Sunday, December 28, 2014

December Thaw

Everyone has been sick here. It feels like it has been weeks since any of us has had a good night’s sleep and it feels like that way probably because it’s true. And this morning I woke up and everyone was all plugged in with the shades drawn, marinating in their own germs and I just snapped. I could not stay inside even one more day: especially not a stunningly gorgeous and unusually warm December one. So I started screaming at everyone that we all needed to get dressed in the next ten minutes because we were going ice skating.

Like, immediately. It was a completely random ice skating emergency.

I have no idea why this break with normal life happened. It’s just that I was so tired of being tired, of laundry and Tylenol and screens and I needed LIFE. Real life with capital letters and the kind that you can fill your lungs with. And everyone was running around looking for pants and Phil was asking if there was time for a shower and I was like, “… a shower?! Are you mad?! We have to go!” He looked genuinely afraid and said he was still going to shower, but really quickly. I silently promised myself right then and there I would never ever forgive him for being so selfish and not understanding my sense of urgency.

I bundled everyone and stuffed us in the car, grabbed the camera and the diaper bag and the keys and slammed the door. Phil asked if they served coffee at the rink. COFFEE? We are having a LIFE emergency cloaked inside an ice skating emergency and he is asking about coffee. Intolerable.

We drove to the outdoor rink silently. Dylan was mad at Ruby and Ruby was mad at Dylan because these are the roles they are fated to play in life. I think the baby was stunned into silence by the speed with which she had been dressed and placed in the car. Particularly since she hadn’t left the house in two weeks. I wasn’t speaking to Phil, obviously. And Phil was not speaking to me, either because he was angry, desperately in need of coffee, too afraid, or some combination of all of the above.

We arrived at the rink and it was already bustling with skaters. Tucked in the middle of the city, they offered free skates and your last chance to hear Christmas music on December 27th. The kids were nervous. Somehow at five and seven we’d never taken them before. And me? Well after all my bluster about needing to go and skate and live and be free and don’t be afraid – TRY! You can do it! I got scared. I remembered I hadn’t been on skates in 20 years and I hid behind the baby and said I clearly couldn’t because I needed to stay with her. Also, somehow the ground was much farther away than it used to be.

So my amazing husband and son and daughter, still wiping the sleep from their eyes, gingerly stepped on to the ice. It had been years for Phil too, but that wasn’t going to stop him. And the kids? Well they fell. They fell a lot. But the most amazing thing happened. They kept getting up. All of those moments when I had lectured them about not quitting and the power of persistence? They were actually listening! Or just really determined to figure out how to skate.

Eventually Phil glided off and I reluctantly stuffed myself into a pair and went out there with them. They took off without me like they’d been skating forever and deep down somewhere inside of me the nine year old version of myself took over and remembered sort of how to do this. Sort of. It wasn’t pretty. If anyone remembers that episode of Friends where Phoebe tries running? It sort of looked like that, but on skates. But it didn’t matter because I skated as if life was actually meant for living and not for scowling and fearing. And there was music and joy and wild laughing as we fell and skated and even briefly they let me hold their hands. It was amazing. Actually it was better than that. It was capital letters AMAZING.

And when we walked back through the park to our car I actually reached out to hold my husband's hand. Right there in the middle of the city, in the middle of winter, an unexpected late December thaw was upon us. With it came the promise of cooler heads and warmer hearts.

 


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Deciding How to Mother

Phil and I have one of those coffee makers that uses the little pods and you just push a button and it produces coffee. They are terrible for the environment and I’m sure there are all sorts of other reasons why we shouldn’t be using them. But we can’t decide on what other kind of coffee maker to get and so, as a default, we stick with this one. We are literally too tired to decide and so we keep pushing the button each morning, grateful for the opportunity to drink coffee and decide one less thing.

This tiredness played out in real time the other morning as I tried to make a cup of coffee using this coffee maker. All I had to do was literally push a button. Monkeys would actually be able to do this. Monkeys would remember to put the cup of coffee underneath the thing where the coffee comes out, not next to it.

Clearly, I am not a monkey.

