theorangeinkblot

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Archive for the tag “advice”

Please Stop Expressing your Condolences that I have a Teenage Daughter.

I met a new neighbor yesterday.  Upon hearing that I have a teenage daughter, she replied, “I’m sorry.”

This happens quite frequently.  Someone asks me how old my children are and when I mention my teenage daughter the response is often, “My condolences,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Can I get you a glass of wine?”

I’m writing this today to ask of you: please stop expressing your condolences that I have a teenage daughter. I’m not the least bit sorry or upset about it.

Yes, she sometimes rolls her eyes or uses “that tone.” Occasionally, when I ask her to help me to unload the dishwasher she replies, “No thanks, I’m good.” My daughter some times does these things, but these things do not define her. Look past the occasional eye rolls, dramatic interludes, and the ear buds that seem to have taken up permanent residence in her ears and you will see that my teenage daughter is not someone who needs apologizing for.  She is, in fact, nothing short of amazing.

Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in first grade, my now 14-year-old is one of the bravest and strongest people I know.  Every morning, she gets out of bed knowing that at some point during the day she will need to battle an inner demon and she knows there is a chance she won’t win.  Yet, every morning, she gathers her courage, puts on her emotional armor, and goes to school.  Do you remember middle school? Not exactly a nurturing haven of emotional safety nets (even at her tiny private school there is a fair amount of middle school drama and kids who say mean things).  Nevertheless, she persists.

My teenage daughter is fierce.  She is a self-proclaimed feminist and social justice warrior who is forging her own path in the world.  She has relevant and informed opinions about issues impacting our town, our country, and our planet. She will stand up for people if she thinks they are being treated unfairly – even if they are someone my daughter considers to be, in her words, “a butt.”

My teenage daughter is developing a strong sense of self. She has no interest in wearing something because someone else is wearing it and, so far, she thinks peer pressure is “stupid.” She is authentic and real and won’t apologize for being an independent thinker or outspoken young lady.  She is unapologetically her own person and we encourage her to be just that.

My teenage daughter is interesting.  She reads books and asks questions and is curious about the world.  And yes, occasionally, halfway through my answer to a question she has just posed to me she will completely stop listening. She is, after all, still a teenager.  She is still learning.  But I’m an adult and I’m still learning too.  Sometimes, I roll my eyes and use “that tone,” and overreact to a frustrating but inconsequential situation.  Where do you suppose they learn that behavior to begin with?

It seems to me that women already apologize far more than necessary, sometimes, merely for existing.  Do we really need to exacerbate that problem by apologizing for teenage girls even being a thing? Again, I can’t speak for anybody else’s teenage daughter but I suspect that if you look past the eye rolls, and the obnoxious tone of voice and the drama that sometimes accompanies them you will find that there is a lot of complex, beautiful, and amazing stuff going on right under the surface.

So, if I mention that I have a teenage daughter, ask me how she’s doing or what she’s involved with or what her opinion is on a $15 minimum wage (she does actually have an opinion on that) but please, do not apologize.

 

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What Kind Of Legacy Do You Want To Leave?

When I was a senior in high school I auditioned for a lead role in our school musical.  I didn’t get it.  I auditioned for solos in choirs that were awarded to other people and applied for leadership opportunities that I didn’t get.  I must have lamented about my bad luck to my parents because I remember them saying to me once, “Maybe the universe is trying to tell you it has bigger plans for you.”

I carried that with me for a while, wondering when my “big moment” would arrive.  But as life went on I came to realize that my most rewarding moments were the little ones.  Thoughtful gestures, small acts of kindness, being there for my friends, volunteer opportunities, making somebody smile- it was in these moments that I felt happiest with myself and most connected to my community.

