Family Time

Yesterday, I was with my three nearly-grown children, and we stopped at Panera for lunch. At the table next to us was a young family. Mom and Dad were there with two young daughters—one about nine or ten going on sixteen, and a younger daughter of five or six. In the middle of the meal, Dad said good-bye and left to go to work. Mom stayed at the table with the girls while they all finished their lunch. As they sat there, it was hard not to notice that Mom’s cell phone was sitting on the table, loudly and regularly letting her know she had messages and notifications. Each time the phone alerted her, she looked down and responded.

Lately, I have noticed more and more parents interacting with their phones rather than their children. And I have heard from my children that many of their friends are on their own to make food at home, eating on the run, in their bedrooms, or in front of the television. So here’s my question: when are you spending uninterrupted quality time with your children? How do you show them that they are important and worthy of your time and undivided attention?

I have written about this before, but early in my parenting—and even when our family structure shifted, and I became a single parent—I established dinner together as a deeply important part of our day. This is the time when we come together as a family—and we are together for an important purpose: eating our evening meal. But dinnertime has become so much more over the years. Dinnertime is when we connect. We check in on each other. We talk about life, issues, morals, values, and what is happening in our individual lives and in the world. This meal has become a regular and expected time together as a family.

Now, I have two children in college, and they are home for the Christmas/winter break. Still, each night when I get home from work, we sit down together to consume our evening meal. We laugh, we talk, we eat. And now that they are older, we hash out political issues and share our views, we discuss environmental dilemmas, and we weave together the fundamental pieces of our day into an intricate tapestry that solidifies our family connection.

The unwritten rule, and one that is mostly followed, is that there are no devices at the table. This is family time, and devices are a distraction. Constantly looking at a device and responding to notifications demonstrates that we are not giving others our undivided attention. And it pulls us apart rather than bringing us closer.

And so… about childhood—this is time you will not get back. Establish a daily time to put away your devices and sit down with your children. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. They are amazing little people who will grow up to become wonderful adults. And those adults will need to know how to connect—deeply and meaningfully—with others. Scheduling some daily time to connect with family can make all the difference.

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Believing in Magic

Navigating the many aspects of childhood can be an interesting journey. There are a million situations in which kids walk a line between the reality of the world and some magical thoughts of their own making (or the making of society), simply because their imaginations allow them to believe in magic. Santa. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. This list is lengthy.

Recently, when I was sorting through some (very) old papers, I came across a reminder of my previous parenting life, back when all three of my children still had one foot firmly planted in the magical, and it was my job—as a parent—to make sure the magic remained for as long as possible. But as a single parent, things didn’t always go smoothly.

After all, perpetuating magic is a difficult job. Everything we say… everything we do… it’s all being registered by the little ones around us, even when we don’t know they are listening. Magic takes careful planning, much thought, attention to detail, and a lot of work. It is no wonder, then, that sometimes we slip up.

The note I recently uncovered reminded me that the Tooth Fairy forgot to come. It was one of those moments when I was—no doubt—jolted awake in the early morning hours when I realized that I had forgotten my role in the magic just a bit too late. Despite my best intentions, I had failed. Instead, I had to make up a story about why the Tooth Fairy didn’t come, and some blending of various reasons came out. Unlike Santa, the Tooth Fairy can’t always get to every house…. Teeth are heavy, and if she collects too many teeth one night, she has difficulty flying….

Really, I don’t remember the story I made up, but it seemed to be enough as the child in question believed me. And somehow, over the years, I was able to instill just enough lasting magic—despite occasional slip-ups—that a bit lingers in my now grown children. Because if you think about it, shouldn’t everyone hold onto a little bit of magic in their lives?

Patience

This year has been a challenge. Changes blew through, bringing a different schedule, more intensity, and a shift in focus away from where I want to be. The election brought dissonance and division and the general society has been difficult to tolerate. I turned off the news and frequently found myself turning to music as my chosen distraction on the way to work. I took a step back from social media. In fact, in the past month, I have chosen to observe for a while. Just observe.

One point I have taken from my observations: it seems patience is a trait that few people possess nowadays. We are not nice to each other as we go about our daily business, and I think it’s because we are wrapped up in our own lives. We fail to look outside of ourselves, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and recognize that each of us, in whatever way possible, is trying our best in that given moment.

Case in point: recently, I was in line at the local CVS. I was behind the woman who was next in line. But the customer at the counter had left her wallet in the car, and she apologized as she ran out of the store to get it. This tiny little wrinkle seemed to throw the next-in-line-woman into a tizzy. She began sighing. Loudly. She shifted from one foot to the other. She tapped her foot on the floor, and she turned to me and rolled her eyes, most likely in an attempt to pull me in to her impatience.

Meanwhile, I was feeling sorry for the woman who had run to the parking lot. I could so see myself leaving my wallet (my keys, my brain…) in the car—even though I’ve never done so—that when the impatient woman tried to pull me in, I smiled sweetly while I clutched my tissues and my M&Ms. The forgetful woman was gone for two—maybe three—minutes, but her brief absence certainly annoyed the woman behind her in line. And when we are impatient and not taking advantage of the downtime to enjoy the moment’s pause, time tends to pass more slowly.

