Hawaii

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Love is like Hawaii. Without the pineapples and shaved ice with red beans and Spam sushi. Without the luaus and sunsets and jet lag. Otherwise, they’re very similar, and coconut bras may or may not play a part in both love and Hawaii.

I used to fall in love often when I was younger. When I say “in love,” I really mean “in lust.” When I say “often,” I really mean “about once a month.” When I say “younger,” I really mean “when I didn’t know who I was.” Now that I’m older and know who I am and what I want, I’m finding that falling in love is much harder to do, and occurs less frequently–as in hardly ever. I miss being in love. Like I miss being in Hawaii.

What I miss most about being in love is feeling safe. And knowing that someone had my back no matter what. The times when I had been wrong, My Love would graciously be gentle and allow me to be wrong, while supporting me. The safety and loyalty is what I miss the most. I’ve felt that twice in my life, and I miss those two things the most when I think about being really in love.

As the years go by, I wonder if I’ll ever feel that experience again. Of being loved. Of feeling safe. Of feeling supported unconditionally. I don’t know. So many perfectly fine men I meet these days underwhelm me. I just don’t know.

And see, I know I love Hawaii. Hawaii is not underwhelming. There’s an experience about Hawaii that I cannot describe, but it’s unlike any other beach or island I’ve been to. I’ve been to Hawaii twice, and would like to go back. But I don’t know if realistically that will ever happen, what with my kids and limited funds.

So being in love is like going to Hawaii. It sounds so nice, but is so far away. I miss feeling not underwhlemed. I miss being in love and being in Hawaii–so wonderful and warm and happy. It makes me smile to think about both. And maybe I’ll never feel that way again. Yet if I think of Hawaii, I don’t think “Oh how sad I may never go back.”

But when I think of being in love, I find that I do sometimes think, “Oh how sad, I may never feel that connection ever again.”

Maybe I need to reframe all this. And just be grateful for any experience that has made me smile. Some people never go to Hawaii. Some people never experience unconditional love and safety. But I’ve been to both places twice now. I’d like to go back.

And really, there’s nothing stopping me from trying to find a way back to a fulfilling relationship or a wonderful vacation, except my attitude and fortitude. So yes, that means I’m back in the saddle, actively back in the dating pool. Hawaii=cocktails. Dating=cocktails. Game on.

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A Story

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A story, if you will: When a friend was a young child, she was the one out of all her siblings to spill the milk. Without fail, every meal, she would spill the milk. Without fail, her father would say “Don’t spill the milk.” The next day, she’d spill the milk. In fact, every day, she’d spill the milk. In her 20’s, when she would go home to visit, she would inevitably spill the milk. It was just something she did. At home. But never anywhere else. Until one day, the skies parted and it occurred to her that she had control over this and she didn’t have to spill the milk. And she hasn’t spilled milk since. Weird, huh? I think she always accepted that she was the one in the family who spilled the milk. It was her thing. It irked everyone, but it was expected. This was her role. She kept spilling it through the years because she lived up to her expectation.

Why am I telling you this story? Because La Chica spills her metaphorical milk. Last week I set up meetings with her teachers to discuss her academic skills and performance. I know it’s early in the year for that. But at two weeks into the school year, she was coming home telling me she didn’t understand the homework directions or even the math concepts they were reviewing from the year before. She was making a lot of simple spelling and grammatical mistakes in all of her writing homework.

So I met with her teachers to see what their impression of her was academically. She was doing wonderfully, they tell me. They see no problems–she is working to potential, she participates actively, she understands directions and concepts, she’s getting A’s on her assignments.

So then I tell them that she’d been tested a few years ago, and demonstrates executive functioning deficits. I tell them how she continues at home to express confusion over concepts and directions, how she makes spelling and grammatical mistakes on all her homework, how she demonstrates a very low frustration tolerance. I tell them how she processes things a bit differently so she mixes up the order of letters and words, how she can’t remember two-step directions, how she’s very concrete and has difficulty with abstract concepts. They tell me they do not see any of that. At all.

Huh.

She’s playing the expected role in our family. She was born into a family where her older brother has always been uber-competent and responsible and serious. He’s an academic rock star. She’s no fool. She can’t compete with that. So she’s making sure there’s no comparison so that she can find her own niche and specialty. And clearly, through the years, she’s managed to overcome or compensate for her executive functioning deficits within the school setting. But continues her role at home. Because it’s expected.

She’s still spilling her milk because we’ve always expected that from her. So she meets our expectations. It’s time to re-set expectations and allow her to find other ways to connect with me. Allow her other ways to get my attention. It’s time to create another role for her in our family story.

