A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Monday, 30 June 2014

Sometimes a poor present is still a gift

What is the best gift your significant other has ever given you? OK, now what about the worst gift? Well this story is about my worst, and what we both learned from it.

Like many Pandora fans, I have a marriage/relationship bracelet. We had red roses at our wedding, so my "Always and Forever" bracelet centres around hearts and roses, and the colours red (or coral). And I have the present charm on this bracelet to remind me of the first gift my husband gave me when we started dating - a bottle of Neutrogena shampoo!

I kid you not! I was shocked! I said, in disbelief, "You bought me SHAMPOO?!!" In attempting to defend himself (a mistake he now knows will only lead to more trouble), he said, "It was expensive! And I thought maybe you wouldn't buy it for yourself." He was very confused by my not-so-thrilled reaction. Apparently I had gone "on and on" about it, saying how well it could clean your hair if you use a lot of products in your hair, how nice my hair felt when it was clean, etc. etc. (that's me going on and on).

We have learned ALOT about each other since we met over 30 years ago. He NOW knows that I am a very extroverted person and I think out aloud - and I "go on and on" about lots and LOTS of things! But my husband is a very introverted person, and for him to talk about something with such enthusiasm it would have to be VERY important. I've learned that when he DOES talk, I ought to listen, because he's probably been thinking about it for days, and only now - finally - is he sharing his thoughts!

When we started living together, we would react to each other like, "Why would you DO something like that?" Or "What were you thinking?!" But shortly after this gift-giving (let's be honest) fiasco, we took a workshop about personality types using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and we read "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" - both of which were VERY enlightening (as I mentioned in a previous post). The difference between introverts and extroverts, and how they navigate in the world, was just one of the many things we learned. These tools allowed us to learn to love and understand - and accept - each other, the way we are. Twenty years later we are still working at this whole understanding-and-accepting-each-other thing, but that is part of the spiritual journey of marriage, and we are a work-in-progress.

Fast forward to Christmas 2012. My husband gives me a present with a little tag saying, "We need a new tradition for Christmas." When I unwrapped it - you guessed it - it was a bottle of Neutrogena shampoo. He's a pretty funny guy! But seriously, that shows me that he can laugh at himself, and he can laugh at us. That in itself is a good gift.

When I originally bought the present charm it was to remind me of the quote, "The past is history. The furture is a mystery. But today is a gift. That's why they call it the 'present.'"

This quote is usually attributed to Bill Keane, but more recently it was said by Master Oogway (the wise tortoise) in the Kung Fu Panda movie. When we are depressed, or feel guilt or shame, we are living in the past. When we feel fear or anxiety, we are living in the future. We will only find peace if we live in the present.

After Christmas 2012, and my new gift of shampoo, the present charm was moved to my "Always and Forever" bracelet. But I will still try to remember the tortoise and live in the "present."
Video clip from Kung Fu Panda with Master Oogway's advice:

And in case it isn't obvious, we have eliminated any need for interpretation or hints, and now my husband just buys me Pandora!

The little present charm makes me smile every time I look at it and remember my shampoo present. And it will remind me to tell - and show- my husband that, as Billy Joel sang it, "I love you just the way you are." Because that is the best gift.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Speaking up when it would be easier to remain silent.

A few months ago I asked my 12-year-old daughter Taylor what she would do if a boy at school grabbed her butt. But it was only a few WEEKS ago, on a Tuesday morning, when this part of the story started.

I witnessed an "incident" at a track meet. Some girls were standing against the fence observing the races. A group of boys came up behind them... and... well, something happened. I could not see exactly what happened, but whatever it was it led to the boys running away laughing. And led to the girls all looking at each with obvious shock and disbelief. And then they started saying to one girl in particular, "What happened?" "Who WAS that?" "Do you even KNOW him?" And then the girls proceeded to run after the boys.

Later when the girl in question came back in my direction I got her attention and asked what had happened. She was clearly uncomfortable but reluctantly said, "Um, he grabbed my butt." I told her I was very sorry that happened, and I would be telling the teachers, and she thanked me.

