Fear, Self-awareness, Self-improvement, Technology

I recently bought the book, How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. I felt like I was spending far too much time looking at and preoccupied with that screen in my pocket when I could be doing many more productive things (like writing for instance, or reading, or even, dare I say it, doing nothing!). The studies that Price present are astounding and frightening, like a New York Times analysis that calculated that Facebook users were spending collectively 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every day; or that as of 2017, Americans were spending an average of more than four hours a day on their phones. We really are becoming a nation of phone zombies. My family is no different. I try to limit my kids’ screen time, but it’s probably far more than what is recommended.

What is really interesting in the book is how much the phone (looking at it, checking it, scrolling endlessly) is simply a habit. She describes Charles Duhigg’s definition of a habit (from his book, the Power of Habit, it’s a good one), which is “a choice that we addiction-phones2deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.” And how habits are loops made up of three parts: the cue (or trigger), the response, and the reward. In the case of the phone, it could be me bored while waiting in line somewhere (cue or trigger) so I check my phone (response), and find that I have email I could read (reward). And so it goes. First in situations of boredom, then in times of avoidance (say, when I don’t want to hear my kids complaining), and finally, just because. How many times have you looked at your phone simply because someone else did? Or checked your email or texts, thinking you heard that little ding, but it was just your imagination. (If you can believe it, the term for that is phantom ringing syndrome.)

I haven’t finished the book yet because it is broken up into two parts that take a while. The first is just information about how hooked we have all become, the second part is a 30-day plan to break up with your phone (I’m about halfway through) with tasks to do each day. She recommends small daily changes like turning off notifications so you’re not constantly checking every email when you hear the ding, or installing an app that tracks your usage so you truly know how much time you look at your phone, or even just pick it up.

It all accumulates into taking a complete vacation from your phone for twenty-four hours, meaning turning it off completely and putting it away for a full day and night. For some people, that’s seems impossible and anxiety-producing. For me, I’m not so sure. At first, I think,phone addiction “No problem,” but then I seem to think of reasons why I might need it on (my mom for instance, or some excuse I think is “important”). In the end, it’s just silly anxiety running the show and making me think that the world will end in those twenty-four hours simply because I (the all-important legend in my own mind) don’t have my phone on (in reality, I guess, it is the phone running my show). I will post a follow-up when I complete my thirty days of phone withdrawal and let you know how it went!

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Grief, Self-awareness

My donkey died last month (no, really). He was nearly thirty, which is about their life span, and he went very quickly. In the morning, Marcus was eating his hay breakfast with this buddy Olivia, and our two goofy goats, then by late afternoon, he was laying down at an odd angle (which isn’t typical) and looked dead. But he was still barely breathing.

By the time the vet got to our house, Marcus was staring vacantly, and she realized that he was a goner. She went to her truck to get the medicine to put him to permanent sleep, but in that short time, he had died. He gave one last breath while I sat next him, and was gone. We buried him in the dark. Mercifully, it had stopped raining that day during our very wet winter, but the mud and muck remained and we sloshed through it to his grave site.

My family said their last words to our donkey as he lay lifeless in a five-foot hole (tractors are a tool to be grateful for). Both of my kids were upset. Both of our donkeys have been around since before my kids were born. Marcus was a constant presence, even if it was in a pasture braying for his breakfast. He was always around, following his lady, Olivia, in a humdrum kind of fashion. A.A. Milne wrote Eeyore well because both that donkey and Marcus shared many characteristics.

donkeys
Marcus in the front with his buddy, Olivia, in the back.

I was sad about it all, especially the speed at which he went down. Could I have done something more? I wondered. Were there warning signs that I didn’t notice? These were my thoughts that night and the next day.

Then, by the third day, I cried. And cried, and cried some more. I questioned why I was getting so upset over a donkey? I mean, I liked this donkey. He was a good donkey, as far as donkeys go, but I didn’t have a special bond with him like people do with their horses. I told my best friend the news who put it all into place. “You’ve had him since you moved there,” she said. “It’s like the end of something.” Aha! She was right. It was the end of the something – the end of the beginning.

We moved out to the country almost fourteen years ago. We got Marcus and Olivia soon after that as adoptees. They were there at “the beginning.” It was when we decided to move from Southern California after only living there for a couple years (we didn’t care for it there), when we decided that we wanted “some land” (and five acres was a lot to us, suburbanites), it was the beginning of a new phase of a newly married couple’s life.

