Monday, December 21, 2009

Making Resolutions Gives Your Child a Goal to Shoot For!

As 2009 bids the world goodnight and 2010 can be seen peeping around the corner, Americans’ thoughts turn to the symbolic fresh start the New Year brings. According to a 2007 CNN survey, 60% of adults take this yearly opportunity to turn over a new leaf by making resolutions that range from the ubiquitous “lose weight” to the excruciatingly specific “avoid the 405 on Fridays between 3:00 and 6:00pm.”

Just like adults, children benefit from making resolutions. Whether a child is mid-way through kindergarten or getting ready to tour colleges in the spring, the key to helping a child put their best foot forward in the new year is making sure their resolutions are in writing, specific, measurable, and, most important, their own.

Break Out that Pen

After being told what to eat, how to behave, and when to go to bed, the idea of having some control in their life is exciting for kids. New Year’s resolutions let children take charge of a certain aspect of their life and run with it. That’s why writing those resolutions down is so important. It makes them real—plus, seeing resolutions in print lets the child prioritize what is most important to them. It gives them control.

Encourage your child to focus on two or three main resolutions; more than that is overwhelming to a child whose daily life is already filled with responsibilities.

Be Specific and Measurable

“”Clean my room every day” and “get better grades” may seem straightforward to adults, but to a child, these resolutions are much too broad. Does “clean my room” mean even under the bed (where the monsters live)? “Get better grades” is overwhelming to a student who studies diligently but can rise no higher than a B- in Calculus.

By outlining exactly what the resolution addresses, the child knows what is expected of him or her. With a simple change of wording “clean my room every day” becomes “make my bed every day.” The resolution suddenly becomes measurable—as will the child’s grin of accomplishment when they realize they’ve made their bed every day for a week. The victory will inspire then to keep making their bed. And “get better grades”? Children generally know whether or not they are truly putting in their best effort in a particular subject. So when “get better grades” becomes “study math for 30 minutes on weekdays” children are no longer discouraged by the vague and intimidating “get better grades” resolution. They know what they need to do and they’ll earn those grades.

Let Your Child Come Up with Their Own Resolutions

The impulse to “direct” your child’s resolutions can be overwhelming. You may not see the value in “put my pencils in my red pencil box at the end of the day.” Keep in mind that your child is much more likely to keep their resolutions if they have come up with their list on their own. A little guidance from you can be helpful if your son or daughter is having trouble coming up with ideas, but ultimately, your support of their resolutions is truly most important to your child.

Remember, “practice my handball game” is just as important to them as “take a greater role in office decision making” is to you. Being a child comes with its own unique pressures and rules. Keep that in mind, and even if the resolutions they come up with don’t make sense to you, you will at least understand why they chose them.

Follow Your Child’s Example

60% of American adults make resolutions—and studies show most abandon them by Valentine’s Day. When it comes to setting resolutions you won’t break, use the same guidelines you’ve set for your child: put them in writing, be specific, make them measurable, and make sure they’re one you truly believe in. Together, you and your child can celebrate the New Year—and all you’ve accomplished—all year long.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Put "Take-a Breath" on Your List

Here's a scenario many will find familiar: you have carefully complied a list of "things-you-absolutely-must-do-or-the-world-will-come-to-a-shuddering-halt." You set out with grim determination to see them accomplished. You actually believe you will, against the odds, get them done--quickly, efficiently, and without complaint. And then....

Your list evaporates the moment you get to your desk (or enter the cluttered kitchen, the frantic construction site, the busy store, etc.). You stand there for several minutes, nonplussed, wondering what the heck it was you needed to do today. It's like your brain has stopped working. You consult your list, only to be baffled by your own dashed off hieroglyphics. Is that letter a "s" -- or is it the number 8? And why did you write, "Moo-lah get, base flight"? You know it meant something (or at least you hope it did) when you wrote it down, but you've since forgotten what your own short-hand was meant to describe. It's about a thousand times worse if your a left hander with atrocious handwriting (ahem, such as yours truly): not only can you not understand what you meant, but you can't read a single letter of a single word.

Such is my life these days. I am running around frantically half the time, doing a bunch of stuff not on "the list" because I can't read my own handwriting--or I've left the list "somewhere safe" only to forget where it is. Thus, I spend much of my life feeling like I'm whirling around, actually accomplishing very little. Or so it seems on certain days.

And the resulting feeling? Stress--mind-numbing, heart-pounding, headache-inducing, sex-drive-killing stress. And I'm not the only one pulled asunder by this particular bugaboo.

According to a November 2009 study released by the American Psychologicial Association, 75% of us (Americans, in this survey, although I would be surprised if it was much different in other countries, considering how interconnected we are all these days) suffer from moderate to high levels of stress in the last month: 24% extreme and 51% moderate. Imagine that: waking us, day after day, feeling that wrapped-in-a-straitjacket pressure. Especially after spending a night tossing and turning, as 47% of survey respondents reported. Or, here's more:
  • 45% report irritability or anger
  • 43% report fatigue
  • 40% report lack of interest, motivation or energy (sounds like depression to me, which, I suspect, is also an outgrowth of sustained stress)
  • 34% report headaches
  • 34% report feeling depressed or sad (see? Told ja)
  • 32% report feeling as if they will burst into tears (I've done this myself, several times, in the last few moths)
  • 27% report upset stomach or indigestion as a result of stress
So what happened to us? Oh, sure, life has never been the bucolic, fluffy-cloud existence we'd all like to believe it was at one point. But there have been times that the collective American stress-level has been relatively low. So what's the change?

The dire economy is a handy scapegoat--and does, legitimately, play a role in the reported increase of stress from fall 2007 (when the Great Recession began). But there's more to it. According to some psychologists, the ever-increasing pressure brought to bear on workers by 24/7 access to electronic devices is a major source of stress. There is simply no getting away from the job. Period. (my husband received four work -related "emergency" calls ON Thanksgiving--and he sells silicon chips. Biiiigggg emergency. And did he answer take the call mid-turkey? You guess.) Email is a huge source of stress for many people--and studies have shown people can actually become addicted to checking email. 43% of people in the survey actually sleep with their email devices nearby, to listen for incoming email. That's just wrong. Add to that 24/7 cable news, where with the click of a channel you are treated to horrifying disasters from every corner of the world, bloviating commentators intent on ripping our society into enemy camps, and the soft-core porn of vicious celebrity gossip, and it's little wonder our brains are close to bursting.

Even the good things cause stress--having a baby, buying a house, and Christmas have a score of 40, 31 and 12 points on the Holmes-Rahe scale, respectively. Actually getting what you want, in and of itself, can cause stress. (On a side note, I follow the satirical website "The Onion" and watched the funniest "report" about Pres Obama going out for cigarettes and never coming back. Very funny stuff--yet with a grain of truth, as all jokes have. If there was ever a man who is under stress, it's that poor man. I swear, his hair gets more gray every day. I wonder if when the Pres looks back on it, if he's ever sorry he got his wish to step into the highest office in the land? Inheriting a recession, two wars, a healthcare system in shambles, et al.? A perfect example "be careful what you wish for...")

So what to do about it? Health care professionals proscribe diet, exercise and valium. Maybe not Valium--Paxil works pretty well (do I speak from experience? I'll never tell). I'm just kidding about the Valium and Paxal. The vast majority of doctors turn first to recommending exercise and relaxation to help with stress. But despite our doctors admonitions, fewer Americans actually are taking time out for themselves. In fact, I do believe that "taking time out for myself" is on my famous list, but seeing as how I can't find my list, I'll never know. EHealth MD advocates "Tuning In, Analyzing, Responding" to deal with stress, but to be quite honest, that's just three more things to put on my list of stuff I'll never get to. Plus, if I start that, then I'll probably find even more things in my life that stress me out than I was even aware of .... thus, causing more stress. Sigh.

So here's my proposal: make a new list. What??? Seriously. Take your list (if you can find it, that is) and rip it into many tiny little pieces. You'll note two things right away: 1.) the world does not come to a shuddering halt if you don't get the things on your list done and 2.) your brain will (fingers crossed) suddenly begin working again. Now that the dreaded list is gone, make a new list. Really. With just three tasks:

-Take a breath.
-Turn off the email device.
-Stop watching TV.

That's it. Simple. Yet of all the tasks in the world, these as possibly the three hardest to actually accomplish. But I can (virtually) promise that if you do, you will find that all the other things you need to accomplish suddenly will seem easier. And you won't even need your old list at all.