Shortly afterwards, the boy in question came by; I've know him for years as he is one of my son Mitchell's good friends. I asked him what had happened. He said, "Nothing." I told him what the girl had told me, and he and his friend denied it, telling me they were just standing there behind the girls. As they explained it, one of them asked the other, "Are you hungry for some of that?" then the friend said, "I'm not hungry right now." I wasn't sure if the sexual innuendo was intentional or not. They said the girl then turned around and accused one of them of touching her, and they ran off. Of course if they hadn't done anything I'm not sure why they would run off. Anyway, I asked if they knew what would happen if Mitchell's DAD grabbed someone's butt at work? Did they know what that was called? Their answer was, "Yeah, it's sexual harassment." OK, good. At least they know that much. I conceded that maybe I misunderstood the girl.

I later sought her out and asked her again, and she repeated the same story. I told her what I think everyone needs to hear when something like this happens, whether it's ongoing bullying or a single event: it is wrong, you did nothing to deserve this, and you need to tell an adult. She assured me she had already told her teacher/coach. I also think people need to know how to handle these situations in the moment, especially girls who need to learn to stand up for themselves and be assertive. I told her, "If this ever happens again, you need to tell the person it's inappropriate and it's NOT ok!" 

I had heard stories about girls having their butt grabbed at school. However, I hadn't done anything about it - yet. But I was so incensed after witnessing this that when we left I told my husband to drive me directly to the school - I was going to see the principal!

On the way there I asked my husband Mike what I should tell the principal. He said, "Just tell her what you saw." So I did. I did not see any grabbing of the butt, I just saw the behaviours, and spoke to both parties. The principal took the information, clarified some points, and thanked me for being an involved parent.

The next morning (Wednesday) at the breakfast table I told my kids what had happened, in case it came up at school. When Mitchell got home that day he was very crabby but the reason for this did not come out until he and my husband were in the car on the way home from rugby practice. Mitchell was upset because his friend had told him he'd been interviewed by the police.

Mitchell told Mike that he was upset that we didn't believe his friend's story, but believed the girl. It's true; it was a situation of "he said, she said." But when we discussed it Thursday morning, I told him that I felt it was important that both parties get the message that behaviour like that, whether it happened as described or not, is NOT OK! I also clarified that I only told the principal what I SAW.

Later that day I followed up with the principal and she assured me that the principals at each school were investigating this further and IF the police were at the school, or interviewing anyone, it was NOT in relation to the incident at the track meet.
Mitchell 5-years-old before starting grade 1
In discussing this with Mitchell before he left for school that Thursday morning, I reminded him of the times when I stood up for him when someone was mean to him or HE was being bullied.
There was that time in grade 1 when an older boy at school kept taking his Pokemon cards and wouldn't give them back. When Mitchell pointed the boy out to me, just getting into the car with his mother, I had confronted the boy. I told the boy what Mitchell had told me, and said, "In our house we call it bullying when you repeatedly do something mean to someone." The poor boy was dumbstruck and looked to his mom. She shrugged and said, "You'd want me to stand up for you if it had happened to you." But still, I was a pretty fierce momma bear, and I'm pretty sure the boy's mom has never spoken to me again since.

Then there was the situation where a group of boys were always making Mitchell the victim in a game in the school yard, and wouldn't listen to him when he said he didn't like it. Even after the teachers told those boys they should stop, they didn't. Mitchell had started to question whether the teachers were effective in creating a safe place to learn and play. I reminded him how I had emailed the parents of those three boys, who we knew quite well. How one family spoke to their son and encouraged him to apologize and find a way to heal their friendship. But how another parent dismissed their child's behaviour as just "going along with the others." And how the third boy's parents - the boy who was always the instigator and blatant aggressor in the school yard - dismissed the whole situation because they didn't like the fact that I initiated the conversation with the three families by email! I told Mitchell that there are parents who probably still think of me as... well... that's a word the kids are not supposed to say!

I also reminded Mitchell about the situation when he was in grade two and his teacher called and spoke to Mike and told him Mitchell was a "troublemaker" in the classroom. I went and spent the next day sitting in the back of the classroom - which the teacher was none too happy about! What I saw was a grim classroom situation, where the kids had to sit quietly at their desks, all neatly in a row, and when they'd finished their workbook pages, they had to stand in line at the front of the classroom to show the teacher their work. I could see how hard it was for these 7-year-old boys to stand quietly and STILL in line. When Mitchell finally made his way to the front of the line, the teacher pointed out an error in his work, and he hung his head and trudged back to his desk. Later when there were some shenanigans among the boys - clearly just trying to create some stimulation in this stifling environment - someone threw a ball of paper and the teacher accused Mitchell. He hadn't done it, because as an observer I had seen who did, but I could see Mitchell was dejected and felt it was futile to even try to defend himself.

