Tag Archives: Family

Boiling Frog Syndrome

I often use a metaphor to describe how we sometimes find ourselves in situations we didn’t see coming. It goes something like this:

If you put a frog in a pot of hot water it will jump out immediately, because it senses danger. But if you put a frog in a pot of cool water and heat it slowly, the frog will adapt to the changes. It will not perceive danger, and eventually it will cook to death.*

I fear I’ve become a victim of Boiling Frog Syndrome.

(Photo © 2010 J. Ronald Lee.)

I used to live a very organized, efficient life. I worked outside the home, worked inside the home, mothered three kids. As an Army wife, I often did it solo. I managed our rental properties, cared for my parents, volunteered at my kids’ schools, taught Catechism at my church. And all the while I managed to maintain a decent standard of hygiene in my home and a semi-active social life.

I’m not sure when the fire was turned on under me, but somewhere along the way that cool pot started heating up, and my surroundings became a threat to my survival.

At some point, having the right uniforms clean on school days became a challenge. (Enter Febreeze into my life.)

Homework became a lifestyle-altering component of my family’s schedule.

Carpool and lacrosse practice became the events that dictated the rest of the day.

I had to take an afternoon off of work to wait for the exterminator, the plumber, the AC guy.

Meals at home became grab and go events, not sit downs.

Taking my parents and in-laws to the doctor became a frequent activity.

I was overwhelmed by my routine day.

Lists didn’t help. I never could get the things on the list done by the time they were supposed to be done. The unchecked list became a reminder of my failure.

Requests for assistance didn’t help. I had created a system that only I knew, so asking for help meant doing it over when it wasn’t done right, and stopping to explain ‘what or how’ became as time-consuming as doing it myself. I had painted myself into a proverbial corner.

Years went by, and I couldn’t figure a way out. I reminded myself to be patient. “This, too, shall pass,” became my mantra. I watched as my friends went on weekend jaunts to Napa, while I tried to dig out of paperwork. I was jealous of those who went to the zoo when I could barely get to the grocery store. The lists grew longer and longer. But I couldn’t figure out how to change anything.

The events of the last year turned the fire up even hotter. And I started to feel the heat. Anxiety attacks, hives, a trip to the ER after passing out. My body was sending me clear signals, but I still couldn’t figure out how to reduce the flame beneath me. I knew I had to get out of the pot for my own survival, but I just couldn’t find the way out.

So I scoured the internet for some inspiration, and I stumbled on this blog.

The steps seemed simple enough, so I thought I’d give it a try to see how I could apply these business practices to my life.

7 Tips for Prioritizing Tasks Effectively

1. Respect Deadlines.

An absolute must. I was prone to putting off the things that stressed me the most, even if there was a cost. Practical translation: Laundry must be done. If I have to Febreeze a uniform so my son can wear it to school unwashed, I’ve failed. Monday morning, laundry must be caught up.

2. Set Milestone Deadlines.

Don’t complete one task at the expense of the others. If it all has to be done, set reasonable milestones and work toward them. Leaving a monumental task until the last minute will bite you in the ass every time. Practical translation: The insurance claim must be filed within two weeks. The apartment must be ready to show by the 20th.

3. Consider the Consequences.

There will be things that just can’t get done. Choose the ones you can let go, and then… let them go.  Practical translation: I won’t be making those spectacular Halloween decorations I saw on Pinterest. In fact, I’m may delete my Pinterest account. All it does is make me feel more inadequate.

4. Consider the Payment Terms.

Some commitments do pay rewards. Get them done. Practical translation: Get the apartment ready. Missing another month’s rent will set the cause back even further. Two teenage boys on the car insurance is no laughing matter.

5. Consider Time Required.

When facing two equally important tasks I’ve started using the low-hanging-fruit method. Practical translation: Choose the one I can get finished. The reward of checking something off that list will often give me the energy to tackle the next one. And then the next one.

6. Set Goals and Work Backwards.

Keep the big picture in mind. Prioritize the steps, keeping in mind that some are foundational for others. Doing things in the wrong order makes for extra work. Practical translation: Clean the kitchen before starting dinner. Put away laundry before packing for vacation.

