In college, my five roommates and I called ourselves, “The Snapper Squad.” (Yes, we were very cheesy…but don’t ya just love cheese?)
On our Snapper Squad wall we covered it with reams of paper. Across the top we wrote “The Snapper Squad’s Happy List” (or something like that. Gretchen Rubin, eat your heart out 🙂 I should have written THAT happiness book!)
Anyway, the whole wall was covered with lists of what made us happy. Just writing the list made us happy. And every girl, boy, and RA who wandered into our apartment had a comment about our wall. It was a huge conversation starter, and every time I passed in and out of our apartment, I would glance at it…and college Amy was happy (in-between all the boy drama.)
I didn’t know it then, but years later, science would back up the Snapper Squad’s happiness experiment.
Being grateful and expressing gratitude makes us happier.
My niece, Hailey, and I taught a lesson to our young women at church on Sunday. The topic was “Why is it important to be grateful?” Isn’t it interesting that God has often commanded us to be happy? (Think of the parable of the lepers…)
Doctrine & Covenants 59:21 And in nothing doth man aoffend God, or against none is his bwrathckindled, save those who dconfess not his hand in all things, and eobey not his commandments.
Sometimes, when we feel our lives are a train wreck we don’t feel we have much to be grateful for.
But remember Job? Even after he lost everything, he said: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return…the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
I think God wants us to be happy. And if that’s true, than perhaps we shouldn’t think of commandments as restrictions, rather, as opportunities for greater happiness.
Even if you don’t care a lick about what scriptures say about gratitude, let us go back to science. Science says we are happier when we are grateful. Try it.
Hailey showed this video:
For a phenomenal talk from one of my spiritual heroes, listen to this one.Wow.
Tonight, with a nod to the Snapper Squad, the #makechniemafia hung a long piece of paper on the wall so we can have our own happy list.
“We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?”
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Happy Monday. Hope you’re feeling grateful because then I bet you’re feeling happy 🙂
Take yourself to the challenge. If you don’t, the challenge will come to you. It always does. The challenge will WRECK the unprepared.
The girl can run the hills
Do you celebrate lent? In 2014 I first wrote about my lenten experience. I was trying it 40 days before I flew to the base of the Rocky Mountains to run a marathon. Glad that’s over.
This year my brother, Patrick, and I are accountability buddies. There are no marathons in sight. He gave up caffeine: “the first week was rough but I’m feeling better now.” At the moment he’s…struggling. I refuse to accept his defeat. Get back on that Lenten train, buddy!
I gave up some of my addictive technology practices: I can only check phone/email/computer at four specific times a day. Sound easy? Well, it’s not! I’m a chronic user abuser. I get so much email! To stay on top of it, I check when I’m bored, when I’m not bored, when I’m sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, when it’s been over an hour, when I’m waiting for a play to start, etc etc. Since I like to BE PRODUCTIVE ALL THE TIME I feel antsy just sitting. So, this has been a great challenge.
It’s been life-changing, she said dramatically. YES IT HAS. Now. I check email once in the morning before awaking children, once at lunch time, sometimes after dinner, and once after I put the kids to bed. Writing this feels ridiculous because it’s still A LOT. But it’s working. My mind is less frazzled. I feel calmer. I’m getting more important writing done. I’m actually cleaning more. Hallelujah, her husband said.
I even daydream more. I no longer keep my phone by my bed so I can’t reach over and check it when I can’t sleep or want a dopamine hit right before sleeping. I feel like I have so much more time! It’s also led to me deleting emails and unsubscribing to newsletter I just don’t have time to read, leaving only the most important. It’s a really, really good feeling.
I’ve experienced some physical withdrawal symptoms. Where at first my brain was anxious and antsy, feeling the need for a phone hit, only to BE DENIED, I’m now a little more whatever. It can wait.
Thanks to KJ’s advice (of NYT Motherlode column), I installed the app Moment, which tracks the amount of time I’m on my phone (the kids also installed!) and RescueTime on my laptop. Both are free and have completely revolutionized my thinking, time, and productivity.
All because of lent!
Sometimes I’m tempted to cheat – I remember I have to write a really important email RIGHT NOW. So I do something else: I write it down on paper. And on my next tech moment, I write the email. The sky has not fallen yet.
I thought lent it was a Catholic holiday, but actually, it’s a Christian tradition that many different religions practice. I know this because I Googled, “Lent for Dummies.”
I love the idea of lent, of how it can be a holy period that leads up to Easter.
In the Christian tradition, after the great party of Mardi Gras, where everyone sins and has their riotous fun, there is to be 40 days of prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and periods of fasting.
Well, I think we’ve had some riotous fun, and wouldn’t it be nice – and doesn’t the world need – some time for the holy? My heart is breaking for Syria and the people of Allepo. The images of children…aside from donating money, what can I do? I pray mightily. There is great power in prayer. Miracles, even. I have felt them in my own life.
2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
3 Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. – Doctrine & Covenants 8
Lent’s significance is supposed to be heightened during the Holy Week leading up to Easter, marking the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
In our house we always celebrate Easter, but I sometimes fear that all my children will remember about Easter are addictive, sugary, pink marshmellow bunnies. Yuck.
But the spirit of lent is something I’m familiar with.
In the Mormon religion, each first Sunday of the month is designated as “Fast Sunday.” This is a time of prayer, scripture, and going without food and water for 24 hours (as health and circumstance permits.) It’s voluntary and, for a society that really likes food – really hard.
I find it most interesting that it is during these hard, hungry days, that clarity often comes.
Why, I wonder, must we suffer to come closer to the divine? All I know, is that as we descend, we are somehow lifted. It just works.