It’s funny how time can pass so quickly once you live in a place you love, how having children accelerates time, and how you don’t notice that all of us are aging – human, dog, donkey, it’s all going by so fast, you don’t take note. With Marcus suddenly dying, and me realizing that he had reached his actual lifespan,  I had to accept that it was officially “the end of the beginning,” and I cracked.

marcus1
Marcus featured on our Christmas card.

Like the death of any pet or person, the end of one’s career, the milestone of a graduation, they are all endings to beginnings. “The end of an era,” my dad always says. It certainly was with Marcus. But with the end of things comes the paradox of a new beginning.

So, though I do mourn the death of my donkey and the beginning he represented, I know this means the beginning of something new. Possibly a place with only one donkey to bray at us in the morning, or maybe welcoming a new donkey  into the family.

R.I.P. Marcus – we will miss you.

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Kids, Self-awareness

Two days before Christmas last month I went to a Walmart store in an unfamiliar neighborhood in hopes of finding Queen’s Greatest Hits for my son (“We Will Rock You” had become his anthem). According to Walmart’s website, it was in stock at this particular store in an area that I did not know. In the past few years, my shopping has mostly been done on-line – no lines, no cranky people, but also no interesting experiences.shopping-carts

This particular Walmart was chaos contained in 50,000 square feet. The parking lot itself was a challenge with people zooming all over, all trying to get the best spot; there was a truck sitting in one of the main lanes not moving, possibly not running, while everyone tried to get around or figure out how to back up. I was driving our big truck because I had to get hay for our animals. I already felt out of place maneuvering this huge vehicle and trying to squeeze myself into a spot at the very end of the lot where I could hopefully get back out again without damaging other cars.

“Get in and get out,” I told myself walking into the store.  I sucked in breath as I saw the madness of Walmart near Christmas. The register lines were endless with people of every nationality looking frustrated and stressed, the displays at the front had been damaged from so many people going by, and the chorus of children crying drowned out the bad Christmas music over the speakers.

“Music section, music section,” I directed myself through the throngs of assorted disgruntled shoppers. I had no idea where that would be. My luck usually dictates that it would somewhere completely across the store and I was not disappointed: it was in the very back corner. I finally reached it only to find the CDs in absolutely no recognizable order; if one happened to be in the right alphabetical spot, it was only by chance. And, as I guessed, Queen was nowhere to be found. In fact, there was were nothing in the Q section that started with such a letter. I halfheartedly looked through the surrounding area and the closest I found to classic rock was Poison.

An overweight and bored employee attempting to put CDs in their rightful places asked me if I needed help.”Have you seen any Queen around here?” I asked doubtfully. He laughed as though I asked him if there was a pot of gold at the end of aisle six. I told him that Walmart’s website said that it was in-stock here. This made him laugh harder. He then went on to tell me about an outside website where I could buy an entire MP3 album for $1.50 instead of playing $10 at iTunes. I told him thanks, noted that there was no employee loyalty lurking here, then went to get a gallon of milk so I could get out of this place.

Throughout my adventure in the store the loudspeaker kept announcing that “Giovanni has lost his mom” and would she please come to the front to find him. At first, I was concerned for both parties, being a mom myself I would be distraught if I lost my kid. After the fifth announcement for poor old Giovanni, I started to think that maybe his mom didn’t want to find him. Finding the milk, I politely said “excuse me” to another shopper who was staring into the case. I opened it, got my milk, then held it open for her as I assumed she was getting some too. She looked at me, rolled her eyes, and kept going down the aisle. “OOOkay,” I said to myself, resolving to leave this place and not linger another moment.

I walked up to the registers to find that the chaos had settled somewhat. I found a line that looked promising and watched as a mother and a teenage daughter argued over going back to get something. The girl’s attitude suggested that she was not doing it, but the mother’s bigger attitude prevailed, and the girl went to get whatever missing item they forgot. I noticed that they were next in line but the woman did not look like she was willing to let anyone past, even if that meant she held up the line for the next half hour. “Next line,” I said to myself. I went over one register and found a person trying to buy something with no price and attempting to argue with the cashier over the real price of the item in broken English with no success. Another woman in back of me kept sighing very loudly and saying things to herself about the scene.

This went on for another five minutes. I noticed that Giovanni had finally been reunited with his mom, who had four other children with her and looked like she didn’t care if she had ever found him again. Finally, another cashier opened up and I dashed for it only to find another woman trying to get there faster. As usual, I heeded to the other shopper, not finding it worth the effort to argue over who was there first. To my surprise, she told me that I got there first and to go ahead. “Really? Thanks!” I said looking over at the line where the teenager had still not returned and the people behind the mother getting thoroughly pissed off while the mother looked completely unperturbed, if anything she was seeking a challenger to fight.

