Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marry Mr. Right NOT Mr. Everything

For some reason, in this country, it is promoted, albeit subtly, that women should aspire to date and then ultimately marry the powerful among us. Well, who is that exactly? Starting in high school, the cool kids are often the kids who are the most successful on the playing field or whose parents have the most money and thus the most toys. I probably need to back starts even earlier than that. Probably as early as 4th grade, it is cheered when the athletic boys begin to emerge and, amazingly enough, the 4th grade girls start to notice. Those kids who were fortunate enough to be born into affluent families are also starting to be more attractive than the kids whose families may struggle for material things, and the epic battle has begun.

There is nothing new about the jockeying for position to win the prettiest girl or the most powerful boy, but what needs to be new is an awareness of how that battle is playing out. We have two girls and one boy in our house, and I am fiercely protective of their hearts. I, of course, hope that they can achieve some modicum of success and that we'll be blessed with a number of grandchildren, but of even greater importance to me, is how well they will guard their hearts and how relationships will be valued more than material possessions or power. The allure is undoubtedly impressive, and it will never ultimately be my choice, but the track record of powerful men is not a good one, and I hope my kids at least pay attention to that.

When I arrived on my college campus, as a freshman, I was warned about two things to avoid: that strange-smelling hall in one of the dorms and the hockey players. There was no in-depth discussion as to why those two things should be avoided, but I felt confident that the advice was well-intentioned. Looking back on it now, I think the strange-smelling hall was a no-brainer, but the hockey player warning took some observation to understand. The primary sport at our school was hockey, and the young men who played on that team had the most "power". There were throngs of girls who followed the players everywhere and several could be seen waiting for them outside the locker room, or the dorm rooms or parties. The players acted as though they had earned this attention, and had little regard for the emotional drama that often followed their trysts.

It is no wonder that it took my husband five requests before I would accompany him on a date. He was a hockey player, but he was unlike the "typical hockey player", and when my friends were able to convince me of that, I accepted his invitation. He was not, and still is not, the typical hockey player. He had achieved a level of success, but he also suffered some humility that likely changed his status of "power". I lucked out, but some of the girls who dated and even married several of the other sports stars from their schools were not as lucky. There have been a number of hearts broken and families shattered, and I truly fear the damage is not completely done.

There are some men, who very possibly through no fault of their own, should never be allowed to marry. Those men are often highly successful athletes, movie or music superstars, or high profile politicians. Their relationship woes are sometimes more newsworthy than the achievements of these men, and the list is long and unfortunately, growing. On a quick hunt on the internet I was able to compile a short, but impressive list of those "powerful" men who are still incredibly powerful, but who have spent more energy on career and fame than on their marital relationships.

Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, John Elway, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton have either all strayed from their marital vows or divorced. What this does to the fabric of marriage is irreversible. Young boys aspire to be like these famous men, and the more prevalent infidelity is the more acceptable it will become and the importance of guarding a relationship takes a backseat to power and prestige. There are all sorts of levels of power, and many of the traits found in these superstars can be found in much less important men, but who have a level of power in their own right.

Red flags for women looking to marry the men they adore:
If he thinks of himself as a deserving superstar.
If he has not had a "humbling" experience.
If life has come easily for him and success followed.
If he believes others should work for him and he has
put in all the work he'll ever need.
If he is the "best" looking guy in his group of friends.
If he has ever cheated when he was supposedly dating someone.
If he enjoys the party scene much more than intimate conversation.
If he is from a broken home and keeps a distance from family.

Traits of Mr. Right...even if he doesn't have everything:
If he feels a strong connection to his family...especially his
If he is a hard-worker who takes pride in his work.
If he has some humility and can admit his weaknesses.
If he helps to promote the worth of the girls he dates.
If he is average-looking and cares about his overall health.
If he is willing to sacrifice for others around him.
If he will engage in deep conversations about "real" topics.
If he has lifelong friends who still keep in touch with him.

I could never make an argument that the famous Mr. Wrongs were without any Mr. Right traits, because in all likelihood they had some of the characteristics that would convince someone to marry him. My point is simply that to marry for power or popularity is possibly an incredibly slippery slope. If he has adoring fans, and is often in the spotlight, the quiet night at home with a wife and a small child or two, will never fully satisfy his needs.

This list has been compiled as the longterm goals I have for the children in my house. I cannot fully form the intentions of their hearts, but I can point out the pitfalls and minefields that, I guess thankfully, are in the daily news and an unfortunate thread of modern life.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

WARNING: Marrying for Romantic Love Could be Dangerous for your Marriage

The euphoric phase of a relationship does not last the entirety of a marriage, and if you are lucky, not through the courtship phase either. It is a state of being that evokes butterflies, adrenalin, and an altered state of logic. You know the couples you can identify who are in this stage. It is often depicted best with young lovers. They rarely take their eyes off of one another, they often hold hands for a time that makes others in the room uncomfortable, and most of their waking moments are dedicated to finding a way to be together.

A study highlighted in a Monitor on Psychology article written by Sadie Dingfelder found that romantic love was better explained as a human drive than an emotion. Helen Fisher, PhD, an anthropology professor at Rutgers, explains “All of the basic drives are associated with the dopamine system, and so is romantic love.”

The article goes on to say that the rush of dopamine often associated with romantic love can explain why couples stay up all night talking and why many people who are experiencing overwhelming romantic love have trouble focusing on anything except the object of their affection.

Dingfelder writes that the studies create “a picture of love acting in a manner not unlike cocaine, which also works through the dopamine system and causes intense craving, says Fisher. ‘Addictions are very powerful, and all of the addictions are associated with dopamine in one way or another,’ Fisher notes.”

There is no set rule that people cannot make reasonable decisions about marriage when hyped up on dopamine, but my inclination is that your chances of getting through the realities of marriage increases if the decision is made in a sober state. Couples who experience a level of dopamine that inspires them to a lifelong commitment, will be disappointed when the person with whom the “high” is associated turns out to be nothing more than another flawed person. No wonder so many movies and reality shows stop at the union. It is too disappointing to watch people come down from the high. The tension and longing for the affection of another is more entertaining than what happens after the romantic peak.

It is biologically important that the initial attraction that puts someone “into” a state of love happens regularly. It is important for the survival of the human species that people find a mate, commit to being with that mate and agree to have little ones together. I’ll go over later the benefits of such a union, and why it is so advantageous to be in a monogamous marriage for life, but for now this blissful state of being “in love” does its job to bring us together.

The problem with the physiological changes that we experience while we are “in love” is that we often make decisions and choices that are not what will be best for the long haul. If we rely just on the emotions that being in love evokes, we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed with the inevitable “down” that happens with every relationship. It is of course possible to find the “high” in a new relationship, but for those interested in finding and keeping a lifelong, monogamous relationship, being in love cannot be the only part of a decision to marry.

After the high wears off, love will continue to be paramount to the success of a marriage, and it is important to investigate the dynamics of love with whom you choose. Love is the key, but a life full of romantic love is an impossibility. At least with the women I polled, and in my own experience, romantic love cannot be sustained for the span of a marriage. Instead, there needs to be a reservoir of platonic, familial, and even self-love that can propel the relationship.

This is an excerpt from a book in process Choosing to Grow: Through Marriage. All rights are reserved.

