Monday, January 14, 2013

My Thousand Mile Journey

It crossed my mind this time last year, but I didn’t want to set myself up for failure.  I knew the math should work, but life can be unpredictable.  So I set the idea aside and instead decided that in 2012 my goal for running was to simply enjoy it.  No pressure for PR’s (personal records), no distance calendars to follow, no ignoring warning signs of injury that might slow me down.  Instead, I would enjoy the moment, listen to my body, run fast when I wanted to, run slow when I wanted to, and use the time to digest my thoughts and let ideas percolate.

So I was caught a little off guard when I received the email from my RunKeeper app that I reached 1,000 miles this past year.  Wow.  In 1,000 miles I could have run to Eugene, Las Vegas- ONE AND A HALF TIMES...or to the Grand Canyon- AND BACK.  A thousand miles is a long way, with nothing but my own two feet, the discipline and will to move them, and some favorite music as a soundtrack to life.  

But I didn’t have to travel 1,000 miles away to have the experience of a lifetime. Some of those miles were in the pouring rain, some in extreme heat; most in total darkness, some in silvery moonlight, most at sunrise, and many at moonset.  There were hills that challenged and rewarded me.  There were times when I felt weightless and carried by the wind, and times when I felt like I was running backwards in molasses.  But most of the time I felt an indescribable inner peace.  I consciously tried to run with my senses, varying my path to experience different sights, sounds, smells and textures.  I saw raccoons, coyotes, bunnies and owls...and wildlife of another kind with a police chase, broken into cars, and the aftermath of recent accidents along my path (followed by a quick prayer of thanks that I wasn’t in that place at the wrong time).  I met new neighbors and made new friends.  And there isn’t a single run I can think of that I regret.  Not one.

In fact, to the contrary.  My memories of running those 1,000 miles are punctuated by the satisfaction of breaking a sweat in the freezing cold, from seeing the familiar comforts of smoke rising from a wood-burning chimney and the sweet smell of pancakes emanating from neighborhood homes; glorious sunrises that take my breath away and smiling moons that prompt me to smile back; the crunch of the gravel underfoot that reminds me that with every stride I move forward; shadows that accompany me and sunlight that shines ethereal rays of hope that light my path.  These are the moments that make it all worth it.  These are the moments that make 1,000 miles feel like a tremendous gift rather than a tedious chore.

And my gratitude for this significant reward is made sweeter by its unexpected timing.  I have a sense of satisfaction that is hard to much so that I am positive that I would not have relished this achievement had I formally planned for it- I’d be too busy planning my next, bigger goal to celebrate.  It’s just my nature.  But not today.  Today I take a moment to reflect on my 1,000 mile journey, count my blessings, recognize my supportive family, and do a little happy dance while marveling at my thousand milestones.

And tomorrow I run again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why I Want My Kids To Fail

First, let me say for the record, that I do NOT want my kids to be failures.  Quite the opposite- I want them to be successful as much as possible in life...which, in my opinion, requires that they fail at least some of the time.

Here’s the thing: we are raising our kids in a society where they are rewarded for just showing up; where the expectation is not that they work hard, but that they are simply present.  We give trophies for just being on a sports team, regardless of their skill improvement; we incentivize kids to come to school by giving them prizes, regardless of their performance; we defend our kids and rescue them when they fail, removing any assignment of responsibility or value of meaningful consequences.  

Photo credit: Mmoyer
What do they learn from this?  That they are entitled to success and to win, and that somehow they deserve it.

I’m all for positive reinforcement, but I also see the danger of replacing the intrinsic rewards of intentionally setting, working towards, and achieving challenging goals with the idea that it is good enough just to be there.  Our professional jobs don’t work that way; our relationships don’t work that way; life does not work that way.  This breeds the kind of motivation (or lack thereof) that has people expending more energy looking for ways to work the system in their favor (which isn’t all that hard to do), than committing to, sacrificing when necessary, and doing their absolute best to be successful.  If you don’t know what it feels like to fail- if you miss the opportunity to learn from your mistakes- will you ever truly know and appreciate success?  Or will you just feel entitled to more?  

I don’t think anyone wants to fail, but each failure brings a unique opportunity to grow and learn and become a better person because of it.  And sometimes that opportunity from failure is well beyond the original goal of success.  Failure can be a gift.  Just look at the inspirational underdogs around us who have overcome inconceivable odds, like Oscar Pistorius (aka “Blade Runner”) from the 2012 summer Olympics, because they are willing to redefine success and be even better in spite of their disadvantages. And remember Christopher Columbus, the guy who discovered mistake?  Take a minute to ponder this list of 50 Famously Successful People Who Failed At First- what would have happened if they ended their pursuit of success and settled for just good enough? 

Photo credit:
I love my kids and I want what’s best for them.  And, I’ll be the first to admit that my first instinct is to give them everything and/or do everything for them to make them happy- for the moment (and, if not to make my life easier).  But, in the end, I know that doing so only creates lazy, ungrateful, selfish people who just want more...and think they deserve it because they don’t know otherwise...because they haven’t learned that success is the result of overcoming failure, and the only way to overcome failure is with consistent effort and hard work.  

