The Power of Giving Up

Peace comes easily
When you listen, act, accept
Truth over worry.
—————————————
It is a little early for Lent, and, well, I’m a little not Catholic, but I’ve been reflecting on the power of giving up. I’m not talking about giving up when the going gets tough. When I’m working out and my arms are begging me to stop yet I know I have 3 more reps in me… I won’t give up. When my daughter complains because everyone else on the basketball team makes baskets but her (not true, by the way), I won’t let her give up.

I’m talking about who gives a shit other than the pissy-little-tyrant-in-my-brain ‘giving up’. I’m learning a lot from this brand of release.

I experienced this a few months ago. A devoted audio book listener, I had heard an enthralling book by David McCullough about the year 1776 in the Revolutionary War. Each night after listening to it during my bedtime bathroom routine, I would crawl into bed and tell my husband how amazing the book was and how I couldn’t believe we actually won the war. This foray into history long forgotten (had I ever learned it?) made me long for more about our Founding Fathers. Up next, Ben Franklin’s biography.

Oh jesus help me. It was horrible. I could have lived through the dry points in the story where it took the author nearly 6 hours to fully describe a few simple things about his early life — that he fled his brother’s apprenticeship for Philadelphia where studiousness , daring and little luck helped him on his way… But the narrator would have made Fifty Shades of Gray un-listenable. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how people like him get and keep these jobs. Doesn’t anyone listen to his work? Have they spent even 5 minutes trying to understand how someone can read a sentence with action and intrigue and still make you want to take your own life?

I was a solid 9 hours into this book (it was 24 hours overall) when something amazing occurred to me. Why did I need to finish it? Who would care? No teacher would scold me. No book report would go un-written. Not a single bad thing would happen.   Yet, if I stopped listening, I realized that several good things would happen. I would no longer want to smash my iPod player. I would stop telling my husband what a horrible listen it was. True, I wouldn’t have any new and interesting tidbits about our earliest years as a country to share with others, but… It just didn’t matter.

So I returned the book to Audible. They gave me a partial credit. No one mocked me. No one sneered. Such new territory I was treading.

Today my daughter asked me, “Mom, have you ever quit a book before?”

I replied that I had… and asked why she brought it up. Given she reads almost nonstop, this was an interesting question.

“I quit a book today,” she said sheepishly. “The Hobbit. Just didn’t want to keep reading.”

“I totally understand. That’s a tough one to get into. There is nothing wrong with quitting a book.” And with that, she was done worrying. Oh to have had that role modeled for me early in life.

So I began reflecting on what else I could just “give up” without anyone noticing or caring. And it came to me. I can give up holiday baking. For many years, I baked away an entire weekend, making tons of cookies and candies for our friends and relatives. But I haven’t really done a mega-baking fest in years yet I allow a ton of guilt to overtake me in early December when I realize I can’t fit in two days of baking in a now kid-filled life.  I feel horrible. So tonight I decided I am no longer a Christmas baker.  I’m done, I’m over it. I will continue to make Bourbon Balls, because frankly it is the only thing everyone remembers about my baking anyway, and it’s fun to get a little tanked while I make them.  And I’ll likely keep making caramels. But I am giving up the rest. All the guilt associated with a  no-longer-relevant tradition is released.

I feel lighter already. I’m serious… this is a joyful feeling. I must explore giving up more things (or more guilt). Try it yourself. Instead of giving something, give up something. Best gift under the tree.

The next best gift under the tree is Bourbon Balls. Recipe below. Enjoy. I plan to in a few weeks.

Bourbon Balls

3 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers (about 75) (one normal sized box)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup finely chopped pecans
¼ cup cocoa
½ cup bourbon (get the good stuff… and sometimes I do closer to 3/4 cup)
¼ cup light corn syrup
Granulated or powdered sugar

Crush the wafers by putting them in a double layer of zip bags and beating/rolling the crap out of them with a rolling pin. Mix the crushed wafers with the powdered sugar, pecans and cocoa. Stir in bourbon and corn syrup. Shape mixture into 1 inch balls as you watch a good movie. Roll balls in granulated sugar. Eat several as you go, just to be sure they are good enough. Refrigerate the ones you haven’t scarfed down in a tightly covered container several days before serving. Open the fridge a few times a day to get a wiff of the Bourbon and to sample them to be sure they are mellowing nicely. Yield: About 5 dozen cookies minus two dozen or so you have eaten in advance.

