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.