I lost my temper this weekend.
Our kids were being especially challenging. Refusing to eat any food option for dinner, nearly hitting the baby with their feet/legs from constant rolling around/gymnastics across the living room, and an answer for absolutely everything to counter any suggestion mom and dad may have.
At one point, a small glimmer of hope as we tried to get dinner ready. One of our daughters took it upon herself to play waitress, going around and asking everyone, pen in hand, what everyone wanted. It kept her busy, she was enjoying it and it gave us the time Meg and I needed to try and just get something done in the kitchen.
Until she asked her big brother what he would like to eat.
She tried again to take his ‘order.’
One more time to nothing and I finally shouted from the kitchen, “Can you please answer her?!”
“I don’t want anything to eat!” he angrily shouted back.
“It’s just pretend!” I retorted. “Just pretend what you want to eat!”
Upside down in a half somersault, half cartwheel, he angrily yelled “I don’t know how to pretend.”
Sidenote: this is a blatant lie, as he’s constantly creating stories on paper, making creations from the great beyond with LEGOs and often overheard with elaborate action figure set ups and scenarios from his bedroom.
So the angry response of “I don’t know how to pretend” set me off. I yelled. I told him if he didn’t know how to pretend that maybe he didn’t need his art supplies, maybe he didn’t need his action figures, or his LEGOs, or any of the other countless things for pretend that he says he doesn’t know how to do.
I was frustrated. I was angry. Then Meg intervened telling not just he, but I too, that a time out was needed. So we went to our respective rooms to cool off. Which was needed. By both of us – the seven year old AND the 39 year old.
The kids aren’t the only ones who can head down that slippery slope of things that can’t be taken back. It’s incredibly easy for all of us, adults included, to fall down that incline and be forced to live with what comes out on the way down. I’m very appreciative for the foresight my wife had to know he and I were both heading down that slope and needed to it pause and clear our heads. Incredibly grateful.
A few minutes later, as I sat in a room reflecting on my reaction, there was a knock at the door. In he came, giving me a big hug and telling me he was sorry. We both sat down on the bed and I told him I was sorry too. I shouldn’t have gotten as angry as I did. I shouldn’t have said the things I did. It wasn’t right. I was frustrated, but it didn’t make it right. He tried to take the blame “It’s my fault, Daddy.” and I was quick to correct him that it wasn’t. It was mine.
No matter how frustrated he or I may get it, it doesn’t give us the right to become that angry and talk the way we did to each other. The only one who can control what I say, how angry I get, and the words I use to react with, is me. The same goes for him. I made sure to tell him that. I was frustrated, because he was being a bit of a jerk to his sister, but that still didn’t warrant my reaction. Again, I apologized, and we tried to start anew, a lesson hopefully learned.
In both my younger days, as well as my younger parent days (wide-eyed, idealistic, and looking at what parenthood would be like very differently than how parenthood truly is) I just pictured a sit down, talk ala any 50s-80s family sitcom (or 30s-40s Andy Hardy movie) where parent knows exactly what to say to quell the problem, teach the lesson, and save the day.
Life isn’t like that. I rarely know what to say in the moment and find myself in a state of improvisation, trying to piece together the balance of rationale and words to try and explain what went wrong and how we can make make it better. It’s never the perfect on-screen moment I picture in my naive youth.
But honestly, it’s something. Even if we parents are just making it up as we go each day, running from one fire to the next, if we’re trying, if we’re doing our best, letting ourselves learn from our mistakes, and admitting that we too are capable of mistakes, then maybe we might just succeed in raising these little folks to become good people.
We’re not perfect. Maybe we don’t need to be. We’re just flawed humans like everybody else, trying to evolve, to grow, to become better people. And maybe being willing to admit that to our kids can help them grow too.
If you’ve ever watched the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, you’re likely familiar with the buzz created when the real-life Santa Claus (mistaken for an actor playing the role) is put into the throne at Macy’s with the intention to push overstocked toys and instead starts telling parents and children alike where to find the items they just can’t seem to find there at Macy’s.
