Posts Tagged ‘character’

Overwhelmed? You’re Not Alone.

Friday, August 26th, 2011

I was talking with some other parents this weekend, and one word kept cropping up in our conversations: ”overwhelmed.” When did parenting (and life!) get so pressure-filled? It just feels as if we’re faced with so many decisions to make on a daily basis. Do we vaccinate the twins, homeschool our son, enroll our youngest in both soccer and baseball, and is our daughter really mature enough to have a Facebook account? And then there is all the advice from friends, family, parenting books, blogs, and even nannies on TV! No wonder we’re overwhelmed; we’re overloaded!

Add to this our fervent desire to make the right choices — i.e., ”perfect” choices (so our children won’t end up in jail or join a cult) — and it’s enough to make us wonder why we didn’t stick with raising goldfish! But does the likelihood of our daughter ending up either with a Nobel Peace Prize or on a psychiatrist’s couch for the next 25 years really hinge on whether we enroll her in the local elementary school or the pricey private one across town? Are we really that powerful — and are our children really that fragile? If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent over the past 27 years, it’s that good decisions don’t always guarantee good results. How could they when there are so many variables (genes, peers, natural disasters, etc.) that we have little or no control over. Fortunately, this also means that bad decisions don’t always result in bad outcomes.

I think we sometimes forget that our children’s lives (as well as our own) are a work in progress. Thomas Edison’s boyhood teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything; Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade; Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school (twice); and Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. They all ended up accomplishing great things, despite whatever decisions their parents made or didn’t make. As long as we parents and caretakers are motivated by love and a genuine desire to see our children grow into independent, contributing adults, I’d like to think that they’ll find their own way too — regardless of our choices. We cheered them on as they took their first wobbly steps, and they eventually learned how to get around. There really are no guarantees other than that our children will wobble, probably fall, hopefully get up, and (best case scenario) try again. Summer is such a great time to lighten up. When we start getting that feeling of overwhelm, let’s try returning to the simple formula of just being there for our children, cheering them on, providing a safe place for them to fall, and then letting go of the outcome. May you and your little (and big!) works in progress enjoy loving times together and smooth landings whenever possible!

X-treme Parenting Makeover – Ten Guidelines for Healthy Parenting in An Age of Self-Importance

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

1. YOUR KID IS NOT KING: You’re raising your kid to be a member of the human race, a society, a community, a family – not to be the center of attention.

2. REAL LIFE IS DISAPPOINTING: Learning early to handle disappointments well helps your kid become confident, self-governing and optimistic in a world full of limitations.

3. AUTONOMY IS THE GOAL: Effective self-governance and healthy self-esteem come from knowing our strengths and weaknesses in doing things in the real world and getting feedback, not from excessive encouragement or praise.

4. DON’T FEED YOUR KID JUNK PRAISE: Junk praise (for example, “Great job!” for ordinary activities), like junk food, is addictive and takes the place of developing inner wisdom that is necessary for skillful decision-making.

5. RESILIENCE COMES FROM BEING FLEXIBLE: Don’t protect your child from making mistakes, encountering failures or knowing the limitations (of self and other) that teach us how to be flexible in facing the expectable challenges of life.

6. HELP YOUR CHILD HAVE PATIENCE WITH TALENTS AND CREATIVITY: Diligence and patience are necessary for true creativity to develop; it takes about ten years to become truly creative in any field.

7. KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY BRING THE GREATEST HAPPINESS: Guide your child to be compassionate and helpful to others. Teach your kid to look around and see who needs help, assistance, or support in any moment (not just special occasions). There are countless opportunities to feel happy as a result of helping.

8. GOOD CHARACTER WINS: Good manners, good conscience and virtue are the requirements for good character that provides the best foundation for success.

9. BE AN EXAMPLE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS: Show respect, kindness and interest in your own parents, partner and elders. If you don’t, your child will not show a lasting interest in elders and other family members, including you.

10. TEACH YOUR KID HOW TO BECOME A MEMBER: Belonging to a family means more than being born into it. All kids should be taught to contribute to the welfare, celebration and cooperation of their families throughout the life span, becoming valuable members.

By Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD, author of The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance.

Happy 14th, Erin!