Mitchell in grade 2, October 2008, almost 7-years-old
It turns out the reason for the phone call to Mike was that Mitchell had laughed when one of his friends had acted silly in the library after the teacher had told the boy to stop - those boys being asked to sit quietly in a line again. As a consequence for laughing, the teacher sent Mitchell out into the hall by himself. She later told Mike and I in a meeting, that Mitchell had laughed at HER! When I told her how Mitchell recounted the story, I suggested that she couldn't actually know he was laughing AT her; that she had made an assumption. She replied, "I've taught kids like that before!" When the Principal supported the teacher, saying she was pretty sure that's how it would have happened, we promptly removed him from the school. I could see now why our little 7-year-old had told me, "Mommy, the teachers and principal think I'm a 'bad kid'." I was very pleased to hear that the teacher retired and didn't return the next year.
And finally I reminded my son about the situation just last year when he was in grade six (now at a different school). That when a classmate, and good friend of his, was getting systematically bullied, had the finger pointed at him, was blamed for every transaction, and felt there was nothing he could do except take his punishment, I emailed the principal. The principal took the bullying situation seriously, although she was pretty surprised when I told her it was in fact the teacher who was behaving this way! After fighting with this teacher all year to ensure our daughter had the assistance she required for her learning disability, I swore that my job was not done til that teacher retired! And after this bullying situation, I like to think I had something to do with the fact that she was not back the following September after apparently being encouraged to retire!

After recounting all these situations, I reminded Mitchell that, as much as he may not like it, I am the type of person who will stand up for what she believes in. As parenting guru Barbara Coloroso explains it, integrity is the ability to "Discern what is the right thing to do. Be willing to act when the burden is heavy. Be willing to speak up when it is more comfortable to be silent." We've taught our kids not to be bullies OR bystanders. And I can't ask that of them if I am not willing to do the same!

A school picture of my mom
I think I got this resolve from my Mom. My mother was never afraid of standing up for what she believed in! She was the lone parent at parent council meetings advocating for sex education in middle school. She asked people not to smoke at meetings long before there was any ban on smoking in the workplace or in public places. If someone said what she called an "off-colour joke," she would give them heck!  She would always call out a colleague if they said something sexist. And when the halls outside her college classroom were lined on either side with young men, she was the teacher that would tell the male students that it was NOT OK to whistle or make catcalls as girls walked by - or grab their butts as they walked this gauntlet.

When I first heard the name of the retired "Making Waves" charm, the first thing that popped into my head was, "My mom was never afraid of making waves." And I had to buy it. Any time in my life now, when I wonder, "Should I bring this up?" or "Should I say something?" I look at this charm and give it a little spin. Then I steel myself and say, "Don't be afraid of making waves."
waves coming ashore on an angle on a beach in Australia
Have you ever watched waves coming in to shore - on a lake or the ocean? If the waves come towards the shore at an angle, they look like they are running along the shore chasing each other. That is what this charm looks like when you spin it; like you are "making waves." It's an optical illusion and when it spins it looks like the lines are converging.

When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, whether there is an alcoholic or some form of abuse, many children learn "don't make waves." Often their intention is to not upset a parent, believing that the parent "can't handle it." I was told by our caregiver not to "bother" my mother with my problems because, "your mother has enough on her plate." It's true, as the single source of income in our family she did have a lot on her plate, but she didn't know that I was told to protect her. She was a strong woman and I could have trusted that she "could handle it." I tried being perfect for a very long time, but now I don't worry so much about "making waves."

Stay tuned for a follow-up post to find out my daughter's - and her friends' - answers to that question, "What would you do if a boy grabbed your butt?" If you're a parent, ask your own daughter!

Monday, 23 June 2014

A little church charm for a little church wedding

Does every little girl dream about her fairy tale wedding? I only remember two wishes that I had for my wedding. First of all, I wanted my father to sing at my wedding. And secondly, I wanted my Uncle George to preside over the ceremony. And I'm here to tell you that some childhood dreams really do come true.

