National Reflection

It is time to look in the mirror and make an honest assessment.

Our face is covered in fine lines, cracks running through our visage. They are labeled racism, feminism, and terror.  We are showing life wear and tear, symptoms of stress.  We are experiencing disenchantment, a disconnect and suspicion of our neighbors.  In some cases we are actually devolving into paranoia.  It is as if darkness is hovering over our being, settling around us in a mantle of winter depression.

What we need is sunlight.  We need Spring to arrive, replete with its blossoms dotting our landscape.  We thirst for fresh air, hunger for calm and contentment. We need to take a deep breath and rediscover our strength of purpose.  We need to remember that beauty is more than skin deep.  It exists in the core of our being.  Character defines our existence. Optimal health encompasses our soul as well as individual parts of the body.

Under surface turmoil, our structure remains sound.   Yes, there are cosmetics we can apply, and exercise routines necessary to reduce the signs of aging.  In spite of the constant barrage of infomercials and health fads flung into our consciousness from every direction, however, we are still in pretty good shape.  We need to learn to recognize marketing techniques for what they are, acknowledge our imperfections and rejoice in the life that is ours.

We live in a nation that enjoys more prosperity and freedom than most on the planet.  We embrace the individual and celebrate the human in all of us. We are a nation of creators, comprised of  rich colors and dazzling backgrounds.  We experience great joy. Americans are not scrabbling amongst the ravages of a war torn land, suffering from bellies swollen with starvation.  Yet lately we have been bombarded by protests, surrounded by cries of how terrible we have it. Emotional outbursts are rampant.  This is not a perfect nation. There is suffering. There is injustice. We have needs that should and must be addressed.

Yet we must keep our perspective. Appreciate how lucky you are to enjoy the freedom to criticize.  Appreciate the diversity you have encountered, the technology you enjoy. Appreciate the bonds of friends and family, holidays you have shared.  Understand the abundance that has been and remains yours, the richness of history that brought you to this place and time.  Remember to sing, look at the sky, listen to a child. Though you are surrounded by reports of angst, whining and rage, remember to measure it against your own experience.  See the good in those around you. Laugh. Take time to focus on the abilities and activities you are lucky enough to enjoy. Love in every form.

Be grateful.  Be honest.  See truth. Focus on our gifts as well as our curses. Whether looking at a country or your own self, perfection is a myth, something to strive towards but an unreasonable expectation. There are so many parts you can find pride in. Ranting at a mirror is unproductive.  Hating ourselves for our flaws accomplishes precisely nothing. Allowing our nation to spiral downwards into endless cycles of negative repetition is a mistake.  We are working ourselves into unbalance, creating  our own disorder. Stop. Think.  Reassess. Draw in a cleansing breath. Do not allow equilibrium to shatter from a simple crisis of confidence.

Our body reflects the life we have lived so far. Negative wear and tear from bad choices has taken its toll.  Yet there are also lines from laughter, a few extra pounds from over indulgence. Our body is yet miraculous, capable of experiencing deep life. Ease up on the negativity and harsh judgement.  Stop hating yourself. Stop projecting bitterness. Take the responsibility to improve your situation. Action is admirable if it is positive and productive.

Life is an ongoing work in progress. We can strive to improve the less flattering parts of ourselves.  We can also be honest about our flaws and yet love our whole selves. Spring inevitably follows the winter. Let some light into your life. Choose to remain positive. It may not be fashionable but I am truly thankful to be American. I like what I see in the mirror. I need to be on a diet and could definitely get more exercise, but I am holding off on the plastic surgeon.

 

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In a Word, Power

Social media is a big presence in our world.  Today more than ever, we need to mind the power of the word.  I am not speaking of bullying, or foul language, or hurtful rhetoric. The beast we need to be most aware of?  REPETITION.

Have you ever noticed that internet accusations spread like wildfire?  Weird and unusual facts abound. A funny meme travels faster than light.  We are curious creatures who want the inside track. Our egos are gratified if we are perceived as clever, witty and in-the-know. The problem of course is that social media does not increase intelligence.  It is a display forum, where we revel in our own status and grasp at artificial acceptance from those in our periphery.

