Best behavior

Mothering a daughter is hard, especially a strong-willed, independent-thinking, highly emotional daughter. And most especially the teenage variety of said daughter. She’s smart and funny and caring and I generally love being around her, but it’s still challenging.

I try to be conscious of my actions. After all, she’s been watching me for the past sixteen years and I’m her role model whether I like it or not. On my good days and bad days, she’s taking it all in.

She’s a big part of the reason I walked away from a long-term job with a fair amount of responsibility a few years ago. I wanted her to see how important it is to pursue fulfillment over a fat paycheck.

And I certainly thought about what she would learn if I didn’t end an unhealthy dating relationship not long ago. I wanted her to see how important it is to stand up for oneself and to walk away from situations that may steal one’s self-respect.

It’s also crazy important to me that she sees me interact amicably with her father and her stepmother. She needs to know–to see–the positive effects of releasing grudges and moving forward, that sometimes you can love someone (your kids!) so much that you work through things for their benefit, even when it’s hard.

I want my daughter to absorb my actions and not just hear my words.

Doesn’t that all sound great and honorable? Unfortunately, I’m only thinking consciously about this stuff about ten percent of the time. The other ninety percent, I forget to be intentional and I’m just…me. Whyohwhyohwhyohwhy is it so hard for me to remember that she’s watching everything, not just the lessons I’ve identified?

I can handle a full-blown crisis like a pro, but insult my intelligence, stomp on my pride, or hit me with a steady stream of attitude and all bets are off. Let’s just say my lackluster everyday frustration management skills might be a little more visible than I’d like. That’s not the best scenario for a mom with an already outspoken, highly emotional pair of teenage eyes on her.

I also tend to think out loud, so I go down a lot of rabbit holes before I end up on the right track. know I’m just working through an idea before I take (what I hope to be) rational action, but what does she think as she observes my process?

You’d get bored and I’d get embarrassed if I continued laying out my everyday faux pas. My point is that unfortunately, we don’t get to pick and choose which lessons our kids learn from us. While I’m happy with some of the big things, this light bulb moment has helped me realize that I need to be equally diligent about the little things, too.

The best I can hope now is that someday she’ll look back and realize that in addition to being a mom and a role model, I’m also human.

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Thinking out loud

stenoI’m really struggling with a project at work. Actually, the project itself is pretty straightforward; the problem is finding a common language with my work partner. Frankly, the situation has been really frustrating me. As much as I KNOW the effects language can have on a person, I’m not immune to them. I find it hard to overlook certain word choices when they are pointed in my direction. Words matter.

So there’s that.

There’s also the issue of asking for information one way and receiving it in a completely different–winding and muddled–format. I find myself wading through a pile of words that I have to struggle to understand, let alone organize. Words matter.

So there’s that, too.

I don’t want to sort this stuff out; I want it to be easy. (Don’t we all?) But then, isn’t this what I say I’m good at? Isn’t this what I do? Isn’t it my job to pull in information and figure out not only what matters but also how to communicate it back to others?

Well, crap. Why do I always forget that challenges are generally opportunities in disguise?

I’ll fix it. I’ll make it sound good. It’s what I do. And you know what? I love it.

Thanks for letting me think this out on your screen. That’s what I do, too.

On being personable

Humankind-Be-Both-Button-(0127)There’s an author I’ve been following since back in the early days of my own blog. I liked the way she wrote, and she had an amusing way of drawing people into her content by using suggestive titles that made me laugh. Heck, back in those days her blog was even called The Accidental Cootchie Mama.

One day she put a call to action in one of her posts, and I responded. I don’t even remember what it was–something about taking a few seconds out of my day to help her friend. It seemed easy enough, so I did it and commented accordingly. Lo and behold, this person–this author–responded. To little ol’ me. For some reason, that made me feel important.

Fast forward a few years, and The Accidental Cootchie Mama gave way to a real-life author blog. You see, my writer had PUBLISHED A BOOK! This was exciting for me, since I felt a kinship with her, this blogger-has-big-writing-dreams-and-starts-accomplishing-them person. I identified with the first half of that description, and her success gave me hope for the second half. I still follow her because she’s real to me.

