Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fix It With a Nap

She walked off the bus first. She is the baby, employee C, and a big girl in kindergarten. It is always this way; her two sisters(employees A and B) holding up the rear, picking up the lunch bag she forgot in the seat. Her head is hung low. I think there may be a smile underneath that grin; she is too far away to tell. I am waiting on the front steps, like I do everyday. This is my big moment. It will set the tone for the rest of the evening. Sometimes, I wish I had more wiggle room with their emotions. I get one chance, to navigate their mood, adjust my mood, and try to proceed forward. But the reality is, those first few minutes off the bus, when they adjust to the home, is the climax of their day. Everything else is the falling action. It is at this turning point, I cross my fingers, hoping all three employees will be smiling. I always smile when I see employee C. The oversized, big white sweater, colorful tube socks,and her basketball shorts peaking out from underneath her Catholic, school girl jumper. She is marching to her own drum beat. Regrettably, my smile does not last long. I know where this is headed.

It all starts with the proverbial whine. She looks up at me, and says, "Mummy, the big boys at school said something mean to me!", as she wipes her nose, rubs her eyes, and throws the back pack on the ground. There has not even been a hello. I try to display a big, happy smile, say hello, and tell her how adorable she is, but I am waylaid by A and B, who also have 10 different things, they need to tell me, that they need to do for the next day. "Wait, this is not at all how I planned it". I stand there, with a deer in the head lights kind of face, and turn around to chase after C, who has run in the door. I see her as she throws herself on the sofa, and says, "This is my worst day, ever!".

I look at her for a few seconds, trying to gather the right approach for this moment. Do I coddle her? Do I just listen? Do I act silly and try to get her to forget about it? How do I keep the other girls busy for a minute, or two, so I can give her my undivided attention? All these thoughts, and more, in those two seconds. I opt for sending A downstairs to play piano, send B into the kitchen to make a snack. "Okay, now I should have at least 90 seconds of no Mummying", I say to myself.

I walk with hesitancy into the living room, not exactly sure of the approach that I am about to take. For me, this is the most difficult parenting skill: the little things. I think to myself that it is never the big stuff that I have trouble navigating, it is the mundane decisions that perplex me. There are too many choices, and too many philosophies. Every parenting book has a their own version. This is what I do. I approach her, I pick her up and put her on my lap. I listen as she tells me about the 8th grader, who said she looked liked she was dead, while she and her friends were in the lunch line. She explains to me, how her little friend Kira, confronted the boy by saying, "you look like a big, fat, meatball". This was a six year old being mean. Sounds like a good friend to me. I try not to laugh, but I am confused about why the death comment has upset her. She looks cute and perky to me. She tells me this, "My tongue was not hanging out, and my eyes were open". Big crocodile tears stream down her face. I attempt some words of wisdom; at this point, no words will comfort her.

My next thought: I offer her ice cream. This is a common Italian parenting strategy. Anything and everything can be solved vis a vie the stomach. It is worth a try, right? She gobbles down the bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, while being polite enough to offer me a few cookie dough clumps. God, I love that she understands the concept of sharing the clumps. Things, appear to be headed in a better direction, so I send her upstairs to change. Unfortunately, the next time I see her, she is crying even harder, and to the point of uncontrolled weeping.

BING! BING! BING! BING! Finally, I get it. She is so tired, she is going to collapse. Not that this discovery will please her. Believe me, a six year old who needs a nap is worse than the two year old. They have better manipulation skills. And, they have had four extra years of figuring out your quirks. I lay her down on the bed, get her "e e"(blanket), cover her up, and place my arms around her. She loves to hear me sing, so I do my version of "Mommy's Gonna Buy You A Diamond Ring", while I run my fingers through her long, silky curls. Inevitably, in 5 minutes, she is fast asleep. Her eyelashes look so long, her lips are sucking on the air, and her warm breath brushes by my cheek.

In 15 minutes, I went from smiling, concerned, stressed, to smiling again. Kids will do that to you. In the end, it is the ability to be resilient that saved me, going with the organic flow (I learned this from my blogging friends). No words of wisdom were required, and thank God, because I had none to offer. Before the troops arrived home, I had planned a fun filled evening of riding bikes, swinging on the swings at the playground, and a walk to eat dinner in our neighborhood. It was a perfect plan. Hard to imagine it would be a flop. Why would anyone refuse it? Alas, there is a brilliant saying, "if it can go wrong, it will". That was the theme of my afternoon.