I love Facebook and willingly participate in the dance.  Social media is fun, and can offer insights.  It is a useful tool, as are guns and knives.  Be conscious of the whirlpools of emotion and think of them as traps for the unwary. Outrage seems to be the current, highest fashion.  Why, if our friend is in high dudgeon we must support them by sharing in their anger.  The fact that they are in distress fuels our own sense of protectiveness and fury.  In their defense and your own swelling wrath, it is of the utmost necessity that you spread knowledge of the wrongdoing and invite others to your pod of anger. The pool of negativity grows ever wider.

Racism exists. So does sexism.  Social inequity is a struggle all races , classes and species have faced since the beginning of time.

I have friends who post regularly on these issues.  We have more social justice warriors busily attempting to spread knowledge and fix our ways than at any time in the past. Is it working?

No. Funny enough both people of color and those of lily white persuasion were more satisfied with the state of race relations twenty years ago than at the current time. I was astounded to read actual statistics on crime in 2016.  I expected that white on black crime was up, that rape had dramatically increased, that we are in effect going to hell in a hand-basket. Facts do not support the outrage I read.  Yes, of course there are heinous examples of abuse.   Statistically speaking however, they are rare.  They are the exception and not the rule.

Yes we need to take the exceptions seriously and work to fix our issues.  What is not helping?  The internet.

For example, we see the word “racist” a hundred times a day.  Through repetition we create an awareness.  Through outrage and anger that awareness intensifies. I am not a racist, you argue.  Oh you don’t think so, comes the response, but you are the recipient of white privilege. I am poor, you splutter in response.  Irrelevant, comes the defense. Etc, etc., etc…You have now been tagged with a label, one you perceive as unjust. Defensiveness causes the breaches between your positions to widen. Soon you can barely communicate, both sides irate at the lack of understanding.  The rift has been aggravated and widened.  Racism is now an issue on an emotional level, all involved feeling misunderstood, labeled and vulnerable.  Has this been in any way effective at reaching an understanding?  Furthermore, has this rift been fueled by fact or runaway emotion?

We have added new vocabulary to our online battles, words like patriarchy and feminazi. Words catch on and spread, gasoline to our flames.  Cuck, libtard, fascist…through repetition they capture our attention, root in our imagination and take hold of our consciousness, escaping with gleeful chuckles as we hit the share button. Is this our chosen method of influence? Are we adding to our social dialogue in a positive way?

Just look at our recent election cycle.  Catchphrases repeated over and over. Cartoons that mock…not in the traditional  editorial style expected of the fifth estate but memes and artistic mashups, the more hilarious the better.  Entertaining?  Definitely.  Sadly perhaps, often influential.  Yet only a limited number of originators have in depth understanding of that they mock, and in many ways have stripped the proceedings of any gravitas.

I am all for artistic expression but we need to remember a few things.  Facts are important. Because you have seen a post does not mean it is true.  Because a friend is outraged it does not mean they are right. Peer pressure is a genuine phenomenon as is mob mentality. Social media is simply a tool.  It is your responsibility as user to decide if what you post is of true value. Think about what you read before you react. Have you looked at facts?  Have you examined issues from both sides?  Are you furthering communication and understanding or are you simply widening a pool of outrage for entertainment’s sake? In your quest for entertainment are you actually damaging someone?  Spreading hatred or sowing mistrust? Why do you feel the urge to post at all?  Is it an emotional reflex or logical response? Are you effecting change in a positive way?

Repetition is not truth.  A word holds power; thanks to social media, more power now than at any time in the past. Choose carefully. Research your facts. Understand and think before you jump in or elect to share. Posts are communication shorthand.  Every word counts. You have influence.  Wield it wisely.

 

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Magic

Christmas holds a sacred magic.  It is the celebration of our Savior and a celebration of the best within ourselves and our families.  It is a dream come to life, a holy moment to treasure full of promise and heart.

