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Taking Our Life Back

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Taking Our Life Back

It’s time to take back your life.  Yes, I’m talking to you.  You know the life you always talk about? The one with the free time? The one where you see your friends, read a book, take a bath, journal, go for a walk, drink coffee in quiet.  It’s your life I’m talking about…and mine.

We are in this together, this life of ours.  We cry at the same movies, watch the same news reports, empathize with those in pain and laugh at the same jokes.  Maybe our level of acceptable is different, but humor is humor and pain is pain, no matter the degree.

I know it’s time for you to take back your life because it’s time for me to take back mine.  And of course, we’re all connected, so I know you are feeling the strains and aches and pains and heartache and joy and peace.  Maybe we feel them at different times, but we still feel them. All of us…every single one.

But today, you take our life back.  Today you will make a list of what its’ going to take. On that list will include making a date with a friend.  On that list will be drawing up your vision of your dream vacation. On that list will be exactly when you plan the time and day you will sit alone for 10 minutes and drink that coffee, tea, or chocolate milk by yourself in silence and breathe this week.

On that list, you will come up with the ideal job where someone pays you to do what you love.  On that list, you will write the names of all the people you want to thank for making your life special and filled with joy. On that list you will add one dream you can’t let go of and why. And on that list you will tell your significant other just what that dream is…and if your significant other is currently you, tell yourself.

If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for me. But today is the day. Its Go time.

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Q&A My Perspective: When Your Child Doesn’t Value Personal Hygiene As Much As You Do

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Q&A My Perspective: When Your Child Doesn’t Value Personal Hygiene As Much As You Do

QUESTION

Why can’t my ten year old daughter take responsibility for her own personal hygiene?  If I do not remind her constantly, she leaves too much conditioner in her hair, does not brush her teeth (even though she has recently experienced getting a cavity filled), does not put on her deodorant, brush her hair or wash her face (even though acne is becoming an issue).  She is also unable to comb or brush her hair to get the knots out.  I have a checklist on the back of the bathroom door which does not help. Short of standing at the bathroom door to police her – I do not know what to do!!!

 

MY PERSPECTIVE

Its not that she can’t, it’s that she doesn’t want to. 🙂

Not too long ago, she had the luxury of not needing to shower or bathe every day, someone either brushing her teeth for her or reminding her to brush her teeth, not needing deodorant and someone who would gladly brush her hair and maybe even throw some bows in it!  That was her routine, her pattern, her expectation and now that expectation has changed, but not on her terms.

Think of it like someone washing the dishes for you every day after each meal and then one day saying, it’s your job to do it from now on.  It has to get done, you need clean dishes, but it’s not that fun.  So what happens? You let the dishes stack up a little longer in the beginning, maybe for a day or two, they get stinky, you run out of dishes and then you have to wash them so you can eat again.  After a while, you start to notice that it’s not that bad if you do it once a day and eventually right away…you just have to figure it out for yourself on your terms.

Although your daughter has experienced direct consequences for her sometimes lax attitude on consistent hygiene (acne and cavities), it is likely not uncomfortable enough for her to truly change her habits…yet.  Hopefully you won’t have to wait till the big drills come out for her teeth and she’s on a first name basis with a dermatologist until she notices the influence her behavior plays on her health and hygiene, but they are a stubborn lot these kids.

With that said, I have a 10 year old who needs CONSTANT reminding as well to cut her nails, take a shower, brush her teeth, etc, etc…and also personally know the nagging/reminding is essential in helping them develop the new pattern of taking responsibility for their own hygiene.  I also notice my own frustration that she’s not picking up the habits I’d like her to develop nearly as fast as I’d prefer.

The checklist is always good.  It’s a helpful reminder of what needs to happen.  If her lax attitude is really bothering you, then I would suggest attaching a consequence for not completing whatever is on that checklist, but make the consequence as related to the behavior as possible….like no friends over until you consistently get in the habit of taking care of your body because no one wants to hang with the smelly kid.  Maybe that seems extreme, but the key is to help them identify a way to create a new habit that works for them and some type of reward system can be helpful in motivating that.

