Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30, 2011 ~ Day 142
"Go Mommy Go! You CAN do it!"

It's incredible what a difference one day makes.

My husband and eldest son have been out of town and I slept very poorly both the night before they left and the first night they were gone.

Yesterday I awakened (if you could call it that: a half-lucid stumble, bleary-eyed into the kitchen) to make pancakes out of a box, cover them with fresh strawberries, and then lay back down right next to the table where my little ones happily sang and ate.

The first part of the day passed in a blur. Somehow I managed to bathe and dress the kids, pay some bills and supervise while they drew with crayons and played with toys. I made all of the appropriate mommy sounds, "Mmmm-hmmmmm?" and "That's wonderful, honey!" but overall I was just barely holding on and found myself wondering anxiously how I would ever make it to their nap time before falling asleep.

Worse, I had promised to make every day "special" for the little ones with their Daddy out of town - so my middle son asked me about once a minute, "When are we going to do something special today mommy? What are we going to do?" Despite his runny nose he ran in circles like the Energizer bunny and I knew that spending an entire (sunny, beautiful) day at home was not going to cut it for him.

Just when I began to despair over how I would manage to be the mother they deserved on such little sleep, I opened up a book that I've just purchased and an entire paradigm shift took place in my mind and heart.

This book, "Money and the Law of Attraction" by Esther and Jerry Hicks (and Abraham) was highly recommended to me by my pilates therapist because it has a section specifically dealing with health. She explained, "You're doing well and you're doing your best, but inside you still think of yourself as someone trying to "get well" instead of remembering what it actually feels like to be well. As long as you keep telling your body that it isn't healthy yet, it will believe you."

This dovetailed perfectly with what the guest speaker on Stress Management said the next morning about the 50,000 to 60,000 thoughts we program ourselves with each day. "That's a lot of programming!" she'd said, and when I thought about it, both the pilates therapist and the guest speaker were right.

So I'd picked up the book at a local store two days ago and yesterday, right when I was sinking into exhaustion and despair, I pulled it out and began to read.

The subject matter is dense and I could barely keep my eyes open, but I did make it through a few pages and those pages changed not only my energy level but also my attitude and the tenor of the rest of my day. In fact, small miracles began to spontaneously occur.

The message of the book so far is that we have to give off the vibration of a certain state of being: wealth, health, happiness, contentment ~ in order to have that state of being manifest itself into our lives. We have to do the hard work of actually seeing ourselves somewhere that we haven't gone yet emotionally or mentally... of feeling the emotions of appreciation, joy and gratitude for a wonderful life before we've actually seen the positive 'real' events occur.

My pilates therapist had referenced this as "Playing a game with our minds" but I read it a little differently than that. From what I've heard many times about the physical stress induced by watching a scary movie, our human brains cannot tell the difference between watching a scary event take place on screen and actually experiencing a scary event. Our fight-or-flight response is activated even if we are simply sitting in a dark movie theater holding a tub of popcorn.

Our bodies respond physically to stimulii given to the brain. So if my brain is constantly imagining the bad things that may happen (like getting bad news from a doctor's office) then my body will receive signals from the brain that imply that all is not well... and the body will respond accordingly. My cells are literally receiving information from my brain telling them what to do - how to replicate and divide successfully, how to regenerate - and all of the instructions they are getting are coming only from me.

Similarly, that guest speaker on stress told us that for every time we are feeling stressed out we are virtually taking ten minutes off of our lives. She told us that we cannot control the external events in our lives, but we CAN control how we respond to them or whether we accept feelings of overwhelm, frustration or anxiety into our minds and hearts.

All of the messages that have been coming into me this weekend are uniting into one overarching theme - Relax. Take a Deep Breath. Turn your perspective around. It's not worth it.

So yesterday in my burst of stress and sorrow over not being the mother I would want to be, I read about changing my inner talk and the vibration I was sending into the world. I took a very deep breath and then began to make an active effort to follow these rules.

"I'll never manage to stay awake," turned into, "I *will* manage to stay awake, I will rest if I need to, and everything is going to be fine."

"There is no way I'm going to get everything done today," turned into, "You know - I'll do what I can and that is a great start."

It may sound Pollyanna-ish... just one more bit of the optimism and cheer that have defined me and sometimes annoyed my friends and coworkers over the course of a lifetime.

Yet, it works for me. In fact, it worked for me!

One of the advantages to having my husband out of town is that I had basically no other adults to talk with yesterday so I got to be 100% on top of my own inner speak. I really stayed on it all day, noticing every time I had a negative, tired or worried thought and turning around the inner language immediately.

"We WILL find a good parking place, because I feel relaxed and I've always been a good attractor of parking places,"
I thought - and amazingly, there was not only a parking place open RIGHT in front of the Children's Museum, but also one open in the front row in EVERY SINGLE place we traveled to in the car yesterday. We had front row parking without any wait at 4 different locations including a packed gardening center and popular grocery store.

I found myself having taken a wrong turn when I left a local thrift store where we'd been purchasing gently used (adorable) clothes for my rapidly growing daughter. Normally I would have grown frustrated with myself but this time I said, "Maybe it isn't a wrong turn after all. You never know..." and resolved to continue driving north on the side street on which we were traveling. Two blocks later I looked left and realized that we were basically at the front door of a gardening center I'd forgotten about, and remembered that I've been planning to buy a new garden hose and sprayer. "Amazing!" I thought. "The car and that wrong turn brought us to EXACTLY where we needed to be!"

Then, while in the gardening store my tired toddler daughter began to pull sharp metal posts out of a display unit - which unbeknownst to me had small glass beakers sitting precariously at their tops. I dashed over in time to grab the first metal post from her hand at which point she grabbed another post with her other hand and began to laugh and wave it around, brandishing the sharp end toward me and her brother. That one apparently had a glass beaker in its top, because the next thing we knew little shards of glass were bouncing everywhere around our feet. Even my daughter looked stunned.

I could feel myself breaking into a sweat but for once, I didn't panic. I took a deep breath and told my body that everything was in fact okay, that all of our needs as a family were in fact taken care of.

Within seconds, two women were by our side. One - a fellow customer in her 60s? - kindly distracted my children from the mess of glass on the floor and led them ten feet away to the cage of a bunny rabbit to show them the bunny. They were mere steps from me and still in direct view, but I myself did not have to be struggling with them around the broken glass.

The second woman - an employee of the store - was there with a broom, dustpan, and consolation. "Oh goodness," she smiled, "This happens all of the time. That's actually why those stakes are being sold at 50% off right now, these glass things fall out almost every day."

"Can I please pay you for it?" I asked. "I'm so sorry."

"Oh no,"
she responded. "Not at all. Like I said, this happens every day. We have a ton of those extra little beakers in back. There's no need for you to pay for it. You're fine."

Within two minutes of the accident, all was back to normal as though there had never been a problem. The glass on the floor was completely swept up. Metal stakes back in their display box, children happily entertained by a bunny rabbit and I had the gardening hose under my arm - ready to hold hands with my kids and bring them to the cash register.

What could have been a stressful, potentially disastrous experience involving a two year old, a sea of glass and two metal stakes instead became an example of perfect, instant manifestation. Just like the book said, I wasn't sending a message of stress into the world - so the world brought me peace.

The entire rest of our day went like this... every single step. It felt like I was some small musical note appearing in a vast orchestral score, just flowing along in harmony with the world. A more cynical part of me would never have believed it possible... and if I HAD LISTENED to my own cynical inner voice, I'm sure the day *wouldn't* have turned out in the perfect the way that it did.

Maybe it is dorky that I've become my own internal cheerleading squad. But hell, it certainly isn't going to hurt anyone for me to redirect my own barrage of negative self-talk. And if *I* am not my own personal motivational speaker, who else is going to do it?

The stakes are high enough. My body is listening to every inner word. Like my three year old son, my body does believe everything I say. If I tell it that I am stressed and tired, it will listen. If I tell it that I am capable of rising to any occasion, that I am healthy and whole, it will believe that too.

Last night after putting my kiddos to bed I got a fantastic, full night of restful sleep and when I awakened today the FIRST thing I did, before stumbling out of bed to begin again, was reset my inner voice to the positive.

I'm really looking forward to another relaxed, successful day.

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29, 2011 ~ Day 141
The Stress Response

I am so amazed and grateful for the myriad ways in which the church mothers' group I've been attending continues to bless and change my life.

It is fantastic that you can literally do something as simple as put boxes up for giveaway on and draw in one caring person who leads you to an entire community of support.