Friday, July 31, 2009

True Love is... Freezing Your Butt Off

New cute shirt. Check

More than five minutes spent on hair. Check.

Make-up actually applied. Check.

Kids dropped off for the night. Check.

Hotel reservation. Check.

Outrageous expectations. Checked at the door.

This time of year, time alone with my husband outside of our condo is rare and precious, so an arranged date night is exciting. I get pumped up about the night out, but I am not fanatical about it anymore. I used to build up these rare dates to such a level that I was often disappointed and then frustrated about things that were out of my control. Last night’s date could have been a night out with friends for drinks ending in hot romance at our hotel. (fill in your own fantasy here) Instead, we spent our night out with friends for dinner and then we were pulled away by a work emergency for my husband. We spent the rest of the night rambling around in a run-down ’82 pick-up truck, tossing full boxes of food in and out as we transported food from one broken freezer to a sub-zero warehouse.

Granted, we live in Minnesota in the winters, so it is somewhat expected that some of our dedication to one another would include exposing ourselves to freezing temps. When the driveway is covered in snow or the windshield caked in ice, it is loving and kind to be the warm-hearted soul who chips away at the ice or shovels the snow for the spouse who stands huddled in the doorway. It happens in our house, and more now than a few years ago. I must note that the spouse who is huddled inside is not always me.

For a while, at the beginning of our marriage, I had this inaccurate impression that it was the husband’s job to take care of the wife. Every girl wants to be taken care of and to feel loved by a doting husband, but what I have found, is that every guy, and most definitely my guy, feels that way too. Most men, in fact, need women to dote and care for them much more than we women need them. Men suffer most when they are not in a marital relationship and women suffer most when they are in an unhappy relationship. Studies have concluded that men have a longer and healthier lifespan when married, and I am starting to understand what that means for me as a wife to that needy man. Don’t get me wrong, my husband is an incredibly efficient man who can do practically anything, but I have spent some time the last few years accepting my role as a helper, and our overall relationship has improved. Luckily, with the sacrifices I started to make, my husband began to sacrifice willingly too.

This week it was me throwing boxes onto palates and helping to get things stacked inside the walk-in freezer, but he too has frozen. Last year when I was coaching a soccer game in pouring rain, he suffered through the game, huddling the kids under a large trash bag and all out of support for me.

I was, and still am, a little disappointed that our date was changed, but I’m glad that I have gotten better about accepting each shift in expectation as a new experience, and that those shifts are not necessarily bad. We had fun laughing about the twist our “date night” had taken. We acknowledged how great it was to be out and about late at night without the kids, and we both chose to simply make the most of it.

I am finding happiness in the little things, letting go of unrealistic and fanatical expectations. Each moment is a gift, each conversation worth relishing and... freezing can be good for a marriage too.

If you want to be happy…
For an hour, take a nap
For a day, go fishing
For a month, get married
For a year, get an inheritance
For a lifetime, help someone.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

River Rafting Through Marriage

“Half the boats that go through that part of the river flip over,” our guide somberly explained as we watched the lead boats approach the toughest part of the river.

As a boating team we hadn’t had the most stellar rafting day up to that point. We had spent some time trying to free ourselves from a rock, losing one of our rafters in the process. She didn’t go down the river at all, and we were eventually able to lift the boat from its submerged state, but our guide had to use his belt for the first time all summer. We thought we had collected ourselves at lunch, determined to have a more successful outing in the afternoon. Literally yards from our second drop-in point, our guide had suggested that we try to “surf” an eddy while we waited for the other boats to launch. We got sucked in by the powerful water, again becoming submerged, and this time our guide had to deploy the life line as he swam to shore to pull us out.

Our confidence was shaken, and we had been forced to paddle continuously to catch up with the boats in our group. There were four women and a guide in our boat, while the boats ahead of us had five or six rafters including at least one man. I was starting to understand why our guide sounded less than enthusiastic when he realized that he was going to be in a boat with four women. We didn’t weigh as much as the other boats, slowing our travel, and despite my desire to admit otherwise, men have more brute strength. We wanted not to be nervous about the description of the upcoming rapids, but our experiences up to that point made it hard to remain calm.

We watched, with wide eyes and gaping mouths, as the first two boats in our group navigated the class 4 rapid. The first boat ducked out of view for a moment, and then we saw bodies and oars flying as the bottom of the boat became visible. We knew our friends had been thrown and we marveled at the speed and force with which they had been flung from the boat. The second boat approached that same spot, and again we watched as they were jostled and then flipped. Our panic was evident, and our guide could sense our trepidation.

“Ladies! Look at me! We can do this! We have to work together and you are going to make it if you do it right! Listen to me, and when I tell you to go high side left, you will put yourselves high side left and stay there with everything you got.” He yelled with authority and encouragement.

As he spoke, and we practiced the instruction, we were still floating toward the impressive rapid. We were getting closer, and each of us took a serious posture gripping our oars. We approached the rock and slid to the left of the boat as instructed. It was an instantaneous collision that included water spray, the overwhelming noise of water on rock, and involuntary movement as our bodies reacted to the boat motion. In less than two seconds we were past the obstacle, having been thrown about inside the boat, but most definitely still inside. We cheered and celebrated with relief. The boat directly behind us had also successfully navigated the rapid, and exactly half of the boats in our group had remained intact.

It was an amazing experience, and a phenomenal memory for our boat and also for the boat of our friends who were thrown out. The pictures of the turned over boat were definitely more interesting, and we looked at those images over and over again. As I studied the pictures of our boat I realized something about the experience that relates directly to what I have come to discover about navigating marriage.

Using the rafting analogy, being married is like navigating a tumultuous river. The personality of each boat is unique and no trip down the river is quite like any other. We all do essentially the same preparation: putting on life jackets and helmets and getting instruction about what to do if you fall out, but until you are on the river, and facing the hidden boulders, you cannot really appreciate the work it is going to take to get down.

In my marriage, I think my husband and I had boarded our raft with the proper safety attire, but we didn’t necessarily have the most experienced guide. We were operating with our own ideas about how to get down the river, and it created some uncomfortable situations. If you have ever rafted, you know that you have to be in sync with the other rafters, or you don’t go where you are supposed to be on the river. Six years ago we ran into an unexpected rapid, and I was thrown from our marriage boat. Rafting experts will tell you that you have three choices when you are thrown from a boat. You can put your feet out in front of you, keep your head above the water and float down bouncing off of rocks. You can swim aggressively to shore or to another boat, or you can swim aggressively back to your own boat. When I fell out, I knew I wanted to swim back aggressively to my own boat, but I needed some help to get there. After all the interviews and books read, I was able to climb back into our boat, and with the encouragement and willingness of my husband we have been able to put a reliable guide in the back to help get us down the river. The guide in our marriage boat is the collection of stories and advice that I gained through the tea party conversations. All of my research has helped me to identify some of those hidden boulders as well as how to best navigate the protruding rocks.

