Friday, December 2, 2016

Letters to myself

Last weekend we unpacked the Christmas boxes and began to decorate the house. My favorite things about the holiday season are our family traditions, and one of those traditions is to write a letter to your future self and hide it in your Christmas stocking. We did it for a few years when I was a kid, and I remember reading over highlights from the previous year, my current faves (which were somehow no longer cool a short twelve months later), and the list of things I hoped to accomplish. My boys love this part, writing things like, "Ride the Viper" and "Play video games for 100 hours". When boxes appear from the back corner of the basement, I excitedly search for the one containing our four stockings, and pull the letters out like buried treasure.

The letters are meant to be a snapshot of the year and an encouraging way to look at all we've accomplished as a family and individually. But sometimes they make me sad. When I was substitute teaching year after year, the letters would ask if I'd found a permanent position yet. Now that I've been querying, the letters ask if I've found an agent. And every single year I vow to be more organized, vow to really, truly purge the house and live with less.

Spoiler alert: I left the teaching world, am still searching for an agent, and the house isn't any cleaner.

But every year I give my future self a little pep talk.
From 2009: "Take care of everyone. And remember to take care of yourself."
From 2010: "Remember that you are a great mom, a devoted wife, a dedicated teacher, and fabulous woman!"
From 2013: "C'mon girl, you CAN finish things! Really and truly!"
From 2014: "Love yourself every day - despite the wrinkles and sagging bits, despite the incessant need to procrastinate. Despite the cynicism."

Last year I even acknowledged that my goal setting often falls short. "Every year you make goals for yourself. Some you reach while others fall by the wayside. That's okay. You need to forgive yourself and move on. Change what you can - change what you can CONTROL. In other words, let others be who they are going to be and focus on being the best you in that moment."

How's that going you ask? Eh. I was sad for several hours after reading the letters because not much has changed in the past year. The truth is, we can't escape our weaknesses - no matter how hard we try to cheerlead them away. There is an underlying current of jealousy in these letters, of wanting what others have and I don't, and it feels dirty.

Last night I attended a book launch for a new writing friend. Her book is beautiful (I read an Advanced Review Copy - one of the perks of being immersed in the writing world), the room was packed full of people who love and support her, and I was happy to be able to share in her moment. But right before I left I said to hubs, "I understand that saying now - the one about always being a bridesmaid and never a bride." It's impossible not to feel the "when will it be my turn?" feelings at book launches, impossible not to sit there and imagine my own book launch, imagine where it will be and if my mother will still be alive to make trays of Italian cookies. Maybe the green-eyed monster is a good thing. Maybe he'll keep me motivated. Maybe I need to look at the positives in my letters to self instead of worrying about what I didn't accomplish.

From 2015: "I'm making a promise to have DEVELOPING OUR WINGS finished in the next six months. To be a better blogger and continue to encourage others."
I finished my rough draft in early April and just completed the first full round of revisions.
My blog entries were at an all time low this year, and I'm pretty sure no one even reads this little life chronicle - but I've been at it for EIGHT YEARS. And in my world of not following through, that's a pretty huge accomplishment.
Do I encourage others? I hope so. Maybe not all the time, maybe not with shouts from the rooftop.

But I keep trying. Because lifting others up makes everyone feel good. So here's some advice from past Sandis:
To all you other writers out there - "Keep writing, hon - there are so many great stories inside you."
To the parents - "You are a good mom [dad]. Have faith in your children."
To everyone who worries all the time, who thinks they are doing too much, or not enough - "Relax. Let things be - you can do it and the world will still revolve."
To the world, especially now: "Love more."

Saturday, November 19, 2016


I became a mom ten years and 11 days ago, and I can vividly remember the first 24 hours of parenthood. The first five were spent coming home from the airport, hubby driving in the rain on zero sleep - my India.Aria CD playing in a continuous loop because he didn't know how to change it, and me in the backseat trying desperately to calm a hysterical seven month old stranger. Yep, we were complete strangers on that first night - connected only by pictures (we had three of him, he had a chewable photo album with a few pictures of us) and health reports. We stopped at a gas station to change his diaper and were yelled at by the attendant for not having a hat on our baby.

