Respecting My Limits

volunteerism, group activities, life lessons

The hair nets were an extra special bonus!

Swallowing four uncoated Advil without water was a bad idea, but I was desperate. An hour into our family’s volunteer shift at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, I’d already lost my battle with back pain and wasn’t about to admit I couldn’t keep going. Apparently those peeps who wrote the Proverbs verse “Pride goeth before a fall” knew what they were talking about.

Our task at the Food Depository was straightforward:  box up endless husks of corn to be sent to area food pantries and soup kitchens. Along with 50 other volunteers, we scooped up armfuls of corn and carried them over to boxes lining a nearby conveyer belt.

Our efforts would ensure hundreds of local families had fresh corn to eat over the next few days. Two hours of bending and lifting would ensure I’d be in traction for the same.

The assembly line work was fun at first. I started off in my natural “can do” enthusiast mode, chatting up the other volunteers and striving to be a good team player. While my older daughter rolled her eyes at my eagerness, I felt proud of myself – “Look at me in a group, being a people person.” I enjoyed watching how other people approached our joint task and admired the power of a group in action.

An hour later, I’d lost my joy. My team spirit and positive attitude quickly followed. My neurons screamed for me to stop bending and lifting. I felt cranky and old, yet we still had another hour left to our shift.

My patience with teamwork disappeared like the memory of a sexy dream and soon I was picking people apart in my mind, no longer appreciating our varied humanity, instead fantasizing about who I could lose my shizz at first.

Would it be the sweaty man next to me who grunted like a over-muscled gym rat every time he bent into the corn bin? Or the woman who spent all her time straightening the corn instead of boxing it?

I needed an attitude adjustment and the ibuprofen burning my esophagus wasn’t going to cut it.  I was done but didn’t want to admit it.

I hate having limits. In my mind, I’m still as lithe and supple as the twelve year old across the bin from me who bent over at her waist repeatedly like a deranged drinking bird. Doesn’t she know she has a limited lifetime allotment of pain-free hinges, and she used up at least seven years worth that day?

drinking bird via scientificonline

“For the love of god, girl, bend at your knees!”

Looking over at my husband and daughters working diligently, I tried to convince myself that I’d done enough and had nothing to prove. I could stop whenever I wanted. Right?

But where would we be if everyone stopped whenever they wanted? Don’t we need people who push through pain to accomplishment, Annie Warbucks-style?

I had a choice. I could save face by ignoring the signals my mind and body were sending and pay the price later. Or, I could respect my limits and sit my ass down. Hiding in the bathroom was an option too.

Have I mentioned how much I hate limits? After picturing all the starving homeless people who would be denied corn if I stopped and swallowing my pride (it stuck in my throat right next to the Advil), this time I chose to honor my limits and not hurt myself to prove my worth. Instead I spent the rest of my time handing out hair nets and hand sanitizer. My pride took a beating, but my back appreciated the loving choice.

A Decade of Parenting Lessons

Parenting Tips, Parenting Advice, Free Parenting Advice, Parents

This summer, our oldest daughter, Ava, turned 10. That means I’ve officially been a parent for ten years.

With a decade of parenting lessons under my belt, I now qualify as a parenting expert. At least in my own mind.
Some lessons I’ve learned the hard way, like how it’s not a good idea to give your kid silly putty before she goes to bed.
Others, I’ve learned the very, very hard way, such as there is no way to protect my daughters from experiencing pain or sadness or disappointment, no matter how much I try.
In honor of our daughter’s 10th birthday, here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about being a parent so far:

1.  Screaming at your kids to get them to stop screaming is counterproductive

Go figure. Every few weeks I test this one just to be sure it’s true. Trust me, it is.

2.  Parenting is like watching your heart walk around outside your body

Watching those four long legs (two per kid) walk into their first day of school last week broke my heart. Thankfully my heart healed quickly and was soon jumping for joy.

3.  Stop trying to be the perfect parent

I tried for too long to be a perfect mom, regularly raising the bar of perfection to keep me on my toes. What did I get in return? A healthy dose of resentment and martyrdom. Brilliant strategy, no?

Now I strive to be authentic with my kids, to show them the real me. Am I too real? We won’t know for a few more years when the therapy bills start pouring in. Our kids’ future therapy appointments will go like this:

Our Kid:  Feelings, feelings, feelings, that’s all my mom cared about when I was growing up. She didn’t hide any of her feelings, and she encouraged me to express all of mine!

Therapist:  How did her obsession with feelings make you feel?

Our Kid:  Torqued and cranked. Why couldn’t she have pretended she didn’t have any feelings? Like normal parents. Would that have been too much to ask?

