theorangeinkblot

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Archive for the tag “happiness”

Pulling A Sadie

(Note: All names have been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.)

My mother in law recently told me a story about a situation that a friend of hers, Millie, has been dealing with for quite some time.  The situation began about ten years ago when Millie attended her 50 year high school reunion and reconnected with a childhood friend named Sadie.  Millie and Sadie had been the best of friends in high school but had lost touch over the years.  They were excited to reconnect at the reunion and although one lived in New York and the other lived in Florida they began to speak regularly by phone.

It did not take long for an unpleasant pattern to develop.  Sadie would call and within a few minutes would shift the conversation to a topic (frequently politics) on which she held a very strong opinion.  Sadie would rant, barely allowing Millie to respond.  When Millie was able to get a word in edgewise, Sadie would immediately tell Millie she was wrong and list all the reasons why.

Eventually, Millie started to dread receiving these phone calls from Sadie.  Feeling badly that a relationship she had once treasured was becoming burdensome, she tried whatever she could think of to change the dynamics of the conversations.  Millie tried changing the subject; she tried telling Sadie that she wished their conversations weren’t so confrontational.  Millie even suggested that perhaps instead of their regular phone calls they should instead begin communicating via email.  Sadie would not be deterred.  Finally, out of desperation, Millie simply stopped answering the phone when Sadie called.  She assumed, that eventually, Sadie would get the hint and stop calling.

That was more than five years ago, and Sadie has not given up.  Sometimes she calls and just hangs up when the answering machine comes on.  Other times she leaves angry messages telling Millie that she is a terrible person.  Sadie even called Millie’s daughter in law to inquire why Millie wasn’t calling her back and expressing outrage that Millie would suggest that they communicate by email since this would require Sadie going to the library to use a public computer.

I am fascinated by Sadie’s behavior.  Clearly, by now, she must know that Millie does not want to talk to her and is not going to answer the phone.  I would imagine that this takes a lot of energy on Sadie’s part.  Not only does she take the time to make these phone calls, she is emotionally invested every time, despite being able to predict what the outcome will be.  To me, this sounds emotionally exhausting.  It begs the question- why can’t Sadie just let it go and stop calling.

The only thing I can come up with is this: as long as Sadie keeps calling and Millie continues to not answer, Sadie can justify being angry at Millie.  She can put herself in the position of being a victim – after all, she is the one being ignored for seemingly no reason.  If Sadie were to give up (or let go) and stop calling, she would no longer be able to comfort herself with the argument that she has been wronged and use it to absolve herself of any of the responsibility she may have had in causing the reasons that Millie did not want to speak to her in the first place.

In my mind, I can picture Sadie going to her weekly Mah Jong game and complaining about Millie- how once again she had called and once again Millie had not answered.  I can picture Sadie’s friends’ tutting about how rude it is that Millie has completely shut Sadie out.

As ridiculous as this behavior seems, I see variations of it all the time and I have coined it “pulling a Sadie.”  Pulling a Sadie is when someone repeatedly puts themselves in a situation that they know will have an upsetting or undesired outcome and yet they continue to put themselves in that situation and let those negative feelings fester. Or, they spend countless hours complaining about how unfair and upsetting it is that they are in that situation.  Perhaps, they continue to put themselves in that situation so they CAN complain about how unfair it is and how they have been wronged.

If I am to be completely honest then I have to admit that I have at some point or another in my life “pulled a Sadie.”  It is easy to get sucked into the drama that a Sadie situation creates and with so many emotions involved it can be difficult to see how we share the blame for that situation.  But as I have gotten older I have realized that sometimes all I can do is recognize a pattern for what it is so I do not fall into the same trap again and then do my best to just walk away.

When my mother in law told me this story, I wondered if Millie could have done more to diffuse the situation.  For example, would it have helped Sadie to get closure if Millie had written Sadie a brief letter explaining why she had decided to end their relationship? I suspect, however, that Sadie would have called repeatedly anyway, being unable to let the situation go.  Ultimately, I don’t think Millie had any other choice.  By repeatedly picking up the phone and conversing with Sadie she was continuously finding herself feeling upset and angry.  Millie walked away because she didn’t want to pull a Sadie.

Maybe it’s time to coin a new phrase- to describe someone who recognizes a negative pattern in their life and decides to break it.  I think we should call it, “pulling a Millie.” The next time you find yourself complaining about the same situation or person for the third, fourth, or tenth time take a step back and look for a pattern in the situation.  Then decide- would you rather be a Sadie or a Millie?