Initial thought: I am a complete failure as a parent.

Back at home, I tried my best to help P adjust to his strange surroundings while hubby caught some much needed zzz's. I showed him his room, lovingly decorated with Noah's arc animals. We read books and sang songs. I felt like the babysitter waiting for mom and dad to come home and take over the real parenting. In the morning, we gave P a bath and he screamed. His foster mother told us he loved baths. My husband looked at me with an expression that asked, "I thought you knew what you were doing - did you lie to me?" In truth, I didn't have a clue how to be a parent, and I'm pretty sure none of us do until it actually happens. My brother had become a dad a few years earlier and he told me that the hospital staff passed him his son and ushered him out the door. Without any sort of instructions as to what to do next.

Truth: No one truly knows what they are doing at first.

There were two profound moments in that first 24 hours and both of them could be seen as parenting fails, but to me they were shifts in perspective that helped with our rocky transition. The first was during the bath, after hubby realized that no, I did not know what I was doing. He said, "Everything we're doing is wrong." Me, with bewildered expression, "Huh?" But he was right. Every smell, every sight, every experience was not what P had become used to in his foster home. It wasn't WRONG in the broad sense, but wrong in his little slice of the world. The second moment took place that afternoon when we brought him to the doctor's office. Our pediatrician, a kind and enthusiastic Asian woman who cooed at P when she first saw him, made my little boy's face light up for the first time. Her face, her tone of voice - the familiarity - comforted him.

It wasn't me. We had ripped this kiddo away from everything he knew, forced him to fly across the world with a complete stranger who handed him off to two other complete strangers, two weird smelling people who had no idea how to draw a proper bath. When I think about that day I think about our gain - I love my boy so much it hurts and I can't imagine life without him - but I think about his loss, about how scared he must have been during those first 24 hours. We were all pretty terrified. But his journey, and the journey of his little brother four years later, must have been incredibly frightening. We celebrate the anniversary of those days (known in our family as KTA day, or Korea-to-America) and recognize both the joy and the heartache involved.

Truth: Parenting is hard, and I'm not always good at it. But I love my kiddos unconditionally and try to grow as a mom every day.

No doubt I have made countless parenting fails along the way and there are plenty more waiting for me in the next ten years and even in the ten beyond that. But I'm trying to shift my perspective. We had P's conferences yesterday and it was overwhelmingly positive. They haven't always been, believe me. But yesterday, as I listened to his teachers talk about how smart, hard-working, and enthusiastic about learning he is, my heart swelled with pride. Sure, a lot of that is genetics, but some of it must be our parenting. Don't get me wrong, I make mistakes. ALL THE TIME.

But somehow we've figured out how to do a few things right.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Van Family Summer Bucket List

Inspired by the launch of my dear friend's book, The BFF Bucket List, the boys and I decided to make our own summer bucket list. As soon as school let out, we brainstormed ideas, wrote them down on a piece of loose leaf paper, and posted the list on our fridge. There were 18 items and we checked off 14. Which is pretty darn good and made for an exciting, adventure filled summer.

Here are some highlights:

We started the summer off with a backyard campfire complete with requisite s'mores. Our friends joined us for a fun night - the kids loved launching LED copters into the sky once the sun went down. 

We actually did this one twice. Once for hub's work picnic, where J braved his first upside down roller coaster (and LOVED it), and once with friends for a crazy day of rides, water park, and slushies. We're pictured above on my favorite ride, one that does not go upside down or fast... the Ferris wheel. 

For whatever reason, this was important to P, so it made the list. We went out for ice cream to celebrate the removal of braces (YAY!) and let him order whatever he wanted. Look at the shiny, straight teeth! As you can see, he also decided to grow his hair long this summer. It's a middle school thing I guess.

There is a lot of cool history in our town. We rode a boat through two locks on the Erie Canal and then spent the afternoon walking through Lockport and sampling more ice cream (see next item). There is also an underground cave tour which we have done once before but decided to skip this year. Fun fact: part of Sharknado 2 was filmed in the Lockport cave. 

It tastes good.

The boys went to the beach a few times with their summer camp group, but the picture above is from our day trip to Canada to visit with some friends at their cottage. It was a fun, relaxing day that included fishing (item #18) and a campfire, with s'mores of course (item #5).