Call it synchronicity - call it God in the world - call it Fate or whatever works; every time I attend this mothers group and reap the benefit of its collective wisdom and humor, I interpret the amazing kismet that originally brought me to the group as evidence of a greater plan for my life in action.

Today's group was special... a seminar focused specifically on managing stress.

The workshop was led by a beloved member of the mother's group who happens to be an internationally recognized motivational speaker. She is a lovely, charming, down-to-Earth woman in her mid-seventies who has seen a lot of the world and gained valuable insights through the school of hard knocks.

Infusing her 90 minute talk with personal anecdotes from her travels, family life, years spent teaching, and stories of her friends and their children, she had us rolling in the aisles laughing.

I especially loved her description of the way in which her husband drives - so full of stress and anger at the other drivers on the road - and her ongoing attempts to relax him from the passenger seat. I saw a lot of my husband and myself in their interactions; although my husband loves to drive. In our case, he hates finding a parking space... it is the parking space, and not the drive, that frustrates him to no end.

For the purposes of privacy I will call our guest speaker today Elinor, but that is not her real name. She has her own professional website which I'd happily share with the people close to me who read my blog. She is just a lovely, lovely woman. In a way, she reminds me a bit of the actress Betty White. Seems like grandma until she opens her mouth and you realize you're talking to a sassy vixen. This lady was full of fire and humor and great stories... definitely young at heart.

Elinor gave many incredible nuggets of advice, and I took notes furiously. She talked about understanding the cycle of how stress develops and how your brain and body feed into it. She gave us a chart of the physical effects of the actual stress response - and I was chagrined to see that nearly every one of the health problems I've faced in the last two years is a direct effect of long-term stress.

Example? When you are stressed, your heart rate increases. The original purpose for this happening during fight-or-flight situations was to pump blood faster to the muscles, so you could either fight harder or run faster.

Unfortunately in modern times when we're dealing with long term chronic stresses rather than short-lived "Eat or be eaten!" moments, there are real health diminishing effects from long lasting stress. According to Elinor's sheet, the long term effect from a continually increased heart rate is an irregular heartbeat, or high blood pressure.

I don't have high blood pressure (thanks, fish oils!) but I DID find out last year that I have an irregular heartbeat and a heart murmur. In fact, I had to put a check next to the box with nearly every single stress reaction and its "long term effect" - because I had 8 out of 9 of them. All the way down to my poor circulation and increased risk of infections. Argh!

To drive the point home, she encouraged us to think of it this way: For every time you allow yourself to get stressed out, just take 10 minutes off of your natural lifespan. This concept really got to me. I've got some massive relaxation makeup to do!

Luckily Elinor didn't spend the entire session belaboring what stress feels like and what it can do to your body... because that might possibly have generated even more stress in the mothers and grandmothers sitting around the workshop tables.

Instead, she spent the bulk of her time giving examples and strategies for how to de-stress.

One of the main points she raised was that we as mothers (and people) need to take a look at what is working and what is *not* working in our lives and STOP doing what isn't working. She reminded the group that the actual definition of insanity is doing the same thing over, and over, and over and getting the same results... expecting that at some point, the results will change.

An example of this would be arguing with your kid about setting the dinner table. If every time you ask your child to set the table you get an argument, according to Elinor's definition it would be insane to keep asking them to do it in the same way. You'd need to switch things up, find a BETTER way to get through to your kid. Find a way to make the activity authentic for him or her, to either give it an incentive or make it into a game... but not to simply keep asking every day in the exact same way.

Or, in my own case, another good example of this would be having painful discussions with my husband about our family budget, which is chronically stretched too thin. These talks have in the past rarely gone well. Maybe the thing that doesn't go well though has to do with *how* we are having the conversation; *when* we are having the conversation (time of day); and *where* we are having the conversation! The essential truth that I take from Elinor's talk is that even though we can't stop dealing with money together as a married couple, we can change the tenor and framework of the discussion and definitely alter its venue.

Elinor gave us a fantastic strategy: to challenge our own perceptions about what stresses us out and what can be done about it.

First, she had us pick a single issue out of all of the many things stressing us out on a daily basis and focus on that one issue. On a single sheet of paper she had us make two columns: Things I Can Control / Things I Cannot Control around that particular topic. She had us list as many of both that we could think of.

My issue for the day was: "Overwork, Exhaustion, Feelings of Failure". I rated it as a 10 out of 10 for how stressed out it made me feel.

Here were my lists:

  • Time I go to sleep

  • If I am disciplined about housework

  • If I keep lists and stay organized

  • If I keep my children busy and focused

  • If I exercise

  • If I make time to prepare 3 healthy meals for myself

  • If I take my antibiotics and supplements on schedule

  • Whether I choose to go back to work to make more money

  • What time I am awoken by my children (or husband)

  • How my children respond to each other and fight with each other

  • How my husband responds to my children

  • If my kids track mud, dirt, grime into the house or stain their clothes

  • How my body responds to antibiotics and supplements

  • Extraordinary expenses for children, car trouble and healthcare

Elinor explained that we need to learn how to LET GO of the things that are not under our control, and to accept the things we cannot change. She also laughingly reminded us that people with the biggest control issues are the same people with the biggest stress issues.


I've just written this week in a blog about my own prominent, longstanding Type A control issues and here we have it - the concrete explanation for how my own need to control has generated the very same stress that set the stage for illness.

So, to get 100% well, what is the prescription Dr. Elinor?

That's right. It's time to change my thinking, challenge my own perceptions about what is under my control and what isn't. It's time to really let go.

This is a lot harder and simultaneously a lot easier than it sounds. It's easy to pinpoint the negative thought cycles that drive me down during the course of a day. It's a lot harder to catch myself in negative self-talk every time it is happening. Elinor shared with us that we have between 50,000 and 60,000 thoughts each day racing through our minds... with the potential for a lot of negative self-talk. "That's a lot of programming!" she exclaimed.

So I've been trying to catch myself in my thoughts, to be more aware of them. When my daughter and I got back into our car after we left the mother's group I looked at the clock, wondered what time my husband and son's plane flight to Georgia was supposed to land, and caught myself thinking with worry that "I hope nothing bad has happened." Immediately my heart began to race.

"STOP!" I commanded myself, thanks to Elinor. I then practiced her strategy of visualizing the outcome I wanted - the two of them safely descending from the airplane steps, a huge smile on my son's face. My heart rate slowed down.

(Happily, just an hour later I spoke to them both by telephone and they have safely landed and are having a marvelous time. Hurray!) So even within the first five minutes of leaving her seminar I'd caught myself backsliding into my Type A controlling/worrying/stressing ways.

"This is going to be a real challenge, to change my worry patterns."

One of the other interesting pieces of trivia that Elinor shared with us was that 97% of the things that people worry about NEVER HAPPEN. She advised us to make a notecard for every fear or worry we have and then file it. "Six months later," she smiled, "Take out those cards and calculate for yourself how many of your fears actually came true. You'll see that you've been wasting almost all of that energy and stressing for nothing."

These are just a few of the many, many helpful strategies and hard-won truths that she shared with us in our group this morning. Already I can feel many of them percolating in my brain, having an actual impact upon the way in which I think about things.

I've looked at the huge TO DO list I have for this weekend with my husband out of town and recognized that my time is limited so I need to analyze which things I can control and make the best of those.
  • I can control whether I put our rent check into the mail or drive it into the office. We're going with the good ol' USPS...

  • I can control whether I cook dinner every night or allow my mom to take us to dinner. We're going to gratefully accept.

  • I can control whether I go to sleep at a decent hour to be cheerful and energetic for my kiddos. Time to take a nap.

  • I can control whether I visualize my husband and son having a great time or being in danger so far from home. I'm picturing them hiking and climbing trees.

I can control whether I worry about the aches and pains in my body, or choose to believe that they'll take care of themselves. I'm getting well, and I choose to look at all the great things that have changed for the better recently.

Despite how many things in my day-to-day life are truly out of both my control AND my comfort zone, I can choose to accept and LET GO of the things I cannot change.

I cannot change the tornadoes that just wreaked havoc on the American South, right at the time that my husband and child are traveling there. I need to let go of my fear that another tornado will hurt my little boy. I cannot change the fact that he is now thousands of miles away and nothing I can do will save or protect him in any situation he encounters. Instead I can let go and trust that I'll be seeing him again in just a few days.

What I find so far is that after implementing Elinor's pearls of wisdom, I feel grounded. I feel sleepy. My heart rate is steady and methodic. I feel peaceful and relaxed.

