Grace for the Introverted Mom

Note: As the title suggests, this is targeted to moms. Specifically stay-at-home moms that are constantly needed by their children. I don’t mean to alienate stay-at-home dads, I just have no authority speaking on your behalf! I’d love to hear your input in the comments!

Grace for the Introverted Mom (Just in time for the most stressful time of year for introverts—the holidays!)

Introduction and pseudo-history lesson

First thing’s first. Are you an introvert? Here’s 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert from HuffPost.

Introverted stay-at-home moms in this era have some unique struggles. Being a stay-at-home-mom is the most unnatural thing in the world if you look at the historical order of things. Humans once lived in tribes, clans, family units, villages. Children were raised by their mother, plus any other number of matriarchal type persons. Fathers and other men were involved in the education and nurturing of their children as well. Mothers had help in the form of relatives, wet-nurses or nannies. These days, we tend to fall into one of two extremes: we are the sole caregiver of our children during the day, or else we leave them in the care of educators and coaches and have little time to interact with our own kids. Hopefully you fall somewhere into the middle! Anyway, this isn’t about societal norms or a call to action. It’s about introverts. Introverts who are drained when they are sole caregivers to one or more children.

We need plenty of time alone, but we still need a little bit of social interaction to retain any sanity. Back in the day of the front-porch suburbia, or back even further to the time of the common well, introverted people got their social interaction out of the way, out of the house, and they came back home ready to be introverted again. Now we have the internet, that glorious invention of social media, in which we can pretend we are socializing, but which never really leaves us satisfied like real-live interaction does.

Your main goals as an Introverted mom are 1) time alone and 2) some real, in-person interaction with other human beings outside of your family. Here are some tips to achieving those goals.

Tip #1—Favor reflection over distraction.

We introverts need time, alone, with our thoughts. If I don’t get time alone just to think, or sort out my thoughts, I end up distracting myself with the internet. (As a teen, I used to distract myself with endless hours of TV. As an adult, I don’t have cable, but I have my own laptop.)

I’ll spend hours and hours on Pinterest or YouTube or clicking on random Wikipedia articles to distract myself, when a 20-minute shower would be so much better for me, because I spend only 3 minutes cleaning myself, and the rest of the time, I just let my mind wander and sort and think and rest.

Right now it’s 2 am, and I should be in bed, but I’ve just been putting off my time of introspection all this time, and now I won’t be able to sleep until I think about it.

Are you the type of person that needs to write thoughts out to get them out of your head so you can sleep? That’s why I keep my phone and a notepad by my bed. When a thought comes, I scrawl it out on my notepad in unabomber handwriting. If I don’t think I’ll be able to decipher it in the morning, I email myself on my phone.

Tip #2—Don’t feel guilty.

I feel guilty not being able to give to my kids 100% of the time. I feel selfish when I take time apart from them. I feel like a bad mom for wanting to get away from my children. I resent clinginess when it creeps up (and clinginess is natural for children exploring new territories and reaching new milestones.)

It is 3,000 times harder when my husband isn’t home, because that means I NEVER get a break, and my kids rely on JUST ME to meet all of their needs. I’m on call, 24/7. I’m needed every minute of every waking hour, and I’m needed half of the night. I’m constantly being touched.

Repeat after me: If Jesus Christ needed breaks, then I CERTAINLY need time alone.

Introverts need time alone to recharge. It is better for ourselves and for everyone else in our home if we get some time to recharge. You know that phrase, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”? We need time alone, for our emotional and mental health, about as badly as we need sleep for our physical health.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I feel like a zombie. I can barely function. Caffeine can work a little to get me through the day, but if I rely on caffeine and not sleep, I’m going to get sick. I don’t know about you, but for me, the same goes with alone time. If I don’t get time alone, I start to space out and check out. I can barely say a word to another human being, let alone hold a conversation. Distractions can work a little to get me through the day, but if I keep distracting myself without getting time alone, eventually I’m going to lose it, and either have an emotional breakdown or get really angry at my 3-yr old (who knows precisely which buttons to push in either of his parents).

