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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Someone is always not happy

September 25, 2011

This is a partial repost of a parenting article I wrote in 2007.

Dog + hill + fence=solution

It’s not like we didn’t already have a fenced-in yard. We did. And our land continued beyond the fence. Like the rest of our neighbors here in the flats, we believed the high ridge above us was designated open space, meaning that everyone can enjoy the land and it can’t be developed. For decades, we boasted to out-of-town visitors how that ridge would forever remain untouched by contractors. Our bragging increased our Happiness Quotient (aka HapQ) though I’m sure it decreased our guests’ HapQ, which decreases my own now that I think of it.

When a section of the ridge behind us was sold (because it wasn’t actually open space) we were unhappy. When a massive house was built up there, we were bummed.

But hey, no one can be happy all the time, right? So we breathed and we made our peace.

A few years back, I was hanging out with my dog by our bay tree. We were on our land but outside our fence. Suddenly our neighbor swooped down like a ringwraith with acid reflux.

Admittedly, I’ve led a sheltered life, but I’ve watch enough reality TV to be pretty sure that “Get off my $#@%$ property or I’ll shoot your $#@%$ dog” qualifies as harassment. Adrenalin pumping, mind a blur, I high-tailed it into the house.

Whoever said “Words can never hurt me” was either lying or hearing impaired. Words can pierce your heart and set up camp in your mind where they continue stinging like time-released poison darts.

For the next two years, every time I stepped into my garden I was visited by the ghost of Ringwraith. I never actually saw him again, but I felt trapped by my unspoken fear and a growing resentment. Just as I got completely fed up with myself for being such a wimp, our apple tree died. Naturally I had to delete it, so I hacked back the offending limbs but lacked the muscle to finish the job. Soon after, the apricot tree failed and I called the Tree Guy. He rid my garden of deadwood and planted a new apple tree. I was so happy I started dreaming aloud about extending our current fence to create more enclosed space in which to garden and plant trees. Turns out Tree Guy’s brother is Fence Guy. What luck!

When Fence Guy showed up Ringwraith reappeared. He wasn’t happy about our new fence, but Fence Guy was philosophical, “Someone is always not happy.” True, but someone isn’t always unhappy with me and when they are, that makes me very unhappy.

Things with Ringwraith got dicey. I went to scary places in my mind and couldn’t find the off-ramp. So I walked. I breathed. I ate embarrassing amounts of very dark chocolate. I remained in child’s pose for hours at a time. Nothing helped. Even after 8 years of yoga and meditation I could not get happier or calmer. So I resorted to Annie-bashing. You heard me. Not only was I dealing with the stress of an unhappy neighbor, and my constant fear of his reprisals, I was beating myself up for not being able to breathe my way back to Normal Life. My tower of unhappiness reached new heights daily.

Then presto… life returned to Good.

I wish I could say I had a moment of enlightenment that suddenly made everything all right. But I didn’t. We just built our fence like we planned. That was it. Now that the fence is up, so’s my Happiness Quotient. Oh, and we haven’t seen our neighbor. I don’t think it would bother me as much if we did.

Soon afterwards, under the full moon, I stood tall by my bay tree. I felt safe and strong and completely at home – light years from two years ago in that spot. Was it really just a bunch of fence posts and a couple of rolls of wire that made the difference? Or had I somehow made myself safer the moment I decided I’d had it with being intimidated? I really can’t say.

I also can’t say exactly what all this has to do with parenting. Except that sometimes we just have to tough it out. And so do our kids. We can’t always help them up when they’re down. Maybe the best we can do is remind them that someone is always not happy, and right now it’s their turn. On the other hand, tomorrow it could be their turn to be happy again. Just knowing that might help.

 

 

 

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 1:18 pm
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Every school needs an OASIS

September 15, 2011

A little break gets you through the day

When adults feel uncomfortable with what’s going on around us, we can often just up and leave.

But if you’re a tween or teen, from 8:20-2:55, Monday through Friday, you’re “doing school.” You’re in lock-down. If your peers make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe or worried or fearful, you’ve just got to suck it up.

Someone once said, “Real life is a mere shadow of high school.” For some kids who live and breathe the drama, they may look back at these years as the highlight of their life. When else do you get to feel so powerful as you immortalize other people’s humiliations?  Broadcast their betrayals? Fire up the feuds with half-truths and lies? Middle and high school students who are into this game may love school because it’s the ultimate reality show and they and their friends are mega-stars.

But not all kids enjoy the sport of tearing down other students. If they themselves are targeted by bullies, they hate the whole scene. Even if the toxicity isn’t directed at them, many kids just don’t like being around it. Either way, where can a kid who wants to opt out of the social garbage and have some peace during lunch to retreat to?