Nostalgia is part of it…that feeling a child holds when dreaming.  It is hope and wonder, excitement and light.  It is seeing the sparkle of tree and star, that light blinking in the sky that could be a reindeer’s nose.  It is hugs and hot chocolate, whispers and giggles,  the reverent silence of mass followed by boisterous caroling.  I am no child. The magic I remember so vividly lives on inside a secret part of myself, given reign this day.

I remember way back, my dad carefully placing tinsel, my mom collecting greenery. Fancy clothes and fancier hors-d’oeuvres,  noisy parties and quiet times, logs crackling in our hearth. Songs, old and new drifting through the air while cinnamon, clove and pine teased my senses. Catching the first flakes of winter on my tongue, the sled propped in the corner by the tree reflecting the colored lights, merrily blinking welcome.

Opening my eyes and holding my breath while creeping out to the living area…had he come?  The pipe on the table, a crinkled napkin and mysterious bootprints on the rug . Waking my parents, sharing my joy with my brother and sister, endless laughs in footed pajamas.

There was no thought of responsibilities or work, sad times or hardship.  We simply reveled in the moment, the joy of Christmas morning.  We loved each other. It was freedom of spirit, purity of family celebration. It was all.

I loved every minute of creating holiday moments for my children. I love choosing gifts, decking the halls, adding elements of surprise… Seeing their joy deepens my own.  Time is merciless.  It keeps on moving. Life has so many moments fraught with tension.  During this season, I refuse to allow it. The boys are grown men now.  Still, the magic stays.

I bake and decorate, shop and plan and get excited for our sacred morning.  The world waits outside our picture window, and we turn away from it. We turn to our manger, praying to our Lord in gratitude.  We leave the cell phones behind.  We take our time and tease one another, sharing presents thoughtfully chosen. We have no thoughts but for each other. Time stops. We simply love.

It is magic.  The child, the woman, the maiden, mother and crone…all aspects of myself are humbled by my family’s love.  Christmas is as special to me as it was when I was four, deeper now as my understanding of the world and my love for my family has grown. I still revel in the lights, the colors, the hugs and the laughter. I know that each member of my family is my gift and that this shared time is beyond price.  It illuminates my soul.

It  is a celebration of all that is holy.  It is Christmas.  It is sacred.

 

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Chivalry at Risk

2016 is full of shouting and protest.  Everyone is angry, busy being righteous.  Social progress is arguably being made, but at what cost?  We are forgetting our greatest strengths, kindness chief amongst them.  In our rush to be forward thinking we are sacrificing elegant concepts of the past.

I have feminist friends who aggressively promote the ideology of sameness. Rubbish! I don’t want to be the same as a man.  I enjoy being treated like a lady.  Please, go ahead and open a door for me.  Allow me to enter a space before you.  Carry something that is heavy to ease my way. Defend me and shelter me from harm.  In return I will respect your strength and feel cherished.

Could I have opened the door myself?  Of course I could!  But where is the fun in that? Every time my mate chooses to honor me with a traditional gesture I choose to feel honored.  He is not stomping on my independence or individuality.  He is telling me that he loves me.

No one wants to be mated with an insensitive clod. We all want to see the softer side and get to the inner hearts of our men.  But any woman who tells you she is immune to masculine strength is lying to you. Watch television or pick up a book. What do our most revered male icons share?  Our protagonists throughout history have been primarily Alpha males.  Manly men should be appreciated, not mocked or beaten down for masculine impulse or expression.

I am not suggesting that we worship muscle, although a good physique can surely be appreciated.  Mental strength, solid decision making, strong moral character are all desirable traits.  Leadership abilities, construction and mechanical abilities, philosophy and poetic bents can all be part of the ideal male.  Outdoorsman or city slicker, a sense of humor and a surprising ability to dance-whatever floats your boat, underneath it all I want a man who remains essentially and unapologetically male.

Women are not the weaker sex. But we are a different sex, with different strengths.  Yes, same wages for same job is logical.  Berating someone for being a man is not.  I taught my sons to respect women, and also to respect themselves.  Their spouses are appreciative, for their men are kind individuals unafraid to give their hearts. They are truthful to their mates, unafraid to say what they feel or follow the instincts they understand to be right. They have manners. They have strength of character. They treat their ladies as they someday wish their own daughters be treated. They share traditional values, for which they face rebuke.

