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Archive for the ‘Self Improvement’ Category

Yesterday we had a Parent Appreciation Luncheon at Carla’s school and I am still reeling from the experience.  Reeling may not be the right word. Perhaps “steeped in self pity” is more accurate, I’m not sure, I am destined to fail at all things including appropriate word choice.

At the top of the luncheon, all the kids in the entire grade got up and did a little song and dance routine. It was very cute. And then they got to usher us to our seats in the cafeteria and then we all ate lunch(eon) together. There was a lot of down time at the beginning while the teachers corralled all the kiddos and got them pointed in the right direction. Which meant that there was plenty of time for me to be SUPER socially awkward and inept and anxious about it.

Let’s just get one frustrating thing out of the way right up front, which is that my husband wasn’t able to make it to the luncheon. And yes, he’s on call, and yes, I’m sure there were single parents in the mix, and even in the case of two-parent households, I’m sure that other parents weren’t able to make it, and/or they have been at their jobs longer than my husband has been at his and feel more comfortable taking off in the middle of the day and/or have spouses who were more persistent about reminding them to find some way to take the time off, but it SEEMED like every child there had two parents except Carla, including two other physicians, which at baseline made me a) feel guilty and b) feel lonely. If my husband had been there, I could have at least talked exclusively to him, instead of sitting there mentally rending my garments as I tried desperately to gather the courage to go talk to someone.

While we were waiting for the kids to set up, I saw another mom that I have been friendly with in the past. If I’m being honest, I wish she were my best friend: she’s so lovely and put together and smart and friendly and kind. She started talking to me, which was nice. But then one of her friends came up to us, and the two of them started talking, and I started to panic. Was I supposed to join in the conversation, about things they have in common and about which I know nothing? Was I supposed to excuse myself and go… stand in a corner? I ended up doing neither, and just stood there silently with what I hoped was a calm, friendly, I’m-a-good-listener smile plastered on my face and nodded along with them. They were nice about it, making eye contact with me occasionally as though I were part of the conversation. It’s not like I was entirely mute; I tried to make interested-sounding noises even though I was much too panicked to focus on what they were saying. And then another friend of theirs came up and joined in and I just kept standing there, my anxiety flinging itself against the inside of my brain like a fish trying to escape its tank, and I tried to ask questions where I could – but they were obviously “I am making conversation” questions and not “I’m part of the conversation” questions, you know? – and tried to laugh and continue to make “I’m totally taking part in this discussion” noises. And the cafeteria was super hot and I started sweating and I became uncomfortably aware of the inside of my mouth and how my breath could not be great even though I definitely brushed and flossed before I came. And I didn’t know the other moms at all, or who their kids were, and – as is always the case anyway – I couldn’t figure out the rhythm of the conversation well enough to interject with a new subject or a related anecdote or a pertinent question. Not that I could properly follow along with the conversation anyway; as I mentioned before, I was too focused on all the THINGS going on in my head to focus on what they were saying.

Finally, a teacher called us to attention and we got to watch the kids’ little performance, which was a nice break. The ladies I’d been “talking with” drifted off to find their spouses and I stood by myself, clutching my sweater (why had I brought a sweater when clearly I’d entered one of the flaming hottest circles of hell???) and my purse and my desire to leave immediately and/or melt into the floor.

And then it was “luncheon” time, and once again I had to navigate the extreme horror of talking to a parent I don’t know that well. This time, across the table. Unfortunately, this parent was either as shy/uncomfortable as I am, or she had already written me off as no use to her. So my lame attempts at conversation were met with single word answers and apparent disinterest. You’d think this would be a good thing! Lets me off the hook, right? But instead, I kept trying to make lame small talk because I wanted her to like me. Obviously she wasn’t talking to me because she’d written me off as Not Worthy of Her Time, right? Okay, okay, so possibly she was having her own inner freak out about having to talk to me and fending off similar worries. Either way, I don’t hold it against her.

