Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Answer to All of Your Problems

When I was a little girl and something hurt, say my knee, or my head, or my arm, my father would go get his hammer and say, “I can fix it!” As good as my dad was with a hammer, and no matter how many rooms in the house bore his Mr. Fix-It trademark somewhere, I knew he couldn’t fix my physical ailments with his hammer. But I would bite anyway.


“You can’t fix my (insert hurting body part here) with your hammer!” I would say, an attempt at exasperation that would usually fail miserably into a laugh.


“Sure I can! If I bash your big toe with this hammer, you’ll forget that your (again, insert named body part here, that was probably already starting to feel better) is hurting! All better!” he would claim, with a big grin.


My dad was not a child abuser, honestly. He was and still is a man with a very silly, sometimes sick, sense of humor. And he knew how to take my mind off of what hurt.


It’s really a very simple “solution” to a problem:  distraction. But it isn’t always easy to distract ourselves from what is painful, find a humorous side, and laugh it off.


In her book, the life-changing magic of NOT GIVING A F*CK, Sarah Knight attempts to teach her reader (or the listener, in my case. I love her voice!) to give less f*cks in life and find more happiness. Among some of her mantras, she insists:  “It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.”


There are many things in life that we address, react to, act upon, avoid, face, ignore, or steamroll our way through. How easily we are able to process a situation, devise a plan of action or solution, and put that plan into effect depends upon a number of factors. How well we are instinctively qualified to handle the situation combines with the resources we have at our disposal to determine a sometimes infinite number of solutions. And sometimes there is only one relevant solution. Personality will ultimately play the biggest role in the solutions process. Are you a Type A personality who had the problem figured out before others even realized there was a problem? Are you a procrastinator that knows what needs to be done, but you’re going to wait until the last possible second to act? Perhaps you are someone who throws their hands in the air and screams, “Oh, shit! We’re gonna die!” (Thank you Harrison Ford in “Six Days Seven Nights.”) Inevitably, the problem will get resolved, or create a bigger problem that needs to be addressed. Again, too many variables determine the ultimate outcome.


We would all like to think that we have control over our lives, but each of us will find ourselves in situations and blocks of time in our lives when we feel completely out of control. When the universe just seems to be working against us no matter what we do. It is during these times that I believe that the “It’s simple, but it’s not easy” mentality is drilling itself into our brains, blaring into our ears from unseen personal ear buds, and written in neon lights above our heads that only we can see. Only we don’t really see the lights. We turn away from them, or worse turn the switch off and darken those lights with a presumed finality. We take out the ear buds and we shake our head to clear it of the insane voice that keeps telling us to do what we know we should do, but don’t want to do. Don’t have the heart to do. Simply don’t have the energy to do.


But it is at these times that we need to realize that voice in our heads, those words in the air, they are guiding us to do what we know has to be done.


Unhappy in your current relationship? Tell your partner what you need. Or leave.


Not making enough money at your job? Get a new one.


Outgrown the house you live in that seemed big enough when it was just two of you, and not five of you? Buy a bigger house.


Feeling lonely, isolated and wanting friendships to fulfill your life? Put yourself out there to meet new people at church, a gym, an outing group. Invite work friends out for a drink.


Feeling overweight, tired, fatigued and out of shape? Eat less. Work out more. Sleep more. Eat better.


Much of what we need to do in life, from getting out of bed in the morning to paying our bills, to teaching our kids how to be good people can be whittled down to a series of actions that starts with one step:  begin. Take the first step. Throw the covers back. Put your feet on the floor. Take the bills and the checkbook (virtual or actual) and compare what needs to be paid with what you have available. Teach your children to say “Please,” and “Thank you.” Show them acts of kindness and encourage them to spread that to people they both know and don’t know. Give back to your community, volunteer. You start somewhere – anywhere - and commit to beginning, making progress towards, and completing your goals.


