Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Road to Happiness

Happiness – how would you describe it?  Emotive to its core, essential to every single person on this earth, and yet sometimes so elusive that you would think it never existed. In my essay “My Crime or Yours? A Wife’s Debate”, I was very honest about my current situation as a stay-at-home mom. My emotions, as I wrote the piece, were running high enough to practically send me into orbit.  I am lost, to say the least, but this morning after listening (at my husband’s work convention) to one of the most inspiring, yet down-to-earth speakers I have ever heard, I finally felt the power grow within me to start making the difference in my life that I had wrote about.
Beth Thomas, the speaker, has just released a book called “Powered by Happy.” Essentially this book is about making employees happy at work in order to increase productivity and bottom-line profit.  Happy campers make for happy bosses and even happier CEOs. The simple correlation between these two is not so new in its concept, and you could easily say it is downright obvious, but the facts and statistics confirm that this is a real problem for corporate America.  Now, I once was corporate, I once was in business, and I once was the one who wore the name identification badge without the word ‘spouse’ plastered all over it, but now my corporate world is at my home.  So as I listened, I realized that the same principles should apply to our family lives. Happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids, and a fulfilling relationship with my husband is the key to my 'company's' success. My return on efforts is not financial profit -- it is my own personal happiness and satisfaction.
Beth Thomas herself reinforced this message during her talk, pointing out that working too many hours or too hard does not make you any more successful; in fact it can be detrimental. Funny, that is exactly how I described my life. The more I do around the house, the more hours I work to keep my family functioning has become a mountain so high to climb that I can never reach the summit. Running around like a headless chicken is not doing me or my nerves any good. I seem to always have a to-do list as long as my arm with no time to do any of it well and it makes me negative – it wears me out. My scales are tipped to one side and I need to regain balance.
So, it’s time for change, time for taking hold of the negative and kicking it out the door. Negative breeds negative, yet simple laughter can take over the world; it is contagious in all the right ways. Apparently there are Laughter Conferences that are held over all over America. People go and just laugh constantly for the time they are there. I am not sure that I will be attending one of those, but it does make you think. If people are selling laughter as a concept to improve your life, then surely we can interject more ourselves, and the best is it is free!
The message this morning was clear. In order to be happy you have to know what makes you happy. The first lesson in the book is to create your own definition of happiness. It is not as easy to do as you think, but I am going to do it. I am going to work through the book and see where it gets me.
Today is my first day on the road to being “Powered by Happy.” This afternoon I am going to sit down and allow myself time to think about my happiness. My list will probably be long, but that’s okay, because I have the drive to do it. I am taking back responsibility for my life and happiness. Who knows, maybe I will share my list with you in my next blog – we will see!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Getting Paid to Go Away

I got a buyout offer at work this month. And I thought I was only the TEMP. Legally I guess we all had to get them, but I’ve got to confess that I felt pretty darn special. My second buyout in a lifetime. Can we pay you NOT to work for us? The opposite of an offer letter. I wanted to say, “Why, yes, yes you can, because I deserve more than I’ve gotten. I’ll take your hush money and run away to Big Sur.” Then it hits you that you won’t be paid anymore. The last reality check.

Of course the boss told everyone that she didn’t want us to leave, and boy did she sound sincere. A few of my colleagues took the offer, but the rest of us who need a job will remain--those of us who couldn’t figure out how to make a few thousand last a few years. I wish they’d pay me more to go, or even better, more to stay. I actually like the work.

The sad reality is that a lot of people lost their jobs in the last few years, and now that they’re consolidating the publishing desk at the paper, a lot of colleagues in another town got screwed. Who can afford to move nowadays? Whose house will sell, or can you afford to give it away? I seriously try not to carry the world’s burdens on my narrow-enough shoulders, but dealing with the news every night makes that difficult. I feel for my colleagues. I know they feel misused and abused; they are the relics, the remains of the day that are the recipients of pay cuts if they choose to stay (no more golden handcuffs), or of a token sum to shut up and leave. They will be replaced by people like me, people who don’t need benefits and work for less. It’s an age-old dilemma. I trained my replacement at my last buyout.

I try to distinguish myself from the 20somethings that will take over: “Hey, I’m not that girl,” I say too often and too loudly. I’m not 25, not working for peanuts, not taking your job. Methinks I doth protest too much. It’s hard for any of us to not take it personally when they pay you less to stay, and especially when they pay you to go away…

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Long and the Short of It--A Trip to the Beach

A quick weekend getaway, a mini-vacation for father’s day. Why not? Father’s day on the beach, at the St. James Plantation, begins promptly at 6:05 a.m. with the pitter patter of heavy feet: “Daddy, I need help with my game.” Both the TV and the laptop are on in Dylan’s room at the condo. The TV in his room thing was a big deal, because he’s never had one in his room at home (that and the shampoo/conditioner/ shower gel dispenser in his shower left him thinking we were in the lap of luxury). In 30 minutes, the crying started. Count Dooku beat him in a light-saber duel and that was unfair. Just another tired day in the surreal planet of fatherdom.

