Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Push-ups, sit-ups and planks... oh my!

So, I have this friend. From high school. I mean, I knew him in high school. Then suddenly, 25 some-odd years later, he and a gazillion other peopleIknewfromhighschool show up on Facebook and KABOOM - instant reunion.

Except now, it's gone too far.
This is not me.
At the beginning of the year, he started this 2012 Push-up/Sit-up/Plank Challenge. The jist of it is, you do one or a combination of push-ups, sit-ups, and planks each day for 365 days. Oh, wait. Did I mention - you increase them incrementally by day. So on January 1, you're doing one push-up and one sit-up, and holding your planks for one second. On January 31 (today), you're doing 31 push-ups, 31 sit-ups, and holding each plank for 31 seconds. I know, right?

And of course, all my fit and cool high school friends are on it like white on rice. So I'm down with it, too. Because hey, I'm fit. These people haven't seen me for 10 years - and most of my pictures on Facebook are from the waist up. Sure. I got this.

Let me explain this challenge a little more. On second thought, let me just list "The Rules" as penned by my friend's friend, my other high school friend, another ridiculously fit (and smart) cross country coach (and physics teacher)  who posts pictures of him smiling and waving as he finishes his third triathlon of the day and whose favorite quote is  "Attack by day. Attack by night. Attack to the limits of human endurance and then attack again." George Patton. Suck it, wimps.

Anyway, The Rules, as posted on the 2012 Push-up/Sit-up/Plank Challenge Facebook page:

1. You can choose sit-ups, push-ups, planks, any two of these, or all three for the Major Award. (AK note: I have yet to learn what this "Major Award" is. A puppy? A new car? Is it FRAGEEELAY???)

2. The in-house competition acronym is SJC for Steve Jones Challenge, named for the founder.

3. The official name is: 2012 Push-Up/Sit-Up/Plank Challenge. Please use the official name in all press releases. (AK note: Because I write waaaaaay better than I exercise.)

4. Plancks would have been waay cooler. (AK note: That's a physics thing. I had to Google it.)

5. At the end of the day, either you did or you didn't. (AK note: I didn't.)

6. Always do. (AK note: **hangs head in shame**)

7. Full range of motion is encouraged and always lauded. (AK note: This constitutes making it up off the floor, correct?)

8. Never think about the next day. Focus on today. (AK note: Welcome to how I live my life.)

9. Never doubt. (AK note: I'm not sure about this one.)

10. Your butt is never allowed to go above your shoulder blades. Don't do this during exercise either. (AK note: This is VERY good advice.)

11. It never gets easier; you just do more. To put it another way: “The SJC is like fighting a gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired.” (AK note: Also good advice when fighting teenagers.)

12. Harden up. See rule 13.

13. You are tougher than you think. See rule 12.

14. If you complete a day when you are sick you are a badass. (AK note: I don't get this. It's like saying, "If you go to work with pneumonia, you're going to get a promotion. Or die.")

15. The later in the day it gets; the more likely it is that you won’t do it. See rule 5. (AK note: Surprisingly, the reverse of this is actually true. By the end of the day, I'm riddled with guilt. In the morning, not so much.)

16. If the SJC was easy, we'd have more members. Congratulations, you're among the few. (AK note: Obviously, not a charter member.)

17. People who never fail are people who never try anything great. (AK note: My life is GREAT!)

18. The SJC is always enjoyable. Sometimes, though, the joy doesn’t come until the end. (AK note: Still waiting for that "joy".)

19. Breathe. In AND out. (AK note: Too many things to remember. Ixnay on the eathingbray.)

Comments on this 2012 Push-up/Sit-up/Plank Challenge Facebook page include lame stuff like, "Is it a bad sign that I'm now perusing the Internet for different ways to do push-ups?" (That's from our fearless leader, SJ) Or, "Taking the day off. Had a biopsy on two nodules over my thyroid and my neck is a little sore. Will try and do double tomorrow."  I'm tempted to reply, "Ate a Reuben and fries for dinner tonight - retaining too much water to even make it down to the floor." And then this one kills me: "I am still in and happily finding the push-ups are getting easier! And, I've added a new goal for myself: to run at least one mile for every day of the year. I had to play catch up after taking the first week in January off, but I am up to 18 miles on day 19. Any one interested in joining me?"

