Monthly Archives: June 2013

You’re On Vacation. Relax, Dammit.

The first person who uttered the words “I need a vacation after that vacation” must have been an introvert. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some of our favorite travel tips – share yours with us in the comments!


KathyI love traveling, especially if there are really, really old buildings (preferably castles) involved. But I’m not going to lie, I find it incredibly draining for the following reasons:

Eating out all the time. I don’t miss cooking and iDad doesn’t miss dishes, but after about a day and a half of restaurants I. Just. Can’t. Any. More. Ideally we stay somewhere with a full kitchen, but at a minimum we make sure we have a fridge in our hotel room. We have employed any and all of these strategies:

  • Breakfast in the room (bring cereal, single-serve milks, and fruit and you’re good to go).

  • Picnics for lunch.

  • Dinner in the room. There’s room service (clearly invented by an introvert), takeout, or even (gasp!) cooking something simple if facilities are available.

You can use paper plates and plastic utensils. I will not judge.

Being with extra people. This means the ones you know and love (hello, extended family) and the oodles of strangers you are forced to make the dreaded small talk with – hotel clerks, tour guides, that nice family sitting next to you on the ferry. For an introvert, that gets overwhelming fast. I have learned to:

  • Use car time to recharge. Doodlebug loves audiobooks, so we usually alternate between those and a family-friendly music playlist. That provides a lot of time when I don’t have to talk to anyone, which is ideal when you’re going from one fun-but-intense activity (family reunion picnic!) to another (amusement park!).

  • Sit some things out. I am a big fan of the hotel pool, and by that I mean I send iDad and Doodlebug there while I grab some alone time in the room. If you still have kids who nap, volunteer to hang out with them while your extroverted companions go off on another adventure.

  • Get a suite at hotels, if possible. Like I’ve said before, having time to recharge in the evening after Doodlebug goes to bed is key for me. If we have a bedroom with a door and a separate sitting room, she can fall asleep while iDad and I chill out for a while. Priceless.

The pace. Some vacations are laidback by design (a week at the beach), but some definitely are not (Disney World). And while you want to get your money’s worth, racing around hitting every last thing in the guidebook is a recipe for introvert burnout. And little kid burnout, when it comes to that. So:

  • Make peace with the fact that you will not see everything. Have everyone in your group pick their number one most important activity and put the rest on your “if there’s time” list. Repeat after me: You can always go back.

  • Build in downtime. There is nothing wrong with relaxing on a bench for a while, even if you’re somewhere awesome. I can give you detailed reviews of London’s playgrounds because we visited one almost every day on our trip there last summer. (Psst. The one by the London Eye has a cool rope-climbing structure and miniature sheep. Miniature sheep!)

  • Divide and conquer. If half of your group wants to look for shells while the other half is off to the boardwalk to play mini golf, pick the quieter activity. You’ll have more energy for whatever comes next.

If all else fails, remember my favorite kind of vacation – the one where everyone else goes somewhere and you stay, alone, in your blissfully quiet house.

— Kathy

tiffany_head_128On Saturday we four will pile in the car and begin our sixteen hour road trip to rural Illinois.  I plan to deploy all of Kathy’s excellent strategies as well as maybe some duct tape and age appropriate doses of Benadryl.

Once we arrive we will be joined by another faction of the family.  By the time all is said and done there will be approximately 19 of us running around, including nine kids under the age of seven.

That’s a lot of people.  That’s a lot of interacting.

A moment please.  I’ve got to go take a deep breath.

Ok.  How does this all work, you ask?  This is an incredibly fun trip – exhausting, yes, but something I look forward to all year.  It works because as Kathy notes above I’ve learned how to step back and identify opportunities to recharge.

One of the first things I try to do after we arrive is to go for a walk.  Alone.  No iPod, no phone, nothing except nature sounds.  It looks a lot like this, minus the hills, ocean, crown, and ermine robe.  Because where I am from is so rural there is a distinct lack of noise – introvert paradise!  This walk serves as decompression from those hours of forced togetherness in the car and the overnight hotel stay.  It is also an important signal to my brain to slow. the. hell. down.

