My Perfect World

UTOPIA

I often imagine if things were different, (more how I’d like them to be) what changes would I make?

For starters, high school would begin at 9:45 and  end at 2.   Is the goal of our  school board planners’ to provide education or to make parents drag sleeping teens out of bed against a tidal wave of resistance day, after, day?   This is just mean.   I would also offer that school activities end by 5 so we don’t have to go out and fetch our kids when we’d rather be in a robe, holding wine.

And frankly,  I don’t know the last time (um… in 1979 maybe?) that I had to multiply two negative numbers or conjugate a word in French.  Four years of  high school french and all I remember is how to say “I don’t know” en francias.   So.. “je ne sais pas” why we  insist on this stuff.  Teach kids how to balance a bank account, make change, understand loan amortization, and know how many gallons of gas it would take to drive from here to say, Wyoming and back.  Want more?  Try making a budget that is livable, know how to file simple taxes and maybe throw in a lesson on investments and financial planning that doesn’t involve holding a palm out for dad to put money in.    I am also in favor of teaching them to cook in 7th grade so that by high school they can make dinner, because they of course will have plenty of time without the homework

And the words?   I have to side with my daughter on this.

Big, bigger, biggest

Good, gooder, goodest.

Really, don’t you get it?  No matter how you say it?

She and I?

I and she?

Me and them?

Me & her?

She and me?

Does it really matter?  All we need to know is that the two of you have something going on.

And my personal favorite pet peeve:

adverbs and adjectives — boo hiss!   Why can’t we just say adverbs and adnouns?  The other option would be to change the word ‘noun’ to ‘jective.’  But really, what is a jective anyway?

I have a ton more plans that would improve things but I’ll just hold onto those thoughts for now.

But one more thing I would like to mention in my societal planning for “helen’s better living.”    I would very much to live in a hip urban setting with my two next door neighbors  Mama June and Jimmy Fallon.  I imagine the three of us having the best of times when we run into each other at the supermarket on Saturday afternoons.  We’d talk about our kids, minivans, movies, and how to tweak recipes to create Red Neck Fusion Cuisine.   It would be glorious, simply glorious.  I just know it.

the home office

IMG_7322

All moms need an office.     I have two part time jobs, neither of which cost me more time and brain space than parenting, and neither of which gives me an office, or even a desk, and  I would really like one.  A place of my own, where the treadmill to my right isn’t reminding me that my exercise regimen is pathetic,  or a place where the laundry room door isn’t staring me straight in the face saying “You! Come here! There’s work to be done in here!”   How am I supposed to be effective working from home with all these distractions!

Everybody in my family has a place to go and a door to close. They alone command everything inside their room.   If I had my own room, just for me, I imagine it would be glorious.   Nobody would just walk in demanding I help find a missing shoe.  The door, my barrier, would limit my availability to the rest of them.  I’d have office hours. Inside, there would be actual living houseplants for an abundance of oxygen, and I would use aromatherapy and  playlists to set the mood I choose.  All just for me.

Outside, on the door I’d keep a “problem box” with instructions:

  • Please fill out a form and state your problem, all complaints will be read on Friday between 4 & 5 pm.
  • Feel free to offer a solution to the problem for extra allowance.  
  • Forms submitted without a viable solution will be charged a small processing fee in advance of any response from the management.    
  • The turnaround time is about a week.  

I imagine that my office has a beverage container from Crate & Barrel, filled with spring ice water and pretty slices of fruit.   The drinking glasses are so clean that the sun  bounces off of their shine and fills sparkles of light fill the room.  And there is no dog, cat, rabbit, or guinea pig fur whatsoever.

As I come out of the dream scene I just described it becomes clear that I do not have my own room, or a beverage container from Crate & Barrel.    I have a desk in a cluttered room and one glass pitcher from Ikea.  As for the sparkling clean glasses and the absence of pet fur?  (enter laughter here)

So, for now I’ll just appreciate the roof and four walls that I call home.  I could paint the laundry room door a pretty color and put more things on the treadmill to disguise it but maybe, what I should do, is set out to prove what I tell my kids all the time.  It’s not what you think you need that really matters, it’s what you do with what you already have.

Whenever I complained to my own mother she’d always point out the more disadvantaged.   “Be happy you have shoes at all,” she’d say when I wanted really expensive converse sneakers that weren’t in the budget.   Or, “there are children suffering all over the world that would love to have the asparagus on your plate!”

I know. I really do have everything I need but gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I just had an office.    I can hear my mother now,  “be happy you have a place to live and food on your plate,” and I am happy for all of that .  But I wouldn’t mind if I were also happy for an office.

