Category Archives: E.- the fourth year

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Filed under E.- the fourth year, Letters to E.

One more reason to love the internet

Microblog_MondaysWhen your son asks you for a watermelon-raspberry cake for his birthday, you can deliver.

‘Recipe’ adapted from here (among many others- apparently watermelon cake is a big thing. Who knew?!)

 

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This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under E.- the fourth year, Food, Microblog Mondays

Let him eat cake!

Microblog_MondaysMe: “E., do you want me to bake you a cake for your birthday?”

E.: “Yes!”

Me (pleased that E. wants a cake given he has already vetoed the party for the second year in a row): “What kind of cake would you like?”

E.: “An articulated cake!”

Me: “Um. Ok. And what flavour?”

E.: “Raspberry-watermelon!”

Must learn to phrase questions more carefully. If you, dear reader, happen to have a recipe for a delicious raspberry-watermelon cake, please do share.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under E.- the fourth year, Microblog Mondays

Apparently kites are traumatic. Who knew?

Microblog_MondaysQ., yesterday: “E., it’s really windy today. Do you want to go up the ravine and fly a kite?”

E.: “Yes! That is a great idea!”

At the ravine:

E.: “What a big kite! It is brightly coloured! I like the red!”

Q. and I launch the kite successfully into the air.

E. screaming hysterically: “Daddy! Daddy! Get the kite down! Land the kite!”

Runs across the field, still screaming and weeping at the top of his lungs. Doesn’t return until the kite crashes.

E.: “Let’s put the kite away and never fly it again.”

One of these days, maybe we’ll figure this kid out.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under E.- the fourth year, Microblog Mondays

Wanted: Work/Life Balance

A job was posted this week.

Not just any job.

The perfect job.

The exact job that someone had when I read her Q&A for a series on PhDs transitioning out of the academy.

The first job that I read about and thought, “Hey, I could do that and like that!”

The first job that started me thinking seriously about university administration as a career path.

I read the job ad.

I got in touch with the person who had recently vacated the position to ask a couple of questions.

And then the decision was easy.

I’m not going to apply.

It may be the perfect job on paper, but it’s not the right job for me right now.

Here’s the sticking point: it’s full-time, standard hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

It’s at a university which is an hour’s commute from my house.

That job would require me to be out of the house from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., five days a week, JUST to do my job.

The deciding factor in striking it off the list was when I asked the woman who used to have the position about flexibility.

She told me that the environment is heavily unionized, and that options like a compressed schedule or working remotely are explicitly banned in the collective agreement. You can negotiate different start/stop hours (she worked 9:30 to 5:30), but that’s it. During the fall rush, there is a lot of overtime, which HAS to be done at the office.

Even if I negotiated 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., I still wouldn’t be able to get back in time to pick up E. from school. And I’d have to leave the house at 6:00 a.m. every day, long before he was awake.

If I negotiated 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., in order to be able to drop him off every morning, I’d miss supper five nights a week.

I’m not interested.

I understand that I am choosing to cut myself off from this opportunity. If I applied, and if I got the job, we could make it work. Q. would have to drop E. off at school every morning, and we’d have to hire a nanny for the after-school shift.

The thing is, I don’t HAVE to have that kind of life.

Q. works a demanding job. On the positive side, it is incredibly stable and he is well-paid.

I do not NEED a job to keep our roof over our heads or food on our table.

I NEED a job for my own sanity and self-worth, to feel that I am making a financial contribution to our family, and to ease the pressure on Q., who finds it stressful to be the sole provider.

But I don’t have to get a job that will immediately require me to spend 30-50% of my salary on a nanny.

Seeing that job ad was actually incredibly helpful. It immediately clarified some of my priorities. It helped me realize what I am (and am not) willing to do.

If the situation were different, my feelings might change.

If it were at one of the other two universities, the ones downtown which I can reach in thirty minutes or less, that would be different. At one of those universities I could work 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. some days, drop E. off at school and still get home in time for supper. If I worked 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the other days, I could get home in time to pick him up. Q.’s job is flexible enough that he is able (and willing) to do some pick ups and drop offs. He just can’t do all of them, all of the time.

If E. were older, and at a point where he was staying longer after school for extra-curricular activities, it might be different. Eventually that university is only going to be about forty minutes away rather than an hour, which would make it more feasible.

Or it could work now, if E. were an extrovert who loved being surrounded by other people and who would be resentful and bored to be dragged home after school. A friend of mine has her daughter in daycare ten hours a day, five days a week (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) and that works for them.

