Friday, April 11, 2014

Why I'm Going to Try to Unitask...or is it Monotask?

I don't know how it is at your house, but here, we struggle with homework.  The biggest problem is getting the girls to sit down and concentrate.  In an effort to get the homework done, I have now banned after school TV and activities, engaged in mid level bribery involving after dinner desserts, and threatened to text and email teachers about the lazy, lazy children in my household who will not do their homework.  (I have gone so far as to complete the text and wave the phone in my child's face with my thumb hovering over send.) None of these measures work for longer than an afternoon, so we tend to get into a constant cycle of threats, bribery and recrimination. And even with all the drama worthy of an episode of Scandal (but none of the fun) I still constantly find myself telling the girls to focus, for the sweet love of G-d, just focus, and get your work done.
This image used from this page

I recently realized, of course,  that I might be to blame for their inability to start and finish a single task.  I've been setting a horrible example, see, by constantly trying to do several things at once.  And I'm not talking about things like reading the paper while having a cup of coffee or working on beads while listening to music. I'm talking about multitasking episodes like putting the groceries away while talking on the phone while opening and trying to read the mail.  This might explain why I recently found the envelope for my electric bill in the kitchen cupboard.  I'm talking about cooking dinner while giving one girl a shower and helping the other with that pesky homework.  This could possibly be the reason that I find myself trying to clean up a ring of burnt, boiled-over rice from the stove-top while figuring out how to make it look like Fiona's homework does not, in fact, have the dried remains of a soapy hand print obscuring two of her spelling sentences.  Ay-yay-yay! The multitasking never ends!

And now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to reveal that I am fine-tuning this post (I know, who thought I fine-tuned, right?) while I'm at work at the post office.  So this isn't exactly a rant against multitasking, but more of a reminder to myself, and anyone else who thinks they need reminding, that we might be losing something when we try to do too much at once.

Which brings me to another realization:  apparently, what we call multitasking is actually task switching. Even though we think we're doing several things simultaneously, we're actually juggling activities quickly. And we all know what juggling leads to, don't we?  Eventually, all you have left are broken balls...

This article notes that we humans have been trying to do multiple things at once since we started, you know, doing things.  It's an adaptive survival skill dating from the stone age when hunters and gatherers had to search for sustenance as they avoided becoming sustenance for the bigger animals.   Those left at the cave (let's face it, probably the cave-gals) had to be aware of many things at once too, like predators, the elements, ways to use that dangerous new thing called fire to make the hunted and gathered food edible without burning everything else to a crisp, rock-climbing cave-kids hopped up on sugary berries... the list goes on.    
Image from Wikipedia

No wonder we find cave drawings... who could have all that going on and keep little ones from drawing pictures on the walls?  Maybe that helps explain why, according to studies published late last year, (detailed in this Huff Post article) women may be better at this quick switch than men. Who would have thought that energetic toddlers had possibly had a positive effect on mothers' evolutionary adaptation?  

But what good has all of this really done?  Those of you with a well-developed sense of irony probably already guessed that it hasn't done any good.  This article , directed at business people, but pretty appropriate for all chronic multitaskers, outlines the perils of trying to do it all at the same time. (From a site called The One Thing. It's also the source of the nifty fallen juggler image, above) The news that hit me was that multitaskers are actually less efficient than people who focus on one thing at a time, because they use their brains less effectively, failing to filter distractions.  

Which brings me back around to why I started in on this is the first place-- how do I get myself off the multitask merry-go-round and set a better example for the girls, so that they can use their brains effectively and efficiently to get their homework done?  Apparently, there is help.  This article reminds graduate students of "the lost art" of how to do one thing at a time, in order to get a project finished.  It seems that those of us who were sold on the wisdom of multitasking have trouble giving it up. The suggestions in the article are so simple, they should work for me and my kids.  Clear your space.  Clear your mind.  Put your butt in the chair.  And focus, for the sweet love of G-d!  All I can do is try to set a better example...

