Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Plan

"Life is a series of problems, and then we die." Oh, Violet Crawley! You are the smartest fictional character on television today!

“Life is a series of problems, and then we die.” Oh, Violet Crawley! You are the smartest fictional character on television today!

“Tell me what you are going to do about it.” I used that phrase often when I was working in an office and people would frequently come to me to complain about a co-worker or a policy or a schedule change or anything else. It’s more pleasant than saying, “You’ve talked about the problem long enough, and frankly, it is boring me silly. Let’s talk about the solution so you will leave my office,” provided that I am using the right tone of voice, and it moves the discussion along to a more productive end.

I’m not being flip. The truth is—and you and I have both heard this a million times—life is less about what happens and more about how you choose to react. You’ve told me what has happened. Now, tell me how you responded—or how you will respond—because that is the solution. Be proactive.

The other truth is that most people who claim not to have the answers are really selling themselves short. Most of us have enough common sense to step back, look at a situation objectively and come up with a plan.

So, yes, you can imagine my own voice in my head growing louder and begging for resolution every time I think about my health. I’m concerned about my weight. And my blood pressure. And my stress level. And my attitude. I’ve aged a decade in the past two years, and I know it has impacted every aspect of my life. I’ve written about it. Here’s an example. And another one.

So, what am I going to do about it? How do I respond? How do I react? What’s my plan?

Of course, it has occurred to me that once my mother-in-law dies the stress that goes with taking care of her will go away. Even the doctor said it—if I suffer from depression, it’s situational. Yep, the situation changes for the better and the depression goes away. Bam! For better or for worse, however, I have no control over when she dies, and it’s too morbid for me to dwell on how my own happiness rests on someone else’s death.

Besides, to quote or misquote Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess, “Life is just a series of problems, and then we die.” I’m afraid it’s true. I can say my pitiful attitude and lack of self-care are linked to my mother-in-law’s lingering poor health and need for constant care, and when she dies, my lot will improve considerably, but in reality, life is never truly easy. Another set of challenges are always on the horizon.

As bleak as that may sound, it also means that life is a series of solutions and opportunities to grow, to learn, and to experience. Solve the problem at hand, and future solutions will come easier. I truly believe that.

So, what are my plans for better self-care and a healthier environment for me?

Exercise. Getting to a gym on a regular basis is not something that works for me right now. Here, you can read about it.

I read somewhere that 20 minutes of yoga greatly reduces hypertension. Don’t ask me to cite a source because I can’t. I love yoga and in the distant past, I took classes. Classes don’t really work for me right now, but I can take what I’ve learned from past classes and practice yoga at home.

And walking! I don’t especially like to walk, but it’s a form of exercise that is free and convenient. I can walk my daughter to and from the bus stop. That’s a little more than a fourth of a mile in each direction and it’s hilly. My son and I need to get back in the habit of picking up trash at our favorite park. That could be another mile—easily—and over changing terrain. Again, please don’t ask me to cite a source, but I heard somewhere that it’s better to walk on an uneven surface than a flat, predictable one. It’s not just a matter of the muscles we use, but how we use our brains. In short, a hike outdoors is always better than mall-walking. But, hey, if I lived closer to a mall, I’d say that’s a great foul-weather alternative.

Even gardening and home-repairs involve a certain amount of movement, lifting, and physical exertion. I’ve always been a little intimidated by both because I know just enough to know that I don’t know what I am doing, but I could learn. And baking…what a physical act it is to knead bread or roll it! And dancing! Don’t forget dancing even if it is just around the house!

I’m not a fan of the title, but I think French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano makes a good point. If you have the right kind of lifestyle, activity just happens, and every day is a work-out of some sort.  You just have to keep moving.

Eating. Okay, so you know I have tried fasting. If you don’t know, read this. I gave up on it too soon, but I’m open to trying it again.

Also, in my case, isn’t eating better just a matter of recognizing what I’m doing wrong and not doing it? I eat well. I love fruits and vegetable. I also have the tendency to overeat at meals and after meals. God forbid the leftover broccoli should go into the refrigerator and not my mouth—and the same is true of that last slice of pumpkin pie.

And then, there is the snacking I do between meals because I am bored or angry or procrastinating. Someone once suggested that I just not buy snack foods so that I won’t be tempted. I guess by snack foods, she meant a loaf of bread—because you see, for me, anything and everything edible is a potential snack. It doesn’t have to be chips, pretzels, or Goldfish crackers.

I bet if I didn’t overeat at meals or as I am cleaning up after a meal and cut out all the gratuitous snacking, I’d cut my caloric in-take in half. Seriously.

