Fear, Kids, Parenting

Lockdown drills aren’t really new, unfortunately. Students have been doing them for a few years now, but what kids havelementary-schoole to know and what to do in a shooter situation is becoming more real and more of a possibility.

As a person who grew up pre-Columbine, before anyone even thought or had any notion of shooting up a school or other places (besides the sniper at University of Texas before my time, which seemed like an anomaly), the practicing of drills to protect children from someone wanting to take out people in numbers seems unbelievable. How can that happen? I question. How does it happen? And then, my denial side says, It wouldn’t happen here.

And that’s the statement most of us use to block out the horrifying idea of such an event occurring at our kids’ school. That denial, and even naiveté (because we live in such a nice, safe, little community I like to believe) is unrealistic and possibly detrimental. We can’t live thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to our kids (at school or otherwise), but we also can dwell in the fear of bad things happening all the time. We brain-heart balanceneed a balance.

Unfortunately, right now that balance means teaching our kids to barricade the doors if there is a lockdown, hide out of sight, and practice these drills until they know it well so that, hopefully, no one gets hurt in a real situation. And yet the protective mother in me can’t help but tell my children when they ask, “what do we do if we’re walking from another room and the classroom door is locked?” “Get the hell out of there,” I say, “Run off the campus and keep running.”

They’re astounded by my use of a “curse word” (yes, they’re young), but I couldn’t help it. It was my gut response to try and keep them safe when I can’t. Because more than likely, if anything were to happen, I probably wouldn’t be there. Most of wouldn’t. And that’s probably the hardest part. We’re reliant on our own children and the school’s staff to perform what they learned correctly, under stress with the rush of adrenaline,  and hopefully escape the fire (in this case, gunfire). So all we can do is teach them the best we can, have hope that such a terrible event never happens to them in their lifetimes, and have faith that we will get through whatever might happen (or not happen). Oh, and just breathe.

Some third graders’ responses to doing a lockdown:
“It’s scary.”
“What if that really happens here?”
“I don’t want to do a lockdown!”

“I take thirty seconds to use the bathroom so I know I’m safe!”

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

Health & Diet

Starting out the new year, I decided to cut out dairy (I found out that I am intolerant to it) and wheat (in support of my daughter who is intolerant to that). While I was in this mode of banishing foods, I decided to do Arbonne’s 30-day cleanse.  Foods cut out on this cleanse are: wheat, green-juice-769129_1920dairy, corn, soy, sugar (including nearly all fruits), caffeine, and alcohol. I figured “why not? I’m already cutting out a lot anyhow. It shouldn’t be that difficult” (“ha, ha, you fool!” my future self thought).  I also wanted to see if there was a link between food and my all-too-frequent migraines and this would be a good way to find out. Haze, my husband, graciously agreed to support me and do it too. Here is my take on the four weeks and two days.

Week one: It’s been painful. I won’t lie. I’m not a big food person, and being a vegetarian I am used to not having three-quarters of any menu, but cutting out so much is tough. I am personally surprised that I made it the whole week. I kept counting each day. “Day 3, make it through day 3. Okay, day 4, I can get through this day…” and so on; and then, boom, one week is down. Making it to day 30 now seems possible, but let’s be honest, I’m not there yet.

I noticed that I am hungry A LOT. I am tired. I depended on my morning coffee more than I realized and there were a couple of times that I had a cup of green tea (with nothing in it, mind you) because I needed SOMETHING, or at least I thought I did. However, part of my reasoning for embarking on this is to see if there is any pattern to my migraines. Besides the caffeine-withdrawal-dull-ache at the back of my skull that I had for two days, no migraines. In fact, without coffee, my head feels better: no tense jaw muscle or tight neck, and when I get hungry and should have eaten an hour ago, no oncoming signals of a migraine or shakiness. Could my greatest love, the java, be part of problem? Sigh, I hope not.

Side note: I also learned during this first week that you cannot substitute cayenne pepper for chili powder. And eating that incredibly hot chili makes your stomach burn, however you will not feel hungry for quite awhile (until the stomach lining is not on fire any more). I failed at some other recipes too, but all learning experiences.

