A Gift

So. I get up every day at 430 am. I figured if Gene can get up every day and go to work, I can get up and run. Some days it's a run. Some days it's a walk day. I don't look at the scale but when I do, it barely moves. But these side-by-sides tell me, "Keep getting up at 430!"  I think a big part of it is how I have decided to look at my run: it's a GIFT to myself.  Not a chore, not an obligation. It's 45 beautiful minutes for ME. (see post about Givers and Takers.). And that makes all the difference, honestly. It's such a small change, mentally, but it works. Give yourself time to walk, do yoga, meditate. Whatever your gift is. 

 

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Givers and Takers

Hey there, blogosphere! This is the part where I apologize for being really busy and not able to write more often, so let's just move on. 

Today's post is about something I have noticed for a while now, and something my aunt and I have talked about at length. It seems to me, more and more often, that the world is divided into two general types of people: Givers and Takers.

Let's define. The Givers are those who think about other people's needs and feelings. They are nuturers and caregivers. They do things for other people without being asked. They are the ones who surprise you with a thoughtful gift...and it's not your birthday.

The Takers are self-absorbed. They look at the world and expect things to be given to them. They aren't terrible people. Most of the time they even say, "Thank you." But they don't naturally think about other people's feelings. They don't naturally go out of their way to do anything that isn't required. 

My aunt's wise words, given to me many times over the years, from one Giver to another: "Givers have to set limits because Takers rarely do."

Setting those limits is extremely hard at times. When your kid is a Taker, then limits look like tough love. When your partner is a Taker, then you find yourself doing all the chores. I'm blessed with another Giver as my boyfriend, and that is such an amazing combination. 

Givers tend to go into professions that emotionally exhaust them because they require giving. We are teachers, doctors, parents, social workers. We want to save the world, and when it goes up in flames, we feel personally responsible. We want to encourage everyone, help everyone, love everyone. 

Until we are pushed to the brink by a Taker or Takers. When we are the only one at work doing more than their fair share every single week. When we are only one at home doing chores or showing respect for the family. We just get to a point where if we keep giving, we will lose ourselves. 

It's not easy for a Giver to stop giving. We see ways to help and have to stop ourselves because our helping has become enabling. We see ways to show love but we have to hold back out of self-preservation. 

Is there a way to get a Taker to realize they are a Taker? I don't know, honestly. Usually when a Giver gets upset, they are written off as "overreacting" or "in a bad mood today."  And then the Giver gets over it and the routine resumes, hopefully with some inner boundaries set. 

What's the answer? As a  Giver, I try to help my children learn empathy and compassion. I also advise them to set limits, too. My daughter Gabrielle has heard my aunt's wise words from my own lips already. I honestly don't know any other way to affect change other than to help teach. Sometimes those words fall on deaf ears, but sometimes they sink in, take root, and sprout, even if it's years later. 

Onward, dear Readers! 


And Just Like That...

Summer is over?

I will be the first to admit that we barely sat still this summer.  In fact, I am the first to admit that we don't sit still well much at all, period.  But particularly in the summer, we play hard.  My rationale is that we work hard during the school year, so we make the most of the break, especially since I know we won't alway have summers together as an entire family.  (We already experience this with our two oldest boys being in their 20s, with jobs and responsibilities that prevent them from going on every trip with us.)

So, despite all the things we have done -- including the things in the past month that I haven't even had a chance to blog about, like a special visit from my dear friend Katie, a four-wheeling trip through the mountains of West Virginia with my parents, and a concert celebrating the past 40 years of the community theatre -- it still somehow feels like summer went by so quickly. 

Alas, time is but an illusion, of course.  :) 

However it happened, I found myself in teacher training yesterday, and I will say that despite the confusion and rescheduling that comes with a building renovation and despite the tightening of the spending belt that is happening all over the state, we have a great district here.  I am so glad I work here and that my kids go to school here.  I am looking forward to teaching senior English again, after many years of having all juniors, and the things I have planned for our theatre program are going to be exciting -- especially on a brand-spanking-new stage this spring.  I am fortunate to work with amazing educators -- and fortunate that they help my kids learn. 

While it is sad to see summer go -- and the freedom from a schedule that goes with it -- I am looking forward to not only my new school year, but that of our kids.  We'll have a senior, which is always exciting; we will have two at the middle school (how did THAT happen?); and Little Liam will be flying solo at the elementary school.  Oh, and I guess I could count myself as a student this year, since I start classes for my doctorate next week.  

All we need is for Dunkin to bring back the Pumpkin Spiced coffee, and we'll be set.  Happy New Year, everybody! 


What They Never Tell You about Parenting

When I first discovered I was pregnant 13 years ago, I sought out every resource about having a baby and becoming a parent available.  From the classic What to Expect series to the hip, modern apps that told me about how the baby was growing from the size of a pea to a peach pit -- I read it all, twice.  