My Uncle George was married to my father's sister, my Aunt Mary. They lived in the same city as us so she was my favourite aunt when I was little - mostly because she had a box of dolls and dolls' clothes in the closet of her den, and I was pretty sure it was only ever pulled out when I arrived! I have so many fond memories of spending time at their home in the city, and their cottage by the sea. I even stayed with Aunt Mary and Uncle George when my mother went into the hospital to deliver my younger brother, and spent Christmas with them. Aunt Mary had passed away quite some time before our wedding, but I was so happy that Uncle George, who was a retired Bishop in the Anglican Church, was able to officiate.

The Blomidon Inn
Although Mike and I now live in Ottawa, we both grew up in the Maritimes and wanted our wedding to be in our home province of Nova Scotia, some 1500 kilometres away. We didn't want either of our families to feel that they had to do much "hosting" so we didn't marry in either of our hometowns, but chose a neutral location. When I was growing up my mother took my brother and I camping every summer in the beautiful Annapolis Valley. As luck would have it, in the town of Wolfville, quite close to where we used to camp, we found the perfect venues for both the wedding and reception.

The bride at the reception
We were able to use Acadia University's chapel for the service and the beautiful Blomidon Inn, a restored sea captain's home, for the reception. We booked the whole inn for the weekend, for family and those in the wedding party. It felt like we were inviting our wedding guests to our own Victorian mansion.

The wedding was on a Saturday but the festivities started on the Friday evening when we had a small intimate dinner party after the rehearsal and then a party with the many guests who had arrived "from away" as we say. On Saturday morning I had breakfast with my girlfriends, and Mike, along with his brothers, his father and lots of guests, played a round of golf at the local course. The wedding was in the late afternoon on the Saturday with a reception on the Blomidon's large outdoor patio adorned with mini white lights. We continued to celebrate on the Sunday morning with a casual brunch at another inn overlooking the valley.
The Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada
We wrote our own service and it was very special. The first time I saw Pandora's church charm it reminded me of this chapel, designed to look like a church in Colonial times. And this organ balcony was where my father sang the hymn "O Perfect Love" during the service. My father had a beautiful voice. He sang with the symphony orchestra and in the church choir, but most importantly he sang to me - probably every night at bedtime!

So this Danish church charm is now engraved with our wedding date, to remind me of the best day of my life, when those two little wishes came true. And I married the love of my life!

If I am completely honest, having the date engraved is not just for sentimental reasons - it's actually to remind me of the correct date! With such a weekend of wedding activities, all I can remember is that it was on the August long weekend. I know it's usually the husband we accuse of forgetting anniversaries, but in our case it's me - I can never remember if our anniversary is July 30th or 31st. It has become a running joke with us. I am terrible with numbers and my husband is the opposite - in fact, he is a little bit like the "Rain Man" - so he's happy that I can now remember the date of our anniversary without having to ask him! And it's a good thing because this summer will be our 20th anniversary, and I really should know the date by now!

Monday, 16 June 2014

What keeps a marriage strong? Three little reminders

The love story continues on "Marriage Mondays."

I don't want you to think from my last few posts that things have always been all hearts and roses in my marriage. We have had many struggles over the years - MANY! Not the least of which was my clinical depression, with suicidal thoughts, years off work on disability, and various manifestations of my eating disorder. Yes, we still fight. But we jokingly say that our fights are not as loud as they were 20 years ago (well most of them), and they don't last all night anymore. 

When we first got together there were two important things that helped us STAY together. One was taking the Myers-Briggs Personality assessments. We took it because we were considering career options, but it's biggest influence was on our marriage and our understanding of each other's personalities. Let's just say it answered lots of those, "Why do you do the things you do?" questions, and those "How do you get through LIFE like this?" conundrums.

The other thing that had a huge impact was reading "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." I kid you not! It was SO true for each of us - and SO enlightening! We'd say, "Really? That's what you need?!" We still use the lessons learned from that book.

One of the most helpful strategies was learning to "write a love letter." The basic premise is that writing a letter - rather than yelling - is easier for the other person to hear, and helps us (the writer) to sort through our feelings on paper, which  is less damaging than doing it verbally. It also helps us figure out what it is we need from the other person, how to ask for it, and how to receive it, thus allowing ourselves to be supported. The "love letter" charm reminds me that this strategy makes it easier for my introverted and sensitive husband to hear the complaints of his extroverted and intensely emotional wife. But for my husband in particular it also helps in learning how to ask for what he needs. Neither of us learned as children that it was OK to have emotions, or needs, or to ask for the support we needed. And believe me, there's a learning curve!

