Resisting the “No!”

resisting the nofbnotesIt is so easy to say, “no” to things — particularly “things” that require getting out of bed, schlepping somewhere, or putting on pants; in some cases, all three. Activities outside the home, particularly ones that involve other humans, require effort. More and more, as opportunities that involve these herculean tasks, specifically the donning of pants, present themselves, my initial reaction is to say, “Thanks, but no thanks!”.

I have a physically demanding and mentally stressful job that requires me to do all of the above AND to interact with people all damn day. Quite frankly, I am tired by day’s end and, more often than not, have had my fill of people. Thus, rationalizing the “no” comes easily at the end of a long shift.

Following the schlep home, all I want to do, all I feel that I can successfully achieve, is to take off my pants and to crawl back under the covers. Where I am safe. Where no one is making demands of me. Where no one is criticizing me.

I have learned, though, to take a beat before responding in the negative, to think about what, exactly, I am saying “no” to (or for). Once I have gotten over the hurdles that include, but are not limited to, leaving my bedroom, throwing on some clothes, and transporting myself elsewhere — and, really, sometimes “elsewhere” is just up the block! — I am always pleased that I resisted the urge to beg off.

Still, the “no” comes more naturally. The “yes” has to fight for top billing.

Recently, because I said “yes”, I was able to enjoy the latest incarnation of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” on Broadway and, in the same week!, I was entertained by Chinese acrobats. All because I agreed to put on pants.

I enjoyed the play and the acrobats. Truly, Jessica Lange’s performance in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” was mesmerizing; and those Chinese acrobats were something else! Even so, these outings were about more than just the events.

I enjoyed the company, the camaraderie, of the people that I was with. Because they were not just any old “people”, they were “my” people — people who I have chosen, people who have chosen me.

I am not in their lives to fetch them straws or to make them some cockamamie drink. They are not sitting in judgment of my job performance in light of the fact that I spilled a ramekin of butter on a guest. They appreciate my eye-rolling and sighing, welcome it, even.

When I am at work I feel as though I am the subject in the most recent installment of a little game show that I like to call “Let’s Build a Better Employee”. I am not sure which is worse: knowing that I am the subject or knowing that I am not the best possible choice of contestant.

There was a time when I would have been the perfect contestant. That time was not all that long ago, it may, in fact, have been last week. But, now? This week? It seems that I am getting so few things right.

Getting all of the answers wrong takes all the fun out of the game. I go home at the end of every shift feeling uneasy, anxious, and, defeated. When I have been made to feel like I have no value, slipping into a pair of pajamas and sliding into bed seems the best course of action.

It is not. Surrounding myself with “my” people; saying “yes” to them is, in fact, the better choice, the antidote, to all of the other bullshit that life throws at you.

What I have discovered is that when I am around “my” people, I am almost instantly transformed into a person who has value. I feel, not only valued, but truly loved and appreciated. For that feeling I will resist the urge to go to bed at 7:00 PM. For that feeling I will schlep to wherever I need to schlep. For that feeling I will put on pants.







Avoiding the “Vague Idea”

crucifixMen are not really equipped for the whole shopping gig. Yes, I know. This is both sexist and promotes a certain stereotype. Sometimes, though, stereotypes linger because they’re true. For example, I’m Irish. I used to drink a lot. Many Irish people drink to excess. Not all, but many. That’s how it became a stereotype. Because it’s true. Perhaps you know a man who is not challenged by a shopping trip. Good for you. He’s a keeper! If you are not, however, involved with the exception to the rule — a man who has the shopping gene — don’t despair. All is not lost. They can be trained. Ultimately, what must be avoided is anything resembling the “vague idea”.

In our early years together my husband was fond of purchasing me jewelry. The problem? I don’t really wear a whole lot of jewelry. Well, at least not the jewelry that he was choosing. In an effort to indulge the obvious pleasure he got from shopping for jewelry, I started to drop hints about jewelry that I might actually like to own. (Enter the “vague idea”.) They were, I thought, fairly straightforward things. I mentioned items such as, a cross pendant, “X” earrings, or a simple gold chain. How could someone screw that up? Fairly easily, as it turns out. The small, elegant, understated cross turned into an elaborate filigreed crucifix that might at one time have belonged to Madonna. For those of you who don’t know, there is a difference between a cross and a crucifix. A cross is a modified “T” shape; a crucifix has a sculpted and bloodied man wearing a crown of thorns affixed to the “T” shape. I like Jesus as much as the next gal, but I don’t want four gruesome inches of his death hanging from my neck. Too flashy and overtly religious. Definitely NOT me.

The “X” earrings? They were large enough to partially obscure my cheekbones and heavy enough to stretch my delicate earlobes. When I returned them I think they put them back on the branding iron from which they had been removed.

A simple gold chain? Try a quadruple herringbone. Cleopatra probably sported something smaller. It gave me a neck ache. I also imagined that it might catch the eye of some ne’er do well who would garrote me while attempting to tear it from my tender neck. Again. Not for me.

