Last year, people kept claiming their “theme words” to focus their energy and I felt a little left out. I couldn’t think of just one word that didn’t feel trite or forced. So I didn’t have one. And that’s okay.
Now, the same word keeps coming back to me, so I’m thinking this is the year to claim that word:
Over the holiday break, I tried to focus on connecting with my family. I’d like to continue that effort.
In my volunteer leadership roles, we need to connect to draw folks in and make them feel at home.
In my work and volunteer efforts, I want to connect with the people we serve.
On my blog, I’d like to connect with my readers.
In my spiritual life, I want to connect through prayer and sharing with others.
Will I get everything done that I’d like to do? Probably not. But I hope it will guide me in the right direction. Two examples:
A friend just called out of the blue to invite me to lunch. I could have declined, because I have a lot of stuff to do (don’t we all?). But with connecting on my mind, I said yes, and I’m so glad I did.
“Mom, I just can’t stand to be in the same room with them anymore,” she said, with tears welling up in her eyes. “No one understands how bad they make me feel.”
I felt the puddles well up in mine too. The constant banter of put-downs slung between siblings over the long holiday was taking its toll. My daughter was playing the victim in this case, but I knew it wasn’t a one-way street: I’d witnessed plenty of antagonizing behavior from all three corners of this tumultuous triangle.
I know sibling rivalry is a natural thing, and I do believe people can’t live together without some frustrations and annoyances. With two middle schoolers clamoring for status, and a third grader trying to keep up, sarcasm and insults have invaded our home. They’re tough pests to eradicate. I want my kids to develop lasting relationships that will carry into adulthood, so I try to help them work out their differences with respect.
Lately, though, I had fallen into the easier habit of scolding the offender when I caught wind of it: “We don’t talk to each other that way in this family,” or “If I hear one more put down, you’re losing a privilege.” The problem was, one child tended to be the target of the scolding. Although he was typically saying the most outrageous things, I wasn’t catching the stealthy jabs of one or the incessant attention-seeking of the other. The oft-scolded child was feeling resentful, the youngest was encouraged to tattle, and it simply wasn’t getting any better.
It was time for an intervention.
I called them together and asked her to tell her brother what she shared with me. As she began, the defenses shot up: “That’s not what I said! She constantly accuses me . . . ” So I had him explain his point of view, and his sister eventually admitted her role in the battle. I asked them how they really felt when they picked on each other like this. “It’s not getting us anywhere,” one finally said.
To shift direction, I asked them to write down ten things they appreciated about one another. “Real things about the person,” I urged, “not ‘I like your shirt’ or something shallow.” Typically, my kids sulk away with such an assignment but come up with pretty good comments when they’re left alone to write.
To my surprise, middle son started talking aloud. “I really like playing games with you when we’re not angry,” he said. “I kind of like it when you act crazy,” she responded. “I like seeing you laugh,” he added, “and I like it when you make me laugh.” They went on for awhile, fondly remembering the fun they enjoy together. My favorite comments: “I like it when you come in my room when I cry”; “Sharing thoughts with you,” and on both of their lists: “I really like playing with the rats with you.” Who knew those Christmas rodents would create harmony in our house?
When big brother walked into the room, he slung an insult out of habit. The other two stopped him cold. “Looks like you need to write down ten things you appreciate about us,” his siblings ordered. He sputtered and squawked for awhile, but they held him to it. He came up with a pretty good list, actually. Number six: “I enjoy playing with the rats together.”
Maybe there’s hope for this trio of siblings after all. I know the harmony won’t last long, but I’ve got some lists to remind them (and me) of those happier times together.
Not long ago, I had a good lesson on practicing what I preach. And it was really hard.
My middle son (age 11) is a dramatic one. He loves goofing around, speaking in funny voices, and even dressing up upon occasion. He’s always dreamed of being an actor. I have no idea whether he’d be good at it, but I do know he would have a blast.
