Archive for the ‘Behavior’ Category

The Great Snow Shovel Showdown

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
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snowmageddonI am once again braced for the drama that winter’s harsh storms bring to my neighborhood.

My caution doesn’t stem from concern about breaking bones when I slip on ice – even though that is a likely outcome every time there’s a snow storm. I’ve broken bones in both of my hands and still have scars from a shattered wrist, a result of my general lack of grace on ice.

Nor is my concern about getting into a car accident – although I have had numerous close calls on snow-packed roads.

Instead, I am on high alert with the realization that I MUST be the first in my neighborhood to clear the driveway. Anything else is an indication of my failure to accept my neighbors’ challenge for a snow shovel showdown.

My husband claims that I’m imagining such a competition and insists I’m using it as an excuse to once again indulge my tendency to be a bit obsessive.

While I admit to being obsessive, I am also very observant. Since I walk my German Shepherd every day before dawn and again after work, I know the rhythm of the neighborhood. I know who goes to work early, who works a strange schedule and who doesn’t work at all. I know who takes meticulous care of their yard and who takes shortcuts. I know who is friendly, who likes dogs and who pretends they have no neighbors at all. I also know which  neighbors are avid competitors in the snow shovel showdown.

They are the individuals who keep close tabs on the latest weather report to determine the precise time they should tackle their driveway. Their mission? To ensure their driveway is black asphalt bordered with piles of snow by the time the first car drives by.

A few years ago, some neighbors tried to gain an unfair advantage by purchasing snow blowers that created perfectly straight lines along their driveways rather than the uneven mounds of snow. Since no one in my neighborhood has a particularly long or unwieldy driveway, the straight edges of snow never gained any respect.

What does gain respect is the sound of a snow shovel scraping pavement.

I woke to that sound the other morning after a recent snow fall and immediately recognized it as a call to arms.

I should have known my next-door neighbor would be out before me.

The night before, I had heard a strange noise and asked my husband to verify my suspicions. I called him to the bedroom window to peer into the quickly fading light and watch my neighbor walking up and down his driveway.

He was getting a jump start on clearing his driveway by using a leaf blower to remove the snow as soon as it fell. A leaf blower wouldn’t leave the evidence of cheating hat a snow blower does.

I lay awake most of the night listening for any additional sounds of someone getting a head start on their driveway until I finally fell asleep to the sounds of the city snow plow. I actually dreamed about shoveling snow, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to wake up to the sound of scrape, scrape sound of metal on asphalt.

While I would have preferred to wrap myself tighter in my blankets and stay in bed, I am just too competitive.

I jumped out of bed and pulled on tights, leggings, wool socks, two shirts, a coat, gloves and a hat. I was prepared to tackle the driveway in five degree weather.

Rodney, the German Shepherd, had other ideas. He was prepared to go for his normal, morning walk. Since the kids didn’t have to go to school and my husband didn’t have to leave for work until much later in the day, I didn’t want Rodney whining and barking, And so, I took him for a short spin around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, that drastically set me back on my driveway clearing schedule.

By the time we returned, my neighbor’s driveway was already cleared.

I didn’t see him gloat, but neither did I see any cars drive by.

If I hurried to clear our driveway, no one would know what had transpired.  Neither would they know that I already have my eye on this weekend’s forecast for more snow. I’ve always been a really early riser on weekends.

Game on.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Motherhood Test Anxiety

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
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Being a mom is like constantly suffering test anxiety.test_-_multiple_choice1

I should know.

Back in my student days, I hated taking tests. I always considered myself horrible at exams. That belief stemmed not from the scores I received but from the emotional turmoil I experienced before, during and even after tests.

Generally, I paid attention to lectures and completed most of the required reading. I usually studied and would actually feel fairly confident before a test. At least, I was confident until I took the risk of talking to other students. Their concerns about failure would immediately become mine. Then, the day of a test, I would listen to my classmates as they reviewed potential questions. If there was something I didn’t know, I could feel a sense of panic come over me. Even worse, if another class had already taken the same test and reported that the questions were unfair and impossible, I immediately became a nervous wreck.  Even after the test was over and I had done my best, I would second guess at least one or two answers.

My anxiety was never relieved until I actually had the results in hand.