I found out, after our day of rafting, that our friends’ boat was given no specific instruction for how to get through the worst rapid of the day. In our boat, our guide told us what to expect and then we also practiced our technique. There was no guarantee that our instruction would keep us in the boat, but we were more prepared than the first boat who had received no instruction, and who hadn’t had the advantage of watching other boats tip. River rafting is hard work, and it can evoke fear, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, anger and pain. Marriage is no different, but like rafting, if navigated with the best equipment, a reliable guide and a willing partner, it can be an incredible adventure that is full of joy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chickening Out

I swear on a stack of Bibles that this really happened to us tonight…because really, who can make this stuff up?

“What do you want for dinner?” I unenthusiastically ask.

“I don’t care. What do you want for dinner?” My husband echoes with indifference. “Do you feel like Chinese?”

“No!” The biggest yells from the backseat, “I just had Japanese for lunch.”

“I want a restaurant.” The littlest voice pipes in from her car seat.

“You just want chicken nuggets…and we have some of those at home.“ I point out.

“No, I want a restaurant,” she insists.

“What are you going to order at the restaurant?” I query.

“I want…(dramatic pause) chicken nuggets.” She answers honestly.

So, the decision is made that my husband and I are going to get something for us and we would cook nuggets for the kids at home. We pass a sign on the highway for a chicken joint that we used to frequent, years ago, but we often laughed about the fact that they never really had the chicken that we ordered.

“We’d like the 8-piece chicken meal, mostly drumsticks please.” My husband yells out the window.

“Spicy or mild,” the box squawks.

“Mild, please.”

“So 3-piece chicken meal?”

“No, 8-piece meal with mostly drumsticks please.”

“A 2-piece meal?”

“No,” he looks over baffled at me as I try to stifle my giggles. “An 8-piece meal with mild drumsticks.” He enunciates.

“Come to the window please.” The frustrated woman requests.

As we drive around the corner, we cannot help but to laugh at how ridiculous that attempt at a fast-food order was. We get to the window and the woman pulls on her headset explaining that she cannot hear very well. We place our 8-piece order once again and she leaves the window for a minute.

“We only have 3 pieces of chicken right now. It will be 12 minutes for the rest of the order.” She explains.

“I think we should just go get something else.” I lean toward the car window to say.

My husband thanks me for making the decision to abandon the ill-fated trip to the chicken restaurant that too frequently does not have chicken, and we belly laugh all the way back to the highway. As entertaining as our attempt to get chicken was, we are back to our dilemma of needing to find some food for dinner. We head toward our temporary condo home and eventually decide on another fast food restaurant that is one of our favorites. It is known for its chicken bols and burritos and we get excited about our change of craving.

The kids and I stay in the car as my husband heads in with my order. I find myself talking with the kids and I realize that my husband has been gone longer than would be expected. I glance toward the door and I don’t see him headed toward the car, but I note that there are a lot of people in the restaurant. I chat a little longer with the kids and then, sans husband, I look back at the door and I find him silhouetted by one of the windows.

I joke with my oldest, “If they are out of chicken, I will absolutely die.”

Several more minutes pass and eventually my husband emerges with a bag of food and a look of utter disbelief.

He shakes his head as he gets back in the car, saying, “Well, I’m not sure what we’ve got in here, but the good news is, I didn’t pay a dime for it. Unbelievably, they ran out of chicken.”

“What? You have got to be kidding! That is nuts!” I laugh.

My husband told me that he had ordered our dinner and when it was apparent that they were not going to have enough chicken for our order, the restaurant employee offered my husband beef instead, and now, completely out of principle, he told the worker that we were really planning on being able to have chicken for dinner. After he was told that he would have to wait ten minutes, the manager informed my husband that our dinner would be free, and for all the effort that we went through for our chicken, it only seems right.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reading the Tea Leaves

Glasses of lemonade and tea. Check. A plate of cookies. Check. A laptop set to run through power point presentation. Check. Children in the basement with a movie set to go. Check. Manuscript in hand. Check. All that I needed were some bodies to fill the seats we had set up in my grandmother’s living room, and I would be ready to run through my first book presentation.

It is a scene reminiscent of the numerous tea parties I attended that got me here in the first place, but I am the one in the hot seat this time. I am relieved to see some of the faces who attended a tea party at the start of the project, and I’m thankful for the new additions who have come just to listen to the reading. At every research party I attended, I was the note-taker and the interviewer. I never shared my story, nor the darkness that motivated me to make changes in my life, but the readings are the story behind the project.

Each time I read the first chapter I am thrust back to that difficult time in my life and in my marriage, but it does seem to be getting easier each time I let a little more of it go. So much has changed and I am at such a better and happier place than I was six years ago, that I had to reassure my listeners today that I have moved well beyond the malaise of those memories. The chapters after the first one are about how I built back what was broken and mended what was weak, as well as what I have found that will be important for the years ahead, but that is not what I read today.

I was unaware during the reading that one of the women had started to cry, and I guess when the story is sad, it is an okay thing to evoke that kind of response. Over the course of this project, I have learned to expect the unexpected, and now that I have started the readings, I should be just as prepared for surprises. Some will be better than others, and I have no doubt that, as I diligently pursue publishers, I will be disappointed with rejection, but I feel safe enough to stick my neck out. There are too many women who have supported me along the way to not land softly on those hard rocks ahead. My gratitude is very real for the women who came today and offered words of support and encouragement. This project is moved by the engine of such women, and it is for them and because of what they do for me, that I hope to have a chance to see this book in print someday.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

From Cops and Robbers to Ipods and Touchscreens

There are undoubtedly amazing, mind-blowing products in development at a phone company near you, but I am fairly certain the conversations in their board rooms don’t go quite like the one I was privy to hear yesterday afternoon.

Product Developer: Hey, I think we need an I Flip Touch that is a TomTom.

Bossman: Okay, sounds good. Just make sure that it has directions and maps.

PD: Okay, thanks.

PD (after hanging up and calling a probable co-worker): Hey, we can do it. Call me if you need anything.

Flitting in and out of phone fantasy, my kids created imaginary computers that were the size of a DS with touchscreen capability, along with a flip phone that could hold all the music in the world. Not much entertains me as much as the inner workings of my kids’ brains.

It is an elaborate imaginary game that started three days ago, and has evolved into multiple paper representations of their creations. There are phones stalled in the middle of a brick breaker game, and others that are poised for the multiple texting conversations that have happened in conjunction with the product development. All hand-drawn letters and numbers, cut to shape by a ridiculous pair of clown scissors that they dug out of some box around here. The flip phone design has morphed because the early models kept breaking at the hinge point, turning one square paper phone into two smaller ones. They have set up shop to sell each other these products, printed receipts for purchase and dealt with pretend angry customers because they don’t have in stock what the customer wanted.

My favorite part of this game is that they have assigned each phone a ringtone…produced on demand by my oldest who mans the ipod that is currently connected to portable speakers. He has six phones, with six different ringtones, and personalities to go with them. There is one ringtone for the bossman, another for the co-worker and yet another for the 18-year-old version of himself. Both he and his younger sister can keep straight what mask they should don when a certain ringtone starts blaring, and they get into character immediately.

After pretend conversations on the paper phone, they have reported that a co-worker has been fired or that their mother seems frustrated that she cannot track them down. The game has followed us to the mall, to the park and to a party. They brought in a guest developer while they were playing with their friends, but they have been able to shelve their phones, and the game, when there are real people with whom they can talk.

