Taking a Break from Blogging

Dear Friends,

I’ve been absent for a while, from both writing and reading your blogs. Initially it was because I was simply busy with work and my son’s activities. Then a week ago our family was dealt a couple of difficult blows. I’ve debated whether to keep writing or take a break, and I’ve decided on the latter. I do plan on coming back and I hope you’ll still be here. Thank you for your friendship and support!

Cecilia

Blogging Award and Q&A

I am always thankful to receive blogging awards but bad about passing them on…I think because I always feel awkward about choosing the next set of recipients for fear of leaving out someone. Anyway, the lovely Naomi at Consumed by Ink nominated me for the Liebster Award not long ago and I was intrigued by the set of questions that she asked me to respond to, which I have done below.

Thank you so much, Naomi. 🙂 Naomi writes a very thoughtful and personable blog on Canadian (and other) literature over at Consumed by Ink. I have learned about many great Canadian writers through her. I hope you will stop by and check out her blog.

1. What was your favourite book when you were a child? A teen? Now?

Child – Deenie by Judy Blume

Teen – Petals on the Wind by V.C. Andrews 😉

Now – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

2. What was your most memorable trip?

I would say San Francisco, when I was 9. My cousin was getting married and my mother took me out of school for a week. California was so different from the northeast and my uncle’s home so different from ours. I remembered waking up and seeing mountains. My aunt and uncle also had plush carpeting and a floor-to-ceiling patio screen with sliding door. And my cousin, the one getting married, wore make-up and high heels (unlike my mother). And I got to wear a floor-length dress for the first time and go to Toys-R-Us. And eat meatloaf (for the first time) at my uncle’s diner. Most of all, I started my first journal. My second grade teacher whom I was still in touch with gave me a beautiful red faux leather blank journal and told me it was for me to write about my trip.

3. Have you ever met a well-known author? What was your experience like? If not, which one would you like to meet?

Yes! Junot Díaz earlier this spring, which I posted about here. Years ago when Memoirs of a Geisha came out I also had a chance to meet Arthur Golden at his talk/book signing. One of the people he acknowledged in his book happened to be my Japanese teacher at the time, so I actually had something to talk to him about. He turned out to be very friendly and I didn’t feel as though I was talking to someone “famous.” Last week I went to listen to Khaled Hosseini. He’s a lovely, thoughtful man, but much more reserved than Junot Díaz and Arthur Golden.

4. What is your favourite reading spot?

My bed. It’s not the best reading spot (my bedroom is cluttered) but it’s where I’m most comfortable.

5. Which literary character would you most like to trade places with?

This is a hard one…because every character I remember reading experiences so much suffering! Does anyone have any suggestions?

6. If you could have anything you wanted for your next meal, what would it be?

I think I would choose this Burmese noodle dish that I last ate when I was a kid. We were friends with a Burmese family and I remember liking them so much; they were incredibly kind and gentle people. Every time we visited the parents would serve us this delicious creamy noodle that tasted like coconut. A few years later I learned that the father had died of a brain tumor and somehow we never saw them again.

7. What prompted you to start your blog? How did you come up with your blog title?

I used to write when I was younger but stopped as an adult. When Fred got to school age I decided to write again and blogging seemed like a good way to start. I could have simply written in a journal but I did want an audience and a community. I started and stopped several blogs before settling on “Only You.” Initially I was going to blog about my experiences mothering an only child, until I realized the idea was unsustainable…because, I realized, parenting to me was not about a number. But the name stuck because “only you” could mean my son, or my readers, or myself and, often, all three.

8. Are you an animal person? Which kind?

No. I always worry that this makes me sound like an unkind person but I’m really not an animal person. I appreciate and respect animals (a lot, in fact) but I am awkward around them the way some people are awkward around babies and children.

9. Are you a city mouse or a country mouse? Why?

I am transitioning into a country mouse. I lived in major cities for most of my life, including Tokyo for many years. But I think that extended period in Tokyo really kind of traumatized me as much as it had enriched me. I lived through years of midnight train rides home from work, packed bone-crunching commutes, elbow-to-elbow shopping, and miles and miles of concrete. I now live minutes from nature trails and a lake and all I have to do to be surrounded by green is step out onto our deck. I couldn’t live anywhere else. Cities and countrysides have their own places on each person’s timeline.

