Don’t Let the “Buts” Override the Joys

“Talking About Our Problems is Our Greatest Addiction. Break the Habit. Talk about Your Joys.”

A few weeks ago an old high school classmate of mine shared this on her Facebook page. It immediately struck a cord with me, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Mainly because It’s.Just.So.True. Rarely do I call my dad up with something “good” or send one of my fellow mom pals a text with something great that my kids did. Most of the time it’s simply me bitching. Me bitching about my kids. Bitching about my husband. Bitching about the weather. Just me bitching about anything and everything. Yet over the past few weeks as I’ve been ruminating on this idea, every time I try to think about something I’m grateful for, there always seems to be a giant BUT at the end. I’m grateful for my health…BUT I hate the feeling of getting old. I’m grateful for my kids…BUT boy do they drive me crazy. I’m grateful for my hardworking husband…BUT why won’t he do X, Y or Z? And it just keeps going on and on. I know I’m a Negative Nelly. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. But geez, even for me sometimes I think enough is enough. So I decided to write a post (mainly to prove to myself that I CAN remain positive for once) about my JOYS. The things that make me happy. And there will be no BUTS. The buts are my addiction and it’s true, I do need to break the habit. So here’s my first attempt.

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One of my greatest Joys over the past few weeks has simply been the generosity and kindness of my gal pals. Recently I had a minor procedure done and was laid up for a few days. Now everyone knows I hate asking for help of any kind. I don’t know why I do, I just don’t ever want to be a “burden” on someone else. Yet these ladies simply took charge. I had homemade dinners delivered, goodies for the kids, milkshakes for me. I had numerous additional offers and daily text messages checking up on me as well. Even the women I work out with got together and all signed a card for me. Now these woman will all tell you this was “no big deal” for them, but I beg to differ. Some of these woman work. They’re all raising families, being chauffeurs, cleaners, chefs. Yet they went out of their way to help me. And they did it on their own. That is some good people right there. No buts needed for this Joy.

Now it would be wrong of me to write about my Joys and not mention family. However seeing as I feel this is just a “given,” I’ll keep it short and sweet. My family has each other’s backs. We’ve been around the block a few times in the Village of Hell and we’re are all sorts of crazy, weird and impossible, but that’s what I’m most thankful for. Because given a choice between The Cleavers or The Conners, I’d take the Conners any day. They’re a lot more fun. So even when my phone calls and texts are about 95 percent me talking about my problems, I can always count on my dad to remind me that “this too shall pass” or my faithful cousin, who’s a few years ahead of the parenting/life game than me, to talk me off that ledge. They’re my forever Joys. The lemonade to my lemons. (Sorry, sometimes, I like a good ol’ cliche!)

About a year ago, in my forever hunt for cool vintage items, I met a local woman who has a sweet little antique business that she runs out of her home. Recently she asked if I’d help her with the online portion of her business. Um, hello?! I get to look at and fondle beautiful, one-of-a-kind treasures AND get paid for it?! YES! This woman is grateful for my help, and I’m beyond grateful for simply having the opportunity to “do what I love.” I don’t necessarily believe in all the “you meet everyone for a reason” garbage that people like to say, but I certainly could not be any happier for having met this woman…despite having spent way too much money on all the pretty things that she sells. At least now however, my guilt is justifiably a tad less.

Now obviously there’s a million and one other things that bring Joy in my life. It’s candy corn season. The trees look freaking amazing. My kids are doing well in school. And my husband recently discovered what is currently my new favorite beer. Overall life is good. But it’s just so damn easy to spend so much time focusing on the buts and the negative side of things. (Candy corn makes me fat. Falling leaves means snow is coming. My son writes like he’s in preschool. Beer makes me fat. – See how easy that is??) But here I am, attempting to work on Amy 2.0 and trying just a tad harder to consider that my glass might just be half full instead of half empty. And on those days that I simply can’t do it – a 6-pack and a bag of candy corn make a damn fine way to end the day.

For Some, It’s More Than Just a Game

DSC_9465Last week I was finally able to attend one of my son’s baseball games. Both girls had napped, and for once the weather was cooperating. I was pretty excited as my husband had shown me some videos, and my son seemed to actually be fairly good – well good for a six-year-old boy, that is. So the girls and I got there and set up camp. Immediately, of course, both girls took off for the sandbox. (By the way, did I mention sand is definitely one of those four-letter words.)