This year the calendar says that lent began on Ash Wednesday, March 1 and ends on Thursday,
April 13. I know this because The Idiot’s Guide to Lent told me.
In my 2014 post, my friend, Julia wrote in the comments:
I am Catholic, and I must say you covered the bases pretty well. We fast so that we can make more room for God in our lives. In my house, we always give up sweets/desserts for Lent. I call it detox. Now that the kids are older, they are feeling the sacrifice more. (Example: 12 year old daughter gets into van after school yesterday and says, “Sebastian brought cupcakes to school for his birthday.” Glare. “And for pi day on Friday (celebrating that wonderful mathematical construct) everyone is bringing in pies.” Another, more venomous, glare. I smile. “It’s not supposed to be easy,” I say. This sacrifice is supposed to turn our dependence back to God and away from worldly things, or worse, our own sense of accomplishment. It should bring challenges that will make us better people. I hope. The Catholic Church also encourages Christians to use this time for increased prayer and works of charity- anything that will increase the amount of love in the world. Goodness knows we need it! I’m also trying to fast from worry. Pretty hard for this mama.
Just love this.
We give up something good for something better. This is the true meaning of sacrifice. And in a world that hates to be uncomfortable and has become increasingly more self-centered, we could use a bit more sacrifice. For our family, our marriages, our neighbors. Ironically, it ultimately benefits our own selves.
So. Have you taken yourself to the challenge? My daffodils have:
The last few months I’ve been the recipient of a few surprise gifts. I’m still marveling at their impact on my life.
1. The window candles.
I was at church one morning last month and my body language must have indicated I was having a bad day. True. I was really sad. Denise found me and gave me a hug. I started rambling on about window candles. Why could I never seem to get them to work? After my mother-in-law’s death, I had inherited her window candles and was so excited to finally be that quintessential New England home with the December candles in the windows. I drove all the way to the store (here that’s saying something,) bought batteries, plugged them all in, and two days later they were tipped over, and all the batteries were dead. Dark windows. #fail
WHY? What was so hard about window candles? Frustrated, I threw them all away. And was sad and mad.
Whatever. Unimportant. How are you?
“I might have some you can have,” Denise said. “I’m downsizing.” So nice, but oh dear. This would require something from me. They wouldn’t work and I’d have to find the right size bulb, and blah blah blah adding to more stress and stuff. Thank you, anyway 🙂
A few days later I received a present. Inside were six, brand new Christmas candles. No batteries required. All the lightbulbs worked. They light up automatically when the sun goes down and go to sleep when the sun comes up. They stay upright. And every night, for the past month, when I pull into the driveway, there are candles lighting up my dark windows in the middle of the dark winter in New Hampshire.
It’s a small thing. But Denise made this happen for me. And it makes me so so happy.
2. A handwritten card from my sister, Andrea.
Even now, weeks later, I read this over and over. She wrote, “Thank you for being such a good friend…you wrote on your blog that optimism is your best trait. I disagree. I think your best trait is helping the people in your life feel loved…thank you, Amy, for loving me.”
It makes me cry every time I read it and I will cherish it forever, (especially when I’m crabby and not making anyone feel loved). A small thing. And makes me so so happy.
3. Paintbrushes from a master artist.
I was completely overwhelmed when I received these paint brushes, some sample paper, and a letter in the mail a few weeks ago from Leanne. “You must simply start painting with watercolor because your eye is flawless.” Huh? Me? It’s true that I’ve secretly wanted to become Monet for a long time, but…you know. I pretty much assumed that if I hadn’t started by now it was too late. But Leanne said, “you must simply start!” This EXCEPTIONAL watercolorist was telling me I should paint. And so I obeyed! Brynne and I have been putting paint on paper, and artist Jill has invited me to come to her class, and I’m discovering this great art form and loving it so much.
Yesterday I painted a bird 🙂 A small thing. It makes me so happy.
4. The gift of the rhubarb.
This past summer I was missing people. One day Tamar called and said, “I have a present for you but I have to give it to you in person.” She showed up with a rhubarb plant.
Oh dear. I had to plant something and not kill it.
“You won’t be able to kill it.” She said this stubborn rhubarb was weaving in and under her porch, reaping all sorts of destruction. She went to work on it, but was dismayed to see that she had unintentionally killed the whole thing!
“I was so sad. Every day this summer I came out to see if my rhubarb was growing back and every day there was nothing but dirt. Heather was dead and my rhubarb was dead and I was so so sad. Day after day. Well one day I came out and there was this tiny green shoot poking out of the ground! And I swear I heard Heather behind me. It was like she was right there and you know what she said? She said, ‘See! LIFE GOES ON!'”
And Tamar thought – AMY! She dug up the rhubarb plant, put it in a pot, drove all the way to my house, and told me the rhubarb story. “See! LIFE GOES ON!” And in my head I could see Heather standing behind me, pointing at the rhubarb in her strong, matter-of-fact voice. “SEE! LIFE GOES ON!”
My friends, none of these women had to bring me a gift. But for some reason, they thought of me, and then they ACTED ON THAT THOUGHT. They were busy with long to-do gifts and they stopped a moment to bring or send me a surprise gift.
They made me so so happy.
Funny the way gifts work. Friends and a sister put gifts in my lap and in the mail. They gave to me. But when I said thank you, I could see that they felt that same joy, too.
The best thing about a surprise gift is that it’s so unexpected. We expect gifts on our birthdays, at Christmas, and yankee swaps. But when a gift lands in your lap and is so out of the blue, oh my goodness, it’s SO FUN! And it’s so entirely delightful to see the look on the recipient’s face. No wonder Ellen loves her talk show so much – she unexpectedly gives gives gives. Her guests cry and jump up and down, and we, her audience – WE LOVE IT!