The second strategy is snoozing with Señor Lunchbox.  He plays and runs himself into the ground while we are at the farm and fortunately he still takes naps.  We’ll read a book or two while he drinks his milk and then BAM!  He falls asleep and I’m usually right behind him.  If for whatever reason I don’t sleep, lying next to him in the stillness, listening to his soft breathing and again, the silence, is enormously restorative.  This means I miss out on time with my family and some activities but trust me, it is better for everyone when I have had some quiet time.

Finally, driving around by myself is another way to carve out some breathing space.  I usually have a few errands to do while home and they provide the perfect opportunity for getting behind the wheel and taking the long way around, as the Dixie Chicks sang.  Open windows, no traffic, and lots of empty, straight roads await.  Hopping back in the car after such a long drive seems counterintuitive, but when I’m alone, no one is chattering or throwing Rice Chex at me from the back seat.  I can stop and wander around an old cemetery or pick wildflowers from the ditch or simply stare at the neatly planted (and oddly soothing) rows of corn in the fields.

Yet I inevitably return to my real life exhausted.  It is a good, full kind of tired, though, the kind that used to come as a kid after playing outside all day and probably how Lunchbox and Slim feel after a day at the farm.  Recovering from the vacation is possible, however, only if I’ve taken the steps above to ensure that it is a vacation, rather than simply an exported version of our daily routine.

Oh, and taking an extra day off the day after we return helps immeasurably.

As does gin.

— Tiffany

Downtime Abbey

The Moms love their Downton Abbey, especially the Dowager Countess of Grantham (mostly because of quotes like this).  But when you don’t have a Mrs. Hughes, a Mrs. Patmore, or an Anna Bates, downtime can be difficult to come by.  When the Moms do find a few free moments, how do they decide what to do with them?


kathy_crayon_256I miss naps. It’s been more than three years since Doodlebug dropped hers, but I still think of them fondly. They were a guaranteed hit of free time for me during the day, and they were guilt-free. Little kids need lots of sleep to grow up happy and healthy. I’m not sure the same can be said of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, my current go-to.

Still, naps were not a perfect system. I never knew if I was going to get three hours or forty-five minutes, which made it hard to plan my time. And Baby Doodlebug seemed to have some kind of reading radar that signaled her to wake up the second I tried to sit down with a book. There were many days when I’d putter around, being productive, for two hours and when I finally took a minute to relax, boom, she’d wake up.

So I developed a simple rule for my free time: Do the most important thing first. “Most important” can mean whatever you need it to mean – maybe everyone is out of underwear and you have got to throw in a load of laundry. Great, do it. If you are covered in spit-up and various other bodily fluids, grab that shower. If you’re hungry, always eat first. If you don’t, you will end up with a baby in one hand and a sandwich in the other. I dripped a lot of condiments on Doodlebug before I figured that one out.

But it’s always been easy, too easy, to get wrapped up in all the stuff I have to do and run out of time for what I really need to do with my downtime, which is recharge. Last week iDad was out of town, which meant I was on for that long, long stretch from school pick-up to bedtime. But still, on the occasions when Doodlebug was happily playing on her own, I had to remind myself over and over to choose to stop, to slow down, to just sit with a magazine instead of rushing on to the next chore.

As we go into summer and my blocks of downtime again become shorter and unpredictable, I need to remember that sometimes the most important thing to attend to is myself. I can always start a load of laundry after Doodlebug goes to bed. Nothing bad will happen if I ignore those papers on my desk for one more day.

Even if I only have twenty minutes, sometimes the best thing really is just watching our crazy backyard chipmunks race around, or, yes, sitting down and reading an entire chapter of a book. I will be a happier mom if I take that time. Do the most important thing first.

– Kathy


Downtime is in short supply at our house.  While I cannot speak 100% for Dreamy I wager that he does not, in fact, get enough time to himself.  I am certain I don’t due largely to the superhuman (or “stupid human” on grouchy days) demands of commuting, mommying, and working.  Downtime is such a scarcity I’ve had to come up with a few tactics and strategies to help cope.

