Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Frantic Family the Sequel: What I've Learned About Myself

I'm not going to bother catching anyone up to speed on why this post is a sequel. You'll have to read Frantic Family: Part 2 for that.

Writing the list of things that give me energy got me thinking about myself. (This post might not be interesting to you, especially if you have never met me. But I hope it might motivate you to reflect on yourself as an individual, too.) It's been interesting to step back and analyze myself as a person in various roles and groups.

First, the process of listing those energy-giving parts of my life really awakened me to the fact that I'm an interesting person. Or at least I think so! (I'm not going to waste writing time trying to be humble, because I don't think I'm being prideful either.) It was nice to deeply feel passionate about a few of the items on the list; editing, for example. I really enjoy correcting grammar on a page and rearranging words and sentences to flow better. Meetings also give me energy, because they often bring out creative ideas, and I love forming plans of action and delegating. Kent pointed out that he doesn't know anyone else who likes meetings, which caused me to look at the whole list and admit that no one else I know would have that same list. I felt like I was remembering that there is a "me" underneath my roles of wife and mother and Latter-day Saint, etc. Those roles certainly force me to grow and be a better person, but there is still a me that is different than all the other wives and mothers (etc.) out there. Even though I posed the question last month about the real me, I hadn't given that subject more than a few days' thought; so it was interesting to find a big chunk of the answer in just making a simple list.

Second, I was recently with a group of friends and we were talking about a variety of topics, many of which came around to parenthood and birth stories. I started to realize that my experience of life is very different from my friends'. Ever since I was a young girl, I've assumed that most everyone thinks the way I do. (Here's where my pride becomes apparent.) I figured that if others saw the facts I saw, they would obviously come to the same conclusion as I. Over the years, I've learned that isn't necessarily true. Take political parties for example. I've come to understand how people can look at one issue and vehemently take opposing sides on that issue. I attributed most of that disparity to the different backgrounds and lifestyle choices of various parts of American culture. Still, I generally held that people raised similarly to the way I was raised, with similar schooling, who share the general principles of my faith probably agreed with me on most issues--and non-issues too. But as I sat and listened to my friends share stories from their lives sprinkled with, " know what I mean...", I found more often than not that I did not know what they meant. Not that I couldn't understand what they were explaining, but that I often did not experience things the way they did. Let me give an example.

Two of these ladies were sharing parts of their experiences giving birth.

Okay; detour. I have to comment here on this topic. I find it interesting how frequently women come back to birth stories in their conversations. I don't think it's a right-of-passage thing so much as it is a very defining and life-changing moment in a woman's life--the labor itself and the effect of a baby to change just about every aspect of the mother's daily life--and it's something many of us have been through and can therefore use to relate to each other. I usually enjoy the stories themselves, but sometimes I wish that we talked more about ideas. Maybe this is another way that I differ from many women.

Back to the birth stories example. One friend talked about staying focused on her husband for support during a scary decision she was faced with at the delivery of her son. My other friend shared how she absolutely could not have gotten through labor and delivey without her husband there, and the group in general expressed how difficult it must be for military wives to have a husband deployed when their child is born. They all agreed they could never do that. I suddenly realized that though I had been through basically the same event as these women in giving birth, I did not experience it at all like they did. I was certainly glad that Kent was there for each birth, but more because it was an exciting thing for him and because I needed someone to take pictures! That sounds weird to say, but it's true. I don't doubt that I could deliver those babies--both my natural and my anesthetized deliveries--if he had been gone for some reason. When I later talked to him about it, he readily agreed that I didn't need him there (and it didn't bother him that I thought that way about it).

So I've started paying more attention to interactions with my friends, and I've learned that I am in the minority in many respects as to my way of thinking and experiencing life when it comes to my general group of friends and associates. Is it because I am attracted to people that are different from me? I do have two friends that I can see eye-to-eye with on just about everything, and I appreciate that aspect of those friendships. So maybe it's because I really am just more unique that I've always supposed. I think I like that, because it makes other people all the more interesting to me. I want to understand their thought processes and how their experiences have shaped who they are.

