Monday, November 30, 2015

Backward and Forward

November, oh November. Started off with great intentions and sort of...devolved. Similar to October. Bad call weeks, challenging kid behavior, sickness, etc... left me in a 2-3 week funk. I didn't write much here because I am trying not to spread or dwell on negativity.

Thanksgiving weekend was a much needed break. We had a pretty nice 4 days, all in all. Thursday the weather was unseasonably warm & sunny. We went to the Thanksgiving parade, which was really fun for the kids and tolerable for us---I'll never complain about being outside in nice weather, and the crowds weren't too bad---enough to get a nice since of community and celebration. B and I made a chocolate mousse pie, and he did a fantastic job following directions and somehow the activity caused him to open up and talk about unrelated topics*. I took the boys to the park while G prepped a chicken** and veggies for roasting. We rounded off the meal with buttermilk biscuits and green beans (and wine for the adults). I took videos of the boys saying what they were thankful for (B: my family, the Thanksgiving feast, and getting good stuff like toys and treats; L: Thanksgiving feast, mommy, daddy, B, Doggie, hugs, kisses, that you turn the lights off when we go to sleep, the animals in my bed, the clock that tells me the time at school, my toys, hugs, kisses, that you read me books). So cute. So so cute.

Friday was another warm & sunny day. Spent hours at the park. Then my sister & family came in the evening---I hadn't told the boys they were coming so they were delightfully surprised to see their cousins. Saturday was grey & a bit drizzly but didn't stop us from spending even more hours at the park. There was some inter-cousin fighting but overall a good day. My sister left Sunday morning after breakfast and it was a cold, rainy, lazy kind of day. We got all our chores done and...that was about it. Relaxing.

I worked out Saturday and Sunday. I am reading a really fascinating book. I resurrected our book club and picked this for our January meeting. I also set up a holiday drinks outing for the book club and some work colleagues. Two of my best friends from chlidhood are coming to visit this weekend. Things to look forward to, and I am feeling much better overall.

One of the goals I had set for myself this fall was to start & stick with mindfulness meditation. I did about a week in October and a week in November, and the November week I really really started to get into it, look forward to it, and enjoy it. But I am having trouble finding a good time to do it.
Mornings do not work. I am just not in the mindset for stillness in the morning. I have so much  energy and I am raring to go. Mornings are better for exercise or even getting through chores. In November I did 10 minutes of meditation right before bed. It was great---I could clear my mind of all the stress of the day and was in a great mental space to relax and sleep. The problem with this is that it involved going up to bed ridiculously early which resulted in no time with my husband for those 10 days. If I stay up to hang out or even to work or do a project, either I'm too tired by the time I get up to bed or he is also coming to bed and I don't have the room to myself. I've tried to sneak in 5-10 minutes during the work day. I certainly take breaks to blog or do other "chores", but I don't feel fully comfortable, even with the door to my office closed. I need to get over that so today I'm going to put in my headphones and do 10 minutes right before I leave to get B.

I might as well set my goals for next month here since who knows when I'll write again!
  • Holiday decorations (my favorite part of the holidays, and so worth the hour it takes to set up our small tree and light up the stairway)
  • Meditation 
  • Stay hydrated (easier to forget in cold months! I've bought decaf chai spice tea to make it pleasant)
  • Aim for 4 days of exercise/week
  • Set up positive reinforcement system for kids' behavior (I've tried several things, advised by the therapist that did NOT work, but I'm not giving up, I have new ideas!)
  • Address a couple of lingering medical things for myself 
It'll be a short month of "real life"---we are traveling for 10 days at the end of the month and then I'm on call for New Years (more on all that later). Let's see how it goes!

*One of the main issues we are having these days is with B and his perpetually sullen, grumpy, whiny, and angry attitude. And his constant distracted behavior. So focused, open and cheerful is a HUGE and welcome change!

