Ours is a very loud house.
For one thing, it’s an uber-modern, glass and wood and concrete bunker. Not a lot of rugs, or window treatments, or anything else that might dampen sound. (Whoops.)
For another, six people, two dogs, and a cat live here.
We make a lot of noise, even in the best of times – every footfall echoes and reverberates, but add the TV in the family room and the cat whining for water and the dogs barking at passers-by and the kids screaming at each other and us screaming at them to stop screaming …
Mr Big Ideas has taken to wearing ear plugs much of the time.
The problem with the ear plugs is that he now often can’t hear ME.
Unless I’m yelling and screaming at him.
Now, I come from a family of yellers and screamers, so I understand that much of this is my problem, that I am perpetuating a cycle of yelling and screaming.
And to be fair, Mr Big Ideas is willing to cop to his own part in this problem – he does his fair share of bellowing, too.
He just thinks I do it more.
You know what that makes ME think?
I’ll become the quietest, calmest, most effective Mama EVER. I will stop the yelling. The kids will stop the yelling. And then YOU, Mr Big Ideas, will be the only one still yelling. And THEN YOU’LL SEE WHICH ONE OF US YELLS MORE!
As you can tell, this hasn’t been easiest thing for me to get a handle on.
I’ve tried mindfulness. I’ve taken a few mindfulness classes offered to parents at our school, and most days I manage 15 minutes or so of mindful breathing using the guided meditations at insightLA.
I’m a big fan of mindfulness in short doses.
I enjoy breathing. In solitude. (What Mom wouldn’t?)
And on the days when I manage my 15 minutes, I do much LESS yelling and screaming, absolutely.
But not ZERO.
And while my own attempts to be mindful and calm IN THE MOMENTS of stress and conflict have improved tremendously in the last year or so, I have noticed a little problem with this method:
Man does it seem to piss other people off when you stop and take five deep breaths to stay calm when they are being big jerks.
All that said, I love the IDEA of mindfulness, even if I’m not the world’s best practitioner, and I’ve tried to get my kids into it, too.
Dan Siegel’s great book, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind has been a great help. All of his books are grand — truly.
But still, we needed more.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a pretty neat solution. Jury’s out on the long-term effectiveness of this plan, but so far, so good —
The moment anyone around here starts whining or screaming, I say:
I Can’t Hear You, Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off My Ears.
Strangely – and completely unexpectedly — this seems to have the IMMEDIATE effect of making ALL the kids stop and re-think how they are approaching me.
Sometimes I have to say it twice, or three times, but I am telling you, eventually, it works.
They stop. Re-set. Take a breath.
And talk like normal people.
You wanna know the coolest thing about all this?
Keeping my mouth busy SAYING
I Can’t Hear You, Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off My Ears,
keeps me from SCREAMING
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Even when I DO find myself yelling or screaming at the kids, they now say the same thing to me:
We Can’t Hear You, Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off Our Ears.
And you know what?
Being called out like that really works.
I actually stop, reset, re-phrase, re-approach.
Even Mr Big Ideas has been slowing down on the ear plugs.
In fact, I’ve even heard him saying it a few times … maybe he can hear what I’m saying around here after all …
I Can’t Hear You, Because Whining and Screaming Just Bounce Off My Ears!
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I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...
Every once in awhile, what I write about over at sklevy.com happens to overlap a great deal with what I write about over here at ChecklistMommy.
Yesterday was one of those days.
The post I wrote over there began:
This weekend I attended the New Member meeting at the WGA-W. The meeting happened to be scheduled at the exact same time as Gaga’s class Tot Shabbat service. Obviously, I wanted to be both places at the same time. Obviously I couldn’t be both places at the same time (damn you, physics) and I will say now that arriving late to the WGA meeting was stressful (I fucking hate being late anywhere) but ducking out early from my daughter’s performance – despite the fact that MrBigIdeas and all the other kids were there to support her – brought me to tears.
That’s a pretty good summary of what it’s like to have kids, love them more than anything on earth, and yet to still harbor career ambitions that you just have to pursue because otherwise the psychic cost to you and your family will be so terrible it will make the economic costs seem piffling in comparison.
If you’d like to read more, click here.
I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...
I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing while on my way to pick up my daughters from their Sunday morning rehearsals at a West Hollywood acting school they attend. (Incidentally they are doing Legally Blonde and Diddy is Elle and it’s AMAZEBALLS for her and me because off all sorts of things not least which is my joy at passing my deep love of musical theater to my kids.)
