Fear, Parenting, Self-awareness

Being comfortable with being clueless, or feeling okay about being completely ignorant in a given situation, is not a skill that many of us can do well, but I wish I could. Being in the space of learning something new, having the expectation to perform (fairly) well, while admitting that I really don’t know what I’m doing, is extremely difficult for me, as it is for many of us. We all want to “know” everything right now, eliminating the possibility of looking stupid. That, of course, is not always possible.

Last summer, for example, I took on the job of “computer person” for my kids’ swim team. This role entailed learning the software that the team uses to manage the swimmers and to run the meets. That, in itself, did not seem too difficult. Usually, I can pick up on new programs fairly quickly. But, as I soon discovered, there was a lot more involved than just figuring out software. I had to be at every home meet and  get everything ready to start the meet, including changes made by coaches,  fixing any issues with the program then printing them and other needed forms to run the meet. People waiting on me, and me alone, to get this meet going – now. Then, during the course of the meet, I was in charge of making sure times got entered and results printed. If there was a question about an event, it fell on me. It was a lot of pressure and I felt a lot of anxiety starting out.  I put myself in a position in which I did not know what was going on or what I supposed to do about it. My kids swam on the team last year, but my biggest contribution was running the snack bar. I had no clue about what happens “behind the scenes” at a meet, and how it all ends up with the meet results on a nice piece of paper for everyone. I was definitely clueless, signing up for the job, and in executing it.

As adults many of us do not put ourselves in brand new situations. We might get a new job or go back to school or travel to new places, but there is some element of familiarity in it. Most likely, we get a new job doing the same thing we did at our old job, we take classes but we have gone through school before, we might visit a new place on the globe but more than likely we have a ticket to go home. Few of us sign up for a sport that we have never played, learn a brand new instrument,  take on a completely new career that we have no experience in, or pick up and move permanently across the world to an unknown place. We do not often have the experience of being completely clueless and out of our comfort zone. We’re grown-ups and we don’t have to do that anymore.

And yet, being completely clueless in my new role as “swim team computer person” and not enjoying the feeling, I realized how often we ask our kids to do just that – jump in without knowing a thing.  “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” we usually say to them. “That’s okay, no one else knows what they’re doing either, just get out there and have fun,” we might encourage. My daughter signed up for basketball last winter for the first time. She was eight and never even attempted dribbling or shooting baskets (she was too short to reach the basket except on a fluke shot), but she showed real interest so I signed her up. Before her first game, she was very nervous. She claimed that she didn’t know how to play or what she was doing. I tried to tell her that it was okay to feel nervous because it was her first game, and that she should try to “observe” the game more than play in it. “If the ball comes to you, just pass it to your teammate. No one is expecting you to know everything during your first game.”

It was hard for her, but she did it. The opposing team ended up being a couple years older and a grade higher than her team; they were also well practiced. My daughter’s team got clobbered (to the point where they stopped keeping score

Getting lucky with the fluke shot.
Getting lucky with the fluke shot.

on the other team because it was so high). Players and parents were stunned and bit disappointed that they were so outmatched, but at least my daughter was in the same boat as her teammates, taking the defeat together.  Seeing her get out there and try, in front of many parents and other kids, was a realization for me. It is hard to put yourself out there, not knowing what you’re doing, and not wanting to screw it all up. She got out there, though, and I was proud of her for trying – with my view from the sidelines. Obviously, that was not something that I personally wanted to do. And yet, that following summer, I did. I walked into a job being completely clueless. Was I comfortable with that? No. But did I do it anyway? Yes.

I did catch on to the intricacies of the “computer person” job by the end of the swim season, and I wasn’t too bad at it. It taught me that, even as an old person (in my kids’ eyes), I can learn new things and use my brain. I didn’t do everything perfectly, but I figured out why I screwed up each time that I did. Now, since it is over, I am grateful for the experience, and I have a new respect for my children getting out there and doing new things. As adults we all should get out of our comfort zones and be clueless sometimes, despite feeling uncomfortable.

Now that I have put the responsibility on everyone else, I’ll go back and watch my kids do it for awhile.  :)

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Parenting, Self-awareness

As I added dishes to the dishwasher the other day, I was annoyed. I am one of those people who will rearrange the dishes in the dishwasher to make them all fit right. Anal, yes. On the bottom level plates should be put at the front and bowls at the back. It’s the only way to get them to fit in there without overlapping or wasting dishwasherspace. I know some people who will literally have about five dishes in their dishwasher and run it. Supposedly, it is so the dishes won’t touch because they might chip. It is such a waste a water. So I guess I must compensate for that by having every inch of space used in mine.

My husband does not think about the intricacies of dishwasher loading, and he always starts by putting the plates in the back. If there are just a couple, I’ll move them; if there are too many, I just leave them and be annoyed as I try to fit the rest of the dishes in.  My husband would tell me that he doesn’t have time to think about how to load the dishwasher in the most efficient way. He is probably right. He works full-time and commutes; I don’t. His job involves dealing with clients, solving problems, and engineering. Mine involves loading the dishwasher, folding the clothes (I’m still trying to discover a way to do that faster), and vacuuming. My job is also making lunches for kids and trying to keep them healthy, breaking up the argument over who gets the mail, and listening as my son tells me that his fellow kindergartner friend didn’t want to sit next to him at lunch, again.

My job as a mother and running the household is important. I try to do it well.  I try to raise my children to be kind and respectful, and to have them think about what they do and how it affects others. I also try to let them have fun because they will only be kids for a short time. I attempt to keep a relatively clean and orderly house (and it’s certainly not perfect) because I know what it is like to live in a disorganized mess, and the underlying feelings of insecurity  and chaos it causes. And yet, I still don’t feel like my job is as important as my husband’s, or most people of the working world.  I still question what I am doing and if it’s worth it. And as I load the dishwasher trying to make the dishes all fit together nicely, I feel unworthy.

