Fear not fear, but let it work for you

The current culture on fear is that it is debilitating. Fear will hinder you, we are told. It has become a battle cry of sorts to success – that if we could only shut down fear we could fully be free. In certain instances this is justified and liberating. But I hesitate to eradicate all fear from my life, because it might just save me. I first “read” the book “the Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that protect us from Violence”* by Gavin De Becker over fifteen years ago. It was a suggested text that a college professor had added to his syllabus and offered extra credit for answering questions about. Hence the word read in quotation marks – I basically skimmed though it, fascinated by what I gathered along by fact-finding mission. Recently, though, in my ever developing quest to know myself better and hone my skills sharper I have read many books that led me back to this one in particular and I am working my way though it methodically – being constantly surprised by what I am learning.

There are safety points to take away, for sure but I hadn’t realized that many of what I considered “normal for me actions” that I do daily might be dulling my intuition of a possible dangerous situation. For example, I am a talker and an over sharer by nature – and someone who believes in a rally to boot (much to the dismay of my husband and often times children). I have no problem talking to strangers and bringing people together so we can work as a team. I have routinely embraced perfect strangers with a “we’re all in this together attitude” and given unsolicited information “I am a Mom, too”! to bring about comfort and camaraderie in situations where I felt other people needed a little support.

Apparently, criminals will employ the very same tactics in order to coerce a victim into dismissing his or her survival signals. Once I read this (and really allowed it to sink in) I first wondered if I was a manipulative criminal-in-the-making. Based on the fact that I spend hours praying for the safety, security and elimination of violence from the lives of all of living creatures, I was willing to bet I wasn’t in that category. The second thought was equally as terrifying – would I be able to read a criminal using those strategies against me? Or would I assume that he or she was a kindred spirit? Yikes!

One day, when Big Sister was a baby, I took her out for a walk (in her stroller) and it started to rain (rain is really an understatement here – it was a torrential down pour). Multiple cars stopped for me but they were all men, and though I didn’t really think any of them had stopped in order to abduct or kill me (or my baby) I couldn’t be sure, so I declined and cheerfully jogged home while my baby happily splashed her hands in her tray and shrieked joyfully at get soaked. One man even pointed to a car seat in his truck and offered that he was a husband and father – but that he got it that I was turning him down and hoped his wife would do the same thing. No harm done. The book continues to highlight the ways criminals hope to ensnare a victim and although establishing trust “I am a husband and father – here’s the evidence” and “I get it” could have been giving me too many details – his actions – praising me for not trusting a stranger and leaving when I declined help, ran counter to his likelihood of trying to capture us.

What I have learned so far in rereading it is a wake-up as to two-fold motive checking (one – my own and two – the motives of those around me), an evaluative tool that I can stand to have in my toolbox. I have a pretty fair track record of listening to my intuition and having it keep me safe (admittedly I do not live or work in a dangerous or high-crime area which could change the statistics). As with any gift though, it is only of value when you believe in its worth and I hope that my fear will serve me that way.

*I should tell you I am not affiliated with any sort of sponsorship of this book and both times that I have had it in my possession, it has been on loan from a local library. This is in no way an ad for the material, but I am hoping that you check it out and see if benefits you.

On Father’s Day cards

This week I bought four Father’s Day cards. I bought one for my own Dad, one for my Father in law, one from the kids to my husband and one for my husband. Yes, I know my husband isn’t my father – but he is an excellent one who admire deeply.

The thing about it was how disgusted I felt reading what sells. Judging by the sentiments alone, Dads fall into one of several categories: Beer drinking /golf playing, ATM machine, lover of sports and grilling meats, or fart jokes/ gross-out humor. There is the occasional card that has a sentiment along the lines of gratitude and respect – those cards usually cost $6.99 to say (no joke) “I love you Dad and I appreciate you”. Reading no less than 25 cards – I had a real WTF moment.

Dads, the real ones, who encourage us and inspire us and make us repeat that we are fearless, unique, smart, gifted and a wealth of other empowering things should be celebrated fully, not reduced to some silly stereotype. I carefully and thoughtfully made purchases that sat well with me and that took a good thirty minutes. Often times I have written cards out to those I feel closest to, not because I feel superior to card writers – but I feel that the recipient was so much better than whoever that writer had in mind.

In a very stripped down sense, any one of us could be reduced to a stereotype, but then again it serves exactly none of us. I wanted to say a huge thank you to the incredible men who have committed to being fathers. There is no one size fits all for them but they all share a common bond – they see their children in the best possible light – as the purest and most hopeful version of themselves and stayed open and silly and encouraging in the process. Let’s hear it for the Dads.

