Monthly Archives: August 2010

I always feel like…somebody’s watchin’ me…

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kate watching thru binos

School started here a couple of weeks ago, and before a single exam could be proctored, before one band of silliness could be coveted, before the cafeteria jello had a chance to congeal…my daughter had drama!

I know what you’re thinking. “A middle school girl has a crisis in her life?  Surely, you jest, Mary!”  No, joke, ya’ll.  Prepubescent drama is no myth.

As I tucked her in Wednesday night, my daughter became quiet, offering only a weak, “goodnight,” as I bent down to kiss her while simultaneously switching off her bedside lamp.  I should have known the night was not about to end.  I could barely make out her face in the pale glow of the only remaining light in the room–a night light in the shape of pink and green flowers.  “Mom, J took my milk carton away today at lunch and wouldn’t give it back.”  I switched the lamp back on.

I sat down on the bed, visions of my own slumber becoming a mere fantasy.  “Tell me what happened,” I said.  She sat up, pushed her hair back, and prepared to launch into a middle school monologue, complete with voices, gestures, and facial expressions.

“Well, on Monday J took my lunch box when I wasn’t looking, and wouldn’t give it back when I told her to!  And on Tuesday, they all passed around my milk carton and when I got mad, they said I needed to learn to take a joke! Today, J took my milk again, and I got mad and told her it wasn’t funny–give it back!”  I could see where this was going.  “Honey, how did it end?” I asked.  “They all said I needed to get a sense of humor, but mom, it wasn’t funny!”

Oh, the joys of school!  A veritable bonanza of readin’, writin’, and arithmetic…and the subtle and not so subtle antics of  “mean girls.” That’s not to imply that my daughter’s friends are all mean, but little girls can certainly be mean when left to their own devices, say, during lunch.  It’s August, I’m exhausted already, and I needed to deal with this issue immediately or this was going to be a long year.

I have a deep seated antipathy for “mean girls,” and strive to NOT let my daughter become one, so of course, I didn’t encourage her to retaliate with similar behavior.

“Next time they do that, just shrug and say, ‘Oh well, you’ll give it back eventually…keep it for all I care.’  I’m willing to bet they won’t do it again. They enjoy that it upsets you and their fun is exalted because of it.  If you act as if you don’t care, they’ll lose interest.  This way, I don’t have to involve any parents, you don’t have to involve the teachers, and you can fight your own battle, or at least bar it from becoming one.” Before I could expound on the need to respect another person’s personal property, I noticed my daughter’s face coming closer to mine.  She stopped inches from my face, looked at me seriously, and said slowly, “Mom, there’s an ant on your face.”

Minutes had passed as I expounded grand words of wisdom to my daughter.  I was envisioning where to prominently display my Mother of the Year Award and she’s entranced by what appears to be tiny vermin making its way across my chin!

I wasn’t sure she heard any of my life changing advice, but she did seem to feel better as I repeated the tuck in, good night kiss, lamp extinguishing ritual for the second time that night.  How many of our words of wisdom do our kids hear anyway?  And how much of our children’s behavior is actually a direct reflection of our own?  I can still hear my own father’s deep, resonating voice say, “Do as I say, not as I do,” when in my youth, I tried to rationalize my behavior by dredging up instances of his own identical behavior.  I learned a lot from my parents, but I don’t remember having a Father Knows Best discussion with my dad or pining about a guy over milk and cookies with my mom.  I learned mostly from watching them; their interactions and reactions to us and others taught me more than any poignant words of wisdom they may or may not have shared.  Kate’s watching and learning, too–and she’s been watching her dad and me for years.  I find it increasingly difficult to make excuses for my outbursts and chronic kvetching when another driver cuts me off or for my impatience with standing in a non-moving grocery line.  How many times has my daughter heard some variation of, “I always get stuck behind the coupon queen who’s trying to write a temporary check from France and who has apparently left her I.D. in the car! Outstanding!”  When I see my daughter display impatience or grumble at someone else’s slowness or ineptitude, I cringe.  Her behavior mimics mine; it’s not indicative of sage advice that I can barely follow myself.