 

A Plethora Of Planners


hallmark date book 2-17

We’re currently in the seventh week of 2107 and I still haven’t settled on a planner. It used to be that for me,  executing a plan was more of a problem than making one, but now I’m stuck at selecting which planner to use in the first place!

Over the last several years personal planners have become a big deal.  I could  spend a ton of money and time with any one of the planner styles, even though the large refrigerator calendar(that I regularly update and nobody checks) would still be sufficient.

The planner I buy annually, (for 10 years now), is from Blue Sky.  It’s a good size for me and it’s sturdy, but my favorite part is that the dates go from June 2016 to July 2017.   It does the planner job quite well but I still look around, because each time I try some new way to keep track of things, it makes me think:  more is possible, I could be better at getting things done, and then I’ll do more.  Who wouldn’t like more?

One of the popular styles of planning is in something called a Bullet Journal.  This a great way (they say) for the creative person to combine planning, doodling, and record keeping.  I tried it, but I got lost in the process.   I know plenty of people who claim to love it, but I spent more time  finding you tube videos about how to use a bullet journal then anything else.   Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.

The Passion Planner is also supposed to be great for the “creatives”.  I got one when they first came out several years ago.  I might even have contributed $7.00 to the Kickstarter. You put your hopes and dreams ( and more doodles ) on the pages as well as your wants and needs.   But it turns out that my hopes and dreams cannot coexist with my wants, needs, and grocery lists.   Perhaps it’s just an uneven balance of passion but they just didn’t get along.  So I moved on.

Martha Stewart has a mix and match set up for your pocket calendar  so you can  customize  one.   Mine was very nice but it was so pretty, I didn’t write in it.   Ban.do is another line with planner components, and now I have  tons of little tabs and stickers and even a tiny rubber stamps that says “good job!”  If you are bad at impulse control, stay away from the planner section at Staples.

So, even with all of the options out there, I keep coming back to my Blue Sky June to July 5’X8″ planner.    I spiced it up a little this year with colored pens and vinyl coated paper clips.   I’ve also begun to fall in love with Washi tape which comes in way too many colors and patterns to make it simple, but I like still to try.

Fo now I think I must come to terms with my regular old planner. I did start a project called a creative goal journaling which isn’t a date book but is more of a record keeper for your goals. That’s not going very well either.  I keep forgetting about  tracking my progress in it and I haven’t really had much success in making my goals recently   so it’s just a vicious cycle anyway.

Sometimes I think I should just go back to the days when allI had was that one free datebook from Hallmark.  These were given out every year “until supplies last.”   I remember my Aunt getting all excited about the new one every year.  Maybe I’ll stop into the closest store and see if they have any left even though in the seventh week of the year it isn’t likely.  But who knows?   If nothing else I’ll have a browse at the cards and wrapping paper.  Hmmm…. I wonder if Hallmark has a planner section.  After all, It can’t hurt to look.

Finding Your People

 

cgsqdbquqaak2qnI attended the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Workshop last April. There was recently a request for attendees to comment on successes they’ve had since that time.  If you know this particular group of people, you would know that successes are measured in many ways.. “I finally found the courage to ask for what I want,” or “I finished and published my novel” are both acceptable answers.  I thought long and hard about my own answer to this call for success stores ,because  I did not finish a novel, nor did I find courage to speak up.   I found my people.

Every meeting, everyday, every meal, snack, session, and after hours moments led me to the most interesting, loving, and funny people you could imagine – and not always in the knee slapping belly laughing kind of way. I sat next to a woman who lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide.  She shared her story with me, how she came to terms with things and now she was looking to find her “funny” again,   It’s as if the ‘funny’ was a drug. Of course there were outlandishly funny people there, including stand up comics, humor bloggers, even TV personalities known for their funny side.   And there was no shortage of fiction and non-fiction writers of satire.   The most hilarious new greeting came from a  person who told me “I don’t even know why I’m here!  I’m not even a writer!”   She was looking for something new.

Some of us find our people at Wal-Mart, some at Armani.

It’s important to find your people, no matter what age you are. I found my people in college where I learned how to party, and the value of hard work. I found my people in my first ‘real job’ where all of us post grads suffered under the hand of a boss who makes Michael Scott seem average. I found my people when my twins were born and a bunch of the moms of twins joined in joy and misery.   I found my people at Erma.

From every stage of my life I’ve found my people, because I go out and be where we can find each other.   I’m not always looking for them, I  don’t know who they are, what they look like or when they will show up.    I know it when they come however, because they fill up a space I didn’t know was open and it just feels right.  

