Eight Tips for Living the Good Life

I’m now over 40. How much over, never you mind. It took this long to realise what I can control to feel content and satisfied most days. I’m no expert, but here are my suggestions for The Good Life. What would you add to the list?

Wear what makes you happy

Follow the trends if you like them, but don’t let others dictate what makes you feel good. High heels bring you agony, wear the flats. There are way too many important things in this life to spend one minute worrying if the rise of your jeans is acceptable. Be comfortable in who you are, be comfortable in what you put on your body.

Order the dessert. 

I’m all for living a healthy lifestyle. I stay active, I consciously choose fruits and vegetables and attempt to limit the junk. In the end though, life is not made full and rich by austerity. We need to allow ourselves permission to indulge in the good stuff occasionally without guilt. If you can, get the calorie loaded coffee once in a while, schedule a massage, sleep in, order the fries. You are worth the fancy dessert.

Go low maintenance. 

Ladies, if you find your beauty routine brings you joy, then go for it. If you find yourself stressed over the time and cost of waxing, dyeing, painting, lasering, exfoliating, needling, injecting, then cut that out of your life. Partake in what you decide is important for your body, not what you are shamed into or expected to do by society. I don’t do the lovely gel nails because I’m not good with the upkeep, but getting my eyebrows and eyelashes done are worth every penny for a natural blond.

Forget about expectations. 

You will run yourself into the ground trying to meet the expectations of others. This includes employment expectations, family expectations and societal expectations. You get to determine where to spend your time, your money and your energy. Yes, sometimes you will still conform in general, but when those expectations conflict with your mental health, your values, your safety, you have every right to stand up for yourself and walk away.

Choose your obligations wisely. 

You get twenty-four short hours each day. Your obligations should reflect your values and priorities. If something does not serve your priorities and is taking time away from the important things in your life, feel free to toss it out the window and don’t look back. You will never be everything to everybody all the time, and that’s ok.

Give compliments freely. 

You’ll be surprised by how much good in this world you recognize when you go looking for it. Compliment your child on helping a sibling or getting ready for bed without fuss. Compliment your partner for something you would normally take for granted. Thank the people in your life. I’ve been known to yell at the numerous delivery drivers as they drive away to thank them for my package.

Experience new things. 

Dollar for dollar, you will gain a significant increase in enjoyment from spending your money on experiences, creating memories and spending time with the ones you love versus buying one more unneeded gadget. Our children will outgrow toys, they will never outgrow the knowledge and closeness gained from family experiences.

Love honestly. 

Be honest in your needs. Be honest in what you can give. Be honest in what you deserve from others. The best love is the kind where you can feel safe in your vulnerabilities.

The Eight Signs of Success

Dear child,

As your parent, I’m responsible for teaching you many crucial skills and lessons. I’m responsible for making sure you eat an actual fruit and/or vegetable, at least once a day. I’m responsible for teaching you to care for your body, and no, showers are not optional. I’m responsible for making sure you treat every person you meet with kindness and respect. I’m also responsible for guiding you towards success in life. So with that goal in mind, I need to be sure we are on the same page as to what success actually looks like. 

Success doesn’t mean having the highest grades in class, it’s working hard and doing your best.

Success doesn’t mean making the most money, it’s using the money you make to better the world around you.

Success doesn’t mean being the person with the most friends, but being a good friend to those around you.

Success doesn’t mean never failing, it’s never failing to try.

Success doesn’t mean knowing everything, it’s continuing to learn throughout a lifetime.

Success isn’t having everything you want, but having everything you need.

Success isn’t having the biggest house, it’s having a house full of love.

Success isn’t being the last one to leave the office, it’s loving and living life out in the world.

You will encounter many with a misguided vision of what success means. They may not see your value if you have not achieved certain milestones, attended the best schools, possessed the right titles. They may even sacrifice their ideals in the pursuit of their version of success. While there is nothing wrong with achieving traditional measures of success, it should never be the sole measure of your worth. If you compromise your values for the sake of success, you have failed. 

I will continue to support you, wherever you are on your journey, but never forget, in my eyes you will always be a success.

