Being an introvert parent with a large family

When published five years ago, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking opened the floodgates of articles, blogs, and more books on the topics of introversion and extraversion. For me, this discussion has been eye-opening and life-changing. I understand things about myself I never did before. It turns out I am profoundly introverted, so much so that I’ve earned perfect scores on “How introverted are you tests?” and ranked 90% introverted or higher on personality type surveys.

I read a lot about my fellow introverts and our challenges and victories, and I’ve found one common theme in particular that bears mentioning. This is purely unscientific, but in my experience, I’ve found that when it comes to parenting, introverts tend to favor small families. I feel like the ideal number of children for many introverts is zero to two. And I’ve definitely gotten the impression that anything considered a “large” family is nerve-wracking or downright horrifying for a lot of introverts.

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Me and all six of my kiddos with a family friend.

So all that being said — hi, I’m the world’s most introverted introvert, and I am the father of six children. Being the highly introverted father of a large family carries with it lots of challenges, but even more rewards.

Noisy people everywhere, everywhen
The number one challenge: you’re always with a large group.

One of the primary differences between extroverts and introverts is the effect of social interaction upon us. It’s energizing to extroverts and draining to introverts. Some introverts unwind after a day of work in a chaotic, loud, open concept office by going home and spending a quiet evening with their partner and children, or with a small group of friends, or — the introvert cliche — alone. This downtime is necessary. It’s how we recharge, so we’re able to return to our busy, busy, busy job the next day. But for me, there is no such thing as retreating home to myself or to a small group. I live with seven other people. Some days, I’m with smaller groups during the work day than in the evening.

My situation is perhaps compounded by the fact that all six of my children are nine years old or younger, and they’re perfectly normal for those ages — which is to say, they demand a lot of attention. They need interactions with me, guidance from me, fun time with me, discipline from me. They each need this every day, and not just for a few minutes per day. And did I mention there are six of them?

The lack of solitude or even small group time can be overwhelming. The demands put on my attention can be overstimulating. And then there’s the noise. My three-year-old and one-year-old are loud. They can’t help it. They don’t understand “inside voice” and “outside voice.” When they are angered or wronged, their reaction is always an 11; they don’t know how to respond at a lower, more subdued level. And as for the older children, sometimes they fight and yell loudly, as kids do, but most of the time they get along and play together with so much excitement they… still yell loudly. They shout when they’re excited, they all talk at the same time, and their raucous belly-splitting laughter is the best sound in the world… but it’s still loud. Regular, normal familial contact — conversation, a family meal — can be tiring at best and overwhelming at worst due to volume level and the number of overlapping voices.

Most meaningful relationships
If my unscientific guess is right, and most introverts prefer zero-to-two children, I’ve just outlined a scenario that is highly unappealing to most introverts. If so, let me tell you, my fellow innies: you’re missing out.

Despite the challenges, I wouldn’t trade my situation for any other, and the primary reason why has to do with another defining trait of introverts: we crave meaningful relationships. We hate phoniness, we hate superficiality. Instead of idle chit-chat about the weather, we’d rather have a deep conversation about our innermost thoughts or dreams or those of others. By our choice, we may have far fewer friends than many others, but after we’ve decided on a friend, we go all-in.

Our spousal relationship is probably the deepest, most meaningful one we’ll ever have, but we all have at most just one spouse. (Well, except for polygamists, I guess.) Having a large family means having more of the most meaningful non-spousal relationships you’ll ever have: parental ones. Your relationship with your child is one in which the child is entirely dependent on you for physical care, affection, spiritual guidance, and education. Your children are young and innocent, and they want to hear and grok everything you have to say. It’s an introvert’s ideal relationship!

It is an honor and a privilege — and a great responsibility — that I get to provide an example to six little ones. Many introverts feel we’re misunderstood by society, possibly even marginalized. The thesis of Susan Cain’s Quiet is that the world has an extrovert ideal and doesn’t place enough value on introverts. As a parent, you get to change that… at least for your children. I try to show my children that a leader doesn’t have to be a tyrant and that words spoken softly can still have a loud impact. If we want the world to look at introversion and extraversion as two separate but equal ideals, we have to start teaching it somewhere.

