Friday, May 4, 2018

Decision Fatigue

One of the first shocks of motherhood was right after we came home from the hospital with my new baby girl. So so tired. Overwhelmed and intensely anxious about keeping this little bundle of joy alive.
My husband happily announced that his mom was going to deliver some Carrabbas for dinner. He asked, "What would you like?" I burst into tears and stated that there was no way I could possibly make that decision in that moment.
I remember him assuring me that he would decide and then about an hour later, food appeared in my lap  and all was right in the world. I truly was taken aback at the total overwhelm I felt in trying to decide what I could eat for dinner and also equally surprised at the extreme gratefulness I felt towards my husband when he just decided for me.

I have been listening to many different productivity podcasts and ted talks trying to understand how to set up routines for my life that can help me feel less stressed and have more space in my brain for ideas, more patience with my husband and children, etc...
The one system that continually emerges is: narrowing down the number of decisions you have to make each day.
For example:
Having the same breakfast every morning is "One less decision I have to make that day", says Dilbert creator Scott Adams.
Parenthood is filled with second guesses. Should I have said that? Is it ok to limit this? Was that a reasonable boundary? We are bombarded with conflicting views on EVERYTHING. We are even comparing apples to apples these days. What if I let my child eat a non-organic apple?

I feel this struggle as a mom. So many decisions to make and then wondering if I made the right decision. It's exhausting.
But, I really see the struggle in our children. More and more I see that children are suffering from decision fatigue. The parent well meaning aims to give the child more independence in hopes that the child will be more amicable...more willing to behave if they have some choice. However, the opposite usually occurs. Crying, tantrums, disagreeable, confusion.

There's a happy medium here. However, whenever I find myself yelling more, stressed more, feeling resentful towards my family...I am triggered to pull in the reins. More limits, less decisions for the kids. Every time it works.
It would be interesting to see the actual number of decisions we must make each day and then try to cut it in half. How would that affect us?
How would it affect our children?
I think it's a gift. As that dinner of Carrabbas was all those years ago...I felt grateful to not have to make one more decision as I was in a deep state of learning. Learning what my daughter needed. Learning a new routine. Feeling feelings that I never dreamed before.
Does this sound like what a toddler might go through?
As they get older, it starts to become more obvious that they are ready for a few more decisions but in times of high stress, high anxiety. Give them the gift of Decision. Decide.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

How to set up a home-made Valentine's station at home...and why! by Alison Cotter

I remember reading that Eric Clapton has to schedule time at his music studio to be creative, or else it just doesn’t happen for him.  I thought that when you are a creative genius, creativity just uncontrollably oozes out of you at all times.  But it isn’t so: you have to make time for yourself to be creative.

We are all creative.  Every last one of us.  And we need to be creative.  We deserve to be creative.  Some of us listen to that need more than others.  Why?  What is so important about creativity?  Well, for one, it makes us engage in divergent thinking instead of convergent thinking. 

 Most of the time, we are engaged in convergent thinking: we start with several ideas and whittle them down into one idea.  With divergent thinking, we are doing the opposite.  We are starting with one idea and expanding that one into as many ideas that we can.  This shift in thinking helps us to be flexible, original, innovative, and offers us a new perspective.  It also forces us to use our imagination.

A friend recently heard someone say, “You can live a life without creativity; it is possible.”  That thought made my friend cry.  I would argue that you can not; you should not. But that is where a lot of us are headed leading such busy, over-scheduled lives.

The magazine Psychology Today researched “Everyday Creativity,” and found outstanding benefits.  Did you know that…

It helps people to adapt and thrive,
It improves their immune functioning (it’s flu season people!),
It helps them cope with aging,
It teaches resilience,
It improves relationships,

It gives people a greater sense of well-being and personal growth.


But, where is the time and the space to make that happen?  At Wonder Studio, of course!  But I am always looking to expand that one hour of open-ended, uninterrupted, no-expectation creative time to our lives at home.  It is so important to mental health, but we have to make it easy and realistic, or it won’t happen.

So, how do we do it? Here is an easy idea.  Every year, at the beginning of February, I get a fold out table out of our garage and put it smack dab into our office/music room.  It doesn’t fit very well, and it’s an eye sore, but it stays up for at least two weeks (gasp!).  I fill it with art materials: fabric, yarn needles, stickers, papers, old magazines, scissors, glue, cold glue guns, old red tissue paper from the holidays, recyclables – you name it, it’s on the table.

My family comes and goes as we are inspired to create or as we are thinking about someone, and we use the table to create class, family, and friend valentines.  As we move through the table we think:

What do I find interesting…
What if…
How does this work together…
Who does this remind me of…

I know that it is super easy to grab that pre-made, commercial Valentine that all the classmates have heard about, and I do love the store-bought variety.  My son and I found army guys that said, “Love is a Battlefield,” which spawned a great conversation about Pat Benatar and 80’s music and ended at “Greased Lightning” (don’t ask).  But I dare say, that is not the point of this holiday.  You may argue that it is a commercialized, contrived, hoax of a holiday, but I am going to argue that the point of Valentine’s Day is the authentic expression of love for others.  Which is something that we really need right now in our society.

The authentic expression of love for others.

By providing the art materials and the free time with this “Valentine’s Table,” I expect my kids (and myself) to be creative. I expect them to create heart-felt, original art that expresses their true feelings for another person.  Over these two weeks, I watch and hear my kids evaluate their relationships with each of their classmates.  They think about who those people really are, what their passions are, and how they appreciate their personalities being in their lives.  They also learn how to take these themes and move them into a visual, physical form of self-expression.  They engage in a very sophisticated form of thought.  Even though their products may not look that sophisticated.

