Is this you?  Or are you the one she's yelling at?

Someone had a little too much caffeine before school  drop off.

Is it just me or is there is a lot of yelling going on?

Just this past month, I have become hyper-aware of some unseemly goings-on in my town related to disgruntled, irate and unfortunately loud suburbanites.  Now, I consider myself a relatively subdued, somewhat sensitive and emotionally available person so these encounters always leave me a bit shaken.  But I’m sorry, is a parking ticket really worth blowing the head off the meter reader with your stream of vitriol?

It started off with a trip to the soccer field!  Isn’t this always the case?  Miss So and So is perfectly lovely while volunteering at school functions and sipping wine at the latest social event, but get her babies on the soccer field and all bets are off.  No sooner had we arrived at the field than she was loudly stating her opinion that the refs were “incompetent” and “retarded”  (by the way, did she not get the fucking PC memo stating to never use that word anymore?).  Mind you, the refs are volunteer players from high school leagues trying to further their skills and knowledge.  By halftime, she was screaming at them calling them all kinds of names, her husband desperately pulling at her arm in an effort to cool her off.  Clearly, this woman had never played a game of soccer in her life and she was yelling at these young people informing them of their sheer ineptitude.  Ah, the irony!  By month’s end, we had received an email from the league to please show respect for the refs, demonstrate good behavior for our children and reminding us that the refs were human, and were going to mess up some calls.  Have we really gotten that entitled that we have to be reminded that we all make mistakes?  Sheesh.

Next, what is it about cars that makes even the shyest and most awkward person more willing to flip the bird than any other place?  Cars have become moving beacons of rage for the uncivilized of us, blanketing our roadways in the remnants of our busy, messy and stressed out lives.  My friend was attempting to pick up her daughter from carpool and apparently made some sort of error that bordered on murder because soon enough she was being berated by a woman who had rolled her window down to yell obscenities.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for obscenities, but frankly I prefer my “shits” and “fucks” to serve a common good.  My friend left so dejected, almost in tears, fearing what she had done and replaying the event to try and understand what happened to inspire such an outpouring of anger.

It’s well documented that when you yell at kids, you change their brains.  They become desensitized to the shouting and so each time you get angry, and begin to yell, you raise the threshold from where they begin to pay attention to you.  When you are unable to regulate your emotions, you can’t teach your kids to regulate theirs.  So maybe you’re a yeller, that’s just who you are.  Alright.  Then balancing the yelling with loving acts and sincere apologies for when you have lost your shit; well, that works.  It’s okay, Suzie Screamer.  Just don’t tip the scales with crazy.

When you are yelling, and your freak flag is flying high, that is when your brain is experiencing helplessness.  You are very much out of control.  Often, anger and sadness are co-mingling in your rant stew.  What happened to you earlier, how you were treated, mistakes that you made are all serving to make your anger worse.  When you are even keel,  your feel good neurotransmitters, dopamine and seratonin,  are in adequate supply.  If you get stuck in a long line to return a pair of shoes, you can take it with a smile on your face even though you are irritated.  But if you haven’t slept well and your kids are whiny and you’ve gone negative on your checking account, then that customer service rep may just get a verbal shanking.  In addition, your amygdala-that little emotional center in your brain-may hijack the prefrontal cortex (hello, reason!) in favor of a full-on tantrum.

The good news is that, even as you age, your brain can change.  It’s call neural plasticity and it means we can all change if we want to!  Yey!  But, wait.  It’s really fucking hard to do.  You have to practice, over and over, what you want to happen.  In this case, “yellibacy.”  It means you make a commitment to not yell.  Of course you will, and you will fail and try over and over again.  Just like stopping anything else that’s become a bad habit.  Remember that yelling is a protective response and we all do things to protect ourselves.  Even things that wind up hurting us anyway.

And, so.  Why do you yell?  Your answer will be different than mine.  Maybe it’s because that was the culture of your home, it’s how you were heard.  Maybe it’s because you don’t know what else to do.  Maybe it’s because you feel the disappointment in yourself for failing at being the perfect parent.  Whatever the reason, cut yourself some slack.  I think of a story I read about in yoga.  It says that people yell because anger pushes their hearts far apart, even though they may be standing face to face.  And when we whisper, it’s because our hearts are so close.  And when we are silent, our hearts don’t need words.  They just know.  Next time you feel the need to yell, remember how close you are to the heart that you want to listen.  And dial down accordingly.

