Tag Archives: priorities

The Myth of the Perfect Holiday

Life has a way of building up, of stacking situations, events, emotions, needs and tasks on top of each other. Until it gets difficult to clearly see what is a priority and what is really important.

The holidays are especially a time like that. Making sure presents are gotten and wrapped. That the decorations go up. That the tree goes up and gets decorated. That you can find where the menorah is. (We celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Winter Solstice). There’s excitement in the air and the kids can’t contain it (often the adults can’t either).

There’s traveling or guests coming to your house. Is your house clean? I better put away the empty bottles from the kitchen. And dust everything. And did I vacuum the floor in the basement where no one will go and that no one will see?

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in all the things we need to do and all the details that we fail to pay attention to the “other” things. Like driving. I’m not certain why, but once it hits the week before the holidays it seems that many people forget how to drive. Blinkers? I know where I’m going! Stop signs and speed limits? I need to get there 10 minutes ago.

And the inattention continues in the stores. People rushing and carelessly bumping into others. Failing to hold the door for the person behind you. Huffing at the long lines at the check out. Even fighting over the last of an item.

How is this beneficial to anyone? We’re all stressed out. Rushed. Anxious.

Everyone would like to have the “perfect” holiday. The perfectly decorated house. The perfect holiday meal. The perfect gifts, for loved ones and ourselves. But not at the expense of others and ourselves.

How about some goodwill towards others? Hold the door for the person behind you. Donate to those less fortunate, with monetary donations, donations of a gift or food, or volunteering your time. Say thank you to those helping you at the stores. Retail is brutal this time of year (and year round!) and a simple gesture such as thank you goes a long way.

Even if your house isn’t perfect. Or your meal doesn’t turn out as planned. Or the presents you give/receive aren’t exactly what was wanted. Be grateful of what you do have. And slow down.

Be kind to those around you in your daily travels. Be thankful of the food you consume. Be present in the moment and enjoy the time you’ve been blessed to spend with those you love.

It isn’t about the food. Or the presents. Or the decorations. Or what you receive. Or what you didn’t receive.

It’s about the moment.

So slow down, take a deep breath and just be here.

Wishing you all happy holidays, whatever you choose to celebrate.

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Taking Care of Yourself

I had my afternoon planned. I was going to find a frame for a picture of my dad from upstairs in my house, I was going to get some schoolwork completed ahead of schedule and I was going to write a blog post here about Triggers. As I was upstairs, looking through a box of frames, one of my cats suddenly screeched, jumped and ran like a bat out of hell over the box of frames and my hand.

My initial feeling was confusion. I didn’t see any reason why she was so suddenly spooked. As I looked down I saw that not only had she scratched my hand to the point of bleeding, but she had scratched the picture of my dad. Three deep scratches entirely through the picture.

You may be thinking, so what?, and not knowing the significance, I wouldn’t blame you. The picture of my dad was actually part of his memorial program from his funeral. I had wanted to frame it so I could look at it daily. As the cuts on my hand began to sting and bleed, I felt angry. And sad. I wanted to scream and yell at my cat. I wanted to throw things. I just didn’t want to feel this way.

Taking a moment to calm down, I took deep breaths and tried to focus. I knew that getting angry and acting on it wouldn’t help the situation. My picture would still be scratched. So would my hand. My cat would still be scared. I decided in that moment to move on. Holding onto any anger would only make things worse. Instead I took another deep breath, sighed heavily out, and went to check on my cat.  She was still quite scared. I still don’t know what scared her but, as my pet, it was my job to calm her down and comfort her.

Coming back down the stairs, still quite a bit frazzled from what happened, I decided to try and see what positive I could find in the situation. I had been running around all morning, doing errands, and was really running on empty. I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch. Sure, I was getting things done and being productive, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I fall into this trap quite often, the trap of taking care of everyone around me and never quite getting to the part where I take care of myself.

So instead of doing all the (very productive) things I had planned for the afternoon, I’m going to make myself some lunch, sit down and eat it, and maybe watch some Sons of Anarchy (such a guilty pleasure!). I can do the other things later on. And I’m not going to feel bad about it. Of course there needs to be a balance in our priorities and what we do, but taking care of ourselves needs to be included in that.

