Wednesday, November 13, 2013


When I started blogging, I was expecting my first child. Hard to believe this child just entered fifth grade, nearing 11 years old. Throughout this time, I’ve detailed my misadventures as a mom and a wife -- the chaos, silliness, and frustration that results from spending my days with now two young kids who focus mostly on playing video games, eating ice cream, avoiding bedtime, and pushing my buttons.

But over the past year or so, I have noticed a significant change in my interactions with my son. We are starting to have interesting conversations about real issues. Actual, insightful, back-and-forth conversations.

Sure we have talked before about situations at school or in the neighborhood, about what to do if someone is mean or makes him uncomfortable, about people from different walks of life, but those always were a bit one-sided.

Now, my son is starting to ask challenging questions about history, current events, and social issues. No longer “why is the sky blue” but “what if” questions that do not have a definitive answer. We’ve talked about the impact of terrorism, about civil rights, about the realities of life outside our privileged bubble. He has his own opinions, which though perhaps less informed than mine are equally valid. We used to disagree about things like the necessity of dessert after each meal, but now we disagree about President Obama.

We have been having a lot of conversations about finances lately. He has become very aware of advertising and marketing ploys as well as the value of a dollar. We ask him for his input to evaluate costs versus benefits of everything from groceries to toys to hotel rooms to vacations. And the boy who used to say, “It’s okay if we run out, we can just buy more” now reconsiders the need for more, especially if it involves something his little sister wants.

I believe he may be having even more financial conversations with my husband, because as we were walking through a furniture store recently, he would stop at every grouping and exclaim, “This costs how much?! I would never pay that for a (insert furniture item here)!” He also knows the value of a freebie, asking to visit sample-heavy Costco at lunchtime and openly telling employees, “That was delicious, but we aren’t going to buy such a big package. Can I have another sample?”

You can see how proud our son is to be included in more grown-up discussions, so we schedule parent-son dinner dates where his younger sister can’t distract or pow-wows between their bedtimes.

While he can still talk for hours about his favorite video games, he is more likely to intersperse these conversations with random thoughts like, “I like individual sports more than team sports because you are only competing with yourself. In team sports, you can’t really be happy, even if you win, because somebody has to lose.” Or this tidbit about staying away from risky situations, “You wouldn’t go home with a bunch of drunk strangers, so why would you stay out in a bar with them?” (I’ll admit, in context this seemed more appropriate for a 10-year old than it does here.)

Because our discussions are getting more mature, I sometimes have to remind myself that my son is still a kid. I may think we’ve had a perfectly logical discussion with a perfectly logical conclusion (usually mine), but I’m trying not to be so surprised when the same question comes up again and again (usually in the “why can’t I” category). I let him vent about what bothers him, even when it may seem a small thing to me. When I ask, “How bad is it on a scale of 1 to 10?”, I realize that my 1 may be his 8, and have learned to validate his views rather than get frustrated at his sensitivity (most of the time).

The other day I sat down with him to discuss some upcoming changes in our day-to-day schedule as I plan to increase my working hours. I was worried the variation in routine would upset him, as it would have in past years. But he was supportive, eager to know how he could help, and willing to take on more responsibilities. He seemed to truly understand the reasoning behind my requests rather than just viewing them as criticisms or lectures. I’m trying to keep my expectations realistic, but I’m more hopeful than usual.

At the end of this conversation, he asked, “Mom, when you’re done being a therapist, can you thera-pi me?” My response - “I’ve been trying to thera-pi you for ten years.” Guess it’s time for him to read my old columns.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Vacation?

I am usually the first person counting down the minutes until the end of summer, wondering how I’m going to make it through the long, long days. But this summer, I concede, was too short. School starts on Monday and I’m looking around wondering where the days went, convinced that the Earth is spinning faster and the days are honestly getting shorter. I mean, I am still putting away papers from last school year – where am I going to put the influx from this one? And, oh yeah, when is my vacation?

For the most part, we stayed around town this summer. We have no annual vacation spot, and this year was empty of gatherings with out-of-state family and friends. So the kids did some day camps and we enjoyed the local activities, but I longed for a break.

Of course, traveling with two young kids is really no vacation. I still have to pack, clean, plan, and make meals and snacks for my family. It’s the same stuff in a different place, usually with less sleep. If anything, it’s more work, not the “vacation” of my childless years when a getaway was really getting away. Sometimes I forget this.