That's one reason I enjoy blogging. I think people generally open more in their writing than in person. (At least that's my experience because although I'm never opposed to it, I rarely have a heart-to-heart with anyone besides my husband or God. I simply don't make enough time for developing those friendships. I would like to, though.) Those of us who blog generally wait until we have uninterrupted quiet and thoughtful time, which doesn't happen face to face when small children are running about or waiting for our attention. For that reason, I really want to develop the art of great conversation. I don't want to waste the few moments I have to really get to know the people around me by simply talking about how their day went, etc. I want to find out what has shaped the people around me who I care about and with whom I find camaraderie, and yet who are apparently so different than I am. I think there is great value in our differences, and I want to learn from them.

Any tips for developing a great conversation in five minutes or less? I often want to discuss art or cultures or articles I've read, yet I worry that my first sentence about a topic that no one else has researched would be a quick conversation killer. Maybe that's why I like book club so much: everyone comes prepared to discuss the same topic, yet we enjoy each other's view points as we open new angles and possibilities to each other. If only my busy mom schedule would allow me to join/start some other groups.

What do you think? Am I way off here? Do we all feel quite unique, or do you find that you easily relate to your friends and associates?

(P.S. Anyone who made it to the end of this long and meandering post should get a prize. Go ahead and give yourself a spoonful of ice cream. What flavor did you get?)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Pair of Great Babysitters

A couple weekends ago we hosted three of our friends' children overnight. Their three girls get along really well with my children and we love having them in our home. Still, I was hesitant to leave eight children alone while I attended a Church meeting that evening.

Think about it.

Eight children alone for three-and-a-half hours.

Eight children ages three through twelve.

Eight children who are used to roaming the neighborhood together.

Eight children who would have their "responsible babysitter" mode switched off because they were with friends, not on a job.

Sure, I would just be across the street, but that proximity wouldn't guarantee the lack of flooding! Or fire!! Or kidnapping!!!

So I brought in the reinforcements. A couple of sweet guys who work well together: Mike and his friend Ike.

Now, Ike is rather a "Wimpy Kid", but Mike brought along his neighbor, "The Spy Next Door", who happens to know kung fu. Their fee was great! Since I also had some cute Sugar Babies at my house, they were happy to come and agreed to babysit for only $4--for the whole evening!

They weren't the perfect babysitters. They did let the kids eat in the family room, which meant I ended up vacuuming popcorn kernels out of the couches. And when I got home, no one was in bed. Or even sleepy. In fact, the three-year-old was dancing around and giggling hysterically, almost as if she had been pumped full of candy all night.

But for $4, I really can't complain. Besides, these guys kept all eight children entertained AND sequestered to one room in my house for almost four hours, which meant that all the other rooms survived well.

I will admit that when I noticed a faint scent of smoke drifting into my area of the choir seats during the meeting, I hurried outside to see if my house was in flames. But it was just a neighbor's fireplace. Whew!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Frantic Family: Part 2

When I started this series of posts, I didn't intend to drag it out over the course of a few weeks. I guess prioritizing the elements of our frantic life has pushed blogging down a few notches. It's good that life is a lot less frantic at five in the morning so I can send some thoughts out to the world. (That's an early morning yawn, not my operetta impression.)

After reading the book, Kent and I sat down for several conversations to dissect those things that make our family unique and to identify the values we hold. We used a couple of date nights to this purpose. One date was to Kent's office where we used the conference room's white board to draft some lists. Another night found us in the Cafe Rio--do I have your attention now, Christy?--parking lot where we hashed out value statements over take out. Talking and writing together was nice.

Kent added a first step to Patrick Lencioni's process. He (Kent) suggested that we could identify our family's unique qualities by looking at those things that give him and me energy. So we began some lists, which became fuel for thought and observance about me as a person. I'll include my other thoughts on that subject in a sequel post titled "What I Have Learned About Myself".

