Monday, March 31, 2014

Do Stuff With Them

I’ve mentioned before that life seems to hand me lessons to learn over and over again. This one comes back to me on a regular basis. Maybe I need to learn it again for each stage of their development?

Our Girl Scout troop went on our spring overnight this weekend. We had five girls and five moms at a beautiful campsite. The rain held off, we cooked our food, explored nature, chilled out a bit, and had a fantastic time. Not much sleep, but a fabulous time.

As soon as we got there, my camping-with-kids instincts took over, which, oddly, trump my parenting instincts in some ways. Back in the day, I was a counselor at Camp Arrowhead. Both camp and the Girl Scouts believe in letting the kids do the work. So we kicked off our overnight by letting the girls make lunch for their moms.

Now that sounds horrible, right? But does it really?

I recently read an article—which I’ve completely lost track of, but if someone finds it, I’ll credit it—that pointed out school is, in many ways unnatural. For most of human existence, children followed parents or adults of their community around and learned to be like them. They weren’t isolated with their peers and one adult.

That made me think of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The children in all the books not only learn by following their parents around, watching and helping, but they aspire to be like their parents. Almanzo dreams of the day when his father decides he’s ready for…wait for it…more, harder work. And, on top of that, the work the children do substantially helps their families. They can see the value of it, after they’ve stomped out fire in their haystacks or ground meal to keep the family from starving.

All that’s great on paper. Then there’s real life.

Our kids are getting a little older and we’ve started doing the whole thing where I say, “Can you please do this?” and they say, “Unnnngh” and roll their eyes and drag their feet.

Now, that ain’t happening here. No way.

But I also prefer to prevent behaviors—channel energy in a positive direction, give them something better to do, use their power for good rather than evil—however you want to look at it, if I can. This one had been stumping me, though.

At least, it stumped me until I watched how happily our Girl Scouts served their moms sandwiches, swept, gathered wood, made fires, washed dishes, and generally helped out. Proud of their skills, the older girls made meals by using knives and matches. They loved what they learned and did--even I can catch on with evidence like that!

So, yesterday Big A. had to go to work. The kids and I got together to make a traditional Italian meal for Sunday night supper—as a surprise for Daddy.

Well, that got them interested. First we shopped for ingredients and a special dessert Daddy would like. Then they found out all the “cool” stuff they “got” to do—they both peeled garlic and chopped bread crumbs. They helped season it. Little A. loved opening a giant can of tomatoes. S. chopped all the onions: “Mommy, they really do make you cry—it’s not just in cartoons.”

They used the hand blender to “search and destroy” tomatoes in the sauce. Little A. really loved that one, giggling as he pulled the trigger on each tomato.

We ended up making an amazing dinner—it just truly tasted fantastic. But even better than that? The kids and I had one of the best days ever. They wanted to work. They loved the results. I loved not getting one single eyeroll. Big A. loved his surprise.

Lots of love going around, people. Do stuff with your kids!

The kid has chops.

This is how we roll...garlic!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Oldie But Goodie

To no one's surprise, I have a warped sense of humor. This is one of my favorite cartoons ever. When I recently found it in some old papers, it made my day. I hope it makes yours brighter, too!

Happy Day, Folks!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Never, Never, Never, Never

This is the second of three posts I’ve written recently about my depression. I had filed them away, never to see the light of day, but to heck with that. I’m writing about this now; it’s my truth and that’s okay on my blog.

And, because I know that reading other bloggers’ honest accounts of their struggles helps me, I hope it helps someone someday.

I grew up in a house full of people fascinated by history and politics. My father has a particular respect for Winston Churchill. Reading the title of the blog, you may reasonably expect me to follow it with a discourse on Prime Minister Churchill’s speech at Harrow, including this famous quote:

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Or you may just be curious as to what kind of naughty thing *I* would say never to do. And that could be interesting, since I’m pretty open-minded in general.

What I really want to say, to myself and to you, dear readers, is this:
 Never, never, never, never read the comments.

Visit: for more.
I love the comic going around the interwebs these days, the one called “Nest” by Robot Hugs. It conveys the absolute best way to help me when I am depressed. I say that without qualifications. Apparently a lot of other people feel the same, since I’ve seen it many places. Here it is again, for your viewing pleasure. 

