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Last week I wrote about my impressions of Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time.  (If you missed it, I loved the book; it was one of my very few five-star non-fiction reads.)  I’m not going to dedicate a separate blog post to every point that struck me from the book, because this would turn into an entire blog about Overwhelmed.  But I did make special note of one particular point: American women – and I’m no exception to this – are not very good at non-purposive (or non-productive) leisure.

Schulte recounts a conversation she had with an Australian time use researcher, Lyn Craig, during at a Paris conference for the field.  Discussing leisure, Craig noted that she had spent the morning shopping and having coffee with a friend.  Schulte happily reported that she, too, had indulged in a leisure activity that morning: she’d gone for a run down the Champs-Elysees and around the Tuileries Garden.  Craig made a face and dismissed Schulte’s activity as “Purposive leisure.  How very American.”

At frequent points during the book, Schulte returns to the point that women, in general, have historically not been able to indulge in leisure time.  Early research on time use classified women as part of the “inferior class” who – along with the very poor and many minorities – simply don’t get to play.  They’re too busy making ends meet (in the case of the poor) or working to allow their men to enjoy leisure (in the case of women).  If a woman in centuries past did have leisure time, it was not in her own right, but rather as a symbol of the status of her husband or father – that he was rich enough to afford her a life without work.  Other women participated in enjoyable activities only if they were productive – knitting circles, quilting bees, or simply chatting with friends while bustling around the kitchen or garden.  Fun, sure, but not pointless.

Reading these paragraphs, I was struck by the uncomfortable realization that, as much as I have made an effort to take time for things I enjoy, almost none of my leisure activities could be classified as non-purposive or non-productive.

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Running, for example.  If “productive leisure” was defined in the dictionary, I’d bet that running – or some form of exercise – would be illustrative example number one.  Sure, there are times when I go out and pound the pavement for the sheer joy of it – a four mile run along the Potomac River, during which I felt like I was floating, comes to mind – but that’s rare.  When I lace up the running shoes, I do so for a variety of reasons.  Joy is one, sure; I really do like running.  But I’m also motivated by an elusive PR or race goal, or the desire to lose baby weight.  Running for joy is great, and all, but if I’m being honest I have to admit that I’m usually running to burn calories, training for a race, or both.

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Knitting?  Ummmmm, no.  As much as I love to knit, it’s another perfect example of productive leisure.  I mean, for crying out loud, you get a product at the end.  What’s more productive than that?  File under the same category: other crafty and domestic arts that I don’t do, or don’t do well, but wish I did, like gardening, sewing, and canning.

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Cooking is productive, too.  I have enjoyed cooking and baking and goofing around in the kitchen ever since college, when my best friend Rebecca taught me to cook intuitively.  (“Let’s make a Thai coconut soup!” she’d gleefully suggest, and then darnit, we would make a Thai coconut soup.  Without a cookbook or any guidance other than our wits and Rebecca’s superior understanding of flavor.)  These days, cooking often feels like a chore – must get dinner on the table by 6:30! – but I still find ways to have fun with it, like the time I decided to make my own vegetable stock and then turned it into a delicious sausage, kale and tortellini soup as a birthday present to myself, or anytime Rebecca and I cook together.  (We like to go to the farmer’s market and pick out whatever looks freshest and most beautiful, and then create a meal around our haul.)  But cooking can’t possibly be called non-productive.  Like knitting, it’s the essence of productivity.

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Okay, what about reading?  Yes, reading is an activity that I do for the pure love of it.  I’m a born reader and I can’t imagine life without always having a book on the go.  But even while I read for pleasure and joy, I’m often still chasing little goals.  Read this author’s entire backlist… or get caught up on that mystery series… or blaze through the newest “it” book so I’ll have something to talk about with my reading pals… or check this one off the TBR because it’s a classic and I feel like I should read it.  There are lists to work through – the “1001 Books to Read Before You Die” list, for example, or Rory Gilmore’s reading list.  And there are reading challenges, like the Classics Club challenge.  I enjoy those things, and I think they enrich my reading experience.  And I like the fact that I’m almost always learning something when I read.  But all of those factors may also mean that, as much fun as I have reading, I’m still being purposeful and productive in the way I spend my leisure time.

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If any of my regular hobbies qualifies as non-purposive, it would probably be hiking.  Granted, I do some goal-chasing (like striving to become an Adirondack 46’er, which at the rate we’re going, will only take us 23 years!) and I’ll often pause on a hike to snap a picture with an intention to share it on my blog, frame it for my house, or both.  But that’s usually just a small moment out of the hike, and I’ll spend the rest of the time being present, in the moment, and just enjoying nature.  When I’m hiking, it’s about as non-purposive as I get – other than those elusive moments when I’m on vacation, watching the sun rise with a cup of tea in my hand (or set, with a glass of wine).

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being productive in leisure hours, at least some of the time.  But Schulte argues that we also need to make time and space to just play, because play is essential for our well-being.  Pure play – play that’s not going anywhere or leading to any achievement other than the achievement of a fun afternoon or a cool experience.  Pure play, for me, would probably be ziplining, which is something I’ve never done and something I’ve wanted for years to try.  There’s an adventure course about an hour or so south of us that includes ziplining and a mountain coaster, and I think I may have to go play there one of these days.  After all, I deserve to make space in my life for pure leisure – we all deserve that.

Do you make time for pure play, or are most of your leisure activities productive in some way?

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We’re almost a month into the second quarter of the year, so I thought it might be time to share an update on how I’m doing on my 2015 goals.  (Side note: does it feel like this year is just flying by?  I mean, the winter was insanely long, so maybe that has something to do with it.  It’s hard to believe it’s already late April when the snow just melted two weeks ago.)