4.  If you think you’re in control, think again

I want my kids to express all their feelings, needs and wants and feel safe doing so, but I’d prefer it to be on my timeframe.  Preferably when I’m rested, fed and have finished using the bathroom by myself. Is that wrong?

Unfortunately, my kids couldn’t care less about my agenda, preferring to express their beautiful (aka loud) feelings as we’re trying to get to school on time or on the rare occasions my husband and I are both feeling amorous. They are giving that way.

5.  White lies don’t count if they keep your kids safe (or make your life more convenient)*

For years we’ve warned our kids about the imaginary snapping turtles that live in the pond behind my in-law’s home. Our girls never went near the pond without an adult, and we didn’t have to watch them every second they played in the backyard. A twofer – safe and convenient!

*Caveat:  I assumed our ten year old had figured out the truth by now, but this summer, after fishing on the pond with her uncle, she expressed relief at not catching a snapping turtle. Really? I can only imagine that future therapy session.

6.  Make peace with your kids’ disgusting habits (and await the positive power of peer pressure)

I spent months trying to curb my oldest’s nose picking habit when she was four or five years old. I tried to trust she would grow out of it, but mostly I tried to convince her it was a disgusting habit. She kept picking. By age six or seven, she’d stopped on her own, likely because her school friends teased her mercilessly.

I rarely notice when my youngest daughter picks her nose. She prefers to pick at home in the privacy of her bedroom (and to leave her boogers on her bedpost). I may have to wait a little longer for peer pressure to do its magic this time. At least until we start allowing sleepovers.

7.  Accept the things you cannot change (aka put down the whip you use to self flagellate) 

Our daughters are five years apart in age. I’m a different parent now than I was ten or even five years ago. Which one of my kids got the better parent? How badly did I screw up my first kid? Why hadn’t I learned to relax and trust way back when? Why am I even asking these questions? Our daughters “get what they get and they don’t get upset.”  (At least until they have a therapist on their own payroll.)

8.  Make peace with the “H” word

I don’t freak when my kids tell me they hate me. I try to remember that hate and love are kissing cousins. And I hate them too at times. Yet my love for my daughters is more intense and real than any other I’ve had in my life, even the love I had for my husband early on in our relationship. Lucky for him, I’ve also learned to hate him too at times.

9.   Look in the mirror

Our kids reflect our best and worst qualities. Both of our daughters are loving, kind and responsible. They’re creative and dramatic, bright and persistent. They’re also impatient, stubborn, opinionated and dictatorial. From their dad’s side.

10.  Stock up on support & self-care

I get by with a little help from my friends. And when I say “a little” I mean the daily, near constant, sanity-providing support I get from my peeps, spiritual groups and overpriced therapist. I credit them with the rare glimpses of sanity I string together. They remind me to put the oxygen mask on myself first and make time for myself and dates with my husband a priority.

None of this parenting stuff would work without support. And babysitters.

What are some of the best parenting lessons you’ve learned? Although I’m now a certified parenting expert, I’m entering the tween years, so cough up the good stuff in the comments. 

End of Summer Directive: Make Memories Or Else

summer-funI love countless things about summer:  the sweet juiciness of a ripe peach, the freedom from all the gear necessary to survive Chicago’s other seasons, the hot sun on my car’s black interior. What could be better?

Yet every summer I struggle with the pressure to be the poster girl for summer fun.

When it’s sunny and warm, I tell myself we should be outside taking advantage of the weather and our city’s non-stop summer events. Every speck of free time should be jammed with swimming, biking and outdoor adventures like the rest of the northern hemisphere (or at least my summer loving Facebook friends).

That much of the time I’d rather be home writing, reading and futzing – my favorite season-less activities – never factors into my idealized image of summer fun.

photo via Wikimedia Commons

photo via Wikimedia Commons

This summer started off the same. I had many wonderful plans for others – teach our youngest to read, write and ride a bike, help our oldest improve her division, backstroke and jump shot, make hubs more romantic clean out the basement. In July, we’d enjoy nightly family bike rides, weekly movies in the park, and every museum/beach/swimming pool in a 30-mile radius.

My summer plans for me? Coordinate all this spontaneous joy, of course!

Contrary to popular opinion, memories don’t just happen. They require military-quality planning! And for years I’ve been just the drill sergeant person for this social director job. If I made my loved ones miserable in the process, so be it. We would enjoy every last drop of summer, like it or not.

We have memories to make, people, and summer is running out. Where’s the damn picnic basket?

But, did you see us around town enjoying all these glorious summer activities? No, no you didn’t. As my mom used to say, “my eyes are bigger than my stomach.” Back then, she was referring to my food, but this expression applies to my approach to summer. My ideas and expectations of myself outweigh my ability to digest. I overload my plate with shoulds, and then feel guilty if I don’t devour each.

