Guilt

Every moment of mindfulness changes a moment of conditioning.

I felt horrible for skipping out on a Friday gathering with my girlfriends. They had come up from Cincinnati and gotten a hotel room for two nights in order for all of to hang out together. It’s a once or twice a year event with my four girlfriends from grade school and high school. I knew I’d be tired as hell on Friday evening, and I knew they would not. They would want to head out late and drink wine. I’d want to slip on pjs and decompress. Friday nights are rough for me after a week of work. I need downtime. I made the executive decision to tell them I would meet up with them on Saturday morning.

I felt horrible about it – very guilty that they had come to my city and I was not even going to meet up with them until the next day. This was not out of the ordinary. I live in guilt. Be it that I was raised Catholic, or that I’m the oldest child, I often feel guilt about decisions I make. I fretted about it throughout work on Friday playing each scenario in my head.

“If I go, I will be tired and pissy and will want to go to bed at 10.”

“But if I don’t go, I will feel bad and worry they are mad.”

I took a walk in Tarpy with Rocco as soon as I got home Friday evening. This is my go-to refuge after long workdays. I kept my phone in my pocket so it was easier to resist the urge to look at Facebook as I walked the same trail I walk every day with my pup. I asked myself why I felt guilty. What brought that emotion up in me so strongly. My mind traveled back to childhood, and my need to please. I wanted others to feel good. I remember going to the movies with my dad and not paying much attention to the movie itself. Rather, I focused on glancing over at my dad every few minutes to see if he was laughing and enjoying himself. If I had girlfriends over, I’d make up plans of everything we could do so they’d have fun – even if it wasn’t my idea of fun.

I looked up at the changing leaves on the trees. One hosted leaves colored a dull red on the bottom with yellow on their tips. Rocco rushed by me with a large stick in his mouth. I took a deep breath and let it out. Repeat.

One of my girlfriends texted me when I got home. She sent a picture of all the girls eating cheese and bread and said “can’t wait to see you tomorrow!” I texted them back to tell them I could not wait to meet up. They texted me back some inappropriate responses due to their drinking state…. made me laugh.

I glanced up from looking at my phone. Rocco licked my hand. It soaked in how useless my hours of guilt had been. They were having a raucous time together. They weren’t talking about what a schmuck I was for not coming Friday night. Get out of your thoughts, Mary.

I woke up Saturday morning, took a long run, and ended up having a most fabulous day and evening with my gals.

Bringing that superhero to life

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page the other night. I love it. I have engaged that superhero on a few occasions this week. And that imaginary friend of mine has been most helpful in allowing me to stick with the word “no “and not beat myself up for it every five minutes. It is a crazy thing that we can feel so confident – ready to take on the world – be an amazing being – and then a second later doubt who we are and what we are doing this with this one, crazy life of ours.

Nonetheless, I can see myself maturing around these thoughts and emotions. The other day, I went to Maria’s soccer game. She started the first half and I cheered her on while sitting with the other moms. The ball got close to her but she didn’t move towards it quickly. I have learned to keep my mouth shut during these games and not yell “come on Maria!” Or “get to that ball!” However, just because I am not yelling it does not mean I am not thinking it. She had a couple of balls hit near her and she just did not have the oopmh to go and grab them. When she got subbed out I went down to her bench to see if her feet were hurting her. She caught me coming and waved me away briskly.

“Mom, no parents are allowed down here!”

I translated that to mean I’m not allowed down there. I could not help myself. I started to turn around but quickly chirped over my shoulder “run after that ball when you get back in there!”

I walked back up the stone steps to sit with the moms. I watched Maria on the bench. She sat with her arm wrapped around one of her soccer friends. And when one of her good friends scored a goal a few minutes later, she jumped up from the bench and cheered her on. She was jumping up-and-down and yelling “great job Lucia!” I thought to myself about how I would react when I was her age. I would have been the one on the bench secretly upset that I did not score the goal. I probably would have given a half cheer, if anything. Yet, here was my daughter, cheering wildly for one of her friends. She has her own personality and her own reasons for playing the sport. She doesn’t necessarily play to be the number one scorer on the team. She enjoys being a good partner on the team and rooting on everybody. Hence why she’s a captain. It is not about her – it is about the team. I thought about this my entire way home. I decided that when Maria walked through the door I was going to apologize. I wanted her to know that my competitiveness got in my way, and that the game was for her – not me. I told her she should play the way she wants to play. God love her that she can be so enthusiastic and sincere for her teammates’ scores. It made me realize, too, how much I thrived for recognition as a kid, which is why it was so hard for me to congratulate others because it took it off of me. Woo, a lot of thinking going into a few words to my daughter but that’s how it gets as I get older. Constantly questioning and trying to understand.