Anyway.  This year I set some big goals and some little goals.  The big goals, other than goal #1, were not really measurable things but were more themes or areas of focus that I wanted to work on over the course of the year.  The little goals were smaller, often more measurable, but still important to me.  So here’s how the list is looking after three (almost four) months…

Big Goals

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Have a baby.  Check!  Nugget arrived on March 11, 2015, at term and healthy.  Now the craziness really begins!

Focus on immediate family.  I’m working on figuring out what this goal really means.  We leaned on our village again in the first few weeks after Nugget’s birth – as I knew we would.  Thank goodness for Nana!  I don’t know how we would have gotten through the early days without her.  But this goal isn’t really about never accepting help from family – we need their help sometimes, and they’re happy to give it – but more about charting our own path as a family of four.  Pursuing our family interests is one way we’re doing this (more on that below) but I think this goal is bigger than that.  I have to do more thinking about this.

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Keep growing in our new region.  We’ve been talking about this a lot lately.  We’re trying to enjoy the best that WNY has to offer, and it’s certainly going to get easier to do that now that the cold has finally broken.  My reason for making this an overarching goal was to try to fight the homesickness I’ve been experiencing since we moved.  But almost two years into living here, I’m still really homesick for DC.  I had expected the homesickness to ease over time but it hasn’t – if anything, it’s gotten worse.  I don’t know.  I’m going to keep working on this.  Maybe a super-fun summer will help?

Small Goals

Plant a garden with Peanut.  I’m planning to start the planting around Mother’s Day – I think by that point, the weather should be warm enough that we can set the plants outdoors without worrying about killing them.  (WNY gardeners, if I’m off base on that, PLEASE correct me!)  I’m going to pick up some planters and pots from Lowe’s within the next couple of weeks, and there’s a farm stand near my house that I think might have starter plants – if not, I’ll get those from Lowe’s as well.  I can’t wait to get started!

Marathon or bust!  My postpartum checkup is TODAY!  I’m hoping that I’ll be cleared to run – that’s going to be my first question for the doctor.  The second I have permission to run, I’m going to start building my base back up.  Official training begins in June!

Start juicing.  Big fat fail on this one.  I got a juicer for Christmas and have been totally intimidated by it.  So I just walk around craving fresh juice without doing anything about it.  When my mom was here she suggested that we get it out and figure out how to use it, and I meant to do that, but it didn’t happen.  Going to try this weekend!

Use my dSLR more.  I’ve used my “big camera” a little bit more this year, but not enough.  My iPhone takes such crisp pictures that it often doesn’t occur to me to get the dSLR out – but the dSLR takes even better pictures than the iPhone, so I need to use it more!  I did have a few cute photo sessions with Nugget, using the dSLR, for his birth announcement.  Part of my hesitation in taking the big camera out with me is that it feels so obtrusive.  I need to strike a better balance there.

Do at least one home project every month.  Hmmmm.  I think I can say I’ve (we’ve) been sticking to this one.  Hubby did a few small projects in January – installing new shower heads, hanging hooks – and in February and March we worked on Nugget’s nursery.  For April, my goal is to paint over the ugly green faux marble fireplace in the living room.  Before and after pictures to come!

Get back into yoga, and try out barre classes.  Haven’t done either of these things.  I am on the hunt for classes that will work with my schedule once I go back to work.  I’ve ruled out joining the Y for a couple of years, so I plan to allocate my fitness dollars toward race entries and studio classes – just have to find the right studios and the right classes.

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Get organized.  Well, I organized my pantry to within an inch of its life during a late pregnancy burst of cleaning energy.  (Hubby says it was nesting; I’m not so sure.  I think the whole “oh, you’re just nesting” thing is a little demeaning.)  We’ve actually done a decent job of keeping the pantry organized – probably because I remember vividly how long it took to get it organized, and now when someone puts something back in the wrong place I immediately swoop in and move the item.  The pantry was previously one of the worst messes in the house, so that’s a big accomplishment.  I also organized the bathroom linen closets, a little more loosely, but I know where all of my products are now, and they’re neat, so that’s a win.  And my mom and I sorted through my books in the den, and I cleaned out and organized my cookbook shelf in the nook at the top of the kitchen stairs.  So – looking back over the activity this year – it seems I’ve actually made some real progress on this goal, which I kind of thought was totally unrealistic when I set it.  I don’t have any big organizing projects planned for a few months – still in the newborn black hole – but I feel pretty good about what I’ve already done.

Lose the baby weight.  In progress: I’ve lost about half of it, thanks to nursing, but I still have a little ways to go.  Being cleared for exercise will be a big help, as will a few Whole30s.  (I’m waiting a few months on those; I want to make sure my milk supply is good and established before I mess around with my diet.  Feeding Nugget is my top priority.)  In the meantime, I need to focus on having quick and easy, but still healthy, snacks around for when I get hungry and need something immediately (new moms, you know what I’m talking about).  Granola bars ain’t going to cut it.

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Hike in a different place every month.  I’m glad to say that we’ve stuck to this family goal!  In January we visited Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve (both for this project and as part of our goal to hike there at least once in every season); in February we took a winter walk around Knox Farm State Park; in March we visited Como Lake Park in Lancaster; and in April we hit Times Beach Nature Preserve.  I’m looking forward to seeing where our explorations take us this spring and summer!