I have been on both sides of depression and I know how utterly frustrating it can be to be patient. As both a person struggling with depression and a person watching a loved one’s struggle, I want to cure that disease—just as I want so desperately to heal my children when they have colds or fevers or stomach flu. It stinks to watch someone you love hurt. It stinks to hurt.

The beauty of the comic (the term comic doesn’t seem awesome enough for it!) is that it offers something for bystanders to do when a loved one is depressed. I know it’s what I crave. And think about that for a minute—realize how few words are involved in the scene depicted. A few light inquiries. That’s all.

I’m an editor. For fun, I read and write. I talk more than I really should. I talk a lot! Words are the medium of my life. But when I’m depressed…

Depression, for me, skews my interpretation of the world. The disease twists well-intentioned words so that I hear them as criticism. “Can’t I do anything to help?” becomes “Hurry up and get better already, slacker. You’re irritating me.” Depression’s translation has nothing to do with reality, but that translation ends up living in my head.

So I find the wordless caring shown here beautiful—supportive, safe, loving. It moves me to see it posted so many places online.

I should just never, never, never, never read the comments.

I only read a few. But. I have already deleted several of my responses to some of the most ignorant comments. What is the point in responding? Yet I am horrified that a chemical imbalance that affects a vital organ that, in turn, affects the rest of the body, can be so…judged. Then again, we just found out a quarter of Americans polled don’t know the earth goes around the sun, so…

Maybe I actually should be quoting Mr. Churchill more thoroughly. Maybe this “apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”—ignorance—will someday yield to good sense or good science. Maybe someday at least three-quarters of us will realize that depression is a disease. Maybe we will realize that those who survive depression do so by never, never, never, never giving up for a very long time, through very stern days.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hold Your Applause

We took the kids to their first real theatrical experience Monday—we went to see the professional tour of Beauty and the Beast. It was a wonderfully creative adaptation of the movie and a solid production. I had a lot of fun. The children, however, have been oddly quiet about the whole thing. I can’t tell if they were just too tired to react or entirely underwhelmed.

Then again, when I went with S. on a field trip to a local professional theater last fall, I saw something that made me wonder.

For those of you who don’t know, I defined myself as a theater person for twenty-two years. I performed in my first non-Christmas pageant play at the age of eight. I did shows, listened to musical soundtracks, went to friends’ shows, majored in theater, did community theater, sat on theater boards, took theater into schools, and even dabbled in professional theater.

I stopped all that when we moved to Florida. We knew we wanted children and didn’t want them to grow up chewing on light cables. Nothing wrong with that—we just felt that lifestyle wouldn’t work for us. And for most of the last ten years, I haven’t even missed it. I have actual children with tantrums now—who needs divas? (I kid because I love, people!)

So attending a good professional show here in town, with good design and good performances, got me a little wistful and nostalgic. I miss the bonding, the light-bulb moments of creativity, the laughs, the complete lack of inhibitions, the last-minute crunch, the high of a good performance, the bittersweet feelings on closing night. I miss the giddy feeling of planning to sleep in on the morning after the cast party because the show’s over and you are OFF for a day or two or a week.

So there’s that.

But then…there was some other stuff.

Clearly, I hadn’t been to a show in a while at that time—and certainly not one performed exclusively for schools. I didn’t expect the part of the curtain speech that went “this is a live performance; we are not on YouTube. You can hear us and we can hear you, so please don’t talk during the show.”

So the theater insider in me thought, “Okay. Fair enough. And the request—in fact, the whole curtain speech—was well-performed: charming, light, and in good humor. Okay.”

And then the theater insider in me cringed as the really funny, really well-played commedia dell’arte-style show unfolded. Why did I cringe? The show was fantastic. And that’s the rub. It was FUNNY, people—and the kids weren’t laughing.

Okay, two or three ruffians giggled (just as Little A. would have) throughout the slapstick antics, but the rest of these sweet, well-behaved, nice kids listened respectfully and quietly. They obediently remembered not to react as they would to YouTube, but then what? They had no idea how to react to a live performance.

Some of my happiest theatrical memories involve performing Shakespeare for middle schoolers—the comedies and adolescents are a match made in heaven. The shows and the audience were witty, full of themselves, fond of body humor, and fixated on the opposite sex. And a joyful mutual appreciate grew between the cast and audience each performance.

I hope modern life hasn’t diminished that fabulous unspoken chemistry between actors and audience.