If you think that making the world a better place is out of your control, you’re mistaken. Our circle of influence is our most powerful weapon for good. Start there and you’ll see – happiness has a ripple effect and continues far and wide.
Secret of Happiness: send a surprise gift. You’ll see it, you’ll feel it…happy.
About a year ago, in the spirit of trying to be more organized, I mapped out a calendar of posts I wanted to write instead of my usual writing-everything-on-the-fly-however-the-muse-moves-me way of blogging.
Intentions were good. Output was poor.
I also didn’t pay particular attention to particular events, like the election, and how we all might be feeling post-voting. This week I had “laundry post,” slated.
But I’ve been feeling rather despondent post-election. A laundry post seemed rather…trivial. Didn’t our country need more? I could only stare glumly at the black screen…who cares about laundry? Write something important, something meaningful, something big.
So I wrote nothing.
Not to worry, my heart is coming back. How is the state of your heart?
So I unplugged for a bit and boy was it refreshing. Even Hilary went for a walk the day after! Nature is soul cleansing. When I run outside in the woods, breathe in fall air, crunch in leaves, our sweet land of liberty feels good. It’s not what happens to us, but thinking that makes it so.
As always is the case, when you are searching, you find. This gem from Sarah:
There should be less talk, a preaching point is not always a meeting point. What do you do then? Take a broom and clean someone’s house. That says enough. All of us are but His instruments who do our little bit and pass joy.
Isn’t that great? Take a broom and clean someone else’s house! Oh yes, I am 100% positive that if you picked up a broom in my house, I would feel very JOYFUL.
Mother Theresa, oh wise one, also said:
War is the fruit of politics,
so I don’t involve myself, that’s all.
If I get stuck in politics, I will stop loving.
Because I will have to stand by one, and not stand by all.
This is the difference.
This is the difference. I’ve had a personal political crisis of late, but these words speak to me, reminding that I can only control what is in my circle of influence, and that is enough. In fact, if we all did that a little better with our own families, the world would take care of itself.
If that feels too big at this very moment, try something smaller: make your bed.
Yes, that’s the advice from happiness guru, Gretchen Rubin. Sounds trivial and small, perhaps, but maybe there’s more to it. The simple act of getting out of bed and pulling up your covers is not only satisfying, it marks the start of the day. It makes our world feel a little more orderly and organized. And every time you walk back into your room, it’s a nicer place to enter.
I think the making of the bed also signifies something bigger for us: It’s time to rise up! A bed made signals a resolve to face the world. You can’t crawl under the sheets and hide anymore. You must rise, and find a way to be good and brave and kind.
So there we go. It’s rather simple. Turn off the news, find Nature, pick up a broom for someone, make the bed. And than all will be well, my friends.
It opens with a Will Rogers quote: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”
Isn’t it funny? Even as adults we’re still trying to impress each other.
Warning: Reading this book may lead to the frantic purging of closets, drawers and cupboards that require multiple trips to Goodwill and the curb. This behavior may also leave you feeling like the weight of the world is off your back … at least that was my reaction after just two dressers.
I often wonder about this phenomenon; why do we feel so much better when we get rid of stuff? What is it about stuff that is so burdensome?
He’s right – it’s important stuff. I’m spreading the word!
The book begins with a story: “Our two-car garage, as always, was full of stuff. Boxes stacked one on top of another threatened to fall off shelves. Bikes were tangled together, leaned against a wall … Rakes and shovels and brooms leaned every which way. Some days we’d have to turn sideways when getting in and out of our cars to squeeze through the mess that filled the garage.”
Oh my gosh, he’s been in my garage!
Reading prompted multiple questions: Why are we working such long, hard hours just so we can buy, collect and store stuff?
Why? What’s the point of it all?
As a society we may be working more, but for what? I don’t want to live in a tree house, but my lifestyle is certainly far more extravagant than my parents, and far far more luxurious than my grandparents and their grandparents! I have a feeling they would be astounded at our wealth – I’ve seen the pictures of their poverty.
It’s hard for us in different ways. We’ve created a lifestyle that requires us to work longer hours, find multiple jobs, and make dual incomes. To alleviate the stress, many of us make it worse: We buy more (dopamine hit!)
And then, to take care of all our stuff, we have to clean it, organize it, buy more containers to organize it, and spend our precious weekends moving our stuff from one location to the other.
STOP the insanity!
We don’t really need to own all this stuff.
These were the words that changed Becker’s world in 2008 while talking to his elderly next-door neighbor as he struggled to clean his garage. While pulling out dusty, underused possessions, Becker noticed his son alone in the backyard. His son had wanted to play with him that morning, but alas, dad was too busy. “The juxtaposition of the two scenes dug deep into my heart, and I began to recognize the source of my discontent for the first time. … It was piled in my driveway.”
This moment is when Becker’s journey into minimalism began.
The whole point is this: “Our excessive possessions are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”
Using both scientific studies and anectdotal stories, Becker tells us what our closets are telling us:
In America, we consume twice as many material goods as 50 years ago. Over the same period, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled and contains about 300,000 items. On average, our homes contain more televisions than PEOPLE! Home organization is now an $8 billion industry and still, one of out every 10 American households rents off-site storage, “the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real-estate industry over the past four decades.”
We Americans have a personal-debt problem, with the average household’s credit card debt over $15,000 and the average mortgage debt over $150,000.
Debt makes us very very unhappy.
Becker wants us to see our overstuffed homes for what they are: distractions from the source of true happiness like relationships, free time, financial freedom and less stress.
He acknowledges it’s not easy, particularly for families with children, pets, and a lifetime of momentos. It takes a hard look and family agreement to know how to realistically downsize. It can take months and even years to change our habits and actually own less. I’m finding this to be true.