Look at us, all match-y and smiling... oh wait...

Our cub scout pack organized a summer outing to the drive in, and it was the perfect opportunity to cross another item off the list and enjoy a night out at the movies watching one of my all-time faves, The Princess Bride. P had a good time, he just didn't want to have his picture taken.

Camping next to a creek = AWESOME! I'm fairly certain J would still be in there looking for crayfish if we hadn't dragged him out when we left the campground.

Labor day weekend. Second to last night of summer vacation. Perfect opportunity to sneak in one more bucket list item. I have no idea why they wanted to sleep on the hard floor under a fort of several blankets ("Mom, it's really sweaty under here!"), but they did.

I'm happy with how things went this summer. The boys grew a little taller, a little braver, and a little more independent. I am grateful for their enthusiasm and willingness to try new things and happy that we are able to spend time together as a family. The day is coming when they'll have summer jobs and scoff at the idea of hanging out with mom and dad. So I'm doing my best to cherish the moments we have right now and letting go one finger at a time.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Oh, summer...

Hello from under the rock of summer that buried me sometime in June. There have been several blog posts running through my brain (typically at two a.m.) but my fingers and the keyboard have been strangers these past few months. Don't ask about the book; it's covered in avoidance cobwebs. My Twitter account? Silent. BUT, the family has been plugging away at our summer bucket list, and I promise to post a detailed account, complete with photos, sometime in September.

Or October. Hashtag PROCRASTINATION.

I'll try to avoid bucket list spoilers, but here are some of the things the Family Van has been up to since my last Internet shout-out:

Hubs went to Milan for work and took me with him. Hello, Italy. Your food is delicious, and I had fun wandering your streets and checking out your amazing churches. Love, Sandi.

The boy graduated elementary school and is headed to the big, bad, dreaded middle school in two weeks. Neither one of us is ready, but when will we be? Truly? Our root beer float talk went well (P requested that root beer floats accompany our birds and bees conversation), but I am slightly terrified about the onset of puberty. And not sure how much longer I can openly blog about my preteen without him stumbling on my posts and feeling mortified.

Both kiddos went to scout camp for the first time (with mom and dad in tow) and loved it. Despite a weekend filled with wicked storms, we had a great time learning new skills and bonding with the other scout families. P also learned not to carry electronics in your pocket while paddling in a canoe.

Hubs and I decided to coach P's soccer team next season. And by season I mean now through next July. The past year was a little rough - there was a bit of bullying among teammates as well as aggressive parents on the sidelines, and we are hoping to create a more positive environment. The last (and only other) time we coached together was back in Virginia when we were in our early 20's - it was a coed U15 team, and it was a tough run. But we're ready to get back in the saddle and excited about sharing our passion for soccer.

Summer has been fun, but I look forward to getting into the routine of fall, a routine which hopefully includes time for writing.

Stay tuned for our bucket list post!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Entering the next phase

Once upon a time in the not so distant past, I stood anxiously at a gate in JFK airport and waited for my son to appear. Tonight, I attended a parent information session at the middle school. Middle. School. The place where one comes in like an innocent little lamb and leaves as a horny teenager.

I am not ready.

To begin with, middle school remains a rough section of my past. It's where I mustered up the courage to ask a boy if he would dance with me and was met with a response that echoed in my subconscious for years to come: "My feet are tired." It's where I was taunted, teased, and harassed for talking to myself, having facial hair, and looking at someone's boyfriend the wrong way. It's where I discovered that boys prefer silly girls over smart ones.

Not the best years of my life by any stretch.

P is nervous. He's nervous about forgetting his locker combination, getting too much homework, and encountering bullies. But he's excited about the freedom and about joining computer club and chess club (a geek after my own heart.) I want him to hold on to the excitement instead of focusing on the things that make him nervous. Which means I need to let go of my own demons and let him be him.