And yet there is hope for these oppressed young spirits, people. On the bus on the way home, S. held up her parting gift of candy and sang to the tune of “I Wanna Be Sedated.” She serenaded me with, “Bamp bam-bampbamp-bamp, buh-bam-bamp-bamp, I wanna eat my Smarties.”

To  mix musical metaphors, I don’t think either S. or Little A. is likely to end up as just another brick in the wall.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Take It Easy

This is the first of three posts I’ve written recently about my depression. I had filed them away, never to see the light of day, but to heck with that. I’m writing about this now; it’s my truth and that’s okay on my blog.

And, because I know that reading other bloggers’ honest accounts of their struggles helps me, I hope it helps someone someday.

Just like an oil change or a visit to the dentist, it comes around again. Yep, today is the day when I remind you to take it easy on each other.

Why did I think about that today? I read an article about how screens are ruining our lives. Our family is pretty good about most of the stuff in the article. My kids play (the old-fashioned kind) more than they watch, we avoid technology at the table, and we adults rarely ask them to wait for a screen—maybe occasionally for a phone call. So that’s good.

Of course, Louis C.K. beat us all to that point:

He’s always hysterical and insightful. I take to heart his point about kids needing time alone with themselves. I believe that. I just never thought of applying his point to me until…

The recent article also pointed out that constantly checking in with screens doesn’t give adults rest. That made me realize that I’d been checking in often enough that I usually find no new emails or posts—in other words, more frequently than I need to. Hmmm. The expert went on to say that we hide from our feelings by staying busy with screens. Hmmmm.

So I decided to run my morning errands without checking in. Half an hour later I got home in tears. Well, shoot.

So this is why I’m asking you to be kind to each other. I’m a parent. I struggle with depression. As a parent, I don’t always have time to even realize I’m struggling. A lot of signs have been whacking me over the head lately, though, even managing to penetrate the busy-ness of modern life.

And here’s why I’m issuing a blanket Take It Easy statement.

Note: I wanted a very neutral, spontaneous, unedited picture here. I may have gone a bit far with that.
See the picture? Is that me on a day when I have it pretty much together or me on a day when I’m likely to burst into tears if I stop for a second? Can you tell? Nope? It can’t be done.

The last year has brought me many intangible, indescribable challenges. I could tell you if my car broke down or if my HVAC needed replacing; I DID blog about tearing up half our house, once due to black mold and once by choice. I could tell people about a medical diagnosis that changed my life, like being hypothyroid. Those tangible things affect people’s lives in a way we can comprehend.

Other things just defy easy communication. I don’t even know how to begin to describe them here—I could write for days and still not touch the heart of it. I’ve had a year full of those.

It doesn’t matter.

That’s the real point. It doesn’t matter exactly what makes me feel overwhelmed. It matters that we respect each other. It matters that we remember all those wonderful, true maxims: everyone has a story, judge not lest ye be judged, everyone’s doing the best they can with what they have, don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes…

But maybe The Eagles said it best, “Take it easy.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fifteen YEARS, Man!

Somehow, giving myself permission to blog about being depressed freed me up to feel other things. Life has been pretty good for the last couple of weeks--even if it's been too crazy to write. One of those good things? Big A. and I finally caught up on some important stuff.
Fifteen Steps to Celebrate Your Fifteenth Wedding Anniversary

Both partners:
1.       Keep saying, “We have that great gift card for dinner! We should go out for our anniversary. Can you call the sitter?” and “Okay, for what night?” only to be interrupted by “MOM!!!!” or “DAD!!!!” or “There’s a spider in the tub!!!!!”
2.       Repeat for months.
3.       Finally pick a random night six months after your anniversary and book the sitter without looking at the calendar. If you look at the calendar, you will not pass Go or collect a dinner for two.
4.       Frantically run around getting all the basic housework and last minute office work done so you can go out with a clear mind. (You won’t succeed, but you’ll feel better if you try.)

Divide the following tasks:
5.       Call the restaurant and ask for a quiet booth, sheepishly admitting that you are, in fact, celebrating something special—your anniversary—without going into details. Or dates.
6.       One partner shower early, put on “getting the sitter” clothes, dump the kids in the car, and go get the sitter. Change out of “getting the sitter” clothes into “going out” clothes.
7.       Throw together something (hopefully) easy for the sitter to cook, since you weren’t organized enough to plan dinner this time.
8.       One partner shower later, getting ready just in time to leave.
9.       Accept compliments from your kids, which may or may not relate to “smelling good” and “looking tall.” Don’t think about them too hard.
10.   Drive…efficiently…across town to make the six o’clock reservation. Why did six o’clock seem like a good idea, anyway?

