Showing posts with label facing challenges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label facing challenges. Show all posts

Friday, October 11, 2013

It's Okay to Feel Sad

Daniel's face at drop-off is sadder than this


Each morning, when I drop Daniel off at school, as I say goodbye, he clings to me. He says, “I want my mommy to stay,” makes the saddest face anyone has ever seen, and often bursts into tears. I hate this.

But with the help of some friends and some books: (thank you How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk) I realized that I was making it worse by denying his feelings. By saying things like, “You love school,” or “You’re going to have fun today,” or “You’re okay,” I wasn’t permitting him to have his feelings. In point of fact, I didn’t want him to feel sad, because then I felt sad, unsure, guilty, and I hated that.

Once I realized that I’d been trying to gloss over his feelings, I began saying, “This is the hard part, saying goodbye. It’s okay to be sad.” This simple statement, said with sincerity, defuses his sadness pretty quickly. Earlier this week, he actually let go of me, and I didn’t have to peel his little fingers off my hand or leg.

A friend said to me recently that he found in parenting his children, he was really parenting himself. This started me thinking about how I don’t acknowledge my own “bad” feelings. I do have a naturally sunny temperament, but I also have a tendency to stuff or deny feelings like sadness, guilt, anger, fear. Because I don’t like feeling them, I pretend that I don’t. Each time I tell Daniel it’s okay to be sad, I’m telling myself the same thing. I need that message as much as he does, maybe more.

Besides changing my strategy at drop-off, I also try to remember that everyone’s life has good and bad, comfort and discomfort, every day. I cannot prevent Daniel from experiencing discomfort. Of course I hate the idea of him suffering, but knowing that it’s not my job to prevent it allows me to breathe.

So what can I do? I can acknowledge his feelings, listen to him without judgment. And I can give us all some extra leeway during transitions.

It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to be guilty and unsure. The more I accept these feelings, welcome them even, explore them with curiosity, the less scary they are, the less they rule my life, the more I’m free to enjoy the good.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rancho Relaxo No' Mo'

This is what a week on Maui will do for you.
Summer in the Ackerman household is Rancho Relaxo. Carl has about eight weeks when he’s not teaching, and though he works part of the time, he is home more than usual. Daniel stays home with Daddy while I work, we spend long weekends at the shore, we loll in Lake Ontario with the Ackermans. This summer, Carl and I spent 10 glorious days in Hawaii. In a lifetime of great summers, this was one of the best I've had.

And now it’s over.

End of summer is hard every year. We transition from Rancho Relaxo to Rancho Insane-o. Jumping back into the school year routine is a bitch slap. Carl wakes at 5:30, I follow by 6. Must get dog walked, everyone fed, dressed, with daily lunch and necessities in hand and out the door by 7:15. This requires organization during weekends and evenings – food must be bought, lunches packed, laundry done, etc. Which is all fine. I like our school year routine. In fact, by the end of summer, I crave the structure and routine of fall. I need time at home, dates with friends, quiet time to write. But these first few weeks are always an adjustment.

This year, Daniel began preschool. So into the regular transitional mix we added learning how the school works, what Daniel needs during the day, how to help him adjust to being there four full days a week, what drop-off and pickup will be like. When the first day was hard (as everyone said it would be), a torrent of second-guessing and fear overcame me: was I doing the right thing? Was I a selfish mom? Yes, we need my income, but shouldn’t our child’s well-being come first? Is there another situation that would be better, easier?

Day two was a lot better than day one. Daniel’s teacher told me how she had held him until he fell asleep at naptime, which told me everything I needed to know about how kind she was. I ran into an acquaintance who taught preschool for 25 years. She said, “Preschool teachers have a special love for the little ones who have separation trouble. He will feel that love.” I knew she was speaking the truth, and that God had sent her to tell me that. I reminded myself that I had done my due diligence. I hadn’t just willy-nilly signed Daniel up for this program. I had prayed, meditated, researched, visited, discussed. Now I had to give it a chance to work, knowing that usually it takes a week or two to adjust, and even though I’m uncomfortable now, the reward will be great if this new situation works for us.

I’ve intensified my self-care over the past two weeks: made time for a massage, rested more, attended church, fed myself well, bought a new pair of boots (one consolation of fall.)


Share your wisdom with me. What helps you (or your children) adjust to change? How do you take care of yourself when things are hard? I know that most of the country is in transition in these first weeks of September. How can we help each other survive Rancho Insane-o?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Give a Little Leeway

This week, when my normal impatience arose, I breathed deeply and reminded myself that most of the world is going through back to school transition, and therefore may need some extra leeway. I’m happy to report it made for a pretty peaceful week.

Change is hard for me, even good change. In June, when Carl’s school year ends, and he’s around more, I love it, but the transition is still hard. Now, after a lovely summer, Carl is back to work, Daniel is back to the babysitter, and I’m back to managing more of the household. Going into the week I worried. How would Daniel adjust, after hanging out with Daddy all summer? How would Carl adjust to work life again? What about our poor puggy, home alone so much more?

To maximize peace in our home, and within myself, I decided to try giving everyone extra leeway for the week. Rather than reprimand myself for failing to write enough, I praised myself for writing at all. Rather than battle with Daniel about his nap, I surrendered, played with him, took him to Target. Rather than chastise Carl for coming home late, I invited a friend over for a play date. In all cases, life was much more enjoyable. I even forgave the asshole who cut me off in traffic yesterday. Yes, I felt the flood of righteous anger, but I remembered leeway, and had some compassion for his hurry.

This week, with all its changes, was so peaceful that I’m wondering if leeway should be a permanent mantra. Maybe I’m always harder on people, including myself, than is necessary or helpful. Maybe I’d be happier with lower expectations and greater acceptance of shortcomings. Hm. Maybe I’ll extend it another week and see how it goes.

