Friday, December 30, 2011

No resolutions!

Complete and total credit for this idea goes to my old friend and amazing author, Liza Palmer.  Recently on Facebook, she pointed out that we’re always so hard on ourselves with the New Year looming, and we all try to make resolutions to correct whatever we’ve done wrong during the year.  Instead, she suggests, why don’t we celebrate the things that we’ve accomplished during the year that’s about to end?  Whoa…what a concept.


  • On January 13, 2011, I began this blog. I’ve loved to write as far back as I can remember.  As a matter of fact, I recently found a story I’d written for my father when I was about 8 or 9, titled, “The Cat Who Meowed Backwards”.  This poor cat expressed itself by saying, “Woem.”  I digress.  I have journals that go back to age 10.  I have a folder of little essays I wrote in college on my word processor.  I’d never done anything with any of it. I was always too scared to let the personal information that is my writing out into the world.  It felt risky to me, as some of the things that I have written about are pretty raw, and some of the people in my life may not fully appreciate it. However, after losing my father, I got the guts to just try it.  I don’t know if anything will come of it, but people are reading what I write now.  Just a handful, perhaps, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was to no longer be afraid to put myself out there, and I’m not anymore.  This has been huge step for me.  I also submitted something for the first time, an essay contest for a major magazine.  I won’t know until January if I even got an honorable mention.  Sure, it’d be amazing to win, but I do not think that my life is THAT charmed. It was more a bravery thing for me, sending a very personal bit of myself out into the stratosphere, to have total strangers read. We shall see.
  • This year, I’ve learned to authentically set up  much-needed boundaries with people in my life.  Pedestals have been toppled, and they were very much overdue. I went through some very painful, hurtful stuff this year, but have come out better for it on the other side.  It’s interesting to me how pain affects different people.  Everyone experiences heartache and loss.  I’ve seen some people internalize it and shut people out completely, or turn to self-destruction, or lash out horribly at people they care for.  Conversely, I’ve seen other people experience horrible pain, and turn it into something good. Strength, confidence, generosity, and gratitude…these are all things that can come out of pain. I can’t say that I’m one of these perfect self-actualized people who have gained nothing but positive things out of painful experiences, a lot of it sucked!  There were some months in 2011 that I don’t ever want to re-live, but now I can accept how completely essential and necessary it was that I experienced it. I do feel stronger, and I am most definitely more grateful for the life I have than I had been before my conflicts happened.
  • This could easily be tagged onto what I’ve written above, but I want to separate it. I learned to let crap GO.  No one has done everything perfectly, there is no flawless parent or childhood.  I’d be lying if I said I’ve learned to never go back and dwell on the past, but I’m getting a lot better at not going there.  Forward.  Let’s go forward.
  • Spring was rough, and two souls left this earth way too soon.  One was a very close family childhood friend, and his service was brutal.  I feel as though I’m still processing it.  He was 40, and he shouldn’t be gone. Another was also way too young, and the circumstances were tragic.  What I learned from both of these losses was both substantial and meaningful.  The most important thing I learned is that being there for people when they need you is a no-brainer.  There is no meeting more important, they can be rescheduled. There is no plane ticket that’s “too expensive”, that’s what credit cards are for.  When people you love need you, you GO.  I’m so very glad that I did, in both cases. Through this loss, I reconnected with one of my oldest and closest friends.  We hadn’t lost touch, per se, but our lives are just so different that months would go by without us talking.  We didn’t know as much about each other’s day to day lives.  Now we’re in touch nearly every day, and it’s been a total Godsend, for both of us. We’ve both gotten stronger, and learned a ton from each other.  I’m proud of that.  Tell people how much you love them, and do it TODAY.
  • This summer, I finally passed my exam for my LEP license.  This stands for Licensed Educational Psychologist.  I’d taken the exam the year before, and FAILED IT.  That somewhat leveled me at the time, as it didn’t even occur to me that I could fail it.  It’s not as though I hadn’t studied, and I consider myself to be very good in my profession.  In any case…some humility was undoubtedly good for me.  I studied again this summer, pretty damn hard, and passed my exam.  Whoo hoo!  More silly letters to put behind my name! 
  • Also this summer, I had the longest vacation I'd had in 7 years. I had six whole weeks off, three of which I had to myself, as my kids were back in school.  This was unprecedented.  We didn’t take any major vacations, or travel anywhere.  I spent a lot of time out by the pool, listening to music and reading.  I wish I could pinpoint the day, but there was a DAY this summer that I was just hit with all of the blessings I have in my life.  It was like a ton of bricks.  Several song lyrics played a part in this realization, as did the time I had to reflect on the people we’d lost.  All of the sudden it just occurred to me…I not only love, but I really like my husband.  My children are healthy and smart, and are lovely people.  We live in a nice house in a safe neighborhood.  I’m healthy.  I have a meaningful, albeit stressful job in which I know I'm helping people. I have amazing, loyal, wonderful friends. This is HEAVEN.  I feel like I regained my ability to enjoy myself. I learned how to laugh again, and not just a chuckle.  This year I’ve had more stomach aching, tears streaming, not breathing laughter fits than I can count. It’d been quite awhile.  I truly feel as though God and my father's spirit flipped a switch in me, and everything became more vivid.
  • This year, I was able to rediscover how much I love going to concerts, and not just Justin Bieber this time!  I saw Sade in Oakland in August with my dear friend from college, and enjoyed myself more than I had in a very long time. We’re going to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers in February, a band I’ve loved since I was 19 years old.  I am more than happy to curtail the shopping for clothes in favor of going to see amazing artists play.  It’s just totally worth it.  Experiences are more valuable than stuff
  • This year, I got three tattoos.  Holy smokes, were all of these this year?  It appears that this was indeed the case. I got an West African symbol that means "God is King" with the word "love" beneath it in my dad's handwriting, an angel on my back/shoulder, and a quote from a play/movie on my ribs.  This will dismay many.  Sorry, y'all.  It was something I wanted to I did. Am I having a mid-life crisis?  Maybe a little one.  I'm having fun though, so I don't really care.
  • Last month, I celebrated 15 years of marriage. Yes, this is a great milestone, but what makes it even cooler is the fact that I genuinely enjoy my husband’s company.  Yes, he’s an amazing dad and incredible cook, but he also makes me laugh my ass off.  We have so much fun doing ordinary, stupid things, like going to Costco. We find humor everywhere.  He’s gotten my crazy, crabby self through the last two years of my life, no doubt about it.  We took a cruise to the Caribbean for our anniversary several weeks back and we had an absolute blast. We snorkeled at all three islands we went to, and saw the most amazing fish ever, it was like being in Finding Nemo.  However, the highlight for me were the adolescent sea turtles we got to swim with in St. Thomas.  The turtles are old enough to be away from their mothers, but are still in a protected cove and aren’t full grown yet or ready to venture out into the open ocean.  They calmly graze on the sea grass that grows on the bottom like tiny cows, and then surface every once and awhile to take a breath.  They’re used to people, and they aren’t really scared. More than once, a little turtle head would pop up a couple of yards away from me, and I'd want to greet them, “What’s up, homie?”  They’d look around and then swim back down, as gracefully as angels.  I’m proud to say that I’ve had the opportunity to swim with sea turtles twice in my life now.  It’s one of the coolest things I have ever done, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is able.
  • I continue to be in total awe of my children. I have no idea what we’ve done to deserve them, but we are lucky as hell. I don’t consider either of them to be accomplishments of mine.  Regardless, they continue to be ridiculously brilliant jewels in my life that fill me with a level of joy and love I never knew was possible.

Over the past few days, when I’ve been thinking about 2011 as a whole, it’s seemed pretty rough.  It’s a year that I was thinking that I wouldn’t be that sad to see end.  However, when inspired to look at it through this lens, my perspective has changed. This year was really important in my life.  I got to do some incredible things, and accomplished some major things, both internal and tangible.  Everything is a lesson, and I’m incredibly lucky.