Internet usage. Recently, someone asked me if I thought I was addicted to the Internet. Hmmm…addicted? I don’t know that I would go that far. If I were addicted, I probably would have fought to keep that Smartphone and I don’t miss it one bit. When I’m up and moving and doing something productive, I don’t yearn for my computer. I don’t even think about it.

Still, I have days in which I can log some serious Internet time and those are never the days that end with me feeling happy or productive. Instead, I usually regret having spent so much time checking Facebook every five minutes or surf for political commentary that just pisses me off. Oh, and if I update my Facebook status or comment on a blog or an article, I will check again and again to see if anyone has responded—partly because I am bored and partly because I am craving conversation.

The thing is I know I need to limit my screen time. I know this is a downfall for me. So, the solution is to

commandeer the Nike slogan and Just Do It.

Sleep. I can’t control how much sleep I get per night. Almost every other night, I get a 2 am wake up of “I had a bad dream,” or “I need some water.” My son even climbs in my bed and tells me, “Mom, you need some snugglin’.” I never tell my kids that can’t sleep with me because I know the day is coming when they just won’t. Really, when is the last time YOU snuggled with your parents?

What I can control is how early I go to bed. I’m blessed with being a short-sleeper. I can get by okay on just five hours of sleep or less, but six–or even seven–hours of sleep is heavenly and leaves me feeling more capable of meeting the challenges of the day. Besides, if I am in bed by 10 pm, I will be awake and feeling good about it by 5 am—if not earlier.

This is the cool thing about being a short-sleeper: No matter how late I go to bed, I wake up early—without an alarm. I went to bed around midnight last night and woke at 4:30. I’ll probably want a nap in the afternoon, but for now, I’m good. I feel well-rested! Lucky me!

Water. I need to drink more. I know this.

I also know that one of my greatest challenges is that I want to see results immediately. I get discouraged easily. And that’s where prayer and meditation come in. I’m going to have to pray for the perseverance . Oh, God, please deliver me from the French toast my daughter didn’t eat and give me the strength to not only walk her to the bus stop, but the ability to run to the bus stop because You know we will be late.

All jesting aside, I am and will continue to pray about all this as spiritual growth is always a part of The Plan. Besides, making a plan is always the easy part for me. When it comes to implementing it, I need Divine Intervention. I know this.






My Own Good Advice

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Of course, if I improve my aim, I can probably use it to keep other people away, too.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Of course, if I improve my aim, I can probably use it to keep other people away, too.

As promised, I made an appointment with my general practitioner and didn’t cancel, didn’t reschedule, didn’t accidentally—or intentionally—forget. I kept the appointment.  I had an actual physical.

After a somewhat thorough examination, the doctor said, “Unless your blood work has a surprise for us, I’d say you are healthy.”

“What about my blood pressure?” I asked. I had turned my head when the nurse took it. If she called out the numbers, I had not heard. I really didn’t want to know at the time, but now, since the doctor was telling me how healthy I was, I became curious.

“111 over 60? That’s good,” she said.

Then, I told her that it was typically much higher and on a good day, it’s borderline. I’ve even had outrageously high spikes.

“Don’t take your blood pressure at home,” she said, and then in an effort to be sympathetic, she added, “Being a mom to two small children is hard work. It’s stress that makes your blood pressure rise.”

Grrr…you know I hate that! I hate it when I appear stressed out and people assume that motherhood is the culprit. So, I said to her what I am always thinking in these situations. “My children are the least stressful aspect of my life. When people say parenthood is hard, I tell them not to attempt elder-care because it’s going to kick their butts.”

Then, the floodgates opened and I told her all that had gone on in the past two years. I’m never very good at telling people why caring for my mother-in-law is stressful because I get caught up in the actual care—the physically strenuous, icky care, and never the emotional toll it takes on me, how it creates a time and energy vacuum, how it has put me in survival mode. I’m sure that when I talk about my mother-in-law’s care,  I sound like I’m just whining because other people’s bodily fluids are nasty, but that’s not it.

Her response was a ten question quiz titled Are You Depressed? I took it and the diagnosis was “mild depression likely”—which prompted another conversation. She told me that any depression I am experiencing seems circumstantial, and she would not be prescribing an anti-depressant. I agreed with her on both accounts!  She encouraged me to make some lifestyle changes, take better care of myself—you know, eat more fruits and vegetable, exercise, sleep, drink plenty of water—the kind of common sense good advice for anyone walking around in a human body.

She wasn’t taking my concerns too lightly and I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I thought her advice was meant to be trite. It’s just that I’ve heard it all before.  We all have. Take care of yourself. Make your well-being a priority. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I know.