I’ve kept my sun-bleached lifeguarding hair for TWENTY YEARS.
I made these crayfish claw earrings for my sister as a joke in high school or college. She kindly regifted them to me. I bravely tossed them. And now I’m actually sad because they’d make a great gag gift! See? That’s another reason we don’t throw away – sometimes we regret it!
A small white statue with a broken arm. It has sentimental value, but alas, it has sat at the back of my drawer for decades.
Do I really need a dusty tassle?
What this is and where did it come from?
Brynne has also caught the decluttering bug. Outside her bedroom I heard her say, “Paige! You can’t keep it! Does it SPARK JOY???!”
I purged most of our CDs and many many movies that I can stream from Spotify or Netflix.
I’ve still got drawers and file cabinets and rooms to go, but it feels SO SO good to have less stuff.
Read this book! (and no, I’m not getting anything out of this review.) Becker makes such a great case, I’m convinced that if we followed a path of minimalism (owning less stuff) we would reap the benefits Becker is seeing all over the minimalist world: greater joy, more contentment, increased generosity, more high-quality possessions, a better example to our children, less work for ourselves and others, less comparison, less distraction, and freedom to pursue what we were really put on this earth to do.
Though its not a religious book, Becker is a preacher (love that). He’s a seeker of happiness and enlightenment. He recounts the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he can do to gain eternal life. Jesus says to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. But when the young man “heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”
I recently read in the New York Times, that it’s not possible to be an atheist: we all worship something. A good question for us all: What are we worshipping?
The More of Less was released on May 3 and after its first week, landed on many National Bestseller Lists:
USA Today Bestsellers List: #10 in Nonfiction; #2 in Self-Help
Happy February! Am I the only one happy that January is over (in 4 short hours!)? Now that sickness has swept the house (last one standing!) we can move on to the month of love!
Speaking of love, I bring you the “Yes, I’d Love To!” Jar.
Many months ago I heard about this idea on a podcast (wish I could remember which one!) The darlings became my guinea pigs. The idea is simple:
1. Put a jar on the counter
2. Label it: “Yes, I’d Love To.”
3. Every time someone asks you to do something, respond with “Yes, I’d love to!”
4. For every “Yes, I’d love to” response, put a cotton ball (or something similar) in the jar
5. When the jar is filled up, go for ice-cream
Of course the darlings liked the ice-cream idea. And it became somewhat comical how fast they could fill the jar up – like in five minutes – by asking ridiculous questions and rushing to make a basket.
I told them we had to play for real.
My older kids humor me, even when obviously feeling “I’m-way-too-old-for-your-games-mom.” (I like to live in the dream world where they actually like my cheesy games.)
And so we began.
“Nelson, would you please get me a fork?”
Instead of, “Get it yourself,” he caught himself. “Yes, I’d love to, Brynne,” in yes, a somewhat sarcastic voice. But he still handed her a fork.
“Mom, would you please get me some milk?”
Instead of, “I just sat down” or “You have legs” I caught myself trying to ever-so-cheerfully set the example with, “Why yes, I’d love to!”
“Cope, would you please cut me an apple?”
Instead of a flat, “No,” Cope darling sighed, but eyeing that jar in need of filling and with ice-cream fairies dancing in her head, responded: “Why yes, I’d love to.” Add some eye-batting. And a high-pitched Cinderella voice.
Maybe we’re just competitive. Maybe we like games. Maybe we just wanted ice-cream, but the jar began to fill. And seeing the jar fill, made us want to fill it faster.
At first I wondered if I was just teaching them to be fake or only acting for a prize.
But then again, we nudge our children all the time to do things they don’t actually feel like doing. “Say thank you,” “Tidy up your space,” “Be kind to the new kid,” “Write a note.” In fact, isn’t that what parenting is all about? Isn’t this part of the future training of America? Do the thing you really don’t want to do because it’s just the right thing to do!
Also, because it was on my brain, a quote from philosopher and psychologist, William James:
“Actions seems to follow feeling, but really actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.” -William James
Oh yes, I love it. Armed with James and his mighty words of wisdom, I felt completely justified in the training of my guinea pigs with the “Yes, I’d Love To” jar.
Based on research for Better Than Before (fabulous new book on habits) Rubin found if we want to feel a certain way, we can act that way first.
It’s really hard to change our emotional state just by wanting to change it (though Mindset surely is powerful.) But it might be easier if we ACT first and let the emotional state follow.
Wasn’t that so true when I was at home with little kids. Just the act of changing out of my pajama bottoms and doing my hair as if I was going to a real job – which motherhood surely is – changed my whole day from slogging through to more-happily mothering.
It works. It really does. When I’m irritated and snappish with a child, it works wonders for me to laugh. Or hug. Or smile.
“Fake it ‘Til You Make it” works.
Isn’t it the truth that when we speak more kindly, we feel more kindly?
It doesn’t really matter if we want to get a fork for our sister. Get the fork. It makes her happy. And guess what…we all know acting kinder makes us happier, too.
Brain research supports this idea. Act the way you want to feel. Not the other way around. If you’re walking around yelling and slamming doors, that only makes you want to yell and slam some more doors. Your brain says: “I must be really angry!”
Harvard research says that the act of giving thanks actually makes us feel happier. Such a simple and quick fix for general grumpiness.
I used to hear that boys should go “punch something” to get their aggression out. Perhaps they should make some cookies for the neighbors instead.
Feeling shy? Introduce yourself! I swear it works wonders. Suddenly we’re confidently chatting our way through an awkward social situation.
This experiment suggests that people who use Botox are less prone to anger, because they can’t make angry, frowning faces. Crazy, huh?!