It’s really very simple. It’s just not always easy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

My Obsession

I obsess about a lot of things. I rarely make a decision without second, triple and possibly quadruple-guessing if the decision I “made” is the right one. I obsess over my skin and how bad it looks. I obsess over my butt and how it has finally transformed in my fifties to an ass that I never thought I would have:  mostly non-existent and much smaller than I would like it to be. My underwear always matches my outfit. Sometimes I need to be clever about color combinations or the subtle hue of a part of a design on my t-shirt to make it work, but yes:  always. I check that the garage bay doors are closed before I go to bed. I always check twice, and sometimes three times, if the kids or Ed are still up. (They have been known to go outside to a vehicle and not shut the door behind them when they came back in.) I hate crumbs on my kitchen counter and will wipe down the counter no less than three times per day. If there has been a lot of sandwich making or pasta eating (the parmesan cheese!), I’m wiping it down an additional time. I don’t think that I have a clinical version of the affliction, but I have self-diagnosed myself with my own version of OCD. I admit it (half the solution to the problem, so I hear) and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s just part of who I am.


Most of the things I obsess about I recognize that most other people would not obsess about them and I accept that they are my own “downfall.” Mine and mine alone to wrestle with, conquer (hopefully) and relive. But there are things that I don’t understand why other people don’t obsess about them. Some just seem like a no-brainer. Clearly obvious.


Like bad breath.


I am obsessed with not having bad breath in public. I can’t be positive that I am always successful, but I can tell you that I am always obsessing over whether it is plaguing me and whether I should be trying to correct a simple case of chronic halitosis. I keep Listerine Strips in a cute holder on my key ring so that whenever I am out in my car, I will always have a source of fresh breath. There is almost always a pack of gum in my car. There is almost always a pack of gum in the buffet drawer in my kitchen. There is always a pack of gum in my desk drawer. There is a packet of Listerine Strips in the pocket of every. Coat. Or. Jacket. I. Own.

Seriously.


I’m that obsessed with not having bad breath.


So for those of you not obsessed alongside me, I offer you these simple, basic, daily “situations” to get you thinking about your own oral scent:


If you’ve finished your morning coffee (or afternoon latte, there really is no discriminating here) more than an hour ago and you haven’t had anything else to eat or drink:  you have bad breath.


Similarly, as much as chocolate is sweet and decadent, if you ate it over an hour ago:  you have bad breath.


If you’ve eaten onions, garlic, fish or pasta:  you have bad breath.


If you got up this morning and didn’t brush your teeth:  you have bad breath.


If you drank orange juice this morning:  you have bad breath.


If you’ve had a glass of milk, yogurt, ice cream, or anything else dairy-concentrated:  you have bad breath.


If you’ve had a glass of chocolate milk:  you have bad breath.


If you’ve had several cocktails and any kind of alcohol-induced snack:  you have bad breath.


If you drank until you couldn’t see clearly, can’t remember how you got home, or don’t remember who took your clothes off, even if you brush your teeth twice in the morning:  you have bad breath.


If you’ve had just one beer:  you have bad breath.


If you haven’t had anything to eat or drink in the last two hours:  you have bad breath.


It’s unfortunate that so many things that taste great going down leave a horrible scent in our mouths that we can unwittingly share with people near us. Or the person six feet away from us. But those delicious foods and beverages do leave our mouths with a nasty, lingering odor. For some the odor is brief and only requires a nice glass of water to reset the palate. For others a breath mint or gum, in addition to the water, is required. And still for others, whether it’s the nature of the food beast (usually onions and garlic), personal DNA or the combination of both, a good teeth brushing and maybe even some mouthwash will be in order to truly correct the situation.


In any case, please be mindful. And join me in my obsession. Please. Because trust me, those of us taking stock in Listerine and Orbitz shouldn’t be the only ones fighting the bad breath fog. It’s a fight we can all join and make a difference.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

COVID-19


March 31, 2020



Novel coronavirus. COVID-19.