And as I watched the coffee spill all over the counter and swirl all around the bottom and outside of my cup and nowhere near the inside of my mug which would allow me to pick it up and consume it in all if its caffeinated glory, it occurred to me that I am really, really tired.

For many years I have argued that it is my young children and motherhood that is in fact making me tired. Runny noses, restless sleepers, early risers and tiny toes making their way into my rib cage at pre-dawn hours have certainly not helped my REM. Without question, this has made me quite physically tired. But there is a different kind of mental fatigue that I have been unable to articulate until recently, that is most certainly tied to my day in and day out experience as a mother and is likely exhausting so many of us in so many different ways. I am mentally tired, and what is driving this mental exhaustion is something I’ve been reading more about lately, something described as “decision fatigue.”

As described in a recent Elite Daily article, “…decision fatigue … is a real psychological concept where a person’s productivity suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.” Indeed even when the decisions are not substantial, it is the sheer volume of them that sometimes overwhelms me, mentally. I short circuit. I can’t even remember to put the coffee cup under whatever the thing is that the coffee pours out of. What is the name of that thing? You see?

The article talks more specifically about how powerful leaders like President Obama tend to wear the same thing every day to avoid making minimally impactful decisions in daily lives already so overcrowded with big things to decide. This makes sense to me. In a mind so cluttered with mindless choices that I can’t even seem to summon the cognitive energy needed to determine what kind of coffee machine to buy, I worry how I’ll ever make space for the big things. I worry that I am so exhausted sweating minutiae that it is sucking me of the strength to do the big things, the important things I need to do to be the leader of this family. Things like love them, and teach them kindness, and prepare them to learn how to decide stuff for themselves anyway.

I think of how most mornings begin - with coos and cries and running feet and then, the questions:

5:59AM: Can I play Mario?

6:02AM: Baby cries. What does she need?

6:03AM: Mommy where are my Legos?

6:12AM: Can I play Mario?

6:15AM: Do I have school today?

6:22AM: Can I play Mario?

6:29AM: Did I brush my teeth yet? Should I brush them again?

6:30AM: Can I play Mario?

6:37AM: Baby again – diaper. Did I change the diaper before?

6:45AM: When is breakfast?

6:46AM: What is breakfast?

6:49AM: What are we doing today?

6:51AM: What is the weather today?

6:53AM: Where are my shoes?

6:54AM: Where is my coat?

6:59AM: Why is Mario not working?

In my best guestimates, in that first hour of the day I make decisions for 4 different people every 4 minutes. This gives me enough time to do things in between each question and subsequent decision like, pee, put on pants, maybe turn the coffee maker on, and contemplate the larger questions in life like seriously, why the hell isn’t Mario working?

I grab three different dish towels and soak up precious coffee as it drips and runs all over the counter and in between the crack next to the stove. I am not doing this right. I am tired for all the wrong reasons. I think about my mommy uniform, one that reflects simplicity, one less decision to make. The call to arms and yoga pants makes sense in the context of decision fatigue. But more than excessive amounts of stretchy cotton and spandex, I need to be cloaked in rubber. I need their questions to bounce off me and reflect back to them. I need to teach them about choices and decision making, about how to find their own way. My job is not to make their choices for them but to teach them about how to sift through the noise of life to decide for yourself what is relevant and what matters. And as is the case with most teachable moments in parenting, perhaps I too can even learn something along the way.

And just like that I make my first, last, and easily most loving decision of the day: I decide to love them enough to let them figure all of it (whatever it is) out. So that we'll have the strength to conquer the really important stuff together that still lies ahead. I do not know where the pajamas are, you know the answer to Mario, go make a choice for snack. And when you're done come find me. It's Chanukah and we're making latkes and memories over here. And I've got just enough strength saved up for that.
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Season's Greetings?

Sometimes I write things that do not make sense. I usually do not share this stuff. Unfortunately for you, that is not the case today.

Life feels very busy right now. Busy isn’t always bad. But this feels like the noisy, transactional kind of busy that leaves you tired and unsatisfied with life. It isn’t the good, productive, and fulfilling kind of busy that shouldn’t be discounted as an equally valuable undercurrent in our lives.
It’s the bad kind of busy.