My response? This photo--->

BUT, I AM doing them. Most days than not. I mean, it really doesn't take all that much time. And honestly, I can do planks until the cows come home. And sit-ups aren't really a problem. Push-ups, on the other hand, are an issue. I've been breaking them up into sets for, like, two weeks now. But I think I've figured it out. It's not that I don't have any arm strength. It's just that the ratio between my upper body strength and my lower body girth is ridiculously skewed. If push-ups could be done with my legs instead of my arms, I'd be golden. GOLDEN, BABY.

I'll try to stick with it. I guess I should have made more of an effort in January, and not pick it up, say, in May, which by my calculations will be 122 push-ups, 122 sit-ups, and two minutes of planks.

This had better be worth it, or I'm not even going to consider showing up at the next high school reunion.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Shock Rock"... What a CROCK.

Creepy masks. Funky costumes. Profanity. Makeup. Fake blood. Satanic symbols. Moshpits. And that's not even the tip of the iceberg. Public nudity and urination. Simulated sex acts and killings. Defamation of women. Defamation of the Bible.

If you can't figure it out from the name, "shock rock" is basically rock music - and I use that term lightly - combined with theatrics for the purposes of shocking the audience/listeners/moms within earshot.

Last night I watched a program with my 14-year old son called "Metal Evolution". This week's episode focused on the history and background of this incredibly inane genre of music, and I was forced to bite my lip on a number of occasions as my son shouted out various band member's names as they appeared on the screen like it was Norm walking into Cheers. Names like "Lemmy" (who is so popular that nearly everyone knows that's Lemmy Kilmister from  that trippy band Motörhead, "Joey" (Joey Jordison from Slipknot, (RIP bassist Paul Gray, who died in 2010 from an overdose. SHOCK!), "Oderus" (Oderus Urungus from that cooky dress-up band GWAR) and let's not forget Brian Warner, aka Marilyn Manson. And I'm not even going to link to these parasites - it just feeds their depravity.

Honestly, I could write volumes on my intense disgust of these bands, but that proclamation only seems to fuel their fire. Here's what I see. Take Slipknot for example. They all wear these really crazy masks, from a clown to some sort of weird face cast with spikes sticking out of it. Their vocalist says, "It's our way of becoming more intimate with the music. It's a way for us to become unconscious of who we are and what we do outside of music." But then last night on this Metal Evolution show, the Clown guy says, "It's for every kid who listens to us who feels lost in life - like he has no identity and struggles to fit in. I grew up in an alcoholic family, so this is my way of masking my pain." I look at my son: "Do you feel lost in life? No identity?" Son: "No." Me: "You don't come from an alcoholic family. You have a good family. We're sitting here on a Saturday night snuggled under the blankets in front of the fire eating popcorn and watching Slipknot. How much better does it get?" Son: no reply.

The way I see it, these are misguided, whiny, self-serving, judgmental narcissists who have gotten lucky enough to get their mug and their trashy messages on TV and radio in order to infiltrate and pollute the immature and completely volatile minds of young teenagers. 

Oh, wait. They have a message.

Enter Alice Cooper, the grandfather, if you will, of shock rock. What he did back in the 70's today makes him look like Karen Carpenter. And I must say, if I have to pick a favorite shock rocker, and I hope I never do, it would probably be him. Anyway, he starts explaining the rationale behind this shock rock. When Marilyn Manson rips pages from the Bible onstage, he's not propagating destroying the Bible. He's trying to get across his issues with Christianity. When Slipknot "sings" about nihilism and killing, they're really talking about how society is singlehandedly killing itself. Oh, and it's really all just for fun. This Clown guy? He lives in Iowa with his wife and four children. How proud they must all be of their daddy when he comes back to the cornfield for the weekend.

Oh, wait, NOW I get it! How silly of me! What better way to make the world a better place than by dressing up, performing lewd acts on stage and screaming lyrics about killing your mother to a crowd of kids you affectionately call "Maggots"! Kind of a "hair of the dog that bit ya", is that it?

And an aside here. Remember back when Tipper Gore and her motley crew were crusading for that "Parental Advisory - Explicit Lyrics" on any albums or CDs that fit the criteria? Shock bands all over the word THANK you, Tippie, because you just made those bands that much more palatable to your young influential brood.

