The 30 Day No Yelling Challenge: What I Learned.

So. My No Yelling Challenge.

I HAD intended on updating you weekly about how it was going; the writer in me imagined that I’d see real progress over the course of the month and I could close out the challenge with a neat and tidy ending: I learned so much about myself, and I’m kinder, gentler, and a better mom and wife to boot!

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

I still yell sometimes, even AFTER working at it.

Part of it is years of ingrained behavior and reactions. My default to pretty much everything is annoyance. Little annoyances over the course of a few days turn into frustration. Lots of little frustrations build up over time, and like a pressure cooker, I inevitably POP.

And then I’m yelling.

It was clear to me that first day (where I yelled at every one of the Important Beings In My Life at least once) that this was going to be a REAL challenge for me.

Because it’s a simple fact: I am not zen, as much as I’d like to be.

So last month was not a success if you define success as becoming a zen mother/wife/dog owner who never yells.

But it was a success in other ways. Because I figured some stuff out.

The first thing I figured out? Generally, I yell before I even realize I’m yelling. It’s a weird thing to say, I know. But there was a moment soon into the month where, as I was talking, I realized that my voice was raised and I was punctuating my statements with emotion. I wasn’t angry at that point.

But I could see how someone outside my head would think that I was mad.

I had never noticed that about myself.

And, of course, it makes sense that I don’t just go from calm to screaming in 60 seconds, that things build up before I lose it.

I spent time trying to figure out how to prevent getting into a situation where I yell. What were my hot buttons? What did it FEEL like when I was getting into the red zone where I snapped and let my frustration out?

I noted a couple of things:

1. I need space. I need, on average, an hour or two a day where I don’t have to interact with anyone, where I can be alone with my thoughts and feelings and breathe. (And yes, this confirms that I’d be an abysmal stay at home mother.) I struggle with this, because time alone seems like such a luxury. But I am a better person for it.

2. I need to simplify. My worst days are the ones where I am trying to do too much: squeezing in a run before daycare drop off then 3 hours of commuting time and a busy workday, only to have to go out for dinner with a friend or do dog training classes or whatever. Then, Jeff’s focus on work only while I’m gone – the coffee cup on the dining room table, the dirty dishes in the sink – are enough to blow my top.

3. I need sleep. I can subsist on 6 hours of sleep for a bit, but it’s not enough, and when I’m tired I get snappish and grumpy and have very little patience. Ideally I need 7-9 hours each night. Which means I need to commit to a regular bedtime, no matter what. And I also need to be on alert when I haven’t gotten enough sleep that I will have a harder time with patience.

4. I need to let go of expectations. I discovered that I was far more stressed out and therefore yelled when I was trying to do something special for Owen or Jeff or the dog. Seriously, go ahead and laugh, but I was that mom/wife/owner who was hissing through my gritted teeth I am doing this for YOU, so you better [expletive] ENJOY IT. And it was because I had set myself up with EXPECTATIONS. In my head, I had created a fantasy image of how things would go, and when it didn’t meet those expectations, I would get angry at them. Which, if you think about it, is a twisted sort of hurt. Acknowledge, please, I’m doing something NICE for you? I’d love it if you thanked me for it.

The biggest thing I got from this month was the ability to take a step back and observe my actions and reactions. Because until the Challenge I had never really acknowledged that my yelling was because *I* was missing something – either sleep or space or my expectations were out of line or I was doing too much.

I always explained it simply as the fact that no one listens to me, and they only way they listen is when I yell.

I still find myself raising my voice more than I prefer to, and I will be the first to admit that there are days where my patience is worn thin within minutes of waking up in the morning.

(Or when I say something to Owen for the THIRD. FREAKING. TIME and he looks up and says, “What, Mommy?” like he’s never heard my voice before. ARGH.)

So, yeah, it is inevitable that there will be days where I’ll snap at him or Jeff or the dog. This is real life, not some fairy tale where I make some sweeping changes which results in Happily Ever After.

But when I do lose my cool, it’s a warning: I need something. And if that means I need a few minutes with my pandora Trip Hop station or I need to text my best friend and bitch or I need to go for a walk around the block, then that’s what I have to do.

And so I’m calling last month a Win.

One. Enough?

I know, I know. I wish I had a good reason for not blogging often. It’s time! I have lots of ideas, but not enough time to get it out.

I promise I will update you all on my 30 Day No Yelling Challenge. Which is almost over, and has been, overall, a good exercise.

