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.

Self-awareness

It sounds like it might be a eastern disease from across the globe, but it’s not. The China Syndrome is a phrase coined by author, Gretchen Rubin and her sister. I heard it on their podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin,” and it just means that we have certain ideas of what it means to be an “adult,” and for Gretchen it means having and using China dishware. She thinks that she has finally arrived at adulthood when she can get out those delicate dishes and eat off of them. For her sister it is having all matching and beautiful furniture, no hand-me-down or garage sale pieces, a complete set that her family luxuriates over, or

Does your table look this nice? Mine sure doesn't.
This does look like an adult table setting. And mine looks nothing like this.

it’s wearing nice clothes every day to work instead throwing something on and running out the door.

I liked their term and examples because so often I do not feel like an adult, or a grown woman for that matter. I like to think that some day I will have “arrived”  and I’m officially an adult woman, but it would be for different reasons. For instance, China dishes are a waste of time and money to me. I don’t want to create more space in my house for plates and silverware that I use maybe twice a year, and I have to worry about chipping or breaking (“oh no, they don’t make that pattern any more!”), let alone cleaning and keeping out the dust. Matching furniture is another one that does not matter to me. At this point in my life, it seems time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. I have young children, dogs, and cats. None of those creatures combine well with sparkling furniture that I am trying to keep clean and “nice” for as long as possible (maybe when our obnoxious black cat who scratches everything to shreds finally dies, I’ll consider something new, but she made of pure evil and never dying).

So, what makes one feel like an “adult”? Owning a house? Having kids? Retiring? Even though I don’t feel like one much of the time, my kids certainly think I’m the grown-up. At forty, people half my age agree that I am. When our driveway was getting paved, the paver said I looked just like his niece Buffy, but when he asked his son who was working alongside him, his son said I looked more like aunt Barbie than cousin Buffy. I realized that I am probably closer in age to aunt Barbie, and may have her same graying hair and wrinkles too. It’s hard to accept because I have always looked young and people have always doubted my age. Once, on a flight when I was eighteen, the flight attendant asked if I was old enough to sit in the emergency exit row. You have to be twelve or older to sit in those seats! But now, I don’t look twelve, or eighteen, I look like an adult, so how does one feel like one? Obviously, China doesn’t make you an adult, matching furniture, a new car, or a paved driveway. Nice clothing with the right accessories might make a person appear more together, however it seems like a lot of effort, and these are all things…so what is it?

I guess, for me, I would feel more like an adult if I earned more  money. I made the choice to stay home with children and write, and because of that choice we don’t have a double income (my writing earnings are pretty negligible at this point). I used to work, obviously, throughout high school, college, and beyond, until those kids showed up. However, getting my social security statement recently and seeing the obvious drop in yearly income over my working career was a little depressing. So I don’t know if I would necessarily feel more like an adult if I earned more, or just feel better about myself in general. However, probably opening and actually reading my social security statement might be an indicator of adulthood right there!

I do have this vision of a day when I have it “all together,” the house is clean, the checkbook balanced, the pile of unopened mail is appropriately sorted and filed, the retirement accounts are in order, those college accounts are well funded, and essentially I can sit on the couch and open a book with a nice contented sigh – “Ahh, everything is finished.” That would be nice. However, the reality at this point is much different, if I could get two out of four of those tasks accomplished, I would feel pretty good. And the other reality is that all of those things might be done in that moment, but the next day, the ball keeps rolling – mail keeps arriving, dust collects, purchases are made, college costs even more – there is no end point. Well, there is, but that would mean the ultimate end, and that is not a very positive outcome either. So, for the time being, I will keep on, keeping on and know that, even if I don’t feel like an adult, I certainly look like one, my age says I’m one, and hopefully I act like one most of the time. What’s your definition of being an adult? Have you arrived or are you still waiting for some specific time to make it official?

