Monday, September 24, 2012

First World Problems

I confess. I was complaining about some stuff when my soon to be sixteen year old stopped me cold. His reply, "First world problems." Ever since he threw that comment out at me, it's become my mantra. I catch myself starting a gripe and it refocuses me. How very blessed I am to have an internet connection to complain over its speed, a kitchen to fuss over how small it is, and food in the pantry - behind the empty boxes the teenagers leave in it.
Last week the new iPhone came out. Oh, hallelujah. I saw an article where a college student was complaining. He preordered the iPhone 5, but he didn't receive it. Well, bless his heart, oh the horror. Instantly the saying, first world problems, came to mind. We are a spoiled and pampered society. We want what we want, when we want it, and then when we get it, it's only good until the next newer, greater want comes down the line. And that seems to apply to everything...your spouse is old, get a new one...your face is old, get a new one....your electronics don't get up and do the dancing for you, get a new one...
Our church runs a food pantry. It's open on Saturday mornings. We've helped shop for it, bag food for it, and hand out food - though not as often as we should. Saturday on my way to a lunch with friends, I passed it and saw the line. It was horribly long, reminding me to add some items to my grocery list this week. Like so many of us, the day to day can be a struggle with competing demands. I often struggle with how to keep my teenagers focused on the real priorities of life - God, family, friends, community. Isn't it interesting that it was one of my teenagers who helped refocus me - how blessed we all are in this first world country. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fire and Gasoline OR Facebook and Politics

This is the first election that I have lived through on Facebook and I’m ready to run for cover. My newsfeed is so full of political postings and opinions that all the fact checkers would have to work six hundred hours a week just to sort the mess out. I’ve been foolish enough to be sucked into the drama, and then I declared my Facebook page a political free zone. I joined Facebook to keep up with people, more family than anything else, but I never saw this mess coming.

Here’s the deal, freedom of speech is a right afforded to all of us, but for goodness sake, does it have to be so hateful? Both sides are absolutely full of it, and I’m almost ashamed for the behavior of some individuals who post what they post. The name calling, the accusations that someone is an idiot or worse for what they believe is NOT a debate. It’s insulting and belittling. Sure, some are funny. The best news feed I read had a rant running a mile long on both sides when someone popped up and posted “Let’s talk about religion!”

My Daddy used to tell me “You should never talk religion and politics,” and I now understand what he meant by that. You can’t bludgeon someone over and over with the same hate speech and expect them to come over to your way of viewing things. They may be brain damaged after the fact, but they will forever see you in a different light. The other thing I’ve noticed is people forget who they have on their friend’s lists. Some have expressed hateful views about Catholics, Mexicans, Jews, and Muslims on their pages, and then they wonder why they get dropped as friends. Let’s face it folks, there is a time and a place for political pontification, but I doubt it’s for Facebook. It can’t be a debate with no give and take. It’s not an opinion when you express hate over one group or another, and when you disrespect one, you disrespect all.

I respect everyone’s right to pick whatever political party they wish and to vote in that direction. I do not however, feel respect when people belittle others for not sharing the same political views that they have. You can’t call someone a right wing religious zealot nut or a left wing commie pig and expect to have an intelligent debate.  Anyway, that’s my political rant for the day….unless you want to talk about religion.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Attitude and Gratitude

Another birthday has come and gone and each birthday seems to bring with it a time of reflection. When I was little, a teen, and in my early twenties, I gravitated to “What am I gonna get?” Following that I leaned towards where I wanted to be by the time I was X amount of years old, until with bewilderment, I wondered how I got where I was at. This particular orbit around the sun I find myself looking back, and taking in the present, making decisions on not where I want to be, but how I want to be.

I have not achieved the rock star status that I once dreamed about in my teens, nor do I live in the hundred acre wood surrounded by horses, chickens, goats and fifty children. In all honesty, thank God for that. I’ve fallen in love, married, and moved to suburbia. I drive a mini-van and run the road countless hours, along with my husband, to our children’s events. I work in a service industry helping people who need held. I write songs, I’ve cut a CD, I’m part of a blog that includes some of the women who are dearest to my heart, and I go to bed each night tired right down to my bones. In the morning, when all I want to do is grunt, it’s my children’s hugs that warm me more than any cup of coffee ever could. Whoda thunk?

I want to recognize that what I need is what I have. Fame and fortune may never come my way, and yet I am rich beyond any measure I could have imagined as a teen. I have more than I could have possibly envisioned, not by way of cars or a house the size of Cincinnati, but in friendship, fidelity, love and family. I still hate doing dishes, but I’m beginning to be smart enough to realize how fortunate I am to have dishes to wash. Nothing came to me even remotely the way I thought it would, and instead of acting like I was behind the curve on becoming a parent, or realizing goals, the thing is to realize that I have what I always needed, no matter when it came to me.

