Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Penny in Your Pocket

I finally got a confession out of my daughter that she has not been sticking to her diet. A few pieces of unacceptable candy and treats now and then have revealed themselves to me, and I decided it was time to ask for the truth. It isn't her size. Her size shows that she is a healthy, well-fed girl who is on her way to being built like a fashion model. No, those forbidden treats are what's causing the running instead of walking and the temper tantrums that leave her on the floor kicking like a two-year-old. My almost ten-year-old flings herself onto furniture, grabs whatever interests her regardless of ownership and etiquette, interrupts conversations, and does the opposite of what she told and then laughs about it. She is hyperactive, impulsive, defiant, and noncompliant, and it is the additives that make certain foods forbidden that trigger this behavior. My daughter is supposed to be following the Feingold Program for those who suffer from a long list of ailments, including ADHD. She is supposed to eat only foods we provide for her at school, birthday parties, dinner parties, and some restaurants. Like any child with such severe restrictions, however, she finds temptation difficult to resist. The more she gives in, the harder it is for her to say no. What's a parent to do? Years ago, I used to keep pennies in my pocket. They went into my right pocket for bad behavior and back to my left for good behavior. In the moment, I could threaten to transfer pennies in the hope of encouraging my daughter to behave. At the end of the day, I could easily assess how well she'd done by the number of pennies in each pocket and dish out rewards and punishments accordingly. I felt it was much fairer than taking away privileges based on how frazzled I felt. I felt, in those days, that I functioned on frazzled and was more likely to remove privileges based on my level of despair and the frequency of my tears. Not a good yardstick to measure a child's behavior. I may not be able to control what my daughter eats when she is away from home, but I can usually tell when she's strayed from her diet. So, I've decided to start with the pennies again. They might be quarters that can be converted into Chuck E. Cheese tokens or they could be actual tokens. It doesn't matter. We can start out with ten pennies, and each request or command that is met with fussing, wailing, or smart-mouthed comments will result in a penny in the right-hand pocket. Likewise, any cheerful, compliant responses will lead to a penny in the left pocket. Particularly bad behavior--nasty backtalk, hitting, kicking, or screaming, can mean that the pennies stay in the right pocket. In this way, I can monitor both the behavior and the diet that triggers it. I'm hoping to show my daughter the results of her actions and help her connect the dots. I'm hoping that she will learn to make wiser choices. I'm hoping that my own life will be calmer as a result.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Renovation Day 15: Evolution of a Kitchen

For years I tried not to complain. I had working appliances and a place to prepare food. Yet I could not deny that my kitchen was poorly designed and uninviting as a cooking space. I would stand at my stove or sink working in isolation. Many evenings the best company I had was my younger daughter, lying on the floor, kicking and screaming while I attempted to pt something together that tasted like a decent dinner and often consisted of black beans and rice.
Now my kitchen is a bare expanse of subfloor framed covered studs with holes where the windows will be someday. Incredibly, it is an improvement. While I do have a place to cook (my mother's kitchen, crowded with small appliances and the contents of grocery shopping bags that have nowhere else to go), my own kitchen is still a skeleton of its future self. And that is an improvement on what it was.

This is what our kitchen looked like before. How I despised those curtains!

Here is our kitchen on the first day of work.

The room is slowly being stripped to its bare bones with new space constructed for cooking space.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Renovation Day 14: The Beginning

Above is the scene at my house later the first day of real construction--or rather, demolition. Notice the surprise wallpaper that had been hiding behind the cabinets. Houses never fail to surprise me with their secrets.

Renovation Day 14: Before

It's day 14, and I have finally figured out how to post the images of this project. It's embarrassing, my lack of technical expertise when it comes to the Internet, blogs, and social media, but all I can say is that I'm learning. Above are pictures of our house the way it looked on the morning of Tuesday, March 27. My little dog accompanied me after her morning run, and she sits looking bewildered at her space, so familiar yet so empty. Our house will never look this way again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Renovation Day 1

The sky was a watercolor cadet blue when I left this morning. I came struggling out of my mother's garage dragging my little dog, bags dangling from my shoulder. She tugged at her leash as I guided her down the street in search of my car. I loaded us both in the car and drove back to the garage for my older daughter so I could take her to school. Classes start at just after seven so we are up early every morning.

I am taking my daughter to school every morning because we are living with my mother. I have piled my husband, two kids, and our dog into my mother's three bedroom condo because we have decided to blast apart our center hall colonial to create a more livable, usable space. Today is the day construction starts, so after I take my little dog for her morning romp in the ball field, I swing by the house to take down the trash.