10. Do you have a book that you take with you everywhere you go?

No…I just take whatever I am reading at the moment but I am almost always with a book.

11. Are you a multiple book reader, or do you prefer to read one at a time?

I always start multiple books but I am realizing lately that I get so scattered and am unable to finish them. So I guess I am moving back to single-book reading.

…………..

I’d like to pass on the award and set of questions below to my friend Rudri who writes a wonderful blog over at Being Rudri. She is a writer and reader who blogs about her journey identifying small moments of joy and overcoming challenges in order to find peace and contentment. Her blog feels like a sanctuary to me and I sometimes like to start my mornings by catching up on her posts with a cup of coffee. Here are my questions for her (and anyone else who might be interested in answering!):

1. Which author’s voice is most compelling to you?

2. Where and how do you get your books – amazon, independent bookstores, library, etc.?

3. Where and when do you read? How long or how often do you read?

4. What genres interest you most? Why?

5. Do you gravitate toward or shy away from difficult and heavy themes, like death, violence, trauma, difficult moral decisions, etc.?

6. Knowing what you know now, what book would you recommend to your 20-something-year-old self? to your 30-something-year-old self?

7. What reading rituals, habits, lessons, etc. have you shared with or taught your child?

8. Is your husband a reader? Does that matter to you?

9. Have you ever belonged to a book club? If so, what was that experience like?

10. What are you most excited to read from your TBR pile this summer?

11. Do you own and collect books, or do you prefer not to have them pile up in your home?

To readers: How would you answer some of these questions? I’m curious!

See you next week!

We’ve been traveling and consistently suffering from some combination of sick and tired 😉 But we’re having a good time. As usual I brought along my laptop but totally overestimated my ability to keep up with blogging. I hope you’re having a good week and I’ll be back next week! 🙂

Apologies – inadvertently published post

I’m so sorry! I was preparing my blog post for Tuesday morning and was experiencing technical difficulties. I recruited my brother to help and the post accidentally went live for a few minutes. I mention this because e-mail subscribers likely received a post with a lot of gibberish in it.

I’m scheduling my post – Great Book Recommendations by Great Kids – for Tuesday morning. Please watch for it then. Thanks!

Cecilia

Overcoming inertia (and living with ‘depression’)

Please give me a hand because I had two major accomplishments this week: I started decluttering the house and I joined a gym. 🙂

It’s been a long road to these two mundane achievements. I’ve had depressive tendencies for most of my life. Though I still have some qualms about telling people, I’ve become pretty open about it. It’s a part of me the way being introverted or being sensitive is a part of me. I see it in some of my family as well and so I know it’s in me and in my blood (or perhaps in my neurotransmitters). But it doesn’t make me weird (I don’t think) and no one who’s ever met me would ever describe me as sad or depressing. I’ve done well in life – at school, in my career, in my personal relationships. But having had a major depressive episode during college means that I’ve learned to live with this little bomb inside my body, wondering when and if it will ever go off again. In recent months it has, to some extent, though this time more often as a by-product of hormonal fluctuations.

I’ve sometimes asked Max, “Does it feel like a lot of work for you to make dinner? Is it easy for you to get out of bed in the morning?” At some point during adulthood I had a nagging suspicion that how I feel sometimes is not how normal people feel.

On bad days, doing the simplest things like preparing a meal or going to the bank feels like this: You’ve just come home from a 12-hour day at the office and you are being asked to then walk five miles to make a presentation before 200 people. Exhaustion and dread color the simplest tasks of living.

I’ve had some bad days more recently, and it was enough to scare me into making some serious changes. I love my family so much, and my friends. I have it good but when your thoughts are distorted you just can’t see all that you have, how privileged you are. You can’t see that pain is temporary and small compared to all the joy and love you have but can’t feel at that moment. I told Max and a couple of good girlfriends what I was going through because this time I didn’t want my struggles to fester in secrecy. I am grateful for those breaks of clarity.