Kids, Parenting

boys2Last month I was a chaperone for my daughter’s fourth grade field trip to the Coloma Outdoor Discovery School. It is a three day, two night trip to Coloma where the students get to see what it was like to live during the Gold Rush and to learn about area, the native people, and the rich history there. Since I didn’t live in California during elementary school and missed out on the fourth grade requirement of the state’s history, I enjoyed learning all about it. However, part of my job as chaperone meant that I had to keep kids in line so I learned all about 1849 while my one roaming eye watched over the students (the same multitasking as motherhood).

In my group during the day there were three chaperones, the naturalist (who was the teacher and leader of the group), and about sixteen kids; so the ratio was pretty small between adults and kids. Overall, the students behaved well, but in any situation where nine and ten-year-olds have to pay attention when they could be throwing rocks in the river, means there was some goofing off, some talking, and sometimes just general rudeness (usually unintentional). They’re fourth graders, I would remind myself constantly as I broke up a giggle-fest over dog poop in the state park, or stopping kids from a Twister game in the grinding holes made by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.

Even with these interruptions, both the boys and girls did okay. They were just kids being kids, plain and simple. Since I have a fourth grade girl and know their familiar MO of talking, giggling, shrieking, and sometimes ridiculous drama, I found it interesting to observe the fourth grade boys in their “natural environment”of being around in each other in an outdoor class setting. Here are some things I noticed about fourth grade boys:

1) They’re physically affectionate. There were lots of hugs, arms around shoulders, and pats on the back. It was nice to see boys expressing themselves physically without worrying about what others might think. I don’t know when males stop doing this because of fears that they might be perceived as gay (which is the reason that they stop I’m guessing?), but in fourth grade, they still feel okay giving a friend a big hug, or a boy walking up and putting his hands on another’s shoulders. This physical attention was only reserved for other boys, however, the girls didn’t receive it from the boys or vice versa. I’m guessing that lots of teasing and embarrassment would result if such a monumental thing happened.

2) Boys must move. They can’t help it. They wiggle around, fidget, or get up and walk around to go mess with a stick (or any other object in their vicinity). Like their kindergarten counterparts, they cannot sit still. By fourth grade, they can pay attention a little longer and stay in a seat without falling out of it, but their need to move has not changed. If I had not witnessed this in my son and his friends, currently in their first grade class, I would have been impatient with their constant movement. I would have complained, “why can’t they sit still?!” but I already knew, they just can’t. They’re boys and they have the uncontrollable need to be in motion, that’s all.

3) They want acceptance from each other. Who doesn’t? Especially in elementary school when kids are figuring out this whole social hierarchy thing (that exists whether we like it or not). The boys I saw were either fast friends with each other or outside of the circle, wanting to get in (the exceptions were a few on the fringe, not caring). I watched a couple boys seeking acceptance so badly from other boys in the group. They tried

Boys being bandits or bandits being boys? We don't know.
Boys being bandits or bandits being boys? We don’t know.

to be like the more popular boys, or attempted to get their attention. They would make jokes for the boys or offer some trinket they found; they just wanted to belong. And, unfortunately, it did not happen often. The clique of boys (yes, I realized that cliques aren’t just for girls) were not willing to let the other boys in, which only made those boys try harder, to no avail. We’ve all made the effort to try and be part of a group as kids, or as adults, and not succeed. I felt bad for them, but I couldn’t change their minds. They perceived the other boys as the “cool kids,” even if it was untrue, and they were determined to be part of that.

In the end, they were all good guys, even those who were obnoxious or did annoying things (like constantly walking in puddles). Over three days I witnessed a group of kids, boys and girls, who were still young enough to be innocent, open, and true. They haven’t closed up yet due to the hurts of adolescence or the pain of teenage years. They were just themselves, in all their splendor, as they approach the onset of puberty and the awkward years start. For some of them, this has already begun, which led me to my fourth observation of fourth grade boys – most of them stink. Really, truly, smell bad, and it was especially evident after a 5.6 mile hike. But the beauty of them is that they don’t really know yet, nor do they care. And that’s why we love them. Carry on, fourth grade boys, carry on.

