March 22, 2013
Please don't feed the monkeys
I sat and waited for my friend to meet me for lunch at a local place. I was trying not to do anything else. I was not succeeding.
When you’re waiting for someone to meet you, or call, or return a text, it’s easy to think fuel-ish thoughts (the kind that adds to anxiety):
Where is she already?
12:30. Wasn’t this the time we said?
It was for Wednesday, right?
Today is Wednesday, isn’t it?
Or were we supposed to meet Thursday?!
Is she trying to call me?
Is my phone on? (Yes!)
Should I check again? (Yes, it’s on!)
Did she forget?
Did she have an emergency?!
Is she all right?!!
All that mental garbage, piling up, muzzling my good spirits of ten minutes ago as I congratulated myself for finding parking so close-by… and with 90 minutes still on the meter!
But now fuelish spores exude from my monkey mind, infecting this happy camper. Downer thoughts. Not worth a damn. Powerless to alter current reality:
I am sitting alone on a wooden bench in a restaurant. My friend, who agreed to meet me for lunch is now… 22 minutes late. Make that 23. Whatcha gonna do about that, monkey mind?
Grass wallpaper. Potted palms. Bamboo fountain. Ah serenity. Except for the noisy diners. But actually, they’re perfect. From every part of the room happy folks enjoy a mid-day break with good food and good company. Eight friends over there (a birthday celebration, perhaps) swap personal updates and laugh it up.
I wish I was sitting with my friend enjoying the same. But she’s not here… yet.
I should just call her! Damn. I don’t have her number!
But you know what? That’s fine. Really it is. She’ll get here when she does. And in the meantime, I’m taking notes for this blog. Trying not to do anything else. Because nothing else is needed. It’s nice to sit here.
Are we out of milk? I’d better…
Shut up! No need to think about what I could or should be doing instead of waiting here. So I’ll just sit and breathe. In. Out. Ohmm. Present moment… Wonderf….
Maybe I made the mistake!
Maybe my friend is waiting for me somewhere else and wondering if I blew her off?
Do I grab a table and order something?
Do I want to buy lunch for myself if she doesn’t show?
We’ve got food at home and I’m 10 minutes away.
I don’t need to spend the money. I don’t think I should…
Sigh. Anyone want a monkey?
January 7, 2010
Steady in the winds of change
No way is it 2010 already! Didn’t we just do the Y2K thing? Is it just me or does 24 hours just not last as long as it used to? And what about our kids? They’re growing up at warp speed. Probably a blessing we’re all too busy to notice them morphing into young adults before our eyes, otherwise how scary would that be? Of course, when it comes to other people’s kids you can’t miss the changes, but with your own… most of us have a terminal case of blind spots. Unfortunately, turning a blind eye to reality isn’t the most effective way to parent.
Life is all about change and our ability to deal with it. Our bodies, our feelings, our kids, our relationships, our life situation… all constantly changing. (So are all the molecules on your kitchen table, but we can save that for another time.) The more I meditate and breathe and read and write and think and teach the clearer the changing nature of life becomes. The more I twist my torso into improbable positions (Hey, it’s not painful! It’s yoga.) the more I learn how flexibility is the best tool I’ve got going for me.
“Steady in the winds of change,” my yoga teacher says. Steady as she goes. Steady, strong, centered. Those are the keystones to effective parenting. But steady doesn’t mean stuck and true strength requires insight into what’s needed right now.
Suppose you’ve always had a close relationship with your 12-year-old daughter. She’s been a kid who’s always told you everything she thinks and feels. You’ve prided yourself on the closeness you two share and how it reflects so positively on your parenting skills. Then one day you walk past her room and the door’s closed. You go in. She’s listening to music and reading. “Hi Dad,” she grins, not removing her headphones.
You sit on the bed. “Hi, sweetheart. So tell me, what’s new with you?”
An awkward silence follows.
“You want something, Dad?”