Week two: The first part of the week went by fast and I was on the path, then by Friday I wanted “flavor” (that’s what I thought to myself). In the end, I think I wanted to sugar or possibly carbs. This continued, with a cranky mood to boot, until Sunday when I thought I might be getting the flu so I laid in bed and felt sorry for myself instead (but the craving went away!). I also woke up that morning with a headache that felt like a pounding sinus headache and would surely lead to a migraine (but didn’t!). Up until this point I haven’t had any other migraine symptoms, to my surprise, which makes me wonder why I’m on the verge of one now. I do keep waking up in the five o’clock hour, so I’m tired, which is always a contributing factor. And the weather has changed from warm to cold with rain which never helps the noggin.

Week three: During week three, a cleanse is added to the cleanse (because we just can’t get enough) with a detox liquid that is diluted in 32 oz of water (tastes like a weak tea) then it’s recommended to drink another 32 oz of water to really flush everything out. Drinking that much fluid, with it constantly going through my body, gave me the added distraction of feeling full from liquid and running to the bathroom to void that liquid. However, by day six, I was tired of drinking so much. I felt a little like Dumbledore  drinking out of the basin for Voldemort’s horcrux (“No Harry, no, please, no more!”). But I got through it. The other added difficulty was overwhelming sugar cravings (due to hormones I learned) that I usually give into, but didn’t this time so I was slightly cranky about that, however I managed to stay the course.

Week four + 2 days: This last week feels triumphant, “Nearly there!” I think to myself on Monday, but the week drags on. On Thursday I woke up convinced that my husband was brewing coffee, and it smelled so good! Then I was angry, “Why is he brewing coffee? We can’t have that!” Once I actually got out of bed, woke up a bit, and went out into the kitchen, I realized that no coffee was brewing. In fact, a skunk had sprayed near the house during the night and that’s what I was smelling. “I’m hurtin,” I think to myself. The week continued on slowly. I had to cover my nose in a meeting because someone made microwave popcorn and it smelled delicious. By Sunday, when I think it should be over and it’s not, I’m ready to give up, but I don’t. The success of not having headaches is obvious. To give in now, to gorge on pizza, beer, chocolate, and coffee (yes, all at once) would be to sacrifice all I’ve worked for this last month. So I don’t. I eat another green apple and carry on.

Final Day: It seems like twenty-nine days was so long ago. It’s hard to believe that I’ve done it! I’m glad and weirdly, somewhat sad. I’m also nervous to go back to “regular food” for fear of bringing migraines back. I’ve decided to make a detailed food log each day to track what might be the culprit.

To end, here is my list of pluses and minuses and Haze’s pro/con list for this uplifting and sometimes anguishing 30-day cleanse:

Jen’s Plus and Minuses:
Pluses
– My migraines diminished significantly.
– I was forced to plan out meals and be organized about it (which I’m usually terrible about).
– We tried new recipes that I would otherwise not make because it didn’t sound appetizing or I was too lazy.
– I knew exactly what I was putting in my body; no questions about ingredients I can’t pronounce or lab-created chemicals.
– Feeling good – I’m not sure if this was due to just eating better or not feeling guilty or shameful for having overindulged in sweets, caffeine, or alcohol. When you can’t have anything, there isn’t much to feel bad about. It also taught me that I can persevere; and if the world ends, I have a Granny Smith apple tree and a pistachio tree that I can live off of.