And trying like hell to make sure that superhero is by my side.

The wink

Maria hates to have her hair brushed.  She hates to brush it herself and she detests anyone else brushing it.  She is not at all vain when it comes to her hair.  I have tried to change her mind about brushing her hair by telling her that her hair is a tangled mess and everyone else comes to school with hair at least brushed, if not in a braid or head band or barrettes. 

 But nothing phases her – she could care less. 

Little Maria toes getting painted

However, my girl loves pedicures.  The lack of vanity in her hair translates down to her feet.  Whenever she is line for a treat for doing something good, she always asks for a pedicure.  And me giving her one does not cut it.  She must go to the salon and be completely and utterly pampered.  I think I forever damaged her when I took her to get one  at age 4.  We went with my mom and grandma in Cincinnati.  After that experience, it was over for her.  She was an addict.  When we went for one this week, she finally experienced the pleasure of the leg massage.  She’d always look at me like I was crazy when I sighed and moaned while getting the massage part of the pedicure but this time around, it was Maria doing the moaning.  Her beautician had the touch and melted Maria with her touch.  It was hilarious.

Maria seems to exhibit the dichotomy in caring less about her hair but obsessing about pedicures in other ares of her life, too.  One minute, she can be the most exuberant, spirited, vivacious little girl running around the house in pure slapstick and the next minute she can be the most melancholy, introverted, reclusive soul.  I do appreciate that quirky personality in her; I love how she puts her whole self in her emotions – whether happy or sad.  A sign of living life to the fullest, I think.   

Our exuberant Maria

The other day, we got in a fight because she “gave me lip” and then shoved me away when I tried to talk to her.  I got angry and said some mean words, too.  She bawled her eyes out.  When I apologized for being mean, she cried even harder and professed her love for me.  Later that day, I picked her up from school (still feeling guilty) and we were walking to the car.  She had on her good shoes and she looked at me with a big smile and stated “I am going to walk in the mud, mom.”  I told her she better not. 

Without hesitation, she laughed and skipped along the edge of the sidewalk and mud and retorted “We don’t want another fight like this morning, do we, mom?!” while she winked her eye at me.

Lighten Up!

Doing an alright job with these darlings

I had coffee with my girlfriend last week and spent a majority of the get-together lamenting about how I feel like I am not doing enough with my life.  She felt the same way.  We both tore off chunks of our chocolate chip muffin and shoved them in our mouths as if those morsels would satiate us and cease our thinking on this topic any further.  It didn’t work.

It doesn’t work for a lot of women, it seems.  I am around professional women all day (typically attorneys) and I can’t think of one that has felt she is doing everything she should be doing.  One feels like she should stay home more with her kids; another feels that she should express her artistic side more by joining a band; another feels like she should get more involved in her local community; another feels like she should be a first grade room mother for her son.  I always feel like I should be doing more to help the under-privileged. 

Here I am: a woman who worked throughout college and obtained a bachelor’s degree; worked as a Fitness Director; went to law school and obtained a JD; married a wonderful man and had two adorable children; beat out others for a great job with lots of flexibility; is blessed with good lungs for running; lives in an awesome neighborhood; has the most loving and accepting family; sits on the boards of two non-profit organizations; and can still eat a pint of ice cream a night!  What more could I ask for from life?

Obviously, with the way I think, LOTS!

I am part of a large crowd of women.  Should that make me feel better? It doesn’t.  It’s not that I want to stop pursuing ideals and goals that I set for myself, I just want to stop feeling like they should all be completed by 5 pm.  I want to stop beating myself up about not taking Maria to lunch when my colleague tells me about her lunch with her daughter.  I want to pat myself on the back when I take Maria and Mario to a board meeting to let them hear how people who are less privileged than us have to live.  I want to want a lot out of this life; I just want to do it keeping a smile on my face.  As writer Elizabeth Gilbert says “Lighten Up!” 

Let’s just anticipate that we (all of us) will disappoint ourselves somehow in the decade to come. Go ahead and let it happen. Let somebody else be a better mother than you for one afternoon. Let somebody else go to art school. Let somebody else have a happy marriage, while you foolishly pick the wrong guy. (Hell, I’ve done it; it’s survivable.) While you’re at it, take the wrong job. Move to the wrong city. Lose your temper in front of the boss, quit training for that marathon, wolf down a truckload of cupcakes the day after you start your diet. Blow it all catastrophically, in fact, and then start over with good cheer. This is what we all must learn to do, for this is how maps get charted—by taking wrong turns that lead to surprising passageways that open into spectacularly unexpected new worlds. So just march on. Future generations will thank you—trust me—for showing the way, for beating brave new footpaths out of wonky old mistakes.

