How is wifi like an epidural? (Habit Experiment Check-In, Week 3)

When I was pregnant with my daughter I would think about my desire to birth without pain medication and couldn’t figure out why so many women had trouble refusing it. The way I envisioned it, the hospital staff would say, “Do you want an epidural?” and I would say, “No, thank you.”

In retrospect, I was a bit naive. I figured this out myself during eight hours confined to a hospital bed with an ever-increasing pitocin drip.

It was way easier to avoid pain meds when I birthed my second child at home where there wasn’t an anaesthesiologist on call. (Replacing the pitocin with a big birth tub also helped.)

Sure, avoiding the internet isn’t really in the same ballpark as avoiding an epidural, but there are similarities. Just as it was easier to avoid pain meds when they weren’t available, it was much easier to avoid the internet when we were spending each day in Boston and didn’t have access to it. (Replacing grammar lessons with carousel rides also helped.)

At home, I lose all resolve. The laptop sits there, beckoning me. “Come on over, Charity,” it says. “You can just look for a few minutes while the kids are occupied. See what your West Coast friends are up to. Click on a link or two. You can totally read that incendiary post and ignore the comments.”

Really, it’s not the laptop’s fault. People tell me that all I need is a little self-control, and I admit, they are totally right (and also kind of jerks). I actually have a fair amount of self-control, it’s just not limitless. I can’t have a bag of potato chips in the house without consuming the whole damned thing, and maybe I can’t have an internet connection without losing myself in it.

I either need to unplug the wifi, or I need to find the secret to ignoring my yen for looking at pictures of the babies of people I’ve never met and finding out what my “old person” name should be (it’s Gladys, in case you were wondering).

Maybe the secret is replacing the habit with something else. Maybe a lap around the house or a glass of water or ten jumping jacks. Maybe I should get myself a birth tub and take a dip every time I feel like refreshing my e-mail unnecessarily.

I’ll figure something out. Maybe next week.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Sisters Book Club: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The Weird Sisters
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Weird Sisters was the July selection of the Sisters Book Club. To join our online discussion of this and future books—including our August book, Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China—join our Goodreads group.


 

There are some minor spoilers here, so if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, you might want to read the book before reading this review.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with this book.

Some things that bothered me:

-It seemed like they all sort of got free passes on the mistakes they made, and I found that irritating and unrealistic. Embezzlement is easy and fun and carries only the most intangible of consequences. And who just walks into a place and gets offered a job? Apparently 100% of the Andreas sisters do (and still they don’t stop whining).

-The fact-checking problems annoyed me. Robins aren’t cavity nesters so they don’t live in birdhouses (ch. 12), you don’t knead gingerbread (ch. 22), and I found the progression of the pregnancy to be dramatically accelerated. Oh, and Rose lost 12 pounds in the first two weeks of college because she only ate in her dorm room, in the campus hangout, or in town (ch. 15)? Yep, I don’t buy that one. I lost 15 pounds in two months, but that was on a strict elimination diet. I don’t think burgers at the Student Union would have had the same effect unless the meat was tainted with E. coli. Continue reading

A Dinner Invitation to “Weird Al” Yankovic

Dear Mr. Yankovic,

Your new CD, Mandatory Fun, arrived on my doorstep this afternoon. I knew the UPS guy rang the doorbell even though we didn’t hear it because the power was out because I did like I always do and hid around the corner and watched him through the window.

After the power was back on, my spouse and I put the album on while we made dinner, and I want to commend you on another album the whole family can enjoy.

My spouse loves “Lame Claim to Fame,” and I think he should play “Sports Song” next time he gets together with his brothers for a University of Michigan football game. My nine-year-old loves Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and I was looking forward to hearing her opinion on your “Inactive.” She liked it, but she observed that it “is kind of a sad song, when you think about it, Mom.”

My four-year-old made us put down the liner notes and all hold hands and dance around in a circle in the middle of the kitchen.

We like all of the songs on the album (except for “Jackson Park Express” because it’s just a little creepy and kind of long for our short attention spans), but I think our family favorite is “Word Crimes.” I love it because I’m a grammar pedant from way back. My daughter loves it because she loves diagramming sentences. My spouse loves it because he’s always on everyone’s case about “less” and “fewer.” And my son loves it because…well, he likes pretty much any song because he likes to show off his mad dancing skills (or is it “skillz”?), so perhaps you shouldn’t put too much stock in his adulation.

