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Saturday, November 24, 2012

They Grow So Fast

Thanksgiving is over. Of course, I attempted to keep a peaceful, thankful state of mind through the day, but was really busy on Thursday between feedings, since we hosted a houseful of family members. I know the good Lord wants me to say THANK YOU for letting me serve fifteen pounds of mashed potatoes. But I forget. I know I owe a bit of thanks. My hubby was a trouper who peeled and cut taters like nobody's business. Actually, everyone brought enough food to feed the western region of Iowa. No wonder my middle keeps thickening to the point now where sweatpants have became my new best friend...But seriously, back to the topic at hand. Now that everyone is gone, I am filled with gratitude!  And I'm truly ready to get on with the holiday season!

As I'm considering ways to make Christmas special for my kids who are no longer deceivable, they keep reminding me of the fickle nature of our parent-child relationships. One day they need you–they idolize you! The next day? You're yesterday's green bean casserole. (Sorry, couldn't resist the analogy.) You're never completely prepared for the day when you realize your kids are...embarrassed of you. Well, take today, for example.

Cows, not trees, spotting our landscape.
A knock to our front door brought a man selling trees to our barren landscape. (This has been his second trip to our residence. ) Our terrier doesn't take kindly to visitors, and prefers to leave a good piss marking on any set of tires who dare to cross. As I spoke to the nice tree man, I saw Percy making his stream on the man's truck. I agonized, for a split second, on my moral decision: to speak, or not to speak. Then I remembered, last time our tree guy brought his father and young son, so I knew I couldn't just let Percy keep urinating on his tires. So, I not only interrupted the man's spiel, but I screamed over him. "PERCY! PERCY! STOP! NO! STOP!" My children crept away into the kitchen to hide their heads in shame. And laughed at their embarrassing mother's cries. It's funny that it didn't occur to me to be embarrassed until they gave me that look. That, "Oh Mom, if you could only see how stupid you just appeared" look.

A few hours later, Cole and I were at the grocery store. I was directing him around, telling him to pick me up that, pick me up this. Finally, he stomped over and spouted, "Would you QUIT calling me that?"

I was taken aback. "Calling you what?"

"Coley. It's embarrassing. I'm not a little kid."

Sigh. I didn't even hear myself calling him that. Now, I can laugh at the dog-pissing incident. But changing Coley to Cole? That hit me in a melancholy kind of way. I haven't had the conversation with my daughter yet, but I'm hoping she's not going to be offended by me still calling her, "Al." I think she'll be okay with it...especially if I keep playing her the Paul Simon song. I doubt she'll roll her eyes.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

To Be or Not to Be

The other day I was asked to present a talk on writing. My instinct was to decline based on the fact that I have no National Book Award or Pulitzer in my possession. But then I reconsidered. Why not share my approach to scribbling a story, with all the writing lessons devouring my brain? Maybe I'll stir up a few potential authors in the audience. So with no real teaching credentials and one measly honorable mention from a short story contest, I presented. And it was quite fun. 

I regurgitated all of those appropriate writing maxims…"raise the stakes" to keep an audience enthralled...“kill your darlings” so as not to lose sight of a theme..."show–don't tell" to create memorable prose..."write, and rewrite"...and so on. As I hopped from topic to topic, I felt that certain giddiness–like the happiness a child feels on Christmas morning. I could’ve held the audience hostage all night. It was awfully dangerous for anyone to toss out a question or opinion, because I would've been glad to engage in dialogue (over dialogue!) all night. But I sensed a few were suppressing yawns. So I wrapped it up.

As I drove home, I began to wonder why I never considered a career in writing at a younger age. I love writing. And I love the art of writing, which is also referred by many as "reading." When I was young, I would read and then I would write all sorts of stories. Often I'd piece together a screenplay for the town kids to perform. (My plays would have plots eerily similar to Grease, and were never actually performed. It seemed football games took precedence...much to my overlooked dismay.) But I know my penchant for writing and literature led me to an English major, so wouldn't it seem likely for my career to follow that of a writer as opposed to a banker? The only assumption I could make was that my mother didn’t recommend the idea. So I asked my mom why she supposed I hadn’t followed that particular path. Her response?

“You were pretty obsessed with camping as a child as well. Until, of course, you went on a camping trip.”

I think there were some financial/metaphorical implications in her statement. Hmmm. I do like the paycheck my current career provides. But I'm not quite ready to pack up the tent on my writing endeavors just yet. I've got some campfire songs to sing. 

My First Writing Award
Bonus:  Here's a book review for Lean on Pete by Willie Vlautlin if you're looking for a good read.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Curse of the Perfectionist

Case #1

The other day as I took took Cole to school, I posed this question, "Remember when you were little, and how you would never draw on a piece of paper that was slightly wrinkled?"

He didn't say anything for a moment. Then he smiled politely and said under his breath, "I still don't really like to draw on paper that's wrinkled."

I was actually testing the kid, with the hopes that he'd grown out of this particular tendency. He also won't draw on the back of a paper as long as anything is written on it. Consequently, my little artist isn't very eco-sensitive when comes to killing trees.

Case #2:

The girl–whom I assumed could calmly read a novel or watch a movie while a tornado hit–had an emotional breakdown the other night. She was feeling pressure over what college to pick and what major to choose. Well, she is a sophomore you know.

Holy chow. What am I doing to my kids? While they have perfectly messy rooms and have no propensity to bring their dirty cups to the kitchen, they obviously have some issues when it comes to achievement, or drawing a tidy picture.

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal last week titled "Inside the Minds of the Perfectionists." These types tend to be a little compulsive over anything they particularly care about. If they care about a lot of things, this can be grueling. (The other night I was desperately trying to not obsess over a can on the end table. I really wanted my husband to put it away himself. But when I saw it sitting there the next morning, I couldn't take it any longer. I decided to let the lesson in responsibility go and took care of the empty can myself.)The perfectionist's trait tends to be passed down through genes and expectations. The problem with these types? There is a high likelihood for unhappiness. The last thing in the world I want for my kids is unhappiness.

A few years ago, I went through one of those management assessment tests. I was told that my perfectionist tendencies border-lined on neurotic. Basically, this means that I never quite feel like I'm good enough at anything. I'll just keep working, working, working–sometimes into a frenzy. (My husband will verify this.) The problem is that I will never quite be satisfied because I'm probably trying to attain some unrealistic result. (Yes, I can't help but think major writing award even though I'm not even PUBLISHED...)  I suspect my condition resulted from being an only child, and was exacerbated by my perfectionist parents as well–whom, like myself, only wanted the best for me.

But now that I am acutely aware that I'm rubbing off on my kids, I would like to change the behavior. I need to inform Alex that it's okay for her not to have her life planned out. And perhaps Cole should start drawing on some sullied paper–merely as therapy. It might be good for him.

And as for me? I'm going to stop trying to do everything and pay closer attention to my ensure they know I love them no matter what...mistakes, imperfections and all.