Friday, January 27, 2012

You'll Have to Wear Orange

If you ever want to understand just how complicated we make our lives, take a look at things through the eyes of a child. To our beautiful children the logic of how the world works is quite simple, a+b=c. It is we, the grown-ups, that add in the what-ifs, contingency plans and endless obstacles that have us wondering if our youth will be in therapy for much of their natural born lives.

On a recent road trip our entire family was loaded snugly into my husband's truck for the three hour ride. When accelerating onto the interstate the truck's engine became very loud. Yes, it's got a hemmie. It sounded like we were going very fast. The conversation went like this:

A little girl gasping from the backseat, "Daddy! You need to slow down."
Daddy, laughing, "Why?'
"You're going to get arrested!"
"You won't be able to get the food you want and you'll have to wear orange!"

To my pink loving picky eater there could only be one fate more terrible...having to wear brown. For her it was a very simple thing, breaking the law equalled a loss of freedom. Which in turn meant losing the two things she adored most, fashion and cheese pizza. How would this scenario be different for an adult? What runs through your mind when you're in danger of being pulled over for speeding? If you've ever been in danger of such a thing. I myself would not be familiar with that feeling of heart pounding, gut wrenching, cold terror. Nope, not a clue what it's like.

Fear and tension over the initial pullover. Where is the money going to come from to pay for this fine? What is my husband/wife going to say? Is my insurance going to go up? Am I going to lose my insurance? Am I going to lose my licence? Will this effect my job? I'm going to be late picking the kids up from school. They'll be stranded. What if starts to rain? What if they don't know what to do? What if they start walking home and a stranger abducts them in a white unmarked van with out of state plates?

Maybe that last part was a stretch, but you see where the overcomplicated human mind goes. We think up extra stress for ourselves. Are there real issues we need to plan for and think through? Absolutely. Do we need to think about the minuscule details, weighing out every pro and con of each and every daily decision we make? I'd rather be stabbed in the eye with a spoon. You're probably thinking right now, "Of course I don't do that, it's ridiculous!". You do it with out even realizing it. Somewhere in the development of mankind our survival went from clubbing our food to worrying about life's what-ifs. There's nothing wrong with being prepared for the worst or even the slightly bad. However, our day is not full of life altering decisions and preparations for Armageddon and should not be given the same level of attention. 

Should I have the salad for lunch? I'm going out tonight, so I'll probably have a big dinner, and the salad will be nice and light. But the burgers are on special for $5, that's half the price of the salad and I'm trying to save money. I wonder what everyone else from the office will think if I get a big greasy burger? I wonder what they're getting? This is a great example for the "Will it Matter Rule". Normally I'd say in twenty years is this going to matter, but in this instance I can say next week will this matter. If not, then you're over complicating it.

Sometimes we can add so much stress to our lives it can actually rub off on our children's and cause their simplistic logic to become intense. A few years ago I was preparing for a visit from a higher up manager in my company and the strain was getting to me, as was the rambunctiousness of my twin daughters. Before I could reprimand them my son, who was five at the time, harshly put them in their place.

"Girls be quiet! If Mommy doesn't do well at work tomorrow she'll get fired. We'll lose our house, our toys, EVERYTHING." After a moment of silence I decided I was projecting a little too much tension on my babies and it was time for a break. He still had easy three point logic, but no five year old should know what "fired" means.

Before the twins entered kindergarten I spent six months worrying about the decision to put them in separate classes. I asked teachers for opinions, parents of twins and of course googled it. They needed to develop their own interests and personalities, make their own friends. I stared at the ceiling at night imagining a first week of sobbing separation anxiety. The first day of school came and the girls rode off on the bus like princesses to the royal ball. When the terrible twosome arrived at school they went to their separate classrooms without a second thought and have never looked back. I nearly bled out from a gastric ulcer for nothing.

So what can we learn from the innocence of children? Don't make everything so complicated. In the grand scheme is this decision going to matter? If it's going to make you a better person, a happier person and a stronger member of your family, then it's a good choice and you can move on. As long as you don't have to wear orange.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Impatiently Waiting

I am a professional waiter. Not a food server in your favorite dining establishment, but a sitting, gathering dust lingerer. It's my job as a pharmaceutical representative to wait for a doctor until they have a free moment to sign for samples and speak to me about drug information. We all know how busy health care providers are these days, the wait time can make your trip in from the parking lot fell about as recent as the dinosaurs reign.

Not that we don't all have our turns at waiting. In their lifetime the average American spends eight hours waiting for red lights, two years on hold and two to three years waiting in line, much more if they go to Disney World. As a professional I am pleasant and serene as I pass the time chatting with anyone who walks by or browsing magazines. Heck, I'm downright chipper. On the outside. All this practice should make me terrific at biding my time, but it seems to making me worse.