I suppose I could be concerned about the infatuation with technology, but I would never want to discourage such creativity. It baffles me how much they do know about iphones and ringtones and touchscreens, because neither my husband nor I have an iphone, a song for a ringtone or a touchscreen to speak of. Electronics in our house right now consist of a cell phone for both me and my husband, one ipod for the five of us, 3 portable cd players, a boombox cd player, two laptops, a Tom Tom, a camera, a tv , a camcorder and a Wii. Until I started compiling that list, I really didn’t think we had that much, but I guess we are more plugged in than I thought. I do limit the screen time daily to no more than an hour in the morning and then maybe an hour at night. I monitor what they watch, we talk regularly about internet safety, and they are on their computer games while I am in the room with them. But technology surrounds them.

It is the life they see. Outside of the growing list of products in our house, we buy groceries at touchscreen scanners, and a version of the products they have been pretending to create are all over tv commercials, magazine ads and television shows. A friend of mine put it best when he said, “We (adults) are technology immigrants, they (kids) are technology natives.” It is inevitable that today’s kids will be technologically savvy, and like anything else, it is not inherently bad if there is balance to that passion. Who knows, maybe they will be part of a team that invents the ultimate in handheld technology, and I hope that the ease with which they have made decisions as they’ve played this game will follow them into the corporate world, and more importantly to every relationship they have from here on out.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Reluctant Reader

It’s about time, but I’m still not sure I’m ready. The public debut of my first chapter will happen, first, this Sunday for my grandmother and her friends and then more officially the 29th of July. I do hope I’ll be able to keep my hands still and my voice steadied enough to actually read what I’ve written. I forget that there are only a handful of people who have heard the story, and even fewer who have read my written recollection of it. It is nerve-racking stuff to lay your life out there in a collection of letters and words to be judged, analyzed and felt. It is possible that I would have been better off writing fiction pieces and pretending that the characters and their faults are not my own, but I can’t function there. The heroine that I write in my own non-fiction story will definitely disappoint her fans, but she is more human than a caped crusader.

It’s a story that is not any more impressive or important than any other person’s story, the difference may simply be that I am willing to write mine down. It reflects a time in my life that I would rather pretend never happened, but it did, and I’ve grown past it. It is dramatic, however, and the emotions should have waned for me in the last six years, but when I start to read it, I am right back there again. Hopefully it will be cathartic to start the separation from this story. Eventually it will be in a book that will be outside of my control and each time I can release it a little more. This is part of the process that I didn’t quite anticipate, but I am open to being moved where I need to go.

I sense that this project and this story have happened outside of my will. I trust that it is for a purpose greater than me, and for that, I will subject myself to the uncomfortable. My hands will sweat, my stomach will churn, my voice will probably shake, but this is the next logical step in a process that must continue. My husband has forgiven me, our marriage has been put back on track, and I just hope that those who hear the story are just as forgiving.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Say What You Need to Say...

It might be my impression…but it feels like I am pulling that relationship short straw lately. I try not to complain, and it is a failure, in my eyes, to give in to negative thoughts that insist on bombarding my mind, but man is it hard. It is hardest when the slights happen because of people with whom I have lifelong relationships. I watch older women, who I admire most, and I can hardly imagine that their brains even know how to think negatively, and I doubt their reactions to frustration would be anything but acceptance with quiet grace.

I am not quiet and I have only a modicum of grace, so how can I move past the emotions I feel when I perceive that I’m being slighted? My recent solution has been to do what every other woman who is not all that graceful or quiet does: I gossiped, I ranted negatively, and I even held a grudge. That sounds so girly and I hate it. It’s not okay with me that those are the tools I employed when a relationship got stressful, or someone did something that upset me. Why in the world are women wired this way? What evolutionary benefit does this sort of conflict resolution promote?

I guess if there is no real need to create drama with a specific person, you feel a little better having talked about her with a friend instead, but it is such an unattractive behavior, and one I would love to completely abandon. It is hypocritical of me to tell my kids, “It is not nice to talk about someone who is not in the room, unless what you are saying is beneficial,” and to then proceed with that same behavior in conversations with my husband. He is my gossip soundboard. I truly do not call up one friend to talk about another, but rather my frustrations are frequently vented on my husband’s ear.

I realize that it is normal, human behavior to get caught up in the stories of other people and to then express opinion about their lives, especially if you are involved in the drama, but I want to grow past this rut I have let myself dig. I have passively let rifts occur because in recent years, I have remained silent with my offender when I used to express discontent. In my early twenties I thought nothing of confronting someone who was hurting me and expressing my displeasure by imparting my wisdom on them. It was rather ineffectual and often put an even deeper strain on our relationship. I’ve tried other tactics that have left me emotionally drained, but again have proven somewhat futile. So, I have simply just stopped trying, but the emotions are still there, and the ability to communicate thwarted. The long silences don’t work for me either.

The last thing that I want is to become so indifferent that I avoid the hard conversations altogether. I will have completely resigned when I no longer have the energy to talk with someone about difficult topics. So, where to go from here? Objective “I” statements are my new method. When I feel the urge to vent frustrations about relationships that are in a difficult place, I set out to write as many “I” statements as I need so I can begin to verbalize what needs to be said. Example, “I am so angry because I am not getting my way.” “I am sad because I am feeling misunderstood.” My emotions are valid, and my reactions are my responsibility, so I will no longer keep my emotions to myself, but rather approach those sticky relationship issues from my perspective only. No more assumption, no more silence, no more expectation that people can read my mind. I will just say what I need to say.

(As a side note...I will post flower pictures with each blog that is specifically about how I am trying to grow. A badge to remind me)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mechanical Misery

Last summer it was my phone, this year my car, but there are a number of things with which I just dread dealing. (computers and grills included) I want to simply pass off the job to my already overworked and exhausted husband and then I proceed to get mad that it doesn’t get done yesterday. I’m not sure what frustrates me more: the undependability of manmade things, or the fact that my husband can’t drop everything to tend to my needs. It’s not fair…it’s not reasonable, but it is how I feel.

I just want to be taken care of sometimes. I am not a high maintenance woman, by any means, but there are days that I feel like just curling up in a ball and letting things magically happen around me without even having to bat an eye in that direction. I rail against the reality that it is never going to happen, especially this time of year. I throw my little tantrum, shed a few tears of frustration and then get back to the daily grind as quickly as I can. It’s not his fault, but really, I have NEVER seen a computer, a phone, or a car acknowledge its weaknesses and apologize for making my life miserable. My husband can, right?! Sure, he can, but should he? It’s not his fault that those mechanical things fail on me right when he is overcommitted, but yelling at the things has proven futile time and time again…and I never feel any better.

The things will get fixed, time will pass, and I’ll get my husband back, but in the meantime, I need to find another sounding board that is less emotional. Thus, I turn to the internet… boy, am I a glutton for punishment!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Singled Out

Three weekends left…after this one. Three more chunks of time when I need to muster up energy, schedule efficiently or pay the price because the kids are bored. I will have one break in there when my mom has the kids while I head up to the mountains, but generally I am on call 24 hours a day, just like I have been since April. I have stolen some evenings to myself, as my husband has been with the kids or a babysitter that I’ve hired has come over, but this time of year is my stint with single motherhood. I am awe-inspired by the women who do this more regularly and even more impressed by those women who manage to do it with the added responsibility of working while mothering. I acknowledge that I am not really a single mother because I do not have to work to make the money that I spend on food and activities for the four of us, but I think I get a fairly good idea of what it is to be the only adult around.

