Give Thanks

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

I can hardly ever stay awake late enough to watch the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. But our family does enjoy Fallon’s sense of humor and Friday nights are our favorite time to watch the Tonight Show because Fallon does this bit called “Thank You Notes.” His fake thank you notes are always good for a giggle. But it’s Fallon’s comedic delivery and the band’s silly participation in the gags that really make me chuckle.

But the whole endeavor does get me thinking… do younger people–the Tonight Show’s more consistently awake late at night demographic of millennials–actually write thank you notes in real life? Is the concept of a thank you note even still a thing in 2015? Well, it should be.

I was never taught the proper etiquette of writing thank you notes as a young person. But I’ve learned over the years that it is something we should not let slip from the culture or our good manners. Now, I’m not saying I’m very good at always remembering to send a thank you note. But I do try and I also try to instill the practice in my children.

As I mentioned in a previous post about gift giving, repayment in kind when receiving a gift is unnecessary and shouldn’t be expected. Repayment for an act of kindness is also unnecessary, is sometimes not even possible, and should be paid forward to others. But saying thanks is a must and should often be expressed via a thank you note because writing and sending a note requires just a tiny bit more effort than simply saying the words. (I’m planning a future blog post about how effort improves self-discipline and is a useful act of character building. Stay tuned.)

For now, purchase an inexpensive box of blank notes or boxed note cards with “thank you” printed on the front. And whenever you receive a gift or have been blessed by some out of the ordinary act of kindness, take a few moments to jot a note and send it along.

The process of regularly sending thank you notes accomplishes several things. It builds character by actively practicing an expression of gratitude. It improves your writing skills. It lets the gift giver know you’ve received their gift and that you appreciate the thought even if you don’t always truly appreciate the gift.

Be sure to have your children send thank you notes for birthday gifts and any other gifts they receive for special events like confirmation or graduation. I asked our son to write four thank you notes each day after his confirmation party. That way, he was finished within a week and didn’t feel overwhelmed by being asked to write them all at once. And believe it or not, some young people don’t know how to properly address an envelope or construct a thoughtful yet concise thank you note. This is good practice and the importance of expressing gratitude is always a good topic of discussion with the kiddos.

That said, I have a couple of additional opinions on the matter:

Electronic thank you notes are okay. I’ve used Red Stamp and DaySpring to send electronic greeting cards via email or text message. A handwritten note is still best but I’m not a stickler about the method of delivery. It’s truly the thought and effort that count. Plus, sometimes you just don’t have any stamps. And don’t get me started on the United States Post Office. A friend believes many young people don’t even understand how the mail works. She may be right. She often is. Do school children even go on field trips to the post office in the digital age?

Nobody should expect a thank you note. Sending them is a good habit to get into. But not getting a thank you note is by no means any reason to get your undies in a bunch. Let’s pull the tree trunks from our own eyes before picking at the pollen in someone else’s. No need to pass judgment on a simple lack of tutelage or time.

Finally, thank you notes should be sincere, succinct and simple. Gift recipients are not required to fawn over or act like they’re in love with any gift purchased for them. If I buy you a crummy gift and you give it away or donate it to your favorite charity, not a problem. Gift giving is about showing that we care enough to make an effort at being generous just as writing a thank you note is about showing we care enough to make an effort toward expressing gratitude. But if we choose gifts poorly, no harm done. Better luck next time. So if you ever end up buying me a crummy gift, I surely hope I’m gracious enough to send a thank you note before I toss it in the donation pile.

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Best Relationship Advice EVER!

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

During a lovely dinner out with a friend, she and I got to chatting about when our children were small and how difficult that stage of life could be. I joked about long days spent soothing a fussy infant and then giving the hubs a death stare if he dared return from work and ask me what I’d done all day. Sometimes I’d drag the vacuum cleaner out and just leave it in the middle of the living room floor–a ruse to convince the hubs that I’d at least attempted to tidy up. This would often blunt his insensitive inquiries. At least that’s how I always interpreted his truly innocuous attempts at making conversation. Sleep deprived, exhausted, milk stained, poop stained and hormonal–I would often assume the hubs was passing judgment on my homemaking abilities.