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Given the way teenagers are portrayed in the media and on the news, I’m surprised anyone has children any more! Luckily, not every child transforms into a teen terror once they hit their 13th birthday. I’d even go so far as to say that for every teenager who fits the stereotypical image of the surly, self-absorbed, and non-engaged teen, there are a hundred who are not. My cousin Erin is a shining example. When I named Chinaberry’s ”Erin’s Bracelet” after her, I wrote how she brings beauty and delight to life. She does this by living her values and following her bliss, volunteering at the Humane Society, playing tennis, sewing, gardening (she’s a vegetarian), and now she’s taking guitar lessons. With the gusto she puts into her days, she has no time to be surly or sullen! Today, her 14th birthday, I celebrate all the teens out there who, like Erin, are engaged in life and want to make a positive difference in this world. In the midst of all the reports of school shootings, substance abuse, and gang activity, let’s remember to acknowledge the countless teens who are making this world a better place.

Break Away From the Herd

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Leave it to my dad to find enlightenment from a herd of one-track rabbits. Eons ago when he drove one of those open-car, hand-cranked railcars for the Milwaukee Railroad (Hello, Elmer Fudd?!), he said that rabbits would get on the track in front of him, and once they started running, they couldn’t seem to figure out that all they had to do was jump off the track to avoid their demise. I don’t know if my dad realized what a powerful life lesson he imparted with this story, but it’s about the best metaphor for life a dad could share with his daughter.

Just as life never pans out for rabbits running from trains, it doesn’t fare too well for us when we’ve got railcars of pettiness, negativity, and — well, you fill in the blanks — heading our way. I don’t know what motivates rabbits to continue in their folly, but I have an inkling of what compels us as people. Long before wheels and railcars were invented, group survival was where it was at, and I still fall prey to its siren song of ‘there’s safety in numbers’ as well as that strong desire to be ‘included’ and the fear to change.

In that sense, it takes a brave bunny to break away from the herd (especially when that herd is its family of origin!). But I’ve found life is so much sweeter when we take a daily look at the track we’re on, our traveling companions, and what we have stuffed in our brain’s baggage compartment. Over the years, I’ve learned that if it looks like a train, sounds like a train, and smells like a train, it’s my cue to take the nearest exit. There’s no need to hurl insults at the rabbits who choose to remain, or throw rotten eggs on the railcar, track, or conductor. Just get yourself off the track now. Refuse to spend one more minute of your precious life huffing and puffing in order to stay out of harm’s way. You’ll never out-run a moving locomotive, and it’s no fun trying.

Truly, life is too short to settle for being steamrollered by anyone or anything. It’s a new year. The next time someone in your life wants to engage in drama, trauma, or just plain petty meanness, choose to get off the track! You can do it. A beautiful world of unlimited possibilities awaits you. Wishing you all a Happy New Year and Happy Trails!

The Art of Imperfection

Friday, November 12th, 2010

No matter how hard I try, the perfection I strive for seems to be just out of reach. As soon as the floors are mopped, a little tuft of dog hair inevitably appears in the corner. No matter how many hours of tender care I give my roses, the critters that forage in the yard at night leave nibbled petals and an occasional broken branch for me to find in the morning. Then, there are those personal life ‘experiences’ that burst the perfection bubble. Let me explain.

It was a picture perfect (nature can be perfect!), sunny afternoon, and my husband, our two sons, and I were at a high school graduation party for one of the nicest kids you could ever hope to meet. He and his beautiful mom (also one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet) live in a gorgeous home on a hill with an absolutely stunning view. I felt pretty confident that I looked nearly perfect: my hair was up, my dress was cute, and everything about my outfit said ‘this woman has got it together.’ Little groups of people were scattered about, chatting and munching on the yummy food, enjoying the whole setting. As I was chatting and munching, a soft breeze came up and blew a couple of pieces of lettuce off of my plate. Being the conscientious guest that I am, I stepped back so that I could pick up the lettuce. Did I mention we were outside? So, I stepped back — and directly into the Jacuzzi. Way in, to the middle, completely submerged. When the need to breathe overpowered my feelings of utter humiliation, I surfaced and slowly opened my eyes to see a row of surprised faces and my oldest son sitting on the steps and holding his head in his hands in total mortification. As I retrieved the piece of pizza bobbing on the churning surface of the water, all I could do was laugh. My stunned husband helped me out of the water, the really nice kid brought me a big towel, and his even nicer mom asked what, if anything, she could do for me.

