Monthly Archives: March 2013

Rules were made to be broken… even those of our own design

According to our blogging schedule, it’s KitKat’s turn to write a post. However, she’s on vacation with her family, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather. Rather than drag her away from the fun, we’ve decided to mess with our sequence and have me post instead.

Coincidentally, this is an excellent lead-in to my topic. Some of you may be able to relate to this, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I’ve settled into a few routine “tendencies.” For example, let’s consider the subject of direct-selling parties. As you probably gathered from my previous post on the topic, if I get an invitation to one, I have a tendency not to attend.

Other tendencies include:

  • Not helping my kids with school fundraising. (I would perhaps buy something myself, but I wouldn’t go to any lengths to promote the fundraiser du jour among coworkers or family like some parents might.)
  • Disregarding charitable appeals that don’t fall into my selection criteria (which is fairly narrow) unless it happens to be a case of supporting a friend’s cause (in which case, it’s actually about supporting the friend more than the cause). The fact is, there are millions of worthy organizations out there competing for the same buck and giving it any more thought than that would cause my head to explode.
  • Not buying any white bottoms. That’s an easy one to explain. I’m a klutz and buying white pants or a white skirt is just asking for trouble.
  • Only watching “non-taxing” movies on Friday nights. These would be romantic comedies, slapstick comedies, classics I’ve seen 20x before, etc. Nothing with a complicated plot or that otherwise requires full attention. After putting in a full week at work, I simply don’t have enough brain cells left on Friday night.

And last, but not least:

  • A policy against having policies. I’ll call these tendencies “preferences,” or “guidelines,” but I don’t like to think of them as “policies.” While these kinds of rules can form a code of conduct that simplifies decision-making, I’ve seen a number of people apply their preferences too rigidly, disregarding the consequences of their inflexibility or its effect on others. As a result, you might say that I have a policy against policies.

Surprised by that last one? Here’s an example from close to home: My dad won’t wait in lines—which he is quick to point out if he encounters one. Like most of his Greatest Generation peers, he enlisted for WWII as soon as he could. Dad left for basic training the first day after the end of his senior year in high school, and at the age of 17 he was immersed in a new world—one that apparently included a lot of lines. As he explains it, “The guys would have to wait in line for hours to go through the chow line for breakfast and then after eating would get back in the line again for lunch. I swore when I left the service, I’d never wait in line again.”

And as far as I know. He hasn’t.

Wasn't Stormy adorkable?

Wasn’t Stormy adorkable?

That’s an exaggeration of course. Realistically, I’m sure my dad hasn’t been able to avoid every long line he’s encountered during the 68 years since this “policy” was formed. But I’m sure he did if he had any say in the matter. Which is why—when my family went to Disneyland in the late 70s and the line for Space Mountain was “too long”—we skipped what was then the hottest ride in the theme park. And I still remember the omission 30 odd years later. (You’re probably thinking here that I need to learn to let things go—and I do—but that’s a topic for another post.)

Today, my dad’s policy is usually cited when my mom wants to eat at a popular restaurant. Would it kill him to wait it out once in a while? No and doing so would make my mom happy. So I try to keep this in mind whenever I find myself clinging a little too stubbornly to my own “tendencies,” and remember that every rule has its exception. Because knowing when it’s okay–or even necessary–to bend the rules is key to living a balanced and exceptional life.

 “The wind does not break a tree that can bend.”  – African Proverb

You’re never too old to play hooky

As my previous post might have implied, I’ve had a worse-than-usual case of cabin fever/winter doldrums due to a worse-than-usual winter. In fact, I was seriously considering finding a last-minute airfare bargain, ditching my family and leaving town for someplace warm. I mean, I was SERIOUSLY considering this. But it smacked of “running away from home” (admit it, you’ve wanted to do this at times) and seemed…well…just a wee bit…unbalanced. So, I resisted the urge and dragged myself into work, as a responsible middle-aged woman should do. This may have been the same day I texted KitKat the line that prompted her recent post, and apparently great (though rebellious) minds think alike, because I decided to do what any defiant teen would: Play hooky.

I had learned a few days earlier that my middle child—a junior in college—would be coming home for a few days over spring break and knew seeing her would lift my spirits. I decided to “seize the day” or more accurately “the next day” to spend it with my darling daughter.

Okay, here I confess that I am—at heart—an extremely conscientious person with a self-detrimental work ethic. So, I didn’t fake being sick. But since I had no pressing meetings, I scheduled a spontaneous vacation day.