Fast forward again, and now she’s three books in. I’m learning a lot about the grueling nature of a book tour and the only-glamorous-on-the-outside life of a published author. This woman works hard for everything she gets. She’s trying to eke out a living on the book circuit while she wrestles with a bunch of personal issues. But you know what, she’s transparent about it. She’s real, and I love that about her.

Yesterday I noticed a Facebook post that screamed for acknowledgement. Her energy and resolve were flagging, so I added a comment. Guess what.

Within seconds, she responded. It made my day.

What’s the point of this rambling post? I wasn’t entirely sure when I started writing; I just felt that there was something important in this incident. As I’ve worked this out on my keyboard, here’s what I think now.

Behind every facade, whether it’s a book cover, a marquee, an athletic jersey, a title, or a pasted-on smile, you’ll find a real person. Don’t ever forget that, and treat people accordingly.

And don’t forget that real people have ups and down, just like the rest of us real people. If it feels right, throw a word of encouragement their way. Or support. Or love. Or even just recognition of the fact that the person is a, well, person. Not an author or an actor or an athlete or an elected official or a teacher or a business mogul or a cab driver, but a person with hopes and dreams and trials and disappointments.

We’re all in this together. And words do matter.

P.S. If you get a chance, check out http://andrawatkins.com/blog/. Whether or not her writing ends up speaking to you, she’d surely appreciate your interest. After all, she’s a real person.

Poll position

Election dayMy state’s primary elections took place today and it was a big deal. Probably not so much for everyone else, mind you, but today marked a milestone moment for me. When the election volunteer asked me which party’s ballot I wanted this morning, for the first time in thirty years–three decades!–I gave a different answer than I ever have. The world may not have cracked in two, but I felt a fissure in my soul. (Side note: I’m not going to open a party debate here, friends, so don’t even try. The point is my change itself, not the why.)

This one, short encounter stirred up so many issues for me that I hardly know where to start, the party issue notwithstanding.  But here I go, of course. I don’t have the answers, so consider this food for thought.

First of all, why do we have to have party-specific primaries? I have never in my life voted a straight ticket in a general election, so why should I have to in a primary? I understand that in our two-party system this may have arguable merits. Then again, why are we stuck in a two-party system when, in this country of 300+ million people, it is nearly impossible to align the spread of everyone’s views into two neat columns?

On a peripheral note, the poll worker asked me out loud in an open room which ballot I wanted. That kind of defeats the purpose of a secret ballot, don’t you think? Everything else I needed to do this morning took place on an iPad–scanning my ID, verifying my address, signing in–so why couldn’t there have been a check box on the electronic form that didn’t force me to announce my choice to the room at large? (In the interest of full disclosure, by the time I arrived at my polling place, I had already seen an online post from a friend that read, “A pin could drop in here and the intake process requires you to designate your political party out loud in front of everyone. Our system is hilarious.” I was already stewing about this when I arrived.)

And my polling place was in a church. That in itself actually does not offend me; there was no proselytizing, no overt or covert pressure–it was just a big building with enough room for a lot of people, whose caretakers had graciously offered its use to the government. As I thought about it, though, I wondered whether synagogues and mosques were also being used similarly, so I looked it up. It seems as though synagogues may be more widely used than mosques, but there are a handful of the latter designated as polling places sprinkled around the country. Still, something feels off. (I found this interesting article from the Orlando Sentinel in my queries.) There is definitely a level of discomfort associated with using particular types of religious gathering places as polling sites. I say make it all or none.

That brings me to another point. Why do we vote on Tuesdays? Okay, so we’ve started to offer some early voting opportunities, but jeez-Louise, why do we make this so hard? People work, for Pete’s sake. Kids need to be hauled to school, to practice, to appointments. Finding time to squeeze in a vote isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Other countries designate a weekend day; we could do the same. Yes, I know people also work on the weekends, but we could keep the polls open for the full 24 hours of the day. And oh, since schools are closed on weekends, we could use those great big public buildings as polling places and eliminate the house-of-worship issue. Just a thought.

