Friday, November 28, 2008

Pass It On

Pass it on. Pay it forward. Random acts of kindness. Unfortunately, these little sentences sound a bit trite, but on this day after Thanksgiving, they can be a wonderful way to take the gratitude focused on yesterday and send some of it out into the world. Last year, our middle son was working at a retail store which meant he had to work on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. While the rest of us spent the day together shopping, watching football and eating leftovers, our middle son had to get up early and head to his job at the mall. He was feeling somewhat blue about this and decided to treat himself to breakfast at the McDonald’s drive-thru (culinary appreciation is not yet part of his persona). When he arrived at the window to pay for his breakfast, he found out that the person in the car in front of his had already paid for him. Our son was ecstatic! He called to tell me about it and said later that it changed his entire perspective on the day. And, I am quite sure that the person in the car in front drove away with a smile.

I won’t divulge my own plan for passing on kindness this holiday season; after all, anonymity is part of the fun, but my little red Camry and I plan to be busy. Pass it on!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Drew's Thankful Tree

I wrote this on Thanksgiving Day, 2003, but it seems appropriate to share it today.

Every year for Thanksgiving our family goes to our home away from home for the holiday. We usually pack the night before so that we can pick the children up from school and be on the road. Since most teachers send holiday art projects home on this last day of school, it has become customary to decorate our vacation spot with those art projects when we arrive for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year our first grade son’s class made Thankful Trees, a piece of brown construction paper with a tree drawn on it and the leaves made up of painted pieces of paper cut into the shape of leaves on which the children wrote short sentences describing why they are thankful. When we arrived and unpacked one of our daughters gathered the Thanksgiving art projects and began taping them to the dining room window. We have a turkey dressed as a University of Oregon Duck (Go Ducks!), another turkey with dangling legs and a bonnet, a mosaic corncob complete with raffia stem and the Thankful Tree. After the decorating was finished, I admired all of the colorful art that would brighten our Thanksgiving table and then stepped closer to read what was written on the leaves of the Thankful Tree.

Our son’s tree has seven leaves, a lot to be thankful for at any age. There are the expected, but still welcome, “I hav a dad” and “I hav a mom”. Every child needs to know that they have parents (or a parent, in the case of single-parent families) who are always there for him. My son and I have had our moments – he is one of those “spirited” children who pushed every button and sent me running back to the parenting bookshelves at Barnes & Noble looking for ways to deal with him. My husband and I have worked hard to steer his behavior down a positive path and our efforts, along with his emerging maturity, have taken hold and he’s a delight to have around. So seeing that he is thankful to have a mom made me feel especially good.

He also honored his other family members with “I hav brrtrs” and “I hav sisdrs”. Yes, he does – two brothers and three sisters to be exact. As an almost-only child myself I always wished for brothers and sisters to play with. Now that my husband and I have a large family I cringe when one of our children quite naturally complains about his or her siblings, the need to share or to help out a younger child. There are days when the bickering seems non-stop. Of course, I know that they each value the others. I see it when they stick up for each other on the school bus, share information about the latest music or movie craze or include brothers and sisters as something to be thankful for on a Thanksgiving art project.

The wider world is also acknowledged on his tree. First he includes “I hav a scl”. This one took me a long time to figure out. What is an “scl”? Then I tuned into my kid-spelling and it became clear. As a first-grader, our son is excited about learning to read and finding out about the oh-so-many things of interest to a six-year-old. I, too, am thankful that he has a school to open the doors for him, to touch his mind and draw out his interests. Second he writes, “Korea” – not “I am Korean” or “I am from Korea”, just “Korea”. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I think that’s pretty interesting. At six, he doesn’t know exactly how Korea fits into his life. We’ve traveled to Korea, we participate in Korean cultural events, cook Korean food, talk about his Korean heritage, but the information and experiences haven’t yet jelled for him. He does know, though, that Korea is important in his life and I am thankful that he knows that, even if he hasn’t yet put it all in perspective.

The last leaf on his tree encompasses all the others and really expresses the core of what a Thankful Tree is meant to be – “I m love”. Now, I know that what he meant by that was, “I am loved” because he had told me about that leaf the day they made the trees and all I can respond to that is, “Yes, he is!” But how interesting that he left off the “d” because, as a child full of intense feelings and excitement about his world; always ready for a huge bear hug or a simple kiss on the forehead; obvious concern for the people and even the animals around him; and a smile that can light up my heart, it is not only accurate that he would write, “I am loved,” but just as accurately, he could write, “I am love.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hello, My Name is Debbie and I am a Control Freak

A couple of nights ago I had a dream about something bad happening, but when I tried to scream, nothing came out of my mouth. I’ve had similar dreams before where I was helpless and couldn’t even notify anyone that there was a problem. The next morning I told my husband about the dream; he immediately said, “You don’t like to lose control. In the dream, you can’t scream, so you have no control.” I thought about that and knew that he was right. I like to be in control; I don’t like situations where I can’t control what is happening. Well, the reality is, in life we can’t truly control all that is happening to us and, one of the insights I’ve gained in recent years, is that I’m much more able to accept that occasional loss of control now than I was in my younger years. In the past, I freaked out when events happened that I could not control. My temper would flare, I would become exasperated. Now, usually, I am better able to handle those types of unplanned events. I have more patience, more understanding.