The first is something I like to call Compressed Introversion (“CI” for future reference). CI is essentially small pockets of time carved out during the day in which I am consciously doing something — walking to the car to pick up Señor Lunchbox or washing my face before bed —  but in reality I am checked out and in my own world.  It’s weird, I know, but it works.

Now, I’m not so oblivious that I would walk in front of a bus or use toothpaste as facial cleanser; rather I am thinking quiet thoughts and being mindful of my surroundings: listening to the birds chatter in the trees or enjoying the warm water as it splashes my face. Other folks have different names for this tactic, I’m sure, but by calling it CI I am able to play a mini-Jedi mind trick on myself and satisfy my need for a few minutes of interior quiet.

The second strategy is based on a question:  “What can’t I do when everyone is around?”  I can’t, for example, sit down and read.  I also cannot organize stuff, watch a show, take a bath, or exercise (ha — cue Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in “Clueless:”  “AS IF!”) with three other people in the house.  So I do these things when Dreamy thankfully takes Slim and Lunchbox to the park or the pool or on errands.

Anaïs Nin said, “When I cannot bear outer pressures anymore, I begin to put order in my belongings…As if unable to organize and control my life, I seek to exert this on the world of objects.”  True to Ms. Nin’s wise words, if given a bit of time to step back and maybe impose some order (or maybe just lie on the couch and catch up with the Dowager Countess) I usually feel refreshed and revived.

This was a difficult lesson to learn.  Ignoring full laundry baskets or a sinkful of dirty dishes is not easy.  But you know what?  I can deal with those tasks while everyone in the house. Sometimes, however, I feel selfish and guilty and that I should be listening to the nagging, needling inner voice that says YOU ARE A MOTHER AND YOU ARE ON, SISTER!

Fortunately I’ve gotten a lot better at telling that voice to STFU.

– Tiffany


The Crazy, Hazy (But Definitely Not Lazy) Days of Summer

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince got it right in “Summertime”:

School is out and it’s a sort of a buzz

But back then I didn’t really know what it was

But now I see what have of this

The way that people respond to summer madness 

These months present challenges for parents everywhere.  School ends, schedules are disrupted, and madness can ensue.  How do the Introverted Moms cope?



Summer is no big deal to Señor Lunchbox.  He will wake up and go to school.  This is good because he desperately needs a structured environment.  Dreamy and I will wake up and go to work.  This is good because we need to keep our jobs.  Princess Slim will, on the other had, wake up and go somewhere new every week.  For her this summer will be one of constant adjustment to new routines, new places, and new people.  She bears the brunt of summer insanity, and it breaks my heart.

Princess Slim is signed up for seven — SEVEN — different camps this summer and I have two weeks left to fill.  Really hoping to draft some grandparents into service so the poor girl can sleep in late and have some down time once in awhile.  Guilt isn’t my thing, but  booking her into all these activities has made me feel guiltier than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.  Why?

Some of it is undoubtedly tied up with childhood memories of long stretches of unstructured time and the exhilarating sense of freedom felt upon finishing the school year.  Perhaps I need to let go of my expectations for these months and acknowledge my anxiety stems from the fact that I want summers back, the kind with long days and seemingly limitless choices.  These experiences were critical to my development, I think, and I desperately want Slim and Lunchbox to have these same types of opportunities.

As Kathy mentioned to me, however, these kinds of summers “aren’t possible any more for us.” And let’s be real:  even if I did have summers off I would still be looking for things to do with the kids, who most likely would not want to sit around and read all day.  Hello, adulthood calling.  Responsibility on lines one and two.  There is no going back, only forward, and I can’t let unrealistic expectations mess up my head.

The other guilt-inducing part is murkier.  As a mother, isn’t it my job to spend time with my kids? I find it impossible to reconcile my roles as Mom and Working Mom during the summer months.   My job is deathly quiet in the summer but I still have to show up and appear to be working even though I’d much rather be goofing off with Slim.

These thoughts hurl me into an ugly insecurity spiral:  what the hell are my priorities? Why do we live in an area where two incomes are required?  Kids are only young once, you know, and you are fracking it. all. up.  Why did you even have kids if you can’t spend time with them?  You are a terrible mother.