Being a mom isn’t much different except that I’m never actually provided with the results. Instead, I feel as though I’m constantly preparing for a final exam that is always a day away.

No matter how much I think I know, it’s never enough. I often find myself listening to other moms talk about  how they handled a specific situation, and I feel like I’m that student who realized she studied for all the wrong questions. Even worse, the questions keep getting more difficult with time.

I remember years ago, when my son was just out of diapers and my daughter was still in them, the mother of two teenagers had an office next to mine. Instead of decorating with recent photos of her children, she had numerous photos of her son and daughter when they were very young.

Since I was at the stage when I was constantly bringing in updated photos of my children, I didn’t understand. So I asked.

“Those photos remind me when being a mom was so much easier,” she said. “They remind me of a time when I probably worried more about making mistakes but, in retrospect, the decisions I had to make were so much simpler.”

Now, more than a decade later, I completely understand.

Even if I had read every book and magazine article about parenting, I’m doubtful I would feel any more comfortable with some of the parenting tests I face on a regular basis.

As a mom, many of these tests are the same ones other parents face. But let’s face facts: cookie cutter approaches don’t work when it comes to our children. They have different personalities and different temperaments. Decisions I’ve made for my son are often the completely wrong decisions for my daughter. To make matters even more difficult, my children are reaching that age when their decisions, not mine, will define the direction of the rest of their lives.

All I can do is set parameters, try to help steer and hope for the best.

Those feelings will probably never go away entirely. My mom, who has been a mother fifty years this April, still expresses doubts about some of the parenting tests she faced.

When she does, I usually tell her that my brother and I turned out fine. We aren’t perfect, but we are well-educated, productive members of society. We may not live our lives exactly as she had hoped, but neither did we land in jail or become cruel, unkind people. The people that we did become are partly a result of genetics, partly a result of the parenting we received and partly a result of life circumstances. Mom only had significant influence over one of those factors.

While I think nothing of reminding my mother of that, I have to remember to be as kind to myself.

Being a mom isn’t a science, and each child is born with his or her own challenges. Most moms are just trying to help our children become the best people they can be.

If and when that happens, we shouldn’t consider ourselves deserving of an A plus grade. Instead, We should simply consider ourselves fortunate.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Three’s a Crowd

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
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Here’s a secret about being a parent: sometimes we say the most when we say nothing at all.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve recognized that what I value most wasn’t inspired by words but rather by unstated expectations.

For example, I don’t remember my parents ever telling me I should go to college. I just knew that’s what I should do after I graduated from high school. I also just knew that I shouldn’t get married until I was capable of supporting myself. I never believed I should define myself by a relationship or that money mattered more than kindness.

And I never, ever believed I should have more than two children.

My husband, Giles, thought otherwise.

Perhaps our difference stemmed from the fact that I grew up in a family of two children and he grew up in a family of three.

Whatever the reason, he thought we should have three children. Since I’m the one who got pregnant and gave birth, my opinion ruled.

Maybe that’s why he decided that, since I had put my foot down about the number of human children, he should have the final word about the number of furry children in our home.

He knows how much I love animals and about my desire to adopt any stray that shows up at our door…or in the neighborhood… or in the park… or on the side of the road.

And so, he made a rule that, unless we moved to a farm, we could never have more than two pets at one time.

Having grown up in a family that never had more than one furry child at a time, I thought his decree was more than fair  (even though I did attempt to circumvent it a time or two).

Ironically, Giles is the one who broke his own rule.

Initially, he was irritated when I called him before six in the morning. I was attempting to walk our German Shepherd Rodney when a black and white kitten approached. Unlike most cats, especially our fat, grey tortoiseshell cat Skitty, the little kitten actually seemed to like Rodney. And that was the problem.

It wouldn’t leave us alone, so I called Giles.

“Just walk away from it,” he said.

“I can’t,” I replied. It won’t let us. No matter where we go, it follows us.”

“Where are you now?” he asked.

“In our driveway,” I said.

When he said “O.K.,” I assumed that meant he was coming out to help.

I was wrong.

I called him again.

“Where are you now?” he asked.

“Still in the driveway,” I answered. I heard him sigh, but eventually the garage door opened.

