Atti’s Introvert Friendly Birthday Party

Birthday Party
For Atti’s whole life, any mention of a birthday party was met with screams and tears. Even attending other kids birthday parties were too much for him to take as he was humiliated by proxy with all the attention on the birthday kid. Even hearing Happy Birthday in a restaurant was enough to send him into redfaced earcovered dripping wet tears. And for a kid as introverted as mine? A birthday party really would be torture. All that special attention is great for an extrovert, but with my guy being too shy to speak, I can’t imagine a greater hell than opening presents while everyone watched.

So we did things just the three of us. I’d make a special cake, or he’d pick out a special present, but it really couldn’t get lower key. Until this year. Atti finally said he wanted a birthday party. We were so shocked I kept asking him over and over again. “Really? A birthday party? Do you want your friends from school to come? And church friends? Really?” But he kept saying yes, so I jumped on the chance to go absolutely crazy.

And I did. Special invitations, so so so much food (that will be coming later this week), lots of decorations, but I also kept one eye on Atti the whole time, making sure that I had built in some safeguards for my gentle little boy.

So if you have an introverted kid, here’s some tips I’ve tested out for you.

Dance Party
Don’t make your child play host. I made a music playlist and had it going on the computer so as people arrived I’d hand the kids a balloon to blow up or play with (as age appropriate) and told them we were having a dance party. We built the chaos of those early minutes into the party so I never had to ask Atti to go and take a kid to play. We were all just playing from the moment they walked in the door.

Cow Kiss
Create a safe space. For our activity we rented a petting zoo (hashtag country living privilege) but the point of it was to have something Atti could hide in while the other kids could still be entertained. If things got too overwhelming – which they did – he could hang back and make friends with a special calf while all the other kids ran around the backyard doing whatever they wanted. In a pinch a safe space could be a bedroom, or even your lap, but it helps to have a place your child knows they can check in for a few deep breaths to ward off the big overwhelming feelings.

Alpaca
Hit the invitation sweet spot. It might seem counter intuitive, but if you’re not having a party with a couple close friends, than the answer is to throw a rager. We invited a LOT of people. And we told everyone to bring their siblings and parents. We basically had an open door policy. What you’re looking for is reaching peak crowd. If you have enough people that you can’t all sit around and talk in one large group? You did it right. A crowd allows people to break off into smaller groups, people can disappear for a minute if necessary, your child isn’t the source of entertainment, and they can hang back as much as they need in order to be comfortable without anyone being worried or changing the fun of the party.

Goat
Throw out the program. It was really important to me that if we were going to throw a party, I wasn’t going to neglect Atti to entertain a bunch of other kids. Free form activities allowed me to make sure Atti was having a special time, but if the other kids were bored with the dance party, they could play with stickers set out on the table. Or pet the animals, or go crazy in the backyard, or play in Atti’s room. There were enough adults around to make sure nothing got broken, but otherwise I encouraged the kids to just play and let go of any plans of moving orderly from one activity to the other. Any kind of an activity that came with an expert to take charge would be great too, as long as they were warned not to single out the birthday kid.

Calf
Have a buffet style spread. I made so much food for this party. Partly because it was so much fun for me, but also because I thought of the food as another activity that could provide a distraction as necessary. I spent plenty of time around the snack table as a teenager, and I hang with so many introverted internet types that I know the punch bowl is a perennial comfort zone. So keeping with the motive of not having to control or lead anything, I had all the food out on the table and made it up for grabs through the whole party. Including the birthday cake. We didn’t sing happy birthday, I didn’t walk in with lit candles, we just had it on the table and about halfway through the party I started cutting it up and putting it on plates.

Cowboy
Make One on One time. When a stressed out overstimulated introverted kid starts getting overwhelmed, the LAST thing they want is attention drawn to that fact. If you can make some activities that require one on one time, you can release some of that pressure without anybody being the wiser. For us it was taking turns on the pony rides, but it could be facepainting, or a turn on the trampoline, or special cupcake decorating time, anything that lets the kid chill out on their own for a minute.

