Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Teaching Fishing

My husband and I have always worried about spoiling our children. We love them profoundly and we want to give them everything we can. We are pretty capable people, so we can give them a lot. It creates dilemmas.

For example, I know my strengths grew from my most difficult times. I most certainly do not want my children to experience those difficult times--ever. And if life does send them trials, I will be there for them, one hundred percent. Yet I do want my children to be strong. So how do we begin that? How do we prepare them for what comes, whether it's challenging or not? not spoiling them?

So, when the kids were little, I offered my husband this measure: as long as the kids appreciate what they have, they're not spoiled. I am still not sure if that worked completely for him, but it gave me a guideline. If they work hard (mostly) at their activities, then they appreciate them. If they take care of their belongings (mostly), they appreciate them. If they treat the people in their lives well (mostly), then they appreciate them.

I'm not going to go into details here--it's not relevant-- but over the first half of the summer I noticed a disturbing and growing lack of Appreciation* in our house. And I don't mean that in the sense that I didn't feel appreciated. I mean that my dearly loved children were losing their Appreciation for the blessings in their lives, the Appreciation that brings true happiness. It showed in countless little ways, adding up to a pervasive message of "I don't care."

Maybe it is just a stage. Maybe every kid goes through it. I don't know.

One morning last week, as I tried to talk to them about what we would do that day--and I had in mind a pleasant mix of our normal Chore Day and some fun treats--I realized I was exerting all my willpower to get them to let me give them a good day.

Life will not do that for them.

By striving to do so much for my children, I was failing them. If I kept that up, they would learn to expect, to lean on, and to live within a false reality. School will not struggle against apathy to give them good grades. Jobs will not fix up the results of consistent laziness to pay them. Happiness will not knock their doors down and invite itself to stay. As an adult, I know that. As a parent, I need to teach my children that.

Yes, we make those efforts for babies and toddlers. We do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Amen! I believe in unconditional love and nurture for all children. Yet the expression of that unconditional love has to change as the children show themselves capable of more.

My children's amazing (really--they're impressive!) ability to resist my efforts to give them good stuff was a wakeup call. I thought, If they can do this, what else can they do? I mentally created a checklist of a lot of things that they can do—things that, unfortunately, I had been doing for them. I'm ashamed to admit it, but you know why...because it's easier/faster/less stressful to do it myself.

I had to do the hardest thing any parent does--let them see the natural consequences of their choices. So that day, I didn't force them to do anything. I didn't cajole, order, request, persuade, or remind. I let them do as they chose.

They managed okay until dinner time. When I didn't spend hours tracking their screen time, calling them to help with the meal, asking them to sit down at the table, they noticed. After the surprise, they came to the table--literally and figuratively.

We talked about how while we, as their parents, love them and support them, it's time they started investing in their lives and Appreciating their blessings. We talked about examples. We went to bed on a good note.

It was by no means the end of this lesson. We will be working on this one for a while! I will be constantly striving to remember that my goals is to teach these humans I've been blessed to know--that I want them to learn how to fish for all the good stuff in life, even though it's easier to just hand it to them.

In all, the day I decided to stop giving them fish may be one of the hardest days I've had. I felt like I took a huge risk--though what I risked, I'm not sure. It exhausted me emotionally. I would have loved to find a better way. Maybe, for us, that was the way. Who knows?

I do know that I believe true Appreciation is the foundation for contentment, resilience, and happiness. I know I could never have made it through that day if I didn't love them with every molecule of my being. I wish I knew instantly if it worked, but I don't. Even when you invest fully in your goals, results don’t come that easily.

That's life!

*Appreciation with a capital "A" refers not only to the traditional definition, but also to the ideas Dan Baker discusses in his book, What Happy People Know.


Here's a little scrap of verse I came up with while weeding--in January 2007. With S. at a little over two years old, getting the image down on paper felt like a triumph. My work from that period lacks polish, but that's what it is!

A sticky-fingered mosaicist, I
stealing moments
pasting affinite fragments
into a whole

taking tag-ends of time
to jot, to journal
to think
Ah, to think….

