Thursday, June 25, 2009

Supermom and Captain Defiant call a truce

Wow, I just re-read my last whiny post. Ick. I promise to not complain too loudly anymore about my exceptionally wonderful work/life set-up. I realize that most mothers don't have the choices and options I have when it comes to balancing work and family. Sure, it's hard to work with a child at my side, but I say a thank-you prayer every day.

So. I've had a couple days since that vent session to evaluate the telecommuting situation, as well as my own parenting. I know now that much of Captain Defiance's naughtiness has been a result of feeling neglected by his staring-at-the-computer mom these last few weeks. (I overheard him tell SallyCat the other night, "Sorry, Sal, I can't play with you now because I have a lot of work to do." Zing!) And I know that I have been making poor parenting decisions based on guilt and annoyance and anger. Also, I realized I often forget that this little guy is just 3 years old -- he doesn't understand what I'm trying to accomplish.

I'm happy to report that today we had a delightful day, nary an argument, foot-stomp, or whine. I woke up and decided to regroup and try some of the things I know make life easier on my telecommuting days. We started the day with a quick little chat about the behaviors that make Mommy crazy, and I asked if there was something he really wanted to do today. As usual, he answered "Go to the park!" so we made that our "deal": If we get through the morning without any stomping, whining, throwing, etc., we will go to the park for lunch.

And because he made it brilliantly through the morning, we went for a long bike ride at lunchtime; we ate a picnic lunch at the state park (and got attacked by a really ballsy squirrel, which was memorable, if nothing else). A long lunch outing, of course, meant that I'd have to work at least an extra hour into the evening, but I'm willing to do that if it means a little fresh air and play time. This is true quality time, after all, and priceless. In fact, picnic lunches at the park are the main reason I chose telecommuting!

I've rediscovered this week that it's all about giving him more control, yet setting my own parameters. I know, any parenting book or guru or experienced parent will tell you that's what's needed. But remember, I'm a novice. And I don't read parenting books or listen to gurus. And sometimes I just get stressed and don't think straight.

So I made a conscious decision to take it easy today, speak rationally, listen to my child, give and take. Here are some of the other conversations we had throughout the day:
  • You can watch TV, but only one show or kids' movie. You can choose. But you also must choose if you want TV time to be first thing in the morning or later in the day.
  • It's OK to stay in your jammies until lunchtime, if that's what you want. We can't go outside the house until you're dressed...but when it's time to get dressed, you choose what you're going to wear.
  • When breakfast is over, the kitchen is closed. [I turned off the lights and made an official announcement.] That means no more snacks, no more asking for juice, no more opening cabinet doors until lunchtime.
  • Mommy needs a helper. Can you sit here next to me and color a picture? Or how about you make me a poster? Can you put some stickers on my manuscript as I flip the pages?
  • I can't play much today, buddy, but if you can play on your own for the next little while, I'll take a break to play a game, do a puzzle, or read a book with you.
  • Hey, do you know what's coming up? Lunchtime in about 10 minutes! Then we'll go for our walk...then naptime...
  • You must stay in your bed for quiet time in the afternoon; whether you sleep or not is up to you. [Usually he sleeps for 2-3 hours, thank goodness.]
I have to remember at all times that I can walk away from the computer at any time -- it will all be there when I return, but time with my son won't always be there.

And really, whenever the negotiations with Captain Defiant really break down, even Supermom can take a sick day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The summer adventures of Captain Defiant and SuperMom

I made a deal with myself four years ago, when I started telecommuting in order to spend more time with my then-infant son, that I would take the telecommuting thing one week at a time. Meaning, I would never get so used to it that I couldn't adjust back to a regular 40-hours-per-week-in-the-office lifestyle. Also meaning I would assess periodically whether this work/life balance was still the best arrangement for my son, for my career, and for myself.