Horseriding
Forget the presents. This will not only save your introvert some unwanted attention, but it will make you a hero among parents.
Buying presents for kids parties is the worst! Who knows what some kid at school wants? You’re left spending money you don’t want to spend on plastic crap the kid might not even want. Boo. Instead we took Atti shopping and let him pick out his own presents, and then we had a couple other things – like his Big Boy Bed – that were surprises. If your kid really really has their heart set on presents, then maybe you could stash them in a back room somewhere so you don’t have to open them while people are at the party.

Family
Throwing this party was a total dream come true for me. I’ve been waiting to go Pinterest crazy with a birthday party for Atti’s entire life! But one of my core values as a parent is not to make Atti’s childhood all about me. It has to be what he enjoys, in a way that he wants to celebrate, no matter how many adorable paper goods I’ve had to pass by. I think with this party we managed to make both of our dreams come true.

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Friendship Retreat

Retreat
During the last year from hell when I was busily trying not to kill myself, a lot of my relationships took a big hit. I had to pull away completely from casual friends and acquaintances, developing relationships got nipped in the bud, and some long-term relationships were blown to bits. Being that vulnerable and exposed left me feeling naked and wounded in every encounter I had with another human, but it also made me need people more than ever. It’s been weird.

So with everything being so fraught and complicated and vulnerable on my end of things, it was the perfect timing to have a retreat with some of my favorite people from around the nation. Us Mormon Feminists LOVE our retreats. So often you’re the only one who thinks like you at church every Sunday, retreats are times to gather together, celebrate our relationships and our work, and nourish our hearts until we’re strong enough to get back out there and keep at it.

These gals are all a special breed of trouble that I run the Feminist Mormon Housewives empire with. We chat online every day about the minutia of our lives, problem solving all the issues that come with running a giant online community, and raging against the man. I love them totally, and getting to have a few of them in the flesh was heavenly.

Cooking
I forced everyone to travel to my house so that I could pamper everyone silly. I had the very best time cooking for everyone, fussing over bedding, making sure everyone was comfortable and watching the whole season of the Bachelor while we critiqued it through a feminist lens. And then Christa made us all homemade potstickers from a secret family recipe.

DungeonsandDragons
My friend Melissa schools me in all things Nerdly, and it was her gentle hand that guided me through my first ever Dungeons and Dragons experience. Turns out, it’s just like an improv game! I’ve wasted so much time not playing this!

Dudebro
My friend Noelle just went through an unpleasant divorce and if there’s one thing us MoFem’s like as much as retreats it’s rituals. Anytime we get together we come up with reasons to celebrate, to mark the occasion, to recognize milestones. There are just not enough moments in a woman’s life where she gets surrounded by her community in support and celebration, so when we get together we make those moments happen. For Noelle we decided to have a letting go ceremony. I had white tissue paper lanterns on hand we use for birthday celebrations, so we took one of them and we all wrote on it together. On one side we wrote all of the things we didn’t want to be a part of the next phase of her life – fear, sorrow, shame – and on the other side we wrote all of the great things we wanted for her. Then we lit it up and watched it rise into the night sky, glowing the whole way.

Dudebro tears is something we want to be banished from her life forever.

(Because it’s a fire hazard and I live in forest fire country we kept it tethered and then disposed of it safely once it was done burning.)

Friends
I must love these ladies an awful lot to make that face in a photo.

It was three restorative days with women that I love so so much. It’s almost too good to be true. And then last week I got to go to Utah for another retreat. This was for a conference about race and Mormonism and I flew in and showed up because I deeply care about anti-racism. I thought I was making a sacrifice. But then I got PREACHED to, and once again it was restorative. It cracked me open and poured me out and filled me back up with holiness. Luckily, you get to listen to the keynote address too. If you need a little retreat, a little ritual, a little restoration, go and listen. It’s enough to keep you going until you see the people you love in the flesh.

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JORD watch giveaway

JORD watch
While I was sick I had to quit a lot of gigs. I left design teams, I returned products and money for posts I’d agreed to write, there were a whole lot of opportunities I had to let go of in order to get healthy. That’s hard on a whole number of levels. It’s hard to have your work suffer, it’s hard to feel like you’re burning bridges or letting people down, it’s hard to admit your limitations. Everyone was nice and understanding, but there was one company that went so far above and beyond that I have to brag about them at the same time I brag about their product.