I skipped out of work that evening feeling a bit lighter than I had when I dragged myself in. When my daughter arrived home, we discussed potential options for our mother-daughter outing the next day. Now, my daughter is attending college in the Fargo-Moorhead area, where fewer trees dot the landscape to offer a break from the cold and blowing snow, and the fierce Minnesota winter I complained about in my last post has been magnified. So for our Cabin Fever Play Day, we decided to seek out green plants, blooming flowers, chirping birds, tropical fish and exotic animals.

A Sea Dragon

A Sea Dragon at the Minnesota Zoo

Our first stop was the Minnesota Zoo. Since it was a school day, I think I was the only mother there with a child over the age of five. I had not been for a zoo visit myself since the kids were…what? Preteens? A long time, anyway. Several new attractions had opened since then, and we walked through all of the indoor exhibits. Kids on field trips swam by us like schools of fish, and we saw plenty of real ones in the large aquarium (fish that is, not kids).

When is lunch?

When is lunch?

After a couple of hours we had exhausted our options for indoor exhibits, but not our desire to stay in the warm, green surroundings. So, we decided to hit another zoo in town—a favorite destination of my childhood: Como Zoo, which also has a lovely conservatory.

Not a bad role model for a pope!

Not a bad role model for a pope!

First, though, we needed sustenance, so we made a detour for lunch in St. Paul. As we dined, the announcement that the new pope had been chosen was breaking news. As the major stations showed coverage of an empty balcony for an hour (seriously!) while waiting for the new pope to make his appearance, we discussed the challenges he would face and speculated on what name he would choose. I guessed John Paul III would be the choice (to build an association with the more popular of the recent popes), but my prescient daughter thought St. Francis would be the best choice, as that was her favorite saint–exemplifying peace and humility.

Afterward, we headed to the conservatory to bask in the humidity and sunshine, and when we got to the wing with all the spring flowers, I was struck by two things: 1) The explosion of color, which was almost an assault on my color-starved eyes. In the dead of winter, the Minnesota landscape is white and gray and its residents follow suit, clothing themselves in black, gray and other dark, drab colors. 2) The intoxicating fragrance. Winter has no smell. Well, actually when you live in the city it smells a lot like car exhaust. Yuck.

The sweet smell of spring

The sweet smell of spring in the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Zoo

We headed home feeling a bit more optimistic. Spring would return, we just had to wait a bit longer. I also realized that I had spent a full day with my daughter—the longest time alone together I could recall—and I genuinely enjoyed every minute of her company. Not just because she’s my daughter and I love her, but because she’s a genuinely cool person. The flowers were a lovely bonus, but I was more enchanted by the girl who had blossomed before me into a confident and compassionate young woman.

It turned out that my day of playing hooky was just what the doctor ordered. For as KitKat pointed out, one of the privileges of being a grown up is deciding when it’s okay to act like a kid.

I don’t want to be a grown up

Texting and venting with Stormy the other day, she sent me a line that goes through my head often: “I don’t want to be a grown up!”

I believe the only people who think being a grown up is fun are those who are not grown up yet. What does being a grown up mean?

  • Paying bills (When there is money to pay them.)
  • Working – at work and/or at home (The to-do list just keeps growing in both spots.)
  • Setting a good example for your kids (Still working on that.)
  • Biting your tongue in certain situations, even if you know you are right  (That’s a tough one.)
  • Making responsible choices (That’s boring.)
  • The aging process (That’s horrible and can be its own blog post.)
  • Giving up things you want for the sake of the greater good (e.g., I can’t run off and sell toe rings on the beach.)

That list does not sound enticing! As a kid, you get to make selfish decisions based just on your wants; you can be impulsive and not overly worry about the outcome. You have your whole life ahead of you to make bad, and fun, mistakes … and a life ahead of you to then fix them. There is plenty of time later to figure out your perfect path.

And to think how I wistfully waited forever to become a grown up. Spent much of my childhood trying to be a grown up. I remember each year seemed to take so freedomlong to pass. I couldn’t wait to be in my 20s and do what I wanted, when I wanted it – never having to ask permission.  I’d picture myself in my 30s, all wise with my life perfectly figured out. Well, I am now in my 40s and still waiting on this. I don’t have complete freedom as people are dependent on me. I still often have to ask permission. And, I seem to be even further from having my life figured out. A big problem now is that the years are flying by. I actually even lost a whole year. I was certain I was 42, but with an approaching birthday, I have now been told I am about to turn 44. I seriously do not remember turning 43, and I can’t afford to skip any years at this point!