Rumi, you are the shit.

Rumi, you are the shit.

What makes you yell?  Does it make you feel bad afterwards? Does it make you uncomfortable when others yell?  Oh and please don’t CAPITALIZE YOUR EMAILS.  IT FEELS LIKE YOU ARE YELLING AT ME.  Thanks.

Top image from streetsblog.net.  Bottom image sensoryspectrum.com

Crabby Pants Hits the Suburbs.

If you are between the ages of 35 and 55, if you notice something is different about your periods and if a warning sign flashes before you enter a room, you are likely in perimenopause.  Fuck.

If you are between the ages of 35 and 55, if you notice something is different about your periods and if a warning sign flashes before you enter a room, you are likely in perimenopause. Fuck.

What is going on?  Perimenopause as defined by the Mayo Clinic is “the time period during which (you) make the natural transition to menopause.” As a write this, there is a squiggly red line indicating that I have misspelled it but, no, perimenopause is real.  A significant amount of people like me are going through it right now.  And by “people like me,” I mean the psychotic bitches out there who feel somewhat like those poor bastards who have an alien pushing it’s way out of their stomachs in some horror flick.  Trust me, some days, the alien looks pretty good in comparision.

Generally, I am not the type of person who speaks impulsively.  I choose words carefully.  I posit.  I consider.  Lately, however, things come out of my mouth without so much as a thought.  Literally.  I open my mouth, I say something, and I can see the words spew into an angry gray cloud.  And then I think, oh shit, did I just say that?  Um, yes I did.  There is a distinct rage-like quality to my days that was not present before.  There is a burnt edge around my narrative.  But, lucky me!  I am not alone. Plenty of you are getting your asses kicked too.

Louann Brizendine MD, author of The Female Brain calls perimenopause “the rocky beginning.”  (Because menopause comes next.  Then, apparently, you get to graduate.) There are no clear signs that you have crossed the line from being a normal female human to when you are perimenopausal.  But I have been doing some research and reflecting for you.  So you can be prepared.  And warn people.  Particularly the ones who live in your house.

  • Perimenopause lasts about 2 to 9 years.  Years.  Not months, years.  This seems excessive, don’t you think?  Who can we talk to about this?
  • During perimenopause, estrogen and testosterone levels take a dive.  I bet some of you didn’t even know you produced testosterone.  Ah, but you do.  And it is some really good shit.  Hello sex drive!
  • There is actually a term called “perimenopausal rage.”  What I described is actually well documented in current literature.  It’s pretty common, too.  Hopefully that will come as small consolation to my husband after I just called him an idiot.  *Name calling not recommended*.
  • Periods are either epic heavy like high school and/or come at unexpected intervals.  
    Whoever invented those pads with “wings” was an angel sent right for teenagers and perimenopausal women.  And then, your cycles are like, 14 days, 35 days, 22 days, oops, now…
  • Desperation hits. Naturopaths, gynecologists, psychologists, acupunturists, massage therapists, psychics, palm readers, intuitives and shamans: all are called upon.  When you feel this “off,” you seek who you can to make it better.  Here in suburbia, I know lots of gals who are availing themselves of supplements, birth control pills, therapy and the like.  I do not judge.  I get referrals.
  • Puberty is a lot like perimenopause.   Mood swings, depression, heavy periods, PMS.  Sounds like 11th grade?  Wrong.  It’s now.
  • Something about the word perimenopause makes it sound like a living hell.  Who invents medical words?  Are they behind some curtain somewhere trying to find something that sounds like a disease but is instead a perfectly natural part of aging?   I think we should name it something better.  Like Beatrice.  Or Lover.
  • Acceptance is better than fighting.  Wouldn’t it be better if we stopped fighting it?  I mean, if you’re really miserable then by all means, take some herbal something to take the edge off.  But here is the thing.  It’s happening.  Behind you:  diapers, breastfeeding, no time for yourself.  In front of you:  retirement, travel, more time for yourself.
  • I have to say I’m sorry. A lot.  Apologizing is becoming more fluid for me these days.  I have to do it so often.  It’s really hard to explain something like perimenopause to your kids.  From what I am reading, it gets steadily worse too.  So I am really going to have to bone up on the contrition.
  • When is the good part?  I keep hearing all these people like Oprah and my mom (I know, not really a scientific panel) talk about how great life is after you turn 50.  All of a sudden, you gain the confidence to tell people to shove it and ditch your need to be so nurturing all the time.  You spend significantly less time worrying about what people think.  Bring it on!  Only not yet.  I like my 40’s.
  • There is a reason for brain fog and my overwhelming desire to eat an entire bag of chips!  My brain is being deprived of things like estrogen and progesterone and it thinks bread will help.   Apparently exercise and protein actually do help.  But they aren’t as yummy.