Could it be? Yes, it's true! I've actually de-stressed. Thank you, Elinor!!! and vast thanks to the Divine plan that led me to this amazing group of women who are already changing my mind, heart and belief systems for the better.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28, 2011 ~ Day 140
Strong Willed Children
Are More Resilient

"My son was a perfectly agreeable little boy," the speaker stated.

"He got along well with just about everyone, obeyed our rules, and worked hard in school. He was an "A" student, a pleaser whose teachers really liked him. You can imagine," she laughed, "Just how proud of ourselves we were by the time he got to middle school. We believed that we were pretty great parents.

'Now we've really got it made,' we told ourselves. College went okay... the classes were much larger and he didn't get to know his professors as well.

It was essentially fine though, he still worked hard and made it through with his degree. He had done everything right."

"Except," she confided, "The real world did not work like school. And once our son hit the real world, he didn't understand the rules for how to succeed in life. There was no-one in particular left to please. Many people walked over him, seeing a 'nice guy' that was easy to push around. He married the first girl he'd ever slept with, despite the fact that she didn't treat him very well."

"Our son ended up in his mid-twenties, clinically depressed. His wife asked for a divorce, and he spent many of the coming years going through great personal and professional difficulty. In all, he was clinically depressed for twenty-five years. Despite all we tried to do for him, we couldn't help him walk through it - because we couldn't get into his head and help him become more resilient."

"Today he is doing very well, and all of that is thankfully a thing of the past but it took many long hard years to get there."

"Our other children, especially the third child, were not like that. The third child was very, very, very strong-willed. In hindsight I have come to understand that it is a blessing to have a strong-willed child. When the world pushes in on them, they will PUSH BACK and hold their own. Our third child had a much easier time with life."

* * * *

When I heard this story retold by a lovely woman recently, it gave me great pause for thought. I too am mother to three children, all of whom are still very young and impressionable.

My children share one thing in common however, especially the younger two. They are sweet but exceptionally strong-willed. They are not going to let ANYONE tell them what to do; they conform to our rules out of courtesy and love but NOT thanks to threats or some deeper sense of moral correctness. They are tough little cookies... resilient, and not easily perturbed - unless someone is physically harming them (which does happen in brother-vs-brother conflicts from time to time).

My eldest son is perhaps the most like me; a little more sensitive, a bit more anxious to please. Less likely to make waves, more likely to work hard for his teacher's approval. This is why the speaker's parenting story hit home so closely.

I relate to her oldest son... the pleaser. I too grew up as a pleaser, consistently shocked when people took advantage of my good nature, and terribly hurt when they did cruel things to me on purpose. I had the thinnest skin ever, and not a malicious bone in my body. The world beat the crap out of me more than once as a young adult and I was always, always blindsided by it. Over time I did grow depressed and bewildered that the real world turned out to be less ideal than I'd ever imagined.

Here is a great example. My close childhood friends will remember this one well.

At the age of 20 I moved to New York City for a summer to work for a major magazine publishing house. It was a very difficult paid internship to land, especially (as I soon found out) for someone not originally from the East Coast. Out of the thirty or so summer interns within the corporation, only two of us were from California. Most hailed from the Northeast - Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maine, New York State, Washington, D.C.

I shacked up in NYU student housing for the two months of the internship which turned out to be a disaster of its own kind. My first roommates were models - MODELS! trying to make it in the big city. I had never met a more vapid, vain, unintelligent group of women in my life. Their makeup cases weight more than a desktop computer. It was really unbelievable to me, a laid back girl from southern California who liked to hang out in sundresses and flip flops with no makeup and no fuss.

"If I were a guy, I would NEVER want to date a model," I thought to myself.

I wanted to talk about Ernest Hemingway and the meaning of life; my roommates wanted to talk about MAC cosmetics and cocaine. It was pretty clear to all of us that the combination wasn't going to work. They quickly suggested (and I agreed) that perhaps I should find a different room.

I ended up placed with an ambitious southern belle working for Donna Karan. Margot* was beautiful and poised, determined to "make it" in the big world. She had also just initiated an affair with one of her hometown boyfriend's best friends - a stockbroker in the big city. Excited about this torrid summertime fling, Margot became a ghost roommate because she was almost never home. She and her big-city paramour jetted to places like Martha's Vineyard and the Bahamas on weekends.

Thus, I ended up pretty much alone - no friends and essentially no-one to talk to at night - in the most cosmopolitan city of my short life. No money to speak of and no real connections. I spent most of my free time on the telephone with my best friends from home.

I learned the hard way that summer that Manhattan is a great place to be if you have either friends or money, but for a person with neither, it was a pretty tough city. My beloved brothers were there but busy with their own lives, and probably didn't want to impinge too much on what they imagined to be my "hot young thing in the city" lifestyle".

Amid all the loneliness, I threw myself wholeheartedly into work. I had basically nothing else. The two friends I made were work friends, but we rarely saw each other outside of the office... one lived in Brooklyn and commuted. Work became everything to me. I went to the office early and left late. Read magazines voraciously on the side, did a small bit of reporting, learned how to code in HTML and did every single task asked of me by anyone who asked - from grabbing coffee to proofreading and editing other writer's work.

A few of the men in the office, one much-older man in particular, flirted with me but I eschewed all of that. Wanted to make my time in New York City count and leave with the only thing I believed mattered... a future.

At night, I would drag my plastic twin bed mattress out to the small balcony of my 14th Street dorm room apartment and lay on it looking up at the stars. My room was so many floors off the ground, the traffic noise sounded like surf crashing on a beach. If I closed my eyes, I could almost believe that I was back in southern California sleeping on my favorite beach. Many a night I lay there alone, quietly counting the days until I could return home.

My immediate manager was a fantastic woman, someone earthy and grounded and friendly who worked hard but also made time to be kind. She was 'done' with New York - sick of it - and unbeknownst to me had already applied for a great new job opportunity in Seattle. Throughout that summer she was my personal and professional mentor, and I looked up to her greatly.

We shared our office with another woman, someone who put the G in Grumpy. Lindie* was actually a native Californian, and possibly one of the least happy and witchiest people I have met to this day. She was overweight, brassy, loud, unsympathetic and made snide remarks about nearly every person that floated into our office area.

I'll never forget, when TWA Flight 800 went down over Jones Beach that summer while I was working in New York, the first thing Lindie did was to get on the telephone and book tickets to Paris on that exact same flight. "This is going to be the safest flight in the world now," she grinned, while everyone around her was hugging and weeping over the bodies washing up on the beach.

I wasn't fond of Lindie but my mentor, Diana*, encouraged me not to let her negativity bring me down. "This city can do that to you," Diana would say. "She's just a miserable, lonely, cynical woman who has nothing but her work. Just take care that you don't turn out that way."

Three weeks before the end of my internship, Diana left the company on short notice for the much better salaried position in Seattle. Her last days with the company were a whirlwind. I helped her pack boxes, and thanked her for being one of the only warm and friendly people I had encountered in my brief time in Manhattan.

Then she was gone.

I stuck out the internship for a few more weeks, packed my books and belongings back into boxes, breathed a huge sigh of relief when at last it was time to say goodbye and head back to California.

"This has been the worst summer of my life," I told my mother over the telephone. "But through it all, I'm so proud that I stayed here and stuck it out. At least I'll have that recommendation to take with me into my senior year of college, and it will help set me up for my future as a writer or editor."

Happily, I flew home.

About a month later, when back at college, a letter arrived to my university post office box.

"Oh great!" I grinned happily. "At last, my performance review!" Visions of future magazine jobs danced in my head.

Swiftly I opened the envelope and pulled out the thick company paper with its impressive masthead. Scanning the lines, my jaw dropped and my knees grew weak, like cotton wool.

"...Her performance was subpar at best," I read. "She was neither punctual nor polite. She dressed inappropriately and flirted with the male office staff. Frankly," the letter went on, "This candidate was unprofessional and not a good match for the internship position and seemed ill-prepared to make the transition from West Coast to New York. I cannot in good faith recommend her for any magazine post that might arise in our company in the future."

The letter was dated and signed two weeks after the end of my internship, by (you guessed it!) Lindie... the misanthrope who had grumped next to me all summer long. My own professional mentor, now in Seattle, did not have any say in my review since she no longer worked for the company.

Devastated, I went home and threw up.

"I wasted an entire Summer," I mourned. "And for what? For nothing. How will I ever get a job now? Who will ever hire me as an editor with a review like that? She has singlehandedly sabotaged my dreams."

