The Things You Don’t See

See that smiling woman cuddling her kids, you don’t see her anxiety and her battle every day with post-partum depression.

You don’t imagine the insecurity that business woman faces as she addresses a meeting.

You can’t fathom the self-loathing of that young woman who’s fighting bulimia and can’t wait to stick her fingers down her throat.

That homeless man was once a father with a regular job.

You don’t realize that you’re talking with a confident Asian woman who actually wishes she were white.

The car that’s driving slowly or erratically in front of you, annoying you – you’re unaware that a Mom is dealing with a screaming kid.

Your friend who’s always smiling and composed, maybe she’s hiding verbal abuse or an addiction to pain meds?

That kid you think is a bully, you don’t see how shy he really is. Or maybe he’s just hungry?

Maybe that rude individual talking loudly on the phone is dealing with a family emergency?

A distracted, grumpy colleague? She just broke up with her boyfriend.

That person who’s in such a rush to end a conversation with you probably needs to pee really badly.

Your girlfriend who doesn’t want to split the restaurant bill four ways might be worrying about how to make her next credit card payment.

What about the call service rep who sounds disinterested? This could be the only job he could find and he hates it. But it’s a job. A paying job.

 

The fact is, there’s an awful lot we don’t, won’t or can’t see. But we are oh-so-quick to assume and judge. Myself included.

What you don’t see about me is the constant burning and itching on my forehead, the invisible remnants of shingles from a little over a year ago. I’m not complaining. In fact, I even appreciate it. This burning-you-can’t-see is my daily reminder not to assume things about the people I know and the strangers I don’t.

And it’s also a persistent reminder of my duty to teach my kids to also be thoughtful and respectful of all the people they encounter and all the stuff they are dealing with that we can’t see.

 

 

 

 

12 Things I Won’t Miss About Summer Camp

I’m not ashamed to say that I can’t wait for summer camp to be done. We have One.More.Day. Tomorrow, with a boatload of glee and relief, we’ll be putting the kids on the bus for their last day of YMCA summer camp this year. They have had an awesome awesome summer but it’s definitely time for everyone to resume the structure of the school year. Of course, while there are many reasons to love summer camp, there are also quite a few things I will not miss …. until next summer rolls around.

  1. The compressed, fractious mornings: no matter how early we all get up and how organized we are, the last few minutes of getting ready to get out the door is always high drama and stress
  2. Mud in  lunch boxes and backpacks
  3. Stains: there are regular stains and there are summer camp stains which require either boiling or disposal
  4. Having to wake up my daughter early: an ugly preview of what her teens will surely be like
  5. Damp, stinky towels that have been dragged through dirt and then stuffed into backpacks
  6. Lost items galore
  7. “Hey mama, I have to wear red all week” (she has no red clothes)
  8. The constant warring over whether Pokemon cards, devices and “guys” (Hero Factory/Chima characters) can go with them to camp (answer: no)
  9. The discovery of said contraband being snuck into backpacks
  10. Gimp
  11. Dirt bombs in their hair that take more than 2-3 showers/shampoos to remove
  12. Torture by “this is a repeat-after-me” camp songs

I know, I know. In a few week’s time, I’ll be all involved in homework, PTO guilt and all that school stuff and will long for the “carefree” days of summer camp. But right now, I’m so very glad that it’s almost over.

 

 

 

 

A Little Silly to Start the Day

There’s a lot of nasty in the world right now: it can suck your spirit. My weapon to guard off the negative? A healthy dose of silly, especially when it includes my kids.

Now, you can’t force the sillies. They gotta happen spontaneously.

This morning, I snuck into bed with T shortly after her alarm went off. We were talking sweet nuthins and I can’t remember how or why but suddenly we were messing around with words and landed on the fact that ‘waffle’ and ‘awful’ kind of rhyme, especially when you pronounce ‘awful’ like ‘offal’.

“Waiter, this waffle is awful” I stated, and we both fell into a crazy heap of gut-busting giggles. The kind of giggles that set you up for the day with a smile on your face.

But it got even better.

Guess what papa had made the kids for breakfast?

Yup, waffles. T and I looked at each other gleefully and plotted.

She took a few bites then turned to her father. “Papa, this waffle is awful!” she giggled.

I giggled. We all giggled.

Silliness rules.

Taking Off The Training Wheels: A Mother’s Perspective

She’s a lot like me. A little cautious, a tad fearful. Prefers to set her own pace. Doesn’t take criticism awfully well. But determined, so determined.

Last year, she really tried it but took a spill. And that was it. Her confidence was grazed, never mind her knees. She decided she didn’t want any more of it. The wheels went back on. We didn’t push it.

A year later, things are different. After all, just look at the glee in her big brother’s eyes as he crazy speeds up and down the driveway, purposefully weaving this way and that, doing tricks? Taking spills but getting back on. She wants some of that action.