**Turkey for just the 4 of us seemed excessive, plus I prefer chicken. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Frivolity

So I was going to do this whole post about my recent shopping haul, with pictures and links. And I realized my pictures looked TERRIBLE and editing them takes time & not everything has easy to find links. anyways, I've lowered my standards considerably: this is what I bought in bullets with links where easily accessible.
  • Express mid-rise dark wash flare jeans  The flare is pretty pronounced, but since I'm hemming 4 inches off the bottom, it'll be a more subtle look for me. These fit perfectly and make my butt look great and my thighs look quite slim. G just keeps saying "so you say they are coming back in style? huh" in a very skeptical way when I ask what he thinks.
  • Express Barely Boot columnist pants in red/black check and dark grey. The grey came in short, so I've worn them a ton already. The checked are being hemmed 3 inches.
  • Express portofino shirts in slim-fit kelly green and original fit in a black/blue/white plaid I don't see online. 
  • Express plaid v-neck blouse
  • Ann Taylor striped shirt with lace shoulder (clearance, bought in store, not available online)
  • Ann Taylor cream (off-white?) lace shirt sort of like this
  • Banana Republic black sheer blouse 
  • Uggs Brooks Tall boots in brown which actually are two-toned black & brown and that almost caused me to return them until I tried them on and had to make myself take them off on a chilly evening at home. So comfy and warm, like wearing your fuzzy slippers! Waiting for a cold day to wear them out.
  • 3 nude bras in proper size (2 Wacoal and 1 Natori) 1 from fancy bra shop that did the fitting and 2 (for less than the price of the one) from Nordstrom Rack.  
  • a graphic tee from mod-cloth (using up store credit I already had), for lounging around. 
I returned/need to return at least twice as much as I kept, including 2 pairs of jeans, 4 shirts, 2 OTHER graphic tees, a midi skirt (with POCKETS!) that I like but not worth the $ and 2 pairs of superga sneaks in different sizes & different shades of light green. The supergas are comfy and I LOVE the look, but decided to go for a more neutral color...and to wait until spring to see if I still want these once boot-weather is over.

I'm actually happy with how I shopped. As usual, I used sales and got 40-50% a lot of items (not the jeans, sadly, they had buy one get one half of but I really don't need two pairs) and I used up a giftcard for BR and store credit at ModCloth. But what was new is that I was RUTHLESS in deciding what to keep and only items that fit perfectly, worked with what I already owned, and filled a real need in my closet were kept. I also have already worn most of these things---a problem I had in the past was "saving" things and ultimately forgetting about them in a box under the bed. Cost per wear is better the more you wear!

Now I'm eyeing these in either the navy corduroy or the black suede (I already have taupe suede booties).

And I still need sports bras.

Happy weekend!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Other Stuff

Another lovely fall weather weekend, and mostly had a good time. I fit in two intense workouts (so so sore today!), we had a date night Saturday night, and I took the kids to the library & park Sunday to give G time to work on the bed project. We also got some lingering tasks off the list, including a many months overdue 3-ginormous-contractor-trashbags haul to Goodwill.

This weekend was a good testament to the fact that paying attention to what I need, and incorporating that into our spare time as much as possible, makes for much better weekends. Examples: 1) the workouts 2) being outside as much as possible: Saturday afternoon, after an incredibly boring birthday party at a bounce place (it was 30 minutes away, so we drove, and G dropped us off and did groceries/errands) where I ate too much pizza/cake at the end, I took G up on the offer for some free time & took the dog on an hour-long walk through the city. Worked off the extra food & felt so good to be out in the fresh air. Sunday, I turned the library trip into outdoor time, too, we skipped the first bus & played at the bus stop for 30 minutes on the way home (open space, with trees/grass/benches) and when the boys insisted on having books read to them, we did it at a park instead of sitting at home and 3) resting & sleeping when needed: We came home early from our dinner date because a) they brought the food out so quick we were done and b) I could barely keep my eyes open after a super active day (and half a bottle of wine). On Sunday, after having the boys solo from noon-6pm I again took G up on his offer to take care of dinner & lunch making (the latter is usually my job) since he had a relaxing time working outside in the backyard all afternoon. I poured myself some wine & just sat in the living room loosely supervising the kids while he worked in the kitchen.

