Floating Rants

Parenting

Usually I like to post longer posts on Mondays, thoughtful or inspired pieces that sometimes take me weeks to write and other times come to me almost full formed in one sitting. But I haven’t felt especially thoughtful nor inspired this past week so I don’t have one of those posts ready.

I have these floating thoughts that I haven’t been able to flesh out into full posts, though.

I wish that people would stop using words like “stupid,” “idiotic,” etc. to comment on current events or political views that they find dismaying or despicable.

Never mind that lots of highly intelligent people have been responsible for things like genocide, murder, oppression, etc.

Never mind that IQ (which I don’t believe is an accurate measure of anything in the first place, AND which by the way was invented by a eugenicist) is largely determined by genetics, which are in no way tied to your value as a human being.

Never mind that using “stupid” and “idiot” as routine words to express displeasure is a self-esteem destroying cultural virus that hurts children (and adults!) with (and without!) learning or intellectual disabilities.

Being smarter does not make you better. I would hope that this would be obvious, after all I did not coin the phrase “intellectual snobbery,” but I see a lot of people who are otherwise nice people perpetuating this harmful stereotype.

How about you just express your opinions using words that are actually more accurate and have the bonus feature of not being ableist and discriminatory: I think this person is wrong. This policy is counterproductive. This politician is regressive and hateful. This act was careless.

The English language is rich. Choose better words.

Sandra Bland died because of the abusive actions of the police. But let’s not deny her experience of depression as we advocate for justice.

I follow a lot of #BlackLivesMatter stories, and the sheer number of them is overwhelming, which fact by itself is also overwhelming. The fact that I can’t even keep up with how many black people are dying at the hands of police and other racist individuals is horrifying.

But Sandra Bland is one of those people who is just haunting me. I watched the dash cam video, mostly listened to it actually because it was hard to process visually, and the helpless rage in her voice as she knew, she just knew they were stripping her of her power and dignity out of nothing but pettiness, racism, and the ability to do it – and she couldn’t stop them – it shook me to my core.

And then I saw one of her Sandy Speaks vlogs in which she spoke out about why she believed BlackLivesMatter, and I heard the voice of a woman who wanted to make a difference, who wanted real justice and equality. To know that they took that away from her, over nothing, over a trifle, just because they could, is heartbreaking.

But then the justifications for ruling her death a suicide started coming out, including that fact that she had a medical history of depression – which I have to say sounds like a violation of HIPAA rights, I’m not sure – and the counterargument that Sandy would have never killed herself. I have to say that it is okay for Bland to have experienced depression. Let’s not take that away from her. It does not invalidate or in any way lessen her passion for justice, it doesn’t diminish her character, it doesn’t justify her death. Ever.

Not allowing Bland to have been depressed is yet more oppression. Not only should she have been more submissive when pulled over for a minor traffic violation, not only should she have silenced her outrage when wrongfully arrested, she also should have been stronger emotionally and somehow vanquished clinical depression by sheer force of will? Let’s not do that to her. There’s an implication when we say “she would never” that suicide is cowardly and weak. We know that’s not true. And we know that Bland was not weak. The woman in that dashboard cam was not weak.

Whether it was Bland’s own hand or someone else’s that physically extinguished the life from her body, the police killed her, have no doubt. To be falsely arrested, abused physically, gaslighted, and locked up under a bail wildly out of proportion with her so-called crime is a form of torture. Whatever happened in that cell – they killed her.

Also, I would like us to stop blaming every mass murder on mental illness. 

Can we just not, anymore?

This is lazy thinking and harms people with mental illnesses. It stigmatizes them and forces them to hide. It prevents people from getting treatment they need (I mean seriously, who’s going to go see a psychologist if they think that they are practically admitting to being a potential serial killer??).

It’s also just incorrect.

Maybe we have just watched too many movies and crime serials, because in those practically everyone who kills someone also secretly wears ladies’ skins or dresses their mother’s skeleton up in a wig, but these are just basically campfire ghost stories that we like to tell to creep ourselves out.