Fall flat on your face if you must, but please, for the sake of us all, do not stop.

Map your own life.

Peace and quiet by adding more kids to the house?

Jon and I stood at the kitchen island on Friday night with those looks of dread that come over our faces when we know we have an entire weekend with the kids with nothing planned.  How sad, I know.  I am used to running down to Cincy or heading up to Marion or Dover or trucking it out to the farm.  But strapping into the car seats every weekend has to tire the kids out and it also takes a chunk of change out of my wallet with the price of gas these days.  What happened to the $1.49 gas prices from my childhood (or was it $1.99? Whatever it was, it was a world of difference compared to today.).  What is worse is that the weathermen had predicted rain for all of Saturday.  One of my worst nightmares is not being able to go outside all day. 

The threesome at the pool

Luckily, we had sporadic showers on Saturday but a decent amount of sun and almost a full day of sun today.  Saturday, Dad and Mario went on “boy errands” which ironically consisted of dropping clothes off at the dry cleaner.  This activity was tempered by a trip to Home Depot.  Maria and I stayed put around the house reading her school books and playing the ice cream game and Fancy Nancy Go Fish card game.  We ate popsicles.  When the boys arrived home, I bargained with Jon – if he let me go to Stauf’s for a couple of hours, I would take the kids to the indoor pool.  Deal. 

Every time I take the kids to the pool, I develop a huge headache from the pull of Maria and Mario throughout our entire time we are at the facility.  Mario wants me to watch him “swim” and go down the slide; Maria wants me to play beauty shop or hold her and go under the “waterfall.”  So, I had the bright idea this time around to invite a friend for Maria.  Genius – no headache and lots of fun for Maria.  We brought Maria’s friend, Anna, another boisterous and daring girl like Ri.  Mario likes Anna, too.  He always has something to tell her (“Anna, do you want to see my power ranger…” “Anna, I like your bathing suit…”). 

Maria and Anna playing catch (with Maria "catching" Anna the first round!

Maria and Anna played the entire two hours together – I was only needed to take them to the lazy river and the whirlpool, which I did twice until Mario turned blue from the cold water in that area.  He rightly refused to go back a third time.  Mario enjoyed Anna’s presence, too, because I got almost all of his attention (he just wanted to me to fight the fountains with him by using my hands as swords and cutting through the shooting water – I am convinced he can take any object and find a way to fight it). 

Mario and his fountain

Maria and Anna went over to their friend’s house, Zach, after swimming.  Zach’s mom (who I adore!) made them tacos and they played hide-n-seek.  Maria came home at 8 pm zonked.  Beautiful.  Anna came over again today and the girls played at the park and up in Maria’s room with her barbies for two hours.  Peace and quiet for Jon and I to finish seeding the lawn (Mario played an hour of Wii basketball). 

Maria has always wanted me to do everything with her.  If I have to run errands, she wants to come.  If I want to take a run, she wants to come.  If I am going out with friends, she wants to be there.  So this very recent phenomena of playing with friends and not being attached to my hip is strange yet oh, so wonderful.  She needs her distance from me, and it has been challenging for me to nudge her away because I feel like I should be with her every waking moment since I work 40 hours a week.  These friendships allow her to see life without me by her side assisting her, and allow her to learn that she can do things on her own and with friends.  It also pushes me to work harder to distance myself from her to allow her to learn and grow.  One regret I have as a parent is that I did (and still do) too much for the kids.  It doesn’t keep me up at night – in the end I know they will be fine and they will know that I love them to infinity and back – but it is something that I would re-think if I did it all again.  They now rely on me for everything (“Mom, will you get me some water…” “Mom, will you find me a shirt to wear?” Mom, will you sleep near me until I go to sleep….”).  And as many times as I try to not do these things, I always end up doing them.  It is a hard habit to break.  So, I am grateful to Maria’s little friends for helping to push her towards more freedom from her momma. 