How to focus outward when we want to focus inward?
There’s so much more I could say on this topic, and I will. This is the first in a planned series of articles about being an introverted parent. This series is not intended to lecture anyone, or to tell anyone how many children they should have. I hope that it speaks to introverted parents with any number of children. This also isn’t meant to brag about how great introverts are, or about how great I am. Quite the opposite, it’s part of my self-discovery journey, because — confession time — I often don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

My favorite dictionary defines introversion as “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” I know the definition of introversion can be a controversial topic, and the first time I read this, I thought, That’s a terrible definition! It makes me sound so self-centered and selfish.

But here’s a hard truth that no amount of self-deception can change. While I might not like to admit it, left unchecked, selfish and self-centered is precisely what I can become thanks to my introversion. And being selfish doesn’t jive very well with parenthood, a rather permanent state of life that demands near-constant sacrifice for the well-being of your children, especially in their first couple of decades. So how can I balance the sacrifices I must make (and want to make) for my family, while at the same time reminding myself that self-care isn’t selfish and is necessary to keep me in a state of being a responsible, loving, unselfish parent?

If you’re an introverted parent, I’d love for us to figure out the answer to that question together. What are your biggest challenges? What brings you the most joy? Leave a comment here, send me a message on Twitter, or use the Contact page to send me a direct message.

March 2017 Status Update

I did my taxes last month. This was the first year I got to report royalty income on a 1099-MISC form, thanks to sales of Yesterday’s Demons. That was a nice problem to have.

Let’s take a look at the current status of my Project Tracker:

projecttracker-2017-03

I’m 7% done with the second draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd, but honestly, that number is a little high. I bumped the bar to that percentage last month after I thought the first two chapters were done, but then I spent the rest of the month going back through chapters two and three, fixing up a few more things. I’m still not done with those two.

I mentioned in my 2016 Year-End Status Update that for a while during the drafting of the book’s first draft, I experienced some writer’s doubt. I wasn’t sure what I was writing was Not Crap. Specifically, that time was while I was writing the book’s first few chapters. I’ve finally zeroed in on what the problem was. It’s a writing problem I’ve never had to deal with before.

Tomorrow’s Shepherd is the sequel to Yesterday’s Demons, so characters and plot points from Yesterday’s Demons will inevitably be mentioned. But I also want the book to stand on its own for readers who — for some odd reason — haven’t yet read Yesterday’s Demons. And since I like that book so much, I want to tell these new readers all about it. Or more accurately, I want my characters and narration to talk all about it.

But I don’t have to go into the incredible level of detail I want to. And it’s bad if I do. The problem I finally realized was this: the early chapters of Tomorrow’s Shepherd were just telling too much about Yesterday’s Demons, and it was slowing down the pace of the story. And that’s an especially big problem because Tomorow’s Shepherd starts with a fun three-chapter action scene.

To sort through the mess, I wrote on my whiteboard “TS Chapters 2 and 3 — justify your existence.” Underneath that, I wrote down every reference to Yesterday’s Demons in those two chapters. And once I did that, I performed a brutal analysis. Every reference on that board was only allowed to stay in the story if (1) it was absolutely necessary and (2) it was communicated at exactly the right time — no earlier, no later. If it failed the first test, I said to it, “See ya.” If it passed the first test but failed the second, I found a new, more appropriate place for that particular item.

This might sound like a dull exercise, but this is actually my favorite part of writing. It’s like refactoring in software engineering — all the code you need is already there, you’re just making it better via improved syntax and more accurate placement. So that’s what I’ll be doing for a while on this new book. I can’t wait for you to read it, but only once I make sure all of its elements are in the proper order.

Girl Scout cookies for breakfast

Halloween is all about candy and Thanksgiving is all about pie, but Christmas is all about cookies. By the time January comes around, most people are all cookied out. On top of that, the New Year is when resolutions of healthier lifestyles are most common. January is probably the least cookie-friendly time of the year.