In reality, most mentally ill people are not dangerous, and most are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators. In reality, most people who kill people are motivated by non-crazy (though wrong and bad) human qualities like jealousy, rage, racism, ableism, misogyny, etc.

Maybe we are just too scared to see those qualities in a serial killer or mass murderer because we know we possess some smaller, less homicidal form of them ourselves. Or we could. Or we know someone who does.

But just as mentally ill people can ALSO be murderers (as sometimes these criminals do have a history of mental illness, yes), they can also be bank tellers, parents, construction workers, CEOs, doctors, teachers, or dog walkers, and they are MUCH more likely to be all of those non-murderer type people.

I think that’s all the ranting I’ve got in me today.

Feel free to add yours in the comments.

Perhaps I’ll have something more coherent to write about next week.

Infodumping is My Love Language vol. 4

Parenting

Infodumping* “A 2013 study of 297 college students reported in the Journal of Child and Family Studiesfound that college students with helicopter parents reported significantly higher levels of depression and less satisfaction in life and attributed this diminishment in well-being to a violation of the students’ ‘basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence.’ And a 2014 study from researchers at the University of Colorado–Boulder is the first to correlate a highly structured childhood with less executive function capabilities.” – Kids of Helicopter Parents Are Sputtering Out, by Julie Lythcott-Haims at Slate.

* “If you’re an activist or collective that needs some quick design or visualization work done, but don’t have tons of resources to manage it, these might be useful for you.  They’re also great for those who just want to get their feet wet in design and get used to a few different types of visual vocabularies. ” – 10 Free Design/Visualization Tools (For Activists), at Queer Dark Energy.

* “In a world so swiftly moving towards the acceptance and understanding of the most diverse groups of people, you are one of the open-minded, kind-hearted who dare to believe that we are more than just our diagnoses or our struggles.” – The Neurotypicals’ Guide to Adults With Sensory Processing Disorder, at Everyday Feminism.

* “University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.” – What If Everything You Know About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?, by Katherine Reynolds Lewis at Mother Jones.

* This Is Why I Boycott Autism Speaks by Erin Human. I drew this image for a Boycott Autism Speaks flashblog last week and it’s been the most “viral” post of any kind that I have ever created. Much love to those who shared it.

A Shifting Sensory World

Autism, Identity, Neurodiversity, Parenting

Everyone has senses. And most people have sensory issues of some kind, to some degree. Here is your mini primer on sensory processing: you already know about sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. But we have many more senses than those, including our senses of pain, temperature, vibration, balance (sometimes called vestibular sense), and proprioception – which includes the ability to sense your own movements, the position of your body parts, the sort of sense of being in your body that many people take for granted.

Introverts are more likely to be sensitive than extroverts in many ways – not just emotionally, but in the ways they perceive the world. Some people have sensory processing disorders (not an official diagnosis in the DSM but these would be sensory issues that are more intense than just being “sensitive”) who are not on the autism spectrum. Autistic people have sensory issues (though this is not the only thing that points to a person being autistic, it’s a significant one) that differ in degree from the neurotypical population, and sometimes in kind (that is to say, some senses may be heightened, some under responsive, and some are just different).

When I first went to see my psychologist to find out whether it would be worth evaluating me for autism, she asked me whether I could remember times during my childhood when I struggled with or withdrew from certain activities or environments due to sensory issues. I was startled by how difficult it was for me to answer this question.

I’ve always considered myself an introspective and fairly self aware person (after all I have a dozen hand written journals from my adolescent years) but this was not something I had ever been tuned into. What I knew was then I had always found myself tipping over into what I simply called “a bad mood” for reasons that I could not explain at all. The only way I could explain this to myself was that I must simply be “a moody person.” Maybe it was because Cancer is my astrological sign – I couldn’t think of any other explanation. I never liked this about myself but there seemed to be so little I could do to change it. It’s not that I was depressed or bipolar, I was just irritable, frequently, at unpredictable (to me) times. Over the years I’ve found myself apologizing and frustrated that I could not tell a loved one why I was being so unpleasant – there was nothing really wrong that I could think of – nor could I seem to snap out of it.

