Friday, January 14, 2011

Tick Tock, Ya Don't Stop

A few weeks ago at our church we heard what I thought was a powerful sermon, given by one of the prominent lay people in our congregation, about the importance of time and spending it doing the things you love. Not wasting time away. Looking back at the end of each day and being happy with what was accomplished with your time.

She likened each day's second's - totaling 86,400 - to the amount in a bank account. An account that refreshes each day with a new 86,400 "dollars", but yet never allows you to carry over any amount of "money" from one day to the next. Each day you are only allowed just 86,400 "dollars."

How would you spend this amount, knowing that to leave any of it untouched at the end of a day is to leave it wasted behind?

Funny. I had been considering how fast time seems to be slipping away from me even before this sermon. And so our speaker's words only impressed upon me that much more how important it is to lead a meaningful life.

I read on Facebook as friend after friend greets each new Monday with an "Ugh" and a sincere wish that this may be yet another week that gets itself back to Friday as quickly as possible. Now, I like Fridays and weekends just as much as the next guy - possibly more, because I don't work outside of the home on Fridays, making my weekends longer. But still. I'm feeling more and more like our collective race to every weekend is just us racing by our lives. Weekends are only 2 days long! What about the other 5 days? Can't "we" appreciate the moments of every day we are given, and not just our Saturdays and Sundays?

In fact, for me and our small family - and I know for most families out there! - the weekends are times of getting household chores done and taking care of personal/family business that had to be set aside during the too-busy work week. Ask me on any given Monday how my weekend was and what we did and I guarantee that I most likely could not tell you off the top of my head what I or we did. I could tell you in general that it was "good" or that it was "busy" or even that we did "something." But for me to give you much more specific information than that without time to really sit back and remember - forget it. Weekends tend to be whirlwind times of grocery shopping, laundry, errands, this, that and the other thing. Hopefully some fun as well, but no promises on that one unfortunately. And they always, always go by too fast. Blink 2 blinks and there we are, already back at Monday. Yay.

You see, we think weekends are great family times, but really, they're typically just as nutty as the rest of the week. Just in a different sort of way.

As for my work week - there I sit, during the afternoon/evenings of Tues - Thurs., at one of my many jobs. This particular job is one I've come to really enjoy, actually. I am given a chance to help people manage their financial difficulties, which makes me feel really good.

And you know what else I love about it? The time just flies by!

4:00 - 8:00 p.m. Four hours. It simply whizzes by. I get to color while I'm on the phone. Or do mazes. My latest "thing" is to work on word searches during these times. I can get about 3 complicated word searches done in 3 1/2 hours (in between phone calls and a break), leaving just about 30 minutes to go - time during which I dream of being home soon with Hubby and Sweetie, able to relax with a cup of tea and maybe figure out the mystery of some "murder shows" with Hubby - before my shift for that night is over. In no time at all, it seems, I'm in my car and on my way home. That was easy!

It all sounds pretty sweet, huh? A "cooshy" job like this in a relaxed environment that passes by so quickly. Great!

But think about it, really. I love this job in part because the time flies so readily, getting me home that much more "quickly" (or so it seems) to my Hubby and Sweetie. Now, that's the time I'm really looking forward to!

Then there are the occasional surprise "vacation" days we are granted. Like our snow storm day we had on Wednesday this week. A full out blizzard in this part of the world, where hundreds of schools were closed, and both Hubby and I we told to stay safe at home instead of venturing out to our work places.

I just love family days! Especially unplanned ones where all that typical errand-running, chaotic weekendy type stuff is not part of the plan for the day. On days like these, I feel like there are an endless supply of great things we can do, but practically nothing we have to do. Love it, love it, love it!

So on snow day Wednesday - sure - I/we took care of some necessary items at first, including finishing up homework and doing the dishes after cooking lunch. But then we could do whatever! Oh, the choices!

I could: read, cross stitch, watch a movie with Sweetie and Hubby, take a nap, work with Sweetie on one of the many puzzles she got for Christmas and her birthday, write this here blog post, play a game (either with Sweetie and/or Hubby or on my own on my Ipod), etc., etc., etc.... A little for me, a little for others, a little with others. Oh, so much to choose from, such little time!

And yet, these were exactly the options I wanted to be choosing from and exactly the people I wanted to be choosing with. This, my friend, is what I wish we could do with our time every day of the year. Not just the proportionally few days we have on the calendar each year earmarked as "vacation days." Even those - like I said - tend to be over-planned and a bit too rush, rush, rush for my taste. No, it's really these gifts of surprise family days that are really my favorite and really showcase the way I'd chose to spend my time, if always given the choice and never had to worry about that pesky little thing we call "earning money."

