On November 19th, 2009, I realized that my love/hate relationship with drama/stress/worry/anxiety has to end. Perfect timing, as the holiday season is nearly upon us. I’m going 45 days without drama–which should get me through to the new year. Every day I’ll be logging my near occasions of drama, and I hope there will be no direct hits to report. Readers’ encouragement, cheerleading, and words of wisdom are more than welcome. If I know myself, I’m going to need it.
Drama: I realize in the grocery store checkout line that I have lost my “save $8 if you spend $80” coupon. Sure, I got a free turkey, 5 Breyer’s ice creams for less than $5, and $270 worth of groceries for $190. But the idea of $8 of real money being gone with yesterday’s Doritos bag is really burning me up.
Insight: To riff on Don Henley, that coupon’s gone forever; I should just let it go. Maybe someone who really needed it found it and used it. You save some, you lose some, right? Extreme savings are not worth getting all worked up about. Besides, I’m stressed out enough because of the limited selection of 10 for $10 cheeses. I’ll work on that another time.
Drama: Poor Alexis. She’s 9 years old, and she’s here at my house for a birthday party sleepover, but she really wants to leave. She misses her mom and she’s crying and her nose is dribbling and she’s telling me she’s never going to get to sleep because she’s scared. I think, “Man, this party’s going down.”
Insight: The kid doesn’t want to be here? Then why should she stay? It’s merciful to have her go. I went to enough scared and sleepless sleepovers myself–why would I want her to put her through that? Mom comes. Alexis leaves. Everybody’s still happy (Alexis most of all). The party goes on. At 11:30 pm, Jaki starts crying because she forgot to say goodbye to her mom before she left, and I think “Here we go again.” In a burst of superhuman comfort, I tell her that moms like it when their children say goodbye, but if a child forgets then it’s not a big deal–because moms always love their children and they always know their children love them. A little thing like forgetting to say goodbye can never, ever, change that. Note to self: demonstrate more love.
Drama: A baaaaad tummy bug several years ago turned me into a moderate level germaphobe, making anti-bacterial hand sanitizer a staple in my “after I’ve touched the menu” routine and giving me the willies whenever one of the kids says, “I’m not hungry.” So, we’re out to dinner on Saturday night and my daughter slumps over in the booth, says, “I’m tired and full,” and then asks to go to the bathroom. She must have read the panic in my eyes, as she said, “Mom, those two things together don’t mean the thing.” She goes to the rest room, comes back, and whispers in my ear, “Don’t worry, I didn’t throw
up.” Boy, has she got my number.
Insight: I may be a germaphobe, but my kids are now responsible and germ conscious, washing their hands as soon as they come home from anywhere (evidenced by the multiple group hand washings at the sleepover party). They’re hip to my “no sharing food between September and May” policy, and we’ve all been healthier for it. I don’t have to drive this train anymore! I don’t have to spray myself with Lysol anymore! Plus, our family track record shows that even if the tummy bug comes, we will survive it!! So, OK, I’ll relax.
Drama/Insight: Watching old reruns of “Wild, Wild West,” I realize that Robert Conrad (as Jim West) and Ross Martin (as Artemus Gordon) never give in to the unfolding drama–not even in the face of a retro-aged megalomaniac who is about to unleash a 1,000 rodent, bubonic plague-infected rat army when the grandfather clock in basement lab/prison strikes twelve. Perhaps Jim West is just distracted from the impending danger by the likely discomfort of his incredibly tight pair of pants. Maybe I’ll try that myself–on second thought, no.
Drama: I am in Atlantic Book Warehouse’s biography section, searching for Escape, the polygamist community tell-all by the undoubtedly scarred for life, former co-wife Carolyn Jessop. There is one other woman there by the shelves, around whom I am looking right, left, up, and down, trying desperately to figure out what order these books are in. Subject? Author? Title? Nope. Finally I ask her whether she has broken the code. She laughs, says no, then says she doesn’t mind, because she’s buying books for Christmas gifts and she’s glad to be scanning over everything. All she ever gives for Christmas is sweaters and books, she says, because, really, that’s all anybody should ever give.