Once more I’ve come to reassessment point. And I'm finding that keeping the deal I made with myself is really, really difficult. I'm not sure if this summer may be the breaking point. As in, perhaps it's time to bite the bullet and just put the kid in daycare full-time...which truly would break my heart.

Sweet Boy is home with me this summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All day. While I work. All day. I am working a four-day, condensed week so I can have Fridays off to spend with him -- and our Fridays have been amazing! However, the Tuesdays and Thursdays have been less than stellar. As have been Mondays and Wednesdays, come to think of it. My work schedule has me on the road to the office at 6:30 am on Mondays and Wednesdays, then logging on to my computer at 7am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The workday goes until 5pm, at least, on all four days. Often Tuesdays and Thursdays are even longer because I've had to split my focus all day, so I'm cramming in e-mails as I make dinner. (But it's worth the grueling schedule to have three-day weekends for a few months. Did I mention how awesome our Fridays off together are?)

We have a babysitter who comes on Tuesdays to break up the day for both of us, and my dad still comes on Thursdays for most of the day. But today the babysitter is ill. And my dad is on vacation in Florida until mid-July. The days are longer. The rain has been incessant. The afternoon naps are getting shorter. The workload is picking up. Oh. My. Goodness. (I know...keep focusing on those Fridays!)

As you can imagine, Sweet Boy has not been so sweet lately. (In fact, he’s in time out YET AGAIN right this minute.) I'm not sure what the cause -- his age, the shift in daily routine, the rainy weather, too much peanut butter, not enough sugar, whatever -- but lately he's been a defiant, nasty, foot-stomping, toy-throwing little monster at times. Sure, for the most part he's the same happy-go-lucky little dude -- but I feel that he saves the worst behaviors for me. He knows all my buttons, and he has no problem pushing them. In fact, he delights in pushing them.

The last couple weeks, especially, the major hot-button behavior has been his flat-out ignoring of the things I say. Like when I tell him, for example, not to jump on the couch, and he looks me right in the eyes...then jumps on the couch. Or when I have to say 2,000 times "it's time for dinner/bath/bed/getting dressed" and he simply pretends to not hear me -- as if I'm not even in the room, let alone standing next to him. ARRGGGHH! Just typing it makes my blood pressure rise!

And the whining...sweet Lord, deliver me from the constant whining.

So. Here we are. End of June. Just about midway through the summer. Can she do it? Can Supermom make it through without having a total meltdown? Can Captain Defiant survive the summer, or will he be shut in his bedroom on a permanent time-out? Stay tuned for the next exciting installment...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My girl athlete manifesto

Yes, I'm a girl.
Yes, I'm an athlete.
Yes, I'll kick your butt.

This little diddy hangs on my refrigerator on a magnet; I used to have a t-shirt with this slogan way back when I really thought of myself as an athlete. I'm bringing it back. The athlete thing, I mean.

I type this post tonight with very sore muscles in my arms, shoulders, and back. My knees are throbbing a bit, too. But I feel so great.

Big Daddy and I have started going to the gym to lift weights together two or three times a week. (This is why my blogging has been unsteady -- time is limited, with the longer work days, squeezing in gym time, and the earlier bedtimes.) He is a great trainer. And talk about personal! Who knows my body better than my husband? And who knows the parts of my body that I'm insecure about better than the one person I whine to most? I think he knows my parts better than I know my parts. So he has worked out a training circuit for me that not only works my whole body, but it really targets the places that I most want to tone -- and I can do it in three one-hour sessions per week.

We work out together for an hour or so each time (the babysitting at the YMCA is only free for an hour -- you've gotta take what you can get, right?) but it's an hour that's just for us. An hour where we're connecting and spending time as a couple, giggling at private jokes, pushing each other to reach further, cheering one another on. And let me tell you, I have rediscovered that watching my husband bench press 200 pounds is really pretty hot!

