Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Help Unwanted

Our youngest was in tears during homework help earlier this week.

She rebuffed her dad's offers to help, got snappy and eventually stomped away from the table. Finally she burst out, "I didn't even ASK for help!"

And she's right.

No one asked. No one listened.

It's hard to listen sometimes. Life gets busy. Things like making lunches, cooking dinner, doing laundry, getting wet snowsuits in the dryer every night during winter take precedence over sitting down with our children eye-to-eye and listening with no distractions. I suspect most people find it difficult to find time to listen to their kids with other priorities eating in their lives.

And truly, sometimes it is HARD to listen to our children. Lindsey would chatter your ear off incessantly. Her favorite phrases that she uses to end a sentence are "and anyways" and "and then." This means her sentences never end. One time I decided to sit quietly, ignore the dinner that needed to be made, the wet, snowy mess on the floor and the lunch boxes on the countertop, and just listen. She told me about her day only stopping long enough to breathe for 10 whole minutes.

You can think about this two ways. Wow, 10 minutes, that's a lot to say about your day. I don't know if I could tell anybody about my day and take up 10 whole minutes. Or there's this: It only took 10 minutes out of my evening, and my daughter feels heard and supported.

Unfortunately, this happens at the same time that the other child is also waiting to tell about her day, or waiting for a snack or for whatever. Just because the youngest one can't go on about her day for 10 straight minutes (thank God two of them aren't like that!) doesn't mean she doesn't deserve attention also.

We have our share of communication problems. We've had arguments and disagreements with our kids about playdates, sleepovers, privileges lost and privileges gained for certain behavior. When I look back at many of these disagreements, nearly every one of them come down to one single cause: someone didn't listen.

Even if we as parents already knew that we were going to say "no," we didn't allow our children to have their voices heard. It's important that they have the chance to make their case all the way to the end of what they wanted to say, even if we already know that we will still decline whatever request they are asking for. More than anything, they get angry that they didn't get to have their say.

In cases when a child asks for something, we hear her out and then tell her no, she's usually okay with the answer. She was heard. But when we don't even hear her out before the "no" comes out of our mouths, we have problems.

I am reminded of the Braverman family on NBC's show "Parenthood," where everybody is talking over everybody else and no one is actually being heard. Every once in a while the teenage daughter will call this fact out loudly over everyone who is talking. No one pays any attention and she stomps out of the room.

Someone at work was commenting about how that drives them crazy on the show, while I was thinking in my head how much it was like real life. You mean not every family talks over each other at the same time?

Since I've been thinking on it, I now have a new little saying that I'm sticking on my mental wall, along with my two New Year's goals.


And now this:

Don't mistake your unwillingness to listen with failure on my part to communicate.

I've been on both ends of that equation. When I find myself entering into arguments or disagreements, I will take a step back and think about what's happening -- which side of that equation am I on? If I'm not listening, then I will be still and listen. If I'm not being listened to, then I will ask the other person to listen. I might make that person mad, but at least I will have said my piece, even if it wasn't heard.

Now, to practice what I preach.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Not the "Before and After" That You Expected

I feel quite vulnerable writing about this, something about my physical body that has bothered me my entire adult life. But I feel like I have finally found a decent solution, so I am for the first time talking about this. As I've slowly confided to friends about this, I am learning that others have suffered their entire lives, like me.

I'm talking about my complexion.

Once I hit my teenage years, acne bloomed on my face and never withered. It is always in season, the ever-blooming rose. Only this isn't the kind of rosy-ness a girl wants. Or a young woman. Or a middle-aged woman.  I kid you not, it has never let up.

My complexion is the only part of my body that I'm self-conscious about. I have been blessed with not being overly critical of my body shape or size, my hair, my fashion (or lack thereof), etc. I'm not the kind of woman who takes 3 hours to get ready for an evening out. But I can tell you that I am extremely conscious of every blemish when I had to speak to my boss, present in a meeting or, God help me, to the board. I feel like people won't take me seriously because I have the complexion of a teenager, even if they can tell by the wrinkles around my eyes that I'm not that age anymore. It has greatly impacted my confidence and it pisses me off.

I have gone to doctor after doctor. I had a few recommend Accutane, a medicine you take orally that changes your complexion forever. But the side effects are severe, and you have to take blood tests before, during and after to check for liver damage. While I know others have taken this step, I never felt comfortable putting my liver (and overall health) at risk just for clear skin.

I had one dermatologist put me on antibiotics, which immediately cleared my skin due to the strength of the prescription. He gave me a 12 month supply, to be renewed every year, for the rest of my life.