I was pretty self aware as a person, but I couldn’t be fully self aware as an autistic person, because not only did I not know I was autistic, I did not even know that something called “sensory processing” existed.

Then I had a child, and when my child was a toddler I would reach out for help with this parenting issue or that, and more than one person suggested that I look into whether he might have sensory processing disorder. The funny thing was, I read website and website and even a book or two, and there was the time we brought him for an OT evaluation, and I would comb through these lists of sensory processing issues and I just kept thinking, actually that sounds more like ME than him. Huh.

I’ve only veeeerrrry slowly, over many many months, begun to connect the dots between my apparent “moods,” and the actual sensory issues that triggered them. For half my life I was terribly disconnected from my sensory needs and aversions and was just kind of barreling through life ignoring them or giving them only cursory attention, much to my detriment.

This actually is an incredibly common phenomenon, even after an autistic person realizes they are autistic and have special sensory needs. Because autistic people usually also have executive functioning difficulties (I promised before I’d write specifically about executive functioning, and I will, sometime), it can take us longer than a neurotypical person to register sensory information or discomfort. It’s common to not realize that you are hungry, cold, in pain, etc. until you are on the verge of a meltdown and finally focus on what it is that has been bothering you beneath the surface.

Image shows a closeup of points of light in blurred bokeh effect, with the words “I’ve begun to connect the dots between my apparent ‘moods’ and the actual sensory issues that triggered them.”

 * Seams. One of the things that is always on those lists of sensory issues is “bothered by seams in clothing.” I would always see that and think, no, seams don’t hurt or scratch me. As long as they are always perfectly lined up and symmetrical on my body and not bunched up or — ohhhhh.

Light touch: wind blows. I’ve always hated the wind. The way it feels on my skin, the way it ripples my clothes, yeeeuchh. In high school I wore my hair long, and when the wind would whip my hair into my eyes and my mouth or even when it just blew over my head and messed up the part in my hair, I would find myself falling into a helpless rage. Over wind. This is one of the lesser known reasons why I now wear my hair short!

* Light touch: not OCD. Also sometimes when something, say, grazes my arm just slightly, I will feel a revolting sensation in that spot for a long time afterward, but I can sometimes fix it by grazing the other arm in the same place purposely. I still feel it but the symmetrical feeling makes it less irksome. This is the sort of thing that some people incorrectly dub “OCD.” It’s not OCD, it’s a sensory issue.

NoisyMy most intense, and most challenging, sensory issue is auditory processing. It’s still hard to explain exactly how it works for me, but I guess one way to describe it is that my auditory channel takes in a LOT of information and frequently floods me with way too much. It’s sort of a fluid and ever-changing sense that I seem to be able to control very little. (An autistic friend recently told me that she can kind of “shut off” her auditory input in noisy environments, which made me feel very envious!) Sometimes I am not aware that I am overloaded by sounds until I begin to melt down (for me this looks like getting angry and bitchy – one of my “bad moods”). Sometimes I am hyperaware of sounds and it’s like a scene in a movie where the protagonist is freaking out and the audio is all loud and chaotic. Sometimes I begin to involuntarily shut down auditory input and cannot focus on what people are saying to me – sort of like when you are driving while tired and keep zoning out so you don’t remember how you got to where you are, even though you are trying to pay attention – but with listening skills. I hate white noise, like ceiling fans. I hate repetitive noises that are not perfectly synched – so a sink dripping or a person snoring is horrid, while a ticking clock is probably okay. I love loud music but music that’s just barely audible drives me bananas.

* Am I in my body? One of the weirdest, but also to me one of the coolest, sensory issues I experience is off kilter proprioception. M. Kelter writes beautifully about his proprioceptive issues (and other things – I love his writing) and he also happens to love touching walls, like me – whenever I walk down the narrow hallway in my house I run the backs of my fingertips along the wall. But enough about walls.