7. Schedule a Percentage of Your Time for Personal Projects.

Personal indulgences were always the first thing to be cut. But tasks that energize me – even if they take up valuable time – leave me better equipped to tackle the necessary things. Cutting these activities backfired on me in the long run because it left me feeling unfulfilled. Practical translation: Don’t eliminate the things that fulfill me. Spend time with friends. Exercise. Read. Dare I even say it… travel.

Now I’m not sure if using this method is going to solve my problem. But I am already gaining some sense of control over things, and I’m sure that will cool the water down a bit. I’m giving myself a month to knock out some big items and make decisions on how to work smarter on the small items. And I’m planning a trip. (A really big trip! Just for me! More on that later.)

Because I’ve already lost enough time sitting in this pot, waiting for the water to cool on its own.

* Before publishing I confirmed the accuracy of this anecdote with the trusted online source Wikipedia. According to Wiki, the frog will eventually realize its demise is near and jump out. But revealing this at the beginning of the post would have ruined the whole metaphor. Ignorance is bliss. 

** No frogs were harmed in the writing of this post.

—————————————————————————————

How do you manage tasks and stress? What organization methods help you function more efficiently? And have you ever actually seen a frog in a pot of water?

A study of cause and effect: If you give a boy a paintbrush

Image source: Microsoft.

Image source: Microsoft.

If you give a boy a paintbrush, he’ll want to help you paint.

If you agree to let him help, you’ll have to give him a bucket of paint.

If you give him a bucket of paint, he’ll spill some on the floor, and you’ll have to give him a rag to clean it up.

When he has a rag to clean up, he’ll make a bigger mess trying to wipe up the spill, and he’ll get paint all over himself.

When he gets paint all over himself, you’ll send him to the bathroom sink to clean himself up.

While cleaning himself up, he’ll splash paint-water all over the bathroom mirror, and you’ll give him paper towels and window cleaner to clean the mess.

After cleaning up the mirror mess, he’ll get water all over the floor.

When he gets water all over the floor, he’ll need more paper towels to clean it up.

After cleaning up the water on the floor, you’ll tell him to go chill out and listen to his iPod for a little while.

After listening to his iPod for a little while, he’ll get bored.

And when he’s bored, he’ll ask if he can help you paint.*

          * Inspired by actual events.

10 Celebrity Parents who are A Lot Like Me

1  –  Like Britney Spears, I practiced Attachment Parenting. I wanted my children close to me as often as possible. And with her busy partying performing schedule, Britney had to seize every moment she could to be close to her kids. Great job, Brit! I’m sure Dr. Sears would be proud!

2  –  Kate Gosslin took her kids camping. We used to go camping a couple of times a year when my boys were Cub Scouts. Although we did it without a film crew there to document the magic we have wonderful memories of those special family times. Just like her kids have of this moment:

 

3  –  Alicia Silverstone is concerned about her child’s nutrition. Like her, my son ate what I ate, but I had the messy job of cleaning the food processor after preparing his meals. Pre-chewing seems so much easier, and you can do it anywhere. Great tip, Alicia.

4  –  I put a great deal of effort into making holidays special for my kids. Especially Christmas. We always take a family photo to show how much the kids have grown in the last year. Nadya Suleman started this tradition with her octuplets, too. I’m sure when they’re teenagers they’ll look back at their first Christmas photo with mommy and smile.

Source: bossip.com

5  –  Then there’s January Jones. I, too, was concerned about my post-natal recovery. I took my over-the-counter vitamins, ate a healthy diet, and tried to get plenty of rest. I wasn’t as well-informed as January, though, and I let the medical staff at the hospital take my placenta away instead of having it dehydrated and made into capsules for me to swallow later. Although had I chosen to eat my placenta, I’m sure I would’ve prepared a big celebratory meal to enjoy.

Who’s old enough to remember the Placenta Helper skit on Saturday Night Live. Gilda Radner at her finest. But I digress…

6  –  On the concept of Emotional Intelligence, Alec Baldwin and I seem to be on the same wavelength. Helping children learn kindness and consideration sometimes means pointing out when their behavior isn’t appropriate. And with a young child it’s helpful to use a comparison the child can to relate to. So when Alec left his 11-year-old daughter, Ireland, a voice message calling her a “thoughtless little pig,” I’m sure he meant it in a constructive way.

