Ground Rules

In case you missed it, yesterday I announced that I will be posting every day about my research and self-experimentation on the topic of weight loss after pregnancy. Today, I shall outline my ground rules.

Rule #1: There will be baby photos.

I may have interruptions for baby pictures and my bibliography. I’ve enjoyed having a record of what I’m reading, and I straight-up refuse to apologize for baby pictures.

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H looking fly at three months old

In fact, I’ll go ahead and set the tone now with an old baby photo of my firstborn.

Baby photos aside, I think there are some traps inherent in blogging through weight loss after a pregnancy, and so I want to plan for a couple of things and keep them right in front of me (and anyone who cares to read along) the whole time.

Rule #2: Maintain a healthy mental attitude.

Ultimately, I want to get back into shape as quickly as possible because exercise makes me happy and mentally stable. Being strong, being sore, and playing hard, despite how unpleasant that may sound to some, make me feel good and give me essential energy for doing the important stuff. And I think (maybe this will be a topic for another post, once I get some solid research behind it) that it improves my cognitive function, too. Certainly, feeling energetic and taken care of are baseline requirements for me to be a good parent. I’m not trying to punish myself or achieve a particular look. I’m not trying to achieve a thigh gap. My thighs will never, ever have a gap in them, and if they do, it’s not good news; it can only be because I’ve fallen prey to some kind of muscular wasting disease. I may always have loose skin on my stomach and cellulite on my butt. That’s all really beside the point. Loose skin and strong thighs never kept anyone from climbing hard, running fast, lifting heavy, or feeling good (I feel like that would make a good t-shirt).
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An Experiment

An idea struck me today as I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s 10th blogging anniversary post, 10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Blogging. In it, she writes, “It’s often easier to do something every day than some days.”

Putting something on the checklist to do every day is easier than deciding whether to do it from one day to the next. There’s no energy spent thinking, “Is today the day? Tomorrow might be better for it. Yeah, I’ll do it tomorrow.” That’s true about exercise, whether or not to eat sweets, drinking, tooth brushing…any habit, really. 4528869007_4484c3d401_z

Gretchen knows from habits. Besides the fact that she wrote Better Than Before, which is a thoroughly-researched book on habit change that I loved, she also has been blogging for 10 years. Now that is a habit. I’ve never done ANYTHING for 10 years straight, except breathe.

So I thought about posting every day, and I could feel my overloaded mind reeling. After all, I have a full-time job, a toddler, a baby on the way (in like 2 weeks), and I’m doing my best to maintain my own mental, social, and physical health in my “spare” time. Writing the types of posts I have been creating to date – long, thoughtful, thoroughly edited meditations on big topics – realistically, these are not posts I could produce every day. At least not at this time in my life. So what could I do instead? I wondered. Continue reading

What I Read in March

March has been interesting. We’re deep into the show Continuum, which does take up most of my reading time (post-Harley bedtime), but I did read four books this month (or I guess three and a half, because one of them was technically a novella).

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The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin. Starring the trickster god Sieh, who featured heavily in the first book of the trilogy, the conclusion of the Inheritance trilogy was twice as long as the others and twice as heavy. It took on the themes of change – big, epic, world-shaking change, change in gods, the ultimate change of death. It could not have chosen a better main character, of course. How could anyone but a trickster lead a story like this? I am very impressed by Jemisin’s ambition and execution. There have not been many stories as original and epic as this – if any – since Tolkien first wrote the Lord of the Rings.

The Awakened Kingdom, N.K. Jemisin. This was the novella. It was about a baby godling finding her true nature. That may be all I need to say, yes? Except to add that it was an enchanting read.

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield. I’ve been told to read this by approximately one billion of the seven billion on the planet, so I did. Pressfield frames difficulties and obstacles in writing – psychological, primarily, really any obstacle – as “Resistance,” which is the enemy. The cure? “Turning pro,” as he calls it. Working through it. Sitting down and creating, even when the artist feels no inspiration. I do agree with that perspective, even if I still struggle with it myself. I do try to write every day, even though most of it never will see the light of day. And I think everyone has some kind of creativity that they need to serve – it’s just part of our humanity that we need to honor in order to be whole.