But he doesn’t like to be pressured. He wants to know exactly what to expect. And the most important thing in the world right now? His friends. Of course, that’s the nature of 6th grade: those other tweens know so much more about the real world–at least what’s cool or interesting– than mom does. If mom thinks it’s cool, it’s most likely not. That’s probably my fatal flaw.
When the opportunity of the all-school play arose, I was sure he’d want to join. This isn’t a dweeby activity–the annual play at our middle school is a huge event. Everyone who makes the commitment is accepted, and last year, almost 200 kids danced and sang their way through Bye Bye Birdie. The community support for this gig is unbelievable. My son saw the production and clearly announced he wanted to join as soon as he could.
That was before he started talking to his new 6th grade friends. Most haven’t experienced any of these productions, so they rejected the idea of putting themselves out there. What self-respecting 6th grade boy would do such a thing?
Except we all knew this activity was perfect for this 6th grade boy. That is, everyone but my son knew it, and the unknown is to be avoided at all costs.
So despite much encouragement, haranguing, pressure and bargaining, he dug his heels in deep. I finally remembered to follow my own parenting advice: let him make the choice. If I forced him to do it, he’d probably keep arguing about every rehearsal. The battle between us would continue, and he’d have a hard time enjoying the process on his own. We’ve learned this the hard way on other matters, and sometimes I’m slow to learn.
So we let him choose. He’s not doing the play this year, and he doesn’t have to be in the shadow of his big brother (which probably was part of the issue). He’s got two more years to see if he’s interested, and if he does, he’ll throw his whole self into it. (And he’ll love it, mom knows!)
I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when the decision was made, and I’m fine with it now. I love my kid for sticking to his convictions. But I really hope he chooses to do it next year.
Today I joined the throngs of people flocking to health clubs to get back in shape this week. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the suddenly packed parking lot and the crowded fitness center at my YMCA: in January alone, over one million Americans join health clubs each year. And sadly, up to 75% of those quit their goals within the first three months.
But today, the place was teeming with people prepared to sweatoff their holiday indulgences (cookies, anyone?). I found an empty bike, adjusted my settings and hopped on, ready to tackle the imaginary trail ahead. Twenty-plus wheels cranked, spinned, climbed and coasted up and down the virtual hills and valleys. Twenty-plus bodies synchronized with the pounding music and our instructor’s commands. Twenty-plus souls pushed, pulled, cycled and sweated to gain some strength and burn a boatload of calories in our quest for fitness. We felt proud. We felt strong. We felt high on the endorphins. Well, actually. . . we were gasping for air, trying not to throw up and on the verge of total exhaustion, but not just yet.
At that moment, we were full of hope. Full of optimism. Full of energy.
Can you imagine how much hope, optimism and energy fills America’s health clubs in the month of January every year? One million new souls, believing thatthis year we will really get back in shape, conquer those demons, and get on with a healthier lifestyle. It’s a valliant effort, even it costs us over $18 billion per year, and it might be short lived. I’m part of it, in my own sporadic way.
But I can’t help thinking about all of these people who come out of hiding this week. What if we could capture all that new energy and put it toward a different purpose? What if we could harness it and channel it to last the whole year through? What if one million people used all of that energy and optimism to promote a different kind of health–-not just body-sculpting–-but a community-building kind of health?
What if, instead of just working out, a million newly energized, motivated people could instead work together to:
feed someone. . . toward stamping out hunger
tutor a child. . . toward improved literacy
give to a charity. . . toward ending poverty
visit a church (or temple, or mosque, or someone who needs a friend) . . . toward a better community
What if. . . ?
Imagine the possibilities.
Where would you channel these one million energetic, hopeful people?
While you’re reading everyone’s profound, thoughtful, New Year resolutions, I thought I’d just let you welcome our newest members of the family:
Of course I would never invite a couple of rodents, much less rats, into our home, but Santa delivered them so what could I do?
I think they’re actually pretty cute. They’re learning quickly to come to my call. Just label me the ratmaster of the house.
