Thursday, January 28, 2010

How Much is Too Much?

Do you save the best piece of chicken for yourself?

Years and years ago, I heard this chicken analogy on the Oprah Show. I don't remember who the speaker was now. But she described the scene where a mother creates a marvelous Sunday dinner spread for family and friends. In the center of the table she sets an overflowing platter of hot, crispy fried chicken. After hours of cooking and table setting and preparation for guests, the hostess finally sits and reaches for the worst piece of chicken. You know the piece--the one that's overcooked because it had less meat on it than all the others. The Oprah speaker said this was insane! After all that hard work, the hostess deserves the BEST piece of chicken.

Years later I finally realized the message of her plea for tasty poultry. The truth is we teach people how to treat us. The problem is we've been taught for generations to settle for less than we deserve because it's the ladylike, or proper, or loving thing to do. We've mistakenly bought into the idea that to love is to completely empty ourselves out for the objects of our affections, whether that be spouses, children, friends, fellow church members, neighbors, etc... And now, at 40, I'm wondering if it's possible to unconditionally and completely love in another way.

So here's a little quiz. Feel free to post your answers here, or send them to me via e-mail or keep them private. I just hope the answers to the questions make you think.

1. If you want Mexican and you know he wants Italian, do you eat meatballs for dinner? Every time?
2. If you have a hair appointment but your daughter needs a new do or it's the end of her social life, do pull your hair back in a ponytail again tomorrow? Every time?
3. If he says something hurtful do you apologize for your own insecurities or touchiness? Every time?
4. If you love 80's Rock, is Lil' Wayne taking up residence on your car stereo? All the time?
5. If your sister, whom you haven't seen in a year, invites you to visit but your five-your-old has a biddy ball game, are you cheering for the home team Saturday? Every time?

It's only five questions, but I think you get the idea. We may justify our incessant giving as sacrifices we make for love. But, what are we teaching those people we love, especially our kids? Are we saying that to love someone else means to stop loving yourself? Are we presenting the lesson that unless we give in to the desires and wants of another person (even our children), we don't really love them? Are we showing by example that we don't have the right to ask anything in return? Are we sending the message that we are, in fact, unlovable unless we give to the point of losing ourselves?

When our children grow up and enter relationships or have their own children and we see them stifling their own personalities, discounting their own opinions, apologizing for their own feelings, devaluing their own efforts, and questioning their right to the best piece of chicken, how will we feel about that? Will we be able to justify their inability to see their own worth because we thought we were loving unconditionally.

It's a hard balancing act to maintain. We want our friends and family to know we can be counted on. We kind of like the feeling of being the hero, the caretaker, the one who saves the day. But martyrdom is no fun--for anyone. It creates resentment. The martyr feels unappreciated. The mart-ee (is that a word?) feels emotionally obligated. Where's the love in that?

As I said, it's in our nature to give fully, to empty ourselves out in love. But I wonder if it isn't better to leave a little something in the dish. Perhaps it's best, even, to give from an overflowing platter, because once the plate is empty, how do we continue to give?

Monday, January 25, 2010

About Those Overachievers...

First of all, I don't really like the term. Overachiever implies that someone has accomplished something that should be over and above her talent and skill level. I live with someone who could possibly be considered an Overachiever by some, but clearly she is working within her talent and skill level. She is brilliant and talented and organized and wonderful. Just wanted to make that clear.

I wondered early on if there wasn't some kind of gene mutation at work. She was still in grade school when it was discovered that she didn't like chocolate. Then, by fourth grade she was setting her own alarm in the morning and getting up without hitting snooze. By fifth, she was organizing her closet by outfits in order of the days she would wear them. In sixth grade when Sophie joined the track team and actually enjoyed running, I ordered the DNA test.

So last night she texts me from her dad's wanting to know if she can come by early the next morning to get her running shoes. I knew what this meant. Not only was she up studying for some test that wouldn't take place for a week or reading ahead in her Government text, she was planning on rising early on a Monday to...get ready for this...exercise!

