Misplaced Gratitude

Sometimes I hate to see my parents’ faces. Well, not really their faces but the look of gratitude on their faces when I do something for them. I want to rage against aging and Alzheimer’s and anything else that makes them feel weak and helpless. I want to cry and tell them that they are strong and valued and fill our lives with so much joy. I want to remind them how often I have relied on their collective wisdom.

How could they forget all of the times that they stayed up with me while I was sick or having an asthma attack or had procrastinated on schoolwork? I wish I could pull out the long list of things that I knew they did for me and the sacrifices they made that they never even told me about. I wish I had kept a list as a reminder to them that they owe me nothing.

So what if I’m bringing you a meal, you gave me 3 for every one I have the privilege of giving you, I cry out in my head. When I clean up a mess, I know there were many more messes that I created that you took care of. This slowing down of your life shouldn’t shame you. It’s time for you to rest on your laurels and allow me the pleasure of doing for you. I need to because day after day when you were giving of yourselves for my benefit, I know my face did not always reflect the same measure of gratitude that I see in yours. So many thank yous went unsaid.

So please don’t thank me for helping you as I’ve seen you help others, myself included. And please don’t look at me as if I’m doing something extraordinary, I’m just doing as I was taught…by you. So when I’m serving you that meal or taking you to the doctor or cleaning up that mess, it’s just my own way of saying a lifetime of thank yous that should have been said. So you see, once again this has become about me and my needs. I need to help you. I am so grateful for the privilege.

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!

The Culture of Happiness

Sorry for the hiatus but I started a new class (Marketing Management) and due to a computer glitch, was kicked out of the class exactly 4 minutes after I was enrolled. It was resolved but the delay made me behind in my work right from the get-go. I absolutely hate starting something already feeling behind. In the meantime, I have been feverishly trying to catch up on research and reading.

One of the companies I’ve been researching is Zappos.com, well, Zappos Insights to be precise. It seems that the founders of Zappos.com had more zeal than cash for marketing at the beginning so they focused on customer service. As I understand it, this focus on making customers happy morphed into making Zappos employees happy also.

In fact, they became so good at it, that they started Zappos Insights as a way to share their success and experience with other companies. They offer free info on their website and tours of their facility. Then, they offer some paid services, including 3-Day Culture Camp, online training, speakers and a whole lot more. (Personally, I can think of quite a few big box stores’ employees who would benefit greatly from Culture Camp. Maybe I’ll send them a memo.) According to Zappos.com CEO, Tony Hsieh, “If you get the culture right, everything else will follow naturally.” They’ve obviously gotten the culture right because industry giants such as Google, Eli Lily, Intuit are seeking them out to get on the culture of happiness bandwagon. It started me thinking that the Zappos Insights model has practical applications in my own life.

Have you ever heard someone say, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” Twenty-five years as a mom and six kids later, I can say I am a walking testament to that very statement. When I’m feeling down or stressed or happy or cranky, the entire atmosphere in the house changes.

Actually, this statement could be applied to my job as a nurse also. It’s the reason that, no matter what was going on outside of the job, I tried to put on a smile and bring laughter to my coworkers and patients. While I didn’t always succeed, I went every day fortified with coffee and with a smile on my face. After all, who needs a nice little dose of happiness more than a critically-ill patient and their family?

Unfortunately, it’s a little harder to put on your game face once you head home. You’re trying not to burn dinner, trudging through long division with one child and quizzing another on spelling words when you trip over the dog and step on a Lego. You’re tired, stressed out, pressed for time, and spread too thin and so you crack. For those of you who aren’t quite familiar with this vein-bulging, stroke-inducing feeling, might I recommend a full moon evening meal with a hormonally-challenged preteen-teenage brood. Throw autism or other issues into the mix and you’re sunk. Times like those, survival trumps everything. But, I’ve noticed that the more I stress out, the more they freak out and the vicious cycle perpetuates.

That’s why I was thinking about Tony Hsieh and his culture of happiness. Could his magic formula profit my family? I mean, the success of my family is every bit as important as that of Zappos or Google. In truth, my life and the lives of those I love depend on it. So, what would happen if I aimed for exceptional “customer service” in my own home? I could apply the Zappos core values:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationship with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

Each and every one is as pertinent, if not more so, to family life as it is to the workplace. So, why not translate their success into my own? Armed with these novel yet sensible concepts, I’m heading into a new week. (Why do I feel like I’m girding myself for battle?) Pray for me but especially pray for my kids! They probably won’t recognize me without the nervous tic or steam coming out of my ears. I’ll keep you posted!

Holiday Highs and Lows

IMG_0930Today is my birthday. I’m not tremendously fond of birthdays. Thankfully, my family knows this and keeps it pretty low key on my birthday. Today, my sister is making sandwich perfection (aka Reubens) for lunch and we’ll probably talk gardening. Definite birthday win.

I didn’t always have an aversion to celebrating my birthday and it’s not related to my age (45, today). It’s just that I really don’t see what we’re celebrating. Getting ripped from the safety and security of a mother’s womb? We really didn’t do anything except go along for the ride. Surviving another year? That’s definitely worth celebrating if you live in a third world nation with a high death rate…or with toddlers or teens…or are a toddler or teen.  None apply to me.

In fact, I’m not tremendously fond of holidays in general. I know I sound like a Grinch but let me explain. It’s not the holidays themselves that bother me but the commercial messages that have overtaken the holidays. Valentine’s Day has gone from a commemoration of the martyrdom of some Saint named Valentine (there were 3 likely candidates) to a day to give tokens of love, chocolate, and flowers. What do those things have to do with death? And what does martyrdom have to do with romantic love? Wouldn’t it be better to just let those you love know that you love them all year long?