As the end of summer nears, instead of panicking and attempting to pry every drop of fun out of summer’s stingy little hands, I’m ready to let go of the pressure. Enough with the guilt and shoulds and pushing. Enough.

I don’t know how this miraculous transformation came about, but I suspect divine intervention a la Touched by an Angel. As far as I know, Roma Downey did not tap me on the shoulder in a gauzy haze of godly love. But somehow I’ve let go of my summer whip and am ready to relax and enjoy connecting with my family without an agenda. We’ve been playing card games, watching movies and walking around the neighborhood eating Italian ice. And I’ve never been happier.

I’d still like to make a trip to the zoo and another museum before my kids start school in two weeks, but there’s always next summer. Or this winter. If we’re not too busy snowshoeing, ice fishing and tobogganing.

About Nothing

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This is a post about nothing. It started off as a post about running. I ran five miles yesterday around the lake where we’re vacationing in Michigan. I wrote about my thoughts per mile (TPM):

Mile One: Look at me out running! I’m so proud of myself. I feel good. I look good. My new running shorts aren’t binding or rubbing me raw. Even my bra is comfortable. I’m a rockstar. Hi all you Michigan people! I could run all day.

Mile Two: When do those f-ing endorphins kick in? Who put all these hills in here? What happened to the flat plains of the Midwest? Whose stupid idea was this anyway?

Mile Two Point Five: Hello, endorphins! Welcome! I feel strong and powerful! I will run around this lake every day of our vacation. And walk every night. I can already feel my ass jiggling less.

Mile Three: That’s it? That’s all the endorphins I get? Please kill me now.

Mile Three Point Seven: If I make it around this god-forsaken lake without getting hit by a car a la Stephen King, I will never again complain about my jiggly bits.

Fascinating, no? Other than two angry pit bulls chasing me for a half mile resulting in my fastest pace since high school (mile four) and finding the perfect place to hide a dead body should I ever need one (mile five), nothing much happened.

Instead of sticking this post in my draft file folder with the thirty-seven other pieces I don’t think are good enough to post, I’m giving nothing a try.

Where do I go from here? Nowhere. See how this works? I think I’m pretty good at this!

I could write about our vacation so far, but all I’ve done is run once and prepared endless amounts of food for apparently starving children. How often do kids need to eat these days? Since when can no one open her own cheese stick or yogurt container? Must be all this clean Michigan air.

371 words so far about nothing. That wasn’t so hard. Jerry Seinfeld ain’t got nothing on me.

I’ll shoot for 500 words. How hard can it be? I just need another anecdote. Where’s a good boating accident or random alligator attack when you need one?

Even the ducks that my kids can’t stop feeding are quiet. In exchange for our meal plan, the least they can do is provide some blog fodder. House rule.

Nada.

I’m going for another run. I hope the pit bulls are out. Or maybe a rabid goose. If not, I’ll start making up shit. I bet I’ll be good at that.

Step, Step, Slide

As I wrote about in Life Patterns, our four year old has a new fascination with patterns. Her face routinely breaks into a smile as she spots a series of colors or shapes and gleefully shouts, “I see a pattern, Mom! A pattern!”

Yesterday during one of our afternoon dance breaks, both of us swaying to the “Grease” soundtrack, she said, “Mom, do you know our step, step, slide dance is a pattern? Step, step, slide.” (Better she focus on our dance pattern than the words to “Beauty School Dropout,” one of her favorite songs.)

As I danced with my daughter in my arms, awed by her wonder and joy, I mused on the patterns I pray she develops, ones that will sustain and enrich her life, like the patterns of believing she is beloved and of accepting herself flaws and all.

Step, step, slide.

I found myself wishing I could warn her future self to look out for patterns that will hurt her, like pleasing others instead of herself and attaching to people who don’t treat her with adoration and respect.

I considered making her a video of patterns good and bad. Or perhaps a vision board detailing my hopes for her. No pressure.

Step, step, slide.

I felt a momentary rush of fear, aware that lecturing her on life will be easier than witnessing and supporting her as she grows, develops her own patterns and finds her way.

As I breathed in her just-out-of-the-shower scent, I prayed for guidance on our journeys and acceptance of ourselves along the way.

The best I can do today is show her through my actions how to embrace all the patterns life offers, ask for help around the ones that don’t serve me and trust the process of life, love and joy. I can model reaching out my arms for love, and letting the world unfold its beauty in front of me and inside me. Gifts await. For all of us.

Step, step, slide.

Patterns For Life

Patterns For Life

What patterns do you hope your children embrace and avoid?

If You’re Happy & You Know It …

While I’m tramping around Florida vacationing with my family, I’m re-running this post from last year detailing our family’s Spring Break exploits. Not much has changed this year … but there’s still time. Enjoy!