Minuses
– The same old foods get boring after awhile. This mainly pertains to snacks. I’m pretty tired of those nuts and green apples. My husband would rather feed his daily lunch salad to the goats or throw it out the window of his office. There are a variety of recipes to make, but we’re ready to take a break from beans for awhile (in taste and their digestive payback).
– Planning every meal can be difficult. Grabbing something and going is not an easy option with this cleanse. Traveling for work made it difficult for Haze at times; being in a meeting when they serve sandwiches for lunch is hard (he looks a little weird picking the entire thing apart and munching on the lettuce while scraping off the mayo).
– Going out to eat or to parties is prohibitive. The majority of restaurants have nearly NOTHING that would satisfy all the elements of this cleanse, even a salad would have dressings that we couldn’t eat (and then what’s the point?). Bringing food to parties is an option, but who wants to hang around a bunch of people stuffing their happy faces only to look on forlornly? Not me. We stayed home and had another green apple.man-pumpkin
– Being hungry. The first one to two weeks are hard. I was hungry, really hungry. That is pretty typical when a diet is changed so drastically, but for me it would still come back at times and I was ravenous. Eating more carrots and nuts just didn’t cut it. After awhile it would go away, but sometimes it would be back, my mind tempting me with all sorts of contraband. Haze and I dealt with it (he better than me because he didn’t feel hungry all that often). Knowing there would be other options out there (after it’s over) was helpful to my mind and body.

Haze’s Pro/Con List:
Pros
– Lost weight without feeling really hungry like a regular “diet” usually does (he lost 18lbs and 2.5 inches around the middle; I lost 4lbs and an inch).
– Feeling better (according to Haze, he doesn’t feel “outstanding,” but “feels better” in general).
– Digestion also feels better (again, no real elaboration, but he does think things are going more smoothly than before).

Cons:
– Food limitations – he missed having a nice cup of coffee in the morning (and bread).
– The inconvenience of making every meal (no easy take-out options).
– Lots of gas (no need for elaboration here).

My take-away from this whole experience is that it’s worth doing. Even though it was tough at times, the benefits outweighed the pain. When I asked Haze, “Do you have any real take-away from all of this?” His answer was, “I do feel better than I did before and weigh less, which is good, but you have to get used to farting a lot.”

Oookay, enough said.

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.

Kids, Self-awareness, Technology

Did you ever notice how much time others spend with their faces in front of their phones? How about yourself? I am guilty of it too. It’s hard not to pull it out when we have a spare moment to see what the weather or traffic will be like, distract yourself with a game, text someone, or watch the endless scroll of social media.

We can't see your face.
We can’t see your face.

But what did we do before getting glued to this ultimate shiny object?

At my kids’ sports practices nine out of ten parents are looking at their phones. What did they used to do before that was an option? Watch the practice? Read a book? Stare at the wall or the sky?

In line at the grocery store what did people do? Look at terrible tabloids to see which celebrity or politician was abducted by aliens? Stare at the person who is taking too long and get annoyed that he or she is writing a check? Let’s not even bring up how many kids are glued to them as they are pushed in the cart through Target or Costco, or sitting in a restaurant mindlessly watching a show while everyone else dines.

I am guilty of all of the above (except the restaurants, that really bothers me), but what are we missing out on? I was, and still am, one to bring a book wherever I go so I suppose that I have always craved some type of distraction. You can read quite a few chapters while getting your oil changed or waiting in that endless coffee line. I remember getting my first smart phone and telling friends that I used to people-watch in the grocery store and observe what was happening around me, and I still try to do that, but when someone is having a price check or deciding on something that takes awhile, I’ll get out the phone.

Are we doing a disservice to ourselves by getting sucked in or allowing our kids to be? Yes and no. All parents want to do is shop in peace and not be hounded with “can I get that?” or “I want that!” so I understand the desire to stick a phone in kids’ hands sometimes (not to babies though, come on); but at a restaurant I tell my own kids to look around: watch the people, the food being served, that guy trying to eat his spaghetti that keeps falling off his fork during his obvious first date. Pay attention. They’re not too keen on that idea, and it often ends up being a big headache with relentless whining until I threaten that they will never use anything smart again.

And what did industries and companies do before smart phones or cell phones? On our summer vacation this year my husband checked his email on a daily basis and his boss asked him to write two proposals because the due date was in two days. He did that while we slept at night, forgoing his own vacation time. What did people do before that? Do the proposals themselves? Say sorry, we have no one to do that at this time? And, more importantly, what would happen if my husband turned off his cell phone and left it at home? He’s not willing to entertain such an idea (…yet).

