Tuning Out to Tune In

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There is enough noise in the world already.

From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.

Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.

The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.

For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.

And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.

Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.

How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:

  • I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
  • A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
  • Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.

There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.

Clemency Toward Grace

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The other day–sometime last week–I was just hanging out inside my own brain and came across the clearest, most refreshing thought. It came like a revelation. It was about me, directed at me, and it made me pause and feel sudden joy:

Z’s therapist is not a better mom than you.

Seems obvious, right? Seems that I wouldn’t need to hear this so plainly, because the opposite is so ridiculous, right?

For the past year and a half that Z’s had therapy, I would observe some of her sessions. I’d notice techniques used, instructions given, then little, destructive whisperings would creep into my mind:

Why didn’t you think of that? Why didn’t you research that?

If you had been a better mom, Z wouldn’t have to be doing this right now.

Reilly’s a better parent than you will ever be.

Z spends three intense hours Monday through Friday with her therapist. Of course there needs to be a relationship established. Trust. It looked so easy between them. I would find myself getting jealous, especially during those first months, and then sporadically in the last year.

They’re so close now. Look how Z hugs her. Look how they laugh and play together.

Z loves her more than she loves you.

That last thought felt so horrible. I knew these thoughts were irrational, but I had trouble dismissing them. I’d back away from her sessions feeling discouraged and lonely and definitely not good enough.

I felt so defeated.

But internal pep talks also fought their way to the forefront of my mind.

You are her mom.

She loves you. 

Both of you are worthy of each other’s love. All of it.

Where did these thoughts come from? Not completely sure, but I consider them gift of much-needed grace.

With this motivation, I would take the damaging thoughts and negative whisperings and try to use them in a constructive way. I would implement those same techniques and give those exact instructions from her sessions. I found that this reinforced her learning and development, as well as cultivated our relationship. I found myself improving. Researching. Noticing Z’s progress and encouraging her in as many ways as I could.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten angry or impatient–because I still wrestle with weakness–but it does mean that I’ve learned to breathe, and taking time to explain ideas to her and teach her vocabulary not only calms me down, but helps me realize the still-new and growing perspective of our little one. I appreciate this.

The negative thoughts linger, but I’ve learned to focus on working more closely with our daughter, and strengthening our bond and building and maintaining trust with her. I realized that Reilly and I spend far more time with her than any external resource would, and our presence as her parents has become an integral, inextricable part of her. We work hard, all three of us, together.

Understanding this has allowed me to forgive myself.

Now, those negative thoughts no longer dominate that inner conflict. They are not fact. They are not true. They instead have given way to a brightness and warmth and peace and freedom of these undeniable truths:

I am enough.

I am the best mom for her.

My Fitness Journey So Far

At the beginning of 2018 a good friend of mine named Amy began talking about her health and fitness goals. We discussed macro intake, elements of the Keto diet, and exercise. She told me of some fitness groups she was a member of. I told her that if she wanted, I could check up on her weekly. Over the next month or so, she told me how great she felt, that the plan she and her husband were following felt like a true lifestyle change–a paradigm shift.

I loved hearing about Amy’s success. She shared before/after photos, and she looked amazing. I wasn’t actively engaged in a fitness routine at the beginning of the year, but with each discussion, I tucked away for later the enthusiasm she shared. There were times after having Z that I thought about exercising, but I found an excuse not to do it. She was now four years old. And I was feeling tired all the time. I wanted to change that. I began researching:

  • Keto diets
    • Could I limit myself to 20g of carbs each day?
    • How big of a commitment would I need to make to change my diet that much?
    • Would this change really be compatible with the way my family currently eats? Would it be realistic and/or healthy to encourage them to eat that way?
  • calorie calculators
    • How much do I eat right now, and how would I change amounts of the kinds of calories I eat?
      • Carbs
      • Fats
      • Proteins
    • How long would I keep track of calories required for weight loss?
      • Is weight loss a true goal, or am I looking for overall fitness?
        • If I were to develop strength and balance, would the number of pounds would become less of determinant in overall fitness?
  • exercise programs
    • HIIT programs:
      • Betty Rocker
        • 90-day challenge
        • 30-day abs and booty
        • 30-day free challenge
      • Nike Training App
    • treadmill
      • how many times/week?

At the beginning of March, I started with a little bit of treadmill. It was hard, and I managed to get 20 minutes at a time, which was almost long enough to watch an episode of Friends. 

