Posts Tagged ‘life’

“Poop” Makes Things Grow

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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I was attempting  to pedal my way out of a bad mood yesterday as I rode my bike on country roads bordered by fields in various stages of growth. I was rehashing what had gone wrong during my day when I rounded a corner and the smell hit me.

Fresh manure had been spread on a large field, and the stench was overwhelming.

If you think a field of manure stinks when you are behind the wheel of a car, you should try breathing it from the seat of a bicycle. Not only are there no metal or glass barriers to deflect the smell, but bikes are slower than automobiles so the stink lasts longer.

As I was pedaling furiously to get away, I remembered an incident a few years earlier when I had driven that same route with my daughter and her friend.

“The cows are really stinky tonight,” my daughter complained.

“It’s not the cows. It’s manure.”

“That’s the same thing,” the girls told me.

“Not exactly,” I said. “The manure is put there on purpose. The farmers spread it on their fields to make their crops grow.”

The girls’ initial disbelief was replaced by noises of disgust. ”Poop makes things grow?” they groaned.

That memory of the girls reaction along with my bad mood got me thinking about situations that initially stink but eventually help us grow.

I have yet to meet anyone whose life is so perfect that they’ve never had to struggle with mistakes, failures and bad decisions nor had to deal with difficult people or circumstances.

There are lots of names for such situations, but I consider them “poop,” although the name is basically irrelevant. How we deal with them isn’t.

How we handle stinky situations affects whether or not we grow and develop into stronger people. If we simply run away and avoid them, growth is limited if non-existent. But if we learn how to better handle ourselves or to adapt, we not only grow – we actually blossom.

In reality, we can’t grow when we aren’t challenged, and most challenges aren’t fun. Many times, they actually stink.

But there’s something incredibly rewarding about overcoming such situations.

I realized this as I finally rode my bike past the smell of manure yesterday and recognized that I was in a much better mood.

Yep, poop definitely makes things grow.

Mean Girls Redux

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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I may be 47 years old, but I can still remember the pain of adolescence very, very distinctly. It’s one of the reasons I wasn’t overly eager to have a children. I just wasn’t sure I could live through the drama all over again.Isurvivedthemeangirls-button

Thankfully, I did have children and discovered that surviving life between the ages of 13 and 15 not only made me stronger, it also provided extremely valuable lessons about life.

Take, for example, the lessons  I learned from the mean girls of my youth – the “pretty people” who took great pleasure from doing all they could to promote themselves and their social status while belittling others.

As a friend recently told me, “those mean girls just grow up and become mean women.”

I only partially agreed with her. Some change. Some don’t.

I still have to deal with the ones who didn’t, and my daughter is having to deal with the new crop of mean girls.

Sometimes we have to tolerate them because they have more power than we do. Sometimes we have to confront them because we aren’t the only one being hurt.  And sometimes we simply need to talk about them with our friends.

My daughter and I were both doing that last week.

I was angry about the adult versions of  the mean girls.  My daughter is still trying to understand the mean girls at her middle school.

I was venting to friends about how unbelievably selfish some women can be. My daughter was giggling with friends about how ridiculous burn books are. Yes, the mean girls at her school actually have a burn book in which they write hurtful comments about others.

I was ranting about women who are more concerned about their social status than helping meet the needs of the less fortunate. My daughter was making fun of how the mean girls at her school named their clique, demand special privileges and are  proud that they exclude others.

And that’s when it struck me.

I was wasting my time and energy complaining about women who will probably never change. My daughter wasn’t wasting her emotional energy but was simply viewing the mean girls as characters in a book or play. She finds them entertaining but not really relevant.

Since my daughter has a wide circle of diverse friends, she doesn’t care about a few superficial girls who want to exclude her. She’s much more interested in the people who do include her and how they enrich her life.

My daughter hasn’t yet turned 13, but she has already learned some valuable life lessons – ones that I’m still learning.  I like to think my own experiences have helped guide her, but I also know that she’s teaching me as well.

And she’s a very good educator.

