Thursday, October 30, 2014

Scared healthy.

At the end of my cardio blast class this morning (a real butt kicker), our teacher told us about a friend who passed away earlier this week.

He worked for her family in construction so he considered his physically demanding job his exercise. He had quit smoking about a year earlier and was trying to eat healthier but admitted to falling back on fast food several times a week. She said he didn't exactly look healthy but he wasn't obese by any stretch. Really, nothing about him would make you think he was a ticking time bomb.

And yet, at 34 years old he had a heart attack and DIED.

He had a first grader, you guys.

I am a mostly healthy person but, like everyone else on the planet, I could definitely do better. I sleep enough, drink plenty of water (most days), have been intentionally exercising at least a couple times a week (but need more cardio), and eat (at least in theory) a healthy diet.

But her story shook me up. If I know I can do better, why not?

I have recommitted myself to leafy greens and will find a way to incorporate at least some cardio into my day to day. I know that a healthy lifestyle is no guarantee (I have a good friend who lost her extremely healthy 36 year old brother-in-law recently to a brain polyp no one could have seen coming) but that's no reason not to do it anyway.

I am sharing this with you because I needed to hear it and thought you might too. Are there areas in your life where you could do better? Diet, exercise, sleep, water, mental health, joy, passion? Pick something and do it for a week. Create a good habit to take the place of a bad one. Do it for yourself, your kids, your loved ones, me. Do it for Nike! JUST DO IT.

Athena - goddess of wisdom, war (and arts and crafts!) holds
Nike - goddess of victory.  (from our field trip yesterday)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Storytelling.

Today we went to the lake beach with a couple of our favorite families. It was pretty awesome to be hanging out in swimsuits the same week as Halloween (and not just because I could say the water was cold as a witch's tit and almost get away with it...).





The kids played in the water a bit (even though it was, well, you know) but spent a lot of the time on the beach. They buried each other in the sand and "amputated" each other's sand limbs (it was supposed to be gory for Halloween...), built tons of cool tunnels and pools, played a Harry Potter themed throwing game I'm guessing Liam made up, and sat around asking us to tell them stories.


I love when this happens.

Today we talked mostly about prom. What we wore, who we went with, what it was like. I told them about the time about 10 couples came to my house for dinner before senior prom and I botched the spaghetti I was supposed to make for dinner and everyone had to eat tacos straight outta the box from Taco Bell. And, as if that wasn't embarrassing enough, there happened to be a news crew at the house filming one of the girls so EVERYONE got to see how awesome I was.

Our theme was "Unforgettable" - it sure was!


(I swear I wasn't trying to convince the kids that prom isn't all it's cut out to be. Like, Just in case you poor little homeschoolers don't get to go to prom , don't worry. IT'S NOT THAT FUN.)

I love storytelling. It brings us closer together, let's us share our history and helps us preserve memories. It's one of the reason's I keep up with this blog. I love knowing that we have some of our stories down, you know? That no matter who remembers what, we'll have something to come back to for reference. Although, I just realized that it's not exactly our family's history I'm preserving but my own.

My perspective = my story.

Tonight at soccer, Liam asked if he could read another story on my blog. This is a new development - the subject becoming the audience - and so far, it's going pretty great. It started last week when I wrote about Finn playing soccer. Liam and I were sitting at Finn's practice when the kids discovered the cones and started putting them on their hands. "That's so funny," I said. "I just wrote about cone hands today!" He was curious so I let him read the story. Part way through I made him stop while Finn was taking a water break and had to give him the eye when I caught him sneakily turning the phone back on. "I'm sorry," he said. "It's just such a good story. I have to keep reading to find out what happens!"

I mean, kind of the best compliment ever, right?

