Parenting Hack: Thing It/Unthing It

I was sitting around chatting with a group of moms the other day. One friend mentioned that her son was not eating meals, and they were, as a result, putting in extraordinary efforts to get him to do so. Her pediatrician’s advice? Just “un-thing” it.

Un-thinging is the process of not making a big deal out of something; in other words, not making it into a thing. Her son can eat or not eat. Either is fine. As a parent, you set the direction and the implications (i.e., here is good food, you need to eat or you’ll be hungry), but you don’t get tied up in what the child chooses to do. You don’t bribe or coerce. You don’t have an emotional reaction. You stay chill and let them figure it out independently. By un-thinging it, you lower the stakes. You normalize the situation. You create the space and opportunity for change.

In becoming conscious of un-thinging things, we have also started to play around with thinging things.  By thinging something, you differentiate it. You make clear that the plane diaperbehavior is situational and even special. You create limits and boundaries around it. For example, when flying with my toddler the other day, we decided to thing the use of a diaper. My daughter is in the middle of potty training, and we don’t want her to think that wearing a diaper is typical behavior. And so, my wife drew planes on each of her diapers. We talked about how these were special “plane diapers.” When we took the diapers off, we said goodbye to the them and made a big deal of wearing underwear again because we’re not on a plane anymore. We made diaper-wearing during travel a thing.

Beyond that, we are thinging a whole host of behaviors associated with travel:  lollipops to pop her ears on the plane (“plane lollipops”), the use of a tablet (“special Daniel Tiger”), eating more frequent desserts (“something we do on vacation”), and sleeping on an inflatable mattress (the “travel Older Toddler bed”). We want each to be a specific experience with its own use case, boundaries, and related expectations. We are creating the association that these are all related to this special time and place and do not reflect the new normal.

Stepping back, thinging and unthinging are simply more intentional practices about consciously choosing – in this case, consciously choosing your relationship with each action. What do you need to unthing to create space and opportunity for change? What do you need to thing to create differentiation and limitation?

Meredith

 

Welcome to Fullness

As you may have guessed from my relative reticence, the last weeks and months have been particularly busy. In the last six weeks (since, roughly April 15th), I’ve travelled to Shanghai, Chicago, Phuket, Boulder, Singapore, a tropical island in Indonesia, Cape Cod, and Michigan. I’ve camped the Nor Cal woods with my fiancée, snorkeled Southeast Asian waters, and taken a beer tour of Chicago. I’ve attended offsites, retreats, annual meetings, and trainings. I’ve coached former classmates on storytelling, tried a new recipe for gluten-free/dairy-free mac and cheese, and volunteered at the soup kitchen. On the home front, we’ve replaced our washer and dryer, fixed the ice tray in the fridge (shockingly complicated), and replanted the front bed. For the wedding, we’ve ordered and addressed wedding invitations, finalized plans for cake, and completed the final fitting for my wedding dress. Most importantly, though, I’ve spent time with so many people I love around the world, including a few walks around the block with Reese, some quality time with Liz, and a beautiful bridal shower with nearly every member of my extended family.

I share this not to provide an excuse for not posting, but to take a stand: Yes, the last six weeks have been busy, but I refuse to call them that. In fact, I am hereby abandoning the word “busy.”  
busy
Why am I abandoning “busy?”

First, I don’t want to compete in the busy-ness competition. Sometimes, particularly amongst my overachieving friends, we end up one-upping each other with the intensity of our schedules. It’s as if our commitments act as a proxy for importance (“So many people have demands on my time and talents!) and capability (“…and I’m completely able to satisfy them all!”). It’s an alluring game to play as it feeds the ego and seems winnable. That said, winning the busy-ness competition is no treat. You may receive a bit of awe or pity, but to maintain your sense of importance and capability, you need to sign up for being even busier than you were before. I once heard a friend describe it as “winning a pie-eating competition where the prize is. . . more pie.”

Second, I want to encourage real conversations. We often ask each other “How are you doing?” in a ritualized way, not expecting a full answer. It’s easy to answer “I’m busy” and sharing your schedule. When someone asks me how I’m doing, I aspire to respond to those questions with a better answer – one that goes a bit deeper or shares a bit more. Why am I busy? What is happening in the world as a result of my efforts? What is meaningful about that?

