Lockdown Mode

It’s official! Our governor has joined many in imposing a stay-at-home order.

Other than grocery shopping, medical care, going to essential jobs or getting exercise, we have to stay inside!

UNTIL JUNE THE TENTH.

June 10th. JUNE TENTH.

That is… Let me see… MORE THAN TEN WEEKS FROM NOW.

That is just mind-boggling. We’ve already been home for two weeks, and just the thought of not being able to leave the house for any extended purpose for that long is enough to set me nervously twitching.

What can I say that you don’t already know?

This is HARD. This is BORING. It’s CONFINING. It’s ANXIETY-PROVOKING.

It’s so many things in ALL CAPS.

Learning to live with it

This situation has brought forward so many insecurities I had about myself as a mother, a spouse, a housekeeper, a knitter… Even as a reader.

(Yes, you can be insecure about your reading skills, choices, tastes…)

I’ve had a lot of time to look long and hard at my insecurities. And as I look at them, they gradually lose some of their frightening power. It’s like I’m getting to know them all, one by one.

I’m becoming more aware of insecurities I didn’t know I had, and little by little coming to understand them.

That’s not to say I’ll come out of social distancing cured of all my ills and ready to take on the world like She-Ra.

Though I can still dream…

But perhaps this time in social isolation will help me to better accept my insecurities and understand how they play on me.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll figure out how to face one or two of them.

Let’s be Honest: Parenting is Tedious

Yeah, I said it!

PARENTING IS TEDIOUS!

C’mon, you all know it’s true. Yes, we adore our children. Yes, we share precious, unforgettable moments with them.

But let’s be real: those precious moments are balanced by an equal number of mind-numbingly dull interactions.

Most of our time as parents is taken up with negotiating somewhat healthy food into our children’s mouths, cleaning up after them and listening to them tell long, rambling stories that MAKE NO SENSE and HAVE NO POINT.

*Sigh*

Endless Needs

As a very wise (and honest) friend once said to me, the tedium of parenting comes from endless kids’ needs coming before our own.

As parents, we have to prioritize the survival of our children: clothing, feeding and getting them to school/daycare. Or just getting them through the day.

As a result, our needs come second (if at all).

I really admire those parents who can continue with their pre-kids activities with apparently as much dedication as ever. In my experience, while some things must continue (work, for instance), something always must give way in the face of our children’s needs.

I guess that is the sacrifice of parenthood.

Guilt Again…

In our family, we have each given up something in the face of parenthood. In my Chico’s case, it’s doing the sports he loves. For me, it’s been a career.

This is where the Mom-Guilt-Monster raises its ugly head.

I think: but if we don’t model self care and prioritizing of our interests to our children, how will they learn to take proper care of themselves?

I haven’t figured it out yet but I’m hoping we’ll all learn to strike a balance.

And in any case, even if we think we have everything right and we’re doing everything perfectly, I bet you our kids will grow up to complain to their therapists about us, anyway. Ha!

fake-productivity

Fooling Myself into Feeling Productive

It’s so easy to feel like you’ve had a productive day!

Here’s the secret:

Start the day by cycling your kids to school.

Voilà! The rest of the day can be entirely misspent, but YOU CYCLED TO SCHOOL THIS MORNING!

So clearly I’m not an unproductive lump!

These October mornings are perfect for a bike ride with the kids. It’s not so cold that your fingers freeze to the handle bars, and not so hot that you arrive a sweaty mess.

Each time we cycle to school, our Bug does better. He’s still practicing starting on his own (it’s tricky to get one foot on a pedal and push off with the other!), but with each ride he gains confidence.

It’s a great way to kick-start the morning.

It is, however, no guarantee that the rest of the day will be as productive.

Avoidance

Sadly, cycling to school is simply a way for me to mask the feeling (really, the knowledge) that I’m avoiding something.

What am I avoiding?

Well, job applications. The knowledge that I am not putting as much time and energy into my job hunt as I know I should.

So instead, I thrive on fake productivity.

Fake Productivity

It’s not like these things don’t need doing: laundry, cleaning, cooking… They’re essential to smooth running of family life.