This was not meant to be a rant.  It was meant to be supportive and educational, but it turned into a rant because the writer is all jittery and waiting for something to yell or cry about.  But here’s the good news.  According to Brizendine, every day is different so every day is an opportunity to get it right.

So tomorrow, I will try to remember that thoughts are more important than any pill I can take.  That talking with friends normalizes things.  And taking care of myself includes doing my yoga, remembering (many many times a day) to breathe, an egg is a better choice than a donut, forgiving myself for being slightly irate and allowing my people to hug me.  Reminding myself that time in on my side.  Yes it is.

But for now, I’m going to go read my book and have a lovely cry.

How do you take care of yourself?

It's all in your perspective.

It’s all in your perspective.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen at Mt. Hood Mama Photos for the images at top and bottom of this post.

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.


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.

I confess. I didn’t work out today.

I'm thinking about exercise, guilt and time.

I’m thinking about exercise, guilt and time.

I didn’t go to the gym today.  My gym shoes lie dormant in the shoe closet, festering in dark silence.  My yoga mat sits neatly rolled up in the corner.  The pad of my index finger did not sit on a screen to check me into the gym.  My dog did not pant gratefully, then flop onto the cool tile after a run.  My speedy green road bike hangs on it’s hook, its odometer stuck on the same number from my last ride a few days ago.  Still and peaceful in my drawer, my heart rate monitor awaits it’s next challenge.  But my brain?  Ah, my brain.  That’s been going a thousand miles an hour.

The clock now reads 7:47 pm, and I am still thinking about where I could have squeezed in a workout.  (Okay, dammit!  Not “thinking.”  Obsessing.)  In the 45 minutes I had before I picked up the kids?  Could I have gotten up early?  I should have gotten up early.  The mental space taken up negotiating, fact checking, brow beating and ass kicking has been a workout in and of itself.  I mean, seriously.  What a waste of time.

Now, I grew up Catholic and my husband is Jewish so we are no strangers to guilt around here.  But my fellow suburbanites also carry around a fair bit of guilt themselves.  They work too much.  They don’t exercise enough.  They don’t make enough money.  They should be more crafty, more creative.  More interesting.  Less critical.  More kind.  More productive.   They should take more classes, go back to work.  (I swear to you all overheard in one happy hour).  There are multiple structures in your brain which are responsible for how you perceive and process guilt.  What motivates one person is different than what motivates another, but we are all profoundly and universally influenced by community.  This means that if your friends and community didn’t exercise, it would be a hell of a lot easier to hit the snooze button rather than get up and go to the gym.  Conversely, this is often why groups like Crossfit and for me, my yoga community, are intrinsic motivators.  You think about who you will see and who will miss you if you don’t show up.

In suburbia, if you see other people making good money, working out/looking fit, having good marriages and managing their time wisely, you want to do it too.  It’s a testament to my social network and neighborhood that there are some pretty hot 40 somethings (with great lives to boot).  So that’s probably why I feel bad when I miss a workout.

Personal blame, like when you are a lazy ass and don’t work out and beat yourself up for it, is mitigated in the subgenual cingulate cortex by the limbic (primitive and emotional) region of the brain.  These layers of emotion, blame and guilt make for some very busy collaborations.  It also makes sense to me, given all the stuff your cranium is processing, that you would be exhausted.  At this point, you should do yourself a favor.  You should, as my grandma used to say, shit or get off the pot.  For me, I should either not work out and chalk it up as a rest day or I should just go work out and be done with it.  Today, I am choosing to call it a night.   And I’ll tell you why.

First of all, it was a great day.  Beginning with a fun field trip with my 8 year old daughter, followed by getting some errands done, doing some writing, talking with a friend and ending with some real magic, it’s okay that my day didn’t include breaking a sweat.  Also, rest days help the following day to be stronger and better.  Maybe it will help that nagging knee pain I’ve been experiencing.  Maybe I’ll tackle an 8 or 10 miler tomorrow with my pup.  And you know what else?  There is SO MUCH more time in the day when you don’t work out!   I got my paperwork organized for work tomorrow, got my daughter to swim lessons on time, grudgingly mailed the taxes my hubby thoughtfully prepared, wrote a note to my sister-in-law and did some yard work.

