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© Gail Underwood Parker

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hand Update

Thanks to all of you who sent me best wishes on my hand appointment. My hand is apparently going to need more surgery if I plan to have it really function as a hand. Now it works more like an artificial hand... the thumb and forefinger work moderately well, and the pinkie a bit, but no ability to close my hand to grip or hold things. Sooo... I am taking a month or two to gear up and get ready and then I will probably dive into it in early January and hope that at the end of their estimated 6 month recovery I have a more functional, more normal hand.

All in all, not what I wanted to hear, but the good news is that they feel it should work, and that I will be able to play piano and write/type more easily afterward which really is good news. The only nasty part is that I will need to do the extensive surgery and rehab to get there. -sigh- In the meantime I celebrate my new doctor-granted freedom from finger exercises, splints, and therapy between now and surgery.

On a serious note, I celebrate much more deeply the care and concern and support of friends and readers, and truly am grateful that this is an accident, nothing more, nothing less. It is not an illness or condition that threatens my life, my longevity, or anything even close to it. Besides, with my already stubby short fingers.. I didn't really have a chance for a career as a hand model anyway. Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers. I'll call on them again when I do go in for the surgery!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wish me luck

Small off-topic personal update.  Those who remember my fall last May... Despite the fracture repair and five months of intensive physical/occupational therapy I have not yet been able to motivate the formerly broken fingers to move as fingers are supposed to move.  Since my primary income is from writing and music [piano and organ], this is a significant challenge.  The docs here are now recommending an additional series of surgeries.  This morning I am driving to Boston to meet with an ortho doc at a Performing Arts clinic there for a second opinion.  I am still waiting for an appointment with a hand doc in NYC.  A non-surgical solution would be wonderful... so... wish me luck and those of you with fingers that can still cross on command, please do. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Parenting Do-Overs

As an "experienced" parent and one with more than one "set" of children raised, I have the blessing of parenting hindsight.  Unlike most parents, I have the chance to "do it over again" and do it differently. I am still starting kids after having seen the outcomes with the earlier kids.  I do do it differently. Like the "Don't sweat the small stuff" guru, I now have a somewhat unusual set of priorities. This allows me to comfortably "give in" or "let slide" many things which other parents firmly grasp or compulsively enforce. Things which I grasped ever so tightly with my first crew and less so with my current cherubs. Predictably there are also things that I let slide with my earlier kiddos and stand firm and resolute now.  

If I had to summarize the difference I think it lies in a better ability at backward planning. I have a good idea now of what qualities I want my kiddos to have at 18, 28, etc.  I also have a better [though FAR from guaranteed] idea of how to get there from here.  So, I break the outcome into smaller and ever smaller increments and start working on them.  I think I work on them more consciously than the first time around, and with  greater confidence in the route than before.  

For most things I start working the plan earlier than the first time [like cooking and study habits]. Some things I do very differently [like the way I do rewards and privileges]. Some things are a mix of both [like teaching how to keep their bedrooms clean.] How much of this is because the kiddos I raise now come with more challenges and issues than my first set is hard to determine.  I am certainly glad that my early attempts were with more resilient, more natively able, healthier children. What I learned raising them has been hugely helpful in later parenting.  

One of the things I liked best about the teaching profession was the chance to reinvent yourself, your attitudes, your behaviors, your priorities each September.  Yes, students might notice a difference between what they had heard about you and what you were, but you could tweak your approach every year.  I didn't feel that freedom s a parent the first time around. I felt like "changing the rules" in midstream was unfair and likely to be unsuccessful.  I feel much freer now to change as it seems needed.  I feel much more comfortable letting go of a plan or a rule or a priority based on circumstances and needs.  I worry less about what the current thinking is or what the experts say and go more comfortably with what is actually working, cheerfully ditching that which is not working, regrouping and restarting.  