Where do you fall on the leeway scale? Do you give too little or too much?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Motherhood, My Way


Daniel rocking a Peruvian alpaca sweater

Something I’ve found hard as a mom is responding to other people’s expectations of what I should be doing. (Or what I think other people think I should be doing.) The most innocent question, like “what are you doing for Daniel’s first Easter?” can induce rage, defensiveness, derision. “Uh, he has no concept what Easter is, so nothing,” is what I want to say. I felt resentful about what everyone seemed to think I should do for his first Christmas, so you can imagine how I feel with his first birthday approaching.

I know moms who have formal pictures taken for every holiday – even St. Patrick’s and Valentine’s Day. I know moms who knitted stockings for baby’s first Christmas. I know moms who are planning elaborate first birthday parties. Because I have a tendency to compare myself to others, when I hear this I ask myself, why aren’t you doing that?

But recently a new thought occurred to me: maybe those moms do those things because they enjoy it, not because they’re caving to social pressure. I really enjoy dressing up. I’ve had people ask me, snottily, why I was wearing pearls on a Tuesday afternoon. The answer is, I just like to. It makes me happy. Similarly, I love to put my little man in cute outfits. I suspect very soon he’ll start having opinions about what he wears, so I’m taking advantage of this time to dress him the way I want to. Not to impress anyone. Not because formal wear is important for babies – just because it makes me smile.

So here’s my thought for Mother’s Day: motherhood has plenty of drudgery. Let’s all make a pact to not make it harder for ourselves than it has to be. I’m going to do mom things that bring me joy, and leave the photo shoots, crafts and parties for the Martha Stewart types. Happier mom means happier Daniel. So it will be pizza and cake for his first birthday, with whoever can show up on a Tuesday night. Maybe I'll wear pearls.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Overcoming Resistance

I heard a speaker on Friday say that our internal resistance to change gets in our way more than anything else. He talked about goals and dreams and attitudes, and it was all very inspiring. But after hearing all of his great ideas about change and possibilities, I felt too overwhelmed to do anything at all. (He predicted this would happen.) 

So I drove home, ate lunch, put Daniel down for a nap and then tried to remember how I have overcome resistance in the past. My best trick is to think of the smallest possible step I can take. After a baby-induced hiatus, I wanted to get back to selling my novel. So I thought, okay, what’s the smallest possible step I can take in that direction? I decided I could just look for the list of agents I made last year. Walking up the stairs towards my office, I felt enormous resistance. Apparently, there is some biological basis for our minds wanting things to stay the same. My feet felt heavy, but I found the list. Then I looked at it, then I opened my query letter and started tinkering, and before I knew it, I had some momentum and was happily working.

The journey of a thousand miles does begin with the first step. And so often, if I can take the first step, I can take a second, third, and before I know it, I’m just walking. The speaker on Friday said you can either be in the game or at the game, and I want to be in it. As painful, scary or embarrassing as it is to try sometimes, I’d rather be wiping out in the water than sitting on the beach watching.

How do you overcome resistance?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Feel the Guilt and Do It Anyway

Is this my tentative theory of parenting, three months in? Maybe. My best friend shared with me some wisdom passed to her by a more experienced mother, who said, “You have to decide if you’re going to parent from guilt or not.”

Wow. There’s a choice?

I’m working on believing that we have choices in almost everything in life. Maybe not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. My choice today related to my son’s nap. I’m trying to encourage longer daytime naps. He seemed cranky, so I figured I’d try to put him down. After I swaddled him, as I’m walking toward his room, he turned on the full charm—big smiles, cooing, flirty eyes. Can he be this smart or manipulative at a few days shy of three months? Is it coincidental that he often shows his sweetest self as I’m trying to get him to sleep?

Of course then I didn’t want to put him down. But I had already swaddled him (does he spend too much time in a swaddle? Does he not like it? Is it inhibiting his spirit or enjoyment of life?) And I wanted him to nap this afternoon, so okay, I put him down. Immediately the guilt started. Was he lonely? Should I be spending every moment of the day with him? The answer to the second question is no. I like some alone time, and I think it’s good for him too. So why the guilt? Maybe because of some doubt I have of my competence as a parent. Some doubt of my instincts. Some fear—always fear is lurking—that he’ll be scarred for life by some mistake or series of mistakes that I make.

I took a deep breath. The thing is, I had to make a sandwich, and I’d like to do a little laundry, and maybe, just maybe, some writing. All of that is hard with him awake and in the same room. I am a better mother when I get some breaks. After some down time, I have genuine enthusiasm for him, an almost sickening amount, instead of the forced kind I feel when I don’t get a break. So isn’t it better that he be rested, and I be rested and happy? Undoubtedly yes. Sorry, guilt and fear. I hear you, but he’s staying in his crib. For now. Unless he really starts crying. I’m getting stronger, but I’m not made of stone.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Over the Rainbow


Week 8 postpartum. Daniel is sleeping from 11ish until 4ish every night, waking up to eat, and going back to sleep for another couple of hours. Breastfeeding is no longer excruciatingly painful, though we still have a few challenges. Daniel will drink from a bottle, allowing me to be away from him for more than three hours at a time. He still sleeps a lot during the day, but also has longer periods of time when he is awake, alert and HAPPY! I love happy Daniel. He gives huge gummy grins, kicks his chubby legs, and squeals in delight. We’ve even heard some preliminary laughs. (And since he has two hilarious parents, I’m sure the laughs will get bigger.) But my favorite current trick is the noises he makes in response to questions. As of right now, life seems pretty manageable. Which feels miraculous to me. Why, you ask?

Weeks 3-6:
In week three, we traveled to Syracuse. Though I cherished seeing our friends and family, the trip unfortunately coincided with a four night stretch of Daniel not sleeping for more than an hour at a time. There was lots of screaming, inconsolable crying (and Daniel made some noise too.) By day two of almost no sleep, I called my best friend, sobbing, to ask if she thought I had postpartum depression. Her answer: “If things continue this way, you could talk to someone, but I think you’re just exhausted.”

