How Did I Get So Lucky? (Psst-you did too).

I'm thinking about my good fortune, and how I can help balance the scales.

I’m thinking about my good fortune, how others may not be so lucky, and what I can do to help balance the scales.

Let’s face it, life is pretty darn good.  Most days my biggest complaint is that my kids are bickering.  Not hunger.  Not lack of water.  And something deep inside me feels intensely guilty about that.  Having been raised with fundamental ideas about justice, this seems to fly in the face of everything I know.  Living with a 9 year old also who precisely recognizes fairness also makes me feel disproportionately well off.  Like when she asks, Why does that man have to live outside?  After quietly whispering *shit* to myself, I open my mouth and hope the right words come out.

My favorite journalist/writer is Nicholas Kristof.  He writes for the New York Times and co-wrote Half the Sky with his wife about how the mistreatment of women in the world is the central moral issue of our times  (I know, you already love him, too).  His contention is that when we see large amounts of sick, war-torn, disenfranchised, powerless and victimized people, we retreat into being overwhelmed and go into shut-down mode.  But if we see ONE person, one child maybe, we can access our compassion more readily.  And that’s what I’m trying to do.  What a lot of us are trying to do.  Feel compassion, act on it and quit feeling like shit that I live in a nice house and drive a nice car and live in a free country.  Damn it.

When I look around or talk to my friends, I can often see them doing the suburban dance.  Meaning, they are busy, busy, busy.  Me too.  Guilty as charged.  But I wonder sometimes if the reason I am doing it is to somehow make it alright that in comparison to many folks out there, I have won the fucking lottery.  If I slow down, if I say “no,” if I take a break and enjoy some down time…does that mean I’m not grateful?  Does it mean that I am somehow keeping myself insulated from suffering?  That people will think I don’t care?  That I am preventing the proverbial other shoe from dropping?  Of course not.  But that is sure as shit how it feels.

Still, it’s tough to reconcile the good fortune so frequently seen in the suburbs compared to those in other parts of our country and the world.  SNL hilariously put this into focus with White People Problems.  Sometimes, don’t you hear yourself saying shit and going…umm…really?  That’s what you are complaining about?  Some that I have heard recently are:  depressed dogs getting Prozac, lack of weekly recycling service, needing to clean out the refrigerator because there is too much food in there, being inconvenienced by red lights and where to build the new vacation home.  Now, I am certainly not immune to this kind of complaining.  After all, I did have to stop and get gas on my way to yoga while I was not working or taking care of children.  What a pain in the ass.

For me, the best way to balance the scales is just to give.  Not necessarily money, just giving.  Spending an afternoon at your kid’s school.  Volunteering at the Food Bank.  Walking around the neighborhood and picking up trash.  It’s not hard to find need.  But what is hard is knowing your limits and when you are done.  And frankly, this is where a little self compassion comes into play.  You know, take some oxygen before you give it to the kids.  If you aren’t sure how you rate on self compassion, there’s a great quick quiz here to try.  Most of the time, I can forgive myself for messing up.  For not being the best listener.  Or being impatient.  Or just plain being selfish.  But, with Martin Luther King Day coming up on Monday, I hear his words in my ear:  Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” And then I remind myself.  He didn’t say “now” or even “weekly.”  He didn’t even say how.  That is up to you.

When my daughter asked me at age 6 why our souls were born here and not in a place that was at war (think the Congo or Afghanistan), I didn’t know the answer.  I still don’t.  But maybe I don’t have to know the answer ( I am much better at asking questions than giving answers anyway).  I don’t always feel this way.  But when I get that nagging sensation, I know that it’s time to go spend some time folding and sorting clothes at the outreach.  It’s time to share in some community writing.  It’s time to go to the zoo with the kids class.  Whatever the reason, I’m here in the suburbs.  Living, sharing and raising some young humans.  Bad things can happen.  But I can do some good.  It’s time.

Do you feel lucky?

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen for the sweet photograph.  I am lucky to know her.

 

I don’t like being scared. It’s scary.

Halloween is fun.  When it's not terrifying.

Halloween is fun. When it’s not terrifying.

It’s Halloween time!  While I love carving pumpkins, finding the perfect costume and eating all things pumpkin, I do not, repeat: DO NOT like scary things.  Suburban yards littered with coffins.  Fangs, blood, gore and leaking brains are not my idea of fun.  Even a trip to Target with a giant devil/ghost hanging over the doorway is enough to send me screaming.  But hey, whatever works for you!