So it’s always particularly impressed me that the Girl Scouts choose January as their cookie season. It’s like they want to give themselves the biggest challenge possible. “Sure, ladies, we can sell a million boxes of these cookies. But can we do it right after Christmas? Can we sell them outside of Wal-Mart to folks going inside to buy new workout clothes?” They can, and they do!

imag0437And now Girl Scout cookie cereal is a thing!

Thin Mints
The moment I opened my box of Thin Mints cereal I noticed it smelled exactly like Thin Mint cookies. Blindfolded, I wouldn’t have been able to differentiate the cookies from the cereal.

Regarding taste, the cereal tastes basically the same as the cookies. The only difference is in texture. The cereal is a bit drier than the cookies, probably because of the lack of frosting. Eating it with milk helps with this. And the cereal has a puffier, more airy texture than the cookies. In other words: just as minty, but not as thin. And I am quite OK with this.

It’s a good thing the taste is so similar to the classic cookies because as a cereal, there isn’t much variety in your bowl. There’s no mix of cookie pieces and marshmallows, for example. It’s just Thin Mints, for better or for worse. I’m not sure what you could add to this to provide additional variety. I can’t imagine the mintiness of the cereal would make it work well with berries or bananas. But this cereal is good enough that I’m willing to have more to try out a few possibilities.

Caramel Crunch
I can’t give the same praise to Caramel Crunch. This cereal is supposedly inspired by Samoas cookies, at least based on the fact that a Samoa is right there on the box. But if it came in a generic yellow box with nothing but the word “CEREAL” pasted across the front of it, darned if I’d be able to link it to Girl Scout cookies in any way.

Caramel Crunch doesn’t look or smell like Samoas. It’s all caramel, with just a tiny hint of chocolate. Is caramel or chocolate the first thing you think of when you think Samoas? I wager you first think, “Coconut!” But there’s no coconut to be found here.

This was just bland. I found myself wishing I had some Cocoa Puffs to mix together with it. I ended up just adding some Thin Mints to my bowl, which made it better, but only because now it tasted like Thin Mints. The caramel flavor disappeared.

So General Mills is .500 on Girl Scout cookies cereals, which is still well above the Mendoza line. Don’t miss Thin Mints, but take the money you’d spend on Caramel Crunch and give it to the girl on the sidewalk in front of the grocery store for a box of Samoas.

#MyFavoriteCharacter: Optimus Prime

“What’s your favorite book?” “What’s your favorite movie?” “Who’s your favorite music artist?” These are tough questions, and I can never give a single answer to any of them. But how about this one: “Who is your most favorite character in any story medium — book, movie, folk story, whatever?” Although that sounds like it should be a far more difficult question, I can answer it definitively and without hesitation.

optimusprimeMy favorite character ever is Optimus Prime.

Transformers wasn’t my first fandom. That distinction goes to Bozo the Clown or even Mr. Fred Rogers. But when I saw Transformers for the first time, I was immediately enthralled. Eight-year-old me was very much into giant robots from outer space waging their war of good vs. evil on our world. (Spoiler: so is forty-year-old me.)

I adored Wheeljack, the Autobot scientist. I loved imitating the distinct voices of Jazz and Ironhide. Who doesn’t love scrappy little Bumblebee? And even the bad guys were cool, like Megatron, Soundwave, and Shockwave — especially Shockwave. But they were all overshadowed by the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime.

I’ve thought a lot about it, and there are three qualities about Prime that sharply define him. And what makes him so special to me isn’t any one of these qualities, it’s the whole that emerges when all three come together.

Determination
There’s a line in “The Touch” by Stan Bush, the theme song of the 1986 animated Transformers film, that epitomizes Prime: “And you never give in when your back’s to the wall.” Prime never, ever gives up. If at first he fails miserably, he gets right back up and tries again. The best example of this is in the final minutes of “More Than Meets the Eye,” the original three-part pilot story of the Transformers cartoon. The Decepticons are leaving Earth victorious. They’ve secured a shipload of Earth’s resources, and they’re heading back home to Cybertron. But is Prime ready to give up? No, he is not!

Strength
Lots of characters are determined and don’t give up easily. But Prime pairs that determination with strength, both physical and mental. Take a look at his specifications card from the box of his original action figure:

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Source: TF Archive

Strength: 10! Endurance: 10! Courage: 10! Skill: 10! Intelligence: 10!