And so we planned a weekend trip. Our ultimate destination was Ben & Jerry’s Factory Store in Vermont, driven by our universal love of ice cream. We had a hotel booked, but no other constraints, so we let the road lead us and we stumbled across a few unexpected gems along the way. A friend recommended Yankee Candle Village in Deerfield, Massachusetts, which was a perfect pitstop on our drive up. The highlight of this large complex is their Bavarian Christmas Village where it “snows” every four minutes. Walking through the attached toy store, we were surprised to find Santa at his desk making his Naughty and Nice lists! Our kids were thrilled, especially when they learned they were still on the Nice list. But when their Dad was warned that he was on the Naughty list for hijacking the cookies and milk left out for Santa last year, they started conspiring to save him. A rare moment of siblings united.

Back on the road, filled with Christmas spirit, our first planned stop at Santa's Land in Putney, Vermont now seemed ideal. I had low expectations of this park, opened in 1957 and rescued from foreclosure last year, but when we pulled into the almost empty parking lot, I was concerned. The $10 entry fee and welcoming staff made it worth the gamble. It would be a stretch to call it an “amusement park”, more like a 1950’s alpine village, but that day it was all ours. In the center, it had a good old-fashioned swingset with a metal slide placed right on the grassy ground. You may see safety violations, but I saw my childhood, and it was refreshing. There was a bumpy unmonitored giant slide which we rode down on potato sacks before walking right back up the hill to go again. We toured the property multiple times on “Santa’s Alpine Railroad”, choosing a different car each trip, but passing on the driver’s offer to repeat the tour info. The one attendant running all the “kiddie rides” (carousel, cars, planes) let us choose one, and rode with us for as long as we wanted. There was a little schoolhouse showing The Year Without A Santa Claus on an old television, and an unattended gift shop that carried Dora the Explorer mittens among other random items. And there was Santa again, this time in a small shack suffering the summer heat with just a box fan to keep him cool. There were deer and llamas roaming the property, and we had to watch for poison ivy, but the kids loved it. No crowds, no parades, no characters, no long walks, just their own personal playground.

That night we made it to our hotel, and our trip turned from kitschy back to ordinary. The kids fought over the beds, we bickered through dinner, and watched television until our eyes closed. We awoke, had breakfast, and headed out. They complained all the way to Ben & Jerry’s, and I nagged my husband for buying ice cream before the tour. We saw a farm, watched cheese being packaged, learned to make maple syrup and apple cider, played minigolf, and marveled at the beauty of nature. Then we went home and I did laundry. Yes, it was a trip, but it still didn’t feel like we had a real vacation.

Then, the other day my son thanked me for giving him a great summer. He enjoyed the camps that filled most of July, but he cherished his unscheduled August days which blended late mornings lounging in pajamas with spontaneous drives to parks, play spaces, new restaurants, and even a museum of Pez. Nights stretched late, with long walks at dusk, dinners at the beach, movies on the couch. He enjoyed getting to spend time with his little sister, and I loved seeing them interact so much more than they get to during the school year when their schools and schedules differ. And despite all his complaining while we traveled, it seems our meandering trip through Vermont was a highlight.

“I love these stress-free days, Mom. I don’t have a care in the world,” he said. Now that’s vacation.

The Problem With Multi-Tasking

When summer starts, I always have big hopes of getting some major projects done, excited to tackle all those unfinished jobs that stare at me from every corner of my house. It doesn’t take more than a few days before I remember that, “Oh yeah, this is the kids’ vacation, not my vacation,” and I recognize that their ever-present bodies may interfere with my ambitious plans for painting, creating, and reorganizing. So I try to use each playdate and camp day to make inroads.

But, to be honest, I have been highly disappointed in the results. I am furious when a valuable chunk of “down time” has passed, yet my To Do list remains the same. How can so many hours go by with no real sign of accomplishment when I feel like I am doing, doing, doing the whole time?

And then it hit me. Maybe that was the problem. When I thought about how those “wasted” days had been structured I realized that nothing got done because I was doing this, that, and the other thing all at once. I have always been very proud of my ability to multitask, but I started to think that what I considered a talent may actually be an affliction.

Research indicates that multitasking is actually a misnomer. You may think you are doing multiple things at once, but your brain is actually switching back and forth between tasks, which means none ever get your full attention. To illustrate the effects, consider those stories in which someone is switching between two phone calls until they eventually cross the lines and mix up the callers. It doesn’t usually end well.

