Monthly Archives: December 2011

Cobwebs and Open Spaces

For the past six months, the adults in this household have been doing some real work. Not so much the work we get paid for, or the work that keeps us up late at night meeting deadlines. Rather, it’s been the sort of work that forces you to dig deep, to look inward with the piercing flashlight that is the mind’s eye, lifting out the cobwebs and shifting things around in there so that your heart, soul, and spirit have the space they need to breathe.

And so I have discovered what happens when you commit yourself to taking the risk and spending the time required to go on that long, arduous journey: you discover that you are looking at the world through an utterly different lens, one that has enormous clarity and that contains space for new experiences and perspectives to enter. Turns out, once the cobwebs and clutter are bundled up and moved aside from within, it is nearly impossible to tolerate them on the outside.

For me, that has manifested itself in a great many ways. It seems that nearly everything I encounter in my day needs paring down, trimming back, clearing out. I crave open space. Each time I open a drawer or cabinet in our house, I sit down for a minute and organize it, making a pile of things I can throw or give away. When I open my closet, I pause to clear out the clothes I no longer like or need. I can’t take earrings out of a jewelry box without pulling out all the jewelry in there that I don’t wear anymore. Stopping to get a tupperware container for one of the kids’ lunches, I end up with a big pile of mismatched pieces to toss out. I have carted carload after carload to donation centers.

Opening Facebook on my computer, I am bothered by “friends” in my newsfeed who I honestly can’t even remember from my past, and I simply unfriend them. There are no bad feelings and no guilt. Those perfectly nice people are certainly not cobwebs, but their information is not actually pertinent to me and interferes with me seeing news from folks I have actual connections with. It’s a no brainer.

This Christmas I had no need to put up all the decorations we’ve used in the past. In fact, I packed up a whole box of them to give to Goodwill. As a result, I have not felt so claustrophobic about holiday decorations that I’ve wished to take them down the second the Christmas gifts are opened. I also see excess holiday snacking and desserts as its own kind of clutter, as is excess weight. I look at a platter of cookies and after having one or two I think, “I don’t need all that.” The rest are cobwebs, really.

I know from experience that bad habits can be broken — they can be undone. Resolutions can be kept, if we work hard at them, one at a time, and harness a lot of will power. But what I am not sure about is whether we can stick to those new habits long term if we aren’t actually seeing and feeling differently. I’ve stopped eating excess cookies before, I’ve cleaned out closets, and I’ve dumped the old medicine in the bathroom cabinets, too, each time feeling so satisfied by the changes that I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t let the cobwebs creep back in. That’s not always the way it panned out.

It is no coincidence that my career has suddenly reached new heights, that my husband has renewed energy and interesting opportunities coming his way, that the kids are moving outside their comfort zones in significant ways right now. When any one member of a family shifts in perspective, things shift and grow for everyone. When two make that change, it’s a whole new world.

It is therefore no surprise that we cleared enough physical clutter out of our house that we were able move a few things around and create an entire new room, a family room, that did not exist a month ago (pictured above).

This New Year’s Eve, I wish for all of us that we might make the time to clear the cobwebs and clutter – both internally and all around us – opening up space for all good things to come in and give us exactly what we need.

May all your wishes come true in 2012.

My True Gift

Dear Boys —

We are rapidly approaching Christmas here, and you are in school for just one more agonizing hour before your long-awaited winter break. Every morning in the past week you have leapt out of bed to look for the Elf on the Shelf, examined and eaten your Advent calendar chocolates before breakfast, and Baxter has informed us of precisely how many minutes are left until 7am on Christmas morning will finally arrive.

This being the first year you have earned an allowance by doing chores around the house, you had some money in your savings accounts. For months you have not touched a dime of it. We were so touched that you both wanted to supplement gifts you’d made with gifts you could shop for and wrap yourselves for your family. I remember that feeling well, shopping for my family with my own money, and was overjoyed that you experienced it this year as well. You both placed hand-wrapped gifts under the tree that you cannot wait for us to open, and every day you remind us that you bought them all by yourselves. Your glee and pride are contagious!

But I have something important to tell you: no matter what is in those packages (and I know I will love them because YOU picked them out, bought them, and wrapped them for us!), there are some other gifts you have given us during this Christmas season that are just as magical – probably even more. Let me tell you what I mean:

LYLE: Sweet, sweet boy, you have surprised me during this Christmas season in so many ways! First, you have made such great friends in second grade that you want nothing more before school than to run off and play tag with them. Rather than standing by my side, shyly smiling at the classmates who greet you in the mornings and then sadly kissing me good-bye, you stand near me until you catch the first glimpse of one of your buddies and then you go tearing off into the play yard, screeching with excitement. You tell me it’s okay now if I leave for work before the morning bell rings, but it’s such a joy to watch you out there with your friends, I stay put and soak it up in amazement.