Fortunately, Carla was with me at this point, so I could direct most of my attention to her. But as we lunched, I was very aware of all the other parents in the room, laughing and chatting and having a great time. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who doesn’t like groups/crowds/forcible mingling. But it never FEELS like there are others. Instead, it feels like everyone else finds social interaction super easy, and, not only that, but fun, which I find incomprehensible. I long for “easy.” Fun is a pipe dream.

Finally, when I was able to escape, I ran into a couple of familiar couples on the way down the hall. They are all super nice and friendly, but they were in couples, and seemed to be talking to each other, and plus one of the women was the woman whose friend-group I’d horned in on earlier and she was almost certainly done with conversational babysitting, so I tried to smile and make nice friendly noises, but then I motored on past to leave the school and get in my car and go far far away. And as I was doing that, I was mentally chiding myself for avoiding them instead of trying to interact with them. You can’t make friends with people if you dart past them every time you see them! Friendships are not built on awkward smiles and waves and “have a great day”s tossed over your shoulder! (Why not, though?)

And I DO wish I were friends with more of the parents at Carla’s school. So many of them seem great! But the way you get to know people is by talking to them during these school events, and I get so flustered and self-conscious that I just can’t do it. It’s moderately okay one on one, but when there are two or more people, I stop being able to think. I have no idea how to join the flow of conversation. I have no idea what to say. I often walk past little clusters of moms in the hallway after drop off and wonder what in the hell are they talking about?!?! I have no clue, absolutely none.

And then I go home and feel horrible, as I did yesterday. And the bad feelings remain. I feel lonely and isolated, which are terrible feelings to begin with. But then I also feel culpable, because it’s my own fault I don’t have friends. It can’t be THAT hard! Other people do it all the time! There must be something wrong with me that I am always and forever on the outside.

Hence the pity party.

We have a big Parent Breakfast coming up, as part of the kids’ transition into kindergarten. (KINDERGARTEN. Let’s reserve that panic attack for another post.) So I anticipate more of the same sweaty awkwardness and wallflowering and self-loathing to follow in a few short days! Yay!

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A new market opened up in our neighborhood, so close that I can easily walk to it. Which I did, a few days ago. I can’t tell you (and probably shouldn’t; it’s embarrassing) (when has that ever stopped me before?) (carry on) how much… pride? No, that’s definitely not the word; happiness? Hmmm, not quite right either… I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I felt, braving the snowy day, trekking to the market to buy a bag full of fruit to bring home to my family like some sort of pioneer. Forget that my strawberries are packaged in plastic and that my avocados are really more of a fashion statement than a source of sustenance, at least these days (I use them to decorate my nachos.) and that absolutely ZERO of my day-to-day experience has any relation to pioneer life.

I don’t know WHY it should feel so satisfying. The snow was meager to begin with and in any case it had melted, if I’m being honest with you. And it’s not like I had to travel any real distance; I was disappointed to learn it was under 3,000 steps, according to my Fitbit, which I am beginning to suspect is a dirty dirty liar. And even though I felt very I Can Totally Survive without Modern Conveniences Like Transportation!, and I didn’t even use a credit card, I did have my phone on me. And I was wearing the aforementioned Fitbit, a device that would surely make Laura Ingalls Wilder sigh at the dissolution of societal values (we would keep the phone from her entirely; at least it has some utility in an emergency – I mean, what if another Kardashian gave birth?).

So it would have perhaps been even MORE satisfying if I’d gone outside and harvested the fruit from my very own fruit trees, which I’d planted and nurtured and tended to maturity. Or if the market had been a milliner and I had purchased a skein of wool out of which I produced clothing and linens for my entire family. (I’m not advocating woolen bed sheets; I simply like the word “skein.”)

The last time I clearly remember feeling this type of satisfaction was going on six years ago when I completed a minor repair on my new-to-me washing machine. The hot and cold water valves – if that’s even the correct term – were backwards; I switched them. I felt so pleased with myself after I’d made the repair. And I’d done it all with my father on the phone, walking me through the entire process; it’s not like I did it myself of even did any research.