7  –  Were Joan Crawford alive today, I’m sure she’d be my Facebook friend, because we’d have so much to share with each other. I like to drink wine and keep my closets organized, and I get upset when my kids don’t eat their dinner (although I don’t serve liver).

This magnet appears on my fridge. For realz.

8  –  Then there’s Richard Heene, who (like me) works hard to infuse learning opportunities into everyday activities. He taught his son, Falcon (a.k.a. Balloon Boy) about aerospace principles, marketing, and the criminal justice system all in one lesson.

9  –  And Nicolas Cage, who (again, like me) wanted to give his son a legacy name. Each of my boys has a family name for either their first or middle name. Nic’s little dude is named Kal-El. (Superman’s Kryptonian name for those of you not into literary references.) Quite a legacy, dad.

10  –  And last (but never, never, least) is Woody Allen, who is so committed to maintaining strong ties with his grown children that he married his stepdaughter. (Although the term “stepdaughter” is used loosely. I would probably call her  his baby-mama’s adopted daughter.) Because once they grow up and start thinking about moving away, there are only so many things that’ll keep ‘em at home. He seems to have found one that works for him.

I’m sure you have a lot in common with celebrity parents, too.

Please, share your celebrity connection with the group!!

 http://www.northwestmommy.com/2012/monday-listicles-42

Full Time Daughter

My mother-in-law moved in with us.

If you’ve been following for a while now, you may remember that we don’t get along.  But circumstances are what they are, and despite our challenging relationship, moving her here was our only option. I’ll spare you the details, but here are the facts you need to follow along: her husband is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s. She broke her hip in December. She is an insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetic. Her dementia has advanced to the point where can no longer be left unattended. Ever.

So here we are.

The decision was a hard one to make. My husband and I both knew what we had to do, but because of our past, I don’t think he felt like he could ask that of me. So I let him off the hook, and I posed the question. The answer was an immediate “yes,” and we set about preparations immediately, before either of us had a chance to really think about what we were doing, and change our mind.

We cleared out a room, converted it to a bedroom for her, and moved her in to our house.

I was angry. For years I watched her deal with her husband’s dementia without an ounce of patience, belittling and demeaning him in front of others (even my children), and now I was rolling out the red carpet for her. She was given beautiful accommodations, home cooked meals delivered to her at the table, and was spoken to with kindness and respect. It didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t fair.

I tried, I really tried, to open my heart and put my feelings aside, but I just couldn’t. When she asked the same questions over and over, I flashed back to the way she treated him, and even though the words I spoke were calm and non-confrontational, they were filled with bitterness. Karma hadn’t gotten it right.

(Thanks, Enlightenment Ain’t for Sissies, for the Karma Wheel.)

Then one Sunday, the story of Jesus and the lepers was read in Mass, and the homily centered on Jesus loving the Unloveables. “Who are the Unloveables in today’s world?” the priest asked. He talked about loving, in an active way, those who are hard to love. He pointed out the obvious – the homeless, AIDS patients, those who are different from you, those who scare you. Then he challenged us to think about our own world, and who our Unloveables are. And to reach out to them. To love them anyway.

I tried. I tried to be more patient. I tried to speak more gently. But I just wasn’t there yet.

I was still waiting for her to love me back.

As days turned into weeks, I knew I needed an internal reconciliation. Something had to change, and the change had to be within me. I prayed. I sought counsel from friends. I wrote thousands of words, trying to put them in the right order to get me where I needed to be.

I knew I was getting closer, but I still wasn’t there yet. I continued to search the archives of my mind and my heart for some reference to give me what I needed.

Along the way I thought about an old blog post from my friend Mike. (Mike, send me the URL so I can link it here!) He wrote of Sacrificial Love, and his reflections mirrored that homily a few weeks prior, that we as are called to love beyond what’s easy, to love sacrificially.

And then it flashed through my mind. I thought about the Golden Rule, the philosophy so universal it exists in Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And the Truth I had been searching for hit me. I was still waiting to receive. And that had held me back from giving. Whether or not it was ‘fair’ was not for me to consider. My duty – to God, to my husband, and to myself – was to treat her the way I wanted her to treat me, not the way she actually did treat me.