This phenomenon happened to me the other day.
I was feeling pretty miserable. My energy was low. Consistently telling myself how much I hate January doesn’t help. I had to take a car full of kids all the way to Concord, be in charge of an youth activity, and then drive everyone home again. Growling would just not do (because not all of the occupants were my kids 🙂 ) I wanted to lay back down on the bed, read, and be served warm toast. Instead I got out of my sweats and pulled on a pair of jeans. I put my hair in a ponytail, slapped on some mascara and started the carpool. By the time I got home I was a totally different person. I was actually happy.
Was I being fake? I don’t think so. I think I was choosing to be the person I wanted to be that night.
The aftermath of the “Yes, I’d Love to” Jar was this: over time the darlings lost interest in putting cotton balls in the jar. But I did notice that the “yes, I’d love to” phrase hung around for much longer. It still comes out of everyone’s mouth once in awhile. The jar works best if it’s on the counter for awhile and then put away for a season. It’s like a special toy – best to be pulled out only occasionally. And then when it’s pulled out again, it’s fun.
So I ask you – How do you want to feel?
Then act that way.
The jar hasn’t been out for months. But I think it’s time again. The dishwasher needs emptying 🙂
It’s been a great summer. We’ve traveled to foreign lands, gathered for sweet reunions, and swum and swam the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans blue.
We’ve soaked up summer, swimming at the local lake every day, and eating too much ice-cream. It’s been glorious.
Among all the great and grand adventures, something very ordinary occurred in my home that had a tremendous impact on me. Kim, this one’s for you.
In July my dear sister-in-law, Kim, and her husband, Glenn, (my husband’s brother, and my awesome marathon buddy!) traveled all the way from Saudi Arabia with their four young children: Tate and Finn ages 6 and 4, and Kenna and Taryn, 6-month-old twin girls.
Ah, I’m obsessed with the twins.
Let me eat your foot.
What it’s like to live in Saudi Arabia deserves it’s own post. It’s been hard, especially for Kim who is not allowed to drive and has to dress as according to local custom, every time she leaves the Aramco compound. Fresh fruit and vegetables, flour, mascara – what’s that?
Coming back to the U.S. required all sorts of documentation, planning, and luggage (the baby formula alone could feed a small zoo). It was quite dizzying what they accomplished.
Kim, super mother to four delightful children, arrived at our front door very very sick with strep throat.
A few days later, (after rudely sleeping in whilst my guests had been up with babies throughout the night and had fixed their own breakfast,) I stumbled downstairs to say good morning. I found my kitchen entirely too clean, with warm, fluffy pancakes awaiting me (their marital teamwork is impressive!). Glenn was even sweeping the floor.
Kim was at the kitchen table with 6-year-old, Tate. He had a pencil and a workbook. He was writing his letters, carefully focusing on each swirl and twirl of the alphabet, while his mother balanced twins on her lap, patiently pointing at the paper, redirecting when Tate became distracted by a fly, and encouraging when necessary (often.)
I was so struck by this scene.
I could see myself, years earlier, at the kitchen table with my oldest child, Cope: when summer was long and hot, when we had endless hours stretched out before us, when we had a schedule that required no driving to activities. Back then I was stricter about things like bedtime and television (only Saturday mornings)!
Every morning in the summer we read, we wrote, we learned all the notes on the piano. And every day, desperate for entertainment, we took a very slow walk and had a very long bath.
After writing, Kim followed Tate, and I followed Kim, to the piano. I witnessed this mother, a younger (and idealized) version of myself, patiently teaching her child how to play. When he complained, she paused and said she would wait until he was ready. She didn’t yell or take away all his stuffed animals (ala Tiger Mother!) She just waited until he was ready.
I could practically see Tate’s brain and all his synapses connecting as he concentrated. He was so earnest. His little hands splayed out, connecting each finger to a note on the piano. He played his scales and then moved on to Old McDonald Had a Farm. When he nailed the song, his pleasure filled the whole house.
“Watch this, Auntie,” he said to me, grinning.
I felt a pang of…guilt…mixed with inspiration and resolve. I thought of my Paige, the youngest child. Was she was getting the same kind of mothering her older siblings received? Or have I gotten too busy?
It wasn’t that the early days of mothering were simpler or easier. In many ways it was harder, with younger children to look after, a house that always needed cleaning, 12 dorm boys to “mother,” and constant fatigue from not enough sleep. But the difference is we were less busy outside the home. And I admit it, I was more diligent about some things – like printing up all the American Red Cross swim guidelines so I could teach Cope and Nelson how to swim all the strokes and float with their clothes on for two minutes. Now? Ah geez, who can I hire???
Like most families, the youngest child has a very different life then her older siblings. This week, for instance, Paige happily came to preseason soccer practice everyday while I coached. She swung on swings, wandered the playground.
The life of younger siblings life most often means being dragged to this and that. It’s life in the car and waiting. I’m not saying it’s all bad. Life is good for her, but it’s just different. Maybe this is how youngest children get spoiled; parents feel guilty about not teaching them how to clean a bathroom so they reward them with iPads. Am I totally off base here?
As far as summer goes, I’m very anti-commitment. I resent camps, clubs, lessons, and anything that requires driving. We don’t participate in much. Summer is for us, because just wait. School will start and we will go, go, go.
And sometimes I worry that the little one is not getting the best of me.
Oh, we still have charts, a “zone” chore wheel, one on one time, but mustering up the discipline to sit down and be still and teach letters has waned. My older children have moved on, and in many ways I’ve gone with them. It’s so exciting, to be busy with freshman orientation, ocean classroom, and gasp – dating! In addition, a mother has dreams of her own…writing, running, pursuing…it’s hard to know what to forego and for how long.