The weekend was far from perfect. Sunday was actually really rough---the kids were both tired (I think they stayed up late with the sitter and woke up early as they ALWAYS do on Sundays---whyyyyyyy!!!! we have to wake them up on weekdays!) and L didn't nap either day this weekend. They were TERRIBLE and so so challenging. I really started off with good intentions. I stayed calm, delivered pre-agreed-upon consequences without getting emotional, I tried distraction and diffusion of the situation, I tried to stay in good spirits and made sure we had food & activity & down time but oh my god they were awful despite all that effort. There were definitely some moments where I lost it and was ashamed of my behavior. Sunday night I just felt really down about it, and ended up doing my "zoning out" routine (drinking wine while watching Gilmore Girls AND playing games on my phone) and stayed up way too late.

Before I had kids, and even when they were really young, I had these ideas of what kind of parent I would be and how we would discipline our kids & teach them right from wrong. I read the books and was so sure I would never resort to: bribery, fear, guilt. That I would never make empty threats and would always pick my battles. That we would 100% be consistent within and between ourselves in our consequences & discipline.

Obviously this is not the reality in our house right now. When unacceptable (and annoying as fuck) behavior is not just happening once in a while but seems to be near constant, it is really really hard to stay calm or to be consistent and rational. I find myself stooping to anything. ANYTHING at all that will make them stop hitting/pushing/saying bad words/spitting on me/whining/stomping/screaming/throwing things/demanding/complaining/etc... By Sunday night I was throwing major guilt trips at B and threatening L with things I was never going to follow through on, just to get them to GO THE F TO SLEEP that they (and we) so desperately needed.

I can't keep beating myself up about it. The only thing to do is start fresh this week. Remind myself that its OK to let some things go. To err on the side of reacting less. To keep trying to see their side, to empathize with their big feelings and their inability to express them in socially acceptable ways. To how everything seems out of their control and subject to our (arguably inexplicable, at least from their view point) whims. To understand that while they are maturing quickly in many ways, their brains may be having some trouble with connecting the emotional and rational sides. And that kindness and gentleness will go a lot further (and at the very least, cause less regret) than fear and threats and roughness.

As I say to my kids: today is done, tomorrow is another one. Lets make it a good one.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Two sides to every story

Wow, you guys, those discussions in the comments of my last post were exactly why I write here. Thanks to everyone who shared their story, advice, and support. I can't even tell you how comforting and eye-opening it was to read through so many "me too" or "this is what worked for us" or even "well, my life is very different" comments.

Of course, the one downside to asking for relationship advice is that you are presenting only part of the story---your part. As much as I try to get inside my husband's head, I don't really know what he's thinking or feeling about various things. And most of us like subconsciously gloss over own faults in any given situation. I bet its sort of primitive protection mechanism, since we don't like feeling guilt or shame or remorse---much easier to see yourself as the wounded innocent party.

There are definitely things I need to work on myself that are negatively affecting our marriage. I am terrible at being direct about what's bothering me or what I need. Even when I try to be direct, its very round-about and unclear. I absolutely hate to rock the boat and have a primal fear of confrontation. I will avoid talking about something tricky for days to weeks because the thought of having a tough conversation makes my heart race and my stomach hurt and my brain just want to RUN AWAY. I know this isn't healthy, but its where I am right now.

I say that he doesn't get it when I ask for something from him, but I'm pretty sure there are some things he's asked for that I never did because...why? I didn't think they were important, seemed silly, so ignored & eventually forgot? Or I tried, once or twice, still didn't get it, and stopped. I still interrupt him when he's telling me a story, or let my thoughts wander when he's explaining something, and every once in a while, I find myself pulling out my phone & checking email at 9:30 pm when we are trying to hang out & chat.

When he gets home in the evening, I mean to give him a hug & kiss but almost always, at that moment, I am at the stove, hands dirty and the kids run in first and want me and the next thing I know its 15 minutes later and we haven't said a word to each other. And he ASKED me to do this. Or he tells me repeatedly that he loves movies and wants to share that with me and can we watch a movie together and I thought "how is watching a movie together really quality time? that's dumb" and went 2 years before finally giving in--and it made him so happy! I still don't get it, but I do it once every few months.

I can be wound up pretty tight. I get fixated on the time and the schedule and what needs to be done, and even though he always does his share of the chores and more, I get annoyed & snippy if he doesn't do them on my time line. I am terribly impatient.  I get snappy when he's taking too long to do something or when I have to explain something again that I've already told him, or when he just isn't catching on as quickly as I'd like.

