The Yes Experiment

May 18, 2010 at 5:00 am | Posted in little bug, SAHM, the 'burbs, Uncategorized | 23 Comments
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(Today’s Five for Ten topic is Yes)

Attorneys are trained to think around a question. We do not say “yes,” we say: “It is reasonable to expect…” or “It is likely that…”  Instead of no, we might say, “That is not the intent.”

Anyone who has a toddler, however — or anyone who knows a toddler or who has ever been a toddler — understands that most of your days are spent telling that child “No.” No, you may not: climb up on the stool, stand on your chair, touch the stove, watch a movie, drink Diet Coke. No I will not: read you another book, lie in bed with you, bring you another glass of water. It is exhausting for you both.

What would happen if we could just say “Yes”? We tell our children no for their own safety and so that we don’t go broke buying them every toy in CVS.  But those little things that, for one day, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty inconsequential? What if you did read another book or bring another glass of water?

I conducted an experiment on Little Buggy, my 2 3/4-year-old today. After a weekend of being sick, culminating Sunday afternoon with projectile vomiting all over the car, she stayed home from school. So not only would I be with her all day, but she could probably stand a little extra TLC. Within the bounds of safety and functionality, I’d try to say “yes” to every request. We’d go through the day without that enervating back-and-forth of “Can I…”/”No.”  Here’s what happened:

8:08: I want to wear a dress. (Normally, for just hanging around the house, I’d suggest shorts or pants. But who says you can’t wear a dress whenever you want?)
8:14: Can I call Daddy at work?
8:20: Can I have apple juice?
8:27: I don’t WAAAAAAANT a cinnamon raisin bagel. Put it back on the counter.
8:28: I want to go in the sprinkler. (To this: “Maybe later,” which technically wasn’t “No.”)
8:40: I want to go for a walk.
8:43: I want to walk to the cupcake store.
8:50: I want a movie from the library. (Outcome: we walked to the library and then to the bakery/cupcake store.)
8:51: I want to bring an Easter treat in the stroller (an “Easter treat” is a duck- or bunny-shaped SweetTart left over from Easter and usually reserved for bribes. But, why not, just today.)
9:15: (At the bakery) I want a cupcake. (How about a muffin?)
9:48: (Leaving the bakery and walking past another store displaying a big advertisement for ice cream in the window) I want an ice cream. (Again, a diversion: maybe later.)
10:30: (After arriving home) Can I ride my tricycle down the street?
10:36: I’m too tired. Can you push it?
10:40: Can you carry my tricycle home? I want to run.
10:42: Can we play red-light, green-light?
11:50: I want to eat lunch outside.
12:03: (After it was suggested that perhaps she shouldn’t drop her food on the ground, as it might attract animals.) I want to feed the animals.
12:28: I want to play on my playground {i.e., our swingset} and THEEEENNN I will take a nap. (OK, for five minutes.)

“If I throw my spaghetti on the ground then awlllll the animals will come: bees and bears and MONSTERS. And squirrels.”

After a nap, we went to the local nursery to look at flowers and plants for the patio. Little Buggy loved the flowers and especially the disco-like reflective balls that I guess some people put in their gardens. She wanted one, of course. I had to turn back into nagging, nay-saying, no-fun mother: No, we can not buy a disco-garden-ball. No, we are not buying that palm tree or that running fountain or the rose bush.

Dinner: I want Arthur Mac & Cheese and a red popsicle and apple juice. (Not what I would have made for her, but, OK. No arguments.)

7:02: I don’t want to take a bath; I want to watch the Madeline movie from the library.

And, finally, here, I had to stand my ground. I suppose my experiment was destined to revert back to push-and-pull toddler mode under the stress of bathtime and bedtime and “I don’t waaaaaaant to go potty; I don’t waaaant to brush my teeth.” No, you must go potty. No, you must brush your teeth.

We have to say “no” — to instill safety, boundaries, values. To make sure they get enough sleep and their teeth don’t rot out. But it feels so good to say yes, especially when you see your child’s eyes light up, like, Really? I can have a piece of candy right after breakfast? Really? You’ll take me to the library and the bakery? Just like that? I was reminded that she is just a small person — a baby, really. I have such power over her innate wants and needs. I have never worried before that I say “no” too often, nor have I thought that I spoil my toddler. But this tangible effort today to ban the word “no” — which I realized we throw out almost unconsciously — gave me a glimpse into the small universe of the young child whose wants and needs are so, so simple.