Proprioception is somewhat hard to explain but it’s the sense of being in your body, one with your body, feeling all of your parts, feeling your own weight and mass. It’s probably quite difficult to imagine if you don’t ever have atypical proprioception.

I can remember at least as early as my teen years, and this still happens, that I would suddenly get this uncanny feeling of looking out of my own face. I would become too aware of my own nose, and then feel like I was looking down at my body doing things, but not feel totally one hundred percent integrated with that body, very much a kid’s cartoon in which a little person is sitting inside of a robot’s head operating a walking, talking robot. But who was this “me” who was looking out of this body, and why was I in this body? It’s an unsettling mindset that I don’t like to linger in for too long, but it’s also kind of oddly pleasurable and comforting too, possibly because I have always had these experiences and they are, though strange, familiar. It’s only recently that I have realized this is related to the proprioceptive sense and the way an autistic mind can become sort of disconnected (I think Kelter uses the word “floating” a lot) from the body.

Squinting. I am a little sensitive to light, always have to wear sunglasses outside, don’t like fluorescent lights. I really dislike contrasty lighting, so a dim space with bright spotlights makes me feel very yucky. Often when I am drawing I squint in order to screen out excess information and see just the overall composition of my work. But my sight is mostly a sense that gives me pleasure.

Bitter Betty. I like foods with strong flavors, especially bitter flavors. Probably why I love coffee with no sweetener, and the hoppier the better when it comes to beer. I also like spicy stuff and salty stuff. I like complex foods that have a lot of flavors going on. Lots of people with sensory issues have the opposite preferences for very bland foods. They are not just being picky but are quite overwhelmed by food flavors (or textures).

* Air “fresheners.” I think I have a pretty sensitive sense of smell, but mostly smells don’t bother me much. Even body odor, which most people find offensive, is a fairly neutral odor to me. The smells that bother me the most are industrial-chemical smells and artificial scents, like new carpeting, rubber tires, etc. The worst are those plug-in air fresheners – when I used to be an interior painter, I couldn’t work in a house that had one plugged in. When someone comes from a house that has a lot of air freshener, I can smell it on their clothes for hours. Those types of scents give me a headache and make me feel ill. I’d rather just smell your ordinary house smells!

That time of the month. All of my sensory issues are more intense when I have PMS. That’s quite common with autistic women. The thing I notice the most is my tactile senses – being touched, how my clothes feel – are the most bothersome during that time of the month. Very annoying when you are already feeling cranky and hormonal!

I’m still in the stage of identifying my own sensory issues, almost like uncovering repressed memories, except that they are not memories of things past, but repressed feelings that I presently feel. If you have sensory issues, whether they are part of something like sensory processing disorder or autism or just being a sensitive person, I think it’s okay to be up front with them. I admit that I didn’t always feel this way and used to think that people should just “get over it,” probably because I was so used to doing the same and wouldn’t allow myself to voice my preferences.

What are your preferences, what kinds of sensory inputs do you abhor and which do you love? Drop me a comment, I’d love to know!

Infodumping is My Love Language vol. 2

Infodumping, Parenting

Infodumping

 

Here’s some good stuff I read (or reread) this week:

* “When white people go on shooting sprees, their actions are frequently attributed to mental illness and, thus, they’re not considered fully accountable for the harm they’ve inflicted. But in a historical psychoanalysis of 235 mass murders in the U.S., forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone called this a logical fallacy, and noted the media narrative tends to go something like this: Someone committed mass murder, therefore he is mentally ill, which caused him to commit mass murder. This narrative — which is not afforded to people of color — feeds into the assumption that incidents like what happened at Emanuel AME Church are isolated tragedies executed by lone gunmen. Essentially, it excuses the system that allows racialized terrorism to keep happening.” – Racism Is Not a Mental Illness, by Julia Craven, at Huffington Post.

* “In naive moments, I like to think that racism is something that happened 50 years ago and a “card” that is played when somebody needs a way out. But, once you love a black man in America, there’s no way to deny the obvious, discrete and innate nature that people show with discrimination and hate.” – What It’s Like As a White Woman to Love a Black Man in America at Bows, Bottles, and a Briefcase.

