Schedules and Boundaries

Just a brief post today to follow up on my post about schedules from a few weeks ago.

After a few weeks of trying to keep ourselves organized as agreed, I have learned that no schedule works without boundaries. And boundaries don’t set themselves; we have to do that.

When we crafted our schedule, we were careful to include in it not only the things that needed doing, but also the things that each of us wanted to do. Now, a little over four weeks into it, it turns out that the parts of the schedule we don’t meticulously stick to are exactly the personal preferences we made sure to fit in.

We all, but specifically my husband and I, have shown a tendency to set aside our personal wants for the general needs. While on some level that makes sense – what must happen must happen, after all – there is one very important level on which it makes absolutely no sense at all: taking time for the wants keeps us charged up for the needs. It’s pure self care, and self care is important.

What we need to remember is that the schedule was set up to accommodate both business and pleasure, for lack of better terminology. If there are times when something has to give, what gives needn’t always be the pleasure. Sometimes the business can be put on hold.

So in order for us to get the most out of this schedule of ours, each of us needs to set boundaries and protect them, because it is all too easy to step over our own interests and preferences. We should remember that everything we’ve created space and time for is there because we felt it is important, and act accordingly regardless of the nature of the task.

Did I HAVE To Say That?

I’d like to talk about something I’ve been struggling with lately: social awkwardness. It’s an issue that doesn’t just affect me, who displays it, but also the people who have to deal with me.

My social awkwardness is conversational and stems, I’m pretty sure, from my (suspected) ADHD. I have no filter for things going in, but I also have no filter for things coming out. What makes it worse is that I’m actually pretty sensitive to situations, emotions and context, and my verbal expression sometimes feels almost involuntary.

Painful example: this morning I was at a shop that I regularly visit, and there’s a lady that works there that has tics. We are quite familiar with tics in various forms – we know someone with Intermittent Tic Disorder (also known as Transient Tic Disorder), we know someone with Tourette’s – and for some reason I mentioned it to her. God knows why, to be honest, because it clearly embarrassed her, and I felt awful right away about that.

I suppose on some level I wanted to mention it because I hate how little understanding there is of and for these disorders, and so I think that actually talking about it would help a great deal. But that’s my feeling about it, and I shouldn’t foist that on others.

On a related note: I should probably considering shopping somewhere else from now on.

These kinds of things – the awkward interactions – have been happening more regularly of late, as the (suspected) ADHD has become less controllable for me and I hate it. I’m really hoping that an ADHD diagnosis and treatment will help bring this (and various other things) under control.

All this is to say, I suppose, that a) maybe I should just not speak when in public, b) I am going to feel horrible about this for the rest of the day and possibly longer, and c) the sooner I get my diagnosis and hopefully medication and psycho-education the better.

Is It Too Early for Halloween? 👻

We love Halloween! Seriously, in our house Christmas may last a little longer, but there is nothing like the feeling of an approaching Halloween for us. Once October 1st rolls around we are ready to go and we have to hold ourselves down until the 15th (completely arbitrary date, incidentally) to start decorating, which we do fairly low-key for all our love of the holiday. We’ll put up a dark wreath on the front door, witches will fly outside our front window, slightly spooky lanterns suddenly pop up in the living room and sometimes even in the bathroom (what is a bath if not a more pleasant smelling witch’s brew, really…), and our black cat is suddenly not just a pet but also a lovely real-life Halloween decoration.

Our Ichabod: suitably named for Halloween, he is our year-round interactive spooky beast.

And so, as the end of August and the start of September approach, it is time to start planning for our annual Halloween party. (This might be a good time to tell you that I’m not necessarily known for doing things at the appropriate time always, while we’re on the subject. For example: I will happily watch Christmas movies in May – seriously: not a problem for me. At all.)

The party itself is not a massive shindig, if I’m honest. It’s not a full-on come-to-our-haunted-house-in-full-fancy-dress type thing: it’s really more of a chance for the English speaking kids that our kids have befriended over the years to get together, catch up, and do some light Halloween celebrating, Anglo-American style.

I do always look forward to it very much: it’s fun to see them all every year, another year older, some of them having gone off in different directions as they’ve gone on to different schools. The Halloween party is a chance to reconnect for them and us. It’s also quite a challenge to organize so I begin thinking about it already around this time of year with anticipatory glee. Since I’m in the Halloween-planning mood already, and you can never begin too early, for this blog post I thought I’d share some ideas for family-friendly Halloween get-togethers. Here goes.

Halloween Quiz Lots of people love celebrating Halloween, but how many know its origins, or its equivalents around the world with their accompanying traditions? There are dozens of fun factoids you can pour into this quiz. All you really need to do is read up on this holiday, maybe branch out a little into witches, ghouls and superstitions, and before you know it you’ll have a ton of questions to choose from. Of course, there are also a bunch of ready made quizzes available online; I just prefer to make them myself because, well: control freak, nerd, show-off – take your pick!

If there are younger kids at the party, do take care to keep the questions and answers accessible to all – or make some questions that are better answerable for the older kids, and some for the younger ones, then team up older and younger kids to give them even chances. Surprisingly, I found that some of the “younger” questions were actually quite challenging for the older kids as well.

Halloween Mad Libs It’s mad libs, Halloween style! There are plenty of mad libs templates you can find online for this, but if you’re feeling creative, you can come up with your own stories as well.

