Month: March 2010

I want a pause button

What I really want today is to pause everything and go nap for three hours. Or I want to pause everything and go garden for hours, except the snow makes this one unlikely today. However if I could have paused the day before yesterday to garden, that would have been great. I just want everything to stop rushing forward so that I have time to finish something before the next thing is already due. I’d just be happy if I could finish a bunch of little things so that they could stop tugging at my attention and making me feel fragmented.

If I actually had a pause button. I would abuse it terribly and I would grow old before my time. Perhaps instead I should wish to multiply myself. That way I could get everything done on schedule. Unfortunately if I could multiply myself, I would probably still be over scheduled because I would expect my multiples to accomplish more than they reasonably can. I would just do more instead of relaxing more.

So it seems I need to figure this out with just my lone little self, dragged ever forward through time. I should probably start by putting down the blogging and getting more work done.

Fragmented thoughts on a busy Monday

I’m living in a world of post-it notes. Almost every available space on my computer hutch has a note plastered to it. I have notes pasted to a copy-edited version of RMS, which I need to enter into InDesign. I have notes about Penguicon, and Balticon, and GenCon. I’m starting to acquire notes about events in the fall. The notes are really helpful, because my brain is too full. I can only keep track of things if they are written down and stuck somewhere I’ll see them again.

Around noon I washed up on the couch in our front room. I was not done with work for the day. Not by a long shot. But I sat there, drifting inside my own head, waiting for some thought to feel urgent enough to make me get up. It took awhile. It was only when Howard came upstairs that I was washed out of my repose and back into work.

I think dinner tonight will be something easy, like frozen pizza. I need my creative energy for book layout and homework management and family home evening. I feel a little bad that so many of our dinners have been easy ones lately. But I don’t want to spend emotional energy on food. Not when so many other things I enjoy are getting shoved to the edges.

We could be done with the book this week if we push. I’m aiming for April 10th which gives us two weeks. Every day we add a new piece. Every day it gets that much closer. Almost done. Almost done. Almost done. I have to keep reminding myself when I get tired.

On Pants, Shopping, and Transformation

“Standing in front of the dressing room mirror is such a reality check.” Melinda said as she handed over a stack of clothes she would not be buying. I agreed as I handed over my stack too. We each retained one shirt. Pants were what we’d come to find.

In most fairy tales and many modern women’s stories there is a moment of transformation. Cinderella’s godmother transforms her from a drudge to a princess. The best friend takes the woman shopping and she changes from a nerd into something beautiful. The little mermaid sheds her fins for legs. The further outcomes vary greatly, but in each the transformational element echoes in story after story. It is a reflection of the desire of ordinary women to be made beautiful. This is what I search for in the clothing racks. I seek the item which will camouflage my physical faults and draw the eye in good ways. I hope for clothing which will transform me. It is a lot to ask from mere clothing.

My last post about shopping for pants got far more responses than I expected. Women poured out sympathy and suggestions. At least one man read the commentary and was trying to comprehend the attraction of shopping for women. One friend, Jessica, was so moved by my lack of good pants that she declared that we must go shopping together. Melinda volunteered to go too. So the three of us found babysitting for our respective offspring and met at a mall.

When I was a teenager, shopping was a big component of my social interactions with friends. We would go to the mall and spend hours browsing through racks, trying on clothes, and pretending not to notice the boys who were there. There was giggling. Mostly it was freedom we craved on these shopping expeditions. We were away from our parents with money in our pockets. Trying on clothes was like playing dress up. We could experiment with who we wanted to be by trying on different clothes. And there was always the unspoken hope of transformation, that we would find one beautiful item which would make us beautiful. Shopping with adult women is much the same. We escaped from our children to visit with friends, to play dress up, and to hope for transformation.

Howard and the kids watched Princess and the Frog this weekend. That is a movie which is heavily invested in transformations. The characters transform again and again as the film explores how appearance relates to substance. Many of the transformations are magical in nature, but at least one is transformation by clothing. Tiana puts on a borrowed dress and becomes a princess.