Insight: Will somebody please tell me what the heck I’ve been wrapped around the axle about for all these years with this gift-giving deal? Some recipients on my list seem to want me to give them some new, obscure, previously undiscovered chemical element for Christmas, but then when I give it, they find that it’s not the right color or it saps all their superhuman strength. I gave someone mittens ONCE and every year since then, she’s said to me, “I know how much you like mittens,” when guess what?! I don’t like mittens! In fact, I can’t stand mittens! It was just a gift that looked cute and had no earth-shattering significance about my personal taste, just like most of the thousands of gifts I’ve received from other people and just said, “Thank you.” So I applaud you, bookstore lady, for whittling it down. Nobody’s going to complain to you about the sweaters and books you give because I bet they already know that you really don’t care whether they want a sweater or not. That’s a real no drama mama for you. Right on!
Drama: On Tuesday night, I fumble hopelessly trying to pull together a dinner that technically was planned about a week ago. You’d think I would have everything for the recipe, considering that I list out all the planned meals, then write my shopping list, but, no, I am short–mainly on staples that I “have all the time” and so haven’t replenished and am now out of. I think, “The kids are off from school tomorrow and they won’t want to go the supermarket. I’ll send Craig!” But Craig comes home with a headache and is clutching his head through the entire bowl of vegetarian chili that he made weeks ago and I just defrosted. Ugh.
Insight: Am I kidding myself? I can overcome a headache without drama! How about this? “Hey, kids, we don’t have to go ANYWHERE tomorrow except one 45-minute trip to the supermarket because Dad has a HEADACHE and can’t go tonight. OK?!?!!” They agree. Problem solved. Ironically, we continue watching Dinner Impossible on Food Network. Impossible? It’s my life, man.
Drama: In order to relieve the children of drama on Day 1 of Thanksgiving vacation, I tell them, “We don’t have to go ANYWHERE tomorrow except the grocery store, and only there because of Dad’s headache yesterday.” Somehow, at their request, we end up stopping at the bank, then for lunch, then at Target and the mall, at which point I beg them to please wrap it up because we need to have enough energy for the grocery store!!! We finally make it there and arrive back at home, having spent 3 hours out and about.
Insight: Shopping is exhausting, but no worries, right? I have two responsible children who asked to withdraw money from their own bank accounts–money they saved up and want to spend, and that’s better than OK, even if it does take 3 hours. One refrained from buying a stuffed animal, because her brother and I convinced her she was showing signs of addiction; the other did not flip out when it turned out that the video game he was questing for just “coming soon.” After all that, we still managed the food shopping. Success.
Drama: As you may know, the four of us decided to go Chinese for Thanksgiving, but how to break it to the rest of the family, especially mother-in-law Susan, who undoubtedly will cry?
Insight: Turns out that this was a change-of-plans year for almost everybody in the family (see my 11/26 posting). In fact, we found ourselves recommending Chinese. It could be sweeping the nation in the next couple of years. You read it here first, folks.
Drama: No black Friday shopping. No insane Christmas decorating. Maybe just a little Boy Scout nagging.
Insight: Energy unspent on drama works great when channelled to basement clean-up. Tomorrow, the leaves!
Drama: Drama? What drama? There’s none to report! My day is all PJs and hay rides and hot cider. It’s picking out a cut-your-own Christmas tree and tagging it for later because we’d rather just play tag in the trees. An amazing, peaceful, restful, drama-free day!
Drama: How did I know it would be Craig who would crack first? So many lovely days of family togetherness! So little drama on Day 10 that it didn’t even register in the drama rehab journal! Sure there’s missing shoes! Sure, there’s chaos! Sure there’s stress over the one and only thing we actually had to show up for this weekend!!! But, hey, I’m in recovery. I’m not buying into the drama. I’m Steady Eddie and despite the sympathetic needle spikes that are welling up in me, I am determined to act like nothing’s happening. Sure the kids are in the doghouse with their Dad. I didn’t put ’em there, so I’m not getting involved.
Insight: It works. The stress dissipates. The drama fades. It’s burned some daylight, but it’s no matter, because it wasn’t up to me to save the day. Whatever was needling Craig just worked itself out and Craig apologizes and I, dumb and happy, say, it wasn’t bothering me, because, hey, it wasn’t!