Right now I’ve got 5,062 unread emails. Now in fairness, I’m bad at staying on top of this stuff but that truly seems like a lot. This holiday season it just feels like more than ever before all we are giving each other is the gift of email, of this non-stop banter and back and forth. A perpetual volleying of words and tasks that literally never ends. Have any of your emails ever actually ended? Like with a, okay, thanks, this is done now, goodbye? No! They never end. They just live on and morph into new mindless tasks that actually have no real importance four days or even four minutes after they are sent. And yet it is 11:45 and I’m literally bleeding from my corneas trying to get through them knowing full well how exhausted I’ll be the next day, how I’ll take that exhaustion out on my family.
And for what?

More than ever, this holiday season I have to be okay with letting stuff drop. This is something I have always been terrible at. I am a rule follower. I am the kid who always had her homework done on time, who always followed up, who always showed up, who always outwardly did the right thing. But things are just so noisy and transactional right now that my body is literally screaming DO NOT SHOW UP. BE LATE. DO NOT RESPOND.
You know, I was listening to the radio the other night and a woman called in and they asked her what she wanted most this year for Christmas and you know what she said? A new iPad cover. And for some reason I just can’t stop thinking about this. More than anything, she wants a new piece of plastic or whatever to protect her iPad. Like, she already spent money on one. And it got some much use that she needs a new one. And this is what’s most important to her. And I just thought to myself, well that’s just it.

We’ve all lost our minds.
This year, we need to open ourselves and apparently our iPads up to vulnerability. Let yourself be bad or late at something, forgive yourself for that. Turn in and don’t be afraid of what you might find. As for me? I promise to give you the gift of less. I pledge to let my inbox keep growing and responding to almost nothing. I promise to send you almost no emails (I may have one or two more up my sleeve but otherwise I’m completely out of Internet gas). I pledge to share with you no social media snark. Because I am exhausted of a world seemingly comprised of camps of people who think in ways that never intersect on anything and who are all also entirely right about everything all of the time. For this makes no sense.

Instead, I am going to fill up on my family, gratitude, and good things. I am going to do less transactional stuff in the short term because it is making me exhausted. I am going to seek out more of the real kind of busy-ness, the good kind, that fills me up in a happy way, and that leaves me falling on my pillow with a smile on my face and a full heart knowing that it was all worth it today.
Does any of this make any sense? Probably not. Instead, I leave you with a bunch of happy random stuff. I call them links of awesomeness. Love on. Put more in to you and those you love. Do less. And fuck off with all the rest of it. Because that’s what matters this holiday season and actually that’s really all that ever matters.

Love,

Jenn
 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#GivingTuesday!

Happy #GivingTuesday!
 
I love this relatively new tradition that piggybacks on national spending sprees on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to focus our resources on what really matters. #GivingTuesday is a celebration of generosity, and an opportunity for you to make your community, your country, and your world, a better place.

Each and every day, too many different organizations too numerous to count pour their hearts and financial resources into any number of different causes, to help sick kids, lost animals, improve air quality, inspire and engage our hearts and minds, or just generally enrich our lives. Having worked in several non-profit organizations, I want to share with you a couple of important facts.

Nobody likes to pay the bills. Everyone likes to help fund cool sounding exhibitions, naming opportunities, or that next new exciting capital campaign. But the one thing that any organization will tell you they are always in need of is general operating support. They need cash to pay the lights, the water. It isn’t interesting, but it’s critical. It helps them stay afloat say that they can do the good work they need to do.

Smart organizations invest your money back into their program and create organizational savings to help ensure long-term sustainability for their services. You can take a look at how much each organization (approximately) spends on program by checking out websites like www.guidestar.org.

So why should you give? Because it feels good to help others, because these organizations more often than not rely on regular and consistent small gifts to help them run their daily operations, or because, to quote John F. Kennedy, “… a rising tide lifts all boats.”

A stronger community, global and otherwise, benefits everyone. So find your cause today. Celebrate generosity. Celebrate #GivingTuesday!

Below are a couple of my personal favorite places (and there are so many more great organizations to support!)

    

 

(That’s a very young me working the Peanuts exhibition at CMOM!)