I decided that the universe wasn’t telling me it had something bigger in store- it was telling me that the legacy we leave is not in our grand gestures or public performances but in how we live our small moments every day.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the legacy I want to leave behind when I am eventually gone.  What do I want people to remember about me?  The answer to this question puts everything into perspective for me, clarifies my values, and helps me focus my energy each day on the things that really matter.  If I want to be remembered as being a devoted and loving mother, wife, sister, and daughter then my first priority should be my family.  If I want to be remembered as being a positive person then I need to put myself out there every day in a positive way.  If I want to be remembered as being kind and thoughtful then I should deliberately choose kind words and be mindful of the feelings of others.

That’s not to say that anyone should say or do nice things solely because they want people to think highly of them- but if we think about the kind of legacy we want to leave behind it can help us focus on the values and priorities that are most important to us and help us to not get distracted by life’s minor inconveniences or dragged into other people’s negative drama.

Instead of waiting around for our big moment to shine, why not make every small moment count?  Put yourself out there in a positive way, be kind and thoughtful whenever possible, get to a place of peace and forgiveness as quickly as possible.  Being open minded is good- being empathetic is better.  Try to go 24 hours saying only positive things.  If you have nothing positive to say choose to say nothing.  Make somebody smile.  Express gratitude.  Go out of your way to find a silver lining.  After a while, those silver linings just start jumping out at you.  Create a living legacy of kindess, positivity, and gratitude that others will want to emulate.

We only get one life. We don’t get to choose everything that happens to us in that life but we do get to choose the kind of legacy we want to create now and leave behind when that life comes to a close.  In thinking about how we want to be remembered perhaps we can better choose how we decide to live.

Be Brave

I was a few days into Resident Assistant training before the start of my junior year of college when my Residence Hall Director, Sam,  pulled me aside.  My father had just had a heart attack, was in the hospital and I needed to call my mom to make arrangements to fly home to New York.  As I left Sam’s office that day, visibly shaken, he offered these parting words- Be brave.  I have always remembered those words though I don’t think I fully understood at the time why they were so appropriate and important.

Last night, during Shabbat services at my synagogue, I was struck by a line in the prayer for healing the sick.  The prayer says, “May the Source of strength who blessed the ones before us help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”  While I was singing these words I was also remembering Sam’s advice from 1994 and contemplating the role that courage plays in our lives.  Why is it is so important to have courage?

After giving it some thought, here’s what I have come up with:

Courage is important because it allows us to experience the best parts of life.  Courage allows us to give our hearts fully and experience love even if it ends in heartbreak.  It allows us to give 100% to a situation even if we think we might fail.  Courage helps us to share our stories and make ourselves vulnerable even when we fear judgement or embarassment.  It helps us take on new challenges and think about things in a new way even if it makes us feel uncomfortable at first.  Being brave aids us in reaching out to those in need despite our fears of rejection or concerns that we are not saying exactly the right thing.  It gives us the strength to make a change when it’s easier to maintain the status quo.  We need courage to stand up for what we believe and speak out in the face of injustice.  Without courage we could not rise above adversity and make our dreams a reality.

My husband and I have spent a considerable amount of time this past year helping our daughter overcome some fears and anxieties of her own.  Her psychologist, who has been invaluable in this process, offered us this little morsel of wisdom- There will always be situations in our lives that cause us to feel anxious or fearful.  However, these feelings do not have to dictate our behavior.

For me, this is key.  It is not about living a life that is devoid of fear- such a life does not exist in my opinion.  But if we let those feelings dictate our behaviors, actions, and decisions we will never know what we are actually capapble of both in terms of our own personal achievements and what we can do to affect change in our communities.

Acting with courage is hard.  (If it came easy we probably would not think to pray for it.)  When I look at the choice between living a fear based life that will hold me back from achieving my goals, or living courageously and taking (small) steps every day towards self actualization, to me the choice is clear.  It’s clear, but it’s not easy.  It’s a conscious choice that has to be made every day.  I’m not always good at it, and sometimes it feels uncomfortable at first, but I very rarely regret making a courageous choice.  I am much more likely to regret having not done something because fear has held me back.  Sometimes, even when I act with courage, I still make mistakes. Mistakes are teachable moments.   The next time that opportunity arises I’ll be better prepared to handle it.