The most significant thing about this, though, is that I've reclaimed my status as athlete. For a long time I've felt as if I gave that distinction up back in 1995 when I walked away from playing organized basketball. I wanted to leave that part of my life behind for good. I didn't want to be the tall girl who played basketball anymore -- so cliche. Sure, I've worked out on and off since then, but I haven't really been thinking of myself as an athlete. Not for a long, long time.

Well, today I'm taking it back. I'm going to call myself an athlete, and I'm going to be an athlete -- on my terms. No more worrying about someone yelling at me, no more trying to live up to other people's exaggerated expectations. No more allowing some tiny man to belittle me for not being fast enough, strong enough, or mean enough. And no more beating myself up. I'm doing this for me, because I love this body -- do you know the things this body has done and can do?! -- and I want to make sure it works for a long, long time.

In doing this for me, in jogging or riding my bike or swimming every day, in lifting weights -- just being purposefully active -- I have rediscovered how powerful and beautiful my body is. I have rediscovered what it feels like to be healthy. I have rediscovered my own physical, mental, and emotional strength. i have rediscovered energy and enthusiasm. I have rediscovered that I can speak up, sweat it out, push back. I am proud of myself. I love these sore muscles. I love this potential. And a sweat-soaked t-shirt really feels good.

So, yes, I'm a girl. Yes, I'm an athlete. And yes, I'll kick your butt.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wrapped up in the number no more

I'm about to let you in on a little secret: I (re)joined Weight Watchers about 6 weeks ago. I haven't told many folks because although I was successful on WW years ago, it took me almost 2 years to lose 35 pounds. And toward the end of that weight loss journey I, frankly, became a tiny bit nuts -- gaining and losing the same two pounds for at least 5 months, getting frustrated and angry and depressed and obsessive. Not pretty. I was within 4 pounds of my ultimate goal when I got pregnant and put on 65 pounds. And there you have it. Two years of maniacal food counting and compulsive exercising right out the door.

My son is almost 4 now, and I still carry around the last 15 of those 65 pregnancy pounds. I want them gone. Not-So-Big Daddy is melting away since his illness in January -- he's down almost 70 pounds, people! -- but I've been struggling to shed my own spare tire. So I paid the money, stepped bravely onto the WW scale, started counting the Points and walk-jogging the miles. I've been losing weight slowly...very s-l-o-w-l-y...but I feel good.

Or at least I felt good until my last WW meeting.

This past week I went to a different meeting than I usually attend. I remembered the leader from my previous WW experience -- and I remembered disliking her then. But I stuck around, because, hell, I'm paying the money, might as well get the full experience, right? The topic of the meeting was motivation, and the intention was to get all of us to reach into our bellies, pardon the pun, and find what it was that led us to WW in the first place. The theory, I suppose, was to remind us that fat is no fun, that getting healthy should really be the focus, that in the day-to-day battle of the bulge, we need to concentrate on little things like how much easier it is to button our pants or how much less our knees ache.

However, as the meeting progressed, my motivation actually waned. Instead I got depressed. There I was sitting in a room full of beautiful, smart women -- mothers, wives, sisters, friends, professionals, caretakers -- all of whom repeated over and over how they felt unworthy of doing something important for themselves. More than one woman said she felt guilty when she took an hour to go to the gym instead of cleaning her house, that she felt inadequate if she served her husband a vegetarian dinner in order to meat her own weight loss goals, that if she enjoyed herself with friends at lunch and happened to overeat, she punished herself by not eating dinner and going hungry all night. Is this healthy behavior? I think not.

Why, you ask, do they feel unworthy? Because they are fat. Many, like me, have been overweight since childhood, so we carry scars of nasty kids and compulsive parents. Some were thin until a certain point in adulthood and can't understand how or why they became overweight; they feel out of control. Everyone in that room had serious self-esteem issues that centered on our weight. Instead of seeing the positives in our lives, we all dwell on that number on the scale, let that number rule our thoughts and our self-confidence. For some reason, in our warped brains, it doesn't matter that we have husbands who think we're sexy, children who think the sun rises because of us, friends who would rather spend their time with us than with anyone else.

