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.

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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