I’ve already done the Arthur puzzles a thousand times. I can’t get excited about High-Ho Cheerio. There’s also the “been there, done that.” I’ve outgrown play dates and learning circles.
And yet, the littles need it. Does it really matter that I’m bored?
How easy it is not do that hard, mundane “stuff” of teaching the younger ones, as if they’ll just magically pick up “how to fold the laundry” on their own. I now understand how “the baby” of the family often has a vastly different parent than the older ones had. Why the baby doesn’t have his or her own scrapbook. Was mom and dad just too tired to take the pictures?
Like, l totally get why my younger brothers got everything they wanted (they’ll recall it differently, ha! :))
I remember someone telling me that we had to be careful as our children became older, that we didn’t neglect the younger ones. At the time I thought it a ridiculous statement. If anything, it was the babies that took my attention. The older ones became independent while I was nursing and changing diapers. But now I understand. It’s too easy to get lazy, to feel tired, to stop parenting.
Young, new mothers might not understand that their example is every bit important as more “veteran” mothers. As new moms, we often think we have no idea what we’re doing. But we do know! It’s instinct. It’s maternal. It comes. We know what we need to do. How great it is, this two-way street of learning between mothers at all stages.
I called my other sister-in-law, Jill, to tell her about this revelation, of watching Kim work with Tate and how I needed to buckle down with Paige, to read and write and do more math. Jill, the mother of four girls said, “I KNOW! I THOUGHT THE SAME THING!”
Kim, we all want to be like you 🙂
So, as I look towards fall, I know that life isn’t going to stop. We still have to drive, deliver and pick up children from here and there. We’re not giving up soccer practice or going to school or parent-teacher conferences or the grocery store. But I’ve also concluded that there also has to be more “No” for the better “Yes.” There has to be those Nine Minutes. After that we can go back to benevolent neglect (kidding!).
And gee, wasn’t my “baby” Paige thrilled when I told her we were going to read and write everyday just like we talked about at the beginning of the summer and then didn’t do so well because we went to Europe (see, life is HARD :). We were going to make music together and she wasn’t going to love it every second, but like my mother always said, “like that has anything to do with it.” (Thanks, mom!) Also, we were going to do MATH!
Paige only THINKS she detests math. She whined and complained, but this newly inspired mother wasn’t giving in. And just this morning, after weeks of working hard together, Paige showed me her math score: 100%. She was beaming. That my friends, is called self-esteem: doing the hard things and the right things because they have to get done. It makes you feel mighty good about yourself.
This whole scenario reminded me of the expression, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That might be true. But you certainly can remind the old dog of the tricks she already knows. And I’m happy to report, it comes back pretty easily.
To all you tired, new mothers who don’t sleep much, who are a little wide-eyed from this great adventure called motherhood, who don’t think you know what you’re doing: you do know. keep inspiring us older dogs. We need you more than you know.
And dear Kimmy, thank you <3
I’m sorry, Tate, for burning your hot dog. I’m trying to pay better attention 🙂
My friend Eric has ALS. Just about everything about it is awful. But sometimes we talk about the upsides. For instance, he knows what his family means to him. Life is about experiences together, rather than things. It’s heartbreaking to watch Eric’s physical body slowly stop working, and yet he’s still able to be positive. How does he do it? It has everything to do with his mind.
I’m also a podcast geek.
You may see me out running, pulling weeds, or driving in the car talking to an invisible person, nodding vehemently, or shouting “YES!” I’m likely listening to a podcast; there are just so many people to learn from out there in the world.
A recent favorite was Michael Hyatt’s, Watch Your Mouth. Ka-zaam! It was right in line with everything I’m interested in: being proactive, making better habits, becoming happier. This episode was about changing our vocabulary…which of course comes right from the brain.
As a man thinketh, so is he.
Our words have power. We know they affect others, but do we also realize they affect us? Do we realize our words affect our behavior? Even if we don’t say them out loud?
The mind is a powerful thing. We see the things we want to see and the more we use certain words, the more they become engrained in our brain and actions.
Think Eeyore versus Tigger.
Imagine if we made the mindset shift from “I have to” to “I get to.” I’m convinced our marriages would soar. Our children would smile more. Our families would flourish. Change the family? Change the world.
Using Eric and Hyatt’s list as a guide, here are my personal pitfalls; can you relate?
1. Driving: Eric can’t drive anymore. And he really liked driving his truck. I, on the other hand, view driving back and forth to school, church activities, parties, soccer, etc. as a huge waste of time. However, a mother recently told me she didn’t mind driving her child to school 35-minutes one-way every single day. “I have her undivided attention and she has mine. We don’t have to even look at each other. We just talk – it’s the most quality time we have.” Hmmm. Mindset shift. Instead of, “I have to drive the kids to school,” we could say, “I get to be the last person who says I love you just before he plunges into the middle school wing.” We go from burden to opportunity. (Besides, no driving = no Target! and what kind of life would that be?)
2. Work and School: I recently heard on Gretchen Rubin’s fabulous podcast Happier that people see a huge dip in their happiness on Sunday morning around noon. That’s when we begin to think about the work week ahead. Oh man, I get it. But what if we said, “I get to go to work on Monday and impact kids?” or “I am so lucky I get to go to school. I’m so lucky to get an education.” Ask anyone who’s job hunting or unemployed. They’ll tell you: “You are so lucky to have a job!!!” As a mom working at home, I can say, “I get to get up early and start breakfast, pack lunches, and spend time with grumpy-pants.” I get to! And some moms don’t.