I picked Kate up Thursday afternoon and after she tossed her back pack and lunch box into the back seat with nearly enough strength to knock unconscious our pit bull I had in tow, I asked her how her how her day had gone. “Oh, fine,” she said. “Really?  Did anyone try to take anything that didn’t belong to her?”  “Yes, J took my yogurt, but I did what you said! I just stayed calm and told J she’d give it back eventually…or keep it, I don’t really care.  And she just handed it over and nobody said anything to me,” she chirped.  “And…did the rest of the day go as well?” I inquired.  “Oh, yeah…it was great.”

So, for a brief moment I did feel like the Mother of the Year! I smiled to myself, heard the birds singing, and relished in my wisdom.  Suddenly, a car pulls out in front of us, and my daughter didn’t miss a beat. Utilizing the most caustic tone she could muster, she shrieked, “What’s wrong with you?!  What, is our cloaking device on?  Are you in that much of a hurry…and now you’re gonna go, what, 30 miles an hour?!  Learn to drive, moron!!”  She throws her hand up and ends her tirade with an exasperated, “Sheesh, what’s wrong with people?!?!”

OK, I still have some stuff to work on…a Mother of the Year Award would just be another knick-knack that required dusting around here anyway.

Because you ain’t soup yet…

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K and E and the TVI wrote a short blog a couple months ago about television and how there are some who may very well need medical intervention just to turn the thing off.  I think maybe three people were reading MaryMind at the time; now that I’m up to at least double that, I thought perhaps I’d revisit the subject.

I have a confession to make…I do love a good Facebook discussion.  I resist on most occasions, but the other day a friend of mine posted a comment about unruly children.  Her assumption was that the kids’ behavior stemmed from their having an absentee father.  That’s a fair and valid statement, but I also suggested that television may play a large role in their behavior, as well. Yep, I just had to go there.

I asserted that television, particularly sitcoms, use sarcasm and disrespect as a form of communication.  Sarcasm itself is the lowest form of humor, as its purpose is to generate laughs at someone else’s expense.  Sarcasm also feeds the “intellectual” ego of the viewer who understands the joke, as well as the ego of the character delivering the line.  It also peeves my pet when the fathers in those sitcoms are portrayed as idiots.  Shows like According to Jim and Everybody Loves Raymond are clear examples of the father-portrayed-as-buffoon with prepubescent children running the house, rolling their eyes at parental ineptitude, and resorting to a fusillade of sarcastic quips to thwart and undermine parental authority.

Let’s just say people don’t take to kindly to having their TV viewing habits criticized.

I’ve grown weary of the argument that many claim to watch only family oriented, “wholesome” shows.  While it’s true that some do, the entertainment business is not a multi-trillion dollar industry because everyone is watching PBS documentaries.  Furthermore, TV is the most low brow form of information transmission/reception available.  It’s equivalent to listening to Mel Gibson pontificate on the benefits and finer points of anger management.

A friend of mine believes that “TV is OK as long as parents are involved.” Really?  How does that work exactly? As long as mom and dad are in the room to have a healthy discussion concerning the behavior of an abusive cheerleading coach or a glorified pregnant teen, it’s OK?  How many parents are doing that?  Can I get a show of hands, please?

Dr.Herbert Krugman, psychologist, researcher, and author of the article “The Impact of Advertising: Learning Without Involvement,” noted that after only one minute of TV viewing subjects brainwaves switched from beta waves; waves associated with active, logical thought to alpha waves; waves associated with a relaxed, meditative state.  I suppose that’s fine if you’re doing yoga. But since most people spend more than one minute watching TV, the low alpha state can lead to lack of focus and an inability to concentrate–both characteristic of a child with ADHD.  I actually know of a few parents who would rather medicate their child for exhibiting ADHD symptoms, rather than shut off the television, or even admit television played a role at all in their child’s behavior.

We quit watching television in our house, except for the occasional movie.  I’ve mentioned my daughter’s obsession with Cats, and although I believe it has peaked, I see no indication of her obsession reaching it’s nadir any time soon.  We’ve opted to read newspapers rather than watch the news.  It was actually a difficult decision to make and we vacillated back and forth for months. I’m not suggesting anyone follow suit; if you like to watch television, fine.  This is in no way meant to judge, but let’s be honest and regard TV for what it is. In our receptive alpha wave induced condition adroit advertisers take full advantage of our passivity by telling us we are not attractive enough, that we are not driving a new enough car, and that we don’t make enough money. In essence, we associate a brand name with something positive.  Television reinforces the idea that marriage is fleeting and temporary(The Bachelor/Bachelorette).  Good looks are important for success (American Idol/ America’s Next Top Model).  If I have to explain an adult theme at bed time to my ten year old daughter after watching Glee, then there’s a problem.