Drama: Double drama, in fact, as both Jake and Hayley have practice for 2 separate productions. Jake’s part isn’t very big, and Hayley’s part is big in a play that isn’t very long. The bonus is that practice is at the same time so Craig and I can go out for a date!
Insight: The real drama of the day is that poor Jocelyn, volunteer director for Hayley’s play, discovers a scheduling conflict for performance night and has to shuffle all participants to another night. Maybe she is just acting, but, let me tell you, that girl didn’t even break a sweat over that one. She didn’t overreact or underreact. She just surveyed the group, made the change, and introduced exactly no hoopla into the mix. Note to self: once again, a crisis is averted and it all tends to work out.
Drama: We show up for Jake’s play practice at the exact time indicated on the schedule, and every last person is already there and they’re obviously well underway. I have no idea how this could be! The schedule said 7. We got there at 7. We are handed a schedule at the end of the evening which says that tonight’s practice started at 6:30?!?!?! I didn’t realize that time-travel ability was a pre-requisite for theatre participation, because if I had the forethought to time-travel, I too would have arrived at the time indicated on the paper that was handed out 2 hours after the practice had already begun.
Insight: Once again, time travel introduces numerous logical stumbling blocks into an evening that would have gone swimmingly if they hadn’t changed the flipping rehearsal time without telling me!!!!! Do I apologize to the director? Do I double-check that my name is spelled correctly in the e-mail distribution? Do I hypnotize my child in hopes of discovering as yet undisclosed scheduling information buried deep in his subconscious mind? No. I do nothing. I made no flub. As far as I know, with all the information I had, I was on time–I’m not going to get all defensive about it. Sure, I flubbed my carpool days twice in the last 2 weeks, but whatever. They lived. I’ll live. At worst, I’m in a slump from which I will recover at the end of this amazing 45 days of drama free living. Taking cleansing breath now. Ahhhh…
Drama: Overactivity, lack of sufficient rest, no critical mass of time to do chores around the house that have been backing up–all this leads me at 5 o’clock to that dark, creepy, stressed out place that I never want to be, where I feel twitchy and blinky and barely able to carry on.
Insight: I realize, wisely, that the remedy for the ridiculous stress is EXERCISE. I don’t have the 30 minutes to do it, but I do, but I don’t, but I DO! So I do it, and I feel great, because I’ve gotten rid of my excess energy, neutralized my stress, headed off my stress loafing at the pass, and given my family a half hour opportunity to DIG ME OUT!!!
Drama: OK, so it’s been a week since my last entry. Does that spell drama or no drama? Well, a little bit of both. I was telling someone yesterday that my stress life is like a balloon–the air goes in, the balloon expands, the air goes out, the balloon gets smaller, and as long as the balloon doesn’t pop, we’re in good shape. Yesterday was such a day of expanding and contracting. In order to get to my book club at Helen’s house (1 hour from here), I had to enlist the help of Trish to drop Hayley off at school, Cynthia to carpool with me to Helen’s, and Mary Jane to take the children in after a half day of school. Except at 7:30 am that day, as I was whipping up some last minute zucchini bread for the book brunch at Helen’s, I suddenly realized that maybe only 1 kid had a half day, and the other had a full day. A call to the school confirmed it. I had prepped both kids on the after school procedure (going to Mary Jane’s house) after their half day of school when, in fact, one of them would be going to school all day and arriving home after I had already gotten back. The balloon expands. Then I realize that Mary Jane raised 8 children herself–she can handle this! I call her. It’s fine! I shop! I brunch! I shop! I have intelligent adult conversation! The balloon contracts. Hooray!
Insight: It may take a village to cover for a parent, but with qualified support personnel, there need be no drama. Thanks, everyone, for getting my familly where we all needed to be yesterday!
Drama: At 9:15 on Sunday night, I realize that Jake needs his William Henry Middle School band t-shirt for the band concert that’s happening TOMORROW!!!!!!! He looks in his drawers. No shirt. He looks in his closet. No shirt. I look in the washer. TWO SHIRTS!! And they’re CLEAN!!!