Three weeks ago today, exactly two days after returning to campus at the end of Spring Break, Jakob left Saint John’s University with the intention of returning on March 27. Clearing the campus before COVID-19 could have any effect on the students or staff was a safety and pre-emptive measure. It was supposed to be short-lived. The college has since officially closed for the semester and all learning will take place remotely. The next time Jakob sets foot on that campus it will be to pack up the remainder of his things and officially move back home for the summer. We still have not heard from SJU regarding the move-out process.


On Friday, March 6, 2020 at 4:30PM, exactly one hour after classes let out for spring break, the head of school at Worcester Academy sent out an email warning students and staff that spring break would likely be extended due to the novel coronavirus. It was extended just a few days later, and before spring break was over, the school would send home all international students that had remained on campus. They would officially move to distance learning for the foreseeable future.


On Friday, March 13, 2020, the Tantasqua/Union 61 school district followed suit with other communities in Massachusetts and closed their doors to all students, enforcing an academic stay-at-home that they hoped would last for two weeks. Under the direction of the Governor, Charlie Baker, all public and private Massachusetts elementary and secondary education schools are currently closed until May 4, 2020.


There is no one on this planet that has ever experienced the likes of what we are all going through right now. This has never happened. There has never been a world-wide quarantine that kept businesses closed, schools closed, and people shuttered indoors for this length of time. Communities have braced again weather, states have shut down highways because of natural disasters, countries have pulled together and mourned together after a terrorist attack. The world has never been united as one front to confront anything.


COVID-19, mandatory and recommended quarantines and social distancing will change the way we look at education, health care, communication, government intervention, stock-piling, hoarding, and interacting socially for a very long time. Possibly forever.


9/11 changed the way we travel, especially on an aircraft. It changed our perceptions of what was safe and who to trust. It challenged our views of racial profiling. On that horrible day in American history, 2,977 people died as the result of four terrorist attacks led by al-Qaeda. More than 25,000 people were injured. Can anyone imagine life going back to full-size shampoo and conditioner bottles being allowed in a carry-on bag?


In 1982 six adults and one twelve year old child were killed in the city of Chicago, IL. They all died of poisoning after taking Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. The culprit was never found. Today, all over-the-counter medications come with tamper-resistant seals, labels, caps and boxes. Even toothpaste, many hair products and body sprays have protective seals.


Adam Walsh went missing from a Sears in Hollywood, FL in 1981. Adam’s severed head was found two weeks later. Adam became the face of violated children and his father, John Walsh, became the face of child endangerment intervention. Adam’s parents lobbied for the enacted Missing Children’s Act of 1982. In 1988 John Walsh began hosting “America’s Most Wanted.” In 1994 big box retailers implemented “Code Adam” to mobilize store clerks when a child was reported missing within their property. George W. Bush signed The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. All because one little boy was abducted and murdered and his parents refused to believe that should be the end of their son’s legacy.


So in the days, weeks, and months to come, we have no reason to believe that what we are experiencing right now with social distancing, online education for all children from pre-school through college, and the inability to buy toilet paper, paper towels and disinfecting wipes from the largest online retailer in the world because those items are consistently “Out of Stock,” that this way of life will be short-lived or forgotten. This way of living right now will impact us for weeks, months and years to come after the “all clear” bell has been rung. Exactly how far reaching those changes will affect us remains to be seen.

Happy Birthday!


March 31, 2020



First of all:  Happy 30th Birthday to my beautiful, creative, hard-working, amazingly resilient, oldest daughter, Destiny! It’s hard to believe that you only came into my life 23 years ago. I still remember the first time I saw you:  at the park in Framingham. I was sitting on the swing set with a group of women, all of us watching the guys play ball, and you were toddling around the swing set, too small to swing, but old enough to be curious and energetic. There was a gallon of water on the ground next to the swing set that someone must have brought to keep the guys hydrated. Try as you might, you couldn’t carry the water over to the sweaty boys. But you did keep trying. You even heaved it a few feet across the grass. You were probably about two years old. I have always loved thinking back to that sunny day in the park and watching you just be you! Despite everything that challenges you as a single Mom, and in spite of the novel coronavirus that is challenging practically the entire world right now, I hope that you have a great birthday and know that you are loved!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