But they’re not what I really need to be focusing on right now.

And I know it. My Chico knows it. And now all of you know it.

How Can I Make it Better?

Try again tomorrow.

And if that fails, try again the next day. And the next. And the next…

Until I find a job.

Can Anybody Hear Me?

Can Anybody Hear Me?

Is it just me?

Or is applying for jobs a bit like trying to be heard above a loud, noisy crowd?

I guess that’s exactly what it is. I’m trying to make my resume stand out over hundreds of others. All those others are probably stronger than mine in many ways, and weaker in others.

But how am I to know that?

Have I gotten a response to any of my job applications? So far, just one.

Admittedly, it was a good response. I got an interview. Didn’t get the job, but hey, it’s a start.

While I know that I’m trying to be heard over hundreds of others, sometimes it feels much lonelier than that.

It feels like I’m standing in a huge, towering, dark and empty stadium. My little voice echoes and is then swallowed by the enormity of the space.

When you send an application off to an anonymous careers platform, it feels like you’re standing on that enormous stage and throwing pathetic little paper airplanes out into the empty audience.

One after another, after another, after another, after another…

One a day, every day.

Back to work!

lonely-in-the-playground

Lonely at the Playground

How often do you see parents reading at the playground anymore? Or chatting amongst themselves? Or even looking at their phones?

Not much, I’d guess.

I’ve spent a few months in the US, and the experience of going to the playground is entirely different here.

In Germany, parents would congregate in one area of the playground. Grownups would stand around chatting with each other, occasionally helping a child out, kissing a booboo or intervening when children’s interactions came to tears.

Otherwise, though, parents mainly talked amongst themselves, leaving the kids to do their thing.

Here, it’s completely different.

In the last few months of visiting various playgrounds in our new town, the only parents I have chatted with have been almost exclusively Germans. I’ve only had a nice conversation with one American Mom.

Most of the time I find myself sitting on a bench by myself, watching my kids play.

The other day, I realized what’s happening.

Parents aren’t interacting with each other because they’re too busy entertaining their kids.

Longing for playground socializing

As a newcomer to the area, I thought taking my kids to the playground would be a great way to meet other parents. Not so.

Small chats do happen, and people aren’t unfriendly. But most folks are so busy with their kids that they won’t stop long to talk.

At first it made me wonder if I was doing something wrong or somehow neglecting my children. Then I looked around and spotted my boys, one happily playing on the slides, another dangling upside-down from the monkey bars. They were fine.

They didn’t want or need me to entertain them. And frankly, I wasn’t much interested in the monkey bars.

So now I bring my book

Perhaps it makes me look antisocial, sitting there reading. I try to glance up regularly to look around and see if there are any other parents hankering for a good old-fashioned playground chat.

If you see me reading at the playground, don’t worry about interrupting. Chances are, I’d welcome the opportunity to meet someone new.

Lessons My Kids Teach Me

Three times in the last month, my Bug has had a major freak out over a minor boo-boo.

The first time, he completely lost it and went into full-on meltdown mode when I tried to clip his toenails. Normally, this is a non-issue. He’s fine with it. But this time he freaked out, started screaming, crying, howling and kicking his legs around.

The second time, a large scab on his knee came part-way off and was tugging and pulling uncomfortably. We sat down for me to look at it. When I told him I needed to cut it off so that it wouldn’t hurt him, he completely lost it.

Today was the latest episode. He got a splinter in his hand. He trustingly gave me his hand to look at. When I told him that I would have to take it out, he balled his hand into a fist, snatched it towards his chest, burst into tears and wouldn’t let me near it.

He was paralyzed by the idea of being hurt.

Of course, there’s not much I can do in these situations. Either I wait for him to calm down (which takes forever, if he does at all), or I would have to hog-tie him and pin him down in order to do what needs to be done. Not an option, as it’s probably illegal.

As you can imagine, these incidents are intense, frustrating, and pretty traumatizing for both of us. And even though I try to stay calm myself, I feel rage building inside me the longer his freakout lasts.

And then, just like that, it’s over! The splinter is out, the scab is removed, the toenails are cut–all painlessly.