I know, I know, this is a feeling and message that I am creating. It comes from within. No one is directly telling me (except for the dishwasher) that I am less than my husband, my father-in-law (also an engineer), my dad with high salary  healthcare career, or my doctor brother. I am telling myself: I am not as important as someone who has a paying career. My job of raising my children is not as worthy as theirs. Writing it makes me see how ridiculous the statement is – of course, this is an important job. If I want to be present for my children and help them to grow into kind, compassionate, and respectful adults then I think I need to be a part of that process.

This is not a dig towards anyone who works full-time and must have their kids go to daycare, definitely not. There are plenty of kids who are in that situation and have a better outlook than kids who don’t go to daycare. Some stay-at-home parents are less available to their kids than full-time working ones. But for me, I am making the choice to “stay-at-home” and there are consequences to that decision, just like there would be if I chose to go out and  work full-time. One of them is that I must face the fact that I don’t get raises or promotions, I don’t get accolades or performance reviews, I must examine my own job and determine if I need to improve in some areas, and I always think I do. And this is where stay-at-home moms (or dads) must build themselves up, disregard societal views towards those of us who “get to stay home all day and do nothing,” and realize that our jobs are important and we are contributing something more to the world than just doing the laundry or dusting the shelves (that you could write your name on due to the 1/4″ layer of dust, oh that’s just my house). So, dishwasher, I am going to shut you now, compliment you by saying that you’re doing a very good job, and tell you to stop talking and get back to work.

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Grief, Illness, Kids, Parenting

My mom has Parkinson’s disease, yes that same one as Michael J Fox, and unless you read his books or know someone who has it, most may not realize what a terrible disease it is. It’s more than tremors or a shaky hand reaching for something. It will make my mom fall apart in the middle of a store, unable to move, frozen in her tracks, and she will be forced to take tiny baby steps in a confused state as people whip past her, annoyed at this slow old lady. It’s the realization that she now wets the bed every night because the disease is forcing her bladder to contract, so while she sleeps she unknowingly urinates. It’s slowly taking her mind and memories away due to the dementia side of the illness. And someday, as the progressive disease takes its toll, she will be unable to do anything on her own: eat, walk, talk, use the bathroom, enjoy her grandchildren, the disease will have taken it all.

My husband, my brother, and I watch this progression grimly. Rationally we understand the disease, it slowly cuts off her serotonin and other neurotransmitters so that the needed connections to move don’t readily work (that is putting it very simply). You lose control over that connection in which your brain tells your body what to do. We also know that there is no cure; medications can only help with the symptoms of the disease as it gets gradually worse. And the kicker is that the long term side effect of the main medication she takes ultimately leads to uncontrollable movements – just like her disease.

When she first got diagnosed I knew almost nothing about Parkinson’s disease. Like most people, I just thought it would make her hand shaky as she reached for the salt at the dinner table. Since I always think that understanding something and arming oneself with knowledge is the best route, I researched the disease. I found out what happens in the brain and what will ultimately happen as time goes by. It was a difficult read. As I grappled with her doomed fate, I cried a lot, and asked “Why? Why is this happening to her?” This is a woman who wouldn’t hurt a soul. She was a bank teller, raised her kids, learned to live her own life after divorce, and was always present for her family – why is something so terrible happening to her, I questioned. Then, I inevitably went through the “It’s not fair!” side of it, because it wasn’t. Why is my mom, a nice person, a model (more or less) human being, sentenced to this disease when child-molesting perverts, rapists, and jerks who scam old people get to lead healthy lives? It’s not fair! I angrily thought to myself.

And, no, it isn’t fair. That is true. But this isn’t about what is fair. That is just my way of caring and being angry about her illness. I know there isn’t some being in the universe, handing out punishments to bad people and rewarding the good. That is obvious by all the pain and anguish in the world. So, fair has nothing to do with it. And in the end, neither does the why. Why does she have this disease, why did she get it instead of someone else? It doesn’t matter why she has it, she does. And someone else has it too, approximately one million people in the US alone have Parkinson’s disease.

So, as hard as it is, I need to let these things go. Whenever we are faced with adversity or pain or tragedy, we often point to the why (and the government and news point to the who – as in, who is to blame for this). Then when the why (or who) isn’t answered, or even if it is, we go to the fairness of it all – and when is it ever fair? In the midst of something terrible nothing seems fair.

So I have learned to let these two things go most days and just accept that she has a terminal disease, and it’s not going away. Some days are good for her, others aren’t,

My mom in the '80's, before her disease.
My mom in the ’80’s, before her disease.

and it will get worse, but we are dealing with that as it happens. That is all. Is that easy? Definitely not. No one can watch someone get worse in tiny increments and think, “oh it’s okay, it will be okay” because it’s not. I cannot hide behind the false idea that “she’ll be okay” because she won’t.

The hard part lately is when my eight-year-old daughter said, “I wish we could take Nana’s disease and give it to someone else.”   It made me realize how my very-aware daughter is witnessing this too, and how difficult it must be for her as well. I just said, “I know, I understand, but we can’t.” “But it’s not fair!” she said emphatically. “No, it isn’t,” I said, “I agree, but it’s the disease she has.”  I can’t fix it or shield my daughter from her grandmother’s disease. None of us can. So, instead, we will continue to visit her regardless of her current state that day. We’ll stick by her, even when the disease takes it all, not knowing the reason why and just letting the idea of fair go. It doesn’t have a place here even if we want it to.  As we painfully watch we will hope that our presence will make it easier on my mom, the one, in the end, who is suffering the most.

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