That's harder than it looks. I teach through examples; he's already been subjected to the story of my facial hair taunter and the girl who was my BFF in 5th grade that turned all our friends against me right before middle school. He's even heard the tired feet story, complete with the part about how I barfed in the bathroom after it happened. Part of me hopes he'll learn from my experiences and mistakes, and realize that I came out okay (well, mostly) on the other side. The rest of me knows that he needs to have his own experiences, make his own mistakes, mistakes that he'll tell his kids about someday when they're getting ready to head off to middle school.

Parenting is so much harder than I ever imagined it would be, and there is still a lot of road ahead of us. Each day I have to let a little piece of my boy go and hope that he can navigate the world without me. He's a good kid. Smart, outgoing, secure in who he is. He yearns to be fiercely independent but still kisses me every morning before he gets on the bus and every night before he goes to bed. I want to hold on to my little lamb a bit longer, but I know I need to let him grow up. I need to let go of all the things that happened to me when I was his age, but I know that they have forever shaped me just as I know whatever happens to my boy in the next few years will forever shape him. He will have his heart broken, and may break a heart or two. He'll mess up, make bad decisions, ruin friendships. But he'll make new friends, learn more about the world, and figure out how to navigate through all of the crazy changes his body has in store for him.

I can't wait to see the amazing teenager come out on the other side.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Comfort zone? What comfort zone?

Greetings from my second trip to the annual PennWriters conference in Pennsylvania. The conference is in Lancaster this year, a bit farther from home base, but worth the drive. I had a wonderful stop over visit to my old stomping grounds and dinner with one of my favorite people. And solo road trips allow the advantage of singing as loudly as possible to the most ridiculous mix tape.

Yes, I said mix tape.

The original plan was to meet up with another friend of mine at the conference, but she was unable to go, a fact that sent me into a bit of a panic. Faithful readers know that I have social anxiety, as well as puts-foot-in-mouth disease. If words actually leave my mouth. Usually I create the world's most uncomfortable silence. It's bad.

So before I left I sought out the advice of my circle of trust, or should I say my circle of trust took it upon themselves to give me advice. Either way, the results were typical. Mom said to smile, be myself (but mom, that's part of the problem), and oh yeah, smile. That solves everything. She then told my sister, who sent me a confidence boosting string of texts advising me to channel the extroverts I know. It was actually rather sage-like and included the idea of putting on a "cloak of confidence." In other words, fake it till you make it. I can do that. I'm an actress, or at least I was back in the day. Mom said if I could get on stage in front of an audience then why can't I engage with a stranger in a bit of small talk. "It's a stage" has become one of this weekend's mantras.

The hubs told me to look at the weekend as an opportunity to enjoy "me time" and do the things that I like to do when I'm alone - just do them in a new setting. Wander around and people watch? check. Sit by the pool and read a book? check. Enjoy whatever weird vegan food/juice I want without having to justify myself? check. The only thing I won't get to is dance around wildly, although my suite at the hotel is big enough should I decide to.

So far the conference is going well. I miss my friend, but we've been texting throughout the day and she said it was like having a virtual reality experience. Every once in a while I get a wave of, HOLY CRAP I'M ALL ALONE, WHAT NOW. But I just breath and smile (see, mom, I do listen) and come up with something to start the conversation ball rolling. With everyone I encounter. I do not allow the evil enemy, Uncomfortable Silence, to even bare his claws.

Because here's the thing: writers are inherently introverted. And I've noticed that a lot of people come here alone. So they're probably just as freaked out on the inside as I am. It isn't a perfect system, mind you. But I'd much rather be the person who starts a benign conversation that may or may not lead anywhere than the person who sits in a puddle of negative thoughts trying to figure out what to say next. It's a stage, I'm an actress, someone who seems like she is outgoing but is really just trying to keep herself from imploding. And then, I hide away in my room to recharge.

Do what scares you, people. Figure out a way to make it work. It's worth it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The plane, the plane!

The following post is somewhat overdue. My blog advertises that it is a journey of motherhood, cakes, and procrastination. Let's just say the first and third got in the way of blogging about the second. But I must not forget the roots of this blog, and that is to shamelessly flaunt my bi-yearly cake creations. This year P asked for a, oh gosh I've already forgotten the name of the plane. Something P something Mustang. P 51 Mustang. Thank you search history. Anyway, he's very much into all things war and weaponry, so I wasn't all that surprised when he requested a fighter plane. The design was relatively simple, although I was told afterward that the wings were supposed to be straight out, not at an angle, which I honestly only altered to make the cake fit on the tray. Ah well, lesson learned. Fit matters not; follow the pictures.