Shame seems to be the newest mantra.  You are not keeping up with new ways and instead embrace the old.  Shame on you.  Hang your head. I for one will not. Nor will I expect the manly men I love to apologize or will I fight them off when they offer me traditional gestures. I am not outraged by their thoughtfulness. I am honored. I want my husband to be a man, not some watered down neutral-gendered pet.  Is that offensive?  Yes, to many . That is okay. I have listened to my friends politically correct sensitive ramblings, many of which seem to put men a step below women. I find that offensive as well as breathtakingly arrogant.

I choose to cook for my family, which many say currently qualifies me as hopeless.  Could the men feed themselves?  Of course!  It is my choice to prepare food as a gesture of my affection for them.  Every relationship is a give and take situation.  The appreciation I receive for the food I prepare is ample reward. I choose the traditional for myself because it works in my relationship. Why is that wrong?

True feminism should be about choice.  Don’t want to cook?  Don’t.  Please stop ranting at my choices.  Respect my rights. Stop shaming men for traditional values. There are multitudes of women who prefer the Alpha male.  You can go ahead and scorn the muscle, or publicly pretend to. It is the weird dichotomy of our time. Fitness magazines and gyms promote physical strength while our outward speech and social expectations ask men to be apologetic for displaying might.

Ironically some of the most diehard feminists I know giggle in the dark at six foot tall built guys, laughingly wishing they could be so lucky. How un-politically correct of them.  These are the same girls who are just so offended by the objectification of women, yet stop in the mirror to see if their hemlines are high enough for a wild night at the club.   Whose notice exactly are they trying to attract? It couldn’t be a manly male, could it?

Biological urges are rooted in biology.  Men throughout history have been hunters, providers, defenders.  Now we ask them to step down, hold back, shelter the weak, embrace the soft, and in essence deny basic tenets of maleness.  You know who this hurts? All of us.

I love a knight in shining armor.  Not because I need to be rescued but because my heart thrills at the idea of being the knight’s conquest. Silly perhaps but ultimately truthful. I have the heart of a warrior and in no way see this perspective as weakness.  Instead it is completion. Queens have oft ruled kingdoms, but the idea of a manly king to match her resonates in my soul. It is not right or wrong.  Call it an appreciation of history, a nod to biology or feminine whim.  I want a man to treat me as a woman.  We are not the same and therein is where our greatness lies.

Yet we are systematically killing off chivalry. Why? It is in essence a form of kindness, a gesture of respect. To what end?   Please, stop your screeching and consider what it is that you are tossing away.

Women decry that it is difficult to find a truly nice man with whom to share their life. Women need to take part responsibility for that circumstance. Perhaps we need to show men more respect. Perhaps if men were encouraged and appreciated, taught to behave as gentlemen, and were free to be themselves without constant fear of reprimand things would be different.  Perhaps if men were expected to act as men, and women as ladies, the results would surprise us all.

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Sorting Through a Life

My kids say that once I die they are going to want to kill me.  I have a lot of stuff. They are NOT looking forward to sorting through it.  Hey I get it.  I had to clear my grandma’s, each of my parents and an uncle’s home.  It can be perplexing and tedious. It can feel like a strange unlooked for responsibility.  It can also be joyful.

Nothing is as personal as your private things.  If you are left in the position of sorting out someones belongings, you are privileged.  It is your honor to handle their memories and to decide how to preserve the meaningful while disposing of the unnecessary.  Being the sorter means you were loved and trusted , privy to the innermost circle of someone’s life.

Yes, you will be frustrated at the amount of paperwork perhaps, and face the quandary of where everything will go.  But you will also stop and cry, laugh and remember.  You will rejoice at having had this person touch your life, and sorrow at things left unsaid and the finality of the moment.  In your sentimentality you will probably hold on to more than you should.  It is always hard to let go.