You shake your head and slowly walk toward the door. “Dad,” your daughter says sweetly. “Next time could you please knock?”
“Sure, honey,” your smile belies the ice pick skewering your heart. In the hallway your mind reels. Why should I have to knock at my own child’s door?! We’ve never had closed doors between us! She must be hiding something. I’m going back in there and demand that she tell me what’s going on. I couldn’t talk to my father about anything important, but I’m going to make damn sure that my daughter…
What’s going on here? Is this about your 12-year-old’s normal desire for some privacy and respect or is it about your own fear that your relationship with your child is changing into… who knows what?
Should you zig or zag? If you zig only because it’s how you’ve typically reacted when you’re hurt then you’re not paying attention to your child’s needs. Nor are you awake to the parenting challenge in front of you. An unwillingness to change in spite of changes happening all around is a sure-fire formula for unhappiness. The result will be internal struggles and plenty of ongoing conflicts with your ever-changing tween or teen.
What to do? How about going for a walk? An actual walk is great if you can swing it, but any conscious choice to take a head-clearing break will help. While you’re in the self-imposed time out ask yourself:
What does my child need from me now? It’s an essential question whenever you feel stuck in your parenting mission. Children’s behavior at any time, any age, broadcasts a need. Your job is to identify their need as accurately as possible then offer your help. Of course, there’s no formula that will always work because their needs constantly change. One moment she’ll need a hug and an encouraging word. Another moment he’ll need a sympathetic ear and no words from you at all. One time they’ll need you to set clear limits with unambiguous consequences for noncompliance. Another time they’ll need you to respect the meaning of a closed door without taking it personally.
Where do your needs as a parent come in? That depends. You’re absolutely within your rights to have your role, your values, your rules and your property respected. Those are valid needs. But when you need to be needed by your child or you need to use your child to look good in the eyes of others, that’s unhealthy. Always be an adult and take care of your own changing needs as best as you can. Your kids have a big enough job growing up and learning to take care of themselves without having to take care of you too.
Change is our constant companion on this journey we call life. Our kids are the clearest evidence of that. They’re rapidly developing into independent young adults. As parents we’re privileged to have an essential role in their unfolding. If we pay close attention we get to witness parts of the process. We also have the honor of helping them become who they are. Part of the reward is an opportunity to learn and grow along with them.
It’s a new year. A new decade. Change is the air we breathe. The best we can do for ourselves and our family is to remain as steady as possible. It also helps to keep your eyes, your mind, and your heart open. That’s what our kids need most from us.
June 24, 2009
V is for victory
OK, folks, I’m officially ending the Annoyance Challenge. Tell you the truth there were aspects of this assignment that really bugged me. I know, I brought it on myself. But still, it’s a pain to have to blog every day, not that I did it every single day, as evidenced in the title of today’s post. But even so, it was annoying not to blog every day knowing that I really should. All that left me battling against my own commitment which resulted in guilt for not keeping my word to thousands of readers.
Which brings me to another aspect of this project… I have no idea if anyone was following any of this. It’s one thing to knock yourself out daily, looking for annoying situations and people, just so you can deconstruct and write about your feelings for the self-improvement of all. But to do it for an empty house!
“Really,” I say to myself, “What’s the point of that?”
“The point, Annie,” I reply with as much patience and compassion as I can muster, “Is that you wanted (and needed) to learn more about your own response to annoyance.”
Annie: “Why did I need two weeks of lessons on that? I don’t even get annoyed all that often.”
Annie: “Yeah, right.”
Of course I was right and I finally admitted it, but not until I got rather annoyed with myself for being so… well, you know.
Anyway, here’s what I learned from this challenge. (Cue the Big Take Away drum roll, please)
I feel annoyed with others when I’ve got some unexpressed emotion right below the surface. The hidden emotion is usually anger, hurt, or fear. Funny thing… while the annoyance seems to be very directed at whomever is in my vicinity… the more authentic emotion that’s being covered up may have nothing to do with anyone else.