I clutch each slick, slippery subject
slicing my fingertips
on sharp points
but holding on, holding

Until, at last, release!
Pen meets paper
Memory relieved
My notion is noted
My inner artist sated
Poetry set in paper stone

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Acts of Service

I planned to say that this blog marks the first in a series about how I don't know what I'm doing as a parent and I'm making it all up as I go along. But my whole blog kind of falls into that series, so... 

Just don't take it too seriously--I'm guessing here! 

Someone recently reminded me of Gary Chapman’s “love languages” and that got me thinking.
In case you missed the love language fad in the mid1990s, Chapman uses the term to describe the various ways people express love to each other. We all have languages that mean more to us—ones that we tend to use more often to show love and believe more easily when a loved one uses them to show affection for us. They are:

quality time
words of affirmation
acts of service
physical touch

I can tell you without hesitation that my primary love language is acts of service, with words of affirmation coming in second. But I have hang-ups—because after forty plus years on this earth, I just do—and so I’m not good at compliments. “That was a nice dinner” makes me uncomfortable. “Thanks for making dinner” makes me glow. Weird, aren’t I?

But, on the day I happened to think of love languages for the first time in decades, one question kept popping up in my mind: Is “acts of service” as a love language an advantage or disadvantage when you’re a parent?

It’s pretty easy to see how it would help. Primary caretakers perform many, many acts of service. It’s nice to be able to see them as expressions of love instead of sheer drudgery. It’s also a bit of a fairy tale—I don’t manage it all day, every day. But I definitely think it gives me an edge.

It also probably explains why I’d rather fold laundry or pack lunches than do my three MDC’s (Most Dreaded Chores): clean the oven, scrub the shower floor, do yard work. It’s really hard to turn those into an “I love you.”

Anyway, while performing my parental task of driving kids to activities (I love you, honey!) and then waiting to take them home, I overheard two parents deploring a video game (rhymes with Spineshaft) and how it’s too dark, it’s too awful, and it’s ruining kids today. I did the internal sigh/chuckle you do when you disagree, but secretly wonder if you’re ruining your kids by letting them play it.

Then, as we all left the building after the activity, I held the door for my kids. Now, I’ll hold the door for anybody. It’s an awesome act of service that makes me feel good to give and receive. It’s a moment to say, “Here you go” or “Oh, thanks for that” and smile. A moment to see someone as a person.

On this particular day, it was pouring rain, Florida-style. In buckets. I held the door for my kids while getting soaked and preparing to dash to my car. Guess what? Both the video-game-hating parents and their kids wandered through the door, too—without hurrying, without saying anything, without attempting to take it from me, without even looking at me.

You know me, so you can guess what I did. I didn’t let the door slam in their kids’ faces. But I did sigh/chuckle again.

I don’t think the problem is Spineshaft, people. Maybe, in the end, good, old-fashioned acts of service will do more for my children than a video game can take away. I hope!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dog Days of Summer

No, not what you think. THIS blog is the way the dog days of summer are looking in Florida this year…from Bruno’s point of view. I think.

Something hits the den hard. Attack! The top of the den is collapsing! Then water slides down the see-through places. It’s just more rain. Up, humans! Okay, so maybe this wasn’t an attack, but don’t you hear anything?

Human Mom sits up in her bed really fast. Good! She should have walked me an hour ago, even though it’s still pretty dark. I gotta go!

H.M. (Human Mom) says, “You gotta go, puppy?”

Duh. I just said that. I mean, why else am I contorting my body so that every possible bit is pressed up against the door of your special den? By the way, when can I finally sleep in the special den?

H.M. says, “It’s coming down too hard. I’m gonna shower first, puppy. Hang in there.”

Wait, what?!?!?! You do know that I can’t actually cross my legs, right? And you’re going to go into the inside rain? Why, for the love of kibble? There’s rain OUTSIDE.

I have to admit, the rain changes while she’s getting wet inside—it’s more like the boy pouring the water can on me than the time I accidentally walked in front of the hose.

“Hang in there, puppy. You’re doing great. Let me get ready.”