It doesn’t take much to make me feel Laura Ingalls Wilderian, I guess is what I’m saying. And it’s a good feeling. A feeling of capability. Of ingenuity. Of I-Can-Deal-with-Whatever-Life-Throws-at-Me. A feeling I honestly wish I had more of (and, let’s be honest, more right to).

The very opposite of that feeling is sitting on the couch, watching a DVRed episode of Real Housewives of New York City while texting your horrified reactions to your friend in another state.

What an utter feeling of uselessness, watching in mute horror as a woman with countless piles of money asks an artist – whom she’d invited to bring some of his own artwork to her house so that she could choose which paintings should adorn her walls – to move furniture for her. And yet, I cannot look away!

I see that the winds of societal/televised decay have blown me off course.

Ahem.

For me, another feeling directly opposite to the Laura Ingalls Wilder glow of satisfied resourcefulness is taking your car to the service station. Which I have to do.

I need an oil change, and I want someone to look at the tread on my tires and tell me when I need to replace them, is the real reason. But my car is old and it tends to always need Additional Somethings whenever I go, and that’s frustrating. I don’t know anything about cars (my poor father; his life’s work – thwarted) (I mean, he TAUGHT ME how to change my own oil and I have forgotten/don’t want to) and so I always feel ornery and suspicious when the service station people tell me in their earnest, automotive-terminology-speckled way what’s wrong and what they recommend I should do.

Usually, I leave the service station with a very light wallet and a renewed vow to find a Basic Car Mechanics class and just learn! So that I can talk about cams and transmissions and axles and I have already exhausted my knowledge of car terms with the best of them! So that when they tell me what the problem is, I understand it! And can understand the solution! Or, better yet, I can anticipate a problem before I even take the car in!

Isn’t that a good idea? A way to better myself? To infuse a regularly uncomfortable situation with an ongoing sense of Laura Ingalls Wilderian competence and practicality?

The problem is that I am so bored by the car stuff.

Listen, it’s not inherently boring; it’s just that I personally have no interest in it, and the thought of spending any time at all learning about how my car works makes me want to crawl under the nearest vehicle and allow it to run over me. My father, who rebuilds cars, sends me lovely charming emails about his car-rebuilding adventures and I understand maybe every third word. And even though I love him and want to share in his car-rebuilding joy, my brain reacts as though he’s spoken in some long-forgotten language. Sometimes, in a fit of daughterly love, I ask him to expand on what he’s saying, because I genuinely wish I could be enthusiastic about something he finds such delight in. Sometimes, I get angry with myself at my complete lack of curiosity about the subject; this is something I know NOTHING about; shouldn’t I want to correct that????

But man, even those two, powerful motivating factors are not enough to make me turn off my RHONY and subscribe to Popular Mechanics.

Okay, I have spoken to my father and now have developed a compromise plan. I am going to order a new air filter for my car and change it myself. And then I plan to gloat over it. A lot.

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A few months ago, I asked for advice about kids’ books with an instructive element. I loved the comments on that post – they were so full of good ideas, and I have since requested many of your suggestions from the library.

THEN. After I published the post, I got an email from A Kind and Generous Person who just so happened to have an entire STACK of the Joy Berry books I fondly remember from my own childhood.

Her children had outgrown them, she said, and she was thinking about the best way to release them from her house. And would I want them?

WOULD I?!?!

She boxed them up and sent them to me, FOR FREE – AND DID NOT EVEN WANT ME TO COVER THE SHIPPING – and they now live in my daughter’s bedroom. (Can you even believe how KIND and GENEROUS and ALL-CAPS WONDERFUL that is?!?!)

Joy Berry Books 1

I get a little tingle of delight EVERY TIME I see this stack of books!

We have read them several times over. Carla was OBSESSED with them when they first arrived, so we read all 20 of them right away, two-at-a-time before naps or bedtime. And then she began asking for specific books. And now we work them in among the other, less-instructive books that crowd her bookcase.