 

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Plastic, Self-awareness

Your plastic band-aid will, anyway, which is a little funny considering its momentary use on that annoying hang-nail, yet the hundreds of years it will be around after you. This is not an endorsement to stop using

Left in the bathtub.
Left in the bathtub., but will live on forever.

band-aids, but maybe we should think before we offer it to our child who really doesn’t need it to begin with (I’m guilty of that, just to stop the whining). This is all part of my obsession with plastic which started last month when I decided that I would stop using it, in any form. I’ve never liked the fact that it doesn’t break down and that it will be hanging around long after the human race has ended.

Videos with sea turtles having juice box straws permanently stuck up their noses, birds with soda straws stuck in their throats, or animals dying from plastic bag asphyxiation disturb me. I have seen my kids take two sips of a juice box they really didn’t want and throw the rest away. They didn’t throw it in the ocean, but that doesn’t matter – it’s still just a momentary throw-away item that will be around forever.  A few years ago, I went back to my childhood home on the coast of Maine. My brothers and I loved to play on the rocky beach, jumping from huge rock to huge rock, and exploring the many tide pools. I was dismayed during my visit to find the coastline littered with tiny pieces of plastic, broken down as far as it would go, and speckled throughout the many rocks; it was everywhere. We didn’t see that years ago. The plastic wasn’t there, but it is now, and it’s multiplying.

So I decided it was time to put an end to my plastic dependency, then at least I knew that I wasn’t contributing to the problem. I just wouldn’t buy it any more, simple. Then I started to look around and all I saw was plastic in my life. Take a moment and look around your home, especially the kitchen and bathroom, and you will see how pervasive it is, particularly with packaging. Bathroom: shampoo – plastic bottle, deodorant – plastic holder, toothpaste – plastic container, toothbrush – plastic handle and bristles, razor – plastic handle, blades are encased in plastic. In the kitchen:  milk – plastic jug, butter – plastic container, bread – plastic bag, lunch meat and cheese – plastic container or bags, chips – plastic bag, granola bars – individually wrapped in plastic (just because the liner is silver, doesn’t mean it’s recyclable foil ). And it doesn’t stop, everywhere you look – plastic!

I didn’t know what to do about this problem. I didn’t think I could stop using plastic immediately, it’s too difficult to end it outright in one day. Well, if I wanted to be unshaven, un-deodorized, and un-brushed, but I don’t think many of you would want to hang out with me (and I wouldn’t want to be around myself either – too fragrant). My son also didn’t like the idea of us living off of pickles and olives because that was all I could find in our fridge in glass jars.

So, what to do?

Recycle, obviously, save the plastic from its fate of landfills and oceans where animals consume it and pay the price. It’s estimated that Americans recycle only one plastic water bottle out of four; the rest end up in the garbage. Recycling has been a part of my life since it was possible to do it, even bringing aluminum to the local store in Maine to get $.05 a can and then buying candy with the earnings (which was more of a self-serving endeavor). I also knew that not every item could be recycled, but like many people, I just ignorantly threw it in the recycle bin, ever hopeful. I decided that I would start my ceasing of plastic by finding out what is recyclable and trying to buy those products, while trying not to buy anything encased in plastic that can’t be recycled and doesn’t break down. Here’s what I learned:

Most plastic items or packaging have a number on them enclosed in a little triangle with arrows. My best friend thought that thpetsymbole little triangle with arrows meant that it was recyclable because that is the recycle sign to her, but that’s not the case. That symbol is there to tell you what kind of plastic it is, not to signify that it can be recycled. Without getting too crazy about the many types of plastic and its uses, here is what usually can be recycled and what can’t.

YES – Recyclable
#1 (PET plastic) – usually water or soda bottles – often have a redemption value on them.
#2 (HDPE plastic) – milk jugs, detergent bottles, plastic bags.

SOMETIMES  Recyclable (depends on the recycling facility)
#4 (LDPE plastic) – squeezable bottles, bags for packaged bread, dry cleaner garment bags.
#5 (PP plastic) – bags in cereal boxes, butter and yogurt containers, packing tape.

