My Daughter: the Terrible Chef

My daughter has grown up in a world where every person she meets tells her she’s beautiful. Because, quite honestly, she is. She relishes the attention, and thrives on the words thrown upon her.

“You’re so smart!”

“What a wonderful singer!” “What an amazing drawing!”

“You should be in Movies!!”

“Why doesn’t your mother put you in pageants?!”

From my perspective, it gets a little old. I wish people would stop, or at least take it down a notch… Or three. There’s no doubt that I’ve thought all of these things myself about her. I’m in love with my beautiful, perfect little girl. I couldn’t have imagined anyone so amazing, and I know how lucky I am every day when I see her sweet face.

Except that I also don’t want reality to slap her in the face the moment she becomes an adult, and people start to get real with her. So, my daughter likes to cook, and I let her. But she’s not good. Yet. And I criticize her very honestly about that fact.

“Baby, it’s too salty. Go lighter on the salt next time.”

And with that, tears. She cries. She’s been ‘cooking’ (if you can call it that, because really, she seasons the food and I manage the blade and fire wielding) for all of a month. I gave her one little criticism– scratch that– I gave her my honest reaction and some advice, delivered, I think, very matter-of-factly, and it resulted in tears and a very emotional “you think I’m a bad cook! I’m never cooking again!”

My daughter is learning a lot from her cooking experiments. She’s learning how to mix ingredients, she’s learning about measurements. On a more emotional level, she’s learning the value of recieving food, and how personal a gift that can be when someone serves you. She’s learning about cleaning up after her messes*– (she’s learning this slowly, however, and it’s a pointed issue in our current, compact living situation). But it’s my hope, that she will also learn how to accept criticism with grace, while still requiring to be treated with respect.

Something that this world needs more of is honesty and accountability. We’ve become a very emotion-centric society, having to delicately dance around everyone’s sensitivities. And while I appreciate, and have a great deal of respect for taking the time to carefully monitor my own interactions with people to avoid the ultimately unavoidable, though often unnecessary pitfalls of offensive or non-tactful retorts, I’m also not going to enable those who’s own character flaws inhibit them from healthfully receiving and processing this information in a way that effectively allows them to understand such feedback.

Some of the best chefs are the ones who earnestly receive input from patrons and consider the validity with an open mind, doing their best to remove personal bias or their own emotion. Soome of the best writers, have good, trusting relationships with their editors, considering, before reacting to changes, the benefits of those changes before allowing themselves to be personally attacked by them.

I personally have a high threshold for– I guess we’ll call it, “pain”– as far as my sensitivites go, meaning that I’m not very easily offended. I’ve had people actually try to tell me when I ‘should have been’ offended about something that I quite honestly never batted an eye to. I try to elicit honest feedback for my work, and this trait has me (for better or worse) always questioning any high praise, because I’m stuck looking for the catch. You know the saying “a spoonful of sugar…”? Well, I take my medicine straight.

My daughter is still learning about criticism; and unfortunately, she hears most of it from me- her own mother. I feel bad at times, but to be completely honest, I’d feel worse if I were constantly sending her a message that in life, success requires merely a positive outlook and good intentions. The reality is of course that real success requires far more than that. It requires failures, and it requires mis-steps. It requires knowing how to get up from those failures, brush yourself off, and try again. It requires resiliency. It requires determination. It is hard. And it is only through doing the hard things, and enduring all of those set backs (and there will be a lot), if you STILL maintain that drive, that passion, and find success through that, you’ll find that the success is even more rewarding.

Because you really, really worked for it- and you REALLY deserve to be proud of yourself.

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Parenting Advice 101: There’s NEVER a “Right” Answer

If you consider how many parenting manuals available, it’s surprising that more kids aren’t growing up to be super-successful, contributing members of a utopian society by now.  I mean, the world should be an absolutely flawless place if everyone reading (and applying) those guidelines into the rearing of their children the way the experts say to, right?  Except that it’s not.

I remember well, all of the unsolicited advice I was given from family and friends.  Some with children and (as shocking as it may seem) some without children, all had something to offer on the subject of raising children.  I don’t know if I’m just stubborn, but it all got too ridiculous to deal with.  So I stopped listening.  I stopped looking for approval from other people, and I stopped caring about their perspectives so much.  Ultimately, so as not to be a complete hypocrite, I stopped giving advice as well.

Until one day, I was actually asked.

I have a 10-year-old.  She’s well-behaved, very much a book worm, and relatively calm (outside of her dramatic emotional binges).  She’s honest to a fault, and actually a pretty good kid, except for a few things, that we work on, that still remind me that yes, she’s a child, and as a child is unfit to care for herself completely unattended and this immaturity will continue to display (in hopefully less significant episodes) as she gets older.  So, upon being asked for advice, I was flattered, but also concerned.  Concerned, because these people were relative strangers- I’d met them only that day, and they’d experienced just a few moments of my daughter and her behavior.  So, I thought for a moment, not wanting to break my own ‘no-advice’ rule.  I came up with the following, which I think exhibits well my overall feeling of parenting:

Always be honest– it teaches honesty, and it shows the child that you value them, even in your own moments of imperfection, to treat them with dignity and respect.  The same dignity and respect that you’ll expect from them.  Apologize when you lose your temper, because you will, and one day, they will, and will know that there’s no shame in an apology.  Know that you’re going to screw up the parenting thing.  Don’t expect that you’ll be able to do it flawlessly, because those who think they have flawless parenting, probably will have adult children with a very different story.  You’re going to love your baby for the rest of your life, do what you do in that vein: to protect them and care for them, and you’ll be okay.