Thank you Sarah and Jen of Momalom for inspiring me to write again (regularly!). As a former journalist, I embrace being given a topic and a deadline upon which to write it. I actually often find it easier to write when I am not spending my creative energies thinking up a topic, but can run with a given idea. Thanks to all the new readers (and Tweeters) who visited my blog and commented; conversely, I have stumbled upon so many new blogs that my Google Reader may overload. Last night, as I was hunched over my laptop, writing and reading and commenting and Tweeting, my husband said, “What are you doing? Competitive blogging?” Well, yes, kind of, but competitive only in the sense of pushing oneself and expanding one’s horizons. These past 10 days have felt like an event — a kind of Olympics of camaraderie and support and fun. I look forward to meeting many of you in August!

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A former Catholic contemplates Protestant repression (i.e., lust)

May 16, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Posted in Starbucks, tax law is sexy, Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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I can barely type the four letters, l-u-s-t, the topic for today’s Five for Ten. Oh, these Momalom girls are smart, setting us up with fun topics like happiness and then making us squirm or blush. Or is it only me? A (former) good Catholic girl raised in a repressed Protestant society has trouble with this. We’re not supposed to think about lust, right? Or talk about it, or, for goodness sakes, blog about it publicly.

When I lived in Paris for a few months in the summer of 2001, I attended daily French language classes. One day, I asked the teacher why everyone in Paris chain smoked. “What about cancer?” I demanded. “Don’t you care about the children? About second-hand smoke?”

“You Americans,” she responded (at least, this is how I think the conversation went — the French lessons never quite took me to any level of proficiency). “You get cancer not from the smoking but from your repressed, Protestant lifestyle. We don’t get cancer because smoking relaxes us; we enjoy it.” The other students around the table — Japanese, Mexican, Israeli, Russian — nodded in agreement. Now, I had recently lost my father to lung cancer, but I also had been suspecting (and still sort of do, in the face of all rationality) that it may not have been the smoking itself that brought on the cancer that killed him. If there were ever a living emblem of the harms of Protestant repression it was my father. As the weight of collective condemnation fell upon me, the lone American in the French classroom that day, I wondered if she had a point.

In her “lust” post, one of my favorite bloggers, Launa (she of “Wherever I go, there I am“), writes of the attention her handsome husband has received from other women during their sojourn in France. Women with glossy hair, tight jeans, leather jackets, and no doubt fabulous lingerie beneath it all. Women for whom lust — be it their hidden underwear or their overt flirtation with married men — is a part of a sensual lifestyle (one in which, apparently, smoking does not cause lung cancer). Why don’t we (we, as in American women but more specifically we as in “I,” a repressed former Catholic) make the same effort to embrace, as opposed to stifle or ignore sexuality? I could go all political and link this ultimately to the absurdity of not teaching sex education in schools among many other ridiculous societal responses to our collective Protestant roots, but I’ll go back to my first point: my difficulty even writing on this topic of “lust”.

I could get around it by talking about my lust for life or lust for Starbucks or lust for reading or whatever, but that would be ignoring the decidedly sexual connotations of the word. And this brings me to a larger issue, which is writing about sex in general. One of the reasons I wonder if I could ever actually write a novel is: what about the sex scenes? You kind of need to have them, right, or else your novel will seem inauthentic because sex is everywhere? But what if your mother reads it? Your grandmother? What if every boyfriend you ever had thinks it is about him? Even if everything you write is the products of a healthy imagination, everyone will wonder, think, assume it is you.

Who cares? you might be thinking. Is that so bad? For me, yes. But maybe this is a first step. I’ll try it one more time:

lust

LUST

Joy and Music and Glee

May 16, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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I’m late on my Five for Ten Memory post. I struggled with this one. Writing about any singular memory I feared would come across as maudlin or inauthentic — I wouldn’t be able to write eloquently enough to steer away from the clichés of happiness (weddings, birth, etc.) or sadness (divorce, death, etc.). So I wrote something else that just didn’t ring true and was about to hit “Publish.”

And then tonight after a long weekend with a sick kid, preoccupied with looming preschool and daycare decisions and bills and stuff and etc., et. al., I caught up on Glee. This is actually a long overdue post on why (apart from The Good Wife) this may be the best show on television. What does this have to do with the topic of memory? Bear with me…

Glee, if you are living under a rock, is the breakaway hit show about a high school glee club, and, yes, there is singing in every episode. And, yes, every week, especially during each episode’s finale, I find myself tingling with goosebumps, tears in my eyes. By the end of each episode the show’s characters have resolved that week’s dilemmas in rousing song, unabashedly singing their hearts out (oh, the cliché! But again, bear with me!) My skin tingles because I am transported back to my singing days when it was just as uncool and geeky to be my high school chorus as it is in the fictional Ohio high school at which the show takes place (not to mention the more selective a capella madrigal singers in which I was a second soprano). In high school, the rest of the chorus kids also did all the school plays and musicals and/or had long-ish hair and were in bands. I was nerdy, sure, but more academically so, which in my high school — although not cool, per se — was much more socially acceptable than being a drama nerd. (I played lacrosse in lieu of the school play, upping my cool factor even a bit more.) But once we were singing, such distinctions were as meaningless as they were otherwise important. My chorus cohorts and I had a bond that is hard to describe to non-“gleeks”: once you are out there, in front of an audience, listening to the pitch of your fellow singers or finding a shared source of energy, nothing matters but the music. Not high school cliques or grades or where you are going to college. It is a high; it’s a bond.

