Posted in ebb & flow, hope

Everyone is tired

The political climate is sucking the life energy out of us.

There is too much to fight to be able to do it all.

There is too much going on even to stay on top of it all.

There are too many giant steps backwards, undoing decades of work.

There are too many people whose humanity we’ve forgotten or have further degraded.

But on a personal level, as a person who is not immediately impacted by any of it (see: privilege), it’s impacting: people are tired.

Not tired from being too busy—that’s always been a variable.

Tired from all the stuff.

Tired in that “I need an evening to myself” kind of way, but it’s now a relentless fatigue, even with quiet time or fun time or whatever time built in.

People are in touch less. Harder to talk with, even just about day-to-day stuff. Harder to get together with.

I don’t have an actionable solution.

I don’t know how to shift energy expenditure.

I don’t know how to spend the day at work and have energy when I get home, how to give to work what I end up giving to family.

(I’m saying “I” but it’s not just me—I’ve had this conversation with at least half a dozen people—initiated by them—in the last two months.)

I don’t know how to be aware of what’s going on in my country, my state, my town, my school district, my and my son’s schools without it draining energy at every level.

I want to talk to people about health, about diet and exercise and nasty chemicals in common household items, about raising kids to be mentally healthy (to the extent that we guide that), about cooking and playing and painting and writing and on and on and on…

…but who has energy left to examine their habits, much less change them, when it takes all the energy just to make it through the day?

How do we fix this, friends? How do we reclaim our energy and connect with the people around us?

Posted in hope, motivation, tips

Resolutions?

Please, if you are going to make the effort to make a New Year’s resolution, please take some steps to make it more likely to be successful.

(If you have no intention of keeping it, don’t bother making it.)

Some steps:

Make it something in your control: “The garage will get cleaned out,” when what you mean is, “My spouse will clean out the garage.” Make it something you are going to do.

Make it one thing. You can’t focus on three or four or five things at a time.

Make it realistic. If you’re not already in pretty good shape, you’re not going to run a marathon every month.

Make it concrete. “I want to be healthier” is vague and can mean a lot of things. Weight? Sleep? Stress? Food? Drink? Interpersonal interaction? Mental health? Exercise?

Make it actionable. “I am going to cut dessert down to once a month and go to the gym three times each week” is more useful than “I’m going to lose weight.”

Put it on paper. Make a chart or use a notebook (or the electronic versions thereof). Write it down. Put it where you will see it every day.

And if you start to avoid the paper… figure out why. What guilt or shame is stopping you from actually doing this thing? It is something that someone else wanted for you? Is it tied to so much emotional baggage that changing this thing unleashes a cascade of other issues? (For example… I heard a bit on a podcast a few weeks ago where women in one particular study lost a substantial amount of weight and gained it back because they were getting male attention that they didn’t want; they liked the invisibility of being heavy.)

 

Posted in about me, hope, mindset, parenting, storytelling

Finding magic through The Kid

The Kid suggested yesterday that we leave out cookies and milk for Santa.

We have always told him that Santa is a story, but he loves pretending. (This morning: “I heard Santa on the roof last night!”)

By bedtime, he had forgotten about the milk and cookies, but we left out a plate with crumbs and a glass with milk residue and a note that Santa left, complete with a hoof print from Rudolph.

He was delighted this morning.

As I’ve mentioned, Christmas has never been amazing.

Somehow, I have a kid who loves everything Christmas. He wants all the decorations, sings all the songs, loves all the stuff.

And so, our house has lights outside and lights inside. And a 4-foot tree. And a Charlie Brown tree. And a little tree in his bedroom. (The glittery wreath is at his other house…)

He wanted inflatables, but The Climbing Daddy and I agree: inflatables are No Good.

We hung stockings with little ornaments with our initials that he picked out.

And somewhere, I saw an idea to put packages in white paper and stack and decorate them to look like snowmen. And it stuck, and I had to do it.

Last night, after The Kid went to sleep in a sleeping bag on the living room floor, The Climbing Daddy and I filled stockings.

We piled white box on white box. Drew faces and buttons. Balanced hats and wrapped scarves.

Left out a plate and glass and note.

And when it was done and it was time for us to join him for sleep in the living room … I was happy.

And when he woke up (after the sun came up—hooray night owl kid!), he was excited about everything.

And I was happy.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate.

And to those who don’t, or those who wish they didn’t … there’s magic out there if you can let yourself see it, and if not … it’s almost over…

Posted in differences, gifts, hope, thoughtfulness

A different kind of Christmas

While many of us have families that are less than ideal to spend time with, a couple of things have shown up lately that put some perspective on that.