Oh, Great… New Guilt (flavored with Gratitude)

(the following haiku must be spoken in your best wrestling announcer voice…)

It’s a G word fight!!
Guilt v. gratitude… cage match!
The victor? Stay tuned…
………………………………………………….

I work full-time and my husband stays at home with the kids (one in school full days, one in half days). He manages the household – laundry, cooking, grocery, a little cleaning, home and car repair. I bring home the bacon, manage the finances, do some yard work and also clean house when I’m sufficiently motivated (e.g. when company is coming).

This set up has been working for us for about 7 years. In those seven years, I’ve become thoroughly experienced in a variety of guilt:

– how much I like my job
– 7am conference calls that mean I don’t see the kids in the morning
– 8pm conference calls that mean I tuck the kids in at bedtime
– That between 7am and 8pm conference calls, I don’t give Frank as much attention as he deserves and I want
– How I don’t contribute very much to the non-financial aspects of this family
– That I can’t recall the last time I made it to a dentist appointment for the kids
– That the kids more or less like him as much as me now
– That he doesn’t get much time with people over 4 feet tall
– That when I get home from work sometimes all I want to do is hide under the bed and not talk to anyone or do anything, which means he never gets a break.
– Working out since I’m already not seeing the kids much

Well, friends, I have something new to feel guilty about, and it is an interesting role reversal guilt: Frank has gotten a job.

We’ve always known this would happen. Long ago we decided that once our youngest started full-time school, Frank would return to work. We need the income to support some choices we’ve made (namely private school). And it would be nice to take a vacation to someplace other than my parents’ house. And our savings account is quite dusty… You get the idea.

But now the time has come. He job hunted, found his engineering skills still very marketable, and has a great new job starting in a month. The kids know that he is going back to work. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve heard them say over the last few weeks:

–         But who is going to take care of us (because clearly we are now going to just leave them home alone…)
–         But I’ll miss daddy
–         But daddy has always been the mom
–         But I don’t want him to go back to work

So now on top of all the other guilt that I’m experienced in, I now get to add the “I don’t make enough money to fully support us and now the kids are sad because dad has to work” guilt. Wow, that’s a fun one. Now, no one is making me feel this way. Frank hasn’t overtly said: hey, would you please make more money?  But would he rather not have to get a job that makes $XYZ and instead do something that makes some ill-defined amount of money and is super flexible? Sure he would.  And the funny thing is, I would too. These last few weeks, as we’ve managed kid and adult sickness, job interviews, extra yard work, new spring activities for the kids, doctor appointments, etc etc., it has become very clear to me how much I’ve come to rely on his flexibility and the work he does around the house.

I’m also feeling a wee bit guilty about the nugget of resentment I’m realizing I have because him going back to work is going to mean more “work” for me, too. (that has to be the most bizarre sentence structure ever) I’ve truly benefited from him handling the daily stuff and now I’ll have to handle some of it too.  Laundry, picking up around the house, grocery shopping, post office visits, and on and on.  (Again, I’ve always “known” how much he handles at an intellectual level, but the last two weeks I’ve felt it “real time”.)  The concept of taking what little discretionary time I have in the evenings and dividing it up across more chores is not a thought I enjoy lingering on.

Part of me keeps snarking at myself: you have a great job that you love, your kids are healthy, your husband is a saint; boo hoo hoo, you have to work around the house some more so you can have your private school/vacation cake and eat it too; cry me a river.  I get that. I respect that. All good points.

That’s why I’m pleased the majority of me has been realizing how much gratitude I feel for Frank.  He graciously, and with almost no debate, pulled himself from the workforce to do right by the kids and our life during the last 7 years.  He doesn’t complain unreasonably. When I’m beat and want to hide under the bed when I get home, he diverts the kids’ attention so I can do just that. He reminds me that we are a team… I have my role and he has his, and together is how it all gets done. And now that he is the one having to change it up (again!) he’s been totally cool.

So I think it is time to end the G word versus G word battle raging in my head these last few weeks, and remind myself what my friend Lynette told me many years ago – guilt is a useless emotion. (I’ve also really enjoyed reading Becky and Susan’s posts over at Working Moms Against Guilt about their recent transitions – very inspiring; so nice to know I’m not alone.) Instead, I will keep gratitude high in my awareness and enjoy watching this family explore new routines and responsibilities (the kids have no idea that they are going to get tapped to do more around here… announcing that should be fun…). We’ll figure it out.

Am I being replaced?

Sitting here jealous
of homework and puppy walks.
I don’t wanna work.