If I were the only parent, she may have never learned this. I’m the mother than cannot watch as they struggle to gain balance, take off and then wobble. With my breath catching in my throat, I put on an eager, supportive face but my insides are jelly, my nerves are screaming, waiting for the inevitable swerve and crash, tears and wails, grazes and bruises and hopefully, really hopefully, nothing worse. I’m terrified but I’m still cheering her on.

Fortunately, there’s him. Cool as a cucumber. Instructive. Determined and patient. Under his steady eye and hand, she really works at this, confidence building like a three-layer cake. And something clicks. She gets it. And she’s off, a little wobbly at first but she’s off. Self-propelled, balanced. Proud. The pedals turn, kinetically building energy, speed and conviction.

As she practices, her balance becomes stronger. The thrill of the ride shines in her eyes. “Wooohooo,” as she picks up speed. If she wasn’t wearing a helmet, the wind would be buffeting her hair, locks streaming out behind her like the dust Road Runner leaves in his wake.

I’m still terrified, of course. It’s the mother in me. But so proud of her hard work and grateful for his steady determination.

Of course, there will be spills, grazes and tears. But she will deal with them and get back on. She will learn when to switch into a higher gear, to look out for bumps in the road, to enjoy coasting, and when to apply the brakes.

And if that isn’t a metaphor for life, then I don’t know what is.

 

 

“Be All Of Who You Are” & 24 Other Great Quotes from #BlogHer14

 

#BlogHer14 words

The words that mattered most at BlogHer14

I don’t have time to write a full recap about all that made BlogHer14 an amazing and thought provoking experience. Besides, so many of you have already written recaps that mirror much of what’s in my head and heart. So instead, I’m perusing the notes I took and the tweets I tweeted or retweeted – and listed below are the statements that impacted me most. Apologies in advance for not being able to attribute them or bungling them a tad — but know that your words were heard and felt.

Be all of who you are

What people think of me is not my problem

I an unable to can

Be a conduit not a vessel

Don’t fear the stories that make you uncomfortable and make you think

I try not to tell other people’s stories but I’m very committed to telling my own

The best networkers are givers

No is a complete sentence

Sometimes the words burn hot and I just have to get them out

Live life as though everything is rigged in your favor

Being tired is the new norm and we have to change that

We need to listen even harder

Make connections that map to your values and your soul

Find the moments when you can enter the conversation and have something meaningful to say

Be additive

If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring your own chair

You don’t need permission: you’re you

Just give a crap

Good intuitive poignant writing will always be relevant

Comparison is the thief of joy

I want my blog to be a love letter to my kids

Value the slow

We are creating culture with every blog post we publish

Writers write. Always. Everywhere.

Words make the world.

#BlogHer14

P.S. I write about the key takeaways from BlogHer for brands for my company’s blog. You can find it here.

P.P.S. I also pulled together a Storify to highlight the tweets and images from BlogHer – it’s over here.

Storify: #BlogHer14 As Told in 140 Characters

I’m still processing all that was #BlogHer14. But in the meantime, here’s a quick Storify of some of the many Tweets and photos from the conference.

#BlogHer14 highlights

A Storify of all that was #BlogHer14

 

The Words That Mattered Most at #BlogHer14

#BlogHer14  words

The words that mattered most at BlogHer14

En Route to #BlogHer14 – Eek!

Into hour five or maybe six of this flight from Boston to San Jose and starting to feel excited and anxious.

I’ve a #BlogHer14 column set up in HootSuite and it’s going nuts.

So.Many.Bloggers.All.In.One.Place

People who do this blog thing for a living. People with niche interests. People who blog much more frequently than I can. Better writers. Funnier. More interesting.

I’m feeling just a teeny bit out of my league. Like I’m not entirely qualified to be part of this club.

My goal for the next few days is to not have any goals. I’m going to just let it happen, take it in, and see where it takes me. Hopefully meet a few nice people. Learn stuff. Heck, I’m going to be in the same room/breathing the same oxygen as Kerry Washington – that alone could make this worthwhile. Maybe I’ll even get to meet Kara Swisher of Recode in a strange meshing of my professional life and this side thing/hobby of mine called blogging.

Anyway, I just read a tweet that said the Ben & Jerry booth is serving peanut butter & jelly ice cream so if it all gets too much, I know where I’m heading.

If you happen to read this and also be among the throngs at BlogHer14, please say hi. I’m the redhead with the British accent.

Don’t Buy Me Stuff

Back in my 20s when a good friend and I both lived in London, we used to take each other to the theatre for our respective birthdays. We both loved musicals and drama, and it was a wonderful and generous way for us to treat each other. It also helped that our birthdays were several months apart, so we got to see new shows every six months for a couple of years.

Fast-forward 20 odd years. Through good fortune and hard graft, I am lucky enough to have a beautiful home and a lot of stuff. More stuff, in fact, than I truly need. My family also has a lot of stuff, especially my kids. When stuff breaks or gets outdated or replaced by a newer better version of stuff, we get new stuff. Old stuff gets donated, recycled or thrown away.

So.Much.Stuff.

Too.Much.Stuff.