Since then I've let him read a couple more stories. Liam stories! I was a little nervous - it's one thing to read about your brother but quite another to read about yourself - but he really enjoyed them. He said that it helped him remember what happened and liked reading what it was like from my perspective. I encouraged him to start writing his stories from HIS perspective (or MY stories from his perspective!) and sincerely hope he will. If for no other reason, than so one day when his kids' friends ask him to tell them a story, he'll have lots of good stuff in his memory to choose from.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Most sportsmanlike parent.

I've never been very athletic so even when I played sports on a regular basis, I was never what you'd call good. I did my best and had a good attitude but was never in the running for MVP or anything like that. Most sportsmanlike was more my style. Like that time our high school softball team was playing our biggest rival and the runner trying to steal third base lost her helmet. Sure, as third baseman it was my job to catch the ball and tag her out. But I couldn't do that before getting the girl her helmet! Safety first, people.

My parents could have died.

But I've always valued being nice and having fun over winning. You would think preschool soccer would be just my speed. And it is. But it's taken me a little practice to get here.

Have you ever seen three and four year olds play soccer? It's amazing. Probably the best use of the term "herding cats" I have ever seen. Each team seems to have the same makeup of players: the kids who understand that soccer is a game with clear objectives (each team has one, maybe two of these), the kids who cry a lot, the kids who never make it onto the field and the kids who run around like crazy asses until it's time for snack.


At his first practice, Finn did such a good job listening to Coach that I thought it wouldn't take long for him to go from running around like a crazy ass to playing soccer. Worst case scenario he'd be on the field not crying. World Cup here we come!

At his first game he started off strong but by end of the first quarter he was done. He was too hot. And hungry. And thirsty. He wanted to go home. He was just...done.


Rather than meet him where he was with a little compassion (and possibly a juice box), Bill and I took turns trying to shove our sweaty boy back onto the field.

"Your team needs you!"

"Playing soccer means PLAYING SOCCER!"

"We can go get ice cream after the game if you play..."

Then through gritted teeth in that angry voice that nobody likes, "NO ICE CREAM IF YOU DON'T GET OUT THERE RIGHT NOW!"

It's funny to think about now but at the time it felt like a really big deal. Like there was no way we were going to raise a quitter. First four year old soccer then what, huh Finn?! It was like suddenly this soccer game (which is not really a game so much as a mess of kids in matching shirts) was EVERYTHING.

It was ridiculous. And it didn't stop there. We talked about what we expected from him and built it up so much that by the time his next practice rolled around he didn't want to go. Of course, we took this personally too, like it was confirmation that we sucked at raising winners. He cried in the car (a first) but once we got to the field, everything was okay. He ran around with his team, playing games and acting goofy, even kicking the ball from time to time.



Liam and I sat on the sidelines watching Finn practice. "He's having so much more fun today than he did on Saturday," I said. "I wonder what changed?"

"I think it's the cone hands..."

Practice was so much fun that Finn went to his next game without any drama. But rather than starting off strong like he had before, he just plopped down on the sidelines and waited for snack.

I was really embarrassed. About the whining and laziness and mostly about how Bill and I were responding to it. I longed to be the parent who held her barefoot soccer player on her lap the entire game without even once trying to nudge her onto the field. That child (the coach's daughter, no less!) looked so peaceful and happy, like someone who would grow up knowing her parents loved her no matter what.

What would Finn grow up to say? That he got high fives and felt loved when he played soccer the right way but that when he was tired or hot his parents gave him the cold shoulder and threatened to take away his ice cream?

Not cool.

We left the game still steaming but as soon as we got in the car, I realized how awful we had been. We let the boys watch a show with headphones so we could talk and immediately decided we had to apologize to Finn and make things right. Where better to do that than the ice cream shop?

When we parked the car and Finn realized where we were, he didn't know what to think. I told him we were really sorry for being such jerks and wanted to take him to ice cream to make it up to him. A look of relief and love washed over his sweet face and he hugged our legs harder than he ever had before. I knew we were finally on the right track.

Over ice cream we came up with a few game rules to help guide the rest of the soccer season.