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Defining Success when it Comes to our Children

Kids around the country are headed back to school and it won’t be long before they bring home their first graded assignment or progress report.  As a parent, it is difficult to not to set expectations or benchmarks for our children to reach in school.  We all want our kids to do well, work hard, and be successful.   Sometimes though, I worry about the things that parents say to their children when they don’t meet the goals or expectations we have set for them.

This past June, the mom of a 5th grader at my daughters’ school told me she was disappointed in her daughter for receiving a “low” math grade.  On a grading scale from 1 to 4 with 4 being the highest, her daughter had received a 3.  I asked the mom why she was disappointed and she answered that because math was her daughter’s best subject she expected her to get 4’s.  On top of that, upon seeing the report card, she said to her daughter, “I’m not mad at you, but I am disappointed in you.”

This is not the first parent I have heard say this to their child and it makes me cringe every time.   Sometimes it is about grades, sometimes it is about sports or something else that their child is involved with.  The comment might take the form of, “if my child had just put a little more effort into what they were doing, they could have made varsity.”  I want to ask these parents, how exactly has your child disappointed you?  Is it because it was enough for your child to be having fun and enjoying the experience of playing on a team without feeling the need to be the best?  By not immediately understanding the material that was presented to them in class?  By not putting 100% of their effort into everything they do every single day?   Because they are not perfect?

In my opinion, we send our kids a very dangerous message when we tell them that by not meeting our expectations of them that they have disappointed us.  We may think that we are motivating them to do better or pushing them to reach their “full” potential.  I fear that instead we are telling them that our being NOT disappointed in them is dependent on them reaching expectations that are fully unrealistic.  That their worth is dependent on us being able to brag to our neighbor at the bus stop that our child received the highest of grades.  That our love for them is in any way conditional.  I don’t want my children to feel that just because they are good at something it means that they have to be perfect at it.

Through these comments we also teach them that it is not enough to learn for learning’s sake-  That playing just because it is fun is not reason enough.  

I think that as parents we need to ask ourselves-  What kind of child am I trying to raise?  Is it my goal to raise a child who always gets A’s in the subject areas she is strongest in?  A child who makes the travel soccer team?   A child who needs to be constantly striving for perfection?  A child who is doing things only to please her parents?

This summer, my daughter signed up for a drawing class.  By the third class in she had decided that she really wasn’t enjoying it.  At all.  There were only three classes remaining.  I thought about telling her that she had to stick it out because she shouldn’t be a quitter, that she should finish what she started, that she had made a commitment and she should always honor her commitments.  I felt disappointed that the class hadn’t worked out because I had hoped it would be a really positive experience for her.  But on the car ride home, when she asked me if I was mad at her or disappointed in her that she had dropped out of the class I told her no.  I told her I was proud of her.  I was proud of her for trying something new and then recognizing that it was not a good fit.  I was proud of her for vocalizing that she wanted to remove herself from an environment that was not positive for her.  This was not a failed art class.  This was a successful setting of boundaries- of not being willing to be unhappy simply for the sake of feeling like she had to do her best.

How many of us stick with things that make us miserable because we feel like we have a responsibility to do so.  How many of us stay at jobs that we hate longer than we should; in relationships that are unhealthy because we made a commitment.  How many of us wish that we had the courage to just walk away from things in our life that our making us unhappy.  

There are plenty of things that we have no control over.  Obviously, my kids have to go to school.  I want them to do well.  But more than I want them to do well, I want them to be happy.  I want them to not spend time worrying about whether or not they are disappointing me but to take notice of the things they are really interested in so they can discover what they feel passionate about.  It’s entirely possible that what they like the best will not be what they get the highest grades in and I don’t want them to believe for one second that they cannot pursue passions because they have not met certain standards or that they have to excel in an area simply because it comes easily to them.  

I want my children to set their own goals and choose their own definition of success.  My goal for them is only that they be happy and well adjusted.  I want them to feel loved unconditionally and to know that the grades they receive on a test or a report card are in no way a definition of who they are as a person.  I want them to be proud of themselves based on the expectations and goals that they set for themselves- not because they have met a standard I have set for them.

Patches of Sunlight on the Kitchen Floor

(Note to subscribers: My apologies for the rough draft that was inadvertently sent out earlier.  Hopefully, this will make more sense.)

I’m just going to say it.  There is no shortage of rude and thoughtless behavior in this world.  Recently, a classmate of my eleven year old daughter handed out invitations to her birthday party at school.  My daughter was not invited, but this did not stop the party host from asking my daughter to give an invitation to our neighbor on her behalf.  My daughter was understandably incredulous.  She said to me, “It’s one thing to not be invited to the birthday party of someone I thought was my friend– it’s another thing altogether for that person to ask me to help her hand out her invitations.  That’s rude, right?”