Well, there wasn’t anything she could do; it was up to me to own the moment. So, I wrapped the towel around my dripping dress, apologized to my embarrassed 18-year-old son, removed the clip from my hair and fluffed it a little so it could dry, accepted the new plate of food my darling husband brought me, and enjoyed the rest of the party. Did I still look nearly perfect? Not a chance. My hair was frizzy, my dress was a little wrinkled, although it was completely dry by the time we left, and my mascara had settled into dark smudges beneath my eyes.

So, as you are frantically cleaning, decorating, baking, and wrapping this holiday season, remember that the little mishaps in life make it interesting. Your friends and family are not coming to your home to check whether your cloth napkins are expertly pressed, or whether or not all the candles in the centerpiece are perfectly straight. They are coming to see you, to share your warmth and laughter, because they love you and want to be with you just as you want to share yourself with them. Relax and own the moment, imperfections and all. Who knows, you may just end up with a great story to share.

One-Day Tuesday Special Savings!

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Save 80% on Stoo Hample’s Book of Bad Manners, today’s “One-Day Tuesday” special discounted item.

Was $15.99, Today (06/22/10) Just $2.97!

Price goes back up tomorrow (06/23/10). Shop Now!

Don’t Just Stand There. Do Something!

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

On a flight to New York last month, I experienced the wisdom in the phrase ‘Don’t just stand there. Do something!’ By the time we were over Omaha, nature called, so I joined some fellow passengers waiting in line for the bathroom. TSA would not have been happy with how many of us were standing in the aisle. I wasn’t happy either, as the line seemed to be at a standstill. When I noticed one of the lavatory doors said ‘Vacant,’ I pointed it out to the woman next to me, and she said the last passenger who used it had said it was ‘dirty.’ That was that. End of story. We continued to patiently stand in silence. Finally, my curiosity (not to mention impatience!) got the best of me, so I sought out a flight attendant and told her what I just told you. Within three seconds, we had two working restrooms, and the line began moving again. (It turns out the last user just didn’t know how to flush the toilet!)

An unflushed toilet really isn’t a big deal. What kind of is a big deal, though, is that nobody spoke up to find out what was going on, let alone what could be done to help the situation. It was the old herd mentality in action — accept the way things are, don’t question it, and don’t rock the boat (or plane). Because it was a long flight, I had plenty of time to think about how this shows up in our everyday lives and how easy it is to allow little annoyances to grow into big annoyances or even life-threatening crises when nobody speaks up or takes action. Albert Einstein said, ‘The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.’

Since this is a Dear Friends letter and not some political editorial, I’m not even going to bring up how this ties into global warming, poverty, or educational issues. I’m thinking more about looking at what’s not working in our personal lives. While summer is the perfect time to chill, it’s also the perfect time to get off the couch and take action. It’s a wonderful time to ask ourselves, ‘What’s wrong with this picture’ and then take steps to make it right. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing where to go to get help.

This summer I encourage us all to not just stand passively, unquestioningly, in the aisle while summer 2010 slips away. If there’s something not quite working in your life or something you’ve always pictured yourself doing in the summer months, let this be your time to not just stand there, but to do something about it!

Paying it Forward

Monday, October 26th, 2009

There’s a man here in our area who is called the San Diego Highwayman. Sixty-something, he is a gardener — not only a backyard gardener, but a gardener sewing the seeds of kindness on our interstates. A former mechanic, Thomas Weller spends a big chunk of his time cruising local highways in his own “Search and Rescue” station wagon, on the lookout for someone having a roadside emergency. He says there’s just too much anger, distrust, and fear in this world and by offering a helping hand he hopes to be doing a little to make the world a kinder place. It all started 40 years ago, when he plowed into an Illinois snow bank and would have frozen to death had it not been for a stranger who helped him out. When he asked the stranger how he could repay him, the Good Samaritan simply told him to pass along the favor to someone else.

The San Diego Highwayman has been paying it forward ever since — to the tune of about 5,000 favors. When someone he’s helped asks how to repay him, Mr. Weller simply hands him a card that says: “Assisting you has been my pleasure. I ask for no payment other than for you to pass along the favor by helping someone in distress that you may encounter.”

Now, I’m thinking that if you’re “lucky” enough to be stalled on the freeway shoulder with an overheated radiator, a flat tire, an empty gas tank, or any number of problems, and the San Diego Highwayman pulls up behind your car, it could be a life-changing experience, or rather, a world changing experience. Such blatant and dramatic acts of kindness don’t happen that often, and I think that being the recipient of such an act would be impossible to forget. Having been on the receiving end of Thomas Weller’s generosity and caring would change the way we respond when faced with an opportunity to be of assistance to someone in need. One act of kindness can multiply exponentially if enough of us pay favors forward.