Fun was the primary purpose of the outing for me. The quest for pants was merely a good excuse to hang out with two women I don’t get to see often enough. I honestly did not care whether I brought home clothes or not. The enjoyment was in allowing myself to look, imagine, and laugh. So amidst all the talking and looking, each of us selected some clothes to try on. Which led to the moment when Melinda and I grimaced together about the unkindness of dressing room mirrors. For there we saw ourselves, transformed in unwanted dimensions. We resolved to be better about getting regular exercise, and we began by walking through the mall to a different store.

Every woman has an item of clothing that they remember because they did not buy it. It is a reverse form of shoppers regret. Mine was a persimmon colored dress. I was seventeen and the dress was perfect. It fit perfectly, the skirt swung, the color flattered my complexion. I loved it. My mother loved it. It was a dress that transformed me. But we left it behind because it cost twice as much as any other dress I had ever owned. If I had bought it, I would have worn it and loved it. But eventually it would have been worn out, outgrown, or out of date. I would not still have it today. But it shines in my memory.

The shopping expedition did result in the purchase of pants. In fact all three of us bought the exact same pair of pants. Or rather we bought three identical pairs of pants. (We are not doing the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants thing where we attempt to share a single pair.) Now we feel that in the spirit of acting like junior high girls we should all arrange to wear them to the same event on the same day.

So did I find transformation among the clothing racks? Not this trip. I just found a good pair of pants that make me feel a little more attractive. It is a small transformation I guess. But I can’t help feeling like full transformation is out there. If only I could find it, then all my dreams could come true. That’s how it works in all the fairy tales. In real life the thing that makes dreams come true is lots of hard work. (I love that Princess and the Frog acknowledges this. It is positive progress in the way we teach our kids to think about dreams.) So if I don’t seek for my dreams in the clothing racks, what am I seeking? I’m seeking the clothes which make me feel transformed. They don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes I find it in clothes that I’m given for free or on the cheap at second hand stores. Sometimes it is by pulling out my sewing machine and making alterations to things I already own. No matter where the clothes come from, I’m playing dress up. Putting on professional clothes contributes to my feeling of professionalism and thus to my ability to actually be professional. Putting on attractive clothes helps me feel attractive, which causes me to have confidence, which actually makes me more attractive.

I once fessed up to a woman at church that I sometimes buy new shoes before conventions, because wearing something new gives me confidence. I was a little mystified with this seeming illogical behavior in myself. The other woman laughed. “Oh sweetie. I don’t even try to rationalize it. I just know it works and I buy shoes.”

I think this is wisdom. Take what works and run with it. So here I sit in my new pants, ready to handle whatever comes next with more confidence than I had the day before yesterday.

By the clock

On school mornings I wrest the covers off of my children one at a time. Then I go around and do it again because they all groan and pull them back on. (Except for Kiki. She gets up and gets herself ready.) Eventually I prod them down to breakfast. Then they meander their way toward being ready while I dash around the house shouting things like “Where are your shoes?” “You’re going to be late.” and “I sent you to get dressed 15 minutes ago, why are you playing with legos while wearing nothing but underwear?” By the time I drop them at school I feel frustrated and they feel harried. It is not how I want us to start the day, but often that is how it goes.

Children do not measure their lives by clocks or calendars. They rely on other things to give them a sense of where they are in time. On busy days when lunch gets skipped (usually replaced by an endless stream of they-helped-themselves snacks) the kids complain, not from hunger, but because they somehow arrived at dinner without knowing that the day was passing. When I need to describe an upcoming event, the kids are better able to comprehend if I describe it as being after a birthday or a holiday rather than naming the number of months or days.

I’ve known this for a long time. What I did not realize until a couple of months ago is that the kids do the same thing on school mornings. They pace themselves against the shrillness of my voice. I noticed that on the mornings when I am up early and focused, we get out the door early. I still have to cajole to get them moving. The only difference is that I increased the intensity of my cajoling earlier. On the mornings when I get distracted, they spend a longer time laying around or playing. On those mornings they are late.

