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

cross/fit

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up. Never give up.” -found at local gyms everywhere

I’ve been a church-going girl all of my life, literally since I was born.  Being a Christian has been one of the primary ways I identify myself, and a big part of that is attending church.  My weakest moments only meant that I would attend more – every time the doors were open, if I could.

Entering my mid-thirties, however, I began to entertain for the first time the idea that maybe I’d just rather stay home.  Millions of twenty-somethings are doing it; that would make me a trend-setter, right?  I was tired, disappointed, busy, and just burnt out.  And, I hate to admit this, but the age-old excuse was right: It actually is full of hypocrites.

Yet something compelled me to stick with it and it wasn’t until Sunday School yesterday that I found the words for why: Going to church is just like going to the gym.

The people I have met at the gym are ALL hypocrites.  For one thing, their motives are not pure.  They do not want to be there, or if they do, it’s to feed their egos or some other self-serving need.  Maybe they’ve come to socialize, to network, to connect with that cute gym bunny who always comes in at 7 a.m.  Maybe they are compulsive exercisers who fear going a day without it.  Maybe they can’t do it on their own and need the motivating presence and activity of others.

Not only that, but however they look inside the gym, they do not leave those doors and live a perfect life of health in the rest of the world.  There is no one who never ever makes a bad health choice, be it eating something off-diet or neglecting their rest or balancing their time management perfectly.  Some of us come closer than others, but no one can claim a life of perfect health and choices one hundred percent of the time.

Yet no one would ever condone these observations as a valid reason not to go to the gym.

This holds true for most of the reasons I use and/or hear to rationalize dropping out:
-I don’t fit in / don’t agree / don’t like some of the people there.
-They only want me for my money.
-I don’t have time.
-That’s my only day to sleep in.
-I don’t like the way it’s organized.
-It’s boring.
-I had a bad experience.
-I don’t need to.  I can make it on my own.

Some of these may be valid reasons for eschewing one particular site or group, but not for giving up entirely.  It’s a discipline.  It’s supposed to be hard.

The hard parts are what make me better.

pica

Last week, I got a name for a behavior that has long afflicted my youngest daughter.  The behavior is craving and /or consuming substances which are not food – recently it has been crayons and pencil erasers – and the name is pica.

Lots of people manifest it, but no one knows exactly what causes pica.  Some theorize that it is a symptom of nutritional deficiency, others that it stems from a low level poisoning such as of lead.  Many people who are diagnosed on the Autism spectrum experience it (though of course, there are some who believe Autism itself results from mineral poisoning, so that may be redundant).

Whatever the cause, the universal consensus is it’s not good for you.

My daughter is diagnosed with PDD-NOS and has eaten non-food substances off and on nearly all her life.  When she was a toddler, it was dirt and sand.  By preschool she favored play-doh and plastic toys.  Now that she is eight, apparently she has graduated to school supplies.  Until now, we as a family have tended to shake our heads at her cuteness and shrug it off.  We know it’s unhealthy, and we certainly discourage it, but every time she successfully phases out the behavior, then later it becomes something to joke about.

The thing is, she knows it’s not good for her.  Her mind responds well to rules, and she has memorized the reasons for not doing it, can quote them for you endlessly.  She even has put to memory some alternate choices to help her not do it, such as twiddling her thumbs or eating a cracker.  Yet the minute her brain turns elsewhere – for perfectly good reasons such as doing school work or playing pretend – back in the mouth goes the pencil.  Knowledge is not enough.

In my ideal world, I will sniff around and research and think through it enough to discover the root cause.  Then I will fix it, and she will have conquered the problem forever and can move on to grander pursuits that are not socially awkward, such as becoming an astronaut or saving all of the lost kittens.  My ideal world eludes me every day, unfortunately.  In the meantime, I am working on creative solutions involving things that are okay to put in her mouth (dental hygiene tools, perhaps?) and praying for guidance so that we can truly beat this thing for good.

Pica is a very visible faulty behavior.  It’s easy to look at the kid shoveling sand in her mouth and think her either silly or defective for doing it.  Yet in this case, once again, the little children lead me and I have to ask: Am I so very much more evolved myself?

I consume things that are not food all the time.  Facsimiles for reality have more of a place in my daily routine than truth.  A burger with fries is not a meal (depending on where they came from, it might not even be actual food!), and a full belly is not satisfaction.  Showing up for work is not doing a good job.  Waving to my neighbor is not being a neighbor.  Facebook is not friendship.  Attending a weekly church service is not righteousness.   Quoting scripture is not speaking for God.

I am rather convicted by this picture of filling up on falsehood and potentially hurting myself in the process – all in the name of relieving a damage that I can’t quite even define. 

My Sunday School class yesterday discussed a similar topic while studying the book of Micah.  In the final chapters, the prophet chastises the people for practicing ritual without heart and lists among the consequences always eating, yet never being filled.  That’s spiritual pica right there, and I totally have it.

There’s more to my life and call than this.  I know there is.  Today I am praying to move beyond knowledge and into active pursuit of real life.  I would rather suffer now for what will feel better later than forge relief now with what will hurt me later.

Plus, I’m tired of wiping this dirt off my mouth all the time.