Monday, April 25, 2011

The differences between men and women

Stop me if you’ve heard any of these:

“A woman has the last word in any argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument.”

“To be happy with a man you must understand him a lot and love him a little. To be happy with a woman you must love her a lot and try not to understand her at all.”

And my favorite: “God made man before woman so the man would have time to think of an answer for the woman’s first question.”

Now I’m not here to slam either sex. It’s just that I am consistently intrigued and constantly blown away by the differences in the thinking patterns and overall brain functions between the male and female psyche.

I’m going to make some generalizations here, so the minority of you “unique” men and women out there who transcend general gender stereotypes need to just relax. So here are my observations:

To me, this dates back thousands and thousands of years ago, when cavemen went out and hunted and gathered and women stayed back and took care of the little cavelets. Both worked equally hard – I doubt that Cathy Cavewoman was chilling on some animal rug watching The View reruns all day long. Nor was Carl Caveman bellying up to the bar kicking back some Tiger Blood with his hunting homies.

I have to take care in how I say this, so I’ll just use myself as an example. I have always wanted a career. Even after I had children, I expected to still have my career. But extenuating factors (a husband in the military) altered my plans, at least for awhile. Which probably wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – I tip my hat to stay-at-home-moms. To me, it’s one of the hardest jobs out there – but entirely worth it. So when I became a single parent and went back to work, my loyalties were conflicted. Here was my career – which I coveted and loved and wanted to put 110% into… yet here were my kids that needed me as well – and more than just between 6 and 9:00 every night. So instead of applying for a “traditional” job, I opted to wait it out for something that would offer me the flexibility to try to “have it all”. The problem is that I still am not sure that I give 100% to either one – it’s definitely a Catch-22. What I keep telling myself is, hey, these kids won’t be kids for long. If I have to forgo the money and the climb up the ladder for a few years until they grow up, then so be it. I’m a mom first.

Men? They’re pre-programmed by society to work. They are the financial providers. That’s what has been instilled in them as their role. In the same way that a mother kisses her son’s skinned knee and makes everything OK, so the man sees bringing home the bacon as his nurturing role in the traditional family. Now I’m not saying for one minute that the same man doesn’t come home and change diapers, attend parent/teacher conferences and shoot hoops with his kids. What I’m saying is that in my opinion, a man’s role is more defined than a woman’s. I feel constantly conflicted between work and motherhood, and though dads may have some of these feelings at times, overall I think they believe that their primary role is to provide for their families. Some may think this is sexist, but in my opinion, it’s true.

Again, I’ll use myself as an example. I’m not the greatest communicator that ever lived. I guess if I could write everything instead of speaking it, perhaps I’d be better off. But a part of me strives to not fit that woman stereotype of the needy, “God, she has to talk about how I’m feeeeeeeeling…. all the tiiiiiiiiiime.” I don’t want to be that “chicky chick”. So I have a tendency to go the other way – to make it appear that it’s OK, or that it doesn’t matter, or that it’s no big deal, or that I’m not actually sitting here stewing over something you did last week but never actually told you about.

But honestly, when I do finally sit down and regurgitate all the warped emotions that are swirling in my brain, I do think that they often fall on deaf ears. And it’s not that the opposite sex isn’t listening. I just think that just like I don’t understand the male emotional brain, my attempt at a deep conversation often incites some kind of fearful/nervous/vertigo-ish type, “fight or flight” response. They’re not thinking, “Hmmm… I hear what she’s saying, and this is how I feel, so I’ll say…” They’re thinking, “Crap. What can I say that she won’t take the wrong way that could somehow piss her off and make this conversation go on indeterminately?”

OK, maybe they don’t always think that way. Maybe that’s my own insecurity. But I do think that some women go to great lengths (and lengthy verbiage) to try to make men “understand” their complexity, which men are innately able to sum up in very few words, which at times really pisses women off. And I also think that at times women just want to vent their problems, and men are designed to “fix” things, so they try to help by offering solutions. The women get defensive because they don’t realize that they’re not being judged, but this also is not their bestie who is going to give her a big hug and validate that yes, that room mom was totally out of line for not including her in the 2nd grade classroom party chain email.