She was right. It was complete and utter exhaustion. I thought labor took a lot out of me—and it did—but four days with almost no sleep and an inconsolable child takes a whole other kind of toll. After a six hour drive home from Syracuse, arriving at 8 pm, Carl had a weeklong workshop starting early the next day. I woke up to a house with no food, worse—no coffee, and a screaming child. I put said child in the car seat to take him for a walk. As I tried to get out the door, Nalu scrambled out and ran down the block. I left Daniel on the porch to grab the dog, somehow got her back in the house. Realized the strollers were folded up in the kitchen, not on the porch. I struggled one of them out the door, Daniel still screaming the whole time. And when I couldn’t figure out how to get the stroller open, found myself shaking it and shouting, “WHY DOES GOD HATE ME?”

Not a great start to my first week alone with Dan.

Thankfully, I had lined up some help for the week. My friend Jan showed up that afternoon, allowing me to lie down for thirty minutes. I called Best Friend again, detailed what the few days had been like, and she showed up later with every brand of pacifier she could buy. Up until this point, the only thing that calmed Daniel was sucking on something, but he wouldn’t take a pacifier, which meant one of us holding a finger in his mouth when he wasn’t nursing. That might not sound exhausting, but trust me, it is. When Daniel took a pacifier later that day, and lied in his bassinet for a few minutes, quietly sucking, I felt a glimmer of hope. (I hadn’t realized that some babies prefer certain brands.)

Being without Carl that week made me realize something was wrong. The pediatrician was less than helpful. “Babies cry. Babies get gas.” Okay, yes I know that, but it shouldn’t be so much that you need two parents to comfort him around the clock. Mommy instinct (and desperation) drove me to seek help from a breastfeeding support group. But after two hours of listening to problems that I couldn’t relate to—how much solid food can my baby eat, should I still breastfeed after a year—I wanted to scream, how do you keep your kid from crying for more than an hour? I started to pack up, but Dan, my little fire alarm, went off, drawing everyone’s attention, including the facilitator, who asked if she could try to calm him down. Yeah, good luck I thought.

She swooped him out of his car seat, put him over her shoulder, and magically, he quieted. At her prompting, I described the crying, the sleeplessness, and the crazy weight gain, which led her to diagnose me as an overproducer of milk. Apparently, if you make too much milk, the baby only gets the sweet and sugary foremilk, not the creamy satisfying hindmilk. So essentially, Daniel had been hungry since birth. No wonder he was cranky.

Luckily, the solution was easy—feed him on the same side for six hours before switching. She said I should see a big difference in him within two weeks—“He’ll be like a different child.” When I reached my car I burst into tears, a mix of frustration, relief and hope. Within two days, he was markedly happier. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, breastfeeding group.

With that resolving, I had time to realize how much pain I was still having while feeding him. That sparked another two week process including a home visit from a lactation consultant, a pediatrician visit, days of internet research, a visit to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, the snipping of Daniel’s frenulum to separate his tongue from the bottom of his mouth, and a learning curve of Daniel figuring out how to properly suck. Good lord.

In the midst of this, Carl went away for a week for work. I went to the shore with my parents for the first four days. When my mom had to leave I literally wanted to cling to her leg and beg her to stay, but I didn’t. How hard could being by myself with him for 24 hours be? Well. Hard is the answer. We hit bottom when I walked him to church, looking for a serene 30 minutes, and he started screaming bloody murder as soon as we arrived. I took him outside, did everything I could to calm him, but then scrambled into the bathroom and fed him while sitting on the toilet, which finally succeeded. Four hours later when two friends showed up to stay the night, I said, “I have never been happier to see anyone in my whole life.” And I meant it. Who knows what was wrong that day? I was stressed, Daniel was stressed, eating was still hard and there was no relief for either of us.

I had help for the rest of the time Carl was away, and we managed alright. Though when Carl’s flight was delayed several hours I realized how I was holding on by my fingernails. “Please God. Please please please let him get home tonight.” He did, to my immense relief.

The really good news is that after six very very hard weeks, with Carl back, and feedings easier, all of the sudden, Daniel-care felt amazingly easy. Delightful even. Sure there are still occasional tantrums, but they seem to be getting shorter and further apart. We know much better how to calm him now (the vacuum helps if he’s really worked up.) And the occasional bout of “passionate crying” (as my diplomatic BF put it) feels easy, comparatively. Best of all, happy Daniel appears so frequently now, making unhappy Daniel much easier to take. We’re all entitled to be unhappy, but it shouldn’t be 85% of the time.

So now that my little man is getting enough to eat, of the good creamy milk, and it no longer hurts to feed him, and he’s sleeping well, life feels really blessed. Carl said, “Maybe God makes the first six weeks so hellish so the rest of the time doesn’t seem as bad.” I don’t think God works like that, but I do feel very grateful for the quiet, serene moments we have now. I feel extremely thankful for rest, for time to write, for vacation. On Sunday night, after eating a gorgeous meal with my family, during which Daniel slept the WHOLE TIME, we saw a rainbow arcing across the sky (pictured below.) The next day I stood up on my surfboard for the first time since being pregnant. I think, just maybe, we are over the rainbow.



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Baby




Daniel Egan Ackerman entered the world on June 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm. He weighed 8 lbs, 10 ounces, measured 22 inches and had a 15 inch head, which I’m told is very big. (I didn’t need to be told.)

In the twenty minutes I hope I have before he needs to eat again, I'd like to capture something about the first three weeks of his life.

Challenge number 1: Recovering from labor and delivery. Not that I expected to be up and at ‘em immediately after birth, but neither did I expect to be completely incapacitated for almost two weeks. When I was really struggling on day three or so and called the midwife, she asked what I had been doing since I’d been home. I described what seemed like nothing to me, and she said, “When I say, you’re not supposed to do anything, I mean, you can go up and down the stairs once a day. Otherwise, you need to be resting. And nothing else.” Oh. Wow. Actually doing nothing is not something I'm good at, but I tried.