To be fair, I think his skill and intelligence scores are a bit high. He’s extraordinarily skilled at what he does best — leadership, destroying Decepticons — but he’s not a medic like Ratchet or a scientist like Wheeljack or Perceptor. But his strength, endurance, and courage numbers are right on. Very few Transformers are stronger than Optimus Prime, and most of those that are — Devastator, Unicron — are stronger purely because physically they’re much larger.

Protector
If determination were enough, Batman or Luke Skywalker would be my favorite character. If strength were enough, it would be the Hulk or Voltron. But what truly makes Prime superior is his never-ending determination, backed by his ultimate strength, all at the service of protecting the weakest among us.

“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings” is Prime’s motto, and he lives it. As a child who wasn’t very physically tough, I looked at Prime as if he were the biggest, strongest kid in my class, but one who used his power to protect the weak, not to torment them.

Watch this scene from Transformers: Dark of the Moon in which Prime, in just one minute, single-handedly fights through 11 Decepticons — including Shockwave — to defend the people of Chicago. There is simply no better moment that summarizes how Prime’s determination, strength, and protection of the weak all come together to make him into my all-time favorite fictional character.


I can’t say I’m the world’s greatest Optimus Prime fan. That honor would probably have to go to the guy who had his name legally changed to “Optimus Prime.” But nevertheless, Autobot leader Optimus Prime gets my vote for the greatest character ever created.

What if you had to pick your all-time favorite character? Guess what — you do have to!* Write about it on your blog or on Facebook or Twitter or here in the comments or wherever. Hashtag it #MyFavoriteCharacter and let me know who you like best.

* Actually, you don’t have to. But it would be pretty great if you did.

February 2017 Status Update

carsland
Ka-chow!

I spent two weeks of last month in the best possible way: at Disneyland! My beautiful bride, our children, and I had a great trip to my favorite place in the world. It had been two years since we’d been there, and SoCal was calling to me. I love the drive across I-10 from Texas to California, through the beauty of New Mexico and Arizona, and right past the splendor of Joshua Tree National Park. While there, we stayed at our favorite vacation rental home, and besides Disneyland, we managed to get in a day at Huntington Beach. Overall, it was fantastic. I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere but Texas, but no matter how many times I go, California remains near the very top of my list of places I want to visit.

Oh, and this trip was the first time I’ve ever been able to experience that tiny slice of paradise called It’s a Small World Holiday. I have always loved It’s a Small World. I didn’t think it could get any better. But every December and early January, when the attraction is decorated for Christmas, and the dolls sing “Jingle Bells,” it does.

And then we got home, and I got back to work.

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I’ve begun work on the second draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd. I mentioned in my previous update how excited I am about that book and that excitement hasn’t ebbed.

You know what else I’m excited about? I recently hit a milestone with this blog. This is the 101st article I’ve published.Considering that at times I’ve struggled with what to do with this blog, that’s a big deal to me. I’m not a very social person, so it’s just not in my nature to step up to a microphone and start speaking to the world, which is basically what you do every time you publish a blog article. There’s also the simple facts that I’m a writer with a day job, and writing is a zero sum game — any time I spend writing blog articles is time I’m not spending writing my next book.

But one of my goals for 2017 is to get better at this. I’ve said it before, but it’s still very early in my career, so if you’re reading this shortly after it’s published, you’re one of My First Fans. And that means I want to stay in touch with you. I’m committed to checking in via this blog at least once a week, even if it is just to give the blog equivalent of a wave hello. Only after I do that will I allow myself to crawl back into my writing hole and get to work on my next story. Deal?

Deus vobiscum.

Three favorites: superheroes

Jerry Seinfeld once said, “But when men are growing up and are reading about Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, these aren’t fantasies. These are options.” This was definitely true of me. One of my earliest favorite TV shows was Batman (1966). I have a picture of myself at four or five years old proudly wearing a Spider-Man mask. And my grandmother had hundreds of books at her farm, but I usually only read one: a paperback containing reprints of several Batman comic book stories.