”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

The change has been quite subtle… My daughter would run to Dad as much as me when she hurt herself and needed comfort. And then the kids would call me Dad (granted, they would call him Mom).  But a few weeks ago was the hardest blow… my stay-at-home-dad-husband did a very mom thing. He was thoughtful. As in “full of thought”. He thought ahead, planned and did something for one of the kids that officially granted him entry into mom-hood.

I was devastated.

I’m ok being called Dad. Hell, I go through a rolodex of names when I talk to my kids too. But I always saw myself as occupying unique space as “The Mom”. I thought ahead enough to buy the birthday gift before day of the party.  I realized that my girl was sad and needed comfort before the tears arrived.  I was sensitive, I was interpreting what was important and I was acting to avoid a problem. And dammit if he didn’t do just that.

If I were honest with myself, I’d admit that I was hoping this would happen. It can be exhausting being the only one who thought this way and I often bemoan (in my own petty little head) that he “just doesn’t get it”. But I’d be lying if I didn’t take some martyr like satisfaction from thinking no one could do this job but me; that no matter what, I am mom and therefore better. And slowly now I’ve had to get used to sharing the spot light.

When we both worked, no matter what, I was still the chief parent.  We only had the one kid then, and she preferred me; I made a lot of the rules; I made a lot of the kid decisions (yes, some exaggeration, but not a lot…I’m not a wench, it just mostly works out that way when you’re the mom, right?).  And then, he became chief parent, he was in charge most of the time – and I tumbled in stature.  It was very hard for me to get used to.  Still, I lived off the fact that both kids would prefer to hang out with me rather than with dad if given the choice.  And I was sure I still had a unique skill set that the Y chromosome was incapable of duplicating.

Snf snf. I was wrong. I’ll get over it.  Statistically speaking he was bound to do something like that at some point, and it hasn’t happened again since then so there’s still hope. But there’s no going back.  Right now, and likely for a while, this is the right choice for our family, all things considered. My life is blessed and I’m more settled right now then I’ve been in a while, much in part to how wonderfully this set up is working.  It’s just that the view is different from this position and I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally ok with that…

Making Choices – My 5 Roles

Embrace the choices:
They map your way forward and
Soothe the looks backward.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

I learned something a few years ago from an executive at my company that has helped me with my work/life balance. He (yes, it was a he) hypothesized that each of us can reasonably have 5 roles in life that we are committed to. A role is something like wife or mother or tennis player or gardener.  If we decide to take on more than 5 roles, and want to fully commit to those roles (meaning we want to do them well), then he claimed something or someone will suffer.

I’ve been experimenting with this concept for a few years now and I think he is right.  Once I started thinking in these terms, I quit beating myself up for not “doing/having it all,” a self doubt-a-thon that I think many working moms engage in.  Instead, I decided that “having it all” was as simple as focusing on these 5 roles such that I was doing them well. Not perfectly, not full on all the time, but in a consistent way, with focus.  If I am able to do that, then I count myself successful, consider myself living the dream, and cut myself some slack on the things I’m not doing.  How powerful would it be if we could all see 5 reasonably well-executed roles as cause for celebration.

That isn’t to say that this is easy. Take a look at my current list of 5 roles.

  1. Wife (this is purposefully first, because it is too easy to make it last; I still struggle to give him as much time as I’d like)
  2. Mother (there may be a time when I won’t need to have this on the list, but not for a long time…)
  3. Employee (another “not really a choice” choice for our family, but still, have to acknowledge it is a role and it takes time)
  4. Healthy person (writing it down gives me permission to choose a work-out over coming home early)
  5. Writer/Blogger (new this year, yeah! Finally made it to the top 5)

These may seem obvious choices, to you, but to help dimensionalize how hard it is to pick the top 5, let’s list some of the things that didn’t make my list.

Daughter. Gasp! Really!?!? How can I do that? First, it doesn’t mean I don’t call my parents. It just means than I don’t focus time and attention on cultivating that role. Time and attention would probably mean more trips South to see them; a regularly scheduled phone call; more emails; home-made videos of the kids, etc. But I haven’t made this choice. So we talk about every 2 weeks while I’m driving home from work or on a random weekend when I get a moment. There may come a time in the future when their health drives “daughter” right back on the list, but I’ll clearly know it can’t be an incremental role, something will have to go.

Housekeeper.  If you ever visit me you will find dust. And likely a floor that needs to be swept assuming you can find it under the toys. If you are lucky enough to see upstairs, then you’ll see unmade beds and likely a dirty sock on the floor. Get over it. It isn’t a priority – I don’t put money or more than minimal time against this role. We don’t live in squalor (don’t worry, the kitchen and bathrooms are quite clean, the clothes are washed – even I have standards), and I do clean the house on a regular-ish basis, but I’m sure there are those out there who would frown if they visited.