The best piece of relationship advice I ever got was from a friend who was from the young professional version of me – those people.   I will never forget what she said while I was despairing about meeting that someone.   “Just do what you like to do,” she said.  “You’ll find like minded people who like to do what you like to do, and then you can do that together.”  In fairness my mother probably said that to me, many times, but let’s face it, mom advice is usually only good in hindsight.    

I spoke to my friend, the advice-giver recently,  and even though it had been years and years since we spoke, it was as if it was just the other day that we parted.  

Once you find even one of your people, they will always be with you, in different geographies, or sizes, or importance, but they never leave, they’re you people after all, and you are theirs. 

 

 

 

My Daughter Wants To be Vegetarian

From Your Teen for Parents Magazine, September 2016  –  (subscribe to the print edition of the magazine, you won’t regret it.  Subscribe)

Mom, I Want to Be a Vegetarian! Becoming a Vegetarian-Friendly Family

becoming a vegetarian

By Helen Chibnik

It’s late on Sunday afternoon. The chores are done, dinner is sizzling in the oven, and you finally have some time for yourself. But just as you finish No. 2 across in the Sunday crossword puzzle, your 16-year-old daughter appears before you to say, “I’ve decided not to eat meat anymore, or chicken, or fish. I’m becoming a vegetarian.”

You peer at her over the top of your glasses and without taking a breath, you point toward the kitchen and say, “Well then I don’t know what you’re going to eat for dinner because do you smell that? It’s a stuffed roaster, with gravy!”

This was the scene in my home about a month ago.

Because teenagers are filled with mini-rebellions against pretty much everything, I wasn’t sure if her announcement was a well-thought-out lifestyle change, or a temporary insurgence against beef. But when she didn’t leave the room I added, “I guess you’ll have to learn to cook.”

Becoming a Vegetarian

We want our tweens to be assertive, to maintain their values, and to live their best lives, don’t we? Of course we do. But I have three tweens and a job and no time or desire to learn new recipes or change the way our family eats.

I outlined why becoming a vegetarian wouldn’t work for her:

1.  You’re an athlete, and you won’t get enough protein.

2.  Nobody in our family likes tofu.

3.  I don’t know how to cook without chicken stock.

She still didn’t leave or get upset with me, so I folded the newspaper and gave her my undivided attention.

“Okay, why?” I asked.

“Things have changed, Mom,” she began. “We don’t need to eat like cave people any more.” She pointed to our family dog. “Would you eat Lucky?” she asked.

“Of course not,” I answered. “He’s our pet.”

“Some people have chickens for pets. And you know what else? Consuming meat like we do is a problem. It’s hurting the planet, and I don’t want to be part of the problem. You’re always telling us, ‘Don’t be part of the problem.’”

So there it was. She was using my advice against me. Damn her for being so incisive!

For dinner she had a plain baked potato and steamed carrots. As I ate the crispy skin from my chicken thigh, I started to dislike her for her healthy choices. What was my problem?

The next day at her request, we went shopping. I had to fight my herding instincts to let her go down the health food aisle but I managed. Staring at us were cellophane bags of things like almond meal and spelt. “What is spelt?” I asked, in a way that might have been a little snarky. She shrugged and looked at the bag. “I don’t know. Maybe they have recipes online. Let’s look at the package.”

All of a sudden I was disarmed. This wasn’t the 16-year-old “I know everything” adventure I was expecting. I calmly explained that this was new to all of us and our whole family couldn’t change overnight.

“I know,” she said. “I don’t expect you to change, I just want to change myself.”

She was asserting herself and asking for help. That’s what I want, isn’t it?

So, I had it all wrong. She was happy to be the vegetarian member of a carnivorous family and I was the one being immature. She wasn’t judging us. She was asserting herself and asking for help. That’s what I want, isn’t it?

With the pressure off, I made a few vegetarian dishes with surprisingly little resistance from her two younger sisters. I haven’t gotten to the point where I serve the entire family chickpeas and almond loaf for Sunday dinner, but I have learned that understanding and acceptance are more important than what cooks in the oven.

Our foray into vegetarianism scared me at first. But given the chance to hear one another out, we learned how to talk about it and to see things from each other’s point of view, in a new and more mature way. She didn’t know it, but she was also teaching me how to be a better parent.

For my daughter, becoming a vegetarian had more to do with her growing independence than anything else. So as much as I will miss our trips to our favorite burger place, I would rather eat with her at Earth Foods then eat without her somewhere else. And I’m happy to say that I still serve burgers. My daughter doesn’t complain when we eat them, and I don’t mind that she doesn’t partake.