So, we can justify our TV habits because that’s exactly what it is–a habit.  I challenge those of you whom I offend with my exhortation of the evils of TV to turn it off for just a month.  It is a hard habit to break; it certainly was for our family.  We finally decided to switch off the talking box a few months ago when we witnessed our ten year old watching some inane show, slack-jawed and trance-like.  It gave me the creeps. Initially, I missed Law and Order and and The Office.  My husband fondly remembers NCIS and Heroes.  My daughter had the least withdrawals, oddly enough.  I won’t say she is better behaved; she’s always been kind and respectful.   But she is calmer…and happier, if that’s possible.  I get joy, immense joy, at watching her play and create.  She’s loud, messy, and all over the house.  And I deal with it; heck I relish it! The chaos is wonderful.  I much prefer  “Hey, wanna hear my new song I just made up” or hear her tell me about the latest Molly Moon book than to see her in a vegetative state laughing at someone else’s jokes or misfortune.

Dennis Leary said it best in a commercial for Hulu,  “…TV is slowly rotting your brain and turning it into a slimy, gooey, mushy glob of pudding and there’s nothing you can do about it.  See, I told you what was happening and you’re still watching TV….”  Hulu provides a faster, more efficient means to accomplish this task because, as Leary claims, “you ain’t soup yet.”

HELLO, my name is Mary

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1990 yearbook pageMy 20 year high school reunion was this weekend; an event to which I had looked forward for a year or so.  I also viewed the impending gala with dread; to a certain degree my enthusiasm was equivalent to first day of work jitters.  The evening began well enough, I suppose.  “Wow, You’ve changed!” “Where do you live?” “How many kids do you have? and “What do you do now?”  But it quickly disintegrated into an evening of drunken hedonistic debauchery that illuminated two things for me.  One was that forty year old drunk white people can’t dance.  Second, we are not remotely photogenic or attractive after about ten p.m.

drunk girl at reunion

I don't remember this girl, but I applaud her courage...ok, drunken fearlessness, but still

drunk guy at my reunion

Some didn't know when to call it a night--like this guy.

This guy was my first boyfriend in third grade; I grew, he didn't...and then I had a loooooong dry spell that lasted til I was 20

me and carina

My best friend of nearly 30 years!

My high school years were awesome awkward torturous.  They occasionally bordered on the brink of fun, but were filled with countless moments(and hours, and days and months) of harrowing teenage angst.  I firmly believe anyone who says they didn’t suffer from such angst at one point or another are either lying or never actually attended high school.

Before I go further, let me first clarify a few things.  First of all, I was nearly six feet tall in high school.  I still am, of course, and although my height has served me well in adulthood, in high school I was not the most sought after date, in fact, I wasn’t “sought after” at all.  The scrawny, height challenged boys who hadn’t hit their growth spurts would have rather kissed another guy on the football field during the homecoming halftime than go to prom with a gal who towered several inches over them. Couple my gargantuan height with the fact that I was a painfully shy and fat teenager with glasses and we have set the stage for an angst ridden, painful teenage existence that only four years of high school can provide. I’m no longer fat, and haven’t been for years, but some of my former classmates are(thank God for you, Facebook!), so that’s a bit of poetic justice and favorable karma tossed my way.

Don’t get me wrong– I was smart, made good grades, and was surrounded by a small, yet great circle of friends.  My two best friends were downright beautiful and outgoing, which, of course, made me the fat, ugly friend who helped them get ready for dates and provided a shoulder to cry on when a guy broke their hearts.   What’s important to us in high school? Dating, of course.  So even though I won accolades for various extra curricular activities, made good grades, and had good friends, I just wanted the guy I  had a crush on to ask me on a date.

Ok, where was I? Oh, yes…Prom.  In the late eighties and early nineties, girls wore the baby blue or pink prom dresses that, once donned, meant you couldn’t sit down again for the rest of the night, not like a normal person anyway.  Navigating one’s movements in these Appalachian looking ball gowns was a feat in and of itself.   The girl’s date was usually a guy who’s sole purpose in attending said event was to wrestle said young lady out of the dress and score, perhaps for the first time.  And to think I agonized over not attending the mega social event of my high school years!