My descent into the multitasking black hole begins as soon as I sit in front of a computer. I may start out with a five-minute job to complete, but I often find myself losing hours at the screen. I’m not usually one to “surf” the internet, but the waves sure take me in when I start my five-minute task, then remember it’s time to pay a bill or verify an account. I will inevitably check email, then Facebook, then remember a back-to-school item I meant to buy online which I must price check at three different sites (and ebay). That triggers an investigation of vacation ideas for spring break. On the home page, I’ll catch an unbelievable celebrity or weird news headline that I just have to read, then I’ll check Twitter and find some article that I want to print or share. Then it’s back to email where I notice how cluttered my inbox is. When I start to clean it out, I will find something I was supposed to respond to last week or some forms that need to be filled out. This reminds me of that activity I was going to sign the kids up for, which then leads me to compare that activity with similar programs, which then requires me to check my calendar to decide which day works best……and then I look at the clock and my jaw drops. Lots done but nothing finished, except the day.

My other major pitfall is housework. There is always laundry to do, a dishwasher to be unloaded or loaded (usually both), toys to be put away, messes to be straightened up, papers to be filed. But when I let those mundane tasks distract me, I never even get to start the bigger jobs.

So now I try to narrow my focus. When I see a large pocket of alone time on the horizon (like a whole day at Grandmas!), I pick one job to do from start to finish. I may have another on deck in case there is extra time, but that is considered a bonus and won’t lead to frustration if not completed.

I do all computer tasks the night before so I can stay far away from the screen, and I promise myself I will close my eyes to mess. I also don’t use those days to call customer service, not for anything. Sitting on hold may seem like an ideal time to send emails, file, or do all those other aforementioned computer tasks, but the constant interruptions from recorded voices telling me my call will soon be answered leave me wondering, “Now where was I?”

I have found playing music (not Muzak) helps me to get moving faster and stay focused on a big job. Unless I hear a song that reminds me of a dance I saw once that I must then find on YouTube which inevitably connects me to a Muppet version of the same song (there’s a Muppet version of everything), that then references a must-see version of The Rainbow Connection, that reminds me of a bill I have to pay……

Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Parenting

Now that we are well in the throes of summer, it has become quite apparent that summer parenting is a lot different than school year parenting, at least in my house.

There is the obvious shift in tasks. Instead of making lunches, waiting at busstops, meeting teachers, supervising homework, and making dinners, my summer parenting seems to consist primarily of packing up, applying sunblock, driving, unpacking, doing laundry, getting fast food, and preparing baths. Every event, be it beach, pool, camp, or party, seems to come with an inordinate amount of mess, mostly wet and sandy. Vacuuming the car should be on the top of my task list, but I admit it hasn’t gotten the kind of regular attention needed, so sometimes climbing in my SUV is akin to sifting through a sandy pile of recyclables. Yuck. But the heat is enough of an excuse to leave it all and run inside.

I have heard parents complain that summer vacation is no vacation for parents. It can certainly seem that summer parenting is harder than parenting the rest of the year, or at least more active. Unscheduled days means more time for parents to entertain or supervise their children, and these hours become even more extended as the sun hovers above the horizon late into the evening. My preschooler truly cannot understand how it can be bedtime when the sky is still light. I try to tell her that her friend Mr. Sun is trying to trick us, but I think she’s in cahoots with him, and I’m the one who gets played.

Many parents have to balance this summer shift within their own unshifting work schedules. Managing alternative childcare options, weekly camp schedules, and summer school programs can be a full-time job in itself. And the process just gets more complicated when you have to remember to pack an ever-changing combination of bathing suits, goggles, tennis racquets, towels, smocks, books, and extra clothes, and of course apply sunscreen before you go. It’s a wonder anybody is on time for anything. (I know I’m not.)

We may be in parenting’s busy season, but I’ll admit that I am letting go in other ways. Maybe it’s all the humidity we’ve been dealing with lately, but I am not at all motivated to fight the usual parenting fights. Rules are less important. Structure can vary widely. The term “meal” encompasses a lot more things.

This morning for breakfast, my daughter asked for ramen noodles, my son for chocolate cake. I said, “Okay” without a second thought and started my day with ease. A conscientious person would note here that the prevalence of fruits and vegetables in the summer make it easy to balance out these poor choices later in the day. More likely in my house I just shifted the consumption of that cake from 4pm to 8 am. It’s okay, it’s summer.

