Friday, October 26, 2012

Let Them Work it Out

Sitting on the sidelines at a recent holiday preschool party, I watched my 4-year old zig-zag with glee around the gym.  She pushed toys, pulled kids in wagons, chased her friends and danced to the music.  Forty pre-schoolers were getting on famously in the spaciousness of a full-sized gym while having free reign of the toys.

When the organized events started, I noticed a shift in the mood.  Kids raced to line up for the face-painting, craft-making, and treat-gathering.  Sitting close to the face-painting station, I noticed the kids in the front of the line struggled to maintain both their patience and their pecking order.  Some kids in the back of the line tried to work their way up closer to the beginning of the line.  I watched out of the corner of my eye, as I usually do, allowing the kids to work out any squabbles over their status on their own.

Let Them Work it Out - Kids Fighting - Parent Unplugged - Stacy Snyder
It’s hard to watch them negotiate conflict without interfering.  It’s even harder to keep my partner from jumping up out of her seat and manhandling the situation.  She’s one of those parents whose natural instinct is to knock someone right off their block if they messed with her child, even if it was another child.  Most times she’s all talk and is able to keep her over-protectiveness at bay, but sometimes I feel as if I need to remind her that it’s just kids and they’ll learn how to handle themselves without our intervention.

Today was one of those days.  Our daughter was close to the front of the face-painting line.  One of the little girls from the back trying to get up front finally had managed to permanently finagle her way in front of our little one in line.  My girlfriend started frantically motioning to our child, as if she might be able to give her a hand signal as to how to handle the line-jumping.  I cut her off and told her to leave it alone, as the kids would figure it out.

Peace was restored as the little girl was once again shooed back to her place closer to the end of the line.  Another little girl tried the same routine….up to the front she trotted and this time, one of kids at the front, tired of defending her stance, allowed the child to take her spot.  My girlfriend this time started to get to her feet to “help out.”

“Let them be!” I scolded.  “This is how they learn.”

Ten kids had lined up for the one-woman face-painting by this time and the 4-5 minute turn-around time was not faring well with the figgety costumed kids, so I jumped up and asked the face-painter if I could lend a hand to keep the line moving.  Before I could get the brush to the paint jar, one of the earlier line jumpers moved up to the front again. 

Abandoning my edict of toddler self-regulation, I told the little girl to move to the back of the line.  She stood her ground so I started guiding her back to her own marker.  Another kiddo about 5 back, tried to sit in the chair to have me paint her face.  I picked her up out the chair and moved her back to her place in line and had the next kid in line sit down.

Once on my knees in front of a four-year-old princess whose face I was painting like a cat, I made eye contact with my girlfriend and then burst out laughing at myself, as I had augmented my motto of “letting them work it out” to “let them work it out, unless I’m close by.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

If You Can't Say Anything Nice....

Mister Rogers - If You Can't Say Anything Nice, Don't Say Anything At All - Stacy Snyder - Parentunplugged
Gone are the days of couth and manners and etiquette.  Remember Emily Post?  Ann Landers?  Mister  Rogers?  

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

“Good manners reflect something from inside-an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.”

Damn, I miss those folks!  

I’m fed up with the way our society has taken ownership of the word entitlement.  Entitled to talk.   Entitled to rant.   Entitled to yell.  Entitled to think we’re so bloody smart.  Entitled to have.  Entitled to take.  Entitled to post.  Basically, we feel entitled to do and say whatever the heck we want.

Call conservatives a bunch of racist pigs?  Sure, why not?  Tell liberals they’re just human debris?  Sounds good to me.

As the presidential debates heated up on live television this week, I started browsing Facebook, as my patience was waning with the debate.  The comments were astounding! 

“He must die!” 

“It will be a cold day in Hell before I vote for that one.”

They kept coming, minute after minute, posting their denouncements of their most hated candidates, Romney or Obama, some “friends” posting multiple times an hour.  Originally I thought it was funny ha-ha some of the comments that were being made about both candidates.  But just like when you were a kid and nervously laughed along with the bully who was making fun of another kid, at a certain point, you start to feel sick to your stomach that you’re part of anything so intrinsically wrong and you man up.

Sure we have the right to think whatever we want and free speech protects our words, but in days gone by, we’ve had a vast majority of people following a rubric of manners and decorum that kept them in check.  Today it feels as if there is no barometer.  The masses have rolled over.  The herd is no longer taking care of its own.  It’s officially a free-for-all where we can say and do whatever we want without any real consequence.