Yesterday, after my oldest was so badly disappointed that one of my plans fell through, he yelled, “Well, if you just had a back-up plan.” I bristled, and yelled back (yes I am an ashamed yeller…when provoked) “I am tired of coming up with ALL the plans day in and day out. I do it ALL the time.”

And I am tired now, but I am not as exhausted as I was when the kids were much smaller. The absolute hardest time in my house was when I had a two-year-old and a 7-month-old, and our schedule was the same. Things have gotten easier each time one of my kids has turned three, and now that all of them are over three it is often just really fun.

We can do more things, and I can have real conversations with the little bodies that crowd together in the back of my car, but there are some days that are harder than others. The weekends are the hardest. Single parenting when the weekend comes around reminds me, and reminds the kids, that their dad is not with us. I can see curious eyes when we go to church and I am there, alone, with the kids. I try to often play with my wedding ring, in place of being able to wear a disclaiming bumper sticker: “Yes, I am alone, but I am happily married…he’s just working right now.” Very often there are families who do the things that we do, and it is hard not to miss the full-family dynamic.

As a group, the kids and I decided that this summer we were not going to join any teams or sign up for any camps. As a full-time scheduler, I can see the appeal in getting my kids signed up for a ton of things. If I am handed a practice and game schedule, it is easier to work with smaller windows of time, and this summer has been an experiment in how to handle all the scheduling myself. It is more relaxed as far as running from place to place, but there has been a lot more pressure put on me to incorporate enough activities to create distraction.

My mom was a legitimate single mom, a role I appreciate increasingly, and I understand a little better why my siblings and I were regularly scheduled. We all thrived with externally imposed scheduling, and I have no doubt it helped the weekends pass faster. Families go camping, families take bike rides, families head to the mountains for the weekend, and as a single mom it is harder to do these things. Although it might be just as fun, it is also a different experience when there is only one adult in tow.

I’ll impose myself on my friends’ family time, when they include me in their weekend activities, but I am cognizant of the fact that it is always less awkward when I am not the third wheel, and every family deserves time to themselves. Seeking out those friends of mine who are single parenting, either permanently or temporarily, has helped with not just distraction but with adding the support that I know I need.

I am glad that the festival season is almost over, but I am glad that I have this time of perspective with our kids. We grow through this single-mothering season together, and as painful as it is sometimes, it makes each of us stronger and appreciative of the time we get as a family the rest of the year.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I Will Age, But I Refuse to Grow Old

It took me a while to get down the stairs today, navigating gingerly with every step. I paused at the bottom and my husband reminded me that I should probably move from high-impact activities to more joint-friendly sports. I hate that he’s right, and I hate more that I am coming to the sad reality that I have used and abused my body. I don’t regret the wear and tear that I’ve put on it, and I regret even less the life I have been afforded by being active, but I have to come to terms with what is happening to my body, my face, and my life as time goes by. A common expression in our house is, “Man, I’m getting old,” and I don’t want to say that any more. I am not starting a quest to turn back the clock, but rather, I choose to take a new approach to the inevitable. Yes, age is happening, but “old” is a choice and my choice is to never grow there. Just like good wine or tasty cheese it's aged, but old wine or old cheese sounds like a dangerous decision.

I’ve been out of high school 15 years and some of my friends have been in my life for over 20. That sounds ridiculous to me, when I say it out loud, because I feel like I did in college. Minus the body that insists on betraying me and the fact that life has happened enough to me that I’ve been married for over a decade and my kids are practically pre-teens, I don’t feel like I’ve changed. Logically I know better, but I think this must be the initial stages of mid-life contemplation because I feel compelled to prove to people that I am really not getting older. I want to ignore the fact that workers at fast food windows continually call me ma’am, and that I haven’t been carded in over 6 months. Every fiber of my being wants to rail against that, but with deeper consideration, I accept the fact that I do not have the time or the energy. So how can I better accept that pesky second hand?

It is impossible to talk about aging without talking about the abstract existence of time. It is overwhelming to really wrap my mind around it, so concrete metaphors are my only way to conceptualize. One of my graduate school professors explained the time continuum like a stack of papers that goes from floor to ceiling, and that the very top page represents the amount of time that humans have been in existence. WHAT?!? That is mind blowing, but with what scientists have been able to piece together about how long things have been around, including the rocky mountains that draw me to them every summer, it is probably a fairly accurate example. Nothing that we wonder about happens in an instant, and our lives need to be savored in much the same way.

Every time I drive south on I-25 toward Colorado Springs I am struck by the scar that marks one of the foreground foothills. If you are familiar with Colorado at all, it is a mark of miners that tore away part of the mountain in search of gold, and what remains is a manmade imprint on a timeless treasure. On that large stack of papers, that mark on the mountain was likely less than a punctuation mark on that top page, yet it has become a part of the landscape and a great story for curious kids who occupy my backseat.

Why do I value the scars that mark my body any less? They are the scars that tell the moments of my life and how I lived when that mark was made. I can take my finger and trace on the smiley face and squiggly scar that crowd my knee. I can feel the double scar on my abdomen that represents the entrance of two of my kids. My body is a map of where I’ve been, and how I’ve lived. My sagging chest is the remnants of the life I could offer my kids when they were newborns. Those crowfeet that insist on pinching in my eyes are from smiling and laughing with friends and family. My left ring finger that locks on me regularly reminds me that I miscued too many basketballs, but then I look at the ring that lies just under that stubborn knuckle, and I’m taken to even more stories and moments.

So, life will continue to wreak havoc on my body, and I have a choice about whether I will celebrate the changes and force myself to enjoy the aging process, or whether I will fight against it and invest my time (and money) in erasing the life that has happened to my body so far, bitterly complaining that I am getting old. Now don’t get me wrong, I will continue to work toward the most healthful body and mind I can, and that does take energy and time, but most of all it takes acceptance that what I have been given, and what is yet to come, is a beautiful gift worth celebrating.

He hath made everything beautiful in his time. Eccles 3:11

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Aspiring to be a Man in the Mirror

There is not much left to say that hasn’t yet been said, and to be honest, I am not completely committed to adding something new to the conversation. I am not overly emotional about the passing of Michael Jackson, but I am intrigued by the social phenomenon that surrounds his death. It is newsworthy, and superficially interesting, but there must be something to this hoopla that I have missed along the way. I know most of Michael Jackson’s lyrics, and many of my childhood memories could easily be accompanied by an MJ song, but even so, I would hardly consider going to a memorial site to write my name on a monstrous banner. Or stand in line to get tickets to attend the memorial, and I would most definitely never be caught with flowers and stuffed animals so that I could place them on a memorial site. I do, however, find myself turning my head toward the television to watch his tearful daughter say her goodbyes, and I cannot help but to well up when the people who really knew him are choked up while honoring his life. I even felt compelled today to introduce my 9-year-old to the “Thriller” music video that scared the pants off me when it was first released. He really was a remarkable man, and in so many ways I hope I can affect even a fraction of the change on the world that he managed along the way.