Waiting and Patience

Remember our old friend, Waiting? He used to hang out with Patience, but now that I think of it, I haven’t seen either of them for quite a while. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Quick and Easy, I’m human after all. Next day delivery is magical, but what have we traded for convenience and instant gratification?

I’m currently waiting for a few accepted articles to be published as well as waiting to hear if a few more will be accepted. It’s an almost strange feeling to be sitting in limbo, waiting. With this empty space in the waiting I’ve let my brain wander, reminding me of the benefits hidden in the space. 

Nature’s most wonderful gifts are those for which we must wait. 

As winter’s barren cold slowly gives way to spring we appreciate the first sprouts of the crocus and daffodil, the gentle budding and then explosion of the magnolia tree. As the weather warms and the yards green, anticipation builds for warmer, sunnier days. 

The expectant family, waiting seemingly endless months for the arrival of their child, the dreaming, the planning, the learning, all occur in the waiting. We find joy in the small details of the journey, excitement in anticipation. 

Both the flower and the child need time to grow, time to develop, time to bloom. In the waiting we prepare, with arrival we rejoice.

In the waiting we develop self-control. 

Delayed gratification teaches us to resist the temptation of immediate pleasure for the promise of greater future reward. In waiting we learn to manage our impulses and have patience for the world around us. 

We are all better humans when we are able to function thoughtfully focused on the future. We learn to save our money for an emergency or retirement instead of buying what we don’t really need in the moment. We make better choices for our planet, conscious of what we leave behind for our children. 

So I will sit with Waiting and welcome back Patience. I will notice the buds and enjoy the slow reveal of color and scent. I will find joy in anticipation. I will look ahead to the future with hope and promise. I will encourage you to join me.

Love is Three Flavors of Jello

My son was scheduled for a medical procedure in which the day before he has to be on a clear liquid diet. Not fun for anyone, but especially not for a growing, typically ravenous tween. To try to alleviate some of the misery, we went overboard buying about every single item on the list of approved pre-procedure diet. I figured, if you can’t eat, you might as well have three different flavors of Jello to choose from. On top of the multiple flavors, I even made two types, plain Jello and Jello jigglers. He was still miserable, but, as it often happens in life, it was just something he had to get through. 

As a parent, the worst thing is to see your child in pain or suffering, whether physically or emotionally. We want to make it better. When our children are hurt, we feel their pain viscerally. When they are young, we want to be able to rush in with a bandaid or a hug and a kiss and relieve them of their burden. As they get older, we want to protect and warn them against the many formidable issues they will have to grapple with: peer pressure, dating, driving. In spite of our best efforts, our children will get hurt. They will fall off the swing, they will fall off their bike. They will have their heart broken, they will have consequences from poor decision making. They will be let down and disappointed by friends.

We can’t protect them from everything. We can’t always make everything better. Sometimes all we’ll be able to do is make the bad stuff palatable. We can still sit with them in the mess so they know they aren’t alone. Sometimes the best we can do is offer three flavors of Jello.

Praise for Our Teachers

Shark! Wait, no, it’s ok. Everyone back in the pool, it’s just a teacher on a Zoom call.

After the longest year of our lives, I felt compelled to write a letter of gratitude to the teachers and support staff who kept our kids learning. In the midst of a global pandemic, with their own personal concerns and challenges, our teachers remained a steady and dependable source of normalcy for my children.

They met each challenge with determination, creativity, and grace, from the abrupt switch to e-learning in the spring of 2020 to the new normal of restrictions during the 2020-2021 school year.

Many went above and beyond to provide entertainment during a stressful period, even if it meant wearing a shark hat.

Our teachers have done what they could to provide an engaging program. They found ways to carry on with their lessons despite the restrictions placed upon them. Physical education teachers introduced movement into the home. My kids now do little workouts on their own and enjoy it, often encouraging me to join in with “double workout day.”

Science teachers have crafted home activities to provide the hands-on learning our children crave. Egg drop contraptions were created with recycled materials and tested, desperate to keep our egg “alive.”

Reading and writing skills have been honed through stories crafted and shared at home, my 4th grader constantly in competition with me over who could compose the longer writing piece. I’ve listened in on numerous Spanish classes with the world’s most cheerful and upbeat educator.