Gasp! I know! And she's not even currently on a team, so she doesn't have to. It's just because she wants to.

The thing about living with overchievers is that they have this cheerful and oblivious way of making people like me either feel like a complete loser or want to be a better person. Since I'm making myself my own priority this year, I chose to want to be a better person. I offered to go with her to the gym. When that alarm rang at 5:00 this morning and I realized I had been up way past midnight folding the 90 tons of laundry my children seem to create on a weekly basis, I realized I may be a bit of an Overachiever myself. Because working out this early on so very little sleep is waaaayyyy past my talent and skill level.

Can I just say that I had no idea how many Overachievers work out at 5:00 on Monday mornings? It almost makes me want to go back tomorrow if only to see if they will all show up again. Almost. Sophie greets the brightly lit gym full of torture devices and sweaty bodies with her usual spirit. My eyes squint against the glare as I stumble for the vending machine. Surely I can face the reality of my situation better with something in my stomach. Next to the vending machine is a comfy chair and pile of magazines for people like me who need to ease into morning.

By the time I finish the ganola bar, read a couple articles and talk my legs into heading for the torture device, I'm feeling pretty good about myself. This isn't so bad. Think of how accomplished I will feel knowing my workout is done for the day rather than dealing with the guilty mantra that normally runs through my mind--"I should work out today. I should really work out today. I really need to work out today. "

I step up to the task, push the buttons for the weight loss program, enter my age, lie about my weight (does the machine know?) and start stepping. Three minutes later, Sophie appears, glistening and happy. "I'm done. Let's go, Mom!"


I'm seriously not cut out for Overachieving.

There are moments when my children make my feel as if I've done something right as a parent--even if that something is nothing more than passing along a genetic mutation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Do We Own Our Children?

I hate sharing my kids. There, I said it. It's selfish and I never admit it to them, but I hate it.

On the day they switch to their dad's house for the week, my heart feels hollow. I hate that day. Which can make it very tempting to hold on too tightly to them when they are home again.

My oldest daughter, Kate, has a friend who is the sweetest thing in the world. She truly is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Unfortunately Kate and her friend don't get to spend as much time together as they'd like. Because when her friend is at her dad's house, she isn't allowed to spend much time with friends or at any other social function. Her dad is one of those parents who thinks that because she is only there every other week, she owes him her time. So sad.

Do our kids owe us their time? Really? If anything, we owe them the opportunity to live as normal a life as possible. In most circumstances, children did not ask for their parents to divorce but the children are the ones being asked to bear the brunt of the inconvenience of a two household family. Some of that is, unfortunately, just part of the deal. But as parents we should alleviate this in any way we can.

Manly Man Dad Friend, whom I have mentioned before, is a single dad. I'm sure there must be others out there who've got it figured out like he does. But so far, he's the only divorced dad I know of who does it right. When his kids have social events or slumber parties or lock-ins or sports camps or any other activity planned for his scheduled weekend, guess what he does? He shares in his children's excitement, makes sure they have what the need, taxis them to the location and picks them up the next day. Imagine that! He actually lets his kids enjoy their childhoods without making them feel obligated to give him their time and attention.

So, let me ask you, which kid has a closer relationship with her dad--the one who must log the prescribed hours or the one who gets to have a normal social life?

The parents who are so focused on forcing their children to log hours just don't get it. The parents who won't allow the child to go to dad's because it mom's week, just don't get it. The parents who guilt trip kids into staying home because the parent feels insecure just don't get it. What don't they get? Respect, for one thing. They also don't get that they are teaching their kids that love is conditional and that obligation is more important than acceptance.

So when I'm tempted to hold on too tightly, I give a great big hug--one that will last for the entire time they are apart from me. And I remind them over and over and over again: "I don't own you. I love you."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Picture Imperfect

This blog has no pictures. Oh, you hadn't noticed? Take a look. Not a single picture.

There are two reasons for that. First, I haven't figured out how to do that quite yet. Second, even when I figure it out, I won't want to post any pictures of me.