The kids are very dependent upon having someone standing around saying that they are running out of time. Once I recognized it, I could see how it was not an ideal way to run the mornings, but I didn’t know how to change it. Ideally the kids should be watching the clocks for themselves rather than waiting for me to poke them. Heaven knows we have enough clocks in the house. I have tried applying consequences for being late. One morning I declared that anyone who was not ready when I declared “time to leave” would owe me an extra chore. It was a fairly good motivator, except for the fact that I then had to follow through and make them do the extra chores. Even so, it is a system that still has the kids depending upon me for their timing cues. Mostly we just muddled through. I figured I’d just have to keep scolding and wait for them to take responsibility the way that my oldest now does.

This morning another option clicked. Once I’d managed to herd all of the kids to the breakfast table, I made them look at the clocks and tell me what time it was. 7:12. I then asked them when we had to leave the house to get to school on time. They did not know. 7:45 I told them. I declared that at 7:40 I would shout “Time to go.” At that point the kids were to be ready to walk into the front room, collect their things, and get into the van. At 7:45 I would leave with whoever was ready. Anyone who was not ready would owe me an extra chore to make up for the extra trip to school. Since I’ve actually been requiring chores lately, the consequence loomed large for them.

It was a good start, but more important was the rest of the way I ran the morning. Instead of saying “You need to get moving.” I would say “check the time.” Instead of “go get your shoes” I’d say “when the clock says 7:35 you need to go get your shoes on.” The key was constantly making them look at the clock and measure how fast they need to go by the clock. This is one of those subtle but potentially powerful shifts in parenting technique. In theory enough practice at this will have them using the clock as a time management tool. It will probably take a lot of practice.

I should mention that this technique would not be effective on children who can’t tell time yet. In fact, I still had to help seven year old Patch stay on track much more than the older two. Even with him it was very helpful to have him and me working together against the time on the clock, rather than him having to dress to my commands. For one morning I was not the villain. Even better, everyone was on time for school today and I didn’t have to shout.

Scheduling and Email

Here I am at Thursday and some of my Monday things are still yet to do. This is normal, but I sigh over it. More worrisome is the fact that March only has six days left and I still have a long list of March things. I am endlessly sprinting to try to catch up to my own plans. I really do try to build spaces into the schedule. I try plan ahead and give myself room to add things last minute. Because some things will be forever gone if you don’t take time for them. Other things will not go anywhere, and in fact will laying in depressing heaps until you manage to shovel them out of the way. The trick is recognizing when a heapish thing is masquerading as vanishing thing. Or vice versa. It happens more often than you might think.

The other thing that is bothering me today is my turn around time on email. I used to answer email in 24 hours or less. That is not happening anymore. Some of it is a function of quantity. More of it is lack of space in my brain. I have to find time to compose answers. Sometimes the answers pop into my brain as soon as I read the message. Other times I read through the piles of back email and realize that an important message has been languishing for days because I needed time to compose and then I got distracted.

Time for me to go organize something and hope it will help me find my ability to focus.

In search of pants

The time has come for new pants. My old pants still fit, although loosely. They aren’t worn out, just worn down a bit. But styles have shifted. My awareness has shifted. And I would like to have some pants that contribute to a feeling of competence and attractiveness rather than just being serviceable. I want some every day clothes that don’t proclaim motherhood quite so clearly. I want a greater variety of professional clothes. Also, on an average day I can count the amount of time I spend outside my house on the minutes of one hour. It was time to go shopping.

Pants shopping is not my favorite thing. I find it more tolerable when I go to Savers with a coupon for 30% off, because I don’t have to deal with quite so much sticker shock. Also I frequently find amusement at the clothes that someone somewhere spent full price on, but which I can laugh at for free. The disadvantage of shopping second hand is that when you find something that is perfect except for being a little too small, you can’t go back for a different size. One of the major advantages is the variety. Very different styles are on the same rack instead of in different stores.