* “In America, far too many of us live in strange bubbles where we hardly ever hear viewpoints that conflict with our own. And, if we hear them, we immediately discount them as lacking credibility. It’s likely that Roof lived in such a dangerous bubble where conservative lies about Gray and Martin caused him to think that these two young men not only got what they deserved, but also that people like them pose a real threat.” – Connecting the Dots: Charleston Shooter, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, and the American Confederacy by Shaun King, at Daily Kos.

* “We also know the predictable pattern the stoplight creates.  Think about how it feels to see your name, day after day, moving towards that red circle, broadcast to your peers and anyone who walks into your classroom.  Those are the very children who struggle with “school behavior,” and they deserve our support, not embarrassment.” – A Letter to Teachers On The Use of Stoplights In The Classroom, at Beyond The Stoplight.

* “Instead of reassuring parents that vaccines don’t cause autism (which, again: factually true), why don’t we start refuting anti-vaccination advocates with the fact that autism isn’t a catastrophe. Why not start sending them links to blogs and articles written by people who actually have autism. Why not say something like, ‘it’s been proven that there’s no link between vaccines and autism, but I think it would be great for you to re-evaluate why you think so negatively of autism.'” – Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism, But That’s Not the Point. Stop Being Ableist, at the Belle Jar.

Know Thyself: Your Top Ten

Parenting

It’s been hard to get started on a second post about self care, partly because I’ve felt like a bit of a fraud thinking about how to write about it when I have not been practicing good self care since the month began. I’ve been pushing too hard and flaming out almost daily. I am not even sure why.

Last week my focus was on self-acceptance, and how that has to be step one toward proper self care. Acknowledging that self-acceptance is a long process, however, we can’t get stuck on trying to “achieve” that before beginning to care for ourselves well.

I found this Self-Care Assessment Worksheet that may help you evaluate the areas of your life where you need better self care, and how to go about that. I think it’s pretty good, though a few line items slightly annoy me (“Love yourself” – okay, check! Done!). (Note: the link is temporarily not working as of the evening of June 8th. Looking into that.)

I made my own list of 10 Things I do to care for myself. I’m not sure it’s complete or completely accurate, but it’s a starting place. I would encourage anyone reading to make their own, and please share it here if you feel comfortable doing so!

1. Organizing the house. Getting rid of stuff we don’t need, tidying up. I often get overwhelmed to the point of not wanting to tackle the clutter, but I always feel amazingly better when things are in order. And conversely, I always feel unsettled and agitated when the house is a disaster.

2. Exercise. It pains me to admit this, because I like sitting around so much, but I do feel better when I keep up with whatever exercise routine I’ve been doing. At different points in my life exercise has different functions for me. Right now I’m doing small strength training workouts because building strength feels important.

3. Reading a great book. I love, I daresay need, to always be reading a book that I can hardly put down. I am almost never NOT in the middle of reading some kind of book, but I feel best and happiest when I’m in the middle of a book I really enjoy.

4. Listening to LOUD music. I know this is bad for my ears, but the tradeoff for feeling so good when I do it seems worth it. I listen to music mostly in the car, or on headphones at home. If the kids are contently playing by themselves in the late afternoon when I’m doing housework or starting dinner, I find that 10 minutes of superloud music in my headphones relaxes me about as much as one alcoholic drink.

5. Sensory breaks/meditation. My therapist has recommended that I take a sensory break every two to three hours, but I haven’t been able to achieve that yet. I set a personal goal to do it four times a day, but I usually only squeeze in one or two: I lie down, put headphones in, and listen to a short soundscape meditation on my Pacifica app. It’s sometimes hard to relax if I can hear the kids in the background, but if I get even two minutes of peace, it’s so restoring.

6. Writing blog posts. I do this for my own well being. This blog is not monetized beyond the trickle of Amazon affiliate rewards that do not even offset the cost of WordPress hosting, but no matter. Nothing compares to the feeling of publishing a blog post that I feel good about.