Siblings Without Rivalry, Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber. The authors of How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk felt that the interactions between siblings merit a separate book, and I agree. I LOVE How to Talk, and the lessons I took from it probably could be the subject of another entire post (acknowledging rather than dismissing feelings is my favorite, probably because it’s the least intuitive to me). Siblings applied the same concepts of their first book to the fraught topic of brother and sister interactions, which we are fast approaching, with Harley’s brother on his way in just a few short weeks. I appreciated the book a ton, but I also found that most of the things in there were familiar – mostly because my own parents used many of the same principles when I was growing up. But one that was interesting and challenging to me was that of avoiding roles. The idea is not to cast your kids into roles, especially in contrast to their siblings, because it can be limiting, to try to give them opportunities to act outside the “role” they might tend to acquire, whether because of birth order or temperament. So this is a bit difficult, because I do think it’s important, and by my reading, Faber and Mazlish agree, to appreciate each child for their uniqueness. But what is the line between appreciating that uniqueness and casting the child into a “role”? I’ll give myself as an example, and my sister, who hopefully will not mind. As a child, I was the quiet, sensitive, smart one. My sister was outgoing, energetic, socially adept. I suppose the authors would say that for two girls like that, develop the social skills of the quiet one, affirm her ability to connect with people, and for the outgoing one, develop her learning abilities and affirm her intelligence. But appreciate the strengths. Still, seems like a tricky line to walk. I suppose that is the benefit of not having to treat kids exactly the same, which is another major point of the books. Give each kid what they need, the authors argue. Don’t try to make things “equal” – mostly because it’s impossible! I think that is the approach that my parents took, which hopefully will make it easier for me to do the same thing.

Fun

Elizabeth Craft is a TV writer and producer living in LA.

She says so at the beginning of every Happier podcast, which I listen to faithfully each Wednesday when new episodes come out. Since the beginning of the podcast, which she creates in collaboration with her sister, Gretchen Rubin (the author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, among other books), I’ve been jealous of her. She and Gretchen do not live near each other, but they have this great project they do together, and they are both making their living by writing, and she has worked with Joss Whedon, for God’s sake (she worked on Dollhouse, which I really enjoyed, despite its early cancellation after only two seasons).

Nevertheless, to the extent that she talks about her work, it does sound very much like work – her “happiness stumbling blocks” are familiar, like the head writer who manufactures fake emergencies to put pressure on writers, or the “evil office donut-bringer” who derails her dieting plans. Even she of the enviable writing job has to deal with parts of the work that she doesn’t like. One of my favorite things that I’ve heard so far is that she and her writing partner created signs as a reminder for one another to hang in their office. The signs say, “This is a fun job, and I enjoy it.”

They need to be reminded!

Incredible. But not completely foreign. I’m familiar with the phenomenon. Anyone who enjoys adventure sports has probably heard of the term “Type 2 Fun.” Type 2 fun is not actually enjoyable at the time of the experience. It is defined by a very difficult experience that is only fun in retrospect. You might be camping in the snow, for example, and freezing cold all night, but when you complete your objective or trip, you want to do it again as soon as possible. That’s Type 2 fun. There are lots of backpacking trips I’ve taken that I can identify quite distinctly as Type 2 fun. It’s worth it to be tested, to be sore. To have a heavy pack cutting into your shoulders or (and?) an icy wind raking across your knuckles as you crimp hard on a small hold. Ultimately it makes the campfire, the river and mountaintop views, and the hard-earned dinner and sleep even more delicious. And what I often find is that the difficulties are, in themselves, worthwhile – you come out stronger, more confident, more knowledgeable, more humble, and much more connected to the grit of your insides and the harshness of the world outside.

And it feels so familiar now, even though I haven’t had a trip like that in years. It’s because parenting is Type 2 fun. It explains so much!

It explains why older folks at the grocery store want to remind you to “Enjoy it, it goes so fast!” at the precise moment when your toddler is grabbing all the mints and magazines off the impulse rack and throwing them on the ground, or standing up to try to take a nose dive onto the linoleum. It explains why I miss my son as soon as he goes to sleep, even though the process of putting him in bed feels like a soul-shaking battle almost every single night (forgive me if I ever thought my patience was tested before having to put a toddler to bed in order to binge watch Netflix).

It is not fun, in the moment, to explain (patiently) to a two-year-old why he must make an “Aaah” sound instead of an “Oooooh” sound to allow you to brush his teeth. It is not fun to have to consider your words so carefully, hoping to avoid having to pin him down to wipe the feces off his rear end without smearing them all over the floor, and then choosing a wrong word and having to do it anyway. It is not fun to watch him throw the food you spent hours cooking all over the floor and then demand a cheese stick two hours later. It is not fun to discipline when he hits.