Now this part I get. I don’t disagree with it, and I don’t dislike it. I understand it and embrace it, but it took me awhile. My thoughts on men vs. women when it comes to children can be best summed up in a quote that I say to my older son time after time when he compares his dad to me. “You can’t have two parents like your dad, and you can’t have two parents like me.”

Nor would he want to. I’m probably more of a “traditional” mom. I have a lot of my own mother in me. I think I’m pretty strict for the most part. I don’t put up with a lot of crap. I fully believe that as much as I want my kids to love me, they don’t always have to like me. I wasn’t put on this earth to be their buddy – at least not yet. Their dad and I are thankfully for the most part on the same page when it comes to childrearing, and even though we do it separately, we are in it together. But he is and always has been more of the playful one – the one that wrestles with them, that delights in hunting for elusive Hot Wheels cars, the one that lets them do things I would never let them do, like ride their bikes down Knoxville Avenue. Plus he flies a helicopter – so he’s been Mr. Cool since they’ve been born.

That used to bug me, but I remember him telling me once, “When they want to play, they come to me. As soon as they get hurt, they want nothing but you.” That kind of summed up our roles. Now I’m not saying I can’t have fun with my kids, and he’s the first one to come running when he hears one of them is hurt. But it’s apparent that we have our definitive roles. Our kids see us as serving a different purpose in each of their lives, but together in turn, we manage to give them a parenting whole, even divorced.

I’ll say it again – I’m making some very wide generalizations here. There are stay-at-home dads and 60-hour-a-week working moms. There are men who love to discuss their feelings and women who consistently clam up. There are as many Merrymaking Moms as there are Disneyland Dads. But I think that sometimes, some of the problems that men and women have when it comes to life and communicating is that each expects the other to be like them. And they’re not.

I wholeheartedly believe that God created man and woman so differently to complement each other – no, not “compliment”, as in, “Gee you look really nice today,” but complement – as in to supplement each other – to complete each other, if you will.

And the more we can understand and accept that, the better we’ll get along.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What's with kids these days?

I must be getting old if I'm saying that. It's right up there with, "Turn that music down!" "You're not wearing that, Mister!" and "No, you may NOT dye your hair black and wear guyliner." OK. That might be unique to my situation. Whatever.

But that's neither here nor there. I'm not a parent to try to be cool. But apparently, that's what we child-rearing cruise directors are trying to do these days.

Case in point: I'm talking to my friend this evening, who says, "I asked my kids if they wanted to go throw the football around. They said, 'No, we'd rather stay inside'. If my dad ever asked me to go throw the football, I'd be out there until my arm fell off. What gives?"

Interesting question, Friend. Surprisingly, I have an immediate answer. "Because it's no big deal."

No. Big. Deal.

It's the same reason why when I say, "Hey, kids! Let's go out to dinner tonight!" they shrug and respond, "No thanks."

WHAT? Back in the day, if MY parents took us out to dinner it was a BIG FREAKIN' DEAL! I mean, Ponderosa, HELLO??!!

Here's how this all plays out. Now, I know that in this world today there are a fair share of neglectful parents. The ones that don't give a shit or have a clue about what their kids do. The ones that see their kids as an "interference" in their own lives and pawn them off on anyone and everyone to raise them so they can get on with whatever more important things they're doing, like making money, spending hours at the gym or getting their weekly massage/manicure/wax.