Buying Time

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
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People who work hard to convince others that they are either  martyrs and/or victims really annoy me.  That’s why I purchase-time-clockwas completely disgusted with myself when I realized I was doing just that.

I was complaining about being tired because I’d been up doing laundry at 3:00 in the morning.

(I’ve been struggling to meet all the demands life has thrown at me lately, and getting up during the night to throw one load of laundry into the washing machine and another into the dryer was my solution to catching up.)

Unfortunately, I was complaining  a woman who had gotten up at the crack of dawn to wait for hours at the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) about a mistake regarding her daughter’s medical card. When her number was finally called, she spent less than a minute with her case worker, who simply acknowledged the error and said it would be corrected.

That was it.

I was worried about keeping the laundry hampers from overflowing, and she was ensuring her daughter had access to health care. I had gone back to my salaried job a bit tired. She had gone back to an hourly wage job that didn’t pay while she was at DHHR.

I’d lost a couple hours of sleep. She’d lost pay.

Yet people try to claim we all have the same 24 hours.

We  don’t.

I do realize that, technically, there are only 24 hours in each day, and as far as I know, no one gets rewarded with extra hours for doing good deeds or has hours subtracted for bad behavior. But the SAME 24 hours? It’s not even close.

But people who want to feel self-righteous want to pretend the they have achieved “success” with only 24 hours in a day. They insinuate that if others haven’t achieved the same level of success, they haven’t used their 24 hours wisely. This logic is similar to the myth that if low-income people just worked harder, they too could be financially secure. Ironically, some of the hardest working people I know are working two jobs and still can’t make ends meet. And when they aren’t working to earn meager paychecks, they are spending time on tasks that middle and upper class people generally don’t have to worry about doing.

In other words, when you don’t have a decent  income, you just have less time.

You have less time because you spend hours in a laundromat rather than throwing your clothes into a washing machine at home (at 3:00 in the morning).

You have less time because you can’t simply jump in your car when you need to go to the grocery store, to a child’s school program or to work. You depend, and wait, on friends to take you or on public transportation.

You have less time because you don’t have social connections with doctors who can “get you right in” as a favor. Instead, you wait just to get an appointment . . . then you wait in the waiting room.

I first became aware of the “24 hour myth” through my own struggles. I spent hours trying to do things myself that friends with bigger paychecks paid someone else to do.

And sadly, because I bought into the myth that not having extra money meant I wasn’t successful enough or working hard enough, I would pretend that I took satisfaction in “doing it myself.”

Then, at some point, I realized that “doing it myself” was the epitome of hard work.  It just didn’t equate to having more money in my pocket, a bigger house or a nicer car.  But neither did it equate to being a failure.  It did increase my understanding the value of time, and how people who can afford to buy it, do.

They buy it by paying babysitters to watch their children. They buy it by paying people to clean their homes. They buy it by eating at restaurants instead of cooking.  And sometimes they can even buy time by working for businesses that allow them to go on golf outings or to participate in charitable events to build their network and their resume (while lower-income people are generally required to stay at the work site while on the job.)

I can’t judge whether people who have higher salaries use their time more or less wisely than people with lower incomes any more than I can judge whether they work harder.  Like everything else, individual behaviors run the spectrum.  But I do know people with more money have more discretionary time to spend on working more or playing more. And just like discretionary money, it can be wasted or well spent.

As Carl Sandburg said, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

And that is a saying that I can definitely buy into.

The Rules

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
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If nothing else, I am a persistent person.

My husband and my children call me obsessive and tell me that it’s an extremely irritating trait.my rules

I prefer persistent, and being persistent is one of my rules for living.

Someday I hope my family understands. In the meantime, I simply hope they learn to appreciate my rules.