But Type 2 fun! That explains why when I look back at him in the car while he giggles and tries to whistle, or when I talk about his silly stories and costumes to someone else, I find myself saying and honestly thinking, “He is such a fun kid.” He is worth it, just like the summit of a particularly painful mountain. I think it’s why parents often enthusiastically tell those without children – the young and childfree, watching our struggle in bewilderment – that it’s the best experience of our lives, and we definitely don’t regret it. “Sure,” they say, backing away slowly. “Sure, you don’t.”

I can understand their skepticism. Doesn’t everyone wonder why mountaineers or marathoners or Tough Mudder racers do it, sometimes? Don’t most people watch their suffering with confusion and disbelief? Did you know there is an obstacle in the Tough Mudder in which people run through electrically charged wires? They don’t have to do that! Why are they doing that?! 

In the society we live in today, we don’t have to have kids. In fact, it’s easier not to. We don’t have to climb mountains, and we aren’t driven to run marathons. The first mountain climber probably was forced to migrate to find food. The first marathon runner had urgent news to deliver to Athens and no iPhone with which to electronically message it. But marathon running is at an all-time high, people are finding new mountains to climb all the time, and huge percentages of the population have kids – every day they’re having kids! Imagine!

So the other thing about Type 2 fun is that it’s impossible to really explain well why I want to do it again. I can only describe the experience of struggling through it, perhaps miserably, and then being psyched to try it again. You either get it or you don’t.

If you, like me, are pregnant with a second (or third, etc.) child, I know you get it. I don’t even have to ask. Someday we’ll get to be the old folks in the grocery story smiling at the young parents in a mix of envy and relief. I’ll always hold onto that, as I’m hallucinating from sleep deprivation and trying to rock my newborn to sleep, and you can, too.

What I didn’t have to know

Humming from the backseat, then a squeal. “Look, Mommy! There’s a – a – a -”

I glance back at Harley and see that he has a big, impish grin on his face. He is pretending. “What do you see, baby?”

“A cliff!”

“Oh no! Call the Paw Patrol!” I exclaim. He giggles.

Even though we are just a mile or two away from our apartment building, this is a new route, and everything is new to us. We moved to Connecticut just over a year ago – I’ve spent 1/29th of my life here. It is still a foreign land to me. But it has been nearly half of my son’s life, and it’s likely all he remembers.

I narrate what I see as we drive down the road, a habit I picked up when he was a speechless infant and that I now can’t seem to shake. “Shelton Land Trust open space.” “Some for sale signs.” We’re driving through a wooded suburb. “Welcome to Trumbull,” reads another hanging sign, curlicued and quaint with painted wrought iron flourishes. I am still not used to the stubborn quaintness and stylized rusticity of New England. It is grating to my sensibilities in a way I don’t fully understand. It feels false. I don’t tell Harley this. I don’t tell anyone this.

I see a log cabin ahead on my right that catches my eye. The old structure marks itself out distinctly against a backdrop of pointedly tasteful Colonials and Cape Cods. There is a sign in front of it, dark brown wood with burned letters painted in yellow.

“Golden Hill Reservation
Paugussett Indians”

A silhouette of a wolf underneath holds a “Private Property” sign.

There is more on the sign, but in my shock, I can’t read it in time, despite slowing down and craning my neck. We are already past.

I am silent for a minute as I continue down the road. The log cabin is clearly surrounded by a suburban American neighborhood, even visible through the trees behind the cabin itself. “There’s a reservation here? Is this all part of it?” I wonder aloud.

Harley tries to echo “reservation,” but it comes out “wezoobasin.”

“Could it…could it just be that one house?” Saying it aloud feels ominous and jarring, especially with a little toddler’s voice echoing behind me. “No. But…” There were clearly other new suburban houses behind it. I know that this is the Nichols section of Trumbull. I’ve been told it’s “very desirable” by numerous real estate listings sent to me by my husband’s family. It’s certainly expensive.

I feel unsettled. Could it really just be the one house? It seems impossible, like a satire of America, the land of an entire tribe of Native Americans reduced to a single half-acre plot of land in a semi-planned suburban community, ignored by its affluent neighbors living within range of a stage whisper.