If our lives were movies, romantic music would have swelled in the background when he first saw the kitten. It was love at first sight. He scooped her up in his arms and told me to walk Rodney.

By the time we got back from our walk, Giles was asking me to call the vet to make an appointment.

Several months have passed since Artemis joined our family. She’s still cute, she still loves Rodney and Rodney still loves her. He’s especially delighted that tiny Artemis not only acknowledges his presence (unlike her feline older sister Skitty), she is also willing to  roughhouse with him (completely unlike Skitty).

And therein lies the problem.threes a crowd

Before we adopted Artemis, Rodney and Skitty had come to understanding.

Skitty couldn’t stand Rodney, and Rodney knew it. Because of that, he didn’t bother her.

But now that one cat will play with him, our German Shepherd thinks the other one should too. He has become that annoying younger brother who constantly teases and provokes his older sister.

Giles and I are now breaking up fights between the fat grey cat and the large, overly enthusiastic dog several times a day. He pokes at her, she hisses back and chaos ensues.

At these times, I am reminded of my insistence to only have two human children. Maybe I was reacting to more than just an unstated expectation from my parents. Maybe, just maybe, I realized that life would be much more difficult if Giles and I were out-numbered.

In my family, sometimes three really can be a crowd.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering or writing, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Life with a 5-month-old baby

Monday, January 19, 2015
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The great unknown – that’s what I considered my future when I was pregnant. I had no idea what life would be like with a baby. So, instead of consulting a psychic and a crystal ball, I read mommy blogs. My favorite? “Day in the life” posts. I read them all: stay-at-home moms, working moms, work-from-home moms and everything in between. For me, it’s reassuring to see that I’m not alone in having weeks of clean laundry living in a pile in my laundry room, or that in that “cooking dinner” is sometimes throwing in a frozen pizza. So here it is, your stereotypical “day in the life” post. If hearing about how long it takes me to get out of the house in the morning isn’t your cup of tea, then I suggest you stop reading now. I don’t pretend that my days are especially difficult or original; I would say they are pretty average (or below average!). Enjoy…

  • 3:00 a.m. Wake up to baby crying on the monitor. Change diaper, nurse baby. She luckily goes right back to sleep. Crawl back in bed.
  • 5:30 a.m. Wake up to baby crying on the monitor. Chris gets up, changes her diaper, and brings her to me to nurse. Then he takes her downstairs to eat breakfast and I get in the shower. The day has begun!
  • 6:05 a.m. Realize I am not in the shower but still in bed. Actually get up and get into the shower.
  • 6:30 a.m. Chris passes AJ on to me. Take her downstairs with me to eat breakfast (cereal) and make coffee.
  • 6:45 a.m. Back upstairs to finish getting ready. Put AJ in her bouncer chair and she watches me put on makeup and do my hair. Talk nonsense to keep AJ entertained, topics range from how to put on mascara to why I love Taylor Swift. Then Chris picks her up and changes her into her clothes for the day.
  • 7:15 a.m. Finished getting ready. Wonder how early I am going to have to get up once AJ is mobile and I have to chase her around all morning. Go downstairs and pack my pumping gear; Chris gets AJ’s bottles ready. Say goodbye to Chris and AJ (he takes her to daycare) and leave for work.
  • 7:34 a.m. Walk into work (thankful for a short commute).
  • 7:34 – 8:30 a.m. Emails, read news, to-do list, coffee.
  • 8:30 a.m. Pumping time. Bring computer into the motherhood room with me so I can continue working.
  • 9:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Work. Return phone calls, write emails, tackle to-do list.
  • 10:45 a.m. Pump again, earlier than normal because I have an off-site meeting during lunch.
  • 11:15 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Off-site lunch meeting.
  • 2:30 p.m. Pump.
  • 3:00 p.m. Work.
  • 4:30 p.m. Leave work to pick up AJ at daycare. Wonder if she will still be in the clothes she arrived in (it’s about a 50/50 chance). She is!
  • 5:15 p.m. Arrive home after a car ride of AJ crying. I think she prefers 102.7 to NPR. Lament that it takes me 10 minutes to get to work and 45 to get home. Throw on black yoga pants and a T-shirt and immediately change AJ and get her in the bath, something we’ve been doing to combat cold and flu season.
  • 5:45 p.m. AJ is out of the bath, toweled, diapered, lotioned and PJ’ed. Nurse her. Chris gets home around this time.
  • 6:15 p.m. Chris plays with AJ while I tackle dinner. Despite not having been to the grocery store in ages, decide that we absolutely cannot eat out and scrounge the fridge for something edible. Surprisingly come up with an egg, cheese and Quinoa combination with a side of green beans and a slice (or three) of bacon.
  • 7:15 p.m. Eat dinner, then play with AJ. Make lots of funny faces, help her sit up, and listen to the chirps and squeals of her toys. Chris cleans up and washes the dirty bottles and pumping accessories.
  • 7:40 p.m. AJ gets fussy and I know the reason. So it’s upstairs for bedtime, which involves nursing, lullabies and rocking.
  • 8:30 p.m. AJ decided to rally and is wide-awake. Give up on the rocking and take her into our bedroom, where she falls asleep to the sounds of the previous night’s episode of Modern Family.
  • 9:00 p.m. Put AJ in her crib and creep out as quietly as possible. Choose bill paying over laundry folding for my end-of-the-evening activity. Wish that a wiggle of my nose would transfer the two baskets of clean, unfolded clothes neatly into drawers.
  • 10:00 p.m. Wash face, brush teeth, and call it a night.