NOT  Recyclable
#3 (PVC) – clear plastic food wrapping, irrigation pipes, kids toys (and this type of plastic is toxic too)
#6 (PS) – Styrofoam cups and food containers (take-out), straws, coffee or beverage lids, egg cartons, plastic cutlery, packing “peanuts.” This is the plastic that usually ends up on beaches and accounts for 35% of landfill waste.
#7 (Other) – this is the catch-all for a variety of different plastics and which often contains the dreaded BPA, which is a known endocrine disrupter. Water cooler bottles, car parts, baby bottles, sippy cups are often made of #7. Most items claim they are “BPA free,” but removing the BPA means adding some other chemical that has not been tested. Just don’t buy #7 if possible, if anything, for health reasons.

I will keep you posted on my attempt to live plastic-free, but right now it’s seems nearly impossible and just downright depressing.

If you’re interested, here are a few things you can do:
1) Don’t get a straw when you go out to eat. Just sip your drink instead. I know that is harder to do with kids and the spill factor. Stay tuned for solutions to this one.
2) Bring your own coffee cup to Starbucks, Peet’s, etc. That one is hard for me to remember, like re-usable shopping bags once were, but it’s just a new habit to form. I tried to go without a lid and ended up with my latte all over me when I stopped short at a red light. No fun.
3) At your next party or get-together, use regular old metal cutlery. It is very easy to put it in the dishwasher instead of using throw-away plastic. Or, if you already bought plastic forks, re-use them. Most boxes are labeled “dishwasher safe.”
4) And the usual, recycle when possible before our grandchildren or their grandchildren are buried in plastic and can’t fight back when the aliens land (kidding, I’m not that crazy, yet).

However, if anyone finds me incoherent and mumbling, “the plastic, the plastic!” you all know why . Just drop me off in a forest somewhere, hopefully one that doesn’t have the dreaded plastic plants.

Fear, Self-awareness, Technology

Facebook – some of us love it, some of us hate it, and some of us refuse to be a part of it. Except for those who want nothing to do with it and will not create an account, the rest of us seem to have an ambivalent relationship with the most popular social media site. We enjoy seeing friends or family from far away post what they’re up to, or the occasional funny meme, but we are also plagued with negativism, hurtful remarks, and the time suck vacuum you find yourself in after you realize you have spent over an hour doing nothing but passively watching other “friends'” posts and then feeling crappy as a result. Here are some reasons why we dislike our beloved Facebook:

"We are truly better than you" we interpret.
“My life is definitely not that happy,” we might dejectedly think.

Problem: Compare and despair – “Everything is awesome!” all the time for everyone else, but your life is not that way. You see posts about how fun and great their lives are, constantly. Smiling faces abound. You can’t get away from it, as you scroll through the latest super-fun get-together you didn’t get invited to or the perfect looking child doing something adorable while your children are screaming and throwing things at each other. The real problem here is that we compare ourselves and our lives to the filtered versions of everyone else’s and think there is something wrong with us. We do not know the real story, and probably never will.
What can you do about it? Remind yourself about why you log-on to Facebook. More than likely it is connect, to see what loved ones are doing across the country or the world, and how their lives are in general. It doesn’t have to be a compare and despair experience unless we let ourselves get stuck and think in that way. I agree, that is not easy. How can you not feel bad about yourself when someone is showing off the latest delicious meal they made or ate at some fancy restaurant; their absolutely fabulous vacation that you can’t afford or the wedding that you’re not having any time soon? Remember that their lives are not perfect (and they’re probably in debt for half of those things). No one’s life is. We all face hardships that others’ cannot see, or that we don’t allow them to see (which is often the case).

happy-family-caption2
What really might be the case. We just don’t know.

So put a stop to the comparison game when it creeps in by reminding yourself of that. Also remember that most people aren’t putting up posts in order to make you feel bad; they are doing it to share a bit of themselves (ideally).