Halloween Creations There are a bunch of games that will allow kids to be creative and really run with their own ideas. It’s great fun to see what they come up with! Here are some options:

Witch’s Brew: have everyone come up with their own witch’s brew – what’s in it, how would it taste, what would it do, what spell goes with it?

Draw What You Hear: play some Halloween songs or haunting melodies and have the kids draw something that’s described in the song or how it makes them feel. Some good songs for this are Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt Keepers, and Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley, or for more abstract pictures Erutan’s Transylvanian Lullaby, and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre.

If I Made a Movie: Have them think up a movie title for a Halloween movie they would, and have them explain what the story would be.

Or just play a game of Once Upon a Time… Give a (spooky) story prompt, then hand the tale off to the next person to add their few lines, then to the next person, and so on…

Who Are You? For this game, you ask everyone to answer 6 questions about themselves – questions like: favorite scary monster? favorite Halloween candy? etc – then collect the sheets. Without revealing the names, you read out the answers on each sheet and see if the others can guess whose sheet it is.

Fun food You can dress up a lot of easily made drinks and snacks as something else. Pink lemonade? Unicorn wee. Snack sausages? Severed fingers (just slice a little sliver off the top and tear the other end off, then leak some tomato ketchup out of the torn end). Lasagne: entrails and sinew with a layer of grilled ectoplasm (who knew you could grill that stuff?!) Cola? Witch’s brew: just pour it over into a lightly more ornate bottle and stick on a homemade label. Be sure to list the ingredients, like snail slime, eye of newt, you know – the usual.

If you have the time and you feel so inclined, you could of course also decide on some Halloween themed snacks of your own creation, such as cupcakes decorated with flying bats made out of fondant, monster shaped cookies, or mummified sausages (sausages wrapped in ribbons of puff pastry).

Home-made Halloween and fall themed gingerbread cookies.

One time, I actually made something that looked almost too disgusting to eat: I had carved a nauseated face in a pumpkin, and then put some risotto con fungi in a heap in front of it and some in the pumpkin’s mouth. It took a while before I could get anyone in the house to eat risotto again…

Of course, standard fall treats are always fun: roasting marshmallows over a fire, making smores, serving pumpkin spiced lattes and hot cider. To make them more Halloween-y, you can do these wearing a witch’s hat or a vampire cape, and possibly playing some eerie music in the background.

Gift bags or baskets We put together a little something for the guests to take home afterwards to extend the fun a little longer. I usually make a Halloween crossword, a word search, or a word scramble to put in the bag, with a cute pen or pencil. I’ll add a small bag of candy, or even a homemade decorated cupcake, and a spooky thank you card.

One year, when I was feeling particularly inspired, I even spent quite a bit of time making stuffed Halloween monsters out of old socks and scarves. I placed them together in a big basket with a sign in front of it saying “Adopt a Monster”. (They all got adopted, even though they looked fairly awful and amateurish. I am NOT good at sewing. It’s the thought that counts, I guess.)

Honestly, I could probably keep listing and coming up with Halloween party suggestions, but seeing as how it’s still only August, I think I’ll leave it at this for now. Knowing myself, I’ll be writing a few more blog posts to do with Halloween in one way or another between now and 31 October. So if you love the season like I do, check back for more over the coming few weeks.

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Stick to It

Featured photo by Renáta-Adrienn on Unsplash

Today school starts again for my youngest, and tomorrow the oldest also begins the new academic year. The youngest does not want to go. The oldest is actually kind of looking forward to it.

When I ask the youngest why he doesn’t like school, his answers are both true and hilarious: “It takes all day!” and “You have to work all the time!” (He’s really not going to like adulting.) When I ask the oldest what they like about school, it’s mostly the artistic and creative subjects and extracurriculars, and there are many of those – it’s one of the main reasons we chose this school.

But while my children have opposite feelings about being in school, what they have in common – and in common with us as well – is that the academic year brings both order and chaos for them. So yesterday we decided to try something that is new (well, to be fair, not actually new at all – we have tried this before, but this time FEELS different and therefore new) for us as a family: we made. A. Schedule.

That’s right: the household with three ADHD people and one seriously outnumbered neuronormative guy (who doesn’t really like schedules that much either) came up with a schedule.

Freedom in discipline, we hope.

The main goals for us are to not be driven nuts by either our activities, each other, or ourselves. Of course, for us to find out whether we’ve actually made a good schedule this time we have to do the most challenging thing of all, and where all previous attempts at organizing and structuring our household have failed. We have to … wait for it … *whispers* stick to it.

As I confessed earlier, we have tried to organize and streamline things many, many times before in this house, but for some reason making the plan and then sticking to it has proved unbelievably difficult for many different reason: unexpected events, low energy levels, hyperfocus, no focus, emotional responses to not quite being on schedule resulting in veering even more off schedule (it’s an ADHD thing, I’ve been told). You know: reasons.

But we keep trying. We spent a fair amount of time for this latest attempt making sure that the goals we’ve set ourselves are actually feasible, and that there is room for the unexpected. We’ve also built in repetition, and regularity for the things we want, not just for the things we need.

I think that might be where we’ve gone wrong in the past: we placed the emphasis only on the things that were needed, not on the things that make us feel good, happy, and creative. That’s different this time around – we made this schedule to meet our own needs as well as others’.

