You Can’t Always Get What You Want (aka: Christmas Choices)

It’s nearly midnight on Christmas Eve.

I would love to be tucked into my bed, watching visions of sugarplums dance through my head, but no such luck. Because I’m the mom.

santa-lte-night

The mom gets to sit in the living room, sipping a glass of chardonnay as Smallville plays on the television, and staring down at a pile of metal bars and chains, which, when assembled, will somehow form a bicycle. Afterward, I get to rip open yet another cardboard box and start putting together a second bicycle. Two shiny new bikes for teens who actually really need them to get to school each day.

At least, I’ve convinced myself that they need them.

I like to choose Christmas gifts based on the familiar old adage:

Something they want
Something they need
Something to wear
and something to read.

Pajamas? Check. Books, check. They hardest part is discerning between something my kids desire to have and something they actually need. It is something that many of us Americans struggle with in this culture of excess. We stroll through a Target store, drooling over the shelves packed with sparkling novelties. Coffee makers that produce a perfect cup of joe at the mere push of a button. Water bottles with built in filters to make our clean tap water even cleaner. Powerful tablet computers that fit in a handbag.

Oooh, I need that, we tell ourselves as we fill our red plastic shopping carts with far more items than would fit on our actual shopping lists. But in reality, we don’t. We want those things. We desire those things. But we so easily get what we want and desire mixed up with what we need.

wants-or-needs

My kids probably don’t need most of what is currently wrapped and waiting beneath the Christmas tree. Those are desired luxury items; scented lotions and electronic doodads that will bring moments of excited smiles and happy laughter as they rip open the colorful paper. My children already have what they need — healthy food, clothes that fit, and a mother who loves them like crazy. These beautiful new bikes (once they become bikes) are not a true need. They want bicycles, and I want them to have bicycles to get to school and around town. Could they have lived well without them? Absolutely. They already have.

As we transition into the upcoming new year, I hope to do a better job of separating the things that I want or desire from that which I really need. I also hope to transmit the correct value to these three terrific kids of mine, too. You can’t always get what you want. You shouldn’t always strive for what you desire. Believe it or not, life is better when you learn to be content with what you have instead of always looking to the next Big Thing that catches your attention.

Oh look — it is officially Christmas morning. And there are still these pieces of bike to be assembled. Santa doesn’t get much sleep on such a night. Time to crack open the toolkit and make this Christmas morning a merry one for my family.

I wish the same for all of you. Peace!

bmxmas

 

So Many Poppies (aka: Follow the Yellow Brick Road)

wicked witch of the west

I’d be all, “Why are you green?”

I would have made a terrible Dorothy Gale.

Let’s just say that if a giant twister had picked up me instead of her and transported me to the magical land of Oz, then we’d be looking at a whole ‘nother story.

For starters, I would have questioned everything. Was the tornado actually a wormhole to another dimension, or am I lying in a coma and experiencing all of this in my mind? Did the Munchkins relocate to Munchkinland on their own accord, like some sort of Little People Cult Compound, or were they segregated from the rest of Oz society and banished there like Native Americans to a reservation? Also – does Glinda the so-called Good Witch really expect me to hike for miles along a brick road while wearing uncomfortable, tacky pumps that had just been on the feet of a dead woman?

magic sneakers

Still tacky, but probably a lot more comfortable than the slippers.

I’ll just walk in my bare feet, thanks.

Then there’s that little issue of people. Er…or whatever one would call the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy Gale was clearly not an INTJ. Would I have stopped to help the Scarecrow down from his stake or offered oil to the Tin Man? Well, maybe. But I doubt I’d start telling them all my business, the way naïve, trusting little Dorothy does. Because you never know who might be hiding beneath that friendly scarecrow mask.

True, they turn out to be good guys. And true – they discover that the four of them have a shared goal of reaching the Emerald City, and so help each other along the path. Kind of like Harry Potter and friends, supporting one another through their years at Hogwarts and beyond.