I once heard an analogy that has been labeled the “Oxygen Mask Theory”. It boils down to this:

When you’re on an airplane you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others in putting on theirs. If you don’t put your own mask on first, you’d likely pass out from lack of oxygen before being able to assist anyone else (your child, your family members, your friends, the guy sitting next to you who can’t figure it out, etc). It makes sense it that context. In day to day life how often to we put the needs of others before the needs of our own?

Yes, everyone matters. And, if you’re like me, you want to help everyone. In anyway you can. But don’t you count as part of “everyone”? Don’t you matter too? On an airplane, putting on your oxygen mask allows you to better help everyone around you. In life, taking time to take care of yourself also allows you to better help everyone around you. This is so important as a parent. Or a social worker. It also serves as an example of what we wish for others to strive to do.

Slow Down, Start Over

Yesterday morning I was already running late. Wednesdays are my busiest, craziest day of the week and I somehow always manage to fall behind. I went upstairs to wake my daughters, only to find E, my 3 year old, standing in the bathroom with an exploded pull-up. An exploded poopy pull-up. Now, if you haven’t ever had to deal with this (and I truly hope you’ve been spared!) let me tell you, it’s…disgusting. Not only did the pull-up explode but there was poop all over her pajamas, her legs and the floor. E needed a shower (which is what you get when you live in a house with no bathtub, but that’s a different story). I got Z, my 7 year old, downstairs to get dressed and ready (not an easy solo task for an easily distracted little girl) and went back upstairs to give E a shower. Of course, E didn’t want to take a shower. After much pressuring, she got in the shower and, 20 minutes later than expected, we all made it (somewhat) ready to the dining room table.

At this point we weren’t just a little late anymore, we were really late. And I still needed to feed them breakfast, put dinner in the crockpot and finish getting ready. I gave them breakfast and started on dinner. When I looked back a moment later, the girls were fooling around and not even at the table. I’m not going to sugar coat it. At this point my patience snapped and I raised my voice to tell them to, “sit at the table, be quiet and eat your breakfast.” One of them started to say something and I cut her off saying, “if it isn’t an emergency, I cannot hear it now.” They sat. They were quiet. And they ate their breakfast. But I felt like shit over how I had handled it.

As I began putting the chicken in the crockpot, piling ingredients on top, I took the moment to slow down and really process what had just happened. Was it worth damaging my relationship with my children to avoid being late? We were going to be late either way. Did it really matter (why I was upset)? Or could I let it go?

I thought it over and, quickly, decided that my relationship with them was of #1 importance. I sat down at the table with my daughters and apologized for raising my voice and being snappy. In doing so I owned up to my mistakes and modeled an appropriate method of resolving them. I asked them if we could all start the morning over, because I didn’t like how I acted and how it went (again, taking responsibility). Unprompted, they both apologized for not listening to instructions and said they would also like to start over and try again.

I work very hard not to raise my voice with my children, as I realize what they must feel when I do so. I don’t like it when someone raises their voice to me. It makes me feel horrible. And small. On the occasion that I slip up and do raise my voice (and, who are we kidding here, it does occasionally happen as stressed out parents) I like to use the Slow Down, Start Over model. It acts as a reset button. And you can use it anytime you wish.

Slow Down, Start Over

  • Slow down. Take a moment by yourself (go to the bathroom if you have to!) and take a few breaths to calm down. Then, process what just happened. Reflect on your own actions. Determine what your priority in the situation is (for me, it was my relationship with my daughters).
  • Own up to your mistakes/behaviors. Take responsibility for your actions. And then apologize.
  • Ask to start over (try again, reset, etc).
  • Let it go. This is important. You really need to let it go and move on. Holding on to feeling of guilt and the like will only cloud the rest of your day. Which you are starting over.
  • Start again, being cognizant to behave as you originally wished you had.

The process of doing this shows kids how to take responsibility for their actions, that mistakes are ok (AND that moms make them too!), to apologize/make ammends, and to let it go so you can try again. It frames mistakes as a method of learning and growth. It can be parent or child initiated. And, many times, it works. After our morning start over the remainder of yesterday went quite well. Yes, we were late, but my children were able to see me as human (instead of the supermom I try to be) and we were able to use it as an opportunity to learn.