Here's my opinion, and I'm sure it can be picked apart in a myriad of ways. I get that music is an expressive art. I get that there is Freedom of Speech. I get that these bands will basically argue that they are only expressing their personal, political and societal views utilizing drama and song, kind of like Glee on meth. But here's the deal. IT'S MY KID. And I don't like how you profess your views. And I don't like your masks. And I don't like your screaming. And I don't like your lyrics. And I don't like your message. But you have an edge on me. You're bigger than me. You are everywhere. You're on the radio. You're on YouTube. You're on my kid's iPod. You're his ringtone. You're at his friend's house. You're in his school. And I want you OUT. NOW. Before you do any more damage.

Unfortunately, it's not as easy as "Well, don't let your child listen to that garbage!" Um, do you have a teenager? Can you police him 24 hours a day? And if you forbid it, doesn't it make it that much more palatable?

What I'd like is a little help here. I can go into a whole other post about how we as a society have allowed the entertainment industry to back us into a corner - to push the envelope of decency, morals and how far they streeeeeeeeetch that whole Freedom of Speech to include "whatever the hell you want". Somebody is misinterpreting that one BIG TIME. And I want to do something about it.

I may sound like a fuddy duddy. I'm sure my parents didn't like my Van Halen, Def Leppard and Aerosmith from back in the 80's. But at least the worst most of those lyrics consisted of was dancing the night away, jumping or at the very worst, being hot for teacher. I'd like to think that I've tried to follow my son's musical tastes with an open mind - at least trying to learn the moral behind the madness. But I've come to the conclusion that there is none. And it pisses me off.

Attention shock rockers: Take your screaming, violet, foul-mouth angst and put it back in your basement. Or your parent's garage. Or that rock you crawled out from under. I don't need you yelling it into my kid's brain. And to the powers that be that think this is "fine" and that they're free to do whatever they want? I hope you're not around to see how this country is run when all these little "Maggots" grow up. It's going to be a shocking world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mom Guilt

You know it, you've felt it. You can't get away from it. I don't know of any mom who hasn't experienced Mom Guilt at some point in her parenting career - me included.

And I'm one of the lucky ones.

Whenever I feel as if I'm dissing my parental duties (note: these are completely different than the  areas I'm backing off of from my last post), I think about the moms who really have it rough. The unemployed moms who can't provide at all for their kids. The moms who have to work two and three jobs in order to make ends meet. The moms with health problems or the moms taking care of other family members with health problems. Pretty much any mom whose "momness" balance is so upset that the ratio of parenting to everything else is ridiculously skewed.

I can't imagine how they feel.

I was a stay-at-home mom for about seven years. Not necessarily by choice - but I'm thankful I got to do it. I wondered if I would have what it takes to stay home all day long with kids. With a husband in the military and an odd work schedule to boot, my employment outside the home just wasn't in the cards. And as much as I someday wanted to have a career, I wasn't planning on getting divorced and being shoved back into the workforce wondering what my 5 and 9 year old were going to do outside the hours of school. And holidays. And breaks. And summer.

But I digress.

As a SAHM, there wasn't much guilt. Only the pressure to perform. To take that SAHM job description to the next level. To be America's Next Top PTC Mom. To make all the birthday cakes from scratch - using diagrams found on the internet and lots of fondant. To schedule playdates and educational outings and play games that would stimulate their physical and mental growth. To limit TV and other electronics and make sure that they had enough outside time. To cook nutritional meals, provide healthy snacks, and read at least 30 minutes a day to them. I rarely had a babysitter, and if I did, it was family.

I loved having a career, and I missed having a career. But when I first went back, it wasn't quite the same. I didn't feel as focused; as driven. My kids were always in the back of my mind. Were they OK? Did I pack their lunch? Did they finish their homework? Were those just sniffles or the first signs of something worse? Was whoever taking care of them making sure they were safe? And entertained yet educated? And more importantly, did they wonder where I was? I was careful not to take on too much work. Or to be too outgoing or share too many ideas that may lead to some kind of career progression. I wanted to work, then be done and go home. My two lives just didn't play well together.

But I was lucky. Number One, that I got a job in my profession (writing), and Number Two, that my profession can be done, in part, at home. So I didn't have to be gone as much as many career moms. But my kids were spoiled by having a SAHM, and the summer days they had to go to camp ("WE HATE CAMP!") instead of spending lazy days by the pool with their friends, made me feel very torn.