There will still be challenges, of course, but we also have one more thing that we didn’t have before and that is a better understanding of at least three out of four brains in our family (the ADHD ones). It means we can take each other and ourselves into account more, and that in turn means both more realistic plans and more reasonable expectations.

The academic year has just started so I have no idea how well or even if this time we’ve found the winning formula, but with everything we’ve learned the past year, and a new approach based on kindness and fulfillment as well as goals and achievements, I feel like this time we have a good chance at success.

Random Thoughts on a Monday Morning

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been developing some pretty unhealthy holding patterns since this pandemic started, despite my best intentions. At the start of the first lockdown, the husband and I thought we’d try to set up some good habits, like lunchtime walks, time spent with the whole family at the end of the afternoon – you know, stuff like that. It lasted for all of two weeks, and even then only off and on, depending on the demands of his job and our children.

It’s not only that it’s too easy for these resolutions to make way to daily demands, though. It’s also that the increase in mental load has put extra pressure on things: what is going on with this virus, how do I manage the risk assessment, how do I keep everyone safe yet not turn us all into peculiar hermits?

I notice a pattern in that the resolutions I’ve tossed out the window the most easily have been the ones to do with self care. There is so much other care that seems to take priority that the time left for self care became more about just sitting down and doing something mindless than, say, getting some exercise, meditating, even studying (which is something that I actually really enjoy – don’t @ me).

But now that schools have started again here (I spent the better part of an hour lying awake last night wondering how long before COVID clusters will shut down our schools again, what with inadequate measures and poor ventilation in most school buildings; then I finally fell asleep and dreamed about COVID clusters in schools, so yeah, that was a good night’s rest 🙄), I have a better chance of establishing a more healthy routine again for myself, and beginning to restore my energy levels. Because I finally have some time again.

With that intention, I practiced yoga again this morning for the first time in a long, LONG time, and it felt great! There I was, on my mat, just doing what I had been doing for years on end and somehow had suddenly stopped doing – injuries, lack of energy, lack of time, general lacklusterness – and I enjoyed it so much!

I selected a Yoga with Adriene video – if you want a good start to your day, find yourself a YwA video and go for it, trust me on this! – and as I was stretching, relaxing, focusing and applying myself to alignment and awareness, I noticed some things (in no particular order):

  • I am pretty flexible still for not having done yoga for such a long time.
  • My thighs aren’t nearly as fat as I imagine (I guess Baz Luhrmann was right).
  • I don’t need to always be perfect at everything all the time.
  • I really, really want to learn more about yoga; I’ve been studying the movements and postures for years and I’m still only scratching the surface. Having been handicapped for a while with an immobile hand and wrist that wouldn’t support my weight I had already been forced to examine the parts of yoga that were not purely about pose achievement, and now I want to dive back into it.
  • I can’t control everything.
  • My grippy mat seems less grippy somehow.
(This is not my grippy mat.)

And so here are my new resolutions – may they last: I will focus on being kinder to myself; learning more about yoga; learning to accept what I can’t change, change what I can’t accept, and trying to know the difference; and saving up to buy a new grippy mat.

So there it is: random thoughts on a Monday morning.

What Is Going On With Me??

Just a quick warning: this (very long) post is going to be about a topic that is not necessarily for everyone: (peri)menopause. So if you are not interested in reading about that, this post is not for you. Otherwise, let’s move on without further ado.

I am now of a certain age and over the past year and a half, maybe two years, I’ve begun to notice certain changes in myself. At first, I just figured maybe it was stress, or those odd, unexplained things that sometimes ail you and then disappear as suddenly as they appear. As for my thoughts occasionally being a bag of ferrets – well, that’s not entirely new to me though the degree to which was definitely a few levels beyond what I was used to.

The first hint I had, though, of something feeling truly different was when I had my first, honest to god, uncontrollable mood swing. I was suddenly, inexplicably, and without warning pissed off at everyone and everything and for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. And then as suddenly as the Grump-from-Hell showed up, she was gone again. For me, that was weird, because I don’t get mood swings; I didn’t get them when I was pregnant, I’ve never had them when I had my periods. But my mood this time was literally beyond my control: it was like I had nothing to say about these feelings, no way to calm down, just … nothing! I felt like one of those ants that gets invaded by a parasite and then just turn into zombies, except I was an angry zombie and I had no spores growing out of my dead head (thank goodness).

Anyway, that’s when I started to take all those changes a little more seriously. What follows is an enumeration of some of the things I’ve been going through. The reason I’m writing this post is because this is a pretty turbulent time for me and I imagine I’m not the only one who feels this way. At times, when another symptom hits or the same symptom hits again I become downright suspicious of my body: “What is this pain/discomfort/weirdness? I’ve never had/felt this before. Is this normal?? Is my body trying to kill me?”

As always: this post only outlines my personal experiences. Every menopause is different, though there are common signs and symptoms. If you are concerned, contact your doctor. Some healthcare systems actually have doctors specializing in menopause.

Enough introduction. Here we go.

Hot Flashes

I thought I’d start with a very common symptom: hot flashes. My core temperature is pretty low, and I am more often cold than warm. And my first hot flash felt bizarre. Literally from one minute to the next I felt flushed, with hot skin, began sweating, and it was like nothing I’d felt before. It didn’t last long, though it felt plenty long to me. I vividly remember trying to cool myself down by standing in front of the freezer with the door open. More about hot flashes (also night sweats) here.

