During the holiday season, there is a lot of talk about gratitude. Before Thanksgiving, I read a great column in the New York Times about research that shows choosing to be grateful makes you happier. Even though we know it’s true, “For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult.”
It sure is – a lot of the time. It’s so easy to find things to complain about. I know, I do it too! Fortunately, I’m happy more often than not, but when negative thoughts pop in my head, I’m trying something new. Forced gratitude works, science says so!
It’s a shift in mindset, and for me, a work in progress. So here are my grateful thoughts for this week:
“I have a job that I love” instead of, “I’m so tired from my busy work week.”
“I have people I care about to buy gifts for and the money to do it” instead of, “I am going crazy rushing around to do my Christmas shopping.”
“I have a healthy body that allows me to work out” instead of, “I feel gross, I have no time to exercise.”
“We go to a great school with teachers who care about our children’s learning” instead of, “I hate doing homework with the kids.”
“I have the time and money to go see family that I love” instead of, “Traveling at the holidays is such a pain.”
“I’m lucky to have a husband who cares what happened in my day” instead of, “Chase, we need to stop talking, it’s time to go to sleep.”
“I get to see a beautiful sunrise and drive to work with no traffic” instead of, “I’m sick of leaving for work so early.”
“I have a fridge full of food,” instead of “I hate cooking dinner.” (Full disclosure: this one will be the hardest because I do, in fact, hate cooking dinner.)
I’ll take it one day at a time, but just writing this made me feel happier already!
Nearly 30 years ago I won a writing contest for an essay with the same title as this post, but in third grade – and writing for the DARE program – I was writing about a very different topic. In recent months, “just say no” has become my mantra, and it has nothing to do with drugs.
There is not a parent in America who isn’t busy. There are lunches to pack and homework to manage. These things aren’t optional, kids need to eat and math worksheets are mandatory. Fortunately, a lot of the other things that caused me added stress in the past, are not required. And I’m learning, slowly but surely, to just say no.
I have some guidelines in place. If it doesn’t improve the quality of life for our family, I don’t feel compelled to do it. If I don’t enjoy it, I don’t do it. If I’m tired and need some down time, I say no.
In certain communities (including ours), the pressure to do everything is there. Volunteer at school, have your kids in three sports (at once) plus music lessons and the list goes on. And if that makes you (and your kids) happy, that’s great. If it makes you feel like a crazy person, like it does for me, it’s okay to just say no.
I hated art class as a kid, so will I volunteer for art corps lessons at school? That would be a “hell no.” I don’t enjoy baking, so will I make something for the cake walk fundraiser? Absolutely not, but I’ll gladly buy something and drop it off. Can I join the PTA? No, because they meet during the day, but I’m happy to join the foundation because I want to help the school, the meetings are at night, and Chase and I can make a date night out of it.
I make time for the things I enjoy (exercise, my side business, time with friends), but my priority is my family. And they like me much better when I’m sane. So please forgive me when I just say no. And know that when you do the same, I’ll completely understand.
I still laugh when I think of the day that Avery and I dropped Clay off for his first day of preschool. We got into the car, and she said to me, “Okay, mommy, I’m ready to go to kindergarten now.” She was 28 months old and newly potty trained, and in her mind, she was ready for real school. Instead she went off to daycare, but tomorrow is the big day – Avery Grace will be a kindergartener!
I love scrolling through Facebook this time of year. My newsfeed is filled with first day of school photos, and the kindergarten ones are my favorite. They’re small and sweet, with backpacks bigger than they are. Lunches packed, hair braided, kisses given and then they’re off.
Many parents, especially moms, feel emotional when their kids start kindergarten. For some they’re nervous because it’s their first child – for others, they’re sad because it’s their last.
Every time I think of Avery’s first day, all I feel is excitement. Not just because the days of paying for full-time child care are coming to an end (although that will be great after seven LONG years). Starting school is a big milestone. I can’t wait to see how much she’ll learn this year. I think of the friends she’ll make. I wonder what subjects she’ll enjoy. How excited she’ll be when she sees her brother in the cafeteria. The times that she’ll run and fall on the playground and get right back up, because that’s who she is. How often the teacher will ask her to stop singing or talking or twirling.