After watching the Exorcist when I was about 12 years old, I was convinced that I was possessed by the devil.  No, I never peed on the floor while my parents hosted a dinner party.  Nor did my head ever do a complete 360.  I may have puked a substance reminiscent of split pea soup on my mom at one time or another, but do not remember doing so.  Complicated by the fact that I was attending Catholic school at the time, the whole priest/devil thing was intense. At one point, I asked one of my nun-teachers if it was possible to be possessed by the devil.  She told me yes, and that she herself had required an exorcism as a child.  Great.  More nightmares.

Last night, we started to watch a kid movie called Paranorman with my 9 year old daughter.  Supposedly made for  kids, this shit had a kid talking to his dead grandmother (who bounced around his room), coffins and skeletons coming out of the ground and a scene where the kid pulls a book out of his uncle’s rigor mortis-ed hand.  What the fuck?  If that’s suitable viewing for kids, I’ll be under the couch.

This week, the new version of Carrie is hitting a box office near you.  Frankly, I would rather poke hot coals in my eyes than see this movie.  If it’s anything like the first, I’ll be a blithering idiot for the year following my viewing of this flick, and I will be of no use to society.  BUT…I have friends who watch the shit out of this stuff and LOVE it.  I mean, they go to zombie live performances where they get sprayed with blood, have horror movie clubs and read scary books too.  Why?  When the keys of the piano start playing in that high pitched soundtrack to Halloween, I have to cover my ears.  But they are like, bring it.

To all you horror loving folk, what you are experiencing has a name.  It’s called the excitation transfer process.  Sharing the scary is one reason for loving the scary.  Most people who love the horror stuff love it in groups.  This way, they can enjoy going out to eat or getting a drink afterward.  Have you ever gone to a scary movie and afterward hung out with a group and you were just laughing and having a great old time?  Because it wasn’t you that got chased by a zombie and your brain chewed out?  Talk about relief!  Your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration all increase during the frightening foray into murder and mayhem, but they continue to stay elevated as you are having a beer and enjoying your not-death.  And what do you know?  To your brain, that translated into a good time.

In the instances of say, a fearful young girl watching the Exorcist, well the neurological response is not so favorable.  Not surprisingly, some of us are just wired differently.  About 10% of the population love the adrenalin rush (aka:  physiological arousal) of horror flicks.   They may also be the same people who love roller coasters and other high-fear experiences.  Men also are much more likely to love horror movies than women, who sometimes go to horror movies simply to snuggle up to someone.  However, very few enjoy watching a scary movie alone.

Also, scary movies may be one way that our primitive brain is still trying to master control over dangerous situations.  Or, we may be subconciously attempting to deal with violence in our own world.  Or we just can’t look away.  Like that wreck on the side of the road.  In any event, highly empathetic people resist scary movies altogether.  A-ha! That must be me.

At a Halloween party today, there were zombies, skeletons and a cute/freaky Easter bunny.  And it was dimly lit.  And I found myself wanting to bolt.  Candy is awesome, but I don’t want to be trapped in a room with a guy in a hockey mask. I have seen too many movies, people.  Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, the Exorcist…What do they all have in common?  The suburbs.  Face it, some scary shit goes down here.

And so, last night I turned off Paranorman.  It was freaking us all out, anyway.  We turned on Spy Kids 2 which was quite literally the worst movie I have ever seen.  But it wasn’t scary.  And any movie with Steve Buscemi can’t be that bad.  I got in a good cuddle with my 9 year old.  And I surfed the internet on my I-pad.  And I forgot about all the dead people and cemeteries and body counts.   Instead, I focused on one thing I really love about Halloween:  the glow of a bright harvest moon.

Are you a scaredy-cat?

I'm not scared anymore.

I’m not scared anymore.

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen of Mt. Hood Mama photos.  These photos are so eerily beautiful.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect After All

I'm thinking about perfection and how I am far, far from it.

I’m thinking about perfection and how I am far, far from it.

Think about all the things you know that are perfect.  The sway of long grasses in the breeze.  The way the sun rises day after day without your even asking.  The symphonic sound of the ocean beating the shore.  The crisp red color of a blooming rose.  Throw in the the looks of your house on a Monday morning and the whole thing goes to shit.  Here in my suburban home, I hear lots of my friends and neighbors talking about how overwhelmed they are, and they use cataclysmic words to describe it, like “hellish,” “killing me,” and “horrendous.”  See, I think we are all trying to get the brass ring, the holy grail of perfection.  And it’s making us all a tad insane.