I look around my bedroom and see a strange assortment of objects.  Antique clocks that were my ancestors, a collection of medieval figures, a garden gnome that made me laugh, the books that brought me joy, an angel that my mom chose for me…am I sounding like a packrat?  Perhaps a little, but I keep these things because they make me smile.  They are the happiness of being loved and sharing moments with family and friends.  Because I run a theater business I will leave behind interesting props and more scripts than anyone could need. I will leave cards and notes and photographs. I will leave flashes of my passions.

I surround myself with the things I love. I hope my sorters do the same.  They will not love or appreciate the same memories I did. That is perfectly okay.  I do not want them holding on to unnecessary junk they will never look at again but keep because they feel guilty. I shudder at the thought of a shrine.  Objects are not important, except perhaps as a representation of the time you shared together.  My sorters should feel free to throw away whatever they wish. I truly have no expectations.   I am no longer part of this world.

They are.  I wish them to keep anything that brings them joy or a laughing memory of the time we shared.  Maybe they will each only keep one thing and dispose of the rest.  As long as it is a thing that is meaningful I have managed to leave them with one last gift. Though I can no longer be physically present I have shared a moment of intimacy with them, a final “I love you.”

Unfortunately for my kids they WILL someday have to sort through my stuff.  I will try to be kind and keep organized. There will still be piles they aren’t going to know what to do with, mutters of “why on earth did she keep this” and “oh, mom”s floating around.  I also hope there will be smiles and moments of the life we shared together, and that they stop their busy lives just for a moment to feel my echo in their heart.  This is one last thing they can do for me and I ask it of them with all the love in my heart.

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Why Gift?

Holiday gifting is an opportunity. Giving means I see you.  I recognize who you are.  I appreciate what you mean to me.  I honor you.

What?  How do you get that out of a new pair of socks?  Well, some gifts are practical, designed to fulfill a need.  You want someone you care about to escape the cold or avoid a flat tire.  You want them well fed. You want them to live in a clean environment and enjoy good health. These are matter of fact wishes that express care for a person’s well-being. Through your gift you are trying to meet a specific want, a need of the recipient that you wish to fulfill. Practical can be very thoughtful. Pragmatic gifts say I care.

Passion gifts go a step further.  They recognize the unique in the recipient.  You like to sew so I find the best materials for your latest project.  You are a gardening fanatic so I research the latest botanic breakthroughs.  You love JRR Tolkien so I find a book bag with hobbits printed on it or a calendar from Middle Earth. Passion gifts honor the recipient through your acknowledgement of the things that matter most to them.  You are saying that you want them to have the things that make them happy, that you recognize whatever their individual interests are and that you honor their individuality.

Romantic gifts directly speak to your relationship.  Perhaps a negligee or crystal wine glasses will evoke memories of private moments shared.  Jewelry often falls into this category but so do other items such as framed photographs and childhood memorabilia. Maybe you know a side of the recipient that no one else has seen and found a way to reference that through a special present. You get her a candy she loved as a teenager or find him that special aftershave.  You find a photo of the two of you from 1970 and add a special caption.You make an ornament with a shared saying on it. Romantic gifts are a personalized statement of affection. Your gift is a direct reflection of your shared bond.

Oh, but I wouldn’t want someone to misunderstand the intent of my gift.  If I frame a photo or go with the romantic, does that imply a diamond ring must be in the offing?  Of course not. BFFs often choose to shine light on the personal. Your gift reflects the bond that is, telling the recipient that your relationship matters.  These gifts speak to the heart. Love is always a gift.

But my wife needs a vacuum cleaner.  Well then, that might be the best gift you can give her.  Or she might treasure a shell you picked up off the beach while thinking of her.  Or you might have heard her say that she loves dancing and set her up with some lessons. Your husband has had his eye on that workbench for a decade.  He can never find a tie that matches his grey suit. He loves a certain craft beer.

The trick is to think about your recipient as a whole person.  What are their passions and dreams?  What times do they cherish?  What makes them smile?  Are they more practically minded or prone to flights of fancy?  Of what do they dream?  What can you do to give them a moment of happiness?

But there are so many choices…so many directions! Practical, passionate or romantic- how do I choose?