FINN'S RULES:

1. Have a good attitude. (NO WHINING.)



2. Cheer for the other team and give high fives (or do the parent tunnel!) after the game.



3. Sit with your team, listen to coach and watch the game if you don't want to play.


4. OPTIONAL EXTRA SUPER COOL GUY BONUS: run around and kick the ball!


OUR RULES:

1. Have a good attitude. (NO BRIBING, SHAMING, CAJOLING, THREATENING, WHINING OR MISSING THE POINT OF FOUR YEAR OLD SOCCER.)

2. Support Finn in his rules. (Sit on the bench or go on the field with him if that's what it takes.)


3. Accept that sometimes snacks are the best part of the game and THAT'S OKAY.


The rules have helped us remember what's really important. It's not winning the game (or even playing the game) that matters right now. It's meeting our kids where they are. Connecting with them unconditionally. Making sure they feel loved for who they are, not what they do.

It's so simple - unconditional love is where it's at - yet shockingly easy for me to forget. I'm glad to have found yet another good reminder.

Running off the field in the middle of the game -
look how happy and accepted he looks! Most improved fo sho.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Alive Inside.

Recently I attended a caregiver's conference hosted by the Alzheimer's Association. This is the same conference I spoke at last year and I was looking forward to spending the day learning and connecting with people who share my story.

But for some reason, as soon as I walked into the conference I became overwhelmed with emotion. Everything I saw - the wives and husbands walking their partners to respite care, the brochures for nursing homes - broke my heart. When the organizer of the conference asked how my mom was doing and all I could do was stare at her with tears in my eyes and shake my head, I knew it was going to be a tough morning.

Of course, against my better judgement, I decided to sit at a table right smack in the middle of the conference room. As soon as the keynote speaker opened her mouth - with a song called "Help Me" no less - the dam broke and I started to cry. Not a couple tears here or a lump in my throat there, but buckets and buckets of tears.

I knew it was probably cathartic but it was also SO embarrassing. Thank God I hadn't been asked to speak!

When I asked Bill to go see a documentary about dementia and music at the Belcourt with me yesterday, you can imagine how excited he must have been.


A joyous cinematic exploration of music's capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity, ALIVE INSIDE chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country living with Alzheimer’s and dementia who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music. Following social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory and visiting family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, the filmmaker offers an uplifting cinematic exploration of music and the mind.

"We're going to cry, aren't we?" Bill asked nervously.

"Uh...yeah."

I brought tons of tissue and we sat in the very back row of the theater. I cried from the second the trailers started until the panel finished the discussion at the end of the film.

Then we ran straight to the Apple store and bought a mini iPod to put all my mom's music on.

This movie is incredible. The idea is that no matter how withdrawn or sick or dead someone might seem, somewhere inside is passion and life and love that can be tapped into with music. Pretty amazing.



You see it happen again and again in the film and every time it is just beautiful. The power of music to reignite memory and connect people to who they are... the whole thing just blew me away.

I've seen this first hand with my mom. She loves music so when my sister and I are with her, we instinctively fill the house with her favorite songs (not sure if my dad does this or not but I bet he will now). It lights her up and makes everything feel so much better. It's how my sister and her husband were able to give my mom a mani/pedi the last time they visited (well, that and they're AWESOME). They just played some of her favorite tunes on one of their iPhones and she followed the music wherever it went.



I am excited to see what it's like for her with headphones. That's how they share music with people in the movie. At first I wondered if it would be less isolating if everyone could hear the music, but then I thought about what it's like to listen to music on headphones. It's a completely different experience. Like a personal soundtrack that kind of takes over. And I think that's the point.

If you're in Nashville, the Belcourt is showing the movie a few more times as part of their Doc-tober series. I encourage you to see it. It is uplifting, powerful and (to put a spin on the whole buckets of tears thing...) highly cathartic.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Taking the hard road.