Choosing my three favorite superheroes out of all the great ones out there just might be a job for Superman, but watch me try. Up, up, and away!

theflash
Credit: DC Comics

The Flash
Growing up, I knew of The Flash, I enjoyed the 1990 TV series starring John Wesley Shipp, and I owned a handful of Flash comic books, but he was never one of my favorite superheroes. About ten years ago, that changed. Barry Allen has a single superpower — he’s really fast — but over the years, his writers have been enormously creative with the possible applications of that power. He can run up buildings or on water. He can vibrate so quickly the molecules of his body move faster than those that make up bricks and concrete, allowing him to walk through walls. And just like the starship Enterprise, he’s so fast he can travel backward and forward in time. The ultimate irony is Barry Allen is so scatterbrained, even his super-speed can’t prevent him from always being late. Brilliant!

It doesn’t hurt that The Flash has a rogues’ gallery second only to Batman’s, one loaded with colorful, fun villains like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and the Trickster. And sometime in the 1990s, a mystical element was added to the Flash mythos: the Speed Force.

I didn’t own my first Flash t-shirt until I was 35 or 36, so I’m as late to the party as Barry Allen is to everything. But arrived, I have — The Flash is my number one superhero.

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Credit: DC Comics

Batman
When The Flash became my favorite superhero, he dethroned Batman, but I still have a deep love for the Caped Crusader. As a little boy, I wanted to be Batman. My local comic book store sold the novelization of the 1989 Batman movie about two weeks before the film arrived in theaters, and I read that sucker faster than any novel I’ve read before or since.

I don’t need to justify Batman’s inclusion in this list. If he’s not the most popular superhero in the world, he’s in the top three. For me, his appeal comes down to his intelligence and his preparedness. Batman isn’t the strongest superhero, but he’s definitely one of the smartest, and he is constantly prepared for anything. There’s always something in his utility belt to help him out of a jam — or even better, he can always come up with a plan to outwit or outsmart his adversaries.

So many of his stories rank among the classics of sequential art: The Dark Knight ReturnsYear OneThe Killing JokeThe Long HalloweenHush. Television has given us Batman: The Animated Series and film has given us Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films. We can’t get enough Batman. To the Batcave!

greatandpowerfulturtle
Credit: Wild Cards Wikia

The Great and Powerful Turtle
George R. R. Martin is best known for A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, but I know him best as the editor of the shared-world anthology book series Wild Cards. In Wild Cards, an alien virus was released on Earth in the 1930s. Those whom the virus left physically deformed are called Jokers. But some of the virus’s victims drew an Ace and received super powers.

Lots of great writers have contributed to Wild Cards throughout the years, and the series contains some great characters, but my favorite of them is one created by Martin himself. Thomas Tudbury is a gentle, quiet, comic book-loving man who is also the world’s most powerful telekinetic. However, he’s so timid and so scared, his powers become nearly useless unless he feels completely secure. He makes a “shell” out of an old VW beetle and flies around New York City inside it, fighting crime. When asked who he is, Tom turns on the shell’s external speakers and says, “I am the Turtle.” Then, thinking better, he cranks the speakers to maximum and declares, “I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL TURTLE!”

Though it has been many years since I’ve kept up-to-date with the Wild Cards series, I’ve never forgotten The Great and Powerful Turtle. He is such a cleverly designed and fun character. Don’t kill him off, George!


Observant readers will note I didn’t include any Marvel Comics heroes in this list. I have nothing but love for Marvel’s heroes, especially the X-Men. I’ve just always loved the DC heroes a bit more. Put me in Team Justice League.

So those are my three favorite superheroes. Who are yours? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Yesterday’s Demons Giveaway

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small) Want to win a free paperback copy of Yesterday’s Demons? I’m giving away five copies via a Goodreads.com giveaway.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Yesterday's Demons by Michael Ripplinger

Yesterday’s Demons

by Michael Ripplinger

Giveaway ends February 15, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

It is proving to be a more popular giveaway than I’d expected. If you already own the book, but you know someone who’d be interested in receiving a free copy, please let them know about the giveaway and ask them to enter. I can’t wait to send out these free books.

The giveaway ends on February 15.