Monday, October 29, 2012

Is this the hard part?

It started when my son was just a baby. There I sat; bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived and somewhat stunned at the mountain of work I had just made for myself. Among all the comments about how darling he was and how I should cherish this time and how they grow up so fast was one I won’t ever forget: 

“This isn’t even the hard part.” 

That little gem of information came from my friends and family members who had older children, and the sound of those words reminded me of one of those horror movies where the girl walks downstairs in the dark with like a kitchen soup ladle in her hand to ward off the evil demonic presence below. The audience is screaming at her NOT to go down there, but she’s completely clueless and goes anyway. You know the rest.

When my precocious son entered the terrible two’s and three’s (yes, we had at least two blessed years of this), I thought to myself, “Ah, yes. They were right. That wasn’t the hard part. THIS is the hard part.” To which my sister and others who were so much more experienced than I replied, “Nope. Not yet.” 


Seriously. Now I get it. And I’m not even sure if I’m completely there yet. But now when I see friends or acquaintances frustrated with their small children it’s almost like I feel the need to condescendingly pat them on the head and say, “There, there. Don’t stress yourself so much. This isn’t even the hard part.”

I am in the throes of the teenage years – and I don’t think we’ve even peaked yet. That will probably come in the months following him getting his driver’s license. But we’re close, I think. Wondering if he’s really at where he says he’s at? Check. Finding out that he’s not immune to peer influence? Check. Talking to those closest to you about how to handle the situation? Check. Googling what others have done? Check. Tears and more tears? Check. Sleepless nights? Check. Wondering if you’ve instilled enough values and morals in your son so he makes good choices and doesn’t completely screw up what could be an incredibly bright future? Check. 
Ironically, the best advice that I have received on how to attempt to communicate with my teenager has been from my nephew, who has “been there, done that” and turned himself around to become quite a remarkable young man with a good head on his shoulders (though he’s still kinda searching, but hey, who isn’t?) 

His mom (my sister), has gone to the ends of the earth and back for this kid and was in tougher places than I’ve been in over the years. She has loved unconditionally, agonized perpetually and most importantly, has never given up on him. That’s not to say that she didn’t let him sink or swim – which you have to do at some point for their own good. You can’t rescue them forever or they’ll never learn how to get themselves out of a jam. But that’s another blog. 

While my sister has been instrumental in helping me through a time in my life that she remembers in hers like it was yesterday, here are some gems of advice from “the other side” - my 20-something year old nephew whose words, during the past couple of weeks, have made a great deal of difference in how I handled a tough teenage issue. He says:

“At his age, he is forming his beliefs and they are taking solid foundation but not necessarily a permanent one, so understand that while you may not agree, if you meet him with resistance and disappointment, it will revive the rebel child mentality. Meet him with understanding and a desire to educate with both factual and moral guidance."

So getting mad at him and putting the gauntlet down was not going to be an option, as much as I felt that it was the “right parenting choice.” I could rant and rave all I wanted, but all it was really going to do was make my son even less communicative with me and even more rebellious. Duly noted and it goes back to my philosophy that if you want to get someone to pick up what you’re puttin’ down, it’s all in the presentation.

“As much as you may or may not want to know what he’s doing, you want him to feel that you want to be involved without judgment. Otherwise you’ll be having reactive conversations rather than proactive ones."

A reactive versus a proactive conversation. When did he get so wise? He’s exactly right. Hopefully I’ve instilled in my son enough morals and values that his conscious is coming into play when he’s faced with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. My job right now is to continue to guide and educate; not make charts with stickers for every time he makes a good choice. However, I did offer this to him: “If you are EVER in a situation you want to get out of but don’t know how, CALL ME. I will be the bad guy that ‘makes’ you come home. I will get you out of there so you save face with your buddies. KNOW THIS.”

“The good news is, you’re at the heart of the beast. All your years of parenting have trained you for the next four. Soon he will be a functioning, responsible young adult but not before you go through a few more years of the hardest stuff yet. The best advice I can give is help; don’t control. Guide with hard love and trust your gut.”

So that’s it. The years up until now, as challenging as they have been, were simply training. So in essence, it’s been like getting ready for a marathon.  I’ve been running a little farther each day – had setbacks and a few injuries along the way – all in preparation for this 26.2 mile race that will push me to my physical and mental limits and leave me exhausted but hopefully, incredibly proud and feeling like an accomplished parent with a son who hopefully feels the same way not far behind.

Until then, I’m still in training. Hard love. Tough love. I have tried to make that my mantra. I try so diligently to parent with a heart, yet with somewhat of an iron fist. OK, maybe more like aluminum. But I’ve said it over and over again - it is not my job to be his buddy. But I also don’t want to be his adversary. I want to be the one who, when asked about me later in life says, “My mom was tough on me. She had to be. But thank God she was. And she loved me fiercely.” 