As an example, yesterday my husband and kids spent the day putting up our 12-foot tall artificial Christmas tree. Because of our holiday schedule this year, we decided to put the big tree up before Thanksgiving and then I will do the rest of the decorating after Thanksgiving. The kids had the lights on and about three-fourths of our massive amount of decorations on when the tree started to tilt and would have fallen completely were it not for my niece and future daughter-in-law catching it mid-fall. With the two of them holding it up, my husband and I worked for an hour trying to stabilize the base. The end result was that, after eleven years of use, the welding on the base is tired out and needs to be reinforced – something we’re not prepared to do. So, we began un-decorating the tree. All of the ornaments were taken off and laid on the couch, the light strings were removed and wound back up and the pieces of the tree were put out on the front porch with the hope that some Craig’s List reader will come to take it away to a new home. Today I will go purchase a new tree.

Throughout the ordeal last night I remained relatively calm. When it became apparent that we would not be able to fix the tree, I simply stated what needed to be done – “Take the tree down.” As I was going through the process, my husband’s comment about me not liking to be out of control rolled around in my head and I realized that, in maturing, I have learned (most of the time, anyway) that even in a situation I can’t control (a broken tree base), I can still be in control of my response. For a controlling personality like mine, it truly does feel much better to be personally in control during an uncontrollable situation, rather than letting go of all control.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Favorite Things

A few nights ago we went to dinner at a restaurant that was playing music in the background. As we were leaving, the song My Favorite Things came on. We all hummed along to the tune. When we got into the car, I realized that my youngest son was quietly singing the song, but inserting his own “favorite things” into the lyrics. That started me thinking about my own favorite things. Not the big life changing things, but the everyday things that warm our hearts and bring a smile to our faces. As I’ve thought about my favorites over the last few days, I’ve realized that just the act of thinking about them has made me feel good. We all know that keeping a gratitude journal helps us to be aware of our blessings, but I think that reminding ourselves of life’s little joys is also a good way to find good in each and every day. Here are just a few of my favorite things:

• Clean sheets
• A view of Mt. Hood, especially when it peeks through on an otherwise cloudy day
• Catching a whiff of jasmine or some other floral fragrance while out on a run
• A real hug from one of my kids
• Turning on the radio to a good rock beat
• The feel of the air on a crisp fall morning
• My husband’s smile when he comes in the door or catches my eye across a room

Monday, November 17, 2008

PMA Begins with Self-Care

After my post last week about being too tired, I received a couple of wonderful e-mail responses that helped me put my feelings into perspective. Those e-mails gave me the impetus to take positive steps toward helping myself. In an effort to get back my PMA (positive mental attitude), I took care of a couple of doctor’s appointments I’d been avoiding, I went to see my chiropractor about a pain in my neck (it would be fun to say that my children were the pain my neck, but the reality is, it was all my own doing – too much stress, not enough self-care) and I scheduled a follow-up chiropractic appointment that includes a pre-appointment massage. It’s amazing to me that those few steps put me back on the right path, the path to a positive attitude. I’ve slept better; I’ve breathed easier; I’ve been able to feel the stress slip from my body. I also changed my e-mail passwords to a positive affirmation; a little step, but it’s reinvigorating every time I log onto my e-mail.

I tell my children that they are responsible for their own moods and attitudes; sometimes I need a reminder that the same principle applies to me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Too Tired to Think

Where have I been? I haven’t written anything in weeks. Part of the problem is that my laptop has somehow been appropriated and is now the family kitchen computer. Previously, no one else used it and it sat by my writing spot, so that it was always there, waiting for me. That’s really not a good excuse for not writing, but the change in location has disrupted my routine. The real reason for not writing is that I’ve just been too tired to think. I’ve tried working out my thoughts in my head, but it all sounds like a jumble. The ideas don’t connect; the thoughts don’t pan out. My brain just feels tired. I bought a box of greeting cards recently; one of them reads, “Just when did having to juggle everything become a way of life?” I read that and I nod my head; yes, I understand. Just last night someone asked how our family has been. I said, “Busy,” and the person came back with, “Yeah, that’s pretty much how everything is now, isn’t it?” That’s sad.

What I’ve realized during the last few weeks is that I’m not really taking very good care of myself. I’m to the point where stress has me breathing funny on a regular basis; sleep consists of six hours a night, if I’m lucky; food is the comfort I give myself to get through the day. Not a very healthy way to live. But the question is: how does one change that lifestyle? Meditation is the answer that comes most readily to mind, but I’m not sure when I’m supposed to do that – stay up later to meditate? Get up even earlier? It would also be good to have fewer “have to’s” piled on my plate, but again, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to do that – what job, activity or responsibility do I forego? This sounds somewhat whiney and I don’t mean to say that my life is busier than anyone else’s. I know far too many women, and men, who are in this same boat with me. I just don’t know what to do about it and, while I try to figure it out, I just continue to feel too tired to think.