A few months ago I decided I needed to go back on Zoloft. My mood had become increasingly inconsistent, often low, and I constantly had anger and irritability lurking just beneath the surface. Things would be going along hunky dory when something small - a kid forgetting his shoes, someone not listening - would set me off. I would get unreasonable angry (at them, at myself, at everything) and would sometimes not be able to recover for days.

After one particularly bad day I knew enough was enough. Allowing my children to suffer because I couldn't get a hold of myself was unacceptable. So I called my doctor and waved the white flag.

This is never an easy phone call to make. Admitting that you are unable to control yourself without pharmaceuticals is hard. I don't know why but it is. Admitting you need glasses is no big deal. It's a pleasure to wear them, to see as clearly as you possibly can. It should be the same with any medically necessary intervention. But for me it has never felt so black and white. Even though I know how much the right medication can help, there's a part of me that still feels I should be able to do it myself.

That part of me was sort of relieved with my doctor's response.

He basically said, I'm sorry you feel like crap but that's totally to be expected. That whatever it was I was pushing down and not feeling with the Zoloft had resurfaced and would continue to resurface until I figured out what it was and processed it. He said he could rewrite my prescription but he strongly recommended that I first try to break the cycle with therapy.

I would have been more pissed off but I think that's secretly what I wanted to hear. Plus, he had a phychologist on staff who I could easily schedule time with. Not having to go out of my way to find a therapist on my own made it easy to say, "Why not?"

This was a first for me. I had never ever, not one time, gone to therapy. And to be honest, I didn't think I needed it. Everything was great, remember? There wasn't a single thing I could point to and say, "Yep, that's it. That's what's making me feel so bad." And when there was? I'd fix it! So if there wasn't an issue, what could we possibly have to work on?

Plus, I had always told myself in the past that a therapist was unnecessary because I had friends I could unload on. Even some friends who are therapists! Weren't our dinner dates practically the same thing as (free!) therapy?

Turns out, I didn't know the first thing about therapy. For starters, it's not at all like talking to a freind. Unless you happen to monopolize conversations and cry at inappropriate times with your friends. It's honestly not like anything else I have ever done. And I read ALL the books and am constantly trying to make myself better. (My bedside table looks like the self-help section.) It has been fascinating and hard and immensely helpful.

I have stopped wanting to go back on Zoloft. I have cried more tears than I knew I had in me. I've had really hard conversations and journaled and read books that have challenged what I thought I knew. I am no longer having the problems I had when I first called my doctor. Now I have new problems (ha!). It's like as soon as I slog through one issue, it's onto the next. And it turns out there is a lot more for me to work through than I thought.

It feels a lot like changing my diet instead of taking cholesterol medication. I was so happy when I got my results and saw how all my hard work had paid off. But a few months later, probably over a fat slice of pepperoni pizza, I realized that my cholesterol would only stay in check as long as my diet stayed in check. The test results aren't good for a year or anything - they can be skewed as quickly as I can finish a bowl of ice cream.

This is a little disheartening. It's HARD to do the work. Really hard to do it all the time. Popping a pill is the easiest thing in the world. And when the results are more-or-less the same? It's hard to say which approach I would recommend. On the one hand, it's nice to feel powerful and in charge of my mental and physical health. On the other hand, it seems kind of silly to take the hard road if the easy road gets you to the same place.

But for now, I guess, I'm enjoying the journey.



PS - I know it's kind of awkward to share stuff like this - TMI and all that - but I think it was making me feel really stuck NOT writing about it. Like the elephant in the room was sitting on my laptop or something. Hopefully this will free me up a bit so I can get back in the writing groove. : )

Friday, October 3, 2014

Homeschool schizophrenic.

If you've ever wanted to experience schizophrenia without all the stigma and inconvenience of a true mental health disorder, you should homeschool your kids. Really. There's nothing quite like taking a child's education into your own hands to make you question everything you think you know on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.

Sometimes I am so confident that we are doing what is right and good that I want to tell everyone. Education reform? Pshaw. Give it to ME. Clearly I've got this thing all figured out.