Case in point, the other day in the kitchen David was emptying the dishwasher and I was snapping in response to his random questions about what we should make for breakfast. Because he’s been on the Challenge with me (Did he really have a choice?) it didn’t take him long to point out my mood.
David: Hon, you seem annoyed. What’s going on?
In the past, I would have resented the insinuation and possibly swatted at him with a spatula. But in the past 16 days I’ve learned that when someone cares enough about you to point out the undeniable fact that you’re being a bitch, it makes good sense to pause, peek inside, and examine what’s what.
I took a deep breath, had a look and discovered that underneath the cheap plastic veneer of annoyance lay a rich layer of frustration and anger … not directed at David, but at myself. So I told him.
“I’m really frustrated that Chapter 5 (of the book I’m writing)… the one on annoyance, is taking me so damn long to figure out. And I’m angry with myself for the amount of procrastinating I’ve done for the past 2 weeks… including the Annoyance Challenge… when I should have been working on the book!”
David looked at me and nodded sagely. He’s got that sage nod down to an art form. Then he handed me a bunch of clean silverware. “Here.”
I grinned at him and started sorting spoons. A place for everything and everything in its place… again.
October 18, 2008
Fall Fruit, pastel by Annie Fox
I wasn’t home much this past week due to a cross- country trip, plus several speaking gigs at local schools. And the two weeks before that? Hmmm… let me think. Why does it seem like such a blur? Oh, yeah! It’s because between us, David and I have been crunching on three major deadlines and two minor ones. There’s actually a sixth — the redesign of my website, but since that hasn’t even made it yet to a middle burner, it doesn’t count.
So, with virtually all my deadlines completed, I felt like I’d been sprung. And for the first time in a long while, I had the freedom to do some things that I love.
As I chopped a red pepper for an omelet and savored its insanely vibrant color with half my brain, I made after-breakfast plans with the other half. What a day off I was going to have! Bread baking, gardening, yoga, meditation, a bike ride, a movie, and some artwork. I’m sure I would have gotten to at least two maybe three of those activities, if a bit of pepper hadn’t attempted suicide over the edge of my kitchen counter and I hadn’t bent down to rescue it and subsequently seen… the FLOOR!
Any neutral observer would have instantly awarded it a solid 8 on the Disgustitude Scale. So either we’d been too busy to notice and/or attend to the increasing muck at our feet OR we’d have to admit that we’re just not very tidy folks. And that’s just isn’t the case. (Ask our friends!)
Because I have a strong bias against dirty floors (when I notice them) I tossed out my fun plans and grabbed a broom.
Sweeping has a calming effect on me. It has a psychic/spiritual component to it. Think about it. There is dirt on the floor that you haven’t noticed… or that you have noticed, but, for whatever reason, you’ve chosen to ignore it, endure it, or deny its significance. There are several ways you can wake up to reality. Often, for me, it happens when I pick up something that’s dropped and I can no longer recognize the fallen item because of all the floor bits now clinging to it. Or maybe you trip over something. Or you’re doing downward dog and you’re at eyeball level with some dust buffaloes.
Whatever has brought you to this new level of consciousness, be grateful. You have awakened and suddenly you SEE what’s really there. Now it’s decision time. And when the decision is to do something about the crumbs, the dog hair, the garlic skins, the dried leaves that blew in when you opened the front door, well, I don’t know about you, but that’s the time when I start feeling empowered. Which is why, for me, sweeping begets more sweeping.
And while I swept the kitchen, then out on the deck, then down the stairs to the front gate… then out into the driveway and down the sidewalk, I thought about the upcoming election. (You’ve heard about it, right?) I thought how I, along with 89% of Americans currently feel like our country needs a scrub down. So if you’re feeling some of the frustration, sadness, anger, revulsion, betrayal, embarrassment, shame, despair, outrage, confusion, and bewilderment from the past 8 years that I’ve felt, then what are you doing about it?
November 4th is 17 days away. Got your broom ready?
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