Which is just as well, because if you're like me, you've either lost it or can't read your own handwriting anyway.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Empty Seat at the Table

This past weekend, according to my highly unscientific FaceBook observations, many of my friends freed their Christmas boxes from exile in the attic and began the fun (if somewhat arduous) task of decorating the house for the holidays. I, too, spent the majority of Sunday afternoon decorating (and toasting the season with several glasses of egg nog, natch--compete with a dash of Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum). I then wandered around my house, admiring my handiwork. I'm an over-the-top fan of faux pine boughs. My house now looks like a pine tree exploded in it--but in a nice way.

As I meandered from living room to family room to kitchen, adjusting a wreath here, straightening a candy dish there, I envisioned upcoming Christmas dinner. In the past, we've had as many as 24 people here. And since my dining room is approximately the size of a teaspoon, we've moved chairs and couches out of the the living room and replaced them with those 6-ft tables you get at Costco. It's the only way to fit everyone in. This year my younger sis is taking on the Christmas dinner challenge--possessed of a larger dining room than I, it is unlikely we will have to cart all her living room furniture off to the garage to accommodate the hungry hoards. And I'll be helping her cook--we plan to make a day of it, along with my mother, her mother-n-law, and her sis-in-law--cooking, talking, drinking wine, making candy, the whole bit. It will be the kind of day that, for lack of a more original phrase, makes memories.

And when we all sit down at the table that evening, it will be a wonderful time with family--it always is. Nevertheless, there will be an empty seat at the table. In a parallel universe, my dad is sitting in that seat. He's smiling, laughing, piling food on the plate, drinking tea (always tea--with milk and copious amounts of sugar). Perhaps he's even talking about that near-miss in '97, when (thank God) doctors narrowly missed catching a blood clot in his lungs that came this close to killing him.

But that's a parallel universe. In ours, my dad actually did succumb to the blood clot in his lungs. Misdiagnosed repeatedly for the last two weeks of his life, he died, 49 years old, on his bedroom floor in the early morning hours of April 2, 1997. It wasn't until the autopsy that his cause of death was discovered. There's a whole story there about the aftermath of this discovery, but even all these years later it is incredibly painful to talk about. Suffice to say that anyone who believes that bringing a lawsuit against a medical group is easy--or a way to 'get rich'--they need to talk to someone who has actually been through this particular kind of hell before they pass judgement.

So nearly thirteen years have passed, and with them, twelve Thanksgivings, twelve Christmases, the birth of seven grandchildren, and various other milestones that he never lived to enjoy. Knowing my dad, he would be scolding me right now for dwelling on what never-was, instead of what-is. He would wish for us to honor his memory by living to the fullest the years he never had a chance to experience. But it's hard. So hard. He was such a good man, with so much left to give. The rock of our family, really. And he was robbed by circumstances and human error of the rest of his life. Sometimes it is all I can do not to be bitter. It can be a genuine battle not to succumb to the somber certainty that life makes absolutely no sense at all, it is all random, and there is no meaning behind any of it.

So I fight the urge to be angry. The fight against anger has gotten somewhat easier as the years have gone by, though the pain of losing him is still as fresh as the day it happened. When he died people, with the very best of intentions, told me that "everything happens for a reason" and my heart would "heal over time." But it cannot fully heal--the scar left behind is deep and jagged and still bleeds. And as for there being a reason for losing him--well, pardon me, but there is no "reason" that could possibly justify the loss of a man such as him. I do wish that my faith was a strong as my husband's, who firmly believes the hand of God guides everything and there is always purpose. And perhaps as years go by I will finally find peace with what happened, but for now there is still a lost little girl inside me who still wants to blame God, rightly or wrongly.

Fortunately for me, these forays into bitterness and anger are few and far between. One of the gifts my father left me was strength. When I feel like I just want to wallow in the unfairness of his death, I am strong enough to (usually) pull myself out of it. I remember what was special about him, and I think about what he would want for me--and my mom, and my sister and brother, and the seven grandchildren he never got to meet, and his many friends. He would want us to live every minute of our day with enthusiasm and good humor, with arms wide open. The last thing he would want is to see me crying over my keyboard.

So this Christmas, like every holiday of the past decade, there is an "empty seat at the table." But thought my dad may not actually be sitting there, what he gave to us--his love, his intelligence, his strength of purpose--and what he wished for us--simply, to live our lives--is there in his place and in our hearts. And because of this, Christmas will be exactly what he would have wanted. A wonderful time with family.

Happy Holidays and love, Kim

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dealing with the "Pit of Soul-Sucking Negativity"

I am closely related to a cynic.

Yep. It is the tag he proudly bestows upon himself, as if being a "cynic" was some sort of badge proclaiming his higher intellectual capabilities. Every aspect of his being is narrowly focused on projecting the image of a jaded, world-weary soul who is alone in his ability to see things for "how they really are."

But sadly, for him and anyone who happens to spend more than a few minutes with him, the only "ability" he has is to see the ugly, negative, and hateful about other people. And he makes his opinions loudly clear--whether he is referring to some public figure, a coworker, a segment of society or, if you're unlucky enough to be in his sites, you. He cannot see the good in anyone or anything because he flatly refuses to believe "good" exists. In his view, people are only out for themselves, and even when someone does something nice--even something as innocuous as smile or offering a glass of ice tea--he or she is doing it for ulterior motives.

He wasn't always this way--and occasionally there are flashes of the man he might have been, had he not so carefully nurtured this studied persona of cynicism. I know he does it to protect himself from rejection, but unfortunately for him, by acting the way he does he is virtually guaranteeing that the rejection he so deeply fears will actually happen. The simple truth is: nobody wants to be around a guy who is the pit of soul-sucking negativity. And as he is rejected, his attitude is reinforced. It's a terrible cycle that can't be stopped but anyone but him.

I know many families have their own version of this person. Dealing with them can be exhausting and downright depressing. With Thanksgiving a mere six days away, and the attendant stress that inevitably accompanies bringing families together, the question becomes: how do I deal with this person? Because let's face it, they won't change. It's up to us, as the sisters, brothers, aunts, parents (name your relation) of this person to figure out a way to put their negativity in perspective, and ensure the day is a pleasant one for everyone. I know, it doesn't seem fair that we should have to accommodate an a-hole, but sometimes, in the interest of peace, we have to be the bigger person.

So here are six tips I've used in the past to deal with Mr. Soul-Sucker that have been reasonably successful:

1.) Don't argue! This one should be obvious, but as much as I've tried to pound this into my own brain when dealing with "the cynic", I've risen to his bait more than once. His eyes positivity light up if he thinks an argument is coming, and because he truly is a highly intelligent man (IQ in the 140s) who reads constantly (thus having tidbits of knowledge I have no way of instantly responding to in the middle of an argument, i.e.: "Chilsholm vs. Georgia, 1793 as applied to overreaching state governments, ala public schools") and likes to override whenever someone else is speaking, he will "win" these arguments, leaving me angry, frustrated, with my mood in tatters.

2.) Smile. Smile, smile, smile, even if it feels like your head is going to crack open from the effort. Even if you feel your insides seething and broiling. By smiling, you accomplish two things: 1.) you show them they are not getting to you (even if they are, do your best to keep that smile on your face) and soon they will move off that topic and 2.) You will soon start to feel better. You will realize the humor of the situation, and you will feel yourself start to relax. I promise this works. An added bonus: you're not playing into their negativity, and thus helping keep positive energy in the room.

3.) Have sympathy. The hell you say! Sympathy for that pompous jerk? As if! But truly, many of these cynical, emotional black-hole types are deeply unhappy people. Imagine what it would be like to wake up every day feeling so angry and frustrated with the world and the people in it? There must be very little these people look forward to. All they have is their negativity. And that's really not very much, when you think about it.

4.) Put them to work. Yup. I've noticed that when I ask my cynic to help out, he grumbles, but he does it fairly willingly. Give him or her a simple but important task like setting up an extra table or bringing in some chairs. It keeps them busy, makes them feel important, and best of all, gets them out of your hair (even if it's just for a little while).

5.) Don't just walk away! I'm sure you've probably heard the exact opposite, and believe me, I've tried it, but all that does is add fuel to the flames, and you end up with either 1.) that person following you into the next room to continue his or her negative ravings or 2.) angering them and thus incurring their wrath at a later time, mostly like at the dinner table just after the blessing is said. Instead, smile politely (smile, smile, smile!), thank them for their input, and excuse yourself with an "reason". As in, "That's very interesting, but little Johnny is giving the cat a bath in the toilet and I really must attend to the situation." You get the idea.