While we were all dancing around the kitchen, I thought back to the days when my mom would put Dare to Be Stupid on the tape deck in our 1983 Volvo station wagon and we (Mom, sister, brother, and I) would all sing along.

I thought back to my spouse’s and my courtship in the late 90′s when I tried to patch up a huge gap in his education by serenading him with “I Want a New Duck” and “Yoda.”

I thought of all of the times we’ve told our kids, “Look, kids! It’s Spatula City!” They’ve heard it often enough, even the four-year-old doesn’t respond anymore.

And then I thought about this past week when my kids and I were stuffed into a rush-hour green line train car on the T in Boston and I barely suppressed the urge to belt out, “Another One Rides the Bus.” (The only thing that stopped me was that there was already a guy yelling “fire,” and I thought another crazy person making noise wouldn’t have been welcome.)

“You know,” I said to my spouse, “I would so love it if Weird Al came to our house for dinner.”

I blogged about this a couple of years ago, about how my dream dinner party would be you and the Dalai Lama, and that I would have no problem finding something really yummy to make because I have lots of experience with vegetarian cooking (I’m a near-vegan myself), but neither you nor the Dalai Lama ever responded, perhaps because I never directly invited either of you.

My spouse said I should write you a letter, but I’ve not yet perfected my Palmerian handwriting and it’s just easier to invite you via blog post.

So, please consider this an invitation. I can make my awesome vegan lasagna, and we can have homemade vegan ice cream for dessert. Between courses we can play bocce in our back yard. We usually eat pretty early, so you’d have plenty of time to do something else afterward, if you wanted to. I know of at least two public places nearby where there are its/it’s errors that need correcting.

If you’d like, we have an ongoing Saturday Salon at our house at which each person shows up with a poem, song, book, or Big Idea they want to talk about. We all just chat for two hours and then go our separate ways, but you’d be welcome to stay for dinner afterwards.

So, you know, if you and your family are ever in central Massachusetts, drop me a line. We’d be glad to have you over.

In the meantime, thanks for releasing albums three generations of my family can enjoy together.

Sincerely,

Charity

 

Car Light in Boston

Monday through Thursday this week, my kids and I drove the 20 minutes to the commuter rail station and then took the train into Boston, where we spent the morning riding swan boats, playing on playgrounds, sketching artwork in the MFA, and measuring our ears at the Museum of Science. After lunch, we headed to my son’s ballet class and then took the train back to the middle part of the state, getting home in time for dinner.

The carousel on Boston Common

The carousel on Boston Common

The upshot:

We had a blast.

By the fourth day, my kids both had a decent mental map of the portions of the T that run south of the Charles River. I estimate that we walked about five miles each day in the July heat, and my amazing children kept up with a minimum of complaining. They returned home worn but excited to share their adventures with their dad.

The kids loved the dance class and the museum visits and the Frog Pond on Boston Common, but each day they would spontaneously proclaim, “I LOVE public transit!” Which is good because we spent a lot of time traveling.

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Which was more fun: Riding the train to the Museum of Science or actually playing at the Museum of Science?

From our house to our Boston destination each morning, it took about 2.5 hours (20 minutes driving to the commuter rail station, an hour or more on the train to Boston, then an hour on the subway to wherever it was we were heading). It took about an hour to get to dance class from our morning activities, 45 minutes to get from dance to the train station, and then an hour and a half until we got back home. And that’s on the days the rail system ran smoothly and on time.

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Parking at the commuter rail station was $4.

It was also pretty spendy. For four days, it cost us just about $100 just for train and subway fares. And the kids both ride for free. But really, it would have been at least that much in gas, tolls, and parking if we’d driven, so the expense doesn’t bother me that much.

So my kids and I love public transit, but what is it we love, exactly?

1. Together time. It’s great to sit on the train and read or talk and interact with each other instead of navigating traffic. My daughter loved that she could read on the train and not get a stomachache. My son loved that he could sit on my lap for an hour while I read his Ladybug and Ranger Rick magazines to him.

2. Novelty. There’s something magical about climbing into a hole in the sidewalk and finding a train down there that will take us all over the city via a simple, colorful map. I wasn’t too keen on how often I found my four-year-old licking the metal railings, but by Thursday that novelty had worn off, thankfully.

3. Friendly people. Public transit seems to bring out the best in Bostonians. In their cars, they range from unpleasant to hostile, but on the subway, they’re practically magnanimous. Every time we got on a train, someone would stand up and offer my children a seat. When my kids squirmed and knocked into the strangers on either side of them, I would apologize and would inevitably be greeted with an understanding smile. When my son dropped his dinosaur book, the man across the train retrieved it and handed it back. One conductor on the commuter rail called my son “little man” and another gave my kids “tickets” he’d then come back and check for later. My son kept his safely in his pocket, and checked for it before we boarded each train.