Monday, April 7, 2014

This Morning My Moon was in The House of Pancakes

Since I have complained so loudly, and so often, about my daughters and their morning debacles in this very space, I feel that it is only fair that I let everyone know that today,  the morning went smoothly.  No yelling, no screaming, no threatening, no foot-stomping, no tears.  And the girls stayed in good moods as well.

I have no idea what alignment of planets or sprinkling of fairy dust brought this about.  But somehow, some way, everything moved along smoothly.  Both girls got up on their own, then, with only minimal prodding,  picked out suitable, weather appropriate outfits and acceptable footwear.  And socks.  No one imploded during hair combing, which was quite remarkable, because neither girl had been interested in hair combing at all after showers yesterday.  So this morning, I untangled two masses of slept-on, curled up, just-washed hair, which often elicits a racket similar to a shed full of sheep being shorn, and that's just from Fiona, who also usually alludes to my styling techniques as the meanest of torture tactics.  That accusation is usually accompanied by full-on frowny face, foot stomping, and real tears.  

Then they each ate breakfast, and drank juice, and brought their plates into the kitchen.  Fiona even offered to rinse her oatmeal bowl.  If they hadn't had a minor scuffle during tooth-brushing and tried to sneak extra snacks to their lunches while I was in the shower, I would have suspected the girls had been replaced by well-trained androids or alien pod-people worming their way into my affection to further their plot to dominate mentally inferior earthlings and take over the planet before all of our natural resources have been utterly depleted.

Even the girls commented on the morning's sublime flow.  "We're having a good morning, huh, mom?" said Delia as I detangled her dense blond curls.  She seemed pretty pleased that things were going well. Fiona, with her usual diplomacy, added, "you haven't screamed your head off at us once."  So I hadn't.  

What I did was get the dishwasher unloaded-- remarkable not only because I usually use my clean up time for the aforementioned screaming, but also because I have recently come to realize that unloading is my most hated chore. ( I don't know why, and I'm trying not to over-analyze it. ) I also got the front rooms tidied up, checked my email, got the outdated newspapers ready to recycle and made the girls' lunches (though I apparently skimped on the snack elements) and reloaded the dishwasher.  You can do a lot in the morning when you don't have to scream like a hysterical bitch!  Who knew?  

I even had enough time to pour coffee into a travel mug-- a once-every-two-months-or-so phenomenon-- and I'm drinking it now at work as I write this in between postal customers.  Hey, this may be the day to buy a lottery ticket... You'll know if today's extraordinary good fortune continues:  I'll be blogging from Europe for a while...

Glittery morning pic from here

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Battle for the Morning Continues: Update from the Conflict Zone

This is Spring Vacation week at our house, so this morning was a little more relaxed than usual, even though the girls actually left the house earlier than they do on school mornings.  The relative calm and the extra few minutes gave me a chance to actually drink a second cup of coffee and think about the morning battles of the last few weeks.  Not that I have any answers, mind you.  Don't think that there is enlightenment forthcoming.  I'm venting, that's all. At the expense of my children, because that's what I do.  

We are usually lucky enough to get a ride to school with my friend Janet and her daughter Jennessa at about 8:15, and I've found that we have the least trouble if I allow about a 45 minute window to get out the door. Longer, and we get sidetracked, shorter, and we don't really have enough time. Still, we struggle.  Most mornings, I find myself yelling at the girls by 8 am. Yelling a lot. Well, hiss-yelling, because we live in an apartment with neighbors on both sides and below us, and I do not want to be known as the crazy mom who yells at her kids all the time. So, instead, I hiss at them that I don't care if their hair is combed or if they eat lunch or if they go to damn school at all.  "Just stay home, then," I hiss, "but I am going to work!"  

I usually stalk off after I hiss that last bit, to let them think about being left for the day, but they just laugh because, really, they know I can't leave them home alone.  So I start telling them it isn't fair that they won't listen and do the five simple things (food, clothes, hair, teeth, shoes) that are required to leave the house.  Not fair at all. Every day, I start out reminding, move on to cajoling, speed through pleading and finally end with a display of swearing, hissing and pulling out my own hair in utter frustration.  Life in the suburbs, right?  