The cashier was an older African American woman who was very friendly and helpful, and didn’t seem to mind the Christmas craziness. I paid for my milk and got out of there as fast as I could. The line with the mother and absent teenage girl was starting to get very heated, eyes were starting to bulge and chests heave. “Thank the lord!” I said to myself, dashing to the truck only to find three carts piled up behind it. I got them lined up and moved them to the overflowing cart return, not seeing an employee in sight who would be taking them any time soon.

Getting in my truck, without the CD that I originally sought, I watched as the public transit whizz by, heard horns honking in the distance, and just wanted to leave this store and this place and never come back. I wanted to go home to our very quiet and nature laden neighborhood, where I don’t see another house next to mine, where three cars constitutes a traffic jam, and where animals are more prevalent than people. And I did, after squeezing through the parking lot where the same truck from earlier had not moved; I drove forty-five minutes north east of there, and breathed in the country air, and was glad for it.

Visiting this Walmart in this an unfamiliar neighborhood was good for me, however, because it truly made me appreciate what I have and where I live. I unloaded the hay and was glad for the sweat and effort that it took. I realized that it would be very hard for me to live in an area anywhere near a Walmart, even though I have lived in suburban and somewhat urban areas in the past. We worked hard to get here and it suits me; it would be difficult to live any other place.

It also made me realize that living on five acres in the country is my attempt to hide from reality. In this case, I was trying to hid from Christmas insanity, and it showed me why I should shop ahead and on-line where I deal with no people. But what are the countrysideconsequences of that? Besides getting to maintain my sanity, am I depriving my children and myself of seeing other ways of life? Will my kids be unable to handle a chaotic situation surrounded by unfamiliar people one day because I avoid these places?

In truth, I barely take them to any retail store beyond the grocery store because I don’t want to hear about all the things they want. We often avoid retail entirely so they can’t see and don’t know what they don’t have.  However, I do think that my way of life “in the country” is a shield from other realities; and I have found that I am not the only one. Most of the people near us live out here for a reason: for some it is their retirement and they want to “get away from it all;” for others, it is wanting their kids to grow up in a place where they can get dirty, and some have just lived here their entire lives and are content with that way of life.  Either way, I’ll take my isolation, be glad that I am not Giovanni or his mom, and next year, shop ahead on-line, at least near Christmas time!

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Self-awareness, Self-improvement

My favorite Yogi tea (Vanilla Spice – Perfect Energy) had this message for me recently: Happiness is an accomplishment. This led me to ponder this elusive state called happiness that we are all continuously seeking in some way. I’ve been trying to just “be happy” for most of my adult life. happy teaWhat job would make me happy? What material item can? How much more money do I need to find happiness?

Here are a few things that I have picked up over time about happiness.

Happiness is a temporary state. We can never reach the final destination of happiness and stay there (unless, I guess, we cease to exist). It’s temporary. I always thought that if I did the right things, then I would be happy. And my husband has often said, “I just want you to be happy,” as though it were something I could turn on and keep on. Happiness doesn’t work that way. It isn’t permanent; each moment can be a happy one, or not. The good old Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions,” and I believe this to be true. We cannot depend on others for it, nor can we expect it to last forever. It’s up to us to create it, regardless of what is happening around us.

Happiness is a practice. The first statement about the impermanence of happiness leads me to the second – that happiness is truly a practice. It’s not something we arrive at; it’s work – all the time, every day. And that’s okay. If we can add up all those little things that make us happy (for me some are: a hot shower, sleeping in, good coffee, having nothing to do), then we will find these little moments of joy. And if we multiply them, then we might just find that we are, well, happy, for now anyway. The Dalai Lama’s buddy, the Buddha, says “There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.” That might be a little tougher to swallow, and understand, but my interpretation is that we won’t find the place that lsmiley-and noteads to happiness, we must practice it all the time.

We do that by knowing that we won’t ever stumble upon happiness and stay there. We won’t reach that point where, finally, we’re happy (though part of me still wants to believe that). We will have some good moments where we feel it, then some that are really far from it too. So, if my Yogi tea bag is correct, then happiness is an accomplishment, but one that we can’t hold onto forever. As Thanksgiving is a day away and we are all supposed to be happy with this holiday of gratitude and surrounding ourselves with family, maybe we just try enjoying those little things instead: the gravy that came out right, the weather, or relishing a day of food and rest because it’s a small break before Christmas looms upon us.