6.) Tell them you love them. Nothing is guaranteed to throw a negative person off-balance quicker than saying you love them. Because deep down, it's what they want--need--to hear. Inside, they are hurt little children who can't believe that anyone could love them. By telling them that you do, you're taking them outside of their own pain and disappointment, even if just for an instant, and giving them a glimmer of warmth. They may not respond--they may even laugh in your face, as has happened to me--but they will hear it. And they will think about it (hopefully in a positive way!).

Of these, the most successful for me thus far seems to be #3--have sympathy. In the big picture, nothing my cynic says will effect the overall outcome of my life (caveat being: unless I let it.) His rants about the government, or the public schools, or the guy who painted his house, or the neighbor down the street, or the drivers on the freeway, or the checker at the grocery store, or the rude teenagers, or the incompetents he works infinitum...don't change the fact that my life, and my dealings with others is, on the whole pretty positive. Keep this in mind when dealing with your "negative nancy" and you'll find that you can have a smooth, happy, positive holiday no matter what they say or do.

Oh, and a last, unofficial tip: at the end of the night as they're leaving, give them a tight hug, a big sloppy kiss, and tell them how terrific it was to see them. That'll show 'em.

Happy holidays!

Good sites with more tips on dealing with complainers, grousers, whiners, and other soul-suckers in out lives, check out these sites:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bon-Bons, Mimosas & Soap Operas

I stretch out on the couch in my silk robe and slippers. It's nearly noon, time for my favorite soap. I arrange my box of chocolate truffles ever-so-carefully within hands reach on the coffee table, careful not to block my view of the 60" flatscreen. I pour myself champagne with a touch of orange juice (my version of a mimosa), don my Bluetooth, and dial up my BFF so we can discuss the antics of the sexy villainess while we simultaneously watch "The Days of the Nights." My laptop is balanced on my thighs, so I can track FaceBook happenings all the while. I am (dramatic music, please) a stay-at-home mom.

Right. Anyone who has ever been a stay-at-home mom (a phrase I loathe because no one in that situation I know ever actually stays at home) is laughing hysterically at the idea of watching soaps and eating bon-bons. And the idea of a mimosa at mid-day, while as intoxicating as that may be (both literally and figuratively), is not likely to happen any time beside Sunday brunch.

And really, no one I know has ever really accused me of eating bons-bons and watching TV all day (except my husband, once, when we were in a fight).

Oh, sure, I've gotten the well-meaning but patronizing, "Raising kids is the hardest job in the world," and "It's nice that you have the choice." I've also gotten the passive-aggressive "Good for you! I don't know how you do it--I for one couldn't sit around all day and watch kids." (said in a sticky-sweet voice, of course). But most people seemed genuinely happy for me, and respectful of the choice I'd made. And from my SATM (stay-at-home-mom for the uninitiated) friends, I hear similar stories of support.

So why is it, then, that the other SATMs I've known over the years are so dang hard on themselves when society is coming around to realize just how important the job of raising kids is?

It's a question I've given alot of thought. I know some fantastic women, many of whom have not only have BA or BS degrees, but advanced degrees--Masters, Doctorates, JDs, specialized certifications. They've left careers as lawyers, accountants, social workers, teachers, managers, tech support--you name it, and I likely know someone who put that career aside in favor of the kid-thing. I see them at the kids' school, running NCSA meetings (our school's version of PTA), planning exhaustive (and exhausting) fundraisers, organizing huge school events, busting their humps hour after hour, day after day, year after year, as if trying to prove to others that despite not being in the workforce, they're still a valid, contributing human being.

It begs the question, who are they really trying to prove it to? (And when I say "they," I include myself as well.) And what are they trying to prove?

My personal and strictly non-scientific observation of many dear SAHM friends over the years indicates that they are, by nature, overachievers. The same fervor they invested in attaining their various degrees and professional accolades are transferred, by default, onto their job as Mom. Somewhere in their deepest heart-of-hearts, they don't feel that "just" being a mom is enough, and they have to add more to their already brimming plate to feel complete.

This is a gross generalization, I know. There are many, many women out there for whom the epitome of womanhood is raising a family and being a wife, and I toast them. But it has to be acknowledged that some women--like me--love their children, love their role, yet feel a longing for more. There are only so many park days and zoo visits you can do. Only so many educational books you can read to them. Only so many nature walks you can take. The vague feeling of "something's missing" can be covered by sloppy kisses and enthusiastic hugs for a time, but it is still there.

And that's why, in my opinion, many SAHMs take on so much--to fill that small but possibly growing hole. The years between 2001 and late 2007, when I was completely out of the work-for-pay world (as opposed to the work-for-hugs world) I about killed myself volunteering, while raising two small children. I took on Moms Club President, running our church's Harvest Festival, co-chairing the school's Silent Auction Committee four years in a row, working in the classroom, running copies, hosting food drivers--you name it, I did it. I did it because I needed more. Playing dollies endlessly with two little girls just didn't cut it for me. And I felt guilty about it. So I invested what little spare time I had in volunteering.

I spent years spinning--until I finally came to the realization that it was okay for me not to be completely fulfilled by raising munchkins. Once I let go of feeling guilty about it, I was able to enjoy both my girls and my volunteer activities much more. And, though it seems counter-intuitive, I was actually able to "let go" of some of the volunteer activities that were killing me--like chairing the Silent Auction (a mind-bending exercise in coordination, planning and implementation).

So now I'm building a business from home again. Not having quite the success I'd like, but having some. And the best part is, that tiny hole in me, the hole that needed filling (and that I felt guilty about needing filled) is smaller now. I think there is a way to find balance. But you have to be willing to allow yourself to know that balance is needed. Make sense?

Ultimately, I wouldn't trade those one-on-one (or, when Nati came along, two-on-one) years with the girls for anything. But I do wish I'd acknowledged, years ago, that small, empty, gnawing feeling in my stomach that I was missing something. Perhaps then I wouldn't have driven myself so crazy trying to fill it by volunteering, and just accepted the fact that I need work to feel fully validated.

And what of the bonbons, mimosas and soap operas? I'll save those for when I'm retired...oohh, I can hear the hysterical laughter of retirees right now...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why It’s Important to Cheat on Your Spouse

Haha! I knew that headline would grab your attention! Hey, didn’t cha know? I’m a swinger. Riiiiiiigggggghhhhhttttttt. Sure, I may joke about running off with the super hot guy who plays Dean on “Supernatural,” but I’m sure after a couple weeks his snores would annoy me with the same level of irritation that my husband’s do.

So no, I’m not advocating cheating. But what I do advocate is finding a way to rediscover what it was about your spouse that caused those stomach-flipping butterflies and that nervous smile when you first laid eyes on him/her across the crowded room. What it was that made you check your messages every ½ hour to see if they’d called. Or that made you take a little extra time to get ready for a date (did I say a little extra time? I used to spend hours trying on outfits before dates with my not-yet hubby)

When you’ve inched past the decade mark in your marriage, it can be exceedingly difficult to recall the thrill you felt the first time your and your beloved’s lips met. Especially when it’s just past 8:30 in the evening, you’re folding laundry, and your husband is asleep on the couch, snoring loudly with his mouth wide open. In the day-to-day act of living (and all the lovely and annoying things that go with it, like paying bills, cleaning toilets, the ups-and-downs of careers, leaky roofs, morning breath, that extra 10-lbs you swore you’d lose by now…not to mention the sometimes ugly arguments that are part of even the best marriages) the fire that made your heart race uncontrollably whenever you were around them is now just a thin wisp of gray smoke wafting lazily up from the dying embers of romance…

Okay, that’s a little hyperbolic. And I do have married friends who swear their flame is hotter than ever and if that’s so, then I say, “Rock on, sista!” But for the rest of us, perhaps not so much. And that’s not to say we don’t love our spouses as much as our “flames still burnin’” counterparts. It’s just saying we need to find a way to re-ignite that flame before it burns out completely.

And that’s where “cheating” comes in. I reach down into my memory and pull out my image of my DH as he was when we first met. Younger, of course—but at 48 he still is smokin’ hot for an “old” guy, thanks to daily work outs, a rigorous regime of vitamins and good genetics (and hair—still has most of his hair, graying of course, but it’s there). But what I try to envision in front of me is the 36 year old who impressed me so much with his intellect, his travel (he’s been to 30 countries), his commitment to healthy living, his willingness to go along with me wherever I wanted, be it roller-blading at the beach or out to Julian to pick apples. He also had a ton of friends who took me in like I’d been part of the group for years. Plus, he was a flowers-and-cards kind of guy. Hard to believe now, but he was. He even wrote poems to me.

