Wednesday, November 16, 2011

7 Habits of Highly Irritable People

  1. Drink too much coffee. Does anyone remember the old 70s Sanka commercials featuring an ill-tempered individual getting highly irritated by some trivial matter and claiming the caffeine makes him tense? Then Robert Young from Father Knows Best busts onto the scene with a pot of Sanka and saves the day with “real” coffee, but that’s not really my point. I love those commercials with the depictions of pissed off moms, dads and spouses, edgy and stressed out over life’s little annoyances. But seriously, I’m not sure I actually believe caffeine makes me any more irritable than I would be simply by nature. I mean, you would not believe how irritable I could be without caffeine.
  2. Never allow enough time to get anywhere. You know the scenario, you are rushing around the house trying to get out the door so that you can drive to some place for some reason and you will most likely be meeting with some people who expect you at the location at a certain time. You know exactly what time it is, you have calculated in your head roughly how long it will take to get there and you are mentally checking off what tasks are left to be done before you leave. You have got the situation under control. Do not take into account how much time it takes to go out to the garage. Do not consider the time it takes to put on shoes and a coat, particularly in the winter time, when mittens, a hat and a scarf are also highly recommended. If you are a dog owner, do not take into account the chance that your best friend will suddenly decide he/she needs to either A) pee or B) chase after a small rodent. If you have a child in tow, definitely do not allow time for the child to get shoes, socks, a coat, a snack, a drink of water or a trip to the bathroom. This will foul up your mental calculations beyond belief. 
  3. Procrastinate. I’ll explain that later.
  4. Set your standards very high. Don’t get lazy and just accept your slothful ways as “good enough.” Demand perfection from yourself. Are you a stay-at-home parent? Expect your home to be spotless, sanitized and highly organized. If it is not, feel irritated. Are you a professional of some sort? Expect that you should be making more money, have more responsibilities, or hold a higher position in whatever profession it is that you work. Better yet, expect that you should have been in a better profession. Are you a teacher? You should have been a doctor. Are you a doctor? You should have been a surgeon. Are you a writer? You should have published something by now. You are how old? And what do you have to show for it?
  5. Develop your “all or nothing” thinking. This kind of goes along with the last one. That’s so lame, I should have come up with something more clever, used a little more imagination. This whole blog is a failure.
  6. Be highly self-critical. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me “don’t be so hard on yourself!” Well… Let’s just say I would have a lot of nickels. All I know is, every time I feel like I haven’t done something quite as well as I would have liked it, I feel irritated. So it must work.
  7. Be rigid and controlling and expect that people will never disappoint you. When they do, perceive it as a pronouncement on your self-worth.
  8. Have children. Need I say more?
Yeah, that last one was a bonus. I’m so pleased with myself for coming up with an extra, I actually feel happy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Poetry by Martha... a light interlude

Fiery, flaming, bright
Makes me feel happy

Nature poem, by Martha, for 3rd grade class
November 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011


express yourself
I’ve been thinking about self-expression ever since I posted my last blog. Obviously, that’s really what a blog is all about: self-expression. I like writing here because it is an outlet for what is in my head, and, as it turns out, it’s a fairly satisfying one, as well as more socially acceptable than many of my other impulses. Basically all I hope to do when I start out each post is just express myself. Sometimes what I want to say feels really important and sometimes it feels just plain ridiculous, but I think each post is a reflection of my mood or what I’m thinking about at the time. Many times, what I’m thinking about feels really bad inside my head and reads even worse when I try to write it out so I trash it or I leave it unfinished and I begin to feel frustrated if I go too long without posting something. The fact that I feel frustrated by that seems like a positive thing. I’d like to write a book someday, an actual published work, but I can’t say much more about it than that. I don’t know if it will be fiction or creative non-fiction, but most likely it would fall into one of those two categories. And it turns out the blog is a good laboratory for that. If I ever get that book written, in a way, all it will be is a longer, potentially more serious work of self-expression. So it’s good that I’m practicing (and kind of you guinea pigs to read!).