My daughter asked me the other day if I ever get tired of being big and said she was tired of being little. Oh sweetie, I sure do. I wish I could have made her understand all the things she should be enjoying right now. But, I knew it was a lost cause. It would be just another rambling of an adult not getting it. It would be that Charlie Brown teacher’s voice making no sense and just a background noise. It is not something adults, or children, can explain to each other – that wish to be exactly what you aren’t at the time. Looking at that little face, I knew we would freaky fridayboth be totally up for some Freaky Friday action.

Now, I suppose I should end with something about why getting old is better. Instead, I want to take a different approach. I am going to make a few decisions that I simply can because I am an adult with a car to get around and a credit card to splurge in case of emergency.  I am going to set the appointment to cover my grey peeking through, call my aesthetician to discuss more miracle cures for aging skin that I can sink some money into, and ask a girlfriend to meet me out for a glass of wine and laughs. I am not mature and wise, yet, so instead I’ll embrace where I currently stand and with childlike hope continue to imagine all the places my selfish self would bring me. And as I am doing all the “grown up” things I am mandated to do – I will hope I don’t forget another year!

Turn, turn, turn … that clock forward!

Winter wonderland

Winter wonderland

KitKat and I are native Minnesotans. Growing up in this state, I’ve made some interesting observations about how a dark, cold winter affects the local psyche. During the months of December/January/February, you encounter a spectrum of viewpoints about our longest season. For many of us, our attitude evolves as the season progresses:

  • December: We love the snow! Everything was so dreary in November, but now it looks so Christmas-y! A winter wonderland!
  • January: Brrrrr. It’s cold and snowy, but that’s Minnesota. Twenty below zero might be unpleasant, but just think of our forefathers having to endure it without down parkas and heated seats! Basically, we’re resigned to it. We hunker down and watch a little too much TV.
  • February: We’re over the worst of it. The days are getting longer. There’s still a lot of winter before us, but we’re hardy Minnesotans, after all. We’ll survive. (This is typically when I go to my annual conference in a warm destination, so that well-timed respite from the snow and cold usually keeps me off the ledge, so to speak.)

There are even a number Minnesotans who manage to maintain their December enthusiasm right through February. These are generally the outdoorsy types—people who take full advantage of the season for skiing, snowmobiling, ice-fishing and hockey.

However, regardless of one’s view of winter, I’ve noticed that there’s a point where everyone eventually reaches their limit. And, interestingly enough, this happens to everyone at approximately the same time. Suddenly, we’ve collectively had ENOUGH.

“Enough” arrived last week in the guise of a March snowstorm, whereupon Mother Nature (that bitch!) dropped 10 inches of the slushy white stuff on us over a period of two days. Although this was a beautiful snowfall–coating trees and houses in a tranquil blanket of white–the general consensus of coworkers and friends was, “Auuuuugggggggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!”

Having had a glimpse of summer during my recent trip to Florida, this sunk me into a particularly foul mood. Spring seemed distant, I’m sick to death of wearing wool skirts, cashmere sweaters and boots everyday, and I long to sit on my patio and feel the sun on my face. What’s worse, my gloomy outlook is matched by an inner malaise. Everything seems hard and I don’t have a clear sense of purpose.

Ah, spring!

Ah, spring!

The other morning, fortunately, a harbinger of spring arrived: Daylight Savings Time. The annual mandate to “Spring Ahead” always cheers me up, even if I lose an hour of my precious weekend. It provides a much-needed kick in the pants to rouse me out of my winter funk and get me thinking about the possibilities that lie dormant—much like my garden. After all, I never know which flowers are going to appear from year-to-year, but the arrangement always delights me (at least, until August when the weeds take over).

So even though I’m not feeling very sunny these days, I’m going to do my best to have faith in the spring. As we’re reminded in Ecclesiastes (or by the Byrds, if you prefer), there is a time for every purpose under Heaven. Even those that haven’t been discovered yet.

Fear the Yeti

If you’re wondering what the hell a Yeti is, you’re not alone. I found myself googling it during my son’s hockey game as I heard the parent next to me shout it out as our boys came onto the ice. I was already having trouble keeping up signswith understanding the game … icing, offsides, cross-checking … I never could figure out why the referee was blowing the whistle. (I called him an umpire till my son scoffingly corrected me on a drive home one evening.)