Now, when we sit down to Sunday dinner, we offer each other a healthy portion of agreeing to disagree because as it turns out, family harmony is the best dish of all.

Fall 2016

IMG_6106I wave bye bye  to summer

And the beehive in my yard.

I’m deflating all the pool toys

Which is more sad than hard.

 

The beaches are still open but

leaves are on the ground.

I can’t help buying pencils and

A bag to tote around.

 

I haven’t been in school full time

since 1983

But September always makes me sigh

And wish that it was me

 

who is

 

Cramming summer reading,

And catching up with friends,

And picking out my “first day” clothes

As if my life depends

 

On making good impressions,

And turning a new leaf,

But soon enough I realize

that me,

is just still me.

 

 

The air is subtly changing

I pull more toys from the pool.

And pretend I’m getting ready

for another
year

of school.

The Fancy Dress

layered-green-gown-tabbed

I wrote this piece several months ago, but it seemed timely now that prom season is in full swing.

I recently attended the NJ All Shore Chorus’ 53rd Annual Recital. My daughter was awarded a music scholarship from All Shore this year and when she texted me from the auditions to say she had the scholarship, the first thing I thought about (after yay!) was, what will she wear?  There really isn’t any pomp and circumstance to choir wardrobes. Although she’s needed clothes for every kind of choir you can imagine, from high school to a touring A Capella group, outfitting her has always been the same. “Mom, I need a black dress.”  (It’s amazing how many different kinds of black dresses one girl can own.)   But now were were shopping for a soloist gown that might be  red, or teal, or peach, with beads, or sequins!  I was giddy.

When I was in high school I had just one gown, when we, as seniors, we were encouraged to dress formally for our final spring music recital. I remember the day when my mother bought me a fancy dress for that occasion.” Don’t tell your father how much we spent,” she said. “Just hang it up in your room.  He probably won’t even notice.”  The dress she bought me was over budget, but “for some things we make exceptions,” she said. Now it felt like my time to pay it forward.

Busy schedules sent us shopping after 8pm on three separate occasions, until finally we found the perfect dress which unfortunately did not have the perfect price tag.   But how could I not buy this for her?   How many times will an event like this happen? I could hear mother’s voice in my mind,  “She looks so beautiful in that gown.  She feels beautiful. So, you’ll have to turn the thermostat down for a month and skip all the takeout until Spring. Do it. You will regret it if you don’t.”   And then a saleslady named Anu came into the fitting room and sighed with me. “You have to get this one,” she said in an Indian accent.

“It’s really more than I was planning on spending.” I said.

“Don’t worry about the price mommy.” she said, “I fix it for you.”

And she did. Bless that saleslady who with the swipe of two coupons knocked the price of that dress down by 40%. Anu has daughters too she told me, who are all grown now. “When they feel and look that beautiful?  There is not a price for that. You’re a good mom,” she said. “We moms have to stick together.”  She smiled and zipped up the garment bag.   “Now you carry it,” she said to my daughter.  “Mom did enough hard work today.”

When she stood on the stage that night and sang for us it was perfect. It was all worth it, every penny. And after the concert, and then our small after party,  I was thinking that I hope one day my own daughters will have the chance to buy their own girls a  dream dress. And if not that, then maybe like Anu did, they can help in some other way.

There are so many things our kids want to do that require money and time we’d rather spend elsewhere. But we spend it on them for whatever the important reasons are at the time. For me, this was one of those times.

It’s true, if it can make them look and feel like a million bucks, there really is no price for that. And to my own mom and to Anu I  am grateful to be reminded that you can’t buy happiness, but once in a while you can buy a really great dress.

Success

 

I just finished my fifth reading of a web article called 26 Habits of Exceptionally Successful People  by Richard Feloni.   It’s based on the teachings of Andrew Carnegie & Napoleon Hill, both experts on success.  It’s not long, it’s not complicated, but every time I read it I feel like it’s almost futile for a person like me to be a person like that.   Or is it?

When you think about a successful person who do you picture?  I could guess right now who most of you would think of, but I’m not going on record with that.   But was it a man or a woman?  Was he or she wealthy?  Did you choose a celebrity, a relative, or a politician?

The article I read, and will probably read again, lists the number one habit of  success as “making up your mind about how much success you want, and defining the terms of that success.” I never really thought much about habit #1 before because I was busy lamenting over two other things listed that I’m NOT in the habit of doing: being decisive, and paying attention to details.