And we can use the words of Ellen DeGeneres for that day, and others: “Do things that you make you happy, within the confines of the legal system.” Sage-like advice.

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Parenting, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

phrasesIn my ripe old age of somewhere in my fourth decade, I’ve come across three phrases that can make a world of difference when dealing with your children, friends, family, argumentative adults, anyone. Lately, I’ve noticed the lack of these phrases coming from people of power (or those who think they have power), those who feel superior, or just people who feel owed (at any age). Regardless of who you are, consider these phrases and question when you last heard or said them. Here they are in no particular order:

1) “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” These synonymous statements can go far in releasing someone’s anger directed at you or anyone, and it doesn’t take much to utter them. Hopefully, they are said meaningfully, but even if you’re not truly sorry, “I’m sorry to hear that” is at least a little something that can ease a person’s angst. Whenever someone, adult or child, has a problem and tells me all about it, one of my first responses is “I’m sorry.” Sometimes I then hear, “You don’t have to be sorry; it’s not your fault,” but to me that doesn’t matter. The fact is I’m just sorry that person is going through said difficult situation. Even if my kid is starving to death after just eating dinner, my reply is usually, “I am sorry to hear that.” Mainly because I am sorry to hear that (“And why didn’t you eat all of your dinner?” but that is usually said in my head) and I’m also bit dismayed as I offer the plate of uneaten food, but it’s better than an argument. Other times, kids (or adults) just want to be heard or validated, and by saying “I hear you and I’m sorry that happened,” can go a long way in many cases.

2) “That was my fault.” (Or, even, “Oops! My fault!”) Why is it that people have such a hard time assuming fault? This one goes hand-in-hand with “I’m sorry,” such as “That was my fault; I’m sorry.” It’s not going to kill your ego and it is truly okay to admit self-blame. You’re still a good person, and not perfect (because who wants to hang out with the person who never makes a mistake?). Once you admit fault, the pressure is often faultrelieved. This applies to situations with your kids or in a meeting, just assume the blame if it truly is your fault, remedy the problem, and move on. I’ve been in multiple situations lately where the same person doesn’t ever accept fault or blame, but instead turns it around and puts it on someone else. That not only makes everyone upset (and infuriates me), it also reveals that this person cannot be trusted because who knows who will be wrongly blamed next? It could be you; it could be me.  It also seems to say that this person never does anything wrong, and how is that possible? We’re human, we make mistakes, own up to it, learn, and keep going. It’s that simple.

3) “Thank you.” This very easy two-word acknowledgment can go miles in someone’s life. Just saying “thank you” makes people feel like the effort they put into something was worth it. Expressing gratitude can be applied to adults or children. They all appreciate it because no matter who it is, thank-youpeople like to be recognized for their work, and saying “thank you” (or even “thanks!”) is so easy. When my kids finally put their shoes away instead of kicking them off and leaving them on the floor, I say thank you. If someone goes out of his way and holds the door open, tells you that your gas cap is not screwed on, or whatever small token it might be, just say “thank you.” Express your gratitude for those big or small things and everyone wins.

So there you have it, three phrases that can make a world of difference; try them out (if you don’t use them already) and see the results for yourself. (And thanks for reading! :) )

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Health & Diet, Self-awareness

According to Tony Robbins, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” (I went down an internet rabbit hole and ended up watching Tony Robbins videos.) He then gave examples of people who earn lots of money, achieve big goals, or overcome obstacles onlywoman-570883_640 to think, “now what?” Many of us have experienced this thought. We had a problem or a challenge, set a goal, succeed, then felt a little…empty, sad, or possibly depressed.

After listening to an episode of podcast I like, Zen Parenting Radio, they quoted five things that “Tony says” leads to a fulfilling life. None of these include overcoming some type of hardship or setting goals. They are tasks, some daily, that would ultimately lead to a practice and fulfill you on a regular basis. Here they are in no particular order:

1) Feed your mind (20 minutes/day). I assume this means reading, watching, or listening to something that involves new learning, instead of the regular habit scrolling through social media or filtering through email. I have the intention to read on a daily basis; that often doesn’t happen. Twenty minutes a day seems possible, even if it’s broken up into two ten-minute intervals. That can be done while eating lunch or during some people’s bathroom breaks!

