So, since I want to make sure this is an attainable goal (lofty yet not stratospheric) I’m going to start small.
I am going to try not to yell for this rest of this week. It’s Wednesday at 4 p.m. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know at how bad I am, well. I don’t want to tell you any more.
A photo in which I'm not yelling
But I’m going to try. This first step to not yelling is to publicly shame myself for yelling, way, way too much. I think I need an action plan.
Things that make me yell, warning signs, options besides yelling to do when I want to yell.
Henry stands. But he doesn’t want to crawl. Anyone’s baby go from sitting to pulling up and walking without crawling first?
Also, I’m working out again, like majorly regularly! I’d still like to know when I’m going to get close to my old paces again, not that they were ever spectacular or anything, but to be so far off my normal fitness is discouraging. I know I’ve only run a handful of times THIS YEAR, like probably a dozen times since the baby was born but for some reason I feel like I should magically be closer to where I was before?
What’s wrong with me? (Not generally, the comment dialog box would get filled up, just any ideas why I’m so much slower than before the baby?)
I have a lot of thoughts about this piece, not the least of which is that it’s not a very good example of journalism. It’s one of Those Trend Stories that the New York Times is infamous for. The writer finds some friends of friends on the Upper East Side and a trend is born. All women do this and now all women do that.
So, putting that aside for a moment, how do I feel about the premise? I am a feminist. I pick up my husband’s dry cleaning and don’t work full-time in an office. Why don’t I?
Because I made an individual life/work/sanity/financial/family balance decision that took into account myriad factors. Like, I didn’t love the job I was working when I had my first baby. It paid only a smidge more than I would have paid in day care costs. I couldn’t imagine leaving my three-month-old all day. My husband’s salary just barely allowed us to do so. It’s no Stepford Wives fantasy. I can’t really afford tons of extras but I don’t care. I don’t shop for fun. I don’t need a nice car or nice purse.
I do work, freelance, and part-time. When I was pregnant last spring an opportunity for a full-time flex/work-at-home job came my way and I went after it. It ended up not working out but I wasn’t going to lose the chance to advance my career in a way that made sense for my family. It doesn’t currently make sense for my family for me to commute, be miles away, and break even financially. I feel like I’m doing a decent job of setting myself up for a later point when I will look for something full-time or staff. I’m writing, I’m trying to network and make connections and I’ve been beyond blessed to have been able to find a new career during my time at home.
Without leaving my old career to stay home with my baby, I never would have gotten the guts to take a plunge into something new and better. I don’t know what exactly I will end up doing when my kids are in school. I won’t be home full-time then, but I’d like to imagine I’ll find something more flexible, more manageable, than stepping off a train at 7 p.m. Someone has to get them from school when they’re sick right? Last I checked schools never got the memo that businesses don’t close at 2 p.m.
So here’s the dirty secret no one talks about and the article didn’t even get close to understanding. Many, many, many stay at home moms are middle or even working class. And they stay home because here in New York you’d have to make something like 50k to even begin to see any money home after taxes and decent child care. How many women in their 20s, childbearing, years make that much? Staying home begins to make sense. Someone has to care for children.
Corollary to that is that significant amounts of women work at jobs that wouldn’t pay full-time day care because they receive free child care from grandmothers and family members. Mothers earn less than a family-sustaining wage subsidized by unpaid family help, often their own mothers who don’t work. There’s so much going on here I can’t even begin to unpack it in my little wandering blog post. But this idea that stay at home motherhood is some elite opportunity only open to snooty lady lunchers and the very wealthy is just silly.
Can you afford to work? Can you afford to not work? Are legions of women in very crappy, secreterial type go-nowhere jobs? Are they happy to recreate their lives around their families and a more sane daily routine? Who could blame them?
I certainly can’t, but then again I don’t believe Mommies Are Magical! with super special nurturing behavior men can’t approximate. Each individual has their own individual set of strengths and weaknesses, and so does each family unit. Mom making more? Dad can stay home. Love your career and would be scary mommy at home? Hire a loving nanny and get to work. The beauty of feminism is that we’ve made that an option. Of course it’s not perfect and someone still has to do the dishes. But to claim staying home is the new feminism is a very convenient way to elide over all the problems with the non-family friendly, often inflexible way we (over)work.