One other important nugget mentioned (#2) is to know your motives.  Of course!  And what does this mean to a person like me?   It means my motives need improvement.

Sometimes I feel like I was born with defective DNA because I am not motivated to have shiny kitchen counters, vacuumed car mats, balanced checkbooks, or show up on time, every time, with everything I need….  but maybe I just need the right motivation.   Is it possible to change?  That’s an entirely separate lecture, article, and reflection but let’s say it is.  What would be the motivation for that?  Self improvement?  Leading by example? Happiness?

This brings me back to #1 habit listed in the article – defining and measuring your own success.  Given that prescription, I will define my own success by getting up everyday and doing what needs to be done, fix it up and make it do, and going to bed with my husband and three teenagers safely home, whether they like it or not,  and getting the cat in for the night.

It might sound lazy but there you go — success.

If you’d like to read the piece by Feloni, click here and have a very successful Monday y’all.

 

 

Because I Said So

Theater Faces

Theater Faces

Parenting takes courage. We summon it from amazing places after our children are born.   Questions about bowel movements don’t embarrass us, interrogating babysitters becomes rote, facing off with teachers and other parents, making choices, suffering consequences, getting up and doing it over and over again.

Sometimes I’m motivated to do things because  my children are watching.  I want to lead by example because I think it’s the right thing to do.  And  because  I hated it when my mother said things to me like “Because I said so!” Of course when that happened, I immediately stopped doing, or started doing whatever it was I was supposed to, but really, is because I said so a reason?   Sometimes I wanted to say, “why don’t YOU do it?”  But that’s never a good thing to say to your mom.

So this leads me to the day I wanted my little girl to audition for a community theater show.   I wouldn’t do it, I have stage fright.   But I told her she should.   The disagreement followed and I won, but only “because I said so.”

As the years went by I remembered how I never tried out for my school plays, or auditioned for any of the solo parts in choir.  Was it fair for me to thrust them onto a stage when I never could find the courage to do that? I really had no idea what it was like to stand alone on a stage.  Why was I so scared?  More importantly, how could I get over it?

One day purely by chance I met a woman who was trying to put together an adult acting class, “a friendly atmosphere” with no auditions required. I thought okay, this may be the very thing I need. Surprisingly I didn’t hate it. But while I gained confidence, my classmates dropped out until I was the only one left in the class. But fate stepped in another door opened, but this time with real actors and a real goal – to complete an audition for a community theater production.  Egad.  I explained to this new group of experienced actors that I was doing this merely for self improvement and that I wasn’t sure about the whole audition thing.

Twelve weeks later I was literally a new me.  I was ready, monologue prepared, lights on, center stage – me. I found the courage to stand there alone, say my lines and deliver. I think I actually grew taller as the weight of that my burden departed.  I even got a tiny part in a tiny play.

Being strong for the kids is easy but being strong for myself took a little work. Even though there are no outward signs of my victory, I know I’m a better parent. I’m a better person.  Shaking off those school day inhibitions took a long time and I know it’s  cliché to say it but if I can do it, anybody can.   And frankly, I’d rather say that to my kids than say because I said so.

I Am Mom

I am your sunshine

Who’s your   sunshine?

Recently, in a somewhat spirited conversation with my daughter, I was told that giving her advice “Isn’t your job.”   Of course without missing a beat I explained, again somewhat spiritedly, that giving advice is indeed my job and I continued to list other things in my job description

I won’t repeat it for you, because you’d tune me out just like she did.  But, I would like to name the top five things that I (am moms all over the world ) do, which teenagers forget about and for which I know they are eternally grateful, even if they don’t show it.

I potty trained them.  Without me they would  probably figure it out on their own but I think I am owed a little gratitude for setting them up for bathroom success.  Not to mention all the diaper changes and ‘accident management’ that I’ve provided.

I find the phone, the purse, the keys, the money,  the shoes, the permission slips, concert tickets, and the coat, to name a few.

I braid hair, trim hair, find hair elastics,  dye hair,  put it  in a bun, curl it, straighten it, even try to french braid (even though I stink at it) because you asked me to,  and then I suffer your bad moods when I fail.

I taught you the alphabet, how to count,  how to ride your bike, even how to clean the bathroom, but I guess you forgot that last part.

I am  your biggest fan, bar none.  I  go to  recitals,  shows, sports matches, I watch your cartwheels, I love your poetry, hang your artwork, and tolerate your non-stop singing and dancing when I’d rather be reading a book.  I am the cheerleader who encourages you to try when you want to stop, and I am there to understand when you’ve had all you can stand of trying.

I am mom.