Fear, Parenting, Self-awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-awareness, Writing

How often to do we plan for the future with the idea that everything will be perfect when that day comes? “I’ll feel good when…I get that bigger house, I get a promotion, I finish school, I lose weight, I retire…” and the list goes on. We have certain goals with a better prospect in mind. Meeting the goal would hopefully be our end result – finally reaching a place where we feel good and our needs  are met. And, now, our lives can begin, right?

sunrise
We see our future as that beautiful, rising sun.

And yet, the goal and the idea do not always meet up with reality. We fail to see that when we want something so much. You get that bigger house (I did), but now spend twice as much time cleaning it. You get that sought-after promotion, and feel great that you were chosen, but now you have so much more responsibility and spend much more time working. You finish school, only to realize that getting a job is really difficult and you miss the structure and dependability of classes. You work really hard to lose weight and look and feel great, but now must watch every little morsel that passes your lips. It’s not what we expected!

My goal was (and still is) to be a writer, and I guess I am because I write. I write things that I share with no one (because, really, no one would want to read them). I write things like this that get put out into the unknown and possibly help someone, and I write other things in hopes of getting published. Now, my goal has moved on to publishing a book, and it has not been easy. People talk about getting rejected over and over again, and that it is my experience so far, too. My “idea,” however, was that I would write that book, try hard, get it out there and it would be published! (This is where the heavens are shining down upon me and I am

Sometimes, the bright future is not what we expected.
Sometimes, the bright future is not what we expected.

looking up radiantly with a smile.) That is not the case.

I was only thinking about the end result and the “happiness” that it would bring me. I didn’t (and probably still don’t) factor in the difficult parts when imagining this “writer/published author” life. And does anyone? If we thought about all the adversity we will face, would we attempt anything? I probably wouldn’t. I often suffer from that unfortunate flaw of giving up really quickly when something doesn’t work out immediately. I try to work on that, not only for myself, but because I see my daughter doing the same thing.

So, what then, persevere and all that?  Carry on? Fight to the death? I guess it depends on how much you want it, whatever “it” is. And it also means being realistic when you sit down and think about this goal, factoring in the not-so-fun parts, the rejection parts, the this-is-not-what-I-expected parts, then keep checking in with yourself to see if this goal is still something you want to pursue. I am not saying, “it’s tough, so give up” but I don’t think stubbornly continuing when your life and goals have shifted is worthwhile. How many of us have said, “I’m doing this, even if it kills me!” Is it really worth all that much in the end? Maybe not.

As for me, I will continue to submit my book, and more than likely, continue to get rejected (“Thank you, but that project is not right for us at this time”). I don’t have a timeline yet as to when I will stop and start considering just publishing it myself, but I do have a better idea of what it takes to be a writer and to show up even when I don’t feel like it at 5:30am. It’s certainly not what I expected, but from what I have learned in life so far, when is it ever, really?

Parenting, Self-awareness

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

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

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

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

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

Self-awareness, Technology

Most of us know about Pavlov’s experiments involving dogs and bells. If you don’t, here is a quick summary: at the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov was studying digestion and stumbled upon the idea of conditioning. After some training, he found that if he rang a bell, dogs in his experiment would start to salivate in anticipation of being fed. Now all he had to do was ring the bell and the dogs would involuntarily salivate, expecting their next meal. This process came to be known as classical conditioning, in which an animal (or human) learns to respond to a certain stimulus  in a specific way (that is just the basic idea).

When my best friend worked at Macy’s in her twenties I noticed a series of dings over the intercom system one day. I asked her why they did that. She said that it was different signals to employees to start break or end it, to clock-out, etc. I was surprised that Macy’s would employ such a system, but it made more sense than someone walking around and telling people what they needed to do at certain times. And god forbid they announce it over the loud speaker and disturb someone’s luxury shopping experience. I asked her if she and her fellow workers salivate when they hear the dings . My dear friend who didn’t read much and is a bit blond didn’t get it, but I thought it was funny.