There is no wrong answer.  As long as it is meaningful, your choice will be perfect every time. The key to giving is thoughtfulness.  Understand and appreciate the person and honor them through your choice of gift.  Special doesn’t mean big, expensive or fancy.   It means making or choosing a gift with care.

Who do I need to give to? That is strictly up to you. Your list can include anyone you wish to make happy, to recognize in some way the part they play in your life. The holidays are a celebration of what we hold dearest, an opportunity to show appreciation and love to those who make our lives worth living. Enjoy your opportunity to show gratitude.  Celebrate!

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White

Only October but the flakes are falling. It is not as quiet outside as true winter.  Cars are still speeding along, hurrying to their errands.  The pine branches are softly drooping, white jackets a reminder of the coming season.

Many are grumbling while adjusting their collars.  “We have to put up with this nonsense already?”  “And so it begins.”  “If this crap is any indication, we are in for a bumpy ride this winter.”  I understand.  I sympathize. I choose to experience it differently.

What a wonderful reminder of how short the seasons are.  It is chilly but brings thoughts of cozy days, warm time among family and friends, a steaming mug of cocoa, the crackle of a fireplace and the woolen mittens your grandmother knit for you.

Winter has not yet arrived.  This is but a moment to feel, a chance to break from the ordinary in our routine.  Christmas will be here before we know it. The smell of peppermint and ginger cookies replace our thoughts of mummies and pumpkin spice- if only for a moment.

The snow is pure, a light coating of white drifting to cover us in a curtain of peace.  Politics have escalated as we go into election season. We squabble and fret over the state of our nation.  Snow reminds us of larger things, of God and Mother Nature whose plans do not always coincide with our own.

This storm is beyond our control, and we hate that about it.  Yet it is a reminder that much in our lives relies on greater forces and circumstances outside of our own design.  When we encounter such bumps in the road we can complain or we can appreciate them.

I am grateful. Life is unpredictable.  If it were always sunny and seventy degrees we would take the weather for granted.  Instead, today we have been given a sneak preview.

Winter will arrive replete with its own challenges and excitement, gifts that will keep our days entertaining and our quests memorable. Today it is still fall, with orange leaves and red branches colorfully poking through the white. How lucky I am to live in New England, full of mystery and adventure.

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Nana’s

I remember the smell of turkey on Thanksgiving as I walked in the door, the warm hug and loving exclamation of my name, the obvious happiness whenever she would see me.  Hers was not a fancy place, but warm and welcoming.

Nana spent time.  She played Candyland and Scrabble, took me to amusement parks and for long walks.  She read to me, and cared about my day.  She talked with me instead of at me and made me laugh whenever she could.  I miss her.

Married to an abusive alcoholic Nana had known loss, heartbreak and suffering.  Her face was lined, wrinkled in testament to her struggles, yet her eyes still twinkled merrily. She had raised four children to adulthood, men and women with strong moral compasses who improved the world they lived in. Her children were always her greatest source of joy. She never let struggle harden her heart.

Nana was open and loving, supportive and kind. She was an original. With oodles of curiosity and a willingness to experience new things she often surprised us with her sense of adventure. Whether taking me on a roller coaster or boating across a lake, hunting for Easter eggs or watching Batman she lived in the moment.  She was present and sharing that moment with you as if it were a gift. She had boundless spirit.  I never doubted that she loved me.

At Nana’s I always felt special.  I was not her only grandchild but recognized that the bond we shared was unique to the two of us, and I am certain that each of her grandchildren felt the same.  She listened and laughed, challenged and comforted.  Her home was my second home where I was always welcome.

I will be Nana soon.  I am excited and hopeful.  We do not fully understand the impact our extended family has on us when we are young.  Yes we know we love our grandparents, aunts and uncles but we do not yet know how cherished the memories of our times together will be.  I had a good set of parents, but the impact of my extended family  was enormous.  I had so many role models, each of them with special wisdom and experiences to gift me.  I was shaped through their lives and love.  They are part of the woman I am.  I will forever be enormously grateful for the time we shared.