Take a family vacation – or two!  It doesn’t look like it will be two, for reasons I won’t get into here.  But we have one vacation booked for this summer and I cannot wait.  We haven’t been on a real vacation since 2011, so the trip we have planned is sorely needed.  We’re going to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, for a week to celebrate my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary.  My brother and sister-in-law will be there as well.  We’re staying in the same house that we rented every summer when my brother and I were kids, and I can’t wait to see Peanut and Nugget playing on the same beaches I loved when I was growing up.  Of course I’ll share pictures and stories, but the vacation is still a few months away.

Date nights, for realsies.  This hasn’t happened, although I did find a babysitting candidate, thanks to a recommendation from a neighbor.  I don’t think we’re going to get out for awhile – our next night out will probably be my cousin’s wedding – but at least we have someone to call when we do decide it’s time.

In the meantime, I’m doing a lot of this…

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So there we have it!  Three (almost four) months’ progress on 2015 resolutions.  I’ll be honest, I’m surprised that I’ve done so much toward some of these goals.  I was expecting to have to report that I hadn’t worked on any of them!  Now I’m feeling more energized than ever, and really looking forward to seeing what spring and summer bring.

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going?

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Another month, another chance to get out and breathe some fresh air!  Spring has finally sprung around here; there are daffodils in my yard and we’ve even had temperatures in the seventies on a few days.  It wasn’t quite that warm yesterday – mid fifties when we went out – but it was plenty warm enough to get the kids out for an excursion.

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I really wanted to go somewhere that we hadn’t been before, which posed some logistical challenges.  I’m still not cleared for exercise, which meant we had to pick a short trail (better with a toddler and a newbie anyway).  And I’m rusty with my babywearing devices, so we decided to push the stroller again to make things simpler.  Of course that meant we had to do some homework before choosing a trail for this month’s explorations.  After a bit of googling, I decided that Times Beach Nature Preserve sounded promising.  We’d never been there, so it meant some new sights, but I was fairly sure that the paths would be stroller-friendly.

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Times Beach ended up being a big hit in all respects!  The path was mostly made up of crushed stone, which was perfect for us.  There was just enough bounce to the ride that Nugget was lulled to sleep immediately, and snoozed peacefully throughout the entire hike – but not so much bounce that we were worried about him.

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(It’s worth noting that I have a fairly rugged stroller – the BOB Revolution SE – which can handle more off-roading than some other models.  If you’re looking for a stroller-friendly hike in the area, keep your stroller’s capabilities in mind.  My BOB handled Times Beach with no trouble at all, but it’s the only stroller I’ve ever used so I can’t promise the paths would be as easy on other wheels.)

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As we entered the nature preserve, we looked back toward the city and talked about the Skyway.  Hard to believe I rode my bike over that thing!  Seems like a lifetime ago.  (The Skyride is taking place again this year, but I decided not to register.  I enjoyed the event very much last year, but it’s too soon after Nuggetpalooza for me to feel comfortable taking on a 29-mile bike ride.  Besides, all of my workout time and energy is going to have to go toward marathon training.  But I’d encourage anyone in Buffalo who likes cycling to try the Skyride.  It was a blast!)

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Also near the entrance to the nature preserve: this slightly more rugged path.  We decided not to walk it, because we thought it would be too bouncy even for our stroller.  But I’m already planning to come back with Nugget in a carrier so that we can check it out.

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We looped around and headed deeper into the nature preserve, taking in the views of the city and the nearby marina as we walked.

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After a little while, the path gave way to a stretch of boardwalk.  I love boardwalks – they always remind me of hiking in the wetlands at home in the DC area – so we took our time and enjoyed our stroll on this one.

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Nugget was very impressed with the views of Lake Erie.  Actually that’s a lie.  He slept the entire time so I guess he wasn’t impressed at all.  Babies have such high standards for their scenery.

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Peanut spent most of the hike playing with the straps to her sunshade.  Kids these days…  Oh, well, at least hubby and I enjoyed the water views!

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Hiking with two kids.  I cannot believe I have two kids.

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Times Beach was beautiful and a perfect hiking experience for this month.  I’d love to come back when it’s greener – I’ll bet it’s just gorgeous.  I also read that Times Beach is notable for the many species of birds that take up residence there during the warmer months, so I think that would be something to see.  I think we’ll be going back in a couple of months!

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Gear

Hubby: Merrell hiking boots (ancient, so I don’t know the model; he’s still planning to get new ones soon); Black Diamond hiking poles; Deuter KidComfort III child carrier.

Me: Oboz Luna hiking boots (my summer boots); BOB Revolution SE stroller; Chicco KeyFit 30 car seat.

Anyone else get out and enjoy some fresh air this weekend?  How great is it that the weather is FINALLY improving?

Notes From the Overwhelm

overwhelmedI’ve recently gotten hooked on a new genre of non-fiction: books about time management (or the lack of it… lack of time, lack of management, what-have-you).  It started with The Fringe Hours, which I read a few months ago and which I think I’ll be going back to sooner than later.  I’ve also been meaning to read 168 Hours, but have been putting it off because I plan to track my time for a week while I read it, and that sort of time study wouldn’t tell me much right now, as I’m currently enjoying maternity leave.  And then there’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte.  I just started noticing this title making the rounds of the book blogs, but it was one blog in particular that convinced me I needed to pick up Overwhelmed, and right away.

Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness wrote of starting Overwhelmed and returning it to the library because, well, it was overwhelming.  She explained:

One of my “genre kryptonites” is books about time management, especially motherhood and time management. I don’t have kids, but reading about it is one of the ways I’m helping myself think about whether I want kids or not. The first few chapters of Overwhelmed were filled with these rushed stories about mothers running late and working constantly and ferrying kids around that made me want to bury my head in the sand… so I returned it to the library.