Kent had three lists for himself: "Who I Am" (finder of information, humorous, night person, etc.); "What Gives Me Energy" (reading, serving, work projects, etc.); and "What Sucks Away Energy" (half-hearted effort, lack of down time, etc.). In compiling my list of "What Gives Me Energy", I felt complete enough to not need the other two lists. Of the 26 items I listed, I was surprised how deeply important some of the items were to me, to the point that tears came to my eyes, for example, when I thought about how much I need date nights and girls' nights out of the house. Following are other items on my energy-giving list that initially surprised me by showing up there:

-Clean stand-up comedy
-Bike riding
-Personal devotional time
-Having meaningful discussions
-Editing the written word (mine or others')
-Attending meetings (except sales pitch meetings)
-Shooting things (I don't do this often, but I do like aiming a laser gun, arrow, or Airsoft rifle at a non-living target)
-Eating meals that I didn't have to prepare
-Pursuing passing interests (photography, inventions, and so forth)

I truly enjoyed putting this list together for its own merits as well as the aim to recognize traits and values that our family holds. I'll come back to that first thought in my sequel post.

Next, we put together a list that represents our family currently. We left aspirations out of the list and tried to get a snapshot of the family we really are with all the constraints we face. Here is a sampling:

-We aren't helicopter parents.
-We don't watch much TV.
-We all work in our garden.
-We like game nights and having friends over.
-We volunteer in the school, community, and Church.
-We read to our kids at night.
-Kent resents the pets.
-We have holiday traditions.
-We eat dinners together.
-Our kids take piano lessons.
-We are entrepreneurial.

Kent and I merged all the lists to identify those things that make our family unique. We considered involving the children in this process, but as we talked about our observations of the children's values, we recognized that our values represent pretty well what they would contribute. This is probably partly because they are young and have not developed their identities much, and partly because as their parents, we model our values and they incorporate them into their own lives. We came up with four stand-out values and three others that are important to us and put them all together in the following statement:

"In our family we each work to better the household, and we like to play together. Our home is open to friends and family, and we deeply value intimate relationships. We strive to be grateful and to serve others. We pursue our passions and interests. We take care of our minds, bodies, and spirits; we make time for self-renewal. We value humor, even when it gets us into trouble!"

In his book, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, Lencioni encourages writing a statement so a family will have a basis for making decisions and so we won't try to be all things to all people. You can see more examples of family statements here.

To keep these values at the forefront, Kent and I hung a whiteboard in our kitchen so all family members will see it frequently. We wrote our statement at the top, and then moved on to the other two steps in the process...which I would really like to blog about now, but reality will probably postpone that by several days. We asked each of our children if they thought the statement applied to us well, and they nonchalantly agreed with a shrug, or a "Sure". (I'm glad we didn't waste their time or ours involving them in our processing conversations!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Don't Let Her Sweet Smile Fool You

Last year in school, #2 had a problem with a bully who used manipulation to try to be #2's friend. The bullying included hair pulling, kicking in the stomach, damaging #2's property, and calling her really awful names. Most of this came to a head toward the end of the year, so when I spoke with teachers about it, they said they had not noticed it but would watch for it...and then school got out. The bully made the mistake of continuing her abuse of #2 in emails, which I read. Over the course of the summer, Kent and I coached #2 on how to deal with friends who really aren't, and she decided to cut off contact with this friend. After screening this girl's phone calls for a month, I answered one day and told this girl I had read the emails she'd sent and didn't think #2 would ever call her back after the really mean things she had said. She stopped calling. When class assignments were announced, she called again and #2 decided to take the call. This girl apologized and #2 forgave her. At least thrice a week I ask #2 how things are going with this girl, and the answer usually is that she is much nicer. When she does slip up and say something not so nice, she now catches herself and apologizes immediately to the offended party (who often is some other kid besides mine). I'm happy that the bullying has stopped and that said bully seems to be changing her ways.

What I'm even happier about is the empowerment #2 has gained.

Every year since Kindergarten she has had some boy in deep crush over her, and it always makes her uncomfortable. When they were five, it was A. who would call her name and lift up his shirt when she looked his way. J. in first and second grades was really sweet. He would write her notes and give her a special Valentine present. (I was sad to hear that he left the school.) In third grade, S. showered her with presents and smiles. This year, her admirer is more bold. T. is new to the school. He started with smiles and quickly progressed to telling everyone he had a crush on her; then to calling out, "Hey Baby! How's it going?" in the halls; and a quick hug-type grab on her arms at lunch last week. When I picked up #1 from an after-school activity on Wednesday, she asked me if #2 had already told me that T. had kissed her that day. !!! (That means "What?!" and "No!") When we got home, I asked #2 about it and she said he hadn't kissed her but was telling everyone he had. She was not happy about it, and I could sense he was working up the nerve to plant one on her.