I chose my college over another I was considering in large part because of its a capella community. (This may be the nerdiest sentence I have ever or will ever write.) During my prospective-student visit, en route to a party, my hosts walked me past an arch sing. They wanted to hurry on to the keg, but I lingered at the entrance to the arch. This, this was my high school singing experience taken to a new level. The acoustics of the arches are perfectly suited to a cappella music, so much that each group comes to know its “sweet spot” in the arch — where their sopranos or bases will resonate the best. An all-women’s group was singing a little-known 80s song called “Time and Tide,” with an exquisite soprano soloist and back up trio and the hairs stood up on my arms. Reluctantly I let myself be dragged away to a basement party (I had a coolness factor to satisfy), but I never forgot that soloist or that song, and when I arrived on campus a few months later and did the round of a capella group auditions, I looked for the soloist. Fortunately for me, she belonged to the one a capella group that actually wanted me (I’m not a fabulous singer, I should add, but I have good pitch and a good ear and can sing on tune and can blend — a quality as equally prized by a capella groups as the most rousing soloist. Every star needs backup, no?) I remember writing in my journal the day I made the group that I felt as stunned and elated as the day I found out I was accepted to college itself. They want me? I can be a part of this?

Two other Five for Ten bloggers, college classmates of mine, have mentioned the arch sing phenomenon in their memory posts (here and here). So perhaps I’m not alone in recognizing their spirit and beauty and the unique role these weekly mini-concerts played in our college experience. But to be out there — singing — focusing only on the voices surrounding you, the collective experience, the soaring voices; and, yet, aware of the audience, rapt, in front of you, clapping and cheering and hopefully equally as moved or elated…

It’s glee. Pure Glee.

You might think Glee, the show, is ridiculous or embarrassing. Would students really sing like that, unafraid of how they seemed or what they looked like or with such lack of restraint?

Yes, they would. And the show brings me right back. Without realizing at the time, my singing group was the best thing I did in college. Sometimes I dream that I’m back in the group and what I remember is not the particular song we’re singing, but the feeling I had while singing it. I am untethered yet supported by the women around me; I am aware of the audience but unselfconsciously so; I’m enraptured and inspired and utterly free.

Glee.

Happiness revisited

May 13, 2010 at 4:30 am | Posted in read this, Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Today is Day 2 of Five for Ten’s Happiness posts. I wanted to use this opportunity, for those who may be new to my blog, to repost a review I wrote a few months ago on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. How many of her suggestions have I been able to follow through with? Well, just ask my husband and the lingering clutter in our house, and, certainly, I’m far from getting enough sleep. Nevertheless, I still think her book unique and well considered, and even just posting this is a reminder to reinstate the “one-minute” rule!

In which I consider getting happy

Before you start thinking I have a major crush on Gretchen Rubin (which I do — a major career crush), based on my last few posts (I’ve previously written about her herehere, andhere. And here.), I wanted to share my thoughts on her book, The Happiness Project, and why the book attracted me so instantaneously. (Actual reviews can be found all over the Internet — my favorite so far has been by Gwen Bell, here, who puts the book into a larger, Buddhist-oriented perspective.)

This is a bluebird of happiness, of course.

Rubin is a lawyer-turned-writer. If you are not an attorney, you nevertheless might be slightly impressed that she clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. If you are in fact an attorney, you’re probably more impressed that she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal (I mean, that is as good as it gets in terms of law school credentials!) Obviously, she’s smart and probably inclined towards perfectionism. She loves to write, she has an interest in the law, is driven, and she’s a mother of two. So I can relate personally to many of her motivations.

But the book is decidedly not written for a narrow audience and is relevant for anyone who has wondered, “Why do I seem anxious and ill-at-ease in certain situations?” or “Why do I feel like I’m wasting time worrying about small things?” or “How can I enjoy my life more?” She tackles such questions in what is probably for her a characteristically logical way: devoting each month of the year to examining a certain area of her life and then figuring out how to make herself happier in it. Even if you are not quite as logical, you’ll benefit from her extensive research into studies and literature and psychology — it’s interesting to read about areas such as parenting, marriage, energy, career, pursuing a passion, and friendship on macro level through the prism of becoming happier in them — even if you yourself don’t feel the need to make any major life overhauls.