This small instance of impatience is one of many I have witnessed in the past few months. I have to wonder: what is the hurry? Why are we so unable to relax and support those around us rather than rush past them with little care for anything outside of our own lives?

Before I judge or become impatient, I am going to take a deep breath and imagine what the other person might be going through. Maybe she forgot her wallet because her first and forever best friend just passed away, and she is trying to hold it together. Maybe the person who is still stopped in front of me at a traffic light that has turned green has a job that just isn’t paying the bills—and the bills are due. Maybe the woman whose cart is in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store is distracted because her grown child is an addict, and she is at the end of her rope.

Patience. It is one of the best gifts we can give to the world. And one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves as we navigate the world. Take a deep breath and give patience a try.

Traffic

It’s been a crazy busy ridiculous fall. Wednesday was Halloween, and I didn’t have time to buy candy until after work. On Wednesday. Because I’m efficient like that. When I left work, I discovered that everyone was exiting the highway where I usually enter, and that can only mean one thing—traffic is bad. Very bad. Going south when I needed to go north was probably not the best idea, but I needed treats for my little goblins. Maybe the errand would allow the highway to clear up a bit.

The candy run was quick. As I cashed out, I texted my son that the highway was backed up and I wasn’t likely to be home right away. Back in the car, I selected some good driving tunes and settled in for the long, slow trip. Navigating the entrance ramp, a nice driver in an SUV waved me into the lane in front of him. I thanked him, and there I sat, moving at a snail’s pace along with a bajillion other cars.

Now, there’s a certain way this is designed to work. If people are patient and friendly and kind, the traffic moves smoothly, and we all get where we are going. It might take a little longer, but we’ll all get there. But Friends, listen… people are crazy! I mean, not necessarily you, per se, but there are a lot of impatient people on the roads. And when there are a lot more cars on the road than usual, it can be downright dangerous.

Here’s the thing. Everyone on the road is behind the wheel of a potentially deadly weapon. When one person decides that he or she needs to be in the front of the line, and the front of the line is well beyond the horizon, things are not going to go well. In fact, when I exited the highway (onto a relatively long exit ramp), I had to sit through three light cycles to take my left-hand turn. Just before I turned, a car came speeding up on my right and cut into the smoothly moving line of patient drivers. Really?

If you are that impatient when you are on the road with so many other people, what are you like when you are not in your car? Are you really so self-important that you can’t obey the rules of the road, putting everyone—including yourself—at risk? Most importantly, what is all the rush about?

Perhaps instead of constantly pushing to get to the front of the line, pushing the speed limit and the driving abilities of both you and those around you, you might, instead, think of your driving time as an opportunity to be present in your life, notice the people around you, and reflect on where you are going (both right now and in the grander scheme of your life). Put away the phones, the food, the notepad, the book, the map, the list, the GPS, etc. You might use this as an opportunity to commune with God or with nature or with yourself. In other words, you might use your road time as a chance to slow down to the speed of life and think about what really matters.

And then, when you have mastered the art of being patient and kind while on the road with so many people, you might take that skill out into the rest of the real world. We could use some patience and kindness in society these days. Perhaps our time on the road is where we could begin. If we can be kind to the person who simply wants to switch lanes to get out from behind a particularly slow truck, we might be able to be kind to the person whose arms are too full to open the door. If we can be present while we are driving, maybe we can put down the phone while we are interacting with the cashier at the grocery or the waiter at the restaurant or better still, our children at home who just want to have a real conversation.

Because what I have found is that kindness snowballs. It starts out with one small gesture and it grows in momentum. As you move throughout your day, be present. Notice what is going on around you. Make one small gesture of kindness and see if it grows.

 

{Photo by Robin Pierre on Unsplash}

Sprinkles of Love

I was at the grocery store the other day, walking past the bakery on my way to the produce department for some fruits and veggies. My eye caught on a giant tub of autumn sprinkles, the kind that someone might use on a cake or cupcakes for an all-school Halloween gathering. Or… whatever you are baking for fall that might be jazzed up with sprinkles.

At first sight of the sprinkles, my mind had zipped away from the bakery, the store, and into the past. Years ago, when C was in early elementary school, his teacher had planned a fall party. I can’t remember the occasion, but I was tasked with baking cookies masquerading as pizza (cookies in a Halloween costume, perhaps…). Easy, right? I’d planned to make round sugar cookies with red frosting. But the “cheese” was eluding me. Coconut? Different frosting? I was stumped. My parents happened to be visiting, and they went off to the grocery store to see what they could come up with.

When they returned, they had a large tub of autumn sprinkles as well as some other possibilities. Dad was most excited about the sprinkles. “We can take all the brown ones out, and you can just use the yellow and orange!” While that would be a great idea in theory, in practice it seemed a bit daunting.

“That’s a bit ridiculous,” I told him. “There are a lot of brown ones in there.”