9/11


The 15th anniversary of “911” has come and gone.  The tributes on TV have ended, the questions my children have about this day in history have been answered, and the moments of silence have gone back to chatter, noise and life as we know it.
I may have looked in all the wrong places, but I didn’t find any “special” tributes or reflections this year, other than the significance of pointing out that it was indeed fifteen years since Americans as a whole witnessed, and mostly survived, the deadliest attack on our soil in our entire history.  We lost nearly 3,000 brave and unsuspecting American souls that day.
On Sunday I was pensive and reflective.  When the National Anthem began playing on TV at the start of the Patriots/Cardinals game, I stood up in my family room.  I believe in what Colin Kaepernick is not standing for.  I believe that there is still racial injustice in this country.  I believe that as citizens of the greatest country in the world, we are entitled to our show of non-violent civil unrest and peaceful protest.  I also believe that 2,977 people deserved my respect and recognition at that moment.  I stood quietly, with my hand over my heart, feeling very lost in the midst of my family members.  I don’t believe that I’ve ever stood before in my own home for the National Anthem.  I needed to do it that day.
I grew up with my parents telling me that they remembered where they were when JFK got shot.  I came home from school in the 6th grade and believed that the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan would be my generation’s “where I was” moment.  I was wrong.
I was on the floor of my living room, ironically doing “airplanes” with my 15 month old son when the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  The North Tower had been hit just 17 minutes before.  When Matt Lauer interrupted the regular schedule of The Today Show for breaking news, the report suggested faulty air traffic control communication was to blame for the “accident.”  As I watched live from the floor of my home, my son’s belly positioned precariously on the soles of my feet, his hands securely in mine, it was somehow already clear to me that it would be a date that would go down in infamy for my generation.
My husband was in Las Vegas for the Auto Dealers’ Association (ADA) conference.  He was scheduled to come home that Tuesday night.  Like all other Americans scheduled to fly that night, he was unable to get a flight home.  They tried to rent cars, but found no available rentals.  My husband’s boss, an auto dealer, bought a minivan and together with 2 other conference attendees, they took turns driving virtually non-stop across the country to get each of them home to their families.  My husband arrived on a Saturday morning.  I still have the pillow he bought at a Walmart to help him sleep in the van after his driving shift was over.
I’m not sure that I know what I really wanted to write regarding this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks.  I just know that I needed to write something.
Image courtesy of aeypix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Three Little Words


Years ago when my children were still small and needed at least one nap a day, I struggled with when to get chores and errands completed.  As most moms would do, I tried to schedule my To Do list around their nap schedules:  laundry, light cleaning, and checking email while they napped at home; errands with the benefit of a drive-through window or those that were at least 40 minutes away, for the out-and-about-sleeping-in-their-car seat nap.  It’s what a mom does to get her stuff done.

On one particular frazzling day I lamented to a friend and neighbor at the bus stop that my youngest refused to nap in the car during my running around.  At 3:15PM while I waited for my two older ones to come home from school, I knew that I was on a very tight schedule to get homework, dinner, and baths squeezed into an evaporating time-line before said youngest completely passed out well in advance of her “scheduled” bed-time.  The trick would be to make sure that she ate just enough food before passing out at the dinner table.  NOT so that her full belly could dispel a middle of the night desire to waken for a more filling meal, but to quell my mother’s guilt over not allowing her a proper nap cycle and unrushed meal.

“I know I am hoping that her missed nap today will mean she will go to bed easily and sleep through the night, but I have a feeling it won’t work out that way.  It never does…”

My friend looked at me, and I swear there was a harp playing off-yonder and a soft illuminating light over her head, when she said, “That’s because sleep begets sleep.  Missing that nap doesn’t make them need sleep more.  Sleep begets sleep.”

Simple.  True.  Life-changing.