Anyway, my son’s team performed, for the most part, as I expected. They screwed around a lot, cheered each other on, repeatedly climbed the fence and got yelled at, taunted the other team – you know, normal boy stuff. Then one boy went up to bat. And after numerous attempts to get a hit (I’m not quite sure what the rules are for this age because he swung his bat at least seven times), this boy was finally called out. And wow was he heart-broken. He walked back to the bench with his shoulders hunched down and immediately started crying. As in sobbing like he just caused his team to lose the World Series. And he wouldn’t stop. He cried all the way up until it was his team’s turn to go into the outfield.

Now my first reaction was oh, the poor kid. But as I watched him, I began to be amazed and overwhelmed – I’m not even sure exactly what I was feeling – at this kid’s intense emotion over merely striking out. None of the other boys really even seemed to pay attention to his reaction, and no one else, thankfully, seemed to get too upset if they struck out or made a mistake. I mean again, it’s six-year-old kids playing baseball. Practically every move is a mistake isn’t it?! Anyway, it really got me thinking about the pressure some kids feel about the need to succeed. And sure, I get it. I got a little nutty during finals or any test really and felt if I didn’t succeed I’d be ruining my life. (Oh the crazy hormonal mind of a teenage girl!) But this was a group of six year olds that were supposed to be just learning how to actually properly play a sport. And in my opinion, the only thing that should have been on their minds was how much fun they were having.

But is this where it starts? Are six year olds already feeling the pressure to be the best? Of course some people might immediately put blame on the parents. But this kid’s dad was there and he kept encouraging his son and reminding him it’s not a big deal, just try again next time. So yes while there are definitely a crap ton of insane parents out there, this dad certainly didn’t seem to be one of them. So again I ask myself where does this extreme pressure kids put on themselves, or feel from an outside source, come from? Because knowing me, had that been my kid I most likely would have brushed him off and told him to buck up and move on. But for some, that intense need to be the best manifests and can turn deadly. So as a parent, how do you know the difference between knowing that your child simply needs to take a step back and take a few breaths from knowing that they have one foot off the edge of that very dangerous cliff?

I’ve experienced my four year old tell me her day had been ruined because some other little girl decided that she didn’t want to play with her. It didn’t matter that five minutes later they were best friends again. My daughter’s focus, when asked about her day, was on that one minute of rejection. And yes that’s four-year-old girl dramatization at its finest, however it still causes me to pause and think “oh, shit is this a glimpse into her (my) future?” And if so, how will she handle rejection? How will my son handle not being good enough to make some sports team because there’s 476 kids in his class and only 30 kids will be picked to be on the team?

These types of issues that kids seem to face these days – at least in the suburbs where I’m raising my family – are things that I never had to deal with. Hell we had to recruit kids from neighboring towns just to have enough kids to make a team so we could even play a sport. And as for being a successful student, yes I absolutely put in my time and effort because it’s how I was raised, but looking back I wasn’t in the top tier of my class because I was overly smart. I simply studied more than most, and when your class has about 32 students in it, it’s easy to be up near the top. Had I been raised in these suburbs where you’re competing with hundreds of hard-core, studious, and determined kids, I never would have had a fighting chance getting into the University of Illinois like I did. I had wanted to go to Illinois since I was in junior high and I think it was the only in-state school I applied to (and of course my dad vetoed even the idea of paying for out-of-state tuition.) But if I hadn’t gotten in, what would that have done to my 17-year-old impressionable self? Would I have been able to handle that kind of rejection when I didn’t really even have a plan B? And to fully understand that one particular college wouldn’t determine my future, because that job was actually up to me. I would like to think so, but in reality all it takes is one out-of-your-mind moment to make a decision that could cost you your life.

It saddens me to think of my kids suffering, or any kids for that matter, because they did poorly on a test or didn’t get invited to a party or was the last out in the game. Kids tend to focus on THAT moment only and can’t grasp the concept that five years from now, hell five months from now, none of their current sorrows even will matter. Because to them and their developing brains, THAT moment is the only thing they can even think about. And whether it’s intentional or not, kids are indeed always under pressure. The pressure to be popular and have a lot of friends, to get good grades and ultimately be accepted to a good college, to be good at sports and aim for a scholarship. And the list goes on. But as we know, it’s impossible to be the best at everything and sometimes even anything. But that’s still okay.

As I’m writing this, my brain keeps attempting to go off on so many different tangents that can be associated with this post. But for me, I suppose my main purpose in writing this is to simply remind myself of the importance of my job. I’m not curing cancer or making people millions, but I do have three tiny monsters that depend on me to show them and to teach them how to shrug off that strike out or friendship rejection. But not only that, but how to shrug it off and still be happy; maybe not that at that moment, but having the capability and self-confidence to eventually get there. I’ve come to learn that it’s hard as shit to be a parent, especially a good one. But I also won’t forget that it’s just as hard to be a kid. To be engulfed with such intense feelings and emotions that all kids, at some point or another, struggle with and to not necessarily have the maturity needed to be able to properly manage those feelings. It’s hard work. Over the years, my advice to my children is going to change. But for now, my focus is on them having fun, being kids and being nice. Unfortunately, they’re going to feel the competitive pressure their entire lives. But for right now, it should be nothing more than a game.