Thankfully, with my usual mornings off from work each day, and my Fridays completely off, and Hubby's somewhat random work schedule where he may get a day off here and there within a month, we do get to have family days maybe a bit more often than others. Of course, that's assuming that the stars have aligned perfectly so that Sweetie's occasional days off from school join with Hubby and my time off. But it has been known to happen. And when it does - what a joy! This, I always think, is how we really should be living. This is what I want to be doing with my time. I'll take as many days as I can get of time spent like this with these two wonderful people.

With that, I am going to be more aware of how I can experience my personal joy as often as possible. I will do my part to make time each day to 1) do something for myself, 2) do something for others, and 3) do something with my family. I've already started on this for some things and feel well on the path towards succeeding at the others.

For me, I'm taking steps towards caring more about the person I present to the outside world. It may seem shallow and unnecessary, but for me, this means putting on a little makeup before leaving the house (something I've gotten out of the habit of doing over the last few years, save for big occasions like weddings or dinners out - maybe.) And also, well... I'm an itty bitty thing - tiny. On the verge of being, if not already, too tiny. I could stand to gain some weight is what I'm sayin'. And so I'm working on that as well. Trying to be more conscious about putting more food than I usually do into my body. That's my goal. More meat on my bones and a face made up just enough to say, "Hey, I care about the image I'm showcasing to the world. Not vain. Just considerate enough of the people I'll meet during my day to let them know I took a bit of time to look my best for myself and others."

As I said, I already feel helpful at my evening job where I help people over the phone figure out how to handle some of their financial difficulties. It seems like a simple enough job that "anybody" could do. But I beg to differ. You really have to be personable and honestly caring enough to want to see these people get through their trying situations as best they can. I especially feel satisfied when I can assist others who, perhaps, had previously thought there was no assistance to be had. I'd like to find more opportunities each and every day to do what I can to help others in need. It may be a simple act of kindness or a more grand gesture of giving. Whatever. Helping others, I've learned, is a truly wonderful feeling. Lord knows I've been helped time and again by other caring souls. And how grateful I am when helped! To be on the other end of that situation, however, can be and often is even better than receiving. Let's keep it going as best we can!

And finally, making the time to spend more time with my family. Meaning "just" Hubby and Sweetie and my extended family as well. In terms of Hubby and Sweetie, it often seems to be the case that we're all off at school or work and have, in reality, very limited "work week" time to be together, all three of us. Especially those 3 evenings a week I'm at the call center. But there's always those few minutes after I come home those nights. A few minutes left in Sweetie's day before it's her bedtime. A few minutes where we can check in with each other, find out how each of our days were, and find out what we can do to prepare for the day ahead. But, mostly, just enjoy each other's company in the "now." A little time to cuddle on the couch, read a bedtime story, or all watch together on TV a favorite family show. Nothing to worry about. Just being. Together. Now.

As the saying goes (paraphrased): No one's going to get to the end of their life and feel like they should have spent more time in the office or made more money or purchased more "things." I'm certainly not, anyway. No, I may not always use my time as wisely as I could have. I may sometimes sit and watch TV and "waste" away a good part of some days. I may wish the not-so-great parts of some days would hurry up and get over with so that I could just get back to the good part again! But in all cases, whatever is happening in my world, I am going to make an effort to appreciate each moment I'm given. To use up as many of those 86,400 seconds of each day's account doing what I can to enjoy life, help others enjoy theirs, and not wish away time to quickly get to whatever the next mile marker is on the map.

After all, each day is a gift. That's why it's called the present.

May your present be all you wish it to be and more.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Fostering the Greatness

In my work I was recently presented with the opportunity to watch a video of a woman discussing how to raise a happy, spiritually strong family. It's no matter to my story here who this woman was or the particular details of the video at large. But just one revelation she shared about children in particular struck a cord with me.

I'll be paraphrasing here. But what she said, in a nutshell, was that it is her great belief and spiritual understanding that children are brought into this world "complete." All the love and goodness that every human is meant to hold is already them. Parenting, therefore, is not a mission of putting things into a child - add a little kindness, respect, confidence, intelligence, etc., etc. - but an act of uncovering and developing what already lies within.


To me, that sounds just about right. And it's probably the way I've always thought of children, even though I didn't have the words to express it as such. A child is pure light, pure love, pure innocence. Parents just act as the fosterers of all this goodness, doing what we can to make sure the best of our children is brought to light.

Does this mean that a child left entirely on his or her own will automatically become good? Indeed, the very image of all that is perfectly perfect? After all, if a child comes into this world already complete, as this speaker suggested, then by the very nature of this child, he or she should be nothing but light, happiness and goodness if left to his or her own devices. Yes?