Months ago, like maybe around Mother’s Day, the folks at JORD watches approached me about reviewing their product and hosting a giveaway. I went through my usual screening process, checking what the corporate values were, if the product was sustainable, and of course, whether I would actually spend my own money on the product. JORD is committed to using sustainable resources in the sourcing of their products, and when I first started learning about them they had just released a special watch design with proceedes going to the Pujols Family Foundation, a charity dedicated to those living with Down Syndrome and those in poverty in the Dominican Republic. The watches passed all my tests so I asked them to send me one that I could try out.

For real – it is indescribably gorgeous.

I love it. I truly love it. Wood is such a beautiful material that I love having something so fine to celebrate it. It’s not cold and it doesn’t trap my arm hairs like a metal band, but it also doesn’t sweat like a leather band. I wore this throughout a sweaty summer and felt just fine. It’s surprisingly light, and it’s so unique I get comments every time I wear it. It’s the best thing I’ve gotten in ages.


So even if all that happened was that I got a beautiful new watch I was totally besotted with and recommended it to you guys, it would be a successful partnership. But how the marketing manager I worked with treated me was what bumped this up from a post about showing off something pretty to an unqualified rave.

Like I said, everyone was nice. All the corporations wished me a speedy recovery, they all held doors open for me to come back, everyone was understanding and supportive. But they also have a job to do, so most of them went for the quickest resolution to our relationships. One company emailed me several times a week to make sure that we settled on square terms – not really easy for me to deal with when my health was such a concern, but never rude or unwarranted. JORD, however, just sent me support and well wishes and told me to take my time, they’d check back in around the holidays. They never suggested that I send the watch back – which would have broken my heart but they would have been well within their rights to do it. I never got an email that didn’t first address their support and concern for me, and by the way, could I just give them a timeline, and also, if they could do anything to help me they would.

I’ve worked corporate marketing jobs, so I know that one individual nice person can only go so far. That nice person has bosses with their own timelines and agendas. They want to know how their marketing budget is working out, where to put their future marketing dollars, and see some return on their investment. The fact that they set all that to the side, along with the concern that I’d never fulfill my agreement to them and just keep the watch with no marketing at all, meant that they prioritized respect for people over their business agenda.

How rarely does that happen?! As major chains make their employees come in on Thanksgiving, it’s getting harder and harder to find companies that make you feel like you’re putting your money in a good place. I’m so happy to recommend a company that makes a beautiful product made by good people.

wooden watch
And you can have one too! JORD has earmarked another of these beauties to give to one of my readers. Just leave a comment and I’ll pick a random winner on Black Friday. Good luck!

**Disclaimer** JORD gave me a watch to try but all thoughts and pictures and opinions are my own.

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Feeling Rebirthed

Easter 2014
We had a quiet Easter over here. Just the three of us with a no-frills ham dinner, matching clothes courtesy of Old Navy so I didn’t even have to work at that, the first hour of church and then a visit to Bear’s work to check in on the patients and spend the holiday with his work family, then home for a nap. It was exactly the speed I’m running right now.

Last week I went in to get my second shot of Lupron and they couldn’t give it to me. The medicine got recalled and they didn’t have any new stuff. They seemed to feel that the dose I got didn’t apply to the recall, but I’m wondering if that’s why things have been so different this time. Why my emotions are on overdrive and completely disconnected from my brain, why I’m still feeling pain a month in, why I’m still living with the worst of the endo symptoms and the worst of the Lupron symptoms at the same time.

But all this time being forced off my feet has been so good for me in so many ways. I’m a big believer in what Joyce Carol Oates calls “Therapeutic Boredom.” That it’s only in the still and quiet times that healing can take place and discoveries can come to light. I’ve made a whole bunch of changes behind the scenes that are too inside baseball to bother talking about since they won’t change much about the blog but change everything about my workload. I’ve spent time examining my goals to see if what I’m spending my time on is what I really truly want out of life or if it’s where I’m spending my time because it’s “enough” for me. I’ve asked myself if I’m doing what I really want to be doing or if I’m doing things as a distraction from taking the risks I really want to be taking. And I’ve found some new horizons for myself.

Like I said, all this vague blogging won’t change a ton here, and it’s all too early to discuss even if it would, but I’m writing about it because I feel like I’m not alone.

