“Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” --Guillaume Apollinaire

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grocery Grievances

Today I am happy to buy groceries.  Why? Because I can.
I hate grocery shopping.  Whew, I'm glad that neither of my children can read yet because that statement would most certainly have sent one of them running to his father yelling, "Dad! Mommy said 'hate' and  made it bold and underlined, and we don't use that word! It's not a nice one!"  Oh well, if that statement earns me a time-out, then so be it.  I'm not too proud to confess my hatred of this task, and I would guess that many of you have similar feelings.

Since I really enjoy cooking, and I enjoy eating even more, I am quite surprised at how much I hate grocery shopping.  Nerd alert!  If you think I am at all cool, please just skip to the next paragraph.  I wouldn't want to ruin any illusions that you might have about me.  I take great pleasure in clipping coupons for the items I use, perusing the weekly sale flier, and planning out the meals for the week, and I always arrive at the store armed with a well-organized list that should, at least in theory, allow me to quickly and efficiently gather the items I need to prepare healthy and delicious meals for the next week and then to go about my merry way. 

In reality, the trip always takes longer than I planned. During the school year, I usually get groceries on Saturday afternoon or evening.  If you have never been to the grocery store at that time, please, I implore you to heed my advice: do not do it.  Ever.  I do realize that perhaps it would be a better idea to get the shopping trip over with on Friday evening, but at this point in my life, Friday nights are reserved solely for getting into my jammies and falling asleep on the couch at an embarrassingly early hour while the kids loudly engage in some pretend play involving cars or trains and a series of catastrophic crashes.  (Yes, I am fully aware of how lame I am. No need to point it out.)

After I have successfully made my way through the Saturday shopping crowd, I usually have to make at least one trip back across the store for something I missed.  It is not uncommon to find that at least one of the advertised sale items around which I so cleverly planned our meals for the week is out of stock. When I finally reach the cashier to check out, I usually realize that I have left my coupons in the car or once again forgotten my environmentally friendly reusable bags.  And I swear that it is utterly impossible for me to walk of there for less than $100 even on the days when my list does not include many extras like medications, hair product, greeting cards, or the ever important Power Gel or Sports Beans that my hubby, the triathlete, likes to add to the list.  We won't even talk about the pleasures of trying to get groceries with kids in tow.

Last weekend, however, I was happy to be in the grocery store. It was not a magical peaceful day when everything was in stock and there were no lines at the checkout, I was not surrounded with rainbows and unicorns, and no, I was not dreaming.  The grocery store was in its typical state of Saturday mayhem.  But on that day, I was simply grateful to have the opportunity to fill my cart and to marvel at the abundance with which I am blessed. 

Are you wondering how you too can feel good about spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon fighting crowds in the grocery store? I'll let you in on my secret tip: spend some time volunteering in a food pantry.  Last week, a colleague and I had the opportunity to do a service project with our middle school student council kids.  We traveled to Mel Trotter Ministries to volunteer for a few hours.  This organization provides many services to homeless and needy individuals and families in the community, one of which is a food pantry that clients are allowed to visit twice a month.  While we were there, we sorted food that had been donated and stocked shelves so that clients who were coming to get food during the weekly distribution hours would be able to find what they needed.

I was so proud of our students who were polite and respectful to staff and clients alike and who cheerfully did whatever they were asked.  When we got back to school and sat down together to process for a few minutes at the end of the day, I was impressed with the thoughts they shared about their experience working at the food pantry.
A few examples:
  • "Being there kind of made me think about how we are picky and we always want the best or the coolest clothes and stuff, and the people who were coming there today were happy just to be getting something to eat."
  • "I noticed that they had tons of certain things like cans of corn or beans, and Mary [who assigned them their jobs while we were there] told me that is because people donate the things that are cheapest to buy."
  • "I was glad that we can go to the grocery store and get what we want."
  • "I don't think I would want to eat a lot of that stuff! Did you see powdered milk? Gross!"
Reflecting on this conversation, I started to realize what I spoiled brat I am!  No exaggeration, I will not purchase a canned item if it is even a tiny bit dented.  I get annoyed that there is a six foot section of tortillas and I am not able to find the exact low-carb Weight Watcher friendly tortilla that I would like.  Oh, and you do not want to cross my path if the grape tomatoes are mushy or the store is out of reduced fat Italian blend shredded cheese. Blah, blah, blah, whatever. The list of grocery grievances could continue, but I think you probably get the point.