Once I figured out some pain management and my glorious mother-in-law scrubbed my bathroom so I could take warm baths, and I began just resting, things began SLOWLY to improve. Today I took a thirty minute walk with Daniel, which is the most physical activity I’d had since the birth, and it felt good. Slowly slowly I’m starting to feel like myself again. Looking like myself? That’s a whole other issue.

Challenge number 2: Breastfeeding. Good lord, it is hard. It’s better now, much much better. But for weeks one and two, it was painful and difficult. I feed him at least every three hours, and for the first two weeks, at least three feedings a day would be a 45 minute production, just to get him started eating. There would be screaming and crying, swaddling, shushing, swaying, a hair dryer blowing for white noise, Carl and I both trying to get him calm enough to latch, and then if it didn’t work, the process would be repeated. I’m thrilled to say that seems to be a thing of the past. Daniel and I have figured out together how to get him latched, and that happens pretty quickly and easily now, almost every time. Thank God. Because being on call 24/7 is challenging enough, without your patience being severely tested 3-6 times a day. Add to that sleep deprivation, nipple pain and hormones and wow. I really understand why women can’t stick with breastfeeding, especially if they don’t know how much better it gets after two weeks (for most people.)

Challenge number 3: Still looking pregnant. I don’t want to write about this, but I will for the sake of education. I didn’t know I would still look so pregnant in the weeks after his birth – like 6-7 months pregnant. Again, I didn’t expect to have my old body back immediately, but neither did I expect that MULTIPLE people would ask me when my baby was due. If you don’t already know this, please take it to heart. NEVER ASK A WOMAN IF SHE IS PREGNANT. Just don’t do it. I was struggling enough in those first weeks without then having to process feelings about how my body looked. Literally just getting out of bed was physically hard, and then I have to feel fat on top of it? Not cool.

Happily these weeks have been filled with joy too. Seeing my little man’s face makes me smile. When he’s awake and alert, staring into my eyes, I feel wonder unlike any I have ever known. Some of my favorite moments of the day now are feeding him, feeling his warm body snuggled up to mine, his little hands and feet stroking my skin. I soak in the joy he brings to others, the love showered on him, the wonder felt at seeing his little person.

We have received a river of kindness since his birth: people dropping off meals, sending flowers and gifts, coming for visits. My mom has fed us, done the laundry, rocked and comforted Daniel. I don’t know how we would have gotten through those first weeks without her. My in-laws showed up with new pjs for me, an SU hat for Daniel, and lots of love and laughter. Our neighbor appeared one night just as we finished dinner with the most beautiful blueberry pie I’d ever seen. The kindness sustained me as much as the food, and I accepted it all with a grateful heart.

I can’t wait to see how my son (what? I have a son? This still seems unreal.) How he grows and develops, what kind of person he is. But I’m trying to not get ahead of myself, trying to enjoy this phase, one day at a time, for what it is.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Looking for the Gifts

I have a situation in my life that I don’t like right now. Namely, my baby is breech. This means the baby’s head is not down. If the baby doesn’t turn around to the vertex, (head down) position, then I will have to have a C-section. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but it is to me. Not only do I have a serious aversion to hospitals, I was hoping to have a natural birth at a cozy place called The Birth Center, attended by midwives. And as far as birth experiences go, a C-section in the hospital is the other end of that spectrum.

Now, you may not understand my disappointment. Many don’t. But that’s not the point here. The point is that it’s been a difficult two weeks since I first found out the baby was breech. It’s been very emotional—as many things are at 36-37 weeks pregnant. I’ve been through fear, anger, disappointment, hope, more disappointment, something close to despair. I’ve cried many tears. I’ve squeezed into my life many phone calls, appointments, and exercises to encourage the baby to turn. Somehow, eventually, I came to a place of acceptance. I still don’t like that my birth story may be a c-section, but there is only so much I can do here. If after chiropracty, acupuncture, meditation, and a “version” procedure in the hospital, the baby is still breech, well, then I guess it’s meant to be a C-section. But I learned awhile ago, that even though it helps me to accept things, I still don’t have to like them. So that’s where I am. A place of discontented acceptance.

Still, as with any challenge in life, there have been gifts. And for the sake of maintaining my generally sunny disposition, I’d like to acknowledge some of them. First, this has brought Carl and I closer. He’s been amazingly supportive. And in exactly the way that I needed. It’s funny how so many people want to fix this, or want me to not feel what I’m feeling, or maybe just not talk about it, or just admit that what matters most is having a healthy baby. I know that. But I’m also allowed to have feelings about how this baby comes into the world, and Carl has let me express them, giving hugs and back rubs, just listening and validating. That’s meant the world to me.

I’ve done some serious relaxation and meditation work. I had been doing this anyway, in preparation for birth, and I try to meditate every morning as a general practice, but I have stepped up the time and energy I put into meditation, yoga, and relaxation exercises, and I can feel the effects in my life. In spite of many emotions, and physical discomfort, I have been generally very calm and peaceful over the past two weeks. And that’s a gift.

I’ve examined my expectations of other people. After feeling disappointed at how some people reacted to this news, I realized that I was looking for someone else to validate my feelings, to give me permission to feel a sense of loss, or anger or whatever. And I needed to give myself that permission. I needed to take care of myself in the way I was looking for others to take care of me. Which was a good reminder. It’s always my job to take care of myself. When I’m feeling resentful at what other people aren’t doing for me, there is always something I can do for myself, and I should do it.

A neighbor shared with me her own disappointment in having to have an emergency C-section. I felt that she really understood where I was coming from. And then she reassured me that the birth was still beautiful and special and that our birth would be too, no matter when and where it happened. I’m carrying her kindness with me like a talisman.