If that is in fact the outcome, “the hard part” – whenever that ultimately comes – will have been well worth it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Two Steps Forward... One Step Back (or Halfway to the Finish Line)

So I'm officially halfway through my training program, "5 Weeks to a 5K" and it's definitely been no walk in the park.

To recap (which rhymes with "knee cap", which I'll get to later), I had an epiphany that I would prove to myself that, at nearly 46 years old, I could do something physical I'd never done before, which is run. Specifically, run a 5K. Because I'm not a runner. I'm an exerciser, but running has never been my "thing".

I was a bit lost at first, I'll admit. Most of the 5K training programs involved running for a couple of minutes, walking for a couple of minutes, repeat. Once I start running, I want to keep running. Stopping to walk to me is only an invitation to fail. Luckily, a friend of mine sent me a customized, five-week training program - in SPREADSHEET form, no less, outlining each day and what it would entail. Always stretching before and after, with miles varying from 1 to 3.5; rest days accounted for.

It was just what I needed. A schedule. I followed it religiously, checking off each day with a red Sharpie and a sense of accomplishment. My endurance was improving, as was my pace. I went from a 12 minute mile to - on a good day running without the dog - a 10 minute mile or better.

Until what I like to call "The Knee Incident".

I have bad knees; this is no secret. When I felt the first twinge behind my left kneecap, I decided to trade in my Payless Champion tennis shoes for some sweet fancy-schmanzy Asics. Truth be told, I could feel no difference between my $29.99 Payless shoes ($24.99 with coupon) and my $60 Asics.

The pain persisted. Walking down stairs was painful; kneeling on it agonizing. So feeling no relief but still adhering to my schedule, I consulted Dr. Google, and based on my symptoms discovered I have what's known as Runner's Knee.

RUNNER'S KNEE??? A part of me swelled with pride. I have a running injury? Cool! That makes me a real runner, right? Once that little ego boost died down, I realized that this could be serious and potentially race-threatening if I didn't address it now. So I did what they said - iced it, elevated it, rested it, and, after thoroughly researching types and brands, bought a knee brace. The hardest part was the resting, since I felt that each day I didn't run according to schedule was one day of improvement lost.

I found a great blog, Running on Empty, with a very informative post on Runner's Knee. Written in 2011, it was still getting comments, so I posted my own and received an immediate response from the author, who said basically, REST IT, FOOL, OR YOU WON'T MAKE THE RACE.

So I have been. And today, halfway through my five week training, I ran 3.87 miles. In the rain. And the wind. My pace wasn't great but the endurance was there. And I think I'll take endurance over speed any day.

Last weekend, I had a lovely visit with my friend Norma. She is for whom I'm running this 5K, as it is to raise money for lung cancer research, which she is living with. She's doing well, and in the hours we talked I gained the inspiration I needed to keep going no matter what setbacks are thrown my way.

And speaking of keeping going, I'm $20 short of my goal to raise $500 for lung cancer research. I am AMAZED at the support I have gotten and I cannot tell you how every donation has helped me put one foot in front of the other to accomplish this goal of mine. Not a lofty one for most, but a pretty big deal to me. So if you're so inclined, throw a couple dollars into the kitty for me - and for Norma.

My Birthday 5K: LUNGevity Foundation

Next stop: My 5K. On my 46th birthday. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Navigating “The Friend Zone”

I read a number of blogs and on occasion they hit me with the same reason I write my blogs: that thought that someone else out there thinks EXACTLY the way I do so therefore I can’t be that incredibly screwed up.

Case in point: The Friend Zone – a blog post written by 21-year old college student Jamie Cattanach that recently appeared on the Well Written Woman website. You can read her post HERE and come back or just read on and you’ll get the gist of it. 

Still with me? OK. Here goes. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Guy meets girl (or girl meets guy). For whatever reason – maybe it’s a common interest, mutual friend, parallel careers – they hit it off, but not necessarily in a romantic way. They joke around, share stories, maybe even go to movies or buy each other a few beers. To an outsider, they may look like a couple, but to them, they are of the same gender – allegedly.

So how does this happen, this platonic perpetuation between two people of the opposite sex? What separates a budding relationship from “you’d make a great friend even though you happen to not be a girl/guy like me”? And is it truly possible to have one of these where the man and the woman are both on the same page? 

According to Billy Crystal, it’s not possible. This scene from When Harry Met Sally explains it better than I could:

To summarize, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way. No man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive. Even if the man finds the woman unattractive, he still wants to bang her.” (That’s Billy talking, not Meg Ryan. She is looking mortified and slightly thunderstruck at the thought that all of her male friends really want to sleep with her.)