I am a big fan of making sure my kids know what their list of responsibilities are…which includes personal hygiene and making healthy food choices, as well as knowing what their list of privileges are.  The rules remain basic, if you don’t maintain your responsibilities, you don’t earn any privileges.  And privileges include all kinds of things like playing with electronics, having friends over, participating in extra curricular activities and having dessert. Cause and effect, a lesson in life.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a poem inspired by my own dirty children.

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How Mental Illness and Emotional Disorders Impact Our Children

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How Mental Illness and Emotional Disorders Impact Our Children

I am one of those people who purposefully doesn’t watch the news, follow politics or read the newspaper.  I used to, avidly. It gave me something to think about, worry about, obsess over and be angry at.  The injustice is everywhere, as is crime, deception, and panic.  I have consciously chosen to take no part in it because I find that in no way, does mainstream media enhance my life.

I had been feeling this way prior to obsessively watching the news after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  But once I heard what happened, I could not stop watching, thinking or trying to wrap my mind around it. I wanted answers, so I looked to the news to give them to me.  I believed everything they said, absorbed it all, took in the “facts” to process it and then found myself infuriated when half of what I was told was a “fact” was not even close.  Twenty four hours of someone else’s strong influence on me was powerful.  It shaped my views and opinions and reiterated to me just how powerful the influence of the media really is.  I haven’t watched the news since…right up until the other day.

Restless on the treadmill, I turned on MSNBC and started watching a heated debate on gun control.  Still gun control? Still debating? This hot topic started right after the tragedy as did the changes in our school safety procedures and the widespread panic that accompanies it.  Still, no one is talking about the REAL issue, the underlying issue, the actual cause—a misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of mental illness and emotional disorders.  It is not normal to hurt people, to want to hurt people, to allow yourself to perform harmful acts.  Before the guns, knives, fire, and fists are used, something is out of balance, something that needs to be addressed- desperately.

It bothers me immensely because I see it every day in children, I hear about it, I lived with it, I know the detrimental impact of mismanaged mental illness and emotional disorders. I also know the fear of it, the misunderstanding of its causes and treatments and the intense judgment that writes people off as hopeless because their brain connections aren’t working properly.

You can’t see the lesions, you can’t see the scars, you can’t see the pain, but it is there and it is deep. Clinical Depression, Bi Polar Disorder and Anxiety Disorders run rampant amongst our populations and they are kept under the radar often to protect the judgment from those around them.  Without professional help and intervention, these illnesses and disorders can drastically affect a person’s life in horrible, negative ways, causing them to feel worthless, angry and living in a constant state of fear and distress in varying degrees.  Each person is different and how their illness or disorder manifests itself is different, but the discomfort and angst that accompanies it is the same.

Addictions, Eating Disorders, and Self Injurious Behaviors are also way more common than we would like to acknowledge and neglect of their symptoms can have extreme short term and long term impacts, both physically and emotionally.

So what can we do to help as parents?

Get the Facts–Know and understand the basics of mental illness and emotional disorders.  You don’t need to know how to diagnose a problem (although many try to do so with the limited knowledge they have) but having an understanding can help alleviate any concern of what you think you know and may be afraid of and offer you facts that are real.

Teach–Teach your children what they need to know as developmentally appropriate.  Young children may only need to know that while some people’s brains are good at learning math problems more than others, some people are better at managing their emotions more than others.  Teaching them if a peer cries more often doesn’t mean they are a “cry baby” but rather it helps that child release their sadness and frustration, the same way it does for them. And it may just be that the child who cries more or even yells more may feel those frustrations more easily than the child sitting next to them and they are learning what to do with those feelings.

Older children will benefit from the same lessons, but also will require understanding the facts and a reiteration that a chemical imbalance in the brain, is just that, an imbalance.  With proper treatment and intervention, balance has a great chance of being recovered.

Do Your Part–Stressing the importance of acceptance and openness to their peers differences can not be over emphasized. If they don’t like the way someone is acting or responding, help them identify what it is about their behavior that makes them uncomfortable.  Teach them that the best way to combat behavior you don’t like, is to model behavior that works better.  It will be helpful for them to recognize how much power they have to teach positive behaviors and control their situation rather than judge it and be bothered by it. And they may be teaching their peer a very positive lesson they won’t get elsewhere.