I’d being lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the stuff; that the fruits of our hard work enable us to acquire things. Some of these things we need, or at least we claim we need. Most of it we really don’t need, but we like to have, own, use, show off.

I feel guilty about all the stuff. Compared to others that are not as fortunate. I’d like to not only give away more stuff to those with more need but I’d also like to not acquire as much new stuff.

Charity starts at home, as they say. My kids need to learn that stuff doesn’t really matter. They don’t need to constantly buy or be bought new things. The need to understand the value of what they already have. And understand that being generous doesn’t always mean giving stuff away, though it’s a start. It’s our job to set this example, practice what we preach.

I’m thinking about this topic as my birthday is approaching in a few weeks. Birthdays, especially for kids, become the epicenter of getting more stuff. Often nice stuff. Maybe stuff we need but won’t buy for ourselves.

So here’s the thing. Please don’t buy me stuff. I have more than I deserve already. If I want, ‘need’ or desire something, I can go buy it myself.

Instead, treat me to experiences. Take me to the theatre. Let’s have a day trip. A picnic on the beach. Let’s do something unexpected and crazy and fun. It may cost money but maybe not.

You see, the more stuff you have, the more it collects dust. It becomes hard to find the one bit of stuff you value the most when there’s a whole big, dusty pile of stuff.

The opposite happens with experiences. Each experience can be treasured both in the moment, and after. Experiences can be shared. Experiences don’t degrade with time. Every time you unwrap them in your memory, they are lush with emotions, vivid with detail.

So, please don’t buy me stuff. I don’t intend to be ungrateful. I know there’s pleasure in selecting a gift for someone. I’m sorry if this request denies you that pleasure.

How’s this for a deal? I’ll treat you to an experience too. That’s way we’ll all have memories to cherish instead of piles of more stuff.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Summer Camp

School’s out, summer’s here. Parents everywhere are cheering. Or are they?

I hate summer camp

I hate that we have to be out of the house a whole hour earlier than during the school year, in time to catch the bus to camp. Our already-challenging mornings become even more compressed and panicky because, no matter how well prepared we are, kids just want to play – not pack their lunches, find their towel, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, etc etc. It’s the fear of missing the bus and having to consequently drive 40 minutes in the opposite direction from my workplace that fuels these mornings.

I hate that, no matter how well I’ve organized the camp clothing procurement process with the goal of having a sufficient supply chain of shorts, T-shirts, socks, swimsuits and towels, I still end up having to do laundry every single night. Because camp clothes aren’t just a little dirty – they are sweaty, sandy, muddy, dank, stained with arts and crafts and bug spray. They require boiling. I hate that stuff always gets lost, no matter how well labelled. Towels, water bottles, sun screen, swimsuits, lunch boxes, goggles, underwear.

I hate camp songs. Sure, they are cute at first. But when your kids sing them over and over, morning and evening and all weekend – especially those “repeat after me” songs – it’s enough to drive me loony.

I dislike “dress up” or theme days. Nine times out of ten we just don’t have the right costume, color or accessory just hanging around the house. Or, most likely, we forget. Then as we arrive at the bus stop and see other kids in whichever theme of the week attire it is, my kids are inevitably disappointed. (Side note: if they cared enough about it, they’d make an effort to remember. Right?)

I dislike family night. Not because I don’t want to experience my kids’ camp, meet their counsellors and friends, hang out and have fun – but because of the damn mosquitoes that see me and think “mmm, dinner.”

I hate the cost of 8-9 weeks of summer camp because, as a working parent, what else are you going to do? I also hate that I have to start reserving my kids’ spot at summer camp in January, for fear that it’ll book up really quickly and then we’ll be royally screwed.

I hate that many of the fun, smaller or specialist camps are not only crazy expensive but they also finish at 3 or 4pm? What’s a working parent to do?

But …. I love summer camp.

I love that my kids spend their days outside at camp running, playing, swimming, fishing, boating, archery, learning outdoor skills and much much more. It’s how kids were meant to spend their summers: carefree, making new friends, trying new challenges. Happy as pigs in …. well, you know. I love how my kids’ camp – the YMCA – provides sufficient structure for a camp of 800 kids but at the same time encourages discovery, expression and free-play.

I love how my kids’ bodies become firm and lithe during summer camp, their little arms and chests becoming toned and muscular thanks to twice daily swimming. I love how, every summer, their swimming skills get stronger. I love their stories of new friends and adventures. I love the relationships they build with their counsellors. I love their farmers’ tans, the healthy glow that bursts from their happy faces. I love how they grow every summer, not just in height but in strength (inner and outer.)

I love that they come home tired, filthy, and hungry. They eat their body weight in food for dinner and then sleep soundly for ten hours. I love that they are spending less time in front of screens. I feel like our money has been well-spent and my kids are making memories every year, building layer upon layer of character and confidence.

So yes, mention summer camp and I’ll both smile and grimace.  And yes, soon enough, the time will come that they go to sleep away camps for several weeks at a time. Then, I’m sure, I’ll be singing a different tune.

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