When I live courageously, I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.  I feel connected to my inner self, my family,and my community.  I feel like I am getting what I need to feel fulfilled, and that I am also able to give back- be a better family member, friend, and neighbor.  When I don’t let fear hold me back I truly do feel that my life is a blessing.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of in life.  Fear of failure, heartbreak, embarassment, discomfort,injury, illness, rejection, and change (just to name a few) can hold us back from living the life we were meant to live.  What is fear keeping you from doing?  How do you choose to live a courageous life?

I’m not laughing at you- I’m laughing with you.

You may think I’m crazy for thinking this, but sometimes I feel bad for celebrities. Oh sure, I envy them the whole making enough money to afford a personal trainer, multiple nannies, live in chef, and never having to scrub another toilet again part. But I would not trade them all of their dollars, trainers, nannies, and sous chefs for my anonymity.

Every time I am standing online at the supermarket and happen to notice a headline from one of those celebrity magazines all I can think is, boy am I glad I do not have paparazzi. That’s not to say that in this day and age I wouldn’t make the news if I locked myself in an airplane bathroom b/c I didn’t want to turn off my cell phone, but at least I can feel secure in knowing that if I run out for a cup of coffee in pajamas and bed head my picture will not show up on the cover of some tabloid magazine.

You can argue that by choosing a public career, you are susceptible to public scrutiny. But imagine what it would be like if someone was following you around with a camera capturing only your bad moments and printing them for the world to see. We would all look like self-involved people and terrible parents, with mood disorders, and no fashion sense. It’s bad enough that my children point out my short comings on a daily basis.

Mom, what’s that thing on your face?

Mom, how come your hair only looks pretty when you just get out of the shower?

Mom, how come your nostrils are shaped like potatoes?

Here are some reasons I am happy I don’t have paparazzi:

1- Gravity is not my friend. I have fallen off of walls, slipped on ice, and tripped over my shoe laces. I have slipped down a flight of stairs (twice) and have even fallen out of the shower (there’s not even a good story to go with that one). I declined the opportunity to be hoisted up in a chair during my Jewish wedding- I have learned to not tempt fate. There was a photographer at my wedding, after all.

2- Parenting is hard. The first time I cut my daughter’s finger nails, I accidently snipped off a small piece of skin from her pinky finger. I called the pediatrician. She laughed at me. Two hours later, my daughter’s finger was still bleeding. The pediatrician met us on a Sunday at the doctor’s office to stop the bleeding. She was no longer laughing.

3- I have locked myself out of my house. Twice. In one day. I have locked my keys in my car with the engine running. I have locked my car keys in my office while working late and had to call someone for a ride home. I have left my keys in the front door more times than I can count. I have accidentally taken both sets of keys with me leaving my husband stuck at home with no keys at all.

4- I lose things- besides keys. I have lost my wedding ring more than once. I have lost family heirlooms and the beautiful scarf my husband gave me one year as a gift. I have lost money, lost my patience, lost my temper, and lost my voice. I have been lucky to find them all again at some point (except the scarf- sorry honey).

5- I have unintentionally had my underwear showing. One year at our neighborhood picnic after spending three hours mingling with neighbors, my daughter told me I had a hole in the back of my jeans and she could see my pink underwear. (Note to self: wear denim colored underwear the next time I wear the jeans with the hole.)

I could keep going. But the point is that we all have flaws. We are quirky, klutzy, forgetful, underwear showing individuals. It is what makes us human. Sometimes, we have to forgive the things that make us human, and sometimes, we have to laugh at them. But just because we laugh, does not mean that we judge. Celebrities- in the highly unlikely event that you are reading this blog please know: Sometimes, the headlines on the tabloids make me chuckle because they are ridiculous. But I do not think any less of you because you forgot to buckle your child into their car seat (done it), lost twenty pounds and then gained it back (done it), or unknowingly flashed your underwear (though I do recommend wearing underwear when you know that photographers are likely to be following you). We have all had those moments- most of us just get to have them in private.

