Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The decider.

Bill's mom was in Nashville for the past week or so and we were beyond thrilled to have her here. It had been WAY too long since we had seen her and even longer since she'd been in our home.

The boys were so excited to show her all the things that have changed since her last visit. Especially Finn. Because holy smokes has this kid grown! He's in a big boy bed, and wearing underpants, and  ordering from a menu at the Cracker Barrel (Grandmama's fave) and then just eating his lunch like it's no big whoop (if you've ever eaten a meal with Liam, this alone will blow your mind). He's so independent and capable and...impressive.

He's really growing up!

But without all the fanfare that I'm used to, most of his milestones have gone somewhat unappreciated. Not unnoticed by any means but certainly un-written about. And since this blog is as much our family's memory keeper as anything else, it makes me sad that he doesn't show up here more often.

With Liam, each milestone was a shared accomplishment. We were potty training. We were transitioning to a big boy bed. We finally tried a bite of pizza... Even now there's occasionally a little bribery or cajoling to get him to try something new.

But not Finn.

Finn's the decider. Once he's ready to do something, it's done. He doesn't have to think about it a whole lot or try and fail a hundred times before he gets it right (although he seems perfectly fine with failure, which is awesome). He just kind of does things, on his own, preferably without a lot of grown-up interference.

In fact, if I do try to teach him something or help him when he doesn't want help, he just digs in his heels and refuses to learn. I have to let him come to things on his own in his own time. You can't out-stubborn the decider. (Trust me...)

The best thing about this is that he gets to own every single thing he accomplishes. Every milestone is his success. Not mine. Not ours. HIS. It's very empowering. I think it's why he's got so much swagger...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Innies and outies.

I never understood the whole introvert/extrovert thing until a few years ago when I heard it described in a way that totally made sense. It was in a article about parenting, of course, because almost everything important I've learned in my life has come from trying to be a good mom...

Anyway. Before the article it didn't make sense to me because I didn't seem to fit 100% into either category. At first glance I was definitely an introvert. I love alone time, suck at small talk and could likely go a day or two without talking and not even notice. But when I am around others? I love it. Not always, of course. But when I do, I really do. I plan dinners and play dates every week and we always have friends and neighbors around. How could I be an introvert if I loved being with people so much?

As I learned from my "Raising Your Introvert or Extrovert" article, it's because these terms don't have anything to do with what you enjoy but rather what gives you energy. Being an introvert doesn't mean you don't like to be around people, it simply means that the company of others is draining. Maybe even subconsciously. An introvert needs to refuel by spending time alone. And if you're an extrovert? Too much alone time wears you out. Extroverts draw energy from interaction.

This made so much sense to me I couldn't believe it. I wanted to tattoo it to my forehead. I'm an introvert! I like you but you're sucking my will to live! Bill was understandably less enthusiastic. (Oh, extroverts...) He couldn't understand why I was so excited to cling to a label. To stick myself in one box or the other. Why can't you just be who you are?

But that was exactly it. Understanding what it meant to be an introvert made me feel like I COULD be who I was. Only now I didn't have to feel bad about it.

Wanting to retreat from people you love (especially when they are extroverts who probably don't understand why you're not loving all the time together), is sort of an awful feeling. You assume there must be something wrong with you or the person you're pulling away from or the relationship, otherwise, why would you want to get away? Why wouldn't you be loving all the time together?

I wouldn't be surprised if undiagnosed introversion (ha!) has caused a lot of divorces. Because in the movies, when people find THE ONE, there's nothing at all that can keep them apart. As the screen fades to black, they are together. Because that's what true love looks like. Right?! True love doesn't take long baths alone to get a little peace and quiet. True love washes each other's hair in a field of wild flowers!

(Oh, Hollywood...)

True love is whatever it is for the two people involved. Every relationship is. So when one of the people in the relationship needs alone time to recharge, the other person can't take it personally. Of course, knowing this and trying to explain it are two completely different things. Even explaining it to myself doesn't come as easily as one might think.

I'm constantly trying to override my need for alone time. Because at this stage in my life, there is precious little of it. I'm almost always around my kids or my husband (two of which are extroverts) and while they definitely take longer to sap my energy than others (they're sort of like appendages at this point), I can't ignore the fact that WE ARE ALWAYS TOGETHER.

I regularly forget how important it is for me to recharge by myself. Instead of just sending myself to my room for a few hours every now and then, I wait until I'm so exhausted that I assume there must be something seriously wrong with me. Do I have a hormonal imbalance? An iron deficiency? Could it be...cancer?! Why else could I sleep for 12 hours and still spend most of the next day fighting off yawns?