Huh. Guess that makes me like Voldemort. Only without the evil and horcruxes and megalomania.

The other problem I would have if I were in Dorothy’s place is the poppies. Those lovely poppies, blooming so innocently along the path. See, that is already an issue for me at times. The Emerald City always glows in the distance like a giant jewel. Maybe it is the goal of completing a novel and getting it published. Maybe it is finishing my second-time-around college education. Or some other huge life goal. And all I have to do is stay on the yellow brick road. See yellow bricks? Keep walking forward. Keep studying the things it will take to establish you in your new career field. Keep writing and editing your novel.

sleeping in the poppiesBut then, there are those damned poppies.

Other exciting things to study that are not related to my career. Brainless television shows and book candy. Writing countless stories and blog posts and poems that are not my novel. And okay, it’s not so bad to stop and gather a few every now and then. But sometimes, I lose sight of the bricks. Off I go, skipping across another field of poppies, until I am completely distracted and filled with the intoxicating fragrance, until yawn…I just want to take a nap and forget about responsibilities and goals and…what novel? Zzzzz…

Dorothy needed a nudge to wake her up and set her back on her path. Luckily, she had the watchful eye of Glinda the Good Witch, who sent down soft, cold snowflakes to revive her (and her apparently good-for-nothing friends, who fell asleep, too). And hooray! They were back on track, and on their way to the Emerald City.

Follow the yellow brick road

Sometimes, I need a random snowfall to shock me awake, too. Or maybe an alarm clock. Or hypnotherapy. Whatever it takes to make sure that I stop playing in the stupid poppies and get back on my merry way. Because the Emerald City awaits. And the only thing that’s going to get me there is the power of my own two feet – ruby slippers or no ruby slippers.

Unsinkable: Snapshots of a Failed Marriage

sinking shipThere was once a carefree little girl who spent half her time happily devouring books, and the other half watching Nickelodeon and trading Garbage Pail Kids. Then suddenly, without warning, life picked her up and threw her into adolescence – splash!

Unfortunately, no adult in her life had cared enough to give her swim lessons. But luckily, she was strong. After the initial icy shock, she managed to teach herself to swim.

Fast forward a few years

The day after her 19th birthday, at a university Christian group event, she met the man who would later become her husband. Her journal is filled with happy expressions and tiny hearts. She made a new friend. A nice guy. A Christian who is crazy about God, just like her. No, they don’t really like the same music. He doesn’t read. He’s not into sports. Only average intelligence. But who cares? He’s nice, and he’s into her, and he’s reasonably attractive. One day, he asks her to be his girlfriend. She is super excited. Her first college boyfriend!

Sometimes, her journal is filled with worry. They spent a summer working at different camps, and he didn’t write her even one letter. And afterward, she begins to realize something – they never go out on dates. Sometimes, if she really pushes, and pays his way, he will go to see a movie with her. But he does not ever initiate anything. He does not call her; she calls him. She gives, he takes. But still, he says that he loves her…

“Why do you love me?” she asks him.

“Because you love God,” he replies.

But lots of people love God, she thinks.

Four months after her 21st birthday, they are married. She wears a white gown with a long train and feels like a princess. Everyone has come to celebrate the union. They have built a big ship together – an unsinkable ship, they are convinced, and they have set sail. It is a perfect day.

They are both virgins. They are both excited about finally exploring sex together. But sex turns out to be very painful and difficult for her.

“I’m sure it will get better with practice,” she says.

It doesn’t.

One year later, she still hates sex. It is awful all the time, but he wants it all the time. She gives in, like a good wife. It hurts.

She works full time at her job, supporting him while he finishes university. She is exhausted when she returns home. The house is messy, dishes unwashed, bed unmade. He is playing computer games. She straightens up the mess and cooks dinner for the both of them. She asks him to help clean the house and wash laundry, but he doesn’t know how. She does it all, because she hates to nag a grown man. She resents it. There are holes in the ship that they did not notice before.