Since our 12-year-old twins were born, our marriage has survived raising twins (enough said!), my caring for my mother with her many health complications including Alzheimer's, my father-in-law's cancer, the loss of three parents between us, serious medical issues for me, my ongoing depression and recovery from my eating disorder, our daughter's learning disability and son's emotional health concerns, and financial crises large and small. I realize that many of my friends have been through MUCH more, but those were the things that challenged us, and led us to marriage counselling.

In marriage counselling we, once again, learned two important things that have endured. The first was the analogy of marriage being like a garden - I like a rose garden. To keep that garden growing you need to dig up the weeds and water and fertilize the garden for it to grow and be healthy. We have worked on weeding out some of the things that choke off growth, but we are just recently starting to do some weekly maintenance weeding with meetings (often on the phone) to manage the lives of our family of four.

One of our biggest challenges is that we sometimes forget that we need to "fertilize our rose garden" (and no, not in the way you are thinking). As soon as we find ourselves impatient with each other, or irritated or annoyed, we realize we haven't been "fertilizing our rose garden" and we need to go on a date, spend time together, and remember why we loved each other in the first place! The "rose leaf" charm reminds me that this strategy always works!

The other thing our marriage counsellor did was ask us to do some homework. And that was, to make a list for the other person, completing the sentence, "I feel closer to you when..." We were both very surprised by the other person's responses. For example, my husband always unlocks the passenger side car door for me, but once I am in, he (apparently) would like it if I then unlocked it for him - rather than putting on my sunglasses or lipstick! Such a simple thing! Now, every time I do this, he grins, and jokingly says, "Thanks! I feel so much closer to you now!" The little "row of hearts" spacer reminds me of all those little gestures of love that do help us feel closer to each other.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Daddy, do you have time to play? A reflection on Father's Day.

Last year for Father's Day I asked my then 11-year-old twins to each write a card for their dad and tell him what they love about him. I honestly can't remember the first two things my daughter wrote. I think they were something like, "you buy me books" and "you take me to Sugar Mountain (their favourite candy store)." But what stuck with me was the third thing she wrote: "I can always go throw a baseball with you." It just touched me so much.

I never had a baseball glove. I never played baseball as a kid - my mother took us camping all summer. My father wasn't really "there for me." And my father certainly never had the time to throw a ball around with me. In fact when I went to university and played volleyball, the Athletic Director tried to teach me how to throw a ball to improve my spiking! I couldn't even throw a ball across the width of the gym. Yes, I "throw like a girl!"

Apparently there was a study done investigating this expression "throws like a girl." They observed men learning to throw with their non-dominant hand and found that they "threw like a girl." The conclusion being that poor throwing is not really due to gender but lack of practice. Meaning girls need to get more practice!

Taylor in the closest lane running the 100 m.
I do think that some people are going to be more gifted at certain sports. Our son naturally takes to many sports, especially those requiring hand-eye coordination. And honestly, I have to say, our daughter "throws like a girl." She is a phenomenal athlete - doing gymnastics, rock-climbing, track and field, you name it. But... put a ball or a stick in her hand and... well... it's not pretty. But... it is improving... with practice!
Taylor has had her own baseball glove since she was a toddler. And she knows that she can "always go throw a baseball" with her Dad. I am so grateful that my daughter has such an amazing Dad... and that she knows he is always available for her.

The baseball charm, on my "Treasured Hearts" bracelet (all about those whose hearts I "treasure" the most - my husband and kids) represents my husband who is actively engaged with our kids and always "there for them" - for baseball or otherwise.
She is one very lucky little girl.

For Father's Day this year I made an album on Facebook - it's like a slide show with captions. There are pictures of Mike and all the things he has done with the kids over the years - and my thoughts on why he is such a great dad... he does need reminding sometimes.

Happy Father's Day My Love!

Monday, 9 June 2014

The spark, the passion, and the attraction

The love story continues on "Marriage Mondays."
When my husband and I got back together, after being apart for five years, I told a university friend my exciting news, and I was expecting her to be surprised. But her response was, “there was always a spark between you two.” I was shocked to think that people had noticed that. But it was true. It was always there, and it continues, almost 25 years later. So the “red hot love” seems to be the perfect charm to represent our feelings for each other, and was the starting point for the design of my “Always and Forever” bracelet.