So we enter 2010 with a new perspective on who is welcome or not in our home. That’s what New Year is all about, isn’t it? Out with the old ideas and in with the new. I wonder what other unexpected delights the new year will bring? Here’s to paying attention and seeking serendipity.
Wishing you a blessed beginning to 2010. Happy New Year!
The days after Christmas are actually my favorites.
The packages are opened, the food is served, the kids are busy, and gift cards are waiting. And yes, we have tape stuck on the carpet, tags and ribbons everywhere, stocking stuffers with no home, a humongous pile of garbage/recycling, and a slight sense of guilt for the abundance. Still, I feel like the real vacation begins today. Now I can enjoy the leftovers, family, games, and relaxation without the pressures of holiday hype and preparation. I could worry about how we’ve distorted Christmas with our commercialism and high expectations, but for now I just want to revel in the aftermath.
It seems like this is when we really connect as a family. I’ve missed this. As we cruise through the busy-ness of our days shuffling schedules, checking off obligations and preparing for the rest of our lives, I often wonder if we’re missing the real present: the present. The here and the now. Together.
For the last few days of 2009, I want to take time to connect. Maybe I’ll even start a habit that rolls into the new year.
I want to hang out with my tween and teen boys long enough to hear more about their world, trying my best not to lecture or direct. I want them to teach me one or two of their video games and get good enough to beat them. Or not. And maybe they’ll let it slip which girls have caught their eyes, what uncomfortable things friends are getting into (because I remember a few things about middle school) and help me understand what’s so fun about texting “whazzup” or “OMG!” a zillion times a day.
I want to get on the floor and play American Girls or Playmobil with my daughter until she’s tired of playing (is that possible?). I’ll let her teach me the Hoe Down/Throw Down or the latest dance I’ve missed. I want to hear her describe the complex social scene of third grade girls and affirm how to be an uplifting friend. And we’ll snuggle a lot, because we both need that.
I want to enjoy just being with my mom and dad, whom I only see a few times a year. I want to relish their presence, their conversation and their wonderful hospitality, even in my own home. I want to stop talking and hear more about their hopes and dreams in this season of life.
I want hang out with my brother and enjoy his good company after years of twists and turns have left a few old scars. With my brother, I just want to connect.
I want to enjoy my husband, my best friend for life who has a rare two weeks off work. I want to drop cut back on the honey-dos and debates over must-get-dones and play together, like we used to do. If that’s not possible, we can cook together and work on projects together, which is almost as good. Maybe we’ll even find time for a date.
This may be an ambitious plan for a week of vacation. The housekeeping and other chores might have to wait, and my dear friends might not hear from me. We’ll be that dorky family with lights and decorations out much longer than is fashionable. I might have to keep this going for a few weeks beyond the vacation time.
But my family’s all home, and that’s a rare thing. It’s time to push the other stuff aside and take time to connect.
A couple of weeks ago I snuggled on the couch with my daughter and watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, the wonderful 1965 classic.
When I heard Charlie Brown utter these words: “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. . . “
I thought to myself, “That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately.” I wasn’t feeling the instant joy and happiness that supposedly arrives at 4 am or some crazy hour on Black Friday.
It’s not that I didn’t know about the true meaning of Christmas. Celebrating Christ’s birth is a big part of our tradition. But the older I get, the excitement and joy of the Christmas extras dim a little. Once upon a time, I was the seasonal cheer-leader in my family. Lately, it takes me awhile to catch the spirit of the Christmas rush.
But that’s okay. I know it will come. I just need a little adventing.
Last year I realized an important thing about Advent, the season to prepare for Christmas. It’s a process. Advent is four weeks long for a reason. We don’t have to have everything ready on Thanksgiving weekend. The marketers try to spur us into action right after Halloween, but my brain doesn’t shift seasons that fast. I need to play a little music, light some candles, put up the tree, and pull out my nativity scenes to get into the mood. It helps even more to bask in my kids’ excitement, watch little ones sing Christmas carols, and snuggle on the couch with some hot tea, admiring the sparkly tree. Sure enough, by mid-month, I’m singing the songs and scurrying around in joyful preparation.