The poor little dog is so confused, having her bed moved into a strange building full of suspicious noises and coming back to sniff her own house. This morning the entire main level is empty (except the garage) and my voice echoes off the walls. Sunlight streams in the front windows, and I take "before" pictures. The old dining room, the crazy kitchen, the dreadful center hall. I drag the last bags of trash down to the street and take one last look around.

I hold the door open for the dog, and she gives me a look that says, "But this is my house!" She turns and trots away, and I have to walk behind her to encourage her to leave. We walk down the steps of our concrete stoop and drive away into uncertain future.

The next time I see my front door the steps leading to it are lying in pieces in the front yard, which has been overrun by machines. The patio has become a giant hole full of rocks. The kitchen cabinets have lost their doors, and a great gaping hole sits yawning where the oven used to be. (This was the oven with the broiler element that dangled by a couple of screws and threatened to fall on our morning toast. I used to pray every time I used it--Last Rites.)

I had left the basement bookshelves almost cleared. A hurricane glass from Pat O'Brien's full of coins and a small vase with dried flowers had been sitting in a corner near empty aquarium equipment boxes. Now everything in the room has been moved to the center and practically shrink wrapped with heavy plastic. The work crew has certainly been efficient.

I go back outside and survey the scene--to me it looks like a movie "bigature" created with children's toys, the work crew having been filmed earlier on a green screen. I watch with a mixture of excitement and fear. The excitement is generated by a sense of unstoppable motion--the snowball has started rolling down the hill, gathering speed. The fear is born of risk. To make such an investment in an uncertain economy is stepping out of our comfort zone.

This is no mere building project for us. It is the adventure of a lifetime, a reaching for a great prize. We have wanted to do this project for years, and now we have finally gained the courage to conquer obstacle after obstacle to make it happen. Today is just the beginning.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I am looking forward to moving in with my mother. It's unbelievable. My mother is a wonderful woman, but she is the person who thought I could do nothing right for the first forty years of my life. I've been able to spend a lot of time with her over the past few years (thank you, God), and I feel now we could get along, just the two of us. But it isn't just me. I'm dragging along my husband, two daughters, and our small dog, and the six of us will be piled into my mother's three bedroom condo for five or six months. And I'm the only one who is delusional enough to look forward to it.

My husband is easy to get along with, as long as he has baseball, good food, time to himself to wander around the city, and time to go to the ocean and sit in relative solitude on the beach. My older daughter is a teenager, and as far as I'm concerned she is easy to get along far as teenagers go. She requires a willingness to listen to her chatter, her teen angst, and her singing (and her singing isn't bad). She has her moods, but so do we all.

My younger daughter demands dessert, movies, trips to Chuck E. Cheese, chewing gum, toys, play dates, and constant attention. What she really demands is an ocean of patience. The moment she thinks the world is not marching to her tune, she lifts up her voice and stretches out of the floor. She will be heard.

Last night, for example, I asked her to show me her watch, the watch we gave her for her ninth birthday. She yelled, "Noooo...." and ran to her room and locked the door. I stood outside and commanded her to let me in with as calm and firm a tone as I could muster. She cracked the door and then grudgingly stepped aside to let me enter.

"Your watch?" I held out my hand.

Witty a long suffering sigh, she thrust it at me.

"Can you set it?" I asked. "Can you pull it out of the band?"

She pulled it out and handed it to me. She had calmed down enough to watch me fiddle with the knob.

"What are you doing?" she wanted to know, as I turned the hands forward one hour.

"We're springing forward," I told her. I proceeded to show her how I set our bedroom clock radio forward. I don't know whether she got the concept, but in the end she danced away, secure in the notion that I was not going to confiscate her watch. Somehow I had gotten through the intractable moment and reached her.

My older daughter came over to me later and gave me a hug. "Do we really have to move over to Nana's?" she asked quietly in my ear. "I'm not going to any space all to myself."

I held her close. "We're going to have to work on that," I whispered back. "We're going to have to be creative."

Our small dog has started watching us apprehensively, as we sort, toss, and pack our stuff. Having had her crate and pillow washed and having suffered through a bath, she suspects some unknown, and therefore fearful, change. Deprived of a place to curl up with all her comforts in the wash, she sat wagging at my feet, a low whine rising in her throat. I let her jump in my lap and rubbed her ears while I read the paper.