Here’s my idea…

I propose an OASIS… one quiet room in every school, only open at lunch & staffed by a calm teacher who wants to be there. No talking. No texting. Just soothing music. A place where everyone is welcome to just be. Simple, right? All you need is a room. (One thing all schools have plenty of.) No funding. No curriculum. No tests. No thing. Just a room that’s always empty at lunch, a caring teacher and an understanding that we all need an OASIS.

Your thoughts?

 

 

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Message to my 15-year-old self

September 6, 2011

It was all there

Last week was our anniversary and I searched for our wedding album. Didn’t find it, but I unearthed a small binder I used in high school and college for my music and writing. Exiting my closet I entered my childhood bedroom! My 15-year-old self sat on the floor strumming her guitar, engrossed in writing Variation on a Theme #11 “I loved you and you stomped on my heart.”

Not wanting to freak Young Annie, I wait a moment then softly clear my throat.

“Who are you?” she glares at me.
“Who do I look like?”
She focuses in. “Kinda like me, but way older,” she says. Then after a second, “Woah! You are me!”

As a teen I devoured alternative theories of existence. Reincarnation. Parallel universes. Time travel. So I’m not surprised she figures out who I am.

“I’m the you you will become some day. Cool, huh?”
“Super cool! Except I see I’m stuck with the same weird hair forever.”

We sigh in stereo.

“That’s the way it goes, kid. But on the bright side, the future’s filled with hair product. De-frizzers, sculpting foam, ultra-straighteners…”
“So how come you don’t use it?”
“Don’t always have time, but…”
“How’d you get here?”
“Dunno.”
“Why’d you come?”

Gotta love this kid. Always so direct.

“I came to help you, Annie. There’s stuff you need to make life easier.”
“How do you know what I need?”
“Cause I’ve lived through everything you’ve lived through up to this moment. And I’ve lived through everything you’re gonna live through for the next 46 years…”
“What happens after that?”
“How should I know? I’m from 2011. That’s as much as I’ve seen so far.”

That shuts her up long enough for me to plunge ahead.

“Don’t know how long I’ll be with you so I’ll get to the point. First thing, you worry too much about your looks. Let me set the record straight. You’re pretty enough.”

“Enough for what?”

“For everything that matters. Trust me on this. Everyone’s got their own way of being beautiful. Including you. So stop buying those magazines. They make you feel crappy about yourself.

“Another thing, what happens in school, at home, wherever… it isn’t always about you. You believe there’s a movie camera following you around focused on everything you do, but that’s not true. You’re not always the star of what’s going on. Sometimes you’ve got another role to play and you need to close your mouth and listen so you can learn how other people feel. Even if you only do that part of the time, you’ll learn how to help people. That’s going to be a good thing for them and for you. Understand?”

“I’m not sure. Sounds kind of abstract. Anyway, since you’re here, I’ve got a problem you can help me with. It’s…”

“… Mom. I know. Things have been bad between you two since Dad died. I know you’re sad and you miss him. A lot of the time you’re just pretending everything’s fine. Stop doing that. Find a way to get some of that hurt out of you. It’s unhealthy. Write about what you’re going through. Or sing about it. As for Mom, she’s in a lot of pain too. And she’s also pretending she’s OK. But nothing’s right in her world anymore and she takes it out on you. That doesn’t make it OK, but maybe you can cut her a little slack. That might help. It takes two people to have a fight. Next time she starts up, think about that.”

Young Annie gives me a look. Can’t tell what she’s thinking.

“Another thing, Annie, this part of your life isn’t forever. You’re going to leave and go to college. You’ll be happier and you’ll have freedom to make your own decisions.”

“Do I go to Cornell!?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Does that mean I don’t go to Cornell!?”

“I didn’t say that. I said don’t worry. And while you’re at it, quit worrying about finding The One. You’re 15 and it’s not time to hook up with your soul mate. So do yourself a favor and lighten up. It’ll happen when it happens.”

“Does it happen?” she asks. “Do I ever find The One?”

I had forgotten how needy and uncertain I was. How much I needed reassurance. I hug her. “Oh, yes,” I say.
She squeals and hugs back. “When do I meet him?!”
“I’m not telling. That’d spoil the surprise. But here’s a hint. If you ever get a chance to visit San Francisco… Go! Speaking of which, I need to head back. Gotta walk the dog.”
“I get a dog!?”
“Yep. Just like you always wanted. And one more thing…”
“Do I get a horse too?!!”
“No. No horse.”
“Then what?”
“I just want to tell you to keep writing, Annie. It’s going to pay off.”

The next thing I know I’m typing this blog and I’m wondering: what would you say to your 15-year-old self?

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 8:36 am
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