My last observation concerns our kids dependence on us through their phones. A few people I know have kids in colleges far away. Once upon a time, college newbies would have to write letters or wait in line at a dorm phone to contact their parents. Now, they can do it immediately, in any situation. In some ways that is a good thing. We all need some moral support from parents occasionally. But in other ways, it prohibits them from figuring out basic problems on their own. One friend’s daughter called to ask her mom where to buy a stamp, yes, a regular postage stamp. Figure it out! And don’t ask Siri or Alexa; just think about it.

There are many times when I wonder what would happen if the whole grid shut down and we couldn’t use anything “smart,” and most of me thinks it would make life easier. Would it though? It’s a double-edged sword and one that we must work at and be conscious of all the time; otherwise we run the risk of becoming anti-social screen zombies. Need brains? Just pop on over to your Amazon app and order one up over your phone, should arrive in two days if you have Prime (and thankfully, yes, I do).

Self-awareness

Much has been touted about the benefits of thinking with gratitude. If we can be truly grateful for what we have, we are supposed to feel happier, be less stressed, and experience life with more joy, overall. It’s true. If you stop and think about two things you are grateful for that happened at the end of the day, be it the guy who let you in on a crowded freeway or that you got your kids to school on-time with no complaint from anyone, a little gratitude can go a long way.

But sometimes it’s just too hard to be grateful, or to truly feel it in difficult situations. If you’re behind on bills and have nearly run out of money, thinking about how grateful you are that you’re not starving to death in a third world country, or that you don’t have some terminal disease, doesn’t really help matters. Granted, you might feel truly grateful for those things (I know I do), but it does not change your attitude or situation for the most part.

A shift in perspective when gratitude isn’t working is to think in terms of abundance. This means seeing what you have instead of what you lack: abundance instead of scarcity. Many of us see our lives in terms of scarcity only – what we don’t have, what we want but can’t get, what we think we will never have. Advertisers bombard us  with the latest things that we just have to have, be it a gadget or a lifestyle, and show us how much better they are with those things. We can’t help but think we are lacking, and when we try to be grateful for what we do have, we still don’t feel truly glad.

Thinking with abundaabundancence in mind means looking at situation and seeing the possibilities in it instead of the lack. Back to the example of being behind on bills and money, we can see the piles of bills and the small stack of money with which to pay them, or we can see the possibilities we have in creating more wealth and paying those bills (which could be anything from a second job to a yard sale to selling unwanted collectibles on E-bay), and we can be grateful to have the opportunity to do those things. We can see how to make that money stack grow instead of continue to shrink. Will that solve all of your money problems? Not yet, but it is a start, a way towards seeing the world in terms of offering you opportunities instead of stripping you of everything and just being glad you don’t have to worry about eating lizards for dinner or contracting Ebola.

Steven Covey states it well, “The Abundance Mentality… flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.” This can be difficult to do when you had a bad day at work, you find dog crap (again!) at the front door, or all of your dieting has equaled to weighing more instead of less, but instead of going to extremes and trying to be grateful for things that you can’t really connect with, try to stop and see the abundance in your life. That may mean just accepting that things aren’t perfect right now, but trusting that they will get better, reasoning that you usually have more good days than bad at work (the dog as well), and that you do actually feel better and your pants are looser even if the scale doesn’t say so.

thanksgiving-table-1888643_640So, as the holiday comes and we sit at the table with our families and friends, try not to focus only on the one person who antagonizes you or triggers you. Instead, notice the many people you enjoy being with, the table covered in food, and the one day out of the year when we overeating is encouraged!  Abundance abounds (when we choose to see it).

Money, Self-awareness, Writing

sucess chalk boardAs I start down this path of publishing and marketing a book, one repeated piece of advice I have read is to define success and what success means to me. The argument is that that most people have no real definition of success, so how can they ever reach it. In the world of writing, it is wanting to be a successful author. What does that mean? Getting on the best seller lists? Making a fortune? Turning books into block buster movies? I have yet to define mine, but I highly doubt that it will be any of those milestones. Selling 20,000 copies would be nice, but I don’t know if my dad can afford to buy that many.

What does success mean to you? We often think of it in terms of income, fame, or prestige. If you are well-known and paid extravagantly, you are successful. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines (among other businesses) appears to be a down-to-earth billionaire, if there is such a thing, and he says, “Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with. In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.”

