Sunday, December 23, 2012

Someone's hand to hold

I say I hate the holidays... and a part of me really, really does. OK, maybe not "hate". How about "dread". I dread the holidays. I dread the impending stress of trying to keep up with the unending, increasingly-expensive wish lists that my kids come up with every year which does not correlate to an increase in my bank account. I dread lugging all the decorations out of storage - and I seem to put up less and less every year.

I dread Christmas cards, which is probably why I haven't sent them in two years. Since I've moved a year or so ago, I receive very few - no one knows my address. I dread seeing my kids get getting older and no longer want to help decorate the tree or make cookies, and ask if they can "hang with their friends" on Christmas Eve.

I want to love the holidays. I want to get back to pulling out all the stops and making it "the best Christmas EVER!" for my kids and me. I want to see the enchantment in their eyes again that makes me want to do all these things. 

But what I really want is someone's hand to hold in church on Christmas Eve.

I mean, it's fine, really. It's the eve of Christmas Eve, and the kids are home (because I told them they have to be - and yes, they're downstairs playing video games.) The Christmas tree is lit, and the football game is on TV. I was lucky enough to spend the evening with friends for some much needed laughs. Tomorrow, I will run. I will prepare dishes to take to my mom and dad's on Christmas Day. I will finish some last-minute wrapping. The boys have been instructed to be home by 3:00 so we can prepare to go to church.

I love church on Christmas Eve, especially since we've outgrown the daytime "Birthday Party for Jesus" service. Now we go to the candelight service, and it's gorgeous and homey and inspiring and beautiful...

...and I just want someone's hand to hold on Christmas Eve.

I used to put my arms around my kids. Now, they shy away. It's embarrassing. I get that. Their faces have lost that enchantment - they're bored and want to know where we're going for dinner. I get it. I was their age once. I remember. I look around at all the other families and try to realize that their picture-perfect holiday attire and arms around each other doesn't mean they're perfect through and through. I tell myself to feel blessed with what I have, and I do. My boys are beautiful. They are my life, even though I am not theirs right now. We're at a weird stage, the boys and me. Too old to hold my hand, but too young to let go.

So I will sit with my handsome boys in a beautiful church and listen to the choir sing "Silent Night" with tears rolling down my face. Tears because I am truly, to-the-end-of-the-moon-and-back grateful for what I do have. Tears because I am so thankful that God is at the helm of this ship. Tears because I struggle to keep the faith that he is steering me in the right direction when I don't know what that direction is.

Tears just because it would be nice to have someone's hand to hold on Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pointing fingers

My thoughts are consumed with the unimaginable and impenetrable grief that the parents of those 20 beautiful babies are going through right now and forevermore. Every time I let myself to go that place, I think of one more thing that those moms and dads will come upon that will be like dousing alcohol on an open wound.  

I think of the next time they do the laundry and see the dirty play clothes of their precocious kids, still smelling of their familiar little boy and little girl scent. The unmade bed with snuggly blankets and bedroom floor littered with toys. The pantry filled with their favorite foods. Tiny coats, hats and boots sitting by the door, waiting to be donned to go outside and play. The playsets in the backyard; swings motionless if only for the slight breeze. The Christmas presents, either hidden away or wrapped and under the tree – never to be opened by their intended young recipient.

That is what first comes to my mind when I let my thoughts turn to the ramifications of the tragedy that happened at a quiet Connecticut elementary school on Friday. 

The stages of reaction are becoming all too familiar. First there is surprise – there is a shooting. No details known. We may say a quick prayer then go on about our day. Then the story unfolds, and the shock, disbelief, grief, sadness, numbness, and general surreal feelings begin to surface. From there, in this day and age of social media, the anger and outrage begins. The debate begins. The struggle to understand and take control of the situation and to find a REASON and a CAUSE and to shout to the world ‘THIS IS WHY THIS HAPPENED’ becomes so powerful that by the end of the day on Friday, heated discussions were taking place all over the Internet. 

On the one hand, of course we should first and foremost think of the victims and their families, and yes, perhaps leave the finger pointing for another day. On the other hand, the time has long past to find a way to stop senseless tragedies like this from happening over and over and over again. The problem is; there is not one easy answer. 

This is a long blog, but I am not going to fill it full of researched statistics. For every statistic providing evidence of one belief there seems to be a counter-statistic to prove the opposite. Getting into a debate with someone who is adamant about concealed carry is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. Telling the parent of a child with a mental illness that mental illness caused this young man to do this horrendous crime is asking for a fight like no other.  But we as a grieving nation struggle to find an answer – to gain control of a situation that we can’t comprehend, can't process and now can’t even prosecute, we need to find a starting point to even begin to figure out how to make this stop.