When I go home, I immediately look it up online. It’s not even a half-acre, I learn. It’s a quarter of an acre. The Golden Hill Paugussett Nation has not been able to gain federal recognition but does hold recognition from the state of Connecticut. They also have a larger parcel of land in Colchester. I also learn that they are not, in fact, ignored by their neighbors – the reservation’s existence has been challenged multiple times over the years, in 1939, 1975, and as recently as 2009.

When you search for this reservation online, you will find a Facebook page. The visitor comments are full of people who are “inspired” by “old traditions,” interested in “shamanic traditions,” and just recently found out that their great-great-great grandfather was Native. The responses are polite but brief.

The wall posts by the page’s administrator are often art and photographs featuring Native faces, tagged with #NativeLivesMatter.

I am made suddenly, uncomfortably, deeply aware of what I don’t know. What I have been ignoring. All the issues I’ve never considered because I didn’t have to know about them at all.

I am also aware of my inclination to go on ignoring this. Ignoring the sense of discomfort that comes up somewhere in my gut whenever I pass the log cabin on Shelton Road.

Right now, I think all I really ought to do is educate myself and hold off from following my fear, which only wants to protect me from discomfort, bless its heart. But this is the good kind of discomfort. The kind we all need to lean into a little more. Expansive discomfort. It happens when my mind was smaller than it should have been and I’m forcing it to stretch bigger. I must keep stretching my heart out, as well. That can hurt, too. If I follow my fear, my heart and mind stay much too small.

Fear will have to follow me.

What I Read in February

Not quite as much, this month.

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Yes, that’s a blurb from Naomi Novik on the Jemisin book. What can I say? When I like an author, I trust her!

I read four books, all by women, two by a woman of color. It wasn’t really on purpose, those were just the books I wanted to read, but I want to keep track of the voices I’m amplifying in my life. One thing I’ve decided to do this year is to honor my curiosity – I will pursue any inquiry, book, or skill that interests me. I got into the show Continuum this month as well, which ate up my reading time a little bit, since I tend to read from 8-10 after Harley goes to bed. I also just got really tired in general. So, to the inventory.

Tongues of Serpents, Naomi Novik. Sixth book in the Temeraire cycle, which is an alternate history featuring the Napoleonic Wars WITH DRAGONS! (Sounds like a movie, doesn’t it? Peter Jackson thought so too. He optioned the story a few years ago, though I’m not sure what he’s going to actually make with it, or when.) This one took place in colonial Australia, as the main characters were transported to the penal colony for their actions in the last book. I did enjoy Novik’s use of the narrative and character arcs within the story to present the impacts of imperialism and mercantilism on the entire world, from Europe itself to Africa, Asia (China in particular), and Australia. She seems to have been very thorough in her research, and although I am unfamiliar with the history of Australia and can’t testify to its specific accuracy, I can say that the Napoleonic Wars themselves read very well. It’s amusing to read her take on how the military tacticians on both sides might have incorporated dragons into the supply chain logistics and battle tactics of the time.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan. Won the Pulitzer in 2011 for fiction, apparently. This one was pretty dark – and unlike the rest of the books I read this month, not fantasy, although it did include some speculative elements – but Egan punctuated the sad mess of her characters’ lives with enough humor to keep from totally dragging me down. I probably am not a sophisticated enough reader to fully appreciate everything she did with it, but I did enjoy her writing and the book’s structure, which stretched quite masterfully across time, cycling through the points of view of characters in a music-centered social circle in New York with sometimes-tenuous personal connections. This book really seemed to focus on how people struggle with their own identity and how that struggle impacts their relationships with others, sometimes violently. It was quite sad but ended on a relatively hopeful note, and Egan found a way to humanize her characters, even when they were guilty of serious crimes (whether legal or relational), without condoning or trying to justify them.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin. Really stunning and original epic fantasy, first of the Inheritance Trilogy. Also very dark. Jemisin completely tosses the Tolkienian swords-and-sorcery framework out the window, which is great, because I think the best authors have done what they can with that particular genre. This world bears no resemblance to Middle Earth, and its gods and godlings are very present and not like any of the traditional gods of fantasy. Jemisin portrays the political and social structure, while steeped in magic and authoritarianism and intrigue and unlike any in our world’s history, with a ring of brutal truth. One god, who is worshiped fanatically and exclusively, has essentially enslaved all the others in mortal form, subordinating them to his chosen ruling family, the Arameri. The amount of power inherent in this arrangement predictably leads to the Arameris’ absolute corruption. This slice of a truly millenia-spanning story is an epic chapter, focusing on Yeine, a warrior, leader, and daughter of an Arameri heiress who relinquished her claim to the throne and eloped from the Arameri seat of Sky to her husband’s land, and Yeine’s journey from that land in the outskirts of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to treacherous Sky after her mother’s suspicious death.