In all honesty, I’ve broken several of them, but the outcome was never good. In fact, those miscalculations only reinforced why the following rules are so important to me:

  1. Always admit when you make a mistake. If people already know what you did, they will respect you for the admission. If they have no idea you made the mistake, they will disregard you or believe you are covering for someone else. Either way, you spend a lot less time and energy owning up than covering up.
  2. Never believe you are smarter than those around you. There are multiple forms of intelligence, and having the facts is simply one form of knowledge. Knowing what to do with the facts is something else entirely.
  3. Make time for yourself every day. That’s not selfish; it’s maintaining your sanity. People who think they have no time for themselves are often the least healthy.
  4. Never make political decisions based on what will serve your personal interests. If you do, you will always be disappointed. Make your decisions based on the Golden Rule. If you consider how we treat each other rather than how you can get what you want, you will always be more satisfied.
  5. Don’t ever use your own life and circumstances as a frame of reference for someone who is struggling. You may have succeeded in difficult times, but your resources and support system can’t be duplicated.
  6. Always remember people in the service industry are individuals with their own stories. Listen to those stories. Not only do you have something to learn, they have something to teach.
  7. If you are counting hours at work, you aren’t in the right place. If you are counting the lives you touched in a positive way, you are.
  8. Remember that you are the only person responsible for your own happiness. External gratification is a simple substitute, but it always fails. Always.
  9. If you are going to talk about others behind their back, be accurate about the facts. We all need to vent. That’s human nature. But if you are more concerned with tarnishing someone’s reputation than with being truthful, your reputation is the one that will suffer most.
  10. Watching television isn’t necessarily a waste of time. Scheduling your life around television is.

These are my rules. They might not apply for everyone, but they work for me. My greatest hope for my children is that they can develop their own list of rules and that they can follow these rules down a road to true happiness.

Decision Times

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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I was organizing old photograph albums on a shelf in the basement when I found a journal from my teenage years. I picked  up thedr-seuss-memory-quote spiral-bound notebook filled with sprawling cursive writing, but I only read a few lines before  putting it down.

I’d thought I would enjoy reminiscing with the author, but I realized that I didn’t even recognize her. I recalled the events and even many of the emotions she described, but I didn’t remember the girl.

Experience and time have distorted my memories of the teenage girl I once was, and even though I still have a great deal in common with her, we are now very different people. And in reading those few journal entries, I found myself wondering how that teenage girl could possibly have been expected to plan what she wanted to do with the rest of her life when she hadn’t yet grown into herself.

dr seussNow, 30 years later, that former teenage girl is fielding questions about what her son wants to do with the rest of his life, and I’m having a tough time believing that he can possibly know.

Maybe I’m a cynic. After all, I’m just as astonished by people who stay in the same career, much the less the same job, for their entire life as I am by people who are still married to their high school sweetheart.

In my world, that just doesn’t happen.

In my world, teenagers are just tall children who are exploring the world and discovering new interests and passions every day. They are young souls who are still learning that life isn’t about one decision that will lead them down the right path but about a series of decisions that will take them on an adventure.  And the are unique individuals who still need to determine how to use their gifts.

But I realize that’s in my world.

In the real world, teenagers are encouraged to identify their interests, decide on a college major and purse a career path by the time they are 21.

Maybe, if I didn’t have a son who was only a baby last week and is turning 16 next week, I might buy into that world.

But in reality, my son who is still trying to figure out who he is, and I’m pretty sure that the only way he can do that is through experiences – both good and bad. My job as a parent is to encourage him so he pursue opportunities that will allow him the time and the freedom to learn about himself.  And I hope he encounters some life-changing adventures along the way.places-ypu-will-go-quote

I also like to think that the teenager I used to be hopes for the same thing.

According to her journal, she does.

 

The Sneaky One

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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One of the great advantages of having friends who are a few years older than me is that they usually have children that are older than my children, have more experience than I do and can offer an entirely different perspective on parenting.

One of the disadvantages is that they have every right to scoff at the pronouncements I make.Yellow_Dude__Sneaky_1_preview

Take, for example, my recent comment that I only have to worry that one of my children will take risks behind my back.

One friend warned me that any adolescent can make poor decisions.

Another told a story about cleaning around an object in her teenage son’s room only to learn years later when he was an adult that the object was a ladder he hung out of his two-story window at night to escape.

And one friend told me “You never know really know which child is the sneaky one.”

She was right. The sneaky one really fools us.