After nine years of cake building, the process has become rather streamlined. This year I went with a confetti batter and made a batch of rice krispie treats because they are super easy to mold into whatever shape you need. The key is to mold when the treats are warm and to do so on a well-buttered surface wearing plastic gloves sprayed with cooking spray. For the cake, I used a large loaf pan for the body and two small loaf pans for the cockpit, nose and rear wing (tail?). 

Frosting is no longer my nemesis. I make a batch of traditional buttercream frosting (room temperature butter, confectioner's sugar, and milk - I use soy) and stir in about half a container of cool whip. The cool whip creates a smooth consistency and allows for frosting along cut edges. Back when I made the tie fighter, I learned the trick to gray: black food coloring with a dash of blue. It looked too purple at first and I was a bit worried, but when it cooled the color was beautiful. 

I kept the decorations simple. Red coin candies flipped upside down, thick black licorice for the propellers and guns, and blue sprinkle sky with marshmallow clouds. P created additional guns with the candles.

Other than the misdirected wings, the cake turned out nicely, and I spent much less time obsessing about it this year. Which makes the husband happy. And the boy is clearly pleased. Which makes mama happy.

Now we just need to stop procrastinating and get the thank you notes done.

Monday, April 4, 2016

This is The End

I am incredibly close to the end of the first draft of my second novel. Scary close. And I am afraid to end it. Maybe it's procrastination. Certainly a believable theory given my reputation. Revising is way harder and less emotionally rewarding than drafting, the eventuality of sending it off for critique is mildly terrifying (okay really terrifying), and I can avoid those things simply by not writing the end. Just keep telling everyone that it's a work in progress. Then I don't have to let anyone else read it (including myself) and decide whether or not it is worthy of being read in the first place. It's like a nearly finished sweater that I keep stuffing back into the knitting basket so no one can look at and judge the mistakes.

Okay, procrastination, lack of confidence, all good theories. Then there's my weird desire to have the ending be a melodramatic moment in my life. When I finished the first draft of STREETLIGHTS, it was on a Friday night during Write Club, a now defunct group of writers on Twitter that cheered each other on all day via thirty minute writing sprints. I wrote a huge chunk of my book during those sprints and was thrilled to finish it with my virtual cheering squad alongside me, especially my friend and amazing sprint leader, Stephanie. Also, that night our local college had a concert and there were fireworks. Fireworks. To celebrate my accomplishment of course. But tonight? It's an ordinary Monday. And I'm not ready to celebrate just yet. So I stare at the last chapter title (aptly named "sixty four") and write cute notes to myself instead of finishing the story. Then I go onto my blog and waste more time talking about how I don't want to write the ending.

Endings are hard, yo. There's emotional stuff. Lots of it. Both in the story itself and in the writer's psyche. It can't just be me. I know there are others out there who feel the same way. Or maybe not. Maybe they rush through the last few chapters, eager to get their ideas down before they fade away. Eager to finish the story they felt compelled to tell. But for some reason I'm just not ready to write THE END. I know it's not goodbye. I will spend the next several months (after the designated first draft stewing period) in an intimate relationship with my characters, dissecting their every move, every eyebrow raise and turn of phrase. They will continue to live in my head like real people - talking to me during sleepless nights, pointing out the plot holes they're afraid to fall into.

So what's my problem, then? What am I afraid of?

It's 4/4/16. A good date, mathematically. The kids are in bed, and there are about 30 minutes before my husband gets home. My trusty sidekick cat is here to cheer me on with her snoring, and I've got saltines and dairy free butter for fuel.

Guess I'll give it a go. Stay tuned, faithful readers.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Place on the Shelf

There is a philosophy that suggests if you put your desires out into the universe that those desires will come true. And while I'm often found rolling my eyes at my mother's similar “Think Positive” theory, I believe there must be some amount of truth in it. Not that I believe one can just imagine oneself rich and famous and it will miraculously happen. Success takes work. But the idea of visualization is something I can grab hold of, something I can easily implement in my daily life. Which sounds a bit like my dad’s way of giving driving instructions. "Picture it. Are you picturing it?”