Then there's the OTHER extreme. Which is apparently me, and people like me. We're bound and determined to be super-parents. Now, I always thought that meant being like MY parents. You know - homemade birthday cakes in the shapes of dolls and stuff. Crafts on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Homemade cookies after school. But I think I may have taken that a bit too far by becoming my children's entertainment director. "What shall we do today?" I'd ask when they were younger. Then we'd plan a trip to the zoo, or the waterpark, or a hike, or a bikeride, or a museum, or the library, or a playground. I always packed a picnic lunch or snacks "just in case". If we were homebound, we'd rent a movie, play a board game, do a craft or experiment, bake, make a fort or construct with Legos. They never had to sit around and wonder what to do on their own when I was around, that's for sure!

So fast forward to present day. I'm busy, they're older, and I'm wondering why they're sitting on the couch on a gorgeous day transfixed by the idiot box. "Let's go for a bikeride!" I say, willing to put aside cleaning, laundry and packing (like that's hard.) "Nah," they say. "How about ice cream?" I say coaxingly. "Meh," is the reply. "The zoo?" I ask quizzically. *insert eye roll here.*

What the hell? Who wouldn't want to go and enjoy this gorgeous day with some outside activities with their favoritest person in the world? How does it even occur to them that lying on the couch, eyes glazed, brain on autopilot is a great way to spend a sunny Saturday?

Well, ya idiot, it's because you've already done it all. All those bike rides, all those hikes, all those ice cream trips and restaurant excursions... all those fun activities that used to be reserved in my childhood for special occasions have suddenly become so mainstream, so ORDINARY, that they're just no big deal anymore. And even worse, I've tried to continually outdo myself to one-up the very "ordinary" things I want my kids to enjoy. Don't want to go out for ice cream? Well, let's make our own banana splits at home! Don't want to go for a bikeride? Let's go rent one of those Segways and ride along the Riverfront! Not up for a hike? How about a little ziplining?

Geez, someone hit me upside of the head please.

Maybe it's a divorce thing. I know I've made a conscious effort to try not to "make up" for the fact that I'm only one parent by spoiling my kids and buying them a bunch of random stuff. But maybe I am spoiling them - not necessarily materialistically, but creatively.

That's IT. I'm creatively spoiling my kids.

I've completely crushed any ounce of self-creativity that they ever may have had. I'm like that lady that greets you as you board the cruise ship who hands you a Mai Tai and a minute by minute schedule of all the fabulous activities you'll be doing during your captivit- er - vacation. NO ORIGINAL THOUGHTS NECESSARY.

So, how do I turn this bus around? I'm not sure. There has to be a way, though. Maybe it's just a matter of unplugging all the TVs, taking all the batteries out of the DS's and hiding all the video games. THEN what're they gonna do? Maybe I'll just lock them outside some sunny day and let them fend for themselves. Or pump up their bike tires, drive them out in the country and drop them off with a compass and plenty of water. That'll spark their creativity.

Until then, we've got a busy week ahead. Easter's right around the corner, you know. Maybe instead of just coloring eggs this year we could raise the chickens! Yeah! That's a GREAT idea! The kids will love it!

Gotta get busy...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

If you turn "MOM" upside down, it's "WOW"

"God couldn't be everywhere, so he created mothers." -Yiddish Proverb

So, about a year ago, I wrote a little ditty about my Dad. My Hero. My Superman. But I knew then that there was an even greater force that I needed to honor. I never could quite find the words, or the right time. But I seemed to have found my voice of late, and that blog I've been "meaning to write" has suddenly become very, very clear.

While my dad has always been my hero, he's also been a bit of an enigma. He would do - and did - anything for us kids, and rarely did he get angry. Nor did he discipline often. Or take the heat. And until I became a mother, I never realized how much love my mother has - so much so that she's always been willing to "be the bad guy" for the sake of the greater good - the raising of her children.

When we were kids, my mother was the consummate "stay at home mom". In my early years I remember her taking us to the pool. Playing in the sandbox. Letting us help her can applesauce. Picking mulberries for breakfast. In grade school, I came home for lunch every day. And she let me. She made incredible homemade cakes for every birthday party, attended every school play, concert and sporting event, even every high school football and basketball game, simply to see me perform at halftime (yeah, hard to believe that this chick was a Richwoods Royalette). We had all the great traditions at all the major holidays that I have with my kids today. Summer Sunday boating always meant homemade scotcheroos and cream cheese brownies. Oh, and homemade chex mix. Yeah, Mom was the bomb. But I just didn't get it back then.