Both partners:
11.   Spend half an hour talking about what you can talk about besides the kids.
12.   Relax over the menu and some adult beverages.
13.   Eat without wiping or cutting anything for anyone else. Talk without hearing “Do I have to eat this?”
14.   Get an appetizer. And dessert. And coffee.
15.   Spend three hours remembering why you fell in love.

Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Give and Take

So, in my last entry I tried to tackle the way we handle information that comes to us over the internet. And I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to check the accuracy of anything that we choose to take from the internet. But what about what we choose to give to the internet?

I’m a writer. I have written—journals, poems, letters, extra credit assignments, and now blogs—as long as I can remember. Clearly, I didn’t intend most of that writing for publication. I would love to publish my poetry, which I’ve entered in contests. Alas, no luck there. The gatekeepers didn’t let my work through. Well, okay. I’m not trendy and I can live with that.

The joy of blogging, of course, comes from the lack of gatekeepers. No one gets to say if I publish a blog post or not. Simply sign up for a site, type away, click on Publish! It’s like magic.

Without someone else to say whether or not I publish something, though…without the gatekeepers, the responsibility for what I publish rests solely on me. Well, okay. I’m good with responsibility. Ah, but then we get into the questions of Why.

Why do I want to put my words on the internet? Two bright shiny reasons hover over my head: to entertain and to help others. Those are good, wholesome, kid-tested and mother-approved reasons for doing anything. We all need a laugh—especially parents. And helping others? Please! That’s the best reason ever. (There may be other reasons, too, but not for the purposes of this post.)

So I (try to) entertain you all by shamelessly plagiarizing my children’s wit and ruthlessly describing our mishaps as a family. But how do I go about “helping people”?

I can only offer what I have. I have this life of mine, the things I’ve observed, and the thoughts and feelings I’ve based on those. I write about my life, observations, thoughts, and feelings constantly—but what of that is worth sharing? What has value for others? Without those gatekeepers, without the agents, acquisitions editors, and publishers, how do I know what will mean something to others?

Figuring that out requires some confident self-assessment.

What if the main thing I have to offer has nothing to do with confidence? I don’t even know how to describe it. Everything I’ve learned comes from the opposite of confidence, from being ground down and worn out and—yes—humiliated by the inexorable forces that move life and what they’ve done to me.

That’s okay in the privacy of my own mind because I value what I’ve learned. The question remains: Does it have any value to anyone else?

Right now, I can’t answer that. I’m writing about depression and what it feels like because that’s what life is teaching me right now. I’m not publishing it because there’s no gatekeeper to tell me it has value to others.

But if life is my gatekeeper…

I keep thinking about the bloggers at Honest Mom and Renegade Mothering and The Feminist Breeder and Hyperbole and a Half. These women give me such a sense of release by being honest about their mental health struggles. They gave me the comfort of not being alone and reassurance that this, too, will pass. And that feeling of recognition and being recognized that we all love—that awesome high of a new book or a new friend. I found all that in their stories.

Maybe someone would find it in mine?

And I honestly do believe that we can only reach for mental health—or health, since a chemically imbalanced brain is a diseased organ—when mental illness (illness) loses its stigma. I believe that will happen when we can all speak freely about it.

So is this the point where I need to
A.      Put my money where my mouth is?
B.      Not jump on the trendy bandwagon?
C.      Forget those other-based lines of thought and do what is in my heart?

Well, if I put it that way…

Plus, I keep running across these amazing articles and TedTalks that blow my mind. Smart, brave people standing up and sharing their observations of life. Today it was this very early TedTalk on severe depression and ECT:


Back to the original question: I have decided. I will try to give to the internet—to you—what I have. Please feel welcome take whatever will help you.

Just remember to always use internet content responsibly.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Facing the Facts

I’m going to ask for a lot of patience from you in this post. For one, I want to talk about how we address issues and information in our digital age, so though I will use one issue as an example, I don’t want to debate that issue. In fact, I hope to avoid all “hot button” words, both to keep spammers off my blog and to stick to my point. For another thing, there will be a lot of links in this post. Don’t feel obligated to follow them, but I like to put my money where my mouth is!