One day, she takes a bus to visit relatives in Seattle, and attends a job interview there. They want to hire her. Her husband says no. He doesn’t want to leave California. She considers going without him. In the end, she stays.

Two years later, they buy a house, and their first son is born, followed by their daughter, and then another son. She is so, so happy to be a mother. She stops working and becomes a homemaker, cooking, cleaning, and raising babies. She loves every moment of it. Her husband is now the one to work all day, and she takes pride in doing everything else so that he doesn’t have to. She also runs a home business, which brings in extra money to help make ends meet.

Her husband still spends every moment of his free time playing video games. But she doesn’t mind. Her time and energy is spent raising children. She still hates sex, but she tolerates it to keep the peace. They attend church as a family, go to social events, and take family trips, which she carefully plans. The holes are still there, but they patch them. Most of them. The ship still slowly fills with water, but she tries to ignore it.

When her youngest child is in grade school, she returns to work as a teacher.

“Good,” says her husband. “Now you can pay the mortgage, and I can spend my extra money on whatever I want.”

“Don’t you mean our extra money?”

“I earn it. So it’s mine.”

Despite the extra income, money seems to disappear before the bills are paid. He accuses her of overspending. She accuses him of the same thing. They fight. A lot. He accuses her of abandoning the children by going to work each day and not being there to pick them up after school.

“They are your children, too,” she reminds him.

The husband dominates the conversation. He talks on and on about the lack of sex. He wants the counselor to explain what he needs to do to make his wife have sex more. He keeps trying to get the counselor to side with him.

She quietly answers the counselor’s questions. She tries not to cry.

“There is a lack of coupleness about the two of you,” says the marriage counselor. “A failure to connect.”

She is depressed and lonely. The holes in the ship have grown too big to patch. Her husband has been hospitalized twice for psychosis caused by mental illness. She has no friends, no support network. She stops going to church.

“You don’t love me,” she tells her husband in a matter-of-fact way. “You don’t even know me.”

“Of course I know you,” he says. “I know you better than anyone.”

“Okay,” she says. “Then what’s my favorite song? One of my top five favorite bands, books, or movies? One of my top ten? Favorite sports teams? My favorite food? Favorite flower? Any of my life goals?”

He does not know any of these, even though most of the answers were on her Facebook page for anyone to see. They have been married for nearly fifteen years.

Although they have sex 2-3 times per week, he begins to seek out prostitutes. The first time he did, it was her birthday.

She is not even jealous. She is disgusted, but in a strange way, relieved. Now she has an excuse not to have sex with him anymore.

“You have to have sex with me,” he said. “It’s a biblical requirement. God says so.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “And fuck your god, too.”

He beats her for those words. He begins to punish her for her lack of interest in sex. He accosts her during random moments. He calls her names and makes false accusations. Although he is the main wage-earner, he refuses to provide money for groceries, clothes, or bills. She is forced to use credit cards to pay for the family’s necessities. The bills begin to mount.

He attacks her verbally every day. He follows her around town, certain that she is having an affair. He makes threats. She feels unsafe, and moves into their daughter’s bedroom. She hates using their children as a shield. She wants to leave, but does not know how. He forces her into positions in which she must defend herself, mentally and physically, then tells anyone who will listen – even the police, that he is her victim.

The ship has already sunk. She realizes that she has been treading water all this time, and so have the children. By staying with this man, she is putting them all at risk of drowning. It is time to become their life preserver.

Once upon a time, there was a strong, independent woman who learned to build her own ship. She put her three children in it, and they sailed away toward safety, toward a hopeful future, toward happiness. She left behind the man who was once her husband and does not miss him or their life together at all.

She returns to college to work toward a more fulfilling and lucrative career. Her children are healthy, joyful, and thriving. Although she still yearns for good friends, she realizes that, for the first time in many years, she is mostly happy and content with her life and her choices. No ship is unsinkable, she has learned. But that doesn’t mean she has to sink with it.