A few days later I pulled myself together and managed to call my mentor in Seattle. Tearfully, I read her the performance review, line by line.

"What a b*$#&!" she responded. "That is a total crock of s&*# and I cannot believe Lindie got away with it. She is just a horrible excuse for a human being and I'm sure she did it because she felt threatened by you. Look, I am going to put in a call to (the managing editor of our department) and try to get the record set straight. For now," she consoled, "Please feel free to put me down on every job application you fill out as your top reference, I promise to sing your praises until the cows come home. You did a damn great job working for me this summer. What you've got in front of you in that letter is a pile of sour grapes."

Despite her consolation I stayed depressed. It took a while for me to get over that letter and the sheer meanness behind it. Just having it physically in my dorm room made me feel ill, so finally one day I took it out to the beach and burned it. I've never regretted burning that letter, not even once. Somehow the act of setting it on fire released all of the negative energy I had stored around the entire experience. I was able to take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the next, and move on.

Luckily I'd worked my way through college as an editor and writer so there were in fact plenty of excellent references for me to offer to potential employers in the future. Diana did kindly provide me with excellent references for all positions I applied for, and I was offered several great jobs.

Thanks to this experience though, I chose to move home after graduation from college and happily accept a really fun, low-key job as a waitress at a local Italian restaurant where a lot of my high school friends had worked. In a way, I gave myself the "junior year Summer" that I felt I'd missed out on when I was trapped in New York. I found a great roommate and apartment by the beach, built fantastic friendships, dated and exhilarated in doing all of the things that college co-eds are supposed to do.

When my education loans finally came due six months after graduation, I did go ahead and get my first career positions... editing and then teaching... and the rest is history. My career has been outstanding, and I have been blessed.

That said, I will never forget my first brush with the "real" world and just how hard it knocked me on my rear. Some people have the capacity to smile while stabbing you in the back. This was a rough lesson to learn, but in the end, the experience toughened me up and made me stronger.

* * * * *

I know too well then, what that mother meant recently when she confided, "The 'rules of succeeding in school' do not apply to the real world..." and that her adult son had become terribly depressed by the way in which many people took advantage of the fact that he was a good, hard-working, fairly naive person.

I'm glad then, that my children are so strong willed and tough already. If they're this much of a handful for me, they're likely to be a handful for anyone! Good for you, little ones! You have qualities of spark, self-reliance and an incredible instinct for self-preservation that I lacked as a young woman. May they serve you well...

...and if anyone ever tries to knock you down in this world, you get right back up.

Don't allow curmudgeons or connivers in this world grind down your self-confidence or joy. For every *one* of them there are A HUNDRED other people with true hearts and excellent intentions that will stand by your side and reinforce your belief in the innate goodness of mankind.

Stay strong and thrive.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the person in question

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27, 2011 ~ Day 139
My Heart, Hurtling Through The Air

My son is about to take his first airplane ride.

I know I should feel happy for him. This is a moment he has been waiting for since he was less than a year old, when he would point from his carseat to the window and scream "Ba! Ba!" anytime he saw an airplane in the sky.

At the age of two, he would race down the sand dunes at the beach with his arms spread wide - running and jumping to simulate flight.

Although we are not a military family, we happened to live in a military community with its own airfield for several years. During that time not a day passed when my son didn't spy some kind of jet, helicopter, fighter plane or other aircraft soaring above as we walked to the park or the library. At all times of day we could hear planes taking off or landing.

Sometimes we would go down to the beach just to watch the airplanes landing. My son would run the length of a city block away from me on the sand to get as close as he dared to the incoming plane... then on its approach he would dash as fast as he could back into my outstretched arms, taking cover for safety in my lap but waving violently at its pilot as the plane passed by.

If given a single sheet of paper, my son would thrust it at us and demand: "MAKE ME A PLANE! I WANT TO FLY!!!"

For years, whenever anyone asked my son, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" he'd answer without hesitation,

"A pilot! I'm going to fly jet airplanes!"

I'm sure it didn't hurt that the fathers of so many of his school friends were former or current Navy pilots.

We've rented videos about airplanes, learning the mechanism of the engine, propeller and wings. We've discussed the concept of lift at length.

Yet in all of this time, my son has never ridden in an airplane. Not once. The closest he's come would be straddling a helicopter attraction at the local theme park... or walking through a flight simulator at the local airplane museum.

Many of his close friends have traveled extensively around the country, and some have even flown halfway around the world. Listening to them talk about their adventures has been difficult for him - even when they are talking about how boring it is to sit still on the airplane. He feels left out. "Why does everyone else get to go on an airplane but me, mommy?"

I'm pretty sure that he's going to be surprised by the reality of flying as a passenger on a jumbo jet. The kid bores easily, so unless he ends up with a window seat, I'm guessing he'll be watching videos on his daddy's laptop computer the entire time... or reading one of his beloved "Magic Treehouse" books.

He may even imagine that he's going to be helping fly the airplane all the way to its destination... I hope he doesn't feel let down when he finds himself strapped into a carseat at 30,000 feet.

No matter how it turns out, my son is elated right now. So excited! He's been dancing around the house for days, jumping like a bean in his chair at the dinner table. He is incredibly thrilled that in less than two days, he'll be riding on an airplane to see a city and state far away from home.

This trip is a rite-of-passage for him, and I can see the look in his eyes. He believes this trip will make him into a "real boy" now - no longer a little boy, and he's so glad to cast off the shackles of babyhood.

"Mommmmeeeeee, Can you guess what I'M doing in two days?" he chortles. "I'm going on an AIIIIRRR-PLANE!"

Of course, I am the wrong person to talk to about all of this.

I am my son's polar opposite. I am *terrified* of flying. If I never had to get on another airplane in my entire life, I would be totally okay with that.

The problem is, I LOVE to travel. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I love to see new places, discover new restaurants, listen to foreign languages being spoken all around me. Most of all, I love to meet new and different people from around the world. I adore traveling and if I could manage to visit every single country on Earth without flying, I'd sign up tomorrow. There is nothing I would rather do than travel the world and write about my experiences.

So my fear of flying isn't going to stop me from flying.

It does, however, slow me down. I made a promise to myself once over a decade ago that I would never fly anywhere that I didn't really, really, really want to go. "It has to be worth the risk that the plane will go down," I decided - which is hilarious considering that I drive in the car every day and am at much higher risk when running to the grocery store than I would ever be in an airplane. Somehow my brain doesn't ever think, "It has to be worth the risk of a car accident!" every time I drive - which is just absurd.

There is a reason why they call them "irrational" fears. My fear of flight is totally irrational.

It is also totally Type A.

My friends will all agree that despite my more lovable qualities I also sport a Type A personality which can be very annoying. I like to be in charge. As a child I was quite bossy, ordering around my little friends. (God bless you, friends who've stuck around since I was nine years old!) There is a reason why my best friend once wrote that I wanted to be the president of the United States, which I did. I wanted to be the "ultimate" boss, I guess.

In the end I became a teacher, which is like being the ultimate boss of your own classroom. You run the entire show, which worked for my personality perfectly.

Yes, my irrational fear of flying is definitely a Type A thing. I can guarantee you that if I myself were flying the plane... if that was MY airplane, and if I had charted our course myself, and personally filled the gas tank and checked the engine, de-iced the wheels myself, etc., I would have absolutely no problem with flying. I would trust myself enough to believe that I could avoid having a fatal plane crash.

In which event, I would probably adore flying as much as (or more than!) my son.

My phobia is purely a control issue. A trust issue.

I have a lot of difficulty putting my life into the hands of someone I don't know ~ a fellow human who may have a drinking problem or have had a terrible fight with their spouse right before boarding the airplane to fly me somewhere. I am uncomfortable with relinquishing control to a total stranger.

Obviously September 11, 2001 did not help me much with my ardent fear of flying. If anything, it just gave me more to worry about on airplanes. After the attacks I began to worry not just about the mechanics of the plane but also about the other passengers on board. Were any of them terrorists? Did they have weapons? Were they going to try to blow up the plane?

A friend whose husband briefly worked as an undercover air marshal reinforced my sense of insecurity by admitting just how poorly the program was run and confiding how unskilled folk were being hired to do this all-important job. Her revelations made me feel even less happy about flying.

From the age of 19 to 25 whenever I began to panic on an airplane I would ask the person sitting next to me if they would mind talking with me to calm my nerves, explaining that I was a nervous passenger. This actually led me to meet a wide variety of kind and interesting people, including young brides, hovercraft pilots, university students, mothers with small children and slick businessmen.