My friend smiled supportively. But surely she thinks my “baby days” quaint and quite compared to hers. This brave woman endured double the “fun” as her initial experience with motherhood involved having twins!

“How did you do it?” I asked.

She replied with what I believe is some of the best relationship advice EVER. She said that when her twins were babies, and she and her hubs were navigating the separate worlds of an at home parent and a working parent, they arrived at an agreement. It went something like this…

“I agree to believe that you’re doing the best that you can if you agree to believe that I am doing the best that I can.”

Now this agreement surely helped grease the skids of understanding during a difficult time. (Parents of infants and toddlers please note, things do get easier. You will sleep again one day. In the meantime, consider making a similar agreement with your spouse.)

But even though my friend’s twins are grown and my children are inching ever closer to being grown, this “agreement” is still applicable, especially during times of high stress or when life reliably throws its myriad of challenges at your marriage. So the next time you feel compelled to snark at your spouse or pass silent judgment because your expectations or needs are not being met, make an honest assessment of the situation. Chances are, given the circumstances, you’re both doing the best you can. And if not, then maybe you should chat about what you’re going through whether it be parenting challenges, pressures at work, an illness in the family, etc. Honestly discuss needs and expectations and figure out how to get closer to the “agreement” until the storm passes.

TAKE NOTE!

This “agreement” only applies to healthy relationships during periods of temporary challenges. It is not an excuse to let long-term bad behavior slide. I’ve seen your type before. Hell, I’ve been your type before! So if you’re one of those overly-accommodating and overly-sympathetic types who make excuses for someone who is lazy or rude or is otherwise unsuitable life partner material, don’t even begin to nod along with this particular relationship advice. It doesn’t apply to you. And here’s why…

There are plenty of folks in the world who struggle with addiction or dabble in adultery or chatterbox from the couch about their dream job while you pay the bills. These people are likely “doing the best they can” but that doesn’t mean it’s good enough for you. So if you’re setting the bar too low, you may have relationship issues that no blogger (nor any amount of wishful thinking) can help resolve. Seek professional help. Or if you’re not already married to or have kids with this person, maybe consider moving on and finding someone whose “best” more often than not delights and surpasses your expectations. Someone about whom you don’t have to frequently tell your parents or girlfriends, “he’s doing the best he can.”

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I’m A Conscientious Objector in the Mommy Wars

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

I’ve never been want to participate in the “mommy wars.” I’ve just never seen any point in trying to justify my parenting choices by attacking the decisions of other women. At least not to your face anyway. :)

But then, something funny happened the other day. Not funny, haha. But funny in that a random comment from another mom actually got my dander up. It’s not what she said that truly bothered me. It was my reaction, the more than a minute I’ve spent pondering this woman’s words and my temptation to respond in a way that I’m glad I didn’t.

The interaction went something like this–I was playing tennis. A doubles match against two women I’d never met before. Part of my tennis strategy is always to chat up my opponents, ask about their kids, smile and joke around between points. I’m not a particularly strong player, so my kill ‘em with kindness tactic is always in the hopes that it’ll be distracting enough to smooth out any killer instinct edges on the other side of the net. Plus, getting all pissy over a ladies league tennis match seems almost as ridiculous as the privilege of spending an afternoon playing in a ladies league tennis match.

So, I was playing tennis. Conversation ensued. The other women talked about their kids. I talked about mine. My partner and I win the match. Who won isn’t relevant to this story. But I feel you should know. We won. :)

Me and my partner ready to take it to the court!

My regular partner and I prepare to take it to the court! (Summer 2014)

Okay so, during all the youth sports and summer programming jibber jabber, I also mentioned my job as editor of a local lifestyle magazine and freelance writer. I said how I mostly work from home, have a flexible work schedule that accommodates my kid’s school and activities schedule and also allows me to play some daytime tennis. A great gig. Truly. I love my job.