Insight: It’s a Christmas MIRACLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Drama: Waiting in the hallway for the band concert to get underway, I notice 6th graders walking around with clarinets wearing black pants and white collared shirts. There’s not a band t-shirt in sight. “#>@%&!” I think. I confront Jake (right after the principal escorts him back through the locked doors behind which he had mistakenly left his band music). By “confront,” I mean that I mentioned the black/white thing, to which he replied, “I’m wearing a white t-shirt under my band shirt,” and, darn it, that’s what he performed in.
Insight: White tee or not, Jake was so cute with his trumpet in the band, and I was so proud of him that I could barely keep myself from jumping up and shouting, “That’s my Jake! Play it to me, boy!” His dad talked to him about the wardrobe “mix-up” for 30 seconds after the concert and then we had ice cream to make it all better. Love really does conquer all, even 6th grade band drama.
Drama: I won’t tell you the whole story, but I’ll say that someone in my life has asked me for direction on a personal issue, but that person is also kind of giving me a hard time about it.
Insight: I realize that my shoulder is probably hurting not from my tennis game, but from the drama contortions that I am making to satisfy a person who needs to make some distance of his/her own and meet me halfway. Lesson learned: my work here is done.
Drama: It’s 6:17 am, and Craig just came back into the house after walking to the driveway to leave for the day, early because of a project deadline that’s been anxiously looming since Monday morning. He turned back because it hit him (like a pile-driving wrestling throw) that the cars need inspecting and we’ve not received any paperwork and they’re due by the end of this month.
Insight: These words of wisdom just came out of my mouth, practically without me realizing: “Postpone the worry. We’ll deal with it when you get home.” I wrote “Cars registration” on an index card and POOF!–that’s the end of the stress on that one. Baby steps, right?
Drama averted! My daughter’s pediatrician called at 7:30 am to ask whether she could see Hayley before school instead of at 4:15 pm for our scheduled appointment. I could have KISSED her! All that waiting, waiting, waiting in the afternoon with all those sick, germy kids when I could have been home making Christmas magic would have been, well, TORTURE. Dr. Kaza doesn’t know how much drama she drained from my life with that one call. When we got to her office it was all smiling babies and happy staffers. We were out of there by 8:15, completely drama-free. Just what the doctor ordered.
Drama: All I needed was a black cardigan. That’s all I needed and Target didn’t have one. I had the shoes. I had the tights. I had the lacy, sparkly, black, sleeveless, girls size 10-12 dress, but a cardigan? Nope.
Insight: I get by with a little help from my tennis buddy. At the end of my tennis lesson today, I mentioned my dilemma to a girl in my class and she said, “I have a black cardigan that my daughter just grew out of.” Score!! I drove right over to her house and, not only did she give me the cardigan, but she also gave me furry black cape (!) that looks like it should be on a little caroler on a Christmas card. I thanked Monique and told her, “I’d rather go to your house than the mall.” Ain’t that the truth?
Drama: Despite yesterday’s predictions of snow, I fail to drag the outdoor trash can to a place closer to the house. Now there’s 20 inches of snow, a full trash bag, and quite a trek to dispose of it.
Insight: One of the neighborhood boys is over, and his boots are the tallest I’ve ever seen. They’re like 30 inches tall, these boots. I have a flash of genius and ask him to take out the trash.
More drama: Jake suggests that he go out the back door…which we can’t open because it is blocked by the snow. Jake insists. Chaos ensues.
Yet more drama: Our friend goes out the front door, where he decides to, instead of walking to the end of our covered porch, gaining himself 20 snow free steps, just trudge right out into the front yard, where the snow comes practically up to his thighs. Early on, he realizes that he needs assistance, and asks Jake if he can use the snow disc that we use for sledding, so that he can place the trash bag on it and slide it across the snow. Before long, he is essentially stuck, making absolutely no headway at all, with our trash bag lying on a purple plastic disc in the middle of our otherwise pristine, snow-covered lawn.