My friend Patty shared another piece that got me thinking. We typically think of Advent as a time of waiting for Christ’s coming. But of course, Christ has already come. Christmas isn’t about presents and parties or even happy family time–it’s about God connecting with us right here on our level–Immanuel. It happened over two thousand years ago, and it still applies today.
So God is already here. Perhaps advent–the waiting part–is God waiting for us. We just need to get through our hustle and bustle rituals, then slow down, take a breather, and notice.
Maybe that’s why the peace tends to finally come upon me in the quiet of a candlelight Christmas Eve service, after the work is done, and I give myself permission to notice God’s presence.
I have a week to go. He’s waiting. For the rest of this advent, I will try to take notice.
Have you caught the spirit yet? If you’re looking for inspiration, check out these two amazing projects:
‘Tis the season to repost this little rant from last December:
It feels to me like the cookie currency in my town is getting out of hand.
Don’t get me wrong. I love cookies as much as the next girl. I like to bake, and I like to eat, and I’m happy to do my fair share. I believe cookie making is festive and heartwarming for those who bake and those who partake. But is there a point when too much is. . . too much?
When I moved to the midwest years ago, I quickly realized the Christmas cookie culture was big. It feels like every woman worth her salt (except me) gives up a full weekend to make a zillion dozen of a myriad of different kinds of cookies for the world. Where I grew up, some people –those who thrived on baking as their love language– did this, but not everyone. I do make batches to give as teacher or hostess gifts. I enjoy baking a few dozen for our church’s cookie walk fundraiser. I’ve learned to make extra for my family to enjoy at home, or I buy more at the cookie walk for a hefty sum. It’s for a good cause.
But that’s not enough.
There’s the cookie parties. Everyone brings at least two, three or four dozen cookies to trade and share with everyone else. When it’s all done, you get to bring home a small plate of assorted cookies. But where, pray tell, do all the other cookies go? Does every person at the party eat three dozen cookies? It’s a mystery to me.
And that’s not all.
We have the church, school, and extracurricular cookie-driven events. Typically, the night before every event, someone sends an email requesting “just a couple dozen homemade cookies” as your admission ticket. Plus a small, insignificant but witty, beautifully wrapped gift. No big deal. Just whip up a couple dozen from your perfectly stocked pantry or pull it out of the massive stash you prepared the day after Thanksgiving. Oh, you didn’t? Oh dear. Might want to think about that next year.
Then there’s the family.
When your children find you whipping up that last minute batch, they’re crushed if there aren’t “just a couple dozen” to eat at home. So you make more. . . more. . . more to dial down the whining. Then your husband, who is trying to lose weight, doesn’t want a cookie in sight in fear that he’ll gobble them up in one sitting. So you conceal. . . stash. . . scarf the evidence to support his efforts. Even though you’re jealous of his willpower. Because you’re nibbling “just one” of every tray coming out of the oven.
I think I’d have to make at least 20 dozen cookies to meet everyone’s demands requests, and it’s enough to put me over the edge. Please tell me, invisible internet people: who created this madness? Who eats all of these cookies, and what do we do without them the rest of the year? I love cookies, I do, but I’d like to make them on my own terms. In the age of increasing obesity, over-the-top stress levels, and my own slloooowinng metabolism, is this the way it should be? Could I be overreacting, becoming a scrooge-ess over just a couple dozen cookies?
Never mind, don’t answer that. If I have to ask, I already know the answer.
Step away from the oven, sister. Just say no to the cookie conspiracy.
2009 update: Pam hasn’t been invited to any cookie parties this season and is beginning to feel the urge– to bake or nibble, she’s not quite sure. She’ll get around to it sooner or later, but for now she plans to pick up a few dozen at the First United Methodist Church Cookie Walk on December 11th. Enjoy the baking and partaking!
This weekend, I’m enjoying the luxury of being a guest in my husband’s childhood home. It’s not often that I get to sleep in, enjoy great food and wine, and relax with my extended family. Both G and I are so thankful that both sets of our parents are healthy, happy and fun to be around. Even with all my whining lately, I know we are so richly blessed.