We had back-to-school night last night and were asked to describe our child in three words. (I think) I chose outgoing, funny and dramatic, but describing Avery in three words is nearly impossible. I could have said strong, independent, creative, loving, compassionate and so much more. She’s a special girl, and I think that’s why I’m so excited for her to go to school. It’s the beginning of a lifetime of learning and discovery.
I’m looking forward to seeing her blonde ponytail running toward me when I pick her up tomorrow – telling me who is in her class from preschool, who she played with at recess and what she learned. She’ll likely talk my ear off, and I’ll just listen and smile. I’m excited for my big girl. Three years ago, I wasn’t ready for her to go to kindergarten, but today I am. And so is she.
Nine years in, we know. We’ve seen so much of the “better,” but also some of the “worse.”
We’ve had two beautiful, healthy children. Bought our first home. Watched people we love get married. Taken wonderful family vacations. Seen our nieces grow up to be wonderful girls. Gotten two kids potty trained (quickly!). Earned promotions at work. Started new businesses. Built friendships that will last for a lifetime.
There have also been times when life was tougher than we’d imagined it could be. Lost jobs. Anxiety. Sick parents. Divorce between people who meant a lot to us. Raising children without enough sleep. Friendships that faded. Feeling the pressure to “have it all.” Losing my dad and all of Chase’s living grandparents.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – life is not easy, but for me, marriage is. Because I know that in the “for worse” parts, Chase will make it better. And together we will make it through. Til death do us part.
Seven years and eight months ago, I signed up for babycenter.com, excited to be pregnant with my first child. Each week, I’d get an email telling me the baby was the size of some food item, ranging from a poppyseed to a cantaloupe. Though picturing my baby as a “large shrimp” was gross, I loved reading what was going on in there and as the baby grew, so did my excitement.
After Clay was born, I continued to get the emails, and they’d often appear in my inbox at the exact time when I was wondering why he was doing something new (and often weird). As a new mom, I loved the timely information. Developmental stages are less pronounced as kids get older, so in recent years I felt like I needed them less. And let’s be honest, with two kids, I had less time to read them.
Then today, on Clay’s seventh birthday, the subject line of the babycenter email caught my eye: “The lovable sevens.” I opened it to read, “Congrats! You’re entering one of the most rewarding phases of parenthood. Now your child requires less hands-on supervision and care, but he still looks up to you for guidance and support. His curiosity, excitement, and eagerness to learn make him a charming companion in the year ahead. His academic interests begin to take shape, too. Growing exposure to science, writing math and other subjects will give you a sense of where his natural interests lie.”
I could have written that myself, I thought! The past few months have been such a joy with Clay. We can take him anywhere. He can make a sandwich, take the dog out and keep his room clean. He’s sweet to me and his sister and the dog (even when he nips at his ankles). He’s goofy, but reliable. Friendly and honest.
For years I didn’t see much of me in Clay. The sweet parts of him were Chase and the naughty parts were his Uncle Mikey. He now loves to read, so he is mine after all! He’s always loved sports, and it’s so fun for him to have that in common with his dad. He asks questions (so many questions!) and genuinely loves learning. He likes math, and he’s good at it (where did that come from?). He can tell you sports stats from the 80s and more facts about marine life than I will ever know. He is still strong willed and impulsive at times, but I love that about him. Very few successful people have gotten where they are today without asking questions and taking chances.
We spent this past weekend at Disneyland for what has become our annual tradition for celebrating the kids’ birthdays. When we started this tradition three years ago, Clay went on a few rides, but nothing too fast or scary. This year he rode the biggest roller coaster four times. Three years ago we had to take a break for a nap and missed the fireworks. This year our break was in the pool, and we watched two of the nighttime shows. He’s growing up.
Seven is fun during the day – and at night he still wants to cuddle with me. I’m looking forward to more of the lovable sevens. Happy 7th birthday, Clay!!! I love you more every day!