My grandchildren will know the unconditional love of Nana. I look forward to sharing time and building memories. I hope to be part of our family legacy, by sharing the warmth, kindness and wisdom I was lucky enough to grow with. It is an honor and privilege to try.  I understand what a difference it can make.

I spent every Thanksgiving with my Nana. Now I am simply thankful to have known her.

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Bubble Wrap Childrearing

Should we protect our kids from all harm? If we do, we are not doing them any favors. A child can try to shelter a baby bird in hand, but if they squeeze too hard they will kill it. The motivation is pure- that of protection, but the result is the opposite.

I am a mom.  My sons are my heart.  Of course I want to shield them and pave an easy road. Our instincts can be counterproductive to producing happy, well-adjusted and independent adults.

Nobody likes a bully.  Confrontations with aggressive folk are painful. When someone makes our kindergartener feel bad, we wish we could stomp the offender senseless. We do what we can, complaining to adults, scheduling conferences, keeping our child as far away from the tyrant as possible.  These are not necessarily wrong actions but they are not the most important response.

Talk with your child.  Sympathize and explain that these are situations we all encounter, no matter how old we are.  Explore why the situation happened and suggest some coping strategies.  Think it through together.  What do you think the bully was trying to accomplish?  How could you react next time?  What effect does this incident have on your child’s feelings toward and relationship with the offender?  Share your own experiences. Support and love, listen and strengthen.  Keep the incident in perspective.   This can be an important opportunity for learning.

Our anger while certainly justified can aggravate an already uncomfortable situation. More helpful is the confidence we can instill by believing our child has the strength and capability to handle the situations they encounter.  “Sticks and stones may break your bones” is an outdated adage. Words certainly do hurt.  Yet the message behind the old verse of not giving someone’s words too much importance is still relevant.  By not adding our own fuel to the fire, by acknowledging a situation to be irritating rather than life-threatening, we diffuse much of the impact. You are sending a message that the incident does not need to rock a child’s inner confidence.  The actions of the bully only reflect on the aggressors nature.

As your children grow, learn to trust them.  Trust that the lessons you have imparted fell into fertile soil .  If they do not have an opportunity to exercise their moral compasses then they have little opportunity to develop their own code of ethics.  Will they make mistakes and exercise poor judgement?  Sometimes.  Those too are learning opportunities. This is how we learn to accept responsibility for our failures, and how to improve in our decision making.  If you lock your child in their room throughout all of high school do not be surprised when they lack appropriate skills to successfully cope with the challenges of college.

Our children need to fail.   They need to learn what their strengths and weaknesses are. Yes, love them with all of your being.  Never ever pretend to yourself or to your child that either of you is perfect.  We all have strengths and talents and we all have weaknesses. Being able to honestly assess which are which is a tremendous source of inner strength.

I am not suggesting that total freedom is the answer.  Parental limits are an important part of your child’s security.  If your children exceed those boundaries punishment is perfectly acceptable.  Yet try to resist the impulse to jump in and automatically fix a problem they have created.  If your child did not do homework, they should fail the class and attend summer school.  Make it clear that they are responsible for that choice and the consequences that follow. Don’t call the school, begging and bartering on their behalf. Make your child understand where their own power lies and how their choices will impact their life.

Your child may not like vacuuming or doing dishes, but not everything in life is fun. He wants expensive electronic equipment, but the cost of such items are prohibitive.  It is not only okay but realistic for your child to understand these concepts.  He needs to value work, sacrifice and limitation.  By making things too easy you are giving him an unrealistic view of adult life, a life which may no longer include the shelter of a living parent.  Our kids cannot become independent productive citizens if not allowed to grow through experiencing personal hardship.

Again, talk with your children.  Do not speak at them or lecture nonstop.  Help them to express their struggles aloud.  It is a gift to be able to share our doubts and fears.  Listen, as free of judgement as you are able, encouraging your kids to reason through their circumstance, reaching their own logical conclusion.  Help them learn how to think.  Help them apply their reason to emotional circumstances. Do not tell your child how to feel. Give advice when asked for but allow them to interpret their own positions.  They might not agree with you, and that is okay.  Try to understand their perspective and keep your conversation meaningful. Do not lie or fall back into standard platitudes. Be real. Honest and open conversation is the single most effective tool in the parental toolbox. Discussion will not resolve every issue. It will open paths of understanding. Keeping open dialogue is essential.

Your kids will get themselves into trouble. They will encounter obstacles. We wish we could wrap them in bubble wrap that all the sharp edges of life could be blunted. It is tough to watch our offspring flounder or struggle. It can be painful. Stay the course. Support where you can but allow the struggle.  Love them unconditionally. Believe in their strength. Have faith they are capable of finding their way.  Give them the opportunity to cope. Rejoice in their accomplishments, genuine progress they make through their own struggles and perseverance.

It is not easy to raise a confident adult.  Allowing our birds the freedom to fly is an integral part of the process. Throw that bubble wrap into the trash. You and your child are tougher than you think.

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Warning

A teen I greatly respect sent a warning today about Halloween costumes.  He urged his friends to be careful in their choice of holiday dress, lest their selection offend someone.

Sadly, I fear many will have to be naked- Wait, no, that too will offend someone.

Look, I understand that we should be sensitive to the feelings of others.  Causing deliberate harm is always wrong.  My question is this:  why must we be offended?  When did we forget how to laugh at ourselves?

I am of Irish descent and my husband is Colombian.  We often jokingly refer to our offspring as Irish Coffee.  I cannot tell you how often I have heard jokes about drunken Irishmen or Colombian drug dealers.  They did not make me curl into a corner and die of embarrassment.  They were funny.

Why do we take everything so personally these days?  Humor is based in the outrageous. Costuming is playing dress-up, a form of pretend.  Sure, we can make a statement through how we dress, but on Halloween most are dressing for fun.  Yes, someone might mock the current political agenda but so what?  Laughing is sometimes more effective therapy than crying.  It helps us keep perspective.

Outrage is currently fashionable.  Breathing can offend someone.  To stop breathing however would not be in your best interest.

Know who you are and what you believe in.  As long as you know yourself you are not threatened by the expressions of others.  They are allowed to think as they like. Their viewpoint is opposed to yours. So? It doesn’t mean that you need to explode in a cloud of angst.  There have always been jerks in the community.  Choose not to associate with those you find hurtful. Accept difference and move on.

Choose not to be offended.  Welcome a moment of humor.  As humans there are so many qualities and situations that we can make light of.  Costumes, if taken in the spirit of fun intended by Halloween, are nothing to get our knickers in a twist over.  It is not as if someone has entered your workplace with a picket sign – these are people dancing, at a party, and collecting candy.  If they are enjoying a moment of revelry, let them!

“I would simply never wear such a thing.  The message they are sending is inappropriate.”  Could be.  The good news?  You never have to wear that or send that message, so how is their choice directly impacting you?  You disagree with their choice?  Walk away.

It is highly unlikely that someone chose their dress with you specifically in mind.  “Ooh, wonder what I could wear that would really get Karen’s goat?  Aha!  I know how to offend her.”  Few are truly that diabolical.  Understand that this moment, their choice, is not intended to be about you.  It is an opportunity for someone else to dress as they wish in that moment, a free pass to enjoy creative expression.  The rest of the year is restricted by social boundary. On this night it is acceptable to stroll outside of the expected.

As a kid I loved Halloween because it let me be someone else for a few hours.  Oh, that freedom, excitedly exploring a different way of dress, inhabiting a character, showing off a different side of yourself.  It was such fun!

No one is perfect. Perhaps you are overweight, have buck teeth or did poorly in school. Perhaps your ancestry is different from most of your friends.  Your religion might be unique or you hate macaroni and cheese.  You loathe birthdays.  There is always some quality we undervalue in ourselves, something we wish we could change, a vulnerability. We all have weaknesses. Some of yours may be exploited through another’s choice of dress.

Don’t take it to heart. Choose to accept it in the spirit of fun. Share a laugh. An understanding of who we are and a solid sense of humor are among our greatest strengths.  Halloween is not about judging.  It is a holiday.  Dress up, be free and celebrate!