17 March 2015

Balancing Act

This post was inspired by Thrive by Arianna Huffington who challenges women unplug and sleep more to create a balanced life. Join From Left to Write on March 19th as we discuss Thrive. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Ohhhh, sleep, how I love the thought of you.  

You elude me when I am most exhausted.  In the middle of the day, when there is no possible way I can stop for a few minutes and rest, there you are.  But at night, when I'm lying in my bed and wait for you, you are not near.  When we do finally meet, it's far too short and often interrupted.  What I wouldn't do to wake up on my own, with no alarm clock shrilling, and feeling rested and refreshed! 

These years we are in with our children are "those" years. The busy years with kids in school, kids in sports, kids that need rides to here, there and everywhere.  It's so interesting to me that I don't work full-time outside the home.....because I don't have time.  I thought my days would be empty once my kids were in school all day, but I feel busier now than I did when they were littles. 

I brought a lot of it on myself: I don't know how to say no when room moms call and ask for help with a project or with chaperoning a field trip.  I have begun volunteering with some causes that mean a lot to me.  None of them are over taxing; a couple hours here, a couple hours there, but it adds up very quickly, until I have made a full time job out of a couple hours of volunteer work. 

I do love my time at the gym.  I've made friends in my early morning workout class, and I love how I feel after working out.  It's critical to my health, both mental and physical, and I can't give it up.  Not even for sleep.  So I get up at 5:00 or 5:15 every weekday morning to go work out, and then my day really gets going.  Weekends I don't usually work out, but getting everyone where they need to be, and taking care of everything I have committed to all day is a workout in itself.

So, this challenge to get 8 hours of sleep a night?  I'd like to say that I did it and it changed my life.  But It simply isn't happening for me, not right now. Balance, for me, consists of flying by the seat of my pants and not forgetting where I left one of my kids!  

No, it's not as bad as that.  But life is seriously busy and hectic right now: three kids, two different school buildings and different school schedules.  Four, no, five sports among the three kids, but that is only till the end of the month, then it will be back to four sports.  A husband who travels 15 days out of the month.  Dinner.  Homework.  Work brought home. Social time with friends. Community service. The list goes on. 

I want to take this challenge and get 8 hours of sleep every night.  Even if I could do it for just a week, I am sure it would make a big difference to me.  I'll keep chipping away at the things I allow myself to commit to.  One of my dear friends told me once, "Say no to the good, so you can say yes to the best."  Meaning, don't commit my time to everything and everyone that asks.  Only commit to those causes and activities that are truly meaningful and do something to make my world a little bit better.  

I'm still working on that whole balancing thing.  I'm not there yet, and I haven't given up.  I'm going to go to bed early tonight.  It's a start, right? 

12 March 2015

Just do it!

This post was inspired by The No More Excuses Diet by Maria Kang who shares her no excuses philosophy that motivated her to become more fit. Join From Left to Write on March 12th as we discuss The No More Excuses Diet. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

I remember when Maria Kang made a splash on the Internet, looking impossibly toned and fit shortly after giving birth to her third child, challenging moms everywhere with an in-your-face "What's Your Excuse?"   Some said she was doling a much-needed dose of tough love to moms who complain about their extra baby weight that won't go away, but don't want to actually do any work to make it so. Others said she was "fat-shaming" busy and overworked moms who were too busy trying desperately to just keep their heads above the laundry pile, never mind get to the gym or keep the kids corralled for a half-hour so they could work out.  

So, which camp is right?  Is she giving moms the kick in the backside many of us need, to get us up and moving?  Or is she just flaunting her toned abs and being unnecessarily mean to the rest of us?

The truth is somewhere in between.

I was pretty fit and healthy when I got pregnant with my first child.  Not like Maria, I don't think my abs will EVER look like hers, and they didn't before kids, either.  But I paid attention to what I ate, and I worked out regularly.  But man, when I saw the two blue lines, I had the Golden Ticket to eat for two, all day long.  I admit it; I went cah-razy.  But I wasn't eating just to eat. I was HUNGRY all the time.  Long story short, I gained 50 pounds.  50.  I lost most of it, but I hung onto about 10 extra pounds.  I tried to stay active, walking with the baby and going to the Y.  Baby boy hated the Child Watch at my local Y and would usually let me just get to the cardio room before the staff called me back.  So I bought a stack of DVDs and tried to do them at home when I could.  Pffft.  As if.  