The books, by the way, are as wonderful as I remember… PLUS they are better, because now I am the one trying to teach my own child certain concepts. And some concepts are HARD.

Joy Berry Books 4

The elephant is already very clear on the concept of disobedience.

Thank goodness for Joy Berry. She very clearly and simply lays out a term and what it means and then offers several clear, firm, no-nonsense examples, all accompanied by a cartoon that shows the concept in action.

Joy Berry Books 5

There’s always an animal along for comic relief/extra shaming.

Then she lists simple examples of what you should do and what you should not do in order to avoid the concept being taught.

Joy Berry Books 6

SO EASY to abstain from disobeying! Just follow the two steps! (Disclaimer: May not be quite as easy in practice as it seems in the book.)

It was such a wonderful, pleasing case of serendipity. That this Kind and Generous Person would not only have the Joy Berry books, and be done with them herself, and be looking to pass them on to someone else… but that she would also read my blog at the exact moment I posted about my longing for those very books.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me itch to pass along the kindness.

To that end, I happen to possess three books that a) I LOVE and b) I am no longer in need of and c) I would wholeheartedly recommend you buy anyway because they are soothing and easy to read and short. So I would like to give them away to you.

They are by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., and they are slim “guidebooks,” if you will, to the inner workings of a two- and three-year-old.

Louise Bates Ames

I have no idea why these are not ordered CORRECTLY. It is driving me batty (although apparently not so batty as to retake the photo), so let’s just quickly look away, shall we?

The two-year-old book and one of the three-year-old books are gently used. The other arrived from Amazon as a surprise extra, and Amazon – which apparently has more money than it knows what to do with – just shrugged its shoulders and said, “keep it.” So the book is fresh as the day it arrived, more than a year and a half ago.

The books follow the same basic structure, outlining the characteristics of a child of that age, techniques for dealing with a child of that age, accomplishments and abilities typical for the age range, how the child sees the world, etc. There are “real life stories” sections in the back of each, where parents give a brief description of some problem they are encountering and the author responds.

I like these books for their cheery and matter-of-fact tone, for the “help with routines” sections, for the books/toys suggestions at the back, and for the short lists of “things to avoid” when interacting with your child. Sample, from the book on two-year-olds: “Avoid any expectation that all daily routines will go smoothly.” Second sample, same book: “Avoid any questions that can be answered by ‘no.'” I don’t know why, but these simple suggestions give me the giggles. And have I mentioned that they are short and very easy to read? Some parenting books are so dense. Others are so wordy. These books are so quick. Of course, that also means that they don’t really cover anything in-depth. But as an overview of what to expect from your kid at a specific age, they are top notch.

If you (or a loved one) are in possession of a nearly two-, or three-year-old, and if you don’t already own these books, let me know in the comments if you would like a) Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender, b) Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy, or c) both. I will do some sort of random number drawing on Friday.

Oh! And whether you want a copy of the Louise Bates Ames books or not, I would love to know what your favorite instructive-type children’s book is… and/or your favorite/most useful parenting book.

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Well, the world seems about ready to spin off its axis entirely and every time I even so much as glance at the news I start hyperventilating, so let’s talk about MORE FRIVOLOUS STUFF.

At some point last spring, I decided I wanted to Mix It Up a little bit with my hair. For me, a person who avoids change at all costs, this meant asking my hair stylist to add a little red to my normal brown hair dye.

I think I was picturing something like Anna Kendrick’s hair… Dark, but with a reddish tinge…

(Photos, clockwise from Anna, from myhaircolors.net, pinterest.com, and ouchpress.com)

I liked the result okay. But it wasn’t anything like ANY of the above photos. It felt so BROWN. More like… Young Rory Gilmore. Or… Jennifer Garner without highlights. But… Less shiny.

(Photos, left to right, from worldhairextensions.com and allwomenstalk.com)

So I went back to her a few months later and told her that I wanted to change things up AGAIN.