I don't believe there is any perfect set of parenting strategies or techniques to fit every child. Heck, we can't even find soap or cereal or shampoo to fit every child! But when I get tired of parenting, of dealing with homework  struggles or sibling squabbles for the umpee-thousandth time I celebrate the chances I have for do-overs, for mini or extreme makeovers, and for the blessings and focus of hindsight.  

Friday, October 23, 2009

Renovation and reorganizing... update

Hello again.  My name is Gail [still] and I am a packrat [still]. I have struggled to stay in recovery [this time] for 2 weeks.  

A few posts ago I stated my intentions to make some changes and keep you posted.  Since then I have made three trips to the dump [in my town you take your own trash... no automatic scheduled pickups].  In total I have removed 23 bags of stuff from my house.  Some has gone into the hopper, some to the recycling bins, and some to swap shops, Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.  Before sending me cheers I must confess that for my rather large family 3-4 bags of trash per week is the base line before my new sorting resolve. So at least 6-8 of those bags are predictable.

I wish I could say that my house looked substantially better, but the truth is that I could probably remove 16 extra  bags  every two weeks for months and still not have reached the end state.  Mind you, the "public" rooms are looking better, but even they progress slowly.  For example.  I took four large grocery bags of books to my library's book sale from the upstairs book shelves. You would think I now have empty shelves.  

Au contraire!  The shelves don't look substantially different to the untrained eye.  How is this you ask?  The secret is that almost every bookshelf in my house [and I have more than most small libraries possess] is double shelved, with two layers of books on every available inch.  So now I have several shelves that are now merely single shelved.  Maybe not the end goal, but a good start.  I managed to release my old college textbooks [except for one written by a favorite professor]. I even freed two shelves of books on tape... my latest car has only a CD player and my walkman cassette player is dying. [Oh, all right... I kept the Katherine Hepburn and Christopher Reeve autobiographies.]  Progress is the key.   

Hello. My name is Gail. I am a packrat.... but I am still trying. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Rule of 5 ... some examples

In my last post I introduced our family Rule of 5. The Rule of 5 works for almost everything and almost everyone. I find that it often clarifies a choice very quickly. Here are two examples:

Grown-up Example:
I had to choose whether it was a good choice to go to the foster parent conference all the way in Nashville this past fall. Going meant I would not be home to help the kids through the first week of school. Going meant I would be able to attend many trainings on teaching successful independent living for kids transitioning out of care and that I would be able to present a workshop myself, as well as man an exhibit with my new book The Caring Heart Speaks. Applying the Rule of 5 it was clear that even in just 5 weeks, much less 5 months or 5 years, the negatives of missing that first week would have disappeared but the benefits of attending the conference would continue to provide positive effects.

Kid's Example:
One of my kiddos recently was considering whether to try smoking. A friend was offering [encouraging/pressuring?] him cigarettes and the opportunity away from home. Applying the Rule of 5 the getting in good with the friend might last 5 days, maybe even longer, but 5 months or 5 years down the road, the benefits of that friendship would have been far outweighed by the cost [finances, health, trust, etc.] of a smoking habit. Did it stop him from trying? No. But processing it afterwards he could see the long term impact and made the decision not to smoke again. Whether he will stick with it will partly depend on how effectively he uses the Rule of 5.

Is the Rule of 5 a miracle cure? No. But it does help you stop and think rather than simply give in to a quick impulse. Sometimes that is all that is needed. Sometimes all it does is make you feel guilty for giving in. No plan guarantees making good choices. But this plan, like many others can help you know what the good choice IS. After that it is always up to us.

Give the Rule of 5 a shot. Send me some of your examples to share?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Rule of 5....what is it?

When my kids are struggling with a choice, [especially on with good arguments for both sides] I teach them to use what my family calls the "Rule of 5." For each choice you consider what the resulting benefits and costs will be in 5 days, in 5 months, and in 5 years. When the kids were younger and time seemed forever I used to use 5 minutes, 5 hours, and 5 days which was more within their understanding.