Sending them to other stores?! Gasp! It sends the head of the toy department into a tizzy but strikes Mr. Macy himself as a brilliant marketing ploy of goodwill to make Macy’s the friendly store, the helpful store.
There’s really something to be said for customer service, isn’t there?
You see, the past few years, an annual tradition has developed where on his birthday, I present our son (and last year at her birthday, our oldest daughter as well) with a custom-made comic book based on the super-hero persona he created for himself one Halloween back in preschool. I try to keep notes of the various characters his imagination develops as he played back then or creates in stories or drawings he makes currently, and incorporate them into these breezy little adventures that are all his own. And I try to have extras on hand as additional party favors for anyone at his birthday who may want one.
As in years past, I had ordered via an online printing service that does great work. Only this time, (through no fault of theirs) I made a mistake in the types of books I ordered, paper used. I admit being a bit obsessive about aesthetics at times and realized that these would stick out like a sore thumb amid the ones I’ve given him in the past. But re-ordering for such a small picky thing like that would’ve been too costly and wouldn’t arrive in time for his birthday.
So I started thinking local.
I stepped foot into a local printing and lithograph company that handles a lot of large scale orders in the area, including several magazines. I explained what I was looking to do, but that I only wanted 10, maybe 15 copies of this gift and party favor. They do large projects, but they told me the printer across the parking lot from them would have no problem handling the job well.
They didn’t tell me no and send me packing. They didn’t turn their nose up. They sent me and my business to someone more suited to it.
It was my Miracle on 34th Street moment.
So across the parking lot I hopped into Presto Print, where I was surprisingly greeted by a classmate from high school. An added bonus! I explained the project, what I needed, and she told me ‘no problem.’ To boot, they had it ready the very next day for me.
Thanks to these heroes, I had what I wanted when I needed it, all in time for my little hero.
There’s really something to be said for customer service.
Everything’s not awesome.
It was a lyric that turned the catchy earworm of a song, “Everything is Awesome,” from the first installment of The Lego Movie on its ear in a dramatic turn in philosophy.
Everything’s not awesome
Things can’t be awesome all of the time
It’s not a realistic expectation
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try
To make everything awesome
In a less likely, unrealistic kind of way
We should maybe aim for not bad
‘Cause not bad, well that would be real great
Like many movies out there, we’re late to the game in catching up. We don’t watch a lot of new movies and tend to stick to whatever might be family-friendly and streaming on Netflix at the time, or something out of our DVD collection. But we rented both of the Lego Movies lately (The kids liked them both while I enjoyed the first more than the second) and though I wasn’t as fond of the sequel, I walked away from it taken by this musical flip in attitude.
Because everything is not awesome. It does not always have to be. Sometimes things just being mundane, just being “not bad” IS okay. If every moment is special and spectacular, then nothing is. If we’re always feeling euphoria, then we’re never really experiencing it because we have nothing to compare it to.
And if we can have an awareness of this in our adult lives, or at least have it as an awareness to strive for, then why is it so much more difficult to have it for our children? Why do we have such high expectations of them, expecting them to behave with the life experience and perspective of an adult when they haven’t even gotten close to there yet?
I am by no means perfect and I often have to remind myself that I can have too high of expectations for our children. Sometimes the noise they’re making, the mess they’re creating, the just plain bouncing off the walls, is part of being a child. I can not, realistically, expect them to behave like little adults, with the outlook and perspective on their choices and behavior that I do, because they have not lived my life. They’ve got more than 30 years of living and experiences to go through before then.
We get upset when they’re not behaving well all the time. We don’t look at it that way, of course. They could behave all day and then, when they finally slip, we get upset that they’re not acting the right way. We focus on that negative moment and boil over instead of having some perspective that the rest of the day went pretty darn well. How can we expect them to be good all day long when it sure isn’t possible for many of us adults to do? Appreciate the good moments, verbalize appreciation for it. The bad moments are going to come, but it becomes all too easy to let them overshadow everything else. Pick your battles. I’m trying to teach myself this currently.
