Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Desolutions

When I knock on the outside of this afternoon, it has a hollow sound -- for years my new year plans have included a modest or not-modest list of resolutions -- things I Must Do, and the ways in which I will achieve them, which I try in earnest to do and then fail, and then re-resolve and fail again. Failure is as much a part of the resolution cycle as success is, and I am beginning to think that the approach is the problem -- that going at a fault or failing with a resolution is the wrong way to do it.

For example, let's say that one of my resolutions is to keep up with the dishes. So I write that down with my new felt-tipped black pen, and I declare that I will do dishes twice a day until it becomes like second nature to me. I do this each day for three days, and then on the fourth day I have a migraine and my 7:30pm I can barely even stand up, much less scrub and scrape congealed crap off of plates yet again, so I just don't, and then in the morning I still feel awful so I just stack the breakfast dishes on top of the dirty dinner pots, if I even stack them at all. I tell myself that as soon as I shake the headache I will catch up, and then someone calls to see if I can help them with an errand, and I have to grab a pizza for dinner, and since I didn't really use any dishes that night, why should I clean them? And so on, until they are piled up so high.

A resolution like this tries to attack the end result through a barrage of little Plans and Interventions. But as we learned from the Army Corps of Engineers, when you try to fix something by just attacking the very end result, you can end up with a big mess.

Instead, as I am learning, the process has to be different.

First, I have to actually observe myself making the mistake. For example, with the dishes, instead of taking on new resolutions, I just have to observe myself and my dishwashing habits for a week. When do I do dishes? When do I not do dishes? I leave judgment in the other room and I just watch myself. And I discover something -- I do not get behind in the dishes because I am lazy and disorganized, as I had been telling myself. There are a lot of factors that go into creating the problem. First, I have too many dishes out and available for use. When all of the cups are clean, they do not fit into the cabinets. This annoys me terribly, so I do not ever really want them to all be clean, because that means they are falling out of the cabinet every time I open it. So, instead of berating myself for not cleaning the cups, I get rid of some of the cups. Bam. Problem solved. Or at least the beginning of the problem. Then, I see that I do my biggest clean-up of the kitchen in the late afternoon, at about 3:30 or 4:00pm, right before I cook dinner, which then wrecks the kitchen again. So, even though I am doing dishes every day, I never see the kitchen actually clean. It never reflects a sense of order or success back at me -- only failure and filth. So I switch my dish-doing to the evening, after the kids are in bed. I go to sleep with a clean kitchen and then wake up to one as well. When things get dirty, I think, "My clean kitchen has gotten a little dirty; I should clean it up a little," instead of thinking, "My kitchen is always nasty and will never be clean no matter what I do."

And lastly, I realize that dish doing is a solitary act, and a little lonely, and a little boring, but at the same time I yearn for a bit of solitary alone time in my day. So instead of hating it all at 3pm, children underfoot, hungry myself, mess everywhere, I just let it go until 7:30pm. Then I plug in my headphones and clean while I listen to a favorite podcast. I don't really mind anything else that is going on. And at the end of it, the kitchen is clean, and I've learned a little more about cooking or gardening or world events, and I haven't had to speak to anyone for an hour. (If this seems strange to you, I'm an introvert, and talking to people all day, the way I have to with two young and very-verbal children, is as stressful as a day full of business presentations. Even though the questions are charming -- "What kind of factory do marshmallows come from?" or Norah's favorite, the simple, "What's this?" -- sometimes I just want a break from speaking.)

So what I end up with isn't a perfect solution -- I will still get behind on pots and pans at the end of long days, and I will never really like bending down and standing up a hundred thousand times to load and unload the dishwasher and hand-wash the rest, but it's manageable when I reduce the number of dishes and fit dish-time into my day with the mild reward of listening to a podcast.

But this is not a post about dishes. It's about the way I expect myself to do things, and the fact that it is the opposite from the way that I actually work. Basically, I need a day that has scheduled time for doing certain things -- teaching, mothering, cleaning, resting, eating -- and some wiggle room as well, for picking up slack when I get behind, or for pointedly not picking up slack when I am just too darn tired and finished with it all. Because sometimes "giving up" for an evening is more restorative than anything else.