I remember one particular lesson I learned in grade school. And again in junior high. And again in high school. And finally managed to master enough to avoid learning it again in college.

I had a bad habit of jumping to conclusions, making a judgment, and then voicing it loudly. My luck (and I mean that sincerely) decreed that, every single time, the person I judged was in earshot—every single time I did it. I learned how much hurt my false assumptions caused by seeing the look on someone’s face.

I learned to take time before coming to conclusions. I learned that judging, as a rule, oversimplified complex situations—like people. All of us are pretty darn complex situations. I know I am.

There’s been plenty of talk about how judging (criticizing, trashing, insulting, cussing at) feels easy on the internet, because we are not face to face with the person we’re trashing. We don’t see their hurt. In fact, a recent study shows that internet trolls might have serious issues. You can read the study here:

I think most of my readers can see that extreme trolling doesn’t accomplish anything. I see no point to it myself and I don't do that, but…here comes that lesson again. Guess what I have done? I have received an “article” from a friend, been outraged, and passed it on. Luck was with me again, as a friend caught that the “article” was untrue and I was able to forward a retraction to the same folks who got the “article.”

With internet “articles” packaged so professionally, it’s easy to believe them—especially if they present an apparently complete story, especially if it preys on our fear or outrage. When something triggers those powerful emotions, double checks go out the window and we forward the email or click Share.

And guess what else? People at “real” websites do that, too. They repost things that trigger fear and outrage, whether because their own emotions are involved or because they hope to profit from their readers’ emotions.

Before long, the well-intentioned netizen can Google a subject and find PAGES of hits featuring an erroneous story repeated on many “reputable” websites. And then the odds of finding the truth have gone way, way down.

Does anyone remember their school days and the unfounded rumors that developed lives of their own, often “ruining” a classmate’s day/year/life? Not so great, huh? At least those classmates had faces to reflect their hurt, eyes for gossiping classmates to look into.

We don’t see those faces online, especially when we spread rumors about entities—corporations, for example. Or states, as Jes Baker points out in this recent post, That One Time George Takei Made Everything Worse, which you can read here:

Okay, that one goes a little far afield for my purposes, but it is a case in point. It’s a lot easier to type “boycott Arizona” online than to, for example, look into the eyes of a gay travel agent and say, “I’m cancelling my trip to your state because the representative you didn’t vote for says you can be denied service in a restaurant.”

That makes sense…how?

Well, as a leader/parent/volunteer of the Girl Scout troop at my church, which is a Roman Catholic church, I’ve long been aware of—and done a great deal of research into—the rumors being spread about Girl Scouts.

If you can find the facts in the deluge of repeated rumors, the original story from 2010 (that Girl Scouts has a partnership with a Controversial Organization) clearly has no foundation. So more rumors have been added to the mix, mostly to do with national employees’ past jobs or debatable choices on the part of individual scouts and leaders.

And so some angry, scared people have decided to hate Girl Scouts.

I can understand this on one level. As I mentioned, certain issues make people very emotional—angry, righteous, outraged, scared. People crave action to take. But what action? They can attack the Controversial Organization, but it's kind of hard to boycott an organization that you already don't do business with.

But, wait! Girl Scouts! these angry people feel (not think). They’re everywhere and I’ve been buying their cookies. They support that Controversial Organization—the news/internet says so! I can stop buying cookies. That’ll show them. I’ll be acting! I’ll be punishing those evil people who fooled me, who made me angry and scared.

That’s not very logical, but at least harmless--if Girl Scouts is a huge faceless corporation that only exists online. But it’s not. It’s parents who devote hours of every week to teaching girls to dream big dreams and reach big goals, to love themselves, to try new things, to “serve God and country.” It’s parents like me.

It’s parents who see how vitally important it is to teach girls to be “responsible for what I say and do.”

And the majority of the people affected by this rumor? They have faces like this.
Who can justify venting anger, fear, and hate to a face like this because the internet said so? 

I sure hope no one could.

I hope that for many reasons. Not the least of which is that I will be there. And I will step between my scouts and anyone who tries.

Anyone who tries will have to tell me to my face why they’ve decided to accept lies without question and use those lies to justify bad behavior toward innocents.

Folks, just don't hate. Seek the truth. Be nice to people. Please?

In case you’re wondering where Girl Scout cookie money goes:

In case you’re wondering what the Catholic church says about Girl Scouts: