Goals and/or Changes for 2011

Here are mine:

Continue my focus on consistency with exercise and healthy eating, and let the chips fall where they may. Reframing my goals to be about what I do instead of the results (that I don't necessarily control) has made it way easier just to put on my shoes and press Play on the DVD.

Continue thinking and working out the messiness, which I'm beginning to think it an inability to proritize spatially. Last year I got past feeling hopeless and blaming myself. This year maybe I'll come up with a solid way to manage my space that doesn't feel overwhelming.

Spend more time listening to my children. I'm pretty good at it already, but the older they get the more it feels listening is my main job.

Re-energize a regular prayer practice. When I was going through the divorce I started praying in a connected way, and I'd like to work my way back to that regular conversation with God.

Come up with a plan to pay off my divorce debt. Now that I know I can pay my rent every month it's time to focus on getting debt-free.

Now, for some SMART* goals:

I will clean off my desk at work every Wednesday at 3 pm. If I'm not in the office on a Wednesday, I'll roll it over to the next week.

Cook and bring lunch to work 4 days a week.

Eat 6 servings of vegetables 6 days a week.

Only one impulse buy per grocery store trip.

 

Now you!

 

* SMART goals are a corporate thing. It means you make your goal Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, and Time-Based. If you haven't being doing SMART goals and you switch to doing them this way it makes a huuuuge difference in your ability to get stuff done and know that you really got it done.

Year in Review

Let's do this in two parts. Today we'll talk about the year in review–how we did and what we want to keep up and what we would do differently. Then tomorrow we'll commit to goals and change for next year.

Year in Review:

I traveled a lot for work and got better at it than I'd been before, but think there's still room not to let things bother me so much.

I came to grips with the fact that my messiness may be a brain feature(?) disorder(?) that makes me unable to organize my physical space and that I need to think in terms of managing it instead of "fixing" myself. Wow, what a difference that made! I couldn't afford to keep up my cleaning lady, so my apartment may or may not be as messy on any given day as it was before, but my attitude about it is less hopeless and more pragmatic so it's turned out to be easier for me to clean. Weird.

I got better at being a mom in general, a single mom, and co-parenting with my kids' dad. Losing the 100-minute commute and going to 50/50 custody with their dad were bigger factors in that improvement than any radical improvement in me as a person, I'm sure.

I had a mind shift about exercising and got into a groove just in time to twist my ankle and then walk and drive on it for 10 days and as you read this I'm icing and elevating it so it doesn't get worse. (Why, yes, I do twist my ankle all the time. I've been twisting this same right ankle once a year or so since I was 6.) I'm trying to figure out how to keep myself mentally exercising so when I'm back in action I can just pick up again and not be self-defeating about it.

There's been a sea change in the way my kids relate to each other–less fighting and more cooperation and engagement–and I have no idea why it's happened, but everything is easier. I'm trying to pay attention to figure out how to facilitate that so things can become increasingly harmonious.

Now you go. What big things did you work on, on purpose or inadvertantly, this year? How did they go?

Q&A: Helping neglected child

Well, that was a vastly longer break than I thought I was going to take! Sorry about that.

Here's a question to twist your head around from Anonymous, who is not a parent yet:

"I have a cousin. Quick background: my mom is one of 4. She had a fairly screwy childhood, falling down drunk mother, very angry father, lots of WASP-y upper middle class pressure, etc. She is the oldest and then her sister, then 2 brothers. Her mother admitted that she never really liked my mom's sister, who we'll call…Q. Q had a hard time growing up, obviously, and a hard time being an adult. She's now married to a guy, J, who is just not very bright. The trouble is this: they adopted a boy, G, from Guatemala when he was 9 months old. Prior to that, G basically lived in a crib and was fed just formula. When they brought him home he couldn't even sit up.

Now G is 12 and we are all very, very worried about him. His parents are completely incompetent. I know I sound like a judgmental bitch, but it's horrid. My parents weren't exactly terrific either, and I worry that G will have some of the troubles I did, but since he is a boy he is less likely to turn violence inward. He is already getting into fights, running away from his mother in malls, getting in trouble in school for being restless, etc. His parents are just terrible, and always have been, about setting any limits and having any boundaries. They often don't do basic things like having dinner and bedtime at a certain time. They do things that indicate that they don't really want to spend time with him–for example he stays with cousins on Christmas Eve, and in the summer when family visits they don't keep track of him and just let him wander wherever he wants, which has led to some serious trouble with another boy–throwing bikes off the pier, etc. Their assumption if family is in town is that someone else will watch him, and half the time they don't know where he is. Basically, they expect others to parent for them. His mother is VERY manipulative and narcissistic : when my grandmother was dying, she swore G to secrecy about their kitten having fleas, b/c she knew others wouldn't want fleas around a dying woman. She told my aunt the other day that it was "really sad" that G wouldnt have presents under the tree-b/c she hadn't gotten any. There are thousands of examples.

So what can I do to support him? I am really worried about the kid. He is very sweet some of the time, and although he sometimes treats me like crap when he visits (he does that w/ the ppl who are taking care of him) I always enjoy seeing him and he seems to respond to boundaries, consistent meal and bedtimes, etc. But he doesn't get that at home. He lives in an area with a number of gangs and I am really worried about his future. I fear that he will become very self-destructive or get caught up in some really bad behavior. Honestly, I just want him to survive adolescence more or less intact so he can start processing all of this madness. There is a small chance his mother could be persuaded to send him to some sort of small nurturing boarding school, and I'd love to take him in 1.5 years when I graduate from college and start grad school but that's probably not realistic–I'll be 26 and he'll be 13 and I'm not sure it would work! I would really, really appreciate any advice on supporting him throughout the next 6 years as well as general advice on dealing with the situation."

Wow. This is a big ball of wax and I'm not even sure where to start.

One thing it does make me think about is all the emails and conversations I've had over the years with people who've said something like "My parents were so horrible that I really have no model for how to do this, so I'm just trying to do my best." And they feel inadequate. This it what I know:

Your best is important. You do not have to be perfect, but you have to try. And if you're trying and you make mistakes, then you try to fix them and stay connected to your kids. You all are doing that, and it's good.

What hurts me most about G's situation is that his parents don't seem to care that they're neglecting him, or even realize it. So he's being trained to think that he doesn't matter and his needs aren't important enough to be met.

If the goal is "to survive adolescence more or less intact so he can start processing all of this madness" (a worthy goal) then he needs to know that what's happening to him isn't right, so he has an alternative to assess against.

I don't know if you could just talk to him straight out about it, cousin to cousin, and talk about it as a family problem that you had to deal with and that he has to deal with, too. But make him aware that it's not normal. Call it out, at least for him, like we were talking about calling bullying bullying.

And I wonder if it's possible to get him some kind of support in his local area. Is there a Boys and Girls Club near him? Or a religious institution near him with a youth group that would reach out to him?

And could you become a pen pal for him. Kids need hugs and food and the basics, but they also need someone to take them seriously and listen to their problems and listen through the rehash of the movie they just saw and just be there. That's something you could do in letters or by email or Skype or any of the other ways we communicate. It might be a little awkward at the beginning if you haven't had an established relationship, but it's worth pursuing.

Does anyone else have ideas of how Anon could support G to help him get through the next few years? Or how she could think about his future? It doesn't seem like he's going to get any help from his parents in figuring out a next step after high school. Has anyone been in a similar situation? What would have helped you most?

 

Good news from a long-time friend!

A lot of you know Sharon Silver, who has been a reader and commenter here for years, and who I sometimes ask to either write a post or to comment on a question. She's a speaker and an actual expert (as opposed to, say, me) on child emotional development.

She's also the best resource I've found on parenting kids who are 2 and 3 and 4 years old. You know, that age range in which you've read Haim Ginott and Faber and Mazlisch and Lawrence Cohen, and you can feel the connect between those theories and how you want to be parenting your child, but the kid is just simply too young to have the whole "talk about it" method work. Especially when it's stuff like throwing food, throwing tantrums, throwing your keys into the garbage can at a big-box retailer I no longer go to, etc. So you feel like there's this parent you *could* be, but that doesn't connect with the frustrated, white-knuckling parent you often *are* with a kid that age.

Sharon has concrete actual ideas about what to say, how to say it, and what to do to change your interactions with your kids at that age into positive ones. She emphasizes strengthening your relationship and providing firm boundaries.

And…..

SHE WROTE A BOOK!

It's called Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want To Be, which sums it all up nicely.

I've only read the first 10 pages because I've been swamped at work, so a full review is forthcoming, but I love what I've read so far. It's just Sharon: no BS, and she assumes you're a good parent who just needs some concrete techniques that work. It's written in short sections that cover specific topics, so you don't have to read the whole thing before you can start using it.

It's a perfect gift for yourself or for anyone else you know who has or will have a preschooler. So please go over to her new book site at www.reactrespond.com and buy a hard copy (US$12.95–cheap!) or the E-book (US$9.95–super-cheap!) and/or congratulate her.

I'll read the whole thing while I'm at my parents' this weekend, so I'll put up a full review. And you might even get an extra bonus review from my mother. Heh.

I am just thrilled that Sharon has a book out after all of the caring, thoughtful work she's been doing for parents for years. Yay!

Too much at school?

Not homework (for once), but parent participation.

It feels like we're being asked to stay at dropoff for some kind of performance or celebration or cookie drive or fundraiser or ceremony, or to come early for one of those things, or to come on Saturday, or any number of other times. Someone I know was asked to show up with 15 dozen homemade cookies. (I don't know ANYONE–SAH or WOH or WAH–who has the time or inclination or budget to make 15 dozen cookies to donate to the school.)

Or am I just a crank?

When my kids ask me to come see something they're doing in school, I do. But a lot of the activities just seem like they make a lot of extra work for teachers and parents, both, and aren't really doing much for the kids.

Also, what about parents who can't just ask to come in late to work? There's a huge assumption not only that at least one parent (and the assumption there is that there are two parents) is at home or has a flexible enough schedule to be at school all the time, but that a parent has the financial and emotional and time resources to participate.

Or am I just a crank?

Celebrating holidays cross-religion?

In writing yesterday's post I realized that my kids have been excited ever since Hanukkah started. We're Christian, but they go to public school in NYC so there are plenty of kids who celebrate Hanukkah, so they're well aware of when it happens and the basic outline of activities, if not the actual history.

(My older son, in fact, said to me a week or so ago, "Mom, do you think I'll get as much stuff for Christmas as I would have for Hanukkah if we were Jewish?" Which is a funny question, but then when you consider the layers of escalating commercialism on all sides of that equation it starts to make your head hurt.)

So I was thinking that maybe next year in the middle of Advent we'll do some Hanukkah menorah lighting, too, so the kids can get a little cross-cultural history and tradition, remved from the idea of eight nights of presents.

One of my Facebook friends, who is Jewish, said that her son wanted an Advent calendar, and I thought, "Why not?"

So what do you think about celebrating holidays that are not your religion or culture's holidays?

Does it matter if the aspects you celebrate are religious in nature (like lighting candles) or secular (putting up a tree)?

Is it disrespectful? Or bridging gaps?

Will your kids be confused? Or enriched?

Thoughts?

Sleep issues in preschoolers and older

(I have a new piece up at the Huffington Post Divorce section, about the holidays and Dolly Parton. Please comment.)

Hey, sleep issues with preschoolers and older! My kids have been having a hard time going to sleep in the last couple of weeks, and it seems to be going around. Are your kids having problems or delaying going to sleep? Or just showing up in your bed in the middle of the night?

I think it has a lot to do with the general excitement in the air about school break coming up and all the hoopla around Christmas. Adults are either tense or excited, or tense and excited. Media of all kinds are excited. Even just going to the grocery store with a parent is different because of all the glittery displays of special Christmas foods (at my grocery store: Pannetone Italian boxed cakes, chicharron, pfeffernusse cookies, a huge tower of Ferrero Rocher candies).

My kids have been thinking about and talking about gifts, the gifts they hope to get and the gifts they're giving. Planning the tree. Thinking about the trip to see my family.

It's not really surprising that they're having a hard time being interested in falling asleep and then actualy falling asleep.

But they need to. Tonight I'm going to make an effort to start the bedtime routine 20 minutes earlier than usual, to see if that helps.

What else can I/we try to help our kids get in bed and stay in bed more easily during the Most Exciting Time of the Year?

Everything nice

In the comments of Friday's post, Jaycee said:

"When I read comments about how difficult or challenging or frustrating or tiring it is having young children, I feel sad and angry. This is not a judgement. I know I should probably stop reading, but I'm always hoping to read about the joy and bliss and pride and utter euphoria of being a parent. I feel so lucky."

Yeah, I feel sad and angry, too. I wish it was easier for all of us! It seems so unfair and isolating and cruel that we find ourselves in these difficult places, and feel like we're in the bottom of a canyon with no way to climb out (or even knowing we can climb out but it'll be a long hard trip).

I know I appreciate the great moments more because things haven't been perfect and blissful all the time. But I also feel a responsibility to other parents to be honest about how it sucks, sometimes a lot, and how it is also unbelievably wonderful, sometimes a lot.

So, since we shared signposts and frustrations Friday, how about sharing signposts and delights today?

I'll start:

My older son crawled in with me on Sunday morning and we had a discussion about computer hackers, how I'd let him live with me even if he became a computer hacker, our cats, the role of cats in ancient Egypt, and the current challenge he's working on in one of his video games.

Last night my little one crawled on the couch with me and snuggled for a full half hour before getting up and running off. And recently he likes to sing everything he says. Mostly to the tune of The Imperial March from "Star Wars."

What made you thrilled about being a parent recently?

 

On the road

I've been thinking about stress and pain and loss lately. Today's selection for the Musical Advent Calendar is the song "La Peregrinacion" by Ariel Ramirez, Argentinian composer, from his piece "Navidad Nuestra," which means "Our Christmas." The whole piece is amazing, but this song, which means "The Journey," is my favorite. I wrote a post about the lyrics almost exactly five years ago, so go read the lyrics (in Spanish and I included an English translation) and listen to the gorgeous harmonies.

I remembered writing that post, but when I found it and read it again in prep for the calendar it shocked me. At the time, I was slowly processing the fact that my marriage couldn't continue, and I was slogging through each day with a 3.5-year-old and a 7-month-old. It was an extraordinarily difficult time for me, when I didn't know who I was anymore or what kind of future I could possibly have. In a lot of ways it felt like I was going to be there forever, just trying to get through each day, unloved and unrealized.

I want you to know that whatever your specific hurt is right now, whether it's the grind of having little children, or a relationships having ended or being in the process of falling apart, or not knowing what your future is, that you are not alone. Many of us have been there, or are there now. We are on the same journey.

This song, for me, was a signpost.

If you've been there in some way, could you leave a signpost here for someone who is still on the rough part of the journey?

Crap!

I was trying to delete some spam comments and accidentally deleted a whole page of comments on various posts! If you commented in the last couple of hours, I may have deleted you and don't know how to get it back. Please recomment. Except for you spammers. And I cut and pasted the ones on Random Mix because I had those open on my browser.

Sorry for that.