Antibiotics for the rest of my life? I don't think so, I'm not THAT fond of yogurt. I can't imagine what strength antibiotics I would have to take for my next sinus infection if I had kept up with that regimen, or if antibiotics would even work for me for "real" illnesses.

I've tried creams and lotions, over-the-counter solutions and prescription alike. I've has laser treatments that kill the oil glands in my most active pores, to reduce the severity of my outbreaks.

My current dermatologist has suggested more laser treatments and other solutions, all of which work for a while, but then seem to not work anymore.

Only my closest friends and family members ever see me without make up. I don't leave the house to run an errand without full foundation. I make the kids wait to go downstairs Christmas morning so I can at least cover the most disgusting spots before the camera comes out. There's a reason why there are no photos of me for Christmas this past year;  I didn't get any make up on before we opened gifts.

Finally, around Christmas time, I decided I've been trying the dermatologist solutions enough -- time to actually invest in some decent make up. 

I've been wearing Cover Girl, Almay or Maybelline my entire life. While for the most part I don't believe that product that costs 10 times more than the drugstore stuff is actually worth the extra money, I was unhappy enough to give it a try.

So one day around the holidays I walked down to a placed called the Cos Bar. I had read good reviews and liked the idea of a place that didn't represent any single brand but instead represented you, the customer.

I intentionally wore no make up so they could see what they were dealing with. A middle-aged woman (like me!) named Leann helped me, and steered me towards a make up that had great coverage but didn't look heavy. She taught me how to properly put on foundation, something I had never been taught outside of high school drama, and we all know what THAT make up is like. 

I walked out of there with $200 worth of product and a new attitude. 

And so here it is. I took these photos while doing my make up one morning. The only difference is foundation -- I still hadn't done blush, eye shadow, or anything else. Wish the photos were a little crisper, but that's what you get when I'm the one holding the phone camera. Not only does it cover the problem spots, but my entire face actually matches the rest of my coloring. Shocking!

In case you're wondering, all products are Giorgio Armani. The extra confidence I feel is worth every penny.

Friday, January 25, 2013

We Have Two Possible Weekends Ahead of Us

Weekend Plan A:

1. Wayne runs Securian half marathon. Leaves approx. 7:30 a.m., ETA 2 p.m.

2. Drive Lindsey to first ever karate lesson with Marissa in tow, stay for entire lesson to see what it's all about.

3. Return home, feed lunch and have babysitter arrive to babysit Lindsey. Drive Marissa to birthday party at Waterpark of America, with bathing suit under clothing just in case I need to jump in. Marissa wants me to stay the entire party, until 4 p.m.

4. Wayne returns home, an hour later takes Lindsey to slumber birthday party.

5. I return home with Marissa from waterpark birthday party, an hour later the three of us head out for dinner.

6. After returning from dinner, Marissa and I head across the street to a neighbor's home for a glass of wine and playtime for the kiddos.

Or, plan B:

...which begins at noon on Friday, when I am called to my youngest daughter's school to pick her up after complaining of a stomachache. The health department was called into their school yesterday to test  for bacteria because so many kids were sent home sick. A food-born illness was ruled out and a norovirus was confirmed. As of Friday morning 20% of the student body was missing. I picked up Marissa and while she was somewhat listless and not feeling the best, so far hasn't had any of the nastiness associated with this virus. So...depending on how tomorrow goes, we could stick with Plan A or we could go with

Plan B:

1. Wayne runs Securian half marathon. Leaves approx. 7:30 a.m., ETA 2 p.m.

2. Get someone to take Lindsey to her first-ever karate class so I can stay home with Marissa.

3. Cancel babysitter, because I will no longer be taking Marissa to her birthday party.

4. Feed one child lunch, assuming that the other is not eating.

5. Drop Lindsey off at slumber birthday party, assuming that the illness hasn't gotten the birthday girl yet (her younger sister was sick two days ago.)

6. We stay home, those of us who are still able to eat having leftovers with the rest sitting around and groaning.

I'll let you know later which plan comes to fruition. Marissa seems back to her happy self, so I have no idea if she really has this virus or not. We'll find out!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Disney Discontinued

After much gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes, my husband and I have decided that there is no place in our family for the Disney Channel.

Let me back up.

A little over a year ago, I began thinking to myself, "Geez, Lindsey is growing up awfully fast." She was becoming rather sassy, quick to make snappy comebacks or snide remarks. "She's 9 going on 19," I thought to myself.

We've always monitored what they've watched, but hadn't really realized the impact of it. Then I sat down with her and watched an episode of "Good Luck Charlie."

