.

So I've been trying to make my limited leisure hours more meaningful. Less time on i-phone scrabble or random internet surfing and more intentional and restoring pursuits. Ironically, though I originally pegged reading as my go-to activity, I simply have not been able to get into any of the fiction I've got piled on my dresser right now.

But I've actually been sewing! I made a skirt for myself, and a pillowcase for B. My seams aren't quite straight, and the pillowcase is completely ridiculous because I forgot to plan for the 4th side.I decided to do buttons and brought a big bag of buttons (oh my, that could be a tongue-twister) online--oversized primary-color ones in "fun shapes" for kids. I tried using the "buttonhole foot" & it was a mangled mess so I just (oh the shame) CUT little slits for buttonholes & hand-sewed the buttons. Even 2-year-old B, while happy with the pillow overall, looked at the buttons and said "i don't like this mummy, fix it". I also have been doing something I have heretofore REFUSED to do, and that is bake complicated desserts for no particular reason.

Its actually been fun, and tremendously satisfying, to create things that can be enjoyed by  myself and others. I never considered myself the "crafty" sort, but I am starting to see the appeal. Yes, there are many evenings when I want to just veg out and be passively entertained, but I definitely plan to incorporate more sewing projects and dessert-making into the mix. I want to sew a skirt for my 2-year-old niece (I have no girl children to sew for, sigh) and try my hand at making a pie (no I have never made a pie).

"Who has time for that?"  I do.

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 Intention First Quarter Results: Career

Original Intention: "spend (at least) a few hours each week on this [independent project] and...make some sort of schedule for working...most nights after B is asleep and chores are done. "
Grade: C

I was about to give this an F on career; in the past 3 weeks I've received an unfundable score on my latest grant proposal and had a paper outright rejected. But those setbacks are 1) part and parcel of the whole academic research game and 2) not entirely within my control. Plus, as written above, my original intention was quite specific and unrelated.

So how did I do?  I did take one of my ideas a bit further---literature review, preliminary study design, meeting with experts in that area...and that's where it halted, because the feedback I got from THE expert in the type of studies I wanted to do was...discouraging. Basically I was told that I had no preliminary data to support such a high-risk project (this is true); I was then offered an opportunity to collaborate in a small way on an ongoing project in order to potentially gather some supporting data. This is in the works and may or may not happen (I haven't heard anything in a while). I count it a measured success, since I did make the effort of reaching out & trying to make it happen, and if nothing else, I am on the radar of the leaders in the field & they've marked me as the go-to person for any "X"-related studies they may consider in their larger projects.

Lately I've been too bogged down in my ongoing projects to spend any more motivation or brain space on another pie-in-the-sky idea.

The second half of the intention? Working in the evenings? Abject failure. What making & trying to keep this intention taught me is that I simply do not WANT to spend "most every night" working. I can crank it out for a deadline, but as part of my daily routine? Its not sustainable. In my reading about successful women in any field, I got a sense that they all worked like crazy during the work day, rushed home to work the second shift with dinner, kids, and chores. Then as soon as the good-night kisses were given & the kitchen shining, they cracked open their laptops for the THIRD shift, working until they collapsed into bed, only to rouse themselves at 5am to do it again.

Where is the time for connecting with your spouse or friends? For any other hobbies or interests? Or for simply decompressing in front of the television once in a while. I simply cannot imagine living my life like this, and if that is a prerequisite for success, I'm out of the race.

I HAVE to believe their is another way and so I am changing my intention to try to add more productivity to my workday itself. I have few concrete ideas of how to do so, but will aim for a general strategy of wasting less time on "work" (checking email & responding to non-urgent issues as if they were urgent issues) and more time on WORK that will actually help advance my career. I like the idea of doing an important task first thing in the morning, before checking email & also listing out the "three major tasks" that I need to complete each day. I will make my comprehensive to-do list with "actionable" items so that when I finish one thing, I can quickly move to the next without my usual "filler" activity of email-checking/web-browsing. Reading/blogging ONLY while pumping (because its really hard for me to focus on work).

Let's see if I can work smarter, so that I don't have to work harder.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 Intention First Quarter Results: Marriage

Original Intention: "really come up with a daily time to talk and be together for even 15-20 minutes"
Grade: F

Oh yeah. Total abject FAIL on this one. What happened? What always happens. Things get busy and the status quo prevails.  The kids' bed times have crept up later & later. And there is just so much to DO in the evenings...chores, finishing up on work, even fun stuff like reading. Plus I want to get to bed early enough to be able to go running. Ah the excuses. They are infinite.

When I really think about this, though, the major problem with this intention was that it wasn't under my control. Its one of those takes-two-to-tango things. And G doesn't see a problem with the status quo, so if I want to change things, I have to remind, insist, cajole, nag.