House rehabber. This was a role last year (when writer wasn’t on the list). That’s because last year was our first full year in this amazing 86-year-old house which requires a lot of time and attention (not to mention money). Last year we focused on the house. This year, we don’t need to as much.

Sister.  Just like my daughter role, I don’t make this a priority.

Friend. There is an amazing women’s group that I get together with once a month. But I don’t have “girl friend” time the rest of the month for the most part.  Facebook keeps us connected, but I don’t foster the relationships like I see other people do.  I work with people I consider friends, and I like the moms of kids at school, so the itch gets scratched in those ways, but that’s it.  Sometimes I miss this…

Are there drawbacks to these choices? Sure there are. If it were painless, then it probably wouldn’t really be a choice.   But what keeps me committed to this concept is this:  when I think about how (even more) stretched I’d be if I also tried to put effort against more than 5, I realize none would be done well, and that is something I’m not willing to sacrifice.

Do I do some things outside of my roles? Of course, but I recognize that they will get less investment and thus lower returns. Or, I rethink my definition of it. For instance,  I’m a girl scout troop leader. Is that a new role or a “mother” role? I did it at my daughter’s request, so frankly I think of it as something special we do together – mother role, check.   I also keep a garden in the summer – is that another role? If you saw my garden you would agree it was NOT a focus area for me. Instead, I get the kids involved (harvesting carrots this year was a riot) or I treat it as exercise (healthy person role).  Again, you might see this as cheating, but I approach it holistically and it makes it easier. This doesn’t need to be any harder than it already is.

Lastly, you might ask “where are you on the list”? Healthy person – that is broadly defined to cover all the things I do to take care of my mental and physical health. Sleep in when I can, no work in the evenings when possible, Pilates class, etc.  Make sure you have you on your list too.

Have you seen mom? (or, how Bermuda saves my sanity)

Hey mom… Hey mom… Hey
(…witness protection program…)
mom… Hey mom… HEY MOM!
——————————————–

The weekend didn’t start well.  I believe my 5 year old said “mom” easily 30 times before breakfast was on the table Saturday. Even my hubby noticed: “Dude, give the woman a break,” he said. It was somewhat downhill from there.

I am sure I will write more posts about the guilt I feel as a working mom.  One guilt I feel is what I call “desire to flee guilt”. It doesn’t come very often, but when it does – bam! – I want to bolt the house screaming, jump into my car, and not return until I’m sure everyone in the house is asleep, preferably 3 days later.

I have never done this, but man oh man did I want to this weekend.

How is it the kids’ neediness peaks at the exact same time as my tolerance of neediness is at low tide? It is uncanny.  I believe it is further proof that God thinks he is way funnier than he really is.

What do I do? Usually stand on the back porch and take a few deep breaths, remind myself that I chose to have kids and then try to visualize a beach in Bermuda… ahhh. I am refreshed and ready to take on whatever comes my way. Well, at least for 20 minutes or so.  Because in 20 minutes, the kids and the damn dog will decide they all need to be in the bathroom at the same time I am using it.  They don’t like the smell of broccoli cooking but they voluntarily hang out in the bathroom with me when I’m there for an extended visit? What gives?

Breath in, breath out… South Hampton Beach…pink sand… scooters…

A little while later, my darlings will then each ask me something at the same time, from opposite ends of the house. Both will use a voice that conveys urgency and distress. Both will, after calling for me, proceed to yell at each other that they “were first”.  I pretend I don’t hear.

I wonder if we have any wine in the house. What time is it? Crap, not even lunch yet. They’d give me wine in Bermuda. I wonder how much flights are…

And then the tide will finally come in and the normal-ness of our kid dominated life will no longer aggravate me. I won’t mind hearing mom repeated so often that I start to believe my child has turrets.  It won’t bother me that in order for both kids and the damn dog to be in the bathroom with me at the same time someone has to sit on my lap.  Nooooo, I’ll be perfectly fine.

Delta flight number 656 departs at 11am…

A Parent’s Responsibility… Childhood Obesity and Georgia’s Campaign

A parent’s challenge:
To raise, but not to repeat
Our own tragedies.
———————————– 
I am veering sharply away from my usual humor into a current serious hot topic. This is a difficult post to write, but I can’t stop composing it in my head, so I decided to put it in writing.