I have very strong opinions of my own on religion and politics and anything else that may be controversial.  I peacefully co-exist with a large base of friends and family, many of whom I know view issues and topics differently than I do.  To each his own.  I don’t feel threatened by someone else’s views.  I love a good old-fashioned debate or conversation about anything.  I don’t, however, feel the need to name call or bash ideas or people who do not agree with my thoughts.

I’m saddened by the way people talk to each other today, many times, indirectly through social media, by ranting their distaste for X, Y, and Z.  What happened to pushing your agenda?  What happened to educating the population on your cause?  Why have we turned to bashing opposing views instead of promoting our own, and worse yet, why so publicly?

Do we feel safer slinging mud from the comforts of our own homes or cars or workplaces, where we don’t worry about the backlash of someone yelling at us in person or throwing a disapproving glance?   Or is it the rush of the presentation and the instant gratification of someone responding or “liking” what was said, which gives us confidence to continue on our bash?  Or is it possible the folks talking smack on Facebook are sitting home alone, without a friend or family member or neighbor to converse with live and are instead relying on the false sense of intimacy that social media provides?

I don’t know the answer.  I do know that the “unfriend” button has become one of my favorite buttons on Facebook.  Across the board to those I love and those I don’t really know so well, it’s become an effective tool.  I don’t use it because I don’t agree with something someone says, as I truly respect varying opinions on most everything.  I use it to weed out bullies who are constantly name-calling and have proven they haven’t mastered the art of persuasion without using hothead tactics.  It’s not much different than what I try to instill in my kids when it comes to their own friends: be friendly to everyone, but don’t align yourself with kids that act disrespectfully.

Call me old-school, but Mr. Rogers has a point, “There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.  The second way is to be kind.  The third way is to be kind.”  It may be old-fashioned, but it works for me, so I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Give It To Me

I did not want to get up.  I woke up before the alarm went off at 5:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Instead of fighting the telltale sign that it was time to get up by justifying to myself that I could use another 30 minutes of sleep and then spending the time stressing out about the number of tasks I had to complete in the next few hours or tomorrow or this week, l tiptoed out of bed and grabbed my workout gear. - Stacy Snyder - Parentunplugged - Give it to Me
With extra time before I had to meet my workout buddy, I did some stretching and core work to loosen up.  With no one else awake, I left most of lights off in our tiny little apartment, and I didn’t make a peep, so as not to disturb anyone.  With only the quiet to keep me company, I let my mind drift away from responsibilities and deadlines and have-to’s, until it settled on vast nothingness.  For ten minutes, I lost track of time and don’t remember anything, even the exercises I was completing.  Then slowly I became cognizant of my breathing, my muscles, and eventually my strength.  I took a few minutes to just be, then jumped up and popped out the door, weights and boombox in hand, ready to face up to some serious kickboxing.

My friend arrived at our scheduled pre-dawn workout time, but before I could even hit the play button, she let loose on my simple ‘how are you’ question with a real answer, “I’m not very good.”

We took a minute and talked through the personal issues that were stressing her out this morning.  She said it felt better just to acknowledge it in front of someone else.  Agreed.

Once the club music was pumping through our veins, and the ears of the neighbors, as we work out open-air on the school lawn before the day begins, we continued talking about life’s and ups and downs, all while sweating our tails off.  Squat.  Elderly parents.  Lunge.  Moving and packing.  Punch.  Middle school nightmares.  Kick.  Flu-bugs and fevers.  Crunch.  Job searches and losses.  Lift.  Exes and partners.  We carried on in that fashion until the sun rose high into the morning sky, quenching us with much-needed brightness.

One hour was all it took.  1/24 of the day devoted to my body and soul.  The difference that hour makes in my day is colossal.  I came home in a good mood.  Instead of the normal stress spilling out between each word I spoke to my family, today’s conversation at breakfast was easy and genuine.  Instead of rushing around the house and warning the girls to hurry up, I actually took a few minute to help them get ready, even though they’re old enough to do it on their own.  The few extra minutes spent with them was a welcome treat.  By making time for the needed physical workout this morning, I inadvertently made time for the rest of my life.

I felt genuine gratitude and appreciation toward my partner for pitching in to help with lunches and meal-planning, as opposed to criticism for not doing things the way I do.  I walked out the door with my youngest over an hour early for preschool.  We did a drive-by of the park, but with no kids there yet, we hit the local coffee house for a “special coffee” for her of steamed milk.  You would have thought I had asked Santa to come a second time this year for how happy my little one was for a treat outside of the daily routine.

“Thank you so much, Mama,” she beamed at my from the back seat from behind her whipped cream mustache.  “I can’t wait to go to school early to play at the park with you!”