3. Exercise/Running: You might be surprised (or glad!) to hear that I too constantly struggle with motivation to run and/or workout. Even though it’s a habit, I still catch myself saying, “I have to go run.” My goodness, how lucky are we, that we have legs! Sometimes I practice being grateful while running. “I’m so lucky for these strong legs that can run miles and miles.” Because I run early, I’ve witnessed the sun rise. I’ve interacted with moose, snakes, chipmunks, snow falling, raindrops, a mother goose and her goslings, too many barking dogs 🙂 Change your vocabulary from “I have to” to “I get to run today!” and you’ve got a game-changer.
4. The To-Do List: How many times a day do we say, “I have so many things to do.” Well listen, that’s just never going to change. And To-Do’s are a matter of choice. We get to choose what we want to do and when we do it. We are in charge of our calendar. “I get to vacuum the floor at 8 a.m. today.” “I am choosing to bring dinner to my friend because I love her.” “I am choosing to drive to Lowe’s and buy lightbulbs.” Changing our vocabulary might not make us LOVE buying lightbulbs, but the vocabulary tweak is important. Life doesn’t just happen to us. We choose our what, where, and when. Any hey, no lightbulbs? No light.
5. Making Dinner: “I have to make dinner. AGAIN” could be changed to, “I get to go to the grocery store where there are literally tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and Goldfish crackers to choose from. I get to peruse cookbooks and blogs or cook my mother’s tuna fish casserole! Tweak “I have to” to “I get to have dinner tonight. I’m so lucky to that every time I open my cupboard there is FOOD, glorious food!”
6. Travel: Recently I found myself dreading, “I have to plan this trip” while picking up a European guide book. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But I realized I was dreading the planning because I don’t know how to plan a trip to Europe. I’ve never been there. No one is picking us up at the airport, holding my hand, walking me through customs. I believe fear and indecision is the crux of much of our “I have to” vocabulary. But once we make a decision, we can make the mind shift. Not everyone gets to go on vacation. We get to.
7. Medical/Dental Appointments: “I have to pay how much for braces??? Did you say $6000 per kid?” And then everytime the bill comes or everytime I hand over the HSA card I’m thinking, “I have to pay $1000 for that?” Guess what? No one makes us go to the doctor. No one makes us get braces for the kids. Change the vocabulary to “I’m so lucky to have access to healthcare while people around the world have no doctors, no access, no dentists, no nothing.” “I’m so lucky we have enough money to make monthly installments for my daughter’s very expensive mouth. Her smile is going to be so beautiful. I’m so glad I can help her.” (cut the sarcasm!)
8. Parenting in General: We’re tired. I know we are, but it’s too easy to get snarky, snappy, and annoyed. It’s too easy to eye-roll, to make habits that last the lifetime of a relationship. We do it with infants: “I have to change another diaper.” We do it with our toddlers: “I have to take him outside and walk really slowly and look down every single drain.” We do it with our teens: “I have to have another conversation about texting.” Imagine the change in our relationships if we said, “I’m so lucky I get to spend time with my baby today. (even if she’s a little stinky :)” “I’m so lucky I get to be here when he learns to walk and says ‘Dada’ for the first time.” “I’m so lucky that God entrusted me with such a powerful personality!” “I’m so lucky to be a mother!” Woah. Mind shift.
I’ve found that this small tweak in my vocabulary, from “I have to…” to “I get to…” leads to this magical word called Gratitude. It’s no wonder that happiness is directly tied to being grateful.
I remember the day my friend Eric could no longer lift my son’s bike out of his truck. I remember the day he could no longer take cereal down from the fridge to give to his daughters. He can no longer lift his arms to scratch his nose, swat a mosquito, or wipe away tears. I get to do all of those things.
We went for a walk the other day because he can still make very small movements with his hands to move the joystick of his wheelchair. We were going down the road, me walking, him rolling. I didn’t say it, but I sure thought it: “I’m get to walk. I’m so lucky.”
On the way back, Eric slowed to a stop. I looked down to see a snake slithering across the road and eeked out a small shriek. But Eric appreciated. His eyes zeroed in on the snake. Instead of screaming and running down the road I managed to stay still and watch, as the snake used it’s body to slither across the road, making a seamless “S.” Eric said, “It’s so cool how it can do that. So effortlessly.”
Every day, we get to see little miracles like this. But only if we recognize them.
As the darlings grow older, it’s harder to write about them. For some odd reason, they do not like me playing paparazzi to their every move and then posting their stories online for the whole world to read (how weird.) If I post a picture, I now have to ask permission. Oh, the funny stories that have fallen to the wayside…
Family privacy thing has plunged me into frequent blog crisis. After many months of deliberation, I came up with three categories I most like to write about: Happiness, Habits, and Health. (not to worry, the cherubs will still make frequent appearance.)
Real Quotes from Real Kids goes provides a compromise. They say things. I write them down and post anonymously. Sometimes even they can’t remember who said what (I have it filed away for future reference.)
I believe this post belongs in the Happiness category. Although, sometimes these quotes are not always funny or sweet or happy at all. But that’s real life, right?
Can you guess who said what? (I’m sorry, but I’m sworn to secrecy!)
The Top Ten:
1. “I’ve been nice for 5 days! I can’t be nice anymore – I’m OUT OF NICE!”
2. “I just want some processed American cheese. Is that so wrong?”
3. “Shoot high, hit low…that’s how I get exactly what I want!” (child negotiating bedtime. should I be concerned at the manipulation or impressed at the brilliance?)
4. “How would you like it if someone just wrecked your house because it was too close to his house? That is NOT OKAY!” (oh dear, the beaver indignance.)
5. “Why do you like running so much? Don’t you like, need to chase something? Like a ball???”
6. “Mama, this is nice toilet paper! I can’t wait to poop!”