Happy New Year’s to all, and God bless.  2012, bring it on!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Incredible Girl

My beautiful first born turned 11 a couple of days ago.  The kind of young lady that she is turning into is difficult to put into words.  I suppose I’ll start with the typical, braggy stuff that parents who get on my nerves tend to do in excess.  Let's just get that out of the way.

Madeline is in the 5th grade and has all A’s.  She scored fantastically on the state academic tests. She recently received an award at the district level for a poster she designed in our district’s attendance campaign.  She’s a Girl Scout.  She’s in student council. She’s currently a brown belt in karate and has recently taken it upon herself to try out for the basketball team, and made it.  These are all wonderful things, and I’d be lying if I said that these accomplishments didn’t fill me with pride. However, these accomplishments are far from the most amazing things about her, or the most precious. 

My daughter is fearless.  I have no idea where her confidence has emerged from, but it’s truly wonderful to behold.  This child had never seen a game of basketball in her life, as her father and I aren’t really sports enthusiasts.  She didn’t know the rules of the game, she had no idea how it’s played.  However, she called me on my cell phone one afternoon and asked if she could try out for the team at her school.  I thought to myself, “Sure, she should be given the chance.  She probably won’t make it, but that would be a good experience for her as well.”  Well, she made the team.  They haven’t played a game yet, and she bellyaches a little about the workouts, but she’s sticking with it.  I have no idea if this will become something she loves, but the point is that she wasn’t scared to try. When she was in 1st or 2nd grade, she took part in a school wide fund raising run.  It was just around the track on the campus, nothing marathon worthy or overly challenging.  However, while she was running, she tripped and fell flat on her face.  As a result of her fall, several children ran over her while Mike and I stood on the other side of the field and watched. She was a little thing, probably 7 years old.  Did she stop and run across the field to us?  Nope.  She did cry, as she legitimately got hurt.  However, she stood up, dusted herself off, and kept running, finishing the run with tears streaming across her face.  This child is not afraid of anything, and has this incredible perseverance.  First time snorkeling at age 8?  Not a problem, she dove into the ocean with her daddy and saw everything there was to see.  When I was 10 and 11 years old, I remember feeling afraid of everything.  I’ve spent a good portion of my life thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t try new things.  I truly have no idea where this fearlessness of hers comes from.

My daughter is a rule follower and has a crazy, intense sense of right and wrong. Sometimes she takes it too far, but I admire her steadfastness in this area.  While at the movies for her birthday, she walked down a couple rows to inform me that her friends would not stop talking.  I reassured her that it was still the previews, and it would be fine.  When the movie was over, she and another friend came up and informed me, outraged, that someone in front of them had been recording the entire movie on their phone.  “Should we call the police?” they asked.  Well, no.  I doubt that a pirated copy of the newest Chipmunks film, shoddily recorded from the back row would give the police a major cause for concern.  They have bigger fish to fry this time of year. Recently, she came home from a neighborhood birthday party that she attended with her little brother.  Another party guest, an 8 year old, said something incredibly inappropriate to her, of a sexual nature.  She was upset when she came home, and told us about it immediately.  We asked how she handled it, and she said that she told him he was too young to be speaking that way, and told the adult in charge.  I told her she handled it perfectly.  She said, “I don’t get it.  Why does he even know what that is, he’s only 8!”  I explained that some parents don’t care what their kids watch on TV and don’t take the time to teach them appropriate manners.  She shook her head in dismay and said, “Well, I’m sure glad that YOU guys did!” 

My daughter is an entrepreneur and is incredibly creative. Her love of animals has been there since day one, and that may be one thing she’s gotten from me.  But she’s taken it a step further.  She decided to start her own pet-sitting service, and has business cards, t-shirts, and a hat.  She designed the logo and the cards herself, in addition to her company slogan, “Making your pets happy, one paw at a time.”  She has a few clients.  When she helped to dog-sit for a good friend of mine and was finished with the job, she didn’t just leave a bill, she left a behavioral chart!  This chart had how the dog behaved, illustrated by happy faces, what the dog’s activities were, and what he ate and drank, as well as how much.  It cracked me up, but also left me in a state of awe.  Yes, I use behavioral charts and plans at work all the time, but I rarely bring those home or talk about them.  She came up with all of this on her own.
My daughter has incredible faith and compassion.  With this, I’m not even sure where to begin.  Regarding the faith, we’ve taken her to church since she was a baby. However, we don’t force it down her throat.  I’ve always felt strongly about laying the foundation with our children, but ultimately they need to come to God in their own way.  It’s a personal thing, and it’s our job to expose them, share our own experiences, and encourage them to share theirs.  As adults, it will be up to them to ultimately decide what they believe and how they’ll lead their life.  However, at least so far, Madeline gets it. She prays, she thinks a lot about people who have less than she does, and she wants to make the world a better place.  She recently went on an excursion with her girl scout troop to bring food to a needy couple.  The couple was elderly, and only spoke Spanish.  The wife was incredibly appreciative, and told them all that she thanks God for the girls.  Once that was translated into English, Madeline burst into tears.  Several months back, she wanted to volunteer at a concert our church was involved in, which is helping to build and fund a home for girls rescued from sex trafficking.  She is mature for her age, and does understand what that is.  When the songs were performed and a video was shown, she cried buckets and absolutely CLUNG to me.  On the way home, she kept saying, “I don’t understand why anyone would want to hurt a little girl.”  I explained that most people who do that are sick, and were probably hurt themselves at some point.  Without missing a beat, she said, “Then we should pray for them too, right?”  I was absolutely floored by this.  “Yes, honey.  They need it to.” About a month ago, she shared with me that a friend of hers was having a hard time with her parents being divorced.  In addition to this, her friend shared that her father was gay, and wanted to know if Madeline thought that was “weird.”  Madeline asked her if her daddy was a good man and if he was nice to her.  The answer to this was “yes.”  She replied, “Then it doesn’t matter if he’s gay. My Poppa was gay, but he was a good daddy.  All that matters is that your dad loves you.”  WOW. 

This morning, I’m sitting around in my pajamas, kinda crabby for my own reasons.  She approached me a little while ago and said, “Am I old enough to volunteer?”  Of course you are!  She talked about helping at the animal shelter, or taking clothes to kids who don’t have enough.  We have to plan for this, I explained, we can’t just show up at the SPCA or grab a bell for the Salvation Army.  I promised her we would figure something out.  She said, “I just keep getting the feeling that I’m supposed to help.  I wake up in the morning thinking about it.”  WHERE did this child come from??

This is not to say that she isn’t the typical pre-teen. She does her fair share of whining, rolling her eyes, and bursting into inexplicable moody tears.  She tortures her younger brother.  She complained at length when I wouldn’t let her download music onto her new Ipod that’s unfamiliar to me without previewing the lyrics first.  “God, mom!  I’m 11 years old, I can handle it!”  Mmmm, no you can’t.  I’m doing my job, and don’t need you listening to filth any sooner than you need to.  Soon enough, this editing of her life and protecting her from things will start to wane.  I won’t be able to control everything, my days are numbered in a way. 

In my profession, I always attribute a child’s success to their parents and their teachers.  It’s a natural thing, and I say it with total conviction.  However, when it comes to our own child, I’m less sure.  She HAS had top notch teachers, and I know that’s helped tremendously.  We have a wonderful extended family.  However, is she this incredible creature because of us?  It just can’t be. At 11, I was smart, I was mature…that’s about where I see the similarities ceasing.  I had no confidence, motivation, leadership skills, or creativity. I was generally afraid of most things and always confused about the world around me. Thus far, we’ve managed to raise a girl who is the exact opposite. I can't even imagine what she'll become as she grows older. Our job for the next decade or so will be to support her in all of her endeavors and to try to make sure she has as many opportunities to try new things as possible, while keeping her grounded.  