One of the things I wanted to do was to create serenity in my surroundings. So I reached in and found enough energy to clear off the dining table to start with.  You don’t have to do the whole thing if you want to make a change. Just enough to get moving, to break out of that inertia. The first step is the heaviest and the slowest.

After the dining table, I moved on to the kitchen counter, and then the t.v. area. I intend to declutter the whole house over the coming months.

Yesterday I joined a gym. Since I broke my ankle a year ago my favorite yoga teacher had to temporarily close up shop and I haven’t resumed my exercises. But the lack of physical activity was, I really believe, literally killing me, one small minute at a time.

I didn’t like the gym, to be honest. It was all men and I felt self-conscious even though it wasn’t like anyone was looking at or bothering me.

I stepped on the treadmill first and selected “Fitness Test.” It had me walking at different speeds and inclines and then asked to put my hands on the sensors to measure my heart rate. After the six-minute test, the following message scrolled across my control panel, in red caps: “YOUR PERFORMANCE LEVEL IS VERY POOR.”

I almost had to laugh, because this was a most unexpected message in this age of positive reinforcement and self-esteem boosting. I was expecting the machine to say ‘CONGRATULATIONS’ but instead it told me I sucked! The honesty was refreshing, actually, because I really am out of shape and I need to be scared straight, basically. It was pure boredom and torture being in that gym but as I read the message scrolling by over and over I became resolved to come back to this gym as often as I can.