As for the magic, the picture below was a rainbow we saw right out my front window tonight.  We would never have even known it was there if my neighbor hadn’t called to tell us to look out our window.  Thank you, neighbor.

Thank you, community.

No more guilt for me.

Now that's a little suburban magic right there.

Now that’s a little suburban magic right there.

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen for the image at the top of this post.   She continues to inspire me with her creativity.

Modern Martyrdom, or, Getting to Gratitude

I'm thinking about respect.  And gratitude.

I’m thinking about respect. And gratitude.

Having just made macaroni and cheese for my daughter and her friend, my husband quickly cued both girls to tell me “thank you” on their way back down to the playroom.  I didn’t even think about eliciting that phrase, I was already onto making dinner in the crock pot.  But he was right.  That’s the thing about “thank you.”  It never gets old.

Standing in our kitchen, he mentioned the often heard refrain that manners are a lost art.  But he made it personal when he said we (meaning me and and all my friends) are accustomed to going the extra mile for our kids and other important people in our lives.  But do we expect thanks and gratitude?  Do we expect respect?  Or do we assume, as I did with my own mom, that thanks will come after they have their own kids and realize how hard this shit actually can be?  His assertion is that we do so much for our kids that our parent’s generation did not do.  Maybe we even overdo it.  And that all that work deserves some respect.

But here’s the rub.  My husband doesn’t always thank me for everything I do for him.  I don’t thank him every day when he comes home from work for being such a great provider.  Should I?  Isn’t a sincere “thank you” more potent when it comes less often?

Still, I don’t think my husband views some of the work I do in the same way that I view it.  Really and truly, I enjoy taking them to soccer and swimming.  I like watching them play.  Maybe I enjoy the hour to myself in the car during a rainy practice when I can flip through a magazine without being close enough to a computer or stove or washing machine to dive into my work and chores.  It’s also fun to drive them (and their friends) and hear their magical conversations, their fleeting and childlike views of the world.  Quietly, with my hands on the wheel but my ears in the backseat, I get a small piece of insight into the huge slice of life they are living outside my home.  Making meals, folding laundry, restocking outgrown clothing and combing a knot out of their hair all feel like mini-expressions of love.  So it feels almost disingenuous to expect a thank you for something that makes me feel so satisfied.

Does that make me a martyr?  Let’s consider the definition:  ” a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle.”  Well, maybe.  It doesn’t always feel like such a sacrifice.  But sometimes, yes, it does.

Like when I brought my daughter her lunch after she left it at home, only for her to say that it was pizza that day for hot lunch and she’d rather have that anyway.  Now that is the moment where you would like some respect, please.  (Which is what I asked for and did receive, by the way).  But this goes for all people.  Not just your little ones.  My neighbor recently headed up the auction for our kids’ school and exceeded everyone’s expectations for the amount of money she could raise and how much fun the attendees could have.  This deserves sincere thanks and respect from everyone involved.  And respect for the resourcefulness involved in such a huge undertaking.  My husband greased the chain on my road bike and replaced my old pedals with pedals to go with my new bike shoes.  A huge thank you to him!  And respect that he is so handy with bikes.  The guy at the coffee shop makes an extra special latte which you truly appreciate.  You let him know his skill does not go unnoticed.

Where we are coming from as parents however is probably more along the lines of not wanting your child to be an ungrateful, whiny spoiled little pain in the butt.  Have you ever had one of those little gems over your house?  Do you find yourself saying, “I hope you don’t act that way when you are over your friends’ houses.”  In suburbia this week, there have been many witnessed scenes where a child was seeming to expect their parents to jump to their requests without any thanks required.  Demands for toys at Target.  Yelling at parents to hurry up.  Hot cocoa grabbed from parent’s hands at Starbucks.  I find it hard to believe these same kids said thanks when they were given what was asked.

How does one teach gratitude anyway?  And respect for that matter?  It seems impossible.  But at first it’s just rote.  You say thank you, every time.  You write thank you notes, every time.  In our family, we make a paper gratitude chain that we string around the Christmas tree.  On each link,  a daily remembrance of something you appreciated.  When I am bitchy or aloof, I try to apologize to my kids and husband.  This shows them that I respect the fact that  my actions affect them.  A small gesture, but it is enough.  Grandiose gestures of thanks are not required.  Every day in every way, little eyes are watching us.  They see us.  So does the community.