I've tried check-off charts with stickers, and I am not above simple bribery.  I'm even up for changing the order of the way the tasks get done-- want to comb your hair before you put your clothes on?  Great, though not ideal... Want to put your shoes on before your clothes? Not such a great plan... though some people didn't believe me at first.  I actually let Fiona try that one to prove that it wasn't the best practice.  I wasn't above pointing and laughing as she tried to pull her leggings on over her boots.  So maybe I sink pretty low in the mornings, but I don't feel too bad, because usually, Fiona is my main opponent in the morning wars.  

Oh, she has her reasons.  She doesn't like the breakfast selections (no pancakes? no omelets?) and she doesn't like the outfit she picked last night and she doesn't like this kind of toothpaste and she absolutely does not want to finish the last bit of her homework so that she can turn it in.  Fiona is not a shy girl, and in the morning, she has no hesitation about showing all of this displeasure.  Her favorite move is to plant her feet and cross her arms in front of her chest and hiss, "I'm not going to do thissss.  Heeelllppp me!" Then she throws herself back on the bed or the sofa and fumes dramatically.  Meanwhile, Delia moves along slowly, though she gets mesmerized by the things on her desk, or feels the desperate need to immediately sort her lip gloss by color, or sometimes she's just distracted by the book she's been reading.  I can usually just catch her attention and keep her on track.  She doesn't like to be late to school, so she is relatively  motivated to be ready on time.

But a couple of weeks ago, it was Delia who could not make herself get moving.  She draped herself on the sofa and stared at the blank TV. I asked her if she was sick, and she said she was fine, but still, she didn't move. I put breakfast on the table, and while I was dealing with Fiona, she took it over to the sofa, and ate there. Slowly. I brought her clothes into the living room, thinking she could put them on and just stay in whatever trance she had gone into.  No dice. Ten minutes later, she was still staring, the empty plate about to drop from her hand.  I grabbed it and went into countdown mode.  "We only have fifteen minutes, but you can still get done."  I put my own clothes on, then came back with , "thirteen minutes, come on."  Nothing.  We got to nine minutes, when Fiona appeared next to me, and said, "I'm all done, Mommy.  Do you need any help?"  She was dressed, smelled like toothpaste and had a hairband in her hair and shoes on her feet.  I checked her forehead for fever.  No.  "Wow, great Fee, I'm glad someone is cooperating." She smiled angelically and said, "Well, I can see you're having some trouble with Delia today, so I decided to be good."

Of course, this totally enraged Delia, who has a semi-permanent hold on being "the good one." She looked at me, then at Fiona, and hissed, "Shutttt up, ssssstupidheadddd."  Still, she didn't move to get dressed.  With three minutes to go before departure time, I found myself pulling her pajamas off and putting her clothes on, like she was a toddler.  She cooperated about as well as a two year old.  I shoved socks and boots onto her feet and then started to run the brush through her hair.  The phone rang. Janet and Jennessa were on the way. "See you in a minute," I said, trying to force Delia's toothbrush into her mouth without gagging her.  

Fiona grabbed her back pack and was down the stairs before Delia and I even had jackets on. Delia trailed behind while I yelled that she'd better run as Janet's car pulled into our lot.  Fiona, who usually elbows Delia out of the way to sit next to Jennessa in the car, opened the door and then pointed for Delia to get in. "Wow, Fee, that was nice for you to give Delia a chance," said Janet, not knowing she was entering a battle in progress.  Delia, totally over the edge by then, began to fiercely poke Fiona in the ribs. 

"Fiona's just being nice to be mean to me because I had a bad morning!"  Delia hissed.  

I hopped in the car and began to explain, but Janet just looked at me and started to laugh, because we talk about this stuff all the time, and she has three kids, so she gets it.  We moms have to stick together in the trenches-- Janet's an excellent ally to have when the going gets tough.

Especially because, after vacation, I know the battle for the morning will continue...

Friday, February 28, 2014

You Don't Have to read It, But I, Apparently, Had to Write It.