Why the hell can’t moms work from home at jobs that allow it? I know I get way more work done in between the 4,560 other things I’m juggling at home than I ever did clocking in my nine to six pm.
Yes, I hate it all: napping myself, trying to get babies to nap, worrying about whether or not they are sleeping enough during the day, not enough, often enough, long enough, short enough.
I will be happy when my youngest takes his last nap. My oldest dropped hers at 2.5 years old and I was glad. She went to bed earlier. No more naps.
I hate naps. If I am tired enough, and of course, having babies will do that to me, I will force myself to try and nap. But I’m terrible at it and most times I just toss and turn, and end up giving up, having lost precious time in a futile attempt.
How embarrasing, this never happens...
If I travel to another time zone and get jet lagged, something weird and disorienting happens to me when I nap. I wake up, and for a few, long agonizing moment I don’t know who I am, or where. At all. I have complete fleeting amnesia. It’s such a horrific sensation. It goes away, and I say, oh this is a hotel, or whatever, and I’m me, but it’s so scary I dread napping on vacation. I wonder if this is some early sign of some eventual demise of my brain. Does this happen to anyone else?
Along with a seeming congenital inability to nap, I also have an inborn need for a lot of sleep. I’ve realized over the years that other lucky souls can sleep 5,6,7 hours and function optimally. I need something like nine hours per night. I also need to sleep until 7 a.m. or I am tired all day, no matter how early I go to bed.
So, this doesn’t always mesh well with the early morning slant of the exercise world. I’ve forced myself to wake many times at 4:30 a.m. to meet friends for a 5 a.m. run, and after a gallon of coffee I can perform to some semblance of my normal self. But if races were held at 5 p.m. instead of 7 or 8 in the morning? I’d probably shatter all my PRs automatically.
This is me at 6 p.m.
My energy peaks at 4,5,6,7 p.m. It’s my favorite time to exercise, work, dance around the house. I’m an evening-exerciser. I will periodically discipline myself into an early morning exerciser, just to join the ranks, and so I can get used to it in case I want to do a race. But I know there must be others of my kind out there…let’s start our own night races!
So when I woke at 4:30 to run, I had to nap. I couldn’t make it through the day after that. Back then (last year) my oldest still napped, so it was possible, and I was tired enough that I actually fell asleep. But I still hated it. I went down kicking and screaming like a big toddler. I despise the post-nap grogginess, the feeling of lost time, the dry eyeballs and lips, the confused fugue state between awake and asleep while the sun is shining.
I could never make it in a siesta country. Well, I guess I could just eat and drink and rest and then go back to work/play with renewed evening energy. Actually, that would be perfect.
He's got a Protestant nation work ethic.
It doesn’t help that my baby hates napping (maybe he gets it from me?) so I am always engaging in nap battle, stroller sleep intrigues, day planning, scheming, organizing of wake/sleep/car trips. BLEGH I HATE IT. I also hate when I read something like, Oh your five month old should be napping three hours per day for optimal brain development, and then I have to worry on top of all my other nap worries that he’s being harmed because the kid won’t sleep more than 15 minutes during the day.
But I cannot for the life of me get him to nap. I’d rather just let it go, and eff naps.
In my recent nap battles, I’ve tried some new weaponry. Laying down with him in the bed, running him in the jogger. I may have won some battles but the war is another story.
I hate naps.
In non-napping news, I have half-blonde hair. It was for a beauty story.
I’ve also been freed from a dairy-free diet and have already celebrated with pizza. Henry can now sit all day (endurance ride) so he’s happy with increased play options. I’ve lost my mind and went shopping for fun. I don’t know who I am anymore.
I need to write about how I went away for two nights and my kids didn’t even miss me…will do that later this week, and I will also produce photographic evidence of everything yummy I ate and drank. Stay tuned for that.
It’s the last week or so of winter. It’s the last dwindling days of no color and cold.
The knowledge that it’s so close, so almost spring, has rejuvenated me.
Remember when we were kids? The seasons of the year were so long. It took forever for summer vacation to come. Weeks were like years. Summer breaks were entire lifetimes. Kids came back in September and it was like a twenty-year reunion. Girls had new hair. Your best friend had changed. Everyone’s style was brand new. Spring break lasted three months in adult years.