The testing I had at the dreaded hospital was not so bad. And all the people there were very kind, offering me a positive view of the medical world, and hope that even if this is a hospital birth, it could still be gentle and joyful.

I’ve seen that I can be strong and calm and happy, even when challenged. That I still have faith that I will be taken care of, and my baby will too. I’ve had many joyful moments over the past two weeks, and have worked hard to not let my fear or anger or disappointment take over my life. The trick is letting myself feel whatever the feelings are, but then still looking for the gifts each day brings. A few recent gifts: the most perfect beach weather last Sunday; splashing around in my beloved waves; Carl taking pictures of his hugely pregnant wife, saying I’m adorable; preparing a gorgeous meal of crab cakes and shrimp Saturday night for my family; giggling with my brother; walking around Ocean City; ice cream (and yes, pickles, though not together); napping; gaining on the finish line of a first draft of my second novel.

One of the best gifts has been treating myself with extra kindness and gentleness. This does not come easily to me, but it’s been essential in the past two weeks, and I’ve done it. Like many things that are good for me, I can see that the practice works, I can see the good results, which hopefully will encourage me to continue the behavior in the future.

Perhaps the best gift of all was given me by the tech at my ultrasound—a 4-D photo of my baby. Baby’s foot is obscuring half of his/her face, but I can see a closed eye, half a round nose, a chubby cheek. There are no words to describe the wonder of seeing this child’s face for the first time. But just that glimpse may have made the whole breech situation worthwhile. (Though if you’re listening, Baby, please turn over.)

Update: I wrote this last week, and had the version procedure this morning, in which an amazing doctor turned baby over in my belly. Baby is now head down! Hooray for the vertex position!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Back to Reality

The last few weeks have been a roller coaster between finishing my writing workshop, taking an exam for work, getting ready for vacation, traveling, then coming home. Our vacation in New Orleans was heavenly. Beignets, barbeque shrimp, po’ boys—I think everyone who’s pregnant should go to New Orleans. I also took advantage of our Babymoon to take naps, wander around art galleries, poke in and out of stores, get a pedicure. I don’t believe that our life will be over when the baby comes—thank god—but I am trying to savor these last few weeks of having the time and independence to do adult things.

If New Orleans was a fantasy, re-entry was a nightmare. Forgetting how difficult transitions can be for me, I spent the better part of last week feeling very cranky, and then upset with myself for feeling that way. As if one can talk oneself out of grumpiness. Now that I’m through to the other side, I thought I’d share a few things that helped.

1) I recognized I was cranky. That may seem small, but for me, just putting a name to something is often helpful.

2) I accepted that I was cranky. This is huge for me. I’m blessed with a pretty sunny disposition, so whenever I’m feeling down, I want to make it go away immediately. This time, I gave myself permission to be in a bad mood, which didn’t make it go away, but did ease the self-flagellation.

3) I bought myself a coke. Sometimes eating or drinking something sweet will sweeten my disposition. It did help, at least temporarily.

4) I listened to music, another mood elevator.

5) On Friday and Saturday, I rested. A lot. I had many things I wanted to do, and felt like I should be doing, but I was exhausted. So I gave myself permission to rest. Even at 8 months pregnant, this is difficult for me. Especially when my to-do list is so long! (But then, it always is.) After meeting my essential commitments for the day, including my minimum daily word quota, I let myself off the hook. Often when I’m cranky I’m either tired or overwhelmed. After resting for the better part of two days, I was rewarded with superhuman energy on Sunday, reinforcing the idea that if I take care of myself, I’m better able to efficiently meet my responsibilities.

6) I reminded myself to focus on the positive. Like many simple ideas, this one is hard to practice. Coming home from vacation to reality can be hard. I kept thinking things like, “Why can’t I spend every afternoon shopping and eating beignets?” “Why do I have a schedule?” “Why must I go to work, and food shop, and do laundry?” But then I read something that reminded me that when I focus on the negative, the negative grows, and when I focus on the positive, the positive grows. So this week I made a strong effort to focus on the positive in my life. From things as small as the scent of lilacs in the air, to making a chocolate tart for my parents’ birthday meal, focusing on the positive helped me feel better, and seemed to draw more positive experiences.

With some rest and some perspective I have remembered that I love this life, here at home. I need the structure, even if I don’t always like it. I love to cook, I love walking around Narberth, I love the satisfaction I get from working, and writing, and caring for my home. It’s just the transition that’s rough. So next time I go away, I’ll try to remember, reality is good, I just need to wait out the transitionary period.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Productivity Trick

It was inevitable. I knew the honeymoon would end. Or at least pause. The initial infatuation with my new novel is gone, replaced with the knowledge of what a long cold slog it is to the finish line. Forget about finishing. Right now I'd settle for some forward momentum, some semblance of a plot.

I forgot that I once felt this way about the first novel--uncertain of where it was going, of what my protagonist's problem was, if there was even a story worth telling. Luckily I have this blog and friends with good memories to remind me it was like that for the first one too. This is part of the process--fumbling toward a plot, putting words on the page, not knowing if they will add up to anything worthwhile. Man, this part is hard.

In hope that structure and deadlines would help me--they usually do--I signed up for an online writing workshop. For the class, I can submit up to 50 pages over ten weeks, which in and of itself, has scared me into working harder.

The class has already paid for itself with this advice from my teacher: "Make a small and manageable writing goal, and meet it every day." I've heard this before, in various forms, but this time it struck me. That's exactly what I needed to do.

So last Friday I made a tiny daily goal for myself: write x number of words every day, no matter what. I made it so small that I can accomplish it in 15 minutes if pressed. And guess what? It works. The goal is so minute that even mornings when I'm rushed, or tired or resistant in any way, I know I can still meet it.

I'm happy to report I've met my goal, every day except Sunday, (which is after all, the day of rest.) The great thing is on mornings when that's all I can manage, I still get a great sense of accomplishment, from meeting a goal. Other mornings, I find myself on a roll, happily typing, well beyond my limit. I believe that's what we call a win-win.