The magic moment that made this grocery trip pleasant? It was the moment I came to the realization that I can go to the grocery store any time of the day or week that is convenient for me; I do not need to arrive between the hours of 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM on Thursdays if I want to feed my family.  There are aisles and aisles and aisles of almost anything I could want and certainly all of the basics that I "need".  I can buy the exact brand and flavor of juice or cereal or corn and black bean salsa that I or my family prefer. For Pete's sake, there are thirty different salsas to choose from in the ethnic foods aisle not to mention the fresh varieties available in the deli!  I am not limited to castoffs or items that have been donated by generous individuals or businesses. If my kids are with me, I can afford to bribe them with a treat or splurge on the gallon of chocolate milk. Then, after I have finished loading up my cart and paid for my groceries without wondering which bill will have to wait until next month, I pile all of those wonderful groceries into my car and drive home.  I don't have to shove everything into my backpack or duffel bag and get on the bus, hop on my bike, or hoof it several blocks or more to get home.

Next time you are seething in the cereal aisle or having a meltdown in the frozen section, stop and think about how fortunate you are to be able to buy groceries at all.  I think you will be happy to be there too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deadbeat Alert!

Today I am happy that my son has no doubt that his mom and dad will take care of him.

My husband and I are getting ready to send our oldest baby off to kindergarten in the fall.  Okay, one of us is completely ready while the other is struggling a little with the fact that this kid is growing up so fast, but that is a topic for another day.  E-man is the kind of kid who prepares for new experiences by asking questions.  Lots and lots of questions: questions about every aspect of the experience that he can imagine, then some more questions on related topics and usually a few additional questions on topics that could only be related to the original topic in the mind of a five year-old boy.  And after he has had some time to mull over the answers we've given in response to his questions, he has an entire new round of questions to ask. 

As you can imagine, the topic of school is pretty dominant in our family conversations these days.  Here is a recent example of a conversation we had in the car:
"Mom, after I finish preschool, I will go to kindergarten?  And then what will happen?"
"Yes, you'll go to kindergarten.  Then you will go to first grade. When you're in first grade, you will go to school all day every day.  After that you will go to second grade."
"And then I will go to third grade and fourth grade and fifth grade? How many grades does school have?"
"Twelve grades.  And then when you are finished with all twelve, you go to college."
"What is college?"
"Well, it's a school that you go to when you're kind of a grown-up, like Brooklyn [a family friend] goes to college.  You go there to learn how to do the job you want to do when you grow up.  Like I went to school to learn how to be a teacher.  What do you think you would like to do when you grow up?"
"Well, I don't know.  Maybe I could do what Daddy does because I watched him and helped him lots of times, so I already know how to do it. I don't really need to go to college."
At this point in the conversation, a cement mixer drove by, effectively ending any discussion about future college and career plans.  After all, he is a five year-old boy. 

A few days later, the conversation was revisited:
"Hey Mom, I've been thinking about it, and I want to be a dad when I grow up."
Awww, I thought, how sweet!  That is because he has an amazing daddy!
"But I don't want to go to work."
Oh, he is going to tell me that he wants to do fun things with his kids all day long. He is going to be an amazing daddy someday too! 
"I don't wanna have a job, but it is okay 'cause you can just take care of my bills for me."
This kid melts just melts my heart. Wait...what?!? Did he just say he doesn't want to ever have a job and that he expects to live on my dime for the rest of his life?

If you know me well, you know that I am prone to overanalyze even the smallest statement or incident.  Of course I started to wonder where we went wrong. Have we missed teaching some crucial concept?  Would he really be content without working a day in his life?  Does he actually expect to mooch off us throughout adulthood? How do you teach the value of being a self-sufficient adult who can function as a responsible member of the community?  Will my  kid be a deadbeat? (Hmmm...wonder where he gets that whole questioning thing?)  Aaauuggh!

After a day or two of questioning our parenting skills, I came across a news story about a four year-old boy in the Detroit area who died from starvation and neglect.  My initial reaction was anger at the adults in this little boy's life as well as those who were conspicuously absent.  Evidently, the boy's mom passed away, bio-dad lost custody when he went to prison for felonious assault, and the boy was living with an aunt and uncle.  When he was removed from the relatives' home shortly before his death, this four year-old boy was 37 inches tall and weighed just 24 pounds.  The uncle and aunt had to know that something was very wrong, yet they did not help him or get help for him until he was unresponsive, nearly dead. I don't know the specifics of their situation.  Maybe they had too many mouths to feed or, as the old country song goes, too much month at the end of the money.  I tried not to judge, but I cannot help but think that neglect on such a level would have to be willful and not simply an issue of finances. Seriously, how can one human being watch another human being starve to death and do nothing about it?  I was beyond furious with the people who were supposed to be caring for this child.

Eventually my anger gave way to pure sadness when I thought about what little guy must have experienced, or more accurately what he did not experience, in his short life.  My heart ached for this little boy who did not have someone he could trust to meet his most basic needs.  If no one bothered to feed him, I assumed that it must have been a rare occasion that anyone took the time to snuggle this kiddo or read to him or wipe his tears when he was hurt or sad.  I thought it would be a safe bet that no one helped him learn to throw or catch,  helped him learn letters, numbers, shapes or colors, checked his closet for monsters so that he wouldn't be afraid when he went to bed.  I guessed that no one had a conversation with this boy about what he dreamed of doing when he grew up.