Here’s the other thing. If my neighbors saw my pink underwear that day at the picnic, they didn’t let on- and they still seem to like me. The people, who know us and like us, do so despite our flaws. Sometimes, when we show people our flaws, it even makes people feel better about their own imperfections. How many times have you seen somebody do something embarrassing and thought ‘I am so glad I am not the only person that has happened to.’ And for anyone out there who just read about some of my less honorable moments and choose to judge me based solely on that? Well, that’s your loss- I’ve got a lot of great attributes too.

The moral of the story- judge less, laugh more (that would be laughing with people, not at them). I am very lucky to have been raised by two very smart, (and very human individuals). They taught me not to judge a book by its cover, and not care too much what other people think. They also taught me that it is okay to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and that it’s healthy to laugh at ourselves.

So, I’m glad I don’t have paparazzi. But I’m okay with being human. It’s probably a good thing- I don’t know any other way to be.

I am already an embarrassment to my 8 year old daughter. Do I get extra points for that?

My 8 year old came home from school recently complaining that I had embarrassed her by putting a box of raisins in her lunch box. “Now” she fretted, “everyone will know that I like raisins.” Apparently, this was top secret information and unbeknownst to me (among 3rd graders) liking raisins ranks pretty low on the cool scale.

The raisin incident is already old news, but my daughter is going to need to toughen up some if she expects to survive parental embarrassment into her teenage years. As you may recall (see the Plant Parenthood blog entry), I was trained by the master. What my daughter really needs is a little perspective, so the next time I embarrass her by putting her sandwich on whole wheat bread, or some other disaster, I will tell her this story:

When I was in high school, there was a local discount store called ‘Cheap Johns’. With it’s garage sale pricing and the ambiance of a warehouse store, Cheap Johns could have been the love child between The Dollar Store and Costco. The merchandise (if you could call it that) was piled in giant bins and lacked any kind of presentation.

As my parents liked to remind me, that while we were rich with love, we were not rich with anything you could actually spend at a store. When it came time to shop for school supplies, they were not going to cough up the five dollars it cost to buy a highly coveted Trapper Keeper (plus more for matching folders and notebooks) when they could buy a 3-ring binder, plus a notebook, and a folder, some pens, pencils, and a pencil case for that cost at Cheap Johns. The cheap version may have served the same purpose as the stylish looking Trapper Keeper, but it did not have the same visual appeal.

Each Cheap John’s binder, notebook, and folder was proudly embossed with a picture of the illustrious Cheap John mascot, Mr. Cheap John, himself. With his bulbous nose, and his bushy mustache, I always thought the Cheap John logo bore an insulting resemblance to Albert Einstein (See comparison photos below).

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I felt especially bad for the Cheap John logo (as if he had feelings) that those of us with cheap budget minded parents started off each year by filling in the logo of each notebook and folder with black sharpie marker. Having school supplies from Cheap Johns, was definitely not cool (way less cool than bringing raisins for lunch). Worse than being seen using Cheap Johns school supplies, though, was being seen shopping at Cheap Johns.

One September evening, I begrudgingly accompanied my mother to Cheap Johns with my list of required school supplies. I immediately recognized that the only cashier was a student in my graduating class. (Working at Cheap John’s was acceptable as jobs for teenagers in our small town were hard to come by.) I made a mental note to be as invisible as possible, to minimize any damage to my already fragile reputation (what comes beneath nerd in the high school social order?). I should have known better than to have asked my mom to be invisible too.

As we shopped, my mom sang (in her loud off-key voice) and danced (shimmying and all) up and down each aisle. Mortified, and convinced that everyone (all five shoppers) in the store was staring at us I (quite stupidly) asked my mother to stop singing, dancing, and, well, embarrassing me. My mother was taken aback- “I’m embarrassing you?” she asked. I insisted again that she please stop drawing attention herself (and, by association, me).