Ironically, Kim’s reaction made me want to read Overwhelmed more.  You see, I’m not approaching this book or any other time management book from a perspective of thinking about whether kids are in my future.  I’ve already got kids.  They’re in my present.  So the thought of reading about some frenzied mothers who are dealing with the same intense time pressures I deal with on a daily basis (when not on maternity leave) was not off-putting to me; it was comforting.  A book about my people!  Maybe they’ll have some answers for me!  I logged onto the library website and reserved a copy immediately.  And well… well.  Yes.  This book is indeed about my people.  So much so that I thought I might pull a muscle in my neck from all the nodding along.

Schulte, like The Fringe Hours’ Jessica Turner, wears many hats.  She’s a mom, wife, and… oh… award-winning journalist for The Washington Post.  And in seeking to fill all of her roles, Schulte found herself in a state of chronic frenzy.  Stress.  Lateness.  General exhaustion.  She coined some fun terms for her time management issues.  The miniscule snippets of time, too short to do anything except maybe check one more item off the to-do list, contributed to a state of “time confetti.”  (Reading about Schulte’s time confetti made me want to get her together with Turner, who would encourage her to turn that time confetti into fringe hours and spend them on herself.)  And the state of exhaustion and angst from having to (or feeling like she has to) do it all, Schulte called the Overwhelm.

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(Mountain picture for serenity purposes.)

Ahhhhh, the Overwhelm.  I know it well.  I operate in a state of being perpetually overwhelmed.  Sometimes I manage to muddle through the chaos, but more often I feel as if I’m floundering in it.  When the Overwhelm gets to its worst point, I don’t feel like I fill any of my roles well.  There have been a few times in my life when the Overwhelm was really pulling me down, and I still shudder when I look back on them.  Third year of law school, that’s one.  I simply had too much on my plate – a full schedule of classes, a 20-hour per week internship, an international moot court competition, serving as President of my law school’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Board (like moot court, but our competitions were in things like negotiations and client counseling), teaching legal research and writing to a section of twelve first year students, and, oh yeah, all this during my first year of marriage.  I was practically losing my mind, was constantly fighting off colds, and forgot to attend several important meetings.  Not good.  And then there was my first year of motherhood – particularly after I returned to work from maternity leave.  I didn’t feel like I was doing anything well.  I was making mistakes at work (not irreparable mistakes, and not many, but I really hate to feel like I’m not at my best when I’m at work), I was bringing stress home, I was perpetually exhausted and snappish, and I was sick at heart because I was convinced I was missing Peanut’s babyhood.  It was a miserable time that I fixed by making a huge change in my life – moving to Buffalo and spending seven months as an “opt out” stay-at-home-mom.  (That was very good for me.  When the right opportunity came along, I was refreshed and ready to take another crack at being my best self at home and at work.)

But, yes.  I know the Overwhelm; I live the Overwhelm.

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Schulte takes on the Overwhelm and how it affects three areas of our life: work, love and play.  In the work section, she discusses the myth of the Ideal Worker.  (The Ideal Worker is never late, always works nights and weekends, has no home responsibilities, can travel at a moment’s notice, is available for infinite facetime… in short, the Ideal Worker is an almost impossible standard for moms, most dads, and anyone who wants some form of balance in their lives, to live up to.)  Schulte explains how the Ideal Worker has harmed families; mothers are either shunted to the side and placed into “Mommy track” or pushed out altogether, and dads who want to be involved in raising their children are harshly punished.  The only type of parent who doesn’t suffer in an Ideal Worker workplace is the “traditional” breadwinning/provider dad whose wife stays home to raise the kids and who as a result has no responsibilities (and no desire to spend time) at home.  That sort of dad is a dying breed; every year, the ranks of involved “new” dads grows.

As lawyers, hubby and I work in a field that is often entrenched in its worship of the Ideal Worker.  Certainly, there are exceptions, but these exceptions are notable for a reason – they’re rare.  And as a result, we constantly worry about balancing work and family obligations.  I’ve been lucky enough to land in a relatively family-friendly firm, where I’ve been given considerable flexibility without being pushed into “Mommy track.”  I’ve had no trouble rushing out of the office in the middle of the day to pick Peanut up from school if she starts running a fever, getting my work done from home later in the day, and I’m currently enjoying the generous maternity leave policy.  All the while, I’ve been able to work in the particular practice that I enjoy and in which I have an established expertise.  (My firm in DC?  Same thing.  I’ve been very lucky.)  But it’s impossible not to worry about these issues, when you work in a law firm.

Then there’s the “love” section, which focused mostly on families.  Schulte argues that just as harmful as those who worship the Ideal Worker are those who worship the Ideal Mother.  She explained how, in many families, the “gender revolution” has “stalled,” leaving women – even those who work outside the home and may be the primary breadwinners – disproportionately responsible for housework and child care.  Schulte notes a surprising phenomenon – American mothers today, many of whom are fully engaged in the labor force, spend more time with their children than the “Ideal Mothers” of the 1960s.  (That’s because those 1960s mothers, while yes, waiting with cookies and milk for their children returning from school, then nudged those children out the door to play while Mother met with her bridge club; in short, 1960s mothers enjoyed some pure leisure – more on that in a minute.)  American mothers today are putting in heavy hours on the job as managers, doctors, lawyers, and in every other field.  Then we come home and still are the ones putting dinner on the table, cleaning the house, and carrying the lion’s share of child care duties.  No wonder we’re overwhelmed!  Of course, that’s not to say dads do nothing.  Schulte devotes a chapter to “new dads” – meaning not necessarily men with brand new infants at home, but men who are embracing a new style of fatherhood – carrying diaper bags, chasing toddlers down while Mom works, and chatting with other dads on the playground about developmental milestones.  Some of the dads profiled work flexible schedules that allow them this involvement; others have made the choice to stay home or had it made for them in a layoff.  (I recognized my own husband in this chapter.  He doesn’t enjoy the luxury of a flexible work schedule, and he is employed, so you won’t find him on the playground at 3:00 p.m. on a Thursday, but he’s certainly an involved dad in the new style of fatherhood.)  Even in families with “new dads,” though, Mom often still performs just as much housework and child care as in other families – with the result being that everyone is overwhelmed.  Schulte devotes considerable space to discussing families who are negotiating this new frontier in parenting; some have come up with workable arrangements while others are still muddling through.