Life comes at us fast, with curve balls and strikes. The only way to cope with it: a good sleep. A pleasure, that I need as I write this. I want the same luxury. When the world is crashing in on me, and I start to cry; I don't need a drink, I don't need a friend to talk to, I don't need a bowl of ice cream, or a cigarette. What I need is: someone to put me to bed, tuck in the covers, and sing me to sleep. Parenting reminds me, that life does not have to be complicated. After all, it was Dr. Seuss that said, “Sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple”.

Do you complicate your life when the answer is simple?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mystery and Morality

It used to be that mystery and intrigue were something to be regarded as fashionable. The discussion of emotions, and feelings were something that made people uncomfortable, and were thought of as a weakness. Everyone had the same struggles, and talking about it, was viewed as complaining. No one liked a constant complainer. Have we improved as a society, by exposing our lives as an open book for anyone to read or watch? Does the old adage of "suck it up" have any validity?

As people and times have changed, so has the concept of mystery. Everything is reality. No longer do people want to remain a part of the safe interior, they want to be the stand out; they want their 15 minutes of fame. They will let go of intrigue, they will let go of mystery, and expose it for the thrill of attention. Intellect has died and the imbecilic attitude is the prevailing breeze. No longer do people enjoy reading and quiet contemplation, they want instant gratification and acceptance. Certainly, the winds will change, the winds always do; but what should we make of this new found "look at me" attitude? Is there any redemption to be found in facebooking and twittering our inner most desires, and private observances? Are we any happier after exposing ourselves?

I would argue that we have fallen into a deep pit, and people's voracious appetite for attention and exposure will lead to numbness. If there is acceptance of every desire and emotion, morality could be lost. Does mystery and intrigue compliment morality, or is blatant honesty and unfiltered rhetoric the new morality? At some point, will we, as a society, realize we have gone too far in our discussion of philosophy, and desire to return to simplicity and modesty?

I have been pondering this topic, as I explore the world of blogging. There was a recent article, in the local paper, about whether or not parenting blogs have made it easier for parents, or more stressful. The article supported the networking of people with common circumstances, as a social support group. But, I have had the distinct feeling, that it is the quiet, and underlying need for acceptance, that drives many people to expose their thoughts, and lives. Of course, acceptance is something people strive for, but the constant and immediate need for acceptance can become an obsession. An unhealthy obsession that could lead to regret.

The thoughts of the moment, are sometimes better left unsaid. If people change and evolve in their thoughts, then the permanent record of our past statements will always remind us of who we once were. What if that person has changed, will the accumulation of tweets and facebooking make this evolution impossible? I think so. I think it will make us wonder, "what we were thinking", and wish we could erase some of our remarks. It will be impossible to erase; it will be a permanent record for all to read and see. When I watch reality TV, I think: "thank god my adolescence was not documented", that person will regret this exposure someday. When I read a parenting blog, and the writer expresses a negative feeling for their child, or questioning their parenting skills, I think: "I hope their kids don't read that later on, they will think their parents hated them".

I wonder if the veterans of the World Wars and Vietnam and Korea would have been better off by having a sounding board for their experiences. I suppose this will be a topic of great discussion for the present day soldiers. What will the outcome of their open discussion have on their psyche in the the future? At some point, I have to believe, there is validity to "sucking it up", and keeping our emotions off the record. Leave the past, in the past, and live in the moment of now. Quiet reflection is a powerful healer. It is a difficult practice, to quietly reflect upon our lives; but, it does have the benefit of remaining private. In that privacy, there is no requirement for acceptance of others, but simply an acceptance of ourselves.

What is your opinion: should some things remain a mystery?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The C Word

Who is she to you? Is she your: mother, sister, cousin, friend, niece, grandmother, sister in law? I am referring to the women who have breast cancer, or have survived it. Cancer: the one word no one wants to hear. How would you react if you were told you have cancer? Would you fall to pieces? Could you pick up the pieces and build something new? It takes courage to be a survivor, and I know a survivor who is just that: courageous.