And while I will never admit to ever having my own sneaky tendencies, I know that at least one member of my family does.

Her name is Skitty, and she’s fat, furry and feline. She is an indoor cat who pretends to be afraid of going outdoors, but that is simply her sneaky effort to lull our family into a sense of security.

At times, she provides hints into her true nature when she lurks around an open door leading onto the back deck or stares longingly out the front bay window. But normally she pretends to only be interested in eating and sleeping.

We never would have learned about her true nature if she hadn’t repeated the same mistake on multiple times.

The first time she escaped, no one noticed she was gone until my son yelled, “Mom, I can hear Skitty, but I can’t find her. Since Skitty likes to hide, not being able to find her wasn’t unusual. But she normally only meows when she’s hungry and demanding food. Right in front of one of us. In a very obvious and demanding manner.

But after a search of the whole house, we still couldn’t find her. That’s because she wasn’t in the house at all. Instead, she was in the backyard and had apparently gotten quite hungry, hence her meowing.

None of us knew how Skitty had gotten in the backyard, but we weren’t too worried. We figured one of us had left the door open.

We hadn’t.

The next time Skitty escaped then meowed from the backyard, I started getting suspicious.

The third time she got out, I conducted a thorough search of the house and could find no escape route.

My daughter is the one who solved the mystery. She was in her bedroom when Skitty entered, jumped onto the window sill, pushed the screen out and jumped out of the two-story window over an asphalt driveway. She was able to survive because she still had a few of her nine lives left. That, and she jumped at an angle, landed in the bush next to the backyard fence then jumped over the fence into the backyard.

We fixed the window screen, and Skitty was once again confined to the house. But we were all a bit more aware of her whereabouts, the potential risks to her safety that she was sure to ignore and the outside interests she had worked so hard to hide.

In hindsight, I’m glad Skitty created that heightened awareness. It was good practice for me. As the mother of two adolescents, those skills will come in handy.

Fortunately, I have yet to discover any night-time escapes or truly bad behavior. But I am on the look out for it. Unfortunately, after my friends’ warnings and my cat’s escapades, I’m just not very confident I really know which kid, if either,  is “the sneaky one.”

Five Truths

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
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When my husband really wants to make my hackles rise, he tells me that I’m just like my mother.

He  knows I’m actually very different from my mom in many ways.  He also knows that the best way to get under my skin is to remind number fiveme that my mother and I aren’t as different as I like to think. We actually share some key traits.

The most obvious of these  is that we aren’t driven by a passion for materials possessions. Instead, we are motivated by trying to improve our imperfections. We are also attracted to other people who are trying to do the same.

That is why I appreciated spending eight hours in the car with a colleague last week on the way to and from meetings in another part of the state. During out time together, the two of us identified five truths about life:

1. Forgiving people who admit their mistakes is easier than forgiving those who don’t. Forgive them anyway. If we don’t, we are the ones who suffer.

2. If we only do the right thing in hopes for a reward – whether now, in the future or in the hereafter,  we aren’t embracing the true spirit of “doing the right thing.” Goodness comes from the heart  with the intention of improving the lives of others and the world – not improving our own lives.

3. We have absolutely no right to judge the decisions other people make based on our own circumstances. There is an immense difference between identifying ways to help and belittling or deriding others. People who grow up in any type of poverty, whether financial, emotional or supportive, haven’t benefited from the resources or support networks that many of us were fortunate to have. Criticizing them doesn’t add to their emotional reserves or their decision-making abilities. Helping them identify new possibilities does.

4. We can’t define ourselves by our jobs or our role in the community. Whether we are a business owner, teacher,  banker or  stay–at-home mom, who we are does not change based on our most successful venture or prestigious recognition. We can only be defined by our actions, how we treat others and how we  behave in the face of adversity and hate.

5. No one had perfect parents and no one is a perfect parent. We all struggle and we all approach the role differently. But if we had a mother who loved, cared for and challenged us, we were given a great gift. Like any gift, we should be appreciative and use it to as a model for providing gifts for others. We should also appreciate, rather than deny, when someone says “you are just like your mother.”