So I refuse to resolve to do anything this year. I do not resolve to lose any weight at all, I do not resolve to have a cleaner house, I do not resolve to be more orderly in my work or more creative in the activities I do with my children or more or less of anything as a wife. Instead, I am going to do something that I have never done before at the end of a long December:

I love you just the way you are. You're good enough right now. You taught yourself everything you know about how to keep a house clean. You taught yourself how to be a happy mother and wife. You taught yourself how to teach yourself things, and now you teach other people. That's not nothing -- that's something. You're not a failure. You're a ringing success. If you don't believe me, watch your husband playing with your kids when he gets home from work. That's the stuff that matters. That might be the only thing that matters.

Happy New Year!! :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thoughts on Simplicity

So this post is sort of a "cheating" post because it won't include much of my own thoughts.

The background is that with some beginning success in recovery from thyroid and adrenal fatigue problems, I am motivated to gently turn my life from its crazy frenetic pace to something more livable. If you had asked me six months ago if it would be possible for me to simplify my life at all, I probably would have laughed at you and then said something very rude, implying that my life is much busier and more important than the average person's.

Over the past few months of work on my health and happiness, I have been given the gift to see that at the root of so much of my crazy breakneck ways is simply conceit -- the belief that I am somehow set apart from normal humans, that I must always do more, achieve more, be more. It's completely ridiculous, and completely false. Realizing that snobbishness, not bad luck, is at the root of my poor health choices is very humbling, but also very true. Anyone who has known me for very long can tell you that I am this way -- that I take things on, more than I should, not for pure reasons but because I think I can do it better than anyone else. It's conceit, it's snobbishness, and it made me physically ill.

So I'm holding the idea of a slower life in my hands, turning it over and over like a smooth stone, feeling it warm up from its contact with my palms. I am growing to like it. Every once in a while that crazy voice comes back -- she sounds a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West -- and tells me that unless I do twice as much as I am now, I will sink into the mire of obscurity and sadness and drudgery; that my only hope is to do more and be more and always more than I am right now. She says that I am never enough.

If there is nothing else to inspire me to change (and certainly there is), then at least my children inspire me. I want to be present to them and to telegraph to them that they matter, not just in the big things but in the small things. I want them to have my attention more often than they hear, "In a minute, honey." Because there will always be moments when I am busy, but I have more opportunities to tune into them and into the slow life in general than I previously thought.

So I am scanning through a book about unhooking, slowing down, and simplifying, and I have come across two really fantastic quotes that I want to share. These are from Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, M.Ed. and Lisa M. Ross.

The first:

"A more rhythmic daily life establishes beachheads, small islands of calm and predictability in the flow of time."

I love this image! "Beachheads" makes me think of a parched, exhausted shipwreck victim, finally washing up on shore, panting, grateful, totally spent with grief and joy. And the ground is firm underneath. That is what I want to be, and what I want my home to be. The island, always there just when you can't go any further out in the big bad world.

And the second:

"We're confronted with the often simple requests of these small beings (whom we love immeasurably), and yet their pleas seem to be coming from a galaxy far away, from the planet "slow." The two- or three-year-old asking for the same story to be read again and again becomes an eight-year-old who wants to tell you the plot of a movie in such remarkable detail that the retelling will surely take longer than the movie itself. You've figured out a complicated car-pool schedule that requires split-second timing, but saves you a roundtrip or two per week. The whole enterprise grinds to a halt each morning around two laces that will not be tied, or one head of hair that cannot be brushed, or one backpack that is always -- but always -- missing something."

Wow, that's exactly it. Those two laces.

Friday, December 9, 2011


So I have found a magical formula, a balance of what I take in and what I do that helps me:

1) Feel healthy
2) Be productive
3) Slowly but consistently lose weight

Of course these are not conclusive results because I have only been at it for three weeks, but here it is:

1) No wheat or dairy
2) Limited concentrated sugars (I have a weakness for dark chocolate, and for honey, but I indulge within reason)
3) Limited starch
4) No caffeine at all (not even decaf coffee)
5) Thyroid medicine (T3 + T4)
6) Adrenal support herbs (licorice, et al)
7) Cortisol Manager*
8) No strenuous exercise **

*At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, this supplement has changed my life. It helps me switch off at night, but it isn't a heavy, dopey feeling. I can get up in the middle of the night to help the kids if I need to, and then I can come back to bed and go right back to sleep. Basically I feel like this is undoing the harmful parts of what happened to my sleep when I had tiny babies. I don't wake up in a panic at 2am anymore, but if I set my alarm for 5am or 6am to get up a little early, I can. And if I want to sleep until 7am or 8am, I can do that too. I feel like it's my choice how I sleep, rather than a game of roulette. And with so much good sleep, I wake up rested. I haven't been through that exhausted-yet-wide-awake torture since I started taking it.