Mom set the rules, and you didn't break them. You just didn't. I'll never forget her words, because they have been repeated often to my kids. "The more we can trust you, the more we'll let you do." Very true. In high school, as long as I made curfew and woke her up when I got home, life was good. But be late? Uh, sorry. Privileges denied.

Mom didn't - and still doesn't - mince words. And I take after her. Which is probably why we didn't see eye to eye when I was a teenager. And I'll be the first to admit, I was a BITCH of a teenager. My mom was an idiot and she needed to just leave me alone to live my life. Ironically, when when a boyfriend broke up with me when I went out west to visit him at college, she was there at the airport upon my return, arms open. She knew. I fell into them and cried like a baby. When I needed advice on my career path, she had it. And it was more than just "make sure you have a nice black skirt in your closet." And I don't know how many times to this day that she's dropped everything to watch my kids, help me with the house, or be there when I called her crying, upset or joyous.

"When your mother asks, 'Do you want a piece of advice?' it is a mere formality. It doesn't matter if you answer yes or no. You're going to get it anyway." -Erma Bombeck

So, granted. Mom usually prefaces said advice with, "It's up to you, but if you ask me..." But here's the clincher. I've asked my mom for advice SO many times, from what dress I should wear to an event, to are open-toed shoes OK in the winter, to what should I do about this relationship to did you ever want to sell us when we were teenagers? So if she comes to me with some unsolicited words of wisdom every now and again, it's her right. The thing that pisses me off is that nine times out of ten, unsolicited advice or not, she's usually right.

How does she DO that?

“The strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.” -Barbara Kingsolver

You don't get where my mom is today by being a sissy. She's skydived. She's whitewater rafted. She's spelunked. She's rappelled. She's hiked. She's biked. She's parasailed. She's shot a gun. She's worn a toga. And that's just been in the past 20 years or so. But that probably doesn't hold a candle to the courage she's had to have being the mother of four children. The ups and downs. The successes and failures. The huge missteps and bad choices. And all she could do is sit back and watch. And be there. And she was.

"If you have a mom, there is nowhere you are likely to go where a prayer has not already been." -Robert Brault

My mom's big on prayer. HUGE. I think at one point in each of her kids' lives, she pretty much gave us up to God. But her main spiritual contact point is the Virgin Mary. You know, because she was a mom, too. And God knows, if there was any mother who had it rough, it was Mary. So I guess my mom assumes that she "gets it". And even though our childhood antics were often met with my mom exasperating, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, save souls!" I think Mary is pretty sympathetic of what my mom has gone through over the years.

“Mothers of teenagers know why animals eat their young."

I couldn't find what comic or prolific writer penned this phrase, so I'm suspicious that it was in fact my mother. Four kids, four bouts of teenage angst, each one probably more drama-filled than the last. It never occurred to me why my mom would often take baths at 2:00 in the afternoon. That is, until I had kids. And I suspect that like me, she smuggled a bottle of wine in there as well. I certainly would not have blamed her.

I don't know when it happened, maybe right around the time I got married, or perhaps when I became a mom. But suddenly, I saw my mother as not the adversary I had made her out to be, but an ally. Someone who only wanted the best for me. Someone I owed more than I could ever repay. Someone who still - after everything I had put her through - wanted me as a part of her life. And I felt the same way.

After everything my mom and I have been through in my 44 years on this earth, she is the one I turn to. With good news. With bad news. With problems. With questions. She's the first person I think of to call when something good - or bad - happens. Why? Because I know she will truly, truly be happy for me. Or be sad for me. Or help me. Or just comfort me. Who knew that I would depend on her so much for so long?