They’ve got energy they need to get out. Sometimes it IS accomplished just by being over the top silly, wacky, rolling around on the living room floor, standing on their head, etc. Again, a battle I’m fighting with myself to let go of some of the times and not get bothered by.
Yes, we love them. Yes, they can still drive us nuts. Because yes, they’re children – children exploring their world, themselves, and everything under the sun as they gain experiences and perspectives that it has taken us parents a lifetime in which to achieve…and for many of us, we’re still working on ourselves.
So cut them some slack and ourselves too. Set the boundaries, but let them be kids. Pick your battles.
Because everything’s not awesome.
Things can’t be awesome all of the time
It’s not a realistic expectation.
Make the most of your time. Enjoy what we have. It all goes by fast.
We hear this stuff a lot. All the time. Yet, it often seems to fall on deaf ears, even for the most well-intended of us. I mean, it’s hard not to get distracted in today’s world isn’t it? With a keyboard in front of us or a smartphone in the palm of our hands, we can easily check out what the rest of our friends, strangers, or the world is up to with a quick scroll that easily becomes a long scroll, a response to tap out, and a photo to capture this moment on a Tuesday afternoon we’d otherwise let pass by as we eat lunch.
Our followers need to see this funny meme. This photo of me will get enough likes to make me feel better about myself for another day or so.
Perhaps it’s that album we need to record, that book we need to finish writing, that piece of art that’s just not perfect but should be. Whatever it is, it hangs there, gnawing at us to come back to it, to finish it, to shut out the rest of the world and see this through so the rest of the world can share in our vision – our place in the fabric of culture sewn and secured for the rest of eternity.
Or we so often tell ourselves.
I certainly am not immune. Every time I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or hold a finished book or creative product in my hands, I get caught up in a euphoria that this thing, right here, might outlast me. But time passes, swiftly, as we’re often reminded, and even those products we create, those stories we tell, that branding we curate, it all fades in time.
This winter, I was struck by an interview with Conan O’Brien that ran in the New York Times, with discussions of when his then-latest running late night series might come to a close.
Is this how you want to go out, with a show that gets smaller and smaller until it’s gone?
Maybe that’s O.K. I think you have more of a problem with that than I do. [Laughs.] At this point in my career, I could go out with a grand, 21-gun salute, and climb into a rocket and the entire Supreme Court walks out and they jointly press a button, I’m shot up into the air and there’s an explosion and it’s orange and it spells, “Good night and God love.” In this culture? Two years later, it’s going to be, who’s Conan? This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended.
You’re right, that does sound grim.
Sorry. Calvin Coolidge was a pretty popular president. I’ve been to his grave in Vermont. It has the presidential seal on it. Nobody was there. And by the way, I’m the only late-night host that has been to Calvin Coolidge’s grave. I think that’s what separates me from the other hosts.
I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.” It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me. I was walking on air after that.
I remember reading initial reactions to this article online as people wondered if Conan was all right, if he was in a state of depression or deep sadness. When I read it, I saw a man with an incredibly healthy perspective that I felt I could learn something from.
That’s not me being against putting forth your creative energies. Please, by all means, do! I encourage everyone to find a creative outlet, whether you are a New York Times Best-Selling author, a professional Hollywood director/actor, or you’re working a steel mill and acting on the community theatre stage or sketching in a sketchbook by night. Find what brings you joy. Relish the happiness that being creative brings you.
What I’m saying, what it took me a long time to really, truly understand myself, is to not let it consume you. You can spend your entire life with that one focus, shutting out the rest of the world and people around you. You may hold it in your hands (and enjoy that moment, you should, you’ve earned it), but keep in mind, those hands will one day be gone.