I worked at a M&A firm back in the early 2000’s, and when the economy dropped our work dribbled away from a crazy torrent to a whole lot of nothing. My boss at the time called me into her office to talk to me about how much time I was spending on the internet and she said something that’s stuck with me, “We have to be careful not to let the work expand to fill our time. We have to let our time expand our work.” It was a great reminder then to use our slow time productively and to work just as hard in the slow times as I did in the fast times. But I also think about it a lot in my motherhood.

I can get so obsessed with getting a recipe right that I go a whole week without making dinner for my family. I can take something like a Halloween costume and make it as time consuming and important as the Oscars. I can have a big idea or a big dream and put it off for months or years while I work on holiday decorations or printables. None of those things are invalid or wrong by themselves, but they are a distraction if they’re not what I truly want for myself.

So with this slow down I’ve been forced to take, I’ve been asking myself some hard questions and reshuffling my priorities. And then a funny thing happened. I rediscovered my love for what I’ve been doing all along. I longed to come back here and talk through all my thoughts, I felt my creativity revving back up, but I also found the drive to tackle the big dreams. I had just let things get out of order and putting everything back where it belonged helped me rediscover my love and enthusiasm for all of it.

So hopefully soon I’ll have the big dreams far enough along to share, but in the meantime I still have some great things coming up. I’ve finally begun tackling the Master Bedroom makeover I’ve had as a crafty goal for more years than I can count and I have some pretty amazing results to share with you. And a whole new attitude while I do it.

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Year of Pleasures: Miss Fisher Mysteries

Miss Fisher's Mysteries

While I’ve been coping with all my body’s craziness over here, exacerbated by periods of high emotion and the colds my generous germy son keeps giving me, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to be still. Which is always a major battle for me, no matter how bad I feel. A major help has been discovering Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. I cannot stop watching this show.

Phryne Fisher (pronounced FRY-nee) is a modern woman of Australia in the 20’s. She drinks, listens to jazz music, and wears skirts that show her kneecaps. And because of her experiences losing a sister at a young age and serving in the war, she’s also unafraid to tackle the most heinous crimes.

This show is adorable and wonderful and makes me so happy, and also makes me want to wear cloches everywhere I go. The first season is available on Netflix Instant Streaming, but the second season isn’t available in the US yet.

And that’s when I made my next great discovery. Acorn.tv. You sign up there and get a free 30 days to watch all the British television you can stand. After the 30 days it’s $5 a month but at the rate I’m going through episodes I won’t need it.

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Year of Pleasures: Art

3 Birds
I had to go back and look through my archives to make sure I hadn’t posted these before. It seems like such a ridiculous oversight. This triptych hangs over my desk and is what I look at all day long as I’m typing away. My talented friend Melissa Mayhew created these for me based on an idea I’ve had forever and ever. These are a symbol reminding me to be courageous in how I fight for good in the world.

Brain
An owl is a symbol of wisdom

Heart
A lovebird is a symbol of love

Voice
And a songbird is a symbol of song

All together these birds remind me that God gave me a brain and a heart and a voice and he expects me to use them. Once upon a time another friend of mine (a hugo award winning friend) did a rendition of these for me that one day, when I get the guts, I’ll tattoo on my back. I don’t even remember when I thought of these birds, but anytime someone tells me I’m doing something God would not approve of and that I should just get back in line, I think of these birds. And I keep on going.

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Year of Pleasures: Tide Pods

Tide Pods
I know because this is such a naked recommendation this might seem like a commercial, but I promise, nobody is paying me or has even asked me to say this: Tide Pods may have changed my life.

I saw the commercials and it seemed like such a trivial thing – using a pod instead of measuring – that I rolled my eyes at one new thing to try and get us folks excited about laundry detergent, and how lazy our society is that we can’t use a measuring cup and how the kids today won’t get off my lawn. But then it was on sale and I figured, eh, why not, and I fell in love.

No measuring means no more drippy soap containers in my cabinet, crusting all over everything. It means never having to search for a measuring cup because I ran it through the wash and lost it in the dryer. No more using too much soap because I can’t stop pouring in time and it overflows all over me and the clothes I’m wearing.

It is a trivial thing, but it means there is one stupid chore in this stupid grown up life that I no longer have to dread.

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Year of Pleasures: Creative Friends

Galentines Cards
My friend Elisabeth got a bunch of our friends together to do a Galentine’s Card exchange, and the results have been trickling in all week. These friends are all connected by enjoying the Maximum Fun universe. Most of us have met through MaxFunCon or hang out on the forums and over twitter, and they are just a relentlessly awesome group of folks.