Not too long ago, the Highwayman pulled up behind a couple of cars, one disabled and the other assisting. Pleased that another person was out there willing to help a motorist in a pinch, he asked the do-gooder why he’d stopped to help this stranger. The man replied that a while back, his wife had had a blow-out and had been helped by a man who gave her a card asking for no payment, but rather to return the favor to someone in need.

May we all be on the giving end this holiday season, in some form or another, knowing that our actions could be smoothing the rough edges of life of someone in need. I think that Mr. Weller, sower of seeds of goodwill, would be first to tell you that the pleasure would be nearly all yours.

Teaching Children Through Our Actions

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As I was on my morning walk, I strolled right by a bank’s drive-up instant teller. A woman was using it, standing outside her SUV because it was too far to reach from inside her car. The sun was bright, and she was struggling to shade the screen with her hand because of the glare. Behind her SUV, a city maintenance truck and a third car were waiting, their engines idling.

What bothered me about this scene is that right around the corner of the building there are two instant tellers in the lobby. Using them would only have required parking (free!) and walking about 30 steps. Instead, the woman chose to get out of her car and fight the sun’s glare, and the other two people decided to sit in their cars, wasting time and gas. All this on a 70-degree day!

As I continued my walk, the sight of another woman made my day. When I saw that she had a plastic bag on each hand, I jokingly said, “I see the bags, but I don’t see the dog!” She laughed and told me the bags were for picking up trash. (She was using them as gloves.) While there are many popular “awareness” movements right now, from breast cancer to autism, is there any greater way to provide awareness than through real action and purposeful living like this? As great as pins and bumper stickers can be for getting the word out, this woman’s generous act speaks more than 100 anti-litter stickers.

If we want the next generation to be loving and reverent caretakers of the earth and each other, we parents have to step up to the plate with our actions. It’s not enough to use peace signs, bumper stickers, and tattoos to proclaim our love and values. We’ve got to demonstrate the very core beliefs we value. Do we buy our children a giant inflatable bouncer house for Christmas while proudly wearing a “Save the Earth!” t-shirt? Do we drive our Hummer 30 miles to pick up our organic, free-range Thanksgiving turkey?

Just as the two women I watched this morning told two very different stories, we tell our children stories every day through our actions. This holiday season, we’ll be singing songs with our children about peace and goodwill and sending cards about spreading joy, but my hope is that each one of us in our own unique ways will be living peace, goodwill, and joy through our actions-be it in volunteering in soup kitchens or in buying gifts that support artisans and sustainable living. Our children truly are watching.

Bucking the Trend in Company Culture

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

A recent shopping trip to one of those big box stores got me thinking about customer service or the lack thereof in our culture these days. The “big” stores are places where the customer experience really isn’t high on anyone’s priority list - the store’s or the customer’s. It’s all about price. So, it’s really not too surprising that it is impossible to find an employee who might answer a question or offer some assistance while you’re shopping. Basically, you’re on your own and you just go there for some of the things you might need in large quantities and get out as quickly as you can.

The check-out experience is usually pretty ho-hum, of course. It really has to be a challenging job to stand at the register, scanning thousands of things a day, dealing with folks who really don’t want to even be there and are zombied out because the experience has been so overwhelming. However, my  check-out experience on this particular trip was truly rewarding: the checker actually looked me in the eye, asked me how I was, called me by name (it was on my membership card), and wished me a happy  weekend.

Wanting to let her employer know about my positive experience and hoping he/she would pass along my appreciation to the checker, I went to the company’s website to email my comments. But let me tell you, it was quite a challenge to find the right link and I’m not altogether sure that my compliments will even make it to her - which is what got me thinking about our society’s business culture these days.

It sometimes seems that customer service just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s as if the way we treat our customers, the way we treat employees, the way we expect to be treated as customers, and the way we expect to be treated as employees has changed dramatically…and not for the better. More and more, it’s all about price. Customers are becoming acclimated to being treated like…like…nothing, while at the same time, the “culture” of a company often doesn’t include the importance of friendliness, helpfulness, and graciousness.

So, should her employer not pass along my comments, my thanks go out to Irma N. (her name’s on my receipt). Thank you for making a humdrum shopping trip end on such a pleasant note and for sending me out the door in a better mood than when I entered.  And thank you to every single person behind every single counter who deals with all of us every day.