The rainy weather has put a damper on our usual outdoor summer fun as well, and so there has been a lot more time inside with two children that have very different tastes. My daughter wants my non-stop attention, usually to act out some drama melding the world of My Little Pony with the rainforest of Dora the Explorer. In these scenarios, my daughter will play one character then give me all the other roles, dictating my lines and often requiring multiple repetitions of the same scenes. Is it really surprising that after an hour (or less) of this, I may “accidentally” click on the television to put someone else center stage for a bit (or as long as she will watch). It’s okay, it’s summer.

Some afternoons, my son starts playing computer games and I forget about him for hours. I know he will come out when he’s hungry. It’s okay. It’s summer.

If I’m lucky the two above activities will coincide and I can get something done (probably laundry, packing, or unpacking).

For those of you who want to be more productive, the lazy days of summer can offer a great opportunity to help your children learn new skills and reach developmental goals without the pressure of a deadline on their back. There is a lot more time to realize big accomplishments such as learning to ride a bicycle, but also to master smaller tasks, like getting ahead on scout or team requirements, and even to establish new routines. For example, to help your child practice packing up for school, make him responsible for packing for summer outings. He will be able to think broadly about what might be needed easier without anyone yelling “Come on, the bus is coming!!!” and he can make mistakes without dire consequences. Who knows, by the school year, some aspects of packing up may become second nature.

Yes, I hope to teach my young pups some new tricks this month. But I probably won’t. And that’s okay. It’s summer.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Winding Down for Summer?

Summer vacation is just a few weeks away, and with it comes the springtime rush of school events, playoffs, year-end parties, concerts, dance recitals, closing meetings, teacher gifts, and last days. Preschool is over, routines are disrupted, schedules are ever-changing, and I am in a perpetual state of confusion. Are we winding down, or winding up?

Every morning I ask myself the four W’s: Who has a classroom visit, field trip, concert, graduation, field day, meeting? What are we supposed to wear, bring, sign, buy? Where am I going (and where will I park)? When do I have to be there (especially if I want a place to park)? And of course, the one H - How am I going to be at this, that and the other thing all at once?

Usually about halfway through the morning, I go through this process anew, starting with “What day is it again?” I review how the week is going to play out so often in my mind that sometimes I think I’ve finished a day, but I’m still in the first quarter. Other times it is still two days away.

I try to program the calendar on my phone to beep with reminders and alerts ahead of time. Still, I spend most afternoons worried that I’ve forgotten someone or something. But I figure if nobody is calling, I must be okay.

Of course, one rescheduled field day, and things start tumbling like a row of dominoes. For a moment, I enjoy the unexpected free time, but then I start to wonder how do I move those three hours to the next week?

Around this time of year, I start to think that each year is passing faster than the previous one. Perhaps the earth’s rotation is actually speeding up and nobody is telling us? This year in particular has been an especially confusing blur in our house due to an unusual amount of sick days and resulting doctor appointments disrupting every other week. In addition to seven antibiotic prescriptions, we have endured weird ailments like fire ant bites, a nasty sunburn acquired in the rain, and severe poison ivy on one who barely even walks through the grass. I’m blaming it all on the unlucky “13” in 2013, but regardless of what is to blame, the result has been day after day that did not go as scheduled. Add to that the cool weather patterns that kept us in a perpetual state of March throughout May, and June just snuck up on me.

So here we are, on a mad dash to the end of the school year, every minute planned with events overlapping. It’s been the first year where my husband and I have had to split up, each taking one child to an event, and the other having to miss it (old hat for you sports parents, I know).

Was I the only one cheering the miserable weather early on Memorial Day weekend, leaving us with nothing to do but hunker down with the family and stay home? It was so refreshing for my crew to have no deadlines and rush to nowhere.

In the midst of the flurry, the day-to-day is still occurring. But the mundane tasks are starting to take a backseat. The house is messier, the laundry is piling up, and there’s an awful lot of takeout in the fridge. Though I know it’s not true, it feels like the learning portion of the school year is over and I’m already looking ahead to the next. Checking homework, reviewing papers, and packing lunches have been pushed aside to focus instead on ordering school supplies, anticipating new teachers, and considering Fall activities.

My kids are ready for summer, and as a parent, I am ready too. Ready to sleep in a little, no frantic rush to the busstop. Ready to give the chauffeuring a rest and swap the backpacks for beach totes. But unlike the kids, my excitement will last for about a week. Then the days get long again, oh so long (wait, maybe that’s how that Earth rotation thing balances out).

I’d better find a minute this week to find those camp registration forms that have been buried in my to-do pile, forgotten in the recent chaos. Otherwise, what are we going to do with all that free time?