The problem is I don’t know how. I need a road map.  Or more accurately, I no longer know how. I’ve lost my road map—and I can’t get the GPS to work.

Sure, professional life-coaches do exist. They could show me how–draw me a map. At various points in my own life, I have thought, “Hey, I could be a life-coach! I’m really good at telling other people what they should do.”

The reality, however, is that I don’t have the money to hire anyone, and even if I did, I know that other people will only take you so far. Self-help experts can tell you what works for them, but they aren’t you. Their personalities and circumstances are different from your own. You might glean something useful from someone else’s approach, but your results will not match theirs. This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in the grocery store when I spied a magazine with the words “GET YOUR BODY BACK!” plastered across the cover. I picked it up and thumbed through a series of articles that featured women who appeared to be a lot like me—in their 40s with a lot going on. I bought it. Of course.

That night, after I slid into bed, I flipped through the magazine, looking for the pages that were going to tell me how to get my body back. Yes, the article featured six women all in their mid-40s to early 50s who were quoted as saying things like, “I lost weight and I’m sleeping better,” “I can’t believe how energetic I feel,” and “My hypertension is under control without drugs.” However, they offered no real details as to how they brought about these wonderful changes. The must-read article turned out to be a multi-page endorsement of two books—one on fitness and one on diet—both published by the same company that owns the magazine. So, yes, I paid $5 for an advertisement.

These experiences—my disappointing magazine purchase and my uninformative physical examination—have served as a good reminder: No one else can really show me the way out of my present funk.  I heard my doctor’s advice and it’s the advice everyone gives me. It’s the advice I give myself, and so it’s just a matter of following it. It’s a matter of doing what I can when I can and believing that things will get easier. Waking up at 4 am to do yoga? Maybe. Ending my love affair with the Internet because it sucks my time like my mother-in-law’s care sucks my energy? Good start.

So, that’s where I am. I know what I need to do. I just need to figure out how to take my own good advice. I need to formulate a plan—that’s the easy part for me. I need to implement the plan—and that would be the tough part.

Oh, and my blood work revealed no surprises. I really am a healthy gal despite the very sorry self-care.

Thoughts on that Cheerios Commercial

I showed my children the Cheerios commercial just to see their reaction.

She's a cute kid. And you know she is getting a puppy.

She’s a cute kid. And you know she is getting a puppy.

My daughter tends to narrate what she sees on the screen—“Aww! There’s a cute little girl. She’s eating cereal with her dad. Her mom has a baby in her belly. The little girl is getting a baby brother. She wants a puppy. Her dad says she can have a puppy. Her mom is mad at her dad for saying that.”

My son watched the entire commercial in silence. Once it was over, he said, “Yay! They are getting a puppy!” As someone actively lobbying for a cat, he is rooting for the pro-pet faction of the family—of course.

Note that neither of them mentioned that the mom and dad aren’t the same race. Did they even notice? I’m sure they did. Not noticing a person’s skin color is like not noticing they are wearing jeans, not khakis. People who claim that they don’t notice race are lying.

For children watching the Cheerios commercial, however, race just isn’t worth mentioning. For them, this commercial lacks the shock factor because they know interracial couples with biracial children.

I was born in the late 1960s. I’m a part of the post-Civil Rights Movement generation. Institutionalized segregation, sit-ins, marches, race riots, and boycotts were things of the past by the time I started school—or at least they weren’t a part of my awareness.  I never heard anyone use the n-word with any regularity until I was in college. “Classy people don’t use that kind of language,” and “God loves everyone.” These are the things I was told.

Still, had that Cheerios commercial aired during the 1970s, I would have been shocked. I imagine a young me thinking, “How can that be? Her dad is black and her mom is white? How can they be a real family?” If nothing else, it would have lacked believability—for me. Because I know biracial adults now, I’m sure biracial families existed back then. I just didn’t know any.

Into my early adulthood, I didn’t have to look far to find people who were comfortable expressing views that most of us today would condemn as racist. My first post-college boss said she hated the TV show Diff’rent Strokes because “white people and black people living together under the same roof is just wrong.”

On the topic of interracial marriage, she took what she thought was a logical approach. “If a white person marries a black person, it’s like they will cease to exist because their children and grandchildren and so on will be black.” Hmmm…so if a person doesn’t have children who look just like them, they “cease to exist?” That’s a peculiar thought, isn’t it?

Despite these comments and along with her belief that it was always better to hire an unqualified white person over a qualified minority candidate, she made a point to include children of various races whenever the agency did a photo-shoot. “It looks good for us to show some diversity,” she would say. Publicity is more important than reality—I guess. Eye-roll.