Just as Rubin herself states that she finds personal anecdotes and shared stories as helpful as abstract anthropological studies, however, her own accounts of how she tried to become happier in these areas of her life were what drew me in. She devotes the month of February, for example, to her relationship with her husband. Her husband, as it turned out, wasn’t that pleased when Rubin tried to dump her anxieties on him right before they went to bed, and would rather watch TV sitting next to her on the couch than gaze into her face for a heart-to-heart. Rubin cites some studies that show that, really, women are best suited for face-to-face conversations with other women and men often are satisfied simply being in the presence of their partner — to them, side-by-side movie watching is as intimate as a dinner a deux. This is probably basic Men-are-from-Mars/Women-are-from-Venus stuff, but it was gratifying for me to see it explained both logically and personally. When Tim and I are finally tucked in bed at night is when I want to turn to him and talk, and I try to do so while he is trying to read and decompress, and he doesn’t focus on me, and then I get upset. After reading this particular chapter, I mentioned Rubin’s conclusions to Tim, and he immediately replied, “I could have told you that.” Of course he could have — but because Rubin has not only read studies and dozens of other accounts of relationships, but candidly examines her own interactions with her husband, her analysis was enlightening to me. And reassuring. For Tim, lying next to me in bed reading is contentment, and if I want to talk through my day with him, maybe I can rethink the time and place to do it. This is not to say that spouses shouldn’t make concessions to each other and strive to be active listeners, but it did suggest to me that there is a whole body of scientific, anthropological, and anecdotal evidence out there to support a slight change in my habits that would result in a desirable outcome for us both. My need to be listened to could be satisfied earlier in the evening (perhaps over dinner) and Tim could read in peace.

Rubin is more organized than I would ever be with her personal “commandments” (which range from “Be Gretchen” to “always carry a sweater” to “act how you want to feel”) and resolutions charts, but I already have gleaned a few tips from the book. For example, her “one minute” rule would greatly improve the quality of life around our house. I’m very clean (hate dirt) but I am not neat (I leave things strewn about, cabinet doors open, toilet paper off the roll, etc.). The one-minute rule suggests that if something takes less than a minute to do — do it! (“I could have told you this!” I hear Tim saying…) I’ve been trying to implement it. Were I Rubin herself, I’d mark off on my chart every night whether I have done so. Not sure if I’m there yet, but at least I have this intention in the back of my head.

She also thoroughly examines the importance of sleep — the lack of which makes us less inclined to do things that make us happy (play with our kids, read a good book, exercise). Duh, we all know this, but, on top of the usual summaries of studies on the importance of sleep, Rubin’s lighthearted account of how sleeping more improved other areas of her life was inspiring. While we’re often aware of good ideas in the abstract, seeing them appliedcan be hugely motivating. As a result, I’ve tried to get to bed earlier (knowing that, if I’m shooting to be in bed by 9:30, I really have to start the process at 8:30) and have tried to limit my reading in bed to 15-20 minutes. Has it worked? Well, two out of three nights I have committed to doing so it has — but last night I got entangled with Twitter and the Internet and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (more on that book when I finish it — wow!) — and then it was 11 p.m. And I feel like crap today, and as a result have eaten like crap and am totally unmotivated to exercise — so there you go.

Of course, Rubin is a full-time writer who works out of a home office and has the flexibility to put her resolutions into action. One of her specific resolutions, for example, is to create a house full of memories for her family, which includes making homemade books with her kids. I had to fight to not get overwhelmed by this chapter (how would I ever find the time to make homemade books, assuming I like crafts — which do not – in the first place?!). I already feel slightly guilty that I am horrible about documenting our family life, and Tim and I often talk about how we really should have baby books and albums. But neither of us has the time — or, more aptly, the inclination — to do so (because if we were so inclined, we’d find the time, right?). Thinking about it only makes me anxious. So, if I’m going to follow the advice in the book, I have to remember to “Be Kathryn” — I hate crafts, and I enough relatives take photos, etc., of Little Buggy that should she decide some day that she wants a photo album I could figure out a way to get it done. Still, I had to remind myself several times while reading the book that there is no way that a person not writing this particular book for a living can actually do all of these things. Instead, the self-improvement junkie in me has to remember that Rubin’s actions are suggestions, inspiration, and context.

This is not, I should note again, a self-improvement or self-help book. It really is quite personal, but I think even Rubin’s reading lists would be interesting to anyone (not just overachieving lawyer types!) — she cites everyone from St. Therese of Lisieux to Samuel Johnson to Elizabeth Gilbert. In short, yes, I’m totally impressed by Gretchen Rubin’s resume, but more impressed that she used her obvious intellect and attention to detail to create a book that goes beyond what seems to be a rash of “I spent a year [cooking Julia Child] [living by the Bible] [fill in the blank]” books and, instead, examines the philosophical roots of happiness and then applies them truthfully, rigorously, and critically to her own life.

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