I saw Bette Midler on Johnny Carson explain once that when she was first getting started in show business she actually sent someone else's head shot with her resume. Maybe she'd actually get the job if the casting director didn't know what she looked like. The Divine Miss M? Can you believe that?

It's a female curse. Maybe. Or could just be me. Have you ever experienced this--It's a good hair day. A great one, in fact. Make-up is cooperating, too. For once you aren't bloated like a Goodyear Blimp and you can, in fact, fit into your skinny jeans. You are even feeling confident enough to undo the next button on your blouse. So you smile brilliantly when you meet your girlfriends or family or whoever is your public for the evening and they snap the photo to preserve the picture perfect moment. Then, you see the picture. And, thanks to technology you can usually view it immediately so it can ruin your fantasy right away.

What happened? In your mirror, in your bedroom, in your home you looked fabulous. So maybe you should just stay in front of your mirror, in your bedroom, in your home because apparently the lighting everywhere else just ain't doing it for ya.

Well, that's been my experience in every picture-taking opportunity past the age of 21. And what's truly unfair, is that my best friend has just the opposite experience. If I can figure out how to do it, I'll post the picture she snapped with her cell phone at the spur of the moment while she was working her garage sale, for crying out loud. Do you know what I look like when I'm working a garage sale? No, you wouldn't because I WOULD NEVER ALLOW A CAMERA ANYWHERE CLOSE!

Sorry for yelling. Beautiful best friends are maddening.

The interesting thing is how this problem is interpreted by my children. The three girls completely get it. "Oh, Mom, You can't let anyone see that picture." Of course they are talking only about photos of me because none of them could take a bad picture. Which you could see for yourself if I could figure out how to post it. But my son gets very upset. "Mom, you are beautiful all the time!"

So was it wrong of me to tell him he was my favorite child of the moment the other day when I walked into school to pick him up and the first thing he said was, "Mom, you look really pretty today." Of course the quiet yet calculating daughter quickly added, "But I think you look gorgeous!"

Then they started fighting over how beautiful each of them thought I was. Fighting! Right there in front of the teacher and their classmates! Over me. And my beauty. I smiled. What a picture perfect moment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Clean Start

I watched the show Hoarders the other night and it scared the crap out of me. And by crap I mean clutter.

Confession: I'm disorganized. I know this. I also hate this about myself. Every single day I search for something I have misplaced.

It's time to walk out the door. Damn! Where are my keys? In my purse. Where is my purse? With my coat. Where is my coat? I finally find all that but now, of course, I'm late. Now, where is that map I printed out of the place I'm going?

It's my own fault. I know this, too. I don't put things away when I should and so they pile up. Then, when I need that space, such as the top of the kitchen table so that we can eat dinner, I move the pile. I will go through it at another time. But here's the kicker--another time never presents itself. But another pile does. And another.

I think this is how hoarders start.

The piles and piles aren't just piles of stuff. They are piles of intentions. If I toss it all without even sorting through it, haven't I failed because I never actually accomplished what I intended to do? With those discarded piles I'll be throwing away even the mere opportunity to fulfill the intention.

But it's a new year. Time for a new perspective. So I've chosen to understand that with those discarded piles I'll be throwing away the mounds of failure I have associated with them.

Do you know how much 3 bags of shredded paper and 5 boxes of books and 3 loads of donations weigh? As I extract all that from my office, up the stairs, and out of my house I noticed the weight of it. It's heavy! It's difficult to move when I'm carrying so much. Then I think, no wonder I felt, at times, as if I were slogging through life during the last 2 years. Look at the baggage I created for myself.

And now that's it's gone, look at the space I've created for myself. Space to think, to feel, to live. My office and my life are now full of potential rather than self-defeating clutter. It feels pretty good.

I grab my keys, my purse, and my coat and head out the door. I don't need a map. I know exactly where I'm going.

Where are you headed in 2010? What do you need to do to get out of your own way to make sure you get there?