Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I will not break

You call me crazy, yet I prefer the term versatile

You wonder how I can see things one way, then at another time see them differently
While I wonder at your inability to see things in more than one way at all.

You call me selfish, only thinking of myself
And I wonder how I would possibly survive if I did not put myself first now, ahead of you
When you cannot even see what I see.

This morning I feel as though I am going to fly into a million pieces
Do not touch me today, for I might break

These are the words on my mind
As I round the last corner of my morning run

Then I think about these words.

No, I will not break
I am not some delicate thing, though I can feel fragile inside
If you push me, I may step back but I will not break

I will go stronger, more sure on my feet
As I turn and carefully walk away in another direction.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My dignity

Sevilla was examining boxes on the shelf in Michaels. The boxes came in different sizes, some medium and some small. Others were long and elegant.

Sevilla swept her hand along the shelf, dipping it down only once to touch a small navy box nestled among the bulkier ones.

"This is for something precious, like my dignity," she said.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Let 'em play, ref!

I read an article recently about the importance of standing back and letting kids figure out disputes amongst themselves.

In theory, I like this idea very much. In practice, I have a hard time employing it, simply because it's just so irresistible to jump in and tell them exactly what they should do, which they would never have come to themselves, surely.

It's not that I have a good track record for solving disputes among children, I don't. It's probably about the same as that of the general population. Perhaps that's why it was with keen eyes and ears that I returned to the idea of standing back and letting them figure it out for themselves.

The article reminded me of a birthday party for one of my son's friends who was turning 5. The party was at a house with a yard and a large hammock, the latter of which became the focal point of the party early on. There were four or five children on it at any time, with more waiting impatiently to clamber on  at the first hint that a spot might become available (or sooner).

The rides grew more raucous and the hammock swung back and forth recklessly, sometimes teetering on the edge of collapse or flipping over. I would lean forward, back straight as I anticipated that this was the swing, this was the instant when a smaller child in the front would roll forward and out of the hammock at just the wrong time, but it didn't happen. It was hard not to say anything, but the kids were having a great time, no-one had hurt themselves, and I didn't want to be "that" parent, so... I bit my lip. But still I continued watching anxiously, determined not to give up my post.

When it got to the point where there were so many children, so much pushing and rabble-rousing, with even one or two kids around the sides who were now crying softly as they had never gotten a turn at all - well, I felt myself ready to interject.

But then along came Sevilla, the oldest in the bunch by 2 years. She strode confidently to the front, patting the heads of the smallest children as she passed and giving them a smile. "Hey, hey, hey!" she said. "What's going on here? You guys have to get into a line."

Some kids turned towards her, faces only, then began the first small steps of getting into a line, but overall there wasn't much movement. She moved to the other side of the hammock, facing the crowd. "Do you want me to push you?" she asked briskly, motioning to the hammock - she meant they could sit in the hammock, and she would push them higher and faster than they had been going before.

They shuffled excitedly, yes, they would like to be pushed by this large older girl. "Then you have to get in line," she said. "Come on, you guys off now," she said to the five kids on the hammock currently, who were reluctant to give up their spots. "It's someone else's turn."

I tensed, wondering if they would listen to her. They didn't have to - she had no authority there, and Caden was one of the kids on the hammock. All it would take was one shout from him to turn the crowd against her, rendering her powerless. I had been watching him so far, and knew he was feeling rowdy. I readied myself for his inevitable protest.

Instead they all listened, and clambered off the seat. Five more kids got on - well, six really, but she shooed the extra swinger away, telling them she could only take five and they would have to wait their turn. The child shyly returned to the line.

She ran that line for the next 10-20 minutes, me watching all the time. There were a few instances where it started getting hairy, but she always pulled through. There was one moment when a bunch of kids got impatient, trying to get on the hammock en masse when it wasn't their turn, and she told them that two of them would have to wait for the next round. When none of them budged (it was at that moment that I expected her to say "fine. Then I'm not doing this anymore" because that's something I would have done), she said "Ok. Whoever gets off now, you get double the amount of time in the swing the next time." She quickly had takers. She made her deals, then shuffled the extra two folks off the hammock and back into the line.

Genius. She didn't learn this from me, any of it.

I was so proud watching her. And it happened again tonight.

Sevilla had wanted to see a movie and her brother had agreed, but when his friend came over he was no longer interested, and only wanted to stay with his buddy at home and play.