It’s All in the Blood (aka: Reverse the Aging Process)

vampires drinking blood of youthSo it turns out that vampires may have something with the whole “drink blood, live forever” thing. No, seriously. It’s kind of old news now, but around a year ago, scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute made one of the freakiest discoveries ever – that the blood of the young may very well hold the key to reversing the aging process.

Wait! Stop! Step away from the babies. It’s not enough to drink the blood of children. Besides, that’s just…gross. The only way you can truly benefit from the youth-granting benefits of the GDF11 protein is through blood transfusions. I know. Needles. *Shudders.*

It is inevitable that each one of us (if we’re lucky) will one day suffer the symptoms of the fatal disease we call Old Age. It’s like a devastating worldwide plague for which there is no cure. Some people, through fault of unlucky genes or poor lifestyle choices, fall victim to it sooner than average; while others somehow defy gravity for much longer.fountain of youth Family Guy silly

Me? I plan to stay young till the very end. No, not from stealing my children’s blood. I’m not that desperate…yet. However, as luck has it, I come from a long line of people who don’t seem to age quickly and live to be close to 100. That, plus I love candy. Maybe that’s awful for my teeth, but there’s something about snacking on jellybeans and sugar sticks that makes me feel young and carefree.

But hey, even if you don’t care for candy and come from a lineage that’s…different, there are a few things you can do to hold back the inevitable sands of time which threaten to smother us all:

  1. Fall in love with vegetables. Candy may be dandy, but vegetables are the true elixir of life. The vitamins and antioxidants and phytochemicals not only work to protect the body from cancer and other illnesses, but they help you to look and feel your best, which are two of the biggest ways to stay young.
  2. Move your body. Put down the cell phones. Turn off the screens. There are so many ways to exercise, that unless you suffer from some sort of chronic condition other than aging, you have no excuses for not exercising regularly. Walk fast, run, skate, play a sport, take the stairs on purpose, park in the back of the behemoth Walmart parking lot. Just move it.  exercise_stay_healthy
  3. Use your brain. Sadly, too few people do this. It is so much more convenient to just parrot everyone else’s words and watch reality television shows. But – oh! The amazing things we can do if we just put our minds to it. Play chess, play Scrabble (against me, if you dare), read some challenging literature, take a class, learn a new language. Studies show that regularly exercising our brains really can work to protect us against some of the diseases of aging, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Think about it.
  4. Stop smoking, drink less. Haven’t you heard this advice a million times already? If not, well, memory loss is one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s.
  5. Say yes to Omega-3 and no to saturated fats.
  6. I am a huge proponent of sleep. At least 7-8 hours per night for grownups, and more for kids. Not just sleep, but good sleep. Try shifting your routine to wind down an hour before getting shut-eye. Read a book, meditate, listen to calming music, enjoy a glass of wine, have sex if that’s your thing. Do whatever helps you to have a peaceful, restorative sleep.
  7. Be connected. Having close relationships with friends or family is correlated not only with longer life, but happier life, too.

 

Hmm…I still fall pretty short on that last one. Maybe that means I won’t live as long as my ancestors. On the other hand, I do have three children…

forever young infinity

Hey Mom! (aka: She Must Be Nuts)

Exercise, sleep, humor, writing, black Jelly Bellies… No, that is not a wish list. Well, not exactly. Those are my five favorite ways to cope with stress. And I have been seeking them a lot lately. Especially the jelly beans.

I know, I have been blogging less frequently as of late. Blame my ridiculous schedule. You see, I am a full-time single mom of three great kids (because every mom is a full-time mom). I also have a part-time job where I get paid a small amount of actual money to support said three kids. And a part-time internship where I get paid no money, but am learning how to become a Tech Goddess (one day). And I am a full-time college student.