“What was wrong with the last color?” she wanted to know. She was non-accusatory, not hurt in the least; she just wanted to know what the issue was so she could help avoid similar issues.

“It was just too… brown,” was all I could come up with. But she nodded like I’d been extremely explicit and detailed with my criticism and presented me a few alternatives.

She did so by putting together a little board of hair samples. A literal curl of hair in four different colors that I could choose from. The far left was my hair color of last fall. The far right was Really Red. The two center options were somewhere in the middle.

But here’s the kicker. She recommended one of the options. I can’t remember which, all I can remember is that she compared it to Hair of Last Fall and said something like, “This will go much better with your skin tone than what we used to do.”

I trust her and so we went with the option she’d recommended.

You see where this is going, no?

I do not like my current hair color. It’s fine. It’s not bad or anything. It’s closer, I guess, to Anna Kendrick Brownish Red. But it’s lighter than I like my hair to be, and it’s still too brown, and it’s different enough from my natural hair color (mouse brown interlaced with grey) that you can REALLY see the difference now that it’s growing out.

When my husband – who, bless his heart, doesn’t notice these things – not only agreed with my assessment that it was very clear my hair was in need of a color-update, but also said he’d noticed without my pointing it out, I made a hair appointment immediately.

But now I am fretting. I mean, it’s MILD fretting. Nothing on the level of School Stress or What If Writing a Book Is a Huge Waste of Everyone’s Time Worry. But I like to wring every last bit of anxiety out of every possible situation so here we go.

What I really want is to go back to my hair stylist and say, “Let’s go back to how it was last fall.”

Simple enough… Except that she has already expressed a preference for NOW vs. THEN.

It’s like when your friend breaks up with that kind of boring dude she’s been with for five years, and when she finally does it, you can’t help but say, “Oh, I’m so glad you aren’t with him anymore! He really wasn’t bringing out your inner sparkle!” And then a few months later she decides to get back together with him.

Only I’M the one who is getting back together with the dull boyfriend, you know? And my hair stylist is the one who has to reunite us.

I would almost rather find a NEW hair stylist. But it’s so hard to find a good one, and I really do like her, and she does do a good job, and I really like the way she cuts my hair. Plus, my husband goes to her, too. So if I quit, it seems like he would have to quit, too, just for the sake of awkwardness and I’m too tired to worry about any of this.

My husband helpfully discussed this with me (although I doubt he will engage in deeper or additional conversations on the topic) and agreed that a) my former darker hair color worked just fine with my skin tone and b) it was totally reasonable for me to have a different opinion from my hair stylist and c) I could very reasonably ask her to change the color back and all would be well.

But YOU understand my fretting, don’t you?

What if she does it, but clenches her teeth the whole time, so certain is she in the life-altering mistake I am making?

What if she does it, and then it turns out she is RIGHT and my skin tone is Totally Wrong for dark brown and I HATE IT?

What if I can’t think of any other disastrous outcomes?

In any event, I want to go from Reddish Brown to Dark, Glossy, Gorgeous Brown and completely avoid Just Plain Brown at all costs.

Maybe what I do is pretend that I am NOT going back to my old hair color… and ask for a NEW hair color?

Something like one of these?

(Photos, left to right, from pinterest.com, hairboutique.com, hairstyles123.com, and pinterest.com)

Yes!!

I could totally go in and say, “I want my hair to be a bit darker for fall. Let’s change it to Katie Holmes brown please.” And then see what happens.

Perhaps I will even bring her this photo as an example!

Hair dark brown 1

What do you think?

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First, Carla has begun referring to limes as “green lemons.”

Second, I don’t think you will be surprised to learn that I don’t adjust to change easily. I mean, not THAT many people are all “Woo hoo, change!! Let’s tilt the world on its axis just for the hell of it!” so I am probably not the anomaly here.