Now, as far as Disney shows go, in my opinion "Good Luck Charlie" isn't even the worst of them. At least in this sitcom the parents are present. In most Disney channels, there are no parents present; kids are at boarding school, parents are continually away on business trips, or guardianship has been turned over to an older brother or nanny barely older than the kids on the show. If there are adults present, they are usually dumb, easily fooled and frequently mocked. 

At least in "Good Luck Charlie" there are parents present, and the teenagers even turn to their parents for advice and guidance. Except that apparently the parents like to respond in kind with snappy comebacks and clever one-liners. The other characters respond in kind.

I wasn't very happy with the viewing of these Disney sitcoms but had a hard time finding alternatives, even with over 1,000 channels on the TV. The cartoon channels on Disney and Nickelodeon weren't any better; the cartoon's responses to the disrespectful behavior was just more exaggerated. Both girls were beyond watching channels that they considered "kiddie" channels. No more Dora the Explorer in this home.

Then my sister came to visit in October, and mentioned that she didn't like how disrespectful the kids were to us. I talked over the source of this with Wayne, but once again, we were challenged to find other viewing options. We had already restricted TV watching to weekends only so they were only exposed to television 4 to 5 hours per week, total. (I say "only" knowing that the average American child spends 28 hours per week watching television. That's more than 1 full day per week.) 

And then in November Lindsey had a flurry of disrespectful behavior that made the characters on the Disney show look like angels.

That was it. 

I immediately blocked the Disney channel, Disney Junior, Nickelodeon and other "kids" networks. I put a plea out on Facebook asking other parents for non-Disney alternatives, and set the DVR to record "Little House on the Prairie," "Family Ties" and "I Love Lucy" whenever they played.

At first, I was met with resistance. There was much gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes. 

And then there was some tittering. And giggling, followed by outright laughter. 

"I Love Lucy" struck a particular chord with both girls, but especially with Lindsey. Lucy's antics kept them both in stitches. They marveled at the rotary telephone, the "modern" conveniences of her 1950's kitchen, and oooh'd and aaah'd at the dresses worn by Lucy and Ethel. Having Rock Hudson or Harpo Marx guest star on the show meant nothing to them, and required explanation.

Lindsey asked for "I Love Lucy" DVDs for Christmas, and they've been played every weekend ever since Santa brought them. 

Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems that we are getting less backtalk, fewer snappy remarks and more actual conversation and fewer obnoxious reactions.

And now, if you say something to Lindsey like "You need to practice your viola, Lindsey," instead of being met with stomping of feet and histrionics, you may hear "Eeeooooo...." with a little lip curl the way Lucy Ricardo does it and some slightly crossed eyes.

And that's okay with me.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Series of Social-Media-Induced Events

This is the photo that started it all.

I posted this to my Facebook wall (using Instagram, of course) to show the cute pillow that Lindsey made for Dax. She made it at her after-school program, and he actually uses it. 

A high school classmate that I'm Facebook friends with immediately commented that she wanted one for her dog, also a Boston Terrier. She offered to pay Lindsey to make it.

Lindsey already had more material from her program to work on another pillow. "She doesn't have to pay me," Lindsey said, "Have her make a donation."

"To where?" I asked.

"To Gillette, of course."

Lindsey's generous spirit continues to amaze me.

My friend sent me her postal address, and away Lindsey went.

The pillow was complete in just a few short days, and as of today it will be in the mail.

Of course I had to tweet this photo, which was retweeted by Gillette. Who knows who will see it and be inspired to do something like this to benefit Gillette or their favorite charity.

In conclusion, a high school classmate of mine whom I would ordinarily never be in touch with will be receiving a puppy pillow made by a girl she's never met, and will make a donation to a hospital she otherwise would have never heard of. What are the next good deeds that will come out of this chain of events?

Monday, January 07, 2013

On Inviting Stillness

While vacationing with my sister-in-law Laurie in Florida, I had time to talk to her about the changes both she and I have made in our lives recently.

I've been stepping up my fitness level and am loving my new energy and my continually changing body. She has focused on changing her inner self, starting with a 21-day meditation program and eventually incorporating meditation and reflection into her daily life. There is a peace and a happiness about her that didn't used to be there. Or I should say, if it was, it did not exude from her being as it does now.

She invited me to join her in a 15-minute meditation session, following along a podcast from Deepak Chopra. Sure, I said, I'll try anything once.

I am telling you, those were the longest 15 minutes of my day. My fitness programs of 45 to 60 minutes go by in a heartbeat compared to those 15 minutes.