My husband points out that I should take it in stride, after all I'm getting paid regardless, right? Has he seen my to do list? I need to make the most of my day. When I come out of an office it feels like a slow motion scene in a movie suddenly going to live action. Let's move people, it's go time, work to do, errands to run and kids to raise. I don't even have the patience to go inside a store for a drink, it's drive-thru all the way. Heaven forbid there be a slow car in the left hand lane of the interstate that a little gentle persuasion can't convince to move over. Video clips that can't download instantly on my phone are skipped. DVR is a beautiful thing, I can watch a week's worth of shows in two hours.

Some might say I'm a classic example of a driven technology focused Gen X who wants everything right now. I would argue that I've spent too much time waiting and it's made me more than a little unbalanced. Not to mention that the quality of the waiting has not always been the most pleasant.

A particular instance comes to mind where I was kept waiting in the rudest way possible. At an office I was visiting for the first time, when I approached the counter the receptionist was on the phone and motioned for me to step back from the counter. Several patients entered and joined the line as she continued her ten minute conversation about broken marriages and cat fights at the VFW casino night. Finally hanging up she waved the line forward. Being first I bounced forward with a bright smile, only to be cut short when she announced loudly across the room "not you". My smile faltered only slightly in my embarrassment as I stepped aside. Once everyone else had been helped I looked up hopefully, but she needed to open up all the mail first. Before she was finished two more patients came in. Maybe after all this it would be my turn? I could check-in and find out if they even needed my services? No, it was not to be. I had been standing at the receptionist desk for more than thirty-five minutes when she stood up and glared at me. "I'll be with you in a minute." Then she walked away. Seriously. I couldn't help myself. The professional calm, cool, and collected exterior cracked. Even my good Christian nature slipped a little. I announced to her retreating back, and the waiting room of patients that were starting to look sorry for me, "No, no you won't", and I walked away. Call my behavior childish, but I think we should all be able to expect some common decency and respect.

I was thinking about all this when a telemarketer called tonight for a charity. Normally I try to get off the phone as quickly as possible, hanging up if I have to. This time I stayed on the phone, listened to the schpeel and politely declined. When I wished the gentlemen a good evening he said I was the first happy person he'd spoken to all day. That's just sad. He waits for someone to pick up the phone all day and one out of a hundred wasn't rude. I'll bet he uses the drive-thru too.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

When Thursdays Attack

All week I've had in mind the topic for this blog, and then Thursday happened. We all have those days. Generally it's Monday that turns on us, but sometimes it's that unassuming weekday. If you've ever surfed the cable channels late at night you might have run across a dessert survival show, or an episode of what-to-do-if-you're-trapped-in-your-car-during-a-blizzard. My personal favorite is how to survive a grizzly bear attack. No where though I have seen the resource I needed this week. So to save you from the fate the befell me I have compiled the "When Thursdays Attack Survival Guide!". (Let that echo in your head for a moment for the full effect.)

I'll use my Thursday as an example for how to deal with days that don't play nice. The day began simply enough, I ruined my daughter's life by giving her socks that weren't completely dry. I would go on to turn her Thursday against her by packing the wrong kind of crackers in her lunch, but I digress. This is not a story of bad mothering, I'll save that for another blog. Really the day started to turn ugly with a wardrobe malfunction. For those of you not familiar with women's suits, quite often the jackets, unlike men's, are meant to be worn as a top with just a shell underneath. A shell is a light weight, often sleeveless, partial shirt that is just meant to show at the collar of the jacket. While making breakfast Thursday morning I hadn't put my suit jacket on for fear of projectile pancake batter coming my way and when the bus came I put my coat on over the shell just to take the kids out to the bus stop. It was so frosty and cold that morning I didn't take the coat off when I came back inside to gather up my things. Do you see where this is going? After driving the hour and forty minutes to get to my first office of the day the weather had warmed to a balmy fifty degrees. Grabbing for my suit jacket I found nothing, because it was still nicely folded on the back of my sofa, at home. There's no way to wear the shell with out a jacket so I was stuck in a three-quarter length wool coat and I have a lunch meeting.

This is the first important point of the survival plan, how to handle the first disaster of the day. Your reaction here sets the tone for the rest of your day. There are three ways you can go. The first is sheer panic, a fight or flight response that is usually the most ridiculous. In this case my thought was to call someone and have them meet me halfway with my jacket, because that's a great use of everyone's time. Next, your brain begins to work in overdrive. This solution may be functional, but is it necessary. I would go to the mall and buy a new jacket! How hard could it be to quickly match up two shades of black and find something at a reasonable price. I know we have a new budget, but after all this is an urgent situation. The third option is the healthiest, but may be hard for some to adopt. It has been a challenge for me in the new year. Looking at the ceiling of my car, I smiled. Won't this be a great breaking the ice story at lunch. That is the number one key of surviving a weekday attack, smile at the problems. Just like grumpy people problems are undone by smiles, they lose their hold on you when you're happy. Beware though, if you're under attack the problems will multiply regardless of your smiles. You've just begun the war.