My husband often asks me why I write. Is it because I hope to become rich and quit my day job? No, I am not delusional. I realize that most published writers require an additional income, and that very few are able to survive on the money they make from writing. Do I desire fame? No, again, this is the exception, not the rule. So what is it? (I mean, besides the aching need to get the voices in my head to stop telling me stories.)

I write because someday I hope to be able to walk into a bookstore, head to the YA section, search all the way to the near end of the alphabet, and find my book. A book. With my name on the cover and words that came from my brain spilling off of every page. Because when I tell people I’m a writer and they ask if they can read my book, I want to be able to direct them to the nearest online or brick and mortar retailer where they can buy a copy to read. Sometimes I find myself standing in a bookstore and picturing my book on the shelf. Is this the behavior of a crazy person, or someone employing the philosophy of visualization?

Last night I went out with three writer friends, all amazing women, all at different parts of their journey. The evening was filled with great conversation, not just about writing but about children, pets, birthday parties, and life in general. I felt so understood. And when I mentioned picturing my book on the shelf, they all shook their heads in agreement. And so we decided to go through the store and take a photograph of where exactly our book would live.

Shelf placement is a big deal. When readers are browsing a bookstore, what will make them grab yours? Maybe they were looking for a popular author and you happen to be close by. Maybe your books are situated near another writer of similar works. Like R.L. Stine? Try this! My friend whose first book debuts in May will be in between Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling, two writers who most decidedly do not need day jobs. A girl I met for the first time last night has two books on the way and will be sharing the shelf with Tolstoy. My book, when it enters the world outside of my laptop, will be down low, sure, but close to Ned Vizzini (RIP) and Markus Zusak, best selling authors who weren't afraid to take risks with their work. I’ll take it.

After we took the photos, we talked about starting a Twitter hashtag, and my immediate fear was that people would think it was pretentious. I mean, I’m pointing at a gap in the shelf as if to say, yep, my book will live here someday.

But it’s not pretentious. It’s optimistic. It’s the power of visualization. It’s about having a dream, pouring your blood, sweat, and tears (and a whole lot of hummus) into that dream, and one day being able to stand back and admire your accomplishment.

And for me, it’s about having a place on the shelf. Not just for my book, but for me. The writing community is a warm supportive place most days. But there are days when I feel like I don’t fit in, when I doubt that I’ll ever be part of the exclusive club of published authors, when I convince myself that the whole idea is a crock of garbage and I should just give up entirely.

Then I have nights like last night. Where my thoughts and ideas are valued, where I feel connected to other writers and encouraged to continue on this path. Where I feel nestled in between other stories, stories that prop me up when I start to falter.

So, without further ado, #ThisIsMyBookSpot:

Picture it. Are you picturing it?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Yeah, I'd watch that over and over

I'm not a big fan of GIFs (as you can see by the complete lack of them on my blog). Something about the perpetual repetition makes me uneasy. But sometimes there are moments in life that I wish I could turn into a GIF. Like when P laughs so hard that he snorts or when J hugs me with every little piece of energy in his body. (He is the world's best snuggler. Really and truly.) Lately, P has taken to jump scaring me, and although I'm pretty sure one of these days I'm going to pass out and/or have a heart attack, I'm sure the look on my face would make a very entertaining GIF. Not that I would want that circulating the internet.

Hm. I'm suddenly worried about my future on social media once my child has a phone.

Yesterday I experienced a total GIF-worthy moment. I work at a community college helping students with disabilities navigate the world of higher education. Part of my job is to administer entrance exams that the students must pass in order to begin their program. If they don't pass, they are required to take non-credit courses in either math or English (or both) until they can prove competency. Many of my students are older and have spent much of their lives struggling with math or English (or both) and the tests create a lot of anxiety for them. They are often placed in the remedial courses and even then may be unable to pass and move forward. It can be extremely disheartening.

