Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Self-Regard Project

I'm blowdrying my hair for social change.

Remember in August, how people dropping spoons were making me burst into tears? I was stressed and unhappy and sleepless and on edge. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, life didn't get any less chaotic--generally my response to this kind of situation is to try yet harder. More home-cooked meals? Leave work a little early. Need to get more time at the office? Get up a little earlier. Everyone running late? Drive them all in, skip the shower, throw on some jeans. Mornings a disastrous rush? Get a low-maintenance haircut. Develop a uniform of wash-and-wear jeans and tees. Pynchon has to work two full time jobs at once? Take two (or three) weeks of vacation time to mop up the extra on the home front. Lot of expenses for the house this month? Cut back my own spending .

Trying harder wasn't working. All the sacrifices of my own time and effort and resources weren't making anyone any happier, healthier, more productive, or less stressed, least of all me. So, with Pynchon's very strong encouragement, I pushed back at life. I started what I am calling the 'Self-Regard Project.'

The Self-Regard Project is pretty simple, but its effects have been profound. I found me again, and even if life is still largely a disastrous chaos, I am much more firmly rooted in my own strengths. Here's what I did: I stopped martyring myself, and devoted some of all that energy I was expending trying to smooth everyone else's life into things that were important for me. Currently, the Self-Regard Project is proceeding on three fronts that maybe don't seem to be related, but are: fashion and beauty, exercise, and saying no at work.

Fashion and Beauty:

I got a high-maintenance haircut, a glossy and stylish angled bob that suits my face and my aesthetic. I didn't think it suited my lifestyle: it requires daily washing, daily moussing, daily blow-drying, and just a touch of straight-iron. And do you know what? For eight weeks in a row, I've blow-dried my hair every damn day. It takes 10 minutes, but I walk out of that bathroom feeling attractive and polished. There is a spring in my step. Every day, too, I do my makeup. It takes about five minutes, but that five minutes brightens my eyes, evens out my skin tone, makes me feel well-rested because I look well-rested. In eight weeks of school, also, I've not worn the same outfit twice. Many of the same pieces, yes, but in different combinations. During the day, or in the shower, or at night in bed, I idly run through my wardrobe in my head, combining and recombining pieces. I feel creative. I feel connected to the world. I feel attractive and competent and engaged.


I walk home from work nearly every day. I have had to sort out the child-care pickup/dropoff routine with Pynchon, but he is happy to support me in this. We just have to plan it. I walk with my colleagues, chatting. I walk by myself, listening to podcasts. I take the time to smell the fresh air, watch the leaves fall, splash in puddles in my boots, feel the sun on my face. I go to yoga twice a week. I've moved into the intermediate class and I find that as we are doing more complex poses with more integrity and learning yogic thinking, I am calming down and getting strong all at once. Yoga is in the early evenings, and I leave Pynchon and Munchkin at the dinner table. "Have a good yoga, Mom!" Munchkin hollers, smiling. I'm home to put her to bed, and she hasn't missed me at all.

Saying no at work:

We all work too much, you know? Checking our email at home, bringing the paperwork to the dinner table after the dishes are cleared away, sneaking a couple of hours at the office on the weekends, tackling a pile of grading at 4:30 am, just because. I say no. I won't do it. I need the rest and I deserve it. If I put in a full day at the office, there is absolutely no reason on earth I should be emailing about policy or grades with colleagues or students after supper, on the weekend. And I am getting better at enforcing this boundary.

"Set your foundation with strength and integrity," counsels my yoga teacher. We line up in well-formed mountain pose--push down from all four corners of your feet, hug muscle onto bone, set your shoulders and lift your heart toward the sky--and as she walks around the room pushing down on our shoulders as hard as she can, we don't move. We don't feel it. A strong foundation greatly increases the loads you can bear, and bear more easily than before.