Sometimes I am so tired that all I do at night is fall asleep after the kids are in bed. I can do that for days/weeks at a time, and we never can hang out together. I don't feel lonely or isolated during those times, because...I'm sleeping. But on days that I have energy to hang out and he wants to do work or goes to bed early, I feel rejected. Sort of hypocritical?

I'm not trying to run myself down or make myself feel guilty, but just to remind myself that while I'm asking him to do more for me, there are plenty of things I can work on myself. Be the change you wish to see and all that. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Foreign Languages

I used to write quite a bit about issues in our marriage. Stepping back from this topic had very much to do with protecting myself from the vulnerability of exposing these deeply held, delicate feelings to the world's entirety of internet-abled humans. It is hard to post a really honest raw post about an issue and get a rude anonymous comment or even a smug non-anonymous comment from someone who just doesn't get it.

But I know a lot of you do get it. And your varied experience and insight is one of the main reasons I'm still here writing, so I'm going to step back out on the ledge. Also, things aren't going so well, and I've been thinking about & researching (but of course! that's what I do!) this topic and need to work out some thoughts.

First of all, its really hard if not impossible to find any kind of marriage-related advice or information without falling immediately into a snake pit of "family values" propaganda, "Jesus is the third person in your marriage" and the answer to your problem is to pray on it and ooh here's an applicable proverb. And that's the best case scenario, where there is no mention of wife serving husband, etc... Its sometimes just too difficult to "read around" the heavy-handed Christian focus to find the actual useful information*.

Thankfully I did find some blogs & websites that were more Christian-lite with a healthy dose of feminism, and in reading about common issues in marriages and tools for working through them, I'm pretty sure I'm getting closer to the root of our problems.

Pretty much anything written recently about marriage can be traced back to the Gottmans---the psychologists who created the concept of "love languages" and tells you that rolling your eyes at your spouse puts you on the fast track to divorce. I've taken the Love Language quiz before, was not surprised at the outcome, and worked on trying to get more of what I thought I needed: Quality Time. We set aside time a couple of nights a week to hang out together, talk, play games, watch a movie or do a puzzle**.

And yet, I still didn't feel like I was getting what I really needed from my marriage. I mean, doing puzzles is fun! But I do puzzles with my 5 year old and its equally fun. I get just as much (if not way more, because I alone chose the content) enjoyment watching TV on my own as I do watching a movie with my husband (I really don't find "watching things" to really be "quality time" anyways, but he is always wanting me to watch movies with him so I have started to say yes more often).

Anyways, we've been fighting about various things, and I took again to the internet and I found a blog written by a married couple with 3 kids and they were major Gottman devotees and dissected all his research throughout their posts. And I read about their love languages and the ways they tried to "speak" each others' preferred language and I went back and took the test and...

I filled it out honestly this time, and I got very different and surprising answers. See, the first time, I was filling it out the way I thought I "should". I thought that what I wanted was more time, so I filled it out to reflect that. I don't really want more TIME. Time is great, but we're sort of short on time in this season of life, and sometimes I'm just tired and I want to get more sleep.

I was not expecting my love languages to actually be: gifts, and words of affirmation (in equal measures), followed closely by physical affection. I suspect I purposefully did NOT pick any of the "gift" answers because it sounds so shallow & materialist. It wasn't until I read that post where the husband talks about hand-written notes his wife left him as "gifts" that it clicked. I'm not a big fan of material gifts but I do like tangible reminders that my husband is thinking of me. I kept for years a post-it G put in my lunchbox just saying "I love you, have a good day" during a rough time at work. I keep forever the cards he was written heartfelt messages in. I also would really love a thoughtful (not generic!) present every once in a while---though I don't want him to feel obligated to buy me anything for a certain occasion, and we do not do birthday/anniversary/holiday gifts as a rule. Gifts can be obligations, but when given freely they can also be looked at & used again & again to re-create that warm, fuzzy, surrounded by love feeling.