First, in my On This Day on Facebook, my post about Santa coming to school has shown up multiple times. (Different days for different years.)

I used to work at a school in a very low-income neighborhood.

Our kids were the recipients of toys from a toy drive. Each December, Santa came to our school and gave a bag of gifts to every homeroom teacher (to distribute at the end of the day, and to be opened at home). One gift for every student in the school.

Kids, as you can imagine, were excited.

For some of them, that was it. Their Christmas present.

On behalf of those kids and kids everywhere like them, thank you for your toy donation. Thank you for not grumbling that it has to be new.

Some of them had parents that fit the low-income stereotype. But most of those kids had parents who loved them dearly, who worked two or three or four jobs to try to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. (Where are the kids who eat free breakfast and lunch at school eating this week? Or over spring break? Or over the summer?) What a gift for them to receive something nice. I have always hoped they got something they wanted.

Also on Facebook the other day, the following story was shared by a woman who had been a tutor for Child Protective Services.

“I had a child once ask me if Santa was real. After much inner debate I told him the truth. He breathed a huge sigh of relief. Why? Because, as he said, ‘That’s why Santa never came to my house!’ He knew his mother was abusive and neglectful, but the thought of Santa neglecting him meant that he really was unlovable. Santa is great for healthy homes but we need to be very mindful of the homes that aren’t.”

And we can rant and rage and wave our tiny fists at the parents all we want. At the end of the day, we want physically and emotionally healthy kids, and we need to be more of a village to help that to happen.

Posted in ebb & flow, food, hope, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, physical health, tips

The path and the results

Yesterday, I posted more or less the transcript of my session about sugar, and I promised you that today, I would give you advice on dealing with all of that information and what you can expect as a result of your hard work.

Read labels. (Ask me if you don’t know how—I’ll teach you.)

Use a journal or an app or whatever works for you to keep track of how much sugar you’re currently taking in. All of it. Read ALL of your labels. There is sugar hiding in so many foods that aren’t sweet.  This is not to judge—it’s to know where you’re starting.

The current WHO recommendation is less than 18 grams per day of added sugars.

If you’re over that, look at where you can start shaving it down.

If you’re like me, “moderation” is bullshit and you need to just cut it until it’s under control. (I’ll write more about this thought another day.)

If you’re like me, you’re an emotional eater and you need to make a plan for what you’re going to do when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you’re stressed, when you’re whatever state of being causes intense sugar cravings.

Overeating sugar is a SUPER COMMON PROBLEM. There is no shame in this. You are not alone, and anyone who judges you is wrestling with the same problem and can’t face it yet.

Your value as a human being has no connection to how much junk food you eat.

I’m not gonna lie—quitting sugar is hard. Partially because we have been trained to believe we deserve it (see decades of being rewarded by parents, teachers, etc. with candy, ice cream, etc.). Partially because it’s ubiquitous, so it’s difficult to avoid contact/temptation. Partially because sometimes people in our lives react badly to us trying to live better and make it harder for us. (I’ll write more about this thought another day.)

But it’s worth the work.

When you quit sugar and it loses its hold on you, you experience liberation that you didn’t even know you needed.

You stop thinking about food all the time.

You stop shaming yourself for eating crap all the time.

You save time and money by not seeking out and buying junk all the time.

You don’t spend so much time feeling guilty.

Your moods are better.

Your energy level is higher.

And eventually, you can have a sweet here or there without it becoming all-consuming.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m saying it will be worth it.

And I challenge you to instill eating habits in your children that will help them not to have the same struggles that you have.

Posted in about me, hope, mindset, thoughtfulness

My word

My school district does something at the beginning of each year for staff, to try to give us a common inspirational thing that in theory would carry through the year but rarely lives for more than a week or two.

This year, we were each to engrave a word on a “my intention” bracelet.

It was supposed to be our focus word for the year; we each chose our own.

This is the kind of thing that I get stuck on.

I needed to choose the perfect word. And while I had lots of ideas about what that word might be, perfection is found in a feeling—it’s not cognitive so much.

With many things to work on both at home and at work (I am a constant work in progress), I had many possibilities.

Flow. Trust. Yet.

Focus. Risk. Innovating.

Enough. Believe. Breathe. Margins.

Nurture. Connect. Nourish. Cultivate.

All fit, but none were quite perfect.

And then I read this blog post. And I loved it. And immediately I knew that my focus word is shamash—the candle in a menorah that lights the other candles.