I have thought back on those 3 words more times in the last 7 years than I have replayed “The Beach Scene” between Rocky and Adrian in Rocky III, either in my head or on the TV.  If you know me, that’s saying A LOT!

What has changed in my life since then is the realization that anything good begets more good:  a work-out ethic, flossing daily, reading with my children, date night with my husband, volunteering at my children’s schools, seriously decreasing the amount of fried food from my diet, PATIENCE.  When I have made an effort to bring goodness into my life purposely, I have found myself wanting more.  And more.

I never used to agree with people that said that working out gave you more energy.  I always wanted to take a nap after a work-out.  I didn’t believe that floss was necessary unless I had eaten corn on the cob.  I believed that my children would just love to read because I loved to read.  I knew that couples had to carve out time for themselves, but there was always the Empty Nest years to look forward to.  Offering a helping hand to the PTO would have to wait until I had all children in school full-time.  How could I give up French Fries?!  Patience may be a virtue, but God clearly blessed some of us with a loud voice and impetuous nature to deal with the annoyances of life the way that we all truly want to deal with them, while those darned patient people are giving so many second and third chances away.

But when I looked at my life AFTER doing some of these things, I started to see that although I didn’t at first attribute my high spirits to the preceding act, I was, and still am, indeed enjoying a benefit.  I want to work out again, because there is something exhilarating about sore muscles.  I feel like I have done something, and I want to do it again.  After only 4 days of flossing, my gums stopped bleeding when I brushed my teeth.  My children became better readers, and better at keeping to the bedtime routine and I look forward to advanced children’s literature.  My husband became my boyfriend again and I can’t wait to hold his hand and sit next to him on the couch.  The joy that both my children and I get out of running into each other in the middle of the school day is something that I hadn’t anticipated.  I knew I would like it – I didn’t realize that they would like it, too.  It’s really not that hard to NOT swing through the drive-through at McDonald’s or order fries as my side when eating out!  A deep breath goes a long way.  So does excusing myself from the room and taking a “Mommy Moment.”  I find that my children, and adults, actually listened longer, and come back for more interaction or advice if I am more patient to begin with.

Sleep begets sleep.

I could interchange the word sleep for anything really, and it could prove true.  Unfortunately, it also holds true for the negatives in life:  NOT working out yesterday, the day before or today…; being too tired to floss before bed the last 3 nights after already telling my girls, “It’s late and I’m tired.  You can read to me tomorrow night.”  Letting another couple come along on our date is fun adult time, but when I get home, I still feel disconnected from my husband.  No adult time at all leaves me sullen and cranky.  Yelling at my kids about putting their sneakers away – AGAIN – leads to more yelling about backpacks, lunch boxes, dirty laundry, and whose night it is to feed the dog.  Impatience begets more impatience.

Even when I don’t look forward to my workouts, I know that if I can just get it done, I will feel better about myself for the rest of the day, and it will spur me on to get it done the next day.  I love how clean my mouth feels after I have flossed, and I am proud when the hygienist says I’m doing a great job.  (Why don’t they give out stickers to adults?!)  Time with my husband is my oasis in life.  We have 4 beautiful children and although they probably don’t realize it, I am more patient when I have had their dad all to myself.  Reconnecting with him can be as simple as a Sunday morning drive to get coffee and breakfast sandwiches, a movie, or drinks at the bar; while well-filling activities like a weekend away reignites my spirit and makes me happy and engaged in my children’s lives to a greater degree.

Practicing better behavior can become custom and contagious, much like bad habits, nasty thoughts, and insensitive actions all creep into continuous routines until they become a lifestyle.   A good deed, kind word, or encouraging sentiment begets more of the same.  I am constantly looking for ways to make my life and the lives of my family members better and happier.   It’s not about vacations and expensive things.  It is how we look at life and where we choose to put our efforts.  And once we have taken that first step towards goodness – anything good – the path has been paved and the road is already easier, even if it doesn’t initially feel that way.

