Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What the World Needs Now

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about Buddhist philosophies. I'm fascinated by these teachings and am learning so much how to sensibly accept things I can't change and also to have better control over my own words and actions. I'm consistently attempting to apply what I've learned even though it is often very difficult. It is so easy to live habitually and mindlessly. We react. We say things. We feel bad or embarrassed. We apologize. Wouldn't it be lovely to avoid all that by not reacting and not saying things we regret later? Yes, of course it would be. Therefore, I'm on a path.

I pulled some books from the library, and as I read them I absorb the positivity and embrace the teachers' methods to clarity and peace. I'm reading and I find myself in such a state of calmness. My mind is quiet. My heart is soft. I have a strong sense of where I am and I appreciate everything for what it is, and I might sound a little crazy to you right now, but if you want to feel this good without medicating, you may want to check out some, all, or more of these kinds of books, too.

The common theme is that everyone wants happiness and everyone wants to avoid suffering, and the principles to achieve happiness and avoid suffering are both simple and complex, much like us human beings. It's common sense to know that we should be kind to one another because we're in this together. We're each a tiny little speck of something so vast, and we're here for such a brief period when you consider how long Time has been going and how much further there is to go. The fact is that we're here now. Do we want to spend it fighting and being mean to each other, or should we send out as much love and kindness into our world as we possibly can?

I am trying to live more beautifully. I'm more attentive to others. I'm not saying as much so I'm listening better. I'm thinking before acting. I'm trying hard to not react. I do get angry; it's impossible not to. However, having compassion for the person who's made me angry helps keep me present and less likely to explode. I don't need to understand why he or she did what they to make me angry; they have their reasons and there's nothing I can do about them. The only thing I can control is what I do, and getting upset about it doesn't do anyone any good. So I try to put myself in their place or at least send out some goodness to them so they can maybe feel a little better.

I'm a new student at this, though, so I don't always get it right. Take this lesson from this morning, for instance.

After I dropped off my kids at school, I avoided getting into a car accident as I was pulling into my own driveway. Like always, it was a quiet morning on my street and I was about to turn left into my driveway when a silver sedan showed up in my driver's side mirror. It startled me. I could see the car was right on my tail, and as I pulled my car to the right to make a left into my driveway the car behind me seemed ready to quickly drive past me. I hesitated, made sure the car was not going to pass me or hit me, and then pulled into my garage. In my rear view mirror, I saw the silver sedan accelerate down the street. After I got out of my car, I walked to the end of my driveway to find out who the aggressive guy was driving that car.

I saw the car parked on the same side of my street about four or five houses down, only it wasn't a hotheaded male who had been driving. It was a woman, and she was unloading two toddlers. I had never seen her before, so I figured she was running late dropping her kids off at the babysitter's. Or maybe her usual babysitter wasn't available today so she was taking the kids to her mom's. Or her friend's. Or maybe she doesn't work but was called for jury duty so her routine is thrown off today. There are an infinite number of possibilities for her lead-footed behavior today, and all those thoughts raced through my mind in an instant. She was most definitely having a crappy day, and it wasn't even 8 am. I decided to throw her some compassion with a calm tone and a friendly smile.

Me: Hey, be careful out there!

Woman: (screams) What?!

Me: (slightly louder): Be careful out there.

Woman: Kiss my ass!

I said, "No thank you," under my breath and walked inside my house. Now, I don't know how I expected her to respond. Did I think she would say thanks or apologize or smile in return? Maybe. What I certainly did not expect was such an angry response. I obviously hadn't done a good job projecting kindness here. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. Then I thought, what I shouldn't have said was "Why are you driving like a maniac?" or "You're going to kill someone!," and I didn't say those things. Were my words harmful? I don't think so. There was no intention to harm; in fact my intentions were the opposite. I was trying to offer empathy, but I believe she was in such a state of anger already (for reasons still unknown to me) that my words sounded like judgmental, unsolicited advice. Her mind wasn't clear so she wasn't able to accept those words or my tone for what they were. In fact, she was so angry that while I was pondering all this in my kitchen, I heard her drive up the street while laying on her horn. I'm certain that was for me.