Absolutely not. We've all seen and read those terrible stories of feral children tragically abandoned, living on their own and doing whatever it takes just to get through each day. Animalistic impulses take over. Basic survival mode kicks in. Such children "live" a life that looks nowhere near anything like what we imagine a wholly complete child to look like.

Not to say such children are not themselves innately complete, as my speaker insists. They just have not had the human interaction and the parental loving guidance to have all of their greatness brought out to the surface of their being. 

Or what about those children who live in absolutely wonderful (by the generally accepted definition) family environments, but yet tend to display their "bad" streak? A "terror" on the playground and in play groups. Always getting in trouble at school. Always with the bad attitude, back talking behavior and bullying spirit.

Or maybe not even that bad! Let's say the most loving, giving parents you could imagine simply have a rambunctious child who never seems to listen and takes pleasure in pulling silly pranks and engaging in general "spirited" play.

Well, remember. If we accept the idea that all children are born complete, well then... that would have to include some of the not-so-great behaviors and attitudes as well, wouldn't it? Yes, this is where I may very well distance myself from the speaker's ideas. Perhaps she only believes that children are born with complete goodness. (full disclosure: I did not have the time to watch her entire 30+ minute talk, so I cannot say where exactly she would have taken this idea further along in her speech. But, to me, I am thrilled enough that her initial words gave me such cause to think on this subject for myself and take it where I personally wish.) But I'd have to say, if we're truly talking complete here, then you'd have to include the lesser traits as well. Even the downright evil traits. Complete means complete in my book.

As such, perhaps these children with the impish behaviors - or worse! - even those who come from goodhearted families offering wonderful guidance and love every day, well... maybe these kids need just a bit more guidance to get past their naturally strong-willed "trying" sides before breaking through to the goodness. I mean, we all know some very strong-willed people, am I right? Babies, children, teens, adults. Every person in the world is their own unique self. Some with a stronger pull toward the good, some with a hankering to test out the not-so-good as far as they can take it. 

It's not to say that complete goodness is not in these children as well. They just may need a few more life lessons under to their belts before they finally appreciate it.

And, sadly, some never do. Even after a childhood raised with the best of love and the best of intentions. 

At any rate. I am certainly no expert on this at all. Of course. And, as I said, I wasn't able to listen to this speaker's entire lecture. A lecture where I could have heard her views on this flip side of the coin. Who knows. As I've said, it's simply her initial words that made me stop in my tracks and take a new look at parenthood. I cannot, do not, intend to provide all the answers for every situation here. All I can do is take her words for myself and see how they apply to my life and my experiences as a parent. 

Perhaps her words touched me so much because of how often I look at Sweetie and wonder, "how is it that we are blessed with such a bright, caring, sweet, confident, multi-faceted, self-proclaimed great little girl?" And then I think to myself, "surely I am completely biased and no one else sees Sweetie as I see her. I know there are millions of wonderful little spit-fire kids out there just like her who are ready to take on the world toward success, all while displaying a loving, kind spirit respectful of themselves and others. It's just not Sweetie. Sure, she is pretty darn great. But no need to get carried away either. Just remember her stubbornness, eye-rolling, non-ability to listen well, etc., etc., etc..."

Sure. others have told me what a unique child she is. Others have complemented her smarts, recognized her imagination, been impressed by her deep understanding of various subjects. But, again, I am her mom. Of course I am impressed by her. And I love to see when others are impressed by her as well. But, you know... she's not all that amazing. And I certainly do not want to put that kind of label or pressure on her. After all, she's just a kid, trying to understand her world, test her limits, experience her effect on others, and make the most of each day.

Aren't we all.

At any rate... even though I've been doing this whole mom thing for 8 years now, I still cannot get over how in awe I am of Sweetie on a daily basis. And, again, wondering how in the world it is that she's turned into this multi-faceted "great!" human being we are priveledged to know. Priveledged to help foster into a greater understanding of her complete self. From 2 parents who feel anything but completely whole - how is it that Sweetie has such grace, confidence, curiousity and enthusiasm for life at only 8 years old?

Or do we feel whole?

If I'd allow myself to do it, I could easily jot down a whole laundry list of reasons why I do not feel whole. I can give you a few examples. No defined career and no real financial stability seem like obvious check marks to make in the "incomplete" list.  But then again...

If we're talking about personal traits, the love and support of family and friends, and life lessons learned and appreciated... well, then. I say my cup runneth over!

And while I cannot speak for Hubby, my educated opinion is that he feels rather the same way about his life.