That is when I was struck with the realization that...brace yourself, this might be shocking...the worry I was had about my own son's career ambition was utterly ridiculous!  Was I really concerned  by a five year-old's statement that he didn't need a job because he knew he would be taken care of ? Did I actually believe that this meant that he would turn out to be some kind of deadbeat?  Please! If he were a twenty-five year-old  making that statement, yes, there would be reason to worry.  But for the moment, I am thrilled to realize that at the tender age of five, he has no idea what it really means to need, to go without or to be neglected, and truthfully, I hope he never has to learn.  He firmly believes that his dad and I will always take care of him and provide whatever he needs, and for today* I will cherish the thought that he trusts in us completely.

*For today...but twenty years from now, E-man, you should definitely plan on having a job and paying your own bills!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My life has been ruined!

Today I am happy to have a mom who was willing to push me when I needed a shove and to hold me when I needed some love.

I have a confession to make, and I hope you won't think less of me for it.  I went through a time in my life, maybe even a few different times, when I thought that my mother's exclusive goal in life was to ruin mine.  I have decided that now is the time to let the world know the truth. Well, maybe the whole world won't know; it might be more accurate to say that the one or two people who are not already sick to death of hearing what I think will know the truth, but I digress. 

The acts of perceived oppression by my mom, and truth be told, by my dad as well, fell into two categories: acts of omission and acts of commission.  In other words, I believed that that my mom intentionally did some things to make me miserable and at the same time intentionally did not do other things that could have improved my quality of life.  Please consider the evidence and decide for yourself.

Disclaimer: If you are expecting some trashy talk show tell-all or angry, accusatory confrontation, please stop reading now.  You will be sorely disappointed.  I have enjoyed a life that has been full of love and blessings, and some would even say that I have turned into a reasonably well adjusted adult.

Exhibit A: School  
In the years B.E. (before email) my parents had to field a significant number of telephone calls and notes from teachers who wanted to discuss my work completion habits, or more accurately, my complete lack thereof.  I believe said teachers also made some allegations effectively stating that I was of the opinion that school was a purely social event designed solely for my entertainment.
What my  mom did not do: make excuses for me or tell the teacher to stop picking on me.  Seriously, how unfair! Their expectations that I participate appropriately and waste my time with the silly tasks they assigned were completely lame.
What my  mom did do: held me responsible for the choices I was making and enforced appropriate consequences when I did not take responsibility.  Yes, she actually thought that it was important for me to realize that I should give my best effort at whatever I do and that I should get my work done before goofing off.  (Note: I still struggle with that work before goofing off thing occasionally, and if I am going to be completely honest here, that would be on most occasions.)  Can you believe that?  Consequences?  Harsh stuff, huh?

Exhibit B: Social Life
I was never part of the cool crowd in high school or college.  I blame my parents who did not encourage me to do the fun and amazing things that would have made me cool like staying out all night or going on wild Spring Break trips.
What my  mom did not do: believe that it was more important to be my friend than to be my mom.  That's right, when I did things that crossed the line, she let me know, even when it resulted in me getting angry with her.  Even when I became an adult, and I use that term loosely, my mom and dad expected me to live by their rules as long as I lived in their home, and no amount of buddying up to either would change the fact that some things were just not acceptable under their roof.  The nerve of her!
What my mom did: set curfews, appropriate boundaries, and (gasp!) rules that I was required to follow.  She also expected me to have a job to earn money for college tuition and even to show up on time and for every scheduled shift.  Honestly, do you know how many evenings and weekends I would have had free to party and get into mischief if not for that silly job?  Even worse, paying my own tuition had a very nasty side effect.  I actually started to care about my school work, and I spent much of the precious little party and mischief time was left after my job studying, writing papers or doing homework.
Exhibit C: Oh, never mind...
I realize that I have been blessed with a pretty amazing mom who always tried hard to teach me right from wrong and to show me the right way to live even when I did my best to make her just as miserable as I believed she was making me.  I am thankful that she never gave up on me or took the easy way out even when I acted like a little witch or worse.

And now look at the life I am living.  I have an amazing husband and two beautiful children of my own, and I am surrounded by friends and family who love and care for me.  I, along with my husband, am able to provide a comfortable and stable home for our children and to see that their emotional, physical and developmental needs are met.  I am involved in a lively church community where I have many opportunities to see, feel and share God's love.  I get to go to work at a job that I love.  I am a responsible adult with good credit who owns a home and is able to hold a job.  I've had educational opportunities that have allowed me to earn both bachelors and masters degrees.  I have never been arrested, tried for a crime, or incarcerated.  All because my mom was out to ruin my life all those years ago.

Thanks a lot, Mom!  I love you.