So, I used to think I couldn’t be a perfectionist because I was so inherently flawed.  I procrastinate frequently, measure myself with a somewhat unrealistic yardstick and long for a stamp of approval.  Until I realized …tah-dah!… these are the hallmarks of perfectionism.  This is not an issue for just a few of us, it’s an unsaid problem in terms of our collective suburban culture.  It’s exhausting.  I have written about this before, but let’s just come clean here and now.  I’m waving the white flag, friends.  Perfectionism is not achievement.  Not even close.

Did you ever play the game “Perfection”?  Where you had to get all the fucking shapes in the proper holes as the timer was tick tick ticking and you could never get it done in time before the whole thing popped up and scared the hell out of you? Doesn’t the suburban juggle sometimes feel that way to you?  Get the kids to school, run to work, finish that report, go to the market, clean on the fly finally making it to practice only to get scolded by the soccer coach that you forgot to bring snack?  Yikes.  At the risk of sounding like I am complaining, it feels a bit, well, overwhelming.  Aware that we are lucky to have such blessings as being able to send them to good schools and provide nutritious food, we regard these challenges as hurdles we must attempt to scale.  Did our mothers read the nutrition facts on the Wonder bread?  Doubt it.

Others have written about this preoccupation with being perfect.  Brene Brown writes:  Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because it doesn’t exist.  It’s an unattainable goal.  Then there’s Judith Warner’s 2006 “Perfect Madness” about how mothers create anxiety by obsessing over having the perfect child.  Recently, blogger Alva Noe wrote an essay on “Are You Overwhemed?  You Don’t Have To Be.”  Her assertion is that the 24 hour news cycle not only bombards us with information, it frightens us into hyper-stimulation.  She calls it the New Perfectionism.  We are sucked into thinking that the terrorists will kill OUR kids, that pesticides on vegetables are poisoning our families, that the newest and latest parenting tome is the answer to our child’s bedwetting and that our marriage could be SO MUCH better if we just adhered the following 20 bullet points.  And also, if we don’t take the bull by the horns, subsequent imperfection, anarchy and mass hysteria is ALL YOUR FAULT YOU LAZY COW.

Another book recently addressing this issue is Kaitie Roiphe’s In Praise of Messy Lives.  If you’ve never read her work, she is razor-sharp in assailing all forms of American culture. Her latest book is a collection of essays on how our culture has bent uncomfortably to the puritanical and conservative.  One of my favorite parts is how we all find the chain-smoking, bed-hopping and overtly drunken characters in Mad Men to be so damn refreshing.  Charming, even!  Sometimes, she suggests, it’s good to be bad.  To not tow the line.  To not try to be so goddamn healthy all the time.  On my recent moms-only trip, I relished the lack of structured exercise time as well as the abundance of chips and guac and margaritas.  (Don’t ask me any more about it, though.  It’s in the vault.)  It’s kind of dull to never fuck up.

Practicing being a perfect suburbanite has in fact, not led to me actually being a perfect suburbanite.  I still resist the PTA.  I often forget to send lunch money.  I wonder what other people think.  I let my kids eat macaroni and cheese more than a few times a week.  And it’s not organic.  My yard is currently overgrown and full of weeds.  I have cellulite.  I don’t throw fabulous kid parties.  As I get older, I am more likely to appreciate that Voltaire is right:  Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.  What does that mean?  For me, it means that I make a healthy lunches most of the time, and write lovey dovey notes in them a few times a year.  It means that I wear scruffy clothes and no make up to the store, but can work a cocktail dress when I want.  It means that hosting a dinner party can mean take out pizza and beer.  It means that the short walk that puts a smile on my dog’s face is better no elevated heart rate at all.  It means embracing the messy.

And, through this blog and through writing, sharing a commonality with all of you.  The suburbs.  Us.

Are you perfect?

Now THAT is perfect.

Now THAT is perfect.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen of Mt. Hood Mama Photos.  Her photos are the most perfect parts of this essay.

Suburban Mom Fears Technology!

I'm thinking about technology and all the ways that I avoid it.

I’m thinking about technology and all the ways that I avoid it.