2)  Strengthen your body (20 minutes/day). This is another one that we have to set aside the time for, or else we’ll never do it. Fortunately, I have two dogs that get very lethargic then annoyingly antsy if I don’t walk them. This past summer, however, I slacked off due to ferrying kids to swim practice, intense summer temps, or really bad air quality (from wildfires). The effects showed. I put on a few pounds, my dogs did too. The incentive here is not just keeping weight off, though. Using your body and making it work not only makes you feel good; it also contributes to its longevity. I see countless older people who can’t do many of the basic things they used to because they simply don’t do them anymore. It’s worth it just to keep our bags of bones strong and moving!

3)  Find a mission bigger than yourself. This one can be tough. As a culture we’re not often taught to think bigger than ourselves. Instead it’s: work hard, earn as much as you can, and keep it for yourself. But that mindset usually leads to selfishness, jealousy, and a sense of lack (because you always need more). Many people focus on their families and raising their kids to be good humans (I try to anyway), but we can think even bigger. Are there any national or global problems that bother you? Are there any small ways you can help? (No one is suggesting that you get on a plane and help needy people across the world.) What do you think would help make a better society or planet? How can you do something about it in a way that works for you?

4)  Have a role model. This one is also difficult I think, especially for adults, but it’s possible. I have never been one to have role models or think I should, but maybe there is something to it. We can aspire to be like someone we admire, and that could, in turn, make us better. I don’t think that the chosen role model needs to be someone you know, or would ever even meet. It is a person who demonstrates qualities or has achieved things that you would want too. It’s worth thinking about.

5)  Always know that there is someone worse off than you, and that person has overcome their own obstacles. I find thahip-hop-1209499_640t it isn’t always helpful think about other people and their bigger problems because it makes me feel petty and small about my own (i.e. my “first world” problems). But, good or bad, we all have problems; that is the nature of life. And maybe giving ourselves the perspective of knowing that other people have faced problems, similar or even worse, and they got through them, therefore, I can too. It might just be the little lift we need to feel better.

So there you have it, five things to help us feel fulfilled. I’m going to try them, or at least keep them in mind, and see if it makes a difference in my little life. A couple seem easy (like #1 and #2), a couple seem a little more challenging (like #3 and #4). I welcome you to try it too. If you do, you tell me your role model and I’ll tell you mine.  😊

 

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Kids, Self-awareness, Technology

A couple years ago, I went on my kindergartner son’s field trip to the local fire station. The firemen explained what they do and why, showed the kids their living quarters, their kitchen, and most importantly, the fire engines. They opened the many compartments revealing axes, oxygen tanks, yards of hoses, and firetruck2much more. Most of the kids were very interested, watching with gleaming eyes. Then we got to the part which the fireman boasted was the most fun – he opened the door to the passenger side of the truck revealing the “Captain’s seat.” He explained that this is a very important seat, and said that all of the cool tools and technology were used in that spot. Then he asked, “would you like to sit in this seat?” Yes!” they all cried excitedly.

Brief chaos ensued as he asked all of the kindergartners to get in one line. After much pushing, shoving, cutting, and complaining, they were all single file and waiting to get a chance to see the Captain’s seat close-up. The first child was helped up, but as soon as she started to look around, one of the parents called out her name, told her to smile, and took her picture. “Her mom will love this,” the parent said. Then, without even thirty seconds to get a glance at the famed seat, the girl was taken down and the next kid was put in it. Again, the child was asked to look at the camera and smile, then removed from the seat. And this is how it went. None of the kids got to really sit in the seat, feel what it was like to be up there, look out the front window, or explore the various interesting knobs and buttons. I was dismayed to see that the field trip had turned from experiencing the moment to taking a picture of it.

And the fake picworst part was that the kids knew exactly what to do – get in the seat, turn to the camera, fake smile, picture taken, get down for the next kid.  Only one boy out in the whole group insisted on sitting in the seat and asking questions about everything around him, and he was quickly encouraged to “get down so someone else can have a turn!” A turn at what? I thought. The kids will see their pictures and probably like them, and being five years old they probably won’t remember the field trip too much, but how much more valuable would it have been for them and their little working brains to sit in the Captain’s seat and pretend they really were the captain of the fire truck? Something could have sparked inside one of them as they explored and examined all of the new things they saw there. But instead, we take a picture of the moment and we rush them off for next kid’s photo opp.