Okay, I’ve vacated the soap box, thanks for indulging me.  I would give you a trophy for participating, but... What are your thoughts on teaching kids how to fail so that they can ultimately succeed?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Back to School: Organizing the (In)Sanity for Kids and Parents

School supplies: check.  New clothes: check.  Finding out teacher assignments and seeing friends after a long summer: check.  Ready to learn: well...

Photo Credit: Digitalphotonut

It’s taken me more than a couple years of being a mom and going through the back-to-school routine to realize that preparing and organizing to go back to school is more than just filling a backpack with supplies and wearing some of the latest fashions.  In fact, it’s much more.  While some kids look forward with anticipation to the new classroom, new teacher, and new challenges, others are filled with angst about settling into a new environment , anxiety about whether their teacher will be approachable or intimidating, and fear about not being able to learn the information.

Take my oldest, for example.  He struggled quite a bit in third grade- not with the actual curriculum as much as with the “dynamic” (which in his case was a euphemism for “inconsistent”) classroom format of teaching.  He does not do well with change...and as a result of being forced to adapt to ongoing changes- and being in a perpetual state of being frustrated and feeling lost- came to the conclusion that he can’t “do” school.  He absolutely can, but he internalized his inability to keep up with the changes as an ineptitude for school.  (Insert exasperated sigh) Who says motherhood and parenting get easier as kids get older?  

I talked to his teacher- her solution was to sit down with him once or twice to help him organize the notebook he uses in class.  I talked to the school counselor (since his deflating self confidence was carrying over into his social interactions)- her solution was to sit down with him and help him organize his notebook...differently.  I did my best from home to help him be consistent with his homework schedule and where he put his completed work (which, more often than not, he didn’t turn in).  And while I emailed his teacher regularly, I just didn’t feel he was getting the support he needed.  At the same time, he was getting to an age where too much coddling and too accommodating can perpetuate his feeling of incompetence, which would surely contribute to his declining self esteem.  And this was only THIRD grade!  

So, while I will be the first to admit that I’m breathing a sigh of relief now that summer is over, I have carried a certain hesitation going into this next school year.  I keep asking myself, “How can I help him get/stay organized?”.  Then it occurred to me that no one was actually teaching him the skills on how to be organized; they were just telling him where to put things.  He needed to understand how to organize his thoughts first so that he could organize his actions.   

The saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish” has never made more sense to me.  

He needed a plan for getting organized that he could apply to any challenge or situation, no matter where he was.  Here’s what I came up with:

It’s pretty self explanatory, but basically, it’s all about being prepared so that you have the best possible chances for success.  And who doesn’t want to be successful?  It’s simple enough to be able remember and understand, and flexible enough to apply to most situations.  And best of all, it makes him feel in control of the situation.

We’ve revisited this a few times together when frustration levels begin to escalate and have found that it helps diffuse the situation and bring the focus back to the task at hand.  We also followed up our introduction of this concept with a labeling gun session where we labeled important things in his environment to help make life, well, more organized- like where to put shoes, his soccer gear, his homework pencils, and other things he often loses that contribute to his (and my) frustration insanity.

So far he’s more organized, and I’m more sane, so I call that success!  And it applies to more than just life with kids- my husband and I have even found ourselves putting these specific ideas into practice outside of being parents when we are feeling overwhelmed.  And, you know what?  It helps!  Give it a try next time you feel insanity taking over.  

What back to school tips and ideas do you have for making the transition smoother for everyone?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When You Give A Mom A Flat Screen TV

When you give a mom a flat screen, she’s going to want to have more seating to enjoy it.  And when she gets rid of the old entertainment center, she’s going to realize that she still needs a cabinet to house the electronics and dvd’s.  Then she’s going to want to go furniture shopping.  And when she goes shopping for a new couch and cabinet, her husband will hit her up for a recliner.  When she reluctantly agrees to the recliner, he will hit her up for a LOVESEAT recliner (because he LOVES her).  When she agrees to the loveseat recliner, she knows that the old chair that will be left in the room needs replacing.  So she’ll shop for a new chair.  That reclines.  
Photo: Robert Lerich
 When she settles on the furniture, she remembers that the paint in the living room is ten years old and needs updating.  And when she removes the decor for painting, she’ll want to update that, too.  But before she begins to paint, she realizes that the ceiling will look dingy if the walls are painted and not the ceiling, so she’ll paint that first.  Then she’ll paint the walls, window sills, doors and baseboards.  And, as she’s painting, she’ll have to keep touching up the walls as she jockeys the ladder around a small room full of furniture and four kids who want to enjoy their new flat screen tv.  That’s when she remembers she has four kids and a new flat screen tv.  And when she sits down to enjoy them, she looks into the connecting dining room and starts envisioning new paint colors and decor...