My memories of my youth fondly include:  a curly phone cord that I twisted as I talked to a cute boy on the phone, an answering machine that I ran toward while throwing off my coat and books, a clunky and unreliable VCR, listening to the radio while waiting for my favorite song-then diving for the tape recorder when I heard the first few notes, my beloved Sony Walkman used for playing the aforementioned cassette tapes, games that didn’t require software and -get this- a full encyclopedia set on the shelf (for when my parents said, “Look it up”). Coming from this kind of background (I didn’t lay my hands on a computer until my second year of college), technology and I have had a tenuous relationship.  I love that I can prop up my I-Pad cookbook-style to follow a recipe, but I miss when you could watch the Sound of Music only once a year, making it’s viewing as sweet as the apple pie that accompanied it’s broadcast on Thanksgiving night.

Education and technology writer Mark Prensky calls people like me “digital immigrants,” struggling to understand and keep up with the new land of computers, video games and the like.  My eleven year old is a “digital native,” having been born into this culture of technology.  She far surpasses my abilities in digital gaming and we are about neck and neck in computer know-how.  Probably tomorrow she will stride past me, creating websites and editing her 5th grade online yearbook with ease.  As an immigrant,  my sentimentality for the past makes me seem like a dinosaur to her.  She still can’t fully grasp that there was no Google when I grew up.  It is quite literally beyond her comprehension.  And I admit it, it really pisses me off when she confidently shows me how to do something on the computer.  I mean, I’m the one who is supposed to know more than her, so WTF?

In suburbia, I can’t help feeling a little judgmental when I see a fellow parent allowing a child to play with a phone or an I-Pad at a restaurant.  How many of you have heard or thought, “their brains will turn to mush…”  If so, Hanna Rosin’s recent article for the Atlantic called The Touch Screen Generation will go a long way to putting your mind at ease.  Brain researchers have concluded that watching television or playing on a tablet will not in fact put your child’s brain to sleep. Their brains remain active and engaged, especially when watching shows like Dora because there are pauses and ways to interact.  Of course, there is also controversy that technology deprives your brain of necessary downtime and makes us more prone to distraction.  And by the way, if you see me handing my child my phone to entertain them while in line at the post office, well, that is absolutely fucking okay.

There are a host of things that I would like to learn and do using technology:

  • improve the look and feel of this blog:  expand the sidebar, making layout more eye-pleasing etc.
  • actually uploading and organizing my photos online.  For real.  I mean it.
  • using Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram.  Like cool people do.
  • putting my favorite recipes onto my I-Pad, thereby making myself an actual chef.
  • at work, using my computer instead of my pen for progress notes.  Okay, this probably won’t happen.
  • pingbacks, widgets, #, @, permalinks, CSS, HTML:  it’s all fucking Greek to me.

Even my friends who are just five years younger than me are more adept at technology.  They can share a photo on Facebook faster than the speed of light!   I STILL cannot figure out why I get posts from some people and not from others.  I mostly avoid Facebook now, it just seems like too much work.  When I was in high school, instead of posting photos, we exchanged actual photos after we went to the photo booth in the mall and got them developed from actual film.  Cutting our graduation photos from huge sheets was the shit back then.  There were photos that said PROOF on them and you had to wait like a month to get them.

Now, I am fully aware that there is a lot to embrace about technology.  My calendar is now fully on my phone and computer which makes my life out and about much easier.  Blogging flexes my writing muscle (though I still use a pen and notebook in my writing group).  Having fought it initially, texting is hugely fun and effective when you want to chat but are spending time with the family.  Because of a three hour time difference, emailing friends and family is often easier than calling.

But…

For me,  I worry about a new generation not getting enough time outdoors.  About not moving their bodies enough.  About technology making decisions for us and not developing our own ability to problem solve.  About the energy that comes from simply being with another person being lost.  About not getting the quiet and silence in our lives that all humans need.  About the loss of community. And selfishly, I worry about getting left behind in a world that is moving so damn fast.  And so I resist, pushing against the inevitable when really I should be giving it a big hug.

What is your relationship with technology?

Technology isn't going anywhere.

Technology isn’t going anywhere.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen of Mt. Hood Mama photos.  She has been known to stand on tables to get a good shot.  I’ve seen her do it.

I know, yet another bastardization of the Keep Calm quote...

I know, yet another bastardization of the Keep Calm quote…

“Mom, I’m scared.” Yeah, me too.

I'm thinking about fear; how it affects what we do, who we are and how we live.