I don’t know what we did to become blessed by this girl, but I’ll accept it!  I don’t take it for granted, and I thank Jesus every day for my beautiful girl.  There is no better gift than that.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My cruise-inspired health epiphany.

We've just returned from a week long cruise to the Caribbean for our 15th anniversary. Well, we haven't returned, we're actually sitting in the Miami airport at the moment. I'd never been on a cruise and had no idea what to expect exactly.  I'd pictured a lot of overweight, glutton-ready Americans, stuffing their faces and hanging out in the casinos.  They were there for sure, but the variety of people was truly interesting and they were from all over the world.  The difference between American body image and seemingly, the rest of the globe, definitely stood out.  Guess what?  People don't give a crap what you look like.  There were some truly beautiful, perfect looking people, both on the ship and the ports.  However, most of the people looked like...people.  Fat and skinny, tan and pale, old and young. And not one of them was looking cross eyed at anyone else.  If they were, they were pretty damn discreet about it. There were a few women there sporting  g-string bikinis that at least I would think were ill advised. In fact, I find g-string bikinis to be uncalled for in general, but who am I to judge? The European idea of beauty and what is acceptable is clearly different than our screwed up American culture. Hell, I don't even know that all those people were European, I just know they weren't American.

I will admit that the food available and the eating that took place on the ship was mighty impressive. There were people who appeared to never become full. I only over-ate on one evening, at the Japanese joint on the ship. The seafood was fresh and drenched in garlic and butter and soy sauce and I couldn't help myself. I still left that evening feeling guilty that I didn't finish all my scallops. That night, I did feel sick from eating too much, but that was the only time. I ate more than I do at home, but mostly because of the convenience and the time that was available. Overall, I ate until I was full and then I stopped. That wasn't so hard. It'll be interesting to see what the scale says when we get home tonight, but I  don't think I gained much weight, if any. I eat well at home, and in a healthy manner. That is something I'm proud of, and fast food and lots of sweets taste horrible to me now. I'm also incredibly blessed to have a husband who makes amazing meals for us, so I don't have to try that hard.

Aside from the appearance of the people, what truly became foremost in my mind on this trip was the importance of health. I'm 41 years old now, and while I am indeed pretty skinny at this juncture of my life, I am most certainly out of shape. Granted, I've never been a good swimmer. While on  St.Martin, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, we were to swim a short distance from our catamaran to the beach and back, if we wanted to go to the beach.  I did.  I had fins, which help a little. Getting to the beach wasn't bad at all, we've had bigger waves in our pool. I still flopped onto the sand, carried by the tiny waves and struggled to get my fins off so I could stand up. When I was able to stand up, I was completely breaded in sand. The beach itself looked like something out of a James Bond movie, but my "beaching" probably resembled a Saturday Night Live skit of a "Bond girl", thrashing about without an ounce of grace. It didn't matter, no one was watching and no one cared. Getting back to the boat was a tad more challenging, what with the four inch surf and all. I, apparently, kick like I'm dying when I swim. Mike likened it to looking as though I was trying to swim across the English channel. I have old friends who have told me that watching me swim is like watching someone throw a cat into a swimming pool. I will admit that another fellow traveler did comment on my swimming prowess with a hearty, "You were KICKING!"  Yikes. This was the calmest, clearest water I'd ever seen in my life, and I had to swim an entire 50 yards. By the time I reached the ladder, I was completely out of breath and huffing and puffing like an asthmatic senior citizen. This is unacceptable. On the same excursion, we were taken to another almost absurdly gorgeous swim spot. A very sweet, largely overweight young woman threw caution to the wind and jumped into the ocean with everything she had. The splash was absolutely immense. But honestly, it was a beautiful thing. She was there to experience this beautiful spot on God's planet and she frankly did not give a rip what she looked like. I admire her. In the pictures taken of us on that trip, I was wearing my bikini top. I am sucking my breath in so much that my ribs stick out. What the hell is up with that? I have to angle my body and suck in my "gut" to appear as cute as possible, apparently. However, I was so worn out by my "swimming", that I couldn't catch my breath for several minutes. What is wrong with this picture?

I'd been thinking over Thanksgiving about how much I take for granted health wise. I'm grateful for every breath that I take with ease after watching my dad struggle with almost every breath for four years. I'm grateful for the ability to walk, as he couldn't near the end of his life. On the cruise ship, we could take the stairs and not wait for the elevators if we didn't want to. The older gentleman in the wheelchair with one leg didn't have that option. Neither could several other passengers we traveled with.  I'm still youngish. I'm not overweight. And yet, I have very little physical stamina. My life at home consists of a whole lot of sitting, in offices, in meetings, on my couch. It's time for this to change. The time to take care of my health is before something goes wrong. I know so many folks who have had to deal with health issues which were NOT their fault or due to any negligence on their part. Unfortunately, they just drew the short straw and have had to undergo surgeries, chemotherapy, and chronic, unbelievable pain. These folks are my age and younger. They have families, just like me. They have careers, just like me. What some of them don't have, is the ability to improve their health, simply by choice and action. This is a choice I do have. It's time to get my lazy ass off the couch and move. I can walk, run, "swim", and enjoy this beautiful life that I've been blessed with. In order to give this life the true honor and appreciation that it deserves, it's time to make the effort to take better care of myself and not let a tiny swim freak me out or bug my eyes out in terror at the mere mention of kayaking. There is absolutely no reason not to. There's a yoga schedule in my car I've been carrying around for about 8 months now. Perhaps now is the time to walk inside.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Raising Girls...not for the faint of heart!

*Note: This may offend some.  I tend to be a pretty frank, and not all appreciate it, but it’s how I roll. You’ve been warned.

So my beautiful first-born will turn 11 in December.  I am beyond grateful that my daughter, since the age of four, has been a dedicated tomboy.  I intend to encourage this to continue for as long as I can, but I’m already noticing changes. She’ll go through puberty a lot earlier than I did, and I blame that completely on my husband’s genes.  His family is lousy with beautiful women who all developed early…thanks a lot, ladies!  I’ve already braved the training bra aisle, and it went well.  However, I was really surprised and fairly upset at some of the bras in that particular section of Target. These bras were padded and had molded cups.  My daughter looked at them suspiciously and asked me, “Why would I need these?”  I replied, “You don’t.”  They were very similar to what I wear, as I am not, shall we say, buxom.  Why are they selling these bras to little girls?    Anyhow, back to my daughter…she is suddenly made entirely of legs, and they appear to start somewhere around her armpits. Her little figure is starting to emerge. It is as gorgeous as it is terrifying.  The phone is beginning to ring for her on a pretty regular basis.  She’s becoming more interested in clothes, and as she puts it, “girlish things.”  Crap. Recently we attended an event where a dress was appropriate, and she looked amazing. In her little dress, and with her hair out of her face, she looked so pretty.  We have a great girl, with a strong sense of self and a strong faith in God.  Can we completely shelter her from all bad influences, peer pressure, and a steadily disgustingly declining culture?  NOPE.

The beauty industry has always come under fire for reducing girls’ sense of self-esteem, and I was a total victim.  I can see myself, holed up in my room, obsessively poring over stacks and stacks of beauty magazines.  In the 1980’s in Los Angeles, I was the antithesis of beauty in my eyes.  Beautiful girls were tan, blond, blue eyed, clear-skinned girls with big boobs. I was a brunette, with greenish eyes that were excessively deep set, pale as a sheet of copy paper, with the body the shape of a large piece of plywood and skin with some of the worst cystic acne ever.  Yet I continued to try to change and force myself into this box of “beauty”.  Ads from the magazines were ripped out and taped onto my bedroom wall, models Paulina Porizkova, Christy Brinkley, and Cindy Crawford (a brunette crept in, apparently) were all consistently staring at me, telling me I wasn’t good enough.  I spent a small fortune on makeup, and was one of the early victims of the self-tanner called QT that turned my skin carrot orange. I was so determined that my melanin-less skin could get tan if I just wanted it badly enough, that I abused it with horrific burns that turned into blisters and irreversible sun damage.  Thinking back on it now makes me cringe.  (Yes, I still like makeup and use self-tanner...but it's better now!)