Connect–Know and help your children understand that we are all in this together.  Whatever effort you make to help another, helps you and everyone around you.  It’s just the truth.

Learning the facts and teaching our children how to respond to other children who struggle is one of the very best ways we can help children living with mental illness and emotional disorders. Every human being wants to feel accepted for who they are and when children feel accepted and cared for by those around them, they feel safe, loved and content.  Children who feel safe, loved and content, are far less likely to grow into angry, hurt and aggressive adults.

Just because the media and the politicians have yet to see the power of fixing the real problem, doesn’t mean we can’t influence it in our own ways.  It’s time to see the truth and it’s time to act.  And what better way to protect our children than to teach them how to be kind, loving and accepting human beings?  Oh right…argue over gun control. How could I forget?

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To Medicate or Not? Another Perspective

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To Medicate or Not? Another Perspective

After the last post, My Perspective: To Medicate or Not, I was taken back by the multiple responses (most directly to me) of those who have chosen to medicate and the tough decision to get there, along with the disappointment with the lack of support to do so. So when my friend Beth King, a 5th grade teacher for the past 12 years, asked if she could offer her own perspective, I was happy to have her share it with you.

The debate surrounding “To medicate or not to medicate” is one that can end up being fueled by emotions that often need to be put in check in order to make the decision that best fits your family and your child.  I offer your readers another perspective to consider when that choice is looking them directly in the eye.  Understand that while I accept and recognize the benefits of alternative approaches to psychological disorders such as homeopathy, acupressure/puncture, and the likes, I am a staunch supporter of medication for children, teens, and adults.  I speak from the combined perspective of parent, teacher, and personal experience.

As someone who found great relief from a lifetime of struggle when a doctor properly prescribed medication, I argue that my parents should have paid attention to my symptoms instead of dismissing them and punishing me for “irresponsibility, immaturity, and being dramatic.” Developing any sort of self-confidence was a great effort because I constantly felt as though my issues were my fault or a result of my inadequacies.  I know that some of the readers may argue that perhaps this was more a result of poor parenting than of chemical imbalance, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that that was not the case.  I maintain that once I sought out proper counseling in combination with medication I was able to see a clearer picture than my unbalanced brain could before the drugs.

I did not enter into the world of “better living through chemicals” lightly or without trepidation.  I did my research and asked many questions of multiple doctors.  In the end, the benefits far outweighed the negatives. And trust me, my husband and children are better for it as well.

Now, after more than a decade in the career of educating children, I too often feel terribly helpless for the students who are experiencing the same roller coaster of emotions that I suffered through because they are early on labeled as “troublemakers, impulsive, and lazy.”  While we, as teachers, claim to be non-judgmental with every new class we get, we are also human.  And with that comes the compelling need to “share our concerns” as a courtesy to next year’s teacher. These labels hang over our children throughout their years of schooling, causing them to eventually self-fulfill the prophecy because they don’t believe or know that anything else is possible.  By trying different methods or approaches to remedy the behaviors, be it homeopathic, diet, or something else other than pharmaceuticals, parents can ultimately be dragging out the suffering for their child because each method must be tried for a significant amount of time in order to determine its effectiveness.   And with every failed attempt comes a deeper sense of self-blame even in elementary aged children.

I do not believe that prescriptions alone can cure the diagnosis, and should not shoulder the entire responsibility.  I believe and stand by the testament that, with the assistance of proper medication, the individual’s brain can then be ready to tackle, confront, and begin to learn coping strategies that will ultimately improve not only the outward impression of the person, but the inner impression as well.

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Q&A My Perspective: To Medicate or Not?

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Q&A My Perspective: To Medicate or Not?

QUESTION

What is your take on behavior-modifying medication for children?

MY PERSPECTIVE

 

 

I love this question because it’s something I think about often.  I have worked with many, many teenagers who are on medication for ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, Depression and Mood Disorders and I have seen and heard of many remarkable changes and equally as many unremarkable changes.