Wow. Epiphany time. As I sat there listening to these women revealing their food scars, I thought I don't want to be like this!

The two things that makes Weight Watchers work is also the problem with Weight Watchers: (1) Food becomes your #1 focus. You must plan what you eat ahead of time; you must be ever-vigilant, constantly evaluating whether you're hungry enough at 2pm to eat that 2-point cheese stick and therefore not have the 2 points to use at 9pm when you might be really hungry. (2) The weekly weigh-in holds you accountable for your food choices. But it can make you completely crazy about the number each week, because really, it's the only empirical measure of your success (or failure). No matter how well your pants fit or how much you've lost to that point, if you've foregone cake, beer, and pizza at a party yet not lost weight -- or, horror, put on weight! -- you will walk away feeling bad.

They say that people who are successful on WW learn how to do it by rote; they think in points values, get used to eating the same types of things at the same times, habitually exercise, and make healthy food choices. That sounds easy enough, right?

But it seems to me that people who are successful with weight loss, no matter how they do it, learn how to shut off the self-defeating fat-person thoughts. So I suppose the un-motivating motivation meeting did in fact motivate me: I want to learn how to look in the mirror and see the smart, beautiful, successful, happy woman I am. When I can do that, no matter what the scale says, the weight will be gone.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Parenting without fear...but with knowledge

Alright, my kid is almost 4, so his father and I have been slowly easing up on the hovering. I mean, we've never been real helicopter parents -- I often say that my parenting style is more along the lines of mindful neglect -- but lately we've been trying to give him more freedom to explore his world. The past few weeks, as the weather is warming up, we've been letting him play in the backyard...alone.

Now I'm not talking all day every day all alone. I'm talking he sits in the sandbox at the back of the yard in full view from the kitchen window. And usually I can only last about three minutes before I'm out on the deck yelling "You OK? Can I come play? Want some water?" etc. He doesn't want me to play, he doesn't want water...he just wants to play with his guys in the fresh air. And I love that.

I can tell he loves this big boy freedom. He is proud of the fact that we trust him to play on his own. But there's a little tiny voice in my head that's always whispering "kids get snatched from their yards all the time...there are sick, sick people all around us...you are a terrible mother..."

Yesterday the little voice quieted a bit when I read an empowering column by Lenore Skenazy, who blogs at FreeRangeKids. Although I don't think I could put my 9-year-old on a NYC subway on his own, I do understand her point about easing up on the hovering, because perhaps the fear we feel is a result of our constant bombardment with news and TV shows full of badness, as well as a kid-products industry that preys on our every insecurity. Actual crime statistics are down since we were kids, in fact. A good quote summarizes her point:
"The world is safer than we've been brainwashed into believing. Our kids are more competent than a superstore's worth of kiddie walking, reading, eating and sleeping aids would have us think. Our parental instincts have gotten us to this point in human evolution without a library full of books warning us that one wrong step and our kids are goners. In other words: take a step back from this weird parenting moment we're in and you CAN give your children the freedom you had without going nuts with worry."
Maybe some would say I'm a nut face for letting my almost-4-year-old play in his backyard unsupervised, even if only for three minutes. And it's OK if you say I'm a nut face because we each have to parent in our own way; if you want to hover, that's cool too. But I believe we have to know our kids well enough to know when they're ready for these tiny steps toward independence. They also have to know that we trust them, and that they can make decisions on their own. I don't want my child to grow up afraid to be on his own, afraid of every stranger he meets. It's a tightrope act, of course, as is pretty much everything we do as parents.