Stiff Joints

The next thing I started noticing is that, even though I am still pretty flexible – probably thanks to yoga – I have these periods of stiffness in the joints. From one day to the next I will suddenly have inflexible hips, very little neck mobility, or stiff shoulders. This stiffness can last anywhere from days to weeks, and it makes every yoga session an exciting new adventure (that was sarcasm). Here is some more information about age and menopause related joint pain.

Weird and Unexplained Aches and Pains

I’ve noticed some weird aches and pains not related to joints as well. A sudden cramp here, a sudden stab of pain there. Nothing worrying, but rather annoying. If you are experiencing unexplained aches and pains and you are worried, contact your doctor. Don’t hesitate, just call. That’s what they’re there for.

Weight Gain

This is a funny one. Not funny-ha-ha, funny-weird.

All of my life, any weight gained always went straight to my hips. I’m not kidding: nothing ever, ever went to my stomach. Then one morning all of a sudden there it was: a tummy! No matter how many sit-ups or Russian twists or airplanes I do, that fat ain’t goin’ nowhere!

I’m not complaining, it’s just not anything I’ve ever had any experience with. I’ve literally never had to worry about my tummy; it was always just flat. Now, my butt, that’s a whole different story…

The abdominal weight gain is apparently a function of your body looking to replace the estrogen whose levels are dropping during menopause, and the fat provides that. This article explains how that works, exactly. For me, the only upside I can see is that it means I need to update my wardrobe. Mostly, though, I have been having to get used to a different body with a different shape. It’s weird for me and it’s not easy, not least because my moods are also affected during this time and so feeling anxious about the way I look comes a lot more easily. (More about this later.)

Painful Breasts

Now this is the one symptom that is really tripping me up. Until a few years ago, my breasts were just my breasts: part of my body, part of my shape. I have had some issues with them (cysts) but on the whole they were just part of me and I didn’t worry about them. That’s changed.

Sometimes I have entire weeks when my breasts just hurt, sometimes one and sometimes both. Like a lot of women, I regularly self-examine (here’s how to do that and what to look and feel for) and a while back I felt a lump. I called the women’s breast cancer department in my hospital directly (this hospital throws up no barriers for women who are concerned about possible breast cancer – if you feel something, they will schedule you in for an exam as soon as possible) and had a full exam, including a mammogram and an ultrasound, and was then seen by a doctor who also performed a hands-on exam. I was cleared, but it turned out I did have another one of those cysts I mentioned earlier.

Moral of the story: I was lucky and fine, and cysts are sometimes painful, and any lump you feel in there is likely to cause you some worry. And I won’t lie: there are times when I seriously contemplate whether one (or both) of my breasts is going to make me sick or, even worse, kill me. It’s not a fun way to feel about a part of your body.

As my doctor told me during my follow-up appointment: breasts react immediately to hormonal changes, and sometimes that can feel pretty damn worrying. Do keep in mind in all of this that the same hormonal changes that your breasts are responding to can also be responsible for enhancing those worries, sometimes creating some real emotional turmoil. Speaking of…

Worries and Feelings

The worrying. Ugh. And the feels. Sometimes all the feels at once! Hormonal shifts during menopause often result in mood swings but also mood disorders and based on my own experience this is not something to take lightly. All this worrying and the sheer force of the emotions that well up sometimes out of nowhere is definitely not something I think I could have prepared for. Like undoubtedly everyone else I have had times where I worried about things and sometimes perhaps excessively, but this is of a whole different level.

For me, regular exercise and meditation level me out a little bit, but there are also times I decide to just ride the wave, put on a sad movie and just let it all out, or do a happy dance when the hormones decide it’s time to feel giddy. Mostly, though, not being on an even keel half the time is exhausting and because I would like to be able to function as a not-insane adult there are times when I use up a lot of energy managing my moods.

Brain Fog

Here’s another one I wasn’t ready for: my brain slowing down or just downright taking a mini break in the middle of my day. Reading a paragraph and promptly forgetting what I just read. Or reading a paragraph but having the information bounce off my brain as though it was shielded against content somehow. Or remembering there’s something I have to do and then immediately forgetting to do that thing. Six times a day. That same thing. Or going into another room to get something and forgetting what I was going to get as soon as I am through the door. Or putting my phone down somewhere and spending the next hour looking for it. Or starting a sentence and then not –

The official term for this type of “brain fog” is menopause-related cognitive impairment, and this too shall pass, but while it is there it can be seriously disruptive, and not a little scary. As I have a family member with Alzheimer’s, the specter of dementia looms large and with the hormone-induced increase in worrying, this, again, is not exactly a fun symptom to have.

Migraines

Yay. Migraines. Such fun. I am used to migraines, as I’ve been getting them since I was 19. The thing is, I didn’t get them very often. Now, the intensity of the migraine itself is less (though there’s still no painkiller that will even make a dent in the pain), but I get them more often, and they bring an increase in brain fog with them. So I am pretty much functionally impaired at least one day a month these days.