Someone throws a switch in his brain and he’s suddenly back to being 100% fine. Yes, there are tear tracks down his face, but he’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The child that moments ago was shrieking bloody murder is now gazing at me peacefully, a big relieved grin on his face.

But I’m still mad.

I cannot throw that switch and suddenly go back to all-fine-mode. I’m angry that he nearly burst my eardrum with his shrieking. I’m mad that he didn’t trust me not to hurt him. I’m ticked off that something so simple has become such a drama.

But he remembers none of that. He has moved on to his next moment. Probably a cool leaf, a comic book, or a funny fart noise.

Do all children live so totally in the moment? Or is it just mine? And how can I learn to do that?

How can I learn to let the frustration, the anger and the stress melt away to nothing? To move on so quickly to happier thoughts?

Is my inability to do this part and parcel of being a grownup? Is it some of the magic of childhood that we adults lose?

Or maybe, just maybe, I can learn to do as he does with practice. Maybe I can learn to take a deep breath, look back into his enormous, teal-green eyes and see that the bad moment has passed.

A good one has begun.

Back in the Saddle

One year. One WHOLE year. (Okay, maybe a bit more, but I’ll call it a year.)

That’s how long I’ve been away from this blog. If I’m going to call myself a writer, I think I need to actually sit down and write. Amirite? So here goes nothing!

Time has flown by so quickly, and yet so much has happened.

We left Deutschland. Much as we loved it, we had to leave it. We picked up and moved, yet again, and our situation is only stabilizing now after months of drifting.

Since May, we’ve been in transition. Transition and change are tough on everyone, but especially small people who don’t understand what’s going on.

Our boys, being highly sensitive, picked up on our stress and anxiety and made it wholly their own. Not in a good way. In fact, in a pretty terrible way (especially for our Bug who is now 4.5). We hopped from country to country, and then continents, and the only thing that was consistent was me. I was the only person they saw every day, the only stabilizing force in their little lives.

That made them cling to me like barnacles to a boat. What made it so hard was that I had to be their rock when I felt like anything but. It was a long period of change, doubt, uncertainty, regret and questioning for me, but I still had to try to provide consistency and routine for the boys.

There’s the old line, “Fake it until you make it.” I think the last few months have proved that true for me. Faking it was me trying to impose routine and regularity by keeping to a rough daily schedule of activities, meals and naps. Amidst all the chaos, I did my best to normalize things for them. While I admit I could have done a lot better, I could also have done A LOT worse.

Now that we have our own space, the boys are in school, and we’re settling into a routine, I feel like we’ve made it. The boys are thriving, which is always gratifying to see.

Whether I’ve “made it” or not is still up in the air. But I’ve written enough for today. Let’s see if I can keep this up and write a little bit each week. Wish me luck!

back-to-school-feeling

That Back-to-School Feeling

Ah yes indeed, there’s a nip in the air and the days are shorter. I’ve got that back to school feeling!

There’s always a wistful feeling in September. Summer is over, it’s getting colder, and the year is winding down. But it’s also a time for a fresh start.

Figuring Things Out

Since my mother died, I have learned a lot. Without her to motivate me and encourage me, I have found myself coasting somewhat aimlessly through life.

As you may surmise from other articles I have written, I enjoy being a mom. My Bug and my Bear are delightful people, but as children they are not the most intellectually stimulating folks I know.

It’s taken me a while, and I’ve had to beat down some guilty feelings about this, but I have come to the conclusion that I am not meant to be a stay at home mom.

I don’t get much satisfaction from running the household. I’m not much interested in cooking (baking is another story, and my waistline is paying for that). I get bored and lonely being at home all day.

I need to get back to work. The only problem? It’s so much work getting back to work.

Lighting the Fire (under my butt)

After more than 4 years of either working very little or not at all, it’s not easy to find the energy required to get back to work.

Job hunting is a tiring, discouraging and slow business. Alternatively, building up my freelance business has its own challenges. I have to go out and look for clients, market myself, and throw in lots of time and effort.