This past weekend was one of those times. We took the kids to see a Sounds baseball game which, I have to say, is one of the most fun things you can do on a not-too-hot summer night in Nashville. Liam (my introvert) wrote SOUNDS on his chest like the guys he's seen at football games and spent most of the second half flashing his belly, running up and down the bleachers and just generally having the time of his life. He even ran the bases after the game. Twice! Barefoot!

Finn (my extrovert) spent a good chunk of the evening on my lap, asking if we could go home (so glad I read that article because introverts and extroverts can be very misleading!).

But he stuck it out all nine innings which was great because the fireworks after the game were honestly some of the best I have ever seen. And they were right on top of us! We were completely blown away.

It was a perfect night and I loved every minute of it.

But I guess I was being really quiet (and yawning a lot...) because Bill kept asking me what was wrong (one of my pet peeves). I promised him nothing was wrong (nothing was wrong!) but he could obviously see something that I couldn't. He finally decided my problem was I needed more gusto. You should jump out of bed in the morning, excited to start the day! 

I told him I am excited to start the day. At least, I think I am... But there's nothing like someone pointing out something that might be wrong to make you give yourself a once-over. Was I lacking gusto? I guess maybe I was. But why? I started trying to figure myself out, sorting through all the things I think and feel, hoping there would be a major red flag. Of course, I had completely forgotten about the whole introvert thing and about how, aside from the 40 minutes I steal now and then to fold laundry and watch Friday Night Lights (my new favorite show...I looove it!), I couldn't remember the last time I had really been alone.

Fortunately, the next morning after trying to explain why I might be so exhausted, I stumbled upon this cartoon about introverts and it was like the smack on the forehead I was looking for. I'm not exhausted, just completely out of juice! I need to recharge. Alone. Immediately!! I shared the comic with Bill and hoped that it would make more sense than me yawning and saying, "I don't know why I'm so tired...I do like hanging out with you...I have gusto...I promise!"

What about your family? Are you introverts? Extroverts? Or a little of both like us? How do you make sure the extroverts get filled up without completely draining the introverts? I would honestly love to hear from you - I find this subject fascinating (and striking a balance is so challenging for me!).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Best laid plans.

The other day I noticed we had some potato chips left over from 4th of July. Now I'm not exactly a stickler when it comes to food - we're pizza lovers who can be swayed by a persistent child with a sweet tooth - but potato chips rarely make it into our home. Why? Because all they are is yummy junk. Right? I can't think of a single redeeming quality and yet, if they're here, we're going to eat them.

I knew we had to get rid of them immediately and the best way to do that would be with a picnic and a peanut butter sandwich. There's just something so nostalgic and summery about pulling a PB&J out of a cooler and stuffing it with potato chips (after brushing the sand off your hands, of course). (Not sure if this is a universal pleasure or just something I picked up from a friend's mom a million years ago at Lake Tahoe...) It's weird and satisfying and something that doesn't make any sense at all unless you're sitting on a beach.

Our day had practically planned itself.

Only once I packed the cooler and the beach bag and the car and got everyone sunscreened and swimsuited and into the car (always takes at least an hour longer than I expect it to...) and we drove across town to our favorite lake beach (Anderson Beach at Percy Priest Lake) which ALSO took longer than usual because there was some road work being done and a detour, we were super sad to find it wasn't open.

The sign said it was closed for the winter season but I'm guessing they just didn't have a, "Too Much Rain Makes Beaches Go Bye-Bye," sign on hand. (It rained allllll of 4th of July weekend except for about an hour and a half when we got to go down to the park to watch the fireworks. We still swam and grilled out and had a great time but it was much soggier than usual...)

Whatever the reason, the beach was closed. And the natives were getting restless. You can only say, "We're almost there!" so many times before children start to believe WE'RE ALMOST THERE. They were ready for the beach! And the picnic! And to NOT be in the car any more!

Especially Liam who had tried to find Finn a snack in the cooler but couldn't because all that looking down and rummaging made him feel carsick.

We needed a Plan B STAT.

I found a couple other public areas at the lake that looked promising to me but they boys weren't having it. They wanted sand, dammit! It was almost funny how picky they were being. We stopped places that were too grassy. Too sunny. Too...campy. When we finally settled on a spot to get out and eat it had too many butterflies which (who knew?) both boys found TERRIFYING.

We still ate our chip sandwiches, but without the super hunger you get from a good swim and sand between our fingers, it just wasn't the same. Plus, there were those butterflies circling around us like vultures so Liam and Finn both had to be ON MY PERSON at all times.