Fast forward to 2011, some 30 some years later, and the beauty pressure on little girls is still there.  Now the girls are supposed to whiten their teeth and wear shorts so tight and so short that the shorts look like they’re in pain.  However, makeup is no longer the biggest threat to our girls; it’s far more sinister than that.  It’s no longer about beauty and appearances; it is simply and completely about sex.

I can’t be the only one who has noticed that suddenly everyone on earth is talking about vaginas.  You know, I’m not a prude, I’m not easy to shock, and I’m pretty open about most things.  However…WHAT is with all the vaginas? Honestly, it seems like it’s the latest fad, the hottest accessory, the new black.  Let’s all talk about them!  Ummm, no thanks.  You can’t get away from it though, it is absolutely everywhere. My shock began with a razor/trimmer commercial.  As the lovely ladies walked through the garden, the bushes would miraculously change into well-groomed shapes.  Gee, I wonder what that meant.  I thought that was bad…until the dreadful Summer’s Eve commercials came along.  The first one I saw showed several “historical” scenes of swarthy men, battling it out through the ages, with the narration, “Men have fought for it, died for it…one might say it’s the most powerful thing on earth.”  It then cuts to a lady standing in an aisle at a store, contemplating a bottle of…something.  The narration returns, “So come on ladies, show it a little love!  Hail to the V!”  Really??  The following commercials they ran were even worse, and featured vertical talking hands (vaginas) of many different ethnicities.  It was disgusting, racist, and awful, and they were pulled off the air pretty quickly.  I’m sure their goal was to make sure we all talked about it, and here I am, talking about it.  However, I also think that they meant these ads to be empowering for women, be proud of your vagina! It isn’t empowering, it’s objectifying. We’re not women; we’re vaginas with people attached.  Lovely. What a load of crap.

Last week I saw a clip from a show that absolutely put me over the edge.  It was a clip from Dr. Oz…you know, the friendly neighborhood doctor who gives helpful health advice who took Oprah’s spot.  Yeah, that’s what I thought too.  The clip showed a grown man sliding down a pink slip-and-slide that was meant to represent…the vaginal wall.  The episode, or at least part of it, was about vaginal AGE.  Apparently, we now have to worry about them being old in addition to unruly and dirty. Dr. Oz then spoke with this poor man's wife to tell her the age of her vagina.  She was like 43...apparently, her vagina was around 74.  Dr. Oz shook his head...her poor husband, doomed to live his life stuck with a 74-year-old vagina.  No matter that people had come out of there, that’s not important.  Dr. Oz followed up today with an episode during which all the women removed their makeup, beheld how ugly they looked, and then were lectured on products they had to use to stop the aging process.  I didn't watch it. Okay, back to the main know, I give IQ tests for a living, and there’s been much talk of emotional IQ and social IQ.  I wonder if Vaginal IQ is next.  Probably not, they don't have to be smart; just available.  Dear readers, can you see what is happening here?  Vaginas are for men, they don’t belong to us. Our job is to tend to our vaginas, to groom them and clean them and present them with a bow on top. This is the message that we as a culture are sending out to our girls.  These commercials, this episode of Dr. Oz, are all on network television during the day.   What in the world has happened to us? 

Now, what I’m about to share is awful, but it’s real.  Sex is unbelievably casual these days, and our young girls are more promiscuous than ever.  Yes, we all see awful things on Dateline and try to convince ourselves that those are isolated cases.  They’re not.  Girls give out oral sex as if they’re handshakes.  You know the dreaded “freak dancing” that takes place at school dances?  I have news for you. Some of these kids are having sex at school dances.  This is not happening in the car or in the parking lot, it’s happening AT THE DANCE.  Yes, there are chaperones, but they can’t be everywhere, and the kids have gotten crafty and sneaky.  Short dresses help, especially with no underwear.  It is happening, and it’s beyond horrifying.  This is tragic.  Girls who have taken off their shoes because their heels hurt have stepped on used condoms. Girls who have “finished” are in the bathrooms, cleaning off their legs.  Don’t ask me how I know all this, I just do.  I have a theory.  All of this media, all of the slutty clothing and padded bras for little girls, all of the trashy television like “16 and pregnant” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” are all contributing to the whore-ification of our culture.  Our girls are growing up thinking that this is what their vaginas are FOR...they're supposed to give it up, and "show it some love" by buying unnecessary crap to keep it clean, and do kegels so as not to disappoint their men with elderly vaginas.  This is the world that has been created for our girls.  We can tell ourselves that it will never happen to our daughters, and it may not, God willing.  However, they’re going to be exposed to it one way or another, and we need to be prepared for that.  I, for one, am so scared I can’t see straight.

At this point, I’m somewhat longing for the days of  beauty magazine wallpaper, really bad makeup, and orange skin.

We must keep talking to our girls, even when they tell us to shut up and go away.  This hasn’t happened to me yet, but it probably will.  We have to talk when they look like they aren’t listening.  We have to talk to their friends and the parents of their friends.  We have to say, over and over and over again, that their worth is within their beautiful souls and not concentrated in what’s between their legs. They are smart, sensitive, creative, wonderful, beautiful creations of God.  They have NOT been put on this earth to be used by boys or men.  If they’re lucky, they’ll find a wonderful partner in life who deserves them. Keep them strong, and keep them proud.  

On a very personal, guttural, momma bear note:  To society and our media.  Keep your filthy, stinking, greedy hands and leering eyes off my daughter.  I will fight against you with every fiber of my being, and you will NOT get my girl.  Keep trying, you will not win.  If you could be reduced to a single being and I could get you into a room, I would stab you until you were dead.  Your trashy culture disgusts me. I'm more dangerous than I look, trust me. The pendulum has swung to a disgusting, dirty extreme.  Parents, we all have to hang onto the damn thing and swing it back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Marriage. According to me.

I am quickly approaching my 15th anniversary of marriage, and this has had me thinking.  What makes some marriages last and others crumble? We’ve actually now attended more weddings that have ended in divorce than ones in which the couples are still together. I can’t really speak to what works for others, but I do want to express what has worked for us.

Meet Your Match

When Mike and I met, we were both used to being the one in charge in a relationship.  I’m not proud of this, but my prior 3 year relationship consisted of me intentionally being awful, praying he would finally tell me to go jump in the lake.  He never did.  He was a lovely person, just not the right person for me.  When Mike and I began dating, we grappled over who was in charge.  It was…colorful.  About a month in, he was visiting me at my dad’s house in Altadena.  We were in the car, bickering about something. I can remember the corner we were turning when Mike said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you’re used to, but I’m not putting up with this crap.”  I’m pretty sure the language was slightly more elaborate than that, but I’ll let the readers use their imagination.  It’s crazy, but at that exact moment, I knew this wasn’t going to be a short lived thing.  I absolutely loved that he wouldn’t tolerate my shenanigans, and it made me admire him even more than I already did.  It felt like a huge sigh of relief, “it’s about TIME!”  God love him.  My family noticed this element too, fairly quickly.  I believe my father was a combination of impressed and worried that both of us were so stubborn.  My older sister actually nailed it on our wedding video.  She said that the women in our family could be pushy (truer words never spoken).  Then she said, “When I first met Mike, he said nothing.  When I met Mike the second time, I knew Jane had met her match.”