There is a lot of controversy about a new advertising campaign in Georgia addressing childhood obesity which aims the heart breaking messages (and the blame) at the parents. Here is the ABC news story about it, which includes video of several parts of the campaign. I am sure there will be many experts chiming in on the pros and cons of this approach. Here is my perspective.

I am a fat parent (and by fat, I hate to admit it, I mean obese) trying to raise trim kids (my husband is also fat). Watching this campaign was a kick in the gut. My children (ages 9 and 5) are just the right size, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I worry multiple times a week about their weight. I don’t want them to be fat like me. But I didn’t need an advertising campaign to tell me this.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was close to my highest ever weight and determined that my child would not be overweight.  I read everything I could about how to have a healthy child-parent relationship with food. Well, that isn’t exactly right… I did some research, quickly found a great book that resonated with me, and that’s the approach I took.  Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense stated something that made clicked for me: My job is to put nutritious food on the table on a regular basis. The kid’s job is to eat it. Parents should stop doing the kid’s job.  If you approach it this way, everyone has a positive food relationship.

I also evolved some practices that were different from how I grew up:

  • Eat dinner early – 6/6:30.
  • Fruit at every meal. (A fruit is as good as a veggie in my book.)
  • No forbidden foods. (I wanted to demystify sweets, which were a forbidden temptress in my youth.)
  • Get the kids into an activity of some sort.

This seems to be working. My kids love fruit and don’t fuss about eating it (don’t worry, they eat veggies too).  They eat candy – we keep a dish of treats – but they don’t obsess about it. In fact, Halloween candy is usually ignored by day 2 or 3. They each have regular sporting activities which they enjoy and take satisfaction from.  So far, so good.

So why do I still worry? Did you watch the campaign? Do you think that took a lot of acting skills? I don’t recall feeling that same pain in my school days – I wasn’t as overweight as these kids – but when I read my old diaries I ache inside: losing weight is mentioned over and over again.  It is the number 1 topic, with boys as the second most prevalent topic.  Without those written records, I would have denied it was such a focus for me, but there it is, in black and white… Disappointment in myself. Admission of failure. Yearning to be like everyone else. Desire to be thin.  Why in God’s name would I want to subject my children to this? I don’t need anyone to convince me my kids need, wait, deserve, a different fate.

I also worry what to do should one of my kids start to pudge up.  How will I react? Will my reaction screw them up?  More importantly, I carry sadness that I am a crappy role model for my kids in terms of my weight. I know they notice. My daughter mentioned my weight to me years ago (the classic “mommy, why are you fat?”), although not recently, but I know she recognizes that most everyone else’s mom is normal size.  That makes me sad.

So why don’t I get off my ass and lose weight? Raise your hand if you asked that question. I’m guessing those with their hands up are all thin. Well, I wish it was that easy. I’m not here to claim that food is a drug and food addiction is akin to drug or alcohol addiction, but man it sure feels like it sometimes. I’ve lost and gained more weight than you can imagine, and believe me, my adult diaries still have my struggles with weight as their #1 topic (although I’ve solved the boy thing now…). I wish I had an answer.  It’s January, so time to try once again to do something about it. Wish me luck. No, wait, don’t do that. Just promise not to stare at the gym.

In the meantime, our society will continue to judge the obese. Continue to point to the parents of fat kids.  I’ve been typing and deleting this next part for 15 minutes… Am I ok with this? Do I believe that parents of fat kids should be held accountable for their children’s weight?  I think I do – we are the parents for Christ sake. If it isn’t our jobs, whose then?  In a world devoid of personal responsibility, I believe in parental responsibility – from not letting the kids get drunk in the basement to not tolerating your child as a bully to not letting your kid feast on ding dongs 24/7.  This is what you signed up for.  I can tell you that for me, I see it as my responsibility to these amazing little human beings to set them up as much as I can to be healthy and happy, inside and out.  You have no idea how hard I try.   The obvious next question is “how to hold us accountable? how do you punish the parents of obese kids?” but I’m not prepared to answer this one; I have no idea and this has been difficult enough.

(A final note: It’s hard to write this and not imply that my own parents were horrible role models and “made” me fat.  I refuse to do this. For one, I don’t think that (my) weight issues are that simple. I won’t justify this statement or explain it any more, it’s my opinion.  And second, I got a lot fatter after I left home, so they were doing something right. So thanks mom and dad. Don’t worry about me, and please don’t worry about your parenting. My own kids would be way more wacky if you hadn’t done a great job.)

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