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We get questions from people, sometimes.

Just one child?

Is he your only?

Most people don’t know that it took us three years, one chemical pregnancy, two surgeries, three fresh in-vitro fertilization cycles, however many frozen cycles, and ten embryos to get pregnant with our son. They also don’t know that after he was born, we spent another two years on three more fresh IVF cycles, a couple of thaws, and ten MORE embryos. Which, this time, resulted “only” in two early miscarriages. No baby.

Last fall we found ourselves in a place utterly without hope. And so we walked away from fertility treatments.

Since then, we’ve been working on getting more comfortable with the idea that Owen will, in all likelihood, be an only child.

Changing our focus on our one son has been good for us in so many ways. Instead of the fail of all the years we spent trying for the family we dreamed about, it’s really made us focus on the family we DO have. I will often look over him and be struck with this thought: we are SO lucky to have him here with us.

And really, there are so many benefits to having a family of three. We’re closer. More focused. Owen doesn’t have to share a room, or his space, or my attention with another sibling. Jeff and I get to parent to HIS personality, his quirks, and we can focus on him when we need to. We can also switch off and get space when we need it.

Which for me, is a big deal. Me time, space, I’m finding, is important.

But it’s also tough in a lot of respects.

Like with fielding the above questions.

People mean well, and often they will ask us if we have more children because they’re interested in learning about us. I do it myself, when I meet people. And arguably, I could be sensitive to the question simply because we’ve struggled so much with family building over the years.

But I have also noticed how it’s phrased. The words “only” and “just” are used; which, to me, infers that there’s something wrong with the choice to have one child.

A couple of weeks ago, good friends of mine forwarded me links to op-ed pieces by Lauren Sandler. Honestly, until I read the articles, I had never heard of her. It seems she has a new book: “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.”

In each one of her articles, like the one I read here and here and here, she takes apart, bit by bit, the myths surrounding only children.

Further than that, though, she goes on to propose that having an only child can actually make parents happier.

Since I’ve spent the six months sitting with the idea of Owen being an only child, trying to sort out how I feel about it, this is an issue that’s fairly close to my heart.

First of all, I like how Lauren Sandler addresses what I, too, have noticed. There is this idea out there that only children are lonely, and not well adjusted, and socially awkward. Only children are missing out on something.

I mean, hell, *I* have struggled with this idea. Whenever Owen asks us if we can play with him, kind of longingly, or remarks, Mommy, you NEVER play with me! I wonder. Will he grow up to be lonely? Should I do MORE?

This kind of thinking makes it hard for me to balance fostering his imaginative play – I feel strongly that my adult intervention in his playtime unwittingly teaches him rules that he maybe doesn’t need to learn until later in his life – and making sure I give him the attention that he needs.

And then there’s the worry that I’m giving him TOO much attention. I often joke about being THAT mom, the one my future daughter (or son) in-law would loathe – being too involved in his life, having him orbit my life too closely.

And then there’s the fear that I’m somehow robbing Future Owen. I feel so lucky to have siblings. Maybe not everyone feels like this, but I feel like the three of us have this bond of years of shared history. All of us are similar, yet different – and we have a relationship that will always be there, regardless of distance and history and life.

Owen has his cousins, and Jeff and I, but I worry that he’ll feel like something’s missing.

So I take great comfort in the studies done that reassure me that only children are intelligent, engaging, HAPPY people as adults. Because I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, I read the studies Lauren Sandler mentions in her articles with relief.

The issue I have with her stance, though, is where she talks about the choice to have one, and that parents of only children might be happier than parents of multiple children.

I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t have CHOSEN to have my one son, if my hands weren’t tied, medically speaking. I still struggle with feelings of being forced into our situation by circumstances not within our control.

That said, I cannot understand how she can suppose that she is happier than any other person, all because she chose to have a single child. Because happiness is relative, and it’s based on criteria that isn’t the same from person to person. Perhaps a career-oriented woman who loves flexibility like she does might be happier than a woman who finds happiness in taking care of people. Maybe she’s happier because she had an element of CHOICE, where we did not.

But it’s not for her to say that she’s better off than any one else.

Ultimately, I’m glad that someone is raising the discussion about the unspoken bias we have as it relates to only children. I feel it whenever anyone asks me if Owen is our only and we answer in the affirmative – that the click of judgment happens in that moment and the person thinks of Owen: Ah, poor lonely, maladjusted child. I love the reassurance in the DATA that my only child will be FINE as he grows.

