Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Don't Do Down Time and Other Lies

I saw it coming from miles away, but I tried to ignore it.  Between the kids' upcoming spring break, a pause for me between projects and my husband's odd, but welcomed tax season reprieve, there would be five completely unscheduled days on our calendar. 

The mere thought of it left me squirming in my ergonomically correct office chair.

Should we go away somewhere? 

Should we stay in and focus on the oft-put-off home de-cluttering initiative?

Should I plan outings to local museums and see what movies will be playing at the local theater?

Should we visit relatives, arrange play dates, and enroll the kids in sports camps or should I seize the opportunity to schedule haircuts, teeth cleaning, check-ups and the like?

Gah... the chasm of white space spanning from Monday to Friday left me feeling somewhat frantic. 

I need an agenda, a schedule, a lengthy to-do list to tackle. I don't do down time. Never have, never will. 

I need to be busy. The stress of it gets my adrenaline pumping. Right or wrong, I like my days to flash by in a wink of the eye and and I wear a well-crossed off to-do list like a shiny badge of productivity.

Truth be told, laying on a beach watching the sun set would drive me to delirium and I'm counting the hours until I can pry open my day-job laptop. 

I mean it. 

Really, really.

That being said, I'd be ever so grateful if you would kindly remind me of this when I'm complaining of being stretched too thin. 

Probably next Monday morning.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring is Busting Out All Over

After several unseasonably warm, record-breaking and somewhat freakish temperatures, Spring is busting out all over.

In my flower bed...
in my yard...

 in my peony bed...
and, unfortunately, in my closet.
Mind you, this is the same closet that, just two weeks ago, was a veritable work of art. Organized to the nth degree, our parkas hung on the rod, the gloves, hats and scarves were neatly stacked on the shelf above and pairs of boots sat, ready to wear, on the floor below.

Now, it's an over-stuffed, embarrassing mish-mash of heavy coats, windbreakers, hoodies and sandals.

Somehow, we've managed to skip a slow, gradual winter-to-spring transition during which I would have swapped out the cold weather items with warm weather gear as the mercury crept upwards.

But, I'm not complaining. Really. 

Now, if I could only remember where I put the sunscreen...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Learning to Let Go

I already had three boys before Christopher came along. When he was born, we expected the tiny curly-haired charmer to follow roughly the same development track that his older brothers blazed before him.

By his first birthday, he was already ahead of the game, walking at nine months, engaging admirers with his bright eyes, long lashes and dimples. By twelve months, he was chattering and pointing at things he hadn't yet learned to label.

By his second birthday, he hadn't uttered a word for six months and wouldn't let my husband or I put him down. Ever.

A few days later, at the urging of his pediatrician, we had him evaluated at Easter Seals and promptly received a diagnosis of Autism. The next day we started him in their early intervention program.

Today, he is an eighth grade student, learning with his peers in "regular" classes and has been on the high honor role at his middle school for the past several semesters. In between then and now, his journey has been filled with frustrations and joy as well as set backs and triumphs.

And the hardest part for me has been learning to let go - stepping back and letting him blaze his own trail.

I used to have a white-knuckled grip on him. Fighting the urge to hover nearby like a protective body guard on over-drive had been my modus operandi since we got his diagnosis. Take, for instance, the time we signed him up for soccer.

At the first practice session, I spotted a mal-intentioned team mate who enjoyed pushing my son's vast array of buttons. When the coach looked the other way, I took it upon myself to take this kid to task with a simple, "Be nice." When he smirked at me, I exchanged some choice words with his mother. Right or wrong, nobody messes with my son, I thought. While he couldn't/wouldn't fight his own battles, I'd fight them for him. RAR, right?

Learning to ride a bike was another challenge - for me, not him. I was certain he wouldn't have the coordination skills or tolerance for tumbling required when learning to go training-wheel-less. When he was eight and all of his classmates were riding their bikes to school, I knew I couldn't put it off any longer. I had to loosen my grip again.

My first impulse was to go with a program for special needs kids at a nearby rehabilitation hospital. Very expensive, but safe, with lots of trained occupational therapists on hand.

But there was no need. One afternoon spent on the sidewalk in front of our house with his two-wheeler and three older brothers and he was riding like a pro. Having discovered a new-found freedom that allowed him to glide gracefully along, just like everybody else, left him smiling for hours. We called everyone we knew to share the good news.

The next anxiety-laden moment was when middle school loomed on his horizon. My husband and I, along with his elementary school support team, all held our breath, expecting a rough transition period. We scheduled a meeting exclusively to devise all sorts of strategies to handle the anxiety attacks and melt downs we were certain he'd experience when he'd get lost in the maze of hallways or forget his locker combination.

Turns out, there was no need. He transitioned with the maturity of a child beyond his years. Breathing a sigh of relief, we loosened our grip more, letting him take the bus to and from school every day, join clubs and start babysitting his younger brother for short periods of time.

To look at him from a distance, you would have absolutely no idea that he has Asperger's Syndrome - except, of course, if he's standing in a crowd of other kids, say, at the bus stop.  He would be the tall, good-looking, overly-friendly-for-a-14-year-old guy standing alone, apart from the rest.