Further, you gave me an enormous gift yesterday. No, it wasn’t purchased with your own dollars or wrapped by your small hands. It was the sight of you standing on stage during the school holiday show, looking out at the audience with a broad, confident grin. It was the fact that you had speaking lines prior to the song that you spoke clearly and loudly, so loud that we could hear every single word. And it was the fact that you didn’t even tell me you had those lines, but left it as a surprise to be discovered when I heard that familiar voice with its sweet little lisp ringing through the auditorium and suddenly realized it was my own boy, standing up there with the wide grin of a natural performer. In kindergarten you stood on that same stage, frozen, jingle bells silent while your classmates shook them mightily and sang. Look at you now! I am in awe.

BAXTER: Oh, Baxter, you fabulous tween, you! Imagine my surprise when you announced this week that you wanted to register for the writing workshop offered after school by an author you love! You, who have found the act of writing down your fabulous ideas so challenging these last few years, who cried at the very thought of a writing assignment for homework just two years ago, but who discovered last spring that you can write one heck of a creative story — you are not only handling your school writing work but taking on a class in which you write a short creative story every week and then work closely with a real author to edit it! What a gift that is.

And then! The very next day, there you were on stage at the same holiday show as your brother, not only singing in the choir for the first time but then also on stage again a few minutes later, singing happily in a quartet with three of your friends – a song whose lyrics you and your friends had written yourselves and asked to perform!

I revisit these developments over and over in my mind today, and I am overwhelmed by your abilities – both of you! – to stretch and move outside your comfort zones with such grace and confidence. I hope you will always know, all your lives, that watching the two of you grow and change into such incredible people is the best gift I could ever, ever receive.

Lyle’s Lists

Lyle is obsessed – obsessed, I tell you – with Christmas. He isn’t talking about anything else. In fact, I just overheard him say to Baxter, “Wait! I want to tell you one more thing! It’s about Christmas!” and Baxter groaned as he walked into the other room to take his shower, “Of course it’s about Christmas. That’s the only thing you talk about.”

He has written more letters to Santa than I could’ve imagined possible. He puts them into sealed envelopes, stamps them, writes “To Santa, North Pole” and then seems to lose track of them before they hit the mailbox. Some of them are longer than others, but none could be called “short”. One day we mentioned to him that he might seem a bit selfish to Santa, what with a THREE PAGE LIST and all, and so he folded it up, carefully wrote on the top, “To Santa, I am not selfish. From, Lyle” and sealed it in an envelope. “That oughta do it,” he declared.

One day, Baxter suggested to him that having such a long list would decrease the chance of him getting any of those things. At that suggestion, Lyle ran down the hall and busied himself for an hour, applying percentages to each item, showing the % chance he has of receiving them. I gave you People’s Exhibit #1:

Look closely. You won’t regret it.

(It’s true: he has a 0% chance of getting $1000 for Christmas. Glad he knows it.)

Today Lyle was on a school field trip. Somehow there was a part of the event where children who wrote a letter to Santa could have $1 donated to charity in their names. Of course, my boy wrote quite a letter. I give you People’s Exhibit #2:

I will help you out with a translation here (sic):

Dear Santa,

For Christmas I whould like: 1 plasma tv, 1 set of glow-in-the-dark googles, civil war battle set, bananas, grapes, any books you whould think i whould like, 2 fake heads, target gift card, 3-DS, Nentendo dS, rubex cube, flame thrower, 1 defiance toy car, empty diary (lines), analog clock (real), soda, 54 pencils (sharp), dart blaster, small notebook, time traveler, invention notebook, whoope coushon, and dart bullets, and peace to the world.

Merry Christmas! 

Signed, Lyle

I’m not entirely sure which part is my favorite, but I would argue that age 7 has got to be the very best age for true Christmas excitement.

One Working Mom’s Answer to: “How are You Doing All This?”

A hard-working pediatric therapy colleague, 6 months pregnant, sat down next to me  at the end of a group we had co-facilitated this afternoon and asked seriously, “How do you do this — full-time parenting, and all this work?”

My immediate response to her was, “I did not work like this when my kids were little. I worked very part-time for years. It was only when they were both in full day school two years ago that I started working this much.”

This is true. I see colleagues with established practices starting to have children when their careers are already ramped up to full speed and I have no idea how they do it. I barely maintained my sanity when the kids were little and I was working 2-3 partial days a week. Sure, there are women who choose to or need to work full-time right from the start, and in all honesty, we’d be in a better financial situation today if we had gone down that road. But I am ultimately happy with the choices we made and I feel like things both at home and work are going very, very well.

I can say this with some confidence because I have, as one friend put it on Twitter tonight, managed a hat-trick this week: 1) our Flummox & Friends Kickstarter project was fully funded on Monday, 2) I was mentioned in a New York Times article about use of iPads with children with autism on Tuesday, and 3) the preview copy of the first book I’ll be published in, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, has come out today (not in my hands, though). So today I almost – almost, mind you – feel I can say I’ve reached a certain level of success in my career. Which has prompted me to pause this evening and really think about how to answer my colleague’s question…what else should I tell her?