Another billionaire, Mark Cuban, says, “To me, the definition of success is waking up in the morning with a smile on your face, knowing it’s going to be a great day. I was happy and felt like I was successful when I was poor, living six guys in a three-bedroom apartment, sleeping on the floor.” That might be true, but I’m pretty certain that he does not sleep on floors any more or live with six guys in a crappy apartment.

Success?
                                        Success?

For others, even defining success seems scary because what if we fail and never reach that point? We are paralyzed with the idea of even starting so we stay stuck and don’t try. One point can be made about the billionaires above, they never stopped trying. And then there is the flip-side, what if we reach our definition of success? Let’s say someone decides that success is earning $1 million in a year and this man or woman worked hard and reached that goal – their definition of success. Then what? Success attained, does he or she just roll over and die now? What next? I think we bump against this often. Why try, we ask, because 1) we might fail or 2) we might succeed.

And because of those pitfalls I think there are many of us who never stop to define success, and therefore just never stop. We’re always striving, nothing is ever good enough, once we get something that we want, we change what we want, so that we are never satisfied. We fear that if we reach that point of being completely satisfied and successful then we have nowhere to go and nothing to do, so we keep ourselves on the treadmill. And that is not a fulfilling life either because it’s never done, we never truly succeed, we keep going and going and going, until we die. That is pretty bleak.

I think I will go with the ideas of two other successful people: Maya Angelou who says, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” And John Wooden, a very successful basketball coach with 620 wins and ten national titles who thinks, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Both are easier in theory than in practice, but something to strive for on a daily basis and over a lifetime.  What is your definition of success? Have you reached it?

 

Fear, Grief

It is hard to believe that it has been sixteen years since 9/11. Those of us who were adults or young adults at that time still remember exactly where they were when the horrific news was broadcast. I was getting ready for work in our small, crappy apartment. I had the news on the TV in the background and caught images of the Twin Towers broken and aflame as I got my purse, ready to leave the house. I went closer to the television and thought that must be from some other country, not here in United States. And then, as I drove to work and turned on the radio, the two goofy DJs who I normally listened to with their practical jokes and bad sexual puns were quite serious this morning. They relayed the little information they had: it truly happened; someone had attacked US soil in a massive way in New York City and Washington DC.

When I got to work, which was in a construction trailer on a job site, the usual joking or complaining of guys who filed in and out were very quiet. Many were huddled around my desk radio listening for whatever news they could get. This was no joke; this was no prank; this was real and none of us quite knew what to make of it.

History books talk about how the Great War (WWI) change the lives of everyone forever with the modern inventions of trench warfare, the machine gun, and mustard gas. They also write about how D-Day and World War II continued to make our lives different so that no one could go back to the “way things were.” The United States especially felt that with the attack on Pearl Harbor. For Americans living in the twenty-first century, 9/11 was the day the world changed for us civilians. Suddenly, we were not invincible; we could be affected in very large ways by people who wanted the Western world to end. They had not succeeded fully, but their attempt was significant and they accomplished their goal of inflicting great pain, worry, and anxiety about the way we live our everyday lives.

I remember watching President George W. Bush standing at Ground Zero and making a speech. And although I did not care one bit for that president at that time, I do think he held the country together well during that moment in such crisis.

Remembering those who gave all.
Remembering those who gave all.

We were all scared and confused and utterly flabbergasted about what happened. I remember thinking that some of his words were actually helpful (even if he didn’t write them). But unfortunately, as what often happens when a tragedy occurs, within a few days time the finger-pointing started. Who is responsible for this? Who’s fault is this? Who dropped the ball so that these men could board planes and crash into the Towers and the Pentagon? Who is to blame? That is what many people want to know in the end because they think it will stop their pain. If they have someone or some entity to accuse and can prove it’s their fault, then that will alleviate the grief. But it ends up just being a distraction in the steps to accepting the pain and the realization that this tragedy happened, could possibly happen again, and what we can do to avoid that.