As they've gotten older, it's become a little easier - probably because it's become more routine. And as they grow more responsible and self-sufficient, I have been able to settle in better to that career mode from long ago. I absolutely love my job and the people with whom I work. And I'm starting to get that itch. That itch to have my career back, instead of just a job that I go to for a few hours a day while my kids are at school. I'm starting to be able to dive in to work and (I admit) not think about my kids until it's time to go pick them up, unless there is that dreaded call from the school office. I'm starting to have ideas. To wonder how I'm going to grow in this job. To take a vested interest in where I'm working.

Then there are days like the past few, where work has been crazy, and it's been necessary to put in more hours than my kids are used to. And the guilt creeps back in. Grandparents and friends have to be called at the last minute to pick up kids from school. Kids have to be informed that someone else is picking them up, or they're supposed to ride the bus home somewhere else, or they'll be getting to school via some other mom. Homework has gone unsigned, lunches have been forgotten, and "why have you been working so much?" has been uttered more than once. It's agonizing.

And I don't even have it that bad. There are moms (and dads) at my job who are working far more than me. Late, late hours. Traveling. Working at home while the kids are off somewhere else in the house. That's not the norm for me. But it happens enough to make this single parent cringe just a little bit.

But I once again struggle for balance. Parenting is still Number One, though not quite as intensely as it was five or ten years ago. I'm still sacrificing career for motherhood to an extent, and that's fine - most days. It sucks leaving my co-workers when I know I could easily put in a few more hours in the office. It also sucks trying to explain to the kids why I wasn't there when they got home.

I'll have plenty of years to work as long and as hard as I want - or am needed - hopefully in this same job. (Hell, at the rate of my retirement plan, I'll be working for the rest of my life.) The kids won't always be kids, and they're not going to "need" me the way they need me now for that much longer. I never want to look back and wish that I had spent more time with them. I may have regrets in my career, but they are no match for the regrets that I would have knowing that I missed out on the part of their life that I was SUPPOSED to be there for. My kids are already going to look back on their childhood and say, "Well, my parents divorced when I was.....". The last thing I want is for them to have to add "...and my mom was never home because she worked all the time." So I'll try to make these long work weeks few and far between, and try to straddle this teeter-totter for as long as I have to, or as long as I can. Whichever comes first.

Monday, January 9, 2012

I've decided to quit parenting.

OK, that's an exaggeration.

In my head, though, I FEEL as if I'm quitting parenting. Because I'm supposed to be SuperMom. The woman who can make a grilled cheese for breakfast (because that's the only thing he'll eat), pack lunches to hopefully make up for the lousy breakfast, check on, help with and sign homework, drive to tumbling class and "ooh and ahh" over the latest flip or twist, find Vans shoes on sale because he likes them even though I think name brands are silly, create a dinner out of nothing (tonight it was mozzarella sticks, apples with the peels cut off and cinnamon raisin toast), praise the good stuff, discipline the bad stuff, teach what I know, love what I've got and remember to unload big and little boy pockets so things don't go bump in the laundry.

And I'll probably continue to do those things - like all moms do. But thanks to years of therapy, lots of soul searching and some long discussions with another SuperMom of four children (my mom), I've decided that my New Year's resolution is to BACK THE HELL OFF. Back off from being that helicopter parent (yes, I've denied that title for years, but after seeing how other parents roll, I think I'm definitely flying high), back off from being a human shield from any and every disappointment that my children may encounter, back off from trying to ensure that there are no failures, no wrong decisions, no repercussions.

Because in doing those things, I'm failing them as a parent. And I hate to fail. So I quit.

It's time to realize that in trying to rescue my kids from any possible bad thing that could happen to them, I'm actually not helping them set themselves up to be adults. Think about it. The person you are today is, in part, due to how you were raised. But what really shaped you is what you discovered through trial and error. The decisions you made - good and bad. The trials you went through that made you stronger. The effort you had to expel - mentally,  physically and spiritually - to find your way out of any given situation. And the wisdom you gained by the whole process.

So I'm backing off. My mom calls it "tough love". (Tougher on me than them, I think.) It's not always catching them when they fall. It's putting in your two cents, then stepping aside and letting them make their own decision, regardless of whether or not I think it's what I would do, or what they should do. It's knowing the consequences and biting your tongue and letting them experience it for themselves.

I'm still trying to gauge when to back off and when to step up. When to sit on the side of the pool, when to dip my toe in, and when to plunge feet-first into the deep end, life preserver in hand. I think it's on a case-by-case basis. Recently I intervened in my son's school schedule - adding a class that I, his counselor and teacher thought he should take. It was for his benefit. It made sense. It would help him in the long run. He would be good at it and meet new friends. It would all be fine.