But it’s a funny thing, having the ability to send all my words out on the internet where virtually anyone can read them. It is both wonderful and extremely unfortunate (in some cases) that it is so easy to do. It feels kind of scary but also kind of meaningless. It’s like asking, if a tree falls in the forest, does it make any sound? If a thought is expressed on the internet but no one reads it, is the thought really expressed? Does the possibility of millions of readers via the internet make self-expression on a blog more powerful than self-expression in a little journal I hide under my bed? I don’t know. I can’t come up with an answer to that question. Kate Hopper, talented writer and instructor at The Loft Literary Center, do you have an answer to that? (She taught a class that I took a year ago about blog writing that was a primary motivator behind this project. I am so grateful for her nudging me along this path.)

My last blog post, essentially on the topic of child abuse, was read by a whole lot of people and one or two people didn’t care much for what I had to say. Which, I should add, is fine by me. I mean, that’s just other people expressing themselves, right? But I can't help thinking, why do these people care what I think? One of the main reasons I wrote that post was because... well, because I can. I absolutely welcome anything anyone has to say, but I have spent more than a few minutes this week wondering why some people bother to comment. I guess it’s because they can. And I guess it’s safe to say I am genuinely interested in having as many people read my self-expression as possible, otherwise I wouldn’t send the words out for the whole world to read. But it still feels odd to me that I can provoke those few readers to take issue with what I have to say.

As a potentially meaningless experiment, I’ve decided to say a whole bunch of stuff merely for the satisfaction of expressing myself. Because I can. I’m also  thinking about writing some posts on potentially controversial topics and then sending the links to the people they will most offend. Just for kicks. It will really beef up my stats, that’s for sure. But that’s a project for the future. For now, let’s keep it simple and let me get busy expressing myself.

A few meaningless facts about me:
  • I am a Democrat. I almost always vote Democrat. Sometimes I even vote for Democrats without even knowing a single thing about them, I just color in the circle next to their name because they are NOT Republicans. I don’t care if this is good or bad, right or wrong. I just tend to agree with the ideas of the Democrats much, much, much more than those of the Republican Party. Also, I still like Obama. So there. Oh, you don’t like him or the Democratic Party? That’s okay. If I liked you before I knew that, I still like you. But let’s not talk politics how ‘bout.
  • I support a woman’s right to have an abortion and I absolutely do not think it is the equivalent of murder. This is easily a topic I could stretch out into a whole post, then send a link to some right-to-lifers. That could be fun. But let’s not talk about that either.
  • I believe in God. I don’t know why. Are we supposed to know why?
  • I do not like Julia Roberts. I don’t think she is a talented actress and I am totally bugged by her facial expressions which, I would argue, are the exact same faces she makes in every single movie she’s in.
  • My neighbor is a jerk. He’s an old guy, 60s or 70s, and he doesn’t like me because I blocked his view from his kitchen window when I thoughtlessly and vindictively added a garage to my then-garage-less house 6 years ago. He’s rude to me, he lies out in a lawn chair in his front yard during the summer with no shirt on (but with socks on), which I find most unattractive, and the only time he talks to me is when he wants to bitch about the “run-off” from my house washing his grass seed away in the springtime, which is so totally obviously my fault that I wonder if he actually saw me whispering to the rain “go that way, over the grass seed! And go swiftly!”

There, I think I’ve covered a few important topics: politics, religion, abortion, Julia Roberts, and my jerky neighbor. Anyone in the world could read any of these brilliant opinions, a brief effort at self-expression, and take issue with them. And I would welcome that. I am not telling anyone else how to think or what to believe and I am not trying to argue a point. I’m just saying what I think. Because I can. Because it’s my blog. And I am eternally grateful that you are reading this and that you care what I think. Buy my book (when the time comes). Thank you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When bad parenting comes back to bite you in the ass

PREFACE: This is a far cry from things that are spooktacular and cutesy-shaped lunch meat but this post, in general, is still just a reflection of what is bouncing around in my head.

The other day I saw the story about Hillary Adams, the 23-year old woman who recently posted a video on the internet, taken 7 years ago, showing her father, a county judge in Texas, brutally beating her with a belt. If you have not seen it, you can find it here:, but be warned that it is graphic and disturbing, to say the least. In the way that random, personal information broadcast on the internet sometimes does, it went viral within a few days and garnered much more attention than this young woman ever dreamed it would. I stumbled upon the story on my facebook news feed after she appeared on the Today Show talking with Matt Lauer. I watched the original YouTube video, as well as the Today Show interview. Anything that I have to say about here is, of course, only an expression of my opinion and not any kind of profound judgment or pronouncement about Ms. Adams or her family or her actions. And, by the way, just so I don’t leave you hanging, I totally support what she did and my heart goes out to her and her family. I admire her strength and courage and I also sympathize with the excruciating pain that these events must have caused her and will, most likely, continue to cause her for some time to come.