At that very moment, I only felt sorry for her. We've all had days like that when everything seems to be going wrong. We make it worse, though, by dwelling on the negatives and expecting more bad things to happen as if it's some self-fulfilled prophecy. Sometimes we even feed our own anger through harsh or harmful words and actions. I've done it. I could probably honestly say that I've done that on some level at least once a day. It probably felt good for her to yell at me like that and honk her horn as she drove up the street. But I doubt that satisfaction lasted. If she's anything like me, she likely was sitting at her desk at work or in a chair at jury duty or wherever she was a few hours later regretting what she did and feeling embarrassed. Or maybe she's not like me at all and is still happy that she acted that way. I'll never know.

What I do know is that I don't want to live like that, so I'm going to continue on my path. Today proves that I'm not going to get it right all the time, but I'll keep trying to act with love and kindness. Our world can always use more love and kindness.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Too Many Choices

The good news is Brian's mom is visiting us over fall break. She suggested she could take care of the kids for a few days so that Brian and I could go away for a belated anniversary trip. That's really good news! The bad news is we can't decide where to go, which is dangerous because when he and I can't decide, we usually end up doing nothing.

We're not arguing over where to go. He's throwing out places he knows I've always wanted to see, but I don't think Banff or Seattle are pleasant in October. I'm proposing several destinations in California like Santa Barbara or Monterey, but they seem uninspired. We started looking at Colorado where we could do some cool hiking, but what if my back is still cranky then? Then we revisited the California idea with Napa. Then Park City. Then Telluride.

Agh! We are fortunate to have such a problem, but not going on a trip is not an option, so it's time to get serious. Or silly.  Maybe I should throw a dart at a map.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Career Day

Does anyone else tear up during a sitcom? No? Just me then? Here's a snippet from a recently watched Modern Family syndicated episode in which stay-at-home mom Claire Dunphy gives an impromptu speech in her son's classroom on career day. Sara laughs then cries.

Teacher: Mrs. Dunphy, I'm sure the class would love to hear from you.

Claire: Oh, no. I just came to help my husband. I'm a stay-at-home mom.

Teacher: I know! And that is a very important job.

Claire: (stunned) It is! Uhhhh. OK. I can do this for a minute. Um. Stay-at-home-mom. Uh. What that means is I have a whole bunch of different jobs. I am a chauffeur, a chef, a house manager, a nurse.

Female Student: Is that what you've always wanted to do?

Claire: Uh. No. Not exactly. I went to college to study marketing and worked at one of those big hotel companies, but when my kids came along I just wanted to be there. You know, wipe their noses and change their diapers and tuck them in at night.

Luke (Claire's 15-year-old son): Mom! (to his classmates) For the record, I do all my own wiping.

Female Student: So why haven't you gone back to work?

Claire: I've done a few things lately. Like I just redid a house, and I ran for city council last year.

Female Student: You're on the city council?

Claire: No. I didn't win.

Female Student: You lost.

Claire: (visibly annoyed) That's what didn't win means. (obviously flustered) I- I- I- thought I would be going back to work when the kids got older, but it- it's not as easy as you might think. You know, people aren't exactly lining up to hire a woman who is almost 40 and has been out of the job market for 15 years.

Luke: I thought you were 42.

Claire: That's almost 40, Luke!

Female Student: My mom went back to work when I was four.

Claire: Oh! So there was no one at home to teach you not to interrupt!

The scene ends when a jerk of a real estate tycoon swoops in to save Claire by first validating stay-at-home moms as the "backbones of this country" and then adding that if he had to do that job he'd drink himself to death. As humorous as the scene is, it really struck a emotional chord with me because I (and probably many other women) can completely relate to Claire. Simply replace "big hotel" with "big brokerage," and she and I are at the same point in life. Is this what I've always wanted to do? No, not exactly. And it's true; though I don't regret my decision to stay home after I had Elizabeth, right now no one is lining up to hire an almost 40-year-old woman who's been out of the job market for eleven years. Sure, I've done a few things. I had a grunt job for a fundraising rep that was fine at the time and flexible enough to work around my kids' schedules, but it certainly wasn't a career. I did and still do plenty of meaningful yet non-paying work for the kids' school, but that non-paying part starts to get old after awhile. Though I absolutely know that I do not want to do what I was doing eleven years ago, I've toyed with the idea of going back to work. If not at the brokerage firm thirty miles away in Phoenix at which I worked 40+ hours a week and spent almost ten hours a week in freeway traffic, then where? It's tough to think of a position that would allow me two weeks off for my kids' breaks in the fall, winter, and spring, and then what would I do with my kids the entire seven-week summer? Camps? Rely on my goodhearted friends? Those situations are exactly why I decided to stay home in the first place. I want to be there. I want to raise my kids myself.