Sprinkle in a few meltdowns and a diaper run here and there, and this is my typical day with my 5-month-old. The weekdays go by incredibly fast, and the weekends even faster.

A Mother’s Heart

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
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What my brain wants for my children is often very different from what my heart wants.heart

For years, my brain (and therefore my mouth) has insisted that one of my primary responsibilities as a mom is to ensure that my children grow to be independent and self-reliant individuals.

My heart should be grateful that my two teenagers want the same thing. At least, they want the independent part. Their inclination to be self-reliant is a bit questionable based on their expectations that their parents continue to provide them with  shelter, transportation, money and food.

Other than those minor exceptions, they generally don’t express nearly as much need for their parents as they once did, nor do they have much use for our knowledge and advice.

With lingering memories of my own distorted sense of maturity as a teenager, I  usually don’t let my children’s dismissal of my abilities bother me.

I’ve actually become quite accustomed to it, which is why I appreciate when they suddenly recognize they still need me.

Such was the case this week when my procrastinating son realized the deadline to complete a school-related projected was way too close. Not only did he ask for my help and suggestions, he actually listened to me and took my advice.

Despite my insistence that I want him to be independent, I must admit that I rather liked the fact he still needs me, Something tells me, I’ll feel that way no matter how old he is or what he’s doing with his life.

My brain may be spot on with its efforts to ensure my children grow into responsible adults, but I’m pretty sure my heart is also spot on with its efforts to hold them tight.

I’m pretty sure that’s a conflict I took on the day I became a mom. It’s also one conflict that I don’t mind negotiating.

There is, after all, no way I can lose.

Turning the Tables

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
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My daughter was sharing her latest insights and opinions with me, but apparently I didn’t react appropriately.

“You’re thinking about writing about this conversation into a blog, aren’t  you?” she said accusingly.

Actually, I wasn’t. Instead, my sudden and unusual silence was a result of my worry about our cat, Skitty, who is staging a hunger strike after our recent adoption of a new kitten, Artemis.

“No,” I responded. “While I love listening to your thoughts and opinions, I wasn’t thinking about writing about you or this conversation.”

“You better not just be saying that,” she said.

I wasn’t.

I’d had a tough week and wasn’t in the mood to write about much of anything, particularly about the conversation we were having. But, based on Kendall’s adamant protests, I promised that I wouldn’t write about anything she said or did.

I admit I may be breaking that promise (slightly) right now, but that’s only because I have to give credit where credit is due and Kendall is quite the inspiration to me.

She may not believe me, but I remember how sensitive and easily embarrassed I was when I was 13. I also remember thinking that the only thing more embarrassing than my mom sharing stories about me was having to endure her behavior in public.

Even now, my children sometimes ask me to tell “grandma stories.” They laugh at tales of  grandma trying to ride the school bus home after leaving her car for repairs, her argument with a theater manager after trying to sneak in her own popcorn or her plunge into an irrigation ditch after being “chased” by horses on her way to a board of education meeting.