It is so much easier, once the boys are out of the house and I’m on my own, to slip into habits of inaction or switch on autopilot. Laundry, meal planning and prep, cleaning, grocery shopping… All these things need to be done anyway, and they’re easier to do than job hunting.

But they’re driving me mad.

So I’m Heading Back to School

My long summer holiday is over. It’s time to gather my qualifications, my experience and my talents, and actually do something with them.

I’m going by baby steps here. As my little Bear goes through his “Eingewöhnung” process at daycare (a four-week period of settling into daycare routine), so must I go through my Eingewöhnung of getting back to school, and gradually increase my working time as the Bear increases his time away at daycare.

Hard to do it Without Mom

Mom didn’t let me be lazy. She would offer advice and motivation over FaceTime, or show up at my home to take over with childcare so that I could do what I needed to do to get back to work. She rode in like the cavalry to rescue me from inertia and idleness.

It’s hard to find the same motivation to do it without her. But now that the umbilical cord has been so definitively and abruptly cut, I’ve got to.

For my sake, and for my family’s health and happiness, I need to figure out how to push myself to do my best, with only the echoes of my mother’s voice to nudge me along.

A Cycle of Grief and Joy

I’m starting this article on January 15th, 2018. It’s been many months since my last post, and I finally feel ready to take a stab at writing again.

On July 15th, 2017, exactly six months ago, my mother, Catherine, died. Those of you who read my blog regularly may have noticed her thoughtful comments on many articles. Any words I think of to describe the grief her loss has caused seem weak or trite. It was shattering.

Two days after she died, our second son was born. It wouldn’t surprise me if his birth was brought on by the physical and emotional stress I was going through. Chico, our Bug and I had jumped into the car the day she died, and rushed from our home in Germany to Switzerland. We were only two hours away from her when she died, and just remembering the moment my father called brings back all the pain of that first realization.

When I’ve thought about writing this article, I’ve experienced something of a block. My blog articles are usually quite tidy: here’s a situation, here are some tips, thoughts or facts, and here’s a tidy conclusion.

There is no tidy conclusion here.

And though I am experiencing deep loss and grief, it’s not really about me, either. It’s about my mother.

So I’d like to try and write about my mother.

Catherine was salty.

That’s how John Beach, long-time rector at Emmanuel Church in Geneva and officiant at my mom’s memorial service, described her. By “salty,” he meant she was, as Jesus says in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:13), “the salt of the earth.”

As salt is essential for flavor and life, my mom brought flavor and life to the lives of the people she touched.

She found people deeply interesting, and loved getting to truly know people. When Catherine made friends, they were friends for life.

She also knew how to find the good in everyone. As her favorite bible passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). She looked for truth, nobility, right, purity, loveliness, admirability, excellence and praiseworthiness in everyone she met.

Catherine was a reader.

Mom thought and read deeply and widely on a number of topics: literature, politics, family, religion. In a tribute to her memory, a close friend from university said she was always in awe of Catherine’s life of the mind.

She had a great love for literature, but she also kept herself well-informed about the news and politics. She not only practiced her faith by participating in her church community, but she also read about faith, challenging and pushing herself to live her Christianity.

She was never intellectually lazy.

Catherine was a planner.

Mom always said, “I’m good at logistics,” and it was true. She organized events, travels, get-togethers–even the simplest meals–with grace and ease.

A dinner at my parents’ house, with Mom in charge of the planning, was always a success. Not just because of the food (she was an excellent cook), but also because she thought of everything to maximize everyone’s enjoyment.

She used her skills for her community, taking charge of organizing monthly meals for a local women’s shelter in Geneva for ten years. She was active in her church, in our schools as kids, and at her local women’s club.

Catherine listened.

Most everyone can hear, but very few people really listen. Catherine was one of those listeners.

She not only listened, but she remembered. She heard sadness, joy, anxiety, grief. She knew when to be quiet, and when to offer words of comfort, advice or encouragement.

People confided in my mother, because they knew their confidence would be respected, and that she would, either by words or just by listening, offer help.

Catherine filled our cups with her love.

Mom made all three of her children feel loved and respected. Her deep respect for individuals showed in the way she treated us as kids, and then as adults, and in the way she treated her grandchildren.