I felt bad for Sevilla. She didn't have a friend at the playdate so I had promised to take them to the movie she wanted, but now her brother wanted out of the deal. I didn't want to force anyone to go, but backing out seemed patently unfair. I implored Caden and his friend to reconsider.

"Come on. You know you'll enjoy the movie when you get there, let's just go." I said, but the boys kept pushing back. It was raining outside. It was getting dark. They felt less and less like it with every moment that went by. I was frustrated, and my next step would be insisting.

Sevy moved in swiftly. "Hey Sammy, did I ever show you the magic trick with the paperclip?"

Sammy shook his head no, he had never seen the magic trick. He and Sevilla had both taken a magic class at school, so she knew magic was his bag.

"It's really cool," she said nonchalantly, like it was no big deal. "I'll show you in the car. Let's go." She got up to get her shoes.

I waited, tense as before. This almost seemed to obvious. Would they see through her scheme? Or was she once again a genius?

The boys followed, the promise of a new magic trick dancing in their minds. Once in the car, the topic changed to music. "I'll let you guys pick the first song," Sevilla said.

This was big. When we drive in the car, the kids take turns saying what song we listen to, and the battle to be the one to get the first turn is hard-fought. The boys, drunk with power, fretted about what song to pick and thought nothing about why she was doing them the favor (it was to stop them from realizing we were about to drive to a movie they had been protesting minutes before, of course, but we didn't need them knowing that).

"Actually, I'll give you four songs," she said confidently. They rejoiced, pondering which songs they would pick, not once stopping to why she was suddenly empowered to be the giver of such choices.

Caden paused for a minute. "Ok," he said hesitantly. "But you have to get four songs on the way back. That's only fair."

Sevilla looked at him, trying to assess his game. Then she shrugged, realizing he was just being nice. "Ok," she said.

I smiled in the front seat. My kids were trying to out-nice each other, and everyone was happy. They had come to a resolution by themselves and learned something in the process.

I can't say I will stay out of it every time from now on, but I will try much harder.

Friday, December 18, 2015

I don't care if you like it

There's a great story in the book Bossypants by Tina Fey. It goes as follows.

“Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers' room, waiting for the Wednesday night read-through to start. [...] Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can't remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and "unladylike". Jimmy Fallon [...] turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, "Stop that! It's not cute! I don't like it."

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. "I don't fucking care if you like it." Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.

With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn't there to be cute. She wasn't there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys' scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

I think about that story quite a bit. As women, we tend to exist in a state of seeking approval, of waiting to be validated. I love that expression, the self-validation. "I don't fucking care if you like it."

Follow the rules you have to in life, but don't forget to also do what you want when you can. If it turns you on and it's not hurting anybody else, do it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tuesday December 15th (II)

Sevilla's in the bath.

Me: How you doing in there?
Sevilla: Mom? You know the movie Finding Nemo?
Me: Yes...?
Sevilla: You know how his dad and Nemo are the only two clown fish in the entire movie?
Me: Yes...
Sevilla: In the movie they swim across the whole ocean, and we don't see any other clown fish.
Me: That's true.
Sevilla: So they're basically extinct.
Me: Well, we just don't see any others.
Sevilla: So they're going to have to mate with each other. They're the only ones left.
Me: (laughing) Sevilla...

Fourth grader problems.

Tuesday, December 15th

Finances

I have long known the stress that finances can put on a relationship.

I was not raised to pay too much attention to finances. My parents didn't do a totally crappy job with it; they gave me an allowance ($0.50 a week to start), let us do extra chores for money ($0.01 per weed you pull, but the joke was on them as I loved gardening and our yard was massive and overgrown), and allowed us to work as early as 14 (swimming lessons for kids all summer, camp counsellor, selling t-shirts to tourists) to earn our own money, money we could do what we wanted to with (like that $320 pair of teeny, tiny sunglasses I just had to have, then never wore because they were so teeny-tiny).

Savings? No. I was oblivious of savings - so I guess they could have done better, but at the same time, they probably did about as well as any other.

That was, until my dad died, and we came to the stark realization that he had been the one managing everything. He took care of the finances and the bulk of the earning, so after he died it was just a matter of time before we started running into trouble. It was just my mom and I at home at that time, my sister was already at school in England.