Now we’re old and time has sped up. The year clumsily jerks around, tilting dangerously. The bad news is that summer is over in a flash, fall can be entirely missed if you aren’t careful, but the good news is that winter is always almost over.
Even when it first began, I knew it would be short. I knew it would be my last winter with a newborn, my final three months of tired, homebound, discontent.
And I was right. Here I am. It’s March. It’s warmer. We can go anywhere, do anything. I’m even going to bring the baby to the gym day care. Freedom.
The last two weeks before it all comes into bloom.
It’s time for me to get moving again. I have a lot to do, and I’m glad to do it.
Cinco, five, the boy’s growing up yet somehow he seems too babyish for five months to me. I know that sounds insane, like, hello lady, the baby is a five month old baby! But in my hazy recollection of the last go-round I thought five months would see me happily sleeping at night for a little while, the baby in his crib, close to crawling, napping at regular times.
It’s partly Henry’s lot to be forever compared to an older sibling, and she was a precocious baby. By his age, she was floor swimming, trying to get up on her hands and knees for crawling which she would do in a month. She walked at nine months. Henry despises being on his tummy, still. He only wants to be carried and be propped up under his armpits in a fake stand. Sometimes I hold his hands, all his weight held on his own, and he is so hilariously proud of himself I laugh out loud.
He purses his lips and yells GGGAWOOOooooo! And he pretty much thinks he’s the king of the room. World. I don’t know that I do much to dissaude him from this. He can also rudimentarily grasp the idea of giving me a high five. He ate a Num-Nums. He’s practically driving (to the fast food drive-through, probably).
But in some ways, he’s so…baby. Still napping in a swing, still sleeping in a bassinet, hating his crib, nursing a lot at night. He sits up, but topples over easily. He refuses to roll onto his tummy probably because he hates it.
I’m not trying to be a Tiger Baby Mom, but he’s such a crank at times I’m hoping increased mobility will make him happier. But I can’t imagine him crawling in a month like Anna did. He seems so far away from that. Yet, he seems like a big, healthy, smart bruiser in all other ways.
I know all babies are different. It’s pretty fascinating to see that play out with my own sample size study of two.
I’m making some small progress on fixing my hot mess of a body. I’m hoping to be done with twice weekly PT session soon, but I’m booked until the end of March. I was given the okay to go to spin class, which makes me very happy since I’ve done absolutely no cardio/aerobic activities for three weeks.
I took it easy at a class on Tuesday night, and nothing major happened to my leg. In fact, the numbness is finally starting to subside a bit. I think the PT was smart to snuff out the problem as stemming from my back.
Gym, my old friend
Here’s what I have to do daily:
Pelvic tilts 3 x 10
Bridges with inner thighs squeezing a ball 3 x 10
Bent knee toe taps with a ball in between the legs, 3 x 10. This one is really hard. I lie down, and try to tap down with legs bent without letting my lower back come off the ground. I’m finding I am very, very weak in my regular ab muscles. Probably because I was so paranoid about stretching out my abs (I have a tiny diastasis recti, maybe one finger-width wide) I have avoided all crunch type moves. I’ve done plenty of planks and transverse work but I must have forgotten that at some point I need to do regular ab work too. I wonder if the core weakness and pelvic floor problems are what’s screwing up my lower back, causing the lower leg numbness. That’s what the PT thinks as well.
She said to DO crunches but be very aware of my form and tie a towel or sheet around my abs in a crisscross to help me stay aware of not “pouching out” when I crunch.
I also do leg lifts while sitting on an exercise ball and leg extensions on the ball. Both x 30
Bird dog arm and leg lifts, kind of like this, courtesy of BuiltLeanTV:
I’ve been pretty diligent about doing my exercises daily and I’m noticing I’m sore in my tailbone area, but a good muscle soreness instead of the dull pain I’ve had since childbirth. So hopefully it’s working and the stabilization will help me go forth and run, and jump, and exercise to my heart’s content. PT recommends another week and then to try a run. Yay!