Many of them were very gracious about chatting with me during takeoff and landing, and some even shared my same fear. I will never forget the kind male flight attendant on a British Airways flight from Spain to Los Angeles who talked me down from a Code Red Panic Attack somewhere over Boston or New York. (I was pouring sweat with ringing in my ears.)

(Now that I've been diagnosed with late stage chronic lyme disease, I wonder if something about flying at 30,000 feet might not affect the spirochetes and bacteria in my body. Perhaps at that level of radiation or fluctuating cabin pressure levels, they are able to multiply rapidly and therefore produce the commonly described symptoms of massive sweating, anxiety and panic that I experience routinely when flying.

That would actually make logical sense, especially since I have not always been anxious while flying. Only since the age of 19... before that time I absolutely loved it. I should really look into re-oxygenating after arriving in my city of destination, by exercising or undergoing a hyperbaric oxygen treatment.)

Once I met my husband, flying got harder. "Would you please talk to me?" I'd beg as the plane began to take off.

"What do you want to talk about," he'd laugh - and keep reading his magazine.


"There is nothing to be scared of," he would smile - and then go back to reading, leaving me alone with my panic.

I guess people who have never experienced real anxiety don't know how stressful it can be.

Finally, I broke down and sought professional counseling for my fear of flight. I saw a wonderful hypnotherapist who specialized in the Emotional Freedom Technique (which involves tapping and repeating affirmations) and although I haven't flown yet since meeting with him, the strategies truly helped me with delivering my last two children - one normally and one by c-section (my other greatest fear).

He helped me to accept my fear and walk through it, rather than denying its existence altogether. "A courageous person is not the one who feels no fear," the therapist consoled. "True courage is knowing what you're up against and then bravely walking into the battle anyway."

Someday, whenever we have money to travel as a family of five ~ and a worthy destination! I'll walk straight into that battle with my head held high again.

For now, I think it is wonderful that my son will NOT be taking his first trip into the air seated next to a mother who is sweating profusely with a racing heart, clinging onto the plastic sidebars of her seat for dear life.

I'm so happy for him that he will be flanked by his father and adored grandmother, both of whom love to fly. Together they will fill him with the confidence and courage needed to truly exhilarate in the journey.

In the end, I was the person who suggested that our son join my husband on this trip. I think it will be a monumental event for him - something truly special that he will never forget. Indeed, this may just end up being the very first memory that he holds onto for the rest of his life.

I am genuinely pleased for my boy who at nearly six years old is now on the cusp of fulfilling his greatest lifelong dream.

That said, I'll be clenching inside until I get the call to say that they've landed safely... that my husband and son once again have their feet planted firmly on the terrestrial soil of this beautiful planet.

How does that cliche go? If you love something, let it fly free.

I love you, my son.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26, 2011 ~ Day 138
The Preschool Dilemma

Tomorrow will be a big day.

Tomorrow, my nearly four year old son and I will tackle a question that many parents hold strong (differing) opinions about - is academic instruction in preschool actually important? And if not, when will it become important?

Pretty much every parent I know agrees that preschool is a good time for young children to branch out of the family nest and work on developing their social skills. Play based learning is a wonderful thing, especially when it manages to include art, dance and music.

Children in preschool hone important social abilities like how to take turns, how to pay attention, how to follow a teacher's directions. They learn how to share and how to negotiate power struggles over who will play with which toy first. They learn courtesy and kindness - and how not to pick their nose in public! My son's current preschool even teaches them dining etiquette with the daily use of placemats and cloth napkins.

The primary question we are grappling with is NOT whether preschool is important. We agree in our family that a preschool education is crucial, which is the main reason why we are broke all of the time. Preschool at $800/month adds up fast.

Rather, the essential question that we are trying to answer has to do with reading and mathematics. Is it important for a child to learn phonics and basic numerics in preschool? Should a child be reading by the time he or she hits kindergarten? Will being an early reader hurt or help the child later on?

My elder son attended three years of preschool. The first year was a half day program only three days per week devoted to play based learning. He loved every second. The kids played with bubbles and chalk, made castles in the sandbox, rode tricycles like crazy across the blacktop... they painted gorgeous professional looking art that I had framed and hung all over my home.

They learned how to pour a pitcher of juice or water, how to clean up after themselves, how to make homemade play dough. They climbed in and out of a large wooden fort, danced with scarves, sent postcards to themselves from the local mailbox and even road the city bus for a field trip.

He adored his first year of school. Then we moved and made the switch to a Montessori style preschool local to our then-home, which I selected very carefully after touring all of the local preschools in our community. The teacher was strict but fair, well organized and maintained a peaceful and productive classroom atmosphere. Manipulative activities were everywhere, as were live animals like tortoises and fish.

He embarked upon an outstanding program of pre-reading skills and while he never raced ahead of the curve, the kid held his own. By the time he left preschool after two years attending five days a week, he knew all of his alphabet sounds and the numbers up to 100 or more. He entered kindergarten with a solid foundation. Despite foundering a bit in the local kindergarten where he was viewed as 'satisfactory but less than memorable' by his teacher, I knew he still had that strong pre-reading ability locked within.

Sure enough as soon as we moved to our new community and he began to study with a new teacher, all of those skills learned in preschool came to the fore and within six weeks of moving here, my son began to read. His reading is a revelation for all of us - him most especially.

He is reading the world around him with gusto - every road sign, every billboard. Every movie title, every book he sees. The whole world has suddenly opened up to him and he could not be more enthusiastic about it.

It really means a lot to me to see my eldest child reading. I was a middle school Humanities teacher for five years, during which time I met too many eleven and twelve year olds that couldn't read or even decode sounds. Obviously, with this kind of handicap they couldn't begin to keep up with the actual content knowledge I was trying to share with them about the history of the Middle Ages and Renaissance or attempt to tackle a wordy middle school classic like "Romeo and Juliet".

School was torture for those kids, a constant embarrassment and humiliation. It had nothing to do with their innate intelligence. After all, I'd worked as a "Gifted and Talented" cluster teacher - many of these same kids in my classes were categorized as "GATE" and had shown great promise in mathematics.

Reading, READING was their Achilles heel. They would do anything not to have to read a passage aloud in front of their twelve year old friends, so painfully conscious of their own shortcomings.

They spoke of becoming doctors and lawyers one day, and my heart bled for them. "How will you *ever* become a doctor or a lawyer if you can't actually read the books or tests required to get that kind of an education?" I thought to myself.

This entire experience really reinforced my longstanding opinion that literacy is the key to freedom and opportunity.

If you can read a book, you have the potential to teach yourself ANYTHING. As Matt Damon's likable lead character in "Good Will Hunting" so aptly told the Ivy League grad student whose girl he'd just romanced away, "You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library."

I agree with this in principle. You don't need to have a fancy college diploma to be smart and successful - but you DO need to be able to read.

The child I'm worrying over right now is our middle son. He's wicked smart, the kind of kid that WILL get into trouble if he isn't challenged. He reminds me of a lot of boys I grew up with - smart enough to plan and enact pranks with varying degrees of criminality. Thankfully they all turned out just fine, but I'll bet their mothers were worrying their eyeballs out back in the day.

My little guy is working on honing his manipulation skills and I've noticed that since we've moved to the new community he seems less and less motivated at school. After a while I began to ask more questions about what he works on during his five mornings at school each week, and it turns out that while the school has "Montessori" in the title, he's getting a lot of playtime, art, dancing, singing and crafts.

Over the course of two months he has not learned a single new phonetic sound and he has actually lost a few of the sounds he knew before he left his old school. In all, the new school has not appeared academically enriching to me.

My husband and I approached one of his close friends (another daddy at the school with older children) to ask what his experience has been with them in terms of learning. He confirmed that there isn't a real focus placed on language, other than Spanish language, but that all of his kids knew their basic letters and numbers before entering kindergarten.

He then told us that he personally felt they had done a disservice to their eldest two children by letting them get so far ahead of their age level peers with reading and writing at a different Montessori school (his oldest daughter was reading at a sixth grade level in the first grade) because they were hopelessly bored in regular classes for the first several years of elementary school.

From his view, having reading skills that are *too good* in early childhood is more of a curse than a blessing. He and I are on opposite sides of the fence about that.

So here we sit, as parents, wondering exactly WHAT we're paying $800 a month for -- is it playtime in a large grassy yard? If so, we could give that to our son here at home for free. Is it interaction with other children? Surely we could find a play group that would cost less. Is it for exposure to art and music? I could buy a lot of museum memberships and concert tickets - or even give him private music lessons - for far less than the cost of his current preschool.

