ta-dah!

When my girls were little, I quickly noticed that they based a large percentage of their feelings and reactions on mine.  This was most evident when they were learning to walk.  Anytime they wobbled, tripped, fell down, or even just startled themselves, they immediately looked to my face for a response.

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If I heeded my natural impulse to rush in and begin fussing over them, looking for injuries and cooing, “Oh, poor baby, are you okay?  Are you hurt?” they would take that as a cue that something was wrong – or should be.  Immediate result: terrified wailing, screaming, and gnashing of what few teeth they had.

It didn’t take me long to see that a better way was needed.  Instead of projecting worry, I trained myself to treat every fall like the world’s greatest magic trick.  Whenever they took a tumble, I would hold my breath, throw my hands in the air, and exclaim, “Ta-dah!”

To everyone’s great relief, it worked.  The girls were distracted, I was at peace, and we were all able to move forward with whatever business had been at hand.

Fast forward to today and the great thorn in my fourteen-year-old’s side: Algebra.  Well, it’s not really Algebra that’s the problem; it’s the teacher’s method.  He’s a super nice guy and his students love him, but he only teaches to one learning style.  He lectures and gives quizzes and tests, and that’s it.

My girl is a visual and kinesthetic learner.  She needs graphics and models and most of all, lots of tactile practice.  In the absence of those tools, she struggled mightily through the first semester of that class, barely passing by the skin of her teeth.  Even though she scored no grades lower than a 98 in every other class, she takes each mistake and under-performance in this one as a personal condemnation.  She must just be “bad” at math.

This week, I had the idea to talk to her about this class in terms of a new strategy.  Among some other tools that we sought out, I dusted off the old, “Ta-dah!” approach and challenged her to use it herself every time she makes a mistake on a problem in this class.

As always, my words to my daughter immediately took on an unexpected resonance for myself.  I get enveloped in self-defeating cycles in my work and aspirations every day.  Each time I miss a task, break my diet, or even just oversleep, I face the choice of whether to pick up and and move on, or take it as a “sign” of futility and an excuse not to try again.

I read just this week in the Harvard Business Review that cultivating a positive attitude toward failure is a great contributor to ultimate success.  “In fact, evidence suggests venture capitalists often see failure as an asset—not a liability—in an entrepreneur’s record. Why? Because failure suggests a tolerance for risk, a perseverance to succeed and, most important, a passion to push the envelope.”

What works for babies and pioneers can surely work for me too, right?

Forgot to put an important date on the calendar?  Ta-dah!
Procrastinated through two-thirds of my writing time this morning?  Ta-dah!
Snapped at my mom, put my socks on backwards, and dropped everything I touched today?  Ta-freaking-dah!  (Also maybe some chamomile tea at that point.  Or a cocktail.)

And now, for my next trick…

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. -Maya Angelou

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
-Maya Angelou

much and more: a tale of four apple seeds

4 apple seedsFour little apple seeds.  That’s how it all started.

Four tiny little apple seeds have dominated – nay, wrecked my household over the past two weeks.

Because of four little apple seeds, I have lost approximately fifty hours that I had earmarked for other purposes.  Instead of getting my hair cut, reorganizing my bedroom, and a host of other noble activities, I have been forced to heed the urgent, silent cry of 50 lbs. of produce on my counter: Clean us!  Cook us!  Preserve us before we rot and grow flies!

Because of four little apple seeds, my house is a mess.  My precious living space, which I prefer to keep tidy and full of peace (or at least vacuumed), is gasping for breath beneath a layer of earth and leaves.  Sweep as I may, it is all for naught; the moment I approach the next apple, another dusting begins to fall.  This endless cycle has led me to neglect my regular weekly chores as well, and the cost is piling up.

Because of four little apple seeds, I am exhausted.  Working through my days off and cooking into the night have trimmed much needed hours off of my commitment to rest and relaxation.  My hair is frizzy, I’m always hot, and my clothes are riddled with patches of cinnamon-scented goo.  I am not a pretty picture.

And we’re still not done.  There’s another whole load of apples at my aunt’s house, whimpering and waiting for me to come pick them up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd yet…I wouldn’t change a thing.

Thanks to those four little apple seeds, my family has spent the majority of our last two weeks in real face time together.  We have filled our humble kitchen with slicing, stirring, boiling, laughing, arguing, singing, and more, with nothing but music to accompany us.  We have made memories that we already enjoy to recount – and we’re still not done.