Ugh.  A solution must exist.  It may be as simple as taking a vacation day once every few weeks and declaring it “Slim and Mom” time.  It might be as complicated as changing careers (anybody need an English teacher?  I have no experience or certification but I sure do love words and books!).  This isn’t coping at all; it’s a mess. And I don’t like it one bit.

— Tiffany


I’m not very good at summer. I’m not talking about the heat, the humidity, the bugs, the sand, or the sunscreen, although I’m no good at them, either. I’m talking about the vast expanses of unstructured time.

This is pretty ironic, because, as an introvert, I’m all about the unstructured time. I need it, I crave it. If I had 10 weeks to myself… sorry, my head just exploded.

But managing Doodlebug’s summer is one of my biggest challenges as a parent. It’s gotten easier – iDad was still working in an office when she was small, so I basically resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get any writing done until preschool started again in September. Now that he works at home we have much more flexibility, but it’s still complicated.

How much of Doodlebug’s time should be completely open? If we sign her up for camp, will she hate it? (Still smarting from the Art Camp Debacle of ’12.) When can she see her friends, who are all on different home/camp/vacation schedules? Do we get to take a vacation? When will iDad and I work? And how will I fit in my own downtime?

The last one, of course, is where I always get tripped up. As a kid, summer was a time for slowing down — sleeping in, reading, taking a break from the social pressures of school and being by myself for a change. But now that I’m a mom, summer is exactly when things ramp up. I feel like Doodlebug’s social director, carefully planning enough fun to keep her entertained but not over-committed.

We spend more time together, which is wonderful. During the school year, we only get about six hours of Doodlebug time a day. Most of that is rushing through our schedule, trying to hit our targets: breakfast, dropoff, pickup, dinner, homework, bedtime. I don’t miss that craziness. But that doesn’t change the fact that summer, with more emphasis on my Mom role, is draining for me.

I know, from past summers, that certain things do not work. Wide-open days with nothing planned? Cranky mom, cranky kid. Swapping half-work days with iDad? The blocks of time were too short to accomplish much, and we never spent time as a family. Vacation here, camp there, free week in between? No routine, and I thrive on routine (so do kids, I hear). Playground playdate + picnic lunch + berry picking + pool? After two days of that I would need a week off to recover.

So here’s what we’re trying this year. The first part of our summer is pretty open. We have one mini trip scheduled, and Doodlebug will be spending some long weekends with her grandparents (thank you, grandparents!). But when she’s home I will plan morning activities, either playtime with friends or excursions with me and/or iDad.

I want us to be home in the afternoons, though, and we’re going to try an after-lunch family reading time. Stealth school skills for Doodlebug, downtime for me. iDad is our pool parent, so hopefully they can fit in some water time in the late afternoons. More downtime for me. And if all else fails I will have my precious evening time.

Then comes the camp phase – Doodlebug and Princess Slim are signed up for four weeks of camp together, which I hope will solve the “But I don’t have any friennnnnds there!” issue from summers past. And I’m also hoping that grouping the camps in a block will let me get in several good weeks of writing. Taking that month-long break beforehand will give me a chance to organize my thoughts about my novel. Or so I’m telling myself.

After the camps we’ll have a family vacation and then one totally free week before school starts. I want to keep this as open as possible, both to give Doodlebug a chance to transition back to the school year schedule and to give us time to eat plenty of ice cream. I will let you know how it goes…

— Kathy


KathyThe transition from no baby to new baby can be a bumpy one for lots of reasons, but some of them are unique to introverts. In no particular order:

People will come over to your house. This is good, truly it is. Other people! People who don’t wear diapers or spit up on you. People who can communicate with words instead of shrieks. Sometimes they even bring you food, which is excellent.

But if you’re like me, your house is sort of your private sanctuary. It’s not the place where all the neighbors come and hang out. Certainly not while you’re trying to figure out how to feed a tiny person with food you’ve made with your own body. That was weird. But just know that the visiting phase doesn’t last forever. And that it’s perfectly fine not to answer if someone calls or rings the doorbell. Um, not that I ever did this.

Your baby will probably want to be held a lot. Babies just do. Doodlebug definitely did, and it was a big change to go from normal human contact to nearly-nonstop, 24/7 human contact.