Speaking of taking-two-to-tango...well, I didn't articulate this in my Intention post, but I was hoping that daily communication & together-time would also hopefully result in more physical intimacy. Because that? Just not happening these days. In the interest of trying to help someone who may be in the same tango-less boat, I will overcome my humiliation and admit that it's only happened twice this year. Oh, there are all sorts of excuses for this, too, but basically we are busy, we are tired, we've been sick, and we seem to be on opposite schedules as far as interest is concerned.

Anyways. I realize I need to change this intention into something actionable that only involves changing my own behaviors and attitudes, because if there is any life lesson that has really come home lately its the old "you can't change anyone but yourself". I don't have any brilliant ideas here. One thing G often mentions (complains about) is that I am not very affectionate with him---he likes hugs, kisses, back rubs, etc... and I am a bit more physically aloof. So I will aim to affectionately touch him every day, beyond just a quick kiss hello/goodbye.
Another is something I heard on TV once---it was a segment on a talk show, leading up to Valentine's Day about "ways to show your love". Some "marriage expert" recommended doing one thing specifically for your partner every day without telling them about it. I tried it for a while...completing one of "his" chores, cooking his favorite dish, agreeing to the movie he wanted, etc...but my desire for praise & acknowledgement won out & I gave up. Maybe I'll try that again, in the spirit of showing love & gratitude.

Got any better ideas? I'm sure they're out there!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

2012 Intention First Quarter Results: Motherhood

This one is much more qualitative and thus harder to measure success vs. failure so I gave myself a wishy-washy grade.

Original intention:  fun. I want to infuse my home and family with love and laughter
Grade: B

This deserves a B because I am consciously working on it, but far from perfect. When things start to go awry (in that every-day sort of way, when nothing is really wrong, just whinier, jumpier, and grosser than I'd like), I remind myself to "just have fun".  Distraction is a good technique for dealing with kids & adults alike (just ask a certain political party....).  And saying "Yes" more often isn't going to turn my kids into deviants.  I mean, doesn't music, crackers, or a sticker make everyone's life a little brighter?

My enemy in this is also my dearest ally---my to-do list. There are definitely times (weekday evenings specifically) where I shove aside fun to plow through my chores. I miss my boys all day yet when we all get home I half-ignore them as I rush here & there making lunches, washing bottles, and starting laundry. Sure, all of this can be done after they go to bed but that end-of-the-day alone time is so so precious to me that I try to maximize it by completing the must-dos earlier in the the expense of giving my full attention to my children.

So I'm going to add to this intention---my motherhood goals will include having fun and focus. And the to-do list gets put on hold from 6-8 pm.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 Intention First Quarter Results: Health

I can't believe its already spring! I'd planned to re-assess my intentions at the change of each season, and well, here we are. I decided to give myself a grade for each intention, and to revise the ones that don't seem to work for me. Thankfully I'm starting off with one of my unequivocal successes.

Original Intention:  "SOME form of exercise most days---NOT including my walking commute"
Grade: A

I was off to a very slow start, with a couple of yoga classes in early January, petering off to nothing for a full month or so while dealing with L's severe sleep issues. Then in mid-February I signed up for a 10 MILE RUN in early May. The next morning, I changed into workout gear, handed G the baby, and took off with the dog. I've been running regularly---three times a week---including a "long run" on the weekends which is up to 6 miles. And I actually like it! The weather has been mostly gorgeous and its a great way to start off the day. Plus, the routine of regular exercise drives me to be more energetic while walking, playing with the boys, etc... Now the increase in energy expenditure has led to a simultaneous increase in energy consumption, so I haven't lost an ounce, but I feel better.

 Happily, G (who did not sign up for the race) has also been spurred on, and we basically alternate days (except for Wednesdays which are early work days for both of us). No, I'm not hitting my original goal of daily exercise, but I think this schedule works best for my life & my family. I've read before (here) about how its easier to build a habit by practicing daily, rather than a few days a week...and I can see that---it'd be easy to put off exercising at the beginning of the week because you still have the rest of the week to finish your 3 days, or what have you. What makes this work for me is having a hard & fast schedule, I run on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. G runs Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. If I skip Monday, I don't have another day to make it up. And I know I need to train if I want to be able to do this race without embarrassing myself. It's also nice to have days completely off, instead of trying to even fit in push-ups or other short workouts. 

Come May, when the race is said & done, I may switch out some of the running for strength-training or yoga---I definitely  need to build my upper body strength, too---but I think I'll stick with: Exercise at least three days a week.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Hard Part

I always found it annoying when veteran parents would say "just wait, it gets so much harder" or "bigger kids, bigger problems". Not helpful when you and your cracked & bleeding nipples are struggling to get through the soul-crushing sleep deprivation and sanity-sucking colicky days while you wonder why in the hell you decided to ruin your body, your career, your social life, and your marriage. What I want to hear is "just wait, it gets so much easier".