 

The decision to medicate a child is a tough one and should involve multiple conversations with your child’s doctor and a clear understanding of what the medications can do and not do.  Personally, I am typically hesitant to interfere with  a growing child’s brain chemistry (especially teenagers whose hormone level fluctuations could be extracted and marketed as psychosis inducing drugs themselves), but I do believe there are times when the brain chemistry could use a little tweaking and can help change lives for the better.  The big question is which drugs, for how long and what are the pros and cons of each.

 

But to your answer your question, I do not believe there is any medication that will change a child’s behavior.  Medication can sometimes help correct dysfunction occurring in the brain chemistry, but it will not change a child’s behavior.  Only the child’s beliefs and attitudes will change the child’s behaviors.

 

For example, if a child is on medication to manage their ADD/ADHD and it works as proposed, they will be able to focus more on tasks at hand and hone in on some skills that might be a challenge when continuously distracted.  This can be very beneficial for children who are motivated to do well in school, but struggle with the ability to stay engaged for long or even short periods of time.  For the child who is not motivated to do well, the medication will still work, but it will not change their attitude or desire to do the work until they have decided the change is important. My advice to a child who struggles with symptoms of ADD/ADHD is to work to figure out tactics that help them manage their inattention, both inside and outside of school.  Sometimes professional help can be helpful in accomplishing this.

 

Another example is when a child is on medication for anxiety, and it works as proposed, the medication will help “take the edge off” and promote a less reactive nervous system.  This can be very beneficial for those who are willing to take steps to change their negative thought patterns and learn some new coping skills to manage their stress. But for those who are unwilling to change anything they are doing, it will offer minimal success in overcoming their anxiety and distress.

 

My point? Medications can be a great supplement in conjunction with making behavioral, attitude or habitual changes to alter the patterns that are not currently working for the child, but they will undoubtedly need additional support beyond the medication for lasting and real results.

 

On a personal note, I am a huge fan of homeopathy and naturopathic treatments.  They are typically without threat of harmful side effects.  To me, there is nothing to lose when trying out this angle and makes parents like myself, much more at ease when using trial and error tactics on my kid’s growing body.

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Q&A My Perspective: Body Image- Friend or Foe?

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Q&A My Perspective: Body Image- Friend or Foe?

QUESTION

My 10 year old daughter and her friends are obsessed with weight and body image.  They are constantly critiquing themselves and comparing themselves to everyone around them.  It hurts me to think that she is unhappy with herself just the way she is.  What can I do to change her attitude?

MY PERSPECTIVE

Your 10 year old daughter, and the 15 year old neighbor, her 18 year old sister,  the 25 year old college student who lives up the street from them, her 45 year old professor and her 70 year old mother….all obsessed with body image and weight.  It’s everywhere.  In our society, where the quest for the best recipe is equally as hot of a topic as fitness and weight loss, it’s amazing we all don’t sit home and count our precious calories with every bite and then shame ourselves if we took one bite too many.

And of course, our wafer thin role models of beauty and popularity in the media are rarely above a size 2 for women.  Although the push for plus size models has made its way into the mainstream marketing world, the attitude shift of acceptance and redefining beauty is much slower than is necessary to protect our current generation of image obsessed daughters with image obsessed role models in the form of caregivers, peers and the super cute actors and actresses they watch on TV.

I would like to tell you to beat it into her that true beauty is who we are on the inside and it shouldn’t matter what people think of you as long as you know you are beautiful and treat others with kindness, etc, etc. etc….but if that was easy, than we wouldn’t have this society filled with the image obsessed.  I think we are still a great distance away from saying “Hey Vanessa, your heart looks beautiful today.  You must have been really kind to others for it to look so good. What level of gratitude are you feeling to beam so brightly? I must have it!”

And although its true, that beauty does reside within, it’s a matter of understanding and believing this at your core level and living it in order for it to make a difference, not just saying it.  If you’re not there yet, then I suggest starting with the basics.  With your daughter, write down on paper what internal beauty looks like and what external beauty looks like. Define them and then come up with the pros and cons of each.  What does internal beauty get you versus external beauty?  And vice versa.  Sometimes we need to intellectually differentiate and name it to make it understandable.