With an extra 40 minutes on hand and not a child in site, my daughter and I ran and played and hid and chased until we were exhausted.  She loves babies and a young dad showed up with his barely-walking baby, who became a fast playmate of my sweet pea.  I had a 15-minute conversation with the baby’s father, who now is no longer a complete stranger from the park.  OF COURSE he works at Trader Joe’s….he was so nice!

I headed to work and took time to call my mom, which never seems to make it into the schedule, as there’s never time to just open up and talk.  Again, by taking the time to take care of myself this morning, I opened myself up to taking care, or at least notice, of other people.  Work blew by without issue or stress, but instead with a compliment out of the blue from my co-worker about how easy-breezy and productive I was today.  I instantly got a glimpse of my youngest daughter’s joyful ear-to-ear smile at the park this morning.  Today is the gift that keeps on giving!

Before I left work, I got an email from my girlfriend telling me what a pleasure my mood was this morning and how it helped change the outlook on her whole day from ‘have to go to work even though I’m sick and can’t talk’ to ‘I can do it today.  I’m going to be fine.’

I could go on and on with examples from the rest of my day, or from other days where I’ve set aside time to attend to my body and spirit.  The list goes on and on.  When I foster my personal betterment, I am better prepared to both receive and nurture the essence of those around me.  It’s a win-win for everyone.  Conversely, when I erroneously decide I don’t have enough time to take care of myself, it all goes down the shitter.

I challenge you to give yourself whatever it is that you need tonight or tomorrow morning:  a moment of meditation, fifteen minutes of quiet time, a half-hour of running, an hour of prayer, a morning of reading the cherished tabloids, or ___________.  Stay up late or get up early, but exercise your ability to make your own day, week, or life.  Feed your own soul and in return, you will feel good about contributing to the potency of others.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Own Your Happiness

I was sitting on the front steps of a building listed for sale, with my real estate agent, when it happened:  I used my kids’ happiness and well-being as a justification for a decision I was making.

The agent and I were discussing the community where I currently reside with my family.  She asked me why my girlfriend, Katie, and I wouldn’t consider moving our family to another neighborhood, less than a mile away, where the local school was, in her opinion, as good, if not better than the one our daughter currently attends, as it would open up additional housing options for us.

I answered her question with reasons that included the proposed school does not have equally high test scores, the suggested neighborhood is too hoity-toity and unfriendly, and we don’t want to start over in a new place and circle of people.  

And then I topped off my explanation with, “And most importantly, we don’t want to uproot the kids from their current school, friends, and community.”

Hands Holding Happiness - Own Your Happiness - Stacy Snyder - Parentunplugged
And there you have it.  I was using my kids’ security as an umbrella motive for the choice to stay in our ‘hood.  I’ve done it before and I’ve definitely heard other people do it.  This parenting trend of using our children’s happiness as just cause for action was brought to my attention a few years ago, when Katie and I were considering another major life change, moving back to Chicago from Dallas.  At the time, my parents thought we were crazy for considering a move away from the shiny, happy north Dallas suburban neighborhood where we resided, back to the gloomy, dirty, city streets of Chicago.  Our last home in Chicago, where we had lived as a young couple with a new baby, faced the back end of a commercial building which housed a discount store that discarded irregulars every night out of their back door into the dumpster.  Homeless people would wait for the discards every evening and carry them off, in some cases even wheeling the whole dumpster down the street, while drug users would huddle around the abandoned lot next door to get their fix without too much observation.  Conversely, in Texas, eight pristine 2-story stone homes with perfectly manicured yards, neatly concealed garage doors, and well-groomed families, separated my sister’s home from ours, which overlooked a green space attached to the newly built elementary school.  Our collective children were not only close in age, but the best of friends.  

Judging on that alone, most folks were shocked with our decision to move back to Chicago, after living in Texas only four years.  In response to their awe, I’d list point after point as validation for our anticipated move back north, but I’d always end it with, “I just don’t want my kids to be raised like this.”

After giving my dad the same schpeel over the phone one evening, he called me out and said, “Stacy, you’re using your kids’ well-being as an excuse for something that you want to do.”

He was right.  As parents, we use often use our kids’ best interest as a rationalization for our actions.  Since when did it become socially acceptable to hide our own adult intentions and reasoning under the veil of “I’m doing it for my kids”?  For the life of me, I don’t know why we feel the need to tug at the heartstrings of folks by throwing the kids in there!  