Sure, my inner critic still shouts--More! We need to be writing MORE! But I can see that momentum is building. Forward progress is happening. Maybe best of all, because I'm thinking about the book every day, my subconscious is starting to work on it. The characters are starting to live in my head. First sentences appear seemingly from nowhere. Magic is afoot.

Set a small, manageable goal, and meet it. Genius. Who knew?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sew What?

Over the summer I met a woman who raved with shining eyes about how sewing had changed her life. She said it was therapeutic, satisfying, creative. Sounded good to me. Plus, I’ve always nurtured a hope that I had a dormant seamstress gene, given the talented seamstresses in my ancestry. I filed it as something to think about. A few weeks later, out of nowhere, my sister-in-law asked me if I’d like to take a sewing class with her. Destiny, right?

I signed up for the class, and finally claimed the sewing machine I’d inherited from my great-aunt fifteen years ago. Though I loved picking out the fabrics, the more money I spent on equipment, the more I remembered other hobbies I had begun with great excitement, only to quit shortly thereafter. I’ll try just about anything, but not much sticks. Still, I’d signed up for the class, so I got what I needed to complete the two projects—one tote bag, one purse.

In the first class we learned exotic things like filling a bobbin, threading the needle, and basting. After only twenty minutes, we were actually sewing. After one and a half classes, I finished the tote bag! I couldn’t believe it. No, it wasn’t perfect, but I love it. Like that woman I’d met this summer, I had something tangible to show for my efforts. Maybe I was a seamstress waiting to be born. I began imagining the fabulous, unique clothes I’d make for myself, all for a pittance.

Unfortunately, it’s been downhill from there. The second project, a purse, involves a pretty complicated pattern. This means lots of cutting, pinning, and sewing. Those things I can handle. More difficult is summoning the effort and concentration to follow the meticulous directions and pay close attention to detail. I am capable of these things, but they are not my natural gifts, and from 7-9 pm, when the class takes place, it feels nigh impossible.

I called my mom to complain this week and she couldn’t stop herself from laughing. “So, your inner engineer didn’t come out?”

“You knew I’d need an inner engineer?” We both know very well this is something I don’t have. Why do moms have to always be right? And why don’t I run more by her?

“You know, honey, there are very simple, three step patterns,” she said. “That might be something to try.”

Maybe it’s the case of too much, too soon. Maybe I would have been better off completing a few more simple projects before diving into something so ambitious. I guess we’ll never know. I haven’t given up on sewing. I still like the idea of taking a piece of fabric and making something simple. Like a tablecloth perhaps. How hard could that be? And I think I can at least hem my pants now. That’s something.

The experience also reminded me of something Julia Cameron writes about—the grace to be a beginner. It’s good to try something totally new, not just because it’s humbling, but because when you’re a total beginner, anything is progress. And if you don’t try new things, who knows what you could be missing? What if I had never tried surfing? I shudder at the thought. Sewing may not be my next great passion, but at least I tried.

For my next new thing I'm considering snowboarding. Somebody told me it's therapeutic, satisfying, and creative.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Momentum

As I’ve observed the momentum (or lack thereof) in my life over the past few weeks, I’ve decided that lack of momentum is why Monday is so hard, and why the first few days after vacation are brutal. Because by Wednesday, or a few days after your return, you’re like, “oh yeah, this is what my week is like,” and you’re just doing it—you have momentum. Working on the book is like that too. I can take one day off a week without breaking stride, but if I take two days off, the first day back is difficult, and if I take two months off, as I just did—yikes.

I needed a break from the book. I gave the manuscript to three astute readers, and wanted to hear their comments before I made any further changes. But beyond that, my mind and spirit needed to recover from the insane push to complete the manuscript, and to rest up for what I hope is the final push to actually finish the book. So I spent a month doing other things, then two weeks traveling in the Mediterranean, then a few days recovering from my trip, then enjoying Thanksgiving. They were beautiful, glorious months. But by last Saturday, Carl wanted answers. Trapped in a car with him driving home from North Jersey, he asked the dreaded question: “Why aren’t you working on the book?”

I’d been asking myself the same thing. I knew it was time to get back to work, but I couldn’t make myself do it. Partly I felt scared—of finishing the book, of what comes next—but mostly I think it was a complete lack of momentum—having been away from it for so long, I had no idea where or how to start.

Since reading the Twilight Saga, though perhaps justifiable as research, and certainly enjoyable, wasn’t going to finish the book, I had to try something else. So the next day, I used two of my best tricks: first, I left the house, with the computer—something about being in public forces me to work in a way being at home just doesn’t; second I completed the tiniest possible step I could imagine—I made a to-do list for the book. It’s not magic, I didn’t fall right back into writing, but I had taken that crucial first step, which in my experience, is often the hardest one to take.

While I had the computer out and caffeine coursing through my veins, I wrote a little about my trip, which helped to stretch out my writing muscles, prepare them for working out again. The next morning, I went back to the Corner Bakery, determined to have a work session. I sat down, looked at my to-do list, and picked one thing—addressing one of my reader’s comments. I created a new document, a “working” manuscript, and began editing with Chapter One.

Before I knew it I had edited three chapters, and felt better than I had in weeks. The rest of the week passed in a series of happy and productive work sessions, ticking off my reader’s concerns/questions one little thing at a time. With the momentum back, the working isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s happening. Perhaps now that I’ve written one blog post, I can get together the thoughts about my trip that have been rattling around my brain.

What are your tricks for starting something daunting?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Step by Step

Four summers ago, on an afternoon when I was supposed to be studying for the bar exam, I sat down at my computer with an irresistible urge to write a story. I felt overwhelmed, because I knew that I wanted to write a novel, and it felt like an impossibly large task. But I heard the thought “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step,” and I took a deep breath and started writing.