He’s still the same guy, now buried underneath a high-stress account manager job, work-related travel (he’s gone every couple weeks for days at a time), a second mortgage, the needs of two growing kids, a tough economy (we said bah-bye to more than half of our net worth since December 2007 thanks to the stock market—and wouldn’t you know it, the stocks that are coming back around again now are not the ones we still own), commitments at church (he’s a deacon, and feels exceedingly guilty that he’s missed the last three Sundays because of kids’ activities—as opposed to me, who is pretty happy to have an excuse not to sit in the third row), and, well, just life.

And I’m not the same, either. I don’t like to admit it, of course, but it’s true. And it’s not just the extra “baby” pounds that never seemed to go away (oh, you have to exercise to lose weight? Go figure!). And it’s not just the smile lines around my eyes that are there even when I’m not smiling. I’ve got my own stuff to deal with—from the proverbial “family” issues, to career uncertainty (do I go full-time somewhere with a guaranteed paycheck, or continue to build my freelancing career?? *sigh*).

So when I fantasize about the guy who used to live in the skin now occupied by my husband, it’s not cheating, exactly, but it is sort of being with someone else—the person he was when we first met, and it was all exciting and new. It may sound strange, but it’s actually helped us. Because knowing that guy is still in there, buried just under the surface of the husband, has made me want to be more of the person I was when we were first together. Less quick to complain when things annoyed me. More willing to see his point of view. Eager to partner with him and give him my support, rather than roll my eyes or give one of those heavy “whatever” sighs.

So if you’re looking to strike a match to that last unburned coal of romance, try summoning up a mental vision of your spouse as a lover—as your lover, the one you would have done anything for. And keep that picture in your mind when you kiss them, when you take them in your arms…or even when you watch them, asleep on the coach, mouth wide open and snoring, at 8:30 in the evening.

PS: And going to a romantic restaurant once in a while doesn't hurt either--and I mean one that does not include chicken fingers on the menu. Leave the kids at home and pretend you're still young and hotter than you-know-what for each other. Here's some of the OC's best romantic spots for rekindling the flame...

French 75, Laguna Beach

La Cave, Costa Mesa

Manhattan Steak & Seafood, Orange

Mozambique, Laguna Beach

Orange Hill Restaurant, Orange

Rusty Pelican, Newport Beach

Studio, in the Montage Resort, Laguna Beach

The Cellar, Fullerton

Monday, November 2, 2009

Where is the line between supporting our kids and pressuring them?

I tossed out a comment once while chatting with a friend that for all the effort and money we’re putting into our girls’ athletic activities, they’d better get college scholarships! It was one of those off-hand remarks said in a joking tone that was meant to just fade into the fabric of the conversation. Yet while the rest of the conversation has completely left my mind, that tossed-off joke has stayed with me. It haunts me. Often the sentence has flitted through my mind in completely unrelated situations. It baffles me, because it was just a joke…right?

But it’s said there’s truth behind every joke, and I guess if I were to be completely honest with myself, I really would like one or both of the girls to win athletic scholarships. In fact, if I want to be painfully honest with myself, and by extension, you, I sort of expect that they will. If they don’t…I’ll be disappointed.

I understand that admitting a truth like that makes me look like a horrible parent. Parents are supposed to love their kids unconditionally, and whether or not they earn a scholarship, athletic or academic, to college should be far, far, far down on the list of why we love our kids. Yet (I believe) for every mom or dad out there upon whom it suddenly dawns one day that, hey, I’ve got a truly gifted kid there, the thought of college scholarships isn’t far behind…

Which leads me to (at last) the topic of this blog: our expectations of our children. What is realistic? Where is the line between support and pressure? And who draws that line?

My girls chosen sports are running and gymnastics. My 10-year-old started with Track & Field six months ago, and is now in cross-country. At this point she’s earned several medals and has a 6:26 mile time—her goal is to get below 6:00 by the beginning of Track season in January. My 7-soon-to-be-8 year old is in competitive gymnastics, and has collected a mess of medals of her own, and will be going to State Finals in two weeks.

So how much is too much? Is running 20+ miles a week (between conditioning and races) too much for a 10-year-old girl? Or is 12 hours a week of gymnastics too big a burden for a child who is still mastering her times tables? Other parents say that as long as the kids “enjoy it” it’s all right—and as long as they keep their grades up.

I examine my heart; I get into that really uncomfortable place where my own unrealized dreams are hidden. How much of their success is really about me? And when it comes down to it, that’s the question every parents needs to honestly ask themselves when trying to determine how much is simply too much (or, conversely, not enough) for their child. If a child is asking to “take a break” from a sport or club or activity, it’s time to step back and allow that break. That doesn’t mean they won’t come back to the activity; it may mean something as simple as the kid is just plain tired. It could also mean that parents’ expectations have taken the child into an arena that they, the child, doesn’t have his or her whole heart invested in. That being said, the child could be very good at that sport or activity—but if their heart is not in it, then where’s the joy? And that’s when we have the responsibility as parents to look at our motivations.

While watching my girls, I am part of them. I am Sam as she dashes across the finish line. I feel it when she expels that deep, pent-up breath. I feel the air swoosh past my own face as Nati does flies around the uneven bars. Her hands hit the mat as she arches into a double back handspring, and my palms sting. But it’s not fair for me to keep them in an activity because of the feeling I get watching them. That’s when support becomes, in my opinion, pressure. When it ceases to be about them, and becomes about me.

But, as every parent who has a kid who’s exceeded expectations should know, ultimately the most important thing is to keep it all in perspective. It may lead, somewhere down the line, to a scholarship...or not. As a mom, it's my job to make sure I don't get carried away in what should be their life experience...but that I do give them the support, encouragement and time they need to be as good as they can whatever they choose to do.

And make sure to keep puttin' dough in that college savings account!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Very Inclusive Club

I love my hair stylist.

It’s true—she’s wonderful. Sweet, sexy, talented—all the things a good stylist should be. She’s also become a friend, which makes my every-five-weeks (gotta lotta grays to cover up!) visits to her even more enjoyable.

As it sometimes happens when you’re in close proximity to someone for better than an hour (especially in the semi-confidential setting of the stylist’s chair) talk often turns to relationships. At this morning’s appointment, talk turned to past lovers. No, no, we weren’t doing the “oh, I miss him so much” thing (especially for me—my last “real love” prior to my husband was almost 16 years ago). We weren’t mourning the loss of the “almost.” She’s in a blissfully happy relationship, and I have been one half of a mostly successful marriage for over a decade. We’re both committed-type gals.

It was a really insightful conversation. I left feeling somehow lighter; it was a relief that I wasn’t the only one out there who still feels certain ways about certain things.

Then, driving a short distance up the road to a Peet’s Coffee in Anaheim Hills (where I’ve been doing a lot of my work lately—being at home is not necessarily conducive to actually working, I’m discovering) I spotted a group of people crossing from the office buildings to the smattering of restaurants across the way. As I watched them walk—three guys and two girls, laughing, talking, obviously looking forward to enjoying a fun lunch together—it occurred to me that every one of those 20-to-30 something people had, at one point in their life, had their heart broken. Just like me. Just like my stylist. Just like my friends. And anyone else who has managed to survive the dating world past the age of 25. And it made me think about the impact these lost loves have had on all of us—and how, even after many years away from them, even years after you know the last shred of love you had for them is gone, these lost loves still have an influence in your life, however small, and the way you view the world.

For me, it is a small, dull ache, like an old bruise—along with an absolute certainty that he was not the right guy for me. I spent years in my 20s, following the split, trying to “get back” at him (which was really quite hilarious, considering that we stopped all contact after our break up and he had no way of knowing what I was up to). I played the “I don’t want to get hurt” card on every date, and in turn, hurt others. It took a very long time for me to open up my heart again, and by that time I was nearly 29, much more settled and focused. I also had something I didn’t before—perspective. Not everything—including the break up—was about me. We just were not right for each other—it was to his credit that he recognized it before I did. His credit, and his unbroken heart.

And I'll admit to this: now and then I do wonder what he's up to. And I have googled him once or twice. I even found him on Facebook, though we are not "friends." In my circle of close friends, most have admitted that, like me, they still have a special place in their past for the one who changed their view of the romantic world. And they, like me, despite normal curiosity about their "past love," are for the most part happy with the journey their life has taken them on, and the person they've taken that journey with.

So I'm part of a very large, very inclusive club: the club of people who've had their heart broken, stomped on, crushed, twisted, torn apart, and otherwise mangled almost beyond recognition. And I'm also part of the club whose members (all of us, it would seem) discover that hearts really do mend, though it takes time, energy, effort, and most of all, perspective. I think, for the most part, these two clubs are actually one and the same. Because after all, most of us end up in a long term relationship. It may not be with our first love (in fact, 9 times out of 10 it's not) but it is with, God willing, our real love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What I Signed Up For

This is not what I signed up for.