All that said, I feel passionately that it is my right and privilege to vote. My government has given me a voice, and by golly, I’m going to use it. I haven’t missed too many elections since I became of legal age to cast my ballot, and I don’t plan to in the future. For years I went at 6am so I could take my kids with me before school started. They asked more, deeper questions every year, and I’m pretty sure everyone around me in line got an unintentional civics lesson those days. Flawed as it is, I believe in democracy (technically a republic, but that’s splitting hairs).

If you’ve got the chance, go vote. Add your voice to the rising chorus of this country. Hopefully someday soon we’ll find a beautiful harmony.

Lessons learned

Teacher-writing-on-blackboard564My kid will be home from college in a few days (four, but who’s counting?), and boy-oh-boy, have I learned a lot this year. Yes, you read that correctly. I, THE MOM, have learned a lot from my boy’s first college year.

When I started this post, I intended to write about all the things my boy has conquered, is in the process of conquering, or even wants to conquer. If you read The pomp following the circumstances, you’ll remember that his academic journey hasn’t been easy. Now that he’s finding his footing, I realized that the rest of the story–still being written–is his to tell.

So I’ll tell you mine.

After years of trying to find the right buttons to push, I’ve handed my bub the control panel. That hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t killed me, either. In fact, I’m starting to like it.

Here’s what I’ve taken away from these first two semesters.

  1. True motivation comes from within. We all know this, right? The concept is easy enough to apply to ourselves, especially when we want to push back against someone who is pushing us to do something. I’ll do it when I’M ready, not when you tell me to. Or think about any time you’ve tried to lose weight for a wedding, a high school reunion, or a trip to the beach. I don’t know about you, but once the event is over, I jump right back into my old habits. Oh, it’s not intentional, but once the external motivator has passed, I’m rudderless. So how does this apply to my first year as a college mom? I’ve had to recognize that my boy has to find his motivation the same way. I can’t push and prod and cajole and wheedle him into learning, not at this level. I can and will support him any way he wants me to, but the drive has to be all his. Not being there to look over his shoulder has helped us both grow up.
  2. Sometimes you have to screw up to understand the lesson. Failure is a part of life; it teaches you how to handle adversity. You learn what doesn’t work so you can get right back to trying what does. (CLICK HERE to check out this short vid if you question the value of failure. It’s worth the eleven minutes.) I screw up all the time, and it teaches me to not do the same thing in the same way if I want to succeed. That may seem self-evident, but when it comes to my kids, reason flies out the window. I know it in my head,  but in my heart, Momma wants to make it all better. … You know what’s coming. I got a phone call from my son midway through the first semester. He had screwed up, and he called to tell me about it. Thankfully, I kept my mouth shut and listened. I found that he was mad at himself for being stupid, and he had already taken steps to deal with the incident. He had a plan and he followed through on it, correcting his mistake and moving forward. The phone call wasn’t to ask for help. It was to give me the courtesy of letting me know. Lesson learned–for both of us.
  3. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I’m usually the first person to share introspective commentary; heck, I have years of blog posts to show for it. But those are for me. If you find value in them, great, but my kids? I have to protect them! Keep them safe! I have to take care of things! Umm…yeah. Clearly humility is not my strong suit. It’s pretty egotistical to think I can fix everything, and it’s downright selfish to buffer them from life’s important lessons. If I had to learn them on my own, they probably do, too.
  4. Letting go is rewarding. I’m much better at the end of this year than I was at the beginning, but I still have a lot to learn. It hasn’t always been easy (though the miles have helped to remove daily interaction in the minutiae), but I love this new phase. The conversations about philosophy and politics and just regular life stuff have started to outweigh the exchanges about logistics and to-do lists. I’m seeing him as a person and not just my kid–and I really, really like this guy.

It’s hard to helicopter from 1100+ miles away, so I’ve had to assume a sit-back-and-try-to-relax posture. Some of my lessons have been hard-won, and others have sneaked up on me. Hopefully they’ve sunk in. Spending the next three months under the same roof will make it easy to slip back into old habits; check back with me at the end of the summer to see if I’ve really taken these lessons to heart.