We still spent a huge portion of the first few years of our marriage fighting over who was wearing the pants in this relationship.  Over the years, we both learned when to let stuff go, and not dig our heels in just for its own sake.  15 years later, I would say we both probably still have a hold of one leg of the pants. More often than not though, one of us eventually lets go.

Marry Your Friend

In every significant relationship I have ever had, the boy/man has initially been interested in my friend. It’s been an embarrassing pattern in my life. I don’t really have an explanation, other than I’ve always had male friends, and maybe that was just easier for me.  Mike was no exception.  We met through a mutual friend, and I was instantly attracted to the boy.  However, he wasn’t the type of guy I ever ended up dating. I dated the safe guys, slightly nerdish, and ones who wouldn’t stand up to me!  Mike was tattooed and pierced and insanely cute. He was the consummate bad boy. I immediately accepted the fact that he’d never be interested in me in a million years, and moved ahead.  This group of friends started hanging out a little more, and he was always there.  Because I considered myself nowhere close to his league, I relaxed. I was totally myself, and we quickly became friends.  I’d planned a ski trip to Tahoe, and one by one, my girlfriends begged off.  I had to consider my options.  I could cancel the trip, or go with three men I didn’t know very well.  I went.  In retrospect, that was a crazy move, fueled by a lot of alcohol and boredom.  I didn’t see a lot of him on the slopes because he snowboards and I ski…and I suck.  We hung out the rest of the time though, and we both discovered some things about each other.  We had very similar, twisted senses of humor.  He was witty, and quick with his observations in public.  While relaxing in the hotel room, Jeopardy came on the television.  He’s told me that the moment he noticed that I was getting a lot of the questions right was the moment he started looking at me differently.  Score!  His perspective didn’t change because I was “hot” or had money or because I was young.  He began to like me because I knew the answers on Jeopardy.  What could be better than that? After that trip, he began to actively pursue me and ask me out, and truth be told, I didn’t know what to do.  I was completely unprepared for such a thing.  We’d already told each other many unsavory stories about one another though, so that was out of the way, but I still had a lot of reservations.  I remember telling him that I was afraid it would ruin our friendship. I’ve never been happier to be wrong in my life.

We became engaged fast, after only dating for 8 or 9 months.  Nevertheless, I knew…he did too, and it scared the tar out of both of us.  I actually remember telling my dad, after only dating Mike for a few weeks, “I might marry this one.”  Our wedding was an absolute blast.  I have been to so many weddings that felt stiff and formal, weddings at which it appeared there was no joy at all.  Ours was amazing, and I believe the reason is that we were friends.    To this day, it was one of the best days of my life, not just because I married my soul mate, but also because it was so much fun. 

I got lucky that I was friends with Mike before we fell in love, but I don’t think it has to be that way.  I’d simply say that it’s important to be friends with your spouse in general.  Take time to have fun, be silly, and laugh as often as you can.

All of that being said, don’t let this friendship turn into the following:

Don’t Let Your Spouse Become Your Roommate!

I think that most married folks will be able to relate to this phenomenon.  You’re both working, cleaning, cooking, wrangling kids, and the weeks can become a blur.  I’ve had many moments in the last 15 years, and especially the last 10 since we’ve had children, in which I’ve become unacquainted with my husband.  I’d look at him and think, “Ohhhh, yeah.  I remember him!”  This is a slope that is very easily to careen down, into a place of comfortable, boring complacency.  This place is devoid of passion, intimacy, or true closeness.  I am not just referring to the physical aspect here.  It’s easy to lose touch with your spouse, despite the fact that you live in the same house and sleep next to each other every night. 

We’re not in college anymore.  Your spouse deserves more than a casual head nod and a “what’s up?” when passing in the hallway.  Like most routines, this can be difficult to break away from, but you must.  Does this mean you must be all flowery, lovey-dovey, kissy face, and over the top with the compliments?  God, I hope not, I personally hate that.  You do need to give your spouse the lion’s share of your attention, or as close as you can manage.  This is probably not possible to attain every day, but give it your best shot.  Turn the television off and go sit in the backyard.  Talk about something other than your children.  Go on a date.  Do whatever you need to do in order to spend some quality time with the person you married.  You may be tired, you may not be feeling it, but fake it if you have to.  It’s vital, it’s worth it, and it’s of monumental importance.

History Does Not Have To Repeat Itself

Neither of us had the best role models when it came to marriage.  My parents probably never should have gotten married in the first place, and divorced when I was three.  Growing up, most of my friend’s parents were also divorced, so I had absolutely no frame of reference.  Mike’s parents also divorced when he was quite young, although his mom did remarry.  Neither of my parents ever did.  I think we both grew up in, shall we say, unique circumstances.  I worried a lot about this when we were first married.  How would either of us know what was “normal”?  How would we learn how to fight fair, and all the other stuff they talked about in our mandatory pre-marital counseling?  I felt as though we were twisting blindly in the wind, with no idea what direction to go.  You know what I’ve discovered over the years?  You can make your marriage whatever you want it to be.  There is absolutely no reason why you need to follow a road, good or bad, because you feel you need to, or because it’s a legacy of some kind.  There are certainly many things in both our histories that we’ve had to work through, but I believe we got married for the right reasons. We got married because we wanted to.  That helps.

If you know the mistakes your own parents made in their marriages, or things they regret now, you can try hard to not do the same. For us, the main one was alcohol.  We both had alcoholism in our families growing up.  When we met, we both had major issues with alcohol. Unfortunately, it was one of the main things we initially had in common.  Luckily, we experienced some divine intervention shortly after we were engaged.  Mike got a DUI, and it was his second.  At the time, driving was his job. He nearly lost his job, in addition to all the other things we had to go through including court, classes, breathalyzers, and general shame.  My family was wondering if us getting married was a good idea, and I can’t say I blame them.  The truth that not a lot of people knew was that I had just as big of a problem as he did.  I just never got caught. We both quit after that.  Our children will never know what it’s like to have to deal with a drunken parent.  This was an intentional decision on our part.  If we had we not stopped drinking, I have no doubt in my mind that we would no longer be married, if it had happened at all.

When You Get Married, You Really Do Marry Their Family.  Have Your Spouse’s Back

I’m among the very lucky who get along exceedingly well with the in-laws.  Mike gets along with my family too, although we don’t spend as much time with them because they’re scattered hither and yon.  As most married people know, tough times and conflicts inevitably come up.  In these instances, your loyalty must be to your spouse, and it’s not always easy.  When I’ve had conflicts with my own family, Mike has been rock solid on my side, and usually upset at the way I’d been treated.  When reconciliations begin to form, I know it’s been tough on him to let my family back in.  No matter what the situation has been, he’s always done so with open arms.  This amazes me.  When I’ve asked him how he’s been able to do this so easily, he’s shrugged and said, “It’s your family.” This isn’t done blindly however, and it shouldn’t be.  When I’ve been the one at fault, he’s said, “Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on them?” Likewise, I’ve said, “Honey, you just need to accept them for who they are.” 

Loss in families is incredibly hard, and we’ve experienced a lot.  Between us, since we’ve been married, we’ve each lost a grandma, an uncle and an aunt for him, two uncles for me, and my father.  These are the times that you really need to be there for each other.  Again, Mike has been a rock of support during these times.  I actually don’t even really know how to describe it, other than he did not leave my side. In my opinion, you don’t need tons of words during these tough times, you just need the person who loves you to be there. He always has been.  I can only hope that I’ve been as comforting to him during his losses. 

Ultimately, you’ll have each other’s family in your lives forever.  However, I believe that it’s unbelievably important to remember that in marriage, you are creating a family of your own.   That’s the family that needs to come first, always.