She was white and from up-state New York. I only mention that she was a northerner because as a southerner, I am aware that a lot of people assume that only southerners are racist. That’s simply not true. Ignorance and intolerance are not confined to any one region of this country.

My second post-college boss was a black woman. When her only son dropped out of college and joined the Army, she was angry. When she learned that he was to be stationed in Germany, she was downright pissed—and probably frightened. Now that I’m a little older, I see that it would be scary to have your baby sent half-way around the world. I didn’t get that back then, but I was only 24. What did I know?

“It’ll give you a reason to travel,” I said trying to cheer her up.

“I’m not going over there.”

“If he meets a girl and gets married over there, you aren’t going to the wedding? You would miss your son’s wedding?” I asked this because I was only a couple of years older than her son and as with most 20-somethings, weddings were quickly becoming the center of my social life. Besides, every single American serviceman I knew came home from an overseas post with a foreign wife.

The mere suggestion that her son might get married while in Germany set her off. “He better not be bringing some blonde-haired, blue-eyed frau-line into my house and thinking I am going to accept her as his wife! Not when there are plenty of home-grown black girls, right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A!”  And then, she didn’t speak to me for the next three weeks.

Her silence was awkward for me and for the other staffers whom she used to speak to me. “Mrs. ______, please tell Ms. ___________ that I said we need to resubmit our training materials in order to keep our funding.” Um, yeah, I was standing right there next to Mrs. _______. Awkward. Odd. Unprofessional.

Shortly thereafter, I left that job.

A year later, I ran into her at the mall. To my surprise, she spoke to me. Also to my surprise, I had the guts to ask her how her son was doing. She told me he was still in the Army, still in Germany. Oh, and he had gotten married. A German girl. And they had had a baby. Then, she pulled out her wallet and showed me pictures of her son, his very white wife, and their little boy.  She beamed with a very obvious love. Clearly, she had gotten past her extreme objections to her son’s marriage to a white woman.

I didn’t say, “I told you so.” I’m sure that none of this was easy for her, but you put prejudice aside and love the person your son or daughter chooses because you want them to be happy. That’s the power of love.

To be fair, love is what the Cheerio commercial is selling—love, not cereal—and despite reading blogs and hearing commentary about the negative reaction consumers have had to the commercial, I haven’t seen or heard any first hand. Even when I went to YouTube and read the comments made in anonymity, I didn’t see many haters. I’m sure they are out there, but I think they are few and seemingly quiet. Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe the firestorm of bigotry is something people are looking for and hoping to see so that it can confirm all they believe to be wrong in the world.

I’m not saying that prejudice doesn’t exist. It does, but when I think about my own experiences in the 70s, 80s, and 90s versus my own children’s reaction—or really, their non-reaction to race, I do think things are getting better. I hope that is the case, anyway.

I wonder what wine goes with cereal. I am overcome with the urge to eat Cheerios for supper tonight. Seriously. I bet I can get the rest of the family to go along with that. My only hesitation is that my son will use the Os to negotiate the adoption of a cat.

Words of Kindness

See? I really do have a real-live-dead-stuffed-armadillo.

See? I really do have a real-live-dead-stuffed-armadillo.

I like to joke that I married my husband because he gave me an armadillo, and not a ring, when he proposed. Yeah, guys with diamond rings are a dime a dozen, but the man who shows up with a stuffed, dead rodent is truly unique—a keeper.

In truth, I married him because he picks up hitch-hikers. He is the type of person who goes out of his way to help others. So, yep, if you are stranded on the side of the road, it doesn’t matter that you don’t look familiar to him, he will stop. I know that this sort of thing isn’t a requirement for everyone looking for a mate, but kindness goes a long way with me. I can’t imagine being married to someone who doesn’t do this sort of thing because I, too, have given rides to strangers and money to panhandlers.

In fact, recently, I was thinking about how kindness to strangers is a little easier than being kind to the members of my own household. It’s the sad truth. I was at the grocery store when I saw an older woman with two very full bags of groceries. She looked rather distressed.  So, I asked, “Ma’am, are you okay? Do you need help?”

She told me that she had walked to the grocery store from her apartment and that her daughter was supposed to meet her there to give her a ride home, but when she called her daughter, she was told she couldn’t come. She wasn’t sure she would be able to make it home if she had to walk with her groceries. “I’ll give you a ride,” I said.

