Parenting is hard work. We want so much for our children. Sometimes, it seems an impossible task to develop human beings without screwing them up. I worry about this ALL THE TIME.
We sometimes feel measured by our parenting skills. Certainly, the way our children interact in the world is a reflection of us, right? Have you ever been out in public–a restaurant, park, school–and it’s YOUR kid who is whining, crying, or making a scene? You feel the weight of all those eyes on you, all judgy and condemning. You want to hold up a big ole F on your forehead to own the failure status you obviously deserve.
What I desire, more than anything, is to raise kids who show appreciation for the gifts given them. I want them to view the earth and notice its bounty. I want them to savor in the sunsets, marvel at mountains, and see beauty in the rows of waving corn. I want them to notice the overlooked, care about the impoverished, and contribute to their community.
My dream is that I will raise young men who are not afraid to show both kindness and strength. I really really want them to do nice things for others without my prompting. I keep hoping that it’s innate. However, we do not always control these little individuals. I know this. My youngest is…well, different than me. He’s very blunt and sometimes (cringingly) insensitive. My husband and I can’t figure out where it comes from as we fancy ourselves rather sensitive beings. Yet, he’s often caught rolling his eyes while others are sharing their interests and saying things like “ugh”. Is he just pre-programmed this way? Can I rewire those circuits of indifference?
Friends, I’m working on it. I’m really, really working on it. I feel like a good parent should be able to teach character, manners and empathy. I’ve even read that kindness must be taught and that children learn best when they see gracious acts modeled. In an article written in the Washington Post (click here for the full article), they found that 80% of the kids surveyed felt their parents cared more about their academic achievements than caring for others. WHAT???? No, this is not the message I want my boys to learn.
It’s in that vein that I’ve made it my purpose to inundate my kiddos with acts of service. Surely they see enough selfishness all around them. They come home from school and tell me all about the “things” others have–but very rarely do I hear stories about what kids are doing for others. I want to see their eyes light up when they see others doing something nice for someone else. I want to give high fives for generosity, warmheartedness, and concern. I want to hear less about Johnny the Jock scoring 10 goals and more about Katy the Kind who played with a lonely kid at recess. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all shared more about how we were impacting our community in a positive way?
So, if you want to join the Kindness Army, here are a few ways you might start:
1. Encourage kids to read books with stories showcasing kids’ empathy. One of my favorites is “Have You Filled a Bucket Today.” It’s a wonderful book that reminds kids that they can be “bucket-fillers” or “bucket-dippers”. We even use that lingo in our house and I ask the boys whether their actions make them fillers or dippers. I’ve been delighted to see it used in some schools as well.
2. Model acts of service. Volunteer to help. Maybe you volunteer in your school library. Perhaps you could give of your time to a non-profit organization? It could be as simple as watering your neighbor’s plants while they are out of town. Give your children opportunities to see you helping others and talk about it. Show them that community is important.
Serving snacks at the Ronald McDonald House
3. Commit random acts of kindness. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you. Leave a larger tip for an exceptional server at a restaurant. Write an encouraging note for a stranger to find. Buy and leave stamps at the post office for a stranger to use. Bake cookies and take them to your local fire or police department. The ideas are endless. Let your children see that you don’t have to know the people you are helping–that we are all part of a bigger world and we are all connected.
Need some help? Join the Hey Stranger project and leave little cards of encouragement around town. These cards are a wonderful way to let others know they matter. And isn’t it really about us all wanting to matter?
Always keep your eyes open to opportunities. I’ve found fabulous links on Facebook of people coordinating efforts for others. For example, we participated in the request of a little boy, Danny Nickerson, who wished for nothing but cards for his birthday. The boy is fighting cancer and I knew writing letters would be a wonderful occasion for my boys to help brighten a total stranger’s day.
Another site I found on Facebook is called The Lonely Bouquet. You basically donate a bouquet, leave it somewhere for someone to find, and put an “adopt me” tag on. Again, there are so many ways to brighten someone’s day if you just look around and seek these moments.
Wait, do you need another idea? Check out the Love is Louder than Cancer organization. Seriously, take a minute to view the link and be inspired by the brave mom and daughter who are fighting cancer together. This amazing family started a nonprofit organization to help raise funds for other families battling cancer. They sometimes request others to commit random acts of kindness on their chemo days.