**I know, right?? I found out the other week that when your adrenaline/cortisol situation is all whackadoo like mine is, strenuous exercise actually makes things worse -- it triggers a cortisol response, which then locks down your fat and doesn't allow your body to burn it (because the body thinks I am running from saber-tooth tigers, so it has to hold onto that fat because who knows when I will get to eat again, with all that running). Who knew, right?? It does explain why my efforts at losing weight for a wedding last year were completely unsuccessful, and why I lost five pounds over Christmas last year when I gave up exercising for a few weeks. I never put it together, though, because who would ever think that exercising less would help me burn fat?

I am actually used to the eating plan at this point, and while occasionally I have to have a "gluten free" version of an old favorite, for the most part I don't even miss bread or cake, etc. I find that I am eating a *lot* of protein... like, a *LOT* of protein. I actually feel a little guilty about it because it's such a Western thing to do, but it works? I ate two tilapia filets today for a midmorning snack, which is about 40g of protein. Wow. But it was good. I am a huge fan of fish these days.

A great advantage to the new eating plan is that when you are not eating grains at all, it can actually be challenging to get all your calories for the day. So a few times a day I will just wantonly drizzle extra-virgin olive oil on whatever I am eating, and man, I love that. I would so much rather have olive oil than bread. In fact, that's a weird development (which perhaps I commented on earlier?) -- wheat and flour seem gross to me now, like eating glue or paste. Instead I spend a lot of time craving grilled fish and zucchini, and curry. Oh, curry. I want curry all the time. The exception to these healthy-cravings is when I am very stressed. Then, I still want sweet squishy cakes and mac 'n' cheese. But the cravings pass quickly enough, and I can still hunker down on a bar of dark chocolate should the need arise.

The weight loss so far has not been shocking in itself -- just a few pounds -- but the shocking part of it for me is that it has been steady, and it has continued at its normal pace in spite of Thanksgiving. Weird, right? I will happily accept weight loss of only a half pound a week, when it keeps marching on. At this rate I'll be at my goal in a year. Since I had Norah, I haven't been able to steadily lose weight on any plan at all, and I think taking the slow road is the way to go.

So that's where I am right now -- oh, that, and neck-deep in essays to grade, catching up from a week of no childcare. It's still within possibility, though. Again, slow and steady wins the race.

(On a side note, are happy blog posts boring?? Where is the angst that drives my writing??!? I will have to dig deeper, I suppose. :D )

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Good, The Bad, The Just Plain Gross

Taking a moment to myself in the midst of childhood illness, and all of the work (mostly laundry) that it entails.

Getting my adrenaline and cortisol under control has helped me face the past 4 days of cleaning up puke and other various unmentionable things without really getting too stressed. Of course I am flipping tired of it, but in general I have been able to stay pretty even-keel, including last night which was very exciting as I was finalizing my grades for three classes of students in between changing sheets and santizing everything, over and over (4 times in one day).

I haven't been able to have any childcare this week, which means I do all my work (teaching 3 accelerated sections of college comp) when the kids are asleep. This throws my sleep schedule off and makes it difficult to get things done without sacrificing a lot of rest, which of course I need in order to keep my adrenaline/cortisol under control. So it feels like I am choosing between money and health, but I need money in order to be healthy, and I need health in order to be able to earn money. So there's a quandary for you. Praying that I can stay on the right side of that equation. Looking for the little things to be grateful for (this sickness: no respiratory issues) (called into my tutoring gig this week: more time to clean house, which I need) (and of course the ever-present: blessed with flexible employment).

It's a constant juggling act, and as soon as I get something handled, something else crumbles apart. I'm coming to understand that this is the constant state of motherhood -- something will always be a horrifying wreck, and something else will be an unexpected delight.

Just keeping the plates spinning and, in the immortal words of those old-timey poets,

Just hoping for no more vomit tonight...
Just hoping for no more tonight.