“It won’t take long,” he assured me, though I wasn’t so sure. Those sprinkles were awfully small. But I didn’t say that.

The next day, the kids went off to school, and I went off to work. Back then, I was working mother’s hours, so I arrived home in the early afternoon—in time to get my kids off the bus. When I walked in the door that day, the kitchen table had become the work area for the sprinkle project. One bowl held the yellow and orange sprinkles. Another bowl held just brown. Mom took my entry as her excuse to rest her eyes, but Dad remained bent over a pile of sprinkles on a paper towel. Wielding a butter knife as his tool, he was pulling the brown sprinkles away from the others with the precision of a pharmacist counting and separating pills.

I am sure this project was far more involved (and tedious) than Dad expected, but he never uttered a word of complaint. He finished off that whole tub of sprinkles, so I’d have “cheese” for my pizza cookies—and they looked amazing! I’m sure none of the kids eating them even suspected the amount of work—and grandparent love—that went into each cookie.

And I had forgotten, as well, until I walked by that one random item in the grocery store last week. I was immediately transported back to that day so many years ago. It was a day much like today, and my memory of Dad, painstakingly separating sprinkles at my kitchen table, was as clear as if it had been yesterday. The love (and self-imposed duty) of a parent was captured in the memories grounded in a tub of autumn sprinkles.

Tidbits

Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to sit in on several hours of student-led review sessions for Anatomy and Physiology. In fact, I have spent so much time in these sessions that I am pretty sure I had an outside chance at passing the first exam, even though I never attended an actual class lecture or read the book.

As a non-science-type in these review sessions, I have begun to extract random tidbits of information that I find interesting or thought-provoking, that I might write into something meaningful (or completely meaning-less, I’m not sure). I would compile a bunch of random, overheard sentences or thoughts into a book, perhaps—something like Lessons Plucked from a Life of Listening. This book would contain helpful tidbits of information from many areas of life.

The particular idea that set me on this trajectory was the question of what would happen if our skin weren’t waterproof, and we were to go swimming. While the thought in the room was that the body would explode, I started to really think about that. If your skin weren’t waterproof, how waterlogged would you become? How heavy would your body be as you attempted to drag it out of the water? And what unsanitary microscopic creatures might enter your body if you were swimming in, say, a lake? My mind took off on a jaunt through a hundred different possibilities, as it often does. This book could definitely be a wild adventure—especially for a reader who would never know what was coming up next!

These thoughts, and the wanderings of my mind, led me back to reality… and to life. As I was running through the possibilities of the book such tidbits might become, I began to realize that life, too, is a series of tidbits. We take our memories and experiences as well as facts, thoughts, and ideas, and we pull them together into something that makes sense to us. From such a grouping of tidbits, we form a life. As we think back on our past, memory is a series of moments we remember for one reason or another. These memories become treasures that we hold onto, or lessons that we learn from, as we continue to move forward and create new experiences—new moments, or tidbits, which we will add to our ever-growing treasure trove.

So if I can create a (marginally) meaningful life by compiling tidbits, it would seem I could create a (marginally) meaningful book in the same way. And once compiled, that book might just be about life, in some strange way. So I’m going to keep compiling my list of tidbits while I live my life, and maybe one day, that list will make its way onto a different page.

No, Thank You

It has been a challenging summer, and my work-life balance has tipped too far to the side of work, forcing me to slip away from the “life” side of balance—at least from the life I want to live. This situation has not been good for anyone, not for me and not for the various young people for whom I am responsible.

My current state of imbalance has made me nostalgic for the days I learned to say “No, thank you” to the things I didn’t want. I was young when my parents taught me the words, “No, thank you.” That way, if someone asked, Would you like more peas? I would know the proper response. “No, thank you,” I would say, and that would be that. No more peas.

However, “No, thank you,” has become a bit more complicated as responsibilities have piled on with adulthood. As responsibilities grow, the questions become increasingly complex, and they are not as easily answered with a simple “No, thank you.” As a teen, a tougher question might come from an acquaintance: Hey, we’re all going to the lake for a party. You wanna come? Even though I might be thinking, “No, thank you,” my response might be something along the lines of, “I’ll let you know,” and I’d walk away thinking, Nope. No way. As time passed, the questions—and the factors that needed to be considered—grew far more complicated.

Life is a series of checks and balances, shifting attentions, and maintenance. As an adult, I need to take a long, hard look at my life, my priorities, my family, my work, and my mental (and physical) health. Daily, these factors change, priorities shift and balance has to constantly be maintained.

Sometimes, things get out of whack—like this summer—and that’s when I realize my skill of saying “No, thank you” needs to be honed and strengthened. Because just like a muscle, if this skill is not used enough, it will weaken with inactivity.

So today, I’ve decided to begin regular exercise of my “No, thank you” muscle. I’m excavating deep into my childhood to help me remember how it works. I think it will just take some effort to jump start, but with some elbow grease and a lot of persistence, I’ll get that skill sharpened up in no time!