Four years and a million pages later, I’m glad I didn’t know what writing the novel would require of me, because if I had known, I might not have started. This experience, and others, have taught me that taking the smallest possible step is often the best way for me to proceed, especially if I’m feeling paralyzed. It’s a trick, because often if I take even a tiny step, I build a little momentum, and can then take the next one and the next.

My most recent application of this trick is to my computer angst. The thought of anything technology-related overwhelms me, and my computer issues have recently become urgent and unmanageable. Most pressing at the moment is how unbearably slow my laptop has become, and when I tried to resolve this on my own, I made it worse, then avoided it for three weeks.

But yesterday when I inadvertently parked right by the Mac store I took it as a sign, walked in and made an appointment at the Genius Bar for today, figuring that might give me the push I needed. I hate the Mac store—all sleek, modern, and white with its tantalizing products, and its child employees who want to know things like “What kind of Mac do you have?” and “Which operating system?” I arrived late for my appointment, with a headache, and a teen with Frank Sinatra eyes and a fake Phillies tattoo on his forearm ran some tests, told me my hard drive wasn’t failing, scolded me for not having backed up sooner, and gave me a long list of things to do to resolve the problems. I left muttering to myself something about “kids today.”

After some coffee and some deep breathing, I’ve gained some perspective, and am proud of having taken the first step, which is often the hardest. In this case, I feared what might be asked of me, what it would cost, the stress and difficulty that could ensue, and also, admitting I’m not good at something (the horror!) But as with most things, the reality is better than the horrific possibilities my imagination creates. After thinking about what Old Blue Eyes said, my first step is to buy an external hard drive. That seems manageable. Then I’ll need to backup whatever I want to save from this one laptop. I can handle that. And after accomplishing those things, I’ll need to archive and reinstall the operating system, which sounds scary, but has written instructions, which I can generally follow. Three pretty small steps. I can do that. After I do, I can reevaluate what else, if anything, technological I need to do. Maybe nothing. And if I need to, I can always swallow my pride, go back to the Mac store, and try to resist my impulse to buy yet another overpriced Mac product that I won’t know how to use.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Swimming Lessons

As a kid, I was a natural little swimmer, rising through the ranks of the YMCA swim program from guppy to minnow to fish to flying fish. After a twenty-five year hiatus, I went back for more swimming lessons last winter, hoping to improve my surfing. Little did I know I was in for one-on-one classes with Edmund, an Albanian champion swimmer. He was a big bear of a man—over six feet tall, barrel-chested, hairy front and back with an ease in the water unlike any person I’d ever met.

Edmund was an exacting teacher with high standards, and boy did he understand swimming. He had watched me swim half a length of the pool freestyle when he stopped me and said, “Of course you can’t breathe when you swim, you’re turning your head not your body.” And I felt that clunk of recognition, like when I hear an on-target critique of my writing—like of course, that’s what I’m doing wrong. He taught me how to stretch, how to use gravity, how to position my head to look down and not ahead, how to use my arms to move myself forward, not just my hands.

My freestyle stroke and breaststroke gradually improved, but my backstroke was hopeless. I understood the arm motion of the backstroke, which we practiced standing up in the shallow end, but I couldn’t get the floating or the kicking. I actually went the wrong way when floating on my back and just kicking. “It would be better if you just used your arms,” he said, not quite with disdain, just as a fact.

He gave me some exercises to do to fix it, which I tried, but when the end of our time together arrived my backstroke was still abominable. I continued swimming at the local high school pool, doing mostly freestyle and breast strokes, throwing in a few laps of backstroke when I had a lane to myself, suffering and tense, water going up my nose, but determined to keep trying.

Over the summer I traded surfing for swimming and when I got back in the pool this winter and revisited the backstroke, I was surprised to note that something had shifted. I didn’t dread it as much, and after awhile I began to look forward to it, because I could feel progress, and I love feeling progress.

Then last week while reading a book about Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian surfing icon and champion swimmer, I came across this advice of his about swimming: “Relax. Let your muscles be soft. When they tighten up from fear, you are as heavy as a rock and you sink.” I felt another clunk of recognition. I was so tense during the back float—so afraid of getting water up my nose or hitting my head on the wall, of sinking, of flailing, of looking bad—no wonder it was so hard.

The next day I took Duke’s words into the pool with me. I focused on relaxing while I swam—which isn’t easy by the way. I would relax, but then need my muscles to move forward. So I tried relaxing my core, just using my arms and legs. Then I tried relaxing whatever muscles I wasn’t using. And something awesome happened—I enjoyed my swim more than I ever had before. It felt better, more natural, less forced.

As I swam I thought about the balance between relaxing and engaging, and that sometimes what is needed isn’t more effort, but less. Less effort feels to me like letting go, trusting that I will be okay. I’m starting to do this in my life outside the pool too. The more I do it, the more I see it works. The more it works, the more I do it.

Edmund would be so proud. Maybe I’ll go back next winter to learn the butterfly.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Goodness, Guidance and Gifts

I’ve been trying something different in the past few weeks, and have noticed significant results. For over a year I’ve been waking up and doing morning pages first thing—three pages of long-hand stream of consciousness writing. It’s a place for me to complain, to brainstorm, to dump whatever is hanging around my brain from the day before or my dreams. Also, it’s a place where I learn not to censor myself, to just let it rip.

Recently I added a meditation to my routine. After morning pages I read a meditation, then lie back down in bed, close my eyes, relax my body and open my hands. I ask for eyes open to seeing goodness, a mind open to receiving guidance and hands open to receiving gifts.

And it works. Guidance: I have received guidance on everything from what to do next in my job search to what scene to fix in my novel. Goodness: I have seen wispy clouds in the sky, felt the blustery wind blowing my hair about, appreciated the chilly mornings of winter’s last stand. Gifts: I have recognized the many gifts that have come my way, including an exciting job lead and the very real possibility of bringing a puppy home on Easter Day.