During the upheaval, teachers found a way to stay connected and nurture social connections, even over video. Children within the same cohort were able to build relationships online through collaborative small group projects. Our teachers encouraged the sharing of pets and favorite things in morning meetings. They fostered independence and accountability through self-led work at home. 

Our children crave the interactions and activities our schools provide. They thrive immersed in the social emotional and cognitive growth of their classrooms. My boys now look forward to the in person part of their school day.

Parents have always relied heavily on our schools to provide a safe and stable place for our children to learn and socialize. If the world didn’t see how much we depend on our teachers to provide stability and growth, it does now.

Without our education system, without our teachers, nothing else works.

Experiences Over Things

My family was fortunate to take a road trip to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains recently. This wasn’t our usual spring break trip, but wanted to do something as safely as possible. Between being able to drive, rent a stand alone house, and enjoy the outdoors, we figured it was the best choice for our family.

This week was the happiest I had seen my children and husband in a long time. Living in the upper midwest, the winter meant we were stuck inside often over the colder months. The winter weather also meant opportunities to socialize safely outside were limited. We were all feeling the malaise of a lonely and isolated period. As we drove into the green hills, my boys marveled at the sight of the mountains in the distance. The windows were rolled down, we breathed in the fresh spring air and expelled anxiety and stress. 

As we spent time in the warmer weather, hiking in the midst of spectacular views, I could see the change in all of us after a long year. Electronics were forgotten when presented with the ability to go swimming, hiking or sitting around the firepit. My husband and I spent each night in the hot tub after putting the boys to sleep. Even after seventeen years of marriage and a full year together at home, during our trip we found new topics to discuss and new dreams to share. 

A shift of perspective had occurred. We didn’t need things, we needed experiences. Over the past year we didn’t mourn the lack of new clothing, the newest gadget, a better car. We longed for a long dinner with our loved ones. We missed the companionship of a good friend. We missed gathering for sports, for movies, for concerts. We missed traveling. We missed exploring. We missed the excitement of planning and the anticipation of a journey. Our things helped us get by, helped to distract us from the things we longed to do, but could not fill the void left by the lack of connection for long. Our priorities have been recalibrated. No longer needing to stifel our discontent, we were able to fully experience the world and the people around us. 

When we become stagnant in our lives we become stale and foul, rotting like the debris within the pool of water forgotten in the forest. Only by finding new purpose, exploring new avenues, filling ourselves up with experiences that nourish our soul can we once again begin to flow, clean and reinvigorated.

I’ve Been Missing You

My dear little one, this morning you were annoyed with your silly mom for watching an old video of three-year-old you pretending to write and perform a song in your bedroom. Recording through the open crack in your door, I observed you “writing” down your lyrics as you practiced them out loud. Once you were satisfied with your draft, I watched as you grabbed your guitar and stood proudly on your bed and performed your original composition. I relished hearing your baby voice complete with lack of /s/ blend speech. You don’t like seeing yourself that way. You didn’t like me watching you then, “mom (s)top!” You don’t like me watching it now years later. You saw that little version of yourself and felt embarrassed and exposed. 

What you don’t understand is that I miss that little boy terribly. I have loved the boy you are at each stage, but I will always miss the little boy you leave behind as you grow. That little boy, with his baby speech and boundless imagination, is now gone forever, relegated to photos and video memories. The version of you that has replaced him is the next wonderful version of yourself. This older version can now surprise me with blueberry pancakes and coffee in bed, which I cherish, knowing that someday this boy will be replaced by an even bigger, older, more mature version of you. When that time comes, I will mourn the loss of the boy you are right now. Parenting has been a constant lesson in saying goodbye to the boy you were, while embracing and marveling over the young man you are slowly becoming. 

So please, indulge your mother when she wants to spend some time reliving these favorite moments with you. I may not be able to hold that adorable little boy in my lap any longer, but I am thankful I can relive these sweet moments whenever I’m missing him.

In Search of Empathy

For every happy, thoughtful post, there is the challenging day that doesn’t get shared. For every  parenting success, there will soon come a parenting stumble. Every job success is tempered by internal politics and optics. No one has perfected living through this life, and if they claim to, you might want to check what they’ve hidden away out of sight.  