Whenever a particularly onerous duty falls my way in the course of my day-to-day activities as a mom/wife/general all-around household troubleshooter, this thought sneaks its way into my brain. No matter the roadblocks I’ve put up—this is what a mom does or this isn’t as gross as it could be, at least—the thought creeps in.

Yesterday the thought became un un-ending mantra as I carefully (and while holding my gorge) extracted a—and this is where it gets truly gross and I apologize—large and painful poop from my dog’s rear end (using about 6 layers of paper towels of course!!). The poor dog—incredibly constipated. (My fault, I’m sure—I let her eat several left over pieces of filet the night before from the girls’ unfinished dinner plates.) After a day of straining to get “her business” over with, she just made it worse. So when she finally did go, it didn’t all come out and—well, you get the picture. The poor thing was whimpering in pain. So my brave daughter Nati (whose express goal is to be a veterinarian when she grows up) held up Daisy’s tail while I did what I had to do. Eeewwwww. The dog felt better instantly, and quickly returned to her normal, happy self. And while I washed my hands in ultra-hot water at the sink, sudsing up to my elbows, that thought circle around in my head.

This is not what I signed up for.

It occurred later this evening when said-same lovely girl Nati “accidentally” twisted the handle off the bathroom faucet and water started shooting up (she was trying, she explained later, to see what would happen if she took the handle off—and I still don’t really know how she managed that—it takes a lot of strength. She’s 7!) Anyway, amid heaps of towels and hysteria (Nati is terrified of floods—my fault; I let her watch “Deep Impact” when she was four, and she’s never looked at water the same way), I managed to screw the handle back in, all the while trying to calm my screaming, sobbing child and reassure her that there would be no flood. The rushing water stopped—stopping the tears took longer.

This is not what I signed up for.

But fortunately, those moments are far and few between. But when they do occur, it confirms a simple truth: being human, we're all susceptible to the idea that somehow, some way, life hasn't turned out the way we'd thought it would (or thought we deserved). I for one (and I doubt many of the people I know) would have imagined when they decided to "take the plunge" that part of that new role might include frantically yanking towels off their ranks to stem the upward rush of a spouting bathroom geyser.

It's a simple truth that we all give tacit acknowledgment to, yet seldom seem to think applies to ourselves: life is hard. For some it's hard in tragically life-altering ways--a loved one's sudden death, the loss of what was thought to be a secure job, the breakup of a marriage, the devastation of one's entire life savings in a Ponzi scheme (ala Bernie Madoff)--and for others, it's hard in little ways that build up, up and up until the cumulative effect makes each day less bearable than the one before: a spouse that, day after day, year after year, works 14 hours days, comes home, works some more, and shares no conversation with you more in-depth than "Did you get the mail?"; a car that breaks down again and again and again; a thoughtless neighbor who lets their dog poop on your lawn despite your requests that they stop it or has one loud, ear-thumping, end-at-3am party after another, knowing you have a baby in the house; a relative who has made it his or her personal mission to dominate every holiday with their own bitterness and frustration. Life is hard because of both huge things and little things.

But's its all just life--that's my point. And all of us being human, it's easy to fall into the "this is not what I signed up for" trap. Don't get me wrong; I'm no Polly Anna eager to tell you to put a smile on your face and just muddle through it. And I'm not particularity religious, either--I'm the last one who will tell you "It's all part of God's plan. We can't see it now, but someday we will." (Having heard this trite phrase from several well-meaning but clueless people at my dad's funeral, I can tell you from personal experience that those words are not comforting. Sorry.) But I will say that if we understand--as friends, spouses, neighbors, colleagues and people who share the same block/city/country/world--that we're not the only one out there having a rough day, I think we will all better for it.

So what did I sign up for then? In life? In marriage? In parenthood? I signed up for the good stuff: the successes, both large and small, that give me enough energy to move to the next level--be it planning a fundraiser that brought in gobs of cash or making a recipe that actually tasted like it was supposed to; the small moments, like the way Daisy leaps with excitement each and every time she sees me even after the briefest of absences; the warm, sleepy goodnight kisses from my girls just before they drift into dreamland. The friends I love, the people I admire, the places I've been fortunate enough to see in my life.

So yeah, yesterday, I spent my fair share of thought-energy thinking This isn't what I signed up for. But then, when I really gave my day the thought it deserved, I realized that it actually was what I signed up for-- I signed up for taking myself out of the "center" of it, and putting someone else there. That's why even though "helping" Daisy last night made my stomach do the long, lazy flip-flop that tell me I'm about to puke, I didn't hesitate to do it because I knew she needed me. Or stanching the bathroom flood (both of water and Nati's tears). I signed up for letting the guy in the car in front of me ease in, and for holding open the door for the harried mother with three little ones and only two hands. I signed up for listening when an ear is needed, for advising when an opinion is sought, and for holding when love is the only thing that will make it "all better." I signed up for doing my part to make the world (my small piece of it, anyway) a little better than I found it--a work in progress, always.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Art in the OC...It Does Exist!

The title of this post is strictly tongue-in-cheek. Much to my never-ending delight, there are a significant number of galleries in the OC, from the "that's-as-good-as-anything-I've-ever-seen-in-LA" Bowers Museum in Santa Ana to the "the-view-rivals-the-art-collection" of the beach-side Laguna Art Museum. Sprinkled throughout Orange County, from the Gallery On Glassell (a lovely little place in Downtown Orange which features Southwestern Art) to the Muckenthaler Cultural Center (in Fullerton; line drawings; paintings; pottery; with the occasional concert series thrown in for good measure), aesthetes will find places filled with art that makes the heart sigh and the mind soar with possibilities.

And the OC art environs don't end with the visual variety--we have theater that ranges from uber-smart (The Chance Theater in Anaheim has some productions that will take your breath away--currently playing "The Seagull" by Anton Chekov) to the family-flavored fair featured at The Curtain Call Dinner Theater (you won't want to miss "Singin' in the Rain"). Plus, I'm proud to say that OC theaters include the world-class Orange County Performing Arts Center (which has productions that rival Broadway's--Spamalot, anyone? Opened on the 6th). The Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall is a beautiful piece of architecture (I've only been to two events there, though, and likely will not go again unless forcibly dragged. The seating situation--five stories of undulating levels with a low guardrail--gave me such a bad case of vertigo that I actually ended up hyperventilating. A very sweet but obviously wary seating host had to talk me through it. True story. That being said, if you're not afraid of heights, you should go...of course, I didn't know I was afraid of heights until I went...hmmmmm)

Plus, the Argyros Stage at the OC Performing Arts offers edgy, contemporary fair that will please those looking for something that propels them to the next level. And of course, who could forget our local college drama departments? Cal State Fullerton's drama department hosts amazing productions for the low, low price of just $9 a seat--and every seat is a good one.

So anyone who dares look down on those of us "behind the Orange Curtain" (a phrase I hate but in many cases--especially politics--is eerily apt) for not having any "culture," (I'm talkin' to you, LA) I beg to differ. As a aesthete (okay, okay, I'm showing off--an aesthete is just a fancy, aren't-I-brilliant word for 'art lover') I consider myself pretty well versed in all things artistic Orange Count has to offer. But this past Saturday night, I learned that "pretty well versed" really doesn't mean jack in the big scheme of things when it comes to the world of art. Because art is more than a once-a-month trip to Laguna to cruise the galleries or a once-a-season production of The Sound of Music with my girls. It's moving beyond the expected places, to those where you might not have even thought about.

My dear friend Larissa Marantz (she of OC Art Studios, Rug Rats, countless children's books, and, who can leave out, the wonderful portrait of President Obama for the Manifest Hope exhibit during the inaguration) was invited to show her Obama painting (she has two) and painting of Lilly Ledbetter (Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act--signed into law after 10 years of struggling to close the pay gap between men/women doing the same job) at the Studio Del Sotano Gallery in Santa Ana. Now, unless you're not from around the OC or have been living under the proverbial rock, you know that over the last 8 years or so, downtown Santa Ana has been striving to redefine itself as an artist/art lover (aesthete--hee hee) haven where people can breathe in the magic of local artists.