With time and effort, I hope that my boys will continue to grow in their compassion and give of their hearts. I believe helping others is one of the best confidence building activities kids can learn. I know that I feel most beautiful when I am helping someone else and shining God’s light. I want my kids to feel that too and know they are amazingly flawed and wonderful.
Go out and sparkle, Kindness Army, sparkle!
I’m not even going to try to sugar coat it. Life lately has been rough. Despite both my kids transitioning smoothly back into the school swing, it’s Momma Bear who can’t catch her rhythm. My beat is off and I’m out of sync.
Remember how I ranted HERE about cancer? Despite my best efforts to overcome this particular hurdle, I’m back to battle. For the last month, I’ve been trying to “outwit, outlast, and outsmart “ insomnia. Yes, it really does feel like I’m playing a game of Survivor. Sleep disruption is one of the unfortunate side effects of my medicine. Yep, that same medicine that gave me night sweats and hot flashes a few months ago. That same medicine that I take every day to ward off any new cancer cells. I hate it…but I NEED it.
For the past month, I’ve awakened every night at 3am. I lay in my bed pleading with my body to go back to sleep. Most nights, I’m up for a good hour to two-hours stretch. So, when my alarm goes off at 5:45am signaling it’s time for a morning run, my body simply does not comply. When my kids come in and tell me its time for school, my mind does not compute. When everyone is out the door and on the bus, I crash on the couch in a fog, angry that I’m not a mother who can pull it together.
With lack of sleep comes chronic fatigue. With fatigue comes less exercise. With less exercise comes crankiness. Crankiness means less patience and more yelling. More yelling means more stress and more mommy guilt. You get the picture. I’m on this annoying cycle of total momma melt down.
Let’s be frank. I’m hanging by a thread. More importantly, I don’t think I’m alone. In conversations and texts traded with friends, it seems we’re all trying to get back into our familiar and collective grooves. We’re beating ourselves up over our subpar parenting skills and time management challenges. Sometimes we may even snap and we feel bad.
I don’t talk about it on Facebook because who wants to hear the whining of a sleep-deprived mom? Instead, I try to do the opposite. I try to THINK happy. I surround myself with uplifting messages.
No kidding—these little love messages are EVERYWHERE in my home—kitchen sink, family room walls, staircase, foyer mirror, and desk.
It’s like I’m applying Happiness Warrior warfare on myself. I seek my “happy” friends who inspire me with their enthusiasm for life. I pray their zest rubs off on me. At the very least, it reminds me to change my attitude and to CHOOSE happy. I try to send little encouraging texts to friends in case they are having an off day.
The truth is, I’m happy and grateful most of the time. I live a pretty great life. I married a terrific guy who is more than patient and gracious with my moody temperament. He knows I’m not myself yet he loves me anyway. Surely he’d like to ship me to Siberia. Yet, every day he comes home and asks me about my day, knowing that his questions might be met with sarcasm and self-pity.
I want YOU to know that I’m living a messy life full of complicating twists and turns. I’m going to chalk this all up to growth and pray for grace. Perhaps you are navigating choppy water yourself. Let’s all just give ourselves a break, shall we? Let’s just breathe, forgive ourselves, and remember the time honored adage: “this too shall pass.”
It’s been one year.
I can never forget THAT call. The one I received while the movers were busily packing up all my family’s belongings. The one that shocked me to my core and changed my life course. The one that made me utter the words “Carcinoma. Wait, can you spell that for me?” The one that stole the story I was creating.
Friends, you learn a lot about yourself when you are tested. You learn that strength and tenacity come out of nowhere. You learn that you CAN get back up after a devastating blow. You also learn that you will have moments when darkness creeps in and the unpleasant thoughts take over. You learn how to cope and how to keep moving forwards.
Some days it seems like a dream, like I’m walking in someone else’s reality. 365 days ago, cancer snuck in and took center stage in my life. I didn’t invite it and it changed everything.
Today I am cancer-free–well, as much as one can be for a disease for which has no cure. When I met with my general practitioner for the first time a few months ago, I had to disclose my new medical history. While discussing my journey, she paused, looked me straight in the eyes, and said “you are more than just a cancer survivor.”