Not exactly the moment I was going for.

But that's life, right? Plans and expectations are one thing, reality is quite another. If you can't figure out how to roll with it, you're likely to get rolled over. I knew we had a choice to make. We could wallow in disappointment, chalk it up as a failure and head home, or use the momentum that got us out of the house in the first place to just keep going and see what happened.

We chose option 3.

There was no sense in staying at the lake as no one but me was having fun. That's a lie. I wasn't having fun either. I like to think I was because being outdoorsy is something I'd like to be, but I'm selective outdoorsy at best. I like pristine conditions. A sandy beach. A beautiful view. A picnic with no one sitting on top of me.

So we got the hell out of there and went to the pool.

And after we were all pooled out, we picked up Bill and went to Mexican food.

And then I surprised everyone by taking us to Love Circle to watch the sunset. (They were like, "Where's the surprise?!" I was like, "Uhh, this is the surprise..." I guess they were hoping for ice cream?)

It wasn't at all how I had pictured our day but in a way it was better. Because they day it turned into was a day I had never pictured at all. It just sort of happened, like life often does, and we got to go along for the ride. Turned out to be a beautiful, perfectly imperfect day.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

No Mommy Brain, the explanation.

Happy 4th of July, everyone! Today one of my posts ran in The Tennessean which means the first thing I saw this morning when I checked my email was a not-so-positive response from a newspaper reader.

This is a fairly common occurrence but still catches me by surprise. I very rarely get comments on my blog (not a complaint, just a fact) so to get a response from a complete stranger (blog readers kind of know me; Tennessean readers may be reading my stuff for the very first time) who went out of her way to find my email address and write a rebuttal to something I've blogged about seems very bizarre. And I say "her" and "rebuttal" because so far it's always been another mother reaching out to make sure I know I'm doing it wrong.

I usually don't respond because, well, why would I? I just move on and try not to take it personally. Which isn't really that hard. I mean, they don't even know me.

But today I got an email that really struck a chord. It wasn't what I had written that had offended this reader (see today's column here), but what I choose to call my blog. She found the handle "no mommy brain" insulting, like I was insinuating that to be a mother is to have a brain made of mush.

This could not be farther from the truth.

So, I responded. Before I hit send, I read it out loud to Bill to make sure I wasn't being a jerk or engaging in something I shouldn't. As I was reading I started to cry. I'm not even sure I knew how close this was to my heart.

Afterwards I wondered why I had never shared this on my blog. Here I was, typing away on my tiny little iPhone keypad, trying to explain something so personal to a total stranger, and yet I've never shared it with my real readers. You guys are my people. You deserve to know what I mean by no mommy brain...

Then again, you probably figured it out years ago.

Anyway, here's what I said:

I don't usually respond to emails like this as I find that there is little reason to engage with someone who is going out of their way to attack a stranger. BUT, I want to clarify for you what I mean by "mommy brain".

Like you, I have always wanted to be a mother. Not a working mother; a stay-at-home, full time, DIY mother. I see it as the greatest job in the world. Something that needs absolutely no justification whatsoever.

But it is not the type of job that lasts forever. I mean, yes, I will ALWAYS be a mother but not in the active, 24/7 role I'm in right now.

When my sister and I grew up and moved out of our parents home (an inevitable step to be celebrated like any other milestone...), our mom was devastated. It was as if we were taking her identity with us as we left. It was an incredible amount of pressure to put on us, in my opinion, and I hated the guilt I felt for simply growing up. It drove a wedge between us, put my mom into a depression, and seems to be the beginning of her descent into early onset Alzheimer's.

I will NOT do that to my children.

Or my husband.

Or myself.

I am very conscious that while I'm 100% engaged in my role as a mother (a role I love like no other), I cannot neglect myself as a person in order to care for my children. It isn't good for any of us.

Not only that, but I honestly believe children learn best by example. I can try to teach my boys how to live a full, successful life until the day they leave my home but if they never see my practice what I preach? I'm not sure they'll have much faith in my expertise.

(By the way, I believe being content in your station in life as things constantly change and evolve definitely counts. That is no small feat!)

I am sorry to rattle on and on but I obviously feel very passionately about this. "No mommy brain" is absolutely NOT a jab aimed at other mothers (or myself). It's a reminder not to pin my identity on my children. It's why I started writing my blog in the first place and why I continue to go out of my way to stretch myself as a human being. It will make me a much happier empty nester and, incidentally, a happier hands-on mother as well.

I wish you and your family a wonderful (rainy) 4th.


Maggie Conran