How often does that happen? I see it all of the time. Parents telling their kids, “Okay now I need a picture” right when the kids are in the middle of something fun, thereby ending the fun and spontaneity of that moment. Trying to pick it up again sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It’s not just our kids we do it to, we also do it to ourselves. Think about a recent time where you went somewhere new and exciting – a trip to the Eiffel Tower or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Did you stand there and take in the sight? Breathing the air and marveling at the height and scenery around you? Or did you get there, quickly look around, make a few comments, say “come on, let’s take a picture”? The typical scenario of what happens next is the person stands there looking down at his phone blocking the way for everyone as he uploads it to show everyone his moment that he wasn’t experiencing because he was too busy taking a picture of it and posting it.

firetruck
The famed “Captain’s seat” picture that came out blurry and not worth the photo opp.

A friend of mine said, “it’s all about instant gratification, they want everyone to know they are having fun in their perfect lives so they can feel good and be reinforced about their experience.” Is this true? I hope not. I’m also not bagging on every picture taken in a special place. I love taking pictures and I do it often. I torture my kids mostly because I just enjoy photography and I like looking back on pictures.  My computer always has some type of slideshow running and I even take out those old fashioned photo albums occasionally.

More than likely, we will look back on the picture of my son in the Captain’s seat and enjoy it, even though he won’t remember it. Still, we would benefit from occasionally just being in the moment and feeling it; and we need to let our kids do it too, especially them, because they are watching and learning how to take a picture of the moment like we do.

So next time, if we need to take the picture, maybe do it while they are looking in wonder at something or laughing hysterically at something they just saw, experiencing this brief moment in time for all it’s worth.

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Grief, Illness, Self-awareness

ginger
Old Ginger – when he was nice.

Last week, the vet put our old goat down. He had reached the point where no food interested him, his arthritic bones ached him to the point of limping, and he was ready to move on to the next plane. We weren’t sure of his age, but the vet commented that he outlived his teeth (he only had about two left). We got him about six years ago with his buddy, Maggie, who has passed on last winter. And yet, Ginger kept hanging in there. He had a severe liver infection over the winter that nearly killed him, but he recuperated on antibiotics and kept going, despite his body continuing to deteriorate.

When we first got Ginger he was generally a jerk. He would threaten to head butt my husband (a sign of dominance) and would lean over the fence if my son was nearby and pull his hair with his teeth! My son learned to fear Ginger and my husband mostly disliked him (especially when he severely sprained his ankle because of the goat).

I’ve generally had an okay relationship with the grouchy goat. I tried to treat him kindly and in the end, he usually just wanted pets (some goats are just like dogs who want attention). Of course, I didn’t appreciate him pulling my son’s hair and I always warned my kids and their friends to stay out of the pasture with the goats, but generally, he was an “okay goat” in my mind (think of a family pet that you weren’t very close to, but tolerated well enough).

Recently, in his elderly years, he became much nicer, to people anyway. Maybe he didn’t have the energy or the will to try and be dominant, maybe he realized that it doesn’t really matter, or possibly he knew that he was old and vulnerable and just couldn’t be on top anymore. Whatever the reason, Ginger had softened. Almost anyone could approach him in the last few months and he would just look to see what you might have in your pocket for a snack, or an ear scratch would often suffice.

Do we all soften like Ginger with age? I watch my father interact with my own children. He is a much more gentle and understanding grandfather to them than he was as father to my siblings and me. He watched his own father do the same thing. My own grandfather was sweet and kind, and always nice to us grandkids. My dad has different memories, which is probably typical of any parent dealing with his own children versus grandchildren. Maybe, as we age, we realize how fleeting it all is, and that kids will be kids for a relatively short time.

Enjoying apples.
Enjoying the moment – with apples.

Still, it seems like a choice for most people as they get older. Will someone realize that all of the worries they once had aren’t as important as they thought and just living each day peacefully and contentedly is the path to be on, or, as we all have seen, do they choose to be angry, cursing any new trend, and repeating how good “things used to be,” and generally being, well, a jerk like the younger Ginger was?

I’m hoping to take my lesson from the old Ginger, regardless of why he became nicer and realized that the fight isn’t worth it, he changed from an “ornery old goat” to a “relatively nice old goat.” I’ll go with that description for myself, human or otherwise.