I know. She could have been the front woman for a criminal mob who steals cars and sells their drivers into sex slavery, but remember, I offered her a ride. She didn’t single me out and ask for my help. Besides, accepting the ride required a certain amount of trust on her part, too. I could have been a serial murderer or a con artist who preys on little old ladies in distress. But like 99.9% of the general population, neither of us had anything nefarious in mind. She needed help. I gave it freely.

I’m not telling you this because I want you to think I am such a good person. I know I’m no better or worse than anyone else.

For all the patience and kindness I have for strangers in need, I’m frequently short on both when it comes to my own family—and that lack of kindness is more evident in what I say than what I do.  Just last week, I was dropping my daughter off at school. She was moving slowly, and I was in a hurry. Even worse—and this is so silly of me to even care—I was concerned that the parents in the cars behind us were in a hurry, too and that we were holding up the drop-off line by moving soooo verrrry slooooowly. I hate to inconvenience other people—because I hate it when other people inconvenience me. I may not honk my horn often, but darn it, I think about it a lot!

So, I was saying, “Come on! Come on! Get out of the car! Now!”

And my daughter was saying, “But, Mom, I can’t” and “But, Mom, I have to.” I didn’t wait to hear what she couldn’t do or what she had to do. I pulled her from the car. I handed her book bag, and said, “Move!” And then, I called out, “I love you!” as she limped away. Yeah, that makes it all better.

As I drove off, I saw one of the teachers assisting my daughter with her loose boot. Ohhh, that’s what the hold-up was! And didn’t I feel like an ass? I mean, here I was being more concerned about the guy behind me being late for work than I was about my own kid’s foot. There goes my Mother-of-the-Year Award.

So, I’m guilty. I seem to have all the kindness in the world for strangers and none for my own flesh-and-blood. But just as our lives are filled with teachable moments, we have our learnable moments, too. For me, that was one of them. Show the same kindness to your family that you show to the outside world.

I’ve been practicing it since then. It’s been almost a week since the loose-boot-incident and I have made a genuine effort to be more patient with my children, my husband, and my mother-in-law. And do you care to wager who has benefitted the most from all this kindness?


What I’ve discovered is that when I am impatient with others, it makes me more irritable and anxious. I may be yelling, “Now! Now! Now!” at them, but I’m the one hearing it. I’m the one feeling more rushed and more harried. They seem unaffected. Why? Because they are smart enough to tune me out. They respond more readily to a calmer mother and wife.

What I’ve learned about having more patience with my mother-in-law is even more interesting. Previously, when I took care of her morning or evening routine, I tended to do it in silence because when I spoke to her—no matter what tone I used—she was unresponsive. And of course, as I was lifting her, cleaning her, undressing and dressing her, I felt a lot of resentment—not towards her, but towards the situation of having to care for her. I never took out that resentment on her because I knew she couldn’t help it. No one would ever choose to be as needy as she is. So, in her case, it was never a matter of me needing to show more patience or to stop yelling or rushing.  It was—and is—a matter of me showing more kindness verbally.

Now, as I lift her from her wheelchair, I say, “Good job! You are doing great!” Why? Because she isn’t clutching the armrest, she IS doing a good job by making her care a little easier for me.  As I undress and dress her, I say, “I know this is hard for you, but I’m doing this because I love you. Lots of people love you and want what is best for you.” As I tuck her in bed, I say, “God love you so much and you have nothing to be afraid of. Not now. Not ever.”

I don’t know that these words have any impact on her. I don’t know that she even understands what I am saying, but I hear them, too, and my own words of kindness have taken away some of the resentment. I hear me say that I am doing a good job. I hear that I live in a world surrounded by love. I hear that I have nothing to fear. Those are some powerful and awesome words I hear me saying to her—and to me.

Kindness shown to the outside world—that of stranded strangers—is one of grand gestures, like marriage proposals with or without armadillos. They don’t happen every day, and while they are celebrated and remembered, it’s the day-to-day acts—and words–of love and kindness that create and sustain relationships.

(Note: My husband would want you to know that he didn’t just randomly select the armadillo. Before we were dating, I told him that my favorite book was A Prayer for Owen Meany, and so, he read it. In the book, two boys pass an armadillo back and forth as a symbol of their friendship. He’d also want you to know that he gave me an engagement ring, too, but not until I said “Yes” to the armadillo.)







“What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”

Maybe I can find a job modeling Halloween costumes. No, wait, these kids have that job and they are way cuter than I am. Rats.

Maybe I can find a job modeling Halloween costumes. No, wait, these kids have that job and they are way cuter than I am. Rats.

My daughter was two-years-old, and we were in the grocery store when I spotted a former colleague who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Despite his ailment, he recognized me when I waved to him and called his name. After we chatted for a minute, he turned his attention to my daughter. “What do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?”