And be truthful.  People are drawn to other people  by the way they make them feel.  We are naturally attracted to people who make us laugh or feel good.  Most of us can think of a time when we met someone whose outward appearance was attractive, but their personality or the way they treated others made us rethink how we rated their attractiveness.   It’s easy to find lots of examples of these characteristics and personalities from characters on their favorite TV shows and movies.   Point out the the way others respond to them and their attitudes, despite their appearance.  Use them to explain the value and importance of how they treat others and the lasting impact it will have, thus increasing their natural attractiveness!

But most importantly, notice the way you talk about yourself and your body image.  Caregivers are the primary role models for children, as they watch everything we do and say.  What are your own attitudes toward your self image?  If she hears or suspects your own dissatisfaction with yourself, she will naturally think this is the norm of how she should respond to her own perceived flaws.  Even if you are not in love with your own body, model your behavior as though you are and wait till you see your friends to air your frustrations, while you are working on your own transition to change any negative attitudes you may have.

It’s a tough one, this change of perception. But the foundation of acceptance you help her build now, can make the rest of her eating and living career that much more pleasant.  And for those around her as well.

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The Precious Present Moment

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The Precious Present Moment

Live in the present moment…be one with yourself and your surroundings.  Enjoy every day as though it was your last. Carpe diem!!  I am sure whoever offered this advice had terrific intentions and I am all for it, but seriously, do people really live in the moment??

I remember the first time this advice was given to me, or at least the first time I acknowledged it.  I was sitting in a group counseling class in graduate school and the professor was lecturing on how important it is to be in the present moment when listening to the client in order to take in and process what they are saying. It makes perfect sense.  Zoning out to make my mental grocery list while pretending to listen to someone’s list of anxieties, does not help me to help them.  However, we are human and those lists have to be made sometime.

But realistically, even when I am present while listening to and counseling others, I am still tapping into my previous resources, knowledge base and identifying feelings I can relate to from the past, just to make sure I can acknowledge what is happening to them in the present. We use the past to learn and to teach in the present.  It’s just the way it is.

Although a challenge, living in the moment is my personal goal as a parent…and one that I achieve more than just a few moments a year.  And when I do experience these moments, I love them.  Absolutely, positively LOVE them! I remember them vividly, the picture of where I was, what I was feeling, the internal bliss.  It’s wonderful.  And then it becomes a memory…one I strive to relive again, which is the opposite of living in the moment.

I want to be present, and I strive to be present, but I also work outside the home full time and have children with full time appetites, full time school commitments, part time extracurricular activities and an active social life, all of which require planning…or living in the future.  This is the challenge I have with living in the present moment.  If I lived in the present moment as often is suggested, my children wouldn’t regularly have clean clothes to wear or food to eat without going to the grocery store daily or a week’s worth of essential items needed away from home when on vacation.  It would be a nightmare.

I admit that personally, I’m just not good at living in the moment.  But when I do, I have impassioned feelings of gratitude and a genuine appreciation of my children.  I see them for who they really are and realize just how much I like them.  When I stop what I’m focusing on and snuggle with my son, I listen to his effervescent take on the world and soak up his positive and exuberant energy.  When I ask my daughter a question about something that has been bothering her and truly listen to what she says, I notice just how grown up she’s become and am amazed with her personal insights.  During these moments, it feels like I am just opening my eyes and seeing my life for what it really is…a moment by moment gift.

This is precisely why I continue to want to hold on to the moments, to experience them fully and enjoy them.  They are priceless and rare for today’s hectic child rearing schedule, even with the best intentions.  Mastering the delicate balance between living fully in the present moment and warding off chaos by having a plan to keep daily life running smoothly is a continuous aspiration.  But one worth striving for…always.

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The Sex Talk

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The Sex Talk

I will never forget being in elementary school and my mother sitting me down to have the dreaded sex talk.  I can still see her sitting in the brown chair of our living room and hear her speak those disturbing, scary words, like penis, vagina and babies coming out of it. Oh. My. God.  Is she really saying these things?  Make it stop, God, please, make it stop, I remember thinking.