So what career choice would put me on the exact same schedule as my kids? Well, I guess I could become a teacher. Ha! No. I see the exasperation on their faces on an almost daily basis. There's too much work for too little reward, plus I'd have to go back to school first as a student myself. Just, no. But other than teaching, there really is no career that allows for exactly what I want for both my family and me. Therefore, instead of a career I must settle for a job.

Still, what can I do that would be worth it? Though I could make the schedule work, I do not want to be in retail (been there, done that), and I've seen how rude the hurried people are to the baristas at Starbucks and those machines look very complicated. I'd sure smell good all the time, though! No one should take a chance on me carrying trays of food and drinks as a waitress, and even if I care a lot about fitness I don't have it in me to inspire or motivate others as a physical trainer. Plus I'd, again, have to go back to school and take a lot of science and biology courses, and those are just not my forte. I suppose figuring out what I do not want to do is a productive step towards developing a plan.

What am I qualified to do right now that would also fit into our family's schedule? I found something. Here are the positives: my degree is required (guilt, be gone!); I'll be around for my kids (guilt, stay away!); and it's a good day's pay. The (rather daunting) negatives: I must expect the unexpected--it could be like walking into a lion's den so I gotta bring my A game, always; I will be "on" for seven hours straight with no breaks in concentration or it can all go to hell in a handbasket the moment I show any sign that I'm second-guessing myself. What is this job? It's a substitute teaching position in our district, and I submitted my application yesterday.

You're probably shocked at this news, but I assure you it was in no way an impulsive decision. If it was, the mind-boggling application process allowed me plenty of time to slow down and consider if this was really something I wanted to pursue. Even after going to the police station to have my fingerprints done, requesting my official college transcripts, asking former supervisors and personal friends to write letters of recommendation, and rewriting my resume for the first time in fifteen years, I am still up for this challenge. I admit that I do not have a degree in education, but my finance degree (or a BS or BA in anything!) allows me the opportunity to teach as a substitute. Besides, both my parents were teachers and apples don't fall far from trees, right? Mom and Dad say much of what what you learn in college education courses don't prepare you for what one encounters in the classroom anyway. Like in many fields, those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants situations are where you learn the most skills and gain the best experience, and I'm ready to fly. It's not like I haven't been in elementary school classrooms lately or seen excellent teachers in action. I've taken the time to read up on classroom management and feel that, although this will be a frightening job the first, second, third, fourth, and probably twentieth time, I'm ready to give this a try. More accurately, I will be ready as soon as the state clears my fingerprints and issues my substitute teaching certificate.

I'm cautiously optimistic about it, but if this plan doesn't go well there's an escape route. I have to sub only two days to make up for the expense of having my fingerprints run and my certificate issued. If needed, I can go back home to the drawing board and also throw in a load of laundry.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mother-Daughter Book Club

I've been reading a string of young adult novels lately. I don't mean Twilight. Yuck. I decided to read the books that Elizabeth is reading. Of course I'm curious about what she's reading, but I also thought it would be cool to be able to discuss them with her. It's like we have our own private book club. I know she enjoys it, too, because when she sees me reading her books she always asks, "What part are you on now?"

I got the idea at the District's Battle of the Books this spring. She and her friend Iris went to the semi-finals and finals, and when the kids answered the moderator's questions I had no idea if they were correct. I hadn't read any of the twelve books on which they were quizzed, so I found myself in eager anticipation for the few seconds between the kids' answers and the moderator's reply. Well I know she and Iris plan to be at those battles again next spring, and hopefully they will be. If and when they are, I have no intention of again being left in such suspense between answer and confirmation. I found out that some of the teachers who sponsor the groups for each school don't read all the books because my friends (and the girls' sponsors) Christine and Karen weren't sure if their answers were correct, either. Karen says reading all the books is a goal every year, but it never happens. Don't judge. Teachers are busy with seventy-two other things, and then they have to go home and make dinner for their families.

I, however, am not too busy and am up for reading the Battle of the Books books this year. It's not that big of a goal or accomplishment as most of these books can be read in a day. In the case of Bunnicula, I was over and done with it in an hour. Hilarious, by the way! Island of the Blue Dolphins was impressive and inspiring, but Among the Hidden made me roll my eyes because now I have to read a sequel. Novels--especially novels for kids--should have tidy endings! My favorite of the first four books by far is The Tale of Despereaux. What an excellent message that enchanting little mouse gives us. I suppose I am ready for the first battle now, right? Bring it, Karen! Maybe she and I could be a team? :-) After that first competition is over, Elizabeth will bring home the next four books for us to read. I can't recall those titles right now.