7. Downtime at home. This is where I have really been falling down on the job lately. I know that I need a certain number of days when I just stay home, and it’s more than once a week, but sometimes I push myself to get out and do All The Things, and I inevitably regret it. Time doing stuff must be balanced with time not doing stuff.

8. Watch TV… alone. Similar to reading a good book, I just love to watch a show that takes me to another world for a while. I watch shows with Mike and that’s fun too, but watching alone is a different experience and more relaxing. Usually I can only get to this at night, in bed, just before going to sleep. Which may be a no-no. But I enjoy it anyway.

9. Sleep. I need 8 hours a night. I’m not sorry. I just need that. These days, I usually get it too. Even then I am still often very tired by the end of the day. I *think* this is related to autism and not always managing my sensory/social needs well, but I am planning to get a checkup to rule out medical issues causing my frequent fatigue.

10. Eat delicious food. I’ve decided. I like to eat the things I like and I’m not going to feel bad about it. Recently I tried to – well, let’s call it what it is, “diet” a little bit, and I was pretty miserable. I like salty foods, spicy foods, bitter drinks, rich flavors. I don’t eat crap, but I also don’t nibble on leaves all the livelong day and I don’t want to. Trying to eat a certain way sucks all the joy out of it for me.

I feel that my top 10 are very achievable, which is probably part of why I chose them. They are treats for myself that make me feel good but don’t make me feel like I need to rearrange my entire life in order to do them. I’m all about attainable goals right now, and small changes.

Self Care is a Radical Act

Autism, Identity, Parenting

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. – Audre Lorde

I came across the above quote from activist and poet Audre Lorde and felt inspired to write on the theme of self care for the month of June. Interestingly, when I searched Pinterest for the quote, hoping to find it in some already-memed form that I could instantly share, I found a lot of people had chopped off the last phrase about political warfare. Why?

I suppose the truth is a little intense for some people, but I find it exciting. Self care is an act of political warfare, it’s radical, it’s revolutionary, especially when performed by people who are culturally oppressed by messages that tell them not to value themselves. Lorde, who died in 1992, was black, she was gay, and she was a woman. She knew that “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

Only in the last year or so have I become keenly aware of the importance of this truth. I am writing on self care this month not as someone who’s got it figured out – far from it. I am writing as someone who feels the urgency of figuring it out, or at least finding my way there.

define

My first thought, my initial intuition, is that a key ingredient to self care is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is not self-esteem. It seems to me that self-esteem is an ability to see oneself as good, smart, lovable, powerful, beautiful. Self-acceptance is at once easier and harder than all of that. Easier because it means it’s okay for you to be broken or falling-apart or lost or needy or still figuring it all out. Harder because, well, it’s hard to sit with all of that without judgment.

In “Acceptance as a Well Being Practice,” Cynthia Kim writes,

Unfortunately, no amount of practice or effort will allow me to make that leap in a single bound. Thinking of it that way, it’s easy to give up before I even get started.

What I’ve discovered over the past two years, however, is that I didn’t need to leap. Instead, I needed to build a bridge across the chasm, one plank at a time, and walk over it.

I have had to read that piece over and over again in the last several months. I never seem to stop needing to relearn this time and again: this is a process. I can’t rush it. I can’t just close my eyes, recite “I accept myself as I am,” and open my eyes a new woman. Instantly enlightened. This might take all day. It will probably take the rest of my life, if I’m doing it right.

The chasm I am currently trying to cross is to accept myself as autistic. Frankly, I thought this would be easy. I thought I was going to leap that one in a single bound, because I was so relieved to have the answers that autism provided to the confusing questions of my life, because I certainly accept other autistic people as worthy and valuable just as they are. But it’s not so straightforward. It’s in the details of life that I get tripped up.