Learn When To Shut It

It took me years to fully learn this particular lesson. Having always been on the stubborn side, I was always used to having the last word.  Along with this came the constant need to address things.  “What’s wrong?  I can tell something is bothering you.  Did I do something?  Are you upset about work?”  God, I irritate myself even typing that!  There have been so many times when I just needed to leave things BE.  I still have to remind myself to do this, but I’ve gotten better.  Sometimes, just shut up.  In the middle of an argument, stop.  If I can tell Mike is annoyed and he doesn’t want to talk about it, I need to shut it. Mike has learned that there is pretty much nothing he can do to make me happy in the mornings.  I am not a morning fan, I don’t like to talk much, I need coffee, and to start doing whatever it is that I need to do that day. I will often audibly grumble in the morning, and curse at my alarm clock.  It’s unlikely this characteristic of mine will ever go away. Thankfully, Mike had gotten wise to the fact that he basically just needs to stay out of my way.  After a couple of hours have passed and caffeine has been ingested, I resemble a normal, reasonable human being again and I am safe to approach.

Know when to LET IT BE.

You Don’t Have To Like Exactly The Same Things

Mike and I have the same sense of humor.  We enjoy many of the same movies and shows, but as far as interests and pastimes go, that’s probably it. That’s not entirely true, we like a lot of the same music too, but not exactly.  We both actually loathe some bands the other one adores.  I hate KMFDM, it’s just noise, and I’ve never gotten Neil Young.  He didn’t grow up with R&B or soul, so he doesn’t get my love for Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.  Overall, we enjoy radically opposite things.  He loves video games, and it doesn’t bother me at all, but I can’t stand them.  He says it’s relaxing for him, but it does the exact opposite for me.  The first-person games he plays make me dizzy and anxious. He enjoys shows on the Science Channel about how things are made, built, thought of, engineered, etc.  I don’t like them because I don’t understand them.  My brain doesn't work that way. He loves to cook, and I'm the lucky sucker that gets to reap the rewards of this, another bonus!  Again, it's something that relaxes him.   He is more introverted in general, and loves to work alone.

Mike loathes my love of Glee, and all things musical theater-like.  This includes my addiction to So You Think You Can Dance.  He’s also not fond of my trend to record and enjoy really depressing shows and documentaries, such as Intervention or "Meth Nation".  “Don’t you get enough depressing stuff at work?”  Well, yes…but these things interest me, which is why I went into psychology in the first place.  I love to read, he’s not a big reader. I wouldn't say I hate to cook, but I don't enjoy it. I love to be social, and I talk a lot.  He’s much more reserved initially and is harder to get to know.  I love to work around a lot of people, and can’t imagine not having interactions with others during my day. I love going to concerts, he can take it or leave it.

It’s all good!  Taking time to spend with your own friends is really important, for both of you.  You don’t have to do every single thing together.  Just because you marry someone does not mean you have to let go of who you are, or morph into the other person.  Keep yourself.

All of these things I’ve written about are my silly little observations, and only my point of view.  There are other exceedingly important things that enhance and strengthen a marriage.  Sharing the same faith sure does make things easier, and stronger.  Being on the same page when it comes to child rearing is essential, although you’re bound to disagree from time to time.  One thing that I feel is a non-negotiable issue is basic human decency.  It's been very important to me that Mike and I be on the same page as far as how people should be treated, all people. We’re lucky that we have all of these things in spades.

The two of us are in a very good place right now, the best we've been in a very long time.   We’ve been having a great time together, and he is truly my best friend. Inevitably, the moment I post this, he’ll probably do something to make me mad. Every married person I know, at least the ones who are comfortable enough sharing, has had and will continue to have moments in which they unequivocally cannot stand the other person.  There will be times when you can’t tolerate being in the same room with the other.  Then it will pass, and you’ll remember why you married them. Be brave enough to be the other fifty percent. Marriage is a long, crazy roller coaster.  The key to success in marriage is to hold on tight, refuse to let go, and experience the ride.

He is indeed irritated right now. I've been on the computer too long, I've got to go!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I love teachers.  I have experienced them in a variety of areas in my life, as a family member, a student, a colleague, and finally as a parent.

When I’ve stopped and thought about it, I have realized that my family is lousy with teachers!  My dad was a speech and debate teacher in high school for 37 years.  My sister is a special education teacher.  My aunt taught 2nd grade for…ever?  My cousins have been teachers, administrators and professors.  My mother in law teaches ESL for adults.  My father in law has also taught classes, as has my sister in law.  That’s a lot of teacher folk!  When you grow up with it, it doesn’t seem that extraordinary, it’s just normal.  I began to get a sense of how much my dad was adored when we couldn’t leave the house without bumping into a former or a current student.  He taught in San Marino, and we lived in Altadena, so we weren’t in the same town.  Despite this, errands and outings were nearly always met with choruses of “Mr. Stuart!”, “Stuuuuu!!!” I remember going to school with him a few times when I was in high school myself.  I knew my dad was funny in our home life, but I had no idea he was such a funny teacher. I didn’t witness this, but lore has told that he chucked a chalkboard eraser at a student who had fallen asleep. He also insisted that a particular student remove the safety pins in his lip before coming into the classroom, but returned them at the end of the period.  I loved watching him interact with his students!  He kidded around with them and laughed at their jokes, but he also kept them in line.  They loved him and had fun with him, but they also respected him.  Now that I have the perspective I do, I understand how tough of a line must have been to toe. The fact that students who graduated before I was even born took the time to attend his memorial service last year spoke volumes.  With my other family members, I’ve seen so many positive traits, including hard working, dedicated, intuitive, creative, and caring.  What a gift it’s been to have these teachers as members of my family! I had a fabulous foundation in that arena.

As a student, quite a few teachers stand out.  I attended public school in Pasadena for my entire K-12 career. There is an amazing group in my mind that deserve standing ovations for everything they did for me.  Dear Mrs. Hayes, my 3rd grade teacher, was my very first favorite. She was creative, outgoing, and kind.  She passed several years back, and I was genuinely saddened.  Mrs. Patterson in 6th grade whipped my behind in shape, figuratively.  In addition to being exciting and interesting, she also had incredible radar when it came to social issues.  6th grade was a tough year for me, and somewhat of a turning point.  My skin began to break out, and I experienced the joy of the mean creatures that are 11 and 12 year old girls.  I was picked on and ridiculed, big time.  I actually, almost got into a physical fight that year.  Of course, having no idea how to handle these difficulties, I chose to pick on others so I would feel better.  I’m not proud of this, and the kids I did pick on ended up being amazing people.  I’ve actually apologized to them ad naseum.  At the time, Mrs. Patterson saw what was going on, and stepped in.  She called my mom in to talk, and my attendance was mandatory.  I remember this vividly; she said to my mom, “I just can’t picture Jane kicking someone’s butt.” This was true for two reasons, the first being that I can’t fight and would have been pummeled to death.  The second reason was that a mean girl, a fighter, wasn’t anywhere close to who I really was. I think I can say that I experienced a mean girl “season”, but I thankfully outgrew it. Mrs. Patterson saw it, and made me regain my senses. I continued to be picked on that year, but I stopped being a perpetrator.  To this day, I have never been in a physical fight in my life. I can’t say that I’ve never been mean since then, but I have taught my own children that mean kids aren’t allowed to live in our house.  This may sound harsh, but Mrs. Patterson’s lesson stuck with me.  No mean people allowed, I won’t tolerate it.