I’ve been reading a lot of Donald Miller’s work lately, and his ideas of living life and creating a life as a narrative story is familiar to me. I have tried to live my life by doing and being and making–by creating memories, and thus crafting a life well-lived. But he takes it further, urging us to be more proactive by writing our own stories, overcoming conflict, choosing the roles we want in life.

I’ve realized I need to create a new role for La Chica in our family story so that she can succeed and have the skills to create her own story of a life well-lived when she is older. So that she knows she can create a new role for herself, and still be loved. So that she knows she has the power to overcome conflict. So that she knows she has the ability to be proactive and write her own story. For now, home is where her story begins.

Posted in Empowerment, Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Slackers

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I hate it when this happens. I think I’m all sorts of smart, like I’m on to something, and then Bam. I’m reminded I’m not so smart after all, and I may have actually been doing this all wrong. I, in all my infinite wisdom, decided to raise my kids to always try their best. To do things that resonated with them. I proclaimed that I will have been successful as a parent if I raise my children to be kind people who make a difference in this world, in whatever way resonates with them, so long as they also make a living doing something legal that pays the bills.

I wanted to get away from all the helicopter parenting. I wanted to get away from the Asian culture I grew up in, where children fulfilled parents’ wishes instead of what interested the children, and their only goal was to be the best at everything, at any cost.

So I allowed my kids to choose the activities that interested each of them. I supported and celebrated their efforts and experiential learning instead of end results. I stressed the process of things, the connections and relationships with people, the experience of things. I thought all of this sounded reasonable. I thought this sounded like a more civilized approach to parenting. I thought this was good for their mental health and well-being. I thought it would raise future good citizens and stewards of the world.

Any or all of that may be true. But apparently, along the way, I have also raised the World’s Laziest Children. Holy Slackers, Batman. I have raised two of the least motivated slackers you will ever meet. They may be kind. They may be thoughtful. They may be charming. But my God, they are bums.

Let me be clear–I don’t believe one ought to be rewarded for effort only–when one team loses,  everyone should not get a trophy. Methinks you ought to suck up the fact that you lost. Nice try, but you lost, kid. So many lessons to learn from losing. Let me be clear also that I make my children do chores, as an expectation for being part of the family and not for an allowance. They are required to take out the trash, empty the dishwasher, fold and put away laundry, feed the cat, and vacuum the house. Yard work as needed. Everything you touch? Put it back where it belongs, please.

But my God, you’d think I was asking them to recreate Stonehenge with their bare hands. The whining, the belly-aching, the resistance. All futile efforts on their part, but I am tired of hearing it. They don’t want to lift a finger. They’re lazy bums!

And truly they have no drive or ambition. The Boy has been nominated to audition for the county GT Orchestra. An honor to be sure. He was so excited and proud. Until he realized he had to practice. Let me be clear also that he can easily play all the required elements of the audition. But the mere thought of putting effort and time into anything other than reading or playing just threw him into a tantrum fit for a toddler. This is a common theme for my children. It’s part of their charm.

So I am left wondering, has my goal of raising kind, thoughtful citizens led to raising kids who only seek mediocrity? Who lack any inner spark, any inner drive, any ambition? I truly don’t know the answer to this, and I truly don’t know how to light their inner spark. They’ve certainly discovered activities that resonate with them, that light up their eyes. But they lack ambition. I’m not sure what the answer is, what I’ve done wrong, or what I haven’t done yet. But now I’m suddenly fearful they may end up living in my basement when they’re middle-aged after all.

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Little Miss Perfect

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At the end of each school day, I ask the kids several questions that I hope maximizes my chances of getting real answers, meaty answers, answers with depth and intel. I ask them things like Who made them laugh? Who made them angry? Who was kind to them? Who were they kind to? What games did they play at recess? Who did they sit with at lunch? What did they fail at today? What new thing did they try today? What was the best part of the day? The worst? What are they grateful for today? Those sorts of questions that only an overbearing therapist of a mother would ask.

Yesterday I asked La Chica which children in her grade have decided to play a string instrument in the school orchestra. She listed the students, and with one girl, we’ll call her Z, she immediately added, “But she thinks she’s perfect and that she’s better than everyone else,” with a sneer in her voice.

I know that voice. And you know that voice. We used that voice in middle school and high school and college and into young adulthood. Some people still use that voice, and those words in middle-age. I’ve used that voice, and similar words, when I’ve felt inferior, unsure, threatened, not enough. I’ve used that voice and those words when I’ve felt like I wasn’t cool enough or trendy enough or pretty enough or popular enough. I’ve used that voice and those words to essentially negate or dismiss another human being because I felt vulnerable and inferior to that person, for whatever reason. So I cringed when I heard my 8-year-old say that.