Yes, that’s rude.  Maybe even mean, depending on how much thought my daughter’s classmate put into her request.  But considering the frequent poor behavior I have seen from some of the adults that I interact with on a regular basis, I am not surprised.   This year, in my role as an executive board member of the PTA of my daughter’s school, I have found myself witness to many interactions in which it is obvious that the person speaking has either not thought about how their words or actions will affect the person they are speaking with, or worse, that they know exactly the impact their words or actions will have and choose to stay the course, regardless.  Some people were merely clueless and appeared to have no malicious intent.  Others were so sure they were “right” that they willingly threw everyone around them under the proverbial bus just to prove their point.  Others still, were quite willing to look the other way in the face of decisions with ethical implications for dozens of families because their family would not be directly impacted.

I worry that people are becoming increasingly self-serving.  There is a “What’s in it for me?” mentality that is casting a dark shadow over society, leaving me searching for pockets of hope, like my cat looks for patches of sunlight on the kitchen floor by which to warm himself.

Yesterday, I found one of those patches of sunlight.  About five years ago, before I had even met her, my friend, “N,” received a kidney donation from a stranger- a living donor, named “A,” who saved her life.  N has mentioned A to me several times – particularly to say how grateful she is to A for giving her the chance to watch her children grow up  and to marvel at how selfless an act it was for A to donate her kidney to someone she didn’t even know.  N and A have kept in touch through Facebook and when N found out that A was going to be in town this week, she asked A if she would be interested in meeting some of the friends that she is grateful to still have time with on this earth.  Then, she asked me if I would be interested in meeting A along with some of her other friends at lunch.  It was there that we got to hear the story of the transplant from A’s point of view.

A, 21 years old at the time, was sitting with her mother watching the news when she saw N on the screen making a plea for help.  N was in her early 30’s, the mother of two small children.  N’s husband, was serving overseas in the military.  N needed a kidney- as soon as possible.  When N’s blood type was mentioned, A turned to her mother and said, “I have that blood type.  I could give this woman one of my kidneys.”  A wrote down the phone number on the screen and called the next day.  She said it was one of the easiest decisions she has ever made.

It’s hard to say what was more meaningful to me- to know that N wanted me to be one of the people that A got to meet, or to know that there are selfless people out there, like A, who hear a stranger’s plea for help and respond in the most courageous way.

So what does this have to do with my frustration with people who don’t think before they speak or with the people who look the other way because THEY will not be directly affected?  None of us are perfect and it takes a very special 21-year old to make the decision that A made.  It would be unrealistic to think that we will all operate at that that level of selflessness.  Be we can look at how A put the need of a young mother above her own as an example of how we can all be a little more thoughtful and deliberate in our daily lives.

For example, before blasting someone else’s opinion in a self-righteous, ‘reply-to-all’ email, regardless of how right you believe yourself to be and no matter how strongly you feel that the person who expressed the dissenting opinion needs to be proved wrong, consider contacting only that person and asking them to explain their opinion in more depth and then share your concerns.  Or, when given the opportunity to preemptively correct a situation that will likely cause dozens of families emotional distress, even if your family is unaffected, be thankful for the opportunity to spare the suffering of others.

By inviting me to meet A at lunch yesterday, N gave me a beautiful gift.  I was reminded that we are all deeply connected and that we all have the ability to make each other’s lives better.  If nothing else, we can strive to not make peoples’ lives worse by speaking or acting without first thinking of the consequences.  Whether our acts of loving kindness are small or life saving, they all make a difference.  They are all pockets of hope creating patches of sunlight on the kitchen floor.

 

 

Does Nothing Last Forever?

Those folks who know me know what a great year my younger daughter had in kindergarten last year.  And, they know what a great year I had as a regular volunteer in my daughter’s kindergarten class.  As the year drew to a close I became increasingly sad.  I wasn’t ready for the year to end.  How was I going to say goodbye to kindergarten?

I asked my daughter’s teacher how he dealt with the end of each school year and he replied, “Nothing lasts forever.”

I get where he was coming from.  It’s true, kindergarten couldn’t last forever and time inevitably marches onward whether or not we are ready to fall in line.  Something fell flat with me about that response though.  It seemed so….permanent.  High School had ended, and college and graduate school after that.  But even though they ended they lived on- through memories and lessons learned, sure, but most importantly through the continued relationships with people who were and still are important to me.

Last year, I was privileged to spend time with 24 amazing kindergarten students who reminded me that that the world is a curious place that we should never stop exploring.  They reminded me too, that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.  Their smiles and hugs brightened my days.  That they wanted to share their stories, jokes, and secrets left my heart feeling like it could burst from all the love I felt for those children.  To just walk away from all of that with a “nothing lasts forever” seemed impossible.