Sadly, right around the time I was reading this article and feeling all supermommy, a house on my block was being raided by a SWAT team. That's right, raided -- guns drawn and everything. When my neighbor told me about it, my first reaction was, oh, drugs, bad. But we soon learned it was worse: four people were taken into custody, and at least one was charged with distributing child porn. Great! A child pornographer (or many) has been living a block-and-a-half away in our sleepy little family-friendly neighborhood. We walk by the house every time we walk to the playground. My friend lives across the street with her 6-year-old and her 1-year old, and another friend lives two doors down with a toddler. Another friend who lives on the block has two free-range boys who spend all day riding their bikes and exploring the world.

I would have preferred a drug dealer on the street, frankly.

So I suppose I will continue to let my son play in the yard on his own, and I will continue to check on him every three minutes. But maybe a solo walk to the park will be years and years away.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Behold, the Re-generation

NYTimes columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman delivered the keynote address at my sister's University of Delaware graduation this past weekend. As we sat in the sunshine staring down upon 3,100 beaming, proud graduates stepping from their happy, beer-soaked dorm rooms into the doom and gloom of a global recession, I thought, dude, I do not envy him this task. How do you tell these kids to go forth, work hard, fear nothing, reach for the stars, be productive, yada yada yada, when everyone else in the world is wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth?

Friedman spoke well, as I'd expect, delivering grounded advice with wit and intelligence. He brought us all down a bit, of course, by indicting our parents' generation as Grasshoppers who simply consumed, consumed, consumed and destroyed the earth while destroying the economy. (I watched the Baby Boomers all around me squirm and fidget through this segment of the speech.) He then termed the graduates as the Re-generation: Those who will go forth and replenish, rebuild, and refocus the world. It was inspiring, I'll admit, to hear him advise them to use imagination and creativity and define success in their own ways.

But as I looked around, I couldn't help but wonder, is this really true? Is it really this era of graduates who will regenerate? Of course in some regards, yes. But don't you think that in the immediate future, it will be my generation -- Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980 -- who will be doing the real work?

As I see it, this global recession means that the Grasshoppers, all the while lamenting their lost retirement savings, have left (or are leaving) the workforce. But companies are not re-hiring a newer, fresher, just-out-of-college workers. Nope. Hiring freezes worldwide mean that the Re-generation may be spending more time in the Grasshoppers' basements then they'd originally intended. They may be volunteering their time and using their intellect and creativity to save the world's wretched (who last year were probably the world's upper middle class...oh, irony), but they will have a hard time moving into the existing spaces to make immediate change within the workforce.

So who do we have left? That's right, America -- the 30-somethings you poo-pooed 10 to 15 years ago when we graduated from college. I remember well the Time, Newsweek, and NYTimes articles that looked down their noses at those of us who came of age listening to Nirvana, playing Super Mario Bros., and watching Must See TV. Aren't we the ones who started the recycling movement? Didn't we yell at our peers in the dorm bathroom to turn off the water while they brushed their teeth? Didn't we marvel at the technology behind listservs in our lit classes, harness the power of the internet in our jobs, and teach our parents how to use e-mail and MS Word? And aren't we the ones doing the heavy lifting now?

I look at my own workplace as a prime example: In the last six months, as the shit really hit the fan, many of the Boomers went quietly into early retirement -- whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Many of these were our upper management folks, too. Because they mishandled the money and ran the joint into the ground, we can't hire new people to fill the gaps.

Yet at the same time, everyone's scrambling for new ideas, asking for revising and re-visioning of the old ideas, looking to those of us in the middle to take on new challenges to compensate for the decrease in workforce. We're all working our asses off to keep the place alive, yet getting no raises for at least another year, maybe two, maybe three. But we look around and think, yeah, I'll keep working hard because I know I'm fortunate to even have a job and I believe in the work that we do. Furthermore, I can't afford to not work my ass off because I have a house and family, so there's no alternative. This is a mindset similar to the Great Generation, no? Put your head down, work hard, remember your priorities.

I've always been annoyed by the moniker Generation X. As if we have no place, no defining qualities, no endearing characteristics. Well. That will change.