But first I am reminded of another horror story about poor parental decision-making that I read about recently. This story is about an 11-year old boy who was abandoned by his father several months back. The father, Steven Cross, facing foreclosure on their Lakeville, MN home left the son one night last summer and drove his van to California, leaving a note with the boy instructing him to ride his bike over to a neighbor’s house and another note addressed to the neighbors giving them his permission to care for the child in his absence. The father was eventually tracked down, arrested and brought back to Minnesota to face child neglect charges. In the article I read most recently about this family the dad expresses genuine dismay over the public and legal reaction to his decision to ditch his son. He appears to maintain the belief that leaving his son in the care of the neighbor family was clearly a more responsible decision than sticking around and allowing his financial troubles to affect the child. Although virtually everything about this story disturbs me, this is the part that I find the most difficult to comprehend; how can this man, father to a child with whom he has spent the last 11 years, presumably loving and caring for, not understand the profound wrongness of abandoning his child and disappearing in the middle of the night, assuming that a neighbor will seamlessly take over his parenting responsibilities and all will be well? How can he fail to see the damage he is doing to his child? How does he miss that?

In the case of Hillary Adams, her father has made statements to the fact that the abuse on the video looks worse than it is. He appears to believe he has done nothing wrong. How can that be? Who can fail to recognize the obvious physical and emotional damage that he inflicts on his daughter in just a few seconds of the beating shown in the video?

The parent/child relationship is a unique dynamic. Initially within the relationship, the parent is in a position of absolute power; the child is completely dependent on his or her parent. As the child grows and becomes more independent, more developed, the relationship also evolves into one where the child assumes more power over his or her life, and, ideally, the parent begins to relinquish control over the child who can now share in the responsibility of living. Ultimately, when the child becomes an adult, the two adults, while still parent and child, have the potential to be equals. The power dynamic essentially evens out over time. But anyone who has had a relationship of any sort with their parents knows that this is not necessarily accurate. Even at age 43, my mother, unwittingly, I suppose, maintains an immense amount of power over me. She can swing my mood from cheerful to hateful faster than you can spell the word dysfunctional. Or she can make me feel invincible with just the smallest nod of approval. And although I struggle against it, am hyper-aware of it and take care to analyze the crap out of it at every turn, I know that it is also inevitable that she will always have the ability to influence my emotional state simply because that power dynamic existed in our relationship so pervasively from day one and it was imprinted on my brain and my emotional development throughout my childhood.

Although I haven’t had time or the motivation to do exhaustive research on the subject, I am fairly certain it’s not inaccurate to say that child abuse and neglect not only traumatizes a child, having very real physical and emotional affects, but also has the potential to alter a child’s brain development. When you are 16 and your father comes into your bedroom and beats you mercilessly with a belt despite your cries and your obvious pain, your brain is directly affected, changed and forced to grow and adapt in ways that would otherwise not occur were it not for the abuse. Or when you are 11 and you awake in the safety of your own home only to find that your one known parent who supposedly loves you more than any other individual in the world has deserted you, your brain suffers a type of injury which can leave scars that physically change the course of your neural development irrevocably. How can a parent not be aware of their profound influence over the growth of their child? How is that overlooked?

One of the reasons that these stories stick with me, and particularly stick out in my mind at this moment is because I spend a great deal of time and energy every day worrying about my parenting abilities and whether or not I am doing things “the right way” or even “a good enough way.” It consumes me some days, and I recognize that this is not necessarily a good thing. A very sweet friend of mine made a remark the other day that she sucked at being a stay-at-home parent, which said to me that she, too, experiences similar feelings of self-doubt and concern that her parenting is sub-par. Which makes me think that these feelings of incompetence, more pronounced in some, but still present in most parents, is actually normal, fairly universal and possibly even an indication that we are being diligent, thoughtful and careful in our daily task of raising our children. And that’s good. It’s really good. The abusive parent who firmly believes he has done nothing harmful to his child would do well to question his actions, really spend some time obsessing over whether or not he has done the best job possible for the welfare of his child. And should he eventually consider the possibility that no, in fact, he has not done a good job and has, instead, fucked up royally, he should feel no shame in admitting that and finding some way to ask for help. I won’t exclude the possibility of forgiveness or redemption. But a parent should have to work really hard for that.