My moonwalk is unsteady and I cannot hold a note above high C, but there are some themes to Michael Jackson’s life that resonate with me, and thankfully resonated with millions of others. The body of work that he leaves behind will undoubtedly completely overshadow the bizarre nature of his public life in recent years, and for that, music lovers can be grateful. He changed the landscape of popular music and the lives of every musician to follow him will most likely have been influenced by his talent. Something is moved within me when I hear a song from the 80’s that recalls an emotion, a memory or an indescribable feeling that can only be reached through song.

I may never write award-winning songs or move an audience to screaming with my hip gyration, but maybe, just maybe, what and who I leave behind will be just as moved by my legacy. Isn’t that why people are drawn to memorial services like MJ’s? Don’t we wish that our lives counted for as much as his did, along with the fact that he moved and changed us while he was here? Maybe those who fought for tickets today want to be able to say that with their lives they really lived by attending the memorial of the greatest artist to walk the earth. For me, that is not enough of a legacy to leave behind, and I want to keep working toward that greater change.

I will take a page out of Michael Jackson’s book and start that change with the man in my own mirror. I hope to reflect in that magic glass a daily influence and a legacy that might amount to something.

If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place, Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change

To be honest, I will be thrilled if my kids are not the ones offering the tearful memorial, but rather my great grandkids, and because I have made an imprint on their lives too. Thanks Michael for all that you’ve left behind, and thank you for coming in a time where you can be visited regularly, on youtube.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

To FB or not to FB...That is the Question

I have had a facebook account for over three years, but in the last three weeks, I actually started to invite friends there and post information. I have fully committed myself to proposing my book to publishers, and it is apparent that I need an online following before any publisher will even give my proposal a sniff. I went to twitter first, in May, curious about the mysterious activity promoted on every news station as an invitation to “follow us on twitter.” It was out of pure curiosity that I followed and received followers in the strange land called “twitter”. It has its own language and cultural expectations, and I am most definitely still a foreigner there. It became a fun distraction during the weeks that my husband was working in Colorado while my kids were back in Minnesota with me. I didn’t have anyone to talk to at night, except for the short phone calls, and nothing makes time completely disappear like navigating online, and most especially tooling around on twitter. So I want followers, and I am intrigued by all those other people who want them too…is it really a bad thing?

I am not the only one who is fascinated by this social phenomenon. It seems only natural that people are flocking to these bright light websites like moths to flame. Everyone wants to be followed. They want to know that they matter to someone, that there is a person in the world who wonders what they are doing or who they have become. It is a different addiction to seek out names from the past and connect with people than other more destructive addictions, but I see potential for disaster there too. Stay-at-home moms are seeking treatment for their computer addictions, and I have found myself shuttling my kids off to an inane activity so I can blog, or tweet or FB (all verbs that were not in existence 10 years ago). My husband and I can be found most nights these days plugged into our own outlets glancing up at the tv behind the laptop screens, occasionally commenting on the story that flits across the screen. Maybe if he were on facebook or twitter, he and I could actually connect again, but he is working and I am sidling up to my distraction. He is living in his own cyber world and I in mine.

I have found that very few people I know, in the “real” world, have visited or choose to visit twitter regularly, and some still do not have facebook accounts. Several people I respect highly have no deep-seeded need to be followed or friended, and I cannot find those intriguing people on either facebook or twitter, so they must know something that I do not know. What is wrong with me? I tried for a really long time not to get sucked in, but it seems to be the new community, the new connection, and if you are not tweeting or FBing then you are not connected in today’s day and age.

I want to be able to pull the plug and connect better with the people immediately around me, but I think that is precisely why I am finally sucked into the cyber-community. Our family has not stayed in one place long enough to have established the connections that every person needs and deserves. I have friends from all the places we’ve been and the life we have lived, but it is not in one physical place. The nature of our lives is not conducive to unplugging the connection that really can only happen for me online. The one place that a large majority of my friends and family can actually be found is that silly screen that stares back at me into the wee hours of the morning. I would miss out on a lot of life that is happening and being recorded on those sites. If I unplug, it is the end of a fledgling writing career, and then how can I telecommute for my actual paying job?

This is my new distraction. The reason I can feel connected to something when the someone I hope to be connected to is plugged in somewhere else. Is there really anything wrong with that? We all want to feel connected and isn’t it okay to be connected to family and friends who are actually interested in how things are going? It is not that my husband is not interested. He and I have both been consistently committed to doing what we need to do to stay connected, but this time of year, it is hard for him, and actually unfair of me to expect from him, to be all the connection that I need. I need the witty comments of my crazy friends, and the satisfaction of curiosity about what others are doing. I need a nudge of hello and a cyber-smile when I have screaming kids in the background.

I vow to stay connected. I want to plug in to what people are doing and saying, but I vow too, that I will not do it at the expense of the living breathing people here in this house. I want to be able to say how amazing our day was and how witty and fun and entertaining our kids were. I want to close up the laptop and flick off the television and laugh late into the night with the man who has always been and who will remain my best friend. He may not be on facebook or on twitter, but I know he is following me, and I him. I’m lucky I don’t need the email updates to remind me of that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Family Grounding…

A Fresh Look at a Popular Form of Discipline

I was grounded today. We all were, in fact. I blame my nine-year-old, and he blames me, but we had crossed the point of no return, and the only thing that could happen was a grounding for us all. Because I cannot ground a 9-year-old and leave him on his own all day, the entire tribe was forced inside, and activities were limited for the oldest. The term “grounding” is such an interesting one when it is used in reference to the loss of privilege and the isolation from friends and fun. It is only one of literally a dozen definitions of “ground” and “grounding” and it is not even the formal verb definition. “To ground”, as a verb, is most commonly used in reference to keeping a plane from flying, and in the informal use it refers to keeping a person from a place as a punishment. When you are dealing with an active 9-year-old boy, the formal and informal definitions both apply.

The place we couldn’t go today was the house of good friends who we have not seen in almost a year. There are only a handful of things that my son could have done that would have warranted a grounding from their house, but hitting his sister, to the point of bruising, definitely qualifies. I think he truly thought that our activities for the day were too important to be cancelled, but what he learned is that the mental health and connectedness of my children is too important to ignore.

I endured the proclamation that he hates me and that I am a son-of-a-gun (and unbelievably he actually used the word gun instead of the alternative.) I drove around until he was calmed enough to go back into the condo without evoking a call to police, and then the grounding commenced.

One use of the word “grounding” has to do with charged particles in a circuit of electricity, and when they come across a “grounded” object the potential for those charged particles is diminished. That transformation literally happened behind the closed doors of my son’s temporary room, but I presented myself as the grounding rod. I handed my son a pad of paper with an unfinished sentence on the top: “I hate my life because…” and I told him to write as much as he needed to in order to finish the sentence. He brought the sheet out to me when he was done, and I sat down with him, numbering 8 things that he had listed. We started to go through each concern and we dissected those things that he could effect change upon, and those things that he was not allowed to worry about any more. His face softened, the genuine tears rolled, and we discovered a number of anxieties he had, as of yet, been unable to communicate. I couldn’t fix every concern of his, but I helped to diminish a few of those charged particles.

An online free dictionary that I found did not reference the use of the term “well grounded” but I know that I am not alone in my parenting quest to hope for well grounded kids. I want them to be “down to earth”, and I guess I can make the connection to earth while talking about grounding because “earth” is the most popular definition of the noun ground. The soil that I hope to put under the feet of our growing kids needs to be rich and nourishing, and the only way that I know how to provide that is through positive reinforcement and encouragement. After we spent some time removing some of my son’s charged particles, I handed him another piece of paper with a different unfinished sentence at the top: “I like my life because…” He had to finish that sentence too, but this time he had to come up with ten endings. We were back to better after this exercise was done, and the grounding from friends became an exercise in much more than punishment.

When I was “grounded” as a kid, I would lose toys or an opportunity to go play with friends, and that has not changed. I saw little to no redemption in my grounding, and my son may not see the value yet either. However, now that I am the hand that forces the grounding, my perspective about its use as an effective growing tool has changed dramatically. It is a time to slow down, turn off the electronics, quiet the noise of summer playtime and listen to the boiling frustrations of a growing boy. I take very seriously the fact that when my kids do something grievous enough to get grounded, in this case it was a bruising blow to his sister, that they will indeed be forced to grow through the pain that a grounding seemingly causes. For this…I will always hold my ground.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Parenting the Positive Aspects of Sports

Youth sports have been the most influential component of my life since I was five years old. I played youth sports, competed as a college athlete, coached competitive youth teams, and I am the parent of three children who play sports throughout the year. My husband and I are college coaches now, and we both spend a lot of time in sporting arenas recruiting from youth teams. I am a self-described sports fanatic and I have watched a shift in youth sports through the course of time. Arguably the most notable change has been parent involvement and influence on the young athlete.

The shift in sports parents has been remarkable, since I first started my involvement in youth sports nearly 30 years ago. Back in the early 80’s it was not uncommon to find a parent on the sidelines of a sport who had never competed, and who was clueless about the rules. There were contentious situations when a competitive parent would yell at a ref because they didn’t understand, but the pressure on the kids playing was not nearly the insanity it is today. When I played, the passion and the drive for the sport most often came from the players competing, but I am seeing an increasing presence of parents who are definitely the driving force behind the involvement of their children.

I have seen children implode because of pressures put on them by their parents, and it is easy to identify that “crazy parent” on practically any sideline. I know better than to try to influence every parent and every athlete that I may encounter, either with my own children, or along the recruiting trail, but I do think that some of the things that my husband and I do will help our kids to be lifelong athletes, and responsible “teammates” when they are done competing.

We are a sporting family. We often have family games in the basement or at a local park, and those games give us a chance to teach, on a microcosmic level, some of the important life lessons that are so invaluable in youth sports. I truly believe that the more a child sees a parent competing and handling success and failure, the more they too will glean some positive attributes.

There are so many wonderful things about youth sports, hence a lifelong involvement. Some of the positive aspects include: learning self-confidence, learning how to win, learning how to lose, learning that life is not always fair, learning how to work with others, learning how to respect authority (coaches and refs), learning to push yourself to achieve personal goals, learning to be a part of something bigger by encouraging teammates and sacrificing yourself for the good of the whole team. We also believe in loyalty, and making an impact where you are, rather than trying to manage or control an experience by moving our kids from team to team or coach to coach.

The most effective way to encourage a child’s acquisition of those positive traits happens in the car and at home both before and after a game or practice. We have regular discussions with our kids about what a good individual goal might be for a practice or a game. Most often the goals include a consistent and intense work ethic. We make a point to then ask each kid how they did with working hard when the practice or game is done. We point out the times we saw them skate hard, or run their fastest after a ball. They light up when they realize that we encourage the small things. We try hard not to focus on the goals scored or the games won, because confidence comes with achieving those more attainable goals, and success often comes from achieving those smaller goals first.

Let the coaches coach…and the refs ref
Despite the high level at which both my husband and I competed, we defer to other parents and volunteer coaches to teach our kids. They can learn something valuable from every type of coach they encounter, and we feel that it is important to let some of those life lessons simply happen without our influence. We talk regularly about how important it is to listen to the direction of a coach and to make an impact on an individual level by being coachable. The same goes for refs. We encourage our kids to respect the refs, even when their calls are wrong, because that is part of the game, and we hope our kids learn to go forward, changing to a more positive mindset of playing in the next moment. To enhance our perspective about the importance of coaches and refs, we tell our kids to thank coaches regularly, after many practices and games, and to shake the hand of a ref after every game.

We really want our kids to be good sports, and as competitive as they all are, we insist that their focus often shift to the successes of their teammates. As a parent, I often pick out a player on the kids’ teams that I will make an effort to encourage during the game, and I will talk at length with our kids about how their teammates had their own individual successes throughout a practice or game. There is nothing quite like the challenge of competing in a team sport, and in order to do it well, there MUST be an emphasis on the successes of the players around our kids.

The best we can do for our kids is to be an example of a calm and encouraging coach when they see us coaching from the sidelines, and to translate that positive encouragement into our parenting. Both my husband and I value the players we coach as individuals, and when our kids see that, it helps them to have an equal amount of respect for their own teammates and coaches. It is hard, and we come across situations regularly where we have to reevaluate our approach, but the effort is so worthwhile.

It is a challenge to influence every aspect of a child’s involvement in youth sports, and that is why it is increasingly important to educate all the parents, coaches and volunteers who keep the youth sports engine running. Sites like offer invaluable resources to a parent invested in the success of their athlete. The success to which I am referring is simply gaining some of those positive attributes that can be gained by competing, not just getting a scholarship or winning every game. Youth sports are too important to be too singularly focused on that longterm goal of being a professional athlete. Our goal is to raise professional people who have gained many of their strengths competing in youth sports.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How to survive…and even enjoy…a long road trip with kids

Despite an unexpected exploded tire in the fifteenth hour of our recent 16-hour trip, driving cross-country with three children under the age of nine was actually a fun and memorable day. When I told people that I had planned to drive 900 miles by myself with our three kids, the reactions were mixed. “Are you crazy?” and “Don’t you think you should take someone with you?” My answers were simple, “Most definitely” and “I don’t think I need anyone else in the car.” I could only refuse the help offered because our kids are seasoned car travelers, and both they and I know what to expect for those long hours trapped in a small space.

Since 2000, and the arrival of our oldest, the majority of our travel has happened in the car. We regularly travel long distances when we drive, and each of our road trips has been at least 8 hours long. As unique as each trip has been, there have been some activities that have consistently helped the drive go more smoothly, and during our over 30 road trips, we have found a number of things that work for us.

Each year we have accumulated new items for the individualized car bags for each kid. They are bags that sit in our closet waiting for the next road trip, and we go through them before each trip to make sure that the activities that are in them are still appropriate. The car bags are unique to the interests of each kid, and we replenish and sharpen pencils, replace dead batteries and add at least one new item for the trip. This most recent trip the 9 yr-old boy bag included: Harry Potter book, a pad of blank paper, pens, crosswords, Sudoku, cd player (he has had a handheld game in the past, but not this last time). The 6-yr-old girl bag included: paper and pens, coloring books, math pages, flashcards, cd player, Junie B. Jones book, and sticker puzzles: And the 3-yr-old girl bag included: crayons, paper, doll with Velcro clothes, and a Leap pad with books and cartridges

I, too, have a car bag that sits within arm’s length so that I can reach it when there is a lull in the peace. I saved scholastic books through the school year, and I had two books for each kid. There were three packs of gum, a Hannah Montana cd, two new movies, a disposable camera for my oldest, and extra princess sticker books for the girls. I have done the timed release of “surprise bag” gifts, and I’ve also only brought out a surprise when I can tell that the kids need something to spice up the ride. Both methods work well, and they look forward to my reach into that bag.