Since that time, sixteen years ago, thankfully nothing to such a scale has occurred again. But little by little we are experiencing more and more small, but still tragic, incidents in Europe and here in the US. It is still incredibly sad and frightening: the faces and the organization may have changed but the problem still exists. Rooting out the culprits and sticking them on some island prison or killing them outright does not solve the problem. It just morphs into something or someone else who has the same sentiment. While they continue to truly believe our way of life is wrong and we are evil, we will always be in danger.

I think we would be better off if we took these key people, made them live in the United States (under extreme security measures obviously), and showed them that the majority of us aren’t all that bad. For the most part, we are compassionate, empathetic, and caring human beings who are living everyday lives like everywhere else in the world.  (We could also expose them all to some terrible stomach flu with it coming out of both ends, then pretend we cured them; they would be thankful after that, if anything.) Then they would go back to their countries and tell others, including and especially future generations, “Those Americans, they’re okay. They were nice to me and I can eat solid foods again. Let’s not destroy their way of life because it’s just different from ours, not bad.” That is where people seem to get stuck, in the differences. If we’re from the United States, or Europe, or from North Korea for that matter practicing whatever religion, we are all just human beings. Homo sapiens attempting to continue sustaining life on planet earth. Why any of us feel the need to end the lives of fellow humans in the name of whatever god or country or whatever moral rules they feel are being broken still continues to be incomprehensible to me.

And that is part of the reason why 9/11 is still a day that sticks with me and always will. Besides the fact that the country did change that day and has changed since, we’re still in the same fight, still at odds with others who don’t want us around and, likewise, we don’t want them around. Where does it end?

In the words of good old Gandhi, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Or, in the words of a very different person from a smaller, still violent, historical event: “Can’t we all get along?” I continue to hope so.

Kids, Money, Parenting

If I asked people to complete this sentence: It all comes down to _____________. What do you think the answer would be? That M word is my guess because it seems like most of life often comes down to money, doesn’t it? Well, I suppose money and time, and lately as I get older, I’ve noticed it is also who you know…and that is all pretty depressing. This has been at the forefront of my mind more than usual because recently, two activities that my children participate in probably will not exist due to, you guessed it, money!  This post is not a plea for those dollars or to try and get support for my causes, it is just my ongoing observation that life, in the U.S. and most of the world, is dependent upon that bottom dollar. People do all sorts of things for money that they most likely wouldn’t under  a different way of life – they work countless hours, they sell their bodies or others, they scam or mark-up products in unfair ways, they lie, all for this thing – money.

And what does money get us in the end? Well, in the case of my kids’ cut programs they would get sports and enrichment, but for others, what is it about money that everyone wants to accumulate? More stuff I suppose: the better car, the nicer house, the extravagant vacation, the latest phone, or the coolest grill (and I’m not above wanting some of those things; personally, I would like a boat). And then what? We get those things, we’re momentarily happy with them, then inevitably, there is something else out there that we need or want. Most people (again, in the U.S.) have reached a level of comfort where they don’t worry about finding food or basic healthcare, most of us are in positions that allow us to live comfortably, without the concerns about tuberculosis or a high infant mortality rate. Wdollar sign - Copye’re lucky and fortunate; and yet, we still want more. And when we get more, well then, we usually still want more. Not often do we see people willing to “give more;” instead it’s to “get more.”

“Pharma Bro” is a recent example of accumulating more for the sake of having more, or maybe for him it’s having the most. Martin Shkreli was in the news because he was convicted of securities fraud. He lied to investors in order to make-up funds, supposedly, for a bad bet he made. This is wrong and unjust, obviously. What he is most known for, however, is becoming CEO of a pharmaceutical company and jacking up the price of a drug (often used for HIV patients) from mere dollars per pill to $750 per pill, without any good reason that anyone can tell except for one – to make money, lots of it. And what does he do with this money? Does he feel more important and successful because he has it? Probably, because many interpret money to equal success; and unfortunately, the more you have, the more power you hold. And now the guy will be spending that money, if not his time, digging himself out of this hole he created, and he seems to do it with little remorse.