Which brings us to the third and most important reason: I want to put attention on the underlying meaning, not the superficial hum of the activity. Ultimately, the word ‘busy’ doesn’t encapsulate the meaning behind it all. We all choose to sign ourselves up for work and activities, for life and relationships. We choose the things that make us so busy – and we presumably choose them because they’re important to us in some way. Being “busy” doesn’t invoke that overarching purpose in the activity; it just implies activity – and perhaps too much of it. Yet when I look at the litany of life in my first paragraph, I don’t feel exhausted, I feel exhilarated. Sure, I’m sometimes overtravelled, sometimes overworked, sometimes overstretched. But my underlying feeling here is one of satisfying fullness, and not of meaningless busy-ness.

Therefore, that’s my new word: instead of saying “I’m busy,” I am going to say “I’m full.” I am full of activity, full of life, and full of meaning. In many contexts, to be full is to be complete. I want the fullness that comes with having my time and talents used completely towards my ambitions.

Goodbye busy-ness. Welcome to fullness.

Meredith

full

My Six Travel Hacks

Between work and play, I end up travelling a lot.  This month, for example, I’m spending the equivalent of two-and-a-half weeks on the road, bumping between Singapore, Thailand, China, and Indonesia.  I’m jokingly calling it #aprilasia.

While San Francisco is the center of my life, good work and important relationships aren’t concentrated there alone.  Instead, life happens both in the Bay Area and also at a bunch of other complementary locations around the world.  For better or worse (and often, for both), travel has become a significant part of my life.

As I’ve hit the road more and more, here’s my list of realizations – from the pragmatic to the philosophical – of what has kept me sane:

Adjust my eating schedule first:  I’ve learned to focus on adjusting my eating schedule instead of worrying about my sleeping schedule.  If I start eating on my destination time zone before getting on the plane, I’m better able to avoid jet lag when I get there.  This means sacrificing the perceived value of plane food (which I tend to eat out of obligation and frugality rather than hunger), planning ahead to bring my own snacks on the road, and often forcing myself to eat when I don’t have any interest (i.e., it’s lunchtime here, but the middle of the night my time).  If I can fix my eating cycle, however, my sleep cycle follows.  I can’t make a watertight case for the science behind it (though I did do a bunch of jet lag research at some point), but it works.

Take advantage of gyms:  The challenge and time involving in getting up, getting dressed, relocating to the gym, battling for a machine, showering in a foreign place, and pre-packing the day’s outfit often provides a convenient and reasonable excuse why I don’t exercise on any given day at home.  When there’s a gym in the hotel, however, I lose that excuse.  I try (though the operative word is try) to work out more on the road because the facilities are far more accessible.

Set boundaries:  As travel has become more frequent I’ve realized that, at some point, I can’t just string obligations together.  After a few ‘mega-trips’ last year, I now aspire to schedule trips no longer than ten days.  Even if it means flying back-and-forth to break the trip up, it’s worth it for me.

Do just one local thing:  When I started travelling, the best piece of advice I got from a seasoned road warrior was this:  “Wherever you go, make sure you do one local thing.”  It could be anything:  going to drinks with a friend, taking two hours to wander around a museum, or walking through town on your way to work.  Sometimes it’s hard to convince myself that I have ‘permission’ to do this, especially if I’m travelling for work.  But the two hours that I spent at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center last week (a scale model of Shanghai!  a golden statue of the skyline!  ambition incarnate in display after lighted display!) made me better able to connect to understand Chinese development and also gave me some karmic comfort when I later found myself flying on Friday night. The trip became worthwhile in a bigger, more personal way.

shanghai
Acknowledge all parts of the truth
:  Friends often ask the question:  “Do you like to travel so much, or not?”  While it’s easy to fall into their proposed binary framing and either assert that “I love it!” or “I hate it!”, there’s often a more subtle truth.  For me, it’s important to acknowledge that travel is exciting, challenging, and exotic and also overwhelming, exhausting, and annoying – all at the same time.  I love the opportunities that come with travel, and I hate being dislocated from friends and family.  Acknowledging the full range of emotions that comes with travel – instead of glamorizing or demonizing it – helps to keep everything real.