Most recently, when I looked at him from this vantage point, he was up on the stage in his school's auditorium, auditioning for their spring play ("The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"). He had been looking forward to it for weeks.

Completely loosening my grip, I told him to go for it.

On the day the information meeting took place, he stayed after school to attend it. Signing up for an audition time, he prepared for the part he wanted - Mr. Tumnus.

When the big day arrived, he called from school to remind me of his audition time and I assured him again that I'd be there to pick him up afterwards. I arrived at the school with minutes to spare. Not wanting him to see me, I peeked through the little window in the door.

There he was, holding his script in one hand and gesturing with the other as he read to the audience of four teachers who were watching and taking notes.

Waiting four days to find out if he made it was no small task, but he bore it well. Not a day went by that I didn't remind him, "If you got the part, great. If you didn't, that's OK, too, right?"

Each time I said it, he nodded in agreement.

Finally the day came. I watched for the bus to pull to the corner at 3:20 as it always did. I met him at the door and asked, "Well?" His expression gave me no clue.

He bounded through the door and announced, "I didn't make it, but that's OK. At least I tried, right?"

Oh my, how far my boy has come... and I can't wait to see what the future holds.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

If Time is Money, I'm Broke

If time is money, I've got 24 hours in my pocket on any given day - well, except tomorrow when I'll have to hand one of my hard-earned hours over to the DST (Daylight Savings Time)  and, for now, get nothing back for it except a better lit morning. 
That's what I call a poor return on investment.
Married some twenty years to my Finance-major college sweetheart, here's what this English major grad has learned: money management is pretty straight-forward. 
Balance how much you earn against how much you typically spend in any given month. Pay yourself first by allocating dollars for savings. Right or wrong, anticipate that the IRS is going to pocket some tax dollars, but you may get some back in a refund.
The payoff for properly managed dollars? Zero-debt and a hefty rainy day fund. 
Time management is similar. I balance my daily to-do list against 24 hours. I pay myself first by allocating 8 hours right off the top for sleep. Right or wrong, the DST is going to pocket an hour each March when we "spring ahead", but I'll get it back in October when we "fall back". 
The payoff for properly managed time? Zero to-do's and a good night's sleep.
Monday through Friday, my time budget is relatively fixed. The weekends, however, are similar to a futures market. Like a stressed-out trader, I try to anticipate the impact on my time against things that are largely out of my control.
If a good night's sleep is akin to a well-stocked savings account, then stress is like credit card late fees or the cost of unanticipated car repairs (after the warranty has expired).
Compounding matters is the fact that I usually start the weekend in the red.  If I charged things on a credit card, knowing full well I didn't have the money to cover the expenses, I would dread the day the balance is due. 
More often than not, I wake up with that same dread on Saturday mornings when all of the tasks I put off during the week come due.  As a result, the word count on my weekend to-do lists can usually rival that of "Gone with the Wind".  Nonetheless, I'll keep managing my family's time while my bean counter spouse manages the cash. 
Now, if I can just remember to set the clocks ahead before I go to sleep tonight...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Day Dream Parisian

(Photo Credit: Thomas Claveirole)
There's nothing I'd like to do more today than dip hunks of a crispy-crusted fresh baguette into a bubbling cheese fondue and wash it all down with a full-bodied red wine. 

Pourquoi, you ask?

I don't know. It could be because I'm busy at work getting estimates for translating a user manual from English to French, chatting with women named Simone and Mathilde and using phrases I haven't uttered since taking French 101 as an elective my freshman year of college. While probably not wowed by my accent, they were no doubt impressed with my ability to ask, "Where is the train station?" and "How much is the room?" - even if they were a tad out of context.

Or, maybe it's because we took the boys to see "Hugo" again last night (just one more time on the big screen). Seeing the sweeping panoramic vistas of the Parisian skyline, the interior of the train station brimming with flower carts, boulangeries selling freshly-made croissants and coffee shops, in which patrons are serenaded by skilled instrumentalists, had me clawing for my copy of Madame Bovary faster than you can say, "Je préfère être à Paris."

Perhaps one day when I'm shoving a cart full of groceries though the parking lot in broad daylight, trying to remember where I parked and fretting over the fact that I'm about to let yet another day go by without working on my book, something magical will happen. 

As I stand stranded in a sea of mini-vans and SUVs, a zippy Citroën will appear out of nowhere and pull up right in front of me.  F. Scott Fitzgerald himself will open the door and wave me over to let me know that he just read my manuscript and thinks it's the bees knees. He'll then pull me into the suddenly expansive backseat, in between he and Zelda, inviting me to attend a Parisian party with them. She'll hand me a gin and tonic and we'll trash talk Hemingway's attempt at literary grandeur all the way there.

It could happen.

In the meantime, I've got the "French Kiss" soundtrack on continuous play, blaring from the CD player speakers stacked on top of my refrigerator since eight this morning. By noon, I expect that my youngest will be able to do a mean air trumpet to Louis Armstrong's solo on "La Vie en Rose". And later, me and my enfants might just pop in Ratatouille, then wash down some grilled cheese sandwiches with sparkling grape juice.

C'est la vie...