So along with my other dear friend, Melissa, an aesthete like me (okay, I swear I will never use that word again!! Geesch!) I went to see Larissa's installation. It was the Santa Ana's Art Walk, a once-per-month celebration of the local artiste. The gallery owners are there, doors wide open, offering wine and assorted goodies for all. I'd never been to the Art Walk before and I must say, I was tremendously excited to go. Not only was it a bit of an adventure--I'm always, always, always up for trying something new--but it also provided me with the opportunity to check out this part of the SA I'd always heard of but hadn't had a chance to explore.

The Santa Ana Art Walk was all I hoped it would be. It was a phenomenal night, perfect weather. The rather smallish crowd in the street gave way to street vendors with interesting things to look at, although nothing quite caught my eye to buy (maybe next time).

I could give you a blow-by-blow description of which galleries we went in and what we saw. But what fun would that be? I'll tell you what made an impression on me, instead, in the order that I remember them (both good impressions and what-the-hell-is-that??-impressions):

1. Larissa's paintings (of course--I am so thrilled to see her in a gallery. She's worked so hard & derserves it so much)
2. "Tape." Yup. A blank white canvas with a smattering of torn blue painters tape in the upper left corner.
3. Naked girl live installation. This was a real girl. Best Boobs Ever! I was both impressed by her bravery and jealous because, unlike me, her boobs don't reach her belly button (give her another 22 years, though!!)
4. Military poet. This was a very moving scene. Melissa, whose husband Brian is retired Marine, struck up a conversation with a retired soldier dressed in full camo . A soldier/poet who, during active duty, was one of those poor souls whose job was to tell families that their loved one had died. She drew his story out of him, and I just listened, my heart breaking. Will never forget that encounter.
5. A painter from CSUF (her name I can't remember--arrgghhh!! She deserves recognition--even on my lowly blog. If I can remember it, I'll post it) who painted children's artwork with such a deft hand that the results looked like they came straight from a child's imagination. the ability to create such amazing work truly moves my soul. I could hardly tear myself away.

The rest of it all whirls together in a pleasant, fuzzy sort of fog. I really enjoyed myself. The Art Walk in Santa Ana is now on my list of must-do-agains. There will be art you love, art that perplexes you, and art that makes you think. The important thing is, the art is here. Right here in the OC.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

To TV or Not to TV...To Each Their Own

Had an interesting conversation with my 10-year-old today. It's amazing how often I come away from these brief interludes with real insight. Kids are pretty much as straight forward as they come--'till they hit 12 or so, and then they learn the much coveted-in-the-preteen-world skill of conversation avoidance--so I know I can trust what she says. I still have about 20 months before Sam hits the big 1-2, so I can pretty much rely on her to speak her mind (for the time being, anyway).

So this morning as she's shoveling down eggs while perusing the Lillian Vernon catalogue that arrived in yesterday's mail, she casually states, "My friends like you, but they think you're kind of mean."

I was astonished. Mean? Me? I thought I was the cool mom--or, if not the cool mom, at least the mom least likely to embarrass (well, not if you ask my other daughter, Nati. She says I'm mortifying--a word she learned from the "Harry Potter" books--because I always try to kiss her goodbye when I drop her off at school). Anyway, I of course had to have an explanation. I was, truth be told, a little hurt. I really like all of Sam's friends (a sweet group of girls with some of the biggest hearts around--already volunteering, raising money for charity, and generally trying to save the world at the tender ages of 10) and the idea they thought I was mean bothered me.

"Well, they think you're mean because you won't let me watch TV."

Ahhhhhh. Of course. In the world of the average 10-year-old, what happens on iCarly is at least as important as what is going on in social studies--in a way, I suppose, because Carly's adventures sort of are social studies. So when Sam's friends ask her is she's seen the latest show and she is forced to admit she hasn't, due to Mom's strict no-TV-during-the-week rule, well, I can see how that would be interpreted as "mean."

The TV-restriction isn't a punishment. It's not due to a belief that the world is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket or that shows today aren't the wholesome Brady Bunch-esque parables of my own childhood. I'm not even very religious, so it's not about shielding the girls from the "evils" of Hollywood.

The TV restriction came about this summer for one very reason: my children's reaction to television--which is to say, their non-reaction.

Unclear on what I mean? Here's a visual for you: A few months ago I walked into the family room where the girls were watching some show or the other on my husband's larger-than-ever-possibly-necessary-unless-you-run-a-sports-bar TV (65 inches--literally takes up most of the wall). I said "hello" to them pleasantly, naturally expecting a response.


I walked over to them. They did not turn my direction, acknowledge me in anyway--their eyes didn't even flicker in my direction. I waved my hand in front of their faces. No change of expression. Nati's mouth hung open (I swear I saw a bit of drool on her chin) and Sam sat twirling a loose strand of hair while she watched Zach and Cody enter into another ill-advised scheme.

I've seen this comatose-by-television condition before. Most strikingly several years ago when I went to visit a new friend who had two pre-teen sons. The boys were on the couch, staring blankly at the screen and eating chips. She tried in vain to get their attention so I could be introduced. The boys never even twitched. They communicated through their lack of response that not only was I not important as a guest, but that their mother was not worth the bother of answering. That still stands out in my mind--not just because of their rudeness (which not to put too fine a point on it, kids do need to respect adults--or at least pretend to) but because of the disregard with which they treated their mother. Obviously there was some other dynamic at work in that home, but still....TV played a big part in it.

So when I saw my girls unresponsive and blank-faced in front of the TV, I decided I was through with it. I let them watch 'till the end of the show (sheer dumb luck saves the day again) and then turned it off. They wailed like I'd killed the cat. I explained that they were going to play. Yes, play. With each other. Or, barring that, they were going to have friends over. For geesch's sake, we have a playroom, pool, and a huge slope in the back yard with a tree to climb on. Plus about a gazillion toys. Go play, I told them again. They looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

And it wasn't like they were TV addicts--they didn't even watch that much TV in the first place. The girls were already limited to 2 hours of watching a day. The problem as I saw it was, though, that when they were bored or out of ideas, the first thing they would turn to to fill the empty time was the "boob tube" (a favorite phrase of my late dad's). I wanted more from them--and for them. They're smart, creative kids. but the TV took away their chance to be as inventive as I knew they could be.

It took about three days of grumbling, and then, suddenly, they stopped begging for TV. They found other things to do. Sam has become quite the rock collector (actually, too much of the rock collector--she has a huge tub under her bed filled with rocks of all kinds--including a few pieces of broken concrete--gleaned from the slope in our backyard). She's also discovered the joys of collecting caterpillars and keeping them in jars, where they turn into chrysalis and eventually butterflies (the last batch turned out to be fuzzy-antennaed moths). Nati loves to garden, like me. Give her a few empty pots, some potting soil, seeds or seedlings, and she's happy for hours.

Now, the girls TV watching is limited to weekends only. And a terrific thing has happened. They don't clamor for Saturday morning cartoons the moment they roll out of bed. They play Barbies or American Girl Dolls, or read books, or head outside (once as early as 6:15am; I had to drag them back in out of concern for sleeping neighbors) to run, jump and climb the tree. TV is quite literally an afterthought.

I know that my approach is not for everyone. Some moms and dads see TV as a great way for the kids to unwind. Or, they may need the TV to keep the kids occupied while they pay bills or make dinner or something equally important. And I'll be the first to admit, when my kids were younger and less able to look after themselves, Zaboomafu, Barney, and Between the Lions were my go-to babysitters when I needed a few minutes to breathe.

So am I mean? Sam and Nati don't think so...embarrassing, maybe ("Stop trying to kiss me, mom!") but ultimately they understand why the no-TV rule stands. So yeah, Sam misses the latest episode of iCarly. But in its place she gets butterflies to raise, rocks to collect, books to read...and adventures of her own.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Disney Half--Back on the Road to Runnin'

Note: This post was written immediately after the Disney Half Marathon on September 6th, but I neglected to post it in a timely manner. I thought I'd re-visit it and write it a little better, but life got in the way. So here it is, unedited and probably a little rough. xoxox

Yesterday, September 6th, was the (drumroll please!!) Disneyland 1/2 Marathon. I've been building up to it--although, interestingly, not actually training for it--for the last four months, ever since I reached deep into my wallet and pulled out my Mastercard to pay the (gasp!) $120 registration fee.

It would be my first race (loosely referred to as "race" since there is no way in God's green Earth I was even within wishing distance of placing a top spot--or even a spot in the top 100) since last September, when I ran the Disney Half Marathon. That little excursion re-injured the disks in my back that I had originally thrown out of whack in May (2008) and sent me directly into physical therapy. After a few months of exercises that looked like a piece of cake when done by my PT but were actually muscle-straining agony when performed by me, my back was as good as it was gonna be. That being said, it was still achy enough to wake me up a night once in a while and touching my toes was a thing of my past.