I know what you’re thinking: She must be nuts! Well, some days I think about this full load and am inclined to agree. But most days, I look at my three great kids and think…ahh, that’s why I do it.

It is not easy to be a student when you are also a mom. I can be seated in my favorite chair, laptop in front of me, in the middle of taking a complicated exam about networking protocols, when I will suddenly be interrupted by—

“Hey mom! Do you want to listen to the story I just wrote?” (Well, of course I do).

“Hey mom! I need some help adding MLA style citations to my essay.” (Sigh. Fine, fine).

“Hey mom! I need you to bake some cookies for this thing at school tomorrow.” (Can’t you bake them yourself?). “But yours are way better! Please?”

And so, I have learned to accept that C’s, too, are a passing grade. At least during this stage of life, when no one really cares what your GPA is. I have also learned that it is okay to sometimes let the housekeeping slide for a day or two, and that I will really, really regret it if I procrastinate on online class assignments, and that some of the best dinners are the quesadillas and apple slices prepared by three great kids while you’re busy at the computer. And yes, maybe I am a little bit nuts for wearing so many hats – not to mention managing several blogs. And maybe I will always be stretched a little thin as a single mother. But the thing is, the world needs more Tech Goddesses. And my kids need a Supermom who will drop everything to have a Family Movie Night or bake cookies or help with homework. And me? Well right now, I need a handful of black Jelly Belly candies, and maybe a nice glass of Pinot Grigio.

La Cosa más influyente (aka: La Pregunta del dia)

(He decidido escribir esta entrada en castellano, porque es un idioma que me ha encantado desde niñez, y porque es solo por escribir o leer que tengo las oportunidades para practicar a expresarme, y un dia, todavía me gustaría tener fluencia  en la lengua – aunque de veras, no sé cómo se sabe cuando uno tiene fluencia.)

La pregunta del dia: ¿Qué es la cosa más influyente que has hecho últimamente?

balancing act

Fácil. Este año, he regresado a la universidad. Pues, no exactamente a la universidad – no a donde me licencié en Educación Preescolar hace muchos años, pero a una universidad comunitaria, para estudiar Ciencias de Computadoras. Sí, yo sé – es una carrera muy lejos de enseñar a los preescolares. Pero la verdad es que yo era muy joven cuando elijé mi primera carrera, y lo único que supe hacer fue trabajar con los niños pequeños. Ahora, soy más vieja y madura (pues, espero que sí, jaja), y pienso que ahora llega el tiempo para hacer algo nuevo (y algo que tiene más oportunidades para ganar suficiente dinero para mis hijos y yo.)

adults returning to school

 

¿Y por qué a mí me parece algo influyente regresar a la universidad después de tantos años de criar niños, etc.? Ahh, es que mis hijos ya pueden ver el buen ejemplo de su madre. Me pueden ver levantarme cada mañana a tiempo, llevarlos a sus escuelas, ir a trabajo, ir a mi escuela, recogerlos de sus escuelas, cocinar la cena, limpiar la casa, hacer ejercicios, y luego, despues de todo eso, tambien hacer los deberes y estudiar. Mis hijos ven todo esto, y pienso que les inspira estar disciplinadas tambien. Y que les inspira pensar más en fijarse en sus propias metas. adult learning Kid watching parent on computer

Es un pensamiento que me da mucha motivación en esos días cuando no tengo ganas de levantarme tan temprano o seguir la rutina o hacer mis deberes. Es como sí estoy en un pedestal, y mis hijos me están mirando. No puedo permitirme flojear, o mis hijos podrían llegar a pensar que está bien si ellos tambien flojean. Tengo que tener éxito en mis estudios, para que ellos puedan creer que también pueden tener éxito en sus estudios. Además, tengo que hacer todo esto con una actitud positiva, para enseñar a mis hijos que es mejor hacer las tareas de la vida con una sonrisa, y sin queja, aún si no le gusta lo que hay que hacer.