Women, generally, are bearing a lot of loads in their 30s--work, family, life. If I could reduce these loads, I would. I'm still an insomniac, Pynchon still works a lot of overtime, Munchkin still does her best to stay awake in her bed until 11pm so that she is a screechy overtired mess at 7:30am. As it turns out, martying myself doesn't change any of this things. What I can change is me. And I'm marvelling at what a change my sense of self, my life, have undergone simply by committing to blow-dry my hair every day.

The Self-Regard Project has me setting my foundation with strength and integrity. I feel better; I look better; I'm stronger; I smile more.

Do you have a Self-Regard Project?

Exercise, most of us can agree, is usually an unalloyed Good Thing. Fancy hair and unique outfits and daily makeup might look more like the Beauty Myth, but for me it's about acknowledging that it's okay to take time for myself. That I deserve it. Similarly, there is a strong cultural narrative that proposes that 'flexible' work time gives us more freedom to schedule ourselves, but I've found instead that perpetual connectivity means I never have any time I can fully devote to myself of my family, and so for me a strict 9-5 is much more freeing, and healthy. Your self-regard project might look different.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Last night, an Arrowroot cookie saved my life

Okay it was this morning, and it wasn't, I guess, my life as much as my sanity.

For the past two weeks, our mornings have been a dream. Pynchon and I take turns in the shower; he gets to shave in peace, and I get to blow dry my hair and put on makeup. In the background, you might hear Munchkin singing songs to and about her My Little Ponies, or maybe the thump of her feet as she chases the cat around the house.

What you don't hear is screaming: you don't hear her screaming, you don't hear me yelling, you don't hear Pynchon slamming doors in frustration. You don't hear tantrums, screechy non-compliance, refusals to get out of bed / go pee / get dressed / come downstairs / eat breakfast / put shoes and coat on / leave the house / get in the car. You do hear playing and laughing. You hear songs. You hear reasonable conversations, accomodations and compromises on the theme of "three more minutes of 'bolleyball' and then we will put our shoes on" or "once you make your pee-pee, then I'll read you the book."

Our out of control toddler and our out of control parenting? Is suddenly ... not an issue. We are just enjoying our time together in the mornings now, and when we're late for work, it's because one of us lingered too long over playtime or family breakfast, not willing to walk away to brush our teeth or pack a lunch.

The solution?

Two Arrowroot cookies and a glass of milk.

When we pad into Munchkin's room in the morning, cooing soft greetings just like we always did, we hand her the cookies and milk. She sits on a cushion on her floor, a little groggy, and eats. Drinks. There have been no morning tantrums in the two weeks we've been doing this.

It's a miracle. A miraculous change in our day that no amount of Dr. Google's or Dr. Sears' or Dr. Karp's advice could bring about. It wasn't about discipline or routine or attachment or consequences. It was about blood sugar.

Munchkin, recall, turned three in June. She weighs 42 pounds and her size four pants are now riding up above her ankles. She's a big kid, growing like crazy since the moment she was conceived and I guess she's just really, really hungry. We missed out on this obvious point maybe because she was always throwing tantrums about NOT wanting to eat breakfast, but I think (now) that this was an artifact of desperately low blood-sugar: by the time we asked about breakfast, she was already in a frenzy that didn't feel like hunger, that felt like rage and sadness.

We are agog at the change, at the possibility 60 calories worth of baked flour offers for family harmony, for joy. After preschool, if she suddenly gets unreasonable and moody? Cookie. Saturday morning after two hours of playing picnic with plastic food, angry that the blanket won't fold right? Cookie. It's not that we're bribing her with food. It's that she's hungry. The change in her behaviour is always immediate and remarkable. Probably, the moment of calm and refocusing offered by the 2 minutes of sitting still in the kitchen to munch her snack helps too, but really. Who could have imagined the humble Arrowroot to have such awesome properties?

Not me, that's for sure.

So if your kid is an awful wreck and you've tried everything you know? Try two Arrowroot cookies and a glass of milk. There's probably a hug in it for you--I know there always is for me.


I'm big, and very hungry.