This time of year is always hard for me – full of highs and lows, celebrations and mourning. My dad died in between my kids’ birthdays. Maybe it happened that way for a reason. Because having a newborn and a not-quite two-year-old kept me from finding solace in a bottle of Ketel and a pack of Parliaments. Avery being physically dependent on me to grow and thrive made me pull myself together in a way that I might not have otherwise. Now that they’re older, having pool parties and trips to Disneyland to enjoy, as bookends to my least favorite day of the year, keeps my sadness at bay a bit.
Remember when you could hold your cell phone while driving? In those days, my dad was usually the person on the other end of the line. I used my commute to check in with my parents, alternating between my mom and dad, depending the day.
Although my mom and I are close, if there was something really big going on in my life, I would call my dad. If it was good news, he’d be so happy for me that I could hear it through the phone. If it was bad, his soothing voice made me instantly feel better. If I just wanted to chat, he’d do that too, telling me about work or the great deal he got at Costco that day.
So often lately, I’ve wanted to call my dad. I so desperately want to hear his voice. I want to tell him crazy work stories or the latest thing Clay did in school. But it’s been five years since I was able to do that.
I wish I could remember what our last phone conversation was about, but I had a two-week-old baby, so it’s all a blur. I do remember talking a bit about his plan to come to California in a couple weeks, after he finished a big work project. No big deal, I thought, I’d see him soon and talk to him the next day.
Except I never did. The phone call didn’t come from him the next day. It came in the form of many missed calls from my mom and brother and then a conversation with my brother that ended with me on the floor of my bedroom, in shock.
I don’t talk on the phone much now. Maybe not being able to talk to my dad took the fun out of it. I could always picture his smile on the other end. His support, pride and love oozed through the phone.
My brother called me this week. We talk almost every day, but usually through text or instant message and rarely on the phone. I had a ton of things I should have been doing when he called, but I ignored the laundry and the dishes. And just chatted. Shared what was going on in my life – good and bad. Maybe he knew. Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe I have a new phone buddy.
I’m thankful for the 31 years of great conversation I had with my dad. He was my biggest cheerleader and his silly stories (about getting shot in the foot and almost catching his house on fire) sometimes made me laugh until I cried.
Call your parents today. Call them every day. Sometimes you just sit on the other end of the phone in silence when they’re telling boring stories about their colleagues and neighbors you don’t even know. Other times they give you advice, telling you everything is going to be okay when you feel like your world is falling apart – then when they’re gone you’ll feel like it really is.
Five years in, I’m doing better. But I’d still do anything for one last phone call…
I was woken early this morning with a loud whisper of, “I’m five today!” I smiled, rolled over and told Avery to get in the bed. She fell back asleep quickly while I laid my head on the pillow and remembered the early morning on this day five years ago, when I first became a mom to a girl. She was a perfect baby, dressed in pink. The pink hasn’t changed, though the quiet little thing now talks from dawn til dusk.
I should clarify, she sometimes talks, but more often she sings. Dancing is also common. It’s like living in a Disney show and sometimes it’s a bit much, but Avery just can’t help herself, it’s who she is. In fact as I type this she’s putting on a performance in front of the mirror in the mermaid tail we got her for her birthday. I envision a weekend full of performances – and look forward to every one.
As dramatic as she is, Avery gets along with everyone. She just loves people – and the feeling is mutual. From her great grandma to babies, she’s equally comfortable and loving. She’s often the center of attention, even among Clay’s friends. It’s not easy to hold your own with a group of six- and seven-year-old boys, but she makes it look like it is. I jokingly say she’s a leader, not bossy, but some of the boys may disagree. I know this will serve her well in the future, so I’m okay with it, even if it makes me crazy at times (like when she insists on wearing crazy clothes out of the house).
As I lay in bed this morning trying to remember what life was like before Avery was in it, I just can’t. It’s unimaginable because she is so much a part of me – and our family. Like every age so far, I’m sure five will be fabulous for Avery Grace. Happy birthday, baby girl!
We’ve all heard the saying that women marry someone like their dad, and as we get further into our marriage I see more of my dad in Chase. He loves a good chat, a good beer and above all, his family. He puts us first all the time and even when our kids are crazy, he treasures his time with them. There is no place he’d rather be.