Fast forward to baby number two.  I gained the same 50 pounds, only I had a head start.  After he was born, it was like deja vu; I tried to keep moving, tried to watch what I ate.  But with a newborn and a toddler, it was hard.  On top of that, my husband had to go to a training class for his job that lasted six weeks.  I told him, "No way on God's green earth are you leaving me alone with a newborn and a toddler for six weeks while you hang out in a comfy corporate apartment and sleep all night uninterrupted."  We all packed up and went with, and it was an incredibly stressful time.  Still couldn't get rid of those last 10 pounds.  

Baby number three.  Surely I'll get it right this time.  I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and saw a nutritionist who helped me create an eating plan that was healthy and low in sugars, but had some flexibility.  Dude, I went through Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations on a diabetic, low-sugar diet.  If I can do it then, I can do it all the time, right?  Heh. No. 

I was surprised that I lost all cravings for sugar once I had detoxed, and found it easier than I thought to stay away from candy and cookies and sweets all through the holidays.  I indulged a bit but I managed to keep my blood sugar under control.  Wouldn't you know it, though.....I still gained the same 50 pounds!  My doctor just shook his head.  

Fast forward again.  My boys are 15, 12 and 10.  I can no longer call it baby weight and get away with it. I have lost most of that last 10 pounds, but I still struggle to control my eating.  Working out is the easy part.  I actually really enjoy being active and I love the classes I go to at the Y.  I have come to count on my early morning workouts even though it was hard to learn to force myself out of bed those first few weeks.  But now that I have created the habit, I get crabby when I miss my workout.  I am fitter, stronger and healthier now at 44, than I was at 24.  

Maria Kang is tough and she makes no apologies for it.  She's a busy working mom and her kids are young. She gets it.  She doesn't let herself off the hook and she won't let you off, either.  Sometimes we just need a push to get moving, and this book will push you.  Maybe it'll inspire you, too.  

11 February 2015

Play Ball!

***This post was inspired by The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. St. Louis Cardinals manager Matheny shares his tough-love philosophy for children's team sports that translate to everyday life. Join From Left to Write on February 12th as we discuss The Matheny Manifesto. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.***

I had heard about this guy, and his philosophy before I had a chance to read this book, and I was, honestly, not totally convinced. 

A baseball team my son had tried out for got a new coach.  He emailed everyone on the team's email distribution list to introduce himself and explain his coaching philosophy, and this was it.  He attached the Manifesto to the email and I read it with a skeptical eye. As it turns out, my son decided to play on another team that year, without my ever mentioning anything about the new coach and his email. 

My athlete plays sports all year round, and if I made him choose one (which I don't), he'd choose baseball.  He also plays basketball and volleyball, and does off season training in basketball and baseball.  He plays rec baseball and select baseball, and he plays CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports.  He doesn't do all that because I make him or his dad makes him, he does it because he loves sports.  I mean, he really loves sports.  His dream is to play in the big leagues, and I hope he makes it.  I like to think I'm pretty realistic about my kids, and while he is a naturally gifted athlete and he works hard, I don't know if that'll be enough.  There are a finite number of Major League Baseball player jobs out there and every boy on the baseball diamond in my small town wants one of them. 

I would love nothing more than to see my boy reach his dream.  I am his biggest cheerleader.  And that, I think, is where Mike Matheny and I part ways, at least a little bit.  Mike wants parents to be quiet on the sidelines, to be silent support and not put more pressure on their kids, even inadvertently, by cheering or calling out what they think is encouragement.  I cheer for my player; I cheer loud.  I also cheer for the other players on the team, by name.  I don't try to coach from the sidelines, and I don't criticize.  But I CHEER. 

My ballplayer swears that he can't hear me when I cheer for him.  Even before this book was a topic in my house, he has always said that he is so focused on the game that he can't pay attention to the noise from the parents.  I wonder about that sometimes though.  My very good friend is a fellow basketball mom, and her son once looked up at her in the stands during a game and yelled back at her, "SHUT UP, MOM!"  I know I've seen my kid react to something another parent has shouted when he was on the court.  When I listen to other parents cheering, what they say and how they say it, I am forced to think about what other parents hear when I cheer, what the coaches hear from me. This book has made me reconsider how vocal I am when I watch my son play. 