But at least we’re talking. That’s the first step. And pointing fingers. So let’s point some fingers right now. 

Riddle me this. What is so different about our world now than the world 40 years ago? Yes, I understand that we’ve evolved and changed with technology and new discoveries and all that crap like worlds do. But what have we given up over the past 40 years that maybe we should have held onto a little tighter? I’m not just talking about the tragedy of last Friday, so please don’t think that I’m saying that any or all of these factors below were reasons why this happened. That is not for me to judge, and I’m in no place to do so. But I do see quite a few ideals that seem to be missing from the days gone by when the words “school shooting” or “mall shooting” or “theater shooting” were never, ever, ever, ever uttered. 

First of all, let’s discuss what we’ve slacked off on and start pointing.

The sacrament of marriage
When I was growing up, I didn’t even know anyone divorced. It never occurred to me that it even happened, and certainly not in my family. My parents both lived at home and they were happy and that’s the way it was in my mind. Adults back then had much more respect for the institute of marriage. Sure, divorced happened. But not like today. Not like today when homes are breaking apart with very little regard for the effects it can have on the child. Parents yell and argue – in front of their kids. They have heated custody battles. They talk badly about each other in front of their kids.

Parents now do not shield their children from adult topics like they did when I was young. My parents were somewhat of an enigma – they were the leaders of the household and you did not cross them without serious repercussions. I knew nothing or very little of their financial issues, relationships, and everyday struggles. Today we don’t seem to have any sort of filter around our kids. We make them extensions of ourselves – our “buddies”. We try to be friends with them instead of raising them to respect us and follow the rules that we have implemented because their little brains are not formed well enough yet to make good decisions on their own. 

We need to get back to parenting our children and ensuring that they respect and look up to us by living as role models and setting good examples of how they should be when they are parents themselves. That means them calling us ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ again.  It means having it be OK if they fear us a little. It's fighting for our marriages and, when all else fails, making sure they get the right sort of guidance and counseling if in fact divorce is unavoidable. It’s knowing that they have enough friends but not enough mentors. It’s NOT taking the easy road and doing what is right to raise our children to be conscientious, respectful adults. 

Coping skills
We’re used to getting our way. So are our kids. That’s why you flip off the guy who cuts you off. That’s why you have no patience for the long line at the checkout. That’s why you yell at your neighbor or go ballistic on your co-worker. We seem to think that we are ENTITLED to express every emotion we have. We’ve lost our filters and have no control over our actions. And we’re passing these lack of coping skills onto our kids. They get a bad grade? Well we yell at their teacher. They get yelled at by the coach? Well, we’ll just put you on another team. You wanna quit track? Sure. That’s fine. It was too hard anyway.

We’ve cushioned and babied and sheltered our children so much that when they are faced with a difficult emotion they have no idea what to do with it. So they respond with anger. A child counselor I knew once drew a circle in the middle of a piece of paper, and in the circle wrote the word “anger”. Coming off of that circle she drew lines all around with additional circles, with words such as “disappointment”, “sadness”, “boredom”, “embarrassment”, etc. Her point was, some children respond with anger, when really, they are feeling one of these other emotions and anger is just the easiest one to admit and produce. We try so hard to ensure that our children are not ever disappointed, or sad, or bored, or embarrassed, which is giving them no coping skills for when we aren’t around to diffuse the bomb.

Violence in our media
You know how I feel about violent video games as well as the violence on television – and in music as well. This - above all things – gets me more riled than anything else. Why? Because it is SO easily fixed. SO preventable. There is absolutely NO REASON ON GOD’S EARTH why violent video games have to exist. There is NO REASON why shows depicting killings, sex or rude humor need to be on network TV for my children to come across, no matter how vigilant I am. There is NO REASON that children should be exposed to M-rated video games – even some Teen rated video games.

To me, this part of the world that exists is beyond stupid. Beyond inappropriate. Beyond necessary. And I see NO disadvantage from these things being eradicated from this earth. Like tomorrow. And you tell me there’ll be a violent uprising if suddenly you wake up and these things don’t exist? Thank you - I’ve just proven my point. And if you want to discuss free speech? See “right to bear arms” below.