That’s right, I didn’t attend my prom, nor did I attend my high school graduation.  Graduation took place the same weekend I attended a national speech tournament in Chicago.  I’m thankful for the experience, but regret not wearing the cap, gown, and mortar board and walking the graduation line with my peers.  Perhaps, on some level I didn’t care how high school ended, as long as it ended. My senior prom was another story.  No one asked me to go.   So, I did the next most humiliating thing.  I signed up to check in shoes! (Our gym floor had been refinished, and the administration opted for a shoe free prom.) Yep, I was the loser handlin’ the shoes, ya’ll!
I know, it’s so sad it’s hysterically funny.  Incidentally, my husband said he’d rather do ANOTHER tour in Iraq than attend HIS own high school reunion, and advised me not to admit I was the shoe checker of my high school prom.  But self deprecating humor is my modus operandi.  But you know what?  I didn’t care.  Although I truly wanted a date and was not remotely happy  with the unenviable plight of the Ugly-Fat-Shoe-Checker, at eighteen I did the unthinkable, the least desirable job and never once felt sorry for myself.  Self pity was not in my character, although that attribute meant nothing to me at the time. Along with my height, that trait has also served me well.

However, I was not a good shoe checker.  I lost a pair of shoes.  Keep in mind, the shoes in question were either expensive for the wearer, borrowed, or perhaps rented(do they rent prom shoes?  Heck, I don’t know).  Anyway, those shoes happened to belong to our foreign exchange student.  Yep, Hector Guerra went home sans shoes!  I remember the look of disbelief when, after looking frantically, I failed to produce his shoes.  There was a pair left, however.  They were probably a size eight; rather small for a guy, and way too small for Hector.  Heaven only knows what aspiring clown left with Hector’s shoes. Yep, I led an “always the shoe checker, never the prom date” sort of existence.

Ironically, I turned out ok, can you believe it?  I actually went to college(which at times seemed just an extension of high school), married a great man, had a child and lead a wonderful, productive existence in the suburbs.  How I didn’t end up in weekly tear-filled therapy sessions with long litanies of high school outrages is beyond me.  There is no Rosetta Stone for overcoming the ineptitude and discomfiture of high school, but perhaps for some high school itself was the preparatory Rosetta Stone for adulthood.

So we donned our name tags…

Hello, My name is Mary, and I survived high school.

“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others, that’s all.”~Andrew, The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club

A Deeper Shade of Green

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kate ipadI love the little things–towels warm from the dryer, new socks, sitting down to drink a cup of coffee…uninterrupted, a no frizz hair day, and when my husband says, “Wow, you look so skinny in those pants!”  It’s the little things that not only put a spring in our step and a smile on our faces, but they are inherently necessary.  Just ask me on any given Monday night when I haven’t thawed anything for dinner, and my husband calls and says he’s coming home early with a pizza and a bottle of wine!  Without the little things, I’m certain we’d all lead a joyless existence.

How does that theory hold up with being environmentally conscious?  How do the little things we do each day contribute to saving our planet?  Are we even making a dent in leaving smaller, perhaps non existent carbon foot prints on the planet?

We recycle our cardboard, glass, and aluminum.  We shut the water off when we brush our teeth. We don’t water our grass.  We don’t buy bottled water, instead we opt to reuse a more durable water bottle everyday.  We don’t make pointless trips to the mall.  But, really, in the big scheme of things, are my actions and the actions of my family making any difference?  I’m starting to wonder.

I’m starting to wonder, too, if our nation needs to collectively consider a “new normal.”  I’m not really wondering, actually.  I know we do.  Being wasteful with a conscience is no longer acceptable to me.  Empty plastic grocery bags litter my garage floor, and my guilt over it will, sadly, not save the planet.