P.S. I’ve got one more year till my daughter leaves for college. She’s a completely different personality, so I suspect I’ll be blessed with a whole different set of lessons. Stand by.

The right to remain silent

jelly donutIf you’re female, you’ve probably grumbled about your weight at least once in your life. Whether you feel plagued with an extra five pounds or fifty, we all have our number. It’s a girl thing. (I’m sure it occasionally happens with men too, but I’m not a dude, so I’ll keep my assumptions to my own gender.)

You’d think, then, that women would be understanding of each other. Apparently that’s not always the case.

A friend of mine–one who is now 100 pounds lighter and kicking the sh*t out of her goals–recently told me of an incident that happened early in her weight loss journey. She had finally decided to wage war on her sedentary lifestyle and less-than-healthy habits and got herself moving, literally. She started walking on an indoor track, slowly at first because that’s all her body and mind could handle. In fact, she remembers the broom-wielding custodian easily gliding around her has he cleaned the track. Nonetheless, she was moving; that constituted victory all by itself.

Enter one perky soccer mom (PSM), complete with yoga pants and svelte physique, power walking around the track. No biggie, right? There’s room for everyone.

Not so, friends.

As PSM rounded the curve and started to pass my friend, she threw a verbal barb that lodged itself in my friend’s heart.

I’ll bet you wish you hadn’t had that doughnut this morning, huh?

What the heck? WHO SAYS THAT?!

Every time I ponder this story I get angry all over again, for lots of different reasons. I can’t process the unbelievable rudeness of this woman. You can call it fat shaming or whatever the fashionable term of the day happens to be, but I call it rude. It’s just downright mean. Whatever happened to good manners? Decorum? Class? Did degrading someone else make PSM feel superior? Did she think pushing someone down would raise her up? If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

The bigger issue that intrigues me about this incident is the sense of entitlement. I’ve seen it over and over at the gym: fit-looking people with the “right” kind of workout clothes draping the “right” kind of body cast sneers toward the less perfect people huffing and puffing and sweating as they struggle to finish a workout. Their attitude rises from their skin like steam: Look at you! You have no right to be here. You can’t even use this machine right. You’re in my way. I deserve to be here; you don’t.

Excuse me, but isn’t the person who is out of shape exactly the person who should be at the gym? And shouldn’t we applaud those of us–regardless of size, creed, color, or anything else–who take the initiative to do something positive? We should be making way for progress, not impeding it.

Inside or outside the gym, why is it often the people who need something least who feel the most entitled to it?

Think about that.

And the next time you find yourself ready to throw shade on someone doing something good for herself, remember: you have the right to remain silent. Exercise that.

Chew on this

SONY DSC

For nearly two years, three tiny Tootsie Rolls have made their home in the console of my car, nestled among a pile of pennies. I can no more bring myself to eat them than to throw them away. Every time I try to do either, I remember.

My son and I were headed east to visit colleges. We’d stopped for lunch at a Panera a couple of hours away from home, where an old man tottered through the restaurant, handing out cheer and Tootsie Rolls. He was just trying to brighten people’s day, making even the grumpiest adults giggle like children when he placed his candy in their hands. I loved it.

When we headed back to our car, I noticed my son carefully place his candies on a ledge outside the restaurant. I scooped them up, afraid that the old man might see, and hopped in the car.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“I’m not going to take candy from someone I don’t know,” explained my son.

Oof. The wind went out of me.

Apparently all those don’t-take-candy-from-strangers harangues when he was a kid actually stuck with him. Mom win, right?

At the same time, I felt sad. Had he missed the joy of the moment? Do we find ourselves in a world where even the smallest gestures of goodwill must be rejected for safety’s sake? Would I have let a seven-year-old take the candy I was so willing to let a seventeen-year-old eat? There was lesson in here somewhere, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

I’m still not sure what it is, actually. There are so many options. Don’t take candy from strangers. Take joy in the small things. Be careful. Be grateful. 

I can’t throw away those three chocolate tidbits because I don’t know which lesson is the right one. Somehow, they both have merit, and neither claims victory over the other. Maybe the lesson is found in the balance.

And so they remain, giving me something to chew on every time I see them.