Right to bear arms
Yes, I’m going there. I’ve already discussed the whole “right to bear arms” argument, and how those that bleed that phrase from our Bill of Rights can’t quite come to grips with the fact that we have for all intents and purposes stretched this statement’s meaning to its limit. To me – TO ME – this statement was not written with the intent that everyone has the right to carry a firearm – IN THIS DAY AND AGE - in order to protect themselves from others who may have firearms. It does not mean that we should – IN THIS DAY AND AGE - arm our teachers in our schools. It does not mean that you have the right to defend yourself with a firearm if you feel threatened – TODAYIN THIS DAY AND AGE - whether or not you suspect that person has a firearm. And anyone who thinks that that’s what our forefathers meant when they wrote that second amendment is taking the easy way out in a discussion that goes much further.

You can tell me that even if this pathetic young man did not have access to guns in his mother’s house that he would have somehow obtained them and done the same thing. Really? Yes, perhaps he could have. But it would have been much more difficult, and maybe, just maybe, in the time it took for him to acquire what he thought he needed to acquire, something might have changed. School might have been out for the weekend. His mother may not have been home. Whatever rage he felt may have dissipated. Who knows.  But I see absolutely no value in the statement that anyone should be allowed to carry a firearm – especially the ridiculous notion that “of course, you need to be trained and safety-conscious.”

And the idea that teachers should be armed? What good would it have done if the teachers had guns on them? What message would it have sent to the kids if the principal was packing heat? They do not have the understanding. I guarantee that the first thing that would happen would be a tragedy involving the misuse of that gun versus the person packing it actually doing something defensive with it.  From what I hear, no one but a trained sniper could have anticipated what that gunman was going to do in the split seconds it took him to do what he did. And I also guarantee you, at least 75 percent of the teacher  workforce would quit before they'd carry a firearm into a school.

Mental illness awareness and resources
This saddens me more than anything, because mental illness is to me is one of the least understood and misunderstood of any of these factors. Mental illness abounds in our world. Did it 40 years ago? I don’t know. Why does it seem so prevalent now? I don’t know. There is the one discussion that we are over-medicating and over diagnosing our kids, and to some extent I do agree. There are plenty of kids out there who are on medication for ADHD that just simply can’t stay still in their seat. 

Yet there are some who are labeled as “introverts” or “weird” that may harbor serious and potential life-threatening mental issues that need to be addressed. You sometimes have vigilant parents who go to the ends of the earth and back to have questions answered, to find a solution, a cure, some hope so that their families can live calm, happy lives. Sometimes they don’t have the money to get the help they need. Sometimes they don’t know where to turn, or they’re embarrassed to admit their child has a problem that they can’t “fix”. Or resources they do need don’t exist. So, they live with it without ever thinking that it could culminate in an explosive display of rage, hatred, violence and death. 

We need to stop cutting the money given to these organizations. I know – we need to cut funding in order to balance the budget. I don’t have an answer, but cutting social service programs because they may seem like a luxury is not the answer – they are a necessity. So where’s that money going to come from? I know I’m going out on a limb here, but how many multi-millionaires do we need in this world? How much do these government officials and athletes and movie stars need to make, anyway? How many people really need to live in multi-million dollar homes??? Come ON!!!!! Quit saving yourselves and save the society. Let’s fix what’s broken. Let’s give help to those who need help. Let’s use our money for good, not for evil. Money isn’t going to buy your life when you have a gun pointed at your head by someone who has no business holding a gun. 
Herein lie some of the factors – not answers – but factors that need to be looked at in order to even begin to stop these abhorrent acts. It is going to take serious gun legislation, which will mean change, which will mean uprising, because any change causes conflict. But it has to happen. And I mean gun control has to happen. Debate me forever that if people want guns, they’ll get them, but I still think gun control has to happen. At least let’s not make it so damn easy. 

It’s going to take funding the resources and services so that these individuals with mental illnesses can be treated and counseled. It’s going to take a stripping away of the taboo mentality and an education to those who poo-poo mental illness that this is as serious as a life-threatening illness (which I think we’ve determined) and should be treated as such. Can we become as aware of it as we are of breast cancer? Can we talk about mental illness at the same comfort level that we talk about boobs??? 

Most importantly, it’s going to take the embodiment of the family unit. We need to return to the days of a whole family, with two figureheads at the helm, leading our children through life and helping out each other instead of getting on our high horse when someone does us wrong. It’s going to mean turning off the escapism – the violent TV programs and video games and hatred music and living life with your children.

It’s going to be teaching them how to manage their emotions and finding healthy outlets for them. Letting them know what is expected of them and disciplining them when they do wrong. Having them realize there are consequences to their actions, not continually bailing them out of situations that may cause them to feel a negative emotion. And when they do feel that negative emotion, it’s teaching them through example as to how to deal with that emotion in a healthy way.