Maybe the best gift of all is the feeling of calm I’ve had. In spite of many changes swirling in and around me, I’ve been living in the moment, taking my next small step, and getting longer and longer stretches without worry and anxiety.

Ask and you shall receive? In my case it feels like—ask, open yourself, listen, and then you shall receive.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Standing at the Edge of the Unknown

I found out yesterday that it was pretty likely that my job would end on April 1. That, along with some other recent changes in my life have me feeling agitated. I’ve been trying to live with the agitation, to acknowledge it and accept it. They say acceptance leads to serenity, and they’re right. I just can’t always get there.

Speaking with a friend this morning about these changes he said that standing at the edge of the unknown is turbulent. He added that we make it worse for ourselves by imagining worst case scenarios—like I’ll never get another job I like, I’ll never finish the book, Carl and I will lose our house, etc etc. (Not that I’ve thought any of those things, but you know, one could.) My friend concluded by saying it would be better if we could look toward the unknown not with dread but with curiosity. After talking to him I thought maybe I can take it a step further and feel hope—hope that whatever comes after this job will be great, will be joyful, helpful, the thing that I need.

My current job turned out to be the thing that I needed, a thing that really helped me in many ways. It helped me make some money, feel some relief from financial worry. It helped me to get back into the workforce, to try a schedule where I had a job and had some responsibility while still working on the book. It allowed me to see lawyers in a positive light again. It may have even piqued my interest in doing legal work again. So if this job could do all this for me, what might another job do? Might it not be great? Be just the thing I need?

Maybe I can take it even one step further and try to be grateful for the unknown, for the new possibilities that shimmer just out of sight, and even for the turbulence, which at least isn’t boring. I am grateful that I no longer see my life stretching out ahead of me in a straight and predictable line. It’s good to have some mystery, some unknown. Isn’t that what keeps life interesting?

Friday, May 2, 2008

O Ye of Little Faith

That’s me. A Doubting Thomas. I’ve always related to the story where Thomas didn’t believe Jesus had risen until he saw him, until he put his fingers in the wounds. I myself am slow to belief, quick to demand proof. That may be a good quality for a law career, but how about for a life?

While waiting to see my holistic healer last week (I know, I know, I belong in California), I read an excerpt from The Call, a book written by Oriah. The book began with a poem with the following lines:

“Remember- there is one word you are here to say with your whole being.
When it finds you, give your life to it. Don't be tight-lipped and stingy.

Spend yourself completely on the saying.
Be one word in this great love poem we are writing together.”

Intrigued, I skimmed through the chapter where she elaborates on this idea. What I gleaned is that each of us has one overarching lesson to learn in life. And that once we learn it, or as we learn it, we can teach it to others. The word is the thing that encapsulates this message, the thing we would entreat people in the world to do. Oriah’s word was “rest.”

She said one way to find your word was to look at where you have really struggled in life; to see if there was one lesson that we really struggled to learn, some mistake that we repeated over and over.

As I’ve thought about this over the past week, I decided my word is “trust.” My lack of faith is what gets me in trouble: my shaky faith in any kind of higher power, my lack of faith in humanity, in myself, my talent, my intuition. Faith does not come easily to me.

But here’s my new realization: just because it doesn’t come easily doesn’t mean I can’t have it. It just means I have to work harder at it than other people. So that’s the good news. It’s still possible. And maybe (dare I even wish this?) maybe once I finally learn the lesson, my faith will be even stronger for having been tested so severely. A girl can dream, huh?

So over the past few days, as I’ve been panicking about throwing a party for 60 people in my small home, and getting ready for my first writer’s conference, when I find myself anxiety and doubt-ridden, heart racing, breath shallow, overwrought, I’ve begun gently saying to myself, “Trust.” Just the word. And miraculously, it works. I get a small reprieve from my fear. Even if it comes back 30 seconds later, for a short time, I enjoy the belief that I am good, safe, and loved. That I am enough. What a gift.

Trust.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Support-Key Component of Bras and Life

I have been overwhelmed since my blog’s debut with postings, messages, and words of support, which got me to thinking about the myriad words of encouragement I’ve received since I decided to leave The Firm to pursue writing. Something about this change I’ve made inspires the best in people, and they freely share it with me. Maybe it’s like how I feel about my friend Ben, who followed his heart and made a documentary film—I want him to succeed, because his success helps me to believe that I can too. (And because he’s awesome—check out the website for his film, First Person, which will debut at the Philly Film Fest on April 6! http://firstpersondocumentary.org/) Or maybe like the Oscars. My Diablo rant notwithstanding, seeing so many dreams come true is inspiring. If for them, why not for me?

Whatever it is, the support is a huge booster for me, readers! Sending out an email about my blog was difficult for me, felt like that icky self-promoting I loathe. But then I thought that maybe instead of self-promoting, it was sharing my work. And that maybe, at least some of you would actually want to read my work. That in fact, many people have asked me how the writing was going, and actually wanted to know.

So I swallowed my fear and my pride, sent out an announcement about the blog, and lo and behold, was inundated with encouragement. Hooray! Thank you to everyone who posted comments, sent emails, or otherwise reacted. I know, intellectually, that I have many friends and supporters, but your words about the blog made me FEEL the love and support. For that, I am very grateful. So often I choose to suffer in silence, when if I just asked for help it would appear. Why do we do that?

My adventure of the past few days, regrettably, was struggling with some nasty flu/cold/virus type thing. I used to think that getting sick was my body’s way of slowing me down. But body, I must ask you, how much slower can I get? For months now I’ve been sleeping 8 hours a night, eating well, exercising pretty much daily and doing work that I love. Still, I fell to the Super Bug. A-ha! But another thought occurs. Being sick requires that I ask for help! Ok, Universe, I get it. I should ask for help when I need it, share my work when I need feedback, ask for encouragement when down. Lesson learned. Ya. So can you clear up this ickiness now, so I can get back to work?

Stay well, readers!