Rural America – My Happy Place

 

For the first 18 years of my life all I could think about was getting the hell out of dodge, dodge being my wonderful hometown of Mt. Carroll, Illinois. I hated being stuck in the “middle of nowhere” with nothing to do, no stores to go to and nothing but cornfields to look at. Yet these days, with each trip back home, it gets harder and harder for me to come back to the golden bliss of suburbia. (And just in case you don’t actually know me, that’s me being sarcastic). Now don’t get me wrong, suburbia or not, I do love my home. With our move last summer we were able to get a house with a bigger yard for the kids (and myself) to play in, and over the past several years, I’ve made some great friends. But while Deer Park is where I currently live, it’ll never actually be my “home.” Not like Mt. Carroll was and even still is in my heart to this day.

Now to an outsider, it may not seem like much. I remember the first time I took my now husband back home with me, he was like, “wow, this is it?!” as I gave him the tour in all of three minutes. But where he sees rundown houses, I see beautiful old homes built with character and filled with memories. Where he sees only a Dairy Queen, I see the place where I spent so many summer nights hanging out with friends. Where he sees a deserted, dilapidated school, I see the place where I spent the most impressionable 13 years of my life. The place that not only formed the mold of who I would become as an adult but also the place where I met and grew to love some of the best friends that I still have to this day.

Mt. Carroll isn’t just a place where I was raised. It’s the place where I grew up. And what I didn’t have the sense to know or appreciate as a bratty teenage girl, as an adult I’m finally able to understand everything that it gave me. First and foremost it gave me roots. But not just because my family is still there. It’s more than that. It’s the entire community. It’s being able to walk into a store, see the mom of a fellow high schooler that I probably haven’t seen in over 20 years and still have a 15-minute conversation together. Or running into an old teacher and giving her a hug and filling her in about my kids. It doesn’t matter if you still live here or not, people welcome you back at all times with open arms and smiles.

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The kids and I on a recent trip back home.

Growing up in Mt. Carroll also gave the adult me a different perspective on the beauty and importance of simplicity. People back home just aren’t the same as they are in the suburbs. They seem to live in the the moment a lot more and stress a lot less on keeping up with the Jones’s. I’m the first to admit it’s easy to get sucked into the uppity idealistic suburban lifestyle, but it’s comforting to be reminded of what’s truly important in life every time I go back home. For example, during my last visit, my dad made a pit stop on our mule ride to “look for rocks.” My first thought was, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” But honestly, I think I had more fun than my kids looking for all the “pretty” things. I had forgotten that I used to spend hours by myself looking for fossils or fools gold as a kid – something my own kids most likely will never spend time doing (unless it’s with Grandpa.) Because in here, nature has been replaced by things like sod, manicured lawns and parking lots.

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High school besties, circa 1994

I often wonder if I’m doing my kids a disservice by not raising them in a rural community. Sure the suburbs have better schools and way more opportunities for them, but where the country lacks in educational opportunities, it makes up for it with offering experiences and life lessons that aren’t taught in a classroom. I went to school with a lot of farm kids. Kids who learned at a very early age what it meant to contribute to the family, join in the hard work and still go to school and participate in extracurricular activities. These kids weren’t coddled. They knew what was expected and they did it. No excuses. I certainly never knew anyone who had a stay-at-home mom that also had a nanny, something that seems to be extremely common where I live now. As kids we played outside. We got dirty. We laughed. We built forts. We were kids. Yet my kids’ free time is spent begging for any kind of screen time. Or complaining how bored they are despite having the entire Toys R’ Us store in the basement.

I’m sure these differences in the generations aren’t just related to the environment. It’s the technology craze we live in, the need for instant gratification. Regardless I still believe suburbia is perfecting the art of raising lazy, entitled brats who would rather stare into their phones all day than play outside or pull their share of the family load. Unfortunately kids that expect handouts eventually grow into adults that expect the same thing.