I know how this goes…she puts on the slick fur that makes water drip off. I put on my leash. She puts on her foot covers. We get the sacred receptacle for my offerings—she always calls them “poop bags” for some reason. This time we get the giant stick that turns into a mushroom. It keeps her head out of the rain, but I don’t see why, since her hair is still wet. And the water always slides off the mushroom thingy onto me.

“Okay. All ready? Good job! Here we go!” She finally opens the door.

Yeah, here we go all right—just watch me go! So I post a comment on the neighbors’ grass. That’s the only good thing about the rain. Normally I’m not allowed to pee there. I mean, what’s the point in peeing on your own grass?

“C’mon. Let’s get back inside!” H.M. doesn’t look happy.

I don’t know what’s bugging her—I’m the one getting all the extra water from the mushroom thingy all over my back!

Finally, we‘re safe, nice and cozy between the car and garage wall. Time to shake!

“Oh, Bruno! Do you HAVE to? There’s a towel ten steps away!”

Oops. Yeah, she hates it when I shake next to her, especially after she goes into the inside rain—the shower thing. I don’t know why she doesn’t just shake off, too. It works for me!

But the towel…Oh yeah, man. Why do I always forget the towel? That thing is awesome. Just not—hey! not my feet. Off the feet. Not that one either. All four? Are you insane, woman?

And then she makes me breakfast, which is cool—she’s good like that—but if she thinks I’m going to eat while all that water’s attacking, she’s got another think coming. Nobody appreciates how hard I work to guard this den.

Well, that was a short, stupid walk, but there’s probably no good pee-mail today anyway.

I hope H.M. knows we’re going to have to take a solid walk soon. And by solid, I mean…well, she’s gonna need those sacred receptacles.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Only Goal

I love Brene Brown and I especially love her TED Talk onVulnerability. I’ve watched it several times and always hear something new.

But the other day I was lurking on a couple of Facebook threads about how we value ourselves and what makes a good parent. I realized something—I’m not comfortable saying, as Dr. Brown recommends, “I am enough.”

It took me a lot of driving and showering and washing dishes (my thinking times) to figure out why. Luckily, I was spending two hours a day in the car getting S. to and from circus camp that week, so I had some GOOD thinking time. Here’s what I came up with.

If anyone, even me, says, “I am enough”—if I give them (or me) the authority, the power, the position, the measuring stick, to say that I am enough—then I also give them (or me) the power to say, “I am not enough.”

I’m a recovering perfectionist, as I’ve mentioned, and I’m really pursuing being vulnerable in my relationships these days. My kids know it all, so I’m constantly practicing humility with them. Here’s an example.

Me (cheerfully): “It’s 8:15. Time to get in the car!”
Kid (appalled): “Mo-om! It’s 8:14!!!”
Me (learning humility): “You’re right. I’m wrong. Let’s get in the car.”

Notice I just put “kid” and not an initial—they both do this. Constantly. And, yes, I’m slowly and gently teaching them that’s not really the way we adults approach polite interaction. I’m also practicing saying that I did, in fact, have the time wrong by one minute. Baby steps!

I’m working on deeper things, too, like saying no to commitments that will be too much for me. That hurts for someone who has always valued herself based on a full resume and calendar. And I’m also working on feeling my emotions in the moment and expressing them to my husband, whether they’re fully formed, well-articulated, justifiable, or not. That one’s SCARY. It’s amazing how long I’ve lived without being able to do that.

Anyway, so as a recovering perfectionist, I can give you LOTS of ways that I am NOT ENOUGH. For example, I’m still flippin’ recovering—not recovered. Right? How is that enough?

So here’s what I’d rather say: I am.

Right or wrong, enough or not—these are future driven ideas. We’ll only find out if we are right or enough when…well, in the future. Not now. Right now, all I know is that I am.

Okay, so if you’re as argumentative as I am—or as my kids are; I wonder where they get it?—you might say, “Hey! So if all I know is that I am, how do I make decisions? How do I decide?” Good question, oh Argumentative One! (And I mean that in the most loving way possible.)