I have been a sports mom for a long time and I am well aware and agree that parents are definitely a big part of the problem in youth sports. A lot of parents forget that sports are supposed to be fun, and that it's just a game.  Kids are learning more than how to throw or hit or kick a ball. Sports are full of life lessons, if you look for them.  How to be part of a team, how to respect the authority of the coach and the umpire even if they are wrong, how to both win and lose with grace, how to compete against others and yourself, how to persevere, how to run it out hard even when the first baseman already has the ball in his glove, and how to learn from players who are better than you. My son has been blessed with great coaches who have pushed and challenged him.  They know the game, and they like to win as much as the next guy, but they will put the boys up against the tough competition, saying "You will never get better by playing teams you know you can beat.  Play the teams you might not be able to beat and learn something new." His coaches have been at least as concerned with his growth as a young man, his emotional and spiritual growth, as they are with his growth as an athlete.  And that's where I applaud Mike Matheny for sticking to his guns and making character development every bit as important as throwing a really good curveball.  Most of the kids playing in youth leagues today are not destined for professional sports careers, and Mike knows that. All the hard work and discipline they learn from sports will serve them well, no matter where life takes them. The best compliment I've ever gotten on my son's sports performance is that he is respectful to his coaches and he is coachable. 

I don't know if I'll ever be able to be the "silent" support on the sidelines but I love watching my kid do what he loves most in the world, play sports. In the end, though, I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would, and my son is bugging me to read it next. 

If your kids play sports, do you cheer loud and proud, or are you the strong, silent type? 

01 December 2014

Untying Knots

This post was inspired by the novel The Mill River Redemption by Darcie Chan, about two estranged sisters who are forced to work together to uncover the hidden inheritance by their mother. Join From Left to Write on December 2nd as we discuss The Mill River Redemption and enter to win a copy of the novel.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.  

Addiction and forgiveness can be, and often are, tied up in big ugly knots together.  No matter which side you are on, whether you are the addict, or you are someone who cares about an addict, you are going to have to face up to forgiveness.  You have to ask for it when you don't want to, or when you don't feel like you deserve it.  You are going to be asked to forgive when you don't think you want to, or don't think you can. 

Sisters have a wholly unique relationship: part best friend and secret keeper, part antagonist, part protector, sometimes even part mother and caretaker.  

I have sisters (who are all of those things to me!) who are not addicts, and I have a very dear friend, almost like a sister, who is a recovering addict. 

When my friend was sliding downhill toward her rock bottom, I watched helplessly, unable to think of or say the right words to make her stop and think about what she was doing.  She told me later that I was really the only person who knew the truth about how bad it had gotten, before she really understood what the problem was, and sought help.  She said some ugly things to me while in the grip of her drug of choice, things for which I eventually needed to extend forgiveness. Our friendship was fragile for awhile but it has regained solid footing as she has regained her equilibrium and is walking a healthier path. 

My sisters....oh, my sisters.  I love them and they drive me crazy.  We lost our mother when we were all very young and we've all dealt with it in very different ways.  Our lives have all traveled down various roads, parallel and intersecting all over the place. My oldest sister naturally took over the maternal role and in my case, she literally raised me, becoming my legal guardian when I was a teenager. I behaved as only a snotty teenage girl can, behavior for which I then had to beg forgiveness. My middle sister thought that mom's absence was hardest on her and sometimes still pouts about it, taking her loss out on everyone around her. She has a very difficult time with asking for forgiveness and that inability is tying up some knots in my family even today. 

But what if your sister is the addict, and you need to forgive, but she hasn't asked and  you don't want to? Oh, boy. Those are some industrial sized knots that are going to take time, and possibly divine intervention, to untie. 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not so much actions as they are a journey, with stops and starts, big strides and backward slides. The journey may sometimes look hopeless but ultimately it's worth the trip.  They say that forgiveness isn't something you do for another person, it's a gift you give yourself.  I wonder if the Di Santi sisters would agree?  