Because it does, in many many ways. The constant neediness fades. The having to desperately guess what the cries are for, because now he can clearly tell us what he wants (though the wants of a 2 year old are not always logical and attainable). Sometimes he can even be reasoned with, like a regular person! He naps and sleeps and eats on a predictable schedule. He can entertain himself for good chunks of time now, as long as we are nearby to offer encouragement, making it possible to get chores done around the house while he is awake.  Best of all, he is developing a personality, making jokes, interacting with us & the world in sometimes surprising and hilarious ways.

But...and of course there is a but or what would be the point, right? His needs, and our jobs as parents, are getting more complex. Less physically demanding, but more emotionally and mentally intricate. A newborn's needs are simple and primal: food, sleep, holding, and stimulation in the form of fairly predictable interactions (rattling things, peek-a-boo, looking in the mirror, etc...). This is what we do for L everyday, and at this point we can do it without much thought or stress.

For B? Now we've got stuff to think about. How to discipline him, how to best encourage him to be independent and try harder before asking for help, how to deal with his shyness, how to recognize and foster his talents, and on and on.... G & I wonder, worry, read and talk a lot about these things. We are trying to make sure we are consistent with our approach, yet flexible in considering new approaches should ours seem to not be working. There is SO MUCH information out there on raising kids, but we have mutually decided to mostly use common sense and our gut instincts to find the right path.

Inherent on all this, though, is an even harder truth. One that I am hesitant to even discuss here, lest you think me a bit heartless. I've wondered if other parents think this, or if its just my cynical mind...

In those countless hours I've spent gazing at my sons as newborns, I've wondered and imagined how their lives would turn out. The possibilities were literally infinite. B could be an athlete or an artist, a scientist or a lawyer or a school teacher, the quiet bookish one or the most popular kid in school! But as he grows and his inherent personality becomes more and more evident, those possibilities, while still quite numerous, start to pare away. He is shy. He is clumsy. He is excellent at words and memorizing. He is generous and empathetic. He loves music. He loves books. He doesn't love playing with balls or getting his hands dirty.  Yes, I know he's only two, but I am beginning to be able to envision more what kind of kid he's going to be....and while that kid in my mind is is ever-so-slightly sad to let go of all the OTHER kinds of kids he could be. To realize that, like all of us, he will have limitations and struggles and things to overcome.

I do think some of my thoughts here are directly related to the fact that his limitations seem very similar to my own growing up. I was shy. Bookish. Clumsy. Too affected by others' opinions and too careful of others' feelings. Obsessively neat. Really good with words, and loved to read and write. No interest in sports. I know what kind of struggles are in store, and I want to spare him. But as much as I wish for my golden child to live a golden life...I can't make that happen. I love him the way he is, and my main job is to make sure he knows that.

Friday, March 16, 2012


And not the delicious kind I sometimes order for lunch served with mayonnaise on a brioche roll.

Dealt with a major case of the cranky-pants at our house this morning, and unfortunately it was NOT the baby or even the toddler. I know exactly how to deal with those---how to rock, feed, distract, amuse the wee ones into coos or giggles or some semblance of calmness. And, no, it wasn't me. I can deal with that, too...extra coffee, reading an uplifting blog, promising myself a yummy breakfast when I get to work. This time is was the man-of-the-house, G.

You've all heard of the man-cold, right? How any minor illness escalates to epic deathbed, nursemaid-needing status when the inflicted happens be a full-fledged adult with a Y chromosome? G is actually quite a trooper, trudging along and doing his duty. But here we get the man-crankiness. Wherein an (admittedly trying) pile-up of minor annoyances turns into...the end of the freaking world as we know it. Woke up late, toddler having a tantrum, pants need ironing...cue the exaggerated sighing, cursing, snapping (at wife, children, dog), proclamations of doom and flinging about of items.

The thing is, I'm trying to be all calm and zen and happy-go-lucky and he's killing my buzz. Its really really hard to maintain my serenity (or even my sanity) in the face of such unbridled pessimism and negativity. I try to cajole him out of it, or completely ignore it, but the fact is, negative energy just seems so much stronger than positive energy...because in the end, the bad mood wins. No matter how energized and motivated I was when I walked in the door after my run, by the time we left the house for work 45 minutes later, I was kind of bummed.I vented to a friend at work (while having an extra cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast), who's been married 20 years and totally gets it. And now I'm blogging about it. I feel much better already!

I think this falls into the "you can only change yourself" category, because I seriously suspect that G wouldn't take too kindly to me telling him to "not be in such a bad mood". I suppose the best thing is to acknowledge  (briefly) how awful and annoying his morning was and let him vent a bit, but then go about my day. Maybe I'll test that out next time we have the cranks (hopefully far in the future!!!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012


So G, trying to be all efficient and such, went to the drugstore after work this week and picked up 2 packs of generic pull-ups for daycare.