But then there are moments like yesterday. A young woman came in to take her math test with us after a previous attempt at the test, two attempts at the class, and an intensive training session over break. There was no doubt in my mind that she wanted to succeed and had been doing everything in her power to break through to the next level. When I went in to check her scores and we discovered that she passed, she jumped out of her seat, screamed, high-fived me with both hands, and then gave me an enormous hug. She started to cry and told me how thankful she was that we were able to help her on her journey. I couldn't help but grin and tear up a bit myself.

There's a video feed in the lab and we can watch saved footage at any time, something I usually only do when I suspect cheating. But I plan to watch the footage from yesterday whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, disappointed, or just downright sad. Life is full of heartbreak, but those moments of pure joy and accomplishment make up for it.

I am so inspired by that student and by many others who overcome obstacles daily in order to pursue their dream.

Now please excuse me while I check the hallway for hidden cameras.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Operation NO MORE NAGGING: Day One

Last night hubs and I had a rather heated parenting discussion. Oldest is halfway through fourth grade, which for students in our district means he is a mere eight months away from


Pardon me while I collect myself.

Okay, I'm better now. The way I see it, there is a significant amount of mental and physical preparation required in the months ahead. We've already warned him that "THE TALK" is coming this summer and I've started to make sure he knows all the anatomically correct names for body parts so that we can skip over the giggling and get right to the sighing and nose pinching (he pinches his nose and shakes his head when he deems the conversation cringe worthy).

Side note: the day I taught my kids the word "anus" we were in the car on the way to weekly dinner with my mother in law. The boys entered her house loudly chanting "ANUS, ANUS, ANUS!" Perhaps not the best timing.

Aside from the coming of age inevitabilities, we are trying to create a stronger sense of independence and internal motivation so that the boy is able to handle the increased work load and hands-off approach of his future school years. Let me tell you, this is not easy. Hence last night's argument.

P is asked to complete various charts that track his progress, and each chart has a set number of required minutes. He is supposed to read 30 minutes a day, review math facts 10 minutes a day, and practice his violin 20 minutes a day. Personally, I don't think one hour is all that unreasonable, but tacked onto that is daily math and spelling homework that usually take him an additional half hour. Still not too bad. We get home three days a week at 2:30 and he has time on the other two days to complete his homework during the after school program. Soccer is two nights a week and scouts is one. It is entirely possible to complete his required work AND still have plenty of time to relax and have fun.

The problem is the charts. Days pass and he forgets to fill them in. I nag. He makes up numbers and asks me to sign the sheet. But if I don't, there isn't much of a consequence at school. The charts have little value to him, and it frustrates me to watch him become complacent about his responsibilities. I nag some more. He acts as if I've asked him to cut the grass with a pair of scissors.

And now hubs has started to rally against my nagging. He told me yesterday that if I keep kicking our son along the only thing he's going to have is a bruised ass. But I don't know how to let go. My parents tried to push me when I was in school and it didn't work. I was smart but also pretty lazy and knew how to do just enough to get by. It wasn't until graduate school that I finally figured out that, hey - if I try hard I can do amazingly well! I don't want that to happen to P, but my pushing is only repeating the cycle.

So after having it out with hubs last night, he challenged me to give up nagging for one week. No reminders to practice violin or read a book in the required genre. Let P figure it out for himself and if he fails, he fails. Of course there's a big math test this week, and it is going to take a whole lot of discipline for me not to tell him to study. Last night we sent him upstairs to get ready for soccer practice. He had ten minutes to change and get his bag together. 15 minutes later he was still upstairs screwing around with his brother. I bit my lip. Eventually he came downstairs and ended up being seven minutes late for practice.

That kind of stuff makes me batty. But something has to give, and I can only hope that in this next week he'll realize the method behind my madness. That I just want him to do his best, to do what is required and then a little bit more because that's what keeps you ahead in the world, and... sigh... it's going to be a long week.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

GOALS! What are they good for? Absolutely Nothing!


That is no way to motivate somebody.

It's January third. Right about now there are people everywhere feeling gung-ho about their new year's resolutions. But give it time. Because while some may actually change their behavior, most of us fall short of what we originally intend when we make our drunken promises to the universe on December 31. In other words, we fail.