Those jewelry store clerks definitely saw my husband coming. He fell, hook, line, and sinker, for the old “bigger is better” adage. And he fell hard.

Obviously I returned all of this craziness. (And made a handsome profit, I might add.) Following the quadruple herringbone disaster (he really could not understand what could possibly be wrong with something so obviously expensive and well-made — and in Italy for crying out loud!), he vowed never to buy me jewelry again. Obviously his inability to select something appropriate was all my fault. He stayed true to his word, though, and steered clear of the jewelry stores when my birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day rolled around. I began to receive things like candle snuffers (designed for taper candles, which I do not own a one of), snow boots (bright pink and two sizes too small), scarves (mostly “medallion” prints, I’ll likely drag them out when I’m 80), pajamas (flannel and sized to hold at least one other person — and, no, not because he had any kinky ideas — because he operates under the assumption that my feet are petite, but my ass is at least two sizes larger than it really is), and, of course, the inevitable robot vacuum cleaner (he does the vacuuming, so I guess that one worked out for him).

More than twenty years of well-meaning, yet still not quite right, gifts forced me to adopt the bold strategy of asking for exactly what I want. No more hints. No more leaving dog-eared magazines or catalogs lying around (like the ones he used to look quizzically at finding atop his pillow). No more candle-snuffers, cleaning-related products, or stage-worthy jewelry for me! Last year he even relaxed his “No Jewelry” policy and agreed to buy me the small Tiffany “Love” ring that I’d had my eye on for ages. This year I asked for AND received a new pair of chocolate brown UGGS mini boots (in the proper size!). Let me not leave you with the impression that my husband is perfect, though. No. He’s still working out the kinks with the whole “Christmas pajama” tradition. This year they weren’t flannel nor were they completely ludicrous. They would have been great if it weren’t for the see-through white top that accompanied the XL bottoms. So, while there’s always room for improvement, there is no substitute for proper training.

photo credit: crucifix

Bad Habits? Top 10!

top10I’ve recently stumbled across a couple of bloggers who are engaged in projects entitled “40 before 40”. The premise being to drop 40 bad habits before their 40th birthday. I applaud any step in a positive direction. I am, however, awaiting the bottom of their lists. Because I have quite a few bad habits, but 40? That seems a pretty large number of bad habits for someone who is not, say, a hooker, a drug dealer, or a member of Congress to have, doesn’t it?

I fear that number 40 will be their resolution to leave no pencil unsharpened or something equally frivolous. I’m not embarking on this mission, but I began to wonder how many bad habits I actually do have.

1. Smoking.

2. Leaving the outside light on when I go out to smoke.

3. Sometimes forgetting to close the door when I go outside to smoke.

If I gave up #1, I could actually knock off 3 bad habits at once.

4. I have a tendency to be judgemental. The funny thing is, I’m usually right. So, is this really a bad habit or is it a gift?

5. I never properly make my bed. Some days I throw the quilt over the whole mess, but I’m not fooling anyone. Your average self-absorbed 3-year-old would be onto me in about 30 seconds. I do straighten the sheets, pillows, and blankets prior to getting into bed at night, so maybe this is only half of a bad habit.

6. I may be getting a little long in the tooth for the coonskin cap, but here’s the thing: it keeps away the crazies. Yup. Believe it or not, a grown woman sporting a coonskin cap sends out the “I’m crazier than you are— and I have the hat to prove it!” vibe. Bad habit? Or just plain smart? You tell me.

7. Kicking off my socks in the middle of the night. I’ve never had Athlete’s Foot, though. So, while it annoys the hubby, it’s probably pretty healthy. How would I go about breaking this habit, anyway? Taping my socks on? That can’t be good for the old circulation!

8. I’m a big procrastinator. In my old age I’ve discovered that this isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes solutions present themselves over time. Not the dishes, though; they just keep piling up. Okay. So, I should get on the dishes sooner. Or, I could just leave them until my husband does them. It’s the one thing he hates and will actually attend to. Again. A method to the madness, so to speak.

9. I should lay off the shoe buying. I buy a lot of shoes. People are always commenting on my attractive footwear. (Not when I’m wearing my coonskin cap, though— perhaps it’s because the hat is so stunning! Or it may be because it’s tough to get past the hat. Or, as previously mentioned, it’s because folks shy away from crazy.) Why give up something that makes me feel good? Isn’t my self-esteem worth spending a few bucks and sacrificing closet space for? I think so.

10. Blogging— it can sometimes feel addictive. And I shouldn’t do addictive things. I should really know better. But, really? I’m meeting new people. Fostering healthy relationships (albeit cyber ones, but who cares?). Improving my writing skills. Every time I hit that “Publish” button I feel a sense of accomplishment. That can’t be a bad thing. So, I have to ask myself: If I wasn’t blogging, what might I be doing? Sure, there’s always laundry, television, and speaking to actual humans (some of whom I even live with), but I probably wouldn’t be doing much of any of those things whether I blogged or not. No. I’m not giving up blogging either.