I remember a friend of the family, a dear gentleman who had been best friends with my mother and father both, visiting us and sitting in our living room to tell my mother and me the news that we had to stop spending money at the same rate we always had because it was going to run out very soon.

We hadn't thought that we were excessive, we just lived our normal lives, but the problem was that no-one had taken over the earning, and our savings were being rapidly depleted.

This is such a basic concept I don't know how it could have eluded us for so long, but there you have it. And, apparently it wasn't enough to have this kind man come and tell us in our homes, because even after that we could not put an effective budget and plan in place to make sure we were only spending within our means.

I tried very hard, but it was tough for my mother and me to agree on how the budget should work. She didn't like having to keep track of things, nor having to stop spending in the same was she was accustomed to. It's not that we were extravagant (the days of $320 shades well behind me), but we did like to spend money on the things we liked, and that was money we just didn't have.

It was very hard to express to my mother that we needed to curb our spending. She refused to acknowledge even the most basic truths, like "If we don't pay this $300 electric bill, they will turn off the power." Her response to this was "So? I don't care."

To this day I don't know what to do with that answer (except perhaps a grim "You WILL care!" accompanied by a shaking of the fist before storming out of the room. Pretty certain that's not productive, however).

I never was able to find a budgeting method that worked for us, or a way to get my mom to curb her spending. It was distressing at the time as we were literally running out of money, and my first experience with what it's like to be in a situation where the stakes are high and it would be best if both parties could agree, yet both parties could never agree. I always felt I failed her in that manner.

So that was my first lesson with finances (not much of one). Fast-forward to marriage. There are those that think couples should keep their finances separate (my sister and her husband practice this, quite happily). My husband and I did not do this; we blended finances early, which was perhaps an indication of the poor judgement skills of both of us.

It's a common mistake and might have been ok if we had better sense in other ways, but alas, we did not, and soon enough I found myself in that same situation, where one person in the relationship is desperately trying to explain to the other why a budget makes sense while the other refuses to stick to one.

To this day there are some conflicts that just I don't know how to resolve. I think this is why I was never a good manager of people in the workplace. I don't shy away from conflict, but I'm not the best at finding a resolution when parties cannot agree, and at some point, I just throw up my hands.

The result for our marriage was that our finances were constantly precarious, and we were stressed and at times emotionally raw from having to deal with them. It was then that I first experienced how one can carry stress in one's body, how it creeps up the spine and into the shoulders. It was a tough time for both of us, especially as we could never agree on the most basic steps towards resolution.

I don't know if finances can single-handedly destroy relationships. Ultimately we broke up for reasons other than that, but it did teach me how damaging it can be to be in a state of constant worry over your financial situation.

Fast-forward to today.

I still carry this stress with me. I am trying to clean up over 15 years worth of bad decision-making and credit-card debt while co-parenting two children, and while I am still not immune to bad decision making (apparently my mom and former husband were not the only ones who have trouble sticking to a budget, quell surprise), I do have some things on my side, including a job with benefits and a sister who is always ready to help out in a pinch. I hate calling my big sister for help when I fall, but sometimes it's got to be done, as humbling as it is. I really don't know where I would be without her. I mean I'd survive, but it would be a lot rockier.

I try to let go of that tension and remind myself that it's ok, that I have it better than most, but when you have two kids relying on you and the penalty for your failure is very real, it is hard to let it go and relax about it. One day I will have financial security (what a phrase! Does such a thing even exist? What a statement!).

It's time to get ready for work.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday, December 13

Diary

I've decided I'm going to start writing here as a form of a diary, because I'm not sure how else to do it. We'll see how this goes. 

Sunday

I spoke to my sister for nearly two hours, which was good because we haven't spoken in a few weeks, plus she is one of the people who knows me best and considering I have been feeling pretty lonely recently, I knew it would be good to talk. She rewarded me with the kind of gems I have come to cherish from her, including a story from their recent trip to church.

I am an atheist and so are my sister's two young boys, but my sister is Christian, or some version of it - I'm not sure if she knows herself exactly what she is, which I think is fine with everyone. She does however love going to church around Christmas and singing carols there, as well as setting out the nativity scene in their home, you know, things like that - she likes the rituals associated with the holidays and Christmas. Not that she doesn't believe in God the rest of the year too, because I'm pretty sure she does... but I'm getting off track. Back to the story about her visit to church.