The idea of the Rule of 5 is to teach kids:
1- to weigh the consequences [good and bad] of choices they make
2-to look beyond the most immediate results to longer term impacts
3-to use that information to recognize the better choice
If your children develop a habit of using the Rule of 5 [and if you are lucky] that will lead to.... 4- using that information to MAKE the better choice.

Sadly, with tough choices it seems to me that the option with comfortable short term results is often NOT the wisest choice . Take lying for example. When a child has done something wrong, lying and saying they did not do it makes life easier right then. The negative consequences kick in down the road.... a place hard for kiddos to see when they are facing immediate punishment. For older kids, the social pressure to make a poor choice often has lots of benefits in the short term [popularity, attention, etc.] so that kids need a habit of looking at the long term effects of impulsive choices.

Try the Rule of 5 yourself, or with your family. Let me know whether it helps !

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Renovations and reorganizing

Everybody's living space needs renovations after a while.  The newly fresh becomes the comfortingly familiar and then degenerates into the tired , closely followed by the dingy. Usually it happens slowly. There are the repeated incidents of spilled juice, the accidental marks from markers that turned out to be permanent rather than washable. A grape slips into a crease or crack unnoticed and slowly oozes into a raisin. It's a process.  

When you decide to renovate it always means sorting, cleaning, throwing out, and waging battle with piles.  I've also realized that inevitably when you clean, sort, and put everything back in place there is always a pile [hopefully smallish] of things that no longer have a logical place in the newly organized space, but need a place somewhere.  The challenge is to refuse to let those things become a stack or pile in a different room, on a different dresser, etc.  

Only rarely is someone born with the skills needed for cleaning and organizing. All parents have watched with horror the results of a young child deciding to rearrange their bedroom. Children tackle the project with great enthusiasm and energy, pulling everything out from corners, cubbies, closets, and more.. eager to reorganize their living space into their image of perfection. Unfortunately it is no surprise when the effort is larger than the energy supply, that the enthusiasm is gone long before the piles in the center of the room are gone. What often results is one or two small newly neat areas sounded like islands in the middle of an ocean of chaos and mess.  

There are tricks and strategies to cleaning efficiently and successfully. [One drawer, one area at a time... Match time and energy to task, etc.] Parents must teach children how to clean just as you teach them how to brush their teeth. The process is slower than dental hygiene, probably even toilet training, but faster than study skills. Much harder is the task of teaching them how to choose what to value, what to toss, what to keep.  How can we do that when it is so hard for us to do ourselves?  I sometimes think I was genetically coded, environmentally groomed, and encouraged by life events to be a packrat.  I hate the label of packrat.  But... I admit the truth. It is an inescapable conclusion for anyone walking through my home, especially beyond the "public spaces" most guests are limited to. 

I was taught the steps of cleaning.  I was taught the strategies of efficiency and success.   What I did not learn was a more practical sense of what to value, how to choose what to toss and what to keep.  Clearly.  I have saved baby clothes and toys for my children to show their children. But they now have children and don't really care about showing them.  I have saved toys and books to hand down, but it turns out rarely does anyone want the handed down.  So why am I saving things still for my current cherubs. Artifacts from kindergarten and middle school and high school fill box after  box.  For what? Why is it so hard to just toss them? There are lots and lots of justifiable reasons why I am/ my house is where I am/ it is.  But if that is not what I want, then renovations are in order.  So where does that leave me, other than in a house that I find overwhelming and often discouraging?  I have tried the one drawer, one spot approach and never get far enough to move ahead, only barely to keep the tide at bay.  So I will try something new today.  I will try beginning by admitting/ accepting the responsibility.  

Hello.  My name is Gail.  I am a packrat.  

