Monday, January 6, 2014

Introvert Majority

Most of the Whomptons are introverts.  Raging introverts.  Krystal and Samantha are happiest when curled up on couches, tucked under blankets, and reading books.  Raina has become this person as well, and she forcefully sighs when she is reading and someone wants to interact with her.  Eric has devoted much of his life to solo video games and then he became a computer programmer.  When he first started working, he could go 8 straight hours without interacting with another human being. 

Interacting with people requires a lot of energy and so introverts need quiet alone time to recharge before going out again.  Extroverts, on the other hand, recharge and are energized by being with people.  (I don’t know how extroverts feel about being alone.)  When I began teaching and putting so much of myself out there each day, I came home incredibly exhausted and spent.  I would walk through the door, sit on the couch, and stare out the front window for an hour.  Eric would try to interact with me then – being a happily married man, happy to see his spouse – and I would snap at him and tell him to “please go away and let me watch the squirrels!  I need this!”  He would look hurt but eventually understood that I needed some quiet time to reset before I could be a happy, humane person again. 

I enjoy my summer vacations tremendously.  I send the kids off to camps or daycare and then I enjoy eight interrupted hours by myself.  It’s a wonderful summer when I can do this for three straight months.  I come back to the new school year completely refreshed and joyous and happy to see everyone.  Generally, this enthusiasm lasts about a week and then I go back to doling out my energies and then trying to conserve where I can.

In some ways, being an introvert makes me a terrible friend.  I rarely pick up the telephone to call someone.  For multiple years, my new year’s resolution was to call a single friend once a month.  Just one phone call a month.  I was never successful. 

What I’m trying to say here is that I am an introvert.  A strong one.  And I’m the LEAST introverted introvert in the house.  Eric, Samantha, and Raina need even more alone time than I do to be successful out in the real world.

Lola Kai, Whompton #5, is not an introvert at all.  The extrovert in her struggles in our otherwise introverted household, but she has learned to advocate for herself.  As a toddler, her favorite sentence was “I GO!” which meant that she wanted to get out of the house and go anywhere – anywhere – as long as she got to see people.  Present day Lola, at four years old, is still the same way.  She also makes regular phone calls to reach out to family.  She decided to call two people yesterday, for instance, and she happily chatted with them for a while.  She will play solo occasionally, but she’d much rather play with someone else and it doesn’t really matter who.  If someone is walking along the street, Lola will run, throw open the front door, and shout “HI!” to him.  If the person responds in any way, then she bolts out of the house to have a conversation.  She stations herself to chatter with the neighbors as they work on their yards or build sheds or get the mail.  She has befriended more people in the neighborhood than I have, and I’ve lived here for almost 12 years.  She begs us for more and more playdates and the adults cannot comply at a rate that is satisfactory for her. 

This dynamic brings inherent tensions.  The more we provide opportunities for Lola to be with people, the more tapped out the other four introverts are.  The more quiet time we provide for the introverts, the more frustrated and stir crazy Lola gets.  In the end, no one is perfectly happy.  We clearly do not have the right balance yet and it’s possible we never will.  But I’m hopeful that other folks out there have similar situations and can make recommendations of how we can meet Lola’s extroverted needs without completely exhausting her introverted brethren.  Do you have suggestions?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Winter travels

The Whomptons traversed to Nashville and Owensboro this winter break, with the intention of seeing all sorts of family.  We did just that.

But, first, we had to get there.  The interstate's Ohio Bridge at Paducah was closed for repairs (at least, we think that's why we were stuck there for 20 minutes without moving) so we off-roaded, u-turned, and took an alternate path across the river.  That alternate path was the "Ohio River Scenic Drive" and it ended at this bridge.  The bridge had a warning sign: "Caution!  Steel Bridge!  Motorcyclists be advised!" and a speed limit of 25 mph.  Oh my goodness.  Driving across a river feels really long when going 20 mph.  It feels even longer when you know that you cannot brake because your car wheels do not have traction on a steel-grate bridge and the big truck behind you is tailgating.  Oh my goodness.  To avoid having a panic attack, I forcefully inhaled and exhaled so much that I fogged up the front windshield.  It was terrifying and I was so grateful to be across it.  (Yes, we took the same bridge on the return drive.  It was marginally better.)

We celebrated our arrival into Paducah by stopping at the Chinese buffet.  The kids ate copious amounts of fried food, I ate copious amounts of lo mein, and Eric mostly grumbled.  I tried speaking my fledging Mandarin to the wait-staff, but they were mostly unresponsive.

And then we reached the Nashville city gates.  Emily texted us, saying "Hurry!  It's time to icing the cookies!" and we tried to get there.  After sitting another 20 minutes on the off-ramp at the Comptons' exit, we finally made it to their house.  Woohoo!

The girls immediately jumped into icing and sprinkles duty.  They made a sugar mess.

The next few hours were devoted to going crazy cousin-style.  They pulled each other around in the wagon, ran in circles around the house, laughed maniacally, and generally had a good time.
 Lola and Atticus were hiding under the blanket and surprising passersby.  Boo!

We stayed up late and the entire family watched Home Alone.  The girls and Atticus had never seen it and we thought it would be lots of fun.  (They are not yet old enough for everyone's favorite Christmas movie:  Die Hard.)  Raina thought it was fun, Atticus got a little bored, and Lola cried continuously through most scenes with the bad guys.  Our girls are sheltered.  