I remind Dylan it’s Father’s Day. Time to give Daddy his gift, which just happens to be a Scarface game for PS2 (which, thank goodness, is at home). Two boys with virtual toys, our lives an intergalactic space between planets—one as a mobster and one as a Jedi. I manage both worlds at times, and today at the beach seems virtual too. Daddy playing Angry Birds on the Droid (dubbed D2). Soon the hermit crab named Shocker will have mini light-saber in hand, then he’ll kick the bucket in two weeks after someone forgets to feed and water him.

We recovered and hit the beach, a mere four hours of bodysurfing and boogie boarding and a slight burn on my back. To dinner at Fishy Fishy Café on the water in Southport, a walk in the neighborhood dreaming of living here or there, an ice cream cone, another sunset walk on the beach. Vacation is too short, and we are oh so tired from the sun and lazing around and early mornings. Planet Beach is worth visiting, but you can’t stay there. Every Dad deserves to sleep in, but that’s just not in the planetary stars for us, this world or the other.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Housework is Exercise, Right?

The last doctor's appointment that I went to carried the usual round of questions. When we got to the one where he asked, "How often in a week do you exercise?" I went off into the realm of Mommydom. I went through my usual routine and told him that I have a four-year-old son. I'm constantly moving and I never sit down unless it's that quiet time in the morning, the time just before my children's' bedtime, or after they are finally sleeping. In my bubble of a world that feels like exercise. I'm up and down the stairs (cardio), folding laundry, (Good for the arms, right?) and lifting and carrying hundreds of pounds of groceries into the car and then into the house every single month. (There has to be some body building in that too.) After a chuckle and a grin, he informed me that what I had was an "active lifestyle" but it wasn't exercise. I couldn't help but wonder if the man had ever kept up a house, had to prepare meals and rush to ready for company in a sweat. Mopping ain't for the faint of heart.

Whether I wanted to admit it or not, that wasn't helping to shed the pounds or build up muscle. I know the older we get the more we lose muscle mass, but living with a four-year-old son, I keep forgetting my 51 years. Most days I still believe I'm, at least, in my thirties. Silly me. So I started my exercise program this week. I was going to start with water aerobics, figuring that in a pool, no one can see you sweat, but the best laid plans can go awry. In this case, I'm glad they did.

The gym we belong to wouldn't allow my 13 year-old to go up on the gym floor without a parent, while I went on to water aerobics. My daughter was so disappointed that I changed my plans. We ran back home and I pulled on sweat pants and a T-shirt and we headed back to the gym. When we pulled into the parking lot, my daughter saw the women in the pool doing the water aerobics. "Mom, I think you would have been the youngest there." Turning my head I saw the sea of gray hair and cracked up. This was definitely a more mature program. In my naïve way, I hadn't considered that was even a possibility and it truly wouldn't have been any more exercise for me than my usual daily routine.

My daughter and I went into the gym armed with i-Pods and bottled water. For the next hour I proceeded to amaze myself as copious amounts of sweat that left my body. You would have thought that I was mostly made of water…oh yeah, that's right, we are. Anyway, after the hour I was spent, but oddly energized, and I haven't missed a day since. The minute I put in the ear buds, and the i-Pod starts playing; I'm lost in the music and the beat. I had no idea that this was something that I would actually enjoy. I almost can't wait to tell my doctor, but I'd still like to see him handle my mop and broom.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Tourniquet Pants

This morning I put on a pair of capris that I wore last summer and I'm pretty sure I cut the blood off to my lower extremities. Honestly, it felt like I was wearing a tourniquet around my waist, or what's left of it. It's enough to make me cry and run to the nearest Krispy Kreme shop to buy a dozen glazed donuts and drown my sorrows, but that's what got me here in the first place. How on earth does one fight the battle of the bulge in a fast-food world?

Last week I wrote "Taking Back the Next Fifty," a piece about trying to be a healthier me. Let's just say that it's been difficult at best to slip into a new role that requires healthier choices. The summer schedule has a life of its own and both of my children have very different schedules and bedtimes. It's so easy to hit a drive-thru when the hours have flown by and the schedule is crazy. But what does that teach my children? We already know what it can do to my waist line (remember the tourniquet and add heavy breathing). The madness has got to stop, but I swear, I think my car has an automatic pilot to Wendy's and McDonalds, and I fight the steering wheel every day.