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(Heavy stuff.  Here’s another mountain picture so we can catch our breaths.)

Then there’s the third area of exploration: play.  Schulte examines leisure time, through the lens of history and in relation to other countries.  Her chapter on “Hygge in Denmark” was one of the most interesting and enlightening chapters of the book, describing how mainstream Danish families structure their time – seemingly miraculously – so that both Dad and Mom are able to do meaningful work, spend time with the kids, and enjoy their own leisure pursuits.  (Hygge is “the key to Danish happiness” and describes, basically, the state of really being in the moment and focused on what you are doing: “When you’re riding Icelandic ponies, ride Icelandic ponies.”)  Schulte had me wanting to move the whole family to Copenhagen.  In other chapters, she discusses the challenges – both external and internal – that keep women from fully exercising their right to leisure, and profiles groups such as the “Mice at Play,” a group made up of mostly moms who schedule “playdates” like trapeze lessons (!).  She describes the importance of play – not just leisure, or enrichment, but actual play – for adults (and made me want to sit for hours doing a puzzle, or book a ride on the Holiday Valley mountain coaster, immediately).  Schulte laments that moms rarely take time for pure leisure for themselves; their “fun” time is disproportionately spent with their children (hey, nothing wrong with that – I love my kids and want to spend time with them – but we moms also need some time for ourselves) and, even when they’re supposed to be unplugging and enjoying themselves (like on vacation), women are often busying themselves with taking the emotional temperatures of everyone around them, worrying that the family is having a good time, and ruminating on the vacation to-do list.  (I definitely can relate to that.  When I was a stay-at-home-mom, some of my favorite leisure hours were spent at Stroller Strides classes.  I loved Stroller Strides and looked forward to it all week… but it hardly counts as “pure play.”  I was burning calories, discussing motherhood with other moms, and constantly keeping one eye on my little sidekick to make sure she was happy, fed, entertained, and not in need of a clothing change.)  Women rarely take time to play in completely non-productive ways, focusing only on themselves, just for fun.  Maybe we think it’s selfish?  But it has to change.

Schulte ends the book with a section on her attempts to knit together her “time confetti” into blocks of useful time that she can dedicate to one of the aforementioned three areas – work, love or play.  She experiments with working in “pulses” of ninety minutes punctuated by breaks (not a bad idea, and something I might try to implement when I get back into the office after my leave ends), works with her husband on creating a more equitable division of labor in their household, and shares ideas for incorporating more play into a busy life.  While I wish there had been more space devoted to her experiments in creating a better balance, I’m certainly planning to try out a few of the suggestions that were there.

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I realize that this blog post has gotten insanely long.  It’s just that there’s so much in this book; I’ve barely scratched the surface.  In fact, I’m strongly considering buying a copy (maybe a few copies, so I have extras to hand out to the other frenzied moms I know).  As I was reading, I was repeatedly struck by the urge to underline and make margin notes – which, of course, I couldn’t do to my library copy.  It’s a relatively short book – under 300 pages of text – but there is a wealth of information, research, and observation crammed in there.

Now, it’s important to note that this book is aimed at a very specific demographic: working moms, primarily, although busy stay-at-home-moms and fathers in the “new dad” model would also find plenty worthwhile in it.  (Single folks with busy careers and lots of community obligations, or married or partnered individuals with similarly busy lives, would also recognize big chunks of the book that pertained to their own version of the Overwhelm.  But it’s true that Schulte is mainly talking to harried parents.)  As a working mom with young children, I’m squarely within Schulte’s target audience, which may explain why I kept shouting “That’s RIGHT!” as I read.  So while I did note some Goodreads reviewers complaining that the book doesn’t apply to their lives, I can’t relate to those comments, because this book relates very directly to mine.  And for where I am in life, I found Overwhelmed to be so many things – comforting (I’m not alone!), empowering, heart-breaking (oh, the section on our broken child-care system), and ultimately encouraging.

Recommended for: anyone who feels perpetually busy or strained by their out-of-balance lives.

WIDE SARGASSO SEA

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Wide Sargasso Sea, originally published in 1966, is Jean Rhys’ imagining of the backstory behind Bertha Mason, the “madwoman in the attic” from Jane Eyre.  “Bertha,” in Rhys’ version, is really Antionette Cosway, a beautiful young woman growing up on a dilapidated old plantation in the West Indies.  Antionette’s widowed mother eventually remarries, to a wealthy man named Mr. Mason, but the damage from their years of poverty and isolation is done.  Antionette’s mother dies mad and forsaken, and Antionette herself becomes a prize in marriage to an aloof man who withholds his love from her.  (That aloof man is Mr. Rochester, although he is never named in the story.)  Antionette (called “Bertha” only by her husband, and for no apparent reason) descends into drunkenness and – arguably – madness of her own, driven insane by her husband’s coldness.