And yet now, in the twenty-first century I noticed that I am the one salivating at bells, well in this case it’s automatically responding to my iPhone when it dings to signal that I received an email, or makes a sound when I have a text. I noticed myself unconsciously reaching for my phone to see what important email that I just had to read, and yet all I would find is: there is yet another sale at Target or my son’s little league team posted new pictures of their last game. Do I need to stop what I am doing to know these things? No. Have I been conditioned too?

Poppy has her phone by her all of the time.
Poppy has her phone by her all of the time and is very distracted by it.

Yes.   And it isn’t just me. I see people constantly stopping to look at their phones when they make a sound. My father-in-law uses his phone only for work and he is always responding to it. Before phones he would easily work a ten hour day, now with the phone always near him they can reach him at any waking hour, and they do. He doesn’t seem to notice this.

How many times have you been talking to someone only to have them respond to their phone while trying to act like they are still paying attention by nodding while they read their screen, and then acting like they knew what you just said? It happens to me and I know that I have done it to others, especially my kids. I realized that I did not like being one of Pavlov’s email dogs. I didn’t want to respond automatically to the many sounds of the iPhone. If I was expecting something important or there was an emergency, I would be okay with it, but if that were the case then the other person should just pick-up the phone

img_8178
She should just go to Settings and turn off those dings.

and call, the old-fashioned way. So I did something drastic – I went to settings and made all of the sounds silent. I turned off the ding on both my phone and tablet so I didn’t hear double dings while sitting and reading a book. Unless I made the effort to get my phone and look at it, I was deaf to the announcement of Target sales or to Facebook telling me that I might have been mentioned in someone’s post.

It has been a much quieter and calmer existence without the barrage of dings and signals. I even turned off the email sound on my husband’s phone who responded in the same conditioned way as I did. He has yet to notice. Are you conditioned in this way too? Do something drastic like I did, got to Settings and just turn those sounds off.

Fear

This election year has been one of confusion and instant polarity. Although both parties have slowly polarized themselves over time, and it seems they both think “you’re either with us or against us,” this year has mixed up many declared Republicans and Democrats. Some politicians are supporting the opposite candidate because they cannot stand the one who represents their party. For the “average voter” the choice between “him” or “her” has been a difficult one. Some people are staunchly on one side or another, which has led to many family and friend disagreements across the country, but most of us are still unsure about who to vote for, which leads us to the “the fear vote.”

Voting out of fear is when you cast your ballot for a certain candidate because you fear having the opposing candidate win.  I have been led to voting in this way many times. This year I have heard, “He’s going to start world war three, so I’m voting for her,” or “She’s a liar and will take away my gun rights, so I have to vote for him,” among other reasons, all based in fear of what the other candidate might do or might be. Most people would say that they have no choice, but to vote that way. “There is no one to agree with! They’re both terrible!” I disagree. There must be some stance on a given issue that a voter could share with one of the candidates. Instead of constantly fearing the unknown, sit down and think about what you do agree with regarding each candidate’s issues. Try to wipe away all the muck that has been thrown around (quite heavily) and ask yourself what is important to you and who represents those values, then just vote for whoever that is.  Excuse yourself from arguing with people about who did what, or why he or she will be the worst president in the history of the U.S., and go on with your life.
And now, I will get down from my soapbox  after this little poem.

10/14/16 addition: I think I need to change my tune since all of the allegations against a certain candidate and the women he has treated “indelicately” let’s say. Even if I thought he was a worthy candidate at some point, when people come forward and repeatedly make the same claims thereby showing his immoral character, I would say that voting from fear is understandable and acceptable. The president has a very public persona and I do not want my son to have such a role model, nor do I want my daughter feeling the effects of men who think it’s acceptable to treat women that way.  So I will be voting out of fear – again. But I still believe in my poem below. People’s opinions are theirs, even if I don’t agree with them!