Paper Drive

Paper. I’m drowning in it. Newspapers to be read, bills to be paid, statements to be filed, greeting cards received and notes to be sent, forms to be completed, homework pages, art projects, flyers, catalogs, and school notices.

I do all the “organizer” tricks to reduce the burden as much as I can. I open my mail over a recycle bin and toss the junk immediately. I have action files, storage files, and bins for each family member. But still, I can’t get ahead of it. My “to do” bin includes everything I have planned to order online for the past year, upcoming birthday cards, and recall notices for appliance and car parts that I really mean to follow up on. I usually make the biggest dent in that pile when I am throwing out all the items with missed deadlines.

My stress around this issue heightens when I remember all the piles hidden around the house that I promise I’m “going to get to someday.” The first four years of my son’s elementary school experience that balance in his closet, culled through once but hardly with enough of a discerning eye (I’m doing better with child #2). The stacks of magazines living on bedside tables that have outlived their relevancy – like the Entertainment Weekly Fall 2010 TV Season Preview and a guide to the Harry Potter movies. The outdated travel books, grad school textbooks (still relevant in my field?), and files that clutter bookshelves ideally suited for orderly binders and office supplies. In my mind, the trash is out and the rest is all in its perfect place, but only in my mind.

I recently read Nicole Bernier’s novel, “The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D”, in which a woman learns about her friend’s hidden life through journals left behind after her death. This reminded me that I also have my own private papers squirreled away. Old school papers, journals from my childhood and young adult years, letters from friends and old boyfriends, yearbooks, programs, and random souvenirs. Until recently I thought, “These are my memories, reminders of experiences that made me who I am today, of course I will keep them!” But then I started to wonder, “Do I want my kids and husband reading these?” Thinking back to the content from my early twenties I thought, “Um…..probably not.”

So I pulled out these papers that were so essential to my “self.” I expected to find notebooks detailed with tales of exciting times and racy adventures, misbehaviors I’d never want my children to repeat, love letters to rival Fifty Shades of Grey. Well, it seems like that was somebody else’s life, not mine. I definitely found papers that I don’t want my family to read but not because they are scandalous. Because they are just embarrassing. Journaling was done sporadically and mostly captured ridiculous drama behind pseudo-relationships that I am grateful did not endure. Friends write of private jokes that no longer make any sense. Old boyfriends’ letters were cringe-worthy. Still, I can’t just toss them. Maybe I’ll keep some of these papers and draw black lines through anything incriminating, censoring them like wartime letters and government documents. Then at least it will look like I had something to hide.

Ironically, as I was writing this, I received a box of mementos from my father consisting mostly of unexpected gems from my transition to adulthood, from dependent child to successful woman to married mom. Letters from college asking for money. A lengthy treatise soliciting understanding of some unconventional after-college plans which I do not recall, nor did they ever come to fruition. (No surprise - I am pretty conventional.) There was the first business letter I wrote at my first (conventional) corporate job, and reviews from my employers and my staff. I don’t remember sharing these things, but they seemed to serve as an adult “report card” of sorts, and I was touched to see that he was proud enough to save them. But in reading them, I felt a little melancholy caught between laughing at my younger ideal self and longing for a past identity I barely even remember.

My two young children bring home dozens of papers every week. I try to sort through them as they come in and now I wonder if what I save reflects my children or my vision of them and what I want them to be. Would they choose to save the same things? Will they look back at these piles and remember who they were or will a giant piece be lost? Also, is it wrong to keep every item that says “I love you mom” to look at during those moments when it is hard to tell?

One thing I know, it’s time to get a bigger bin.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Surviving the Family Road Trip

When my husband suggested driving to Florida for spring break, I was not exactly supportive. And I wasn’t alone. Sympathetic friends tried to dissuade him, then pondered what might be included in the inevitable column about the disasters of travelling 2,400 miles in the car with two children. And I pondered how I would tell our tale without damaging our marriage.

On top of the long car ride, the destination was one that we had just visited last month after our stumble through Disney. “It’s all about the journey,” said my idealistic spouse. I half-listened while thinking about how the children barely make it through twenty minutes in the car without fighting, teasing, screaming. Twenty hours? Yes, that will be a journey all right.

His one convincing selling point was our children’s interest in hotels. They love hotels, riding the elevators, swimming in the pools, and sampling assorted pastries at the free breakfasts. In addition, they have recently proven that they will actually sleep in hotels (though I still find myself awake most of the time primed for one of them to wake up or roll off the bed). So I gave in and packed up the car.