Side note: I hate the idea of pull-ups and we only get them because the daycare insisted we do so when B moved to the toddler 2 room. I mean, they are less-absorbent but more expensive diapers. Why not use diapers until you can use underwear. Waste of money. End rant.

Anyways, we were totally out so I ripped open the package and put them on B and they fell right off. Looked at the sizing. Two sizes too big.

We had already opened one pack so we "saved" it (here's to hoping we will never use it because I certainly don't expect to be still toilet-training B 2 years from  now) and G exchanged the other pack. But all they had in B's size were the pink package.  Whatevs, right? B loves his pink crayon and always asks for the pink vitamin. I figured these would have a pink animal themed waistband, similar to the other ones. Nope. The next day I ripped open the pack and found pale pink training pants covered in princesses and fairy wands. B didn't care a fig..."ooh pink ones" and he stepped right into them.

The incident made me think about the gender-stereotyping of our teeny tiny kids. I mean, why do the pull-ups have to be different? It said nothing on the package about padding in different places, and really, diapers are unisex...why are 2T pull-ups gendered? And why oh why oh why do manufacturers INSIST on pink princesses and fairies on any product marketed to girls and sports items and cars for boys. First of all, really anything should be fair game for either girls or boys. Second, if you are going to insist that princesses are not for boys and dump trucks are not for girls, well then what about selling things that are universally loved by all kids, like animals or food?

Its bad enough with the newborn gear, but as B is getting older, the clothes are more ridiculous with monsters and scary dinosaurs on the boy PJs whereas the girl PJs have things he might actually LIKE, such as teddy bears and cupcakes, but in pale pink and purple and festooned with sparkles. Pastels don't go with our skin tone.

So he is wearing the pink pull-ups and I'm feeling a bit smug about defying gender stereotypes. The next day, I'm getting B ready for the day and again, need a pull-up. I yell out to G, "hey, where'd you put those girly pull-ups?" Oops. I think I have some more work to do, these things run deep.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On Routines...

G started a new project at work this work. He was chatting with a colleague about how chaotic it all seemed right now, but that the days would soon fall into a routine. They both simultaneously sighed  "I LOVE routine!"

As a parent, routines are a must. Experts say that kids thrive on routine and it definitely seems true for ours. Sleep, food, exercise, and downtime--all of these things are necessary at certain times of day and without them kids get cranky and overwhelmed.

I've noticed, though, that I thrive on routine just as much as my children. This is why weekends overwhelm & stress me sometimes---we wake up Saturday morning, and though we have a list of things we want and need to do, we don't always have a game plan as to how and when they will happen. G, though he says he "loves routine" , is actually quite resistant to making plans.  In fact, I feel like I'm nagging when I ask him repeatedly to sit down and plan the day (this JUST happened, I went down and asked him what he wanted to get done, told him my list, and then asked..."so how should we do it"...and he sighed and said "I don't know, just take a shower now and we'll figure it out").

I think the words "schedule" and "order" can be off-putting to some people. It sounds very forced and unnatural...totalitarian and strict. Kind of "we run a tight ship around here."

Replace those words with "rhythm" and "routine", and you get a whole different, much more organic and natural, feel to essentially the same concept.  The days have a natural rhythm---incorporating your body's and household's needs as well as allowing time for relaxation and socialization.

But that requires an explicit or implicit schedule that everyone is on board with. Being PRO-active instead of RE-active and just running around dealing with whatever comes up and feeling like we can't get ahead and then the day is over and we haven't done anything truly fun. If we sit down together and decide what we will do when, we can move through our day without arguing multiple times about what to do, all the must-dos will be done, and we can look forward to the fun activities that we planned. When I know what to expect I am not anxious. When I know when the tasks need to be done, I can do them without feeling overwhelmed.

I think I'll go downstairs and nag again...I need to know what's ahead of me today!

Friday, March 2, 2012


After several months in our new lab building, I finally figured out the back entrance, which saves me some time getting to and from the lab. The back way requires walking through a patient care area and a waiting room. For radiation oncology. No matter how early or late I come and go, the waiting room is always packed. Every single morning and evening, as I rush through planning the work day or the evening ahead, my mind is stopped in its tracks by this sight. Because all these people, young & old, together or alone, here for themselves or for a loved one...all these people were once rushing to their own jobs or home to their own families, with nothing on their minds other than a to-do list, a dinner recipe, or what movie to watch after dinner. Every day I am jolted into the realization that nothing is permanent and that the drudgery and hustle-bustle of ordinary life is an incredible blessing.

I could walk around to the front of the building and spare myself the emotional pang, but I don't. I like the reminder.