Although I don’t regret all the little things we do as a family to reuse, recycle, and reduce, I do feel it will take a drastic overhaul of our entire infrastructure to ensure our planet’s longevity for our posterity.  I fear, however, that what many want is for scientists to devise a cheaper, less oil dependent way for us to live in the wasteful, extravagant, gluttonous manner to which we are accustomed.  What are we teaching our children, if anything, by utilizing only feel good measures that require little effort or sacrifice. Recycling cardboard and shutting off lights are easy ways to teach your kids to be environmentally responsible, but anything above and beyond that may prove unsustainable as soon as somebody wants a new pair of shoes or the latest iJunk technology. And what happens when either are purchased?  The old one gets thrown out, of course!  According to Anne Leonard, the author of The Story of Stuff:  How Our Obsession With Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health–and a Vision for Change, 99% of the stuff we buy will get thrown away within six months of our purchasing it!  This tells me that not only do we need an entirely new infrastructure, but also a different mindset in regards to how we view our “things.”  Cul de sacs, subdivisions, and arbitrary zoning laws would of course need to be re-evaluated for their necessity and contribution to the demise of the concept of a village type community.  Until then, I’m not suggesting anyone merely give up use of their cars; we still have to live, function, and travel within our cities and communities.

How many of us would be willing to relocate our jobs closer to home in order to save fuel and prolong inevitable wear and tear on our cars resulting in the purchase of a new one?  What if that job meant a pay cut?

Would any of us downsize our homes to lower utility costs and energy consumption? Would you forgo air conditioning altogether and search for alternatives to beat the sweltering summer heat?  Would any anyone consider not upgrading his or her phone when a newer one appears on the market?

I haven’t even mentioned supporting our local economies and farmer’s markets.  What would it take for us to stop buying from the large grocery chains that enable us to rely on fish from Chile or produce from China? Consider the fuel that could be saved if none of this stuff was ever transported via airplane and tractor trailers.  Would any of us be willing to eat only local, in season produce?

I propose a challenge to all of you: For the next year, purchase nothing you DON’T need.  Food, of course, is an exception.  Wear shoes and clothes you wore last year–I think I just heard a collective gasp!  Use the same cookware, phones, glassware, bath towels, and bed sheets and pillows.  Replace possessions only when the old ones basically disintegrate and require replacement.  Imagine the fuel saved both in our mindless trips to the mall and in transporting those cheaply made goods to stock our stores.  Talk about reducing oil dependency!  Imagine the empty highways that used to be congested with impatient shoppers, commuters, and truck drivers! Imagine what you could do with the time you’d not be spending wandering the malls and warehouse grocery stores!  Imagine what we could really teach our children about conservation!

Sadly, however, the feel good measures will win out.  The only way such a mind shift could occur is if a national catastrophe necessitated it.  I fear we will be content with being wasteful with a conscience for some time to come.

But the seed is planted, and it’s our responsibility to cultivate it.  Perhaps, as Lewis Hyde, a writer and social critic said of writers Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, “…their writing is an effort of the periphery to be heard by the center.”  Berry makes note of Hyde’s astute observation in his book, The Way of Ignorance, and notes that we cannot learn or come to any meaningful realization without first being ignorant. My views my be of the periphery, too, and I can only hope they find their way to our wasteful and consumer driven center.  What can we all do collectively, consistently, and dramatically to make an impact? How do we realize our resources, regardless of what the advertising industry tell us, are not infinite.   It is absurd to believe otherwise. What can we do to become a deeper shade of green?

mother earth

All the living room’s a stage…

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My daughter can no longer merely walk into a room.  Kick! Turn! Down on one knee! She’s up! Spin! Jazz hands….and dying swan. Her chores are interrupted every three minutes with quick Broadway style/interpretive dance interludes, so that even the most mundane chore, such as unloading the dishwasher, has evolved into nothing short of a thirty minute production. It’s exhausting to witness.  I’d take a little nap, except that Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer are singing their duet and I simply can’t sleep when singing cats emanate from our television.

My mother called last weekend and I could barely hear her when I answered the phone. “Hold on, mom.”  “Kate, turn the TV down, please!”  I almost have to shout over the din of singing felines.  Who knew stage cats could be so loud…and annoying.

“What is that noise?” she asks.  “It’s Cats.”  “Cats?” she asks, puzzled.  “Yes, Cats…Andrew Lloyd Webber…the Broadway production,” I explain.  “Oh, Cats! That’s a great musical!” she says emphatically.  “I thought so, too…the first five times I watched it,” I said sighing.