But I also know that my children will have similar stories about their own embarrassing mother.

While I didn’t fall into an irrigation ditch last week, I did fall into a creek during what was supposed to be a simple walk to the park with my German Shepherd, Rodney.

The problem was, I couldn’t get to the park.

The road from my neighborhood to the park had been closed for construction of a new bridge. A highway sign indicates a detour for moving vehicles, but that detour isn’t safe for pedestrians. My determination (also known as my obsessive-compulsive personality) was not going to let the lack of a bridge prevent me from getting to my destination.

At first, I thought I could easily cross the creek. There were, after all, large rocks spaced in strategic locations across the approximately eight foot span of water. Unfortunately, those rocks weren’t stable, and my ginger steps across them weren’t enough to keep them, and me, from rolling.

As I plunged into the creek ,  I fell on my left wrist – the one that I hadn’t fallen upon, shattered, and had surgically repaired last winter when I was “determined” to walk Rodney during a snowstorm.

After popping my wrist back into location, I did what any embarrassing mom would do.

Realizing I was already soaked, I decided I might as well continue across the creek. When I fell again, and I recognized that my nearly 5o year- old body had to find an easier route to the park.

I didn’t.

After slogging through mud and getting caught in the arms of bushes with thorns, I gave up and walked home covered  in wet, muddy pants with bloody scratches on my face.

To me, my appearance was that of a warrior.

To my children, it was that of a pathetic middle-aged woman who can’t act normal.

I understand their feelings. I remember the horror at the sight of my own mother, dripping wet in her checkered, red and white seventies era pantsuit after falling into the irrigation ditch.

But here’s what my own children don’t  understand about me and what took decades for me to understand about my own mother.

Embarrassing our children is a good thing because we have to teach them that behaving within the normal parameters of societal expectations never changes anything. We can never find an alternative path across a creek if we aren’t willing to take risks and look a little silly. We can’t inspire others if we are never willing to take on our own fears and challenges. And we certainly can’t tell our children to pursue their own happiness if we can’t demonstrate that being true to ourselves is where the path to happiness starts.

I, like my own mother, may be an embarrassment, but I’m fairly confident that a willingness to wear that description with pride is a job requirement for being a mom.

At least, I know it is for me.

 

Spending Time

Wednesday, November 5, 2014
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Like many Americans, I looked forward to an extra hour of sleep last Sunday morning.

That’s not to say I like the practice of changing clocks twice a year.steve jobs

The extra hour of sleep wasn’t actually an extra hour in my life. It was simply a debt that had to be repaid for the hour taken from me this past spring. And I resent that lost hour, especially since I’m never been able to find enough hours in the day,

I think I inherited that trait from my mother.

We both feel better about ourselves when we are being productive. Because of that, we often put too much on our plates.

We just load those plates with very different items.

When I was very young, my family lived in a tiny house on an Indian Reservation near other families with fathers who also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. My mom, who has always taken great pride in ensuring that no speck of dirt survives more than a week in her house, was burdened with two small children who thought life should be messy and did their best to live up to their beliefs. Mom would spend the day busy cleaning, cooking and doing chores. When my father would arrive home, she would ask him how other women got their chores completed early enough to play cards and socialize while she never seemed to get ahead.

Dad never had the nerve to say that my mom could play cards and socialize if she  really wanted to do so. She was choosing to use her time in a different way.

I can’t imagine spending so  much time doing housework.  Just as my mother didn’t have time to play cards with the neighbors, I don’t have time to clean my house. I tend to spend too many hours at the office and doing volunteer work and writing and walking my dog (which I try to pretend is a chore.) The reality is, like my mother, even though I complain about never having as much time to relax as other people, I’m actually quite happy being busy.

But I still need to ensure I’m not so busy that I’m wasting time.

Time, like any other precious resource, has to be budgeted.

When I was  in graduate school and working full time, I thought I didn’t have any time. I couldn’t let go of my need to ensure every paper I wrote was perfect and that I aced every test. I couldn’t understand how some of my classmates, who were also working full time but also had children, were only concerned about getting by. I never wanted to “just get by.” I wanted to be perfect.