It would not work for E. I’m reluctant to post much about it on here, because it is his story, not mine, and I need to respect his privacy, but there are issues with anxiety and difficulties with socializing, to the point that we are expecting the transition to full-time school to be a particularly rocky one. On the advice of his nursery school teacher, we’ve had someone in to observe him who can offer suggestions for what we can do to help him get ready, and who can provide a report to give to his teacher so s/he has some idea of what is going on and what s/he can do to help E. settle.

I don’t feel bad about not applying for that job. I don’t feel disappointed or resentful or angry. I don’t feel like E. is keeping me from my life’s purpose. It became so clear to me last night that it just wouldn’t work for our family at this time.

It’s also made clearer what I should be looking for: ideally, something part-time at one of the universities downtown. I just need to get my foot in the door, and if I’m working for them already, I become an internal candidate with access to all job postings, not just the ones they can’t fill with the people they’ve got already. A full-time position would be manageable, provided I could negotiate staggered hours.

Failing that, something part-time with an easy commute that lets me use the skills I’ve developed during my doctorate and builds experience that will mean when I want a full-time job the doors won’t be closed to me.

Or, something full-time (or close to it) with very flexible hours and the ability to work a significant number of hours from home.

Or, a bunch of part-time/contract/freelance opportunities that add up to a steady income stream. I have a couple irons in the fire here already, including the possibility of developing and teaching an online course for my old department in the summer. I really hope this works out, as it’s a great skill set to develop and a very useful niche to occupy. Plus, you can teach an online course no matter what your ‘day’ job is.

My good friend, Pam, over at Two Adults, One Child, had a post this week about finding your life’s purpose. Reading it at this point was particularly helpful, because it helped me realize that I don’t need my job to be my passion or my vocation or my mission. I want to do something I enjoy, to do it well, to feel like what I do matters, but at the end of the day, I also want to come home and be present for my family. The most obvious way to achieve this is to sacrifice financial reward in favor of time. And that suits me, at least at this point in my life. I am incredibly privileged to even have this choice.

It’s been scary, being unemployed. I’ve never been this long without a plan. I haven’t gone this long without bringing in an income since I started university almost seventeen years ago.

But I feel like I’m making real progress in figuring out what I need and want, and what my family needs and wants, and how best to make these align.

And that makes the future much less frightening.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, E.- the fourth year, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Easter treats

Microblog_MondaysE.’s best lines from Easter:

Upon finding jelly beans in plastic eggs: “Are jelly beans edible?”

Upon being assured that they were and trying one, “Oh, actually they are delicious! Better than mice!”

(Yes, we are still in the snake phase.)

When contemplating tackling another puzzle: “Maybe another chocolate egg will help my brain fill up again.”

Q. made me chocolates- with 75% cocoa chocolate from the farmers’ market and almonds.

We had a lovely weekend. I hope everyone else who was celebrating did too!

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under E.- the fourth year, Family, Microblog Mondays

Happiness Reset Sphere #1: Parenthood

For the reasons why I decided to put myself through a happiness boot camp, see here.

I can pinpoint exactly the moment where I realized I needed to reset my attitude about being at home with E.

It happened a couple of weeks ago, before we went away to see the grandparents.

Before I tell you what happened, you should know that Puppy is E’s most beloved companion, a stuffed dog who is his best friend (when I tell him I love him, he always replies, “I love you too, Mummy. I love you as much as I love Puppy.”). Blackie is a dog puppet. E. ignored Blackie entirely until Puppy entered his life this past summer, and now every week sees a new game involving the two of them. E. decided last fall that Puppy was Blackie’s Mummy.

So.

E. comes downstairs after quiet time and announces to me, “Puppy lost her temper!”

“Oh!” I said. “Why did she lose her temper?”

“She was getting so frustrated because Blackie wouldn’t put her socks on to go to No Frills.”

Shit.

“And then what happened?” I asked, trying to keep my voice bright.

“Then she apologized to Blackie for getting frustrated and losing her temper and gave her a big hug and a cuddle.”

Whew.

Right there, even though Puppy knew the error of her ways and had apologized for her outburst and modeled how to cope with anger, I knew things had to change.

Because Puppy was me.

And I was “losing my temper” or “getting frustrated” too often and too easily.

Although I eventually decided to focus on five different spheres for my happiness boot camp of the next five months, it was the PARENTHOOD sphere where I knew I needed the most change.

It took me almost no time at all to come up with my three resolutions:

  • Model emotions
  • Say yes more often
  • Have an adventure every week

Model emotions
One of the things that I dislike the most about how I parent E. is how easily I get frustrated/irritated when he starts yelling or getting hugely upset (especially when it is over something that seems highly inconsequential to me). The moment I get frustrated, I feel my jaw clench, and my willingness to compromise or to not sweat the small stuff evaporates. Although I almost never yell, I do raise my voice. The minute I do, the situation escalates.