I’m doing some spring type cleaning around here. I wish my home could be as OCD neat freak on the outside as I am on the inside but two kids will do a number on that dream. I bought a portable steam cleaner and I’m steaming anything soft that doesn’t move. Maybe moves, too. Watch out, Finn.
Making messes is their thing.
This is probably baby-TMI, but Henry is such a spitter that he’s drenched our home. I need to do an upholstery cleaning weekly. Sorry, that’s gross. But I feel so much better when I finish a cleaning project. I do have to actually HOLD him while I clean half the time, since he won’t tolerate that much being put down. The whole thing is really ridiculous. But I feel better. Ahhh. Short of buying all new furniture which would be totally pointless until kids are much older, this is my new favorite thing.
The trance dance yoga got me inspired to devote more time to meditation, or even spiritual practice. I’ve been pretty stressed the last few months and I’m not exactly proud of my mean Mommy moments or my nagging spouse self. I’d like to do better, be better.
Multi-tasking is mine.
Maybe that kind of time out, that self reflection and dedication to thinking about how I can make the world a better place may be just what I need.
I fear this could become one of those woulda, coulda, shoulda if I only had more time ideas that falls away in the rush of life. I’ve somehow gotten so busy lately I’m kind of running around like a drunk bird. (When multitasking goes bad.) But I’m going to try to make it a habit. I’m heading to another trance class tonight, for my article, but also for me.
When good things happen to you, do you feel lucky? Or that you’re reaping the rewards of your own hard work (mixed with whatever innate talents or strengths you posses, of course)?
I’ve been thinking about this question recently, since a few good breaks have come my way. Nothing major, just a few nice payoffs to some groundwork I’ve been laying over the last couple of years.
There’s a mental tic about good fortune I have that I’m sure others share…It feels too precarious, too precious, too fate-tempting, too big and scary to look at something and say, yeah. I deserve that.
We might pooh-pooh an accomplishment to friends; explain away meaningful project to acquaintances: “oh, that’s just a silly thing I’m doing.” Of course life is the unfairest gig around. It’s not exactly a meritocracy, but it’s not entirely a crapshoot, either.
Some things are just divine luck. Two perfect, beautiful, healthy children came to/through me. I did nothing. I just received them.
Sometimes I feel a bit guilty when I hear others complain about their marriages, or that their husbands don’t help them with their kids, that they’re not partners. Sure, my marriage isn’t perfect but I’m extremely happy and feel that we are a life team. Was I lucky to have met and married him, or was I smart to dump the jerks and pick a good one?
When a professional opportunity comes my way, I want to feel comfortable feeling that I deserved it. That I’ve earned it. That, yes, I have valuable talents, skills, and knowledge and that I’ve proven myself. I have worked hard.
Selfies: I'm sorry not sorry
There’s this quote that’s always floating around from Marianne Williamson. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but it’s certainly provocative:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
I went to something called Yoga Trance Dance on Friday night. I was tired, I just wanted to show up, get the material for my story and go home and sleep (for my four hours of blessed uninterrupted sleep.) I knew that the secret hippie part of me might sorta, kinda, love everything about it, though, and I was right.
We danced. A bunch of strangers, hopping around barefoot, swaying to drums. The teacher called out silly things like “Dance because you can!”
“Dance for the world, dance for a cause you believe in.”
And then it wasn’t really silly after all. If you aren’t scared to let others see you dance, achieve, succeed, say what you want, do what you want, you’re just stuck there in a corner. Watching the rest of the world dance because you’re too scared, not that you might look stupid, but that you might look like you believe in the dancing.
I’m getting old, and any embarrassment or wall of irony I may have greeted the world with is just crumbling. I lose patience with people who take themselves so seriously, who are scared to say, or do, within the confines of kindness and appropriateness. I’m going to dance anytime someone lets me. I will talk as long as someone will listen.
A week ago I was nervous about taking both kids to Target. This week I drove them to New Jersey and back and took them on the Long Island RailRoad to Manhattan. My super crank hate the car seat guy has evolved into a relatively chill traveler. In fact, he’s actually been very happy lately.
So, when a modeling agent a friend of mine is linked to on Facebook asked us if we wanted to bring Henry in for a go-see for Babies R Us, I said sure, why not? It would at least be an interesting experience.