Intermixed with the Home Alone slapstick comedy was a lot of fun.  Stephanie pulled out her ukelele at every commercial break and the whole group sang Christmas carols.  Favorites included Rudolph and the Twelve Days of Christmas. We tried singing Suzy Snowflake, but it was mostly a bust.  Who knew commercials could be so much fun!  (The ukelele made a return appearance the next night as well.)

Samantha arrived the next day, and we gallivanted off to the Opryland Hotel to see the lights and take lots of family photos.  

JoLynn made a delectable Christmas Eve dinner and we all gorged on peanut butter balls and plum pudding for dessert.

We opened up presents on Christmas Day.  Emily made this absolutely gorgeous sweater (see below) and it fit Lola perfectly.  Emily is amazing.  The girls roped in plenty of Green River Preserve swag, sleeping bags, books, and the best gift ever: college education!  Atticus gave Lola his favorite blocks (which made all the adults teary-eyed).
The combined Whompton-Compton-Astorian clans went on multiple hikes that week.  (You know what's better than being indoors?  It's being outdoors!)  Here's a great family photo from one of the hikes. 

We played LOTS of games.  The kids played Gulo, Gulo and Incan Gold.  The adults played Hanabi, Lord of the Rings, Escape from the Temple, and Phase-10.  Raina joined the adults in Avalon and she successfully was the traitor!  And everyone played a massive round of Sardines, which is the best version of Hide-and-Seek ever.  One person hides and then everyone tries to find that person.  When you find him/her, then you have to hide along with that person until everyone is hiding together in the same place and the last person finds the huge group.  Squeezing eight people under a bed, in a closet, or tucked behind furniture certainly merits the name "sardines!"  There was a massive game of football and mosquito tag as well.  We always have a good time when playing silly games that result in giggles!

On Friday, we trekked over to Owensboro to hang out with the Whites.  We toured the 10-years-old-but-new-to-us library, ate a ridiculous amount of pie, and enjoyed each others' company.

We also had surprise guests.  My dad's mom Juanita, the girls' great grandmother, came to visit.  The girls played a pretty adorable game of catch with her.

Ages ago, when I lived in Owensboro, my family would spend Christmas Eve with my aunt Gerry and her family.  It was only fitting to spend part of our time together again.

We parted ways from here.  Samantha returned back to Saint Louis, and the other Whomptons returned to Nashville.  The cousins had more crazy fun.

The girls enjoyed the jacuzzi bubble bath.  Really, what's not to love?

And then they slept through a significant portion of the return drive to Saint Louis the next day. 
We capped off the trip by eating yummy Mexican food at Don Sol's restaurant in Marion and by speeding all the way home. 

Gift Giving with Gratitude

The Whompton adults are opposed to giving gifts at traditional points in the year: Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, Christmas.  Much feels yucky about society and Hallmark and the entire capitalist system brainwashing people into giving gifts out of obligation rather than a sincere desire to give.  I’m not a fan of this, period.  We also are not religious, so doing a gift exchange at Christmas has a double-yucky factor for the family.  The environmental and financial impacts cannot be overlooked either.  As an adult, I do not need someone else to buy me something I can just purchase myself, if I want it.  Additionally, we already accumulate a large pile of stuff that regular gift giving creates, courtesy of my students and birthday party favors and other random circumstances.  (Really, what am I supposed to do with four candles a year?  And what about the entire array of children’s plastic toys!?  Don’t even get me started there.)  Having more people add to that pile is a frustrating experience.  Finally, I think the whole commercialistic gimme-gimme and “everything is quickly disposable” culture is disturbing and I don’t want to participate in it. 

I am not a Scrooge.  I just think giving or receiving gifts out of obligation is a bad practice. 

Eric and I agreed on this philosophy very early in our relationship.  We buy practical gifts for the house as opposed to gifts for each other.  Our five-year wedding anniversary gift was gutter-guards, for instance, and Eric met with the plumber and roofer for my birthday last year.  Both were awesome gifts that kept on giving, and neither was something we’d find at the local Target. 

The girls love receiving gifts, but their needs and desires are rather small.  Both girls struggled to identify two items they’d like to receive from their grandparents this year; Raina concluded her wish list with “I’d really like my grandparents to spend more time with me.”  Yes and yes.

I’d like to begin a new tradition of gift giving: giving “thankful” gifts at Thanksgiving.  It’s pretty simple.  You identify something for which you’re thankful, and then you help provide that for someone else.  You can give the gift to the world or to a specific person or both.  It could be “I’m thankful for food,” and then donating food to a pantry or making/delivering sandwiches to the needy or volunteering at the local food bank.  It could be “I’m thankful for education,“ and then donating school supplies or supporting a college fund or volunteering at a library.  It could be “I’m grateful for security,” and then writing nice notes to service men and women, donating to the USO, or writing to your Congressmen and women and emphasizing how much this matters to you. 

The Whomptons gave thankful gifts this November and it was great.  Both Raina and Lola were thankful for food, so they hand-selected and filled grocery carts with food and we donated it to the Saint Louis Area Food Bank.  I was grateful for education and opportunity and being a female born in the US, so we’re sending a Ugandan girl to boarding school for a year.  We’re grateful for the Saint Louis Zoo, and Samantha made the girls “Zoo Parents” again.  We’re thankful for financial security, and we’re hopeful that our donation to Heifer International will provide that same stability to other families.

I really love the idea of sharing our bounty and gratitude with others, rather than focusing all our money and attention at ourselves.  Each of our gifts had meaning, will have a positive impact on a community wider than our family, and helped focus our November and Thanksgiving conversations about thankfulness and gratitude. 

Please, give it a try and let us know what you think!