Difficult and Irregular Periods

Even though this is what menopause is all about – the end of periods – I’ve saved this one for last, because it sort of ties all the symptoms I have discussed so far together. As I recently discovered when I talked to a friend about this, I’ve been pretty lucky with my periods for most of my life; they’ve always been extremely regular and they have barely bothered me at all. Sure, there was blood, sometimes a lot of it, but hardly any cramps, no mood swings, no fatigue, no headaches, no bloatedness, nothing! That began to change a little under 2 years ago. First with increased moodiness and fatigue, and cramps, then migraines and pelvic pain were added, and now I regularly have the full spectrum: bloated, hot flashes, migraines, fatigue, mood swings, diarrhea, cramps, pelvic pain. Quite the smorgasbord, no?

And on top of all that, my periods are becoming more unpredictable: sometimes a little ahead of or behind schedule, rarely just weeks early or late, sometimes light, sometimes heavy … it’s anyone’s guess, really.

Changes in periods can feel very concerning. Like my breasts, I feel like my uterus could just as easily pull a fast one on me and develop abnormal cells, with symptoms that can also be attributed to (peri)menopause. Would I notice if something was wrong? (Once more, I would like to refer to the paragraph dealing with hormones turning your usually rational brain into a bag of ferrets.) Again, if you’re worried, contact your doctor.

So, that’s it: a run-down of my experience with the run-up to menopause. It’s a rollercoaster, and there are as many different experiences of menopause as there are women. And while it can be a time of physical and emotional turmoil, it is also a natural process and it will end at some point. Having said that, please remember that just because menopause is a natural process that doesn’t mean you have to suffer with it. There are treatments to lessen the impact of these hormonal, physical and emotional changes and asking for them is nothing to feel bad about.

As premenopausal, perimenopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms are being taken more seriously and are studied and researched, and as this part of women’s lives is finally becoming less hidden, there are things to take comfort in. First , we know a lot more now about what happens to women’s bodies in this phase of our lives. Second, there are treatments that can help mitigate some of the disruption caused by menopause and the time leading up to and away from it. And finally, we can talk about this, about how we feel physically and emotionally, and hopefully knowing each other’s stories will help us feel more supported and less overwhelmed during such a turbulent time in our lives.

Barrage – A Rant

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

This morning my daughter woke me up at 5:45 AM. She is 13 years old and she couldn’t sleep. She had been watching a YouTube video which was immediately followed up with a video of a young girl weighing herself, seeing the number on the scales and entertaining suicidal thoughts. It made her sad, and worried, and she had been caught off guard by this. It’s something she feels she should maybe know about, but that I agree should not have been dumped on her like this.

My daughter and her peers experience this kind of onslaught all the time. Social media are not safe regardless of the safeguard theater companies put on, and while our daughter fortunately feels and knows she can talk to us about her worries, many teenagers don’t have an adult to confide in and are thus left to worry with no perspective, context or explanation. Add to that that there is often a sense of guilt over having watched something that was maybe inappropriate and the fear of hearing that this load they now carry was of their own making and you have the makings of a cesspool that can really mess a kid up.

For me, I found myself having to explain – barely awake enough to remember that words exist – that anorexia exists and it is awful, and also it is about so much more than weight, or even body dysphoria, but that is a conversation for another time if/when she feels she can handle hearing about it. Try to go back to sleep now, if you can.

What follows now is a rant, plain and simple. I have no solutions, just observations. And feelings about those observations, I guess. Off we go then.

There‘s a whole mass of people out there without any sense of personal responsibility. They live in a selective vacuum, screaming into the wind for no other reason than to validate their own ego, or protect their own fragile comfort zone. They don’t care who gets hurt in the process. They loudly and sometimes violently proclaim their often uninformed and shortsighted opinions to be better than facts because their reality is the only one that matters and anyone unwilling to adopt it is a fool, a sheep, gullible, or should go off and die. I’m not even exaggerating here.

Those people claim that this is all about freedom: freedom to express whatever you want, freedom to be whoever you choose to be. All good things, to be sure, except for the part where they also, apparently, have the freedom to destroy whatever or whoever gets in their way in the process. Freedom from and without consequence. It’s ironic that inevitably the people wreaking this havoc are the same people whose every argument is shrouded in “but think of the children”.

Well, those sounds and sights reach our children and it hurts them, damages them, causes them untold anxiety and worry as it teaches them that the world they live in has nothing in common with the values they are told matter. You know, the values that are promoted by the Disney Channel and teenage popcorn movies. They’re values I agree with: fairness, kindness, honesty. But what those stories mostly fail to communicate is the sheer strength needed to uphold those values in ourselves by ourselves as every aspect of the world today in fact pushes the opposite. And it’s a strength that teenagers need to acquire, but often don’t already possess. Adults often don’t either, because it’s hard.

We live in a world that rates money over humanity, power over fairness, and loud, cruel ignorance over kindness. We try to teach our children how to be a good person, but then we make the mistake of telling them that being a good person should be its own reward, and while that is true it’s also not true, in the same way that a job well done is its own reward, but also a job well done should enable you to put food on the table and a roof over your head at the very least.

Inherent morality needs a feedback loop. And when the world floats on only money, when the Amazons and Googles and Facebooks of the world are rewarded with staggering profits and ridiculous tax avoidance for employing shockingly bad working conditions and turning their users into tradable datasets, rather than protecting or at least respecting the human rights and spirit of its products users and workers, what the hell are we even doing anymore?