After the girls had gone to bed, my husband sat swiveling thoughtfully in his office chair. "How are we all going to get along over there?" he wondered, his voice heavy with pessimism.

I leaned over, squeezed his shoulders, and didn't answer. I don't know how we are all going to get along over there. I imagine our tempers will fray and our personalities will rub uncomfortably against each other. I'm sure I will have moments of despair that those I love best will be more than I can handle. Yet I know I have some important life lessons waiting for me, and I might as well ready myself for the challenge. Delusional? Maybe. But at least I'm not running and hiding.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Giving Myself Advice

Sometimes I have to give myself advice. It helps to examine my problem with objective eyes, as if it belonged to someone else. My problem is that despite repeating my mantra of, "Slow and steady wins the race," I feel a rising wave of panic as I race the calendar to get my house ready for construction work. All of the hours I've spent--15 minutes at a time--clearing out, organizing, and packing up my stuff don't seem to have made a dent in the workload.

Common sense tells me that this is not true. Even though I feel surrounded by my stuff (instead of surrounded by neatly labeled boxes), I know that clearing clutter generates energy. Having gotten rid of four trash bins worth of stuff, I can think more clearly. I can make decisions on packing and storing our belongings. I know where our stuff is. Best of all I have an internal drive to keep going, to keep sorting and tossing and packing. My challenge now, is stopping.

Now that my mind and my home are beginning to clear, I am able to ask the important questions. What one task or small project would give the most sense of visual progress? What one task or small project would give the most sense of actual progress? What can I do to get past the halfway point, so I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel? Asking myself these questions keeps me calm and it keeps me thinking, planning, and working more effectively. Giving myself advice helps dissolve the panic.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I Am Going Through My Stuff

I am going through me stuff. Seemingly endless papers, chewed up pencils, frayed business cards, dusty folders, outgrown clothes, and worn out toys. I have been dreading it for years, clearing out my stuff. In my heart, I know it's the best thing for me and my family, to get rid of the piles of stuff that weigh on our spirits and make it difficult to navigate through rooms. Still, I've been dreading it and putting it off as long as possible.

Now I am forcing myself to rip the staples out of old homework papers and toss them in the recycling bag, to wad up childish artwork made of construction paper, glue, and uncooked macaroni noodles and throw it in the trash. I have no choice. The workers will arrive within the month to begin tearing down walls and building a small addition onto our house. We've been looking forward to this for years, and we are so excited. Still, I have to go through my stuff.

The irony is that although I've been dreading it, now that I've gotten started, I can't seem to stop. I'm being pushed by an irrational panic to see bare floors and walls, and we seem to have a lot of stuff to clear out. Yet it is also therapeutic. It feels strangely satisfying to haul bags to the trash, knowing that the stuff I've been hoarding is gone forever. I am so pleased with myself when I walk away from the thrift store empty handed after dropping off my give away bag. (No shopping!) Even better are the discoveries, the lost books, the misplaced addresses of friends who have fallen out of touch, journals I never finished writing in. "I've been looking all over for this for months!" I'll exclaim and rush to give my newfound treasure a home.

The secret is in the willingness to let go of the past, the willingness to start the clearing out, and the willingness to stop in time to heat up supper. Once I start, I feel compelled to continue, but I won't let myself. If I spend hours clearing out my stuff every time I start, I won't be able to convince myself to start when I have only half an hour to spare.

So I continue going through my stuff. I tell myself I'm being ruthless, but I'm sure when we move back into our newly rebuilt rooms, I'll wonder why I kept so much that could been easily tossed. And I'll go through my stuff yet again.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

Early February is the time of year many of us have long since broken or abandoned our resolutions for the new year. I know I have. Still, I have kept the spirit of my resolutions in that I have resolved to give up on self-improvement. That may seem odd, as resolutions are supposed to be all about self-improvement. I decided at the end of last year that I'm just fine the way I am, thank you very much, and that instead of clinging to the idea of becoming a better person, I'm simply going to let the idea go.

This allowed me to discover how rigid my thinking is, how my narrow my ideas are when it comes to the business of daily living. I decided to greet each day without towering expectations of myself and just appreciate myself for who I am and what I do. The unexpected result of this freeing concept is not that I have become lazier or more complacent. Instead, I feel as though I have more energy, and that I am happier and more productive. Best of all, I am learning to accept any moments of backsliding, of list-making, of critical self-talk as more opportunities to practice my new way of thinking.

Let go, is my new mantra. Just relax and let go, knowing that everything will be just fine in the end.