The gym is across from the supermarket where we normally shop. That is a major reason why I selected this gym, and it was part of my itinerary to hit the market after my workout to get groceries for dinner. Though I walked out of the gym unenthused, I noticed that I walked out of the market lighter and brighter. I went home starving and eager to start dinner. I would’ve whistled if I knew how. The endorphin rush came more like a drip, but I’ll take it. I’ll keep taking it.

~~~

I do want to say that in cases of serious depression, people cannot just “snap” out of it. If you know someone whom you suspect may be depressed, please take initiative to offer your most non-judgmental support. If you are feeling depressed, please, please reach out to someone.

Working from home

Eight years ago, Max and I left the corporate world and started our own company. Funny, to this day I find it awkward to call our business a company even though it’s fully incorporated in two countries. I suppose the only reason for this is the fact that we don’t work in a building; instead, we work out of a home office.

We started our business, or company, because we knew there was no organization that would allow us to have the family/work balance that we needed, at least not in Tokyo, where we were living at the time. Max and I worked at the same company and we were frequently there from 10 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. 6 days a week. The demands were so great that the vast majority of women employees remained single and pretty much gave up on the idea of having a family. I was our company’s first employee ever to get pregnant and the HR office created its first parental leave policy that year.

In Japan I enjoyed a full year of paid leave.

But parenting doesn’t necessarily get any easier once a child graduates from infancy, nor do our families need us any less after that first year. After my leave was over my employer wanted me back full time, and physically in the office. 60-70 hour work weeks with a 150 minute commute each day? With a toddler? The whole idea was preposterous. Had I been allowed to work from home even a few days a week, I honestly would have considered staying. But this wasn’t an option, and so not only did I resign, but Max did as well. It is not only mothers who need more time at home with their children.

Our small company is entering its 8th year this year. We have 10 part-time staff across 3 continents. Half of them are parents of young children. We all work from home.

What is it like to work from home?

It’s peaceful. It’s busy. It’s freeing. It’s isolating.

One of the very first questions I received – from a stay-at-home mother, of all people – when Fred started preschool was, “So how you are going to spend your day tomorrow? Will you have a spa day? Watch a movie?” I was floored.

And that is a common misconception about people who work from home – that because they are out of the clutches of an office or a boss or because they have control over their schedules, they have all this free time to catch up on t.v. or sleep during the day.

We do enjoy a tremendous freedom that we did not when we commuted to our former employer. Depending on our work cycle, it is usually not difficult to volunteer at Fred’s school or run to the bank or nurse a bad cold in the middle of the day. However, whatever doesn’t get done during that time “off” simply needs to get done at some other point during the day – and that is usually between 9:30 p.m. and midnight after Fred has gone to sleep or between 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday before the family day starts. We work literally 6 or 7 days a week year-round, while Fred is in school, while waiting for the chicken to roast, while Fred is on a play date. The fact that there is no office to leave blurs the boundaries between work and home life. This is one of the hardest parts about working from home.

Do parents make worse employees?

Given the reasons why we started our business, we naturally pride ourselves on being a family-friendly company. I’ll be honest, though, that as an employer one of the things I most dread to hear is, “Can I get an extension on my deadline? My son/daughter has a fever/is not sleeping/is…” Of course, this is second only to “Mommy, I don’t feel good…” As family-friendly as we are, we still have high-paying and demanding clients to respond to. My sympathies for my own child and my employees’ sick children do not change the fact that our (often single, often male) clients still need to get their work back. But you know, we work together with our staff. We find a way to make it work. We don’t punish with guilt trips or warnings. Max and I have personally been there ourselves and we’re there again and again. Good staff do not abuse our understanding.

But I imagine it’s easy to blame any lapse on the fact that one has kids. If someone misses a couple of e-mails or turns in something with typos, it’s easy to conclude, “It figures because she has a newborn at home.” Until you stop and evaluate all your employees. The most careless staff member we’d ever had – one we had to fire before the year was out – was single with no children. And perhaps the most dedicated and high performing employee we’ve ever had was a woman who had left the corporate world to raise her 4 children (all under 6 at the time). Along the spectrum we’ve had dedicated employees with no children as well as one or two parent-employees who just made it clear that our work was a distant second (or third?) on their list of priorities. My point? It depends on the person.

Are we more productive working from home?

I cannot speak for everyone, but for Max and I, yes. We don’t talk to each other while working, unless it’s about work. In fact, except for occasional non-work-related phone calls or IMs, we have no interruptions whatsoever, which is very different from those days I worked in an office, when bored or overly chatty co-workers would swing by my office or cubicle and overstay their visits. Except for a single flight of stairs, I also do no commuting. So each week that’s an extra 6-7 hours of work that I can do – basically like putting in a whole extra day of work! And honestly, if I really am exhausted – because I was up late the night before working or because my son was sick – I will take a 30 minute power nap to re-energize instead of staring blankly at my computer screen for 5 hours hoping my colleagues and boss will believe I am working.

Is there less togetherness?