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Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

From Part One: Bringing Home Baby

“I think society really does not let the world know how hard it is to be a mom. We are all supposed to act like it is this wonderful thing all the time … I don’t think moms want people to know if they are not enjoying being a mom, because how dare you even think it? The truth is that it is a hard job, and society does not show that.” -Nancy

I read the populaRodgers6r pregnancy books before I gave birth to my daughter. My husband and I took the classes on delivery (which I found scary instead of comforting). I went to the breastfeeding class. I talked to mothers with both young and older children. Few, if any, of these sources could prepare me for the life transformation that a baby actually brings. What was more frustrating was that no one warned me that this was a complete life change. Having babies and entering motherhood is so commonplace in our society that few people stop to think about how our lives are transformed by a baby. One reason for this might be that the women who have experienced motherhood, like grandmothers or mothers with grown children, quickly forget what it was like that first year. In the time span of your child’s life there is so much that will happen, from his first steps across the living room floor to his stride across the stage at high school graduation, it is easy to forget what that first year was like. There are also those moms who blend into motherhood so easily that it appears they do not have the same experiences or feelings that many of us do. I am confident in my belief that these mothers are part of a very small minority, and even they have difficult times coping with the responsibilities of motherhood sometimes. There are some of us, too, who do not want to admit or accept this permanent change that happens in our lives. I wanted to have a baby, but I was afraid of the idea at the same time, and I did not want to believe that a baby would change me, my husband, or our marriage. My thoughts were: What if this is not what I expect? What will happen? I cannot go back…right?

For the majority of us, experiencing motherhood and a new baby is both amazing and shocking. Here is a human life that you and your partner made. She spent nearly ten months inside of you growing and developing, and here she is in your arms. The process of life is breathtaking and miraculous. It does not matter that humans and animals have been doing this for millions of years; when you are the one who has actively participated in the process, it is astounding. For the first few months of my daughter’s life I marveled at the idea. I simply could not believe that 1) we created this baby who is here with us now, and 2) that she really came out of me! Right in front of me was a real baby who had swelled in my belly with her heart beating, her body moving around and showing up on the ultrasound. While I was pregnant I understood that she was there, but could not quite grasp it. Then, once she was out in the world, a tangible live human being, I was astonished. The change seemed to be instantaneous: one minute you are pregnant and the next you are a mom. I did not know what to make of it.

But, as we all soon learn with our babies’ cries of hunger or discontent, they are here and they mean business. Feed me, rock me, change me, hold me…wait, I don’t know what I want! my daughter seemed to say. And quite honestly, I had no idea what she wanted either. I felt like I was thrown into a play already in progress. I did not know my lines or where I supposed to stand on-stage. I did not even know what character I was playing. But everyone else did. I was “the new mom.” And I felt like I was going to receive some bad reviews for my performance. I struggled to keep up with the needs of my new baby during the first few weeks. Was she hungry? Did she have a dirty diaper? Was she hot or cold? Did she need to be swaddled or maybe have her blankets loosened? Sometimes none of the answers applied. Sometimes it was just walking outside and seeing something new that calmed her down (or worked her back up into tears). There were no consistent answers, and I had a very hard time accepting that.

“I felt overwhelmed by the gravity of it [having a new baby]. I had never been in a role before that was a never-ending, twenty-four hours a day, and that was entirely mine, even with my husband’s support. I still feel there’s never a real sense of utter relaxation, I mean in the way there was before I had another life to protect.” -Kelley

I attended college and worked in an industry where there was almost always a right or a wrong way to do things. In school it is fairly straightforward: you perform the tasks asked of you and receive a grade for your effort. At work it is similar, you show up, do the duties of your job description, and receive a paycheck. It all makes sense. A new baby is quite different. We try to interpret what this little life needs when he may not know himsbaby2elf. The adjustment of just coming into the world must be overwhelming for a baby. He is nestled in a confined, warm, dark place listening to the steady sound of a heartbeat and other bodily noises. Then, probably without warning, muscles around him contract and he is pushed out into the world of bright lights, loud sounds, and a place that makes his body feel cold. Just learning what these new sensations are must be exhausting. (There is a reason we have no memory of our births, afterall; it is probably too traumatic for us.) So we care for him. We hold him, we love him, we offer him a breast or bottle, we try to make him as comfortable as possible in this new and strange world. But in the end, we really do not know what is going through his new and functioning mind. We do our best, but it might not be right. And if it isn’t, then we often hear about it, very loudly. It is extremely frustrating to make blind guesses and not know whether it is the correct answer. Yes, the crying may stop, but does that mean the problem is fixed? Maybe, temporarily, this time. Grasping this understanding that the right solution doesn’t always exist was extremely hard for me to take. Why can’t I plug in the correct number and get a solid answer? Because, I realized after many months, this little being is human and she possesses the complexities that all of us have: emotions, feelings, needs, and wants. And she is just now learning what all of these things are, and who exactly I am, that person who holds her, feeds her, and tries to console her. Sometimes she might have been crying to release all those emotions that she did not understand. In the end, I felt just as confused as she probably did.