Words of affirmation were another one I think I initially avoided because it sounded "cheesy". I definitely do NOT want wrought out declarations of love, nor would I be able to keep a straight face should my husband start spouting love sonnets! But you know what would be nice, particularly as I find myself in a career where I am constantly bombarded by criticisms and self-doubt, kids that never fail to bring up that I'm "mean" or "stinky" or hated, and the daily affront of the mirror showing me that I really don't look anything like I imagine myself in my head anymore? Real genuine compliments & validation that something about me is special, lovable, and worthy. I so do NOT get this. For years we had a lot of fights about G being too critical, and to his credit he has toned that down a LOT. But I can't remember ever hearing a specific compliment about any aspect of my actions, person, or personality other than an occasional "oh you look nice today" or "good job getting all those chores done".

Physical affection, well, what can we say about that. Its hard when two people have vastly different needs in this realm, and its not something you can force.  

So, yay! I know what I need. The hard part is figuring out how to get it. It is pretty easy to ask someone for more time together. How do you, really, without sounding like a demanding needy a&shole, ask for gifts and compliments? And how can I get HIM to take this quiz and answer it honestly (I've tried to bring it up, he just...seems to be ALLERGIC to stuff like this)***.

Oh and just for the record****.

*yes, yes, I know you are perfect and can navigate any relationship naturally and easily and if you need to "research" having a happy marriage clearly there is something wrong with you/your spouse, or, most likely both of you. This post is not for you

**in retrospect, what helped these things happen is a great period of months with easy kid bedtimes, no major work deadlines, and unbroken sleep.

 ***don't say counseling. his allergy to THAT is beyond epi-pen level. (long time readers may remember a disastrous attempt at couples counseling 2-3 years ago). Plus OMG with my own therapy  and B's behavioral therapy I really don't have the bandwidth for that right now!

****No seriously if your marriage is perfect and you can't relate, I'm happy for you & you can go cuddle with your spouse, you don't need to comment to tell me that!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Assorted thoughts

Just finished a rough call weekend. It wasn't just the call that was rough, the kids were rough, I had 2 fights with my husband, L is sick and didn't sleep well, and I'm getting sick AGAIN. Even the most minor setbacks is throwing me off balance right now. I just wrote the strongest worded email I have ever written to someone who has completely failed to do their part in a major project. I have no patience for bullshit right now.  I really need a drink. 6 more hours.

I've been thinking about the balance between acceptance and growth. I continuously challenge myself to be better in many aspects of life---something I  believe is crucial to my happiness, because what is the point if I am not growing and learning? But I am also trying not to beat myself up for not always rising to the challenge. I'm sure there is something in there about the growth mindset and also about buddhism but I'm too tired to look into it right now.

On that note, I started reading "Mindset" last night & so far I am underwhelmed. Maybe because I already know the concept of the mindsets, and maybe because I've only read about about 15% of the book, but her "examples" are SO simplistic. CEO A has a fixed mindset and ran his company into the ground trying to appease Wall Street while CEO B has a growth mindset and said F you to Wall Street and now his company flourishes. Literally, there are at most 2 sentences about each "example"! There was a REALLY interesting paragraph about marriage between people with different Mindsets---I really really wanted to read more because that paragraph sounded really familiar. But that was it. A 4-sentence paragraph. Maybe she will expound on these in later chapters? The writing is also (as she admits!) a bit sloppy with grammar. Sort of like this blog, but I'm not getting paid for this ;)

Similar to the acceptance/growth juxtaposition is the issue of trying to be positive while still acknowledging that life sometimes sucks. Gwinne wrote about it here.  For me, the key is to not lie to myself or whitewash the truth about the hard stuff but also not to let it get me into a spiral of doom "everything is awful, its only getting worse, I can't deal with this, how am I going to deal with this" that ramps up my anxiety and is also pretty miserable. Really making a point of noticing the good things (which I have to do while I'm doing my "3 good things" journal, and sometimes, man I have to dig DEEP to find three things to write!) is helpful in this regard. Once I've managed some perspective, I can actually take a step back, figure out what isn't working, and actually try to implement strategies to make things better.