By the way, thank you for reading!

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen for the lovely image at the top of this post.  Mt. Hood MaMa Iphoneography.

Keeping up with the Joneses in Suburbia

Hell, yes, we are still trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Hell, yes, we are still trying to keep up with the Joneses.

That damn Jones family!  Why do they have to have everything?  Be so rich and desirable?  Why is their prosperity simultaneously my misery?  Here in suburbia, the Joneses remain the ever elusive ideal and we continue to chase them.  Their beautiful new car, their well manicured lawn, their Harvard-bound children and their fabulous dinner parties.  And you know what?  You will never ever be the Joneses.  It’s time to get off that bus.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” was in fact a comic strip created by “Pop” Momand circa 1920’s America.  It was a parody of American life which depicted the petty jealousies of neighbors to the Jones family, who are mentioned but never actually seen in the strip.  This is fascinating because the idea of the Joneses really is an illusion to all of us.  This was made clear over the past couple months in which a number of our friends picked up and moved, mostly to bigger and better places.  Isn’t that how it always happens, after all?  My husband and I, after viewing these spectacular new houses, sat down in our kitchen and thought, hmm…  Maybe we should move.

Right there.  That’s where it starts.  They have a hot tub.  Don’t we need a hot tub?  They have a gazillion square feet.  Don’t we need a gazillion square feet?  Never mind that we are completely fine in our 1950’s fixer upper and that before this we hadn’t had a moment of dissatisfaction (well maybe a couple but nothing move-worthy).  Plus, our house is paid off, why would we do that?  One simple reason.  Those fucking Joneses.

Dave Goetz’s noteworthy book “Death by Suburb” addresses this topic in a novel way.  He calls various ideals of suburban culture “toxins” and offers “practices” to guide sane living in the ‘burbs.   Goetz talks about leading a “thicker” life, letting go of expectations and relying on faith.  While I did not read the book for it’s faith and church principles, it does have meaning for suburbanites in and out of faith communities.  In Brene Brown’s amazing book “Daring Greatly,” she also talks about how there is a culture of what she calls scarcity, meaning we feel like we can never have enough.  We always want more, and are left feeling culturally and personally inadequate if we don’t.

Now, not everyone feels this way. There are folks like my friend Barbara who don’t seem ride the Jones bus.  But most of us do. In any event, Goetz gives us some suggestions for relief from the rat race.  Instead of seeing yourself as your job or even your stereotype, try to see goodness in the world.  Instead of wanting your neighbor’s life,  he suggests budgeting time to “hang with the poor and broken.”  Instead of thinking that life should be as easy as it is for the Joneses, he suggests we just quit fighting a war that is not winnable.  Both Brown and Goetz suggest silence and gratitude as daily practices to stop “jonesing” for the next purchase. The next high.

When you do begin accumulating all this stuff, what are you supposed to do with it all, anyway?  I recently have been going on a donation blitz, collecting stuff in large bags and toting it to the appropriate drop off site.  This feels good.  And moving, after all, is one giant purge.  There is also something so attractive about the simple life, the pared down existence.  Getting rid of excess.  Being free of material goods.  Letting go of consumerism.  But then, living the thicker life also means not feeling green with envy when that Jones kid gets the lead part in the school play.  And when Mrs. Jones always seems calm and together.  And how they always seem to make time to have a beautiful yard and a devoted relationship.

Oh, and there we go again.  Your brain just went to that place.  Actually, there really is a place in your brain that processes jealousy, and it’s the same place ironically that processes pain.  This may explain why it felt like a dagger when your high school boyfriend cheated on you.  It’s called the ventral striatum and it sits in your prefrontal lobe.  So, as many discoveries in behavioral neuroscience, you can take comfort that it’s your brain causing you to behave this way.  Because the Joneses aren’t going anywhere.  Even if you move.

An so ultimately,  we decided not to move.  We are happy where we are.  No, it’s not the biggest or newest house on the block.  The floors creak and it’s on a steep hill.  At the risk of following the above advice, we are lucky to have this old house, even with it’s quirks and it’s imperfections.  It has been here to come home to through the births of two children, through new jobs and new pets.  Through acquisitions and donations alike.  And plus, moving is a lot of work.

What about you?

So there.

So there.

Keeping up with the Joneses strip from Pop Momand, 1921.

Above image from findingthevoicewithin.blogspot.com.