Don’t feel guilty about getting time alone. Also don’t feel guilty about getting out of the house every once in a while to socialize with other people. That means date nights and girl nights. Maybe you’re like me, and you dread girls’ nights with a passion because you don’t relate to all that estrogen and emotion. Give it a chance. Studies show that it is important to a woman’s health to get time socializing with other women. If people start talking about their feelings, find another person to talk to, or change the subject to current events or pop culture. Or only go to events that include activities, like game nights or movie nights, so you aren’t obligated to talk at all. True story: Captain and I went on a date last month to dinner, and we brought a book of crossword puzzles to do. We ended up talking and laughing the whole time, but as introverts, it was nice to have the option to be together, but be quiet, and have something to do other than stare at each other while masticating.

Tip #3—Enforce quiet time (for your kids, but also for yourself).

Grace for the Introverted Mom (Just in time for the most stressful time of year for introverts—the holidays!)

If only my children would nap at the same time! I admit, right now, I’m in survival mode. When both kids are napping at the same time, I need to NOT DISTRACT myself (see #1), but do one single thing—one thing that is quiet and allows me to organize my thoughts. It could be writing a list, reading, or quietly doing some tedious or repetitive tasks that allow my brain to sort things out. My favorite mini-vacations when Champ was a baby were reading a magazine and painting my toenails. I got my magazines with deals I found on Tanga, but you can search for discounts any time at Discount Mags. A few years ago, I got 3 years of 6 magazines for less than $20 total. Not bad.

Other ideas: knitting, daydreaming, planning, having a caffeinated or weakly alcoholic libation.

No TV or internet during these times. See #1 and #4, below.

Tip #4—Spend time reading, offline.

Then you can focus and think and not be distracted by clickable rabbit trails. Reading is a way for introverts to fill up that need for socialization, because we are essentially having a conversation with the writer as we do it. All introverts should read. Extraverts, too, but especially introverts. That’s why I’m repeating myself by giving offline reading its own tip.

Offline reading is the best way to spend our time alone. Here’s why:

  • It gives us a chance to think and process…
  • …without the distraction of the internet…
  • …and it partially fulfills our need to socialize

Are you an introvert? How do you fill your “time alone” and “socialization” tanks? Do you have reading recommendations? Leave your opinions in the comments!

(I started writing this in August of 2013, at 2 am, when my husband was gone for 2 weeks in South Africa. Today I am finishing it. It is 3 pm in December, and Champ is still eating his lunch, two hours after his nap was supposed to begin. If you’re curious why I haven’t posted original content since this summer, with the exception of posts pertaining to Champ’s Birthday or our Geeky Halloween, allow me to direct you to  Mom Stress and Survival Parenting. Being a mom of two is a 24/7 job, and I’ll get back into blogging regularly when I can get housework back on track first. So expect posts to be few and far between until, say, ten years from now, when they will not be relevant to this generation. Welcome, class of 2020!)

Taking Good Photos of Active Kids

How to take good photos of active kids—photography tips for moms | Bewildered Mother

You may not know this about me, because I haven’t taken pictures in a very, very long time apart from my phone, but I’m a photographer.

That’s right, went to school for it (among other things), and I have even been paid for it before I became a mom.

I took LOTS of photos of Champ when he was a baby, and he was a great model, much like Lion is now. But somewhere along the line, he started to think it was really funny to AVOID the camera, and to run away from me if I ever had one in my hand. He only wanted selfies that he took of himself on my phone.

Well, I decided I needed some legitimate, non-instagram photos of this crazy child when he turned 3. So I got out my SLR, searched all over the house for my charger (found one) and extra battery and memory card (still looking), and I took him to the park, and I took a couple hundred photos. Now I know I’m not the only person who has active children, and I also know that people want to know how to take good photos of their kids, so I thought, as a mom, as a photographer, I’d give some tips specifically targeted towards moms (or dads) of those camera-shy children.

Tip #1—avoid harsh lighting

harsh lightSo, unfortunately, I took all of these photos around lunchtime on a sunny day, because it was the only time we could do it. The best times to take photos? Depending on the season and where you live, you’ll want to avoid times the sun is directly above, creating those kinds of shadows you’d make around the campfire with a flashlight at your chin. That’s means generally trying to take photos before 10 am and after 4 pm. Overcast days are the best for photos. The sky is gray, I know, but the light is diffused and super flattering.

If you take the pictures at noon on a sunny day, there is still hope. Avoid awkward shadows from trees (you know, the ones that make you look like a dalmatian), and avoid having your subjects look directly into the sun. You can face the sun if you want some lens flares, but your subject will be darker. Try taking pictures with the sun at your side.