How is this all accomplished? Well, dialogue is good. Not finger pointing, but honest to goodness communication is good. Writing your congressperson and demanding change is even better. Getting involved in making a change in your own corner of the world is a great start. Looking at your own family and realizing what you’ve let go of and what you need to get back to is a great first step.  Do not be afraid to go against the grain and make "unpopular" decisions, no matter what other parents are doing or what they allow their children to do. Do the right thing.

I can’t say that anything positive can come from the events of last Friday at Sandy Hook. To put it that way seems callous and disrespectful to the lives lost and the living who are grieving those losses. But if this heinous tragedy doesn’t start some kind of change in this world, I don’t know what will. It has to stop. And it can only stop when we start. So in the memory of those 20, beautiful children and the six courageous adults who lost their lives so senselessly, let’s try to make this a better world in honor of them. It’s the least we can do to honor the memory of those who should still be here with us today.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Breakup Sex

 A few weeks ago, I broke up with running. It just didn't seem to be working out.  I liked it, but I didn't love it, and I thought the feeling was mutual. It just didn't seem like long-term relationship material. I figured it was best to get out before I really got hurt.

I had signed up for a race last Saturday that was to be my swan song. In talking to a friend, he wished me luck and hoped the "breakup sex" would be great. I laughed. Good way to think about it. Yeah,  maybe.

Well, he was right. It was amazing; exhilarating even. It was as if we had just met for the first time (although I usually don't have sex on the first date.) I saw a side of running I hadn't seen before, and I think it saw a new side of me. We decided to give our relationship another chance.

This time, though, I knew I would need reinforcements if this was going to work. Here's where the power of social media comes in. I'm chatting with my friend who is currently in Kuwait, and he hooks me up with a friend of his who is in this group, Sole Sisters. This motivated group is comprised of women of all fitness levels who have one thing in common - they're all in love with running (or at least like it a lot.) I emailed his friend to find out more.

They meet weekly (religiously) and it's easy to find someone looking for a running buddy on their Facebook page throughout the week. Some of them are marathoners who have been running for years; others are in training, and still others (like me) are relative newbies. Their December route (brrrr) was in an area where I used to live and I knew I could do it, so I took a deep breath and walked into the designated meeting place to see if I could hang with this bunch of speedy strangers.

There were a few other newcomers and as they welcomed us they passed around a signup sheet with paces on it (anywhere from an eight to 13 minute mile, etc., even walk/jog and walk). Not sure of my hill running abilities given the course, nor wanting to crap out after two miles, I signed up for a 12 minute pace and was assigned a "running leader" who assured me that I would not be left behind in the dark.

We set off, and were soon joined by a third runner in our group. I was surprised at how much easier it seemed to be to keep going when you had two others running with you. Stop? No such word. Hills? No problem. The conversation, though breathless, was great as I got to know these two motivated mommas. One had already conquered her first marathon (she was my leader, so had slowed down considerably to help me out) and the other a mom who was just getting back in the game after having a child.

OK, so I fit in somewhere between "marathoner" and "just gave birth." I'll take that. We ran four miles, hills and all, in the dark. (They had reflective gear and headlamps - I had nuthin'. Stupid newbie.) At the end of the night, I felt accomplished and rejuvenated with the hope that this running thing might just work.

I'm anxious to run with the Sole Sisters again, and as I see some of their stories and read their running plans, ("I'm doing 10 miles on Saturday - who's with me?" Not me. Yet.), I feel as if this is just what I needed to keep this relationship with running alive.

In fact, we're planning on ringing in the new year together at the 2013 Resolution Run, with my goal for 2013 being to run a quarter marathon (that's half of a half, for all you English majors) in April at the Height Half Marathon & Relay and again in May at Run River City. I'm not going to put the cart too far before the horse, but if this gets serious, you could see me doing a half marathon... someday. Maybe. We're taking it slow. But if I play my cards right, I could log 500 miles in 2013.

 Running, I may just be smitten with you. Thanks for giving it another shot. Let's try to stay together this time.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Great Expectations

Before we get to the meat of this blog, let's review. This Charles Dickens classic tells the story of Pip, an English orphan who rises to wealth, deserts his true friends, and becomes humbled by his own arrogance.The title Great Expectations refers to the 'Great Expectations' Pip has of coming into his benefactor's property upon his disclosure to him and achieving his intended role as a gentleman at that time.

Though I've never been called 'Pip', I have been told by more than one person that I have "too" great of expectations.