… Drag Your Feet:

Does anyone else find it hard to relax on vacation? It likely won’t come as a surprise to hear that I have a hard time relaxing and easing into the rhythm of unfettered free time. I say unfettered but as any parent knows, vacationing with two pint-sized people is hardly the definition of carefree bliss. Our vacations are a lot like weekend family time at home (albeit with more sunscreen): fun family activities intermingled with standard-issue parenting/care-giving tasks. On vacation, we aim to spend more time slathering the girls with sunscreen than actually playing in the sun.

Somehow our attitudes and dispositions followed us to Florida (along with enough luggage to clothe a small nation). And for the first several days of our trip, I found it hard to relax. Not that I had expectations or anything? Moi?

While I thought I signed up for the Von Trapp family vacation (picture-perfect family cruising through Florida, singing our hearts out and casting loving glances at one another circa The Sound of Music), apparently I booked the Modern Family version (overpacked, clueless, loveable family bickering, crying and vomiting across Florida). Who do I talk to at Expedia about this?

…Have Fun, Damn It:

For the first few days of our trip, my need to control morphed from accomplishment mode to memory-making mode: “Family, it is time to make some memories! Have fun. Now.”

I was scared to let go of orchestrating our “good time,” fearing we’d sit in our condo rental for a week staring at each other (our apathy interspersed with lively bickering bouts, of course). Once I let go, I experienced my favorite Florida memory so far: watching in awe arm-in-arm with Ava as a flock of pelicans dive bombed for fish and a mom and baby dolphin danced in the ocean off Naples Pier. Pure bliss.

… Take a Nap:

This trip has shown me it’s hard for me to be a fun, engaged mom for more than ten minutes at a time without a nap. Ava brought along her massive paper doll collection (it was that or the entire American Girl doll contingent). And while Southwest Airlines is generous in its baggage allowances, it did balk at giving Samantha and Kanani (Ava’s dolls) their own seats and carryon bags.

When we’ve played with the paper dolls on this trip, for some reason I’ve been assigned the dog character. After pretending to pee on everything in sight (a YouTube-quality giggle maker with my girls), my role has been to follow Ava and Rhys’ characters around and not say anything. Ever. Not exactly the Tony-award winning role my agent usually negotiates for me.

As any dog knows, when in doubt, take a nap. And nap I have. Apparently, I’m getting the hang of this relaxing thing. I hope to find some balance between constant motion and comatose before it’s time to go home.

… Avoid Your Husband:

In addition to my expectations of familial bliss on this vacation, I also imagined romance, intimacy and connection with Mike beyond our wildest dreams. Months of missed connections at home were supposed to magically transform into lustful, heartfelt interactions on the Paradise Coast. Yet, I’m finding it hard to connect with him. I’d like to blame the kids (an easy out), but really, it’s just hard for me to connect. Period. My preferred state is fight or avoid. Apparently, the saying ringing intermittently in my head “would you rather be right or be happy?” doesn’t apply to me. Right? Happy?

Mike told me the other day that he didn’t find my pissy self much fun to be with. Harrumph. And ouch. (And please. We all know my pissy self is nothing if not fun!). After first getting defensive, I asked him to tell me what he was feeling rather than what he was thinking. He owned that he was feeling lonely. Hey, me too!!! Lonely! That’s what this feeling is! A hug, a kiss, a breakthrough. We’ve got this connection thing down! Check “connect with Mike” off my vacation to do list! Seriously, while our connections are messy and imperfect, I’m grateful we know how to come back together.

… Enjoy the Moment:

I’ve not felt like writing all week, yet I’ve had a hard time letting myself off the hook. A real writer would write while on vacation, I’ve admonished myself. Shut the fuck up, I’ve answered. And when I finally let go and decided not to blog until I got back home, I woke up this morning happy, relaxed and itching to write. Go figure! And then, go home.

What do you think? Fill in the blank: If you’re happy and you know it, __________________.

Spring Break, Family Vacations, Family Memories

And That’s Why God Created Doctors

Where did I get the idea that as a mother I have to be an unmitigated expert at everything?

I blame Google.

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I’m honored to be guest posting over at The Mommy Mess today talking about our family’s latest trip to the emergency room, our third in the last six months. A veritable trifecta! (Surely we now qualify for the hospital’s frequent visitor program. I’m expecting discounts on medical services, complimentary valet parking and a commemorative plaque in the lobby.)

If you haven’t been following our ER saga, you can catch up here and here.

And if you aren’t familiar with the talented Adrienne Bolton and her touching, funny and poignant blog, The Mommy Mess, get thee over there pronto. You won’t be sorry.

Here’s the link again:  And That’s Why God Created Doctors.

The Mommy Mess