But I disagree when she says that deciding to have an only child will make you happier.

Because for me, that is not the case.

The Answer to an Unspoken Question.

Lack of updates is nothing more than pure busy: I am having a hard time keeping up with my life right now.

This weekend, after the end of a long walk with Finley on an absolutely glorious night, I was heading back to the house when I ran into my neighbor.

My next door neighbor, you see, is the pastor of the church down two doors from us. He and his wife are wonderful neighbors; kind to Owen, who is prone to walking through their hard-earned flower beds to get a stray wiffle ball. They see me run past their house many times, and ask about my race plans and how I’m doing.

They’re wonderful people, and great neighbors.

We chatted for a few moments about his youngest son, recovered from cancer which ravaged him only a few short years ago, who just graduated college. We spoke of how Owen was heading to kindergarten in the fall.

How fast time goes, we agreed.

And he pointed out that it was nearly five years ago that we baptized our son. And he was too kind to ask out loud, but an unspoken question hung between us.

Why hasn’t he seen us in church?

Five years ago, my grandparents and parents and aunt and uncle came to visit us, and we had Owen baptized in that church. We joined that church afterwards, in part because we thought it would be a good way to meet people in the community, and we wanted Owen to grow up with a good foundation in religion.

We stopped going, in part because Owen hated being in the nursery when he was a toddler, and he was too young for the Sunday School classes.

But mostly we stopped going because a lot of kind of crappy stuff happened in my life and being in church made me kind of pissed off. Jeff didn’t really want to go if I didn’t go.

My relationship with God and religion is, well… complicated. I have a hard time believing in “God’s plan” whenever something bad happens. I have a hard time with people using religion to duck accountability and responsibility for their hand in causing pain. I have a hard time when religion or God is used to discriminate between the “good” people (who are clearly going to heaven) and the “others” (who have not yet been saved from the fiery pits of MORDOR!).

I have always felt that religion was man’s way of trying to put a box around something that was too big for us to understand. And I despair when I see people fighting in the name of religion.

And then? I started running. And I ran country roads when I was training for my marathon.

My town and the surrounding area is woods and farm and marsh and low stone walls.

It’s breathtaking.

I have seen deer, and listened to deafening birdsong in early summer, and smelled the fullness of the woods all around me. I run in the warmth of summer, the riot of color in fall, the crispness of winter, the green of spring. I run in the darkness of early morning, the dew of late mornings, the heat of the afternoons, and the softness of the evenings.

On my run, I feel closer to a god, the universe, the pulse of humanity – whatever “God” is – than I EVER did in any church. I feel connected, and part of something bigger. I am strong, and thankful for my life, for the power that flows through my legs.

I didn’t know how to say this, though, to our pastor – whose own son spent years in cancer treatment, who can’t work in certain fields because of his “medical condition.”

So I didn’t say anything.

And instead, I stood with my neighbor and marveled at how quickly time flies.

In The End… (aka: A Catch Up Post)

So.

It’s the day before my Official 30 day No-Yelling challenge, and I think I’ve figured out some things about myself. Which, hopefully, will help me figure out other ways to express my feelings before I pop and yell at the people (and dog) I love most in this world.

1. I am actually yelling before I realize I’m yelling. It took me looking at myself from the outside to realize this; there was a moment this weekend where I thought, Hey, wait a second, my voice is raised! when I wasn’t particularly angry, just kinda annoyed.

Looking at it from my husband and son’s perspective though, I would think I was yelling too.

2. I am more prone to yelling when I am trying to do too much at once. For example, I generally snap at nighttime, when I am making dinner, keeping an eye on the dog (so he doesn’t chew our moldings or pee on the floor), half-listening to Owen asking me to play with him, cleaning the kitchen and counters so I can get dinner on the table on time. Et cetera. I have very little patience at that point, which means I need to simplify.

Do less. That’s easy, right? 😉

3. I need more time in a day. No, seriously. I’m commuting 3 hours a day. Slowly, the time spent in traffic is sucking the soul out of me. I didn’t realize how edgy traffic made me until the day I pulled into daycare and screamed my head off – for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON. (Thankfully the windows were closed and the kids were inside and no one witnessed me.) It was a bit of a revelation to me – I thought music was enough to keep me occupied.