 

The Walls

Instead of putting the wall up by Mexico,
We put it up around the U.S. in total.
No imports or exports, no immigrants or ex-pats,
Nothing in and nothing out, be it fruit, phones, or yoga mats.

Instead of keeping us safe, however,
We now learned to fear each other.
Sides were divided, groups were split.
Instead of living together,
We changed our tactics.

We couldn’t see the outsiders to hate,
We looked inside and found each other to discriminate.
Until we stop finding differences, we won’t be free.
We’ll keep on seeing the “other” in you and me.

So, instead of building walls and blaming the other guys,
Maybe we should look at ourselves and remove the disguise.
We are all human, in the end,
Preposterous as it sounds, we could all be friends.

But more than likely, we’ll keep on this way.
“You’re wrong, I’m right” is what we all say.
And so the walls continue to climb,
Instead of our country, it’s either yours or mine.

And yet, it’s not difficult to stop and say,
“Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
And go on with your day.

 

Thanks to “the Dude” for the inspiration.The Dude

Grief, Illness, Kids, Parenting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-awareness

Recently my brother and I were talking about how we don’t like to waste food, even if we buy something new and don’t like it, we will either eat it or find someone to give it to. For whatever reason, we can’t find it in ourselves to just dump it down the drain or throw it in the garbage. My brother said that he offered his neighbor a snack that he did not find appealing, except during starvation possibly, because she is an elementary  teacher and always has snacks on hand for her students (that she pays for herself, of course). She said, definitely, she would take them because she has students who are “food insecure.” Food insecure? I asked. What is that? It sounded like some type of eating disorder or social anxiety problem in which you feel insecure about eating in front of others.  My brother was questioning too. It turns out that we are both naive to the world’s problems. She told him that “food insecure” means that they don’t have enough to eat, and possibly don’t know when the next meal will be or from where.

I looked into the term and the USDA labels it this way:

Food Insecurity

  • Low food security (old label=Food insecurity without hunger): reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.
  • Very low food security (old label=Food insecurity with hunger): Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake

My brother and I were surprised. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the middle of Silicon Valley. We thought, there are starving kids here? This  neighbor teaches in a district that is definitely not in a desired neighborhood of the Los Altos hills, but still, we didn’t realize that there are “food insecure” kids so nearby. That suddenly made it “real” for my brother. Before it seemed like some floating idea that happened to people “somewhere else.” Sure, we can read the statistics; we know there are hungry kids out there, even in the U.S., but it didn’t seem so real until he talked to someone who was experiencing it firsthand in her classroom.

Why is that? That got us questioning about how we unconsciously distance ourselves from the reality of painful things. Granted, we were ignorant to knowing about the legitimately distressed kids in the neighborhood. We thought that happened in bigger cities with more poverty, but it still wasn’t “real” until now. I pointed out the many other things we do that with – how many times do we hear about a bombing in the Middle East, but we don’t have a strong reaction to it any more. On one hand, we have heard about so many bombings over there, almost on a daily basis, that we have become desensitized to it.  But, on the other hand, it is so far away, and we are so removed from it, that we can’t really understand the reality of living with the idea of getting bombed on a shopping trip to pick up tonight’s dinner. And it doesn’t have to be with something as drastic as bombings, think about wives getting beaten, children sexually abused, animals left to starve and die – it happens all the time unfortunately, probably somewhere nearby, and we know it does, but we distance ourselves from the reality of it. We don’t go looking for the facts of these horrible things, we just know they are there, and try our best to not think about it until we have to, or until something moves us to look closer and do something about it.

Someone hungry might need that snack.
Someone hungry might need that snack.

For my brother’s part, he knows where his unwanted snacks can go, and he’ll also throw something extra in his cart at the store to give to his neighbor. Now that he knows, and the realness is there, he is choosing to do something about it, instead of hiding from the reality of it. I live two hundred miles away, but have started wondering about how many kids near me are hungry at school today…