Allí está – la cosa más influyente que últimamente he hecho, y que sigo haciendo; no para mí, pero para los que recurren  a mí por guiarlos en la vida, y que dependen de mí para ser su ejemplo y su inspiración. ¡Ojalá no les falle!

gotta be supermom

Hay que ser Supermom cuando eres una madre soltera con la custodia total de los niños.

The Power of 3 (aka: Finding Balance for a Healthy Life)

I think that the number 3 is the key to a balanced life. I know, I know, it is an odd number, which makes it seem counterintuitive. However, I have found that my life is most fulfilling when I strike a balance of nurturing the three parts that make up my whole person: Mind, Body, and Spirit. Each part is equally essential for a balanced, healthy life. Here are some examples of ways to nurture your entire self:

Mind Body Spirit

MIND

  • Read Literature – This is different from merely reading for pleasure. Read the classics, the Great Books, the time-tested literature that will expand your mind and stretch your imagination. Don’t have time to read? Listen to an audiobook during your daily commute.
  • Learn a Foreign Language
  • Puzzles and Word Games – Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, or my personal favorite, Scrabble.
  • Learn about another culture – This world is such a huge and interesting place. Pick a country and learn all that you can about its history, its culture, and its people.
  • Take a college course – College classes are not only to advance one’s career. There are many online courses available, including free courses for anyone who is interested.  YogaBalance1

BODY

  • Commit to an exercise routine three days of each week (There’s that number 3 again).  — Stick to it.
  • Learn a new sport or physical activity. — Not a runner? Try yoga, or swimming, or an adult drop-in soccer or volleyball league.
  • Eat less meat. – You don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian to enjoy meatless meals. There are huge health benefits to cutting out meat even on an occasional basis. Try making a goal of eating a meatless lunch or dinner three days per week. This doesn’t mean you have to eat like a rabbit. Explore the internet or your local library for healthy and delicious meal ideas.
  • Move your body as much as possible. – Avoid shortcuts. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk. Skip the elevator and take the stairs. Walk in place while watching television. Just keep moving.
  • Sex – (No advice here, but some would say that regular sex nurtures the body, mind, AND spirit) Nourishing relationships feeds the spirit

SPIRIT

  • Keep a journal – More than just a record of your daily activities, a journal is a way to express your personal thoughts and ideas as you travel down the path of life. Or you can do as I do – write a blog. Just be cautious — remember that the rest of the world can read your journal, too.
  • Read what makes you happy – This is a different type of reading. Whether you enjoy reading children’s novels, humor books, or just plain smut, read what makes you smile. A little book candy every now and then is good for the spirit.
  • Give back to your community – Get involved in a community service project, plant flowers along the roadways, pick up litter in the local park, or visit with the elderly in a neighborhood care home. You may be surprised at how altruism nurtures your own spirit while improving the lives of other people.
  • Become an encourager. Smile at strangers and wish them a good day. Give your neighbors a basket of homemade muffins. Write thank you notes and send get well cards to people. Make friendly comments to other people or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, or whichever online social community you prefer.
  • Surround yourself with beauty – Display beautiful artwork in your home or office. Take time to look at other people’s beautiful photography on Flickr. Go for hikes out in nature. Listen to beautiful music that feeds your spirit.
  • Find religion – Dedicate yourself to the belief system that brings you the greatest sense of peace and belonging to something greater than yourself.
  • Develop friendships – Get together regularly to talk, laugh, and enjoy life with other people. That way, you not only nurture your own spirit, but you will also nurture the spirits of other people in your life.

Balance and Happiness in Life

I am most certainly not an expert in achieving a balanced life. In truth, I often fail in several of these ideas – especially the ones which involve other people. But just because something is difficult to do, it does not mean it is not worth trying. Perhaps striving for balance is like climbing a mountain. In order to climb, you must have a sturdy anchor, a rope, and the strength or your own body. When you put these three together, you can keep climbing; keep advancing inch by inch toward the summit.