So naturally, I was afraid to try to run again. I'd gotten the original injury over-training for the 2008 San Diego Marathon (I just had to get under 4 hours--ha ha on me, since instead of doing it I was laying prostrate on my couch eating Vicodin by the double handfuls and calling my husband to help me to the bathroom whenever I had to pee). I was pretty sure I'd hung up my Avias for good. But after a while, whenever I'd sit at my desk, I'd look at the various race medals hung up on the wall next to me, and think, "Wow, I'd really like to do at least one more..."

So before I had time to think better of it, I signed up for the 2009 Disney Half. I'd already done it two prior years (2007 & 2008) and had tons of fun (despite the soul-searing heat of the 2007 race--90 degrees at the 6:00 am start). And once it sank in that I'd actually committed to do it, I started to worry.

Oddly, though, I didn't train much. The farthest I ran prior to the Disney Half this year was 6 miles--6 miles!! And I was planning to run 13.1?? What was I thinking??? Many of my friends hinted that I was a little crazy. My husband went so far as to call me certifiable. And to be honest, there were a couple weeks where I agreed with them. I was in no shape to run a half. I'd just eat the $120 and not do it--after all, I had the perfect excuse (my baaaaccckkkk...).

But then, my 10-year-old daughter's Girl Scout Troop Leader told me with a big, happy smile that the whole Troop had signed up to attend the Disney Half to hand out waters and cheer on the runners--all because of me! Well, obviously there was no getting out of it now. In the weeks before the event, I ran 3 - 4 days a week, 3 or 4 miles a day. Short runs, but endurance builders. Up a long hill, then a mile and a half at a slight but continual incline. My back protested, but not overly so. I'd worked so much on my core during PT that my stomach muscles were stronger than they'd been since I was in my 20s (of course, they're hidden by a layer of fat that was non-existence when I was younger, but if you push real hard, you can feel the six pack hidden under there). The core muscles support your back and take off much of the pressure. So note: if you have a back injury, strengthen your core.

But I was nervous. When my dear friend Janelle and I went to the Expo the Friday before the race to pick up our numbers, shirts and goodie bags, the chrysalis in my stomach released not one but several large-winged butterflies, and they were not happy. But that's not to say that I didn't feel the familiar pre-race rush. I love race expos--if you're a runner, and you've been, you know what I'm talking about. The charged up atmosphere of all those about to test both their physical and mental endurance...well, it's contagious. Anyway, mixed in with the adrenalin were those alarmed butterflies. I just didn't know if I would be capable...I comforted myself with the thought that there were several medic stations along the course, along with the thought that if I did collapse, somebody would stop and help me...right? Right?

The morning of the race was cloudy and cool--maybe a few degrees over what I consider ideal race temp (I like it around 58-60 degrees--the bod heats up quick). There was a cloud cover. At 6:02am, corral B got the gun, and we were off.

I'd made sure to tell everyone that my goal was just to finish, that I wasn't in it for a time, but secretly I had to finish it at 2:30 or less. I'd even picked up a timer bracelet at the Expo the day before. Not only had I picked up the 2:30 bracelet, but I also picked up a 2:15 bracelet. (A timing bracelet is a little paper bracelet that goes on your wrist. It has every mile listed and where you should be, time-wise, when you hit that mile. For example, if you are trying for a time of 2:15, you need to be at the first mile by 8:50 or something like that). Anyway, my fastest Half Marathon had been the Huntington Beach Half 2008 at 2:05:18. My "least best" was the 2:18 I'd done at the aforementioned incredibly hot 2007 Disney Half. In that race, had it not been for my BF Jackie, I would have succumbed to heat prostration and general discouragement.

So anyway, in spite of my protestations that I didn't care what time I'd get, I really, really, really wanted to get somewhere between 2:15 and 2:20. I even strategically placed myself next to the 2:15 pace group.

And guess what? Right up until mile 6 (when I got stuck in a 3-mile long line at the port-o-potty) I kept on pace with the 2:15 group. I was astonished...

And my final finishing time? According to the official race time on my chip, it was 2:19:21. I'd done it. A little part of me grumbled that if I hadn't had to pee so gosh darn bad, I would have come in 3 minutes sooner, but really, if I had skipped the potty, I would've been runnin' in wet shorts, if you get my meaning.

And I had alot of things going for me, don't forget. The weather cooperated--I didn't get sun until mile 10, and then it was on my back, rather than in my face like the poor souls who had the misfortune to be stuck in corral G (start time: 6:26 am). I had my tunes--just downloaded "Kings of Leon" and the "Best of 311" to keep my feet moving when my mind wanted to stop. Plus, most importantly, I had those girl scouts--along with their 10 x 6 banner that said "We Love You Kim!" How can you not run well when you have a huge banner dedicated just to you, accompanied by 8 smiling (if tired) faces?

So the 2009 Disney Half Marathon is now a memory that I am so, so glad I have. And now I have something else to look forward the world of running, that is. I've already signed up for my next Half--the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January 2010. This time, I promise, I will train!! (maybe I can get back up in the 2:00 - 2:15 range--hey, you never know!--wink wink)

And as long as those girl scouts are there to cheer me on, I have no doubt that I will!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Downside of Looking at the Upside...

One of the tritest phrases in the English language is “look for the silver lining.” As in “yes, the stock market wiped out our retirement savings, but the silver lining is that I still have my health so I can work until I’m 80.” Or, “True, my husband cheated on me, but the silver lining is that at least he didn’t cheat on my with someone like that woman from ‘Fatal Attraction.’” Or, a personal favorite that I actually heard with my own ears: “I know he stole the client from me and stabbed me in the back, but the silver lining is at least I’m assisting him on the account.” True story, from my days contracting at PR firms in San Diego. The girl who said it was a wide-eyed, sweet-souled junior account exec who by now has either saved her sanity (and that sweet soul) and abandoned the PR field altogether, or has in the intervening years shaken off the mantle of optimism and replaced it with clear-eyed, hard-edged realism (in other words, she has since thrown offending client-snatcher under the bus.)

Until very recently, I have been the master of looking for the silver lining. Always. In every single situation. When the walls crumbled around me, I’ve been the one to say, “Well, hey, yeah, I know life is caving in on us, but working together to rebuild it will bring us closer.” I’ve been that benighted-eyed optimist who refuses to let “stuff” get me down. The Annie of attitude. Perhaps even annoyingly so (one of my dearest friends, who loves me and knows me best, has said that on more than one occasion).

But over time. I’ve started to alter my perspective a bit. It’s been more than the economic meltdown (which to be fair, with the stock market nearing the 10,000 mark again, may be on the beginning of a recovery—of course, we’d sold much of our piddling remaining stock we had prior to the upswing, natch), or even my wild overindulgence in volunteering, which left me feeling slightly dizzy and almost hung-over with do-gooder-ness. It’s more been the dawning realization that my tendency to always look at the bright side of life was in part a way for me to hide my true feelings about a particular situation. I’ve realized that looking at the silver lining isn’t always the right thing to do. Sometimes seeing and acknowledging that a situation has gone awry is what you need to do.

By immediately jumping on the “let’s think positive” I’ve been denying myself the opportunity to feel the disappointment or frustration that was inside. I felt bad about being angry. As if anger was a nasty boil that needed to be lanced, less someone see me angry and –gasp!!—think bad of me.

I’m not advocating embracing anger and beating everyone over the head with it. That’s no way to solve any problem. That just alienates people and makes you look a little off-balance. But what I am saying is that it is okay to feel anger, or frustration, or disappointment, and not force yourself to gloss over your feelings, as if those emotions had no validity. Those emotions can give you clarity, whereas denying them will only give you ulcers.

I know of what I speak. The last month has been a trying one. In fact, the whole year has been—I can’t remember ever hoping so fervently that the year would just hurry up and end, as if by changing the calendar from 2009 to 2010 will magically change circumstances. I’ve told myself hundreds of times over the last months, “Look on the bright side!” and “Everything’ll work out.” And that ol’ chestnut, “Everything happens for a reason.” And of course the ever-wise “It’s all good.”

So if that was so “all good”, why did I end up one day collapsing on the kitchen floor, hugging my dog and crying hysterically, all because I broke a casserole dish? Obviously, my “out-of-the-blue” crying attack was more than the dish that had slipped from my hand. It was then I realized that faking it might fool some people—but not the people who knew me well. And I especially couldn’t fool myself, at least not for long. My poor dog. She’d probably thought I’d lost my mind.