I have to learn to carve out a block of time, every day, for me and me alone. I have to learn to be a little bit selfish and put myself first in a positive way. After all, nobody ever seems to clean up after me or do my laundry in our household, so I figure I'm due. I can take the time to exercise and be a better me. I don't want to live in a house where my closet has so many different sizes in it that it can double as a clothing store, and trust me, I've been there. I'd be lying if I didn't add that I'd like to reach my goal so I can face those who have made hurtful comments in the past, even to the point of accusing me of trying to lose weight the "easy way" when I had lap-band surgery almost two years ago. I'd like to ask; just what is easy about having surgery? The lap-band helps me keep from over eating, and while I've lost weight since the surgery, I still have to exercise good eating habits. It took me a long time to get where I am, and it will take me a good bit to get to where I want to be. I don't need to be a size zero, I need to be a size that is right for me.

Sometimes it seems even the commercials on TV conspire against me. Yesterday evening, right after a Victoria Secret commercial, a McDonald's ad came on where an entire skinny family sat with Big Macs and large orders of fries. Uh-huh, and I wonder why I sometimes have mixed signals when it comes to self-image and food. So here I go, off into the sunset without the to-go order, my eyes on the capris of my previous size. I'll report in again. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Down the Long and Lonely Highway

In just a few short hours, I will have our sons loaded up and hit the road. It's time for our monthly pilgrimage to my parents. I'm always vaguely amused when I return and run into acquaintances who ask if I enjoyed myself. When the boys were younger I was often asked if I got a break by heading there. Uh, no. I've written a couple of times about what we are facing. Daddy has dementia.

As is my way, I will try to find something amusing in the trip. Dark humor is my friend. Sarcasm is my constant accompanist. So I'll roll my eyes at some fifty something road warrior who is trying to text and drive on the interstate and come up with some something to say. I'll sit there and patiently pretend to have not heard the same story a gazillion times while in my mind, I do my checklist. "Has he said this yet? What about that story? Ah, there it is." Give him his Father's Day card early. He won't remember that he didn't get it on Father's Day. Shoot, that's because he won't remember he got it. The boys will stay up all night watching tv and I'll just ignore that. Hey, they're supposed to get to do what they want to at their grandparents, right? Does it matter that I'm there? Nope. This trip we're throwing in a side trip to the old hometown. So I get to visit with even more elderly relatives. But at my age, it's nice to be the young'un and I especially love how they all tell me how little I still am (keep in mind that all things are in relation to them). No trip is complete without the trip to the cemetery.  Good thing I got that Ancestry.com membership. We need someplace to load up the pictures to that will appreciate my skill at taking a picture of a gravestone.

Through all of this our teen sons will show a calmness and compassion that humbles me. They will take Daddy to the restroom and make sure he doesn't lose his way, while pretending that they were the ones who needed to go. They understand the need for dignity.

I ran into someone who told me that some people think she's cold but she had never really experienced helping the aged. Her parents were both dead by the time she was in her mid-twenties and her grandparents had long been gone before then. While it briefly flickered through me how much less complicated my life would be, what really stayed in my soul was the thought of how much less I would have been. I've developed a strength and compassion that I never knew I had in me. Not to mention the driving skills of a short haul trucker.

Someone else once told me that if it stressed me out so much then I just shouldn't go. But that smacks of a selfishness that I always knew I didn't have in me. And it does stress me out - before I go and after I return. But while I'm there, it doesn't stress me out at all. When I read essays such as the one our guest columnist, Jim Zisa wrote this month, "The Profundity of Moment" , when I consider how much my dear friend Mary would love to call her Mama and chat, but can't because she's gone, or think of how much another dear friend would have loved to share her beautiful girls college graduations with her parents, well, I'll climb right into that SUV and make my way on down the road. There is a grace to the time spent with love. So I'll come back a little worse for wear, but better for spirit. Shouldn't life be about doing what is hard? Doesn't love come with hardship?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

No Bon-Bons For YOU!

Well I got me one of those comments again. Why do some parents think it’s ok to comment on your child in a negative light? Does it make them feel better about themselves as a parent to put down your child and therefore you? Then I think, well maybe I’m just taking it the wrong way. Maybe it was meant to help. Problem is that the other parents have no way of knowing that I’ve heard comments and been “helped” since the child was born.

True story – after an unplanned C-section (I have one of those childbirth stories that some women love to tell pregnant women and send them running in horror. I try to refrain.), I lay alone in the recovery room with my brand new baby (hubby had gone to eat – it had been a loooong time – still not sharing details though) when I heard the mother and grandmother in the next curtain comment, “She’s gonna have a hard time with that young’un.” They then continued to discuss what a good baby they had. Suddenly I had been thrust into the good kid/bad kid lottery and I obviously had lost.