If I spend my time in wondering what could have been had things been different, I will miss what I have now. I’m in my fifties with a teen and a five-year-old, in a house that is strewn with toys and dog hair, and it’s an adventure walking the mine field. In the course of a day I can count at least twenty moods from my teen, enough to make me wonder if multiple personalities are an issue, and I find myself laughing. My husband can make me want to pull out my hair, but he still makes the coffee every single morning before he wakes me up. I have more than I could have imagined. No, it’s not what I imagined I would have, it’s so much more. So when the tires need replacing, the braces need tweaking, the house needs painting and life takes me on its own course, I’ll work on losing the attitude and recognizing I have so much more to be grateful for.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friendship for the Aged...I Mean AGES

Mommy, I want a sister!!!!!!!!! If I said that once, I said it a thousand times to my poor Momma!! Sandwiched between two brothers, I saw other girls as my version of Mecca - somebody to play dolls with, borrow clothes, whisper about boys, anything other than hearing again about how I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life. Of course I was too young to understand what I understand now. When adults say no, it's not just to be mean. Often there are underlying reasons. Like most children, I wanted what I wanted and I just wanted a sister. But I do have a sister, actually a couple of sisters. Both of them celebrate their birthdays this month and both have known me forever...or it might seem that way to them. We've had our ups and downs just like sisters do, but we also know each other’s secrets – the good, the bad, the sad, and the joyous.  We know things that only we can share like how it was growing up and we know where we hid things in our bedrooms. We know how it felt to be madly in love with xxx, and how dang grateful we are that God didn’t make him reciprocate the love. Heartaches and triumphs have been shared along the way and I would never trade either for a blood sister.
True friendship should and does have an acceptance - the quirks, the faults, the kindnesses all go hand in hand with who we are as people. They have made me a better person, and the laughter has been most excellent.

Count on me to end with a quote by an author who wrote about Pirates:
"A friend is a present you give yourself." Robert Louis Stevenson
Oh, and maybe a cartoon:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! I pray my children are blessed with such friends.

Monday, September 10, 2012

You Can Teach A New Dog Old Tricks

"Never leave 'till tomorrow which you can do today." By Benjamin Franklin

How many of you have ever stayed up all night when you were younger to get a project completed for school or college? I have, and I am sure that most of you will have answered yes too. Even the most organized scholar can fall prey to a looming deadline that comes around quicker than a tornado.With my son in 10th grade, the work in high school has become more and more demanding.

He is constantly juggling his time to complete projects, homework, as well fitting in extracurricular activities. The big wide world of college is only a few years away and it is becoming more and more apparent he needs a little help in organizing his time. I admit he gets easily distracted, as does any other teenager; he is only human after all. There are so many temptations these days. For instance, I am convinced the XBOX sends subliminal messages of, "play me, your homework can wait," out across the our wireless network and the video chat rooms such as OOVOO are so much more appealing than the essay that had to be written yesterday. I could take them away, restrict his access, but then I am afraid that homework may then seem like a punishment and I do not want that to happen.

It seems, my only recourse to this problem is to teach him the art of prioritizing in a logical way that he can manage. In the past, I have used a great little tool myself. It is simple but powerfully effective. The tool is the Urgent/Important matrix. Some of you may have heard of it, but for some it may be a new idea. Whichever camp you fit into, I can guarantee everyone will benefit from using it. The key to success is to define the difference between importance and urgency. Remember the saying "what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." 

To use the matrix, the first step is to make an extensive list, on a separate piece of paper, of all tasks, activities, and projects that have to be done. It is essential to include everything that takes up your time, no matter how small. Against each item on the list place an importance value using a 1:4 scale, 1 being very important, 2 being important, 3 being fairly important, and 4 being unimportant. At this stage, do not even think about the urgency of the task as this could sway the true importance value and try to be discerning, do not put all items as high importance, being realistic is the key.

Once you are happy with the assigned importance values, you can now evaluate the urgency. Deadlines and risk factors help with this stage. Think also about the snowball effect, is the task in danger of growing bigger if left? As you complete this section, place your tasks in the grid. 


Now, with everything weighted you can start to see a clear plan in front of you.
Quadrant 1: These things need doing now, no procrastinating.

Quadrant 2: These tasks are longer term and need work doing. Plan time to do these before they become a quadrant 1 item.