Wow!  Is this any way to run a blog?  Brag about your blogiversary and then disappear for the rest of the month?  Even though it's a short month, I mean come on!

For some reason,  it's been a mediocre month at best.  I've got to admit to being in kind of a slump the last few weeks.  I think it started with the two weeks everyone was sick.  That takes a lot out of a girl, and there seemed to be something depressing about this cold, anyway.  It made us all out of sorts and super cranky, as well as, you know, sick.  And just like my ear still hurts and feels a little like there's liquid in it-- gross, right?-- I still feel kind of cranky and out of sorts.  I feel bad about that, because really, it's been weeks, what's my problem? And then I feel worse, like all I need is to buck the hell up and stop being such a drag on the program.  Then all I want to do is sleep.  

We did enjoy our anniversary on Valentine's Day.  My son Justin took the girls out and we recreated our first date by getting a pizza and eating it from the coffee table while making wisecracks about what was on TV.  Yeah, we're a crazy couple, just try to keep up with us!  

But a couple of days later, I was right back to blah.  I've been waiting until I felt better to write, but since that hasn't actually happened, I decided to write anyway, and see if that helped.  In addition to feeling cranky, I've been feeling poor, and fat, and feeling those things makes me feel like I must be stupid, because those are thing you can fix, right?  But I haven't, so it must be me.  Perhaps you can now clearly picture me wallowing in self-doubt and self-pity the way pigs wallow in mud.  But I think pigs are happy when they wallow, and at best, I am just "meh."

With a new month on the horizon, I'm going to try to get on the other side of this.  I know it's up to me to do it.  And without digressing too much, I have to say that I find taking responsibility for the direction of one's life to be the central problem (though also, the central joy) of being an adult.  That's it right there, isn't it? When you know that you are responsible for all the choices you've made, and that all the choices you've made have brought you to your present state, sometimes you're proud of yourself, and feel lucky and smart. And sometimes, you just feel "meh."

Goodbye February 2014, it's been a slice. 

Image is from here. I should have read the article, and maybe I will soon, but for now, all I've done is borrow the image.

Monday, February 3, 2014

In Sickness and in Sickness

Last week, the whole family was sick with some kind of evil upper respiratory virus that included stomach complications. No need for gross detail, just allow "complications" convey what I mean here. The girls each ran fevers, had cruddy colds and suffered through hacking coughs, which kept them home from school for a few days. I am finishing up the virus myself, with an earache and laryngitis, but  Mike was hit the worst, by far.   Saturday evening, there was the all over ache of fever, accompanied by chills.  These were layered with a pounding headache, a sore throat, and sinus congestion.  By Sunday night, he was crawling to bed before dinner, saying "I have to try to sleep this off, so I can go in to work tomorrow."  By two a.m., he was experiencing those "complications," and dragging himself back to bed, stopping only long enough to email his boss to let him know that the trip downtown to work was not going to happen.  
He couldn't really eat on Monday, though he kept up a regimen of acetaminophen and tried to stay hydrated.  "I should feel better tomorrow," he said around five o'clock, before going to sleep only five hours before his regular bed time.  The sleeping part didn't go all that well, though, and the aches and pains persisted and were joined by a tremendous cough.  Rather than detail the rest of the week, I will just say that he felt like a pile of crap and couldn't really shake it.  He didn't even feel well enough to get himself to the doctor's office (when you feel like hell, public transportation is no small undertaking) until the end of the week.  Then, he was given antibiotics which finally set him on the road to recovery, as magic wonder drugs they are supposed to do. He went back to work today, though he was clearly dragging by the time he got home.

If I haven't lost you in the description of my husband's week of illness, you might at least be wondering why, in the name of all that's holy, I would devote such a long paragraph to such a thing.  It might just be that illness overwhelmed me this week.  Frankly, I got to a point this Saturday where the sound of anyone coughing made me want to hit myself in the head with a large hammer.  Among the four of us, the sputtering, stuttering, horking sound was constant, filling the apartment like a cacophonous piece of modern music composed to irritate and aggravate the listener.  Maybe, because I have been sick myself, I was just fascinated by the fact that someone could be sicker.