Anyway, one of the women said something that stuck with me like a barnacle I can’t quite scrap off. She said, “Well, I guess if you have to work, it’s good you like your job.” Or something like that. Only the first eight words stuck in my brain. “Well, I guess if you have to work…”

I didn’t respond. I think I nodded or blinked five or six times. I may have had a small stroke. Maybe it was the summer heat or the adrenaline fueled joy of winning. (Did I mention I won?) Anyway, it wasn’t until I said a pleasant “goodbye” and “nice to meet you”, changed my shoes, paid my court fee and walked to the parking lot that I noticed the crusty barnacle of her words stuck to my psyche and how I wondered if I should have said, “I don’t have to work.” Oh good Lord in heaven, I’m so glad I didn’t say that. I would have hated myself for saying that even if it is true.

It’s true that the hubs earns more than me. His income pays the life sustaining bills. If he bailed, my income would likely qualify for food stamps. True enough. But our arrangement is something we’d planned long ago. When I once said–before we had children–that I wanted to hire a nanny and travel the country as some high-powered exec, he said, “then I’ll stay home with the kids.” Wait. What? No. No. No. For me, letting the hubs have the joys of full-time parenting triggered some serious jealousy in my slowly softening maternal heart. If (I say if because this was yet to be a fully formed option in my mind) one of us was going to do the full-time parent thing, it was going to be me.

After I burned through all of my disability income while on bed-rest pregnant for our first-born and thus, lacking much maternity leave, I was summoned by my employer to a meeting in Boston. This was shortly after our premature, neo-natal intensive care unit baby was beginning to sleep without his heart rate dropping through the floor and setting off hospital alarm bells. That’s when I officially quit my job.

I felt no compulsion to defend my decision. Even when my boss offered me more responsibility and a larger territory as enticement to stay. (Duh, think about it dude. Maybe offer parents a little less responsibility and you’re tracking with a new mom who wants to be with her kid.)

Anyway, when carrots didn’t work, he tried a stick. He said to me, “What are you going to do? Hang out at a country club all day playing tennis?” I rolled my eyes at his comment and skipped off into a land of sleepless nights and tear-filled days with my precious newborn.

Despite the serious irony of my old boss’s comment, I didn’t step onto any tennis court for 12 years. (An actual country club membership never was and still isn’t part of our one income family financial plan. I pay to play once a week and that’s that.) But around the time I started playing a little tennis, I also started easing back into paid employment. And I love my job. It’s no corporate ladder climbing affair. But I love what I do, the people I work with, and that the gig offers the flexibility to still parent my kids in the way our family has become accustomed.

I don’t have to work. But, for the first time, I felt a pang of what working moms the world over must feel when another woman passive aggressively lobs a mommy war salvo into her lap. Maybe this woman didn’t intend to be malevolent. Maybe she simply spoke an altruism, that if anyone has to work, it’s nice to love your job.

I’m just really glad I didn’t respond. That I just got in my car and drove away. Hopefully, by better appreciating the challenges of working women, this sticky bad vibe barnacle will eventually fall off all on its own.

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How Much is Too Much Parental Guidance?

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

Graduation season is upon us. Bring on the cured meats, dinner rolls, deli salads and sheet cakes. Glad-handing graduates is always a good time. Plus, there’s no need to cook on open house days.

But as I stuff envelopes with overpriced and unoriginal greeting cards and bits o’ cash, (what is the going rate for grad gifts anyway?) the hubs and I find ourselves in a looping conversation about where to send our kids to college.

It seems adults tend to project their own experiences onto their offspring and it’s no different with us. For me, having lacked guidance and financial support during that stage of my life, I’ve always felt a bit short-changed of education opportunities afforded to upper-middle class students. Plus, when I was in high school, the college test prep and application process had yet to become an extreme sport for American parents. But either way you shake it, I’ve dreamed that my kids would receive what I lacked–access to the highest levels of academia. But I’m unsure how to get them there. I don’t micro-manage or even check up on their homework. But I have mastered the stern, eyebrow lifted look of disapproval at any lack-luster grades. And our kids are at least bright enough to understand their parents’ expectations regarding academic achievement and try to avoid “the look”.