What does that mean for middle class kids who can’t continue in a sport or learn the instrument they want to play? Who knows, maybe nothing. But if we weren’t always trying to “come up with the money” to pay for all of these programs, or needing and wanting the latest possession, would things be different? Would future generations grow up to have less stressful  lives, those in which they didn’t have to constantly worry about how to pay for things or how to retire comfortably (even when it’s fifty years away)?

My guess would be yes, but there is no easy way out of the system we have created, supposedly in which we are all equal (monetarily or otherwise). I’ll let you know how it’s going after my family and I move to a tribal society and try to trade plastic trinkets for food and, of course, the biggest hut on the block.

Welcome home.
Welcome home.
Fear, Grief, Parkinson's Disease

Anyone who has read my previous post about my mom (Letting Go of Knowing Why When Loved Ones are Sick) knows that she has Parkinson’s disease (PD to those of us now familiar with it). PD has all the terrible symptoms  one thinks of: with tremors throughout her body and “freezing up,” or the inability to walk because that connection from her brain to her feet just won’t work sometimes. But the hardest part of this illness, at least to my brother and me, is the dementia and the decline of her cognitive functioning. Like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s causes a person’s mind to slowly slip away. Lately, it’s become worse. The progression of the disease, along with a urinary tract infection that led to sepsis and put her in the hospital, seems to have made her “good days” become far fewer than her “bad days,” when she mumbles incoherently or thinks her walker is the portable commode.

My brother and I usually try to make light of her condition, attempting to find the humor in things, like when she kept referring to the physical therapist as the “power girl” (“when is the power girl coming over?”) or when she asked me very seriously if I had in my “possession two pounds of white See’s candy that looks like pajamas,” (I answered “No, sorry, I don’t” to that one). We don’t laugh at her or her condition, but we cope by finding humor in the absurdity of it all and marveling at the frightening and amazing human brain.

Yet, in other instances, we need to talk her off a metaphorical ledge and try to bring her into our current reality, like when she calls very concerned saying, “Dad died, will you take me to the funeral?” and I have to tell her that her dad died over twenty-five years ago. Then when she questions “well, who died?” and I tell her “no one died, Mom, you’re okay,” she is never fully reassured by this, and neither am I. We don’t know how we can help her, and unfortunately, there is not much we can do at this point, except talk to her and visit her. This brings me to the title of this post, “Progressive Disease Never Gets Easier – and I’m a Wimp,” because it is becoming harder and harder to visit her and try to act like everything is normal and okay while I’m there.  In my previous post I wrote, “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 gmom_julieo… 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.” Those words seem hypocritical now because I don’t look forward to seeing her and it’s hard to show-up with a smile. With two busy young kids in sports and other activities it is easy to let time slip by with practices or games and realize that I have not visited my mom in awhile. That fact makes me feel guilty, which makes me avoid the visit, which makes me guiltier, and so it goes.

We’ve all seen or read about families who leave their parents or loved ones to rot away in a nursing home or retirement place, never visiting, or doing so once a year for twenty minutes. I always thought they were uncaring jerks and questioned how people could do that to “their own parents!” but maybe now I see why a little more clearly. Maybe it’s just too hard and they can’t face seeing their loved one turn from a “normal” person to a nearly unrecognizable shell of who they once were. It’s agonizing to watch and too painful to accept, so they don’t. They hide, pop up once a year, and retreat back to their own world where this reality doesn’t exist. I get it and oftentimes would like to do the same, but I don’t. And yet, I could do more.  My brother calls my mom once a day and drives up to visit her once a month regardless of what is going on in his life. His strength and fortitude far exceed mine.

But pain is no excuse, at least not a good one. Just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s acceptable to avoid it. The truth in this situation is that I can’t come to a full acceptance of her progressive disease because the disease keeps changing, so once I accept it, the disease has progressed and my mom can’t remember what day it is; a short time later, I must now accept that she thinks See’s candy looks like pajamas. It does not stop until the disease stops, and then she is no longer here. There is no good answer or solution; and it seems near impossible to look for a bright side or some positive way to view it all. Sometimes, I’m realizing, it’s best to keep your head down and keep moving forward, to show-up while staying the course, be it a progressive disease or a marathon with an unknown end.