I want to tell you about my best friend, Vicki. We have known each other since high school. We sat in the same homeroom for 3 years; both having last names that start with B. Oddly enough, we did not seem to have much in common in high school. Well, maybe a certain boy crossed both our paths, but that was about it. We both agree, that he was only a good kisser and not much else. But, I digress. My point is, I went all through high school, sitting right beside one of the most inspirational people I would ever know, and I was clueless.

After I graduated college, I moved back home and ran into Vicki at a night club. I had not seen, or thought of her since high school, but now, I could not stop talking with her. We had so much to catching up to do. I had found my soul sister. Ever since that day, not a moment has passed that she has not been a part of my world; we have lived parallel lives.

We both got married in the same year; she was my matron of honor. We each have three girls, and they are the all the same ages. As a matter of fact, she is the one who told me I was pregnant for the first time. Every year, after she moved away to Nashville, I would make a trip to go and see Vicki, and every trip had some sort of adventure planned into it. This particular trip, we went to the Smoky Mountains. Somehow, while at a Wendy's drive through, she made me cry. It had something to do with there being no ketchup, and her saying something rude about my dog. I took it very personally. She looked at me, and said, "Jesus, you are so pregnant, crying over that ugly dog!". She is the one who bought the pregnancy test to prove it. It was from her house in Nashville, that I called my husband to tell him I was pregnant, with our first child. Of course, Vicki was pregnant too.

We talked endlessly about each pregnancy, comparing all our symptoms, and all of our physical changes. Our children were all due within a few weeks of each other, so we certainly have had more than enough in common, to keep our friendship alive. Fifteen years have passed, since that day we were reacquainted in that night club. Never in my life, have I been so surprised by a friendship. Based on what I knew in high school, I would have never thought she was the one who would place such a deep imprint on my soul. I could have never guessed what a valuable friend she would be.

Vicki found a lump in her breast in August of 2009. She waited two months before she told me. It was not something that was supposed to happen. It took everyone by surprise. She has three young girls and a coffee shop she just opened. Her life was not ready to hear those words: you have cancer. I remember the day I found out. I texted her, "What's up?", and she texted back, "Just got a port placed, waking up from anesthesia, feeling groggy, will call u later". What the @#$!#@? So, I texted back, "Do you have cancer?" and she texted back, "Yes, breast." And that is how I found out my best friend was in for the fight of her life. We talked the next day, and I could not believe how strong she sounded. It was stage 3 or 4, she was not sure exactly because it is triple-negative breast cancer. What the hell is that? I was burdened with a new word to google. I called a friend who is a doctor, to ask him about this type of cancer. He said, "I have no idea what that means". Great! I googled it, and I started to cry.

Vicki has finished her long and painful treatment with chemotherapy and has just started her several weeks of radiation. Last week, I went to see her, and we went on one our adventures together; this one was our celebration of chemo being complete. It had been ten years since we went to the Smoky Mountains, so that is where we picked to celebrate. She picked me up from the Nashville airport, I walked out of the terminal, and saw a woman, with a buzz cut and no eyebrows, looking as beautiful as ever, waiting for me. Only Vicki could make cancer look so good. Her skin was glowing and she was happy. Why did it take cancer for me to make this trip?

We arrived at her girl's school to pick them up for the day. I wanted a tour of the school and a chance to meet the teachers. When we walked in the door, everyone knew who I was. The whole school was full of smiles and praises about my friend. She is their inspiration. I realized, in that moment, that her courage is contagious, and her smile can light up a room. Oddly enough, her cancer, although wanting to wear her down, has instead, strengthened her and those around her. Everyone wants to do what they can for her, and her girls. They want that contagious smile to continue. They want to be a part of her courageous battle. I wish it was not cancer that made me see how a town could fall in love with my friend, but it did. It was not only the people in her community, but everywhere we went, people would comment on her beautiful spirit.

The next day, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains; think Dollywood and rednecks. It is a breathtaking mountain, along side neon signs, and roadside motels. It is quite the spectacle. We rented a chalet on the mountain; no cheap motel for us. The chalet was called: Chalet L'Amour. This translates to: the love shack. Seriously, this is the chalet my friend finds, complete with a red leather sofa, canopy bed and hot tub. Apparently, this is a hot spot for the quick hitch wedding. The whole thing was hysterical, and we did not even care. We were two friends out to have some fun. We spent the next four days talking and laughing. At every restaurant, at the park rides, at the spa and in the stores; I would be pulled aside, so someone could tell me, or us, how inspirational just seeing her was. I started to cry once, and she said, "now, don't you start that!". Needless to say, I stopped. There is no time for tears, just live in the moment and smile. It is so simple and so easy.