The mud-flinging space

This is not to be confused with the mud-slinging place, for that is a far more ominous and completely difference place to be (promise me that you will always do what you can not to go THERE and I promise you the same). However, I am in the mud-flinging space. This is a land where try as you might you are carving deep ruts in your soft surroundings and there is a mess and chaos and noise but you are essentially going nowhere. The space where one is trying desperately to get out of, or go through or generally overcome in one way or another and is caught up doing the things they have already tried without success because in one way or another it has served them before.

In short, it is a space where spinning your wheels is easily confused with effort. That is the bad news. The good news is that I do my best work here. But mainly, I do my best work here simply because I am here a lot (the other bad news). There is another upswing, I promise.

I used to think that successful people never came to this place, but that is far from the truth – they venture here too, but I have yet to encounter one who likes to stay for long – you might see them there but they aren’t going to take the time to wave or chat or anything because sinking isn’t an option for them. Instead, the people who I have watched catapult themselves out of the mud-flinging space often times land in spots that seem at first glance to be worse – harsher places, with more obstacles or less amenities or other alleged disadvantages. But the key to their success lies in their momentum, they don’t stay in those places for long either.

I am beginning to be far less afraid of trying a whole bunch of things that might not work to see if I can find one that does. It’s the exclusion of options that lets me sink, you see, and sinking almost always guarantees that I will be stuck (I have also identified that I do not do my best work when I a stay stuck for too long). In those first few tries of doing it wrong, and making a mess, something transforms me now. The loud alarm that used to crowd out anything other than “YOU ARE DOOOOOOOOMED”!! now chirps as a warning to “try something else” , because springboards come in various shapes and sizes and often times are disguised. Sometimes even as mud pits.

Photos or it didn’t happen…

My mom came up today to visit and just before she left I took a few quick pictures of us. I hadn’t washed my hair and I didn’t put on makeup and for some strange reason when I smiled my upper lip disappeared…But my smile stretched across my face (maybe that’s where my lip went) and I hugged my mama tight. I hardly ever capture those moments, usually content to just commit them to memory and I realized that I want approximately ten billion more pictures in my life. I want evidence that the tips of my husband’s eyelashes get blonde when he is out in the sun and that our dog rushes to greet him by trying to glue his body alongside as much of him as possible. I want to hold something in my hand that will always show me what Big Sister’s face looked like when she was skeptical or how Little Sister always throws up Jazz Hands when I say “freeze”. I won’t let all the moments that have faded with time keep me down, which is easy to do when you are with rapidly changing little people…but I will be taking more photos of us all from now on.

Buy a bra that fits and other ways to hack your life

This is the simplest yet most effective advice that I can ever share with you. Hopefully, you have at least one pragmatic friend/family member/book character that you hold dear that has offered this revolutionary principle with you – but just in case you are lacking one, have no fear – that is what I am here for. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent brooding, sullen, or otherwise inwardly loathsome of simple stupid stuff that I have the power to change, but for one reason or another I stall on. (Know this – it could likely be combined into days if not weeks).

I am talking about wearing the running sneakers that you bought because you absolutely loved the color / found on clearance / or matched that one pair of “dress” yoga pants that you save for big occasions but rubs your left heel raw. Or that super comfy tissue paper thin long sleeved tee that fits everywhere but the neckline (why would anyone make such a small gash in the top and declare it boat neck?!). Or my personal undoing – the bra that I should have thrown out a good six months ago but I am trying to resuscitate against its will…gentle reader, I hope that you have no idea what I am talking about – but this would be a bra (well really the remnants of one anyway) that might have one underwire that juts out like a fin from underneath your arm, or boasts hooks in the back that have been mangled in the washing machine and remolded with needle nose pliers to resemble their original shape so many times that they have snapped off on now flagellate your back with every step you take, or even a shoulder strap that has gone slack so that even if you are blessed with anti-gravity, perfect symmetry that certainly isn’t what you are showcasing now…(for a select few this single bra has ALL THREE FEATURES).

The easy question for any sane person to ask would be something along the lines of WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU CONTINUE TO WEAR THAT?! The answer is complicated but can be distilled to this cold, hard fact: that I can live with this. Until, of course, you can’t.

When you get to that point (and some warning signs that you are there or rapidly approaching it can be summed up as “extreme sensitivity to the world around you” – totally my own diagnosis and all but you get my drift), you need to shake it up. You need to buy a new bra, or three. This of course doesn’t mean that I think you should go straight to La Perla and spend the rent money on new lingerie, it can be as simple as pulling three IN YOUR SIZE – (and please double, quadruple, quintuple check this) in order to get on with your life without endangering the other people who inhabit it. The same goes for the running shoes you can’t run in or the shirt that would fit perfectly if only it fit right. The best possible way to move toward the life we want or the happiness that seems to elude us is to set aside the things that aren’t meant for us and keep working toward the things that are. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have secured the big things – a sense of well-being, a stable family life, security in one way or another, so we put up with the little hindrances, in possibly a twisted act of humbleness only to find that it is driving us up the wall. If we are brave enough and clear enough to examine what is and isn’t working and then do something to change it for the better – other things follow suit by falling into place.