So I went, tired and all, on a major metropolitan area traffic baby driving tour. Henry did great, and now we have to go back today for the actual shoot since he booked the job. It’s important to start having your kids earn money for the family at four months old. If this was the 18th century, he would have already been apprenticed to a boot-maker.
Just kidding. It’s just for fun at this point, and if it gets too hassle-y I’m happy to quit. I’ve gotten suddenly really busy with writing assignments (yay) and one involves me traveling to a hotel! and getting spa treatments! and writing about them! I have to finalize the nanny for the two days and I’m going to leave my kids. It’s crazy but I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to get my first travel writing clip in the books. And the perks aren’t bad either. Just me and my hospital grade breast pump. It will be romantic.
One thing I haven’t been busy with is training. I’m going to twice-weekly physical therapy appointments and some light upper body strength work and that’s it. I still haven’t gotten a definitive diagnosis and the PT is actually thinking it’s a problem in my pelvis/lower back area rather than a lower leg compartment issue. Possibly from back labor with a nine pound monster?
I don’t understand any of it at all and all I know is that my leg is still numb around my ankle/tibia bone. I’ve been given pelvic floor strengthening moves to do (sounds familiar, I’ve been doing these since the baby was born) and I’m still on official exercise rest although she seemed to be iffy on biking…maybe, she said.
I also learned an interesting tidbit, that holding a baby places stresses on your front lower leg muscles. So I may just have a good old-fashioned repetitive stress injury from carrying Henry all day. Hopefully he crawls ASAP.
Or makes us a lot of money in show business so we can all be rich and I can hire someone to hold him all day.
Both women are fascinating, but I’m particularly obsessed with Elizabeth Cady Stanton right now. She was the wife and mother of the pair, with seven kids and a burning desire to not only have full freedoms and political equality, but also to have a happy home life and a bunch of kids.
She refused to opt entirely out of what was then a pretty oppressive existence as a married woman (no birth control, i.e. a baby every two years, no ability to work outside the home, just pure domestic drudgery for life) and instead, demanded to have it all, but remade in her idealistic image. Susan B., on the other hand, decided to stay single to keep her life her own. I was struck by Stanton’s words, though, about that uneasy attempt to achieve everything she wanted, while constrained by the biological, societal, reality, that, no matter how big she thought, how wide-ranging the scope of her goals and dreams, when you have babies and young children, you are an indentured servant to their needs:
Imagine me, day in and day out, watching, bathing, nursing, and promenading the precious contents of a little crib in the corner of my room. I pace up and down these two chambers like a caged lion, longing to bring nursing and housekeeping cares to a close. I have other work at hand.
But she didn’t stop having her babies, and by all accounts, she loved being a mother and strove to be an excellent one, loving, caring, encouraging freedom and responsibility and learning in her children. She didn’t accept that she couldn’t both be a loving mother and be free, in a way that intense early mothering just isn’t.
I feel that lately. I mean, what other human condition can essentially lock up a segment of the population in a domestic state, tied to their bodily functions simply due to their innate biological state, like motherhood? Of course we are legally free to come and go, to hire nannies and feed formula or use hospital-grade breast pumps and marry equal parenting husbands. But there’s no denying the reality…your life in early motherhood is not quite your own. It’s not FOR you. You’re not the point, you’re not the afterthought. You’re a vehicle. It’s a lovely drudgery, the recipients your children, the beings you’d do anything for, and with, and to, and from.
If you are used to expending relentless energy. If you’re a lion. You feel caged. You have ideas. They bounce around your brain and go nowhere. They meet no one. Your body may wither, turn to veal. You wear circles in the carpet, step on your own footsteps on the wood floor, from kitchen to bed, to crib, to kitchen. You step out to feel air, to see friends, but it’s the outing of a prisoner. It’s officially mandated Rest and Relaxation. It’s a turnabout in the prison yard. It’s not yet freedom.
I like to imagine that I would have been a 19th-century reformer, if I had lived then. I’d have been a Puritan radically reading the Bible in my own living room; I’d have been an abolitionist, a vegetarian eating proto-Corn Flakes with Nathanial Hawthorne. But would I have been? How can you see what the progress needed is, the injustice of your own time, without the 20-20 hindsight glasses on?