27 October 2014

Making Memories

The 13th Gift Book Club Banner FL2W

***This post was inspired by The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith, a memoir about how random acts of kindness transformed her family's bereavement and grief during the holidays.  Join From Left to Write  on October 28th as we discuss The 13th Gift. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.***There is so much pressure surrounding the holidays.
So much pressure to get just the right gift, and present it in just the right way, and make just the right meal and set just the right table.
I'm guilty of it on occasion, I'll admit it; getting caught up in the outward appearance angle of Christmas.  Wanting to make sure that the kids are appropriately "wowed" when they come barreling down the stairs in the morning.  Wanting to make each Christmas better than the last.  Wanting to make special memories.
I've never had to try to make Christmas feel normal for my kids just a couple of short months after the sudden and unexpected death of their father.  I do, however, remember distinctly one Christmas when I wanted nothing more than to pull the covers over my head and not come out till mid-January. It was the year my marriage very nearly fell apart, right around Thanksgiving. Going to family dinners and big festive holiday parties was miserable; who wants to listen to a tale of marital woe and dry tears when everyone else is merry and bright? Our kids were little; too little to understand what was going on and why Mommy and Daddy were sad all the time, and still little enough to need the magic and the wonder of Santa Claus.
My sister would call and ask if I had gotten one of the boys this toy or that toy; she had seen it on sale and just picked it up because she thought they'd love it.  I finally had to ask her to stop shopping so I could have something left to give my kids.  If only I could make myself go out and get in the damned holiday mood! It was a tense and awkward holiday and as much as Captain America and I tried to act as if nothing was wrong, it was painfully obvious to everyone around us, that something was indeed, terribly wrong.
The holidays came and went, the kids got gifts they loved, and the storm in our marriage passed in time.  But I'll never forget how much pressure I felt to make everything wonderful, when all I wanted to do was hide from the world and even from my own family.
I don't know if I can really say I enjoyed reading this book, because it is, in some ways, a very sad story.  It brought tears to my eyes, and it made me want to hug the whole family, really hard. But I guess I'd have to say I did enjoy it, in a sense. In spite of its sadness, though, it is a hopeful story.  There ARE kind people out there, who WILL go out of their way to ease someone else's pain, and do for a hurting person what they can't do for themselves yet. It's hopeful because although Joanne really didn't want anything to do with the anonymous gifts at the outset, they reached her anyway. It gave me hope that God does indeed send angels when we need them.  In a funny coincidence, I live very near to where this story took place, and every street name, every town name, every store and school mentioned was like chatting with a neighbor.  In a way, it was comforting to know that such a hopeful story happened right here in my neck of the woods.
Memories aren't just made when the table looks like a magazine spread and the gifts are piled high.  Memories are made from being with the people you love, and memories are made even when the holiday spirit seems to have skipped your house, and you don't want to play.  Treasure those moments anyway, because you're still making memories.  Just ask Joanne's family.  

08 October 2014

Who Do You Want Me To Be?

 ***This post was inspired by 
by OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, 
where he analyzes online date to find out that people 
who prefer beer are more likely to have sex on a first date.  
Join From Left to Write on October 9th
as we discuss Dataclysm.  As a member, I received a copy 
of the book for review purposes.*** 

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

I love it for all the same reasons everyone else does: keeping in touch with family and friends, seeing pictures of them and their families, getting recipes and decorating ideas, all the hilarious memes; you know, the same reasons that everyone loves social media. I hate social media because it can swallow an entire day whole if I let it. I allow myself to get sucked into political debates (I am fascinated by politics and could talk all day) or get into conversations or I go on Pinterest to find an idea for a kids' Halloween party.  The next thing I know, it's 5:30 and little people want to be fed. 

And I will say that ten or twelve years ago, I might have thought it ridiculous that you can meet people online and develop real and lasting friendships, but I am singing a different tune 
today.  I have actually met some really great people online who have become friends There are message boards, forums, chat rooms, comment sections on blogs, and mobile apps for discussing everything from parenting to politics, and from airline travel to dog grooming. I, like millions of others, have jumped into the data pool.

This past summer, my husband, kids and I went on vacation with some members of a group of people I'd met via Facebook.  We all met and shared a cabin for a long weekend and it was really a great time.
Everyone was EXACTLY who they had portrayed themselves to be on Facebook. 

And therein lies the potential problem with making friends online; how do you know that they are who they say they are? 

I have a group of moms that I have known online for nearly eleven years. We met in a parenting/pregnancy forum and we all have kids born in a particular month and year. I have met one of them in person, but the rest I have not.  We share pictures of our kids and our families and ourselves.  There is one in the group though, I have never seen a picture of her.  I believe she is who she says she is, but I have to admit I wonder sometimes. 

My kids are old enough now to have an online presence and it worries me greatly.  I know that this is the world they inhabit; they need to learn to navigate it safely and wisely.  We talk about online safety, and I demand their passcodes and their passwords. I follow them on Instagram and I read their emails. I tell them very bluntly upfront, upon receipt of an iPod or a tablet or any other Internet access device, that they have ZERO expectation of privacy, and if I catch them lying or hiding, their access will 
be closed down. I sometimes shake my head at the things they post; it's silly and not really very funny to me, but it sure is to them.  Some of it has been borderline inappropriate.  I've seen their friends posting completely inappropriate things, and I have talked to them about them.  In one case, the kid in question has been friends with my boys, literally since they were babies, and I reached out to him via text message and talked to him about what I saw on his Instagram wall. 

I sat my kids down and showed them videos about how online predators seek out and victimize kids who don't know better or who think they know who they are talking to.  At the end of one of the videos, my oldest son turned to me and said, "I don't think I want a Facebook account anymore." Yay technology! 