[I'll keep you posted.]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Teen Driving

Wooo hoo! On of my cherubs passed the drivers test today! Now, when I first took on the last set of cherubs I said there were two things I would never do again... pull baby teeth out and teach another teenager to drive and parallel park. Well, one out of two is better than none. After failing the test a month ago, the test was overcome today and there is one more driver on the road.

Not all children can learn to drive a car. Not all children should learn to drive a car. Its not the end of the world to be an adult who can't drive. It means you must choose housing near a public transportation system or near where you work and shop. As I deal with fender benders, excise taxes, registration, repairs, oil changes, ad infinitum, I sometimes think that the non drivers are the smart ones. But for teens, it is a rite of passage that is painful to be excluded from experiencing. How do you explain to peers that your reading skills aren't up to the task of speed reading all the signs you must pay attention to while driving? How do you explain if your medical condition makes it impossible for you to drive? Or your emotional issues?

Teens cannot always chose to hook a ride with someone else, and may not have ready access to public transportation. No teen wants to be driven by a parent, no matter how willing. And then there are other complications... dating for one. Teens who are unable to learn to drive may also lack judgment skills or impulse control. If they hook rides, they are at even greater risk of riding with an impaired driver.

So maybe I need to remember that when I groan inwardly [or perhaps frown and growl outwardly] about the hours of driving, supervising, trying to teach skills while hiding white knuckles during a too sharp turn, or the terror face after a g-force defying stop. I am lucky that this one can learn to drive, is now blessed with that new found independence that is another step toward independent living. Even more... I can be glad that I can go back to driving myself around... at least until the next one asks for a driver's permit and the cycle begins again. Woo hoo!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Parenting Burnout?

This is one of those weeks when it all just seems too much.  Too many small crises, too many obligations, too many unexpected blips, too many everything.  As one who is currently dealing with adolescents and teenagers at the age of 60+ I would like a half hour to chat with those 50+ women I see on the news who are starting families.  It might start with "Are you CRAaaazy?" It would also include " What job is more important or gives more to the world than to raise a caring, responsible future member of society?" It would no doubt be a rambling, blithering half-hour that convinced no one of anything.... except perhaps that I was the crazy one.  

All joking aside, at my age there are many days when I question the sanity of my undertaking.  There are many nights when I worry that I am just letting some things slide, not out of rational, intelligent choice, but out of fatigue and parenting burnout. I can't tell you how tired I am of school open house night speeches, pulling baby teeth, of 4th grade recorder concerts, middle school graduations, and [perhaps most of all!] teaching kids to parallel park. Shouldn't there be a maximum for some of those irksome tasks of parenting?  Some number that, once you reach it, you are excused from that job forever more????

Burnout is a particular problem for single parents, regardless of age.  The wish for someone who would just come and take charge, giving you a break for a bit, is always there.  No one to be the other half of "good cop, bad cop." No one to tell... "You get up with them this time." No other half to say "I'll pick up A from her soccer game, while you take B to his doctor's appointment." No X to have as in... "Just wait until X gets home!" True, when child A walks up for their diploma, or B achieves a long-fought-for goal... you can hold in your heart the part you played in their success.  But you also are likely to personalize and take on  the blame for any failings or challenges.  

When parenting burnout hits, I try to roll with it.  I try to relax about the out-of-sorts symptoms it brings, keep going on the crucial stuff, let the little stuff slide. I try not to take it personally and instead I treat the burnout kind of like a seasonal cold. Extra rest, healthy food, plenty of water, and when possible a little extra pampering. For all my fellow burnout victims... maybe consider parenting burnout a mild seasonal allergy? It arrives when a certain pollen is in the air and it will pass on its own in due time. The symptoms are annoying and tiresome, but they too pass.  They don't kill us, they rarely even incapacitate us, but a little care and pampering is a good plan.  

So, start a tub, watch a useless TV show, pick up a guilty pleasure magazine at the checkout, or go sit by yourself on the porch and soak in a sunset or full moon.  The pollen will pass.