That leads me to the insight I had this weekend that just like my children (and my husband) I find that when I start to behave badly it just goes downhill and its hard to reset. I do/say something I am not proud of, and now I feel shame, and then I get a negative reaction from someone, and then the shame builds and maybe anger joins in, and the next thing you know I'm lashing out again even though what I really really want to do is act differently and make things better. The absolute best thing is to remove myself from the situation but that isn't always possible. I need to figure out a way to reset my emotional state in these instances so I don't continue to be a terrible wife/mother!

I am taking B to a therapy appointment this evening. G took him last week, it was just background stuff, more him talking to her, no insight or recommendations coming from her. the timing is pretty bad----I don't miss as much work, but we will both be tired & hungry, and its all the way across town from work & home. This is where splurging on uber becomes worth it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea*

I feel a little silly about my Halloween rant last week, it was actually incredibly fun. I still hate most holidays, but I'll admit that Halloween is the least offensive. It helped that it was a lovely day, and we had a great celebration of fall and neighborhood spirit. I actually dressed up for the first time in many many years, and I enjoyed the creative challenge. I realized how much I love the way our 'hood does Halloween, where you don't have to knock on doors, but everyone is camped out on the stoop drinking wine & handing out candy. The kids had so much fun trick or treating and then sitting out on our stoop devouring their stash and handing out ours with glee (B: "I LOVE CANDY. Skittles. Kit Kat. M&Ms. CHOCOLATE. Here, have some candy! YES TAKE IT. TAKE MORE. CANDY!!!!") He got a little high on candy. I had to take him on a run around the neighborhood at 8pm so that we could get him to bed.

Sunday, however, was...what's the word...oh yes. Completely shitty.  I really really tried to have a pleasant day, but, yeah. For reasons outside of my control, it royally sucked. And Saturday morning wasn't that great either. I did NOT run the 5K, though we cheered on our neighbors and B ran the 2 block kids race. I basically started & ended the weekend in tears in the bathroom and I'm not usually a crier.

I was reading SHU's post about her amazing October and my first instinct was to say "Oh, my October sucked." Because parts of it really did. But I'm trying to get away from that habit of painting entire long periods of time with the same ugly brush stroke, obliterating all the lovely little things that I've forgotten or overlooked.  Obviously October had some good moments mixed in with the rough ones. I wrote about two entire weekends that were amazing. Why not focus on those? If I'm going to tell myself a story, why not tell the more positive one?

I used to think that happiness was something you arrived at when everything was finally going right. When you love your job, your marriage rocks, your kids are awesome and healthy and well-behaved, you have this close knit group of friends...THEN you'll be happy! And of course, its easy to feel happy when things line up and life is easy. But that happiness can be fleeting, because nothing stays lined up, and rough patches are part of every life. True happiness arises despite the complications, in the ability to realize that "this too shall pass" and also to notice that even on the blackest days, there are tiny glimmers of beauty and joy, if we only allow ourselves to notice. Those words, that sound so trite, like "resilience" and "presence"...they may be overused but they are true.

I wrote a post about October goals. I'm not even linking it or going back to read it because I know I failed spectacularly. Like I said, it was not an easy month. But I'm picking back up and starting over, today (because yesterday...ugh). So here are my November goals
  • Gratitude journal every night---write 3 good things from every day, especially as relates to interactions with B (this was recommended by my therapist when I mentioned my spiral-of-doom fears about his recent issues)
  • Exercise 4 times/week: T/Th/Sa/Su (not going to happen this week since I'm on call this weekend, but I need to do my Tues/Thurs workouts this week. The past week, I only worked out once which is really unusual for me and may explain some things...)
  • Meditate! 10 minutes/daily 
  • Paper planning for work and home tasks (inspired, again, by Sarah)
  • Get eating back on track (this is vague, but I know it when I see it, and it certainly doesn't involve gorging on cheese at 10pm)
  • On non-workout days, wake up at 6am (this is 30 minutes earlier than previous. I did this today and it helped immensely to be fully ready before kids woke up)
  • Organize/purge/inventory winter wardrobe
Oh man, I want to keep going, but I think it need to keep it short so I have a better chance of success.

Soon (hopefully tomorrow) I'll detail my new clothing purchases and ask for some advice. There may be pictures! Not of me, just the clothes.

*Another Anne quote, regarding November