I'd like to think that most of us social media users are honest and legitimate; we are who we say we are.  We're on Facebook to see pictures of our kids and grandkids that live far away, or to find old high school friends. But I have to be realistic too; not everyone is being upfront.  

If I meet people on Facebook that I don't know from Adam and then take my family out of state to meet them for a vacation, how can I tell my kids that the Internet is dangerous and they don't need to be on Facebook anyway? It's a fine line to walk; helping them learn to navigate their virtual world (even though it scares me sometimes) or shielding them from it completely, for their "safety" and to their detriment. 

Parents have always struggled with how much rope to give their kids as they grow toward adulthood.  The online world can be a lot of fun a lot of the time, but it's those unanswerable questions that make me not want to give my kids much freedom: who are these people that "like" your post?  Who are these "followers" you have?  How do you know who they really are?  Who do they want you to be?  

Are your kids online?  How much freedom do they have?

15 September 2014

The Weaker Sex? I Don't Think So

**This post was inspired by The Underground Girls of Kabul, by journalist Jenny Nordberg, who discovers a secret Afghani practice where girls are dressed and raised as boys.  Join From Left to Write on September 16th as we discuss The Underground Girls of Kabul.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.**

I do not consider myself to be a feminist.

I believe in gender equality though,  and from where I sit, those two things don't always look the same.

Women have been defined as "the weaker sex" for as long as I can remember.  My father had very definite ideas about things that girls just didn't do.  This is why, at the age of 43, I have never mowed my own lawn.  Mowing the lawn is a boy's job, or a man's job.  He taught me lots of other things about why life worked the way it did for boys and for girls, and not many of them have played out the way he told me, at least not in my life.

As a mother of boys, I am keenly aware that how I interact with the world, with their father, and with them teaches them a lot about women in general.  I don't want them growing up thinking things like, 'she can't do that; she's a girl!'  When asked what I do, my first answer is that I am a stay at home mom. A very traditional role for women, yes? That's what I consider to be my most important work, my most valuable contribution to the world, raising decent young men and productive members of society.

But that's not all I do.  I am also a military reservist, a freelance writer, an advocate for abused and neglected children, a pregnancy resource center consultant, and a very active volunteer in my community. My husband travels frequently for his work, which is for the most part what puts bread and butter on the table.  But because he is away so much, all of the rest of the household work falls on me.  And not just the cleaning and the cooking. My boys see a mom who takes care of business whether dad is home or not.  They see a mom who can still beat them at HORSE when we play basketball together, a mom that they run to for help when they get hurt, a mom who owns and shoots her own guns, a mom who can cook and bake and get stains out of their sports uniforms, a mom who fixes things and kills spiders, and a mom who is capable and trusted in a military organization.  My boys are taught not only how to shoot a decent lay-up and how to safely handle firearms, but they are also taught how to do their own laundry, they're learning their way around the kitchen, they take their hats off at the table and they open doors for people.

I'm just one woman juggling my crazy life.  There are women who lead nations, who perform life-saving surgery, who argue cases in front the Supreme Court, who sit on the bench in the Supreme Court, who run large corporations and institutes and teach in universities. So many of these women come home at night and still have the full-time job of mothering and taking care of their families and children. Moms interact and parent differently than dads do; it's proven.  It's how it is supposed to be.

Women give birth.  Childbirth is allegedly one of the most intense and difficult to bear physically painful experiences known to man, and women do it every day. Many women do it again and again, voluntarily.  That alone should be enough to disqualify women, forever and ever, from the title of "the weaker sex."

I know a lot of husbands who say about their wives, "I don't know how she does it all."

So where does this idea come from in the first place? Who says that there are things women can't do?

Reading the stories in this book about girls who must hide who they are to be seen as valuable is heartbreaking to me.  I can't imagine being thought of as a burden to my family because I produced daughters.  I can't imagine thinking of my daughter as a burden or worse, as completely worthless. I simply cannot imagine it.  It shocks me that there are societies in which that is the norm.  I know it's out there, but it still shocks me.  To the core. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that everyone thinks like me, and people all over the world live like I do. Reading this book has given me a major-league wake-up call.

To see up-close and personal what these young women go through in order to have some worth just reinforces my belief that women are far stronger than they are given credit for.  I am reminded that women survive. Women overcome circumstances and make a way. Why do women and men have to be in competition with one another? We were made to complement each other, not arm-wrestle each other.  You will never convince me that women are the weaker sex.  Why does there have to be one anyway?