For twenty-six years I had shown her love, and had been waiting for her to return it. On that day I accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to come. The time for that had passed. In her condition, she was no longer capable of opening up to anything new. It was all about me now, and how I behaved towards her.

It was time for me to give love in its purest form, in sacrifice, expecting nothing in return.

For only then could I turn to God and say that I’d done my best. Only then could I ask Him to do unto me as I had done unto others.

_____________________________________________________

This post was submitted for the Yeah Write #51 link up.

http://yeahwrite.me/51-open/

I hope there’s wine in hell.

Yesterday The Caboose pinched his middle finger in his closet door. Not the whole finger, just the fleshy tip. It made a purple blister at the pinch site, and the tip of his finger was all swollen and throbbing. We applied ice and elevated the injury. To protect it, he curled the other fingers protectively, extending the middle finger full and straight. You get the picture.

He was making a hand gesture similar to this one. Only with one less finger. (Thanks, Microsoft, for the royalty-free image.)

This morning, it was hurting a bit, so I gave some ibuprofen. Then we got ready for church.

Mass was lovely. Sitting around us were friends, neighbors, and a nun. As the “peace be with you” moment approached, I look over at the boy and see that he has resumed the protective hand position, with the other fingers curled tightly and the injured middle finger fully extended.

I wanted to die.

“Peace be with you.” he sweetly said to the nun.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Today, I took one for the team. I stayed home on Mardi Gras.

If you don’t already know this, today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day, the culmination of our weeks-long celebration leading up to the somber season of Lent here in Catholic New Orleans.

If you’ve never been to Mardi Gras or to New Orleans, you should definitely put it on your bucket list. I know there are other Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations around the world, but ours is unique for many reasons. But I digress…

This story is about my family.

My family loves Mardi Gras. But we love it in different ways.

Uptown parade via Nola.com

Uptown parade via Nola.com

My idea of a great Mardi Gras is having a base camp at the beginning of the route with chairs and ladders and food and potty passes somewhere. My preferred location is on Napoleon Avenue, at the beginning of the parade route, nestled under a lacy canopy of live oaks, with actual grass beneath my feet. Because it the beginning of the route, you have to arrive early, while most of the city is still pondering their second cup of coffee. Or second Bloody Mary.

For Slick and The Trailblazer, a great Mardi Gras experience means being further up St. Charles Avenue, where throngs of high school and college students flock. (Mardi Gras is the new Spring Break.) The scene up there is a bit intense for me, and the thick crowds give me the heebie-jeebies, so I prefer to leave them with their own kind while I stay with mine.

For Mr. Wonderful, being in the thick of the action, not tied down to chairs and a home base, drifting with the crowd chasing an elusive Zulu coconut and eating from street vendors is Utopia. Before we had children, we schlepped through the French Quarter, caught the drag queen costume contest, roamed through the city in search of fun. It was never my thing, but he loved it so much I went along with it. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time, but I’m definitely a fair-weather fan of this season.

Once the kids came, we settled down a bit, hunkering in a hotel on St. Charles Avenue for the long weekend, partying til someone dropped. The kids slept on the floor of the old mansion-turned-hotel and ate pub food for days.

But as they got older, the family became divided. The teenagers tired of hanging with mom and dad for days on end. After three kids my bladder could no longer go all day with limited potty stops. But Mr. Wonderful’s lust for the party never ceased.

The kids and I were holding him back.

Then last week, Mr. Wonderful and I found ourselves downtown on a parade night with only The Caboose in tow. As we approached the parade route, the boy ran ahead to get there first. Mr. Wonderful glanced back at me, looking for permission to follow. I nodded my consent and he took off after the little dude. I caught up a few minutes later to hear them shouting and having fun, with an armload of beads and a giant stuffed fish. Two peas in their Mardi Gras pod.

So Sunday, when Mr. Wonderful commented about last year’s Mardi Gras Day rain out, and how upset he was when the rain clouds passed and he saw the TV broadcast of the people on the streets reveling without him, I knew I had to throw him a bone. I convinced The Caboose that he and dad would have a great time on the man-prowl. No one to tether them to a bathroom, no one to make them stay put in mom’s happy place. They could travel light, work their through the crowd, go where the wind would take them.