In the middle of March, my work office was getting renovated, and everyone would be able to work from home. During this time I ran on the treadmill and did an Abs and Booty workout almost every day.

I bought a Fitbit and started keeping track of calories. And sleep. And physical activity. If you can measure performance, you can improve performance.

Then Spring Break came the first week of April, and we went on vacation to Florida. I thought I’d be able to stick to a workout schedule, but that wasn’t the case. I did, however, manage to go jogging three times during the nine days we stayed. I ate smaller portions, and I drank a lot of water, and I got a lot of sleep. But, I also let myself eat some of Z’s birthday cake and some other treats. Because VACATION.

Considering all the sweating I did in Florida, even in early spring, when we returned home and I weighed myself, I’d lost three pounds.

This encouraged me, because if I could lose weight on vacation, then I should be able to follow a fitness plan during a regular, structured day. Week. Month. Months.

So I kept going. I still had two weeks left of working from home, so I worked hard at near-daily exercise and keeping track of calories. And drinking water. And sleeping more.

After counting calories for a few more weeks, I more or less memorized the calorie amounts for certain foods.

I ate more proteins, fruits, and veggies. I’d cut back on treats (chips, bagels, and sweets left in the kitchen at work) during the week, and allow myself one of the donuts Reilly would get on his way home from the gym Saturday mornings. And I’d try to drink between 64 and 96 ounces of water every day.

After finishing the 30-day Abs and Booty program (which actually took me about 45 days, because I wasn’t going to stress myself out about exercise) I took about a week off of HIIT and just ran on the treadmill. By the middle of April, we were back to working in the office, so I had to really consider whether my exercise expectations were realistic.

If anyone’s wondering when I fit in my exercise, it’s during Z’s ABA therapy, which takes place 4-7pm. Her regular schedule makes it easy for me to stick to a workout schedule.

Around the second week of May, I began Betty Rocker’s 90-day program, which is basically 3-4 days of HIIT per week. I’d combine 20-30 minutes of treadmill with 1-2 of these weekly workouts.

During this 90-day challenge, I realized I could not expect myself to maintain 5-6 days of intense exercise every week. I felt myself starting to burn out. I needed to listen to my body and allow recovery time.

I decided to keep exercise to 3-4 days/week. And give myself about a week break between programs.

I started a 6-week program from the Nike Training app in the middle of August.

Then the free 30-day challenge sometime in October.

Then treadmill for a month while watching The Great British Baking Show.

Then a 4-week Nike program, which has carried me through most of December and into the first week of January 2019.

What next? Maybe a more intense Nike program? Repeat Betty Rocker? Something else on YouTube? We’ll see. This is the longest I’ve maintained any type of consistent exercise since living in NYC. It feels good to have reestablished healthy habits.

The first week of last month, Amy invited me to join an 8-week fitness accountability group on Facebook. She and one of her friends created a nifty spreadsheet for tracking various aspects of fitness. When we were asked to introduce ourselves, this is what I wrote:

Hey, everyone! Amy is a dear friend from NYC, and she invited me to this group. I’ve never really been a part of something like this, and I’m very excited!

My goals are for general fitness, which for me has included: eating more veggies and protein, and consistent exercise. I jog on the treadmill and/or HIIT up to 5 times/week. I love how much stronger and more energetic I feel. Weight loss has been in tiny increments – 7 pounds in the last 9 months, with about 3ish? pounds to go. I may just stay where I am. For me, slow and steady equates to sustainable. And maintainable. Which is sooooo possible! I’ve also been trying out intermittent fasting, where I get to eat all my calories between 12pm and 8pm, which seems to work with my life so far.

I’m looking forward to the next 8 weeks. Mostly to hang out with really cool people in this forum, but also because I like spreadsheets. That tracker is pretty rad.

(By the way, jury’s still out on intermittent fasting, but I actually don’t feel very hungry skipping breakfast.)

Here is this week’s progress, as of Wednesday night 1/2/19:

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There have been times in the past 9 months that I haven’t felt like exercising, so I didn’t. Or that I didn’t feel like running on the treadmill for 30 minutes. So I walked instead for 20 minutes. Or I felt like I wanted a cookie. Or chips and salsa. Or a rare bottle of soda. I let myself have them. I feel like I’ve worked hard and consistently enough to enjoy occasional treats in moderation. (Cue: Christmas break.)

The left side of this photo was taken March 27. I snapped the right side December 21. I’m pretty pleased with my progress. My goal for 2019 is to keep it up.

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