Perhaps I’ll think of some more bad habits in the future. (I could consult Fang— I’m not sure I want to see his list of my bad habits, though!) I think that’s the top ten. Large projects really are best realized when broken into smaller parts (at least that’s what I’ve heard— I don’t tackle many large projects myself).

So, anybody have similar bad or not so bad habits?

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Materspringa Now!

I have a business opportunity for the Amish. (Talk about your untapped market!) What I’m suggesting is, as a way for us busy mothers to decompress, we spend some time experiencing the simpler life enjoyed by the Amish. It’ll be similar to going to a spa, but without the massages and soothing mineral baths. (I’m sure there’s some mud and rocky soil you can roll around in if you insist— but you’ll probably want to lose the white bonnet and apron if you are going to participate in that kind of behavior.)

We could call it Materspringa. The Amish have a tradition of sending their young people out into our world for a period of time, they call it Rumspringa. When they send their young folks out for Rumspringa, they could rent out their empty rooms to world-weary mothers who need a little down time and wouldn’t mind learning how to make a nice pie.

The logistics might be a little problematic, we’ll have to go old school to get the word out: flyers, newspapers, church bulletins, the busybodies down at The Farmer’s Market. But, where there’s a will there’s a way, Ladies! It’ll be worth the trouble, I promise.

Imagine, if you will, arriving at sunrise, being shown to your minimalist room replete with line-dried sheets and a handmade quilt. (Can’t you just smell the lemon oil Rebekkah uses to clean the old pine flooring?) You change into your shift, apron, and bonnet before joining the family downstairs.

One of the twins (Jakob? Aaron? You’ll be able to tell them apart before long) takes you outside where you join Hannah and Lise in collecting eggs from the henhouse. (Those were some busy hens!) Between the egg gathering and the smell of fresh corn cakes wafting from the main house you realize you’re hungry.

God is thanked. Breakfast is served; simple, yet delicious. There’s nothing better than a fresh fried egg and a warm corn cake slathered in hand-churned butter and dipped in homemade blackberry jam to satisfy the hunger that often follows digging around hen’s rumps for their never-to-be offspring.

You spend the rest of the day learning some new skills: like making Shoo-Fly Pie, the secret to a good bread dough, and the art of canning peaches. You can then sit on the porch in a rocker, join the sewing circle if you like, or just relax with some fresh-squeezed lemonade while the children take turns reading aloud from The Holy Bible.

A slice of the scrumptious Shoo-Fly pie follows the family dinner of rosemary chicken and potatoes with garden fresh peas. (Shucked on the porch while you and Rebekkah were getting to know each other— you discover that you and she have more in common than you would have thought.) What a pleasant dinner it was! Of course there was the requisite scripture, read aloud by Gunter, Rebekkah’s content and hard-working husband. (Seriously. Content!) Most impressive, though, are the children. The manners! The respect! The attentiveness! The connection to their siblings and their parents! The answering of questions in full sentences!

After supper, Gunter regales everyone with a little more Bible reading (scripture overload is becoming a real possibility— power through it) and some more conversation (actual conversation— about actual people he knows— not about who the NY Mets may or may not acquire/rid themselves of in the off season) as the children use the last of the natural light, Hannah and Lise to braid each other’s hair (miraculously without pulling or fighting), Jakob and Aaron to do sums. (Jakob actually helps Aaron— neither a “dummy” or a “stupid head” crosses Jakob’s lips!)

At sunset it’s time for bed. You lie in the crisp sheets, listening to the children saying their prayers (they even pray for you, their “Englisher” guest), thinking about the hubbub of your own life. You say a little prayer yourself and make a promise that when you get home you’ll try and simplify.

You drift off thinking about how you can accomplish this. You’re certainly not up to building a henhouse and you don’t know the first thing about raising or breeding chickens, nor can you imagine dragging your children out of bed to gather eggs (surely there’s a local ordinance regarding roosters crowing), so the breakfast of fresh eggs probably won’t be happening. Homemade sourdough and Shoo-Fly pie? Definite possibilities.

More than likely there won’t be a groundswell of support for a sewing circle, but a little reading aloud before dinner wouldn’t kill anybody, For God’s sakes!— probably not The Bible, though— maybe something a little more accessible, like “Game of Thrones”. Yeah, you’re more historical fantasy people than Good Book folks.

The point of Materspringa isn’t that you should return with the notion that you can wholly incorporate Amish ways to your 21st Century lifestyle. Quite the contrary. Spending a few days unplugged, connecting with another culture and, more importantly, with yourself, is the objective of Materspringa.

And the free t-shirt. Basic black with a white bonnet on the front with just the word “Materspringa” in a simple block lettering on the sleeve. Simple and tasteful. Like the Amish.

I daresay that the success of Materspringa will, undoubtedly lead to Paterspringa. I don’t know about you, but I’d pay good money to see my husband (who is averse to lifting a finger) raise a barn. Plus, men are suckers for a free t-shirt.

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