E. is very sensitive. Yelling doesn’t work. I know this, and I almost never yell at him in anger. But he is just as easily upset by a loud, stern voice, and I am guilty (very guilty) of resorting to using it, especially once my buttons have been pushed and I feel like I’m locked in a battle of wills that I must win.

I could have also called this resolution, “Remember you’re the adult”, because it amounts to the same thing. If I want E. to be able to cope with disappointment and frustration and anger in a measured fashion, I have to show him that I can do this myself.

I don’t want to erase his emotions or deny them. I want him to recognize them as valid feelings. But I also want him to have coping strategies to be able to calm down, to deflate situations, to keep him from losing control over what really is a minor setback.

I would never respond to E. hitting me by hitting him, no matter how angry I was. Verbal expressions of anger are no different.

The worst time for this to happen is first thing in the morning. If we’re both hangry, it is easy for the day to go off the rails, with E. shrieking at the top of the stairs that he won’t come down unless I come back up the stairs and hold his hand, and me (for no good reason except I’m pissed off) refusing to do this because I’m downstairs already and I need to make his breakfast so he’ll stop yelling. Luckily Q. usually hasn’t yet left for work at this point, and he’s become very very quick to defuse the situation when he senses a hangry incident.

I’m not trying to erase my feelings either. I am allowed to get angry and frustrated at E. (who can be genuinely infuriating at times).

But I want to make sure that I’m not losing my temper over the little things. And in the grand scheme of things, most things ARE little things.

Say yes more often
I am not great at saying yes to things, especially things that will be messy or dirty or will use up a ton of art supplies.

I am not sure why I react like this (at least to the last point, I understand why I’m not good with mess or dirt). What do I think I’m saving the supplies for? They’re supposed to be for E. to use, so if he has a project in mind that will use them, what is the problem?

I am good with dirt and mess outside the house, but less so inside. That’s what I’m trying to work on. I cringe whenever I watch videos of me baking with E. I am a terrible micro-manager. Who cares if some of the flour comes out of the bowl?

My mother is happy to let E. make as much mess as he wants. She was great with mess when we were kids too. I’m trying to be more like her.

My first two resolutions point directly to one of the things I like least about myself: I want to get my own way too often.

I need to make more room for E’s ideas and schemes and plans and projects.

Have an adventure every week
E. and I need to get out and do more things. Especially now that spring is on its way (surely it has to be?), we need to take advantage of the days where he doesn’t have nursery school to go out and explore our city. E. loves (LOVES) riding on public transit, so the journey is often more fun than the destination.

We don’t have to go far, and we don’t have to do anything fancy, but I want to make sure we broaden our horizons a little bit each week.

We’ll have more fun that way. Our worst days this winter were ones where the weather kept us stuck in the house.

I don’t expect to be perfect with these resolutions. But I’m hoping keeping them at the forefront of my conscious mind will (eventually) help make it easier to react the way I’d like to react. Every good day is progress. And every bad day has a day coming after it that is a chance for a fresh start.

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Choose Happiness, E.- the fourth year

The days are long, but the years are short

Two of the books I’ve been reading this month were by Gretchen Rubin: The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. I came to them in a roundabout fashion: the book I most wanted to read was her new one (Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives), but the library first didn’t have it in stock yet, and then, once it was available to put on hold, a bunch of people got their hold requests in before me. While looking it up I came across the other two books and decided to give them a try (I had heard of The Happiness Project before but knew very little about it).

I read Happier at Home first just because it arrived first at my branch. Reading the two of them in quick succession was interesting in itself. I particularly liked how she managed to get two books out of what was essentially one idea (some of her categories in the second book exactly mirrored those in the first, and some issues she struggled with in the first book returned in the second).

And yes, it’s a bit of a schtick, and it’s self-indulgent and earnest to a point that occasionally borders on the embarrassing, and some of the challenges she set for herself made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, but her books touched a nerve.

She sounded a lot like me, especially in the weaknesses she saw in herself as a mother and a wife, the perfectionist nature of her personality, her love for lists and charts and organization, and the way she feels about writing, reading and books.

Her books were a good kick in the ass, a reminder that this is my only life and it is up to me to chart my course through it in a way that makes me happy.

I won’t sugarcoat it: I’ve been pretty miserable lately.

E. is going through (another) highly volatile and argumentative phase. I’m sure it’s developmental, because a number of the children in his birth club are doing exactly the same thing, but that doesn’t make it any easier to live with.

I’m short on patience.

I’m quick to become frustrated.

When he snaps and starts yelling at me over something incredibly minor that wasn’t an issue two seconds earlier, I find it very very hard to keep my temper.