Problem: Negative and hateful posts and remarks or “friends” who appear narcissistic because they post at least sixty-three times a day (we just don’t want to know when you “check-in” at the podiatrist). First, the negative posts: as a society that has supposedly learned the value of positivity in our lives, we obviously have not learned how to put it to use. This has become especially evident with an election that pitted people against one another. Facebook is a platform for opinions – lots of them, all the time.
What can you do about it? One option is to simply keep scrolling (rather quickly) and don’t allow yourself to get sucked into other people’s rants or otherwise. It’s tempting, especially when you staunchly disagree and think you can prove why the other person is wrong, but just don’t do it. You will not change their minds. I repeat, you-will-not-change-their-minds. You will only get embroiled in an argument that no one ends up winning. The same goes for being the voyeur who just reads it all, gets upset, but doesn’t comment (that’s usually me). Don’t bother continuing to read; it will just piss you off and then you’ll yell at your kids or your spouse or your dog for someone else’s stupidity. For more direct action, use the “see less” option. Here is how you do that:
1. Go to a story in your News Feed that you want to hide and click the little gray V looking thing on the right.
2. Click Hide post. You can click Undo to cancel hiding the post.
3. Click See less from [name]

By clicking on this option you will not see all of the similar posts that your “friend” puts up. This also works for the friends who feel the need to post about every possible moment in their day-to-day lives. My only guess for why people do this is because it just becomes a habit: take picture, hit post, and repeat. Are they looking for feedback or “likes” on every post, or are they just over-sharing? That probably depends on the person. Either way, your news feed can get clogged by the never-ending stream of posts by just one person. The “See Less” option helps. Or, if you really do not want to see any of a person’s posts, but still want to be “friends,” you can “Unfollow” that person. Follow the same instructions above, but click on the “Unfollow” option.

Problem: the time suck continuum – how often do we glance at our news feed only to keep scrolling and scrolling and before we know it, we have spent over an hour (or more) of our time comparing ourselves, getting angry at negative posts or annoyed by others? It’s not worth it. More than likely, you don’t feel good about yourself or people in general after spending so much time passively watching others’ lives go by via FB posts. We criticize young people and their addictions to screens when we must share some of the blame too (and we need to remember that we are the example that they see on a daily basis).
What can you do about it? If you know that you can’t cut down or set a reasonable time limit for yourself and want to take a break, then “Step away from that account.” Just stop logging-on, delete the app from your phone or tablet, and resist the urge to type in the address when on your computer. Life will not end, others will not stop posting, the sun will continue to rise every day, and you will not be missing out if someone’s cat does a back flip for the first time. If you want take more significant action, you can “Deactivate your account” which will disable your profile temporarily and remove your name and photo from many things that you have shared. To do this:
1. Go to Settings.
2. Click “Deactivate My Account” near the bottom of the page.
3. You will then go through a series of questions and windows, complete with pictures of your friends who will “miss you,” according to Facebook.

Facebook provides all of these options for us because they don’t want us to do one thing – leave. And we can’t, entirely. Facebook is the Internet’s Hotel California, “you can’t check out any time you want, but you can never leave.” There is a way to permanently delete your account which involves multiple steps and waiting for two weeks. In that fourteen day time frame, if you log back on for any reason, your account will not be deleted and you go through the process all over again. If you get through that two week period and your account is officially deleted, you’re still not completely gone. Certain things remain like personal messages you have sent to other users . You can never be deleted entirely.

Still, we must remember some of the positives involved with engaging in Facebook. It is nice to see pictures of people and places far away. You do get a much needed laugh sometimes at a friend’s post, or educated on a subject you knew nothing about. We can feel a little less lonely at times knowing that there are others out there posting (and posting and posting). In the end, we must take the good with the bad and try to keep a healthy balance. So, here is the quick take-away to solving the problems listed above:

1) Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s not worth it – you’re better than that.
2) Don’t involve yourself in other people’s business. It’s their issues, not yours (from overboard expression of opinions to liking themselves and their own image a little too much).
3) Check yourself (before you wreck yourself) on the amount of time you invest in any social media site.

Try to remember that they are tools to enhance and enrich our daily existence; they are not essential to our lives. The majority of us can remember a time before any of this existed, and we were fine. We found other ways to distract ourselves. That being said, most of us will continue to use Facebook anyway and keep trying to strike that balance so if you liked this blog post, please share it, I’m trying to get 5,000,000,000,000,000 likes and break that Guinness world record.   :)