I asked her why she said that. She replied that Z is always wearing fancy dresses with matching accessories, and just thinks she’s better than everyone else, and is mean to other kids. I asked her why she said Z thinks she’s better than everyone else. La Chica had no answer.

So she and I talked about how we must be cautious in making assumptions about people, especially based on outer appearances. We talked about how some people wear fancy dresses a lot because that’s their style preference, or because they’re from New Jersey. But neither necessarily means the person thinks she’s superior to others. We talked about how someone may appear snooty or be mean because sometimes that person is unsure of herself and feels vulnerable herself. We talked a lot about not making judgments about other people, especially if they’re from New Jersey. We talked a lot about how La Chica doesn’t need to be good friends with Z, but she must be kind to Z, and it’s not kind to talk about Z using those words.

It made me sad to see that an 8-year-old has already internalized this type of judging and comparing that is all around her in this world. At first I wondered where she learned this. Then I realized it didn’t matter if it was something she saw on TV, or from her friends, or just witnessing it at school, or if she’s just judgy in her own right. It doesn’t matter because we all do it, so she’ll continue to be exposed to this type of comparing oneself to others, to labeling others into certain Other or Out Groups, to feeling inferior to some groups and superior to others.

We have got to be more careful, and much kinder, in our dealings with ourselves and others. We must be mindful to accept others for their own brand of beauty, we must be mindful to be kind to everyone. Our children are watching.

 

* Please note, the references to New Jersey were written as a sad attempt at my self-deprecating humor.  I’m from New Jersey, and I proudly proclaim that my baseline is dressier and glitterier and sparklier than the average bear.

Posted in Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged | 9 Comments

Please Don’t Feed the Animals

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Life for my kids is very different than when I was growing up. I won’t even count the differences. But I will tell you, I’ve had it with snacks. It is impossible in this country to go more than two hours without someone offering my children a snack. Notes come home from school reminding me to pack a snack for my child. Sign-up sheets for snack rotations are circulated for team sports schedules. A two-hour swim at the pool with friends includes crackers, two kinds of fruit, pizza, cupcakes, and two kinds of beverages. (I am not exaggerating.)

Never mind the obesity epidemic in this country. I’m talking about the incessant whine of “I’m hungry,” or “I’m thirsty.” When I hear this from my kids, I tell them it’s a first world problem. Neither of my children have ever gone a day without eating. In fact, they’ve never missed a meal in their lives. There is easy access to clean drinking water literally everywhere they go.

So when they tell me they just can’t wait the 5 minutes or even 30 minutes to get home to drink water, or wait 30 minutes or an hour for a meal, I don’t feel very sympathetic. They’ve been trained to always be satiated. When I have tried to take a stand out of principle and not provide snacks, I get chastised or tsk-tsk’ed, and another adult provides an extra snack to my child.

But here’s the thing. It’s not just food I’m talking about here. I’m talking about how we’re raising a generation of children to constantly be satiated. There is no discomfort at all. These children are not resilient because they don’t have to be. The second they feel discomfort, someone swoops in and saves the day. Goldfish crackers. Juice boxes. Fruit snacks.

I want my kids to know what it feels like to be hungry. I want my kids to feel agitated. I want my kids to feel uncertain. I want my kids to feel anxious. I want my kids to feel angry. I want my kids to feel sadness. I want my kids to know what it feels like to not get what they want, when they want it. I want my kids to be uncomfortable.

Not because I’m a sadist. But because life brings all of those things. If they don’t learn how those feelings feel now, if they don’t learn how to identify those feelings now, how will they learn how to cope with those feelings later?

I refuse to allow my kids to feel satiated constantly. Like there’s no worry in the world. See, there are worries in the world. There are families all over the world, and in this country, that go to bed hungry every day. They need to know this, and be grateful for what they do have.

They also need to know what a bad feeling or frustration is. They need to learn to sit in that bad feeling or disappointment. They need to learn that those bad feelings and anxious ruminations won’t consume them and destroy them, They need to know they’ll survive bad feelings. If they don’t, they’ll look for easy ways out–drugs, alcohol, other dysfunctional coping mechanisms like whining or passive-aggresiveness or out-of-control anger or emotional eating.

I also want them to hunger. For something. To look outside of yourself and seek. Desire. Then learn to problem solve a solution. When you’re trained to be passive and offered comfort on a regular basis, you get complacent and dependent. So please, show you care and don’t feed the animals.