Instead of accepting that some things are more energy-draining for me than other people, somewhere in the back of my mind I tell myself, I’m just being lazy. Instead of accepting that my social desires often outstrip my abilities, I tell myself, I’m just being antisocial. Instead of accepting that sensory breaks are real needs, I tell myself, I’m just being weak and pathetic. Instead of accepting that inadequate self-knowledge and attending support have probably held me back from the kind of success I’ve wanted in life, I tell myself, I just haven’t tried hard enough. Those are horrible things I would never say to anyone else, but I feel comfortable saying them to myself!

bridge

But I have to keep laying down the planks and building my bridge. When we don’t accept ourselves, we punish ourselves in all sorts of tiny ways. Self-deprivation is a big one. It’s an easy one, because often it requires zero effort. We simply don’t take care of ourselves, and that suffices to punish us for not being good enough in whatever ways we feel we are inadequate.

Everyone has their own chasms to cross when it comes to self-acceptance and self care. Neurological differences, disabilities, mental illness, chronic physical illness, body image issues, past or current abusive situations, financial poverty, marginalization because you are of a minority race or gender or sexual orientation, failed relationships, thwarted ambitions, career ambitions beyond motherhood or not having career ambitions beyond motherhood. Any of these, or fill in the blank with your own, can be reasons we beat ourselves up, but should not be.

This is precisely why self care is an act of political warfare. To do it you must reject the cultural messages that have told you that you are undeserving of care, for whatever reason. You take back the power to deem a person worthy or unworthy, and proclaim yourself worthy, just as you are.

Zen and the Art of Housework

Identity, Parenting

I dread housework, I dislike it, and I’m not very good at it.

Well, that’s what I’ve always told myself, but things are beginning to shift.

I’ll probably never be GOOD at housework; I lack the patience, the focus, the energy, the pure elbow greasability to really do an excellent job of cleaning. But it seems that I dislike it less and less as time goes on, at times I would say that I even enjoy it, and that means I dread it less, too.

Mike and I always had a fairly egalitarian arrangement when it came to keeping house. (It was no accident that I married a man who had clearly managed to keep a tiny studio apartment (even tinier than my tiny studio apartment at the time) relatively tidy.) But, things change. I didn’t foresee ever wanting to be a stay/work at home parent, I didn’t foresee how much Mike would work or how physically hard he would work, I didn’t foresee being a person who would never send my kids off to school (which means they are HERE ALL DAY playing and making messes), I didn’t foresee being a parent who would choose not to use behaviorism to get people to do what I wanted them to do.

All of the above factors led to a reality where I found myself doing more housework. Initially, I rebelled internally. I resented, wallowed, nagged, and sometimes lashed out. That made me unhappy. Then I tried another tack. I sank into the work. What would happen if, instead of spending time thinking about what was fair or how much I “should” be doing or how much I hated doing it, I embraced the work and owned it as my work.

Zen HouseworkI recognized, when I turned down the volume on my inner whining, that Mike was already working a lot; he was willing to do his part at home, but his part was simply a lot smaller – he is home a lot less and does not have much time for housework, while I have lots. I recognized that the kids had their own work to do, of learning basically everything there is to know about life, and their work was valid too. I recognized that I was lucky, in fact, to stay home with the kids, I wanted to be there, I appreciate our home and want to take care of it, I was happy that we’d been able to provide this enormous mess of toys and abundance of food that was spilled all over the table and floor, I was – though I hate this word, it’s so sentimental – grateful.

I admitted to myself that huffing around the house complaining about the mess and cleaning with a scowl on my face was teaching my children that housework is dreadful, no fun, a burden, a drudgery. Why then would they ever want to do it??? Sure, I could MAKE them do it, but they’d do it against their will and hate housework all their lives. There had to be a better lesson to be learned than that.

So I sort of suspended my opinion about what housework is like. Just pretended I had no feelings about it one way or the other, it was just something to be done and I would do it. Not by setting a timer or making a schedule or checking a checklist or “making it fun” with some assortment of tricks, but actually turning my attention to the tasks before me and doing the work.

And the weirdest thing happened. I started to like it.