Now that I am a mother to 12-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 6-year-old, and an almost-step-mother to a 23-year-old, a 20-year-old, and a 17-year-old, I look back at my nerdy self and laugh.  (Full disclosure: I am still a nerd. No cause for alarm, folks.)  Sure, I survived breastfeeding, teething, minor illnesses, and toilet training, but I had no real idea of what was in store for me.  

(This is the part where we all know that in a few years, I will be re-writing this same blog, lamenting how little I knew when I was 36 . . . it's a shape-shifter, parenting.) 

So for your Friday enjoyment, here is my unofficial and incomplete list (I am feverishly writing this while the children sleep, after all, and that spell could be broken at any moment) of What They Never Tell You about Parenting

When you have more than one child, you will feel like a referee more often than not.  I once left a bucolic room filled with happy children for 30 seconds, only to hear a blood-curdling scream.  Running back into the room, I asked, "What's wrong?"  The reply?  "He touched me."  Take that scenario and multiply it by 58 and you've got a typical morning.  

You will erroneously think that saying something once is enough, especially as the child gets older and appears to have mastered listening.  This is laughably false.  We think, "Sure, we have to tell the baby, 'No,' repeatedly, but that's because he's a baby, and by definition, is well...sort of dumb.  I mean, developing!" This tricks us into thinking, "Hey!  This kid is older.  He goes to school alone and functions all day without me.  He's got this!"  And then you find yourself saying, "Please put your dishes in the dishwasher," every single night after dinner, as if the dishwasher were installed that very morning.  Get used to it.  

By the way, it is a universal truth that a dishwasher with clean dishes in it is rendered useless, and therefore, all dishes must be stacked in the sink until they reach perilous heights.  

You will also assume that your children will notice and (pause for effect) APPRECIATE everything you do for them on a daily basis.  

[Hold on, still laughing at my naive self who once thought this possible...]

OK, so it goes like this.  You will plan out and do approximately 900 things for your children per day -- including making meals, washing clothes, doing dishes, buying them food/clothes/toys, inviting friends over, installing a swimming pool, driving them everywhere, making more meals, doing more dishes, pouring drinks, cleaning up messes, refereeing (see above).  The children might, and I stress MIGHT, notice the installation of the pool and say thank you.  The rest, they file under "Stuff My Mom is Supposed to Do While Also Working Full Time, Managing our Household Bills, Maintaining All Family and Friend Connections, and Somehow Reaching Society's Unreasonable Expectations of Weight and Beauty" -- or, "Stuff My Mom Supposed to Do," for short.  

Oh -- and here's what else happens.  On the day you plan out something special, like a trip to an amusement park, the children will become overtired monsters who may even exclaim, "I hate you, Mommy!" when you mention it may possibly be time to go home.  This, you will learn, can be translated to, "Thank you for taking me to the amusement park," if you so choose.  

This goes along with appreciation, but you will assume that because you worked hard to earn the money for something, your child will take pride in it and take care of it.  You remodel a bedroom, you invest in new furniture, you spend money on some new gadget that your child is really into.  They HAVE to have it for Christmas, it's the only thing they want.   They've grown out of the little kid wallpaper, so you repaint the room to be more mature.  You think, "Wow, I put a lot of time, effort, and money into this.  Surely they will take care of it because they wanted it so badly."

Fast forward two weeks.  The room looks like a bomb went off.  The prized possession's location is either unknown, or it is buried under a pile of clothes/toys/books/dust.  You will then stupidly think that telling your child to clean it up or take care of it once will be enough (see above...again). 

And when you decide to learn from this lesson and tell your child the next time they ask for something which would require time/effort/money, "No, not this time.  I bought that _____ that you wanted and you don't take care of it," you will be met with, "That's not fair!" or "I promise to keep it clean this time!"  Chances are, you will be gullible enough to fall for this more than once.  

When you have more than one child, they believe their job title is "Mini Parent."  I lost track of the number of times I was interrupted by one of my children while addressing an issue with another child yesterday.  I routinely have to remind them that I am in the room and in full possession of my mental faculties, and therefore I would not be in need of an understudy.  This is particularly noticeable the older the child is, and it seems to be more prominent in my girl child.  Named "Mini Mom" by her brothers, my daughter loves to tell them, "It's time for bed," or "Please push in your chair when you get up from the table."  While she is clearly exhibiting behaviors that will make her an excellent -- and exhausted -- mother one day, her brothers find it taxing.  