I have no idea how to achieve stillness. I do not know how to go "into my inner mind." I don't know how to actually relax, not physically but mentally. And it was such a deeply moving meditation about inviting abundance into your life that despite my obvious lack of comfort in the experience it brought me to tears anyway.

Part of what brought me to tears was realizing how very little I do this. And by "very little" I mean "never." My blogging is as close as I come to "stillness," and it doesn't come close to meditating.

I recently read a post by a European who wrote with derision about how busy Americans make themselves. "Americans think that packing action into every moment of their waking day means they lead full lives. I watch them scurry from landmark to landmark on their travels, never stopping to actually taste the wine, to enjoy the sights of a beautiful day in my country. Will they feel any more fulfilled at the end of their lives than I at mine?"

Another exercise Laurie had me try was on New Year's Eve, to issue out the old and welcome the new. She told me to write down on a piece of paper the things I wanted to leave behind in the old year, then burn that piece of paper. Then I was to write down the things I want to invite into my life in the New Year and meditate on those things.

I had a few days to think about what I wanted to leave behind. I have to say I'm really happy with my life. I have a good job, love my husband, my kids and extended family, we are fortunate in our financial situation, we are healthy and quite happy. Was there any part of what happened this past year that I would want to leave behind?

It took a run on the beach on my last day there for my mind to clear enough to decide upon three things I wanted to leave in the old year.


And to invite into the New Year:

Boundful patience

(I figure if I invite patience and stillness that anger and other negative emotions will take care of themselves.)

These two words -- patience and stillness -- enter my mind as soon as I awake in the morning. I think of them during my drive to work, and I focus on taking deep belly breaths throughout the day. Sure, there is no stillness in my life, but I am learning stillness in my mind.

I'm working on it, and that's more than I did before.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Mommy Time

I recently returned from a 4-day hiatus in Florida, compliments of my sister-in-law who invited me on her trip and my husband who set aside the money to help pay for said trip.

He could tell I needed a break.

It wasn't just the holidays, it was the day-in, day-out grind that was getting me down, the fact that I do not get time away from my kids unless I'm at work, and we all know what a "break" work is.  Happy hour with friends after the kids go to bed don't count because I'm sacrificing sleep to be there.

It became readily apparent when my husband came upon me attempting to workout in the basement, with two little girls at my side. One was trying to lift dumbbells along with me, the other one was asking me to pause the program every two minutes to get her a band aid, a drink, look at her toenail, what have you, she clearly wanted my attention and I was unwilling to give it.

"I need my workout," I stated, "Daddy gets to work out by himself, why don't I?"

Daddy goes for a run to get his workout in -- hard to be interrupted by little ones that way. But I'm not a long-distance runner and never will be, so that's not an option.

Daddy gets to take a shower by himself without a 9-year-old coming in to announce her annoyance that laundry hasn't been done yet and she has nothing to wear to school.

Daddy also gets to spend time alone in the bathroom without someone walking in or, if the door is locked, pounding at the door, needing something. That. Very. Minute.

I can't help the fact that when someone calls "Mommy?" in the middle of the night my eyes instantly open and I'm immediately awake, no matter how deep a sleep or how good a dream I was having. It's not my husband's fault that they don't call "Daddy."

It's not his fault; it's part of being the mom.  And it was time for a break.

When the opportunity for this trip came up, my eldest sobbed herself to sleep that her mom was going away for four whole days without her, thus demonstrating once again how very badly I needed this break.

They dropped me off at the airport and went on their merry way to their grandparents for a little holiday visit. I spent time in an airport by myself, answering to no one but the page calling me to board the plane. 

My layover in Atlanta was extended by a delayed flight out of Atlanta to Panama City Beach, which meant I had time to grab some dinner and a glass of wine. I didn't have to worry about feeding little ones who get cranky if they were too long without nourishment.

I got up the next morning at the crack of whenever I felt like it. I fed myself whenever I got hungry. Or I should say, Laurie's friend, Claudia, fed me whenever I got hungry. One of the perks of this trip was vacationing with a chef whose idea of relaxing was spending 5 hours in the kitchen making gourmet meals for an appreciative audience.

I got a workout in every single day because yes, that is my idea of vacation time. I took a nap when I got tired. No one called for me in the middle of the night. We made grand plans to do things together and then never did them because we didn't feel like it. It was just so relaxing listening to the surf and feeling the warm breeze coming through the always-open patio window.

After four days I started missing my kids and my husband. That was just perfect, because it was time to board a plane and come home.

And now the "grind" isn't really a grind, it's more leisurely and less stressful because I don't feel worn down.

Perfect Mommy Time.