She paused and looked him over. Clearly, this bozo missed the obvious—that’s what she had to be thinking. “Bigger,” she said with the most dead-pan delivery.

I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants. I was nine months pregnant and so it didn’t take that much to send me running to the nearest restroom. So, maybe it’s not as funny as I think.

Four years later, my daughter wants to be a teacher. Or a chef.  Or a paleontologist.  Her brother wants to be a farmer. He has a sanitized understanding of farming thanks to Fisher-Price’s Little People and Old MacDonald. He may change is mind once he figures out it isn’t all feeding animals and riding tractors.

Kids are like that. They change their minds frequently, and I think that’s okay. When I was working as a museum educator, I had a very enthusiastic student with a bright red hair and a country accent tell me, “Mrs. F, you done got me all confused. The Lord is a-callin’ me to preach, but you got me a-wantin’ to be an archaeologist.”

“Sweetheart, once you start working, you will probably be working for a long, long time. There’s no reason why you can’t do both,” I replied. I hope my answer was a-pleasin’ unto the Lord.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher, an archaeologist, a museum worker, and a writer. I’ve been blessed to dabble in all of those professions. In college, my career goal was to do public relations for a private non-profit. I did that, too–twice. I’ve also worked as a retail manager, cocktail waitress and a commercial crabber. So, you can see why I would say no one has to work at any one job for the rest of his or her life.

Still, stay-at-home-mom was never on my list of youthful career aspirations. In fact, I didn’t even want to be a mom. Then, I met my husband, fell in love, and he said, “Let’s make some babies,” and I said, “Okay,” ‘cuz people get crazy-drunk on love, don’t they? They do things they normally wouldn’t do. At least, that’s true of me.

I have no regrets, of course. My children are kind, funny, and smart…they are the type of people I would want to know even if they weren’t my children. As for the stay-at-home part of my parenting life, I’m not always so sure that it’s what I want. I’m always certain, however, that it’s what works for our family right now.

Yet, I really do want to go back to work. I miss having a paycheck and I’d like to use my God-given talents–and education and 20+ years of work experience–for something besides making soup and wiping butts. And I know I want interesting work—something fun. I don’t care if a job is great paying and offers an outstanding benefits package–if it’s boring, I’m not interested. That’s just me. I want a job that gives me something to talk about besides my family, what books I’ve read, and what I’ve heard on NPR.

I occasionally see a job opening that appeals to me, and sometimes, I even apply. As I do, I ask myself, “How would that work? Me with a full-time job?” I know other people do it. They manage to put in 40+ hours at the office every week and still shuttle kids to and from soccer practice and piano lessons, but how? I don’t know.

Just last week, my daughter’s Daisy Scout leader asked, “Is everyone okay with changing our meeting time from 6 pm to 5 pm?” I nodded. Yes, that works for me now, but would it work for me if I had a job? Or would I be telling my child, “Sorry, no Scouts for you?” That seems harsh.

And what about my mother-in-law? I won’t lie—my fantasy about working full-time involves finding a way to put her in a nursing home. Of course, if she is in a nursing home, maybe I won’t want to work full-time. Maybe I will enjoy being at home again if she isn’t here 24/7. You can see the conundrum that creates.

It’s all hypothetical anyway since no one has offered me a job. Why worry about a problem that doesn’t exist yet? Why not just trust that in the event that I do find a job, all these little details will be worked out?

Perhaps an even greater question is “Who will hire me?” I’m slowly—I want to emphasize how very, very slowly here— inching my way towards 50, and I haven’t had a real job in almost seven years. Yes, I’ve done contract work, but none in the past two years. I’ve been asked to serve on both a museum board and a historical society board, but have said no for fear that I could not follow through with those commitments. I was president of my mom-club for a year, but when my mother-in-law moved in with us, I didn’t serve a second term because I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it to all the meetings. That was a smart move. My attendance has been spotty at best.

So, while I’ve kept busy, not much of what I have done has been résumé-worthy. And the few things worth mentioning in a job interview feel very incomplete to me.

I think that if I dwelled on these two questions—“How would that work?” and “Who will hire me?”—I’d probably get a little depressed.

Instead, I’m going to put my energy into a different question—What do I want to be/do? The need to take time off from paid, professional employment happens. This isn’t just about being a stay-at-home-mom—or a stay-at-home-dad. People get laid off. People get ill. People get burnt out. People have to care for sick or elderly relatives. People go in and out of retirement. There are a gazillion reasons one might reach a proverbial crossroad in life and be forced to reinvent oneself—or at the very least, reinvent one’s career.