He didn't want to do it. He liked his schedule just fine. He didn't care what it would do for his future. It didn't make sense to him. He didn't want to meet new people.

Instead of forcing the issue (which I would have normally done), I sat him down and said, "This is why I think you should do this. This is why I think it might be detrimental if you don't do this. This is why I think you don't want to do this. Now it's up to you." He changed his schedule back - to my dismay. But somehow, knowing that I voiced my opinion and did the whole "what's best for you" speech acted kind of like a disclaimer in my favor. Not in an "I told you so" way, but in a "next time think of this" way. We'll see.

My mom equated this "tough love" to a saying she has hanging on her wall. I think I gave it to her years ago, before I was a parent. I either thought it was cool, or was trying to tell her to back the hell off. I don't remember. Ironically, when I asked her to send me the verbiage, she mentioned that it is attributed to Erma Bombeck, one of my favorite writers:

"Children are like kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you're both breathless - they crash - you add a longer tail  -  they hit the roof top - you pluck them out of the spout - you patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they'll fly! Finally they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out and with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant and somehow you know that it won't be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that bound you together and soar as it was meant to soar - free and alone." My mom says she likes to add the line, "Still you stand by and wait - just in case they need rescue from a kite-eating tree or a fierce wind."

I hate flying kites. I'm always afraid something is going to go wrong - like the string will break and the kite will sail off into the trees, out of my control - and stuck - with me standing there and not being able to do anything about it. On the other hand, I'm not sure what good it would do if the kite got stuck while I was still hanging on to the string - not much I can do there, either, other than shake it in frustration and mutter some select curse words and vow never to fly another kite again.

And the big stuff? The small, less life-changing decisions are hard enough. I don't know how I'll handle letting them really face the music for their decisions versus trying to make it all better. I know there could be some bad juju that comes down the line. So I'm starting small.  But if I make every decision for them, and bail them out of any negative situation, they'll never learn. They'll never be strong. They'll never know the depth of their consequences, and the agony of making the hard decisions.

And... they'll never leave the house.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tales from the waiting room

So I'm sitting here in the surgery waiting room at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center with my family. My mom is in her third hour of surgery, under the careful and hopefully precise direction of Dr. LoCoco and the da Vinci robot, which we have affectionately named "Leo".

We've been in this waiting room before. Nine months ago, we were here when my mom had a cancerous kidney removed. Today, it's a hysterectomy and removal of cancer on her omentum, the lining of the stomach. While the surgery is major, I worry more about the six months of chemo that is ahead for her.

But right now, I don't want to think about that. Every time I'm here, I feel like I just walked onto a movie set. If I'm on the elevator with a surgeon, dressed in his scrubs and little cap with a mask hanging off his face, it's like I'm face to face with a celebrity. I see the nurses rushing around, in and out of patient's rooms, and I'm amazed at how they can do this day after day and still treat each patient like a human being and remember that though it's the norm for the nurse, it's most likely not the norm for the patient.

As I navigate the halls of this huge place, I peek in rooms (even though I shouldn't). I see people in obvious pain and wonder how their lives have been changed by what has put them in this place. I sit in this waiting room and see a range of people - those who have obviously have been down this road before and those that look scared stiff. I see families congregating (like mine) and passing the time talking, on laptops or cellphones. Right now, my sister is on her phone, I am on my laptop and my brother and dad are each on their iPads. I wonder what has brought each of these people to this place and if the patients they are waiting for know how worried those in this room are, praying everything goes as planned. As we go past the third hour of what was supposed to be a two hour surgery for my mom, I think we're all getting a little uncomfortable.

My mom is the first surgery of the day. Dr. LoCoco has two more after this. My dad just commented that he'd hate to be the third surgery of the day. I honestly think that surgeons are cut from a different mold (no pun intended). I know several people who have the life and work ethic that surgeons do, and I sometimes wish that I could jump into their lives for just a day to see how truly different their brains work. I think it would be fascinating.

Right now, I'm just thankful that he and "Leo" are working together, hopefully taking the extra time to make sure they get every bit of cancer that has invaded my mother's body. And I say a prayer for her as well as all the other people in this waiting room and in this hospital, and for all of the staff here that live this "norm" for all of us who don't each and every day.