Well.  I have to preface my thoughts on this book by saying that there was no way I could come to it without some preconceived biases.  After all, Jane Eyre is my all-time favorite book, and has been since high school.  I knew that the portrayal of Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea probably wouldn’t be the most flattering.  But it certainly didn’t agree on any level with the story given in Jane Eyre – that Rochester was a fundamentally good man who had run into some very bad luck in his past.  (If the bad luck, that is, was his marriage to Bertha, which is certainly how Bronte presents things.)  The Rochester of Wide Sargasso Sea is, to put it mildly, a jerk.  When his wife begs him to tell her he loves her even a little, he refuses.  He also proceeds to have a wild night of passion with a maid who openly disrespects his wife, right next to his wife’s room and certainly within her hearing.  Not very nice.

Had Wide Sargasso Sea been a stand-alone type of work, with brand new characters, I may have liked it more.  But the incredibly unsympathetic portrayal of my favorite brooding literary leading man – while expected – didn’t endear the book to me.  I also felt that Antionette/Bertha’s descent into madness was a bit abrupt and didn’t really make sense.  She didn’t want to marry Rochester anyway, but we’re supposed to believe that she snapped overnight just based on his “withholding” of his love?  It seemed disjointed – Antionette goes from an unhappy, but certainly sane, young woman to a drunken, raving lunatic overnight.  I didn’t find the story particularly believable.  Of course, there is a question – and I believe Rhys intended to leave this open-ended – whether Antionette was really insane, after all.  She was certainly drunk on occasion, but was she really a lunatic?  Or was she just disheartened, and classified as mad because it suited Rochester’s purposes?  That would be an interesting question for a book club to explore.

There were other disconnects as well.  As mentioned above, Rochester calls Antionette “Bertha.”  Why?  No reason is given, even when Antionette says, in effect, “Why do you keep calling me Bertha?  That’s NOT my name!”  Rochester just replies that, in short, she seems like a Bertha.  While I don’t think that it would necessarily push me to the brink of madness, I would be pretty irritated if my husband suddenly started calling me by a different name because he thought it fit better than “Jaclyn.”  (Although when I taught arts and crafts at a summer camp in high school, my campers called me Cheryl, because they thought I seemed like a Cheryl.  I went with it.  But of course, they were my campers, not my husband.)

I did, however, give the book three stars (“I liked it”) on Goodreads.  Why, then?  If I wasn’t a fan of the portrayal of Rochester and didn’t find the main plot believable, how does this book merit three stars?  Well, I may not have liked the characters or the plot, but I loved the writing.  The book has a dream-like quality, which certainly reads right in light of the story.  None of the characters are particularly fleshed out, but that seems to work as well, because it’s as if the entire story takes place in a heavy tropical mist.  The writing was incredibly evocative – I could see the black velvet sky, smell the tropical flowers, and taste the rum.  The writing, and the atmosphere of the story, saved it for me.  That means a lot – I’m a very character-driven reader, and it’s rare that even excellent writing can rescue a book for me if I didn’t care for the way the characters were drawn.  So the fact that I still enjoyed the book, even while chafing at the description of Rochester and finding Antionette unbelievable, is really telling.

Recommended for fans of twentieth century classics, or novels set in the post-slavery West Indies.  Cautiously recommended for Jane Eyre fans, but don’t expect brooding heartthrob Rochester to make an appearance – this Rochester is straight up nasty.

I’m submitting this review as part of my Classics Club Challenge.

Nugget: One Month

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I’ll have to ask your forgiveness in advance, because I’m totally going to do that annoying mom thing – just like I did in every monthly update with Peanut – and lament how fast the time is going.  Because I seriously cannot believe that Nugget is already a month old!  It feels like just yesterday that we were meeting him for the first time.  (Hubby saw him before I did and got to watch him being cleaned up and weighed, and what I heard from across the room was “Hi!  You look just like your sister!”)

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Nugget really does look an awful lot like Peanut, which surprised me.  We had a record number of ultrasounds (I was high risk, because of the complications Peanut had, and went in for twice-monthly growth ultrasounds during my last trimester) and I never thought that his ultrasound pictures looked anything like hers.  So I really was shocked when he came out looking so much like her – I mean, I know they’re siblings so they were going to have some similarities, but some of Nugget’s pictures could pass as a baby Peanut, and you could just knock me over with a feather.  Even so, I still maintain he looks more like his dad than anyone else: they have the same eyes and nose (Nugget’s nose is different from Peanut’s) and mouth (which Peanut also shares).

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Of course, there are a lot of differences between Nugget and Peanut as well.  The main difference is that Nugget was full term, so he got to room with me in the hospital and come home from the hospital two days later.  Three cheers for no NICU time!  I’d actually gone to great lengths to deliver in a particular hospital because it boasted the top NICU in our region – after going through a transfer with Peanut, which was the worst day of my entire life, I wanted Nugget born in the hospital with the NICU that people transfer to.  As a result I transferred doctors and started going to a clinic I hated, because they were the only place I could find that delivered in the hospital that I wanted.  And after all that, we didn’t end up needing the NICU… and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

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A full-term baby, blessing that he is, is definitely a different animal from a preemie, and we’ve had to re-learn (or learn for the first time) how to parent a newborn.  It’s been a very different experience from our experience with Peanut.  That’s a good thing – I wouldn’t wish the NICU on my worst enemy – but it’s also brought some different challenges.  For one thing, I think my recovery was easier with Peanut.  I wasn’t getting up to care for her during the night in her first two months of life; I was able to sleep nine hours and really let myself heal at night (even if my days were hectic jumbles of pumping, talking to neonatologists about things like gavage tubes, and giving baths through isolette portals).  With Nugget, the healing takes a backseat to 3:00 a.m. feedings and chasing a toddler.