I’ve replayed that conversation in my mind over the last few months. I understand why she said that to me. I understand that she was encouraging me to remember that, before the diagnosis, I was just a normal woman leading an average life. What’s difficult for someone who has not walked in my shoes to understand, though, is how much that sentiment trivializes my journey.
What I should have responded with was this:
Before cancer, I lived without much fear. I believed that if I fueled my body with healthy foods and exercised regularly, I would live to be 100.
Before cancer, I envisioned the future milestones I would celebrate with my children: their graduations, their marriages, their expanding families, becoming a grandparent, and so forth.
Before cancer, I felt invincible. I could do anything.
Heck, I would LOVE to forget I had cancer. I would LOVE to continue moving forward and never cast a backwards glance at the ugliness of an incurable disease. I would LOVE to be more than a cancer survivor. But…
I AM A CANCER SURVIVOR. It’s as much a part of my identity as any body part.
Every day when I get dressed, I see the scar on my breast. It reminds me of a battle fought.
Every day when I put on my deodorant, I look at the scar under my arm. It reminds me of the lymph nodes they removed to check if the cancer spread.
Every day at 8:30am when my phone alarm goes off , I take my medicine. The pills are a daily reminder that cancer doesn’t always stop after surgery and radiation.
You see, cancer is not easy to forget. It doesn’t define me but it certainly affects my daily outlook.
After cancer, I understand that my body can betray me. I must remain vigilant against new growth.
After cancer, I take time to enjoy the little things because I understand clearly there are no guarantees. I WANT to be around for all the big events in my children’s life but I’m not controlling that script.
Most signifcantly, after cancer, I feel vulnerable. It’s that vulnerability that has provided me with the greatest perspective.
Every day is a gift. Every reaction and interaction I have can either lift someone up or drag someone down. I know that life is too precious to spend too much time being angry. I know that if I focus on all that is good and appreciate all that I’m given, I’m living more fully. More importantly, I’m living more happily.
So the good doctor was right, I am more than just a cancer survivor. I’m a fighter, life half-fuller, spread sunshiner, and every day appreciator because of cancer.
We’ve just finished our first month of summer vacation. I had grandiose plans. I scoured Pinterest over the last week for ideas on ways to make our summer together AMAZING! I pinned and pinned like I was building my “awesome activities” arsenal. I was going to have kids simply dumbfounded by the sheer amount of coolness overload to be bestowed upon them.
It rained. The kids whined. I did not implement said awesomeness. Instead, I yelled, I put kids in time out, I ranted, I hid in the bathroom (hallelujah for alone time), and watched the clock while praying for bedtime to approach quickly.
Friends, I was in a funk. A REAL funk. I have been trying sooooo hard not to be. I’m trying to remind myself that my beautiful boys will only be little for a fraction of my life. I’m trying to find zest and meaning in the mundane. But I really, really miss my work world. The kind of work that involves problem-solving. I mean REAL problem-solving and not the type of getting out food stains. Sure, I get accolades from my kids sometimes. In fact, just yesterday, Sonny told me I was really good at doing the laundry. AND THAT’S WHEN I WANTED TO CRY.
I’m so much more than a launderer, cook, chauffeur, scrape healer, janitor, bed-maker, vitamin dispenser, and homework supervisor. Yet, I wonder if my kids see that. Don’t get me wrong. I KNOW I’m blessed to be home with them. But, I also want my boys to know that I am smart, a contributor to society, and a leader.
Today I practiced gratitude while conquering the mounds of laundry.
I sorted colors, turned socks inside out, and grumbled. But then I said to myself:
“You are LUCKY to have a large amount of clothes to wash. There are people with nothing.”
Later in the day, as I was cleaning the bathroom and aggravated with the boys because of their lousy aim (seriously, why CAN’T they hit the target???), I stopped the complaining mid-thought. I had to remind myself AGAIN to be thankful:
“You are blessed to have multiple bathrooms and a comfortable house. There are people who do not have running water.”
When the kids were bickering over the legos, I wanted to scoop them all up and throw them away. Instead, I reminded myself:
“Two perfectly healthy boys. I cannot forget to be grateful that they are able to communicate, that they are capable, and they are here and now.”
I’m not an expert on self-talk but I do believe that when we stop the negative conversations in our heads, we can grow to appreciate even the mundane.