Expectations of what, you ask? Apparently everything.

In some respects, I think this may be true. I do think I have high expectations for myself, which is probably why I feel like such a failure for a good percentage of the time. I struggle with doing "what is expected" of me - hey, there's that word again. 

I remember feeling the pressures of expectations in college - at the time I felt that they were driven by my parents, but in looking back, they were only a product of what I felt I should be in order to please them. Big difference. I've always been very cognizant of what people might think of me, and it wasn't until a good friend finally shook me and said, "Guess what? They're NOT thinking of you" that I finally realized how silly it was to even worry about that.

It's funny - you would think that my expectations of others are a result of the expectations I put on myself, and to an extent that's true. But I don't want to come across as some prima donna  goodie goodie diva-type person who thinks her shit doesn't stink. That's not me. But I do know right from wrong, good person versus bad person, and when I deviate from who I (think) I'm supposed to be, it causes me stress. There's no reason why I can't live up to my own expectations. They're not superhuman. But no matter how much I "improve", I always find someone who absolutely blows me away in one area or another, which makes me realize I really have a long way to go.

Tangible example: Running. I know I've only been running for 10 weeks (yes we got back together), but I feel like I should be running faster and farther and more often and with less pain and with more energy and with better shoes or whatever. I had the awesome opportunity to run with a group of fantastic ladies last night (Sole Sisters.) One of the women with whom I ran (my pacesetter who thankfully slowed down for me) is an avid marathoner. Younger than me, but not by too much. Two kids. No excuse why I can't be doing marathons, other than the fact that I have no desire to.

The other one? Just had a baby and is still nursing. She was wearing two sports bras. Come ON. When I was nursing I couldn't even run down the stairs without leaking something. And here I am, my able-bodied, finished-making-babies self, running like a slug wondering what I've been doing walking my piddly three or four miles a day for the past 10 years. Slacker I am.

Intangible example: Relationships. This is where people have chimed in and said perhaps I should lower my expectations a bit. What, again we're bringing up my failure? Apparently, my expectations for a mate far exceed any actual capabilities. A 50/50 partnership? Um, that doesn't exist, Amy. It's usually 70/30. Or maybe 60/40 on a good day. (Actually, the "good" relationships change percentages based on the need of the mate... not really familiar with that one.)

I fail to understand how, in this day and age, the woman versus man role is still so incredibly stereotyped when we are both working 40 hour weeks. How is it that the male gets off so easily from all the other primary responsibilities simply because his label is "breadwinner"? Because the female is more organized, more emotionally bonded.. blah, blah, blah. I don't buy it. I know there are differences between men and women, but sheesh, guys. Step up to the plate. I'm tired of wearing the pants.

One more: Children. Now, this is tricky, because I don't want to be labeled as some Tiger Mom that has these unrealistic hopes and dreams for her kids and is disappointed when they don't come to fruition. But I do kind of wonder where my kids' drive and ambition is, unless they inherited that gene from their father, who is more of a laid back, "it'll happen" kind of guy. That attitude drives me crazy. I mean, it's fine if I don't have to live with it. And I guess I'd rather have that  than the extreme, which I have experienced and it's no fun. Too high of expectations in yourself can often result in workaholicism, which can lead to a fallout of your priorities, which can lead to living your life alone because no one wants to be around you because all you talk about is how to get ahead at work. (Think it's a challenge to try to make me happy? Perhaps.)

But I digress. It's tough to NOT have great expectations for your kids, and though I do, I am truly, truly proud of them no matter WHAT they do. And I'm not lying. BUT, I do sometimes fall into the trap (don't you judge; don't you dare because you know you do it too) of looking at others' kids - you know the ones. They play violin. They're in the school play. They get straight A's and get upset if they get a B. They mow lawns or babysit to save money to buy their own car. They somehow skip that selfish, "all about me" phase that drives me bananas. Of course, the trickle-down effect is that somehow I am not being the parent I should be in order to raise children like this, thus I am not living up to MY expectations, and hurting my children in the process.

Do you see how hard it is to be me? (insert "yes I know I'm being narcissistic" disclaimer here.)

Expectations are great to have, I think. They set the standard for who you truly want to be and what you want out of your life, your career, your parenting and your relationships. However, the problem is that if your expectations are too high, you're NEVER going to be at peace with any of the aforementioned things. No one is ever going to measure up, and frankly, neither are you.

I'm going to try to take my own advice, but I would be interested to figure out the origin of my great expectations and how to temper them so I can enjoy life - and the people in my life - a bit more.