I am of the opinion that it is possible to have friends of the opposite sex with no ulterior motives; however, these friendships are probably pretty unique. Most of my friends in high school were male and I liked it that way. Males weren’t gossipy, they liked sports, they had way less drama and I always felt like I was being looked out for. Even when I had a boyfriend, I had male friends (which in some cases didn’t sit well with my boyfriend, which I can understand, since some of his girl “friends” were very attractive and very single and that didn’t sit with ME very well.)  But I figured that my male friends were truly my friends because they knew I had a boyfriend yet still wanted to hang out with me. I can’t imagine they were hanging around waiting for me to end my relationship so they could come in and pick up the pieces – especially since I have ended relationships and never saw any of my male buddies rushing in to fill the void. 

Conversely, I can look at a few of my friends and CLEARLY see that the guy or girl they are friends with is head over heels for them and they just don’t see it, so maybe I’m missing something on my end. On one hand, I’d hate to wreck a friendship; on the other hand, hey, look how Harry and Sally ended up. And don’t they say the best relationships start as friends? 

I know having friends of the opposite sex can get even more taboo if there is a marriage involved. I am friends with one of my best friends’ husbands and I feel lucky to have him as a male friend. She is my primary friend, and I would never tell him something I hadn’t told her, but he does offer another side of things, from business to relationships to just basic male human behavior. Maybe I assume that friendship is “safe” because he is married and his wife is one of my dearest friends. However, I have heard horror stories about married men and “female friends” and married women and “male friends” so I can see the other side. No worries here, though. 

As much as I think that having friends of the opposite sex is an extremely rewarding opportunity that can offer an entirely different perspective on things, I understand that of the male/female friendships out there, probably very few are without one side (or perhaps both) wishing it was “more” (I’m talking two single people here). And that to me seems sad. It goes back to my wish that at times people would stop pussyfooting around each other and just say what they feel and get over it – life’s too short to wonder what could have been if we would have just spoken up. That goes for friendships, relationships or marriages.

So what’s your take on this? Is it possible for men and women to be “just friends”? And do you think there’s usually one side that’s more vested in it than the other? Let me know how you navigate the Friend Zone.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Are you in a mood?

Someone - perhaps one of my children - said to me the other day, "Wouldn't it be great if we had mood cars? You know, like mood rings, only it's our car. So everyone would know everyone else's mood by just driving around."

I think that would be a fantastically wonderful idea, although I might be a little afraid that my car would perpetually be a dark shade of something for a good portion of the time, given the fact more often than not when I'm behind the wheel I'm late for something.

But what if we take this one step further. What if WE all changed color based on our mood, just like those cool mood rings of the 70's? Would the world be a better place if we all knew up front how we all were feeling? Wouldn't it save a lot of time and energy for those of us who perpetually analyze people trying to figure out what their problem is or why they are the way they are? And for those who never bother to care, it would be evident enough that those of us who do care would be satisfied to know that our emotions were on the table.

I  know, it's confusing. Let me explain. That boss or client or co-worker that always seems to be in a bad mood or upset about something. Maybe he or she isn't feeling well, or struggling through some inner turmoil. Or maybe he or she is just an angry, terrible person. Wouldn't it be great if that person could show up at work a nice shade of navy blue on those days so you could refer to your "mood chart" and conclude that "navy blue" = "exhausted due to lack of sleep from new baby" or "I hate my job and I'm hoping to have an interview any day now"?

Or your boyfriend shows up late for your date sporting a lusty shade of pink. On the outside, it may appear that he's just overwhelmed with love and the anticipation of seeing you. But upon further review of your chart, you see that "pink" = "thinking about someone else and not really that into you." Hurtful? Yes. But helpful nonetheless.

I think this idea would be most beneficial when it comes to my children, namely my teenager, whose range of emotions seems to go from ambivalent to indifferent to just plain vague. Wouldn't it be great if he came in the door purple ("met a girl"), green ("got in trouble at school") or better yet orange ("loving life but don't want to let on to my mom that I'm really happy")?

No longer would anal-retentive, emotionally insecure people like me have to spend countless hours and effort trying to figure out what everyone else is thinking or feeling based on how they're acting. No longer would we need to wonder if we're saying or doing the right thing to either perpetuate those positive emotions or exacerbate the bad.

Maybe it would cause us to have more empathy when we see that the rude check-out clerk is a subtle shade of olive, meaning that she's dealing with tough economic times. Or we'd pass on giving an angry look to the aquamarine man who runs into us with his shopping cart when we realize he just lost his wife and hates grocery shopping alone. Or you finally run into that bright orange friend who hasn't returned your phone calls and you see by looking at her shade that she's not upset with you; rather she's had to take on an extra job and hasn't had time to call.

I'm guessing that wearing one's emotions colored on their skin could perhaps be counterproductive, like when you'd really just like to keep things to yourself. But for those people who are so incredibly hard to read, it would be a true service to those of us trying so hard to figure them out.

I give up - I guess just color me plaid.