I can't actually remember when I've seen Mike this sick, even though we've certainly taken turns suffering through colds and stomach bugs.  And we both get migraines.  And of course, there were my two pregnancies, which, while not technically illnesses, offered him the chance to see me wretchedly ill and in tremendous pain. (Though he has said he did enjoy seeing me practically bite the head off the poor resident who tried, in vain, to administer an epidural while I was in labor with Delia. Or was it Fiona?  Funny how those episodes kind of run together.) I have been with him through some awfully invasive tests and a singularly harrowing trip to the emergency room, not to mention surgery in response to cancer. We've also waited (and worried) together for test results. It sounds like a lot of suffering, when you stack it up like that, and we have only just started to grow old-- him first of course, because I am his much younger wife...

This is the thing though, it's right out of the vows, right?  Sickness and health.  Richer and poorer.  As long as we both shall live.  Even when it seems like a lot more sickness and a lot less richer, we've gotten through it together.  This sick week was a reminder of that.  As he started to feel better this weekend, Mike put it well, "I wouldn't want to be sick with anyone but you, sweetie."  And even though I can't wait until the coughing stops, that goes double for me.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's My Blogiversary!

I guess that's what you call it, right?  I was off to a singularly inauspicious start one year ago today. Stats show 67 posts for the year, which is about one and a little-less-than-a-quarter each week.  Of course, I wasn't anywhere near that consistent.  The posts have come in clumps, bunches, fits and starts.

I remember thinking about starting a blog for months before I actually made myself put it together.  First, it took me a while to decide on a name-- I went through many possibilities, including "Extemporanea!" from a line in the Dorothy Parker poem I mentioned in this post, because I thought it would be so original.  Then I found out that it had already been used by other bloggers who may or may not have been fans of the Algonquin wits of the 1930's.  I moved on with a heavy sigh.  For a while, I considered "The Journal of Reduced Circumstances," but finally decided that it sounded too academic, and somehow, too Dickensian, to attract the readers I was hoping for.  One night, while I was reviewing possibilities during a routine bout of insomnia, "Ordinary Good Fortune" popped into my head, and kind of stuck.  It seemed to catch the every day aspects of life, and the more ethereal moments too.  I was hoping to touch on both in the blog.

The rest was just a matter of figuring out how to put it on the page.  How long was that process?  Well, let's just say that I had initially aimed for the start of the blog to coincide with the start of the year, but I'm writing about this blogiversary on February 1, 2014. So, you do the math--  if you want to, that is, because here on my blog, you don't have to do the math. (Unless you like math, and then, by all means, be my guest.)  

Have I fulfilled all of my blogging dreams and aspirations this year? Well, no, because blogging has turned out to be like all of the rest of the projects and undertakings and endeavors in my life:  not quite what I thought it would be.  I thought, for instance, that I would write more about cooking, with recipes included, but actually making the recipes intelligible, then taking pictures of actual food so that it looks somewhat appetizing were two tasks that have thus far proven themselves beyond my skill set. Ditto for craft projects. I may still do that kind of thing some day, because I would like to keep the blog going, and I hope that I will keep improving. 

But I'm not going to make either of us any promises today.  Instead, I'm just going to be happy that I've worked on this for a year, and that I like how a lot of the posts have turned out, and that many of you have commented and let me know that you liked them too.  That has meant a lot.  It has been extraordinary good fortune, in fact.

*I picked the "Celebrate" image. above, because it appears on a first class US postage stamp, which is just the kind of self-referential  "in-joke" I like to find when I read a blog regularly.  You're welcome.

Friday, January 17, 2014

An Epiphany, of Sorts, In a Cluttered Home

I had something of an epiphany the other day. Actually, epiphany is a bit strong, as I don't really think this was a lightning bolt of life-changing revelation, maybe more like a cartoon light bulb going on above a cartoon head in, you know, a cartoon.  But I do like the word epiphany, and they say that if you don't use your vocabulary, you lose it. It terrifies me to think of all the words I used to know that I have already lost command of through simple disuse.  So I will sprinkle the ones I still have left over this blog. Take that, impending Alzheimer's!