These days tend to look nothing at all like school. They are the days when the boys play without fighting and spend hours upon hours using their imaginations and doing the things they love. The days we are connected to our community. Where we have good conversations. Where teachable moments come up as they do. When nothing is forced or expected.

They are the days that are hard to explain. "What did you do today?" might sound pretty straight forward but these are not list-checking days. They are free-wheeling, creative, let learning happen kinds of days.


They are always our favorite days.

You would think I'd do everything in my power to make sure more of these days happen. And I do. But too many of these days in a row and I start to worry. What are we doing to Liam's potential? What if someday he wants to go to "real" school and he can't because he spent too much time being a kid and not enough time being a student? What if everything that feels right is actually wrong?

So I slam on the brakes and flip the car around.

I make lists of all the things that must be done. I come up with expectations and make them known. I dangle the carrot in front of the horse and bribe my 8 year old to do what I think he should do.

And he does it! He steps in line and checks everything off the list. He does it for the prize and because it's WHAT WE'RE DOING. He might even like it. It's hard to tell. But anyway, that's not the point. The list is not meant to be liked, it's meant to be done. So he does it. He finds success within my expectations and for a few days or weeks we are happy.

Or maybe not happy but compliant. We're doing the things and it feels successful. A list can't help but make you feel productive, you know? Just look at all those check marks! On Monday they weren't there and now they are. We have done the things!

But then I start to worry. No one seems very excited about the things. Where is the fire? The passion? Can I get a little gusto up in here?! Because, if I'm honest, I don't want to raise a kid who can do the things. I want to raise a leader. A thinker. Someone who is alive and passionate and creative and unique.

Plus, I'm tired of making the list. It's so boring. Week after week of more or less the same stuff. Do some math. Read some chapters. Practice spelling and handwriting. Blah, blah, blah. Maybe Liam should make the list? That would give him more buy in, right? I could still bribe him to finish it and we'd all feel accomplished and successful and when people asked, "What did you do today?" we could answer them.

So I ask him, "What do you want to do this week? What are your expectations for yourself?" He looks at me with a blank stare. He has no idea what he wants to do. I panic. HE HAS NO IDEA WHAT HE WANTS TO DO!!! How will he succeed at 3rd grade if he has no idea what he wants to do?!?

I worry about it until Bill comes home from work and then I unload on him. "Liam isn't excited about school. He's not excited about anything. I just want him to be more excited..."

He reminds me that we've had this conversation before. Only it was him telling me to be more excited.

I tell him that's not what I mean. That Liam and I already talked about how some people are just more even keel and that's fine. "Besides," I say. "It's not really excitement I'm looking for but engagement. A little buy in, you know? I want him to want to learn."

"Seriously? You want an 8 year old boy to want to learn to spell? That's probably not going to happen..."

Oh, man. How true is that? Learning for the sake of learning is the worst. Doing something just to check it off the list? I may as well be teaching the test.

So I lay off the list. I mean, we still make it so Liam knows what he has to do for his classes and has an idea of what his week will look like, but I stop focusing on it so much.

On Monday, Finn is at school for most of the day so Liam has a lot of time to do his thing. He immediately jumps into his Minecraft modding class. This is not something that has weekly deliverables or expectations. It's something he can do on his own time which generally means he waits to do it until he's completed his has tos. But I need to see him engaged and this seems to be doing the trick.

So I leave him to it and he works on the class ALL DAY LONG. He is not only engaged but super duper excited. He's learning Java and graphic design and programming. At least, I think that's what he's doing. To be honest I have NO IDEA what this class is all about. I look over his shoulder and it's all in a language I don't understand. But he loves it.

He's typing.

And reading.

And writing.

He's communicating.

Coding.

And programming.

He's creating and learning to troubleshoot and persevering even when things get really hard and confusing.