I’m thinking about fear; how it affects what we do, who we are and how we live.

As parents, we are often called upon to allay our children’s fears.  Spiders, the dark and blood are common fears among the kid-set.  But what about when their fears overlay our own?  What about when the things they fear bring about thoughts about what we fear in ourselves and our own lives?  When your 8 year old says, “I’m afraid that you might die in a car accident,” is there a little voice in your own head that says, oh my sweet girl, that scares the shit out of me, too.

The things I am scared of now are not the same things I was scared of in my twenties.   Then, it was more about worry over getting my heart broken, obtaining a speeding ticket, sleeping through my alarm or getting caught with an open bottle of beer in my car.  Now, my fears directly relate to my people.  I’m sure yours do, too.  Am I doing damage by the way I parent them?  Subtext:  will they get pregnant at 18 and drop out of college?  Am I giving my husband the attention he deserves?  Subtext:  will he finally get tired of the fact that I put my pajamas on at 7:30 and go have an affair?  At this point, all my fears come down to one basic fear:  There are people in this world for whom I am responsible.  They count on me.  I can’t screw this up.  It is no longer just about me.

This week has piled fear on top of fear in our country: bombs, jihad, chemical explosions and all manner of anarchy.  The footage of those young guys calmly preparing to kill people is disconcerting to say the least.  The London marathon, held this past weekend, reportedly had significantly fewer and more jittery spectators in attendance.  My daughter, despite her fears, rides in the car with me on a nearly daily basis. So it got me thinking.   How do we do it?  How do we get past our fears?  Of course, there is a fear and subsequent emotional response when we encounter situations which make us afraid.  Your lovely amygdala, almond sized in the temporal portion of your brain, mediates the fear response.  When you get sweaty palmed, tight lipped and tummy-sick from fear, you have your amygdala to blame.  So what keeps this little guy from going into overload?  Another structure called the rostrate cingulate tells your amygdala to chill out.  In my daughter’s case, having been in the car many times, the rostrate cingulate quells the fears by relying on prior evidence that this car thing is actually pretty safe.

That little gem the amygdala.

That little gem the amygdala.

And also, there is Brene Brown‘s work which tells us that “faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”  According to her research on courage and vulnerability, anything worthwhile we get in life is basically because we put ourselves out there.  And being fearful is in direct conflict with being joyful in the world.

Ok, so I get it.  Fear is part of life.  We rely physiologically on fear to prepare us in case we need to get the hell out of a situation.  We need to walk through fear to feel relief and relinquish the idea that we actually have some modicum of control in our lives.  I think about people like Woody Allen or author Jonathan Goldstein, who have made careers out of their fretful, some would say neurotic manner.  Both are highly successful, but retain a certain level of skepticism and arms-distance from the scarier aspects of life.  Then I think about adventure junkies like that rock climber who doesn’t use ropes.  Or people who hike by themselves for vast distances without knowing where they are going.  We are all part of the same human continuum.  After the Boston marathon, we can choose to never do a sponsored race again.  We can live in blame.  Or we can sign up.  And show up.  And see what happens.

In suburbia, I have heard people wondering if this is the “new normal.”  Worrying about the future of our children.  Of our country.  I get it.  I worry, too.  While following the news coverage of the hunt for the suspects, I heard the story of a community in the heart of the lock down.  The families gathered in a neighbor’s house, made pancakes, the kids played in the playroom and the adults made inappropriate jokes and speculated on the reasons the suspects did what they did.  What an awesome gathering!  What a remarkable way to heal.  Together.  Because really, aren’t we all just a little fucking over being afraid?

So, yes, my 8 year old is afraid.  She frets.  She worries.  But I admire her deeply.  She tells me what scares her.  She trusts me listen, help and most importantly, not judge.  With such unabashed honesty, her giant pooling eyes well with tears.  But she is so smart.  She knows she doesn’t have to go it alone, that sharing gives purpose and meaning to things which make no sense.  In her fear, she does not blame and she does not get angry.  And after we talk and snuggle, she’s better and runs off to play.

We could learn a thing or two from her.

It's okay.

It’s going to be okay.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen from Mt. Hood MaMa Iphoneography for her beautiful photos.  Don’t be afraid to check out some of them.

Who is your person?

I'm thinking about all the people along the way who have believed in me.

I’m thinking about all the people along the way who have believed in me.