I’m assuming you’re already getting the impression I am not the world’s best hockey mom. And, if you had asked me what sport I would be managing my life around—that is if I actually had to choose one—hockey would not have been it. For starters, I hate the cold. I already live in Minnesota, so why would I add on the torture of standing inside a cold arena? There’s not even a chance to warm up from the below-zero walk from the car. Plus, I was not so ignorant about the sport to not know that the costs and time dedicated to it were much higher than for those of many other activities my son could choose to participate in. But, in tandem with how the rest of this parenting gig has seemed to go, nothing turns out as I would plan it. He fell in love with hockey. 

With three practices a week and at least one game, hockey has become the center of family activities. We plan around it. The schedule hanging on the fridge at home is synched with my Outlook at work. There have been times we have been dragging kids out of bed for a 7:30 a.m. game and others starting a long drive home from an outlying rink an hour past normal bedtimes on a school night. My daughter’s most whined phrase has become, “Do we have to go to hockey again?” 

And let’s not forget the mandatory volunteer duty. As my son moves up the hockey ranks, so do the hours as parents we are committed to serve. Twelve hours this year that my husband and I had to work off at the concession stand. Looking on the bright side, it saved me a lot of snack money and calories once I actually had a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations. hotdogs

It was looking to be a long season. Never having been an active sports participant or fan, I just didn’t get it. Well, then I started to. 

Something happened as I watched these boys play together as a team. It was something I had never before seen in my overly competitive and fairly self-centered son. Everything was bigger than him when it came to this group of boys. It was all about The Team. If one of them had a bad game, there was no finger-pointing or griping as I witnessed too many times in even a casual game of kickball in our front yard with friends. These boys rallied around each other. Every scored goal was an exciting win for all. I would hear detailed recaps of all the parts played by each team member in getting that puck to just the right position. I would watch the team hurry back to protect their goalie when the other team grabbed the puck. Never was a goal blocked or scored without everyone on the ice patting our goalie in congratulations or “good try” before lining back up for the next face off. And they weren’t the best team. In fact, the season started with a 12-1 loss to a farm team who towered over ours and skated rings around all our players. But these boys grew together as a team. Soon I found myself cheering and yelling for each of the boys by name right along with the others. I took pride in watching each of their huge strides in development as individual players and as a team: Proving their growth as they lost only 5-4 in overtime to the same team two months later.

And it wasn’t just on the ice they were a unified team. These boys bonded as friends. It was very different than their relationships with school friends. There were no pretenses. They didn’t have to act cool, dress a certain way or have a pecking order. They were just the crew. At an out-of-town tournament, I would watch my son wake up in the morning grab a hotel key and throw on a hat to meet the other boys at breakfast. This was the same boy who normally would want me to find out where the other kids were, determine whether or not they were they in their pajamas and wouldn’t join others till invited in the group. I heard other parents on the team saying the same thing. There were no insecurities. They could fully just be themselves and fit right in.

I met some great parents, too. None of us were too intense about the standings, but we all would be jumping up and down on a good play and nervously pacing as we watched our kids in a final shoot out to end the game after two overtimes had past. (I did learn some of how the game worked!) We knew each other’s kids and cheered for them as loudly as our own. We knew how each boy would react to a win or a loss. 

Well, the season is now coming to an end. At our last game, the kids were begging the coach to get them all on the same team again next year. They didn’t hockeywant to play with anyone else. Well, that isn’t how it works, and the coach promised them they all had a lot of hockey ahead of them including other great teams to be part of. I found myself feeling sad, and I can’t believe I am saying this, but I’m already looking forward to starting it again next year. It was fun to be part of something. Working (or cheering) together and sharing in both the wins and the losses. I also now understand why you hear so much about the importance of girls also playing team sports, especially during high school years. A feeling of being part of something beyond yourself is so important, plus feeling like you belong somewhere. That team dynamic I had never experienced. (It was pretty amazing just witnessing it.) But, I will make sure my daughter does, and I am happy to tag along on my son’s journey for now.

One thing I won’t mind is a small break from the dictating ice-time schedule. This week, as I invited friends over for dinner, I had to add the caveat, “…that is, if we aren’t placed in the evening bracket.”  Though my friend’s response was, “We’d love to. But, I can’t say for sure till I know how my son’s basketball tournament pans out.” With the end of the season, I can take back control of my schedule. That is until baseball starts. 

And, if you haven’t googled it yet, a yeti is another name for the “abominable snowman” who is pictured on our Storm team’s jerseys. “Fear the Yeti” became our team chant. It may also make for a good vision board slogan next year, I find it seems to help me as a meditative chant in my mind that both makes me smile and feel some power. Much better then that “ohm” stuff that has never worked for me.