My girl playing in the sand

That being said, I pray to a higher power that Maria does not cease looking to her momma for love and support and hugs and kisses.  I can’t imagine the day that she looks at me as I lean over to kiss her and snaps “Mom, please stop!”  Those kisses and hugs bring way too much joy to my life to end them already.  There are some days that I long to get home just to squeeze her and Mario in my arms and plant 100 kisses all over their soft baby skin.  The moral of the story is that sometimes adding to the clan can be better – adding Anna this weekend allowed me more time to myself and more time with Mario.  Of course, Mario only wants me around to have a basketball opponent.  I am sure in a couple of years, he will have his boy friends over just like Maria has her girlfriends over, and then I will be staring at the walls as I sit in my dining room wondering what the heck to do with all of the time.  Ahh, I am sure I will figure out something even if it is simply staring at the walls as I sit in my dining room….

You are so Smart!

Never tell your kids they are smart.  Never ever ever.

At least that is what the experts say.

The kiddies after being praised for knowing that the dinosaur behind them was the T Rex.

In a study outlined in How Not To Talk to Your Kids, simply telling children that they are smart may hinder the chances of truly excelling because they have less incentive to try new things.  They are too concerned about winning their parents’ praise and worried about failing.  To the contrary, the more you focus on a child’s effort, the better off they may be.  For example, if you have a child that worked for an hour and spelled all of her words correctly, you should say to her “You worked really hard on that project and look at what you achieved.”  Studies show that such praise has a direct effect of getting kids to work harder because they hear praise about their effort and therefore increase their effort the next time to get further praise. 

Great. 

I have showered my kids with unsolicited “smart” praise since their birth.  “Oh, you are the smartest baby ever” after Maria looked at me while nursing the first night after her birth. After her first step, I exclaimed “You are the smartest girl ever!”  Mario did not escape this type of praise either.  When he crawled across the room, I boasted “You are the smartest infant ever!”  When he wrote  the letter “a” a few months ago, I replied “You are the smartest boy ever!”    

M & M doing their nightly reading

And all that time, I was actually screwing them up!  Ahh, tis the insanity of life.  

Now, when Maria or Mario pronounce a word in their book correctly, I respond with “You worked really hard to pronounce that word correctly – great job.  You are so smart!”  For some reason, I just can’t drop that express “smart” praise.  I am the same way with the words “hun” and “darlin'”.  I have that Perkins pancake waitress twang in me from 7 years waitressing through high school and college and I still find myself calling people “hun” in a meeting with top administrators.  It is hard to break a habit.  So, I am taking baby steps…  I am working on mixing praise of intelligence with praise of effort with the hopes that I will at least help nourish grade “C” children in the future!  Heck, I am sure I will read next month from another  journal that praise of intelligence is the best form of praise….

Clingin’ Twins

The Cling-ons

Maria’s and Mario’s new nicknames have to be the Clingin’ Twins. 

I always wanted my kids to want to be near me and feel close to me but lately I have been wishing that they were teenagers and hating the thought of me coming around them.  They are like those little finger puppets with magnetic paws that cling onto your finger or belt clip. 

The neighbors down the street invited us to a birthday party for their twin 2 year olds at a trendy cafe/kids play area last week.  Coffee and chit-chat for adults and play land for kids.  The space had high ceilings, kid-friendly play areas, bouncy house, scooters, and some comfy furniture for adults to sit and talk.  When we walked in, there were at least eight kids running around on all of the toys and play areas.  I nudged M & M over towards the play areas, and they both clung to my hands.  I had to walk Maria over to her friend and initiate conversation between them before she let go of my hand.  Mario, being the clingiest of clingy, really never let go until we were fifteen minutes away from departing the place.   

Maria braving the slide

I know in hindsight that I tended (and still tend) to do too much for my kids.  For example, if Maria wants a pen, I will get up and get it for her when she could just as easily retrieve it.  Or when Mario wants a drink, I grab him the cup and pour the water.  Now, when they were 1, probably appropriate.  At ages 3 and 5, not so appropriate – or smart.  And it is a heck of a lot harder to break them of this mommy reliance now versus at age 1.  I also drop everything when they begin to talk to me or ask me a question.  If I am talking to another adult, I interrupt that conversation to answer Maria or Mario rather than asking M or M to wait.  Again, not the best route to go I have learned. 

But, we live and learn, right?  I need to consider the ten other attributes M&M possess that are wonderful and stop dogging myself about this one thing (something I tend to do a lot in motherhood as well as work, relationships, etc.).  Nonetheless, I will have some different advice to give Maria and Mario as they raise their children (although I am sure I will spoil their children and do everything for them!).   