It was a perfect trip; too many drinks, too many crazy rednecks, and a sling shot bungee ride. It felt like a remake of Thelma and Louis, minus the murder scene. Before I knew it, we were on our way to the airport. I wished I had more time. Sometimes, I need to remind myself to take more time out for my friends. They are irreplaceable, and deserving of an adventure every now and again. It takes courage to put up a good fight with a smile on your face. I am certain there will be moments of tears, but it fills me with joy to see how my friend has handled her challenge.

Take time to be with the people who inspire you: that is what I have learned. Life is too unpredictable, and will always be busy, and full of chores. So this year, on Mother's day, my family and I are going to do the 5k Race for the Cure. I want to dedicate this walk to my friend, Vicki. You are my inspiration.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happiness From Nothing

Somewhere along the way, we became a society that identifies itself by what we do. It usually is the first question someone will ask you in a social setting: "So, what do you do?". There are: calendars, crackberries, reminders, post-its, to do lists, charts and graphs; all trying to tell us what we have to get done today. It is enough to drive us all crazy, yet we persevere and continue to work, work, work; trying to fit in as much as possible in a day. Hence, it is with great effort that I try not to do anything. I try to enjoy the sunrise, because it is beautiful; not because I work early and happen upon it. I try to take time making dinner, because I love to cook; not because I have to get it done. Granted, it is impossible to do everything with a laissez faire attitude, but I think it is worth a shot. Interestingly, it is the one thing that I actually, really try to "do". It creates a template for imagination and creativity, that would otherwise go undeveloped. Like Nancy Reagan taught us in the 80's, I "just say no"; except it is not drugs that I refer to, but the constant push to do more and more.

Watching my children recently, I noticed how their desire to be busy all the time is not a good thing. They are constantly looking for that instant gratification of happiness. It is so difficult for them to just sit still. They have conceived that it is my responsibility to find them something to do. They are correct in their assumption, if they base it on what they observe in every other household. This pestering is not something something new, but our response to it as parents has changed drastically. Our generation has decided; we do not want our kids to have one idle moment. We fill their days with activities, as a mark of our good parenting. Kids never have to be creative, and invent something to do, or even just sit still.

Their generation is completely identified by what they do. It is ridiculous that, when parents meet other parents, they ask, "what does your kid do?" When I was growing up, kids were just kids. We did not "do" anything, we simply had fun. Kids today are projects. They are no longer something that just happened. We make conscious decisions on when and where to have them: we want it all to be perfect. So in this desire for the perfect family, we have lost our ability to say no. We want every moment organized, and charted out in a manner which is most productive.

I have not exactly been parenting forever, but I have learned quite a bit in the past 10 1/2 years. Being that I do not allow television watching, I may be a bit more inundated with the "nothing to do" question, but I sincerely doubt it. So, here is my strategy for boredom: when my kids say they are bored, I give them a list a chores to complete: i. e. wash the base boards, empty the hamper, take out the trash, run the sweeper. The next time they are bored, they reconsider asking me for an answer. They are creative, and find something on their own to do, or not. Since the inception and application of this strategy, I have seen profound successes, happier children, and a much cleaner house.

I know for a fact how difficult it is to unwind, and be happy with the stillness. I have tried to find the happiness in being busy. But, I have not found any proof that this option is more successful, or more fun, or more full filling. This happiness is just cluttered with detail, to the point of being distracted from reality. Even though, it is not easy, I recognize that I have my best thoughts, read the best books, and do my best work, in those moments of having nothing to do. I have decided that my children need to nurture their boredom, in order to find that inner happiness they are seeking. Buddha says, “Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine”. With all my ability, with all my energies, I am going to continue to let some of my day simply occur, and to stop trying to control everything.

Do you feel like your whole day is scheduled? Do you have time for the unexpected? Are your children overscheduled? Is it hard for you to say no?