Thanks to four little apple seeds, our hands have generated more than 40 pints of locally grown, chemical-free, homemade apple butter.  It is – and I say this with all due humility – the best apple butter I have ever tasted.  Of course, we have more than we could ever possibly hope to eat ourselves, so we will be able to take the excess and sell it.  At $4.00 per half pint, the project will more than have paid for our investment – and we’re still not done.

Thanks to four little apple seeds, we have been given a chance to participate in the harvest.  We have shared, in a very small way, the sweat and vigor of those who live off of only what their own hands can produce and preserve.  We have a physical reminder of the multiplied blessings that come when we plant good seeds in the world and in the lives of others.  We have received and given back thousands of times more than what was originally sown.

And we’re still not done.

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed."  -Robert H. Schuller

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed. -Robert H. Schuller

jammed

"you know, the best thing about a paper jam is that it forces you to open up the machine and look for what went wrong."

“you know, the best thing about a paper jam is that it forces you to open up the machine and look for what went wrong.”

Wherever there is a process, there will eventually be a jam.  Such is the nature of life in this fallen world, and I have mostly come to accept it so as to preserve what few full-color strands of hair I have left.

Some jams I am prepared for, because they kind of make sense and are part of my routine – like traffic jams.  Most of the time, I know what happened (human error) and whom to blame (all those other pesky humans out there).  Certainly, I do plenty of fussing and fuming while weeding my way through the mess, and it may put me in a bad mood for a bit, but I make it through and am able to move on until the next one.

In my job, however, I deal with a much more diabolical form of jam: the paper jam.  In this, I know I am wrestling with pure, insensate evil and there is no one to blame.  Even the machine seems mystified.  Sometimes it can direct me to the general region that is being affected by the jam, but beyond that, all it can do is blink its lights impotently at me and wait for me to set things right.

I can’t begin to tally the number of hours in my life I have lost to paper jams.  They come at the worst possible times – usually in a rush of work, and preferably with some one at my desk in need of the finished product (read: a fully charged audience).  There I’ll be, flinging and slamming each of the printer’s thousands of important drawers and doors, violently poking around its innards, smearing my face with unset ink and singeing my fingertips on the unresponsive rollers…all the while with an innocent, increasingly uncomfortable bystander to whom I must make encouraging small talk such as “Happens all the time!” or  “Almost got it, now!” or  “Would you like to go out for many drinks after work today?…Ow!” (jerks and reveals smoking, cartoon-flattened index finger).

No matter how expensive, fancy, or durable the machine, all copiers and printers can get jammed, and usually by the smallest obstacles.  They are made to handle big jobs and adverse conditions, yet a shred of paper the size of a pencil eraser can shut them down.  Until the offending object is fished out and removed, that sophisticated apparatus – however integral to corporate function – is little better than a doorstop.

It occurred to me while resolving a series of paper jams at work this very day that having depression is a remarkably similar process.  Most of the time, through whatever coping mechanisms I have in place, the machine runs at peak performance, functioning and generating projects as needed.  But unexpected and seemingly innocuous things can work their way into the cogs and before I know it, production has shut down and my lights are all blinking like the deck of the starship Enterprise.

When that happens, the smart thing to do is to stop, locate the source of the blockage, and carefully address it in order to get things moving again as quickly and healthily as possible.  I almost never do the smart thing.

Instead, I  keep trying to force paper through the gummed-up works, all to no avail, and ruining whatever hope there was for those projects.  Where my body is clearly crying out for adjustment, reflection, and a little TLC, all my mind can see is inefficiency and a need for more power.  I ignore the warning signs, fight back tears, and try to muscle through.

Keeping up appearances plays a big part in this approach (a.k.a. denial), especially living in the South.  I could probably ask people for more time or even, you know, for help…but I don’t.  This is a culture of severe politeness and I do not want to force others to get messy with me.  Instead, I put on a chipper face, shoulder-down, and ask them how their day is going.

This isn’t wrong, necessarily; there is honor in serving and being considerate, and none in co-dependency or expecting others to fix me.  I wish I could find the balance, though, between being myself and being what I think others can handle / want to see.

Until I find that balance, if I disappear every once in a while, you’ll know why and where to find me: I’m probably at home, nursing my roller burns and fashioning those ink smears on my cheeks into war paint.