We live in a world that has people intelligent enough to create technology that has far-reaching influence over society, that can affect political realities, even overthrow governments and enable corrupt leaders to use these tools to continue their oppressive and destructive rule. A world in which we are apparently smart enough to develop these technologies that could do so much good, but no one is smart enough to deploy or use these tools responsibly and constructively. Or perhaps more accurately: a world where no one cares to do so.

What does this teach our kids? That exploitation is rewarded, and fairness is a losing proposition. That ruthlessness is a virtue, and kindness is a weakness. Just in case it needs to be said: those are the wrong lessons.

Unsolicited information is inflicted on us without warning all the time. For children who are sensitive to what happens in the world, children who care and who are hurt by the pain of others, that can be a nightmare, especially when they are unprepared for it. And who decides which information gets to them? It’s not the parents, who can’t be constant gatekeepers, though most of us really try. At most, we have a semblance of control. We are up against algorithms that have been created with the sole purpose of monetizing us, children included. Adults barely stand a chance against all this, what chance do kids have?

Young Instagram users who want to look at pictures of cute cats and fairytale settings, but in between that have to scroll past “beauty” ads designed to make them feel self-conscious for no good reason, because there is a whole industry looking to monetize that newly instilled insecurity based on nothing real. Yes, the body positivity movement is gaining momentum, but we are so far from where we need to be still. Young YouTube users who want to watch a Just Dance video or see a movie clip and are then suddenly interrupted by a video that packs a psychological punch that not only catches them unawares but also unprepared.

Meanwhile, I have a 13-year old who at the moment feels like she doesn’t even know where to start working through her feelings as she sees all these things that she finds unfair, truly sad, and downright scary. These things wake her up at 5 AM. These things keep her awake when she tries to sleep at night. And she’s right, there’s so much wrong with the world at the moment. And at least some of it is our fault. We are failing our kids at least as much as we have failed ourselves. I’m not saying they need to be protected from everything. At some point, they need to face the realities of the world, but not all at once, and they certainly do not need to be ambushed by it.

We, too, are overpowered, outmanned, outgunned. Money-making algorithms. People are products. And in the midst of all this, we see blissfully unbothered ruthlessness as Facebook floats the idea of Instagram for kids… As the young folks say: I can’t even with these people.

Languishing Just a Little Less

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my last blog post. It’s not that nothing has been going on, or that I haven’t had experiences or opinions on things or anything like that, I just haven’t been able to muster up much energy. I’ve been suffering from “meh”: every day has been more or less the same, except that I haven’t been able to establish much structure or routine to my days. I’ve just been doing the same things every day, sometimes in a different order, and at a different pace, and sometimes, when my energy has been really low, I haven’t been doing them at all.

For the past few weeks – well, actually for quite some time before that as well – I’ve been feeling pretty low energy. To be fair, at least recently part of that is down to interrupted nights where one of my children or my snoring husband or my cat wakes me up just that hour too early and it drains half my battery before I even start on my day. Thank god for coffee… (though, I know, coffee doesn’t actually provide the pick-me-up we are led to believe: the caffeine in coffee doesn’t wake you up, but it does counter adenosine, which is the thing that makes you sleepy.)

But it’s more than just not getting enough sleep. It’s that each day consists of lists and lists of chores which need to get done preferably by the end of the day and which then will need to be repeated a few days later because chores never bleeping end, do they?! And while the satisfaction I used to get from a job well done is still there its impact lasts ever shorter. The energy I manage to bring to the things I do is also less. And there is not much to change things up at the moment, so perhaps monotony is a factor.

And yet I wonder about that because I also get to spend my days with the people I like best in the world, and we do fun things together like play games, watch movies, cook and bake, and that makes me happy. And of course no two days are the same, though lately they are very similar.

I think that the monotony of activity is not the only thing that is at play, though. It’s also the monotony of location. Like pretty much everyone, the pandemic has me being mostly at home, inside my house, which is a very comfortable place with a lovely garden to enjoy when the weather doesn’t suck – which isn’t often lately. This locational monotony is probably even worse for my husband, who has been truly housebound for the past year, and marginally less so for my son, who has been mostly housebound for the past year. I, at least, get out to shop for groceries (same shops, same morning every week, but with the added joy of seeing my friend with whom I can catch up), and my daughter goes to school part time, so she, too, sees more of the world that way.

But whatever the individual elements are of my current state of mind, I have learned that there is a word for it: languishing. I am languishing. My whole family is languishing. It’s a term that I read about recently in an excellent article by Adam Grant, and it is oddly liberating to know what this funk that I am in is called, not to mention that it is an actual thing! I was reminded of this article again yesterday as I listened to the episode of The Armchair Expert that had Prince Harry talking about mental health (an excellent episode, by the way, which I highly recommend listening to).

Even the cat is languishing

I listened to this podcast, incidentally, while folding the laundry. The little things that help us through the mind-numbing parts of our day, eh? Podcasts have saved my life, I tell you!

Now that I know what the problem is, though, how do I fix it? The languishing itself won’t be fixed, I’m afraid, until there is some freedom to move again without a significant risk to our personal health. In terms of how I experience my day-to-day, though, I did a little introspection and I found that one thing that’s going on is that I actually experience a ton of pressure from the ever-present list of chores. So here, I realized, was something I could do!