My last year of graduate school, I got pregnant with my son, gave birth in April and graduated in May. When I graduated, I had as much pride in putting the letters MOM behind my name as I had in putting the letters MSW there.

Nine months of pregnancy during the most demanding time of my life taught me that no one can do everything perfectly. The more thinly we spread ourselves, the fewer things were are capable of doing well.

No one has unlimited time, and how we spend it speaks as much or more to our character as how we spend our paychecks.

I was thinking a great deal about how I spend my time this past weekend – not just because of the “extra” hour but because senior night was celebrated during the last home football game at my son’s high school. As parents proudly escorted the senior football players and band members onto the field while the announcer talked about each student, my eyes welled with tears.

Next year, I’ll be escorting my son onto the field, and I’m already wondering how the time went by so quickly. I’m wishing I had more and worrying whether I spent the time I had as his parent wisely.

But for the moment, all I can do is treasure every moment and remember that time, unlike money, can’t be saved. It can, however, be wasted or spent wisely.

I simply hope that years from now I’ll look back at this time and pride myself in making some very good investments.

Something Really Scary

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Halloween is quickly approaching, but I don’t need a special occasion to be frightened.jack o lantern

I get a little bit scared every time I publicly share my thoughts, opinions and experiences in writing.

And yet, perhaps like people who watch scary movies and choose to visit haunted houses, there is also a part of me that must enjoy the fear because I keep putting myself out there.

Putting together a string of words can feel magical, but knowing that others might read those words can be frightening. With every sentence, I am giving a small piece of myself away.

When I write, I want my words to be informative, emotional, persuasive and possibly even entertaining. Those same words also reveal the truth about whom  I really am, and that is very, very unnerving.

Take, for example, the topic I actually considered writing about this week – my worst  trait as a mom.

I’m certainly not a helicopter parent nor do I think my children are superior beings about which I constantly brag. But I do have a have a tendency to get completely neurotic when I think either of my children will have to deal with the same issues I did as an adolescent.

My constant struggle as a teen to be true to myself without being a social misfit, which I often was, has taken a toll on my own children. I want them to have a strong sense of self and the confidence to question the status quo, which they both do. At the same time, I worry every time I see their peers going in one direction while they step in the other.

When I say worry, I’m not referring to a brief concern. I’m referring to my need to talk about the issue incessantly until I drive both of my children, and my husband, absolutely crazy. At that point, I just try harder to explain that I don’t want them to fight the same battles I fought.

Despite my efforts, no one takes my babbling seriously, which is what compels me to take to the written word. After all, there must be some other mom somewhere whose emotional turmoil of adolescence is impacting her children decades later. Or maybe not.

Which is why I decided I should write about something completely different – like Halloween. Only, when my fingers started across the keyboard, my brain went in a completely different direction and the words tumbled out anyway.

Scary, isn’t it?

The Blame Game

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
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I’ve been told by numerous people on numerous occasions that I apologize too much.

My first response to their words is usually “I’m sorry,” which is just proof of what I’ve always known: my mouth often engages before my brain does.

But, to be honest, I’ve never understood their concern.  Many times, I’m simply conveying sympathy – as in “I’m sorry you are having to deal john burroughs quotewith this situation.”

At other times, I’m admitting my imperfections and mistakes.

That’s how I was raised.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents never engaged in guilt parenting. They did, however, set expectations that my brother and I understood consequences and accepted responsibility for our words and actions.

I’ve held on to a memory of my mother complaining about an individual for whom she held very little respect.  “There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes,” Mom said. “Everyone makes mistakes.  But you are likely to create more problems when you don’t  take responsibility for your mistakes.”

Of everything my mom has said, those words have probably had the greatest impact.

I’ve lived by them, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I have a difficult time understanding people who never take responsibility for their mistakes.

Sometimes, though, I do feel as though I should apologize for those feelings., especially because I’m a social worker who shouldn’t judge others.

