Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seven Things I Learned This Year (or ways in which I'm growing up)

Stuff I learned this year that moved me along the path to growing up…. (cue my daughter singing her favorite song – I won’t grow up….)

1. My kids respond better to direct orders than guilt.

I entered the kitchen and surveyed the mess. Two of the three guilty party were present on laptops at the counter. Dramatically I lamented, “I wonder what time the maid is coming to clean up these dishes….” 

Loud sigh from one child and eye roll from the other. Spying the open container of cereal, I smiled and said brightly, “I guess it’s good this cereal has been left open since breakfast, now it can be good and stale, just the way I like it.” I shoved the box back in the cabinet and slammed it closed.

My oldest child, the wise one, yanked the ear buds out, looked at me and said, “You know, if you want me to do something you should just ask.”

All manner of sarcastic retort clamored to be allowed out, but I calmly looked at him and said, “Oh, really?”

“Yeah, it would be better if you just said what you wanted instead of laying all this guilt on us.”

My daughter joined the conversation at this point and added an icy, “Yeah.”

“So, you’re telling me that if I simply ask you to do something, you’re going to do it?” (It was all I could do to point out 18 years of evidence to the contrary.)

“Yeah,” he says. I looked to my daughter, who shrugged.

“Okay…..can you please put away your dishes from this morning?”


Remarkably, both children got up and cleaned up the mess they had left.

I’ve tried to keep his words in mind these past months and miraculously there has been some compliance. I suppose, what he was really asking was that I treat him like the adult he has become and not wield my passive-aggressive weapons of self-esteem destruction.  It takes a lot of years for these kids to teach me how to parent.

2. Snacks aren’t really necessary.

This year I’ve decided to stick with three meals – nothing in between. I like the concept of constant gnoshing, just like the horses, but I find it’s very easy to lose track of what you’ve eaten. Since going to the three meals with no snacks routine, I’ve dropped fifteen pounds. It’s kind of disappointing that no one noticed (at least no one said anything!), but it was a very slow loss. It took about nine months. It was the same fifteen pounds that I put on when I was pregnant with my youngest child and never managed to lose. There’s some kind of symbolism there, I’m sure. At any rate, I feel victorious. And lighter.

3. There is a way to grow early tomatoes.

Every year my tomatoes start out stellar. They are leafy and green and wind their way completely over the top of their expensive upside cone-shaped cages. I make plans for salsa and pizza sauce and tomato pie! And I wait for those taunt green orbs to turn red.

But almost every year just as the rosy hue begins to appear, nasty yellow-ringed black spots begin appearing on leaves. I snap off these leaves and haul them up to the woods far, far away before the other plants get any ideas.

But the plague that is actually the (gasp, don’t say it) early blight – spreads. I snatch any tomato hinting at red right off the plant and rush it down to the house.

I fight this battle gallantly every summer. Some years I stay ahead of it enough to can thirty or more jars. But there comes a point when I can no longer even look, and the remaining tomatoes succumb to the blight. We burn the patch and move the new seedlings the following spring, but alas we seem always doomed to repeat ourselves. 

So, the article I found in Mother Earth News explaining how very possible it is to grow early tomatoes, potentially undermining the blight – is HUGE news for me. I’m on the hunt for “Sophie’s Choice” seeds, if any of you have a line.

4. Sitting down and eating together is important.

Last year was the first year it became nearly impossible for the majority of the family to sit down to dinner together at any time approximating 6pm as we had for nearly 17 years. I missed our family meals, but figured this is the way of the modern family. 

And then I read a study about how important family meals were and I decided to find a way. We now eat at 7:30pm many nights, but we eat together. This is our last year of all five of us reconnecting over a meal each day. I savor the time more than ever, lingering until the last kid heads out. I don’t badger about dishes or clean up, I’m just grateful to have them here. They are such interesting people – I’m glad I get to eat with them every night.

5. People will help, if you ask.

Ten wonderful women agreed to read my final copy for my book Live Intentionally: 65 Challenges for a Healthier Happier Life. These brave souls read the uncut version which was nearly 100 pages longer than the ultimate product. They agreed to do this in a one month period and filled out evaluation sheets after each chapter. 

I was floored by their generosity since I could only offer to pay them in gratitude, homemade food, and a free copy of the book. I’m not the kind of person who is generally comfortable asking for help, so I was nervous about this whole process. 

In the end I was overwhelmed by the time, effort, and thought they so willingly shared. I don’t know why I’ve always been so afraid to ask for help – no more.

6. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy even if it sucks.

We are getting down to the wire on this in-house parenting gig. It’s getting pretty old. I’m tired of the grind. I’m tired of laying down the law and enforcing the rules. Let me tell you – it is so very tempting to look the other way and to lift the restrictions on food, computer use, room cleaning. I'd much rather be the cool-I'm-your-friend parent.

But now is not the time to give up. We have to be strong to the finish, even though it’s not very fun. I will endure the anger, dirty looks, and the occasional name-calling because ultimately, you’re never really finished being the parent and the end product is so worth the final sprint.

7. You have to make time for friendship.

Life is busy. I am busy. You are busy. Friends understand that. We take each other for granted. But I’m learning that if we take each other for granted too long, our connection can fade. Sure, friendships change, sometimes we drift apart. Sometimes people move out of our community and our lives. But we need friends – they make this whole messy existence much more bearable.

So to that end, I’ve been trying to nurture a few long-standing friendships and initiate new ones. I was inspired to do this when a woman I’ve known for years, but never really known in terms of close friendship, invited me to lunch. Our kids were not traveling in the same circles anymore and as such we weren’t thrown together in lobbies or parking lots as often. She said, “I’ve missed seeing you and thought maybe we could get lunch.” I was surprised, but delighted. We’d never intentionally spent any time together. I enjoyed my lunch with her and it left me wondering – how many other interesting women are floating along on the periphery of my life. Who can I invite for lunch? And so I have. And I’m enjoying the growing circle of friends.

I’m firmly believe that if you never stop learning, you never grow old. My body might have a few new wrinkles this year, but my soul only grows younger.

When my kids were little and would tromp in the house and settle at the kitchen counter for a snack, I’d ask – “So what’d you learn today?”

There were lots of days when they’d say, “Nothing.”

I’d prod them a little – “You had to have learned something…” and then they’d start talking, sharing the gems of elementary school.

It’s the end of the year. It’s time to take stock. What have you learned this year? You had to have learned something…..

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