We had a talk about whether she had told him to stop, and though she thought she had repeatedly been firm with T. on that point, it obviously wasn't working. Kent and I talked about her predicament that night.

Thursday morning after our family devotional time, Kent asked #2 about T. and told her she should "kick him in the balls" if T. ever touched her at all. She had given him fair warning to lay off, and defending herself would give a clear message. #2 smiled uncertainly and said she could never do that. Kent reassured her that sometimes that's what it takes to get a message through to a boy. She just shook her head and left to get ready for school.

Kent explained to me that he didn't really think #2 would kick the boy, but he wanted her to know it's okay to be REALLY strong and clear in her communications.

Thursday afternoon she came home with a triumphant story.

After arriving at school, she walked up to T., who was with a group of his friends, and said, "My parents gave me permission to hurt you if you ever touch me or talk to me inappropriately again." ("You used the word 'inappropriately'?" I asked. "Yep.") T. left her alone for the whole day. When classmates asked if T. had really kissed her (Wednesday's rumor), another classmate would interrupt in the negative and brag about what #2 had said to T. that morning.

She was very proud of herself. I am proud of her too. She handled the situation in a clear manner with witnesses, without hurting anyone, and now has a reputation of taking care of herself. You go girl!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Little Miss Loophole

#3, who I'm going to nickname Little Miss Loophole, is off to a good start with the new school year.

For starters, last night when I was attempting to put her to bed, she announced that she had a few questions about her math homework. So I agreed to quickly look at the four problems she had "questions" about. Not until the last one, #30, did I realize that the other three she needed help with were numbers 27, 28, and 29. She knew I wouldn't let her stay up to finish homework that she had procrastinated; but I would be more than happy to help with her "questions". She's a talented manipulator.

What really cracked me up was her answer to #30. The problem was stated thusly:
"How many different three-digit numbers can you write using the digits 0, 4, and 9? Each digit may be used only once, and the digit 0 may not be used in the hundreds place. Label your numbers as even or odd."

So what do you think was #3's answer? (I'm happy to say I mentally came up with the same answer while she was writing it.) Here's what she wrote:

"Four, even."

Do you know why she is right?

The question asked for an amount of three-digit numbers. Though it implied that she should write out those three-digit numbers, it technically didn't ask for that. And of course Little Miss Loophole is only going to give what it asked for. And since her answer, 4, is an even number, that is how she labeled it.

After writing her answer, she looked at me and said, "They're not asking the right question." We had a short discussion during which I made sure that she did know what they were looking for and what the three-digit numbers were. I also applauded her thinking and said that even if the answer book said she got it wrong, we both knew she had it right.

Many times I find myself frustrated by her thought processes because her brain is usually on a different wavelength than mine. Then there are times like these that I really enjoy the creative thinking she demonstrates. I need to be careful to not squelch that, but rather, to encourage it.

Update: On my last loopholes post, I wrote about her manipulation of the school's uniform policy. This year at back-to-school night, the PTO re-emphasized their policy (new as of #3's first-grade year) that only sweaters and jumpers may be layered, not shirts. She's still keeping everyone on their toes!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Frantic Family: Part 1

Kent and I recently read "The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family" by Patrick Lencioni. The author uses a fable to demonstrate how most Americans "wing it" with their family life. Literal tears welled up in my eyes as I empathized with the main character, a mother who was barely balancing all the demands of running her family: volunteering at school, chauffeuring children to extracurricular activities, keeping active in their faith and church, hosting get-togethers with friends, maintaining a semi-clean house, and on and on. I felt her stress because it described so much my own feeling of barely keeping up with life. Frantic is the perfect word for how I've felt for at least five years. The husband in the fable, who owns a consulting firm, mentions that if his clients ran their businesses the way he and she ran their family, those clients would quickly be out of business. The story develops from there and gives the protagonist and the reader some tools for bringing clarity and purpose to the running of any family.

(Side note about the book. Kent loved it. I could have done without the fable and skipped right to the summary at the end where the author leaves the story and gives real-life examples of families who have practiced the points of the book. Either way, it opened a conversation for Kent and me and as a result, I think we'll make some great progress as a family.)