This self-expression comes easy with their close friends.  But more poignant is when they have to make a Valentine for someone who they perceive to be mean or who they don’t connect with. 

My son experienced this with a girl in his class.  After an in-depth discussion about bossiness, he realized that he didn’t really know much about her.  So, he asked his best friend (who has a crush on her – Shhh!) why she is so great.  He found out that she plays football with her older brother, and she loves FSU and ducks.  He was so inspired by how much they have in common, that he wrote her a poem:

Which was almost as good as his “Baseballs are blue and helmets are hard,” poem that he then made after that.

This would have never happened if I would have caved and bought the packaged Valentine from the store.
It SURELY would not have happened if I got on Pinterest with the kids and picked out a handmade Valentine craft to make.  End products disrupt the creative process and lead us away from authentic self-expression.  (Think convergent verses divergent). I know it is hard; I love Pinterest too.

Be authentic.  Be original. 

Our children must hear this and see this from us.  It must be our expectation of them. Do you know what else they need to hear?

Be Vulnerable.

When Valentine’s Day comes and it is time to pass cards out, my kids are so excited to share what they have worked so hard on.  But they are also nervous, usually about the ones they are giving to kids that they don’t feel close to.  There is a hesitation when wondering how their creativity and art will be received.  Sometimes, there is even panic.

Is it good enough?
Am I good enough? 
Did I risk too much?

Vulnerability is a fast track to personal growth.  Teaching our kids to “show up” and “put themselves out there” will help them to be brave and to take risks in all areas of life.  From personal relationships and careers to being a colleague that is easy to work with, vulnerability and creativity work well for people.


This is what you improve for your family when you allow them time and space to create.  It allows us to become more informed versions of ourselves while helping us connect with others and the world around us.

My family (all 5 of us) found ourselves at the kitchen table a few nights ago doing our Valentines together.  I don’t know how we all got there – the materials were available and we were available, so it happened.  We sat around for almost two hours creating together.  We laughed, heard stories about each other’s daily lives, were inspired by each other’s art, and challenged our artistic capabilities.  There might have even been a few unicorns and rainbows.

This beautiful space eventually dissolved into an argument about toothpaste and who is going to go first, but in those couple of hours, I so deeply felt how great we all are together, how cool my kids are, and why Brian and I started this crazy, exhausting adventure of having a family.

For love.

Friday, February 2, 2018

You belong here.

"We believe growth and learning are uncomfortable. So, it's going to happen here - you're going to feel that way. We want you to know that it's normal and it's an expectation here. You're not alone and we ask you to stay open and lean into it." 
Brene Brown
Recently, I tried out a Salsa class.
This has been on my to do list for a very LONG time.

Dancing has always been a bit of challenge for me.
Image result for elaine dance gif

One of my good friends teaches at this particular venue for Salsa lessons, so I was feeling pretty good and maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't feel too awkward.  
First, I walked up the wrong entrance and just peered in the windows at folks dancing, trying to open a locked door. Ok...awkwardness is definitely setting in. I quickly, walked around the building to enter on the other side. By this time, I am cursing myself for even thinking I should take a dance class by myself. I am starting to feel high anxiety and wanting to just run away.

However, the next door I tried to open was not locked. :( 
I entered the space and paid the attendant. I gave him my friend's name and asked if she was there. Of course, he had no idea who I was talking about. 
More awkwardness....Where is she?
Yikes...big mistake...I can't do this. Starting to physically sweat as I see people on a dance floor all lined up. 
"The Story I made up" (internal monologue of Brene Brown) was that they were all terrific dancers and I was not supposed to be there.
I stood on the sidelines and I watched. Slowly taking one or two steps towards the dancers until I just stopped. I just could not will myself to enter the dance.
It was the most vulnerable position I have put myself into for a while. 
As, I stood there awkwardly watching the group...a woman turned slightly towards me, smiled at me, and motioned for me to come and stand next to her.

Immediately, I calmed down and ran up and stood next to her in the line of women across from a line of men. She and the other woman next to me showed me how to move my feet as they were doing. They slowed their steps and counted and waited for me to catch up. As, I followed their movements, I gained just a shred of confidence to feel as though maybe I could do this. 
The small kindness that woman showed me when she smiled at me, made all the difference. 
Of course, it made me think about the children who come into Wonder Studio each week but especially the first weeks of classes. 
Often, we adults think that it should be easy for a child to walk into a new environment and immediately know what to do.
Often, the child will cling to Mom's leg or ask to be held by their nanny. The caregiver is usually surprised at the child's hesitance. But, I am not.
The bravery it takes to try something new is not lost on me.
I believe that children are the bravest folks on our planet. Everything they are doing is often for the first time. Their reactions to vulnerability are uncensored. 
However, the difference between me at Salsa class and your child at their first Wonder Studio class is the Caregiver.

The caregiver has the opportunity to be that woman smiling and motioning and saying "You do belong here." 
The caregiver can break down the steps for the child and is patient while the child struggles to learn them.
Understanding and acceptance of fumbles and missteps means EVERYTHING to the child.
I think that most people say they  want to be a life-long learner. They want their children to be life-long learners. 
What does that really mean?

To be a to be vulnerable.
To begin to feel some confidence and some level of comfort, takes time. It doesn't happen right away. If I was taking Salsa lessons at home from a YouTube video, I wouldn't have felt as awkward as I did. But, I would have missed the opportunity to be part of a group. To learn from my fellow feel connected to others who are learning (as I quickly discovered, mostly everyone there was also a beginner).
I was changed by the group. I was inspired.
Loris Malaguzzi of Reggio Emilia, Italy...said it best:
"To be part of a group, is a great privilege." 
Welcome to Wonder Studio. I am so happy you are part of our community. You belong here.