Begets.  It is a powerful force.  Use it for good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"FUNDRAISING"

I hate the Jog-a-Thon.  I also love the Jog-a-Thon.  My push me/pull me thoughts about that event are complex and probably don’t make sense to anyone else but me.  I am not out to destroy the Jog-a-Thon.  I am just confused about an event that masquerades as something that it is not.

I hate it mainly for its misguided promotion.  The Jog-a-Thon is a PTO Fundraiser, “one in which every student participates.”  As a fundraiser, it is designed specifically, and solely, to raise money for the PTO.  I question why every student is required to participate in an event that raises money for the PTO.  They are not raising money directly for the school.  Students – and parents – do not have a choice in whether they choose to participate in the events of this fundraiser, despite the fact that they might never actually bring any money to the table for said fundraiser.  In our very own “Connection,” the PTO newsletter, it is stated that “Fundraisers are not mandatory,” yet every student at Burgess Elementary School runs (or hops in the Pre-School) during their regularly scheduled gym class.  This event is not held after school or on a weekend where it would be considered strictly voluntary.  No, it is held during the school day, as a part of the athletic curriculum.

I have a problem with that.
Following all the running, there is lap counting, leader board writing, money collecting, and finally, the pinnacle of the event for the students:  the medal ceremony.  Students in each grade who ran the most laps in the top three spots receive medals.  Although all students who participate in the event receive a gift, and all students who raise a minimum amount of funding receive a second gift, the medals are the pride, joy - and let-down - for most students.  The medals have, for many, become the focus of the event.  Each spring, children all over Sturbridge can be heard saying, “I’m going to get a medal this year!” as their determined hearts put their sights on an unknown number of laps that will guarantee that end.  I have never heard one student, or parent for that matter, say, “I’m going to raise the most money this year!”
It is obvious why we do no put the emphasis on the money itself as an individual goal:  not everyone has access to the money that someone else has.  Many parents struggle with meeting the basic needs of their families, while others are able to relatively easily live in a lap of luxury.  It would seem cruel to always put money as the defining characteristic for any student when it comes to being recognized by their peers, the faculty, or a parent organization.
Why then, is it OK to put the under-achieving, not-athletically-gifted students at the forefront of a “PTO Fundraiser?”  Whether or not they want to, every student is required to run laps.  No one has volunteered their athletic ability, or their glorious aspirations for the day.  The only volunteers are the parents who come out to punch cards and count laps. Yet, each student will be judged on the number of laps that they complete, and awarded an additional prize, to hang proudly, and boastfully around their necks.
(It shouldn’t matter, but I feel compelled to assuage the assumptions that I, or my children, suffer from sour grapes.  To the contrary, all three of my children have loved participating in the Jog-a-Thon.  Two out of three of them have earned a medal, repeatedly, in their time at Burgess.  They return each year to best themselves, in addition to achieving school-wide glory.  There are no sour grapes.  Their achievements are just as revered each year there is not a medal.)
So how can I possibly love the Jog-a-Thon?  Because it also brings out the best in so many students.  The returning joggers’ determination to place each year softens my contempt.  The will to shine, to achieve, and be distinguished from those who did not achieve, spurs on “training,” focus, camaraderie, and competition.    My own children’s indomitable spirit makes attending the event and cheering them on my focus.  I revel in their unwavering pursuit of every lap.  I am fulfilled by their untiring participation and untarnished belief in this event.  They motivate me to believe and be supportive.
I am not so motivated as to want to change the event to better serve my sense of fundraising or athleticism.  But, were the Jog-a-Thon to be revamped into a strictly volunteer event, held outside of school hours, with the full knowledge and expectation that the number of laps would correspond to the amount of money raised or donated, I would fully support it.  If elected participation included medals for high achievers, like so many charity road races do, again, I could “support” it, as all participants are entering of their own volition to sponsor a cause and triumph personally.  If the medals were removed from the current Jog-a-Thon handbook, I would be more inclined to support it.  But as the Jog-a-Thon is currently billed and executed, it is a flawed system that will continue to confound me.