I sent them off without me, so they could have their kind of fun.

My theory was validated at 9:25 this morning, when the first photo came via dad’s Blackberry of a smiling boy.

Shortly after that came another photo of The Caboose holding his Zulu coconut. More followed, all chronicling the day exactly as I hoped it would go. Father and son, having fun together, making special memories at on Carnival Day.

The Mardi Gras prize: A Zulu coconut. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

King Zulu. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

Hail Rex. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

I’m sure (OK, I hope) when they return home this afternoon, they’ll both say I should have come. But the truth is it couldn’t be both ways. Their kind of fun is different from my kind. And today I wanted them to have their kind.

Next year I’ll probably go with them, and we’ll figure out a compromise that covers us all.

But I’m certain that someday I’ll hear them telling stories about this day – the year they went out by themselves – and the adventures they had. And I’ll smile.

Celebrate Love. Happy Donna Day.

I had every intention of doing the usual commercially-driven Valentine’s Day festivities this year. You know, a basket of trinkets and sweets from the dollar store and fancy, store-bought cupcakes that we’ll ooh and aah over for a few minutes and I’ll toss by the end of the week while the kids are in school.

But I this morning I started reading Mary Tyler Mom’s post about raising money for pediatric cancer, and my plans quickly changed.

I remembered the flood of emotion I felt when I read Donna’s Cancer Story and my heart ached for her mother. I hope I never understand her pain. I hope you don’t either.

Photo of Donna used with permission.

I thought of Donna, of all the Donnas, who aren’t here to open Valentines and squeal over balloons. And I just couldn’t bring myself to get in the car.

I walked over to my pantry instead and pulled out a cake mix that was already there. I baked heart-shaped cakes for my family, with one extra. That one’s for Donna. For all the Donnas who aren’t here to celebrate with us. It won’t be eaten tonight. It will sit on the table as we have our dessert, and we’ll talk as a family about children with cancer. I’ll tell my boys that instead of spending money on trinkets for them, that we made a donation to Donna’s Good Things. I know they’ll approve.

The riches I have in my children are too numerous to count. Their love, their laughter, but mostly their PHYSICAL presence. Here with me.

For this I am grateful.

I’m counting on Mary Tyler Mom to remind me every year to celebrate real love with Donna Day.

Now it’s your turn. Make a difference today.

  • Go to Donna’s Good Things and make a donation. (I did!) Follow them on Facebook so you can keep up with their great work!
  • Find a St. Baldrick’s event near you. (St. Baldrick’s is a volunteer-driven charity that raises money for childhood cancer causes.) Volunteer, donate, blog it, Tweet it, Facebook it.

He really was listening.

Evidently he heard the real words. Not just these.

All those years, when I was yelling sharing my wisdom with the children, it seems The Trailblazer really was listening.

This week I called him at school to discuss a change that’s going to be happening to our family soon. (The details of which are a story for another day.) I tell him about it, expecting a reaction of surprise, probably objection, definitely questions. Since he spends nine months of the year away at school, it affects him the least, but it’s still a big change.

After a brief discussion, he pauses and says, “I’m sure you and dad thought it through, so if that’s what you decided, then I’m sure that’s what’s best.”

There was a lifetime of reward crammed in that one sentence.

He actually said “I’m sure you and dad have thought it through…”

Did he really acknowledge that his parents are capable of intelligent thought? I wasn’t expecting that paradigm shift until he was about 30.

Did he really understand that we had considered the impact on everyone, and deemed it the right thing? I think he did.

Now, maybe he was just trying to get me off the phone so he could resume his game of beer pong studying. Or maybe he’s trying to figure out how to stay in Baton Rouge this summer to avoid it altogether.

Or maybe he meant what he said. Yeah, I’m going with that.

I’m giving myself a gold star for raising that boy. I hope the other ones have been listening, too.

The Joy of “Yes”

A while back I noticed something.

I was telling my kids “no” a lot.

“Will you make pancakes for breakfast?”

“No.”

“Can we go to see a movie today?”

“No.”

“Can I invite friends over?”

“No.”