The first thing I need to say to new working moms out there is this: I know for a fact that I could never be doing what I am doing in my career if I didn’t have a true passion for it. No one would ever throw themselves this fully into work they didn’t absolutely love. I don’t mind the extra hours I put in at night, early in the morning, and on weekends because this is my practice, my career. It’s extremely satisfying.

But beyond that I learned early on that I needed HELP: a lot of it, from a lot of people. I could work, yes, but not running my own practice and pushing forward on all the projects I am working on these days to this degree, without a ton of help. I also had to get really skilled at saying “no”.

First of all, there are professionals who help me out on a regular basis. Our incredibly reliable, and often very flexible, babysitter is a godsend. Usually I have her pick up the kids from school twice a week but if I need an extra day she can often do it. I’m not afraid to ask her to pick up milk for me on their way home from school if I see at breakfast that we’ll run out in the middle of (or before) dinner. If I’ve left laundry in the washing machine I will leave her a note asking her to please throw it in the dryer for me. Dishwasher full of clean dishes? Please unload it while the kids are doing homework. It’s worth a few extra dollars at the end of the day to get help with these “little things” that make my whole day run smoother.

The lovely woman who cleans my house and office twice a month is another person I could not manage without. I need to be on top of keeping both places well-stocked and having things in order – and most weeks just making sure both locations have enough paper products all week seems to be a bigger task than I can handle – but she truly does the hard stuff. Walking into my house or office and finding everything clean and tidy a couple times a month relieves my stress immensely. It’s not always easy to afford these things and sometimes I have to put off a cleaning or two until the bank account better supports them, but I do depend on them for peace of mind.

I am heavily reliant on my online calendar. I use Google Calendar and it’s synched between my computer, phone, and husband. Throughout the day, alerts pop up on my iPhone screen reminding me who I’m supposed to be calling in five minutes and showing the phone number. I have, over the years, developed too many routines to recount here — for example, which bags I take to work and what goes in each one. (I am regularly leaving for work carrying a laptop, an iPad, my purse, a bag with a coffee thermos, water bottle and lunch in it so that I don’t need to buy lunch, plus usually some files and therapy materials – I used to forget at least one thing every day but over the years I developed some good rituals that work for me.) I also believe that my adherence to certain routines at the busiest times of the day help my kids stay calm and on track. Routines keep us all better regulated, which means less stress and way more fun.

Then there’s the network of friends I depend upon – you know, those people you can call at the last minute if you need someone to pick up your kids and wait five minutes for you after school because you’re stuck in traffic, or the families who will take the boys for an afternoon if need be. And I’m always happy to do the same for them. I have no clue what I’d do without them; the trick is to ASK for and OFFER help when you find yourself in a community of families.

The kids themselves are a huge help, and I’m not sure I’d have pushed them toward so much independence if I didn’t have to, but it’s definitely a silver lining of our lifestyle. They take care of business, those boys – making their own breakfasts and lunches, setting the table for dinner, keeping their room clean, showering without our help, and so on.

And in the end, the person I lean on the most is my husband. Matt pulls his weight around the house and always has. He uncomplainingly brings a new copy machine down to my office on a Sunday afternoon (even after we’ve hosted a late-night sleepover party for a bunch of sixth grade boys), and hooks it up for us so that it’s all set for the new work week. He does laundry and cooks and organizes. Somehow, although I pushed so hard to get a dog, Matt is now the one who walks him nearly every morning and late every night before bed. He gets up early a couple times a week to drive him over to doggy day care so that I’m not dropping off the dog while also trying to get the 5 kids in the carpool to school on time.

I’ve always said there’s nothing in the house I can do that Matt cannot do, and that’s 100% true. I am the multi-tasker and the planner around here, but he’s as capable of carrying our plans out as I am and there is truly never a word of complaint or a sigh of irritation.

I work hard to take care of myself, too. I go to yoga on Saturday mornings and try to work out a couple other mornings a week before work. I get enough sleep.

And, finally, I’ve learned my limits. I say “no”. All the time. I say “no” to social events, to new clients, to extra sessions at work, to non-essential meetings, to parties I don’t feel like attending. I have discovered that by saying “no” to the things I don’t care so much about, I am leaving space to say “yes” to more of the interesting and unique opportunities that come my way.

So that’s how it works for me. It’s ever-evolving, depending on the nature of my work and the needs of my family any given year, but this is what works right now. What works for you?

Aside

Coming into the kitchen for dinner, Lyle: “Wow, my lap still feels warm from that computer I had on it!” Me: “Oh, I don’t think you should do that. I’m pretty sure it’s not good for your ‘privates’ to have … Continue reading