While I can’t speak for all, I can only surmise that, like me, most of us are just weary of standing up for our own convictions and choices at times, as we don’t always have the capacity to field through the oppositions, so we throw in the kids’ well-being as an across-the-board explanation.  While most times others’ opinions don’t even register one iota on my radar, occasionally I find myself trying to keep things copasetic, and customizing my talking points to the audience in front of me.  I don’t question my own decisions, as much as I try to soften the blow to those I know will disagree with my choices.  While it shouldn’t matter what anyone thinks of my decisions, so long as it makes sense to me and my family, the reality of the situation is that every now and then I falter, not wanting to rock the boat, especially if it’s a family member, whose opinion in fact matters to me.  

In the conversation with my dad about moving from Texas, it took a while for me to recognize my faulty justification process, but once I got the connection, I came back to him with authority and stance.  The real deal is that I didn’t want to be tempted, as a parent, to raise my own children with the entitlement that was common in children in our surroundings in Dallas.  As an individual, I did not want to have to constantly check myself so that I too, wouldn’t fall prey to the siren of what’s good for The Jones’ is good for me, in regards to blatant disregard for living within one’s means and using material possessions as a symbol of status.  As a partner/girlfriend/lover, or whatever ridiculous name I had to use to describe myself, in relation to the person that should be my wife, I did not want to continue to have to repeatedly explain the relationship to new people I met, who just didn’t get it, and usually clung to its novelty as a talking point for future conversations, reducing us to simply ‘the lesbians on the block.’  And finally, as a normally optimistic, fun-loving person, I simply did not want to be unhappy anymore because I didn’t fit into the stereotypical mold of the region.

The bottom line is that we parents are, in most cases, adults that can and should not only make, but also take ownership for, our decisions without trying to appeal to the senses of our audience by using the kids.   More importantly, we should not be kidding ourselves that our actions are prompted by the wants and needs of our children.  If we’re honest with ourselves, by the mere title of parent, we should be factoring our children into our daily decision-making process, without it having to be a separate line-item.  Parents are human beings with needs, wants, hopes, and dreams of our own that are not all specifically tied to our offspring.  

There is no doubt that by feeding our own happiness, we will inevitably be better parents, partners, family members, workers, and friends.  Yet why, when we cross the threshold of parenthood, do we no longer take our own joy, for personal gratification’s sake alone, seriously?  It’s possible there’s no time to take stock of where our actual lives fall in relation to our pre-parental expectation of our lives, because we’re constantly on kid duty.  It’s likely that we’ve lost track of who we really are as individuals in that same full-time mentoring role.  It’s also conceivable that we’ve just gotten lazy in our thoughts, similar to our yoga-panted dress code, and decided to coast under the radar and just view ourselves as mothers and fathers instead of multi-faceted people with the desire for fulfillment; we know and use the fact that the title of parent is a stand-alone for worthiness when viewed by society at large.

While I functioned under that auto-pilot guise for a few years after the birth of my first child, it quickly grew stale.  It took years, though, for me to identify it as such.   Fast forward through the rocky years of trying to re-emerge as a creative, opinionated person, that has no fear of, and an eternal want for, change, and I’m back in business.  After much trial and error in identifying and prioritizing my wants  as an individual and balancing them to those of my family, I’m now at a place where I deem my own well-being as prominent as my family’s, in my decision-making.  While I’m not afraid of factoring myself in, I still sometimes err on the side of defaulting to my children’s future when it comes to explaining my decisions to others.  Maybe it’s because the ‘others’ I speak of today are much different than the ‘others’ of a few years ago.  A longtime serial friend accumulator, I have mostly ditched the vast quantity of casual friends and acquaintances once held and replaced them with long-term, quality friends, of whom I’d never hesitate to call ‘family’. 

So my final answer to the question of why not move to a new neighborhood to my real estate agent, who, of course is also a longtime friend whom I also view as a ‘family’ member, I had to finally laugh and say, “Enough with the kids.  It’s really for me and Katie, as we love where we live.”

We have finally found and united with a tight-knit co-op of inventive people, who not only subscribe to the “it takes a village” mantra, but also foster their own artistic endeavors.  In this true community of neighbors and friends, where we all give and receive of one another without ever second-guessing the relationship, and exist with all of our various talents, traits, and shortcomings, I am truly happy.  I wouldn’t give that up for the world.  In this scenario, I proudly say I am putting myself first, and the kids at second fiddle, where they should be. 

I am a parent and that makes me responsible for setting a good example for my children.  If I want my children to be happy, I need them to see me cultivating my own happiness, so they can in turn, learn to feed their own.