I cannot say that hearing the kids pull the doors closed in a consistent ‘slam-close’ (as opposed to turning the handle and quietly closing their doors) isn’t noticeable to me right now. But I can tell you that because I bought a properly fitting bra today, it isn’t making me want to shake my fist in the air like an angry, brow-furrowed mean neighbor at them either. This is exactly how I hacked my life today.

Deep Summer

We are officially one week in to summer – what my kids consider “deep summer”. I am not sure where this phrase came from but I love it. Something about how in six days they are deeply committed to being different people moves me…because when else in your life does one get seventy straight days off? (I will save you the guesswork, it’s usually never. Or retirement.)But here we are (me too in some sort of soupy suspended reality because I am still on stay-at-home-mom / freelance time) and it’s pretty fabulous. If the kids don’t want breakfast? No problem! They will devour approximately forty-seven snacks between waking and sleeping so they are covered. No naps? No worries! Because they will battle it out in a war of words over what movie to watch until they both fall asleep with one child clutching the remote control in a Kung Fu grip. In between feedings and reminders that they “still have to brush their teeth and occasionally bathe” my kids have taking squabbling to an unchartered territory and crafting to a level I had yet to experience – the crayons are all worn to nubs…But that is deep summer too, I guess. A time of book reading and movie watching and bug discovery and swimming until your arms feel like overcooked spaghetti. And I wouldn’t change a moment of it for them.

Back to the Beach

When I was a kid I couldn’t understand why we didn’t go to the beach every single day. I loved squishing fistfuls of sand in my hands, building what hardly ever resembled castles and throwing myself up out of the ocean like I had seen killer wales do. I loved full sun, and impending rain – it didn’t matter to me in the slightest. As a new parent, I wanted to make sure that our baby got to enjoy the beach as much as possible. Even when that meant dragging a tent, pop up shade, blanket, and mini command unit down to the beach – it seemed a small price to pay for ocean views.

Today we took the dog to the beach with us. Somewhere in between his first eleven mouthfuls of the ocean and before he started whining miserably I knew that I probably should have discouraged him a little earlier. We headed home after multiple calls of nature and after a perfunctory clean up and quick lunch, we split into teams – one group taking the vacuuming of the truck (primarily the backseat, where two sandy kids and a German Shepard had taken up residence) and the other washing the sand, salt water and whatever else might be on the dog off of him, I then cut his nails…

In the grand scheme of things I only cut one too short and statistically that wasn’t awful but there is nothing quite like a bleeding dog toenail and it’s trails throughout the floors (carpets and rugs included!) to dampen the mood. At one point I surveyed the landscape of sandy, wet beach towels, sudsy, dog hair covered beach towels and the general sad and sorry state of the house and I got why some people would say “why bother”? Then I thought about the frames from our live just before that – when the kids threw themselves into the waves and we collected shells and watched the sun kissing the ocean to allow ribbons of light to thread their way down the sea floor and I knew that going wasn’t the easy choice, it was the right choice.

The towels will be washed and the nail has stopped bleeding and the floors were all scrubbed. The last clinging bits of sand swirled down the drain alongside our shampoo and conditioner and throughout the house there lingered that unparalleled mellow feeling you get when you spend the morning swimming in the sea. And it all seemed worth it.

Blogging for one year EVERY SINGLE DAY

Here it is – 59 minutes to midnight on the East Coast and I have one thing on my mind: I HAVE A JOB TO DO. I can’t tell you exactly what it has meant o me to meet this deadline every single day. I have made something new and somehow produced it no matter what came in my path – hurricanes, separation anxiety, weight gain, and general dissatisfaction with how I am running my life… you get my drift, and it feels amazing – it feels empowering.

Today was a solid Win. Little Sister made it through soccer without a single tear, without a single tug on my arm – just fully participated. (Yes, this is normal behavior and should be expected, but for us this is CAUSE FOR A CELEBRATION). Tonight, we got together with our friends who happen to be our neighbors and we made quesadillas, and memories as we played cards and the kids played among their selves.

A year ago, I had the craziest idea – that if I sat down to write that maybe someone would read it and maybe in some way or another they would feel a connection to it. I can tell you that it happened quicker and for a longer duration than I ever thought possible. So thank you, thank you for tuning in and checking your email box, or Facebook or feed and listening to what I have thought or worried out or dreamed of. At a little over two weeks left, I haven’t given up or given in – I have just gotten started.