What, then, should preschool be about? Does it matter whether he learns the basics of phonics, reading and writing?

Does the learning of those basic skills matter ENOUGH that we should send him to a school far from our home? Where I might not be able to get to him in the event of an emergency?

What role should preschool play in the life of a child, especially in the life of this particular child?

Tomorrow morning he and I will drive twenty minutes south to view a Montessori school well known to our family. It is run by the same leaders who ran his original school, the one with the amazing reading program. I already know that their academic program is much stronger than what he is currently getting. I just don't know if that means anything in the long run.

We've told our son that in the end, the choice will be his. There are positives and negatives to both schools, involving cost differential, traffic and commute time, gasoline prices, academic potential and organizational leadership. Either way, sacrifice will be involved.

In the end, I want my son to be the deciding factor about which kind of sacrifices he personally wants to make... long freeway drive twice a day, vs. potentially not learning how to read until Kindergarten - when he is already feeling so desperate to catch up to his big brother.

We'll be there for him along the way, to try to smooth out the bumps in whichever road he chooses. I'll do what I can to help with his reading skills, but frankly, I don't know much about the teaching of reading and I didn't have much success with helping those students of mine who couldn't read by the seventh grade. I may not, in this instance, be my son's saving grace.

This is a tough nut to crack because there are no clear answers. We're definitely open to all thoughts and advice about our preschool dilemma... but we need to make the decision very quickly. Snapping up a place in one of these schools is like applying to college - if you don't move fast, another qualified applicant will jump right over you and fill your space.

My fingers are crossed for an illuminating experience tomorrow - one way or another!

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25, 2011 ~ Day 137
The Great Quinoa Emergency

Only I could do something quite so ridiculous as get a single grain of cooked quinoa stuck in my nose.

Yes, you read that right. Quinoa.

(And yes, today's topic is gross!)

So I apologize in advance for having passed along that excessive bit of information.

In the end, I blame the whole thing squarely on my husband for being too darn funny. He said something last night while we were eating dinner that made me laugh so hard I managed to inhale that one little grain. (Just call me the Queen of Grace.)

Who knew that something the size of a quarter grain of rice could possibly be so darn irritating? So resilient? So stuck!

More than twenty-four hours in, you can actually see puffiness along my cheekbone where the area is inflamed. I'm sure my nasal passage is just as annoyed as I am. I can feel it sitting there, refusing to dislodge, and even though I'm so frustrated I have to laugh. This quinoa definitely belongs in our family all right - it's stubborn, cute and tenacious!

Thanks to this little nuisance I've had a nasty sinus headache all day and when I saw the puffiness I decided it might be time to call our insurance company's home health nurse. This is a GREAT little service where you place a call for free to the insurance company nurse and they give background information about the condition to help you decide whether or not a visit to the doctor is merited.

I really value having a line like this to call because I figure that my insurance company doesn't want to spend any more money than it has to, in order to take care of me. They're not going to advise me to go to a doctor or urgent care unless it is merited... but if they think a situation has the potential to head downhill fast they might send me to see the regular GP before things turn ugly.

When I called today though, the nurse laughed along with me at the grain of quinoa but was less conservative than I'd expected.

"Well, any foreign body in the nose can potentially become an emergency,"
she said.

"An emergency? Really? Over a single grain of quinoa?"

"Well typically with organic material it isn't as worrisome. The real risk you run would be of developing infection. If you start to see atypical drainage, yellow or green drainage, or if your nose begins to smell... you should suspect sinus infection around the foreign body and it would make sense to see a doctor right away."

"Ewwwww. It's going to smell???

I don't have any of those things right now,"
I added quickly, "My sinus passage just seems irritated and the sensation is uncomfortable."

"Why don't you place a telephone call to your on-call ENT?"
she suggested. "They might be able to give you more concrete strategies for ejecting the foreign body."

I asked. "You think it's worth calling the ENT after hours? Is this really an emergency?"

"Ma'am, I would call your doctor if I were you."

"Okay then, thanks. I appreciate your time."

I ended the telephone call feeling slightly less comfortable than I had five minutes before. Could this lousy little piece of quinoa truly represent a medical emergency? Frustrated, I looked up the number for an ENT I have only seen once in my life.

"Only I could do something this stupid," I grumbled to myself. "Quinoa. Humph!"

After leaving a message for the ENT on their private pager line, I went back about my business - rescuing my 23 month old daughter from the top of a dresser where she'd managed to climb and was DANCING and singing because she couldn't get back down by herself.

Soon thereafter the telephone rang.

"Hello, this is Dr. Randsom* and I'm returning your call about the TERRIBLE QUINOA EMERGENCY!" he chuckled.

I busted out laughing.

"It's really shocking, isn't it Dr. Randsom? I honestly don't know if I'll make it through the night."
I then apologized for disturbing him and explained about the insurance company nurse and her view that the stuck quinoa might be causing a real problem in my sinuses.

"What the heck did she think you had in there?"
he wondered aloud. "I wonder if she knows what quinoa is?"

"Okay. So here's what you do," he said. "You go get a Neti Pot or sinus rinse. Pour it into your nose and flush everything out. And you're going to need to do some throat clearing. You know, the kind that teenage boys do? You know the sound I'm talking about?"

"Um, yes,"
I laughed out loud again. "So I have to make a 'hocking' sound?"

"Exactly. I would try this. Rinsing and hocking. I mean, you're welcome to come in tomorrow and I can try to poke the scope down there to force it down. But if I were you, I'd definitely start with the Neti pot."

"Great. Thanks. So, I'll rest easy tonight even with this lousy little grain in my head."

"Oh no, you definitely shouldn't rest. Really, this is a terrible emergency! That grain might actually grow into your brain stem and take over your body!" he laughed out loud.

"How tragic that would be," I assented, and we got off of the phone laughing like old friends.

"Who was that?" my husband asked as he came into the house. I told him about the quinoa, the Aetna nurse and the ENT. Instantly he adored the ENT.

"I love that doctor. He is my new favorite doctor," my husband smiled. "Finally, a medical professional that doesn't freak out or insist that you come into the office just to cover his own butt."

"Yeah, I like him too," I added. "He's about our age and he's got a great sense of humor."

While we were out on our date night, my husband and I picked up a Neti pot which (good to know) can be purchased at the local grocery store. We trundled it home in high hopes that soon, my irritated nasal passage would be a thing of the past.

If you've never used a Neti pot, it's just an INCREDIBLY ATTRACTIVE process guaranteed to bring the romance right into any date night. First, you fill a small plastic watering can that looks like it's the perfect gardening tool for a Smurf with lukewarm saline water. Then you place the watering can's spout into one of the nostrils of your nose and squeeze it until the water starts coming out the other nostril.


You do this bent over a sink because chances are you're going to be spitting out salt water WHILE it also comes out one side of your head. It is a truly lovely process that *any* man would wish to watch his lady go through, especially on date night. WHAT a turn-on.

So here we are, home from the movies with my husband sound asleep and me pouring salt water through my head. I don't think there's anything left in my head to come out!

Except that single lame piece of quinoa, which is still stuck. I feel like the dratted Princess and the Pea... except rather than laying on a rock hard pea under a hundred mattresses, I've got a miniscule grain of food lodged somewhere in my nasal orifice. Does this make me royalty? Have I passed the great quinoa challenge of 2011?

I've got to say that as the mother of three children under the age of six, I always knew there was a remote possibility that someone in our home was going to end up sticking something unusual up their nose. A crayon, perhaps... preferably not a magnet or battery. Maybe a bean.

But no. My sons have now passed the age of sticking anything into their nose, not even their fingers. They have excellent manners in that regard. Instead, it is I, their absurd mother who has found my way to the land of saline, long pincers, and nuisance headaches.

Recently when I got that spider bite one of my friends asked, "Honestly, how do these things keep HAPPENING to you?"

"Luck, I guess."

We both laughed.

Sometimes life is great. Sometimes life hands you lemons. Other times, life shoves a grain of quinoa up your nose and leaves it there long enough for you to appreciate how nice it was to be able to breathe in and out normally.

When these kinds of things happen, you have two choices. You can get bitter and upset, or laugh about it. I hope that if my own children ever have to deal with absurd health challenges of one kind or another, they'll remember that it really helps to find the humor in an irritating or difficult situation.

Laughter is the best medicine there is.