And the two of us together? Well, that's just the best! Where I am weak, he is strong and vice versa. We bolster each other up, we comfort each other in sadness, and we try to live a life that's full of life.

And when it comes to Sweetie, we rarely if ever disagree with how we are raising her.

We agree with how to discipline her and on what issues she needs to be disciplined. We agree on homework rules and household chores. We agree with the types of games, activities and general playtime fun we're happy for her to engage in. And we know better than to go against each other's decision when Sweetie has asked one or the other of us if she can do something or another.

And Sweetie knows this too.

She wanted to have a piece of gum the other morning at 8:30 a.m. Hubby and I both said no, it was too early for gum because gum is a type of candy and she hadn't even had breakfast yet.

Later, at about 10:30, I heard her ask Daddy again for a piece of gum. I was upstairs while they were down. Hubby decided this time that, yes, it was okay to have a piece.

I was impressed, though, when Sweetie came right upstairs to ask me the same question. "Didn't Daddy just tell you you could?"


"Well, then. It's okay with me."

"Okay. I just wanted to make sure."

Yes. when it comes to parenting, Hubby and I are definitely a team.

So while I can't point to anything particularly "great" I've done to foster a self-declared "great" personal outlook in Sweetie, I will say that I believe it's Hubby and I working together, along with the influence of close family members and friends, that helps cultivate in Sweetie all the wonderful greatness that she already possesses inside.

I love that we allow her to express her ideas and, when possible, we help to make her ideas reality (can anyone say butter costume?!)

I love that she appreciates intelligence, enjoys having interesting family discussions at dinner, and does not shy away from her smarts in the classroom or with friends.

I love how Hubby and I have been able to stress the importance of self confidence and expressing an outgoing nature, even though he and I both lack in these departments. From our shortcomings, Sweetie has learned a great lesson and been able to flourish for not only herself but for others as well.

Even though it is sometimes maddening to me, I appreciate for Sweetie's sake how her Daddy is so interested in so many different areas of life. He's an artist, a scientist, a woodworker, a hiker, a cook and baker, and in charge of his health. Despite how crazy it can drive a wife, I have to admit that Sweetie is learning great lessons about exploring interests and not settling into any one compartment.

It's hard for me to look from the inside out to say anything about what I've alone brought to Sweetie's development. Since Hubby seems to do it all, I at times feel much the lesser parent. But then again... I do know Sweetie has learned from me, quietly, in many different ways. How not to judge others who are seemingly "different," for instance. Her understanding that a person can do anything they wish as long as they try hard and adapt to the best plan possible for them. And maybe, yes, even some of her personal strength of character may have come directly from having little ol' me as a Mama.

I know I gush on and on about Sweetie here. You may think that after 8 years, the wonder that is Sweetie would have settled a little for me. But you'd be wrong. Of course, she can drive me absolutely batty with her snappy tones, eye rolls, and other nit picks only a parent can pick on. Certainly she's nowhere near the "perfect" child my writing sometimes expresses her to be! But through it all, she's just as amazing to me today as she was when she was born. Before she was born! And you may be tired of reading all my ramblings. That's completely fair. Slightly different variation on the same theme and all that.  But at the same time, I suppose you wouldn't have made it to the end of this post if that's how you feel. Thank you for letting me explode with my typical love rants.

I am grateful for having listened to even a portion of the above mentioned speaker's lecture. and to begin to truly understand what my role in raising my daughter is.

Here's to seeing her grow in the years to come and doing what I can, along with Hubby, to make sure we bring out the very best in our Sweet girl.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Better Than Awesome

Scenes from our holidays:

I think we should get up Christmas morning, go downstairs to look at the tree, have Dad's cinnamon rolls for breakfast, then look in our stockings and open our presents.

Awesome! I can make anything with this piece of wood!

No, my Christmas wasn't good. It was GREAT! 

Yeah, I got lots of things for Christmas! I even got more presents than just what was under the tree or in my stocking!

I'm so excited for New Years Day! It's going to be GREAT!

Good morning! It's 7:35 (a.m., New Years Eve) and I can't wait to wake up tomorrow morning!

(11:15 p.m. New Years Eve, as Sweetie cuddles in close to me - wide awake) I'm just getting ready for our (midnight) kiss.

No, (the show) wasn't awesome. It was better than awesome!

(After hearing a news sound bite saying "I think our best days are ahead of us.") I think our best day was yesterday, 'cuz we got to see Blue Man Group!

Thank you, Sweetie, for a better than awesome Christmas, vacation week, and New Years Day. Time with you and Daddy will always be my best days - past, present and future.