So when my daughter asked me two years ago, at age 6, how babies are born, I took a deep breath, tried to de-flood my memories, and began a moderated explanation of how babies are made and born.  And I mean the basics. We were in the car, where of course, the best discussions take place, and as I explained the minimal details, my then 3 year old son burst into tears because he just found out that he, as a male, could not bear children on his own.  So after diffusing that meltdown, again, all in the car, went back to explaining the facts of life.  And the inevitable question, “So you did that with Daddy twice?”  I think I’m sweating at this point. “Yup.” I reply.  No need to go further. Thankfully, when it came to the “any other questions?” portion of the discussion, they were satisfied with my response, or thoroughly confused.

A few weeks ago, the topic came up again, oddly enough, in the car.  My daughter, now age 8, had some questions on how babies were born.  This time, she wanted more detail. As I began my straight to the point, without having any idea how to pretty it up, explanation, I used the words penis and vagina.  “What’s a vagina?” She asked.  How on Earth does she not know what a vagina is (maybe because even as I write this, I am uncomfortable even saying it in my head).  And then it dawned on me that if and when I have ever used the word, it was quickly said and with fleeting meaning.  So I tell her it’s another word for her “privacy” as my husband so gently refers to our personal parts.  “Oh, okay.” She is unfazed and uncaring, as it’s just another word to her.  Just another word, just another explanation of life’s mysteries, no big thang.

So of course, because she is emotionally unfazed, I feel the need to go into detail on when grown ups have sex and why and limit the why to having babies and sharing love.  I mean, why else would you do that?  And that seemed to satisfy her.  For now.  Part of me wants her to ask more questions and the other part of me wants to put up a soundproof cabbie window between us to make it stop. But she has no other questions, it’s not an important part of her life. She just wanted to know.

So why is it so uncomfortable for me to have “the sex talk” with my kids?  I have no problem sorting out every conversation they have with their friends and strangers, explaining the weight of their words and the way they say them, calling them out, and even myself out when we make mistakes.  I have no problem singing in front of them (although I’m pretty sure I should) or walking around with my hair sticking straight up for hours in the morning and wearing the same clothes for an entire weekend when I simply don’t feel like showering.  But talking to them about sex…..scary.

I think mostly its out of fear of making sure I say the right things. I want them to know the facts, but I want them to know the potential emotional impact of sharing your personal parts with another. I want them to understand the full meaning of respecting yourself and your body. I want them to understand the risks of STDs and unplanned pregnancy, but I don’t want them to be afraid either. And for the love of God, I don’t want them to look at me like a sexual being…I am their mother!! The same way I don’t want to think of my respected elders as being sexual beings.  Ewww….

All in one conversation.  Is this possible? Clearly, no.

The topic will come up again and hopefully many, many more times. I hope to be their trusted resource and if I’m not, I plan to be their forced resource.  Being their primary educator, I know it’s my job to give them the facts and explain the emotional piece as best I can.  They know me and they trust me.  I have even been around the block…but only twice.

And perhaps I’ll start throwing around body part names more frequently. When my son said “wenis” at the dinner table the other night, I corrected him and said “penis.” and he instantaneously laughed so hard he fell off the bar stool height chair of our new dining room set.  I mean hysterical.  Which made the rest of us hysterical.  Apparently, we have a long way to go.

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The Smelly Kid

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The Smelly Kid

“Did you brush your teeth?”
They hear me ask,

Knowing full well,

They’ve avoided this task.


“You need to take a shower,”

They hear me say,

The grunting gets louder,

Which always leads to delay.

 

“Are you hoping to catch a rodent,

With those unkept claws?”

As I question if their fingernails,

Are too long for their paws.

 

They whine and complain.

How dare we want them kept clean?

Enforcing good habits,

And normal hygiene?

 

Do they want to be dirty?

Does water repulse them?

Avoiding the faucet as if

Cleanliness creates mayhem.

 

Is it too much to ask,

That they are not the smelly kid?

To appreciate soap

And not become livid,

 

When asked to keep clean,

And manage one’s own sanitation,

A fair request indeed,

To ensure their own liberation.

 

Oh little dirty ones,

We will not go away,

The reminders will be ongoing,

And our insistence here to stay.