So, with an enlightened (at least temporarily) mind, we sat together at the kitchen table and started a new tradition of “Write Letters Wednesday”. We each chose someone special to write to and composed our letters. I’m hopeful that our new tradition will become habit and habit will remind us of our many blessings.
I’m not changing the world in the BIG way I envisioned. But, maybe, just maybe, I’m changing the world a little at a time with the hands of little people.
The problem with blogging about being happy (my previous post) is that it’s hard to follow up when you are having an “off day”. Like today.
It’s gorgeous outside. The sun is shining. My kids are behaving. We are heading into Easter with warm thoughts about spending time with family.
Yet, today, of all days, I feel broken.
I went to work out and was proud of myself for getting to the gym. The women around me were friendly and chatty. The day started out with promise. Fast forward 30 minutes. I was huffing and puffing and trying to keep up with the instructor. I felt my face flush and I knew I was in trouble. I was trying so hard to fight back tears. Tears of frustration of how my body has changed. Tears of embarrassment of not being able to be “enough”. Tears of pity because I had the lightest weights in the room and still couldn’t complete the moves. Tears that my body betrayed me. Tears of anger for this stupid, life changing event.
I was having an I HATE CANCER moment.
Oh, I really struggle with this, friends. I’m trying so hard to focus on the positive. But today, I’m unable to hold back these feelings. I’m so angry that something has stolen my energy and my strength. I’m angry that it has slowed me down. I’m mad as heck that I have to take pills EVERY DAY FOR FIVE YEARS. I’m even more mad that those pills give me hot flashes and night sweats. I’m pissed off that I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since July (before all this madness started). I’m angry that when I have to tell people I’m a cancer survivor, I recognize the look of shocked pity. I’m mad that I got cancer 22 years before the national average for women who are diagnosed. I’m angry that I thought I was invincible and healthy and in control. And I’m simply not.
I’m mad today but I won’t let cancer win. I’m not going to allow it to steal my sunshine. I’m going to have a good cry, put on some happy music and dance. I’m going to concentrate on my blessings. I’m going to channel this anger into gratitude and allow myself to remember all that is good and right. I’m going to remember the significance of Good Friday and focus on His grace.
Thank you for letting me vent and be real. Today is a reminder that I’m always a work in progress.
Have you ever felt like you were playing a game of peek-a-boo with happiness? One minute, you are stoked and swimming in happy thoughts and feelings. The next minute, you can’t figure out why you are sad and why things just aren’t going your way. I sure do. Sometimes I wonder if that’s normal.
I want to tip the scales of happiness and work on the bursting with enthusiasm side more. I want to tend my happy garden to sow more seeds of delight and toss out the weeds that entangle my life.
I believe that happiness has to be cultivated. I think happy people have to work at it–just like anything else. So, here’s how I plan to do it.:
1. Continue to count my blessings every day. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal (you can check it out HERE) as a daily reminder of all the little gifts in my life RIGHT NOW. What an eye-opener to see the abundance of lovely things and people in my life.
2. Think about people and moments that evoke happy thoughts. Without fail, when I focus on these mental images, I’m transported to a happier moment. Usually these thoughts inspire me to write letters, post notes on Facebook, and call loved ones to tell them that I’m thinking of them.
3. Surround myself with people who are positive and uplifting. I am drawn to people who smile, show kindness, use encouraging words, and think of others. I like to be around people who choose to see the good in others. They are like vitamins–good for me! Likewise, there are some go-to people I can count on when I log on to Facebook who will post articles, stories, and statuses that lift my spirits and makes me smile. Conversely, I’ve hidden the profiles of those who are constantly negative. To be clear, I’m not avoiding sadness as I know that’s just part of life (and its also healthy to be able to process these feelings). I just don’t like to see people wallowing in complaints day after day who are blessed beyond measure but haven’t stopped whining long enough to realize it!
4. Serve those in need. Whenever I was going through my radiation treatments, I became very aware of other cancer survivors. The experience heightened my awareness that there are so many other people facing bigger problems and health issues than me. It was a humbling experience and reminded me of how we are all part of something much bigger. We can do so much–even if its as little as a simple smile and message to say “you are important”.