It’s not that I don’t like musical productions.  It’s simply that since she was a toddler, Kate, like most children, will latch onto a particular video and obsess for months over it.  When she was four, Charlotte’s Web stayed in our DVD player for an entire year.  Not only were her father and I required to sing “There must be something more” and “Chin Up” every night for that year, but she adamantly refused to eat any derivative of pork.  I suppose Cats is somewhat of an improvement.

Last year, it was the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and everything was a “precious.” Her Webkinz were precious. Her Littlest Pet Shop toys were precious. Her new iPod shuffle was precious. Her socks were precious!  I would find said “precious” items in odd places, too.  The iPod would be tucked in the silverware drawer.   I would find Littlest Pet Shop toys under my bed pillow.  Once I found a “precious” ink pen in the refrigerator crisper.  “Don’t move the precious, she’d shriek when I tried to re-organize her handiwork. There’s still a pen in the fridge. It’s been there over a year.

So we’ve moved on from hidden precious treasures to singing, dancing, theatrical cats. Her admiration for Gandalf has been replaced by her intrigue of the Magical Mr. Mistoffelees.  I fell asleep on the couch last Saturday, only to be awakened with an ear bud in my ear and Old Deuteronomy singing into one side of my head.  She had the other one in her ear.  “I’m sharing a truly artistic and emotional song written by a most adroit composer, Mother.  Is it not riveting?” she asked mellifluously.  Ok, that’s not what she said.  What she actually said was, “Ain’t it cool, mom?! I love that song!  What’s your favorite Cats song?!” She asks me my favorite cat and song no less the 47 times a day, and usually I’ll say what ever comes to mind. “Victoria, yeah she’s my favorite.  She’s the white one, right?” I make minimal eye contact, lest I get drawn into a lengthy discussion on the complexity of Grizabella. “Memories is my favorite song,” I tell her…again, although if I hear that song one more time, I may very well cough up a hairball.  I think she’s beginning to note my lack of veneration for her beloved, harmonious kitty cats.

Quick, somebody get me a copy of Evita; I feel a tickle in my throat.kate dancing

Finding perspective in my rearview mirror

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side view mirror

I was on my way to work the other day when, for the millionth time, I looked in my side view mirror while I was at a stop light. Sometimes there is a congested line of cars with tired, impatient drivers who honk their horns at me when I don’t notice the light has turned green.  Sometimes torrential rain prevents me from seeing the road behind me, much less the one in front of me.  Other times, such as last Thursday, the road in my mirror is empty, sunny, and picturesque.  It’s the road that leads back home, and I feel strongly compelled to just turn my car around and go on back to the house.

We often look behind us for comfort, familiarity, or maybe to dredge up in our memories a conversation that didn’t go well, an incident that we replay over and over, always with a different ending, or an action or life changing decision that never became a reality.  The road behind us becomes well worn with travel and filled with what ifs and regrets.

Have you ever had a conversation that didn’t go so well and then spent, oh, I don’t know…twenty years wishing you could undo it?  No? Well, I have.  Not only that, but I’ve spent the last year alone wishing I could take back several conversations with my sister in law, about four conversations with my boss, and maybe six or seven I’ve had with several friends and co workers.

Here’s two things you just learned about me: 1.  I can’t let things go. 2.  I have no filter connecting my brain to my mouth allowing me to censor what I say, resulting in many bruised egos, strained friendships, and pointless arguments.  It’s a gene that is, in fact, lacking in the Flanagan lineage. The shut-up-before-you-say-something-stupid gene.

Twenty years ago, I spoke to a guy with whom I went to high school whose brother had died about six or eight months earlier.  It is important to note that I had a slight, teensy, enormous crush on this guy that would make what nearly every ten year old girl feels for Justin Bieber look like nothing short of hatred.  So, I was a stammering, moronic, oaf when it came to talking to him. The conversation went something like this:

Me:  “Hey, how was your semester?”

He: “Not so well.”(and he mentioned something about his grades being low). I thought this was odd, considering he was a really smart guy.  My brain, in it’s béguin induced fog, didn’t make the connection with his grades and his brother’s death, which therefore prompted me to say, “Really?!? Why?!”