I was in search of pants, so naturally I started by looking at shirts. Some days are good shopping days. These are the days where it seems like everything in the store is just right. Other days I can spend hours flipping through racks without finding a thing I care to try on. Today was a good shirt day. It was not such a good pants day. I still count it as a win when I come home with eight items of clothing for less than $24. Especially when 1/4 of the clothes actually fit the category I went to the store to acquire.

I also came home with an awareness that I don’t really know what I am looking for when it comes to clothes. I kept standing there at the shirt rack, remembering that I have outfits at home which just lacked a single piece to be perfect, but I could not remember what pieces I was missing. So I brought home pieces of new outfits for which I will now have to find additional pieces. I need to approach this whole “renovate the wardrobe” project a little more systematically. I need to go through my closet and make lists. While I am at it, I should probably inventory the kid clothes too. Then I need to carry that list with me and go visit the thrift store every couple of weeks until I’ve filled the gaps.

I know this stuff. I used to do it all the time. It was survival during the lean years. But then I got busy and stopped keeping track of clothing other than to dump it through the laundry machines and occasionally fold it. No wonder my clothes feel out dated.

Allowance, Chores, and Ice Cream

It began with Ned and his yo-yo show assembly. The kids came home from school amazed and filled with longing to purchase yo-yos. Patch was the only child who had enough money, but Gleek and Link conferenced with him. They hammered out an agreement which got yo-yos for everyone. This worked by Patch paying out most of the money. I was happy that they were cooperating, but to insure that older siblings were not taking advantage of their tender-hearted younger brother, I made a careful record of the money owed. Gleek and Link were now in debt.

The kids really have not had much money lately. This is because I tied allowance to chores and then chores slid out of the busy schedule. The debt has galvanized me into more discipline. I don’t want to have to keep track of the debt forever. Also I want all my kids to be square with themselves and each other. So chores were placed firmly back into the afternoons. And the long disused chore incentive chart began to collect squares again. The kids had been 9 squares away from an ice cream party reward for almost a year. This afternoon they earned it.

I have in my freezer three kinds of ice cream. There will be chocolate syrup, warm cookies, and sprinkles. The celebration will be merry and then they will all go to bed. Tomorrow we will continue with the chores and begin collecting squares to earn allowance and to inch ever closer to the next ice cream party. It is good.

Rambling Observations on a Sunday Afternoon

We had developed a pattern. On Sunday afternoons the kids would all dash home from church and run straight for the video games and spend the rest of the day glued to them. Despite the fact that they collectively spent five or more hours playing, there were always shouts of “But I didn’t get a turn!” when the time came to turn the games off. I realized that I did not particularly like the pattern that developed and so I mentioned it to the kids. They agreed that there were better things we could be doing with our Sunday afternoons. Collectively we decided that each child could have a 30 minute turn playing either a video game or a computer game. Then the electronic entertainment would have to be turned off.

Last Sunday was the first one on the new plan. It went really well. The turns went like clockwork and then the games turned off. The kids spent the rest of the afternoon playing games together. Today was a little rockier. The kids were more inclined to squabble than to play nicely. But I still resisted the allure of letting them play electronic games. By about the third hour of squabble intervention I noticed something. Most of the squabbling occurred when Gleek attempted to seize control of the activity. If the boys resisted her control then she would yell or begin behaving in ways that ruined the game for everyone.

This reduced video game experiment has proved worth the effort just for this insight into Gleek. I don’t yet know where this need to control is coming from, but now I can be watching. Once I identify the emotional need or developmental stage which is driving the need to control, I can begin addressing it. If the need is filled or the stage weathered, then the controlling behavior will evaporate and so will the resulting conflicts. I’ll be observing more in the coming week.

The week days retain the same amount of video game time that they had before. This is fine. I believe the kids should get to spend time in the activites that they enjoy. I also expect that the nice weather will be drawing them outside more and more often. That will be good too.