Monday, August 14, 2017

The Importance of a Simple Thank You


One of my biggest peeves is not receiving a simple thank you for a gift given lovingly and willingly to another. 
Grandma asks a child what he wants for Christmas or his birthday and gets a long wish list.  After the child opens the present, he tosses it aside and grabs another without acknowledging or thanking her. The time, effort, and money spent in the process is treated inconsequential, a right and not a privilege.  
The following holiday, again the child does the same.  Grandma’s gift is lost among the many others.  No acknowledgement.  No thank you. 
If the outcome is the same whether the giver offers a present or not, then why bother?
I use the example of a grandchild, but my experience has been wide and varied. This incident has happened repeatedly to me with family and friends where a celebration requires a gift. 
What happened to the formal thank you note?   Why is it considered antiquated when the giving of gifts hasn’t gone out of style? We complain about the entitled generation, yet we teach (and accept) entitlement to our children.  How many of us write a thank you note to those who give us presents?
I do.  I send thank you’s to those who remember me at Christmas, my birthday, and other holidays.  When I forget to write a note, I make sure the giver knows personally how much I appreciated their kindness. I tell others about my gift and brag on the present and the giver. Yes, a gift should be given willingly with nothing expected in return, but shouldn’t appreciation and delight be acknowledged?

I have gotten wiser and meaner as I age. My memory is as sharp as ever. I will continue to acknowledge those who give me presents and who thank me in return for mine.  Their names will go on my “Nice” list, while the others, well, there is a reason it is called the “Naughty” list. Why bother if my gift means nothing to them? 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Happiness – A Simple Explanation


Scientists can prove “happiness” through brain scans, chemical secretions, even the subtle change in individual cells.  It has also been proven that one’s facial expression can affect one’s disposition.  The body anticipates “happiness” if one practices smiling.
I don’t need all that to know what makes me happy.
-       Bare toes on the beach, the feel of cold, wet sand soothing away the tiredness
-       A sunrise, its promise of a new day
-       A vibrant sunset, the accomplishment of that promise
-       Children’s laughter, especially giggles and squeals
-       The first sip of coffee in the morning
-       A drink of cold water flowing down a parched throat
-       A satisfying ending to a good story, be it a book, a tale, or a movie
-       A small, unexpected kindness
-       A loving, understanding partner, family, a good friend
-       A decadent dessert or a simple, crisp saltine cracker
-       A moving piece of art; music that stirs the soul
-       The perfect bubble
-       A butterfly, a dragonfly, bird in song
-       Warm, soft socks
-       A roof over my head, safety from the world
-       Food on the table
-       Fireworks
-       a hug, an embrace, a slow dance with the right person
-       knowing that you made a difference, fought the fight, left a legacy
-       the belief in God and in life after death; we are part of something larger than ourselves

Happiness – the reasons we live our lives to the fullest, relishing the simplest of things that matter. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Surviving a Panic Attack

I sat my three kids down to give them the news. I was losing control, overwhelmed by the divorce.  I felt my brain on overload and I was inches away from a breakdown.  I needed their help. I needed them to take care of me while I rode out this storm.
          All three sat there stunned.  In their early twenties, they were barely adult enough to care for themselves, and I was “the strong one,” the one parent they relied on, their tether while they tested their wings on their own.  I had always warned them not to put me on a pedestal.  My feet were made of clay.  I was mortal and finite. And just as human as they.
          Right now, I was moments from slipping into a serious anxiety attack. I knew this because it wasn’t the first time I’d had one. Twenty years prior I froze in front of an auditorium full of educators who had come to hear me speak about the use of a computerized reading program.  I was legally separated (from the same man) back then, so my mind was on more important things than selling an expensive product to school administrators.  The sales person who had invited me to testify took over, but I doubt many sales were made that day.
          When none of my kids stepped forward, I didn’t blame them.  They too were traumatized by their father’s abandonment, so losing me scared them beyond words.  We were all a mess, so I called my mother and told her I was packed and on my way to her house.  I gave her the route I would take and ETA, then I drove to her house on autopilot.  She took care of me for four days, the time it took for me to come out of my dreamlike state of detachment, and I found my purpose and determination again.
          I always wonder why people do not die from a broken heart.  I guess some do; those who do not have healthy bodies.  The rest of us keep on living and the closest we come to dying is through anxiety attacks.
          I had another one a few months later.  I was still feeling a little wobbly when my brother-in-law passed away suddenly and my sister and niece asked for my help with the arrangements.  I was supposed to read Scripture at his funeral mass but when it came time, I froze.  I grew roots to the floor and panicked.  At the same time, I wanted to run out of the church but I could not move. I could not do anything, so I looked at my sister and niece and choked out something.  They calmed me down and covered for me.  The grief for my brother-in-law plus my own personal tragedy was more than my brain and my heart could handle. It only lasted for a few hours, but it proved I was a fraud. I wasn’t as strong as EVERYONE thought I was.  I was human and I hurt just like everyone else.
          I hadn’t had a panic attack in sixteen years, so I do not understand what triggered the one that visited me last week in the middle of the night while I slept. I was dreaming nonsense, some humdrum, boring conversation between me and some faceless person about some nothing subject, when – bam! – I woke up with a jolt, a whiplash like one experiences when a roller coaster makes a sudden stop. All my muscles were immobile, frozen, mummified. My heart was racing and I felt an overwhelming fear as if Satan himself was in the room. I looked over in the dark at HoneyBunch, but I could not move nor talk. It would take an effort I did not possess to tell him what was happening, so it was up to me to help myself.
          I assessed the damage.  I was not having a heart attack or stroke.  I recognized it as a panic attack.  I searched my brain for the cause of anxiety but found nothing that would cause a reaction this extreme. I took three deep, slow breaths.  I grounded myself, noting three things to identify my surroundings.  I forced myself to relax using the yoga technique where you start with your toes and work your way up the body.  I kept taking deep breaths and felt myself regaining calm.  As I thought of three, good things in my life that make me smile, I got into a comfortable sleeping position, and I prayed myself to sleep.
          I shared this with HoneyBunch the next day and he and I have discussed it several times since.  Our best guess is this time of year.  Many sad things have happened to us in the month of July over the years, so that might have triggered the panic attack. All I know is I am alive.  I am human and my feet are on the ground and not on a pedestal.  

