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.   :)

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.