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Forever BFF’s, circa 1997

Country living isn’t just about working hard, however. There’s always time for play. From preschool to senior year I went to school with the same group of kids. Ed Sheeran nailed it in his song “Castle on the Hill” when he sings, “But these people raised me and I can’t wait to go home.” No other statement could be more true. This small group of kids were my life for the first 18 years. They were my influences, my confidantes, my partners in crime. And as a result, incredible friendships and bonds were formed that I still maintain to this day. Will my kids be able to say the same thing? In our district’s high school, there’s almost 2,000 kids. That’s more than my entire town. While I know my kids will make friends, when they’re 40 years old will they still keep in touch and even hang out with the friends they had? For their sake, I hope so. Because while I’ve made some incredible friends as an adult, my best friends are the ones that I grew up with. The ones that saw me thrive and also fail. The ones that stuck by me through the horrible middle school years and then again through the hormonal teenage years. These are the friends that know me better than anyone because like the song says, they’re the ones who helped raise me.

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My partners in crime for life

I suppose I could ramble on forever about all the wonderful things I love about my hometown and also just the rural lifestyle in general. Obviously I wish I would have appreciated it more growing up but I guess that’s all just part of the aging and maturing process. I will forever be grateful for the memories, the experiences, the lessons (both good and bad) that my country-living youth taught me. And while my family may live in the heart of suburbia, I certainly will do my best to give them plenty of opportunities to make their own country memories and experience the beauty in nature and simplicity. Home is where the heart is, and my heart will forever remain in Mt. Carroll.

“And I’m on my way, I still remember/ This old country lanes/ When we did not know the answers” – “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran

The Power of a Pat on the Back

WEB-15It’s no secret that my middle child is tough. She was born on her own terms (approximately 10 minutes after we pulled into the Emergency Room at the hospital) and has pretty much done her very best to live by her rules, and her rules only, every day since. Don’t get me wrong, like every mother, my love for her is fierce and unwavering, but there have been many a days over the past four plus years where I have found myself wondering if either of us would survive to see her 18th birthday.

While the majority of our – let’s just call them “challenging moments” – are dealt with at home, this weekend I got the horror of experiencing one of those times in public. For some reason, my daughter decided she did NOT want to go to her weekly gymnastics class. And her way of telling me this was to start screaming and crying as we were about to walk into class. I’ll spare the details, but just know there was a lot of screaming, thrashing on the ground, hitting, biting and kicking going on (and in case there is any confusion here, please note I was the one on the receiving end). In hindsight, I suppose it’s a very good thing we were in public, because this forced me to keep my angst and frustration in check and remain fairly calm – well as calm as one could be while getting a beat down by a four year old in public.

Now there are a million and one ways that I could have, and maybe should have, handled this situation. But in the heat of the moment, all I could think about was for the love of God, please exorcise the demon that has apparently taken over my child. I tried to calm her down and wait it out, but as I mentioned, this child only likes things on her terms and at this moment, she was having none of it. So ultimately after about 20 minutes of this pure chaos, I scooped her up and carried her out of there and drove home.

I cannot even begin to describe everything that was going through my head during all of this. But for starters, I was pretty mortified. I could only imagine what all these other parents and kids were thinking while watching this shit show go down. On top of that, I just kept wondering what the hell is happening and how do I make it stop. But mainly I was questioning every ounce of my parenting existence and wondering just what or how many mistakes I had made for this unexpected outburst to occur.

And then it happened…as I was firmly reminding my daughter for the third time that we indeed do NOT bite and was milliseconds away from bursting into tears myself, a stranger came up to me, half put her arm around me and said, “Hang in there. We’ve all been there. You’re doing great.” That simple gesture was exactly what I needed. I chuckled back and asked if it was too early to start drinking. And another fellow mom piped up and answered, “It’s never too early! Besides it’s Saturday.” Meanwhile, yet a third stranger had silently began cleaning up my spilled coffee that somehow, not naming any names, was hit out of my hands by a certain little person. These small, yet paramount, gestures gave me the strength I needed to hold my shit together, face that tiny little devil and be the parent I needed to be. Because let’s face it, what I really wanted to do was throw my own tantrum, high tail it on out of there and head for the nearest bar – sans child.

The point of this story (besides having written proof to someday show my daughter just why she’ll be the one taking care of her dear old elderly mother because dammit she owes me) is not to illustrate her challenging behavior. She’s four. She is the product of two extremely stubborn people. I get it. All kids have their moments, that’s just part of the fun of being a kid. My point is that they say it takes a village to raise a child, but just what that village is can be a matter of perspective. Some people may be blessed to have lots of family and friends nearby to help them when they need it. But for those that don’t, maybe it’s that one simple pat on the back that is enough to help you hold it together and keep moving. It was for me. And for that, I’m grateful for my own “village” consisting of understanding strangers and fellow parents who have been, or still are, in those parenting trenches. Cheers to all of you!