Galentines Display
If I ever doubted their awesomeness, this Galentine’s exchange would have fixed that right up. Hilarious, beautiful, talented, these cards are amazing. And now have a place of honor on my desk. They’re exactly the antidote I need for internet meanness.

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How to cope with suicide

Atticus looking at the light

Someone close to us killed himself two weeks ago, and we spent the end of last week traveling down and attending the funeral. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but out of respect for the family I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I want to talk about how to cope in the aftermath.

As someone who struggles openly with mental illness, I want to speak for those who commit suicide.

There have been times in my life with the threat of suicide was very very real. Times when I had a plan and the only thing that kept me from enacting it was people who helped me when I reached out to them. So I feel like I can speak from experience when I say: no one does this because they’re thinking rationally. Teenagers have their own unique dilemmas that threaten suicide, but if we’re talking adults? They do this because the disease they are living with – depression, bipolar disorder, addiction – has overcome them. It’s the disease that ends their life. Suicide was just the form it took.

That distinction is crucial in every way. When we process a loss, we all go through the anger stage. This is a normal and healthy part of processing our grief and isn’t something to be avoided. But when it’s suicide that complicates that loss, the anger stage contains a specific component that blames the loved one. We talk about the person “giving up” or say they “couldn’t cope.” That they’ve abandoned their family or sneer that suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Well, sometimes that problem is temporary – the problems that often affect teen suicides can be temporary – but sometimes it isn’t. Mental illness and addiction are not temporary. And if someone dies from suicide after a struggle with a permanent problem like that, it’s not because they couldn’t cope. It’s because the treatment failed.

If someone had cancer, and they had good care from doctors and fought through chemotherapy and they still died, we would never say it was because they couldn’t cope or lament that they weren’t stronger or criticize them for being selfish. We would say the treatment failed. That despite every effort the cancer did not respond to chemotherapy and it took their life. That’s how we need to treat mental illness and addiction. (I keep saying mental illness and addiction because I want to pay special attention to addiction. It is, in fact, a mental illness and should be taken every bit as seriously.)

I am extremely lucky because in a nation where it is far from the norm, I have had access to mental health care including prescription medications. And I’m lucky again because the medications work, and I am absolutely diligent about staying healthy with the help of supportive family and friends. Not everyone has that string of luck.

We have no real treatment for addiction. There is no medical treatment, there is no cure. We have some excellent therapeutic tools, but we have no way to change brain chemistry or structure in a way that consistently and reliably counteracts addiction. Which means that every person you know who is sober and living with addiction is performing a mind over matter feat of strength that should humble us to our core. Unless we can use our mind to lower our cholesterol or blood pressure, how dare we judge an addict whose disease ends their life?

Blaming a victim of suicide for being weak reinforces the stigma surrounding mental health and feeds into the diseased mind that tells us the world would be better off without us, that we’re too much of a burden on our loved ones, that we shouldn’t reach out for help, that we’re not capable of coping.

But it also is a tragedy for the people left behind.

Your loved ones didn’t commit suicide because you didn’t love them enough. They didn’t commit suicide because they didn’t love *you* enough. They didn’t do it because you enforced boundaries or consequences or to teach you a lesson. They did it because the disease overwhelmed them and the treatment failed.

No other cause of death has us feeling so guilty. We wouldn’t tell ourselves that if we had put up with the cancer better than our loved ones would have survived. If only they loved us more they wouldn’t have been overcome by the tumors. If we had loved them better than they never would have gotten cancer in the first place. All of those thoughts are absurd, but when you replace cancer with addiction, they are commonplace.

Mental illness is a disease. Addiction is a disease. And losing someone to it is tragic, but it does not make them, or us, weak. All we can do is rest in the knowledge that their fight is over and try to leave room in our hearts for the knowledge that whatever length of time they managed to fight this disease was heroic.

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Year of Pleasures: Dreamhouse

Dreamhouse

I tried to take a short cut home from Atti’s school the other day and ended up getting lost. But around here that just means getting to take an unexpected drive through the country. I passed by this house and had to pull over to absorb it. This is exactly what I want to have someday, wrap around porch and all.

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