The Broken Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin. This is not precisely a sequel to the first story, although it does come after the first. It is its own chapter, maybe a bit less epic in scope, but I enjoyed it. Its storyline follows Oree, a blind street artist with the ability to see magic, and her encounters with the gods. I did enjoy it, but it didn’t have some of the characters I really enjoyed from the first book.

Took a break from reading in the last week of February, but I’m now halfway into the last book of the trilogy. Its main character is one of my favorites from the first book: Sieh the Trickster. After this, I’m ready for some nonfiction, and my to-read pile is totally stacked.

On Resilience

Things are just starting to settle down, I thought to myself last night. Everything finally feels natural and even a little bit…peaceful. Our first son Harley is two and a half years old now. He’s very verbal and expressive, capable, generally happy (for a toddler), and able to self-amuse, for the most part. He’s not in danger of choking or falling into sharp corners. We spend evenings taking care of his dinner and evening routine, playing with him a bit, and then letting him play by himself or watch some cartoons while we read or clean up the house. (Or watch with him, if it’s the Octonauts. Did you know there is a kind of crab that can grow over six feet tall? Look up the Japanese Spider Crab.) Even with the odd tantrum or impossible demand, it’s quite enjoyable, compared to the first two years. I have been thinking about what changed and why it took so long.

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I don’t have a lot of non-blurry pictures of Harley in action…he moves fast.

Part of it, I am sure, is that he has simply grown into a safer stage of development. Gone now are the high-stakes risks of choking and falling, and gone are the difficulties of trying to figure out what he needs using nothing more than the pitch and tenor of his cries and an elaborate parental game of Charades where the penalty for failure is an even shriller, more urgent scream.

I also think that part of it is a change in my own mindset. I’ve tried to encourage him to be resilient and to try hard by not interceding when he is trying something difficult, as long as it’s not dangerous. I sit back and watch him with an encouraging smile, and when he gets frustrated, I acknowledge his frustration and that he is trying hard. When he accomplishes something – sometimes even surprising me – I celebrate with him, telling him that he did it, even though it was hard, he kept trying, and that’s called perseverance. He jumps up and down with a wild grin and yells, “Yay! Per-seer-ins!”

He may or may not have become more resilient because of this technique, although I hope it will help him develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. What I know for sure is that by practicing the encouraging smile and holding back my hands – also my go-to when he falls and bumps his head or whatever, at least until he reacts on his own – I have learned to have faith in him and his inner resilience. Where before I was masking my deep anxiety with a very studied calm, now I find that I truly do believe that he can do it. I feel ease. If he doesn’t, that’s OK – he can try again another time. I have learned to give him space. I have learned that he is his own person and responsible for his own sphere of influence – whether and how much he eats, sleeps, or tries to solve a problem. I am responsible for setting clear boundaries – you must sit at the table to eat; chicken, broccoli, and potatoes are on the menu for dinner, not lollipops; now is the time for being in bed; we can’t play with this because it’s dangerous, and then otherwise for getting out of his way. I’m not perfect at it, but the practice itself has shown me to be comfortable with these healthy boundaries, and it has lessened my anxiety to a pleasantly surprising degree.

In about two and a half months, my newly peaceful world is going to blow up spectacularly when we bring a newborn home from the hospital. Knowing this makes me appreciate the quiet evenings all the more. But I hope very much that I will be able to learn more quickly with Cyrus this faith and ease I have learned from Harley. That I will remember to set up healthy and safe containers for him to sleep, eat, and play, and then back the hell off. That even as I am playing Charades with a nonverbal baby, I will smile encouragingly and release my anxiety – he will be fine if we guess wrong the first time. I do not have to be a knot of anxiety, snapping at my husband for failing to guess that he is too warm instead of hungry. I hope I will be able to just have faith that he will be OK.

I hope that as I try to teach my boys to be resilient, that I will learn to be a little more resilient as well.