I have now begun to take a different approach to my chores: I will still do the things that need doing, but I’m putting less pressure on myself to do them. No more laundry list of things that need to be done by the end of business today, just a list of things that need doing, in order of priority, and I’ll do them but when I’m up to it. I’m not naturally one for sitting still anyway, and I like things at least a little tidy so I know I will get the chores done. I’ve just removed the stress factor of “must ALL be finished by 4 PM” and allowed myself some freedom to take the time to do things that inspire or relax me and I alternate that with the chores, and what doesn’t get done today will get done tomorrow. I don’t necessarily take longer breaks, it’s just that when I’m doing something I enjoy I am actually enjoying it because I’ve given myself permission to do so, and it’s making such a difference!

[I feel like at this point I should acknowledge my privilege in that I actually can do this, where many people cannot, due to any number of factors. This blog post is purely about what I am able to do for myself to combat the languishing a little. In other words: you could see if you think this is an approach worth trying if you have the space, time and situation for it.]

Oddly, I feel like I’m getting pretty much the same amount of work done. My personal time and my work time are about evenly balanced, but the real difference is that when I am sitting down and doing something I like doing, I can truly focus on it, rather than feel like I should really be doing something else. It improves the quality of my personal time, and gives me more energy for the work that needs doing. But most importantly, I feel less like every day is Groundhog Day.

And while that hasn’t defeated the languishing, it is making me feel just that little bit better.

Picture (im)perfect

In these times of lockdowns and pandemic anxiety, like everyone I have been looking for ways to reduce stress and find a way to inject some new found appreciation into being house bound. I have been trying to tidy (sort of Marie Kondo style, but not quite), bullet journal (intermittently), design and do home workouts (either alone or together with the fam – these are usually binge watch workouts), or study (very, very hard to do with everyone at home and occupying the same space). This list, it turns out, is far too ambitious, but I keep trying.

Our “Psych” binge watch workout. That’s a fair amount of burpees and a lot of half boat extensions per episode…

And then I thought: maybe it will inspire and entertain me to browse through some interior design magazines. I’ll come up with marvelous ideas to make our home feel new and fresh. Turns out, that doesn’t work for me as well as I thought it would.

Why not, you ask? Well…

First of all, when I leaf through these magazines I very often find that the interiors and decorative ideas don’t really work for me – which is entirely a matter of personal taste, of course. Most of the themes and decors just don’t seem to appeal to me. But more importantly: most of the projects that these magazines suggest are so involved, and I just don’t have that kind of time! Or perhaps it’s a matter of prioritizing; I don’t know.

Either way, I really don’t see myself collecting and cleaning off used straws so I can cut them into little pieces and recreate a repurposed plastic mosaic of the Mona Lisa – not to mention that we only use either paper straws these days, or stainless steel washable ones. Should I somehow free up the time it takes to make weekly rounds of my house in order to frame home made art works and hang them on the walls, only to take them down and de-frame them the next week, then use the freed up frames for different home made art works and hang them up instead (lather – rinse – repeat)? Or give my house a whole new feel on the regular with all those personally restored hidden prizes I will have found after hours and hours of flea market treasure hunting; those same hours that – I may have mentioned this earlier – I just don’t have?

I definitely don’t see myself on a whim moving all the furniture out of our living room so I can sand down my wooden floor in order to give it a new finish that makes the floor look like it hasn’t been sanded down or finished at all – I mean, it sounds marvelously modern and magnificently natural, and it would definitely be a fantastic outlet for my inner minimalist, but still.

The main reason, though, why these interior design magazines don’t do it for me is that reading them leaves me frustrated rather than inspired. All those houses with oceans of space. Everything squeaky clean and not a speck of dust anywhere. Everything tidy and in its place. All the time. And these pictures of perfection are supposed to be attainable even for families with children across all ages – as it happens ours run from ages 6 to 13. What kind of exemplary mini humans are these that they are constantly tidying away all their toys and games and clothes and candy wrappers? Don’t they ever want to build a hut in the most inconvenient spot using everything they can find that has not been bolted down? Are there no socks or slippers or stuffies that slide underneath the couch and then lie there, just out of reach but still in sight? Do these children all eat neatly above their plates, spilling neither crust nor crumb?

This is what my living room table looks like when it’s neat and not being used as a dumping ground for every blessed lego piece and hair band and abandoned art project. It’s not exactly a mess, but it’s hardly minimalist perfection.

I know it’s all staged for the photo shoots, but the Stepfordness of it all freaks me out. Even in the houses where everything isn’t perfectly feng-shued on a shelf or neatly folded in a closet (with the closet door slightly ajar so you can see that the contents have indeed been neatly folded and tidily put away rather than hurriedly shoved behind a door because grandma has come over for a surprise visit), the one unfolded item of clothing has been draped over the edge of the bed with stylish “nonchalance”. The lone cuddly toy sitting on the sofa seems more like a modern art installation representing the tragedy of the eventual forced abandonment of childhood than a tattered stuffed bunny the resident 4-year old threw angrily across the room when his mother told him he wasn’t allowed a piece of candy. See? these stylized scenes seem to say, this is a room that’s lived in. Sure it is.

Spot the odd one out…

No, I’m afraid these examples of interior perfection are not for me. Do you know what magazine would work for me? An interior design magazine for families with children who don’t listen or who don’t like or manage to tidy up after themselves, and parents who don’t spend every spare second dusting every inch of their house or polishing their floors. A magazine with a special about storage and tidying solutions with spreads that include photos from before tidying, after tidying, and then five minutes after that, when the kids have been allowed back into the room to do what they usually do.