A shamash is not part of my religion. Not part of my culture. Not part of my world in any direct way, really. And yet, it resonated.

I don’t know if I’ve heard the word before. I learned a fair amount about Judaism in and after college when I dated a few guys who were Jewish. I’ve been friends with Carla (the author of the linked post) for a while, and this post was not written this year.

It’s likely that I read it when she first published it and it just didn’t stick. This time? Resonance. Ah-ha! The feeling that I have found the perfect word to remind me what path I want to be on.

Works for me with students, with colleagues, with friends, with family, with strangers.

That said…

There’s a lot of life going on over here. My mental energy is sometimes depleted and often low. I haven’t spent a lot of energy on this yet. Working on it a little. Will continue to work on it. Will continue to figure out what I want it to look like. Hoping that with the seed planted, once the stuff that’s going on now passes, it will have space to grow and bloom.

Shamash. Be the candle that lights others.

Posted in about me, hope, vulnerability

I’ve always hated Christmas, but…

…I’ve wanted to love it.

It just sucked.

My mom’s love language must be gifts (based on things more than just Christmas). There were always piles of stuff for my brother, sister, and I to open, each in a different color paper.

My earliest Christmas memory, I was 7 or 8. We had ripped through our piles of stuff, and my brother, four years younger, had a meltdown because there was a particular toy he had wanted and didn’t get.

I have no idea what the toy was. I have no idea what he did get. I have no idea what I got.

But I remember being agitated that he had gotten all of these toys—presumably many of which he wanted—and he wasn’t happy.

(At this point in my life, I realize that he was three or four years old…but Child Heat didn’t give him that pass.)

As I grew up, I was religious and hated that the religious significance was drastically overshadowed by materialism—both in the culture at large and in our house.

(Don’t read too much piety into that. I always had a Christmas list and didn’t ever say I wanted nothing.)

When, during college, I became very much not religious, I still hated the materialism.

(I believe that much of the distaste came from other gift-related issues with my mom that were just overbearingly present at Christmas. Another story for another day.)

I don’t remember a time when I felt like I was part of my family of origin, or a time when I wasn’t ostracized. So holidays that are “for family” were torturous.

Years passed, The Tall Daddy and I got married, and I was so excited to have Christmas with his family. They were kind and loving to me—so unfamiliar and welcome—and finally (FINALLY!) I would have a holiday that’s about family with family.

Turns out, they didn’t do much for Christmas. Siblings lived in different states and some of them might get together at some point during that week off, but most stayed home with their kids.

It’s not that those years were bad so much as anticlimactic. (Also, The Tall Daddy and I gigged on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, so there’s that.)

The Christmas after that marriage ended, I had the flu.

The year after that, The Kid and I went to New Jersey. He was four. While we had dinner with a friend and her family, we spent Christmas Day in a hotel room, doing our own thing, just a few miles from my parents’ house.

It was so healing.

The next two Christmases were spent in Florida with The Climbing Daddy’s family, and while the second was not as bad as the first, those are not holidays I care to revisit.

This year … we’re at home. It’s just us. We’re settled into our house. (Last year, we moved right before heading to Florida.)

The Kid loves Christmas and decorations. Always has. The house isn’t totally decked out, but there are more decorations up than if I was left to my own devices. And it looks lovely. He loves Santa (though he’s always known that Santa isn’t real). And, of course, he loves getting LEGOs.

And so I am hopeful that this year, Christmas will be nice. Maybe even amazing.

I’m planning to take some of the traditions from my family of origin—little details that I loved—and hang onto them in ways that fit me now, with good friends. And leave the stuff I didn’t love. And add in other pieces that maybe someday my son will remember fondly as “something we did at Christmas when I was a kid.”

It’s been a long time comin’, but maybe this is my year.

(Also, I’m anxious that I’m putting too much into it and have a high likelihood of being let down. But I’ve pretty much always lived by the notion that the results are best when you’re all in, so………….)

Posted in ebb & flow, gifts, hope, mindset, podcasts, storytelling, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Podcast quote: creativity (and so much more)

TED has started a new podcast series called TED Interviews, where Chris Anderson interviews people who have give TED talks about their talks, and they get more in depth.

I haven’t quite listened to all of them, but all that I’ve listened to have been captivating. (As of this writing, there are only six of them.)

I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, mostly known for writing Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t read it.)