Some people see gay marriage rights, fat acceptance, and other causes as the natural descendants of this tradition. And of course the long slow women’s movement has shown that one is never quite over. Women still do more work than men in a week, with less to show for it. Stanton was wild and radical because she looked at the entirety of the female condition at the time, everything from birth control to divorce, unpopularly, as part of the struggle for equal rights. Our social lives, our family lives, even our biological lives. These are the things ethics and self-determination movements must contend with. That’s why we need to say things. Things about ourselves, and our less than lovely feelings, things about what goes on, even in our homes. Because that’s where our lives are, as new mothers. That’s where the lion lives.
I think postpartum issues are a feminist issue. I’m not sure how to enunciate this position beyond that, yet, and of course I’m not the only woman who is making that connection. It’s not a coincidence that the best website on postpartum depression is called Postpartum Progress.
We were probably never meant to birth and raise babies all alone in our nuclear isolation. We were never meant to live geographic miles or emotional miles from mothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, friends. We were never meant to so separate out our Life from our Work. Husbands were never meant to board trains or highway on ramps every day.
Here I am, in my house, with my deep thoughts that just rattle and crash in my brain. I’d like to take a road trip. I’d like to get peoples’ brains piqued toward collective improvement through carefully chosen words. I’d like to hike the Appalachian Trial. I’d like to volunteer for a phone service to answer 4 a.m. calls from lonely, desperately tired mothers, who want to know…will this ever get better?
I believe it will, for her as an individual, and for us as a whole. It just takes a while, is what I will say. It will just take longer than you’d like. Longer than you think you can take, is what I’d tell me of three years ago, exhausted, lonely, uncomprehending in the face of my staggering new life as a mother. But you will make it.
But for now I just write, and sit, and pace, and foment. One day I will explode out into the world, with all I’ve learned during this time.
Are you addicted to exercise? Not in a bad, sick way, just: does your brain need a certain daily resetting to normal, via sweating and runners’ high endorphins in order to feel normal? Yeah, me too.
I’ve been thinking about this, since someone just came along and essentially stole my drug stash. I’m cold turkey. I’m cranky.
Once upon a time, I smoked cigarettes. I remember the phenomenon of addicted brain chemistry. No matter what the problem was, the solution was a cigarette.
Feeling tired? Perk up with a smoke. Need to relax? Well, what’s more relaxing than a pre-bed cigarette? Full? Hungry? Sad, celebratory? There’s only one cure! (Hint, it’s not more cowbell.)
Obviously this was a created need in my brain. I had to encourage my brain to develop this addiction in the first place, and then once it had this surge of drugs every hour or so, it stopped creating its own natural happy chemicals. So I needed nicotine to create that normal, baseline-feeling.
I guess creating an addiction to exercise endorphins is similar. But better for my health, of course. In fact, when I was 20 I purposefully started exercising to replace smoking when I decided to quit. Easy swap. I don’t think my brain makes enough endorphins/serotonin/dopamine on its own, maybe genetically, or maybe it broke somewhere along the way. I gotta have something, an outlet, or I’m pretty cranky. Sorry, everyone who knows me, ever.
I was watching this documentary a few weeks ago:
It’s called Happy, and it explores what truly makes people happy, and what research into positive psychology has found. The movie talks a lot about “flow,” a cornerstone of human happiness.
Finding flow is trickier than you think. Only the right kind of activity can elicit flow…it has to be something enjoyable, something that needs your full attention, but in a way that allows you to be “outside” of yourself. Kind of the same result we strive for in meditation, or dancing all night at a club after a few drinks, or Zen Buddhism.
We want to be outside our own self-consciousness.
I tried to think of things in my life that give, or have given me, that feeling of flow. I realized how few and far between these things are. When I was a child and teenager I loved to draw and paint. I was okay at it, but that wasn’t the point. The point was the activity itself. I could put music on, and start painting and literally eight hours could fly by.
I’d realize my eyes were tired, it was quiet and dark outside, my contacts were drying onto my eyeballs, and it was 4 a.m. I had forgotten everything except how to accurately depict a certain shadow, how to delineate an iris, how to position a highlight. It was the purest flow I’ve ever felt.