Source: thecircleproject.com

One day I paused, and contemplated what it must be like for them hearing “no” all the time. Not having the ability to control decisions about their day, or their life. Being on the receiving end of parents’ and teachers’ permission all the time.

And I decided I would try to say “yes” more often.

Because when it came down to it, sometimes I said “no” for my own convenience. If I wasn’t up to cleaning up a mess, I said “no” to a project. If I didn’t have the energy to handle a bunch of kids, I said “no” to the sleepover. They heard me saying “no” a lot.

So I had a little talk with myself about saying “yes.” And I adopted a new mantra. “I’ll say ‘yes’ when I can.” Practical realities sometimes intervened, making “yes” impossible. But as I started saying it more often, I liked the feeling I got from being agreeable. “Yes” usually meant something fun. “Yes” usually meant making memories. “Yes” brought joy back into our day.

I started to like “yes.”

And then the strange thing happened. They started saying “yes” back.

“Please pick up your room.”

“OK.”

“It’s time for bed.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And the one that causes more arguments in our house than any other, “Turn the game off.”

“I will.”

This morning on the way to school, The Caboose was feeling a little run down. He was listening to music on his iPod, getting ready for another day of sixth grade as we approached campus. Now this kid does not respond well when asked to terminate something in mid-stream. The typical response is “after this song,” or “I need to save my game.” But this morning as we pulled up to school, I told him to turn off his iPod and stow it in the seat pouch, and he said “yes.”

God, I love “yes.”

Saying Goodbye to Small, Medium, and Large

I used to have three little kids.  One was Small, one was Medium, one was Large.  Their clothing, their shoes, the servings on their plates all reflected their birth order appropriately.  We had no trouble determining whose clothes belonged to whom, which bicycle was the right size for which kid. They were spaced out by enough years that there  were clear markers of birth order by the size of everything.

You may not know this yet, we’re smaller than the average family.  Dad’s a towering 5’6”, and mom a proud 5’2”, so our offspring are destined to be of short stature.  By other people’s standards, we’re all small.  But within our home we’ve always had a distinct – albeit relative – range of sizes.

As any mom of small kids will tell you, we watch growth carefully.  We celebrate when we make it to the 5th percentile on pediatric growth charts, and then have “the talk” when we fall back off the charts.  Growth ebbs and flows in pre-pubescent boys, and small boys often go through puberty later than their taller friends, exacerbating the physical differences for a while.  But we are what we are, and in this house, we’re okay with that.

Slick was two years old when we first began monitoring his slow growth.  My pediatrician did that little formula that pediatricians do with a child’s two-year-old stats and calculated his estimated adult height.  His came out 1” taller than his older brother’s.  The doctor laughed, being a younger brother himself, and told me to expect Slick to pass The Trailblazer up in height at age 16.

Lo and behold, in the last six months, they got to be the same height.  When The Trailblazer comes home from college for visits, we have the mandatory height check to compare stature.  And it happened.  He passed his brother up.  Only by a half-inch or so, but that was enough to make it official.  The older brother is now the smaller brother.  And both are taller than mom and dad.

It’s strange.  And wonderful.  Because it means they have become men.  And they are comfortable with who they are.  (Except for The Trailblazer.  He’s a bit miffed about the taller little bro.)

Then, last week, another strange thing happened.  The Caboose needed a green t-shirt to wear to school for a Spirit Week event.  I pulled a green T out of the dryer (y’all know I hate folding laundry), and realized it was The Trailblazer’s.  But it looked about the same size as The Caboose’s.  Puzzled, I held it up to the child and, although it was a little big, he could pull it off.  So Small wore Large’s shirt to school

Small, Medium, and Large are gone.  I now have one Medium and two Larges.

Family photos will look different from now on.  When standing in order there will no longer be the familiar downward trend.  It’s strange, and wonderful.

Watching my little boys grow up into smart, compassionate young men has been the greatest reward of motherhood.  When juxtaposed against learning to ride a bike and read a book, the accomplishments big kids are far more fulfilling.  And there’s the added bonus of not having to wipe their butts or cut their food anymore.

So saying goodbye to Small, Medium, and Large isn’t bad at all.  Because Large, Large, and Medium have made me so proud.