When we first got together we had this running joke about all the things we DIDN’T have in common. He played basketball; I played volleyball. He wanted a cottage; I wanted to go camping. He liked fruit desserts; I liked chocolate (well LOVE chocolate more accurately). But over time we discovered things we did have in common. We both loved Dr. Seuss books as kids. We both loved going to the magazine store. We both loved to read. Now, one of our favourite things to do is lie in bed at night reading, occasionally sharing with the other something we’ve read. And we both love the theatre and going to art galleries. We took our kids to Canada’s national gallery when they could first walk, even though they were under a year old. And Mike would drive around our city pointing out to the kids all the public sculptures and which were his favourites. So when designing my bracelet about our marriage, the da Vinci clip seemed to perfectly represent our common interests in art and literature (you know, because we loved the da Vinci Code books). Of course, more importantly than anything, we had similar upbringings and family values, essential now that we are raising children.

One of the things I do professionally is conduct workshops on Body Image, and one of the things we discuss is, “what makes a person attractive?” and “what do people think is attractive about you?” (It challenges people’s assumption about whether or not they are attractive, and challenges the belief that in order to be attractive you need to be thin) In preparing examples for discussion I asked Mike one time what was attractive about me. His responses were surprising – to me. He said that when I walked into the room I drew people’s attention, but then when I opened my mouth they were captivated. He also said that I was athletic and carried myself with confidence in my body, regardless of my weight or size. So to represent, and REMIND me, that he finds me attractive, captivating even – and remind me that he gives great complements – I have this lovely “captivating red hot” murano on my bracelet.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Breakfast - the most important meal of the day, for a different reason!

I had breakfast with my 12-year-old twins today - and 5 other twelve and thirteen year old girls! It's a PD day here and the girls had a sleepover in our basement last night. Over waffles and berries - made by the girls (my son and I were on clean-up) - we discussed the recent controversy over the dress code at school. We discussed sexual harassment at school and how girls can respond if a boy grabs their butt. And we discussed - well, demonstrated really - who could touch their nose with their tongue! THIS is why the experts say family meals are so important and why I recently set a goal of making sure I eat breakfast with my kids - with a Pandora reward of course!
In her most recent book, Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harmingfamily nutrition expert Ellyn Satter says, "Time spent with families at meals is more related to the psychological and academic success of adolescents than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports, or doing art activities." And family meals are not just about better nutrition. Satter writes, "Teens who had regular meals with a parent were better adjusted emotionally and socially, had better grades, and went further in school."

When I worked with families in a program for over-weight and obese children (through the Y and our local children's hospital) we discussed the importance of family meals. One of the most memorable outcomes for me, after a 12-week program, was that one of the fathers, who was a very hard-working man from the Philipines, who used to rush off to work very early in the morning, started having breakfast with his kids. That's it! Just made time to have breakfast with his children. But I wonder how that made his children FEEL? Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Despite the fact that I'm a big believer in the importance of family meals, I know that it is not easy to get everyone sitting down at the same time! For example, this past winter my husband played basketball on Monday nights, I taught a night course on Tuesday night, and my daughter had Girl Guides. Wednesdays my daughter had gymnastics, and Thursday my son had basketball - and my husband coached the team. And now that the spring is here my son is doing rugby two nights a week. Yup, definitely hard to fit in family meals! But what about breakfast?

A few months ago I met with a dietician to continue working on my recovery from my eating disorder and depression. Of course one of the things she asked was, do I eat breakfast? And I do, every day. But when she asked what TIME I eat breakfast I realized that I USED to eat breakfast WITH my kids and I hadn't been lately.

Amy, the dietician, asked what had changed. In looking back, I realized that I had changed some of the things I was sending for lunches for the kids and it seemed to take longer to prep the lunches.  I was worried I wouldn't get the lunches done before the kids needed to leave for school.  So rather than sit down with the kids to eat and THEN make lunches while they got dressed for school, I started making the lunches while THEY ate (by themselves) and I waited until after they left for school to eat MY breakfast (by myself).  Unfortunately it meant my breakfast was put off for an hour - not a good idea for someone with an eating disorder!