A therapist I know describes becoming a mother as a “growth process.” We, as new mothers, are growing and changing almost as fast as our babies are as we accept this new role in our lives. The more we resist this change, the harder it becomes. It might seem unbelievable that you and your spouse were released from the hospital in charge of a brand-new baby, but you were. You are now parents. As we left the hospital, I sat in the backseat with our new daughter (yes, the paranoid new mom in the backseat) while my husband drove. It was a warm day for late October and the sun seemed especially bright. As we drove away, I cried. And cried, and cried. I blamed it on an influx of hormones and exhaustion. My husband looked nervously in the rearview mirror, “Uh…are you okay?” he asked. I assured him that I was fine, but the tears needed to come out. I suppose it was just a release after a very long labor, and the actual realization that this baby was coming home with us, ready or not. Our lives had changed.

“I was so worn out [after labor] I wasn’t thinking much beyond ‘get me out of this bed.’ Then curiosity about the baby set in, followed closely by terror. I had never been around little kids before, let alone infants, and now I was responsible for this little thing?!” -Leisel

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Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

Recently, my husband discovered that he will move-up to the next level in his engineering firm. It is a big promotion and one that is not offered to everyone. He deserves it. He works hard and is a careful engineer. I am happy for him as he is not always acknowledged in his job.

Although I truly am happy for him and his success, I can’t help but think of the lack of awards for mom and dads who don’t work in typical industries. There are no promotions for parents. No one comes up to me after a difficult phase and says, “You did a great job handling the incessant whining and constant tantrums for the last two months, you get a promotion and a raise!” or, “You limited your child’s screen time everyday despite the battle it causes, congratulations! Here is a certificate of appreciation and a free pizza.”

If anything, most of us are grading our own performances and we don’t think it stacks up to “CEO of Parenting.” Who makes it to that stage anyway? Maybe once your kids are grown and lead somewhat respectable lives? That is a long time to wait to find out about your job performance.

So what can we do?

1) Accept that this unique and important job does not come with the traditional accolades or acknowledgements of a job well domother-childne. If your children are relatively content in their lives, even with the frequent complaints about life in general, assume that your parenting is up to par. All kids, all people, typically want something they don’t have, so if you child’s biggest complaint is that he wants his own tablet and doesn’t want to share with his brother, then you’re doing fine.

2) Look within to judge your performance, but be truly honest. The reality is that sometimes we could all do a better job with anything: your mechanic could have cleaned up the grease splatters after working on your car, the sales clerk could have gone and checked to see if she had your size instead of giving a flat-out no, high-ranking officials get no forgiveness no matter what they do. Sometimes we could have done better, but just try to do your best on any given day. And be careful not to get caught up in the trap of perfectionism. Perfection in parenting does not exist. Children and their parents are too unique and everyone needs something different. One day your daughter would have been soothed by some encouraging words and a hug, the next time she wants her space and shuts her bedroom door instead. We cannot know; we can only go with what we think is the right thing to do in the moment, and not condemn ourselves if it was not the best choice.

3) If you really want feedback, ask others. It is beneficial occasionally to ask other people, “Do you think I did okay there?” “Are there any other ways I could have handled that situation?” That can pertain to parenting your children or dealing with an unhelpful representative from the phone company. Be sure that you truly want feedback, however, and not validation for the wrong you felt you received. And ask people who would really think about the situation and give helpful feedback, not someone who is quick to point out what you did wrong, or quick to placate you.

I think we can all agree that parenting is not an easy job, especially if we want to do it well and have children who are ideally kind, respectful, and interested kids (I deliberately left out “happy” there because happy is a subjective feeling that comes and goes – in my opinion. If we wanted to keep our kids happy, we would hand them a bag of candy and an iPad, in most cases).

Most of us just do our best, try to be good examples, and attempt to understand the world from their limited child’s view (which can be a freeing way to look at the world sometimes!).  As far as our own performance review, we must accept that this job does not come with them, and possibly stop looking for them. That is difficult for me, as I said, watching my husband excel while I try to think up more interesting lunch possibilities, but I know deep down that I am doing the best job that I can.

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