I have a degree in business management, so the idea of running a family the way a manager would run a business makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, I'm surprised it didn't dawn on me earlier. For the past few years, I've embraced the idea that motherhood is my full-time job right now and I answer to my Father in Heaven as my "boss". I've taken parenting courses and tried various job charts, reward systems, etc. to run my household as a good "employee" would. However, this book helped me shift my paradigm slightly. I am not an employee. I am the co-owner, with Kent, of this business of running a family. Heavenly Father is a stock holder in our company (though the parallel falls apart a little there). Basically, He wants me and Kent to be successful in running our family because the "dividends" that come back to Him are our righteous children and those whose lives they will affect for good.

The book also gave me permission to not be a perfect parent and leader of this family. Part of the process outlined in the book is to set goals toward strengthening one familial weakness at a time. Throughout our marriage as I've looked at all the things that we could do better at (more time with our children, organized finances, a finished landscape, decluttered house, etc.), I never know where to start. I chip away at each problem area simultaneously, but never really conquer any of them. I now feel free to let some weak points wait while our family defines and tackles whatever one weakness is taking the biggest toll at the time. The strategy doesn't have to be perfect. We just need a strategy.

Stay tuned... I'll cover this topic more over several posts (with the label "Frantic Family") and let you know our experiences going through the process and fixing our first weakest point. Kent knew this book would be helpful, so he purchased an extra copy to loan out. Let me know if you'd like to be on the "waiting list". (It's already on loan to one family and another is in line. But the wait should be short because it's a very quick read.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

More of a Man

I know this is a sexist stereotype, but what is it about guys and barbecuing?

We've never been much of an outdoor-cooking family. Sure, we occasionally roast something on a stick at our fire pit or cook up a stew in our Dutch oven, but our grill has been sitting under its cover on our deck for over a year now. (A neighbor was giving away her propane grill last summer. We snatched it up with her warning that a fuel line or something needs to be repaired.) We still haven't gotten around to buying a tank of fuel for the grill, and I'm pretty sure it must be housing a nice yellow jacket nest by now. Maybe I'll open it up in January and take a peek.

Regardless, I've always been a little jealous of those households who send the smell of burning briquette wafting through the neighborhood. I'm especially impressed by those who barbecue in winter months.

Let's go back a couple of years. Kent started cooking carne asada and chicken over mesquite charcoal for the young men in our church. He would always bring me some leftovers, and I started wishing he would cook for our family once in a while. But being 95% vegetarians puts a damper on that. So we've had little reason to barbecue...until now!

We borrowed our friends' large hibachi a few weeks--okay maybe a month--ago. They had our patio chairs, so it seemed like an even trade. We needed to finish off some Boca burgers leftover from a company picnic, and I couldn't bring myself to pan searing what might be our only burgers of the season. Well, we never returned that grill. So last week, being desperate to use up some of our zucchini, Kent started some briquettes. I sliced and took a tray of food out to him and the grill. He promptly returned to the kitchen to add some seasonings. Did you hear that?! I stared in disbelief and wondered what the grill had done to my husband. Not that he has never seasoned anything before--but almost. (He does make a good mashed potato. Period.) Before I knew it, the zucchini spears were brushed with olive oil and had a sprinkling of cinnamon and cumin. The peppers (the red ones have a little heat to them, and I wish I hadn't messed up labeling them at planting) were stuffed with cream cheese and strawberry jam stood by for dipping. He let the pineapple stand on its own: my was it good! And yes, you do see some Colossimo's sausages browning with everything else. We bought those during a moment of taste sampling weakness on a rare trip to Costco with a friend. Those sausages are so good that they turned us vegetarians carnivorous! (We bought the red wine flavor. Yummy!)

So now my man is a barbecuer. We might have to make this a weekly ritual. I loved sitting by while he proudly served me his masterpieces. With each delicious bite of hot food--that's right ladies, HOT, as in I got to eat before serving everyone else--my taste buds were satisfied and my resentment at being the sole cook of the household dissipated.

Sidenote: By the look of #5's face, I might have a second grill cook in another decade. That will be heaven!