          

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Infamous, Ginormous, Dreaded School Supply List


          The day after the 4th of July, the stores in my area ripped everything summer off the shelves and replaced it with Back to School merchandise.  Rows of backpacks replaced swim vests and bathing suits.  Sneakers and ankle boots kicked hundreds of flip flops into clearance bins, and the amount of material on shirts and pants grew longer.
          Though I no longer have kids of school age, seven of my nine grandkids head back in less than a month, and their parents are not looking forward to the infamous, ginormous, dreaded school lists.  One son has five kids, four of them in school, and my daughter has three in school.  Not only do they have to face School Supply Lists for each one, but there are also other back to school expenses: doctors, dentists, haircuts, clothes.  The list continues on and on.  
          It can be quite a hardship that swoops down on parents all at once.  I picked up three different SSLs while out shopping last week, each from three different school districts in my area.  The least number of items on one list was twenty-one different items; the most had thirty-eight. But this will not end there.  No sir.  The children will come home the first day of school, if not by the end of the first week, with additional items required by some of their teachers: lab fees, uniforms, mouth guards or mouth pieces.  They will have bought the wrong color ring binder and the teacher will insist it clashes with the color scheme for the class or the class period. The student will need to replace their four-inch, three ring binder with a three-inch, three ring binder. Mom and Dad will scramble to buy these things while trying to feed their family with whatever money is left in their budget for the month.
          We always had just enough but I sometimes wished I had a second job or a fairy godmother.
          My advice is to hoard.  Along with buying all these many items listed on the SSL, buy extras if you can and keep them for later.  A ream of notebook paper on sale in August costs twenty cents. They do this to bait parents into shopping at their store, so buy extras.  In January when your child needs another ream of paper it will cost about the same as a sirloin steak. You will thank me for this advice later.
          Look for sales.  Shop dollar stores.  Take advantage of the tax-free weekends. You’ll wish you had a second job or a fairy godmother.
          At the end of the year, force (threaten) your children to bring home all their school supplies.  Don’t let them throw them away at school or donate them to the teacher.  It is your property and you want it back. I recycled pencils and pens, scissors and rulers, pencil boxes and zipper bags.  My three handed down map pencils and water colors to one another all through elementary.  In fact, I still own some of those things. It embarrassed them when I dusted and wiped off binders, or when I sent them to school with lumpy erasers, but embarrassing them was part of my job description.
          So was providing for them.
          They came around when I used the money saved on them on new jeans or sneakers or eating out. They agreed with me that some of the stuff on the school supply list was rarely used.  Scissors, rulers, and the immortal water color set do not wear out.

           

Monday, July 17, 2017

Creating Magic Takes Hard Work


I am an organizer, a planner, a list maker.  There is a clock or an egg timer, a calendar or a notebook, a dry erase board or a magnetic clip with note attached, in every room.
When family comes to visit, a meal magically appears on the table.  The house is clean and the lawn is mowed.  Covered dishes warm on the stove and cold dishes chill in the refrigerator.  Pitchers of ice-cold lemonade and tea wait to fill glasses, and the coffee pot only needs to be started. The dessert takes center stage on the kitchen table. We say grace, we sit and eat, we enjoy our time together as a family. 
No one asks how it all got done.
The week before, I took inventory, making lists of things that need to be bought or set out before the company arrives. Every day of the week has its own list and on the last day the focus shifts into hourly checklists.
Almost as soon as the first guests arrive, everything falls into place as if by magic and I sit and enjoy my children and their families. They did not witness all the work it took to get here, all the pots and pans, bowls and appliances that I used and washed. It looks like I wiggled my nose and everything came together on its own.
We say grace, we sit and eat, we enjoy our time together.  Every minute of planning and work is worth the effort. My family is growing in size and in age and magical moments together like this are more precious than gold or diamonds.

When it is time to leave and the last car drives off, leaving only fading echoes of children’s laughter and grown up chatter, I have no need for a list or a clock or a pencil. Things will get done, put away, and straightened over the following week, but first, I will sit, smile, and enjoy the tiny bit of magic I helped to create.