And it’s much harder to cope with because I’ve found myself this month really resenting being at home with him. Every time we butt heads, I’m that much faster to snap back at him because I’m bored and tired and frustrated.

Part of it has been this interminable winter. I am SO tired of cold and wind and frozen ground and dragging E. out of the house to run a random errand just so we get some fresh air. I cannot wait for it to warm up enough to make going to the parks fun again. I want to walk through the ravine and look for birds with him.

The winter has not helped, but it’s not the whole story.

I didn’t like not applying for interesting jobs that were coming through my e-mail aggregate lists.

I grouched to Q.

“I think you should apply for anything that looks interesting,” he said. “If you get one, we’ll muddle through.” (Given Q. is approaching the end of his semester this might now have some truth to it. This wasn’t the case in January.)

I grouched to a friend from my birth club, who had recently quit her job because her family couldn’t find any work/life balance in a household with two full-time earners.

“Apply anyway!” she wrote. “Deviate from the plan! Get a live-in au pair!”

But I didn’t want to apply for those jobs.

I wanted to be home with my son for the summer.

I just didn’t want to be home with my son at that particular moment.

The days are long, but the years are short.

In twenty years, will I regret not starting work five months earlier?

No.

In twenty years, will I look back with nostalgia and love on these next five months, the last I will have with my son (in all likelihood my only baby) before he starts full-time school?

Yes.

When I look at the big picture, I am not in a rush to find employment. I know these months are special, and I want to cherish them.

It’s the day-to-day where I’m floundering. E. and I are spending too much time quarreling and not enough time having fun.

Partly this is because he’s not particularly fun to be around at the moment.

But I’m positive part of it is him responding to my attitude.

If E. gets upset and I get upset too, if I raise my voice, I make the situation much much worse.

So I decided, in the spirit of Rubin’s happiness projects, that it was time for an attitude boot camp.

No one is MAKING me stay at home with my son.

No one is MAKING me miserable, except myself.

No one can make me happier, except myself.

I have five months before E. starts school.

I picked out five areas where my current actions (or inaction in some cases) are sources of stress, guilt, and resentment. They are: Parenthood, Marriage, Self, Work, and Home.

I made resolutions for each of those five areas, and I am going to keep a resolution chart for the next five months to hold myself accountable. I like charts and lists and clear indications of progress (or lack thereof). I am not expecting to be perfect, but I am hoping this will make me more mindful of how I behave/react in my everyday.

Rubin targeted one area each month, but I decided, since this is a boot camp, to go whole hog and start working on the resolutions for all five areas from the beginning. This might seem overwhelming at the start, but I couldn’t think of a good alternative. My resolutions are pretty simple. They’re all things I WANT to be doing now, and they’re all things that I know will make me happier if I do them. And I couldn’t see how to order my priorities: why put E. first (with Parenting) and ignore Q. (Marriage) or my own needs (Self) for a month or longer?

I need a reset.

I figure it’s this or therapy, and I’d like to give myself the chance to sort things out.

Stay tuned for my resolutions…

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Blink and you'll miss it, Books, Choose Happiness, E.- the fourth year, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

The Pursuit of Perfection

My latest issue of Today’s Parent arrived on the weekend. It had an article in it on perfectionism in children, which highlighted the potentially crippling impact perfectionism can have.

I didn’t need to read about the negative side of needing everything to be perfect. I’ve lived with perfectionism for years and have worked very very hard to develop management/coping strategies. Being a perfectionist and a graduate student is a toxic combination.

There was a sidebar in the article titled “What PERFECTIONISM looks like”. It listed five characteristics, and said that researchers can identify meaningful patterns in behaviour by age six.

The five characteristics were:

  • being overly cautious
  • focusing on mistakes rather than successes
  • setting unrealistic goals and getting upset if they are not reached
  • needing to ask a lot of questions
  • being inflexible, believing there’s only one right way to do a task

I read them.

Then I took the article into the kitchen and showed it to Q.

He read the sidebar. “Right,” he said, after a moment’s thought.

The thing is, that sidebar? Described E.

TO A T.

“Who needs to wait until six,” added Q. “We can identify it at age three!”

I’m hoping that maybe researchers chose age six because before that the characteristics of perfectionism were developmentally normal. I’m sure E. is not the only almost four-year-old who could be described as inflexible, or who asks a lot of questions.

But it was a bit of an eye opener.

We might work a bit harder going forward helping E. to embrace the idea of mistakes as a learning experience and an opportunity for practice and/or change.

I don’t want him burdened by this.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, E.- the fourth year

Keeping Track

Guess who picked out our calendar for 2015…

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This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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