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Another difference: the NICU got Peanut onto a very regimented schedule of eight daily “hands on care” and feeding sessions, which we continued when she came home.  As a result, she rarely fussed or cried as a newborn (except during her 5:00 p.m. witching hour) because the schedule let us anticipate and fulfill all of her needs before she realized she needed anything.  3:00 p.m.?  Time for temperature, diaper and a bottle – before she even realizes she’s hungry and needs a change!  Nugget, however, is not on a schedule at all.  He’s fed on-demand and we check his diaper when he fusses.  I much prefer this way of parenting, of course, but it does mean that we need to work a little harder to figure out his cues.  There’s been a learning curve (we’re still learning) and plenty of head-scratching.  Why is he crying?  He can’t be hungry; I just fed him.  And I changed him three minutes ago.  Is he overstimulated?  Cold?  Hot?  Just ticked off at life?  Each day hubby and I get a little better at reading his signals, but it’s going to take a few more months before we’re really in tune with him.

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Speaking of Peanut, although this is Nugget’s update, I should say a few words about her, since a lot of people have asked me how she’s adjusting to being a big sister.  In general, she’s been wonderful.  It helped that, right around the time of Nugget’s birth, her class spent a week talking about all things baby.  (Not for us, but the timing sure was good!)  She is a very sweet and gentle big sister – stroking Nugget’s downy head, giving him little kisses, and telling him she loves him.  Bestill my heart!  That said, she has had her moments.  At two-and-a-half, she is willful and attention-seeking anyway, and a new person in the house demanding lots of Mom’s time was sure to be an adjustment.  In some ways, her behavior has really taken a nose-dive; she’s spending a lot more time in time-out for throwing food, throwing toys, and (a new thing) hitting and pushing.  Her aggression has been directed at hubby and me – mostly me – not at Nugget, for which I am grateful.

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I’m trying very hard to ease Peanut’s adjustment by giving her plenty of individual love and attention.  That sometimes means Nugget doesn’t get picked up immediately if he’s fussing, because I’m reading her a story, doing a puzzle, or saying bedtime prayers.  And I am looking forward to planting our garden together in a few weeks, once the weather warms up for good (it will, right?).  Hubby’s been working on Peanut’s adjustment, too – often doing bathtime and getting her ready for bed on his own, while I feed Nugget, and then I join them for stories and prayers even if he’s fussing.  It’s a balance that we’re working out, gradually, and each day things seem to make a little more sense.

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Nugget at 1 Month:

Weight: 8 pounds, 8.5 ounces – wow!  Up from 6 pounds, 9 ounces at birth (and 6 pounds, 3 ounces at discharge).  I guess this guy likes to eat!

Height: 20.5 inches – added an inch since birth.  Grow, Nugget, grow!

Clothing Size: Still in newborn clothes, but he’s very close to growing out of them.  Peanut was in newborn clothes until she was almost five months old (well, once she grew into them, that is) so the idea of getting only a month’s use out of all those tiny onesies and sleepers is crazy to me!  Nana washed and folded his 0-3 month clothes, so they’re ready to go and I have a feeling he’ll be in them any day now.

Nicknames: “Nugget,” of course; “Tough Guy” (he sometimes side-eyes Peanut’s toys); also “Squeaker” and “Puppy” because of the squeaky little puppy cries he gives.  And Peanut calls him “Nayyyyyyyy-fin!”

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Likes: Mom.  MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM.  He’s definitely a mama’s boy.  He settles down faster in my arms than for anyone else, and hubby jokes that when I’m holding Nugget and he’s in quiet alert state he gazes up at me with pure adoration on his face – a look that’s reserved for me.  With everyone else, he’s mainly quizzical.  I’m quite flattered by this.  Peanut is such a daddy’s girl, and while I love that she loves hubby so much, it’s kind of nice to have a kid who is wild about me in particular.  He also likes his food – he’s an enthusiastic eater (aggressive, even) – and it shows in his weight gain, for which I’m patting myself on the back!  And (thanks, pregnant running!) he loves being bounced and shuffled about the room with buoyant little steps.

Dislikes: Baths, like most newborns.  He’s also not fond of diaper and outfit changes, feeling hungry, or his late afternoon/early evening witching hour (just like his sister).  And he’s not into being put down anywhere, ever; major hysterics (the back of his head gets all sweaty!) whenever I ask him to sit in his swing or seat while I eat or go to the bathroom… the boy wants to be held and bounced all day long!  All pretty standard newborn stuff.

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Milestones: In developmental milestones, the biggest news is that he rolled over three times from prone to supine!  The first time he did it (on the day before his one month birthday) I thought it might have been unintentional.  But then he did it two more times the next day.  This seems so early to me – he’s a strong little guy!  We’ve been working on tummy time and he’s really quite good at it.  He lifts his head and turns it from side to side pretty readily, and he does so without the help of rage (which Peanut needed to motivate her to move).  Nugget, by contrast, will nonchalantly turn his head to the other side as if he’s just gotten tired of the view on the one side and wants to check out what’s going on across the room.  In other milestones, we celebrated Nugget’s first major holiday – Easter – and he wore a sweater vest!  He also took his first walk in the great outdoors; he wasn’t a fan of the stroller, but I’m hoping that he’ll grow to enjoy hiking as much as we do.

Quirks: Hmmm, not much to report here; we’re just getting to know him.  Other than being a total mama’s boy, as mentioned above, of course!  (I’m not complaining about that!)

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Happy one month birthday, little man!  We’re having so much fun watching you grow.