First, they got into creativity. She talked a short bit about the history of creativity (who knew there was one?!) I loved the imagery in what she had to say:

“The way I describe it is the way I’ve empirically experienced it, which is broken down in my life to this notion: that ideas are living entities. They have consciousness. They don’t have matter. They can’t be seen, they can’t be felt, they can’t be proven, but they have will. And the way I picture it—and it’s sort of whimsical but I have also literally based my life on this—is the universe is sort of swirling with these ideas that wish to be created and they’re constantly looking for human collaborators because for some reason we have this oddly sensitive consciousness that can hear them and find them. And so the way I picture it is they sort of just roam around being like, ‘Are you my mother? Are you my mother? Are you my mother?’ And every single human who is struck by inspiration describes the experience exactly the same way … there’s this distraction where the idea sort of consumes you and in that consuming which can take months, weeks, years, the idea is interviewing you and asking you, ‘Do you wanna do this thing with me or not?’ And that’s the most important conversation that I think human beings can have, is that dialogue between your willingness to cooperate and show up and make something with this idea and manifest it and the idea’s desire to be made and the question of whether you are indeed the right partner.”

Whimsical was a solid word to describe the idea, but I love the imagery. Even more, though, I love the ownership of the work, and how the idea doesn’t just come and magically happen—it’s a partnership. “Your labor is the contribution to the miracle.” (She says that later.)

She talked more about that in other places in the podcast as well.

They also talked about curiosity vs. passion, enchantment vs. empiricism, fear, memes (not the pictures on the internet), secular magic, dark night of the soul, why to do the work if it’s likely to fail, and quite a bit about grieving.

It’s an hour long, and it’s well worth your hour. I listened to it twice, in addition to the bits I listened and paused so I could transcribe.

Posted in about me, hope, meandering, mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Toxic Thanksgiving

When you are Other in your family—for whatever reason—holidays are stressful.

I always felt trapped on Thanksgiving and Christmas, because “the holidays are about family” but my family was toxic. There was nowhere else to go when I was living at home, and it took me moving across the country to be able to set a boundary after I moved out.

Thank goodness for books, right?

Our current tradition is to go to a National Park or National Monument for Thanksgiving. They’re not crowded, and all cultural Thanksgiving expectations are eliminated.

What a relief.

We have an advantage here, in that there are so many National Parks and Monuments within a few hours’ drive, so we can go for two or three days without issue. Sometimes we camp; sometimes we stay in a hotel.

Maybe you’d like to break the tradition, too, but you’re not near many parks. Or aren’t interested in them. What do you like? (I hear you, people who answered “sweatpants, book, tea, couch”!) What is relatively nearby?

If you’re in this emotionally disastrous place, if Thursday is a day you dread (or worse, the whole weekend) because of the people you feel obligated to spend it with, I’m sorry. I know your pain. Our reasons might be different, but the hurts still hurt.

I encourage you to examine your obligation and to see if maybe there’s somewhere else for you to go, ideally with someone who is safe. (If not this year, since that’s in two days, perhaps next year?)

If that’s just not possible (and there are a million legit reasons why it might not be—don’t flog yourself), build in some self-care. Take something with you to do. Make sure you have clothes to be able to go for a walk or a run (depending on what you prefer). Maybe plan something with nearby friends for some time in the day when family obligations are lower (in the evening, for example, if you have an afternoon meal). Sometimes just bringing unfamiliar people into the mix puts the bad people on good behavior, which at least will buy you a respite.

You are loved. You are worth it.

 

Posted in books, hope, mental health, mindset, parenting, vulnerability

Book quote: family and belonging

I listened to Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown. (OK, I listened to part of it. But audiobooks and I have a complicated relationship, and I didn’t finish it before it was due back at the library.)

Given my unpleasant relationship with my family of origin, this quote spoke to me. There is something comforting about the end…but I’ll talk about it after you read it.

Also, given that I’m transcribing from an audiobook, I can’t guarantee that the punctuation is as you’d see it in the book.

“Even in the context of suffering … Not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts. That’s because it has the power to break out heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth… And when those things break, there are only three outcomes …

“One, you live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and/or inflicting pain on others.

“Two, you deny your pain and your denial ensures you pass it on to those around you and down to your children.

“Or number three, you find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and for others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a very unique way.”

That bit at the end—spotting hurt in the world in a very unique way—is like a consolation prize. “You didn’t have what you needed when you needed it, and sometimes you still don’t. People who haven’t experienced it don’t understand it and often, you’re blamed for what was inflicted on you. But you get to have the capacity to help others the way you wished you had been helped.”

Better than passing it on. And hopefully, helping someone else not to pass it on.