*** It looks like we are out of time for today, folks.  I hear children stirring, and this is my favorite time of day, when they are well-rested and still love me.  I will leave you with one final thought: 

What they don't tell you is even though you will feel like you ran a marathon every single day while actually gaining 3 lbs due to lack of time to exercise, being a parent is the most rewarding (and important!) job we can ever have.  


Slow Down, Notice More

Ten years ago, after I gave birth to Gabrielle, I began to develop lower back problems.  After seeing a physical therapist/chiropractor, I discovered I had a bulging disc in the lumbar region.  Thus began a lengthy process of treatments (including a machine I affectionately called "The Rack" because it essentially pulled my upper body in one direction while simultaneously pulling my lower body in the opposite direction).  I eventually reached the "Maintenance" phase, which meant I came in every 6-8 weeks for a chiropractic adjustment.  

My insurance paid for the therapy part, but the maintenance which would prevent future injuries?  Naw, they weren't having that.  What was I thinking, trying to stay healthy?  As the years passed, my out-of-pocket expense for adjustments grew.  These appointments last about 5-10 minutes, and while I felt better after it was over, I couldn't justify the cost for what seemed to be an unnecessary procedure -- after all, I rarely had any pain in my lower back any more.  

(Yes, I realize this is because the adjustments were actually working and preventing injury.  But, I was thinking like a single mom who really hates to spend money on herself.)

This spring, I committed myself to running in the mornings more often, and when summer came, I was easily logging 4 miles each day.  I also began to notice a nagging ache in my lower back.  I bought new shoes, I alternated biking and running and walking.  And then I called my chiropractor.  

I don't have the bulging disc issue (yet), but my muscles were very tight and my spine needed to be adjusted.  I dutifully scheduled regular check-ups.  I had a massage, and took a bit of break from the high impact of running.  

Last week, I decided to try a yoga class.  I used to take yoga (among other classes) when we had a Y membership, and I thought the gentle stretching might be good for my back.  I loved the class so much that I took Gabrielle to one the following Sunday.  

During the first class I took, my instructor led us through a series of movements for one leg, and when we brought it back down to the mat, she said, "You may find that this leg feels longer than the other one now."  Surprisingly, this was true.  She led us through the same movements for the other leg, and then led us through some breathing exercises, asking us to slow down, to concentrate on our breath, to become fully aware of our bodies and how we feel.  

"When we slow down, we notice more," she said.

While this statement obviously applies to the practice of yoga, its simple truth applies to every aspect of our lives.  We live in a loud, fast-paced world -- Gene and I have 6 children between the two of us, and if you think that doesn't get loud, you are welcome to come over for dinner some night.  In our jobs, we are increasingly asked to do more than was ever expected of one person.  In our personal lives, we are expected to be constantly available via text or call.  

How many times have you tried to have a conversation with someone whose face was in a screen?  How many times are you that person in the screen, telling yourself that you are able to carry on two (or usually more!) conversations at once while still being present in each of them?  

If we slow down -- to write in a journal, to meditate, to take a walk -- we appear to be slacking off in some way.  (By the way, "slowing down" doesn't mean binge-watching Netflix for hours.  That is escapism, if we are honest with ourselves.  That is mindlessness, not mindfulness.)

When we slow down, we notice more.  We notice facial expressions, we notice nature, we notice the messages our own bodies are trying to tell us.  I wasn't listening to my body when I was running; I was often listening to an audiobook or music, and ignoring the pain in my back creeping in.  Many people confess to emotional eating or other harmful behaviors that could be prevented by simply slowing down and facing the stressor. When we aren't paying attention, an entire bag of chips can disappear without us noticing, which then makes us feel ashamed, and the cycle repeats itself.  

I am not saying, by any means, that slowing down in our culture is easy.  I am not an expert at all.  In fact, I am writing about this because I've been convicted by the statement made by my yoga instructor -- I need to slow down, to notice more.  It isn't easy, but like most challenges, it will be worth it.   


A New Adventure

I am pleased and excited to announce that I have been accepted into Immaculata University's graduate program, and I will begin working toward my Doctorate in Educational Leadership this fall!  

I first heard about the program when I contacted a friend who has had a similar career path -- a soprano with an English degree who directed and performed in theatre -- and who has moved from the classroom to administrative work, earning her doctorate all while raising her child with her husband locally.  I have always wanted to pursue my PhD, but I refuse to drive to Penn State (the only University near us which such a program) several days a week while my children are so young and active in school.  I learned that this friend participated in a cohort through Immaculata and that a new one would be starting near me.  

After talking it over with Gene, who was incredibly supportive, I decided to apply.  I had to submit an application, references from my principals, a statement of intent/beliefs, and transcripts.  After they reviewed my materials, they invited me to an interview, and about a week later, the acceptance letter arrived in the mail.

