Getting S’more Happiness

 So, it’s been a little more than a week since I decided to apply Zappos’ core values to my own family. (see previous post here) It has been both fun and frustrating. I decided to lure the restless natives in by toasting marshmallows over the flame on my stove and making S’mores. This is, in and of itself, an act of love since I’m not a fan of S’mores (I know, it’s very un-American of me) and cleaning sticky marshmallow in the house…yay. (Sometimes it’s even hard for me to believe that I used to be a fun mom)

I talked to the kids together and separately about my crazy plan to improve our happiness. I’m not sure how much they retained since my son insisted on making strange noises and tapping his foot against the island while I was speaking. I quickly moved on to such important topics as seeing the good in others even when you want to hit them with a rubber mallet. They seemed receptive to my suggestions (or maybe they just wanted me to shut up). Not a bad start, I thought.

Then reality set in. Within the first week of our search for a culture of happiness, the kids got sick, I got food poisoning, we had days off of school both planned and snow days (not a nice thing if you are autistic and love your schedule), and there was a full moon (trust me, it matters). God really has a sense of humor!

Our team spirit has suffered a lot through the years as a result of issues related to tough life beginnings for my kids and personality conflicts. You know how they say everyone has baggage? Well, my kids were pretty much beating each other over the head with their baggage. One child’s love of all things clean clashes with the master of messiness. One’s unpredictable behaviors set off someone else’s PTSD. And so on. The end result: one boy against two girls with one peacemaker thrown in for good measure.

I decided to lean on my family’s work experience to get us started. Because I’m a single mom, my kids have had to be a part of everything that I do around the house. They’ve been with me through plumbing disasters, fixing the house, cutting and splitting wood, and a whole lot more. We usually work well together (provided my two hypoglycemic have eaten recently, it’s not “that time of the month” for anyone in the group, and it’s not a full moon) and, over the years, we’ve always ended our work by admiring our accomplishment and cheering, “Go Briars!”

So Team Briar attacked some projects together with a focus on building a better team as opposed to completing the project. Some days, trying to build a positive team and family spirit with tween/teen hormones was like swimming with piranhas. But I put on my swimmies and dove right in. I’d like to say that the effects were miraculous and immediate but they weren’t. As with all things, change takes time and dedication.

My takeaways from this first step on the journey:

  • Having sickness and schedule upset probably worked in our favor since I tend to over-analyze and over-prepare (kind of hard to do when you just want to curl up in a ball and die from food poisoning).
  • My kids’ attitudes are directly linked to my own attitude (nothing like a little pressure to bring my A-game).
  • As a family, we thrive when troubleshooting and working. Even something as simple as making our own bread or cleaning products increases our team spirit.
  • I have allowed my own exhaustion and stress to steal away my happiness and enjoyment of my kids for too long.
  • I have really great kids!

I’ll keep you posted on our journey! Have a wonderful day!

Photographic Memories

I was one of those kids who could read something once and not only remember what I read but where it was specifically on the page, as well as everything around it. A photographic memory is a beautiful thing (although I must admit that there are some things in my life I’d like to unsee). In a school system where test taking skills are the only measures of your success, I was a shoo-in. I coasted along on the wings of my fabulous gift until high school and then along came Ms. Laurie McBrinn. She seemed to think that each person should be pushed to the limits of their abilities. What a novel concept. I cried every night… absolutely certain that she harbored some secret vendetta and was hell-bent on ruining my life.

Everybody has one of those turning points. Mine was the fault of Ursula K. Le Guin and Ms. McBrinn. The latter, having assigned what I saw as fabulously short and straight forward works of literature to other students, cursed me with “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin. I may forget what I’m doing when I enter a room. I may forget my children’s names and call them everything from their siblings’ names to that of the dog, but I will never forget the name of that book or author.

When I asked Ms. McBrinn why I had to do a report on that book, she said something akin to “because you can.” I sobbed through it but survived. In fact, I even liked the book but I was not about to tell her that. I just wallowed in my self-pity, wondering what I had done to deserve such treatment. The truth was, I had done something. I had been a lazy student, not using my gift to its fullest potential.

I went to a private all-girls school where the teachers taught multiple subjects. It felt like I had Ms. McBrinn for practically every subject (really just English and Latin) but, in the midst of my teenaged angst, it felt like she was everywhere. She had us pray in Latin, conjugate way too many verbs for my taste, act out Julius Caesar (Et tu Brute?), analyze books (usually loved it), analyze music (totally sucked at it), and write until our fingers bled (not really, I just started reliving the teen drama here).

Back then, she was my worst nightmare but now, as I look back, I can see she was one of the best things to happen to me. I was lazy and needed a fire lit under me. Ms. McBrinn practically needed a blow torch to do so. Now that I’m old (as my kids remind me frequently), I can see that her goal wasn’t to crush the hopes and dreams of a teenage girl but to push me outside of my comfort zone and teach the hard work that would be required to see my dreams through to fruition.

Over the course of my high school career, Ms. McBrinn continued to provide me with the swift kick in the rear that I needed. And over time, one of the amazing things I found was that I actually liked learning. I had always loved reading but my love of learning really blossomed in high school under Ms. McBrinn’s tutelage. Don’t get me wrong, I had many fabulous teachers and appreciate them all. I just appreciate the fact that Ms. McBrinn didn’t let me coast through in high school never seeing the inevitable crash and burn later.

When I started to teach my own children, my goals were modeled after Ms. McBrinn’s teaching: challenge them to perform to their full potential, gently nudge them outside their comfort zone, and instill a love of learning because memorizing facts will only get you so far. So, here’s to all of Ms. McBrinn’s in the world. Thanks for all that you do! We, your students, may not appreciate you in the moment but we will eventually realize that you are worth your weight in gold!

P.S. Ms. McBrinn, if you’re reading this, please message me the list of typos and my grade privately. I’m already working on my excuses.