Could there be more drama?: We recall the friend back to the house, telling him to abandon the trash, at which point, I realize that there’s a giant, frozen, now icy white blankety thing on my front porch, which turns out to be the boy’s bathrobe (?!). It is saturated with snow, stiff as a board, and now weighs 50 pounds. Dubious, my husband cuts our losses and sends the boy home. I realize that if he couldn’t even make it across our lawn with the trash, the chances of him getting back home are slim at best. We call his mom and leave a message asking her to call us when he gets home. She never does, but at 8:45 pm, three hours after we released him from our care, we see the boy walking in the street with 2 other boys. Craig says, “That walk home took longer than I thought.” Oh well.
Drama: I’ve started putting Christmas presents under the tree, and both kids have said, separately, more than once, “Are those all the gifts?”
Insight: Craig and I both think, separately, and before hearing the kids say this, that this is the year of Wii. A quick call to Toys ‘R Us confirms that they’ve got ’em. Score! And no drama! Hooray!
Drama of Christmas Past: Once upon a time, I sang in the choir and so had 2 Christmas Eve services in which to sing. That ate up about 4 hours every Christmas Eve and brought be home at around 10:30 pm. My poor husband had to put the kids (who hadn’t seen me all night) to bed all by himself, then had to stay up with me till all hours wrapping presents and putting them under the tree. Then, on Christmas morning, we’d open presents, gobble breakfast (maybe), pack real quick, leave the presents lying where they were, and shoved off real fast to Grandma and Grandpa’s in Baltimore. Sounds great, right?
Insight of Christmas Present: For the last 3 (4?) years, we’ve been celebrating Christmas morning in the morning on Christmas Eve. We open presents very early, sit around all day in our jammies (this year playing Wii), and pretend it’s Christmas. We rejoin the outside world at around 4 pm when we start preparing for church. And then on the real Christmas Day, we’re all done celebrating and ready to focus on travelling and visiting. This, let me tell you, absolutely rocks.
New Year’s Day: Day ?!?!?!
As I’m writing this, my children are upstairs “putting away books,” making more noise than a stampede of dinosaurs at Jurassic Park. They’re screaming, yelling, sliding furniture, laughing, and slamming doors, and you know what? I’m OK with that.
This, I think, is a sign not of neglectful parenting, but of my incredible calm and relaxation, the likes of which can only be derived from nearly two weeks of not really having to be anywhere, at any time, ever. Sure they’re making noise. Sure the tide will turn. Sure one of them will walk out of it crying, injured, or in need of intense therapy in adulthood. But right now I’m not really worried about that. I am so de-stressed, so drama free, so many miles from the blacked in squares of last year’s calendar, that only a trip to the ER might snap me out of it. Even then, I say “might.”
I guess I’m at the end of my drama rehab—honestly, it’s been going so well that I stopped keeping track of the days. The original idea was 40 days to drama-, worry-, and stress-free living, with the holiday season providing the best growing conditions for those particular strains. The initial hairy drama encounters and their subsequent highlights are recorded in this Drama Rehab Journal, but I’m happy to report that the closer I’ve gotten to the finish line, the fewer near occasions of drama there have been. And over the stretch from Christmas to New Year’s Day there’s been nothing to report.
I’m thankful to be starting off a new year with a more relaxed outlook. I fear that once the schedule inevitably revs up, my one step forward will turn into a fireman’s pole worth of sliding back. But I’m not going to worry about that, because I’m staying out of the worry business. This year I’ll try to avoid scheduling crunches, scheduling conflicts, overcommitment, and under-enrichment. I’ll practice rolling my eyes and smiling more, gnashing my teeth and steaming less. During these winter months I’ll try to make our home a haven for my family—a static-free environment where we can shut out the stress and recharge ourselves with mutual support and free-flowing home-baked goods.
Craig and I gave the kids a Wii for Christmas, and we told them that it doesn’t work in an environment of negativity (sort of like how we told them that the man from the car dealership told us that there were no snacks allowed in the minivan). So far that’s encouraged sharing and equitable turn-taking, but I think it applies to more than the Wii, doesn’t it? My 40 years of experience as myself has taught me that I don’t really work in an environment of negativity. It’s about time I did something about that.