When doing this kind of soul-searching the follow-up question to “What do I want to be?” is “What is possible?” Let’s be honest. I can say, “I want to be an astronaut,” but at my age and with my lack of a science background, I’m not going to be admitted into NASA’s training program. I need to scratch that option off the list.

And there is an even bigger question of “What would people be willing to pay me to do?” or “What skills do I have that are so valuable to others that they would pay me to use those skills?”

I don’t have any answers to those questions. None. Nada. Zilch. But I don’t feel discouraged. I believe I am at a place in my life in which I have the opportunity to explore and ponder and come up with some answers. And I know I have to be open-minded about this and consider career-paths that I may have ignored in the past. It’s not a bad feeling. Really.

So, what do I want to be when I grow up?

I’m fairly certain my answer is not, “Bigger.”

Help! I Failed A Quiz I Found on Facebook!

The Overwhelmed Parent. See? I look nothing like this chick.

The Overwhelmed Parent. See? I look nothing like this chick.

Facebook is the second biggest waste of time. What’s the first? Quizzes found on Facebook.

And I should know. I take every one of them.

In the past week, I have learned that if I were a dog, I would be a French bulldog. If I were food, I would be cheese. I should live in Rio. And I’m an “Overwhelmed Parent.”

Ouch! Wait. That last one really hurt because I’m not a dog or food and I don’t live in Rio, but I am a parent and I certainly don’t like to be described as “overwhelmed.”

For starters, I don’t like the word “overwhelmed.” Period. People use it when they don’t have another word to describe a situation, a person, or an emotion. Over-using it is a sign of a very limited vocabulary—and I know–because I use it when I can’t come up with the right word. I feel ashamed when I resort to using it because I like to think I have a better handle on language, but I don’t always.

I’m also a bit pissy because all of my friends are “Effortlessly Cool” parents according to the quiz. And that makes me think that the quiz is pretty accurate—because in real life, I hang with an effortlessly cool crowd. Cool–especially effortless coolness–is  desirable trait in a person. Overwhelmed is not.

And then, I HATE the description: “You never imagined parenting could be this hard before you had kids, and now talk about showers the way most people talk about vacations.” Yep, those words next to this picture of a very tired-looking, pregnant teenager with a baby on her hip. I look nothing like the chick in the picture. I probably look like her mom.

I’m not going to deny it. I DO talk about showers the way most people talk about vacations. That much is true. But that’s because I don’t get to go on vacations, unless of course, you count spending the morning sitting in a mechanic’s waiting room while my oil is changed.

Vacations and showers aside, I don’t find parenting my children to be overwhelming. In fact, I have never, ever, ever said anything remotely like, “Being a mommy is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Before my mother-in-law moved in with us, that’s the kind of comment I would respond to with, “Well, then, you’ve never supervised adults because managing grown-ups who act like children is so much harder than managing actual children.” Now, I’m inclined to say, “Well, then, let’s hope your parents die young ‘cuz elder-care is going to kick your scrawny ass! Trust me, you can’t handle it. Children are a cakewalk compared to old people.”

The Effortlessly Cool Parent. I don't really look like him either.

The Effortlessly Cool Parent. I don’t really look like him either.

Okay, I’m probably too polite to have ever said either of those things aloud, but I have thought them—but it’s because I find parenting my children to be one of the least overwhelming aspects of my life.

So, my proverbial panties are in a proverbial wad over a quiz I found on Facebook. Please, go ahead and laugh. It’s a very silly thing for a grown woman to groan over. I know this. When I step back and look at myself, I find me pathetic and amusing, too.

What’s behind all this ire and defensiveness, however, is the fear that it is true—at least to some degree. I know I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed by other things in life, and that overwhelmed-ness interferes with my ability to parent my children in an effortlessly cool manner. And I need to work on not letting those other things rattle me.

And of course, I really need to work on not taking Facebook quizzes seriously.

(And if you just read this post and you are thinking, “What is so ‘overwhelming’ about this chick’s life?” you are new here. Please go back and read the first 96 blog entries. Thank you.)




Carpe Diem: Drink Champagne

Looking for a reason to pop open that dusty bottle of bubbly? Might I suggest Groundhog Day?

Looking for a reason to pop open that dusty bottle of bubbly? Might I suggest Groundhog Day?

Whenever I get an email notification that someone is following me on Pinterest, I feel that I should apologize to that person because I’m certainly not leading them anywhere. I created a Pinterest account months ago, and I haven’t been back to it since then. At least that was true until this morning.