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Doppler Radar Forecast of Life

Radar image courtesy of the National Weather Service

Radar image courtesy of the National Weather Service

“What’s the weather going to be like today?” The Boy asks as he gets dressed in the morning.

“Calls for a chance of rain, supposed to be warm,” I say.

He walks to the car in a heavy sweatshirt and no rain coat. So I ask him why he chose that outfit based on the weather forecast that he just asked for.

“The weathermen are usually wrong,” he replies.

“Well why in the heck did you ask me for the forecast then if you know they’re not very accurate, and when you’re going to disregard what they say anyway?” I ask, slightly irritated.

“I don’t know. I wish they were right. I want them to be right. I just want certainty. I can keep hoping, can’t I? I don’t believe them, but I can hope. So I ask,” he replies.

Yes, yes my child, you can hope, even though your logic doesn’t really make sense. I want you to keep hope alive. And yes, we want certainty. And yes, we rarely get it and life is just a crapshoot anyway, all unpredictable and not-forecasty. Yet we keep asking for the answers, even when we know we won’t get them. There’s comfort in having something to hold on to, even if we know in our hearts it’s not the right answer.

And in the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter if we’re warned it’s going to rain or not. We can prepare to some extent, but if it’s gonna rain, it’s gonna rain. If it’s not, it won’t. There’s not much we can do about it, and chances are we’ll get a little bit wet anyway even with an umbrella. At least I know my calves always get wet and my hair frizzes something fierce.

We’ll have periods in our lives of high pressure, of gray storm clouds, of  days with the sun shining brightly, others with a bit of a mix which can give us a lovely rainbow for a fleeting moment at the end, depending on your perspective, depending on where you’re standing. There’s not much we can do about any of those conditions other than be as prepared as possible, be flexible when our preparations fail us, and look to the sky for a surprise gift every now and then.

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Get the Party Started

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I went home for an impromptu weekend visit when I discovered my mother was not doing well with additional medical issues. One morning, my sister and I took the kids to a bakery owned by a fairly famous pastry chef. My sister described all the delicious pastries, and how my parents have ordered cakes for special occasions in the past year. There happened to be a cake in the case they had not tried yet but had really wanted to. I bought it, and my sister asked why on earth I was spending an exorbitant amount of money on an ordinary Saturday. I pointed out today was no ordinary day.

It was a day to be celebrated because it was a day ending in a “Y.” I explained that every day is to be appreciated and celebrated, and that I’ve decided I don’t offer such gratitudes often enough. Plus, I really like good cake.

Mom was still alive. We were all still alive. I had enough money to even consider buying an over-priced cake. Global warming hadn’t killed us yet. And J. Roddy Walston & the Business was playing in town next month, AND I had VIP tickets.

I write to keep myself honest–to help me practice what I preach. So I decided on Saturday I’m eating to keep me honest too. I don’t want to wait for special occasions that might not come to pass to celebrate life and the joys and smiles and love. So we went home and the kids sang a Happy Appreciation of Life song, to the tune of Happy Birthday. It was all off-key and we made up the words with too many syllables as we went along, but there was a lot of plate-licking and belly aching. So indeed, it was no ordinary day.

And today a colleague swooned over a recent spa experience–the massage, the cucumber water, the marbles in the foot soak, the facial. This person does not get to enjoy spa experiences often, so it warmed the heart to hear her recount her joy and peace. I mean really, who realistically has the time to feel luxurious and enjoy spa experiences often?

And so I decided today also is no ordinary day. Off to make a Spa Day at Home for myself and the kids tonight. Why wait? What am I waiting for? Godot? We deserve pampering and feeling appreciated, every day. It’s important to be grateful for what we have, big and small, even in times of crisis and grief. It’s important to celebrate our gifts in life: each day, each moment, each person, each cake. I am grateful I have cucumbers at home to make cucumber water, candles to light, marbles for a foot soak, bubbles for a bath. Children that giggle during the massages and little nails to paint.

So we are celebrating only on extraordinary days. Days that end in a “Y.” Some days with hugs and laughter, some days with cake and ice cream, some days with watching the sunset quietly, some days with “chicken butt” jokes, some days with dance parties in the kitchen while making dinner which may or may not be pie, some days taking the day off and hitting the beach, most days with wine.

I think every day that ends in a “Y” is worth celebrating. I don’t think we should wait to celebrate our gratitudes and appreciations in large and small gestures. I think we should take every opportunity to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary moments. Bedazzle as many moments in a day as feasible. It’s time to get this party started.

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