But the hubs and I diverge when it comes to my hero-worship of well-branded institutions. He sees little incentive to pay big bucks so that our kids can have a well-recognized name stamped on their degree. Maybe he’s right.

But the hubs is also extremely cautious of steering our kids toward any particular degree or career choice. One of our boys excels in math and science. So I figure–since the world seems to be clamoring for brainy math and science types–that it’s wholly appropriate to chat him up about possibilities in the realm of engineering. I’ve poked around online for engineering school rankings and once signed the boy up for a career day at 3M–a math and sciencey type employer in our own backyard.

But the hubs is concerned that we might be pigeon-holing our son too early. That a high school freshman who shrugs whenever you ask about his “passion” is too young to know what he wants to be when he grows up. The fear is that without a burning desire to pursue any particular career, kids will just do as parents say and potentially end up stuck in a job they hate; bored and burned out. (Ahem, projecting our own experiences?)

On the flip side, our middle school son is an artsy people person. He has on occasion said he’d maybe like to be a schoolteacher or even a pastor when he grows up. Prepare to shake your frowning face and say “tsk-tsk” when you discover that I’ve nay-sayed both of these vocations. Why? Because I fear a lack of job satisfaction, job security and low income. (Gah! Projecting fear based on my experiences with being broke.)

What I’ve said to the younger son is likely worse than what I’ve said to the older one. Unless you believe a child with some idea what they want to do with their life won’t really listen to reason anyway. Plus the hubs, with his always irritating and irreverent logic, reminded me that becoming a pastor is a calling and is not something I’m likely to wholly negate with concerns about financial stability. His concern is more about kids who don’t have specific ideas. Kids who might aimlessly follow their parents’ advice and later blame them for any potential unhappiness. (Or credit them for success? I know. I know. Shame on me. Blah blah.)

Okay. So I am reminded of a friend’s struggle with this issue. She’s the mother of children exponentially more brilliant than my own. One of her brainy kids once said they wanted to be a schoolteacher. She scoffed at the notion since her then soon-to-be high school graduate was accepted into a prestigious smarty-pants college science program surely more suited to her child’s potential. But that didn’t last long. What followed was a couple of years in community college and low-skilled employment until these exasperated parents inquired about their twenty-something’s plans for the future. Welp, guess what? The kid sheepishly admitted to still wanting to be a schoolteacher. And God bless those parents for coming around to support that decision.

You see, this parenting thing is a learn by doing endeavor. And most of us really are trying our best. And that’s good because our children need our guidance and wisdom lest they cleave to the notion of becoming professional video game designers or athletes. Oh hush, it’s unlikely your kid will become a professional athlete. Just sayin’.

But how do we balance parental guidance with our children’s self-discovery? How willing are we to trust that our kids will be alright? I suppose it begins with recognizing that we are doing alright. We made it through. And if we’ve laid the proper groundwork, so will the next generation. Some will discover their passion. Others will stumble into a suitable vocation. And college is simply a step along that path. It’s not an end of the line–a win or lose gamble. So let’s all try to relax. Or at least help me try to relax.

Kudos to your graduate! May they navigate their next steps with guidance more divine than mine.

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Heaven Scent: A Eulogy for a Prayer Warrior

Memorial Day. A traditional day of remembrance. Flowers are placed in cemeteries. Honor is offered for our country’s fallen soldiers. Flags are flown with pride. And a few burgers are grilled for friends. Solemnity intertwined with celebration. Kind of like a funeral.

This past Tuesday, I attended a funeral for the mother of my friend Mary. Her mother, also named Mary, was 94 and some might say it was time. But it’s always sad to lose a loved one, especially a parent. The service was beautiful and reverent. A ritual and spiritual reminder of what followers of Christ live and hope for in this life.