This morning the kids were so excited to jump on him in bed to wish him happy birthday. He is their idol. He’s a good role model. If Clay grows up to be half the man – and husband – his father is, we’ll have done our job.
I’ve written before that marriage hasn’t been particularly hard for us, not because ours is perfect (no one’s is), but because I found the perfect person for me. He is my biggest supporter and has never once told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something. Even when he probably should have.
I’m sure that’s because he’s a true partner in every sense of the word. He has the thankless job of getting the kids to school in the mornings. He cooks dinner and does bath time while I’m working out. Then he goes outside to throw the ball for the dog. Even today, on his birthday, he’s dropping off chairs to some lady from craigslist because I’ve decided to re-decorate the living room, and she lives close to his office and has a small car.
He’s good friend, and the best husband and father a girl could ask for. Happy birthday, pookie!
I remember early on in my parenting journey, a friend told me that life gets easier when your youngest child turns four. Just over six months ago when Avery turned four and Clay turned six, I joked with Chase that we could no longer use “having little kids” as an excuse for anything (piles of laundry, eating grilled cheese for dinner, etc.).
From April to the end of the year, we continued flying through life, not realizing that things were, in fact, getting easier. It took two weeks at home with the kids for Christmas break for it to hit me. Having kids that are four and six is easy(ish)!
My reluctance for us to go back to school and work today brought me to this realization. For more than two weeks, we had nice leisurely days. The kids let the dog out and fed him. I didn’t get out of bed until after 7:00 a.m. (this is a big deal in a house full of early risers). We came and went as we pleased, not rushing home for naps or worrying that someone wouldn’t behave appropriately in a particular restaurant. I took photos of our daily activities and posted them on Facebook, wanting to document our time together, but not really understanding the significance until today.
No, they can’t make gourmet meals or drive me around. I still have to remind Avery to brush her hair and Clay to put his socks in his laundry basket. But, I’ll be damned, they can do these things themselves!
I had lunch with coworkers today who have “little kids,” and they were both joking that they were glad to get back to work. I’ve felt that before – the need for adult conversation and the exhaustion from constantly doing something for someone else. This was the first year I didn’t feel it at all…because my kids are growing up. They are cool little people and while strong-willed children, of which I have two, will never be “easy,” they sure are a lot of fun.
For those of you surrounded by diapers and sippy cups, watching Disney Junior while your kids throw Cheerios on the floor, take heart. It will get easier before you know it. For a while, at least…eventually we’ll all have teenagers!
Since school started in August I’ve felt like this, and it’s seemed more crazy the past two weeks. Work and family and social commitments running into one another, making Chase and I feel like we were just ships passing in the night. The kids asking why I was working on Saturday night and why Chase had missed their soccer games.
Today I realized I needed a break. Not a long one, but more than one minute in the bathroom, which is all I’ve had lately. I took 10. Instead of inhaling lunch at my desk, I kicked off my boots and slipped on my flip flops. As I walked down to the beach, I passed the office of the local newspaper, reminding me that I need to contact one of their reporters about an event next week. I almost turned back, but kept going.
I walked quickly, thinking my destination was just what I needed. I sat on a bench on the beach, alone with my thoughts.
Taking just 10 minutes of uninterrupted time, I quickly remembered that this very place (La Jolla) was where the best part of my adult life began. It reminded me that I do housework because I have a roof over my head. I hustle to get work done because I have a busy day job and a growing side business. I run the kids to soccer practice because they’re healthy and like being active. I pack lunches because these little people need to eat. I rush to happy hour when I’m tired because relationships matter to me. I stay up too late and sacrifice sleep because I want to lay in bed and talk to my partner in life.
10 minutes of silence in what seems like months’ worth of chaos made me realize that all the commitments in my life exist because I’ve worked hard in my career, have an amazing family and wonderful friends. I’m so thankful for this place, these people and this life.
Who knew that 10 minutes would give me such clarity? When you have time, take 10. You won’t regret it.