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Great Expectations

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Great Expectations

Growing up,  I was a child who always wanted to know what was going to happen next. I was intrigued by the occult, playing the ouija board with friends, reading my horoscope often and doing séances, or what we deemed as séances, trying to get an answer to what the future would hold.  I frequently played the game MASH with my friends to speculate where I’d end up in life. Mansion, Apartment, Shack or House? What will it be? Who would be my prince charming? Clearly, one of the cute boys in the 5th grade. What will I drive? Lamborghini or Porsche or maybe a Jeep? And how many kids? So many unknowns answered. And of course when your friend told you to stop drawing lines, it was all intuition based, so it MUST be right.   Like all my friends, I always wanted the big house, the big yard, the nice car, the good looking guy, and some kids to share my fortune with, and probably a white picket fence while I was at it.  That was the American dream after all, right?

My first post college apartment was not quite what I envisioned when planning my future as a child.  3,000 miles away from home, cardboard box nightstands, a used coffee table that smelled like the gasoline in someone’s garage every time we moved it and a stiff futon we thought would make a decent bed. Yet, we had a tiny little deck that hosted the perfect view of the spectacular Cascade Mountains we lived next to. No furnishing required. My boyfriend (now husband) was in the military, I worked two part time jobs, we had no friends to speak of and spent all of our free time together, mostly playing Yahtzee for household chores, but still together.  I remember making my bed once, with a beautiful discount comforter cover I had saved up for, thinking, this is it, this is the life I was waiting for.  Life was hard with many stressful moments, but it was good.  Apartment, good looking Guy, Nissan NX 1600 with t-tops, no Kids.

My first house was also not at all what I envisioned it would be when I was a young adult planning my future.  I’m not sure where I thought all my financial wealth was going to come from, but it wasn’t from the job I chose.  A simple cape style home, with a one car garage on an acre lot in a quaint neighborhood.  When we moved in, we knew we couldn’t stay forever because we only had two usable bedrooms and we had planned to have more than one child.  Yet, I remember how excited I was once we’d made the house our own and commenting to a friend how I was so perfectly content with my new home, my beautiful baby and husband. I had finally had the life I wanted.  House, good looking Husband, Nissan Pathfinder, 1 Kid.

It’s been 8 and a half years we’ve lived in our starter house.  Life’s been filled with continuous change since we’ve been here.  Every room in the house has had a makeover, we had another child to complete our family, survived a major job loss and career change for my husband, and have made countless memories and traditions with our kids.  We’ve had some really tough moments and some really amazing moments. Both of which we’ve learned and grown from and continue to grow from.  And we still have each other.  House, excellent Father for my children, Honda Pilot, 2 Kids.

I wish I could say the story ends there.  I appreciate everything I have, hold on to the moments of contentment and enjoy life to its fullest. But, that’s not true.  I am human.  I want more, strive to have more and am constantly setting goals on how to get more.  I am not comfortable being stagnant. I like to move forward and moving forward means asking the question, what’s next?

In fact, when my children give me the long laundry list of what they want, I always tell them “Its good to want. If you had everything you wanted, there’d be nothing to look forward to.”  But, is life supposed to be filled with only fleeting moments of satisfaction? Yes and no. Life is supposed to be filled with moments, only we get to decide if those moments are filled with contentment or filled with longing for more.

Just because we don’t have a six figure income doesn’t mean we can’t have a life of wealth.  Its so easy to focus on what we don’t have and forget to take inventory on what we do.  I don’t have the mansion I dreamed of or the car I wanted, but I have a great family, great health, great friends, a great job and time to play.  There are days I don’t remember I am thankful for these things, many actually, and those are the days I am the most unsatisfied. The more I want, the less content I become.  It’s a continuous practice to find the balance between being thankful for what I have and setting goals for what’s next, but well worth the prize of appreciation and fulfillment.

I admit, I still read my horoscope- I am a true goal oriented Capricorn- and I still am wondering what the future holds.  But with a little practice and a whole lot of gratitude, I will acknowledge that I have mastered the game of MASH and have exactly what I was looking for.

Home, Partner, Freedom, Bliss.

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