So trade off with your spouse whenever you can. This is also where the visitors can come in handy – let your friend hold the baby while you take a shower. Let your mother-in-law try out the baby wrap you haven’t even gotten a chance to open yet. (Side note: if babywearing is not your thing, that is OKAY.) And if your baby refuses to be held by anyone but you, read on. Tiffany feels your pain.

Introverts are not good at switching gears or leaving a project before they’ve finished with it. Guess what – you will have to do that all the time with a baby (and with older kids, too).

Since I was at home with Doodlebug, it was vital for me to have “off-the-clock” time where someone else was in charge and I could set my own pace. At first it was just a twenty-minute trip to the grocery store, alone, while my mom babysat. Later it was going to the library to write while Doodlebug and iDad hung out for the afternoon. Family is great. Babysitters are great. Preschool is great. School is really, really great.

Moms’ groups. They’re everywhere – at the hospital, in your neighborhood, for nursing moms, for working moms, etc etc. I tried to embrace the concept, really I did, but it was just not me. I didn’t want to go and be with people I barely knew when I was already busy with my baby, who I barely knew! So I will go ahead and say that you do not have to join a moms’ group.

Having mom friends is key, though – I spent a ton of time with one friend whose son is a few months younger than Doodlebug, and that was just right for me. Plus, now there’s Facebook and Twitter, which can function as your own virtual moms’ group from the comfort of your own home. And, of course, you know you are always welcome here.

On the blog. Not at my house. If you ring the doorbell, I reserve the right to pretend I’m not home.

— Kathy

tiffany_head_128I definitely believe introverts have a more difficult time adjusting to motherhood. In my case I am fairly certain one of the after effects of giving birth was a bad case of agoraphobia, particularly after Señor Lunchbox arrived.

Señor Lunchbox had acid reflux and slept in roughly 20 minute blocks the first months of his life (no, really.  I timed them).  Everybody was tired but as the parent on maternity leave my primary job was to take care of him.    It took ages for us to figure out the reflux situation, get the proper medication, and for it to start working.  He finally began sleeping better.

When he was awake, however, it was Mommy or nothing. Not Dreamy, not a bouncy seat or special pillow or sling or swing or any of those “soothe your newborn” gadgets. If I put him down to eat, he screamed, and if I dared to pee or just wanted to have my arms back for a few minutes, he screamed. The lack of physical space was smothering and became increasingly difficult to manage. I didn’t love Señor Lunchbox any less but there were days when I wondered how I was going to make it through. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I did.

There were other reasons I stuck close to home. Both Princess Slim and Señor Lunchbox are summer babies and it was boiling hot in the weeks after they were born. On cool mornings I would take them out but only for a quick stroller-spin around the block or to lounge on the patio.

Also, after Señor Lunchbox was born, Dreamy took the Good Car to work and I had the Beater Car. I love the Beater but it has half an airbag and dodgy air conditioning. I didn’t feel exactly secure about placing a newborn in the back seat, hopping on the highway, and hoping for the best. And where would I have gone, exactly? The mall to look at clothes I couldn’t fit in to? A library or museum with a howling, projectile-vomiting baby? No, thanks.

Now I realize my inability to leave the house wasn’t really about the heat, or the car; had I wanted to go out I could have made something work. The real issue was my non-existent energy level. Monitoring one’s energy level is critical to introvert self-care, and mine was so low that I simply could not deal with the stress of being around other people. One tiny person consumed every bit of emotional, mental, and physical energy I had. “We’re on vapor, Cougar,” from the movie “Top Gun” pretty much sums it up. I was the next smallest state of matter after vapor.

The lesson learned is this:  contrary to all the instincts that activate upon becoming a mom or dad introverts must take care of themselves first to be good parents.  99% of the time you’ll be able to put everyone’s needs before yours; it’s that 1%, however, to which you must pay attention to avoid depleting your energy reserves.  Ignore your need to recharge and you might end up like Cougar, out of fuel and panicking as you try to land your jet on the aircraft carrier.   Without anything in your tank things can get scary fast and you may not have it in you to pull up before crashing onto the deck.

How did I pull out of the tailspin?  That’s a subject for another post.