I was impressed that Amy used goal-setting sheets, where you write down your goal, but you also figure out the actions steps to meeting that goal, as well as any barriers that might prevent you from achieving your goal. So, using these sheets, the first goal I set with Amy was "I will eat breakfast, with the kids, 5 days a week" (the Specific and Measurable in SMART goals). If I say 7 days a week and I miss ONE day I will focus on the one I missed rather than the SIX times I did eat with them. In cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) by the way, they label this cognitive (or thinking) error "discounting the positive." Of course sometimes we all get up at different times on the weekends, so a goal of 5 days a week is more attainable (the A in SMART goals) than 7 days a week. I had a Pandora reward in mind (the R for Reward-based). And I committed to doing that for four weeks (T - for Timed). This time frame was long enough to see any barriers and address them, but also long enough that I might see the benefits and be more invested in continuing.

Clearly, for me to eat WITH the kids AND get lunches made, I needed to get UP a few minutes earlier. So that was the first action step. Discussing any barriers or road blocks that might get in my way, I realized that my husband has the alarm clock, so he usually wakes everyone up.  Meaning that one of the potential barriers to that all-important action step of getting up earlier was my husband hitting - or NOT hitting - the Snooze button! So the next action step was for me to set my OWN alarm, on my phone.  And a barrier to THAT was not always hearing my alarm!  So my third action step was, when I went to bed, I would check that the volume was loud enough AND check that the phone was not going to die in the middle of the night! Don't you hate when that happens?!

Often when we set goals, we forget to look at what obstacles might prevent us from achieving our goal.  Then, when we (inevitably) fail, we feel badly about ourselves and have less belief in our ability to successfully make changes in our life.  So when setting goals it is important to set ourselves up for success by planning.  As Winston Churchill said during World War II, "He who fails to plan is planning to fail."

So after setting the goal, determining the necessary action steps, and troubleshooting any roadblocks, I managed to get up on time, eat with the kids, AND get the lunches made, before herding them out the door on time - every day for two weeks!  By that time the new habit was well-established so I didn't bother to keep track after those two weeks. 

The reward for me, in addition to this lovely rhodolite heart pendant for my "Treasured Hearts" bracelet, is that I feel much more connected with the kids, hearing about something that may have happened at a sport or activity the previous evening, or hearing about their day ahead. This kind of connectedness that comes from family meals has been shown to increase school performance and self-esteem, and decrease rates of depression and substance abuse. And of course I love it - because they are, after all, my "treasured hearts." And I "treasure" this time with my kids.

Monday, 2 June 2014

The beginning of "Always and Forever"

My husband and I met in September 1982 when we were both frosh at Mount Allison University. We each had a boyfriend and a girlfriend, but we went to some semi-formal dances together - as "just friends." In our third year we dated, but broke up when Mike said that kissing me was "like kissing his sister"! Years later he explained that at the time he didn't understand how he could feel so close to someone - have them feel like family - but also to be attracted to them. His 20-something-year-old brain couldn't contend with those conflicting emotions. I remember at the time telling a friend that I believed we were meant for each other, and that we would get back together if we both ended up in the same place at the same time. Sure enough, when I got a job in Ottawa after graduating with my second degree, I called Mike and asked if he knew of a place to live, and as fate would have it, one of his roommates had just moved out. It was not long before we were more than "just roommates," and moved into our own apartment that summer, 24 years ago.

The charms on my "Always and Forever" bracelet tell the rest of the story. I love penguins (and polar bears and pandas), and when we first got together we often gave each other penguin figurines, tree ornaments, etc., so the two penguin charms represent the two of us. When I'm feeling insecure about myself, or our relationship, I hold onto these charms and remind myself, "I love him and he loves me." Two years later while we were at his family's cottage - our favourite place on earth - he took me to the end of the wharf, and he asked me to marry him, under a starry night sky. I have the "shooting star" spacer on another bracelet to remember that, as Pandora calls it, "unforgettable moment."

A kiss from the father-of-the-bride in the receiving line.
As I felt in university, I truly believe Mike is my "true love" - represented by the "true love" dangle. So I married the "love of my life" (represented by the heart clips) in 1994, and the colour and flower for our wedding were red roses - represented by the rose charms and red muranos. It was the best day of my life, and despite being in the throes of my eating disorder, I had never felt more attractive - beautiful, in fact! The coral "looking glass" muranos represent my hope, in my recovery from my eating disorder, to see in the mirror (aka the "looking glass") what I saw that day, and what Mike sees, every day, when he looks at me.

This is the first in a series of stories about the charms on my "Always and Forever" bracelet. Each charm represents an important reminder of what keeps us happy and keeps our marriage healthy. I'll call this series "Marriage Mondays" as it will be a countdown to our twentieth wedding anniversary at the end of July.