7. “Well…your preference is wrong!” (we’re working on tolerating others’ opinions.)
8. “Mama, you’re my bestie.” (best quote on this page)
9. “There’s chocolate on my jeans! I didn’t even eat chocolate…double unfairness!”
10. “When I get married I want to come home and find my husband reading books to the our kids…and the best part is I can totally see all of my Uncles doing that.” (nice)
One of these quotes was actually said by dear husband. Can you guess which one?
Part I was back Here. I think this might become “a regular thing.” ’cause they just keep talking!
I hope you’re recording all the funny things you hear. At the very least, it serves as good blackmail and as a future record that you didn’t make this stuff up!
Today I zipped myself into a black graduation gown.
I haven’t put one on for at least ten years, (minus the Professor McGonagall Halloween.) Even back in the day, when I taught, I rarely dressed. Instead, I corralled two little children while catching snippets of graduation speeches, soaking in inspiration. By the way, I don’t think that ever goes away, that desire to learn, to rise, be better.
Today I didn’t have to corral children or worry about childcare.
So I zipped myself into a black robe for graduation. This past year I taught one class of Anatomy & Physiology. I was a last-minute act of desperation: large junior class, not enough teacher. Could I teach a class for a year? My first thought: no way. What came out of my mouth was unfathomable: okay.
I said yes before fear could talk me out of it, because well, I just really love body parts. And saying sternocleidomastoid. I mean, does that ever get old? The fear came immediately after the Yes, along with what the heck are you doing? how are you just going to fit that into your day?
You see, I had found a peace and rhythm to being a stay-at-home-mom. I found there was always plenty of good work to do. I had reconciled my own inner angst of wanting to do even more meaningful work. I had a job. I was teacher in a different classroom called home. I have no regrets at all about this. It was absolutely the best decision for our family and I thank all the fortune cookies I ever ate that we could do it.
But baby girl was in second grade and one class a day, four days a week, was doable, right?
It was doable, but I won’t say it was easy. The hire came in late August. The syllabus was due the next week. There were more panicked what the heck are you doing? moments. Could I really remember the sliding filament theory (you know, bicep curl, sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), contraction. Say what?)
Well then, I would fake it ’till I made it. I decided right away that if I was going to teach, then I would be all in, even if there was no future class for me. I would prepare like it mattered, as if I were cooking and serving a 5-star meal. Which, in my case, was served in a body bag.
To do it right, A&P had to be a high priority. And I let it be. I had one year to be awesome. Bring it, then. It took almost all of my “extra time,” the time scheduled for writing, a dream I’ve been trying to build for years amidst potty-training (them, not me), laundry, and chauffeuring the wee ones. I was making a choice, but also wondered what sacrifice I was trading.
The school year began. I taught the sliding filament theory. I also observed something remarkable, something I must have forgotten. My colleagues were superheroes trying to pass as mere mortals. They flew to meetings, coached on athletic fields, washed dishes at lunch, and conducted extra help sessions next to ponds and on busses. They never had a weekend off. And they were always smiling. My admiration grew until it was overflowing. I was mothering while just teaching one class. What about the full-time teachers? Good golly.
Like any job, teaching brought stress, scheduling impasses, too much rushing, and missed elementary school field trips. But exasperation was outweighed by so much happy. I was surprised that it felt similar to when I had my fourth sweet baby; I had anticipated the work, but kindof forgot there would be so much joy.
The cloudy image must be all the rising humidity. Sitting in a robe for hours like this is super fun.
When my students learned all the bones of the human body, we cheered together. I witnessed a shiny new confidence in their eyes. When they could name the muscle they had pulled in a soccer game, or confidently tell their surgeon about their anterior cruciate ligament, I felt a surging pride that outweighed all the discussions we had had about texting during class.
This morning I zipped myself into a black graduation gown. I put on the yellow neck scarf thingy indicating my science major.
I admit: I felt ridiculous. The hat. Oh, that hat! Pretentious, silly. Perhaps it was my own insecurity that I hadn’t done this in so long or that I wasn’t full-time, but I thought do I really have to wear this and march into the tent?
It was an oppressive and wet heat when we as a faculty lined up behind the seniors. It would be even hotter, more oppressive sitting under the tent. I felt inner and outer wilting.
Then the music began to play, a rousing and familiar Pomp and Circumstance that brought all the parents, grandparents, family and friends who were waiting under the giant dome of a tent, to their feet.
We began to walk. The seniors entered first, to cheers and whistles, to trumpets blaring, to those annoying ear-splitting air horns honking.
And then we as a faculty walked in, and the crowd remained standing. They didn’t just clap. They cheered. We passed person after person, parent after parent, and I noticed the great emotion on their faces. Mothers were wiping tears from their eyes. Fathers reached out to touch our shoulders. There was a look on the faces of mothers and fathers that said, thank you so much – for everything you did for my child.
As I walked with my band of teachers down the aisle, I was overcome, wiping away my own tears. I was both humbled and proud to be part of a faculty who gave all, who had been the shoulders that these bright, compassionate, wonderful kids had stood on to rise – and boy did they rise. And the crowd was acknowledging us.
The invocation was given by one of the wise ones named Bill Peabody. He said something like, “The most important people in your life are not the ones who have made the most money, have the highest degree, or have the most stuff. The most important people in your life are the ones who care the most.”
It was an honor to stand with a tremendously, deeply caring faculty, a faculty who are a bit unusual in the way they care so much. But I am equally as sure that most faculty at schools around the world would say the same thing about their colleagues. Teachers aren’t in it for the money. Oh no, it has everything to do with caring.
At that moment, among all the pomp and circumstance, I was so proud to be called a teacher.
“Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph: a beginning, a struggle, and a victory.”