When I wrote the essay, “ADHD and Me: It’s All About the Bon-Bons”, I barely touched on the comments I’ve received. I mentioned one school administrator, but there is more…much more. I’ve had teachers complain to me about behaviors which are such classic ADHD signs, I wonder if they bothered to read the emails where I discussed his umm, ADHD or listened when I spoke directly to them. Perhaps they were having ahem, focus issues. I know teachers and administrators are overburdened, but I’m trying to be one of those communicative parents they say they want without flying my Harrier to hover over (the helicopter does not have enough power, sorry). It would help if they listened to my communications, without feeling the need to fire a surface to air missile at my parenting. I had a teacher tell me how irritating she found his inability to be completely prepared and not be the last one walking out of the class every single time they went somewhere. She then proceeded to ask me if that drove me crazy and comment about how she wouldn’t be able to handle it at home, and thank goodness her little preciouses weren’t like my son. A little painful you think… how about the fact that she did this, IN FRONT OF SEVERAL OTHER MOTHERS, when I was at the school volunteering. Now we all know that only a truly lousy Mom gives up her day of eating bon-bons for sitting at some school taking care of a bunch of kids (and there was only one that I went through that horrific childbirth with.) Yeah, that felt great! Still love that one.  For every great, understanding helpful teacher…there’s been, well, the you name ‘em type.

But the comments that always wound the deepest are the ones from the other parents. I’m just as involved as you are. I try to help my child and guide my child just as you do. But it doesn’t work the same way with a kid with ADHD. How about a little compassion, empathy, kindness or if that fails… just shut the he!! up. You think my kid is excessively shy because I’ve made him that way. Did it ever occur to you that the kid can hear? That maybe through all these years he’s heard your little comments so he just doesn’t try? To his credit he assures me that he really doesn’t care what you think. To my discredit, I do. So if you don’t know what you are talking about, please just go buy some bon-bons and eat them. But you won’t be getting any from me. And please, am I the only one who has the different kid and has to constantly hear about it? What are your experiences? Where can I get a volume discount on my bon-bons?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fairy Tale or Horror Story?

'Tis the season…….to get married.

Summer is here and the television is filled with fairy tale inspired scenes with women draped in layers of white silk and satin, wearing delicate shoes that Cinderella would be proud of, and adorned with endless jewels. It creates the feel good factor. Romance and life happily ever after. However, to my amazement and surprise, I happened to have the misfortune (thank you dear daughter!) to tune into last Sunday's premier, on TLC, of 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding'.

As an ex-pat, anything to do with the UK is appealing -- well it was. If you happen to have watched this program, you may have thought you were witnessing the next generation of Monty Python. The accents, only just audible as British, rang out loud and very unclear, portraying an almost cult like group of 'modern day travelers' that reside all around the beautiful green English Isle.

I could not believe my eyes. Girls of 16 were getting married to boys only a few years older. Their dating ritual was, to say the least, very rudimentary. The girls are not allowed to be seen with boys alone and they have to travel around in groups, and sex before marriage is totally taboo (not that I am advocating sex before marriage – to be clear). However, their overtly sexual way of dressing and behavior does not match this depiction; it leaves one to ask questions about the representation in this program.

Marriage predominantly fills the girls every waking thought. Something called 'grabbing' is the process that indicates the start of a relationship. The boys literally grab the girl they like and enforce a kiss. If the girl lets him, and responds to the kiss, then they are considered to be in a relationship together.

The girls, quite often, are said to be taken out of school at an early age (11 in this one case) to assist their mothers, who are expected to stay at home, caretaking the every need and whim of the husband. With today's equality, I cannot comprehend how this type of seemingly discriminatory behavior is still acceptable. In fact, I do not even think it is legal to take a child out of school at that age in the UK, but I must be wrong, as the program quite specifically described this.

I am a stay-at-home mum, but it was my choice. It seems this 'choice' is obligatory to the gypsy women of the UK and will go on like this for generations. The young girls, to be fair, seem happy with this life, but they have no other to compare. They seem oblivious to the outside culture around them. Part of me cannot help wonder if they would make the same choices if given the exposure to a different type courtship or social interaction. Who knows, but as a mother of a 12-year-old girl, I want her to grow, mature, experience life, and make her own decisions. My choices are my own, as hers will be for her. Yes, I can help her with those choices but freedom to decide herself is a very precious thing and it is my gift to her.

I wondered as I watched, if we are living parallel lives, them and us in a different era. It was as if I was watching a Victorian melodrama, but with the horrors of modern day expletives and over exposed bodies. My English core was embarrassed to admit we have this type of citizen in our country. I grew up with knowledge of the gypsies that housed themselves on the side of roads, who did not pay taxes and had a bad reputation, but my opinion and I am sure that of others has now plummeted further. The question begs to be asked if this was the intention of the program. I don't know the answer to that, but I for one will not be watching it again to try and decide. I think I will stick to the fairy tale wedding programs; it makes my dreams sweeter.