For a moment, it seemed as though this trip might not happen, or at least that it was cursed. My son was ill the day before the journey so we moved our departure from night to very early the next morning. Then, after a successful pre-dawn launch (note that the one day my kids don’t wake me up at 4 am, I have to get up at 4 am), we almost had to return home with car troubles. When that turned out to be a false alarm, I was a little disappointed. We were still going.

My husband handled the bulk of the driving without complaint. When he drove, he kept himself alert by asking me questions about the local geography, and doing mental math to calculate our average speed, how far we had traveled, how far we had to go, and how far we would have been if we had left at various different times from various different places. When I drove, I kept alert by drinking Diet Coke and singing every song that played on the radio. Trust me, after 2,400 miles, I can tell you which songs are overplayed, no matter how much I like them. Taylor and “Hey-Ho” guys, I’m talking to you (though for some reason, I never get tired of Adam Levine).

We were driving my husband’s sedan instead of my SUV, a decision I questioned until I witnessed another father at a rest stop trying to shut his SUV hatch over a wall of belongings while random things kept dropping out of one side or another. Then I was happy to have our (much more limited) stuff contained in the trunk. Not only could it not be seen, but it also could not be accessed on a whim by me or the kids climbing over the back seat while cruising in the left lane of the highway. And my children didn’t think they had a large rectangular cube to fill up before we left.
But the stars of the week had to be the kids. They were outstanding passengers. They never said, “Are we there yet?” In fact, they never wanted to get out of the car. Of course, this was not our parents’ road trip, where we had to entertain ourselves looking for assorted state license plates, and playing magnetic checkers. In fact, any magnets would have destroyed our entertainment, which was all electronic. We had so many cords and chargers strung out in the back seat it looked like a spider’s web.

In all, we were on the road for two days down and two days home. Stops at “South of the Border” and Savannah satisfied my need for some small adventure (though these “long” stops tortured the others). And finding a Rainforest CafĂ© on the way home was a bonus for the kids. As for the hotels – well, that was a bait and switch. On this trip, there was no relaxing poolside. We arrived in time for bed then departed as early as possible to get back on the road. After all, we wanted to have vacation days left to spend at our destination before we had to turn around and come back. I did draw the line at moving our children from the bed to the car before sunrise and missing the breakfast bar too.

When we arrived home, I admitted to my husband that “it was not as bad as I thought.” To me, this meant “At least we are all still speaking to each other.” My husband has translated it as, “Let’s go again!” (Groan)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Introverted Mom

A wise frog once said, “It's not easy being green. It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things, and people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky.”

When I was a child, I thought that Kermit was talking about the difficulties of being, well, green. But listening to his words recently with my daughter, I realized that he was talking about the challenges of being introverted in our very extroverted world. I’m embarrassed to admit that my eyes welled up with tears, and this song has become a bit of an anthem for me, as I have been struggling with this dilemma for as long as I can remember.

Recently, other introverts have started to speak out as well. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was on multiple bestseller lists, and she was a featured author at the Darien Library last fall. Additionally, Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Corner blog for Psychology Today published The Introvert’s Way: Living A Quiet Life in a Noisy World.

These authors point out that the definitions of “introvert” and “extrovert” are complex. Many of us have some combination of both traits, and we may not fit an expected stereotype. Introverts are not necessarily “antisocial” or “loners” or even “shy”. The fundamental characteristic distinguishing introverts from extroverts is their internal energy source. While extroverts get energy from being around others, introverts refuel with quiet time alone. Extroverts thrive with a lot of external stimulation, while introverts are more easily overwhelmed. Introverts like me still enjoy socializing but with fewer, close friends, and in shorter intervals.

In college and in the corporate world, I knew my introversion would be a challenge. I took small steps to connect with others and challenged myself to build a career in the extroverted business of advertising. But I never considered how my introverted nature would affect my role as a mom. I assumed being home all day with my little minions would be perfect for my introverted soul. But I’m finding it’s even harder to be an introverted mom than it was to be an introverted ad executive.

This suburban oasis is filled with “achievers”, “leaders”, and “stars”. Even the stay-at-home parents often leave high profile careers, and take their outgoing Type A personalities to the playgrounds and the PTOs. I try to join in, volunteer my time, and host events, but I get palpitations just writing about it here. It feels like every group is filled with teams of friends who choose to conduct their activities in tandem while I go solo, sit quietly in the corner, and participate in simple ways when needed, sometimes admittedly resenting the resulting loss of a rare quiet hour.

