Mid-Summer Crisis

The months of June, July, and August offer endless possibilities for children: lessons, camps, reading programs, etc. My seven year old is not interested. Summer for him is swimming in the pool, hanging out at home, and playdates with his friends. He wants nothing to do with anything that smacks of organization, instruction, or scheduling. I am baffled by this behavior. I blame it on the fact that he has no social media account, so he cannot understand what he is missing out on via social comparison.

I even restrict his screen use. It’s something that he needs to earn via reading, personal hygiene, and household chores. Many times throughout the day, he and his sister are happy playing with their respective figurines: she with her Polly Pockets (thank you e-bay) and him with WWE wrestlers. They set up bowling games with water bottles. They turn his bunk bed into a restaurant. I should be happy. This is what is encouraged by experts, what many lament today’s children are missing: self-directed, imaginative play. However, I am still caught up by the scheduled activities and excursions that my children don’t know they should want.

Clearly, I have too much time on my hands and too much time to reflect if my greatest parenting crisis is that my children are content to stay home. When the fourth of July hit, and our plans for the fell through, I was crippled with angst, experiencing a full blown mid-summer break crisis. What have we accomplished? What have we done?

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The Sad Reality of Fuddrucker’s

I remember the commercials fondly – the upbeat music, the dazzling array of toppings, and the promise of the world’s greatest burger. Fuddrucker’s. Of course, we never went there. We were marooned in the rural spread known as the Thumb of Michigan. We also rarely ventured into the realm of casual dining, staying firmly in the fast food division.

Years later, I passed the billboard for Fuddrucker’s every time I returned home from college. I am not sure why it continued to captivate me, especially as I was not particularly fond of hamburgers. Of course, I never stopped. I had school loans and a mild eating disorder, so I could not afford the indulgence.

Today, though, a childhood fantasy finally became a reality. We were on our way home from one of my husband’s sporadic BBQ catering jobs when the children decided that they were in danger of starvation. Travelling in a vehicle full of pulled pork, ribs, and brisket does have a way of stimulating one’s appetite. Their raging hunger happened to coincide with the Flint exit for Fuddrucker’s.

Entering the restaurant felt like entering an abandoned amusement park. All the remnants of fun and kitschiness remained, the neon signs, the Pinball machine and air hockey table, the collection of Americana/pop culture memorabilia. However, the people were gone. We were one of a handful of families. It seems Fuddrucker has gone the way of Beanie Babies and Jelly Shoes. Or maybe, it has simply gone the way of the rest of Flint.

Like Jelly shoes the experience did not meet the hype. The burgers in their fresh-baked buns were tasty, but the fries were not kid-friendly with their coating of black pepper. That was for the best, though, because the fry portion was so small. Because business was slow, the topping bar was a wilting disappointment, a sad collection of chopped up vegetables that would most likely end up in the trash can.

So sad was the environment that my children did not even ask to visit the small arcade in the back. With Fuddrucker’s, the overpriced burgers are so suppose to be justified by the atmosphere. They were not.

I tell my children never to believe the hype of products they see on television. However, I understand how deeply commercials can target our deepest desires. For me, as a child, it was the lure of a suburban childhood, a place full of sidewalks, family nights out to the movies, arcades, and the world’s greatest hamburgers.

Summer SAHM-ing

I envisioned my summer nights differently: bursts of creativity, late night typing, epiphanies, and professional growth. Instead, I find myself heavy-lidded and drained, searching for mindless entertainment. My summertime days of full-time parenting are relentless. I understand this time to be a privilege, both because I can do this and because I do not always have to do this. In a few short months, I will be back in my college office and immersed in my conversations on writing, education, and culture. But for now, I am the invisible architecture of my children’s existence, creating boundaries and direction, making the space in which they live.

However, it is difficult to shed what I have come to see as valuable and productive. I prefer enduring work, a piece of writing, a new learning experience, then the ephemeral household labors. Last night, I began reading Charles Duhigg’s new book, Better, Stronger, Faster, the Secrets of Being Productive. I completed the first chapter on motivation, which discusses how when faced with challenging circumstances, Marines-in-training were asked why they were completing a particular obstacle. If they could identify a larger goal, such as building a better future for their family, they were more motivated to keep going.

While the concept of “big picture motivation” is not new to me, I began last night to consider it in light of my summer at home. Why am I limiting screen time? Why do I need to vacuum? I am setting up standards of behavior that will shape how my children live their adulthood. This exercise was a good reminder that what I am doing is important, even though it does not require me using my Ph.D., even though it is considered ordinary and to some unambitious.

Wandering Weeks Winding Down

For the past month, I have been un-tethered. My spring class did not fill, but my children were still in their school programs. For an introvert and “creative type,” this time has been nirvana. If you call sorting drawers, creating raised garden beds, mulling Foucault’s last seminar, listening to podcasts while housecleaning, thrift shopping, working on unfinished novels, trying out Youtube exercise programs, and reading six books simultaneously nirvana. Every night I have been exhausted and exhilarated by the minor adventures of the day. I wonder why we don’t provide ourselves with more opportunities to do all the tasks we have put off because they are frivolous and not on our long to-do lists.