My friend wrote and read a eulogy for her mother. It was so beautiful. So inspiring. So appropriate for Memorial Day–a day that seems fitting to also honor the prayer warriors in our lives.

From Mary~

“One of my first memories of mom was her kneeling at her bed praying. For most of us, all that we say and all that we do will someday fade away. Not many people are recorded in history or have memoirs written. Mom is like that. The meals prepared and set at the table have been consumed – her piano playing has ended. The stories we hold dear to our hearts today will likely be lost.

But mom gave us more than what we can see and taste. Mom prayed. I have asked mom how did you get through your marriage; how could you live at the nursing home and not go crazy. Her answer was consistent. Prayer. Her rosary was never far away. I even saw her hold it while she slept at the hospital. Her life may fade, but her prayers will not.

In prayer we come to God trusting he can hear when we can’t see him. We believe he hears because he’s greater than we are. We believe he answers because of the hope we have.

I’ve taken classes on prayer and I’ve taught prayer. I’ve done research on the rosary. One thing I learned is that rosaries were assembled by whatever was available. The beads have been fashioned by shells, seeds and even rose petals. Some rosaries are still made from roses. I love the thought of a fragrance of prayer left on fingers after holding rose beads. That’s what mom’s legacy is for us… the residue of the fragrance of prayer. Prayer that loves protects hopes and directs. Thanks, mom for that gift to all of us.”

Mary G. Lehman, 1921-2015

Mary G. Lehman, 1921-2015

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I Loved It Until I Hated It: Mad Men

When the hit television series, Mad Men first made its appearance on AMC, I was enthralled–as were most regular viewers of this iconic TV show set in 1960s New York City. The sets. The clothes. The corded telephones and Selectric typewriters. The smoking. The two martini lunches. It was all so nostalgic, glamorous and interesting.

I was also appalled. The smoking. The chauvinism. The corporate arrogance. The deceit of powerful men living indulged double lives while their wives and secretaries were supposed to relish the role of making men’s lives easier. It was ugly. And it shocked me to consider the not so long ago engrained cultural acceptance of women and minorities being treated so horribly in the workplace.

Curious, I followed the lives of the show’s flawed (Don Draper) inspiring (Peggy Olsen and Joan Harris) and damaged (Betty Francis) characters. I rooted for them and hoped they’d figure out how to navigate their world and emotions. And for the most part, the series delivered. But the finale made me want to throw my cocktail glass at the screen as does much baby boomer B.S.

Sure, I’m all for extending gratitude to a generation of dreamers who marched for equality and tried to break from oppressive cultural mores. But as a child of baby boomers, and one who doesn’t much appreciate that generation’s nauseating search for significance, the final episodes of Mad Men featuring Don Draper wandering the open road trying to, I don’t know, lose himself, find himself, gah! It made me want to throw up. At least the dastardly Don of previous seasons seemed self-assured in his ability to leverage his creative brilliance and earn a living. Desperate Don seems to believe his failings are irreparable. That he is worthless. And do any of us really want to believe we cannot be redeemed?

I prefer fiction that holds a mirror up to society and our inner lives, exposes our brokenness and then shows us how to endure, change, make our lives and the world a better place.

In some ways, the final season of Mad Men delivered on that score. But mostly, it fell flat.

PeggyPeggy’s storyline should have ended last week with her bitch stride down the hallway at Mccann-Erickson. Instead, she’s not “complete” until the writers give her a cuddly and supportive boyfriend. Puke. Sure, Stan is probably one of the most likable characters on the show, progressive and smart, deserving of a confident woman like Peggy. But for crap’s sake. Really? A cheddar cheese love story ending for one of the most impressive and generation defining female characters to grace my television set? Pah-lease.

JoanKudos to Joan for launching her own business. But I still wish she’d kicked her self-centered boyfriend to the curb instead of him walking out on her. “At least she didn’t cry about it,” someone tweeted me about my lament. True enough. I’ll give it a pass.