I work for an absolutely wonderful organization with a mission to reduce poverty and advocate for people who are struggling. The stories my co-workers and I hear on a daily basis are often heart-breaking. Life is unfair, and we serve people who generally draw the short straw.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an elderly woman apologize for even walking through our doors or listened to individuals who have nowhere to go because they have aged out of the social service system after being abandoned by parents who were abusive or addicts or simply had no interest in their children.  We see people with no support system and few resources who are doing their best to live  one day to the next and to contribute what they can.

Just last week, I was handed an envelope with a dollar bill, a few nickels and a handful of pennies. It was given to us by a gentleman who had received hygiene and cleaning supplies from our  personal care closet. He couldn’t give much, but he gave something.

Unfortunately, we also see people who take no responsibility for their situation and instead want to blame others.

Sometimes they blame their employer for firing them, Sometimes they blame a diagnosis of anger management issues for losing their temper at work and therefore losing their job. And sometimes, they blame staff at my organization for disrespecting them when we  ask about changes they might make to improve their circumstances.

My co-workers and I get frustrated with such individuals – not because they are angry with us but because, for some reason, they think admitting to mistakes is a weakness rather than a strength.

We try to change their perspective, but we often fail.  Despite that, we won’t give up on anyone who walks through our doors. Our personal support systems never gave up on us, never allowed us to sell ourselves short and, most importantly, taught us the importance of both accepting responsibility and learning from our mistakes.

I want to provide those same gifts to others, especially my own children, who I  hope will someday appreciate them.

In the meantime, I will never apologize for my belief that we can only move forward when we accept all of the missteps we’ve made and decide to take steps in a different direction instead.

Wasted

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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As a band mom, I experience high school football from a different perspective than most people.wasted

First, I never actually get to see a home game. I only have a sense of what’s happening based on the roar of the crowd. That’s because I’m too busy serving up nachos and Mountain Dew to even get a glimpse of the game.

On the flip side, I get some insight into the secret lives of teenagers.

That’s because, with the exception of my children’s friends, no one pays the least bit of attention to the middle-aged woman taking their food orders and their money.

I’m grateful that I often witness generosity. Many teens are more than willing to hand money to the stranger ahead of them in line who bought more food than he/she could afford. They are also inclined to throw their extra change into the band boosters donation bucket.

While I’m impressed with these gestures, I also wonder if they even value the money they are so willing giving to others.

I’m not just being cynical.

That’s because, as a band mom, I’m generally one of the last people to leave the football stadium. Band boosters are responsible for cleaning the mess people leave behind, and we are often there long after the last of the fans are gone. What they leave behind isn’t pretty. To quote another band parent after the homecoming game last Friday night “people are complete slobs.”

While I agreed with her, I was struck by another thought. “People are so wasteful.”

I’ve been shocked at the dozens of nearly full bottles of blue and red Gatorade ($2.00 each at the concession stand) that were left in the women’s bathroom.  Pizza, hot dogs and nachos are left half eaten in the stands, and the trash cans also overflow with the same.

My parents never told me I had to eat everything on my plate because there were starving children in Africa, but they did expect that I wouldn’t waste food.  If you didn’t plan to eat something, you didn’t put it on your plate and you certainly didn’t buy it.  And if your eyes were bigger than your stomach, you packed up the food and took it home for later.

Maybe I’m getting old and maybe my memory is faulty, but I certainly don’t remember people wasting food like they do now, especially in a time when food insecurity has been in the spotlight.

Volunteer backpack organizations are constantly seeking donations so they can send food home with low-income children. Food pantries often run low on staples and many churches offer meals for those who can’t afford them.

And yet people at high school football games seem to buy food only to throw it away as though it has no value.

A part of me wonders if any hungry children attend those games and look with disbelief at all the waste. Another part of me recognizes that most hungry children probably can’t afford the price for a high school football game, not to mention the transportation to and from it. They certainly aren’t among the teens who hand me $20 and even $50 bills on a Friday night with the knowledge they will go home to a refrigerator full of food.

Many kind-hearted, caring people go out of their way to ensure others don’t go hungry, but we are somehow failing to address the other side of the same coin: waste and greed.

My children have been asked to participate in countless food drives, but I’m not sure they’ve ever been taught the actual value of food.

And while I’m trying to follow in my parents footsteps and  teach that food is a resource just like money and our environment, I fear all I’ve done is to teach my children to enjoy food and that my efforts are, well, wasted.