4. Self-righteousness. For part of our commuter rail journey, the train runs parallel to the highway, and each day I would look out the window at the cars and think, “Those poor bastards.” And each afternoon when the mom across from me in the dance class waiting area said, “Of course, you drove today, didn’t you?” I sat a little taller when I said, “Nope. Why would we?” (I’m not particularly proud of this one, but I have to admit that it’s probably part of what I liked about taking public transit. I feel so self-sufficient getting from A to B without my car, and it makes me a little smug.)

It’s been a bit of a letdown to return to suburbia where we can get hardly anywhere (safely) without taking the car. There are good things about living out here—we’re close to berry picking and cool hikes and we get to see spotted turtles and foxes on our morning walks around the neighborhood—but it’s tough to see an alternate way of getting around and know I can’t access it in my daily life. It’s triggered another round of Salt Lake City nostalgia.

Each day since our adventure, my son has asked, “Mommy, when are we going to Boston again?”

I’m not sure when we’ll get back, but I’m happy to know that when we do, it’s possible that the journey will be as rewarding as the destination.

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Not only was this a great way to avoid the internet this week, it was great practice for September’s habit.

Evading the Still, Small Voice Within

This first week of mindful internet use has been moderately enlightening.

Some of my insights so far:

- When I was away from my computer, I didn’t feel a pull to check my e-mail and social media. I assumed that I would still feel the desire even though I have no internet-enabled mobile devices, but that wasn’t the case (at least not for this week).

- According to the log I kept, I felt compelled to hit refresh mainly in two situations: when I felt bored and when I felt frustrated (or otherwise emotionally charged).

- I felt a huge pull to hit refresh in the hours after I published a blog post or put something on Facebook; I just really wanted to see if people “liked” what I had to say. This one was not a surprise.

The biggest surprise this week was how strong the pull was. The strength of the compulsion was reminiscent of my long-ago days of quitting smoking; I had no idea the pull to hit refresh was anywhere near as strong as the jones for a cigarette.

Most times the compulsion faded by the time I got done logging it in my notebook. Sometimes when it still lingered I would find something else to occupy myself—I’d pick up a book or start some laundry or write out some Latin vocabulary flash cards. I also found myself digging into the peanut butter jar with a spoon rather more frequently than usual.

When distracting myself didn’t work, I tried to just be still and quiet, and that’s when I noticed the fear underlying the compulsion.

Each time I felt compelled to open my laptop, I was looking to escape. I was looking to escape my kids or my emotional discomfort. I was looking to escape my own thoughts and feelings.

It was when I was quiet that I felt this most distinctly. I didn’t want to journal. I didn’t want to be quiet. I just wanted to get away from whatever it was that was trying to bubble up in my mind.

In her book Writing to Wake the Soul, Karen Hering writes:

“Each time we turn to our email inbox or our smartphones for the next newsfeed or text message, we are tuning out and turning away from our inner voice and the conversations we might have with it.”

Feeling bored when I’m with my kids is one of my most persistent mothering fears. It’s been present since before my daughter was born. For some reason, I’ve always associated feeling bored with my kids as a sign that I’m not suited to the life of intensive parenting that I’ve chosen.

This thought is not logical, but knowing that doesn’t make it go away. I can’t think my way out of it, so when I feel it, I try to escape it. Same with the frustration and other strong emotions. There’s this sense that there is something else under the surface, and I feel nervous that if I let that thing up, it’s going to reveal something that is going to necessitate some change that I don’t really want to make.

What’s strange is that I don’t really think there’s a huge, earth-shattering revelation there. I have a feeling that the biggest revelation would be that I could feel bored, frustrated, or otherwise upset and I could be okay just feeling that way. I’m not sure why that’s so scary, but it is. And so I turn to the internet as a very convenient way to avoid feeling that fear.

It’s been funny this week to watch myself do things to avoid feeling the compulsion to hit refresh. Usually I’m fighting tooth and nail for “alone time” on the weekends, which means enjoying a quiet house while my spouse and kids galavant. This weekend, however, I was tagging along with the rest of my family on all of their outings. I watched three movies, including my first theater movie since before we left Utah more than three years ago. I started going to bed earlier (not super-early, but by 10:30 most nights).