While I know the constant barrage of input from children can be truly overwhelming to any parent, it is tougher for the introverted parent because of our need for quiet time to recharge. Weekends are the least relaxing of my days despite our limited schedules and my husband’s availability to share the load because there are just too many people around. The constant activity, noise, requests, clutter build-up, and need for my attention completely wear me down. The result is not always pretty. I also worry that my need for solitude could become a hindrance to my children’s social lives. I don’t want them stuck at home because I am uncomfortable joining in.

Even the books which speak to growing up as an introvert, finding success in a workplace that rewards more extroverted behaviors, and parenting the introverted child, do not provide much information about surviving as an introverted mom. But luckily I found some introverted moms online (of course!). They shared tips to balance down time with social activities that aren’t overwhelming. For example, having playdates at a park or museum with built-in entertainment instead of at home may provide a good balance of activity for the children and quiet time for the parents. Inviting one family over for a casual dinner may be easier to handle than hosting a big gathering. Scheduling rest time daily and emphasizing softer indoor voices can bring down the stimulation level at home. Wandering supermarket aisles alone when childcare is available can offer a relaxing break.

In their books, both Cain and Dembling speak to the fact that many introverts can be pseudo-extroverts when the situation requires it. “But in the long run,” says Cain, “staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters.” And, this means making family time work for you as well.

Like Kermit,“I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful, and I think it's what I want to be.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stumblin' Thru Disney

We just got back from Disney World, a last minute jaunt planned during the cabin fever days of a February snowstorm. With a princess-obsessed little girl and a Splash Mountain-loving son, it seemed the perfect time to go. But I get the impression that other families do Disney better – or at least more intensely – than we do.

Most families get the package deal with multiple days in multiple parks, stay in Disney hotels, fill up on the meal plans with their refillable cups, attend character breakfasts/lunches/dinners, and know the perfect viewing spots for the nightly fireworks. They navigate the park expertly from “land” to “land” obtaining fast passes for the most popular rides while waiting in line for the others and never doubling back. They have full Disney wardrobes, with Minnie dresses and Buzz Lightyear backpacks.

We are not most families. We stay off campus, fumble our way through public transportation, wander indirectly from ride to ride, and leave after a few hours. Somehow, we make it work, though I haven’t quite figured out if we win or lose in our attempts to outsmart the Disney marketing conspiracy and their comparison-resistant all-inclusive plans.

This time we opted to stay a mile from Downtown Disney, so close that it seemed easy to get to and from the park if our schedules didn’t match the few and far-between shuttles from our hotel. But it turned out to be a little more complicated than we thought. I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say that our hour-plus trips back and forth played out like “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” just renamed “Buses, Monorails, and Cabs”. I started to suspect that Disney discouraged any travel outside its realm. Point Disney.

We were just staying two days and our hotel served breakfast, so we opted out of meal plans and chose to focus on just the Magic Kingdom. All of the character meals were sold out by the time we planned our trip, but we waited on a five minute line to meet Mickey instead, and that was enough for everyone. The kids saw Mickey, I got a picture, and my husband saved about $200 on food expenses. Point us!

We had a vision of getting an early start and staying late into the night, but our kids maxed out after four hours. On day two, it was a battle to get them out of the hotel. They didn’t care that they hadn’t seen Ariel yet or gone in the Haunted Mansion. They didn’t want a souvenir. They certainly didn’t care about maximizing the value of our very expensive two-day tickets. They were just tired of walking.

Not that there weren’t other kids who were ready to leave, mind you. By my observation, around 4:30 pm the “happiest place on earth” fills with tears as boys with pirate faces and girls in pastel gowns and glittered hair demonstrate their fatigue with full-out tantrums. Their parents look pretty worn out as well, as they bribe their kids with pretzels and Mickey pops to keep them going until their dinner with Cinderella.

But I’m pretty sure that we were the only family whose kids were begging to leave the park by 5 pm so they didn’t miss the free chips and slurpees at our hotel’s complimentary happy hour. Seriously, $100 a day for tickets and you want to get back for free tortilla chips?

“Well, we could always come back later,” we thought, but instead, we ordered room service and crashed – forget the fireworks. Point Disney? (Or does free drinks mean the point goes to us?)