High school began, and again, several teachers were responsible for keeping me in line. The most special and my very favorite teacher of all time was my 9th grade English teacher, Ms. Aljean Ivory. My best friend and I were placed into her Advanced Placement class, but once we discovered how much work it would entail, we were desperate to escape.  We acquired the necessary forms and took them to have her sign us out, and she refused!  We were shocked and incensed. How could she refuse our request, we had the right to not take an AP course if we didn’t want to!  She would not budge.  We both doubted we’d get very far pursuing this with our parents, so we begrudgingly gave in and attended.  I remember one day during which she was teaching Shakespeare, I believe it was Hamlet.  She acted out a death scene, and my friend and I both thought she had turned into a lunatic, yelling and collapsing to the floor. Who knew what an impact this woman would end up making on my life? She wouldn’t allow us to settle for mediocrity in ourselves, she pushed us.  She saw our potential and didn’t care if we hated her.  Ms. Ivory taught me how to write. How do you put a price on that, or measure the value?  We learned the joy of literature, even the dreaded Shakespeare, and learned how to express ourselves through writing and poetry.  In the years that followed, she was the advisor to the Peer Counselors Club, and my best friend and I both participated. She was a wonderful trainer, but we never actually counseled anyone.  Just last week, my best friend asked me why we never received our Peer Counseling sweatshirts we ordered, it’s gotten to be a joke that has spanned over 20 years. Despite the lack of actual clients, I learned a great deal being in that club, and I believe she had an enormous influence on what I decided to do with my life.  Years later, by pure coincidence, she and her son were able to attend my wedding.  That meant the world to me, and I’m not sure I even had the chance to thank her.   High school held other gems as well, including Mr. Barnes, Mrs. Toh, and Mr. Moore, all English and Social Studies teachers.  I learned so much from all of them.  They taught me the ability to think of things critically, to understand issues from the opposing viewpoints, and the power of the written word.  They opened up the world for me, and I am forever grateful.

For the last 14 years, I’ve worked as a public school psychologist and I work with teachers every day.  With every year that passes, I’m struck more and more with how difficult their jobs are.  People tell me they can’t imagine doing my job, and it is tough.  However, I would go stark raving mad as a classroom teacher.  I don’t know how they do it. I’ve written about this before, but the general public really doesn’t understand how difficult of a job it actually is.  Are all of them wonderful?  Of course not, but neither are all doctors, lawyers, investors, and dare I say, school psychologists.  There are some bad apples is every profession, but the majority of the teachers I’ve worked with are exceptional. Classroom teachers have to deal with mediocre pay, zero respect most of the time, changing standards, horrific behavioral issues, insane parents (yes, I said it), and the challenge of teaching to the gifted children in their class while simultaneously teaching the average and learning disabled kids.  They are buried in paperwork. They have to attend endless, boring meetings (yes, again, I said it.) These are the people to whom we have entrusted our children’s education! What could possibly be more important than this?  Yet they’re ridiculed and sometimes vilified, having members of the media accuse them of having a “part time job.”  Off by 2:30 and summers off, that must be a cakewalk!  This mindset makes my blood boil, and my little 41 year old self who has never been in a physical fight feels as though I could actually take on some of these deluded people.  I could take them….I know I could.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of being able to call many of these people my friends.  The stories these people have are simply incredible.  These amazing folks deal with the day-to-day stresses of the job, while having to endure some heart-wrenching personal issues at the same time.  I suppose this is true of all adults, but the teachers I work with have managed to do it with incredible dignity and grace.  The same people were there for me when I was dealing with personal loss, and difficult situations.  They took the time to listen to ME, which still surprises and pleases me.  Some of these people have called and texted me at night and weekends regarding students we were working with together.  This was something I encouraged, but I didn’t expect it to happen.  People have their own families and obligations. However, the dedication these folks have to the kids they work with is astounding to me. They don’t only care about teaching academics to these youngsters, they care about them as children, as if they were their own.  Additionally, some of the teachers I work with have been gifted with the most hysterical, twisted, clever, perfectly timed humor you could ever imagine.  These people have made me laugh until tears were streaming down my face. You people know who you are.  Thank you!! You make my job that much more tolerable.

Finally, over the past decade, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing teachers as a parent. Like most parents, I expect my children to be attentive, polite, courteous, smart, hard working, sensitive, caring, enthusiastic, friendly, obedient, creative, extraordinary little beings with perfect handwriting. Yeah, God didn’t make children that way.  Regardless, it’s a curse we all seem to have as parents to varying degrees.  As the parent of a 1st and 5th grader, I’ve been amazed every year with my children’s teachers.  My daughter is a unique little person, and I have been blown away with her teacher’s abilities to tap directly into her spirit. The attention they’ve given her are priceless, and something she will remember forever.  When she accidentally chucked her retainer into the garbage during lunchtime, her 2nd grade teacher went back with her to the cafeteria, found the can she threw it in, and set it aside before letting me know.  How many teachers would keep a bag of lunch garbage in their classroom?  I had the honor of going through the garbage, of course, and the retainer was rescued.  You, sir, saved me hundreds of dollars! Both of my children were lucky enough to have the same Kindergarten teacher, the one who told us our daughter would be reading by the end of the school year. We politely smiled, and thought to ourselves, “Yeah, right.  There’s no way.”  Miraculously, this prediction ended up being true, for both of our children. These teachers have cracked down on my daughter when she’s needed it (increasingly more often), and reassured me there’s no need to fret about my son’s difficulty articulating the “r” sound. They have high expectations and don’t mess around, and my children rise to the occasion because they’re encouraged to do so.  They appreciate and foster my daughter’s creativity and my son’s mellow nature. When there has been a concern, they have let me know immediately and we’ve dealt with it.  I feel as though we’re a team, and together we will ensure our children work to their full potential.  This is an invaluable thing.

For those of you out there reading this who don’t encounter teachers as often as I do, take a moment to ponder this.  Who was your favorite teacher and why? Do you know how to contact them?  If you can, please consider doing so and telling them your thoughts.  I guarantee it will make their day.  I’m in the process of trying to track down some of mine, all of whom have retired.  For those of you with children still in school, please tell their teachers how much you appreciate them when you feel it.  Teachers rarely get thanked for their hard work, and oftentimes it’s the best part of their job. I feel very lucky.  I’m related to incredible teachers, have had wonderful teachers, my children have had and continue to have top notch teachers, and I get the joy of working with these professionals every day.  They are the unsung heroes in our society.  Give ‘em some love!!  I love them something terrible.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Too Short for Stupid

I’ve experienced a lot of death lately. These deaths are not counting my own father, fathers of close friends, two of my uncles, one of my husband’s, and my husband’s grandmother. Since April, there have been four deaths, varying in how close to home they hit. However, they all had one thing in common, unfortunately. They were all untimely, and they all had tragic circumstances. I’ve attended two memorial services in 30 days for people who were my age, and “heart-wrenching” is putting it mildly.

It is hard to put this into words, because there are so many cliches associated with what I want to convey. “Life is short”, “Count your blessings”, “At least you have your health”, etc., are among them. However, I’ve chosen to express how I feel with “Too Short for Stupid” instead. I’ve learned a lot over the last months and weeks, and I’ve made a decision. Life is too precious of a gift to waste worrying about stupid crap. It’s time to let it go. It’s as though I’m just waking up from a very long sleep. As always, music seems to play a part and finds a way to weasel its way into my life lessons.

I’m not going to freak out about work anymore. It can be stressful, sure, and it probably always will be. However, somehow all the work always gets done, and for the most part, my reviews are positive. I am no longer going to obsess about fractured relationships and will resist the urge to “fix” it, as I have for most of my 41 years. I can love people deeply from a distance if their energy isn’t healthy for me right now. I’m letting go of bitter feelings about wrongs, perceived or accurate, from my childhood. People make mistakes all the time, and I am certainly not immune. The 1970’s Beatles were often played in my childhood home, but some lyrics I didn’t really pay attention to until lately. “When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” Ohhhhhhhh!!!!!! I’ve never been skilled at letting it be, but I’m now going to put it into practice as much as I can muster.