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Hey, look at this – a livable room!  We have made shocking amounts of progress in the nursery, considering (a) our laziness when it came to decorating this room (due mainly to being overwhelmed at work, and not to a lack of enthusiasm for Nugget); (b) Nugget’s slightly early arrival; and (c) our sleep deprivation after he came home.  Here’s what has been done since we last checked in:

  • Walls and trim painted.  The nursery used to be an ugly shade of cream that reminded me of spoiled milk, and the trim looked like yellow teeth. (You’re welcome for the visual!)  We’ve spruced it up nicely, I think, with crisp white trim and Benjamin Moore paint (the shade we chose is called “Wales Green”).  The walls now remind me of new leaf growth… which is nice, because there sure aren’t any signs of leaf growth outside the house.
  • Bedding obtained.  I ordered sheets from Pottery Barn Kids in a sweet green shade, and then Land of Nod upped its game and released this “Nature Trail” bedding (which was not available when I first started shopping for this room).  So Nugget is currently sleeping on sheets from both stores, and he finally has a cute quilt like his sister.
  • Furniture delivered.  Pottery Barn Kids came through for us in a big way after the Land of Nod disaster.  We purchased an upholstered rocker, dresser and nightstand.  (The book caddy is from Land of Nod and was shipped conventionally, so avoided the whole “sorry, but we don’t actually plan on giving you the furniture that we’ve already charged your credit card for” fiasco, and the crib is a hand-me-down from Peanut.)

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  • New closet doors installed.  This was part of the room-painting deal.  I like the closet doors, but the trim did not turn out the way we had discussed with the renovator, so now I have to see if there’s a way he can come back and fix it – or else decide if I can just live with it as it is.

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  • Wall decal purchased and hung.  I used to detest the idea of wall decals, but after I found super cute one for Peanut during a 3:00 a.m. online shopping expedition when she was a newbie, I came around to the idea.  It’s awfully nice to have some decor over the crib and not have to worry about anchoring it to the wall so it doesn’t fall off and injure the baby.  The theme for the nursery, which is just starting to come together, is sort of a loose “nature boy” theme.  So I chose an adorable decal of four woodland creatures from Trafalgars Square, an Etsy artist who also did the print in Peanut’s room.

That’s an awful lot of activity, considering that most of it happened during the two days before, and about the week after, Nugget was born!  We were able to get Nugget home to a room he could live in – which is to say, there’s a safe place for him to sleep and a dresser stocked with all the essentials.  (He’s been sleeping in the nursery since very early on; we tried to have him in a bassinet next to our bed, but he absolutely hated it yet was strangely willing to sleep in his crib.)  I’d say we’re probably 90% of the way to a completed room – the only tasks remaining are small decorating matters.  Namely:

  • Frame and hang Nugget’s two art prints.  I ordered an “Adventure Boy” print and a crowd scene of woodland animals from Trafalgars Square (can you tell I’m obsessed with her work?  So cute…) and a pair of espresso stained frames.  I’ve got the frames and the prints all ready; all that remains is to actually put the prints into the frames and hang them up on either side of the big picture window.
  • Address the closet trim issue.  Can you see, in the picture above, how the trim is painted green and is just one piece along the top of the closet?  I think it looks okay, but it’s not what I had specified when I met with the painter who also installed the closet door.  I had wanted white trim with mitred corners extending all the way around the closet.  I need to talk to the painter to find out why it wasn’t done that way and whether it’s even possible to do (I thought it was; after all, we talked about it).  I didn’t see the trim going up because I was in the hospital having the baby as the doors were being installed.  It might end up staying this way, but I at least want to find out if it’s possible to get what I thought I ordered.
  • Receive and hang up Nugget’s wall letters.  I had to wait until after Nugget was born to order them, since although we pretty much decided on his name back in November, there was always the chance we’d change our minds if we met him and the name just didn’t seem to fit.  (It did fit, and Nugget’s name is indeed what we thought it would be, but you never know!)  I ordered espresso stained letters from Pottery Barn Kids and they are on their way.  As soon as they get here, I’m planning to hang them over his dresser.
  • Finish up arranging toy storage.  Peanut has a lot of baby toys that she no longer uses, and they are now Nugget’s – but most of them are still stored in the playroom.  I plan to move at least a few of them to the basket in his room.  I also ordered a cute plush campfire from Land of Nod, along with little pine tree and s’mores pillow buddies, and I need to set those up.  At the moment, toys are really beyond Nugget, and the only person actually playing with his toys is Peanut.  But he’ll appreciate the toys soon enough!
  • Iron and insert Nugget’s crib skirt.  Hubby set up the crib not knowing that I had purchased a new crib skirt, so Nugget is currently using Peanut’s “pretty pleats” skirt.  Not a major issue, of course, but he does actually have something a little more manly, and I need to get it in there.
  • Replace the ugly eighties tan light switch and outlet plates with crisp, modern white (this should take me about five minutes once I’ve made the time to get to Lowe’s).
  • Have new window blinds installed.  The blinds currently in the room look okay, but appearances lie – they’re broken.  (They don’t actually close.  Bad scene for naptime.)  We’re planning to get wooden blinds installed in both of the kids’ rooms and in the den as well, I think.  We’ve picked the new blinds out; all that remains is to order and install them.

And that’s about it!  As you can see, we’re pretty close!  That’s in large part thanks to my mom, who helped out a lot during those first few weeks at home.  Hopefully I’ll have a final update and nursery tour to show you soon.  In the meantime, I’m spending a lot of time in that room, just enjoying this adorable view…

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I think the room is pretty cute!  But not nearly as cute as its inhabitant…

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