In the meantime, I read The Giver this weekend. Elizabeth read it a few years ago, and since we have plans to go see the movie next Sunday I wanted to read the book first. I'm glad I did because I hear they changed some pretty important parts and made the end of the movie less ambiguous. So I can't wait to see how the story ends in Hollywood. I also can't wait to read more with Elizabeth! Maybe we'll even read The Mother-Daughter Book Club.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Oh. My Word.

A few weeks ago my friend Aimee randomly asked me, "What's the one word that someone could call you that you'd hate the most?" Well, to be honest, I can think of a lot of words, but she was looking for one adjective someone might use to describe my personality. Her question was brought on by a Facebook friend of hers calling her dramatic, and she was not pleased. I wouldn't have been either, however, everyone's dramatic sometimes. There's just a lot of drama in life. And there's even more of it on Facebook so I told her not to sweat the comment. She also said that a close second worst adjective would be lazy. Well, she's just about the hardest working and busiest person I know so I think there is little chance of anyone ever calling her lazy. In my opinion, some of the best adjectives to describe Aimee would be reliable, loyal, kind, and funny. That's a good combination and I think those words are what would come to mind when most people are asked to describe Aimee.

I didn't come up with the one word I wouldn't want to be used to describe me until yesterday. I was at the doctor's office for my back, and she had me doing some balance and core strength exercises. After I wobbled a few times the doctor said, "See how weak you are on that side?" Oh! There's my word. Weak.

I didn't like it. Weak? I'm not weak. I'm strong. Or I was strong. What happened? Who knows. Hopefully, it's just a string of bad luck and a bunch of things hitting me at once, because if it's not that then I've peaked and I'm on the decline. So. This is 38? Wait. I'm only 38! I'm too young to give in and give up. I'm going to get fixed up and be back to normal. I'm confident of this.

Besides being not physically strong, weak can also imply that I'm emotionally fragile or lack willpower. Well, yes, I am highly sensitive when it comes to sympathy, empathy, or pity, but those emotions are projected on others. I rarely feel sorry for myself. So that's not being weak; that's being humane. As far as willpower goes, yeah, I guess I could pass up chocolate more than I do. Seriously though, I think my self-control and self-discipline fall in the above average range. I lose my head or my cool sometimes, but it's never without being tempted or provoked. I'm consistently working on not allowing things to get to me and letting things go. I am definitely self-aware! But never weak.

Friday, August 15, 2014

No Walking, Either

The chiropractor today said I shouldn't walk around the park this weekend, and I think she felt for me when she saw the disappointment in my eyes. It's hard to think of a more innocuous exercise than walking, but she feels the jostling won't be good for my hips just yet. It sounds like she has a plan, and she assured me today that I am fixable and won't need to see her forever and ever. So though I'll miss a day on the trails, it's so that I can get back to enjoying them sooner. She did say biking and swiming would be safe, so I'm looking forward to some rides and swims.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

World's Best Teacher

I moved on to the next stage of Justin's beginners course this afternoon. This guy. I'll tell ya. He's the best. Truly. His lessons are clear, concise, and entertaining. It's exactly what I want and what I need because every time I master a skill and think I'm getting so good at this, he throws a new challenge my way that is perfectly suited for my ability. He has this down, and I think a lot of people benefit from his program. So if you're looking for a guitar teacher and a schedule you can take at your own pace, you want him. I'm trying to talk my dad into getting a ukulele because Justin has uke lessons now, too. Elizabeth will be starting those after her birthday. Shhhh.

Today he gave me some more power chords, shared some finger picking exercises (so very cool and sounds so pretty), a 12 bar blues "chunka chunka" rhythm, and has me practicing at least an hour a day. Every "drill" lasts no longer than five minutes though, and he encourages us to use a timer to avoid frustration and burnout. After a few days of consistent practice, we're nailing it and applying it to familiar songs. This is the way I've always wanted to learn how to play music. Finally!

I have noticed his lessons are getting more intense. It's as though he expects more from us because we've stuck with it so long or come this far. I like to think of it as the jokesters were weeded out, and all that's left are the people who seriously want to learn. Well that's right. I'm still here, still learning, and still loving it!