Of course, despite all efforts to avoid the costly Disney traps, we did get suckered once. The new attraction “Enchanted Tales with Belle” gives the kids the chance to act out a scene with Belle from Beauty and the Beast. My daughter was cast as the little cup “Chip” and for some reason I was also cast, as an armored guard. It was very cute, and on the way out we were given an online access code to view photos taken by a Disney photographer. When I saw the cost of purchasing these photos, it dawned on me that I was probably cast so I wouldn’t take my own photos. (I may have been fiddling with my camera when they picked me). I’m not making any accusations, just saying that would be a smart move. I mean, who’s not going to buy a photo of their child acting with Belle (I’ll admit it’s hard enough to pass up the photo of me acting with Belle!) Point Disney.

So, we may not be the most efficient family at Disney World, but we still had a great time. The kids enjoyed the rides, parades, and characters as we stumbled upon them. And we even got a lovely couple to take the required family shot in front of Cinderella’s castle.

Wait, Christmas card photo done, in March?! We win!

Get Help for Domestic Violence

As a therapist, I regularly work with perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. Recently within our community I have heard, overheard, and read comments regarding domestic violence that range from concerned to judgmental to misinformed. So many have involved common questions and misperceptions about domestic violence and its consequences that I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to share some of what I have learned over years of working in this arena.

While both men and women experience domestic abuse, statistics show women are the vast majority of victims (approximately 85%), and they suffer significantly more physical damage from abuse than men. Domestic violence is experienced by 1 in 4 women, is the leading cause of injury to women (1 out of 3 women’s emergency room visits), and resulted in almost 180 deaths in Connecticut alone from 2000-2011. It occurs among women of all ages, races, and income levels.

As highlighted in the 2/21/13 Darien Times editorial, domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes. Male victims often do not report abuse due to societal pressures and gender expectations, but women significantly underreport as well. It is estimated that only 25% of physical assaults against women by intimate partners are reported. Reasons for not reporting include fear of retaliation or judgment, desire to protect the offender or avoid police contact, and feelings of embarrassment, guilt, or shame.

Some ask why an abused partner doesn’t just leave the relationship. This speaks to the complex nature of domestic violence. When emotions, families, and interdependence are involved, it is not easy to walk away. A woman may stay because she doesn’t want to break up the family, because she thinks she can change things, because she is dependent on her partner’s support (emotionally, financially, physically), because he threatened to kill or “ruin” her if she leaves, because she loves him and he promised to change.

Some say, “When I was growing up, conflicts in the family were handled in the family. It was nobody else’s business.” or “My parents always fought, and nobody ever called the police.” But that’s just not true anymore. Recent decades have seen dramatic changes in domestic violence laws in response to the severity of domestic violence incidents. And outside observers are more likely to make a call.

“But it was just an argument, it didn’t get physical,” clients say. Many are surprised to learn that the definition of domestic violence includes emotional and verbal abuse as well as physical violence. Arguments that involve raised voices, aggressive tones, name-calling, cursing, or smashing things create an environment of intimidation. Yes, most couples argue sometimes. But most arguments do not escalate to the point where somebody (inside or out of the house) feels fearful enough to call the police. If one does, then it might just be that police involvement stopped “just an argument” from becoming something more.

After an arrest, one may wonder about the need for a protective order. After all, “…it was just one time” or “…the victim asked for it to be removed or changed” or “…it’s so hard on the children.” The reality is that no judge can predict without fail whether an offender will commit another violent act, or whether a victim has recanted accusations out of guilt or fear, so the court errs on the side of safety. Of course, not everybody will comply with an order of protection (it is estimated that 50% don’t), but many may be deterred by it. It may force a necessary cooling off period for both sides, and likely has protected further violence in many cases.

Often perpetrators of domestic abuse will point at the victim. “She made me do it,” “She pushed my buttons,” or “What else could I do?” are common excuses, but the truth is that using violence is a personal choice, and never the only option. It is also often a choice made when our judgment is clouded by anger or stress, or compromised by alcohol or drug use.

Many clients say that they were never taught skills to build healthy relationships and manage conflict in a non-violent way. That is a major focus of my counseling work with couples and individuals. To learn to communicate clearly and respectfully, manage frustration while staying calm, and be tolerant of disagreement. To identify “red flags” in one’s own or another’s behavior that indicate significant differences in values, expectations, and conflict-resolution styles. To learn how to recognize abuse of power, how to walk away, how to ask for help.

No relationship will be conflict-free at all times. But the bottom line is that everyone has a right to feel safe in their homes. Seek counseling or crisis services if you need them, and be supportive, not judgmental of others who are in need.