*Name of the parties in question changed to protect their privacy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24, 2011 ~ Day 136
Permission To Rest

Sunday is the most peaceful day of my week, not just because it is a sacred time when I often attend church, praying for guidance or to accept the challenges that life offers ~ but also because on Sundays my husband takes our three small children for a few hours so that I can get a break.

Today was no exception, that sweet guy woke at 7 with the kids (we all slept in!) and piled them into their clothes to take them out for breakfast and playtime.

I listened as they scampered around looking for their shoes and matching socks, then smiled with gratitude to hear them call out: "BYE MOMMMEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!" as they slammed the front door.

Ah... Sunday.

Typically on a Sunday I end up spending much of my time cleaning or doing laundry, catching up on content writing work for my husband's company or other errands that need to get done.

Today though, I looked up at the ceiling and thought about how stressed out and tired I've been in the last few days.

"I think this morning I need to do something I haven't done in a LONG time. Today I need to put the TO DO list away - I need to give myself permission to rest."

Settling back into the covers of my bed, I remembered what life was like ten years ago... a time when sleeping in on a Sunday morning was routine. I mused over days of lingering brunches with friends that started at noon and lasted til three, followed by perhaps a nap or a long walk along the ocean.

Being twenty-five, single and childless came with a lot of perks that I took for granted at the time!

One of the hardest challenges I've faced as a stay-at-home-mom is not having the luxury of silence or space. There really isn't such a thing as, "You know, I think I'm just going to lay low today because I've got this awful head cold and I need to sleep."

In my new life, that same scenario becomes, "Ugh - just got ten more hours before I can finally put the kids to bed and lay down again. MUST.KEEP.GOING."

This isn't unique though, all parents everywhere face the same thing. We all face sleep deprivation and stress, we all muddle through. Most folks aren't even lucky enough to get a break on the weekend for a few hours, so I have NOTHING to complain about! I am a very lucky mother, and I know it.

Permission To Rest is a challenge though, for someone as Type A and controlling as I can be.

Permission To Rest means that it's fine to let Daddy do things his way. It means the kids are going to be just fine whether their clothes match or they wind up eating jelly beans for breakfast, and I don't need to jump out of bed to redress them. It means that I have to accept that yes, the house may be messy if folks come over later in the day... and yes, that stack of work waiting for me to complete will still be waiting for me tomorrow.

The laundry is not going to magically do itself, and the dishes will still be in the sink.

That doesn't make me a bad person; a bad wife, or a bad mother. It may make me a poor housekeeper, but hey - what's new.

I need to fully accept the part of myself that is less motivated, less 'on top of things'. Permission to Rest means it's really okay to lay down and close my eyes once in a while - and that I'm not allowed to judge myself for doing so.

Especially since becoming a stay-at-home mother, I have struggled with self-judgment. I have very high personal standards and expectations of what needs to be completed or accomplished during the course of a day; and an extremely mediocre record of holding to my plans.

This wouldn't be a big deal if it didn't bother me. But, it does. I judge myself harshly for the things I am unable to accomplish during the course of a day and feel badly about myself when I look around at everything that hasn't gotten done. It's even worse when my husband comes home from work at night and innocently asks, "So what did you do today?" because he too notices the inevitable messes in every room.

I know he wonders what sucks away my time, and frankly, so do I! I've even started to make entries in an online time-keeper these days just to get a pie chart or graph of exactly where my days go.

There always seems to be an unexpected dirty diaper that I have to change right as we are going out the door; a boo-boo that needs cleaning and bandaging (and soothing!); a sibling fight that requires mediation; an outfit that's been doused with chocolate/mud/tomato sauce/strawberries/poop that needs to be changed.

Each day is in fact quite predictably punctuated with so many interruptions, it would probably be more practical NOT to make plans or lists of things to accomplish. I might feel better about myself in a lot of ways if I wasn't keeping track of my own shortcomings.

That said, if I didn't make lists, (a) Nothing would EVER get done; and (b) I would probably go crazy.

Permission to Rest forces me to let go of all of my plans, put down the lists, take a deep breath and *trust* that the world is not going to fall apart even if I retreat from the battlefield for a short time.

When you're a mother you often feel like YOU alone are the thing holding the world together; not only for your children but also for your husband and yourself. My husband is an incredible father, such a loving man - but I still worry about what would happen to my family if I vanished one day.

I feel this incredible weight of responsibility to care for all of them; to give my children the kind of love, devotion, protection, nurturing and care unique to my personality - that I alone can give to them.

Permission to Rest means letting go of that role for a short time... putting my worthy burden on a high shelf just long enough to feel the lightness of existing without it.

It means sitting at a cafe with a good book and a cup of tea, with no agenda and nothing to complete. It means spending a few hours poring over old photo albums or listening to an entire record while doing nothing else - just appreciating the music. Chatting for hours with a good friend about nothing important or dramatic ~ "What was the movie about?" or "What kind of hair dye do you use?" just to connect and enjoy catching up.

Sometimes, it just means sleeping.

I don't often give myself permission to rest. Usually I am pushing on through... staying up late... working into the wee hours of the morning and up again at dawn to try to hold onto myself (and finish my blog posts) while also holding myself together as a mother.

Today though, I gave myself the opportunity to lay still and silent - allowing thoughts to flit through my mind like butterflies but pursuing none of them exclusively. I gave my brain the morning off; and my body followed suit.

Sheepishly but also a tiny bit proudly, I will admit that I accomplished NOTHING this morning. I did nothing for my family, nothing for my friends, nothing for the world. I just unplugged for a while, then zoned out in an Epsom Salt bath and fully relaxed.

By the time my husband and kids returned home from their adventures at 11am to get ready for a family party we were attending, I had become a cheerful, loving and patient person to be around. I still feel tired physically but emotionally I am at peace, totally balanced.

In the end despite the very real pressures of our busy lives ~ no matter who we are; whether we have children, or not ~ we all need to give ourselves permission to rest once in a while. People who don't rest tend to burn out.

For my children ~ who follow so closely (already!) in their Type A mother's footsteps ~ here is today's message. It's great to work hard and play hard... but sometimes, it's equally important to chill out.

Relax and let go for a while. It will do you good!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23, 2011 ~ Day 135
It Ended Well...
And That's What Matters

Today turned out to be a comedy of errors with a wonderful, happy ending.

My son was so excited about his dance performance today that he could not sleep last night. He came out of his room about ten times, worried that he wasn't sleeping.

"I've got to DANCE tomorrow!" he worried, "And I'm not getting enough rest!" Pretty cute.

I too was not sleeping, but for a different reason - I had to hem the bottom of his dance pants by hand and didn't get started until around 10pm.

Despite our exhaustion we awoke without so much as a groan this morning, all of us a bit eager and excited about the day ahead. My son's teacher asked us to arrive promptly at 8am for photos and group rehearsal, so we were up at 6 and parked at the theater by 7:45. We were actually the first to arrive, which is a real feat for a family accustomed to being late.

"When will the rest of the kids get here mommy?"

"Soon honey, I hope we have the right address for the theater! Let's call Daddy to check."

Thankfully a quick Google search at home verified that yes, we were indeed at the correct location for the rehearsal. Sure enough, other mommies began to arrive with their darling little ones - most of whom were decked out in the cutest little ballet frocks and fluffy dance costumes I've ever seen. There were "butterflies", "sailors", "sunflowers", "Siamese cats". All simply adorable!

My son's blue velvet costume studded with sparkling glitter had seemed cheesy and over-the-top at home, but when I saw all of the other children I realized that he fit in perfectly and actually looked seriously cute next to his two dancing partners - Tanya* and Marie* - who were wearing glittering blue flapper costumes with even more sparkles than his. He was quite the man about town, flanked by two such pretty little girls.

Our morning seemed off to a great start!

We fumbled a bit with the safety pins for his costume but all in all, he was jazzed and I was proud that we were not only on time but ready for the rehearsal, sitting in the very first row of the large auditorium. I even remembered to bring my fancy Nikon camera, and captured some great candid shots.

So we relaxed and waited for our cue to get photos taken. We waited. We waited some more. We grinned at each other, and continued to wait.

Time passed. A lot of it!

"Mommy, when are we going to dance?" my son asked me.

"Honey, soon I think. I don't know. I don't see your teacher anywhere!"

"I hope she's okay,"
he worried. "I hope she's going to be here."

"Oh buddy, don't worry!"
I hugged him. "She'll be here and everything is going to be really fantastic!"