I like to think of myself as a loyal person – once I find something that works, I stick with it. I like to think of myself as adaptable and flexible; I don’t need things to be perfect all the time! I can work with non-perfect! Also, I like knowing what to expect. I like routine. I like to be able to depend on something. My aversion to change is why I stuck with my first job for seven years, even after it became clear that we were no longer as great a fit as I’d hoped. It’s why I’ve kept my same Honda for nearly 15 years, despite the fact that it needs increasingly expensive “fixes” to keep it in running condition. It’s why I have a hard time imagining ever moving out of this house, even though it’s a little small and even though I DESPISE our tile floors and even though I would LOVE to have an actual mud room.

My philosophy – because it’s always been that way – is that if we’ve always done something a certain way, there’s probably a good reason for it and therefore NO REASON TO CHANGE.

All of this to that I have a hard time accepting – despite my advanced age and extensive experience – that sometimes, changing something – ON PURPOSE – can make things BETTER and/or EASIER.

Example 1: When I was… ten, maybe? my mother gave me the occasional responsibility of cooking for the family. She got me a cookbook – Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual – that I loved and remember fondly. For my chosen meal, I always made spaghetti with meat sauce. I always made it the same way: brown a pound of ground beef, add diced onion, minced garlic, and diced carrot, add pasta sauce, add Hunt’s tomato sauce, add dried basil and oregano, add splash of Tabasco, cook until you can wait no longer. THAT was just The Way to Make Meat Sauce. There were no deviations.

Until I met my husband. And the first thing he helped me change was the (store bought, jarred) pasta sauce I used. I’d always used Prego; it was the brand my mother used, I was accustomed to it, it was just how it was done. But it had tomato chunks in it, and so I had to put it through the blender before I added it to the meat and veg. My husband pointed out that Ragu is completely smooth. So – with great trepidation – we made the switch. Instantly better and easier!

And then I admitted to him that I hate the carrots. I dislike cooked carrots as it is. Plus, they are super annoying to dice. And I ended up picking them out of the sauce every time we made the meat sauce. So my husband suggested that I just not add them. What?!?! But… carrots were an INTEGRAL PART of the sauce! What about the flavor profile?! What about tradition?!

I stopped adding the carrots. Instantly better and easier.

Example 2: When I started hosting Thanksgiving dinners, I bought a potato masher.

When the potato masher wasn’t in use (you know, 364 days a year), I would stow it in the Random Utensil Drawer. Do you have one of those? It’s not the silverware drawer, where you keep the forks and spoons and knives. No, it’s the drawer where you stuff all the other random things you use rarely or never: the lemon juicer, the grapefruit knife, the zester, there must be some non-citrus tools as well… oh yes! The whisks, the garlic press, the can opener, the pizza cutters, the offset spatula, the regular spatulas, the miniature spatula, so many spatulas. What the hell else is in there? There are WAY more things cluttering up my RUD. Who knows. Anyway. That’s where I kept the potato masher. It was very cranky and easily offended. I mean, if it got twisted at all, it would prevent the drawer from either opening or closing. Worst was when the drawer wouldn’t open. Then you’d have to stick your hand in as far as you could and try to maneuver things around in the drawer to see if you could get the masher to lie flat. It was very frustrating.

But that’s WHERE THE MASHER LIVED. Its home was in the RUD. That’s just how it was done.

When my mother came to stay with us after Carla was born, she noted that the masher was really irritating, and I agreed but sort of shrugged because what can you do, right? It’s just how it was.

My mother, bless her bravery, MOVED THE MASHER. She put it in the little bucket that holds all the tongs and the ladles and pancake turners etc. that lives on the counter near the stove. And lo, the RUD opened and closed, and lo, the sun continued to rise in the east and set in the west, and life was instantly better and easier.

 

I think about these lessons a lot. A lot a lot. Whenever something annoys me about the layout of my house or about how I’ve set up my cupboards, I think, “It doesn’t HAVE to be that way! I can CHANGE THINGS!” I haven’t actually made any changes, but I know that I CAN, should I choose to.