We tend to gloss over the difficulties in our day to day, and it’s no wonder when you look around at how the masses respond to those sharing their struggles. There is judgement in the, “you should have known.” There is apathy in the, “so many have it worse, how dare you feel anything.” No one wants a true answer to “how are you?” We have been conditioned to show only the success (but don’t be too successful) while smothering the pain that often accompanies us along the journey. 

In demanding others only show us their best, to perform every minute of every day throughout the year without stumbling, we have created a world where anxiety rules. If you are feeling down, you should be more grateful. If you aren’t the right body shape, you should do something about that moral failing. If you’ve had a bad day with your kids, how dare you, you chose to have them. If you show us your vulnerabilities we will skewer your character. Everything is your fault and we will make sure you know it.

Where has empathy gone? Why is it impossible for us be able to put ourselves in another’s shoes for a bit. How have we lost the ability to acknowledge that life, regardless of the specifics and details, can at times be less than perfect? Are we too lazy to try to see another’s view, even if in the end we may still disagree with or dislike their position?

We have taken small slights and misunderstandings and turned them into an ongoing war. When we are laser focused on the minutiae of everyday, we lose sight of the ideals truly worth fighting for. Life has become us versus them, where “them” is everyone else. We have created a space where there can no longer be a dialog of understanding, a place where minds and ideas may actually be changed for the better or a place for support. In its place, we have left a cacophony of differences screamed across the void. There is no longer listening, only speaking, and they who speak the loudest control the narrative. 

A Boy Mom on International Women’s Day

Today, March 8, 2021, is International Woman’s Day. As a woman, I think we are pretty amazing creatures. I’m grateful to those in my life that have encouraged me to be the person I wanted to be, regardless of societal expectations and standards. As a young girl I wasn’t interested in dresses and long, often tangled, hair. I preferred playing sports and exploring the farm I grew up on, which often meant I was covered in dirt. I loved math and science, and to this day I’m a space geek, interested in reading about the multiverse and quantum particles, even if my understanding is extremely rudimentary. Supporting and encouraging young girls to follow their own path and dreams is of great importance. 

Yet, here I am, a mother to two boys. As their father and I raise them, I hope to impart on them the strength and diversity of the female experience. My goal is to raise young men who will respect and support the women in their lives, whether that is a life partner, friend, colleague, or family member. 

I want them to know that women come in all shapes and sizes. That a woman’s value lies not in their physical appearance, but in the content of their soul. The choice and preference to wear, or not wear, makeup or a certain style of dress is up to the individual and not a reflection of their worth or womanhood.

It’s important they know that women can enjoy a wide variety of interests. Plenty of women enjoy sitting outside at a baseball game drinking a beer (go Cubs). Many women enjoy being active; either in sports, or nature, or travel. Some women love to ride motorcycles, some love their tattoos. We often enjoy science and math and the careers that accompany those interests. 

Not all women will want to have children. Not all women will be interested in them as a potential romantic partner. Not all women will want to stay in the home to raise their children full time. They will need to respect those life choices and look for someone who shares the same life goals they may have.

They will need to see the women in their lives as partners in this life while being empathetic to the challenges we still often face. Raising two young men who will be intentional in their support of the women in their lives is the gift I hope to give to a generation of women.

Voices

Stop reaching out, you’re just bothering them.

Nobody wants to hear your good news, they just think you’re bragging.

You always say the wrong thing.

Nobody cares.

He looks annoyed, what did I do?

Just say you’re fine when they ask, you don’t have any reason to complain about anything.

Stay quiet, you talk too much, don’t make it about you.

You might be nice, but you aren’t interesting.

Give up on that dream, you don’t have the talent.

Keep to yourself, it’s better that way.

They don’t really like you.

What’s wrong with you?

You’re not enough the way you are.

The voices, each riding around and around on the carousel in my mind. Up and down, enjoying the ride, they cackle and smirk as they go by. The voices can be distracted, quieted down for a while, but they never leave. I try to starve them out, ignore them, yet they persist. They hide in dark corners waiting to resume their assault at the first bit of doubt. The voices thrive in isolation so I now present them to you, to the light of day. You have your own voices too. The ones that hold you hostage. You are not alone. We are not alone. We have each other.