Even as I said it, I couldn't help but worry that his teacher wasn't going to show for the performance. Another woman that we had never seen before seemed to be running things and she didn't seem much interested in the small children waiting at the front of the room.

I must not have been the only mother thinking these thoughts, because some of the mothers around me began to exchange glances and check their cell phones for the time.

At last, a full hour after we'd arrived, my son's teacher appeared and began to herd the little ones toward the back of the room where photos were to be taken. Happily, my son was in one of the first groups to be photographed. He looked amazing! A bright, handsome little fellow sandwiched between two precious blue frocked princesses. Best of all, he seemed truly happy.

After his photo was taken I was sure the rest of the morning would be a breeze. "Can I dance now mommy?" he asked as we headed back to our seats.

"Any minute now, honey!" I smiled broadly. His trio was listed as the third act on the programme with a rehearsal time of 8:15am. It was now after 9:15am.

Yet when the woman orchestrating the performance (not my son's teacher) began to call up groups to rehearse, she skipped my son's trio. She skipped over it again and again. My son began to look upset. She was rehearsing all of the older dance troupes

He wasn't the only one! A mother sitting behind me grew frustrated and jumped up to go find their dance teacher who was still coordinating photos. She returned with a grim look on her face.

"She says there isn't enough time to rehearse them. The photos ran behind. Well, I told her - 'We've paid a lot of money for these costumes and tickets to the show, and my child is the kind of kid who is going to stand there staring like a deer caught in the headlights when the lights come up if she doesn't get the chance to practice the dance on stage at least one time before being asked to do it in front of hundreds of people.'"

"Oh no, really?" I asked. "She's not going to rehearse them?"

"Stay here,"
I told my son, and asked the other mommies to watch him for a second. "I'm going to go speak with your teacher."

I found her speaking with three other mothers, and looked her right in the eye.

"Excuse me," I interrupted. "Our children are not going to rehearse?"

The dance teacher looked at me with an expression that might have been guilt, might have been annoyance. She seemed to shrink back a little. "We ran out of time," she shook her head.

Unfortunately? the Mama Grizzly in me emerged - just confirming that Mama Grizzly is a mouthy witch.

"Not very professional," I snapped. (I wish I could honestly say I hadn't snapped, but it would be a total lie.) We'll see you later."

Turning around I strode purposefully down the aisle to the other mothers and our children.

"Get your things honey," I told him gently. "They ran out of time and your teacher says there isn't time to practice today. Oh well! We'll go home and get things ready for your party instead."

"This whole thing has been so disorganized!" grumbled one of the other mommies.

I bent down to pick up my camera bag and purse, and to help my son put on his shoes.


His teacher came flying down the carpet. "They can rehearse! They can rehearse! Get them up on the stage!"
My son's face changed from ashen to overjoyed.

"Quick honey!" I smiled. "Let's get your costume fixed and get you up there!"

He raced up the stairs and I had the joy of taking photos during his first ever 'stage rehearsal'. Three minutes later the music ended, his rehearsal was over, and he skipped back to me in the audience - his excitement truly palpable. "MOMMEEEE DID YOU SEEE MEEEEE?"

"You were great!"
I gave him a big hug. "Let's go home, okay?"

The rest of the morning before his show flew by in an excited, stressed out blur. After borrowing a neighbor's electric mower to cut our front lawn before our family came over to celebrate the big dance recital, the kids and I went grocery shopping to get food for our small family party and returned home to realize that we had only 45 minutes left in which to clean the house up, bathe and dress (all 4 of us!) and get my son back to the theater. There would be no naps after all.

In the excitement I misplaced my keys, borrowed my husband's extra car key, left his key ring in the house, locked the front door as I was leaving and then realized with shock that I didn't have keys to get back in the house.

"I hope your dad took his keys on his bike ride! He'll need to shower up before he comes to meet us!"

Two minutes later as we were driving my son gasped. "Mommy. My tap shoes."

"What about them honey?"

"I left them at home. They're on the table."


"We need to go back and get them."

"Oh no! Honey, I don't have keys for the house and we are running late. Let me call your father and ask him to get your shoes when he gets home."

We called my husband but the call went to voice mail. "Oh dear," I said. "Well, let's just keep going. Somehow it is going to be okay."

This was the second or third time during the day that I began to pray, hard, that my son would not end up cruelly disappointed - especially not from MY mistake. My brain raced to think of a solution to the dilemma. "Maybe I can call your uncles," I said. "They can sit with you while I run back home, and if I need to I will take a rock and break the front window to get in and get your tap shoes!"

my son chided. "You say never to throw rocks!"

"You're right,"
I sighed. "That was a bad idea. But I promise I will think of something. I won't let you down, buddy."

We parked and walked four blocks to the theater - just me, my three small children, a diaper bag, a camera bag, a costume bag and a purse. No tap shoes.

Arriving at the theater we waited in line to buy tickets, including one for my one year old daughter - which I thought was a little outrageous... but I just wanted to get my son into his seat and ready for his first dance - which was thankfully, to be performed barefooted.

"That will be $40, ma'am," smiled the woman behind the counter.

"Sure," I handed her my check card.

"I'm sorry, it's cash or check only."

"Oh! Really?" I scavenged my purse for my checkbook. Wouldn't you know it... Nothing. No checkbook.

"Where is the nearest ATM?" I asked her tensely. Time was running thin. I had three children under the age of 6 holding onto me from all sides, including one of them (the three year old) who kept trying to put his head under my dress ~ God only knows why. (He thought it was hilarious.)

"I'm not sure, ma'am. You could try down the street that way!" she pointed.

I took a deep breath.

We left the line, and called my brothers. "I have a series of problems to solve," I began - and then recounted our recent tale of woe.

Thankfully I have the best brothers in the universe, and they arrived with my mother moments later with cash in hand to front me for the four tickets. First problem solved. I checked voicemail.

"Honey," I heard. "I got your message. This is, um, a real problem. I can't break down the back door to the house, it's got a deadbolt. There is no way I can get in right now. I may have to call a locksmith. I don't know how I'm going to get those shoes to you for his performance."

My heart sank to my knees. "Everything is going to be OK," I repeated to myself. "Everything is going to be OK." Kneeling down next to my children I explained,

"Mommy needs to go home and get Daddy for your show, and also somehow to get your shoes honey. I am going to get you settled here with your uncles and your grandmother, and I am going to go but I PROMISE I will get those shoes and I PROMISE I will be here to see you perform."

"Okay mommy," his lower lip quivered. Taking his hand I brought him down to the staging area and begged the other two mommies to look after him while I went to rescue my husband and the tap shoes.

"Good luck!" they called after me.

"I wanna mamma," announced my little girl, holding tightly onto my leg and refusing to go with her grandmother.

"I guess she's coming with me." My brothers agreed to save us seats and watch my middle son, so off she and I went. We'd made it about half a block toward the car when my cell phone rang.

"HONEY!" My husband sounded very happy now. "I found your keys in the other car! I'm in the house! I have the tap shoes! I'm getting ready to come right now!"

"Hurray!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's a miracle!"
I laughed out loud. "We'll see you soon!"

Returning to the theater with daughter in tow, I knelt down next to my eldest who looked very anxious. "Everything is OK. Your father has your shoes. He's on his way. You look amazing. It's going to be a great show!"

His face lit up like a firework.

Giving him a quick squeeze I carried his little sister to the row (9 seats!) my brothers had saved for our immediate family. For the first time all day, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

There were so many moments from 8am to 1pm when I wondered how things could be going SO WRONG on a day that I'd worked hard to make great and special for my child. Yet in the end, it all really did work out.

My prayers - seemingly mundane - "Please God, help my husband to be here on time with the tap shoes!" really came from a deeper and more selfless place...

...Please don't let our son's joy be crushed or disappointed today, especially when his uncles have flown 3000 miles to watch him perform!

I feel so thankful and blessed that these prayers were answered, and that my son had a terrific first dance recital. He was uber-cute on stage but more importantly, he left the experience feeling confident and proud of his dancing.

"Mommy," he asked me on the drive back to our little family post-party, "Can I still do dancing now?"

"Now that the big show's over, you mean?"

"Yes. Can I still do dance classes?"

"Do you *want* to keep dancing?"


"Then of course we'll find a way for you to continue honey."


"Yes, honey?"

"Thank you. I love you."


So there you have it... the epic saga of our son's first dance recital and best of all, a mother whose heart turned to mush in the car on the way home from her latest adventure in parenting.

It may be temporary but I'll claim it gratefully anyway... Our happy ending!

*Names changed to protect the privacy of the people mentioned.