It is not possible, these days, to imagine a long day in the car without the presence of a DVD player. I personally don’t subscribe to the “DVD player for each rider” scenario, but we do have one dvd player for the car. It is attached to an effective pair of speakers so they can listen together. It might be a bit old-fashioned, but I don’t want our road trips to become these individualized experiences that happen behind the head phones donned by each kid. One DVD player bonds them, forces cooperation and because I have a personal preference for the family time that happens in the car, for the movies, it is an experience better shared. As soon as we pulled out of the drive, I told the kids what times the movies would be showing. I have them spaced at intervals that leave 2-3 hours between showings. They look forward to the set time, and they can be occupied during the wait with the other activities we have in the car. This most recent trip I employed a payment method so that each kid could “buy” his/her ticket to the movie. Every person was expected to “pay” a compliment to every other person in the car in order for the movie to start. My three-year old liked the shirts of her siblings, but young kids get a discount at a regular theatre too.

There have been a number of road trips where my kids just doze off as we’re driving and I can kick out several hours without the distraction of energized kids. Lately, it works best for our kids when they know what time they are going to be expected to close their eyes for a while. It curbs the fights about whether someone gets to stay up while the others are sleeping.

Pick a popsicle stick…Often, the fights my kids feel compelled to win, are the fights about injustice. They fight over who chooses what game, or what movie, or what music to listen to, and the discussions can be the most contentious arguments in our car. Prior to our departure (brave parents can do this on the road) each kid picked out a popsicle flavor that was a unique color, and the stick that remained became the “choosing stick” for that kid. The sticks are in a brown paper bag, and I draw a stick when the kids cannot make decisions on their own. The sticks work well for other occasions, outside the car too.

Singing only… To curb the arguing, encourage the kids to sing everything that they have to say to each other. If you have to sing, it is hard to whine or sound angry, and it can often lead to uncontrollable fits of laughter.

5- minute exercise at rest stop: jumping jacks, short sprints, leg wiggles

Audio books: We listened to Peter Pan on a recent road trip, and the oldest was totally into it, but the younger kids used the listening time to do some things on their own. There are so many wonderful audio books that are appropriate for the entire family, and it kills a lot of time.

Car games: There are a number of games, and travel websites with ideas of how to pass the time with some bonding activities.

Next word begins with…last letter of word given i.e. Kid one says, “banana” kid two has to come up with a word that starts with “a” Advanced version for older kids: geographic locations example “Indiana” and the second person says, “Atlanta”

20 questions…either with or without the question ball.

Car bingo: You can create the items to find depending on what you might pass while on the road: cow, semi-truck, telephone pole, stop sign, the letter “a”, bird, silo, bridge, police car, tow truck, train, and you can make it specific for the places that you know you’ll pass

There are prefab magnetic games you can buy:

Dance breaks: When a good song comes on suggest a 5 minute dance party where everyone has to dance in their seat. As the kids get older they have started to know exactly which songs to which they would like to dance.

GIVE UP ON EXPECTATIONS: As well-planned and organized you think your road trip may be, allow yourself permission to let go when expectations are disappointed. The one thing that can be completely predictable is the fact that there will be surprises along the way. Every trip is different, and the unexpected is what makes a road trip memorable. Don’t get too caught up in being rigid with your kids and enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pruning my project

Warning to gardeners: What you are about to read may be difficult. What has happened in our yard may very well be disturbing and appalling to you. For any offense you suffer, I am incredibly sorry.

We have lived in our house here in Minnesota for two full years, and I just recently looked around to take stock of the plants that grow in our yard. I have noticed their presence, but my yardwork over the last two years (or should I say war waged) has been with the dandelions that seem to think they are the rightful owners of this property. At any rate, we are starting to get the yard under control, and in a recent dry spell I had time and energy to look more intently at the plants.

Just outside our front door are five large and generally overgrown Bridal White Spirea. Last year my husband took a buzz saw, okay, so it wasn’t a buzz saw, but rather a trimmer. His approach to these plants, however, was much closer to that of a hack than a meticulous gardener. The plants were overgrown last year too, so he trimmed them down to get the scraggly limbs under control. I can sense the gardeners bristling because I am fairly certain that my lingo gives me away. I truly have no idea what I am doing. I don’t remember what time of year my husband hacked, or if it was a good time for the plant. I don’t think he did it when they were blooming, but I am certain we put those bushes under a lot of stress because of our lack of knowledge.

So this year, the plants started to get over grown again, but I noticed that several of the branches were completely void of leaves and flowers. A large portion of the plant was essentially sitting in the middle of the bush… dead. The flourishing branches had become intertwined with the dead ones, and it was hard to distinguish between the two at times.

So, I got on this pruning kick. I wanted to get some of the dead branches removed so that the plants looked better. As I started to tear away those branches that were dead, I realized that nearly two-thirds of the bush was lying on my sidewalk while the scraggly third that remained looked thinned out and sad. It looked better without the dead portion taking up space, but I worried for the little bit that was left.

Within a day, the branches that remained were full of flowers and blooming beautifully. I could tell the plant was breathing a sigh of relief to have all of that dead weight removed from the innermost parts.

The pruning had to happen, and I think I may be able to save the plants after all, but in the pruning process I discovered another metaphor by which I can identify a stage in my life.

Nearly 6 years ago, I started a book project about marriage that literally changed my life. I set out on a journey to discover answers to questions that I had about my own marriage. It was a critical point in my life as a mother of two small children in the midst of moving from house to house. It was a hard time, and the research project provided me an intellectual and emotional outlet that felt phenomenal.

That was the growth of a big, healthy plant. Life continued, I concluded the research, I occasionally dabbled in the writing, but I was unable to fully complete this project that I had started. Part of the reason, I justified, was because we had a third child, we moved two more times, and I started to work, full time and then part-time. Parts of the plant died away because they were no longer necessary to complete the project. I had not recognized the distraction that my book provided, and it was a constructive form of addiction…for a while. As I started to actually get the answers I had sought about prioritizing in my marriage, working through some of my own personal issues, and soaking up the all-too precious time with our kids, I didn’t need the project any more.

I don’t really need it now either, but I see the strong branches that remain from that original bush. I have seen what truths and beauty they retained while fighting through the dead and dying parts of the plant, and I am motivated to share. I have been helped so much by this project, I feel it would be a travesty to let the plant simply get choked out. Someone needs to prune, take out the dead branches and give this plant a chance to grow again.

I don’t doubt that the next phase of sharing and soliciting publishers will be a stressful time, but I intend to pay attention now. I will meticulously shape instead of hack and I will take care to guard this precious gift that I was given by all those women who volunteered to share their lives and their experiences in marriage. It is my thank you to them to pay it forward…and finish writing it down.