The idea I’m wasting 3 hours of my day in the car, in traffic, kills me.

So I downloaded a book about dog training onto my iPhone. Wa-LA! I am now using that “dead time” to be productive – getting tips on how to train Finley.

And now I’m not counting the minutes I’m wasting in traffic because I feel like I’m getting something accomplished. Win.

So far, anyway. 🙂

4. I need to be kind to myself. 37 years of yelling when I’m mad won’t be undone in a day.

I’m well on my way, I think. For me, just being aware of my triggers is huge in terms of trying to change my behavior.

And the coolest thing? I’ve found women who want to do the same thing as me. We formed a Facebook group where we support each other in the challenge.

I just love knowing that I’m not alone in this.

______________________

I ran my goal race last weekend – the half marathon I’ve spent the last few months training for.

I went into it with three goals.

The A goal was to break 1:45:00. This was aggressive, I knew, and I didn’t really BELIEVE I had the ability to run that fast for that long. I’ve had very few miles in my training that were run that fast.

The B goal was to break 1:50:00. This was the realistic goal for me – the one that would be hard but sustainable.

The C goal was to break 1:55:00. This was a comfortable goal, or if something happened mid-race like a muscle/tendon tweak or something.

Now, mind you, meeting ANY of these goals would have meant a personal best. My fastest official half marathon time was run this April; I clocked in at 1:56:31.

The race was hard. I never really felt comfortable – which meant I raced it like I needed to. But if it weren’t for my friend Jen, who ran with me in the middle miles, I might have gone slower.

But I met my B goal. I finished in 1:49:15.

I’m thrilled with this time. Seriously, I ran my first half marathon three years ago, in 2:18:18. And since then I’ve taken nearly a full half hour off my time.

It’s shocking and empowering and exciting stuff. And gives me SO much hope for my fall marathon training.

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The Career Stuff. Yeah, it’s still hard. I have been considering quitting my job altogether so I can be home more. It would simplify some things, for sure. Laundry, groceries, housecleaning, bills. All me. Jeff could focus on his work only.

But it would also complicate things, too. Money would become an issue. And back in the day, when Jeff and I sat on a beach in Fiji, we talked about living a life where money wouldn’t be an issue.

Course, we also talked about balance, so it’s not like there’s not complications there.

What I have the hardest time with is the fact that I am currently working mostly part time. Yeah, I spend three hours in the car when I’m at the client. But this week? I’ve worked only two days. And I make good money.

I could trade that for a job closer to home, where I make half of what I make now. It’s still accounting – I could do bookkeeping pretty damn easily. It’s just, well, I can’t get excited about taking ANOTHER accounting job for less money.

I wish I had clarity or passion for ONE thing. I am so envious of the women who knew in high school or college what they were going to be when they grew up. Those women had a vision and goal and passion.

So that’s why it’s so hard to take the step and stop doing what I’m doing now. I’m hoping to find that magical place of balance. I don’t need to LOVE my job, but I also don’t want loathe my time there, either.

I keep telling myself I’m doing the best I can with what I have today. It’s all I can do.

So that’s my update. For now anyway. 😉

A Fresh Start.

Hi.

Like my new space?

I started my last blog in a different place, under a different moniker, back in 2005. I stopped blogging there recently. Ultimately, it felt like I had written myself into a corner, and I needed to break free of that space and do something completely new.

So here I am.

Who am I?

I am the mother of a gorgeous, challenging, curious, amazing three year old boy. It was a long journey to bring him home, and I am grateful for him every day. But parenting can be a tough and thankless job.

I am a wife to a caring, generous, wonderful man who doesn’t always take as good care of himself as I wish he would.

I am a passionate runner who is attempting her first marathon in 19 days. I both love and hate my training cycles. Running is my zen, my stress relief, my time to process and wake up. It’s the one part of my day where I can NOT think. But it’s hard and taxes both my physical AND mental ability and there are days where I am utterly in love with it and days where it’s my prison.

I am a cog in the wheel of corporate America. I often wish I had made different choices in the past, but I’m starting to really come to acceptance of this fact: It’s still not too late to find a career in which I’m passionate.

You will find a mix of everything here. There will be pictures of my son and husband. You’ll hear about my training runs, my races. You’ll get to hear all about raising my kid and the beauty and challenge of being a full time working parent. You’ll get to hear about my career (in)decisions and where my next path will take me.

So welcome. And thank you for reading.

xoxo