BettyBetty changes little over the course of the show. But then, Betty was one of the few characters who seemed to understand how real life works. It’s a bitch. And she stood strong through her hard knocks. She divorced her lothario husband. She did what she knew how to do to take care of her children and eventually sought self-improvement through the pursuit of a college education. She knew who she was and was unapologetically stoic until the end. Bravo.

DonFinally, Don and his hippie dippy cross-country road trip and retreat attendance. It bored me. “I’m rich. Women love me. My life is so hard.” Wah wah. Old Don would have rolled his dreamy eyes at weepy Don. If I let the suggested storyline slide by about Don Draper shedding his skin and coming to terms with his failures, then I want a payoff that includes redemption and a return to his responsibilities, mainly his children. Enlightenment is not obtained through obfuscation and avoidance of consequence. Period. The final scene made me want to scream and ceremoniously tear clothing, evicting meditation Don from my consciousness forever.

In retrospect, I hope the cynics are right about the finale’s ambiguous ending and that Don did create the iconic Coca-Cola commercial that the show signed off with. Because if that’s true, then maybe Don still remains a shill for corporate America, but at least in that scenario he returns home to New York, where his children live. That maybe he seeks forgiveness and resolves to change his selfish and reckless ways. Like Pete. Like Pete?? Ick. Yes. Like Pete.

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What I Wish I’d Known Before Going to College

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

Soon, young people across America will graduate from high school. And many will head off to college in a few short months. I have no grandiose thoughts to share when it comes to one of life’s great transitions. No lofty commencement style speeches to make. But I do know a few things now that I wish I’d known back then. So strap in. Cause I guess I do have some grandiose thoughts to share!

1) A willingness to work hard is more valuable than above average intelligence. As an 18-year-old high school honor student, I presumed my aptitude would carry me through college as well as it had in high school. It did not. And the ensuing frustration I experienced when discovering I wasn’t the smartest person in the room occasionally led me to question my ability and worth. So brace yourself. College can be hard. But life is hard. Egos be damned. A strong work ethic prevails.

2) Education is never a waste of time, even if you change your major. Some folks in my hometown didn’t put much stock in “book smarts” and viewed college as mostly an expensive means to employment. But we can never completely know where educational exploration might lead. Take a variety of classes. Learn something about the world, not just about your chosen field. In my opinion, every college student should take at least one course in ethics, philosophy, logic and economics. Please provide your college course recommendations in the comments section.

3) Figuring out how to get things done is more important than being done. If you already knew everything, it wouldn’t be called higher learning. So stop rushing through your homework and studies in a frenzied attempt to check items from your daily to-do lists. The red Solo cups can wait. Learn to value the process of discovery. Network. Ask for help.

4) Avoid taking early morning, late evening or summer classes whenever possible. Because it sucks. Period. You’re welcome.

5) Seek community. Study groups. Lab partners. Sorority sisters. Well, I actually have no idea about sororities. But I do know it’s important to connect with people who are experiencing the same challenges and incremental successes that you are. You are not alone. Somebody out there understands what you’re going through. Find them.

6) Internships! I’m pretty sure I made the short-sighted mistake of thinking paid part-time employment waiting tables was more valuable than an unpaid internship in my field of study. Recent college grads tell me that many internships are paid and that the long-term networking, skill acquisition and work experience are priceless. Check it out. Let me know. Please share your insights in the comments section.

7) Make time to discover extracurricular athletics and the arts in your college community. Whether it’s ultimate frisbee, pick-up basketball or a trip to an art exhibition, lay the groundwork for a full life. Plus, exercise and art appreciation are good for your health. Trust me. It’s true.

8) Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Find a local church, chapel or campus ministry. Getting and/or staying connected to the Creator and Sustainer of life will center you on what’s most important. Remind you of your worth beyond a GPA. Provide a purpose beyond achievement for your own sake. Encourage you when you’re feeling lost or low. And continually point you toward the only true source of fulfillment and joy.

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