On to the next battle of "Did that just really happen?" Also known as "Nobody would believe me if I told them" moments. Pushing through my Thursday morning I arrived at my lunch appointment to find the break room a toasty seventy-five degrees. Just keep smiling. There is also a very adorable dog begging to be let out of her crate. You would be surprised how many dogs I see in doctors offices. Never cats. Once a parrot, and sometimes fish, but never cats. Anyone that knows me well knows that I am deathly allergic to dogs. No exaggeration, one lick and I break out into hives. So I scratch this little cuties ears through the cage and wash my hands ready for lunch to begin. Not five minutes later the doctor comes in, gets the dog out of her cage and rubs and kisses on her like he's giving raspberries to a dust mop. With out skipping a beat he reaches out to shake my hand and thank me for coming. I'm stuck. It would be completely rude to get up and wash my hands. So the whole time he's eating his lunch and we're discussing medications I have dog dander and slobber on my hand. It's itching and burning like I'm wearing a poison ivy glove, not to mention the dripping faucet my nose has become. All while still wearing my wool coat.

Now with out a survival guide I might have chosen to wallow in my distress and sulked the rest of the day, maybe even purchasing a large ice cream creation. I'm not saying that ice cream is still not a viable option when you are being attacked by a weekday, but consider other avenues first. I got back to my car, turned the air conditioning on and laughed at the absolute absurdity of the situation. How can this not be funny? Of all the things obstacles we are trained to overcome in sales dog slobber is not on the list. Bring it Thursday I will not be undone.

Lastly you will be assaulted with public humiliation. The final salt in the wound. My last stop of the day, the only thing keeping me from heading home. I'm chatting with the receptionist when my sleeve caught on the basket of twenty pens and slid it off the counter top. I caught it in mid air. Boo-ya! Take that Thursday. Smug in my victory I sweep to the door. Halfway across the waiting room my shoe falls off. Oh, Come on! I'm already a good two steps past it by the time I come to a hopping stop. For a split second I think about leaving it, but I love this pair too much. Retrieving the shoe I say to the half full room "And that's the kind of day I'm having." The polite group had been pretending to read their magazines, but they chuckled freely now. One lady offered "At least you didn't break the heal." And a kindly gentlemen opened the door for me.

There in lies the last weapon against a miserable day. Sharing with others. Not only did I give them a little humor, I gave them the opportunity to be kind. So there you go Thursday. You kicked and fought and tried to hold me down. I smiled and laughed and helped others do the same. Maybe you weren't such a bad day after all.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Happy New Year

I have read dozens of articles on how to get fit, organized and financially savvy in the new year. While I have resolutions involving all of those things they aren't the main focus of my plans. I want 2012 to be my year of happy, and I'm taking all of you with me.

This is not another story of "count your blessings, you're so much better off than all the other poor saps". While there is a good chance that's probably true, I would be judging things at face value. We can't know what hidden demons anyone is facing. I recently read a blog entry, of a normally wildy funny and caustic writer, where she described the deep depression and self-hurting or "cutting" she had been experiencing. This blogger was ashamed and terrified to reveal this side of herself to her huge loyal following. Her posting was answered by thousands of supportive comments and tweets, by her shocked and relieved friends and fans. I say shocked because so many of them were in disbelief that such darkness was hiding behind a lively mask. The relief came from the many that suffered their own depressions and felt completely alone until they heard her voice.

January and February are the grey months. The joy and excitement of the holidays are over with nothing to look forward to until spring. Even the sunniest among us can fade this time of year. So take care of yourself. Do something everyday to make yourself smile. Take a deep breath. Do it again. Listen to your favorite song. Turn it up and sing along. At the top of your lungs. If you're not in your car, dance too. Get enough sunshine. Listen to kids books on CD while you drive. Even if you don't have kids. Drink orange juice, it's sunshine in a glass. If you're not eating enough veggies, take a vitamin. Never mind, take a vitamin anyway.

Once you've boosted you're happy rating a little bit, I'm begging you to spread it around. We have no idea how many of our friends, neighbors and even the complete strangers we run into everyday are suffering. They may have the two car garage and the shiny family photo on the wall, but we can't see the pain that lies within. So everyday in 2012 pass on a little happiness. Smile extra brightly at the grumpy cashier. Text a friend or send them a message on Facebook wishing them a good day. No I don't mean a blanket message out to all your 'peeps'. I'm talking about something special to let that person know they are not alone. A few simple goofy words.

You never know what a little sunshine could do for a person. Maybe you'll change their day, or maybe you'll change their whole year.