By my very nature, I’m the type of person to constantly have juggling pins in the air, plates spinning, a multitude of projects that I’ve lined up, either professionally or just for myself that I want to get done, I want to cross off that list. So much so, that it can very easily slip from ‘i want to get this done’ to ‘I NEED to get this done,’ at the expense of the one thing none of us get extra of – our time. Time that can be spent with a loving partner, sharing laughs with friends, getting down on the floor or the grass and playing with children, looking to the world around you and savoring it for a few moments longer than you did the day before. The other stuff will get done. It will. But before you know it, so will each of us, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
I’m going to try making a better effort at it myself. Putting down the phone (where I’ve been keeping electronic lists as of late), fighting back the nagging urge to drop other things around me in order to just do something I can cross off. I need to get outside more, I need to get down on the floor more and actually play with the kids instead of watching them play while I work on other things. Things that can often wait.
Don’t become all-obsessive, I beg you. Look around you, to the world, to the people, and enjoy every moment with them, on this earthly plane.
About a year ago, I felt like I was living in a constant state of stress. Whether it be work, family, adult and parent responsibilities, finances, aspirations left unreached, creative pursuits, or issues with the world at large, I was a ball of worry, nerves, pressure, and so much more, clawing at the walls for a way out of this invisible box I felt I was stuck in all the time.
Every little thing would bother me, from a comment someone at work made, or a creative project taking a little longer because ‘life things’ just got in the way. Negative, negative, negative, it felt like a cloud that was engulfing me at nearly every turn.
Then, somewhere along the way, either just before or just after the birth of our third child, our second daughter six months ago, something happened. A switch felt like it got flipped.
Why did it take me so long to flip that switch? Was it the birth of our third child that was the impetus for such a shift in focus? Why didn’t it happen with the first two?
I have no idea and can’t tell you. But I can tell you that around this time, I just started looking at things…differently.
Suddenly, the things that I used to find myself so bothered by no longer really mattered. I mean, sure, they were there, they weren’t ideal, they were still annoying. But they no longer gnawed at me, they no longer stayed with me. Sure, it could be that I’m just so exhausted from three kids that I don’t have the energy to worry about other things anymore or to get upset about things that used to bug me. Maybe there’s a quotient of truth there.
But, I think most of all, I just started thinking differently. Somehow, I inadvertently shifted my mindset and instead of getting bothered or down about the things that weren’t working out, weren’t great, that I couldn’t achieve or have, I started feeling incredibly grateful for everything I did have.
And it was world changing for me.
I was looking at the success of other people and I wasn’t feeling joy. Instead it was making me feel bad, as if their achievements were a reflection on what I hadn’t done or hadn’t accomplished. It’s not, but for whatever reason, that’s how I was looking at it. And that view led to toxic feelings, feelings of doubt, of depression, unnecessary comparisons instead of feeling happy that someone was experiencing something good.
It’s like somewhere along the way in our development, this need to have things, more things, or this thought process that when someone gets something we didn’t, that it’s our own faults, our failure. So instead of feeling happiness for someone else, we default to a comparison that we missed out on something, that we’re not ‘worthy’ of it and then start questioning why, then start getting angry, or sad. And that leaves us disillusioned.
Suddenly, after far too long of dealing with the clouds of depression, angst, anger, sadness, self doubt that came about when things went south somewhere in life, I found myself stopping for a moment or two to mentally face these thoughts, these feelings, and start asking myself – “what are you happy to have?”
My family, my friends, a job, a roof over my head, clothes on my back.
I started to look around me every morning. The frustration of the cats waking me at half hour intervals from 3 am onward turned into (most mornings. I’m human, I falter) an appreciation for the love these furry little guys show us each and every day from the moment we took them in and welcomed them to our family. Gratefulness that it was our growing cat population in our house that awoke some paternal instinct in me long before we welcomed home any of our human children.