It turns out I didn’t have to worry.  I am still a volunteer at my daughter’s school and I see the kids from her class last year all the time.  I still get hugs when I pass them in the hallway; they wave wildly at me from across the cafeteria; they still pull me aside to tell me a joke or a story or a secret.

When you think about it, it’s not necessarily the experiences that we have that are  important but the people that we share those experiences with.  Relationships based on shared experiences connect us on a human level and allow us to understand each other better.  These places where our lives intersect with one another’s- where our paths cross, whether for an hour, a day, a month, a year, or a lifetime, are opportunities to learn from each other, to accomplish together, to support one other, and to recognize that we are all greater than the sum of our parts.

I guess we could just have these experiences, form these connections, and then just part ways never to speak to each other again.  Sometimes, we don’t have a choice.  People pass away or for reasons we are never privy to just decide to not be part of our lives.  Even then I wouldn’t say that nothing lasts forever.  Once someone has found their way into my heart they stay there forever right along with the things I learned from them and the ways that I changed because of them.

I suppose the ‘nothing lasts forever’ people have their reasons for being that way.  Maybe for some folks it’s just too hard to look forward and backwards at the same time.  Maybe it’s an ‘out of sight out of mind’ kind of thing.  Whatever their reasons I have no choice but to respect how they feel.

However, I am not a ‘nothing lasts forever’ person.  I am a ‘keep people forever’ person.  If you are someone I call a friend or someone with whom I have shared a meaningful experience or conversation; if you are someone who has showed me or members of my family kindness or have inspired me to be a better person then I’m going to keep you forever.  And if I can’t keep you as a fixture- as someone who wants to be an active part of my life in some way then I will keep you in my heart- forever.  That’s just who I am.

In my opinion, a more accurate statement would be that that nothing stays exactly the same forever.  Kids grow up, friends move away, jobs end, people die.  Things do change and we have no choice but to change with them.  But we do get to choose the people that we keep for as long as we want to keep them.  When we are especially lucky, those people choose to keep us too and those relationships are tremendously special.  It doesn’t matter if we see those people every day, once a year, or communicate with them only through letters, emails, or social media.  The important thing is that we find ways to stay connected and keep the conversations going.  The love and support that I feel from my friends who are hundreds or thousands of miles away is no less powerful than the love and support of my friends who live in my neighborhood- even if I haven’t physically laid eyes on them in years.

In the words of John Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”

Things may change but that does not mean they disappear.   The experiences we share, the connections we make, the conversations we have, the friendships we forge, the love we give and receive- all these things inspire and change us.  They shape who we are, who we become, they help to create the legacies we leave behind- forever.

Feelings of Gratitude (Sing to the Tune of Changes in Latitudes by Jimmy Buffett)

Feelings of Gratitude (Sing to the Tune of Changes in Latitudes by Jimmy Buffett)

I sat down for a moment last week

to try and reflect on my year.

Food on my table, I’m healthy and able

Surrounded by those I hold dear.

I sometimes ponder the meaning of life.

Does anyone know why we are here?

Life goes by fast so let go of your past

And just hold your family near.

It’s feelings of gratitude that change your attitude

Light up your face with a smile.

You can’t feel hateful if you’re feeling grateful

So make counting blessings part of your lifestyle.

Serve others selflessly and you will have

Warm and fuzzy feelings inside.

Be mindful of living a life that is giving

And keep your mind and heart open wide.

If it all ended- you were gone tomorrow

What legacy would you leave behind?

Love one another. We’re sisters and brothers.

Bear in mind we’re all intertwined.

It’s feelings of gratitude that change your attitude,

Light up your face with a smile.

You can’t be insightful if you’re feeling spiteful-

So make counting  blessings part of your lifestyle.

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.

I may have the flu, but the flu doesn’t have me.

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

― Abraham Lincoln

 I Choose Happiness

Even though I have the flu and am feeling somewhat crappy

Today, I am choosing to be happy.

True, the flu’s a bummer

I could wallow and be glummer

I could whine away the day

let my thoughts decay to gray

let my mood succumb to nastiness

Instead, I’ll just choose happiness.

 

 

Even though there’s congestion in my chest

Today I am choosing to feel blessed.

True, my cough’s annoying

It’s not something I’m enjoying

I could choose to be depressed

That my immune system’s suppressed

I could sit here and be stressing.

Instead, I’ll count my blessings.

 

 

Even though the gross stuff in my nose is of great magnitude

Today I am choosing to show gratitude.

True, if I run out of tissue

It could become a larger issue

My nose is in need of a soft place to sneeze.

And it’s only request is to breathe with more ease.

About this I could feel quite hateful

Instead I choose to be grateful.

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