Chasing the High

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
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The guy behind the wheel of the truck wasn’t just irritating me. He was scaring me.

I was driving to my office on a snowy morning, and the road was icy and slick. The speed limit through the residential part of town was 25 miles per hour, and I was sticking to it. Since the announcer on the radio was warning people to stay off the roads completely, I didn’t feel overly cautious. I felt sensible.

But the guy driving the over-sized silver truck was pushing his luck and was therefore also pushing mine. He was following me so closely that I couldn’t even see the headlights of his vehicle. Traffic everywhere was moving slower than normal and backing off a few feet wouldn’t have gotten the driver to his destination any quicker, so there was no justification for his behavior.

I could only guess that he had something to prove. Maybe he wanted to show me that he wasn’t afraid or that his truck could maneuver over the icy roads just fine. Or maybe he was seeking excitement rather than accepting his circumstances.

I’ll never know if he arrived at his destination safely or if he was one of thousands of people in the Mid-Atlantic region involved in traffic accidents that day. I’ll also never know if  he’ll push his luck again the next time he’s driving in snow. My guess is he probably will because his behavior reminded me of drug addicts who are always chasing the high.

Drug addicts generally don’t start using large amount of drugs, but as their bodies begin to tolerate their substance of choice, they need more and more to achieve the same high. And they aren’t alone.

I know a significant number of people who do the same thing. Only, like the obnoxious driver, the high they seek isn’t dependent on drugs. It is dependent on their need to feel powerful or to have material possessions or to achieve a certain social status. And, like the drug addict, no matter how much they do or achieve, they are never satisfied and just want more.

If this was simply a personal issue or decision, I wouldn’t care. But, like drug addicts, some people’s selfish needs and behaviors have far-reaching implications.

I’m referring to the mothers who complain that they need yet another exotic vacation or the fathers who use their children’s athletic accomplishments to sate their own needs for accolades.

Every time that happens, our children are being taught to chase the high instead of being satisfied with having parents who love them or enough food on their table or heat on a cold day.

I’m not surprised that some people turn to drugs to feel better. We are all surrounded by people who turn to artificial measures of happiness that can never truly be satisfied.

But life isn’t about always being happy, always being entertained, always feeling important or always getting something new and shiny.

Life is about finding joy in the mundane, learning to accept failures, celebrating our relationships and laughing at our mistakes,

I can only hope that more adults, and their children, are starting to understand that.

If not, we will continue to encourage the next generation to keep chasing the high.

Thanks for Being a Bad Role Model

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
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My grandmother was a Prude with a capital P.

Even though I spent most of my childhood living thousands of miles from her, I feared showing my true self to a woman who expressed immense disgust at even the slightest impropriety.

While I never inherited her decorum, I did inherit her inability to hide distaste. She wore disapproval on her face the way other womensimply be wear makeup.

But her high expectations for other humans and her limited tolerance for behavior that stepped beyond boundaries she defined as appropriate weren’t necessarily bad characteristics.

They kept me in check, because I often asked myself, “would I disgrace grandma if this went public?”

That’s not to say I never misbehaved or made really stupid mistakes. I did. Quite a bit. But when I said and did things in public, I often considered what Grandma would think.

Shortly after my grandmother died at the age of 96 in 2005, I started asking myself another question: “What kind of role model will I be for my children if I say or do this in public?”

Common sense tells me that all parents would ask that question, but once again, common sense doesn’t always prevail.

Times have changed significantly since I worried about displeasing my grandmother. Social media has allowed us to connect with people from childhood and to have a broad audience for our thoughts an opinions.

That shouldn’t give people license to be disrespectful, rude, inappropriate or self-indulgent, but apparently some people think it does.

Twice this week, I saw Facebook posts that would have had my grandmother shaking her head and my children questioning how people can talk about family values out of one side of their mouths while spewing venom out of the other side.

I don’t want to point fingers or to fall into the same trap, so I won’t go into too much detail. But I do have a few words of wisdom that could have, and probably did, come from my grandmother’s mouth:

You cannot call yourself a good parent while belittling other parents in the same sentence. Good parents don’t put down others to pull themselves up.