I lost my mother in law recently.  She was sick for a long time, and her death was something we knew was coming.  But when I think of her, there is an empty feeling in the hollow of my stomach.  It twists and groans and makes tears blink into my eyes.  Not as much for me, or even for my husband.  For my kids, only my kids.  You see, to Betsy, my children were perfect.  And everyone needs that kind of cheerleader in their life.

Maybe you don’t know it, but there’s a song from Snoopy the Musical  (I believe most of life can be easily summed up in some quality show tunes) called “Just One Person.”  The words are about one person believing in you, and then, like a cascade, others believe in you so you can ultimately believe in yourself.  Okay, it’s a lot of sentimental hooey, but it’s so sweet and true.  Studies show that support from others can help you rise above challenges that at first glance seem insurmountable:  think poverty.  In Oakland, a new program is demonstrating this paradigm.  Called  The Family Independence Initiativesmall groups of women get together.  They receive a monthly stipend, a laptop and very little else but have accomplished a 20% gain in income since the program started.  Why?  A variety of reasons, but quite simply, the members believe in each other.

Think back on your own life and who believed in you.  These are your people.  Your parents and your spouse are obvious choices.  The people who are most influential tend to be friends, teachers, bosses.   Because they are not obligated because of maybe, giving birth to you.  They are someone you look up to and want to emulate.  But they also have to listen to you, challenge you and you get an intuitive sense that they see the real you.  Just look at the growing field of “personal coaching.”   The ICF, or International Coaching Foundation, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”  Wow, who doesn’t want one of those, right?  Too bad you have to pay to get it.  The magic really happens when it’s someone you already know, someone you already think is awesome.  And it’s your responsibility to be open to the truth of your person’s idea of you.

Certain attributes have been documented as predictors of success:  high IQ, emotional intelligence, and most recently self regulation.   However, it’s the connections you make and feel that result in the real world that make the difference.  In suburbia, we have things like Big Brothers/Sisters to help form these kinds of relationships.  In our community, there is a lunch buddy program to help kids have someone to look up to.  All parents know the importance of a teacher who pushes a kid to apply for a school they may have thought was out of their reach.  Or a sports coach who tells them they should try out for the select team.  A friend’s parent who lets them know that it’s a pleasure to have them come over to their house.  It’s important.  It matters.

All over suburbia I hear talk of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and her new book “Lean In,” and her crusade to change the dialogue about feminism.  She’s taken a lot of heat lately, mostly because your average suburban working mom can’t relate to Ms. Sandberg’s wealth and the amount of domestic help she receives.  I’m withholding judgment until I read the book, but she is struggling because many women don’t see her as their person.  To be someone’s person, you have to be accessible.  Your person has to be someone who you respect, but also feels a little like you in some way.  Someone who doesn’t have to scrub the fucking toilet?  Hard to relate to that person.  No matter how big or great her ideas.

So who is your person?  Your person doesn’t have to be in your life anymore.  They don’t even have to be alive.  They just have to be someone who laid a brick in the pathway of your life.

Some examples of my people:

My boss in Philadelphia:  He defended me to an angry professor when I unintentionally messed up some data in a research project.  I will never forget what he told me, “Everyone fucks up.  You have my permission to get over it.”

My biology professor in community college:  He wrote me a glowing recommendation for a university I didn’t think I could get into (but did).  When I read it,  I was stunned.  He told me, “It’s all true.  When you believe it is when you’ll succeed.”

My writing mentor in my writing group:  A phenomenal writer, she told me that someone who writes like me should read my work “loud and proud,” and that she was jealous of my writing voice.  Made my year.

The list goes on.. and I thank all of my people for their words.

So, when I think of my mother in law.  Well, she was a huge person for my kids.  As I said at her funeral, if they breathed, she was like, “Did you hear how they breathed?  The way it went in and out?  Wasn’t that fantastic!  They are so special!”  I saved all the cards from her proclaiming their absolute perfection, their sheer magnificence.  Her words were her honest appraisal of their gifts, albeit rose-colored.  I will continue to remind them how she was thoroughly and completely their person.  She was all in.  Just like I hope to be their person, too.

How about you?  Tell me about your person.

Who is your person?

Your person helps you move forward.

Thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen for her inspiring photos.  Visit her work at Mt. Hood Mama Iphoneography.

Lies, Lance and the Stomach Flu

Thinking about lies this week.  The ones we tell to others and ourselves.