I’m finished worrying about money, because we’re going to be fine. Unexpected expenses and bumps in the road will always occur, but somehow it always works out. I am done nitpicking every tiny detail of my appearance that isn’t “perfect”. My Jell-O-like abdomen housed my beautiful children and brought them into our lives. My skin still breaks out from time to time, who cares?? If I ceased coloring my hair, it would be frighteningly white, something I don’t intend to unveil for many moons, but it really doesn’t matter. I am no longer going to feel guilty about not having a spotless home or having piles of laundry everywhere, or being a less than perfect mother. If I’d been counting, I’m probably somewhere in the vicinity of Parental Mistake #328. Does anyone know a perfect mother? If so, it’s an illusion, or they’re completely full of it. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time feeling pressure from all sides of my life, from my family of origin, the family I created, friends, and from work. However, where did the true origin of the pressure lie? I did this to myself, and it’s time to put it permanently to rest. It may result in new elements of my personality and behavior that many may not look upon favorably.  That's okay too.

We’re swimming in blessings that I’ve been too distraught to recognize over the past couple of years, but I see them now. I appreciate things as simple as the fact that I don’t go to bed in pain every night and that I’m healthy overall. I’m in possession of my senses, at least most of the time. I adore my husband, I truly do. He is my best friend, and we’ve been enjoying each other’s company lately more than we have in years. He and I have now attended more weddings that have already ended in divorce than ones in which the couple are still together. We’re coming up on 16 years of being together, 16 years! He can still make me laugh instantly and hard, after all this time. Our children are happy and healthy, we have plenty of food, and we live in a safe neighborhood…all these things are not to be taken for granted. There are seasons, I understand that, and there will be trouble in days to come because that’s how life is. Pain and loss are inevitable, and it’s essential to feel these emotions. I’ve witnessed first hand what can happen when people don’t fully accept what they've lost and deal with their emotions. You can’t run and hide from sorrow, you can’t over-analyze things and forego emotion for logic, and these actions are unhealthy in my opinion. My mother said to me once that “You can’t experience true joy if you don’t experience pain.” Man, was she ever right on the money!

There is joy and beauty everywhere. Today while swimming with my children, I looked at my son’ perfect little sharp shoulder blades as he set his face into an expression of total determination before he jumped into the pool, doing a “trick”.  He looks so much like my father, and that’s a true gift that I treasure every day.  My daughter is growing up before my eyes and what I feel is a combination of fear and awe.  Aside from the wonder of watching her change from a child to a young lady, I am constantly amazed by her vocabulary, her intuition, and her creativity.  How did I get these little beings?  This tiny little snapshot in time will be gone in the blink of an eye, and I will miss it when it’s gone. How stupid would it be to miss this because I was too busy, too sad, or too distracted to notice? Again, cue the song lyrics! “It gains the more it gives, and then it rises with the fall. So hand me that remote, can't you see that all that stuff's a sideshow? Such boundless pleasure, we've no time for later. Now you can't await your own arrival, you've twenty seconds to comply. So, let go, so let go. Jump in. Oh well, what you waiting for? It's alright, 'cause there's beauty in the breakdown.”-credit to Frou Frou, off the Garden State soundtrack. Today I didn’t ease gingerly into our pool, I jumped in.  This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s something I don’t ordinarily do.  It felt great.

Over the past couple of weeks, I had been going about a hundred miles an hour. By the time it slowed down, my head continued to spin. The memorial I attended resulted in the most intense spectrum of emotions than I’ve probably ever experienced in my life in such a short period of time. I felt encompassing, incredible sadness and pain from seeing someone I love hurt so much over this loss. I also felt joy and amazement at hearing stories about this beautiful soul who left our world way too soon. In addition to laughing at some of the funny stories, I felt intense gratitude, not only for my life, but for my amazing friendship that has existed now for almost 30 years. This friendship manages to remain the same, despite time and miles and lifestyles. I cried and I laughed and I listened. Near the end of the evening, I noticed my jaw was feeling weird. How odd.

Upon arriving home, I faced my last few days of work for the school year, combined with what felt like tons of kid activities. I went with my daughter and a gaggle of 4th graders to Coloma, the site where gold was originally discovered. It was a beautiful day, and I wasn’t prepared for how cool it was! There was so much history, real artifacts, and actual collections from the prospectors. I think I was much more interested than the group of kids I was in charge of! There was a very old cemetery up the road that we didn’t make it to, but I vow to return, it must be incredible. The kids had the opportunity to pan for gold. My daughter managed to acquire a couple of tiny pieces of fool’s gold, while her classmates found some actual gold. She didn’t leave empty handed, however. She managed to find eleven small garnets, which were my father’s birthstone. My dad had tons of tacky garnet rings that I remember vividly from my childhood. This was the Wednesday before Father’s Day, and while a lot of the other kids also found garnets, I choose to believe that my dad sent down these little gifts for us.
This made me so happy, and I just breathed in the beautiful day by the American River, totally satisfied. When we returned home that day, hot and tired, my daughter decided to give her entire haul to me, and I couldn’t stop smiling. The next several days consisted of trying to finish up at work, while running back and forth to the kid’s school for a variety of activities. My son had his end of Kindergarten celebration, and between the songs they sang and the poem his teacher read, along with the realization that I wouldn’t have another child in her class, I dissolved. I was a teary, proud, grinning mess.
The next day, I witnessed another Kindergarten celebration at one of the schools where I work, as a friend’s child was also graduating from Kindergarten. When they began to play “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole, I was done, and was smiling through tears again. From there, I went directly back to my own children’s school for an award’s assembly because my daughter made the honor roll again, and then back to work. On their last day of school, I was there nearly the whole day. On the Kindergarten playground, I laughed and took pictures as the kids slathered themselves with shaving cream whilst flipping about on a slip and slide, playing in inflatable pools, blowing bubbles, and eating Popsicles. All of the activities the kids participated in pretty much encapsulated the beauty and joy of childhood, at least to me. I volunteered for one of the activities, in which I was to place a water balloon on a chair and the kids were to run and SIT on them as hard as they could in order to pop it. I got drenched, and had an absolute blast. Their teacher read them one more story near the end of their day, which made me cry. Again. From there, my son and I went and met my daughter’s 4th grade class who were already celebrating the last day of school with a picnic in the park. It was a busy, exhausting, and HOT day, and I wouldn’t change a single moment of it.

Amongst the things I’ve learned is to laugh every single day, and it really isn’t hard. Jon Stewart alone usually makes that possible for me. However, others include my husband, my darling one year old great nephew who dances to anything, and watching my son at Taekwando yell “yes sir!!”  Due to his lack of articulation of the letter R, it sounds like, “Yes so!!” but he yells it with ferocious conviction. My children’s theological discussions are priceless. A few months back, my son told me he wanted to give up bothering his sister, and I said, “Oh, you mean for Lent?” He confirmed this to be the case, then immediately began teasing his sister. When I asked him about what he’d just shared with me, he said, “Mom, it doesn’t start until Wednesday.” The whole idea of Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras will not be lost on this child. Another time we were all discussing what God looked like. I said I didn’t know, but my son maintained that he has to be a boy because girls don’t have beards. My daughter replied knowingly, “They do in Poland.” I have no explanation for this response, but it sure as hell made me laugh. Life is funny, and laughter truly does make you feel better.

It was days before I finally figured it out. My jaw and face had been hurting from smiling. What in the world? Smiling. “Happiness hit her like a train on a track, coming towards her, stuck, still no turning back The dog days are over. The dog days are done.” Thank you, Florence and the Machine. “Not running from something, I'm running towards the day, wide awake. A whisper once quiet, now rising to a scream right in me. I'm falling, free falling, words calling me up off my knees. Our future's paved with better days.” I love you something terrible, Eddie Vedder.

It’s time to let go. It’s time to enjoy my days here. The future IS paved with better days. Life is TOO SHORT FOR STUPID.