My mom didn’t even miss a beat. She simply told me, “I’ll show you embarrassing” and then marched to the middle of the store. She then proceeded to shout, “I am Meryl Orange’s mother, she is a student at SWR High School, and she is right over there!!” I immediately dropped to the floor and crawled (because that’s not embarrassing) under one of the giant bins where I fervently wished I could disappear. Eventually, I got up and followed my gloating mother through the check out line (complete with my classmate cashier who now had real story to tell at school).

My mom gave me a great gift that day- perspective. Having learned what it really felt like to be embarrassed, I have rarely felt that way again. I also learned that in most situations, my peers really weren’t paying all that close attention to what I was doing- it was just my own insecurity that was rearing it’s ugly head.

I will tell my daughter this story for two reasons. First, I think my little drama queen could benefit from a healthy dose of perspective. In the grand scheme of things, is it such a big deal if people know she likes raisins? (As an aside, she is obsessed with beef jerky which makes frequent appearances in her lunch box and she is not embarrassed about that.)

Second, I think it’s important that my daughter understand early that I have tools at my disposal and I will not hesitate to use them if necessary.

Advice From Mom….

Since we have now established that I am an expert at wasting time and doing nothing, it should come as no surprise that one of my guilty pleasures is watching beauty pageants (I’m sorry- Scholarship Competitions).  Let’s get the peanut gallery comments out of the way:

Peanut Gallery:  But Meryl, don’t these “scholarship competitions” support the notion that a woman’s value lies in her physical appearance,  thereby pressuring women to conform to conventional standards of beauty and essentially setting the women’s movement back by sixty years?

Meryl: Yes.  Yes, they do.  This blog post isn’t really about beauty pageants, so let’s move on.

When I was in high school, I used to watch the Miss Teen America pageant with my mom.  One year, we watched as the finalists answered the following interview question: What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your mother?  For the life of me, I can’t remember what their answers were but when they were done,  my own mother turned to me and asked me the same question- what was the best advice she had ever given me.  I thought about it for a minute – all the advice she had given me thus far- just say no, just be yourself, speak your mind, try your best- all good advice.  But I settled on this little tidbit of wisdom, which I still try to follow whenever possible.

Flush as you go.

The first time my mother offered up this suggestion, I’m sure she meant it in the “courtesy flush” sense of the phrase.  After all we lived in a small house and noses can be easily offended.  But even then, I saw that ‘flush as you go’ has relevance beyond the bathroom, and perhaps it is advice we can all benefit from.  Take a look:

Flush As You Go:  Clean up your messes as you make them- this includes both physical messes and metaphysical life messes.   Letting any kind of mess or conflict just sit will allow it to grow, fester, and morph into something that is much more difficult to resolve or clean up later.  So as unpleasant as it might be to take responsibility for the mistake that you made or have that difficult conversation with someone, doing it sooner rather than later will likely limit any collateral damage and prevent you from having to deal with an even worse situation down the road (perhaps we should email this advice to Congress as they seem to have trouble with this concept).

Flush As You Go: Let it go and move on.  Face it, how often do you think about what you have just flushed once it is gone.  In my opinion, anger is only a productive emotion in the very short term.  Being mad can spur someone to take positive action to attempt to change a negative situation.   But when anger is allowed to fester, it can easily become bitterness, resentment, and even hopelessness and very little good ever comes of those emotions.  Reserve anger for the most egregious of offenses (murder, child abuse, cancer- you know- the big ticket items); refocus the anger and do something productive with it.  Everything else, just let it go and move on.  Did someone cut you off on the highway?  Let it go and move on.  Someone take your parking spot? Let it go and move on.  Mother in law criticized your cooking? Let it go and move on.  We have become a very angry country and seem to look for opportunities to make ourselves victims.   If we stop looking at every tiny inconvenience or insensitive remark as a personal affront maybe we can finally get our priorities in order and start moving forward again.

I say we start a movement (pun fully intended).  A variation on “Dude, Chill!” or “Curb your dog.”

Flush as you go.  The best advice my mom ever gave me.

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