Me, Ever Evolving

I’m (still) working on staying in a positive place. In a positive state of mind. In a positive perspective.

I cannot change the world around me. I cannot change the way other people choose to act. Or not act. I cannot change who my family is. Or which of them are alive to be here with me. I cannot change what people think or say about me. I cannot change how the driver on the road in front of me drives. I cannot change the teachers my daughter or I have. I cannot change the weather. I cannot change where I live. I cannot change the bills I have to pay or the things that need to be bought. I cannot change the work I have to do. I cannot change the chores that need to be done. I cannot change the way my kids react to situations. I cannot change the choices of others.

I can change how I deal with it. And how I view it. And how I react. I can change what I do. Nothing more.

“Life is not a matter of having good cards, but of playing a poor hand well” – Robert L Steve

I’m working consciously every day to do this. My world isn’t going to change any other way. And in doing so I am starting to see things as looking up.Last week the home daycare my girls go to needed to close for the day last minute, due to the death of a family friend. In the past I might have gotten worked up and anxious about it, jumping ahead to all the what-if’s without even allowing myself to process. Instead, I looked at my calender, saw I didn’t have anything I had to do sans children and simply told the provider that I was sorry for her loss. No panic. No worry. That day I kept E, my 3 year old daughter, home with me and we watched a movie and painted our nails. Later she helped me make bagels into pizza for lunch and chili for dinner. Nothing had changed except how I chose to look at the situation.

On Saturdays the girls take swimming lessons at the Y, with a 1/2 hour break in between the timing of their lessons. It’s usually a struggle and quite stressful. But last week I brought coloring books, workbooks and colored pencils.  Z, my 7 year old daughter, and I walked down the street to get some coffee/steamed milk for everyone while B, my partner of almost 7 years, stayed at the Y with E while she swam. It was the last class of the session and E did so well in the Pike level of swimming that she was been moved up to the next level (Eel) for the next session! This will work out much better for us because now their lessons will be one after another, instead of a 1/2 hour break in between. Instead of what could have been a stressful morning, I was able to feel more relaxed due to planning and going into the situation positively.

I’ve been thinking more about what I need and want. It still feels really selfish most of the time but I need to take care of me in order to begin feeling like I’m moving in some direction (hopefully toward happiness!). Currently I’m in the Human Services Social Work transfer program at my community college. I’ve already completed an AA in Early Childhood Education. I want to transfer after graduating to earn my BS but hadn’t really looked too deeply into it. Mostly out of fear. This week I met with the transfer counselor to find out when Elms College (where I’d like to transfer to) is sending a rep to the community college so I can meet with them. I’ve also been looking into financial aid and scholarships, since Elms is expensive. I was looking through the Elms website and noticed that Elms College offers merit-based scholarships to transfer students, noticeably the Elms Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship that is offered to students that have been inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (the scholarship is pretty hefty at $8-10k a year!).

In further researching Phi Theta Kappa I learned you need a 3.6 GPA to be invited to join. So I am now working to get my GPA up to a 3.6 (from a 3.549) so I can get admitted to Phi Theta Kappa. This means I need a 4.0 from here out at the community college, though if I retake a class I previously had earned a C grade in and received a B+ or A, that would significantly help my GPA. I likely will retake that class since it’s a 100 level class and I took it in 2002 when I honestly (and unfortunately) didn’t care much about my education.

I’ve been attending a weekly DBT class since the beginning of 2011. It’s structured in modules, each covering two topics and lasting 11-12 weeks. I’ve found the class itself and the skills taught to be quite helpful and very likely helping in my growth. I was upset that I had to drop out of the last module due to time constraints but I’m really glad I could take this current module. I hope to begin sharing some of the skills I have learned in DBT here.

All in all, I feel better. It’s not perfect. I still cry when certain songs come on the radio. Or when I’m watching sappy kids movies with the girls. Or when I think of my dad (who passed away in November of 2010). I don’t know that those things will ever change though. But I’m choosing to look at them differently. It is what it is and nothing more. Making it anything more than me crying at a song (etc) just makes that feeling bigger than it truly is and allows me to get stuck in it. I don’t want to get stuck feeling like that. Instead I will try to ride it like a wave, to just let it come and wash over me, to experience it, to acknowledge it. And then to let it go.