And Christmas, that’s gotten really warped. As if a fat, pipe smoking trespasser wasn’t enough, we’ve now added the creepy elf on the shelf. Are you kidding? Have you seen the movie “Dolls?” It’s a wonder all kids aren’t in therapy.

Then there’s the added problem of disappointment and heartbreak when the much anticipated holiday falls short of expectations. Not getting the right gift (or any gift), spending money you don’t have, being unable to buy the gifts you’d like to give, not spending the holidays with your kids, or spending the holidays alone. Too much worry for one day of the year. To me, the high suicide rate around the holidays is just proof that we’re putting too many eggs in one basket. Seriously, it’s just a small fraction of your year, people.

Yet each year, we eagerly anticipate the same holidays and suffer the same post-holiday slump. Feverish pulling down decorations as if to purge ourselves of their effect.  Perhaps it’s the autism influence but, in my house, business as usual is more enjoyable than the excitement of one day (children who thrive on schedules turn into scary monsters with any change).

Maybe it is just me getting old. But if it is related to my age, then it has more to do with acquiring some small modicum of wisdom over the years, passed down from the many patients facing illness and death who told me to not wait for the golden years just enjoy life every day because the golden years don’t always turn out to be that golden.

So I chose not to wait until Christmas, or my birthday, or Valentine’s Day to find joy and happiness and fulfillment. I’ll take the sunshine, the hugs, the crisp mornings, the cotton candy skies, the first tree buds after a long winter, the smell of the earth after a rain, and the smiles on my children’s faces. All these little things are actually the big things in my life’s journey and I plan on enjoying them every second of every day.

Happy Everyday to us!!!

From Stressed to Blessed

I hit a wall on Wednesday. Not a literal wall. My life had just become a rollercoaster careening out of control. I was tired of holding on for dear life and wanted off the crazy ride. Wednesdays tend to be appointment days. Some of my kids require more than the average amounts of appointments and my parents, although relatively healthy, still have medical needs.

Usually once a month, I have a Wednesday appointment marathon. This month, however, every provider, counselor, and caregiver was trying to make up time from taking 2 weeks off around Christmas. So, I was having trouble getting anything done because of appointment-mania.

Wednesday dawned and I tried to psych myself up with words of inspiration. “It’ll be great to get these all out of the way.” “These things have waited long enough.” “You’ll be near medical professionals if you keel over from exhaustion.” I rubbed my French press but no genie popped out to offer my 3 wishes so I resolved to just dive in and start the day.

But alas, fate had other plans. Two of my girls awoke sick. I am fortunate to have my family all around me, so I transferred my girls to the sick ward (at my sister, Susan’s house, where she and one of her daughters were also sick). This effectively dropped the piano lesson from my to-do list and made it unlikely that I’d be able to help with the kids club at church that evening but my day was still full.

And so it was that 4 appointments, 1 meal, and many miles later (having run back and forth to drop my son at school and pick up my parents and drop them off) that I pulled in the driveway just as my son was getting off the bus from school. We high-tailed it out to the store to pick up the requisite sick bay supplies: tissues, popsicles, juice, and Oreos (those were for me, don’t judge), bought Chinese food for dinner, picked up the sick kiddos and finally arrived at home with a plan to throw wood on the fire, food at the kids, and hide in my house until Spring. Unfortunately, I arrived home to a trash explosion, compliments of Trixie, our not-quite-as-cute-as-she-was-yesterday-before-the-trash-incident border collie. Then I got 2 urgent phone calls for things that had to be handled by 9PM that night (because not everyone works in Eastern Standard Time).

She put herself in the corner

She put herself in the corner

By the time I made it to bed, I was barely functioning. I forgot about my son’s homework until right before he was going to bed. I never put away the Chinese food leftovers. I didn’t clean up the house before I went to bed. And I never put wood on the fire. The list of things I neglected was huge.

But, I had also received a huge amount of blessings to be thankful for that day. I’m incredibly thankful that this was not one of my son’s more difficult days. I am thankful that I have an awesome sister who’s always got my back (and would have taken my sick kids even if she and her family were healthy). I feel tremendously blessed that I can live next door to my parents and be there to help them. My heart sings because my kids want the privilege of helping their grandparents or delivering dinner to them.  I’m thankful for the patience and kindness of mental health professionals who are willing to help kids who have had rough starts overcome them. I’m thankful for medical professionals who respect the right of the elderly to retain control over their care and treatment. I’m grateful that we were safe on the roads.

But most of all, I am thankful for a God who keeps me going through all of the craziness and who has provided for me physically and financially so that I can be there to take care of my family’s needs.

Welcome to my crazy life!

Welcome to my New Year’s Resolution! Despite the fact that this is, in fact, being written on January 5th, I created my blog and website on the 1st. This is important because it highlights a great weakness (or strength, depending on how you look at it) of mine. I am not a risk taker. I needed to define my own desires for this project and then do beaucoup research. I also read blogs and blogs about blogs and blogs about bloggers who are blogging.

This blog originally started as a way to share my thoughts and experiences with my children and grandchildren. It was driven by fear…a fear of not being able to tell them later. You see, my mother has dementia. Since much of my self-worth has historically been derived from my intelligence, a decline in my mental capabilities seemed worse than a death sentence. I have since come to terms with the fact that dementia may or may not be a part of my future. The difference now is that I don’t plan on sitting around worrying about it.

So, here I go! Thanks for joining me on this journey!