You cannot claim the moral high ground when you are calling other people names, no matter what the situation.

Never publicly tear down a child or adolescent. Ever. This is just as true for your own children as it is for the children of others.

Finally (and this definitely comes from my grandmother) using foul language in a public setting, whether written or spoken, will never impress anyone. The English language is vast, and limiting yourself to four letter words will never cause anyone to be  in awe of what you are saying. Generally, it just makes others feel sorry for your limited vocabulary and lack of anger management skills.

On the flip side, inappropriate posts and comments in social media do serve a purpose: they provide a great public service. They teach us how foolish we look when we act more immature than (most of us) expect our children to act.

And, even though close to a century separates the birth of my grandmother and the birth of my children, I have no doubt that they would both agree that I make them proud by saying that in public.

Love Lessons

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
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This April, I will celebrate the 16th anniversary of becoming a parent. Since I was already in my thirties when that life-changing event occurred, I am now what  my children consider absolutely ancient. In  the world of adolescents, I am clueless, especially regarding matters of the heart.

That’s in their world.

In my world, or at least in my mind, I have enough experience to render my insights about love worthy of attention.heart

I am under no illusions that my children will even acknowledge my wisdom, but I don’t care.  As Valentine’s Day approaches,  I feel obligated to once again share ten lessons I’ve learned about love:

1. You can’t truly love someone else unless you love who you are. And who you are is an imperfect person who makes mistakes, gets mad and will sometimes say and do very stupid things. Love yourself anyone. How you handle your mistakes and flaws is more important than trying to hide them.

2.  Love is only genuine when you are being true to yourself.  Don’t pretend to enjoy something when you don’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compromise. You should. Love requires a great deal of compromise. But compromise doesn’t mean you should pretend to be someone you’re not.  If you do, you’ll wind up being miserable.

3. Love isn’t a competition, and you can’t make someone love you. You will always be loved for being the unique person you are and not because you are prettier, smarter, funnier, sexier or nicer than someone else. Therefore, you should never worry about what others are doing to attract attention or affection. Being yourself is enough.

4.  You don’t fall in love. That indescribable feeling of “falling in love’” is usually a combination of infatuation and physical attraction. Love is something that is grounded in mutual respect, grows slowly and doesn’t necessarily bloom as much as it thrives.

5.  Love isn’t about romance. It’s about experiencing someone at their very worst and realizing that walking away would still be more devastating than dealing with a tough situation.

6. Love is about having passion in your life – but not necessarily in the way you might think. Never invest so much of yourself in a relationship that you don’t have time for everything else you love. Be passionate about a hobby. Be passionate about a cause. Be passionate about your family and friends. And also be passionate about your love.

7. True love means you aren’t worried about what other people think about your relationship. If you spend time worrying about what others are thinking or saying, you likely have concerns yourself. If you’re confident about your relationship and the integrity of your significant other, you won’t care what others say. Always stay in tune with your inner voice and be honest with yourself.

8. Love means saying you’re sorry. Unlike the quote “love means never having to say you’re sorry” made popular in the 1970′s movie “Love Story,” love means that you’re willing to let go of your ego. Admit when you are wrong or when you’ve said or done something hurtful. And when you are in a relationship, you will say and do hurtful things at times.

9.  Don’t expect love to always feel exciting and new. Just like life, love can sometimes be dull and boring and predictable. Relationships are like roller coasters: sometimes they can be difficult and sometimes they can be easy and fun. But being able to work together during the uphill battles is what makes the downhill ride so enjoyable.

10. People do change, and that can affect your relationship.  Our experiences shape who we become. The person who you fell in love with several years ago will probably be different from the person you know today. And you will be different too.  Many times, you can join hands while you grow.  Sometimes, you drop your hands and grow apart. Often, the decision is yours, but sometimes it isn’t.

As I share these lessons, I realize I learned most of them the hard way. But I also realize that those experiences have made life more interesting. Which leads me to one final lesson about love: it doesn’t make life easier, but it does make it more meaningful.