Example: Every year I swear that I am finally going to get organized, to purge my house of unwanted things and live simpler. It's actually become a running joke with my future self in the annual Christmas stocking letter. I got really close once. Read an article in one of my mom's magazines about how you need to assign a week to each section of your house and go through every space, showing your useless crap no mercy. In six weeks your house would be free of clutter. I made amazing progress until I got to our den and was hit with the brick wall of SO. MUCH. PAPERWORK.

And then I quit.

Because goals are hard, especially the ones that try to re-shift our entire way of thinking/living. And at some point you may need to accept something about yourself that is less than perfect, and that's okay. But it doesn't stop you from making the same goal over and over again. I tried again last year, with a book about decluttering, a new calendar, and a promise to myself that this time it would be different. It wasn't. I barely scratched the surface. Or dusted it for that matter.

Is it healthy for us to constantly try to fix what we, or others, think is wrong with our bodies, houses, lives in general? What if, instead of setting goals that focus on some unattainable perfection that would likely leave us miserable, we set goals that are bite sized, within reach, and fit within the confines of who we are naturally meant to be? I'm not saying don't challenge yourself. Challenging yourself is good. Push outside the comfort zone every once in a while. But don't be ashamed if you have to crawl right back in. Growth is best made in baby steps rather than huge leaps. In my opinion anyway.

More importantly, have a strong support network. One of the other goals that I routinely set for myself is to let go of fear. This may seem very fluffy and over generalized, but I have a lot of very specific, very irrational fears. Sometimes I am forced to get over them, at least to a degree that allows me to function (somewhat) normally. One of my many fears: Phone calls. Most introverts will join me in the joy that is text messaging - the ability to communicate without having to dial someone's number and wait for them to answer, secretly hoping it will go to voice mail but then talking so randomly when voice mail answers that you sound like an idiot. When I interviewed for my current job I was asked to name something I don't like to do. Easy. Talk on the phone. Well, my former boss thought maybe I needed to get over that and she had me making phone calls ALL THE TIME. Each one required pre-call practicing and "I can do this" mantras and was accompanied by a racing heart and sweaty palms. It's better now, but I'm by no means "cured". My husband recognizes this about me, has helped me celebrate my progress, and happily dials for take out so that I don't have to.

He also knows that social interactions with strangers are not easy for me. Today after church we needed to sign up for a newcomer's group and the hubs announced, "I'll go get the kids, you sign up." Not sign up on a sheet, mind you, but talk to the guy at the information desk. I stood in the hallway for a few minutes and contemplated running into the bathroom and telling hubs that I just couldn't hold it and could he please sign us up? But I knew what he was trying to do; I felt his gentle shove. Took a deep breath and did it. (In two hours we have to actually GO to the event and talk to more strangers, but baby steps...)

If you want to change, have someone on your side who knows exactly how gently you need to be shoved.

Another example: Two years ago I participated in a writing challenge for the new year. As per usual, I didn't make it all the way through. But I made some amazing virtual friends who have supported my journey and make me smile when I need it most. This past November I did a lighter version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month - where writers attempt to complete the first draft of a novel in one month) called WipMo which allowed participants to set their own goals and work at a pace that fit their current needs. I rocked it and was so fueled by my success that I set the same goals for December. Butt in chair at least three days a week and 2500 words or more.

And then I quit.

All those zeros are really depressing. And even more depressing was facing my extended family who all asked how the book was coming. It's easy to get discouraged and throw in the towel. Convince myself that there is no way I can regain momentum. Goals can do that to a person. Make them give up and not want to bother.

But we have to be resilient. To accept who we are, figure out where we want to be, and how to maintain enough motivation and heart to get us there. Will I ever be one of those people I envy on Twitter who crank out a thousand words+ a day? No. Is it reasonable to blame the holidays and forgive myself for slacking off and then vow to get back on track by locking myself in my writing room until the zeros disappear? Yes. Will social interactions continue to rattle my heart like a caged animal? Yes. Am I going to let that stop me from living? That would be foolish. Will my house ever be completely clutter free? When we move out, sure. Until then, not likely. Can I focus instead on having one or two organized spaces and shoving everything else into the den and shutting the door? Sounds like a plan.

Good luck with your resolutions, whatever they may be. I'm off to end the zeros.