The production

Earlier on in the week, as Big Sister tucked herself beside her keyboard, she asked if she and Little Sister could put on a concert for their father and me. I have to admit that I didn’t give it too much thought, initially, as we have owned that keyboard for almost as many years as she has been alive and her interest in it has burned out quickly as she approached the ten minute mark each time. Something was different this time, though. I watched her as she read the instruction booklet more carefully and as she painstakingly wrote out programs, concert tickets, theater signage and a set list. I marveled tonight as I took photos of the display and the notification that there would be a short intermission where the musicians would be collecting money for the charity of their choice, The March of Dimes.

Little Sister took her part equally as serious, rehearsing the different speeds in which she might sing her first number, and discussing wardrobe options that could best accommodate her desire to “act out” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” while being attached to her microphone. They made sure to tape reminders of the show (complete with the date and time) on any surface they thought my husband or I might come in contact with and simultaneously we knew that seeing them posted and being heard commenting on the excitement that we were building was far more important than the brief irritation of tape residue on the mirrors, the fridge and the television.

They used industrial extension cords to plug in both their karaoke machine and keyboard in the living room and pulled the window bench seats from the entranceway to create a platform for their instruments. There was multiple outfit changes and minimal bickering. Though the performance was adorable, what we witnessed as they interacted with one another before, during and after the show was incredible. They coached each other and worked together and seemed almost in their own little world as they cleaned up the props and dismantled the stage, excitedly discussing the highlights of each song and their own take on each scene.

I can be very very good at noticing all the parenting fails I have – all the missed connections, all the things I let fall the cracks and every way I could have improved. But tonight, I saw the best of it too – just the two of us, the very most import people in our kids’ lives fully soaking up their presence. And they reflected back that they heard the message with genuine delight. These little people sincerely thanked us for our time and attendance of the performance and double checked to be certain we would be able to get the proceeds into the hands of the March of Dimes Charity. We could not have been more proud of their tenacity, generosity and grace. It was a great moment in family-ing and for once I wasn’t trying to pinpoint exactly who to thank for it, or how exactly it came about, or anything else; I was fully there.

If you, yourself, missed out on the incredibly limited opportunity to view “Lights, Camera, Distraction” (it was only in one city, for one night and the tickets were limited to two), do not despair – I don’t believe it’s the last chance you will have to view an original work by the producing company.

Movie Theater Madness

My husband isn’t a big fan of going out to the movies. With a large, reclining sectional (complete with armrests and cup holders) and the option of blacking out the entire living room while we watch near-theater quality movies on a large screen, I can see his point. We could rent a movie from the Redbox for just over a dollar or stream from hundreds of options on Netflix with the ability to pause it at any point, he suggests, while having custom made snacks or drinks in the comfort of our own home. There is no traffic to contend with, no parking lots to navigate, or lines to wait in.

But at my heart I am a movie-goer (emphasis on the GO). I loved the theater; I loved the experience, the buttered popcorn, the ticket stub…ahhh. What I realized, after going to the movies today, is that I love the memory of the movies.

I spent what I consider an obscene amount of money at the movies today, $42.00. That tally was three tickets to an afternoon showing of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”. It was overcast again today, with the omnipresent forecast of afternoon thunderstorms. I was riding high from a sweet morning walk with the kids and our dog, then a successful well-visit for both of the girls where I watched their ever high tracking for height and health and was reminded of how lucky and fortunate we are as a family. We came home and made lunch together and out of seemingly nowhere Big Sister asked if there was any chance we could go to a movie. She has read the entire Wimpy Kid series, taking time to relay and read aloud her favorite parts for her sister either from memory or from copies of the books from the library, though this year we did order her own from Amazon for her birthday.

It seemed like a nice summer time treat and I felt almost frugal mentally calculating the “savings” of not having to buy a ticket for my reluctant movie-going better half who was on shift. After almost eight dollars for a “regular” popcorn and five and change for a “regular” soda though, I had to reconsider my position. No, a popcorn and drink aren’t necessary but they were requested and candy was helpfully never mentioned – so I indulged.

There were highlights – when the kids laughed that full head back hearty laugh at some gags in the movie and some lows – like when the movie didn’t start for twenty minutes and I tracked down a manager to get it rolling and while I don’t necessarily regret going, I am not in a rush to get back there either. The magic, it seems, isn’t in the lines or the walls or the credits on the big screen. It exists in the relationship you make with the film and the people you are experiencing it with. This is why I am going to the movies tonight. Right in the middle of our home, with my two best girls and as much popcorn as we see fit to make.