Yes. Absolutely. And this was the reason my former employer gave for not allowing us to work from home (and one of the reasons that Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer gives). Though practically living in our former company had its many disadvantages, the one thing that made it bearable throughout all those years was the close sense of family. There was a real sense of team and bonding and thus loyalty to our company when we were all so close. I got to know my colleagues and staff both professionally and personally which made me a better supervisor. I miss that now about our own company. We get together physically with our staff once a year. I wish we could do that more frequently.

But the virtual nature of our company has not made our staff any less loyal. Our core staff has been with us for years, and the relationships we have are – without exaggeration – the best of any work environment I have ever been in. Our respect for our employees as whole people has earned us their loyalty and affection.

*    *   *

In the end, being faced with unyielding work requirements forced us to make a choice we didn’t want to make. For several years we honestly thought we were never going to have children, constrained as we were by the demands of our work. When we finally decided that we wanted to become parents, we sadly made the decision to break away from the professional family that had been such a huge part of our lives – indeed, the family that we had almost quite literally given our lives to. But ultimately the decision wasn’t entirely ours to make; in not wanting to find a reasonable way to make things work for all of us, the company was telling us that we really weren’t worth it in the end.

Your child’s personality

A few days ago I wrote tongue-in-cheek on Facebook that if strong-willed and defiant children are more likely to grow up to be CEOs, then I’d better be raising the next Steve Jobs. I was having a tougher-than-usual week with my 7 year-old, and instead of pulling out the last strand of hair still standing on my head, I made myself look on the possible bright side to get me through this rough patch called motherhood.

Then yesterday I read the ever wise Delia Lloyd in her post Five Ways to Think about Personality Types, and I heard about the DISC Personality Assessment, which focuses on the behavioral characteristics that make up an individual’s personality. The descriptions on their site include General Characteristics, Value to Team, Possible Weaknesses, Motivated By, DO and DON’T.

These categories translate very well into work personas, a very comfortable territory for me. After all, I’ve spent a significant chunk of my life in offices or cubicles, dealing with bosses, colleagues and subordinates. It’s in the work place that I spend the most time analyzing both the angels and doozies that surround me: the manager who doesn’t like people, the support staff person who tears up at the slightest criticism, the client who questions every piece of advice that I give.

To be honest, I analyze everyone, not just co-workers: family, friends, neighbors. Okay, that sounds bad. What I mean is that I like people watching and people understanding. Why, for example, can my husband Max not hear me when he is playing with Fred or typing on the computer? Turns out he is very focused on the task at hand and prefers to concentrate on one thing at a time; next time I need him I will ask him before or after he is engaged in something. I understand to learn, and to be a better relative/friend/neighbor.

Yes, I analyze everyone – everyone except children.

When it comes to children, they come in these one-size-fits-all labels: easy, difficult, picky, shy, hyper, sensitive, rambunctious, stubborn. Am I missing any?

I was so floored by DISC. Because it led me to look at my little boy as a future adult, in terms that I can relate to. My boy was no longer a developmentally immature child but a real person in the making, complete with motivations, temperament and a work style. Reading DISC reminded me that my child is not out to make my life hell nor does he have any kind of childhood behavioral disorder.

To be honest, if I looked more closely and understood my child better, I would see that he

likes having autonomy and appreciates the freedom to make his own decisions.

places more priority on big picture issues than on routine details.

likes to think outside the box and come up with his own solutions.

If I’d understood Fred better, I may not greet him at school pick-up with the friendly “Where is your jacket? Don’t tell me you’ve lost another jacket!” Instead of fretting if he has an attention deficit disorder I would more calmly help him find a way to remember those mundane details.

When he rejects my instructions because he’s thought of a better solution, I may be less likely to respond with, “I’m the mother; why don’t you ever listen!”

I might hover less and allow him to do more.

I would lecture less. Nag less.

In the DISC “DO” section, when dealing with “D” (Drive) personalities, I am to “[b]e brief, direct and to the point . . . Suggest ways for him/her to achieve results, be in charge, and solve problems. Highlight logical benefits of featured ideas and approaches.”

It also says DON’T “[r]amble. Repeat yourself . . . Make statements without support.”

No wonder I’d been having a tough week.

Our little future CEOs. Teammates. Teachers and crusaders. Or the next big thinkers. They all started somewhere, and I’m guessing it wasn’t from easy/difficult/picky/shy/stubborn.

Earthquake in Japan…hitting too close to home

Today is Fred’s 7th birthday, and I had a couple of ideas of possible blog posts to run. One idea was to rerun my post from last year, where Fred realized his birthday was falling on trash collection day. He had lamented at the bad luck and timing of it all, of having a birthday sullied by trash day. I thought his superstition was funny and was impressed by his connection of the two phenomena.

The irony is, well, ironic, seeing how his 7th birthday falls on an even more devastating day. I pay attention to odd coincidences and I don’t know if I am stretching things here, but the earthquake in Japan struck 9 minutes to the day that Fred was born.

News images of the earthquake in Japan fill our t.v. screen and my Facebook page is flooded by personal accounts of friends in Japan who’ve either walked up to 4 hours to get home (due to stoppage of the commuter trains) and/or who’ve hid under tables watching walls and shelves collapse around them. My 75 year-old mother-in-law was home alone when the quake hit and my 13 year-old stepson never made it home the night of the quake. 

But, everyone that we know, as far as we know, is alive and safe.

I am reminded of the helplessness I felt when 9-11 took place. I was in Japan at the time, and now, like then, I feel far and somehow out of reach of being able to really share this sense of powerlessness and heartache that I still cannot fully articulate.