For example, I have long wanted to take more photographs. However, instead of running with an idea or pausing to capture a moment, I let the impulse fade. This past month I have followed my whimsy, hanging out with the apple blossoms in the moonlight and waiting for foals to raise from their bed of tall grass.

Now, though, as I enter my final week, I cannot help but feel the angst of all I could not do. My novels could be more complete, my research paper written, my house cleaner, my muscles more defined, etc. I am trying not to get caught up in endpoints and remain within the happy space of the journey. I have realized my path, whether it be double majors or child-rearing and graduate school, will always contain multiple goals and identities. Therefore, accomplishments come more slowly. Every day I will continue to do what I love and what inspires me without trying to quantify it.

Mindful Eating with MyFitnessPal

For my last post, I discussed how I developed mindful spending skills through my upbringing. This mindfulness did not translate, and actually at times interfered, with a mindfulness about food. Sometimes we ate just to extract value. To this day, my parents favorite type of restaurants are buffets. I also ate, and still do to an extent, for many other reasons other than hunger. Some I find to be perfectly acceptable, such as eating to celebrate. Others I find to be less justifiable, such as munching to break up the monotony of the day.

I am a grazer. While this means I have been able to avoid the pitfall of buffets and usually always leave a restaurant with a box, I am also constantly nibbling, usually when I pass by a kitchen or office snack table en route to a different task. I truly have no idea how many calories I usually consume a day, and I have always been resistant to the idea of tracking what I eat.

The term “self-monitoring” makes me feel like I am oppressing myself, enacting a more efficient type of discipline than the those exerted on us through institutional spaces.  Yes, I have read a lot of theory on social power, particularly the work of Michel Foucault. It makes me want to avoid any sort of “tracking,” especially when it is tied to a networked program, such as MyFitnessPal.

However, I am putting my paranoia aside for 30 days and giving this food journaling/calorie counting approach a try. Two of my co-workers have already lost 10 pounds through this process. I am a bit more skeptical, which means I may already be dooming myself to fail.

Today was my first day. I am hungry, but I am unsure if I want to max out and eat my remaining 214 calorie allotment. Overall, I did consume more sodium and fat than my app thinks I should. I could have eaten more protein and carbohydrates. Maybe I can squeeze in one more snack…

The Many Virtues of Frugality

While other children grew up collecting baseball cards and stickers, I grew up collecting coupons. At the library we would sort through a virtual box of money, extracting coveted name brands and the promise of free food if we timed our purchases right. Long before I studied rhetoric as a graduate student, I was a practitioner of the ancient rhetorical concept Kairos. To employ kairos in a speech, you must be aware of the mood of your audience, the context of the situation, and any atmospheric influences. Timing is more than simply showing up and reading from an index card at an appropriate place. The same goes for shopping. In this way, frugality is a difficult concept to apply for those who like to make a grocery list and enter and exit the store as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, I spent nearly two hours scouring their aisles of Meijer and contemplating my choices. It was a moment when the discount stars were aligned in my Meijer world, total purchase mPerks and credit card discounts that could be combined, plus Mother’s Day specials. On a different day, I would not have splurged on the higher end hanging baskets. However, when all the discounts and sales combined, I felt justified in my purchase.

This lengthy foray into the world of bargain shopping would not have been possible before my winter semester of teaching ended. In work intensive times, the variable of convenience reins, which is part of the problem with American life. When we are wrapped up in the hectic life of work, children, and activities, we become less mindful at the stores. We grab our grocery carts and rush around the stores, our minds engaged on what else we have on our agenda. A few weeks later we are presented with a credit card bill for $2,000 and wonder how it is possible that we spent so much money over the course of a month.

Being raised pinching pennies, I am mindful of every dollar I spent. I can recall every item that I spent too much money on by rushing my purchase, as I have constantly rehashed it (which isn’t really healthy either, but that is a reflection for another time). Because of this, I have never had issues with my credit card, paid off my student loans six months after graduation for both of my degrees, and have a healthy savings.

This success has bled into other areas of my life as well, a phenomenon that is well explained by the Marshmallow Test. In the Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel led a study where children were given a marshmallow. They were told if they did not eat the marshmallow before the researchers returned that they would get an additional marshmallow. One third did not eat the initial marshmallow, practicing the willpower skill of delaying gratification. This ability to delay gratification was a predictor of future success. Frugality is essentially going through the marshmallow test every time you go to the grocery store. You have a choice, you can either get an item that is not on sale and end up with less groceries for your budget, or you can wait until an item is on sale, so that you can buy more food for the same amount of money.

I write this to remember these lessons and how they shaped me, as since I have had children, I have begun to prioritize convenience over saving money. This is not always wrong, as some weeks, you need what you need when you need it. It is being mindful of when you are making a necessary purchase and when you are making one just because you are in a hurry and your willpower is depleted. It is also about creating financial literacy for my children and teaching them the value of waiting.