Sometimes I listen to music or a podcast, and sometimes doing laundry or dishes can be a way to get a break from the kids’ demands, yes, but none of that is really the point. It’s almost hard to put into words, because it’s a wordless kind of experience. When I wipe down the kitchen, I am just wiping down the kitchen. I do the steps without judgment. When I clean the floors, I am just walking around pushing my steam vac. The floors get filthy again by the end of the day and I don’t care. I did the work and I’ll do it again. There’s a simplicity to it that is restful even though my body is at work.

So a funny thing began to happen when I found contentment in housework; the other people in my family began to join in more often. Mike has taken up an interest in cooking, and is teaching himself how to make things like pancakes and French toast on the weekend mornings, and tried his hand at granola bars. The boys get out the broom and try to sweep sometimes when they’ve dropped a bunch of kinetic sand on the floor, and they pick up their toys now and then without being asked.

Housework to me, now, is peaceful. It’s a way to rest my mind, to use my body, and to care for my home and my family. It requires no expert advice or knowledge – at least not the way I do it! – no thought, no anxiety, no busy-ness, just attention.

#Introvert(Parent)Problems

Parenting

Being an introverted parent comes with a unique set of challenges. Lately I’ve tried to become more aware of how MY challenges and needs are contributing to my own parental “misbehavior” – yelling, losing my cool, or just being unable to weather the everyday demands of parenting with a calm and compassionate attitude.

I am prone to sensory overload, particularly in the realm of NOISE. It was only in the last year or so, when I read Quiet by Susan Cain, that I learned that sensory overload is a very common trait of introverts. I always thought I was just grouchy! And I might be a little grouchy by nature, but being sensitive to sound and what I perceive as “chaos” (too many people talking at once, too many different inputs at once) is an enormous influence not only on my mood, but on how well I am able to function.

The most difficult times are when we come home from being somewhere that has completely drained my energy – a play date, the children’s museum – and I desperately need to be alone. The best way I can describe the feeling is that it’s like having low blood sugar, but instead of needing to eat I need to escape into my own head, preferably in silence. That need to recharge is real and it’s strong.

A common pitfall of introvert parenting for me is winding up someplace that’s very noisy and crazy and only THEN realizing that I just don’t have the ability to handle that much stimulation at the moment. If I’m tired (which is often, obviously) or I’ve done too much already, I have a weakened ability to handle sensory input like a noisy room. Having to speak loudly or yell to make myself heard above the din is likely to send me over the edge. Places like the children’s museum or a bounce house place (all the white noise of the fans that keep the bouncers inflated is very intense for me) can be too much if I’m not in the right mood.

This all makes me sound sensitive and ill tempered, and I guess I can be. But at the same time, I can recharge and rebound if I just get some time with a quiet activity (and let’s face it, a little caffeine might help). Smartphones are a boon to introvert parenting, because to some extent, it’s a way to escape and recharge on the go without having to actually BE alone or take a lot of time to myself. Having said that, I’m no good at multitasking, so if I’m somewhere where I need to keep both eyes on the kids, I can’t be checking out Facebook too. Being alone to write or read is definitely a more potent battery charge for me but it has to be a solid chunk of uninterrupted time to be any good – and we all know how easy to come by those chunks are for parents!

One common misconception, or maybe it’s just a gross overgeneralization, about introverts is that we don’t like to be social at all. That is not true of me and I know not every introvert feels that way. I enjoy time with people and crave it when I go too long without it. But it’s tiring. It’s like how some people enjoy workouts (I’m not one of them!) – you have fun and it feels good while you’re doing it, but you have your limits and afterward you need to rest. If you push too hard or don’t rest properly, it feels bad and takes longer to recover. But I never want people to think that while I’m sitting there talking to them I’m longing to get away – that’s hardly ever the case. I just might need a nap when we’re done!

As the kids get older I will do my best to explain to them what introverts and extroverts are all about, so they understand themselves and other people better. I wish I’d known all my life that I wasn’t totally weird, in fact I was a pretty classic introvert (well, and maybe a little weird too).