Tip #2—learn how to crop

Chances are, you’ll be taking a ton of photos of your kid, because the more you take, the better the likelihood of getting good photos. So don’t worry too much about framing your photos as you take them. Even if you don’t have photo editing software, you can crop your photos before you print them. If you’re uploading to Facebook, use one of the programs preinstalled onto your computer. Sorry I can’t be more help. I have no idea what programs you have on your computer. Anyway, the idea behind cropping is two-fold: One, you want to eliminate distractions from your focus. Two, you want an aesthetic composition.

crop1

Here’s an image I cropped, with a before and an after. See those big magenta bars in the photo on the left? Distracting. So I cropped it out with the photo on the left, which roughly follows the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds means you divide your canvas into a 3×3 grid—a tic-tac-toe—and then align your horizon or subject along those lines. Asymmetrical compositions are usually more interesting, but with close-up portraits, you have more freedom. In the photo on the left, Champ’s body takes up the middle third, with his face in the top middle and his legs in the bottom middle. On the photo on the left, the original, Cham takes up the lower 2/3rds of the frame. I’ll point out more thirds later.

Now look at the photo on the left. Where does your eye go? (This is what people talk about when they speak about movement in a photograph or artwork). Your eye might start at the face, but did you notice it going down his arm and lingering at his hand? That’s annoying. I want people to look at his face, not his hand, no matter how cute it is. It’s not the focus of this photograph. So I re-cropped the photo.

crop2

See? Much better. Now go impress your friends by talking about a piece’s movement.

Tip #3—focus

If you’re chasing around a toddler or preschooler trying to take photos, don’t worry about trying to manually set your camera for each photo. Set your camera to Aperture Priority (it’s usually a letter A), and change your aperture to the lowest number f-stop. (Read your camera’s manual—it’s a little different on each camera) With my lens, the best f-stop I could get was about a 4. The lower the number, the more blurred out the background and foreground of the photo will be. This selective focus is called “depth of field,” and you can Google that if you want to learn more about it.

Aperture Priority is great, because it will automatically choose the other settings (like shutter speed) for you, so your photos aren’t over- or underdeveloped.

aperture

In this photo, the focus is on Champ, so everything in front of him (the construction vehicles, in the bottom third of the photo) and behind him (the trees) are blurred. If you’ve ever heard the term “bokeh,” that’s the confetti-like pattern the background turns into when you have a low aperture. You’ll see bokeh in some of the following shots. To read more about aperture, I suggest “Exposure Made Easy” by Doe a Deery.

Why blur out the background and foreground? Because unless you are taking a landscape photo, they are usually distracting. Knowing aperture is your first step to looking like a pro.

Tip #4—let them play

play

This will keep them busy. It’s more fun to play with toys than to have to sit still and POSE. I always prefer candids, anyway. And if you didn’t have problems with your kids posing for the camera, why are you still reading this post?

Tip #5—Let them touch

touch

Kids usually don’t need to be told to touch things, but sometimes, if you point something out to them, they will STOP MOVING to touch it. Snap away. If you’re at home, try handing your baby or toddler a piece of clear tape to hold. Then make weird noises to get them to look at you. For that tip and others regarding babies and little toddlers, see this post from Simply Real Moms.

Tip #6—Take close-ups when they’ll let you

closeup

The rest of the time, keep your distance and zoom in. Soon he or she will ignore your weirdness and keep playing. Close-ups are where it’s most important to have a low aperture. See how the sand has turned into a bokeh background? If you don’t have an SLR setting, you can try the “portrait” setting.

Tip #7—Know your surroundings

Even with your aperture set to blur out the background, sometimes there’s stuff back there that can’t be blurred enough. Sure, you can crop sometimes, but not always.

background

See how cute this photo is? I love it. But it would be so much cuter without that big ugly bathroom in the shot! When you’ve got ugly architecture, try to avoid it when you can. I took senior photos last weekend and kept maneuvering myself and my subject so that his head blocked out unsightly light fixtures. But in the case of the photo above, I had Lion on my lap and would have had to fling him on the ground to get this shot framed right. With active kids, you have to go for speed usually, like I did here, so you don’t have a chance to set yourself in the right spot. But when you do have a chance…

Tip #8—Choose your angles wisely

You can eliminate yucky background clutter by shooting down, so the ground becomes your background…

ground

…or shooting up, so the sky becomes your background.