Hillary Adams’ father claimed in an interview that he believes he has done nothing wrong other than discipline his child for stealing (the video-taped beating was punishment for illegally downloading material from the internet). His choice of language confuses me but I’m not sure it’s relevant to dissect his grammar – OK, humor me – if he has done nothing wrong other than discipline his child, doesn’t that statement allow for the possibility that disciplining his child falls under the heading of “doing something wrong?” Whatever, I’m pretty sure he believes he is blameless. I am no authority to say what the legal consequences should be for this man or for the father who abandoned his child. But I do feel pretty strongly that whatever consequences there are within the relationship between parent and child following abuse and neglect, they are most likely warranted. Although Ms. Adams’ father may not face criminal charges, he has left his job and left his hometown and is probably not really enjoying all the attention he is getting as an internet star/child abuser. Is that fair to him?

I guess this is my essential point here; in my opinion, who cares what is fair to him? He forfeits his daughter’s consideration when he takes a belt out and whips her repeatedly. He abuses his child, abuses his position of power, physically harms his daughter and alters the course of her development. When Ms. Adams made him aware of the video, does he take any responsibility for his actions? No. Steven Cross says he would still like to see his son (who he abandoned) and seems mystified by the court’s decision to deny him visitation. For now, it seems he has pretty much trashed his relationship with his child. Do I feel bad for him? No.

As good, conscientious parents, we know we have an obligation to do right by our children. Sometimes, life seems to conspire against our desire to be good to our kids. We get angry, we yell, we take away privileges. We make our kids cry. And we worry like hell that we are harming them, that we are doing such a horrible job of parenting that our kids will have psychological scars for life. But then stories of real child abuse remind us what psychological scars really are. One of the many professionals with whom I have crossed paths in my own parenting journey once said (of parents relative to their children) “we are bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.” In the end, this is what we owe our children, our best ability to treat them with kindness, which includes apologizing when we are wrong and taking responsibility for our actions. If we can’t even do that much, then I’m not sure our kids owe us anything either.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lunch from hell, part II

 Several months back I wrote a riveting little post about my daughter's relentless campaign to get me to buy Lunchables™ for her "sack" lunches. That was lunch from hell, part I, I guess. Here is a little update on my dear child's renewed adoration of the evil, highly-processed and environmentally toxic little package known as the Oscar Mayer Lunchable™. In her defense, this time around I don't think she was trying to coerce or beg me into purchasing the lunchable. It was more like she was simply expressing her undeniable attraction to it and trying hard to understand why something so cute, so compact, so neatly-packaged and so flawlessly marketed could be the epitome of evil that I make it out to be. In the end, we had an uncharacteristically unheated discussion and I was able to explain why our own, homemade rendering of the cheese, meat & cracker lunch would be healthier and produce far less garbage to end up, eons later, sitting in a landfill. A new and improved plan was formulated to create our own "lunchable."

Yes, you are seeing correctly. Those are star-shaped pieces of American cheese. As well as star-shaped pieces of ham. Since this pic was actually taken following the second day's preparation of the homemade "lunchable," an extensive collection of cheese scraps has accumulated, which is just visible on the left side of the photo. I ask you, who is going to eat all those cheese scraps? I don't even really like American cheese, unless of course it is sandwiched between two excessively-buttered pieces of grilled bread and it's all melty and oozey and then it's quite delicious. But that sandwich is best prepared in a greasy diner by someone who goes by "junior" so I still find myself with a considerable pile of cheese scraps and no good solution for what to do with them.

A much bigger problem, however, is the fact that the beautiful ham and cheese stars came home in her lunch box today largely untouched. While quite enthusiastic about this new lunch option yesterday, when they were novel, today... not so much. And although you might see this as totally unrelated, I would just like to point out that I have a Master's degree. And not in Home Economics, as you might suspect.

Educated mind, please accept my deepest apologies. And maybe while I'm at it, I should also apologize to the creator of the Lunchable™, Oscar Mayer (whoever he is), and the whole Kraft Food corporation, because I am clearly not as clever at packaging a lunch for my child as you all are. It's back to PB&J for Martha. But do me a favor, please, just one more time, check out this delightfully creative, as well as celestial display of luncheon morsels. Can you even get over how cute that is? Neither can I.