And for this week, I have the kids’ and my schedule packed with adventures away from the house. I am so excited to be with them without my laptop looming in the corner! I know it’s only postponing the inevitable—I have to come home sometime, and I expect my compulsion will be waiting for me when I get here.

But maybe after a break I’ll feel a little more ready to hear what that small voice has to say.

Smashing Assumptions

Flute PracticeMy children’s flute teacher retired from teaching last month, and the process of finding a new flute teacher has been fraught. Their relationship with their teacher was so close, the thought of replacing her feels wrong, like we’re reducing our relationship to the mere pragmatics of finding someone to teach the mechanics of playing the flute when it was so much more.

“It’s like trying to find a new brother, or another parent,” my daughter says.

My son is reluctantly willing to play for prospective teachers, but insists he doesn’t want anyone but the teacher he’s known since he was eighteen months old to teach him.

The depth of my children’s connection doesn’t particularly surprise me, but the lessons I’m learning from this process are not the ones I expected. My daughter is quite advanced in her flute playing, so we’ve been focusing primarily on the obvious hard-hitters of the eastern Massachusetts flute scene, which are numerous but often a significant distance from where we live.

During this process, I learned that a fellow homeschooling mom is a piano and flute teacher, and she teaches right here in town. After I spoke with her, I decided we’d consider her for flute for my son or piano for both kids, but I thought she wasn’t high enough caliber to be my daughter’s flute teacher. This might be true, but when I went over my reasons for this assumption, I was really surprised with myself.

Here was a teacher with similar credentials, experience, and mentors as the other teachers we’re interviewing, but I put her at the bottom of the stack because she’s a homeschooling mom.

Like me.

That was a shock. It’s quite possible that this teacher will not be a match for my daughter, but I shouldn’t dismiss her because she’s a mother and a homeschooler. Here I am spending conscious effort every day to change the negative perceptions people have of stay-at-home parents, and I’m applying the same stereotypes I’m trying to fight.

I’m trying to see how positive it is that I even recognized this latent assumption and how it colors how I perceive other women, but at the moment, I’m just ashamed and very, very sad.

What does this say about how I think of myself? Why am I engaging in such self-defeating thinking? I’ve internalized the messages of our culture, that by choosing to focus on motherhood and put career well down on my list of priorities, I’ve relinquished my claim on any expertise I might have. What would the nineteen-year-old me sitting and steaming in Women’s Studies classes think?

How many times have I dismissed fellow mothers and not even realized it? How many other assumptions and biases influence my perceptions every day?

I’m trying—trying—to feel hopeful that this awareness will help me get better at seeing people for who they are in the future, instead of blindly following my biases. I’m starting by scheduling trial flute lessons for my daughter with the homeschooling mom flute teacher. If she’s not a match, she’s not a match, but I won’t be writing her off simply because she’s chosen a path similar to mine.

Bookends: June 2014

The first day of each month, I’m posting a summary of what I read the previous month and what I plan to read in the coming month. I would love if this could become a conversation in the comments about what’s on your reading list, too!

Major accomplishment for June: I finished Middlemarch!

The rest is just icing on the cake.

July marks the beginning of my Habit Experiment and includes some summer fun, so hopefully I’ll still be able to find ample time to read. And perhaps eat some cake and icing.

Oh, and Sisters Book Club is reading The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown for July. Visit our Goodreads Group to join the discussion!

Books I read in June:

Continue reading

Introducing: The Habit Experiment

I love routines. I thrive on routines. I could never leave the house without routines.

I also have a lot of trouble developing routines.

Every day, I think, “If only I could make X a habit*, things would be so much easier. I’d have less stress, more energy, and just in general feel happier and more relaxed.”

This is what I tell myself, but is it really true? I don’t know because the first hurdle on the road to habit acquisition is so high, I rarely actually follow through, and if I do, I don’t follow through well enough to form a habit.

So, I’ve decided to change that.

Continue reading

Sisters Book Club: The Sibling Effect by Jeffrey Kluger

The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us by Jeffrey Kluger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Sibling Effect was the June selection of the Sisters Book Club. Visit our Goodreads Group and join Sisters Book Club for our July read, The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown!

The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About UsThe Sibling Effect begins with Kluger’s personal observations of his relationship with his three brothers, and then Kluger tries to explain what he’s observed using the relatively small and often contradictory research available about sibling relationships. The book would have worked better if he’d just picked one or the other, and probably would have worked best if he’d just chosen to make it a memoir and dropped the pretense of science entirely. Continue reading