Oprah does this “things I know for sure” part of her magazine. (I may have read it once.) I’ve always wondered what I know for sure. And every single time, I come up with only one thing: Love or fear. Every single human decision in this world boils down to acting out of love or acting out of fear. I’ve yet to find an exception.

And I find that when I am and when I choose fear, I do some crazy stuff—stuff that does NOT tend to work out in the long run. When I am and I choose love…wow. Even if everything goes to heck, I’m still happy with my choice. How does THAT happen? I don’t know. But the trick is choosing love in the moment, without thinking of the future. And no, I don't mean tell your kid to have that third brownie because you're in the moment and don't need to think about stomachaches. No. Love, in that moment, is the difficult answer. Enough brownies.

So I’d like to say that I am. And I’m choosing love whenever I can manage it. And I have to recognize that Jonathan Larson figured it all out, all the wisdom of our modern era, and put it into one song. Be. Choose love over fear.

There's only us
There's only this
Forget regret or
Life is yours to miss
No other road, no other way
No day but today

I can't control                                      Will I lose my dignity
My destiny                                          Will someone care
I trust my soul                                     Will I wake tomorrow
My only goal                                       From this nightmare?

Is just to be

So there you go. Be. Love. Listen to Rent.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Stages of Shakeology®

It’s sweeping the nation, but you still haven’t tried it. Why not? In all likelihood, you have simply gotten stuck in one of the early Stages of Shakeology®. Don’t worry—once you become aware of all the stages, you, too, can progress from Skeptic to Spatula-Licker in no time!

So, without further ado, I give you...The Stages of Shakeology®!

1.       You Hear a Rumor—You think, Another multi-level marketing thing. Who needs another sugar-laden “protein” drink? Geez.
2.       A Friend Tries It—You think, Wow. I can’t believe a friend of mine (let’s call that friend “The Healthy One”) fell for it. Geez.
3.       That Friend Looks Good—You think, Wow! The Healthy One is glowing. I wonder what’s up? You think it’s Shakeology®? Cool. Maybe I’ll check that out.
4.       You Get Some Info—You think, Hmmm. Whole foods? Unprocessed? Herbs from their native habitats? Put together by THE guy who knows everything about herbs? Look at that nutritional content!
5.       You Try A Sample—You think, Um. This texture’s…interesting. I’m not sure about this shake recipe that The Healthy One recommended. Well, I’m drinking it now…might as well finish. You know, it’s not that bad. Kind of good. Maybe I’ll add different ingredients tomorrow…
6.       Things Change—You think, Well, MY shake recipes definitely taste better. This is good. Hey, kids, try this shake I made!
7.       You Like ItYou think, When is it time for breakfast? I can’t wait for my Shakeology®. I bought some new frozen fruits to try. Ooo—or should I try the almond milk? Or both? Hmmmm. No, kids! Get away from my shake. (This is the phase where you may find yourself using a spatula to scrape the inside of your glass.)
8.       You Look and Feel Gooooodd—At this point, the secret gets out. The Healthy One asks how long you’ve been drinking Shakeology® and gives you the Secret Shake-O Smile. (Just kidding—about the smile. There’s no secret smile. The rest is true.) All your other friends ask what you’ve changed. Your hair, nails, and skin may look amazing. Your energy may be up. Your cravings—especially for carbs—may be down. You may be less bloated. You may find you have much more stable moods.
9.       Your Friends Ask You About It— Once you get an excuse, you just can’t stop talking about it! You only stop when you remember Stages 1 and 2 and realize all your friends are giving you THAT look—the look that says they’re still in Stages 1 and 2.
10.   You Talk Too Much—At this point, you may be embarrassed to find that you’ve done some crazy stuff in the name of Shake-O, like admitting on the internet that you scrape your glass with a spatula and lick said spatula, often with Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” running through your head. 

While this may seem like a shameless sales pitch (it is, a little), it's also really funny if you've been through it. So this one goes out to those who've been there!

And, yes, I am an authorized purveyor of Shakeology®. If you want to know more, you know where to find me!