sky

See that? Bokeh. This one is definitely frame-worthy. This cropping is also an example of forgoing the rule of thirds for the sake of balance, another five-dollar art word. While I could have cropped Champ another way, I pulled this one in tight as a square, and let half of the background be tree and half be sky. Symmetrical balance, on an axis. (Wikipedia has a briefer on more design principles, if you really want to sound like you know what you’re talking about and don’t have the cash to take a legitimate design class)

Tip #9—get down at their level

level

One of the best tips for taking photos of kids (and one of the most intuitive) is to get down at their level. I go even further sometimes, and instead of taking a kid’s eye view, I take a bug’s eye view, or in this case, a toy excavator’s point of view. See also the title photo of this post.

Tip #10—Shoot from the hip

Sometimes I like to play paparazza with camera-shy kids. That’s the female, singular form of “paparazzi”—I learn something new every day! I also like to take the skills I developed taking billions of self portraits as a teenager and apply them to taking pictures of kids. Probably half of these photos were taken by me, without my looking through the viewfinder. I use the full extension and mobility of my arms when taking photos of kids. This is definitely something that takes practice, like shooting from the hip. But the payoff is great.

dontaim

Take this for example. This is the only photo I have of him with his eyes open while blowing bubbles. I missed the bubbles, sure, but I actually really like how the framing of this turned out, so I didn’t even crop it. I would not have this shot if I was behind the camera.

You’ll have to keep your focus set to Auto, which invariably means you’ll get more shots with random parts in focus and the kid blurry, but if you have a new(ish) camera, it will probably find the faces and focus on them.

Tip #11—Remember the details

details

I know, I know, there are about a million photos of baby feet, or macro flowers, or whatever on the internet. Taking a close-up or macro photo of something doesn’t make you a standout photographer. But this isn’t about becoming famous, this is about remembering what it’s like to have little kids. So observe, soak it up, and take pictures of those little details, like how your baby covers himself with toys and curls his toes together.

Tip #12—Be intentional about Black and White

blackwhite

I once spoke to an amateur photographer about black and white and was mentioning that all photos don’t look good in black and white. She responded, “All MY photos look good in black and white.” I smiled and nodded, and later Facebook stalked her to find her monochromatic wonders and guess what—she was wrong.

Black and white brings out and highlights the texture of a photo. Any architecture in your photo will be emphasized, which is why taking that bubble photo with the bathroom behemoth would look horrible in a black and white.

Will your photograph look good in black and white? Like, actually good? Here’s a checklist.

  • Do I want to emphasize architecture or texture in the photo?
  • Is there adequate value in the photo? Black and whites look best when you can get a pure white, a pure black, and a range of greys in between.
  • If there isn’t great value to begin with, but I’m desperate for this to be in black and white, do I have adequate photo editing capabilities?

The best way to make a black and white before processing the photo is to make sure your lighting is flattering (see next tip). When you are editing the photo, use Levels or Curves to get black blacks and white whites. And the best tip? Use Black and White filters. This is a tip stolen from photographing with black and white film, which is really, really fun and challenging. When you add a colored filter when taking photos, you can get really interesting variations in value. Black and white filters are on Photoshop under the adjustment filters. If you’re using iPhoto or something else, you can recreate this by taking the saturation down all the way and then messing with the color balance until you get something you like. If you pick a blue filter, the sky will be white and any yellows will be black. Choose a red filter, and Caucasians will look like ghosts. Check out the bottom of this post for a comparison of different filters, using the most colorful photo taken that day.

Bonus Tip—Use windows when inside

This tip is more relevant if you are able to get your active child to sit down in one spot. If you can do that, or if you are taking photos of babies, have the child face a window to get catchlights in their eyes—those white reflections of light that make them appear to  be bright-eyed.

Try to use the windows to cast an angled light on the subject, so their face has a range in value, from lit to shadow.

Then you can make the photo black and white, eliminating nasty color combinations like red and green stripes!

window

Black and White Filters

Here’s a comparison of different black and white adjustment layers in Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can imitate the effects if you have Hue & Saturation plus Color Balance sliders.

Black and White adjustment layers via "How to Take Good Photos of Active Kids"

Both the default and max black settings worked pretty well in this photo, but I tweaked the sliders a bit to find a good medium between the two.