Like sometimes, I think about how great it would be if we could get rid of 85% of the cups on the top shelf of the cups cabinet. We use about 5% of the cups up there, and then there are 10% that we use on a very occasional basis. But the rest are just… sitting there, taking up space. I could get rid of them! Or move them into a box!

Or! Carla’s crafts (workbooks, sticker books, crayons, drawing paper, paint supplies, play-doh) live in two separate places: an armoire in our dining room and a curio cabinet in our kitchen. The armoire has some other things in it and the curio has a bunch of odds and ends in IT. I don’t know if those are the correct furniture names, but whatever. Sometimes I think about how I could totally consolidate ALL of Carla’s craft supplies into ONE of these furniture items! And either pack away, get rid of, or move the other odds and ends!

Even the prospect of changing things from the way they’ve always been is truly liberating.

Of course, the actual effecting change is not quite as simple. But still. LIBERATING.

 

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Not yet 10:00 a.m. and this is already one of those days where I am feeling like I am not a good parent and, in fact, never will be a good parent because I just don’t have What It Takes. Blah.

It was an early day today and we had a service person in our house which automatically makes things Extra Difficult. So right off the bat, we had two things working against us.

Carla’s ability to listen had completely vacated not only her body but the tri-state area and I was trying Very Hard to keep my voice upbeat and cheerful while also having to bodily remove her from the exact five inches that the service person needed to occupy. AND get her out the door to school.

So I lost my patience. Which is code for yelling at her. Which results in copious tears and the pervasive feeling that I Am Not Cut Out for This.

Listen, I fully believe that The Upper Arm Grab and The Mean Mommy Voice have their place in parenting. I mean, maybe they aren’t technically THE BEST EVER parenting, but they certainly aren’t BAD parenting. I recall my own mother using both on occasion (hmmm… perhaps I have to rethink my core belief that I’ve ALWAYS been a Rule Follower…) and I get it, that they are necessary and important tools to have in one’s parenting tool kit. Your child won’t stop kicking the back of someone’s seat in an airplane? Fine. Your child hits/spits on/kicks another person/creature/piece of non-sporting equipment? Yep. Your child wrenches away from you and starts running across a parking lot? DEFINITELY.

But this morning, I just don’t think they were the right tools for the job. Like using a hammer when what is really called for is a screwdriver. The sad fact is, I tend to reach for the hammer more often than I should. (We are all clear this is a metaphorical hammer, yes? Yes.) I don’t know if I even OWN a screwdriver. (Metaphorically.) I think I have a hammer and some needle nose pliers and okay I am abandoning this line of comparison now.

What I’m saying is, I certainly don’t enjoy using The Upper Arm Grab and The Mean Mommy Voice before eight in the morning. But, at least today, I don’t feel EQUIPPED to handle things otherwise.

I have a whole shelf of parenting books that I turn to on occasion, and some of them have legitimately good advice. But I usually end up crying my way through them, because they all seem to be saying, loudly and clearly and cheerfully, that I am doing it all wrong.

I struggle so much with how to get my particular wonderful child to acquiesce to my own needs. How to get her to listen and follow directions and get out the door on time and stop bothering the service people and get dressed when I ask you the first time and just eat your dinner already… without squelching all of the things that make her her – the independent spirit, the creativity, the effervescent joy, the desire to help, the capability to notice and take delight in everything from a line of ants in a crack on the sidewalk to the enormous tractor trailer on the road to the sliver of moon sailing along with us on our bike ride down the street.

And while I think I need to be less rigid about my needs, I also worry about the needs of others: her teachers, her classmates, her future employers, society at large. For her to be effective and un-intrusive and, let’s face it, safe in the world today and for her whole life, she has to learn how and when to suppress that urge to Do It Her Way. That’s part of my job – a big, huge, important part: teaching her how to be a constructive, productive, functioning member of society.

It just doesn’t feel like I’m doing any of it well.