Quadrant 3: Do you really to do these or can someone else help? For instance, if you are doing a group project are you doing more than your fair share, can you delegate? 

Quadrant 4: Your frivolous time. Is Xbox really important? Needless to say these items are only done if you have got time, if they are not nothing will be lost.

This week I am putting a big white-board in my son's bedroom, along with a set of colored dry erase markers. With a clear plan hopefully his stress level will go down, those late night quick-fix essays should become a thing of the past, his grades will stay on target, and finally we all can get a good night's sleep!




Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Not all Bees Make Honey…

My daughter has just started eighth grade. She has survived the first two years of middle school, receiving only a few battle scars, but preparing her for her teenage years and the typical situations, people, and problems she is about to encounter is something I wanted to help her with. I was given the advice to read a book about teen girls that could adequately show me how to traverse this crucial period, leaving you, them, and your mother-daughter relationship intact. 

"Oh yeah, bring it on. Miracles might happen and pigs might fly!" was my first reaction. 

"Holy crap, this book is longer than War and Peace," was my second.

And finally, my third was, "Wow, so that is why I have so many bad memories of being a teenager!"

The book in question, I hasten to add, is great. It is full of scenarios that one can relate to and new ways of looking at things. But, it can be, in places, a little too ideal-world for me. For instance, it advises that in order to keep communication flowing between you and your daughter you should use a weekly trip to a local coffee shop. Girl time, a great idea but if they only knew my daughter they would also know I would be bankrupt after a month as she would feel the need to sample every single cake in the chiller cabinet and then dance around the room hyper after drinking the forbidden nectar, cafe latte! 

I know I jest about the above scenario, but the idea is sound. Making time is always a good plan but one we often feel too busy to do. As the book went on, more serious subjects were covered; weight, boys, sexuality, teasing to name but a few but my favorite was the subject of Cliques.

A touchy subject at best, a battlefield at worst. 

The Cliques were broken down into the following roles: 

The Queen Bee: Think Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and Barbie Doll. She rules the roost, her group and expects to get first pick at the best boys!

The Sidekick: Think second in command but dangerous as she can lead a coup over Queeny!

The Banker: Not money hoarding I am afraid, but information hoarding that can be used against anyone about anything. She supplies the ammunition to Queeny.

The Messenger: She is everywhere, in the middle of conflicts and thrives on them. She is an addict to drama. Remember the girl who always passed notes for people in arguments? This is her!

The Pleaser/Wannabe: Think desperate Susan. She will sell her soul to please the Queen Bee.

The Torn Bystander: Wants to be accepted but does not like to challenge Queeny or her sidekick. The one who keeps silent whilst others are suffering but doesn't like it.

The Target: Think big round circle with her face as the bulls eye in the middle. She allows herself to be the target in order to be accepted into the group.

And finally……
The Champion: She is the perfect one in every way. She does not belong to one group, is not afraid to say no to Queeny, and is easy to be around. 

As I read this section, I chuckled hysterically and sighed sadly. I was doing a crazy eight of emotions and was transported back to being 15 again and at my own high school. The power plays, the words used, and the actions are so timeless that you realize you have more in common with your teenager than you thought, you were one yourself!. I am betting my last dollar that as you read those roles you are mentally visualizing the faces of people you know, past and present. Cliques are not exclusive to schools or colleges, but regrettably carry on into adulthood and form in places such as offices, social clubs, and neighborhoods. 

They go on and on, a never-ending story. A nightmare for some.

How many times have we heard about bullying in our schools or teenagers committing suicide after reaching desperate lows because they do not fit the norm? There are too many for my liking and there does not seem to be adequate help on hand. School counselors are few in numbers and spread thin, they come into play only when things get desperate, which often is too late. Irrecoverable damage can be done at this crucial age and I wish we could have a course in every school advising about Cliques, their behaviors, the effects on others, and most importantly, how to deal them.

I downloaded the audible version so that my daughter, and son for that matter, could listen to it. I could never do it justice by repeating it and I gathered that if my children heard it from someone else they would be more inclined to take notice. Another annoying trend of a teenager I am finding out.

Both my children listened intently, laughing, pigeonholing their friends, scowling at examples of behavior they have already witnessed, and most importantly, asking me to play the rest of the book so they could be in-the-know. In the back seat of my car, they continued to listen, piecing together the advice given, and opening up about their lives, the problems, and the great things that happen. My self-help book turned into my family-help book. I did not need to go to the coffee shop to open communication; the book has done it for me. We still have part two to listen to together and I for one am looking forward to it. 

I advise any willing parent of teenagers to look at the book, Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, you may find it of some help. I have.