Ah, our children. How quickly life has changed in the 8 years Meg and I have been married. Sometimes that change can make us feel like nothing gets accomplished because we’re constantly chasing after or tending to one of the kids. But to imagine our lives without any one of them, chaos included, is unfathomable. There will come a time when they’ll be older, when they’ll have their own lives, and we’ll be wishing for the chaos, the sleepless nights and those times when sure, nothing around the house felt like it got done, but man, weren’t those kids fun? The laughter, the joy, the wonder, and the sheer love that each one brings in their own way, from the way they look at you when they first see you in the morning, to that hug at the end of the night. There has been nothing in our lives like it and it has been nothing short of a blessing to be a parent and be there beside them as they grow. And right there with me amid that tornado trio of kids is a beautiful, wonderful, funny, incredibly intelligent wife who is a true partner in all of this craziness of life, through thick, thin, and everything in between.
Friendships. Many of us are all going through the same things in life. Or maybe we’re not, but being around your friends, hearing about their struggles, sharing in the joy of their triumphs, and vice versa is important. Being around them, just knowing you’re not alone, even if no one has all the answers, makes the speed bumps in life a little easier to hit, and the good times even better.
A home in a neighborhood with good people who talk to each other, who look out for each other. A backyard with wildlife, where I can see birds come to the feeder every morning, squirrels doing acrobatics for seeds, or sometimes even a deer wandering through the yard on their way to and from the nearby woods. Space for our children to run, to play, to be kids.
A job that, sure, may not always be ideal, but then very few are. It may not be what I set out to do/want to do with the rest of my life (and it may not end up being, but who knows?), but it’s allowed me many things – the opportunity to go back to school, new professional skills to learn, more time with my kids than other jobs have, allowed me to make my student loan payments on time, to pay our bills, and afford to live when so many other people struggle just to make those ends meet and often can not.
This appreciation and gratitude for all that I’ve realized I have has for the most part made me forget what I didn’t, or what I thought I didn’t and thought I needed.
Several studies link gratitude to lower levels of depression, less toxic emotions like resentment and envy and can actually create higher levels of self esteem.
Over time, I found myself more and more looking for the bright side of situations. When someone came to me with something that might have been a downer to me last year, instead of reveling in what made it bad news, I find myself trying to look for the opportunity, or the silver lining within.
And when I started looking at the positives of situations, of my own life, I just found myself generally happier overall. No one expects you (or me) to be a ray of sunshine 24/7. We’re only human. But I’m a much happier human now.
It didn’t happen right away, but in time with a little work and a little focus, I’ve found that practicing the art of appreciation as gratitude has changed not only my outlook, but my life.
Love the life you’re with, find the reasons to love your life, the pieces of it, even in times of turmoil that can remind you what parts you’d never change, the parts that other people would love to have, and it can make a big difference. At least it did for me.
I write this, lying here in the dark of our room. The red digital numbers on the clock reading 11:13. Meg is asleep next to me, while one of our cats, Jasper nudges his way between us to curl in for a night’s sleep.
At the foot of the bed sits the cradle that’s been in Meg’s family for generations, and seen all three of our little ones rest their heads in it.
In there tonight sits our youngest, just shy of six months old, alternating between sleep and rapid bouts of coughing, worse now than when I took her to the doctor’s earlier today out of fear of an ear infection. The ears were clear and the best diagnosis for her recent and regular bouts of misery and blood curdling screaming were chalked up to the perfect storm of teething, gas, and bad eczema all over her body. The doctors offered some dietary change suggestions for Meg, cutting out things like dairy and peanut butter among others to narrow down what it is in the breast milk that could possibly be leading to such widespread redness.
And as our nearly six month old coughs her way through the night, our two year old has already thrown up twice in bed, leading to impromptu washings of her, her clothes and sheets. Upset stomach? Another virus? The second round of flu that’s been in the headlines? Or just a bug? I don’t know.
*Post-script note: Since writing this, there were two more incidents of vomiting throughout the night, with more washings, sheet strippings, and washes to the point that we started running out of sheets and pillows. And by this point, I had taken position on the floor next to her for the rest of the night.
And as they slumber, here I lay, feeling utterly helpless. There’s few feelings worse than watching your children sick, looking to you for aid and only being able to do so much for them before having you put them back to bed and tell them it will be alright, even if you’re not quite sure when it’ll be…hoping that if we are convincing to them that perhaps we might be able to convince ourselves too.