I woke with an urge to “seize the day”—or more accurately, seize the season. It seemed to me that even if I try not to call it one, I do make a “Bucket List” for summer. If September rolls around and I haven’t gone to the beach or grilled an entire meal over charcoals, I’m disappointed. I feel like I’ve missed out on something really special. I haven’t made the most of the season. I haven’t seized anything.

What about winter? Real winter and not fa-la-la-la holiday winter in which activities and memories are dominated by Christmas? Shouldn’t winter get its own bucket list?

Off the top of my head, the only truly winter-time activities I could come up with were snow-dependent: Build a snowman, sledding, make snow-angels, have a snowball fight. Not that it is an issue for us this year, but what if you don’t get snow? Most of my family and friends live in the Deep South. They get snow once every five or six years–maybe. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we didn’t get any snow last year—nope, none at all that I remember. My point is that for a lot of us, snow isn’t a given.

So, I was browsing Pinterest looking at all thing wintery when my daughter noticed and asked, “What are you doing, Mom?”

“I’m trying to come up with a list of fun things to do that can only be done in the winter-time.”

“You could put cleaning on your list.”

Hmmm…cleaning is on list every day of the year, and when I am finished cleaning, there is always more cleaning to do. It’s never any fun. Clearly, she missed the point.

And I missed the point of Pinterest. It seems to me that it is just a search engine for very visual people, and my search for wintertime activities led me to pages and pages of cutesy paper-crafts. I “pinned” one because I could see it as being fun for the kids, easy for me, and something worth keeping versus tossing into my recycling bin. Still, I didn’t feel any closer to making a must-do seasonal list.

Then, I relaxed my expectation.  I concluded that I was over-thinking this, and I came up with the following list:

Wear sweaters. I have some great sweaters, but I almost never wear them because acrylic fleece has become my mom-uniform. Fleece is warm, light-weight, washable, and extremely inexpensive when you catch a Land’s End End-of-Season Clearance Sale—and I always do! I’m not going to give it up, but I am going to reach further into my closet a pull-out what is left of my dry-clean only wardrobe and wear it.

Accessorize. While I am looking through all the clothes that I don’t wear and those that I over-wear, I realized I have more than one pair of earrings, too. Besides, they say that if you are having a bad day, you should try wearing your best jewelry. Does anyone have a tiara I can borrow?

Feed the birds. I’m lucky. I live in a place with abundant bird-life. In fact, I never really noticed birds until I moved into this house, but they are all around us. Cardinals, Blue jays, goldfinches, scarlet tangiers, orioles, wrens, tufted titmice, chickadees, blue birds…and crows and vultures. While I won’t be intentionally hitting any deer or rodents to feed the vultures, I can spread some breadcrumbs and some seeds for the rest of them.

Drink champagne. One of the things we have in abundance thanks to cleaning out my mother-in-law’s house is bubbly. Lots of it. I think I’ll start looking for reasons to break it out. Groundhog Day? Seeing the bottom of my hamper? A really great Super Bowl commercial? Tuning into the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet instead of watching the Super Bowl commercials? Not having to shovel the walkway on a Tuesday? Yeah, life is full of champagne moments. We just have to seize them.

Take a walk through the woods on a truly cold day. Bundle up and go for a walk. Notice the stuff you don’t see in the summertime because of the heavy leaf-cover. Pay attention to the sounds. Everything looks and sounds different in the winter. I should look at them and hear them differently.

Make soup. To be fair, I make soup at least three times a week–year round–because that is pretty much all my mother-in-law eats for lunch and supper. Right now, I have chicken-vegetable bisque, spinach-tomato-chicken soup, split pea soup with ham, and pumpkin-sausage soup in my freezer. I’ll make some cauliflower-cheddar later today. But what if I made some soup that I like to eat? You know, something that hasn’t been milled in a blender?

Bake. I don’t use my oven in the summertime. So, it’s now or never, right?

Donate winter stuff. I worked at a domestic violence shelter and volunteered at a homeless shelter, and so I know, people are generous in December. Donations pour in, and then come to a halt. From what I remember, our residents always needed warm socks, hats and gloves in the winter and these were things that were rarely donated. I won’t, however, rely on my experiences from eons ago. I’ll call the local shelter and ask them, what their greatest need is before I donate.

Force bulbs. Part décor and part science experiment. Fun for the whole family. Who doesn’t like daffodils?

Plan spring and summer activities. Warm weather will come. School will let out. Days will be long. While I am not advocating that anyone wish their life away, there is nothing wrong with looking into a pool membership right now.

That’s a pretty decent list. Nothing too difficult. Nothing over the top. Do-able. Meaningful. Comforting. Memory-making. And isn’t that seizing the season?