Thinking about lies this week. The ones we tell to others and ourselves.

My second grader came home the other day and exclaimed that her friend was a liar.  When questioned, it turned out that this particular friend told her that she was going to wear jeans the next day and in fact she had not done so.  Her 8 year old interpretation was “Liar!”  It’s a shockingly powerful word to use, particularly in this circumstance.  No one would ever want to be called a liar, but in reality we lie all the time.  Every day, to ourselves and to the people around us.   I am not even shitting you.

Researchers who study lying say there are as many reasons to fib as there are people in the world.  It could be to get laid, to land a new job, to impress someone or just because you feel like it.  University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman conducts studies on lying and finds that all of us lie at least once a day, to many times a day.  He even goes so far as to say that lying may actually be good for you.  White lies, that is.  In fact, people who delude themselves in large and small ways may be better off socially.  Think:  I look hot in this,  I can run a marathon or I can start my own business.  Your brain interprets these as truths, thereby making something within your reach.  Huge whopper lies are not so beneficial.  Do you know Lance Armstrong?

As an ardent supporter of Livestrong, Lance’s cancer advocacy organization, I did races and even served as an liaison after attending a Livestrong Summit.  Our families had been hit hard by cancer, my husband also being an avid cyclist, we believed in him.  We took his word for it.  Then, watching the Oprah interview, we were struck by what a complete, total and spectacular fucking liar he is.  This guy vehemently denies the truth and walks over anyone who gets in his way.  But, on the other hand, I really do believe he came to believe his own fabrications.  He had to.  Elizabeth Loftus, a social psychology professor at University of California Irvine, tells us that there is such a thing as false memory.  We often believe things that didn’t actually happen.   Nothing, not a high IQ, not celebrity, not even financial security makes you immune from “misremembering.”  It makes sense to me that for years upon years, Lance convinced himself that he hadn’t done anything wrong.  He is still convincing himself.  A pathological liar, an egomaniac and a narcissist; he is all these things.  It seems ironic that he wore so many yellow jerseys, considering the Merriam Webster definition of yellow:  “cowardly” and “scandalous.”

Liar Liar, pants on fire.

Liar Liar, pants on fire.

We have had many conversations with our girls about him and what can be learned from his lying ways.  He only made things worse for himself, he’s losing millions, he is patently untrustworthy from now on etc.  But it’s like your mom always told you, don’t listen to what people say.  Instead, watch what they do.  Actions speak louder than words.  Kids learn to lie by age 3, and see it’s value immediately.  They know the power of a carefully executed lie.  But my fifth grader is already starting to become more aware of the lies people tell.  She knows the authenticity of a person who walks the walk.  A friend who says you can trust her, then goes and tells your deepest secret.  These are the painful lessons of childhood, and adulthood as well.

As for little white lies, I am all for them.  Last week was a difficult and sad week in our family.  My oldest daughter wound up with the stomach flu on top of everything else (which I can say truthfully really sucked).  When she asked if she would feel better in the morning, I lied and told her it would be over soon and promised her sleepovers and all kinds of goodies when she got better.  I don’t apologize for stretching the truth here,  a few positive words helped her get through it.  I don’t apologize for promising I’d stay awake even though I did fall asleep.  I know what she needed to hear.

I know exactly what you are doing right now!  You are telling yourself that you never lie, you are always truthful to a fault.  You could never be accused of proclaiming falsehoods.  But Stephen J. Dubner, author of “The Hidden Side of Everything” disagrees.  All of us are prone to suggestion when asked how we hope to behave.  When Americans are polled from anything from whether they vote, to how often we wash our hands, to how often we use condoms, you guessed it…we lie.  If it’s a big lie, our bodies may give us away.  Our brains and our sympathetic nervous system worries about getting caught:  we may get tense or fidgety, our heart rate increases, our body temperature elevates (watch for these signs with that irritable teenager).  For white lies, however, nothing.  Our brains seems to intuit it’s for the best.

So here we are in suburbia, and as it turns out, lying is a necessary social evil.  Just make sure and tell me I look great in my yoga pants and ponytail.

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Thanks to Barbara Paulsen for her amazing photos.  I absolutely love both of her photos at the top and bottom.  They are so haunting and surreal.  Check out more at Mt. Hood Mama photos.  I am not lying, you won’t regret it.

Lance Armstrong photo:  Cover of Bicycling magazine, October 2012