I’m still the generally positive person I’ve always been, but I have been allowing myself to feel the emotions—disappointment, frustration—I’ve been holding at bay for so long. At least a little. I’ve found that these emotions have galvanized me to take the initiative to get myself into a better situation, rather than wait, look for the silver lining, and hope everything will get better. So I guess…I’m being positive about being …negative? Not really. But at least, at last, I’m being realistic.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

An Obvious Lesson it Took Way to Long for Me to Get

Yesterday, I clicked the "follow" button for Tony Robbins on Twitter.
Tony Robbins, you say? Tony Robbins, the toothy, tall-haired self-help guru of the '90s? He of the ubiquitous life seminars, personal growth tapes and Personal Power workbooks? Yup. Him.
Years ago, his face, with its long-tooth, almost predatory smile, was inescapable--it peered out at passersby from bookshelves, billboards, and late night infomercials. Tony Robbins was part of the background landscape of my life, like the Mazda Miatas that zoomed around on the freeways and the self-consciously sarcastic TV shows like "Roseanne" that were so popular at the time. Back then, I always smirked at him. I was in my 20s in the 90s, Tony Robbin's heyday, and was pretty certain I already knew everything. I figured anyone who'd buy into the change-your-life schtick he was selling was a loser and I had no use for them anyway.
Now that I actually have some real life experience under my belt, I'm a gentler judge of character than I was back when I thought everything--relationships, career, the world--was all about me. I realize now that many people do find themselves stuck at various points in their lives. Learning techniques to move forward is far better than wallowing in inertia. Some people take community college courses. Others go to therapy. Still others find a guru, ala Tony Robbins (actually, I believe he goes by Anthony Robbins these days). And people like me, try to muddle through it on their own.
For about a year I've been muddling. The girls are older and don't need me as much, my frantic days of volunteering are mostly behind me (I have taken a sacred, cannot-under-pain-of-death-be-broken vow to never be the committee head of a silent auction/dinner dance again), and I can only have so many lunches with friends before feeling useless (not to mention bloated). I do have things going on--I'm co-authoring a cookbook, plus working on a spec article for Runner's World about youth running clubs--but I've still felt that I haven't moved forward with my life for a very long time.
I suspect, from the casual and sometimes intense conversations I've had with friends, that many people are in a similar situation. At least, I'm reassured, I'm not alone.
So what to do? That is the questions I've been wrestling with for the better part of a year. How to move forward. Then, last night, in a rare conversation with my husband (the man is so busy at work he rarely has time to eat dinner, let alone engage in long conversations with the likes of me) the answer--at least, what I think may be the answer--revealed itself.
Acknowledge your strengths, and build upon them. Let everything else go.
Seems obvious, I know. But let's delve into it a little deeper. I'll be the subject. My greatest strengths are writing and interacting (on both a social and professional level) with people. I'm also pretty good at art, public relations, and marketing. I make a fair pass at decorating and design, too. And therein lies the problem for me--and for most people in my situation, I suspect. I'm pretty good at alot of things--but don't really excel at any. The reason I don't excel in one particular area is because I haven't focused on developing any one talent. I've been all over the board--I've taken art classes, writing classes, I've made abortive attempts at re-starting the public relations consulting business I had when I was in my 20s, I started a less-than-successful mural painting business. And the result is that I haven't made any forward progress. I've been floundering around in a mess of my own creation.
And last night, Dave gently suggested I let it all go--and just pick one thing, one thing, to strengthen. And once I'd pick that one thing, I'd need to commit to it. So that's the decision I've made. And when I brainstormed by list of strengths, the top one was writing. And since I have already started (albeit a short way) down that path, I will (try to) let the other things fall to the wayside and put my effort into building my writing muscle. That's not to say I won't still paint the mural or two. But instead of scattering my efforts around in alot of places, I'm going to pull them in and focus on the main thing.

Sort of like Michael Jordan. I know--not exactly a right-on comparison, but it will do to underscore my point. Basketball legend. Tried baseball--not as good. Tried golf. Not his true thing either. So it was back to basketball, where arguably he should have stayed all along.

And as for Tony Robbins--ahem, Anthony Robbins--while you won't find me at any of his seminars any time soon, I have to admit that the daily affirmations that come across in his Twitter feed are pretty encouraging. And I guess when it comes down to it, when you're stuck in a rut, sometimes one of the most important tools to get yourself out of it is a belief in yourself--and a bit of encouragement from others.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Yesterday afternoon my girls and I saw a commercial that sent all three of us into gales of laughter--albeit for very different reasons. The commercial I refer to is a real side-splitter, one of those rare "bids for attention" that actually succeeds in getting the viewer to watch the entire thing. It is a commercial for Staples. In it, a giddy father swoops along happily in a Staples store, two solemn-faced youngsters trailing him in silence. He laughingly waves pens and note pads and staplers in the faces of his kids before carelessly tossing the supplies into his cart. Then he does a little jig up the isle, positively glowing with joy. The cheerless children mope along, while the music in the background warbles, "It's the most wonderful tiiimmmmeeee of the year!"

Yes, school begins again. For us, it starts in less than two weeks--12 days to be exact. And while there is a part of me that is going to be doing a little celebrating of my own (altho I doubt I'll be dancing through the aisles at Staples like the dad in the commercial), I know that I am going to miss the girls desperately. We've gotten into a self-sufficient routine that is as comfortable as it is predictable. And as much as I like to fly by the seat of my pants (as evidenced by my lack of focus, commitment, or any other form of adult-esque maturity) I like that, during the summer, I know just what my day with my girls is going to be like.

This year, I find, I'm having a bit harder time with the idea that they will soon be headed back to the hallowed halls of learning. They're getting older--going into 5th and 3rd--and they just don't need me as much. Their growing independence comes out in little but undeniable ways--the other day before heading off to the beach, I started putting sunscreen on my oldest daughter. She said, "Mom, I can do it" and took the bottle right out of my hands. I was a little stung--after all, no one can put on sunscreen like a mom, right? I woefully predicted she'd miss a spot and end up with a burn, but she did a good job--the aloe vera gel stayed in the medicine cabinet that night. My youngest daughter has already grown impatient with my pursuit of her for hugs and kisses. She's a cuddler--but on her terms. 

But of course (and perhaps this is part of the reason I'm not looking forward to the advent of school in a week and a half) when it comes to homework, they are definitely not independent. Homework is a grueling two-hour-a-day test of my ability to actually help them understand what they're supposed to be doing. The show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" would laugh me out of the room--throughout Sam's fourth grade year, I proved more than once than I'm not even as smart as a 4th grader. 

My favorite (ahem) example of this is when I tried to help Sam with some pre-pre-algebra sort of stuff. I vaguely remembered the general principal from 6th or 7th grade 30 years before. I gamely tried to demonstrate how to beat an algebraic equation into submission using just my brain. I'll never forget that day--Sam and I were in the waiting area at my other daughter's gymnastics class, sitting at a table reserved for siblings with homework. There were four or five other kids there in various stages of homework frustration. And try as I might, I just couldn't help Sam with her math. At last in desperation, she asked a couple other moms who were hanging around for help with her homework (yes, having your daughter give up on you helping her with math is a singularly humiliating feeling). The other moms gave it their best shot, too--but in the end, I decided my answers had to be the right ones, and instructed Sam to write them down.

The next day when she arrived home from school, I could tell by her face she was struggling between tears and laughter. I suspected I knew why...and sure 'nuff, she pulled out her graded homework from the day before. Her answers --ahem, my answers--were wrong. Every single one. I found myself in the unique position of trying to explain to my kid why I didn't know how to do fourth grade math. I couldn't explain, so I directed her that next time she needed to know what x equalled, she could go ahead and ask her dad!

So now with school right around the corner, the kids are excited to see their friends again, worried about increasingly difficult homework, and hoping they get nice teachers. I am excited for them, and glad for myself that I'll be able to get back into a routine of my own. I have several article proposals out there that I'm waiting to hear back on (and one idea is, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, so good that I've already started my research--after all, how could the magazine possibly turn me down??) plus the cookbook Stargrazers that I'm co-authoring. I've got plenty to keep me busy. I'm also trying desperately to finish my writing website so when potential clients ask me if I have a website, I can answer them in the affirmative rather than hem and haw and generally look like a behind-the-times ass. And I just finished writing my one year plan for moving from the occasional freelance work to full-time freelance writer. So I definitely won't be bored when they trundle off to school.

But once the elation of seeing them off for another year wears off, and the strains of "It's the most wonderful tiiimmmmeeee of the year" fade away, I'll miss them. And our own special summer routine. 

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