Hold tight to gratitude:  Finally, it’s easy to fall into a world-weary mindset when I’m always on the road.  Travel can lose it’s charm and challenge.  And even the loveliest of destinations can go from being shiny, new, and delightful to being curiously familiar and even bothersome.  Whenever I stop seeing the amazing side of these experiences, I ground myself in gratitude. It is incredible that I get to develop such a broad perspective on life. It is incredible that I am able to feel at home in the world and connect to so many diverse people. Whatever the sacrifice, I can’t believe I’m deserving of all the places I go; I’m humbled by it.

Written while gearing up for a beach walk in Phuket,
Meredith

phuket

Enjoy Your Fake-ation

Liz and I spent Valentine’s Day weekend on a romantic retreat to Vancouver.  And we’re spending this weekend catching up with friends in Boulder.  In both cases, instead of hopping from tourist activity to tourist activity, we’re spending most of our time doing all sorts of normal things.  We started with registering for our wedding at a Canadian Crate and Barrel, attacking the store on a quiet Friday.  Since then we’ve shopped at innumerable grocery stores, bought swimwear for our honeymoon, and gotten a bunch of work done.  All of this has brought up a curious question:

If a vacation is when you go away and do ‘holiday’ activiites (e.g., touristing, relaxing),

and a stay-cataion is when you stay home and do ‘holiday’ activites,

what is it when you go away and do ‘normal’ activites (e.g., running errands, doing work)? 

Introducing:  the fake-ation (or, in other words, the ‘fake vacation’) – the time that you go away from home, but end up doing all sorts of normal things.  You run errands, you catch up with friends, you get some work done, you finally go to the gym.  To be honest, it’s hard to find a pure incarnation of any of these; you have to go get more sunscreen when you’re hanging out on the beach or take an hour to read in the midst of everyday.  But the fake-ation is real.

Doing normal stuff here in Boulder,
Meredith
fakeation

Beyond Freedom

Johannesburg, South Africa

I reached Johannesburg earlier this week subject to that ‘just arrived malaise’ that often hits me upon landing in a new city. I always acknowledge that I’ve travelled far and it’s okay to be tired, while another part of me jumps straight to aggressive self-judgment:  “You are only in this city for so long!  You should go out and experience it!  Why are you laying on your bed?!”  While I have learned to quiet that inner voice full of “should,” I nonetheless feel fairly awful if I haven’t ventured out of my hotel by the end of the day.  So I touched down, took a much-needed nap, knocked out some work, and rallied.

My first and only stop was the Apartheid Museum, an elegant and well-executed history of apartheid in South Africa.

Between the mock-ups of Mandiba’s jail cell and the ‘Europeans Only’ signs, the part of the museum which stuck me most was the struggle of it all. Hundreds, thousands of people dead in the fight.  Such intractable reluctance to give up power.  An almost inconceivable investment of energy, emotion, and life to secure what I naively see as the basic, universal right to freedom.

In truth, freedom has been hard-fought – not just in South Africa’s recent past, but in our continuing global present. Freedom is not a right that is won, but instead a daily reality which we must continue to bring into existence.

But what happens when we are so fortunate as to feel secure in that freedom?  What next?  Where do we direct our energies when the exhausting fight for freedom is done?

One definition of freedom is “the power or liberty to order one’s own actions.” This definition necessarily elicits the next question:  With the liberty to order our actions, how should we do so?  And to what end?

We of course have different goals – different definitions of happiness, purpose, meaning, or fulfillment.  Yet I would propose that whatever our goals, we articulate them clearly and pursue them consciously.  Freedom gives us the right to choose.  Intentionality means that, when exercising that sacred freedom, we do so conscious of the world we want to create for ourselves and others.  (See earlier post on the definition of intentionality here.)

With all the struggle that goes into securing freedom, it seems disrespectful and almost amoral that we would exercise that freedom in anything but the most thoughtful way possible, consciously creating ourselves into the people we want to be and thoughtfully crafting the world in which we want to live.  What is beyond freedom?  Intentionality. 

 

Image“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 
-Nelson Mandela