"A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts." -Washington Irving

Right back atcha, Mom. And yes, I do have two heroes. And you're one of them. I love you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The best years of our lives are....

Apparently, the 80's.

No, not the 1980's (although a few of those years rank right up there with me). YOUR 80's. For realsies.

In an article on the Time NewsFeed, a study by the American National Academy of Sciences has found that the mental state of well-being that's associated with youth gradually abandons us as we live through adulthood, hitting rock bottom in our mid-40s. But later, things get better, and our mood probably peaks at the ripe age of 85.

I don't know about that. I'd say my 40's has been probably the BEST decade of my life so far, just like my mom said. And if she's any indication, it's only going to get better from here.

Here's a link to the article. Read it, then tell me what you think. So far, what's been the best decade of your life? And do you think your 80's will be your "maximum level of cheerfulness and optimism"?

The Best Years of Our Lives

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sucker punch

People wonder why I'm a pessimist - or what I like to call myself, a "realist".

See, every time things are going OK, I can never relax and think, "Wow. I'm so lucky that things are going my way! Woo hoo! I'm livin' large!" Instead I think, "Shoot. When's the shoe going to drop? When's the sky going to fall? I know I have it coming..."

That's not really pessimism, is it? It's more like the whole "hope for the best and prepare for the worst". Or maybe it's more like, "Hope for the best but don't want it too much because if you do you'll just wonder when all that bestness is going to crash and burn into a charred pool of worstness."

OK, now THAT'S pessimism.

I guess the best way to describe life is this: "Shit happens." Because that's what life is all about. Shit happening. Day in, and day out, shit happens. Good shit. Bad shit. Random shit. Unfair shit. Stuff we don't deserve shit. Stuff we totally had coming shit. Shit OUT OF NOWHERE.

Like a sucker punch. A sucker punch from God.

I hate it when I get one of these. I hate it about as much as I hate surprises, latex balloons, being tickled and people who chew with their mouths open. But again, shit happens. And there's not a lot I or anyone else can do about it.

You know how this scene plays out. You're going about your normal, mediocre life, doing what you do, completely oblivious to what is about to transpire. (That's the windup.) Then, there's that "I can't believe this is happening" or "I am not hearing this right" or "This is all just a dream" feeling. Then your eyes start darting around, as if you think if you can just focus on something, everything that's going on around you will suddenly make sense. After that, you see that people are talking and their mouths are moving but all you hear is "blah, blah, blah" and there's this kind of rushing sound in your head - like waves on the beach only much less cool. (That's the punch.) Then you realize that you're on the spot and you need to keep your composure, so while half of you is trying to keep from screaming and throwing things, the other half is trying to channel some type of Lamaze-type breathing to calm your ass down. (That's the wind being knocked out of you.) Then finally, when everybody's gone and you're alone, the pain really hits you, and you cry. You cry and you cry and you cry. And until you really can really wrap your arms around it, you alternate between crying and feeling numb. Not knowing what to think. Not knowing what to feel. And worst of all, not knowing what to do. (That's that agonizing pain as you lie writhing on the ground waiting for it to subside.)

We've all been there at one time or another. And I really don't have any advice other than this. First of all, if the sucker punch is about you directly? Then by all means, take the time to make it about you. That's fair. Cry, stay in bed for a couple of days, eat ice cream out of the carton, don't shower. Whatever it takes.

But if it's about someone else and it just somehow affects you, for God's sakes, don't make it about you. Remember - they got punched harder than you did. Don't waste time thinking about how it will affect YOUR life, or what you're going to do now that THIS happened to SOMEONE ELSE. Don't be that stinking selfish. You're allowed to be sad, and to feel helpless, and you need to grant yourself that for a little while. But when that time is up, you need to figure out what you can do. How you can help. What they will need. And acknowledge the fact that while this news may affect your life, it's probably changing someone else's in a way much greater than you can imagine.

And even though you're still reeling from God's blow, pray. Always, always pray.