I’d subscribe to that magazine in a heartbeat!

Relevance in the Age of Parenting

It’s been nearly a year since I gave birth to my gorgeous little boy (yes, I’m bragging) and nearly 7 years since I’ve been gainfully employed. Well, not counting efforts to start up a company with a friend who had a wonderful idea and developed it into a business, writing a book with my former colleague and mentor (second edition published last year – it’s not a bestselling novel or anything, but it’s a good textbook) and publishing a number of articles in a beautiful online magazine.

Now that I’m summing it all up, it doesn’t really look too shabby. What’s more, I plan to continue writing. So why do I feel so irrelevant sometimes?

My husband and I made a decision long ago that one of us would stay home with our daughter, who has since gained a little brother, and so far it’s been me. Initially, we had excellent daycare for our girl, but on the whole I just don’t want to put my kids into daycare – I think mostly because I genuinely like having them at home. They’re going to grow up so fast, I feel like I want to see as much of them as I can while they’re still young.

Before I continue, let me cut off the inevitable sh*tstorm the previous paragraph will invoke: this is not a criticism or judgment, implied or otherwise, on working parents, nor do I believe that this is the best option for all parents and children. It’s simply an evaluation of myself and an expression of my preferences and choices, nothing more, nothing less. Just me.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll go back to the division of labour I was just talking about. My husband bit the bullet, in my view, and has a full-time job that he’s good at and which pays the bills. And I am a full-time mom. It’s satisfying and it’s hard work but there’s also a certain erosion of self that slips in, and that comes from the inevitable comparison of the status and importance of the stay-at-home mom to the status and importance society grants to those who collect a salary for a job well done.

At the moment, in my mind everyone working and supporting themselves and others is endlessly more significant, stronger and more valuable than I am somehow. And since my husband is the person I am closest to and with whom I share home and hearth and heart, he’s the most natural person for me to compare myself to – though I know he himself sets much more stock by personal value than status.

I can’t remember the last time I made a decision that had repercussions beyond this house. For example, the only planning I do involves grocery shopping, dinner times, what and when to pack for trips, how to schedule the laundry so that any required items of clothing are ready at the time they are needed and/or wanted, and so on. Weigh these things off against, for instance, planning software implementation, incident response, and client conferences which may all have multi-million dollar bottom line ramifications, and it’s easy to see how you could feel every so slightly less relevant than your working fellow human beings. (And now I’m guilty of the same thing I am railing against: assigning worth according to monetary value.)

Here’s the thing: I’m educated, I can hold my own in discussions, I keep up with the news (though it depresses me, lately) and I have an interest in a broad range of topics. As a mom I’ve certainly had to engage my brain to untangle the mess that had been my daughter’s education until the beginning of this school year, and I continue to be deeply interested in education and where I feel it should be going in this fast-evolving future. And yet there are times when I feel like I’ve wasted my education, my mind, even myself in aspiring to be a stay-at-home mom, which is crazy, because simultaneously I sincerely feel that being a mom is an incredibly rewarding, significant and responsible way to spend my time and I wouldn’t want to miss this part of my kids’ lives for the world! Yet somehow I’ve begun feeling stupid, worthless, irrelevant.

It’s a bizarre internal struggle, and I feel strongly that it is actually also a needless one, because here is how it should be: any choice I make for any reason I make it should feel like a valid choice to me. So why do I keep comparing myself to society’s idea of success?

Well, I think I’ve figured that out. It’s partly because any successes I achieve are private, not celebrated or rewarded by anything other than a smoothly running household (nope, not its own reward). Basically, stay-at-home mothering after a while begins a to feel like a mundane occupation, such a basic standard that it fades into the background no matter how many hugs and kisses you may get from hubby and kids – which is not to say that I am not incredibly proud of my husband and children and all their successes, or grateful for their health and happiness.

Perhaps this is my own shortcoming, since self-worth should come from within, right? Personally, I think that only works if you’re either living in a vacuum or you’ve already had your share of publicly celebrated successes and achievements. Clearly, I am not zen.

But more than that what’s been making me doubt myself is this ongoing, often aggressive debate raging between two camps: the stay-at-home parents and the working parents, each feeling attacked and judged by the other. No opinion can be put forth by either side without the other side a) feeling insulted for perceived (and sometimes, granted, real) slights, and b) immediately negating the one side’s perspective on the basis that they don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the fence.

I’ve been feeling stuck and pigeonholed by this debate, and I’ve found myself developing thinner skin as it progresses. Trying hard not to jump to conclusions or take offense, I’ve even started reading judgments and insults into innocuous comments. It’s driving me crazy and it’s doing serious damage to my self-esteem and my self-image. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

And so I think this parental partisanship should end for the mental and emotional well-being of everyone.

Here’s what I submit for a healthier frame of mind all around:

We are all relevant, we all contribute in our own way as best we can to a different aspect of life. One is not better than the other, and each contribution to society does not derive it’s right to exist or be appreciated from the remuneration or status or self-proclaimed moral high ground attached to it. Let’s try not to put a price on everything but rather finally see its value. If we can manage that, perhaps we can finally begin to see each other, instead of the preconceived notions we have of one another.