My kids are not taking acting lessons because I have any desire AT ALL for them to grow up and be actors. (Putting Gaga in my movie more than made me clear on THAT).
In fact, I chose their acting school because I am fairly certain NO ONE ever gets scouted off that stage. It’s adorable. There is literally no pressure for anyone there to out-perform anyone else. Every once in awhile there’s a kid who blows your socks off (last semester it was the kid who played the Beast in Beauty and the Beast) but in general all the kids are equally bad on stage and no one seems to be getting any better.
I am cool with that.
But before anybody gets the wrong idea: I don’t hate actors. I have a lot of actor friends. They are lovely people, and most of them are not insane. That’s why I love them and have chosen to hang out with them whenever I get the opportunity and raise my kids among them and generally adore them.
Many many other actors are insane. They are deeply troubled creatures on any number of other levels. Some of this is just the dark side of whatever deep psychological well you need to draw from in order to be a truly great performer.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was a truly great performer.
He was also, apparently, deeply troubled.
I say this because, IMobviouslyexpertO, only deeply troubled adults, living fairly adult lives, raising kids with partners (ex-or-otherwise), stick needles in their arms and pump themselves full of heroin.
Honestly, I find it kind of mind-boggling that considering all the other, easier ways to get hella high that were at this man’s disposal, he went with THAT.
In fact, I spent most of yesterday being pretty pissed off at how stupid PSH was in this particular instance. I was sad, yes. This guy was the real deal. So friggin’ talented. And honestly, a true contemporary. Even more so than Paul Walker, who spoke for the most part, to the generation below me.
PSH spoke to US.
For which I thank him.
I also thank him for this:
This morning, over breakfast, Diddy asked MrBigIdeas who that guy on the front page of the newspaper was.
MrBigIdeas told her he was a famous actor who died.
At which point I said:
You know what? I want to tell you why he died. That man was incredibly talented. That was why he was so famous. He was really really good at his job. But he took drugs, and they killed him. Drugs kill. Period. He was a grown-up, he should have known better, and drugs killed him ANYWAY.
Diddy nodded. Gaga nodded.
Sausage helpfully added, “That man died.”
Pancake continued eating his waffle.
Thank you, PSH, for all the wonderful wonderful work you did.
Every moment you were on screen was illuminating.
As was your tragic tragic tragic death.
Thank you for letting my family learn something from that, too.
I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...
So last year I threw down the gauntlet and dared myself to find the time, energy, and brain cells to read 50 “serious works of fiction.”
I managed 22.
Around here we call that an epic fail. Apparently I stopped reading in August and never picked up another book. That squishy sound you hear is the sound of my brain rotting.
But I am okay with failure. I am a writer. I fail at shit all the time. But I am nothing if not resilient – so here I stand, dusting myself off, to proclaim a similar challenge for 2014:
THIS YEAR I WILL READ 50 SERIOUS WORKS OF BOOK-LENGTH FICTION
See what I did there? I gave myself a little credit for the non-fiction reading I do. For the Malcolm Gladwell and the Janet Reitman and the Bruce Fieler, too, while we’re at it, books I keep at the bedside or read for research or read for this blog.
Sure, they’re not quite as diverting to my mind as a great work of fiction, and they demand a little less from me – all the legwork is done FOR you, in good non-fiction, whereas in fiction the reader’s imagination has to do a bit of the heavy lifting – but it’s not like they’re not equally MIND EXPANDING.
Give a Mom a break, already.
So this year, I’m counting both – fiction and non-fiction, book-length, and generally agreed to be works of either scholarly or artisitic merit. (Meaning: there’s a reason I left Fifty Shades of Grey off my list last year. Yes, of course I read it. Didn’t we all?)
Welcome back to the CHECKLISTMOMMY BOOK CLUB, 2014 EDITION.
My reads below. Your thoughts / suggestions / aggravations in the comments, please!
1. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
This is THE definitive scholarly work about clinical depression. It’s a National Book Award winner for good reason: Solomon traces anthropological and historical roots to the causes and perceptions of the disease, in it’s MANY forms, discusses treatments, interviews people who have suffered, and relays his own experiences with struggles with depression, too. An incredibly impressive, dense, invaluable book which I read every 10 years. I picked it up over the New Year to help me with an idea I have for a novel. If you are struggling with depression, or know someone who is, this is THE book you need. (Non-fiction / JANUARY)
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Can you believe I have made it 38 years – several of them as a mopey, depressed, melodramatic teen – without reading this book? Me neither. Totally engrossing, weirdly charming book about a suicidal depressive. Plus if you pick this up now you never have to admit to never having read it again. (Fiction / JANUARY)
3. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Do you detect a theme? I swear this is research – but even so: I LOVED THIS BOOK. This book is structured in such a way, and narrated in such a way, that its shape and voice completely mirror its content, a memoir about living several years as a teen in a mental institution – the same institution, by the way, that Sylvia Plath inhabited years earlier. Phenomenal read. True, believable, shocking. And no, I had never read it before NOR seen the movie. Real gaps of my education are coming to light here, I know. (Memoir / JANUARY)
4. Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Meh. I just didn’t buy it. And I say this as a person who has been depressed, and grew up around depressives, and continues to live among them. Most people I am friends with are medicated. But I just didn’t EVER feel I believed what I was being told in this book. Not because it wasn’t true – because I didn’t believe Wurtzel was telling the truth. There is a distinction. Reading this was a slog for me. I might not have finished it if I weren’t immersing myself in dep-lit (yes, I just made that up) right now. Oh and: the title takes it’s name from the (tacked on) last chapter about what Prozac has or hasn’t done to our nation as a whole. Which didn’t seem particularly integrated into the book IMHO. I don’t know. Maybe this book was huge because it was THE depression book about ’90s kids, just as GIRL, INTERRUPTED, was about ‘60s kids. All I know is, this book is NOT the book for me. (Memoir / JANUARY)
5. Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface by Martha Manning
THIS book I found incredibly true in every way. Manning’s particular skill is in describing how depression builds not just as a result of so many and such disparate life events, but also showing how one’s biologically-based personal chemistry that may even pre-determine a severe depressive crisis despite all efforts to head it off. Manning is a psychologist herself, and during the time she describes in this book she was a church-goer, practiced meditation, and was happily married — and yet NONE of these things were a great enough hedge against harm. It’s a chilling and beautiful book about a slow, inexorable build to illness. Highly recommended. (Memoir / JANUARY)
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I'm Just Looking for Some Grown-Ups to Talk To ...
You might remember that last year I made this insane 8 page spreadsheet of New Year’s goals that was divided up month-by-month.
It was a little overwhelming.
So this year I went back to the basics and just typed up a single page of stuff, divided up by FAMILY, SELF, HOUSE, and WORK.
- Organize our planned Family Robinson sabbatical year in South America. (THERE. I SAID IT. ON THE INTERWEBS. NOW I HAVE TO DO IT!)
- Simplify social life! Don’t leave the kids with a sitter more than 2x a week (THEIR REQUEST. Which I think is pretty reasonable).
- Continue weekly family meetings.
- Continue running 5x week. Add pilates / yoga / horseback riding.
- Hang with girlfriends.
- Try, try, try again to read 50 books.
- Alone time! Alone time!
- Declutter 2014 in 2014.
- Go paperless.
- Park 3 cars in our 3 car garage.
- Update all our family photo albums.
But how to stay accountable?
Me, I find the best way to achieve my goals is to
LOOKING AT THEM.
THIS YEAR I KINDA WENT AND WROTE THEM ON MY WALL.
What you’re looking at is an awesome wipeboard I smacked up on my office wall using clear IdeaPaint . I bought it on eBay because it is SUPER pricey. I also got SCAMMED doing it that way – when the paint arrived it had already been opened and partially used and the seller is LONG GONE. If I had to do it again I’d buy it at Loews or on Amazon.
And I would TOTALLY buy this product again. It’s AMAZEBALLS.
Here’s how I use my new Idea Wall to keep me focused on my goals:
I’ve got 4 columns on the wall.
- YEARLY GOALS
- THREE MONTH GOALS – extrapolated from my Yearly List
- MONTHLY GOALS – extrapolated from my Three Month List
- THIS WEEK’S GOALS – extrapolated from my Monthly List
Every morning after my run, I come into the office before the rest of my family is up and take a few minutes to organize my day on an index card.
I build the card from the WEEKLY GOALS list on my wall.
I love this index card system. I’ve been using it with great success for months.
But it’s even BETTER now that I’ve combined it with my BIG BOLD IDEA WALL.
Now my daily to-dos are viscerally connected to my WEEKLY, MONTHLY, and ANNUAL goals, and I know that because all I have to do is spin my office chair around and look at my Idea Wall and be reminded of my goals and projects for the year.
And that’s kinda turned my goals into a game, too – because every time I finish a task on my Idea Wall, I get to wipe it off the board. My goal each week is a clean board. And that’s proved incredibly motivating – I managed to wipe through my entire list last week and it was THRILLING.
Yeah, I know. I lead a very exciting life around here.