5. Be the kind of person others WANT to be around. There are periods of the past that I reflect on and cringe because I was the Debbie Downer of the group. I’m a little surprised by those long time friends that stuck it out with me even when I was stuck in a rut of misery. Then again, I have some amazing friends! Bottom line: if you spend all your days complaining and spreading negativity, don’t be surprised when people bail. No one needs toxic friends. Instead, build people up and find something special about everyone you meet.
6. Connect with nature. There is just no way to stay in a bad mood when you take the time to notice all the natural beauty beckoning to you. The shade of the sky, the brilliant colors of a sunrise or sunset, the variety of birds, flowers, trees, landscapes….all of it majestic and FREE! Stop and listen–do you hear the beautiful melody the birds are creating?
7. Turn up the music and dance. Music is always my mood pick-me-up. I play songs with a beat that gets me moving. When I’m having a bad day, I crank up the volume and dance all around my house. Sure, my kids think I’m nuts but 9 times out of 10, I feel better and get them dancing with me. Is it just me or is late 80s rap just MADE for days like these??? Go ahead, cut a rug. I DARE you not to smile!
8. Create, create, create! Find some way to tap into your creative juices. Take up painting, make an art project with your child, design a space in your house, build something, take fun photos, play with an art app on your phone, or write a story. Truly, your options are endless! If your mind is focused on creating, it can’t possibly be focused on the blues. : )
9. Pick an occasion and celebrate! Invite friends to join you. I’m a life-celebrater–I decorate for holidays like its my job. I love to bring a festive atmosphere to my home. I want my boys to remember that we had a lot of fun and shared a lot of laughs. We don’t spend a lot of money–we keep our decorations, food, and crafts simple. It’s about finding time to be intentionally happy!
10. Pray, meditate, study scripture–take time to understand your life’s purpose. You were created to be YOU and nobody else. Figure out how you can enhance your family, your community, your world. Seek spiritual guidance in understanding your role.
So those are my top ten ways I’m going to nurture my happiness garden. I’ll pray for many blooming, beautiful moments and be grateful for the occasional rain showers that help me continue to grow.
January. Oh crazy, turbulent January. I have such mixed feelings for this month. On one hand, it starts out chock full of promise. It tempts us seductively with the possibility of change. Some of us write down our resolutions and set goals. Others predict that it will be a better year than last year. We step into January with a renewed confidence.
Then came that formidable polar vortex, holding us hostage with its subzero temperatures and gusts of frigid air. Perhaps it froze our ambition and motivation along with everything else. Or, at the very least, trapped us indoors with our family for way too long. Suddenly, January became a never-ending month of long, cold, gray days.
I started to see my friends crumble. The vents on Facebook started swirling around like the cold northeasterly winds. Little things. People annoyed with teachers, their families, each other. It was as though a gray cloud had anchored overhead and settled into our psyches.
Typically, I’m an optimist. Or, at least I call myself that most days. I tend to see life in a glass half-full sort of way. However, I had to work REALLY hard this month to find delightful moments daily. I’m participating with 365 Grateful so I have been snapping photos every day of all the little things that tickle my fancy. Truly, it’s been a challenge because I had to fight feelings of uncertainty and sadness too. I’ve been battling my own fears–fears that I won’t be able to be just “me”. I’m fearful that the medicine that prevents my cancer from recurring will change me, alter my moods, and steal my sunshine. I’m afraid that the little eyes that watch me will start to wonder what happened to mommy.
Perhaps that’s why I was elated to learn about an amazing, thumbing-our-nose-at-fear event. It’s called Lung Leavin’ Day and it celebrates life by encouraging others to face their fears. Basically, you write your fears on a plate and then SMASH the plate. How cool is that? Even cooler is the powerful story behind the day. Heather, a wife and mother, found out she had a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma and given a grim prognosis. After a surgery to remove her left lung, she beat the 15 months to live prediction and is now celebrating 8 years as survivor. Together with family and friends, she commemorates the event on February 2nd every year. BRILLIANT!
Do you have fears? Have you been overwhelmed? Frustrated? Check out the Lung Leavin’ Day interactive website by clicking on the link below. YOU GET TO CYBER SMASH A PLATE!
Seriously, do it. It’s therapeutic! Better yet, grab a group of friends and organize a Lung Leavin’ Day smash-a-thon on February 2nd, 2014. Add it to your Super Bowl party!
Let’s bid January adieu and roll out the welcome mat for February. Good bye fears!!!!