A friend in middle school once told me she liked coming over to visit our house, because my mom listened to her and spoke with her like an adult, like someone worth listening to and speaking with.

Her respect and love for us taught us to respect and love ourselves, and to behave that way towards others. She gave us that gift, and set us that example.

Catherine is missed.

For all these reasons, and so many more, Catherine is missed. Her absence is like a gaping hole in my life; a vast darkness where such a strong life light once shone.

But as my dad reminds me: there’s nothing we need to know that my mother didn’t show or teach us. She is ever-present. She appears in my dreams, and I hear her voice guiding me through my days.

Time and life cruelly march on, when it doesn’t seem possible that they should without her. But even in my grief, the life and light of my boys, my nieces and my nephews, bring joy and hope.

Her light lives on in us, and in them.

God bless Catherine.

God bless her. God be praised and thanked for her life, and her memory, and for the example she was, and continues to be

process_knitter_project_knitter

The Joys of Being a Process Knitter

I’ve often wondered, with all the knitting I do, why I don’t have more finished projects to enjoy.

Most of the things I’ve made, I have given away. I give them to friends and family to enjoy (I hope), and then I make something else.

It’s not that I don’t care for the finished products. I am excited to see how they turn out, and I enjoy seeing people wear the things I’ve made. But I’ve realized that the finished object isn’t what makes me tick.

For me, it’s all about the knitting itself. That makes me a process knitter.

Process Knitter vs Project Knitter

Process knitters enjoy the act of knitting, figuring out the techniques and the stitches, etc. If you mess up, you don’t mind tearing it out and starting again (see my experience with my Rolling Rock sweater).

As a process knitter, you’re more likely to have just one or two projects going at once.

Project knitters work for the finished product. You get excited about casting on, and about the finished product, but the time between cast on and bind of might not be so enjoyable for you.

You’re more likely to have a bunch of projects going at once, and to jump around between them.

Most people fall somewhere on a spectrum, and it’s hard to be just one kind or the other, but these are the two big categories.

The Joys of Being a Process Knitter

Dr Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at UT Austin in the US, suggests that process knitters, on balance, probably get more enjoyment from knitting than project knitters.

In an interview on the VeryPink Knits podcast, he says, “Process people spend time enjoying the moments. It’s the problem-solving and the time spent that creates the enjoyment.”

For project knitters, on the other hand, “the highs are higher, the lows are lower, and probably overall it’s hard to be as satisfied on any given day to work on something.”

As a process knitter, it’s true that I get most enjoyment out of actually doing the knitting and getting it right. It’s a puzzle to figure out, a mystery to discover, and when I get a good pattern, it’s good fun.

How to Choose Patterns for Process Knitting

Now that’s not to say that I don’t sometimes find knitting a project a bit of a slog. If I’m not motivated by the pattern, if it’s boring or too repetitive, I’ll get into a slump.

In order to avoid such a slump, I pick challenging patterns. I look for new construction of a sweater, or new stitches or techniques so that I can learn something new.

I’m currently working on Carol Sunday’s Mia Francesca, a heavily cabled number with an interesting new construction I’ve never encountered before. It’s fascinating, and I’m enjoying it immensely. It will probably be finished, however, just in time for warm spring weather.

Finally Knitting for Me

Though I’m not a project knitter, I do want to make more items for myself that I’ll be able to enjoy. Since 2016 was the year of knitting for others, 2017 is the year of knitting for me. First this cardigan, and next up will be a new shawl to enjoy.

Dr Markman also notes that knitting is a great brain training activity for three good reasons. First, the fine motor control needed to knit engages your brain in a valuable way. Second, it requires problem solving, since you often have to figure out instructions or new techniques. That requires thought, which is always brain-healthy.

Finally, the social side of knitting is also beneficial. If you get stuck, or you need help, you can call up your knitting friends or go to a knitting circle, which is also good for the brain.

So if you’re in the Munich area and you’re looking for an English-speaking knitting circle, check out my new Stitch n’ Bitch on Meetup.com!

 

Image credit: Edel Rodriguez (source from Google Images).