Mario and mom reading Mario's favorite Cat in the Hat

Anyway, the mom who hosted this party is one of those moms who should wear a cape and the song “Supermom” be played whenever she enters a room.  She feeds her kids all organic foods, she stays home with them all day and reads them books, plays games, does crafts.  They know how to read and play music and count.  I will never forget the day that Maria and I were over for a visit and Maria and Blake were drawing at the table.  Maria spelled her name and I  praised her for such an accomplishment.  Blake, two weeks younger, wrote his name and an entire two sentences.  I tried not to care but it produced a wave of guilt I had not prepared for that day.  Should I be home with Maria?  Should I feed them better? Should I read to them more and make them write more often?  

These feelings descended on me again while we were at the party and Maria and Mario kept dragging me over to where they were playing so I could watch them.  “Maybe if I would have stayed home with them, they would not be so clingy.”  “They feel abandoned during the day so they cling with me any time they can.”  And the thoughts kept going and going… And then a fellow mother approached me. 

“How do you juggle it all between working and getting these guys out and home life?”

I turned to the mother, a “stay-at-home” mom, and replied “what I do pales in comparison to what you are doing.” 

She replied “Oh, no, I could not see getting up and rushing to work and working all day and picking up the kids and making dinner and playing with them and getting them to bed – I would go nuts.” 

Enjoying the Cat in the Hat theme

I told her that I could not see getting up every morning and have a full day ahead with the kids (and no adults), kid activities to plan, refereeing fights, and staying at the house through the day. 

We laughed.  And agreed on a fundamental tenet.  Our kids will be fine because we love them and care for them and hold them and kiss them.  She is not the person that could juggle an outside job, kids, home-life.  I am not the person who can “stay home” all day.  So we both concluded we made the best decision for us, which in turn has to be the best decision for our kids.  Yet, I inevitably second guess my decision when I see the mom swinging her kids on the playground at 1 in the afternoon – just as I am sure there are stay at home moms who watch me jumping in my car to head to work and second guess their decision as their toddler tips over the grape juice glass and throws a solid temper tantrum.

Sunday Run

Maria hammin' it up

It was 10 am Sunday and we had played barbies, read books, ate cereal, and played “boathouse” when I decided to take a run.  NPR’s “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” is on at 10 am on Sundays and I look forward to a 45 minute run while listening to that show.  Unfortunately, my children wanted nothing of the sort.  They both completely broke down when they saw me changing into my running gear.  

“No, mommy, please don’t run.  Please take us, mommy.”  

Mario enjoying his "horsey"

 

Maria chimed in “You told us no running today, mom.” 

To her credit, she is correct.  I usually say that on Saturday morning when I get up for my Saturday morning workout – “don’t worry, guys, I will not go tomorrow.”  Typically, it works out that I don’t go on Sundays but this was one Sunday that I could get out.  

Within 45 seconds, both of them had huge, heartbreaking tears running down their faces and were clinging to me as if it was my last day with them on Earth.  Jon kept pushing me to go and I wanted to so badly but…  I just couldn’t.  Call me weak, call me a sucker, call me a push-over.  I am probably all of them.  But, I could not leave them.  

So, they asked for it.  They got bundled up, I threw them in the stroller, and we were off.  When we first took off, I was hesitant to go too far because I had not run with them in the stroller for a while and my left IT band is killing me.  But, next thing I know, we are on the bike trail, playing the ABC game and looking at birds chirping up in still bare trees.  We strolled up to Route 33, which I thought would make them yell “That is enough mom” (it is about 2 miles from home) but instead they wanted more so we kept trekking.  We landed at Bicentennial Park with the statues that we used to visit when I worked downtown and they went to school downtown.  

Mario's serious pose

 

Maria remembered all of the statues, she remembered the “Dora Boat” (Santa Maria boat)’ she remembered going on the boat with her dad and me years ago and seeing different zoo animals they were displaying at the same time.  Her memory is amazing, but then again I guess she is only four (almost five!) and does not have nearly as much crud sitting in there as I do!  We played around, climbed on the statues, talked about which animal we would be if we had a choice, met a police officer passing by, and watched the geese and ducks in the river.  Finally, it was time to head back and I just kept praying that my right leg would hold up and that M&M would not pitch a fit half way back screaming that they were hungry or wanted to walk or needed water.  

To my surprise, we all made it.  We were about two blocks away when a clap of lightning stuck and little rain droplets starting falling on our heads.  

“Hurry Mom, we have to get home!  The rain is coming! Go faster!” 

We made it to the porch without getting soaked.  I got a round of “high-fives” when I get M&M out of the stroller and we headed into the house ready for lunch and a long, rainy-day nap.