Anyway... the light bulb went on this past Sunday afternoon, when my brother in law dropped by unexpectedly to bring something for the girls.  Delia was recovering from a cold, and was still in her pajamas, even though it was about three thirty in the afternoon. She was wearing a pair of my high heels though, as was Fiona, because there was some kind of stuffed animal fashion show about to begin, and, as everyone knows, that is the perfect occasion for the high-low mix of heels and fleece pjs.  Mike and I had thrown on "casual" clothing early, because we knew the day would be full of laundry and chores and coffee and newspaper-reading.  So we all looked kind of sloppy, except for Fee, who had put on a fresh set of school clothes, because she had tired of the first set by noon.  (Clearly, that's why I do so much laundry.)  I don't believe any of us had combed our hair, though we had all brushed our teeth, because we're all mouth-breathing sleepers, and that means it's just icky to do anything but brush your teeth the second you get out of bed, before you even talk to anybody.  It's like a public service, you know?   

So Tim drops by, and in addition to the fact that we all looked kind of crappy, the house was a mess.  A real mess, because the girls set up a tea party on the table in the dining area, then built blanket forts in the space between the dining area and living room, then started art projects on the living room floor, getting out all the paper and drawing utensils.  You could see some of the floor, but most of it was pretty well covered by... stuff.  The girls' room was the scene of the pretend fashion show, so all the Barbies, dolls and animals were out, littering the hall, all over the floor and dresser, and lined up on the bed that I'd made before ten a.m., but which had somehow been unmade in the process of setting up the fashion show "runway." There were dishes from lunch in the kitchen sink, and, though the bathrooms were on my list of chores, I had not yet approached them for the day.  Oy!   I was suddenly ashamed to be reading the newspaper in my own house. I looked around in a panic, but there was nowhere to hide. 

Mike said, "Come on in," and Tim proceeded to pick his way through the clutter, saying "Hi" to the girls and commenting favorably on their high heels when they ran out to see him.  And then it happened.  Mike cleared some of the Times off the sofa, and Tim sat down, like there was nothing wrong with our living room.  As of my writing this, the world still has not yet exploded.  I have not been hit by a lightning bolt of judgmental wrath for the state of the house.  In case you missed the importance of this, let me spell it out for you:  I had a guest at my house while it was a crazy mess, and nothing in the universe has changed.  

While I'm certainly glad that my wretched slovenliness hasn't caused a rip in the time-space continuum or a nuclear implosion, I am kind of perplexed. (Did you catch all the vocabulary I stuffed into that sentence? Just saying...) This threatens the very foundation of my being, because I have always thought that if someone saw that my house was a mess, the world would end, or at least I would feel like it had because of the shameful judgment that would rain down upon my bowed head.  Now I'm beginning to question a lot of my dearly held assumptions, like, for instance, what if I step on a crack-- will my mother's back be okay? What about the need to wear nice underwear in case I'm in an accident?* What if one of the girls wears something two days in a row? How fast will child protective services come to get me-- or will they come at all?  

See, here's the thing: I like to think that I'm not all that concerned about what other people think and that I don't really worry much, but apparently I do care, and I do worry.  I don't want to anymore-- I want to be the relaxed person I am in my self-concept. Will I still keep my house clean?  Well, yeah, because I still want it to be clean. What I'm going to try to avoid is keeping it clean because someone might judge me if it's a mess or it's cluttered because kids leave their things out.  I'm going to try not to feel guilty reading the Sunday paper on Sunday, even if the house is a mess.  Because, really, nothing bad is going to happen...but I'm going to try to wear nice underwear anyway, just in case...

*This has already been questioned by several people I know in a lively debate, in which some people took the position that if a person was in a serious accident, their underwear might not remain clean anyway, relieving the victim of the responsibility for nice underwear in the first place.  But still, what if onlookers deemed the accident "not that serious" and then got all judgmental about the state of my undergarments?

Light bulb from here. Woman in cluttered room picture from here. Cluttered room illustration from here.