The program is teacher-friendly: I will take one class at a time, one night a week, for a total of 2 per semester.  All courses are taught by professors and professionals in the field (School Law by an experience attorney, for example) at a nearby school district.  I have the option to take summer courses online, which I will do for some prerequisites that I need, but otherwise, the instruction is in real life.  After three years of courses, I will begin my dissertation.  At this time, I think I will add the principal and supervisory certifications, but those specifics may take a different shape as I advance through the curriculum.  

I've always loved a challenge, and I expect juggling graduate work, a full-time teaching job, three children, and the theatre program to afford me all the challenges I will want and more over the next few years.  For now, I am beyond excited to begin a new adventure, with Gene and the kids enthusiastically cheering me on. 

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Going Strong in July!

I am still pretty serious about taking July off -- from the county fair with our kids to kayaking down Pine Creek to four-wheeling with my parents, Gene and I have managed to carve out a lot of time for the things we love and the people we love to do them with! 

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Rainy Day Thoughts about Fatherhood

I've spent a lovely day with my nieces -- making zucchini bread, going to the mall, having lunch at Cracker Barrel -- and now, while they are napping, I am listening to the steady beat of rain outside the window.  It seems like the perfect time to blog, doesn't it?

Because my nieces' car seats are a pain to move from one vehicle to another, their father left his truck for me to use to transport the girls today.  When we climbed in to go to the mall, the eldest asked me, "Do you even know how to drive my daddy's truck, Aunt Denise?"  And littlest chimed in, "Yeah, Anna Niece, do you even know how?" 

(Clearly, these illiterate girls do not follow my blog, or else they would have known that I have a Ford F-150 with a Coyote 5.0 at home, but alas!  Kids these days just don't read like they should.)

Throughout our day, the girls chattered happily, telling me stories about their mom and dad.   Their dad and I are running a 5-K tomorrow morning, and they predict he will be "faster because he is just stronger."  It is abundantly clear that these ladies adore both of their parents, but I was thinking today about the impact their dad will have on them.  After all, a father is the first man a girl falls in love with.  She learns how to see herself through his eyes, how to be treated through his actions, how to love through his words.  

We live in an unprecedented age.  We have more diversity and freedom in our relationships than any other generation.  If I were my grandmother, I would still be miserably married, believing I couldn't change my life or the lives of my children.  But, now, as I tell my kids all the time, families come in lots of shapes and sizes, and as long as there is love, safety, and peace -- the labels don't really matter.  

We so often hear that we are living in an age with a "fatherhood crisis."  Lots of men bring babies into the world, but they don't step up to raise them.  Recently, two people very close to me have gone through a re-shaping of families, and I have noticed a different kind of fatherhood crisis.  Men who bring babies into the world and want to raise them are being prevented from doing so by controlling and manipulative women who would prefer to play the role of "victim" instead of the role of "co-parent."  These men want to see their children, to impact their lives they way my nieces' father is impacting theirs.  Instead, they are told they "can't" see their child -- or that they can "visit" their child.

From the two examples I have seen, what I have observed is that these women are narcissists who thrive on drama.  If there aren't problems, they will create them.  They love to put on a public face of being "independent" and "strong single moms" but then they turn around and tell their exes they need money from them.  They then use that money to act like they are single-handedly taking care of their children, all the while ignoring his requests for more time with the children.  

One person that is going through this explained it best:  "She is bitter and upset because he moved on and is truly happy now.  She can't bear the thought of him being happy with someone else, so she will use their child as a means to cause distress for him." As a mother, I simply cannot stomach the idea that a woman would use a child as leverage -- yet I know it happens all the time.  From trapping a man in a relationship with a pregnancy to trapping him into thinking he can't leave a controlling, emotionally abusive woman because of a child, women use their children as pawns in petty wars against their exes.  It's sickening for sure.  

What is also sickening is the way the legal system shows preferential treatment to mothers.  Perhaps this is because of the deadbeat dads out there who aren't involved in their children's lives.  Let me be clear -- I think it is important to help mothers out when a man neglects his responsibility as a father.  Nevertheless, it makes things a lot harder for those dads who do want to be involved in the lives of their children.  A woman can make a completely unsubstantiated claim about a man, and law enforcement is more likely to believe it and side with her.  A man must fight twice as hard for the right to be a father -- all while society complains that he's not doing enough to be a father. 

Naturally, I try to make sense of these women.  How can they bash these men for not being involved, as the men are actively seeking to be involved?  I have always been fascinated with psychology and human behavior.  What is it that makes people tick, to act as they do?  Can it be traced to some event in their childhood?  Can it be the result of their upbringing in general?  Is it a genetic disposition?  Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle, in the many shades of gray that make up each of our stories.  

And instead of rain, I hear the pitter-patter of little feet, so I suppose these problems must wait for another day.