In the documentary, various subject report experiencing flow from things like engaging in sports they are talented at, working with their hands, or creating something. Flow must have been the daily default for our ancestors, weaving baskets, butchering animals, building a hut. We need to feel this attentive usefulness in the world or we are unmoored, adrift in an alien occupational landscape. As much as I love my children, the bald truth is taking care of them full-time is not a flow-y job. There’s no feeling of concrete satisfaction in a job well done. There’s a lot of drudgery, and physicality, but there isn’t a lot of Flow.
I think the work many of us do (cubicle, office work, high-stakes management or performance-oriented professional work) is antithetical to flow. You’re not creating something of meaning, of substance, something you can see with your eyes. You’re not able to see your own strengths and talents at play in the world. You’re not only still in your own brain, you’re in your own brain magnified by critical eyes…your boss, the audience of that presentation, the evaluator, the critics, the Bobs.
The Bobs are never far away when you’re working without flow. As much as I love writing, it doesn’t give me flow. I’m too conscious of the eventual audience. I can’t get into a zone, I can’t leave the supervisor in my brain behind even as I dance with my Id, an Ego. It’s a Junior High dance, and the teachers are close by, making sure there’s a few inches there, some space between the truth and how the truth will sound to others, a little wiggle room to save face.
Philosophers like Freud have different names for the Bobs in your head. Superego. Learning about superego is what my three year old is doing right now at preschool. She’s learning she’s supposed to sit nicely at pre-ordained times, and not pick her nose in public, and listen to authority figures. She’s growing a mini-version of herself, which will hang out in her front cortex, ever admonishing herself about what’s right.
It’s inevitable, it’s necessary, she needs to do it (I’m not pulling her out of school to frolic in a field and be homeschooled/unschooled by me, as we visit museums and paint all day, as much as in an ideal world, I’d love to). But it’s sad. It’s a sad moment in her life, and for me as her mother. She’s no longer the free, feral little creature who knows nothing about herself beyond what she feels and experiences. Her ego grew a superego and now she’s got to grow up and find her flow.
So what about running? Does running give us flow? I don’t think it does. I think it gives us feel-good stuff like endorphins and dopamine, but there’s no process, there’s no creation, there’s no craft or skill happening. It’s just pure mood-alteration. I think many of us need both flow and pure mood alteration. Running is a better option than heroin, but what is it it’s giving me?
Serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, and even epinephrine (the fight or flight stress response). It makes sense that we need an outlet for that. When your boss yells at you, you can’t either punch him out or run away. You have to swallow that stress response, and then go home and pound away at a treadmill.
It’s hard to identify the exact workings of neurotransmitters in our brain. You know you feel good, or bad, but what’s doing what is hard to say. Even scientists and pharmaceutical designers don’t really know what’s happening for sure. But I’ve had the opportunity to feel the very distinct feeling of dopamine, or at least it’s absence.
In breastfeeding there’s a thing called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER for short). It’s a very specific feeling some women get at the moment their milk lets down. It’s a short little feeling that passes in moments or minutes. But research has shown it’s a lowering of dopamine in the brain (the hormones responsible for milk production need a suppression of dopamine to work). It’s such a weird, very specific feeling. I’ve read that women describe it as homesickness.
It feels like this song:
Not a song I particularly like, or have strong feelings about, but this is the best way I can describe the feeling. In fact, when I heard this song on the radio as a kid, it gave me that feeling. It’s a churning in the stomach, it’s a pang of sadness, or wistfulness, but stronger. It feels like everything in the world is just bad, and alien, and scary, and the opposite of Home.
I guess the inverse of dopamine is the opposite of everything I just described. So when we run, and look for dopamine happiness…we are just trying to forget Don Henley.
Or we’re just looking for a feeling of being home, with everything being just fine. Who knew a run in the woods could bring us that? I guess we all knew that. But what can you do when your life circumstances don’t allow for flow, or the regular creation of these feel-good chemicals? I’m not really sure, but I’m guessing there have to be some creative solutions to finding these essential components of happiness.
Writer, journalist, mother, marketer, freelancer, wife, mediocre runner, racer, super beginner triathlete, gym-goer, dog owner, Spin instructor, fitness columnist, recycler, lifter of non-pink weights, one-time failed academic, feminist, eater of good and bad food.