I am so impressed. And he's seriously excited! Nothing gets checked off our list all day. We are back to a free wheeling, unschooling sort of day. He's happy. I'm happy. And I swear this time I will remember what a successful day at our little home school looks like.

And I'm sure I will.

At least for a little while.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dinner spinner.

Recently I had a couple revelations about dinner.

1) A little meal planning can go a long way.

2) It doesn't have to look like dinner to count.

We had slipped into some bad habits with dinner (summertime and vacation are great at sabotaging routine) and I needed something to help get me back on track.

It seemed every single night I was surprised we had to eat again. "But didn't we just have dinner? I swear I figured this whole thing out last night..." Then I'd whip up some scrambled eggs or quesadillas for the kids or we'd head out the door for pizza.

I knew there was a time when I was cooking healthy balanced meals but I honestly couldn't remember what that was like. Did we sit down to eat every night? What in the heck did I cook?!

I desperately wanted to get back in the saddle but I couldn't remember how to ride the horse.

So one night I asked some friends what they do about dinner. Their approaches couldn't have been more different. One meal plans, one scrambles. Oddly enough, the two methods combined are what helped get me back on track.

Meal planning is a great way to know what to expect come 5:00. And, if you're smart, it will totally cut down on grocery runs and cost (I'm not there yet). But it's a lot of pressure. It means you're definitely cooking dinner most nights of the week. That is so much work. And if you have a kid in your family who kind of hates to eat (ahem, Liam...), it can feel like a huge, frustrating waste of time.

Scrambling probably doesn't sound like much of a plan but it's where I found this little treasure: dinner doesn't have to look like dinner. It can be anything you want! Cheese plate, breakfast, popcorn and cantaloupe...as long as everyone goes to bed with a full belly, mission accomplished.

Did that just blow your mind? I'm not going to lie - IT BLEW MY MIND. I tend to get caught up in doing things the way they are "supposed to be" done (yes! still! even after dropping out of school and trying so hard to unlearn all that stuff!) so I can put a lot of pressure on myself to make things "right". If I didn't have the ingredients (or motivation) to make dinner dinner, I would just throw up my hands and suggest we go out.

You can imagine how liberating it felt to realize dinner just had to be calories. Calories consumed together? FAMILY DINNER!

I have learned this before (I even wrote about it!) but sometimes things take me a while. Plus, I knew I wouldn't be able to just plop a big tray of nachos on the table without feeling like a fraud. Not yet. But if I planned to make nachos for dinner? That I could handle!

So we enlisted the help of a spinner app and sat down to come up with all the dinners we could think of. Some tried and true (stir fry, rice and beans, ravioli...), some we pulled from breakfast or lunch (migas, grilled cheese...), some we had never tried before (quinoa enchilada casserole), some that just seemed plain crazy (free for all, fondue, popcorn!), and as many things as the kids wanted to add (pizza, macaroni and cheese, pizza...).

On Sunday, the boys take turns spinning the wheel to see what we will have for dinner that week. It adds a bit of fun as well as makes them feel like they have some control. Plus, it takes the burden of dinner mostly off my back (cooking is fun but figuring out what to make can be a nightmare).



We've done this three weeks now and it's going really well. The boys love spinning the wheel and get super excited when they land on a dinner they like. All week they looked forward to cheese plate Thursday and grilled cheese and tots last night. And when it came time to eat? It was a pleasure for all of us. (Partly because I finally figured out how to nail grilled cheese. The secret? Good bread, low heat and plenty of butter.)


Since not all of our dinners are nutritional powerhouses (it's a pretty kid-friendly spinner...), I found a way to make peace with that as well. Every day the boys have an afternoon shake. So no matter what they eat at night, I at least know they had kale and blueberries for snack.

Now if we can just quit being bullies at the table, we'll be all set. So, Liam's super picky and eats slower than Christmas? Big deal! It's annoying as all get out but certainly not the kind of thing I want to ruin our relationship over. I think I need to treat it like some people do the birds and the bees - stash a book in his room and call it a day.