My friend Diane sent me this Thanksgiving message that I pass on to you today. I send it to raise awareness of our own blessings, not to impose guilt or remorse. I’m firm believer in “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So please, enjoy the day–relax, refresh, renew your soul–so you can bless another, in what ever way you can. And if you need to receive this season, and we all do at one point or another, please – enjoy the bounty.
If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who won’t survive the week.
If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 20 million people around the world.
If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world.
If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.
If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.
If you can hold someone’s hand, hug them or even touch them on the shoulder, you are blessed because you can offer a healing touch.
If you have read this message, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read anything at all.
We are richly blessed. May we recognize these gifts and share them wisely.
*Yes, this is a re-post from last Thanksgiving, but it seems even more relevant to me today. Hope you enjoy it.
Many of us have devoured the Twilight book series and waited with great anticipation for movie #2, New Moon, which opened this week. What’s not to like? Vampire fantasy, hot actors, forbidden love, and imminent danger combine for a fantasical spectacle sending screaming girls to theatres across the country. It doesn’t even include real sex (yet), which makes it perfect for teens, or maybe even younger ones, to enjoy without hesitation, right?
Maybe. Or maybe not. It depends.
I had fun reading the first book, and part of the second, but as I read deeper into the series, I began to feel queasy about issues that had nothing to do with vampires or sexual tension. This saga is targeted to impressionable adolescents who are just beginning to sort out love and relationships.
And I don’t want my sons or daughter to seek relationships like these.
They probably won’t, since we don’t know any vampires or werewolves, but even so, I want to help my kids think through some of the following questions:
1) What do you think of Bella Swan (the girl-next-door heroine)?
Do you think Bella is good role model? What makes her appealing beyond her looks (and apparently, her scent)? Is she interested in anything besides Edward Cullen? Do you think her accident-prone nature is endearing? Does she believe in herself? Do you relate to her struggles? Would you want to be Bella’s friend?
2) What do you think of Edward Cullen (the hot–excuse me, cold– vampire boyfriend)?
Okay, Edward is gorgeous, chivalrous, sophisticated, and did I say gorgeous? I might swoon for him too (except for the cold, hard, sparkly skin part–that’s not for me). What do you like about the way he treats Bella? Does anything concern you? What do you think about the multiple-century age difference between them?
What qualities do you see in Jacob? What makes him different from Edward? Who would you prefer as a friend?
3) Are there any humans in this series you could look up to?
Are there any (human) women you admire in this movie? What about men? (Do you hear the sound of crickets chirping?)
4) What do you think of Edward and Bella’s relationship?
It’s really exciting to be loved, rescued and protected by a superhuman dreamboat who would do anything for you. Edward clearly loves Bella. But seriously, how much fun would it really be to be Edward Cullen’s girlfriend (aside from the constant threat of peril)? Would you really enjoy being watched nonstop, even while you weren’t aware of it? What if your boyfriend forbid you to go places or talk to certain people? What if he got really angry and out of control sometimes? Are these signs of a healthy relationship, or not?
When Edward leaves her, Bella falls into deep depression until she befriends another guy (Jacob). Do you think Bella could be happy without a boy? If you were her friend, what advice would you give Bella? Do you know the warning signs of serious depression? What are some healthier ways to deal with heartbreak?
Now, many of you might feel like I’m getting much too serious about this fantasy. I get that. I think people can enjoy the passionate thrill of these movies. My boys will probably roll their eyes and moan, “Mom, you’re doing it again. We can handle this–we know it’s not like real life!” and that’s okay with me. That’s my job as their mother. I need to be sure my kids don’t want to be just like Edward. Or Bella. Or both, together. Because that could become a bloody mess–for real.
If you’re looking for balanced information to decide whether movies, games or books are age appropriate, I highly recommend Common Sense Media.
With the above caveats, I hope you enjoy the movie, the adventure, and the eye candy. Let me know what you think.