He:  “Well, let’s just say, it’s been a rough semester.”  Yeah, let’s…and let’s end this conversation before I say something really stupid, such as, “Well, why didn’t you ask your brother for help?”  I felt like the most insensitive, self centered witch on the planet.  Could I not have prepared what I was gong to say ANY better than that?!  At 18, I lacked the social skills to gracefully climb out of the hole I had just dug, and was all too willing to just be swallowed up. I will never forget that conversation, nor will I ever be able to forgive myself for being so insensitive amidst my infatuation for that guy.  I can  guess what he might say after all these years. “Well, I don’t exactly remember that conversation ever happening, but if I did, I’d have gotten over it about 19 years, 11 months,  29 days, 23 hours, and 59 minutes before you obviously have because I’m a normal human being.  I strongly suggest you get over it, too, and MOVE ON.”

Well, alrighty then.

I can’t move on when I’m too busy looking behind me at all the conversations in which I was too impatient or insensitive to listen to what another person was trying to say.  I can’t move forward if I can’t see what’s in my past that’s holding me back.  And I can’t move forward when the beguiling road behind me is beautiful and sunny and beckons me to just turn around and go back to what is inviting, familiar, and comforting.

So, the light turned green and with all the energy I had, I pushed the accelerator, and moved forward.  I worked, I picked up my daughter from school, we came home, and I kissed my husband when he came in. We ate dinner and prepared to do it all again tomorrow.  My family completed actions that, in and of themselves, were insignificant.  Worry, fear of tomorrow, small regrets, chores, minor decisions and celebrations(and some not so minor), small, superficial interactions with each other that, when put together, are all indications that we are truly living…and moving forward.

So, what’s in your rear view mirror, if anything, that’s holding you back? What, if anything, is moving you forward?

An iddy, biddy thought on kindness

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hands

I wrote last week that it is an arrogant assumption to believe everyone likes you. There will be people along the way who  just won’t. Period. Ouch. Arrogant, too, is the assumption that the reason, if it should exist at all, has to do with you. Well that makes it a little easier to bear…

Today, however, I want to take that topic in a different direction.

We have to let ourselves be loved, to be liked, to allow others to draw us in…and we have to be receptive. Easy enough when things are going well in your life.  Easy enough if we don’t have to give away some part of ourselves in the process of receiving or reciprocating love.

But what about when the universe decides to cash in on some unsettled karma?

My husband was in the military for eight years, and in that time I slowly shut out family and friends; retreating into my own loneliness and isolation. Kate was pretty young, so she was unaffected by my choice to withdraw from life; we had each other, and I could take or leave just about anyone else.  I mostly left them. Brian’s last deployment was in Iraq, and by then I had pretty much abandoned most of my friendships and only really saw my in-laws(who lived down the street at the time) or my parents. And that was only because they wouldn’t let me drop off the family radar long enough to wallow in my solitary existence

And, get this–after I succeeded in pushing everyone away…I got mad at them–at all of them– for not being there for me! Yeah, can you believe it! How much sense does that make? It wasn’t until Brian had been back for a few years that I mended some of those friendships; others died a painful death never to be resurrected.

Why do we do that?  Sometimes in our darkest hours we can push people away and then become angry at them for not being there for us. When we are weak, it seems too humbling to let others shoulder our burden, to in effect, submit to another’s kindness.  For some, too, one’s self esteem can sink quite low, and that can cloud one’s judgment; there must be something wrong with them, if they like me.

Well, guess what?  People don’t have to have a reason to be kind, either.

Those stubborn friends and family members who would not deem my sulky, solitary lifestyle as acceptable, I just have one thing to say to you–Thanks.  Thanks for giving me the time to crawl out of my self induced solitude and join the land of the living.

It’s arrogant to believe you aren’t worthy of someone’s love…or their “like”, for that matter.  And if someone takes a moment out of his own drudgery to be kind, accept it graciously, take it as a compliment that he saw you in the midst of the fast paced craziness of this world, or perhaps he saw you in the midst of his own heartache or tribulations. It may take a person only a second to bestow a smile, to hold a door, or to do a random act of kindness…and in a second that someone is  gone without the expectation of gratitude or the knowledge of the lasting impact of his or her thoughtfulness.  Lucky is the person who has someone stick by him and see him through a hardship. If a person will do that for anyone of us in a world where independence and silent suffering is hailed as strength, and sadly so, the least we can do is allow him or her to be kind; at most we must pay it forward.  Father Jerry Riney once said,”There is never an excuse to be unkind.” It’s that simple.  And the road goes both ways.

“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:9-13