 

 

One of the books I’ve found most useful is called Positive Parenting. It’s got some specific techniques and suggestions. And when I model those techniques, I see a real difference. But it is SO HARD. Being upbeat and using positive language and redirecting and offering choices – it’s exhausting. Sometimes I just need to get out the freaking door.

Of course, I recognize that this is MY failing. We don’t actually have a hard and fast time we need to be at school. She goes to preschool for Pete’s sake; if she’s 10 minutes late, no big. If I start writing 15 minutes later than I wanted to, the world won’t end. If Carla doesn’t put her own clothes on and I have to do it for her, the stars won’t drop out of the sky. If she wants to pick up 35 worms on the way into school and move them into the grass and then choose one special worm to use as a visual aid during the worm-saving lecture she issues to every single person who passes us, Earth won’t be sucked into a black hole and destroy us all.

It’s my stubbornness, my desire to be done with it already, my inner impatience to keep moving smoothly from one task to another that builds up inside me like a clogged pipe until Carla’s perfectly reasonable and even admirable insistence on buttoning her own coat somehow bursts the entire pipe and there’s filthy water everywhere.

And then tears.

 

 

 

I hope this doesn’t come across like I think poorly of Carla. I don’t. I am sure every mom thinks this, but my child is wonderful. She is a joy and a delight and I feel grateful every day that she’s here, that she’s my daughter, that I have the privilege of knowing her and snuggling her and watching her learn and grow. She is loving and bright and fun and energetic and inquisitive and all sorts of wonderful things.

She’s also three and a half, behaving as a three-and-a-half-year-old does. I mean, I am all for having high expectations of your child, but sometimes I wonder if the problem is that I expect too much.

 

 

 

What I am going to say next, well. Let me start by saying that I get it. Yelling happens. If you told me that you yell at your kid/s on occasion, I would hug you and buy you some coffee so we could discuss just what led to the yelling and how deeply I empathize it.

But I HATE yelling. Hate it. It makes me feel out of control and mean and unsuited for being in charge of a small human.

It’s one of those paradoxes, I guess, wherein I would never think those things of YOU, if you yelled at your child occasionally. But I know how angry I feel, when I get to that point of yelling. And it scares me. And it… makes me feel out of control and mean and unsuited for being in charge of a small human.

When I do actually yell – which, as I noted, I hate hate hate, but which I nonetheless do, much more frequently than I want to – I apologize. I let her know yelling isn’t okay. That it’s something I have to work on – that I am working on it. That even though she isn’t behaving in a way that she should, she doesn’t deserve to be yelled at. She and I talk through things I could have done differently, to express my feelings in a more productive way.

I hope this sort of conversational break-down of the yelling helps. Helps her deal with the shock of being yelled at. Helps her learn how to prevent her own outbursts.

But I also know that my actions are way more important than my words.

Today, after the tears had dried, I told her I was sorry. I told her I lost my temper. It wasn’t okay. I told her I was frustrated, because I like to be on time. I told her that it was okay to be frustrated, but that yelling about it wasn’t.

Then – and probably this isn’t the right way to handle things, but I did it – I told her that even though she is a big girl and wants to be able to make her own choices and do things her way, she still has to listen. She still has to follow directions. When mommy and daddy and her teachers need her to do something, she has to do it. She is only three and a half, and that’s just part of being three and a half. And, in fact, she will have to listen to mommy and daddy and her teachers for a long time. Probably until she is eighteen.

Carla has no concept of what that means – being eighteen.

But oh Internet. More than fourteen more years of this? Will I ever get the hang of it? Am I just temperamentally unsuited to being a parent? How oh how can I work around my personality flaws so that I don’t scar Carla for life? Or, worse, so that I don’t turn her into me?

 

 

I don’t know if I can handle any more parenting book recommendations, although I suppose I should do MORE reading of parenting books rather than avoiding them. But if you have any techniques or ideas or… anything. Well, I would welcome it all.

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I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on.

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. MORE SCOWLING.

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Being able to write every day most days.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2017 goes a hell of a lot better than we fear!

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