Also, this:

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My Answer to “How Are You”

You ever notice how people ask that question? They don’t ask it. It’s just a segway into conversation, like “hi” should be (is). Seriously think about the last time someone walked up to you and asked (said) those words. Was there a question mark? Did they wait for a response? Probably not, but every time I hear it, I hone in on it. I feel compelled to at least consider my answer, but quickly revert back to the response of “good/fine/ok” as I’m undoubtedly expected. But here’s the real answer to that question, phrased according to who actually presented it. In the end, you can see why it’s probably just not a question I should be asked.

From the Ex-Boyfriend. At 2:51am. (Someone’s drunk.)
How am I? Oh, well… I’m tired, stressed out, and perpetually on the verge of tears. The ugly kind. Where your nose is running and your tears are pouring out, mixing with all the rest of your face fluids and you suddenly understand the meaning of: “she’s a puddle.” Because the break up has been hard on me, and even though I try to convince myself that we’ll be able to move on as friends like you want to, I still think about you every day, I still cry when you hug me, and you still drunk text me to ask me how I am (but never any other time), which used to be almost endearing, and now it’s just inappropriate, and I spend the day trying to figure it all out and regressing into some dark hole about how amazing we were and how happy I was and how its all over and I’ll move away soon, putting all of it behind me, but maybe by some miracle you’ll wish I stayed and come after me and I’ll go anyways (because I may be hopelessly in love but I’m not stupid), and you’ll wait for me and we’ll spend a year or two wishing we could be closer, until, one day, we will be.

I mean… I’m fine.

From everyone else.
How am I? I’m exhausted and angry and irritable. I love my daughter and I’m glad that I get to have her with me again after a year of her being away with her father. But I’m so utterly tired of living in a studio apartment where neither of us have space from each other, or our things, which don’t fit anywhere. I’m tired of worrying about making dinner every night and how she probably won’t eat it (every night), or how I’ll have to spend the evening telling her to help me clean up, and then telling her to get ready for bed, and then telling her to go to sleep (and each one of these things will be met with some excuse, or whining, or worse, crying), and then I fall asleep, with her beside me, while she elbows me, and kicks me all night. Until tomorrow, when I get to do it all over again. I love her so much, but I feel bad asking for help… because people seem to think of me in some high regard as some sort of hero. Yes, it’s hard to work full time and it’s hard to take care of a little person and be 100% responsible and simultaneously terrified that at any moment, some person/thing/event will cause some change in her brain that she’ll have to spend the rest of her adult life in therapy to deal with. I’m scared because I know parenting is not a science, and sometimes I think it would be easier if it were.

No, I’m still fine.

Why I Quit Facebook

Facebook has it’s advantages. It’s a great tool for keeping in touch with family and friends who can be dispersed among vast geographic regions. Everything is right there, from first day of school pictures, to announcements of work promotions, rants from folks having a bad day, etc. For me, it was a tool to remove the feeling of isolation I would feel after a hard day at work, coming home to my little apartment, far from any close friendships and no family to speak of in a range less than 1,000 miles. Seems like I’d be the model candidate to really engage, and find some serious value in tools like Facebook. I needed it, right?

Except that every time I’d open the app on my phone, and see everyone elses’ lives moving in their different directions, positive or negative, I felt somehow more empty than I had before. Even more isolated. I don’t know why this was, but I was fighting depression due to other circumstances in my life, and while I hoped that facebook could help me escape those feelings, it really only helped to amplify them. I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know why this is. I would open facebook the moment I woke up in the morning, and throughout the day, the feed would be running on a tab at my work computer. During breaks, I’d use my phone to update my status, or watch whatever video piqued my interest (that may not have been work-appropriate) or read a lengthy post that would have been frowned upon during work hours. In the evening, I’d open the app several more times, before dinner (while waiting on food to cook, or be served, depending on the situation), after dinner, while postponing the necessary clean up, and then again as I was falling asleep. I ensured that I’d never miss a single post by any friends. I would interact with them (not just a habitual fb stalker), and engage in relatively meaningful, relevant debates on current world events. Yet I always just felt so empty.

When I really sat back and took account of the time I spent, it was shocking. Time spent in other people’s lives meant that I wasn’t living in my own. Reading the ignorance in some people’s comments, or the pseudo courage that people would express under the anonymity of the internet, disappointed me.

So, it’s been nearly a week now. No Facebook. If the above isn’t enough explanation, below are the more specific (although primary) reasons behind my needing to ‘go dark’.

1. My life needs my attention. I’m a single mother, working full-time, with a child in school in the NY state public school system. If that doesn’t say enough, add to that:
I live in a studio apartment
I have no relatives nearby, and no close friends, so when I say I’m a full-time single mother, I MEAN IT. I don’t get girls nights, and my daughter, currently, doesn’t get the ‘dad time’ we all wish she did.
With everything going on, I don’t have time to seek approval for my decisions, and I certainly don’t need to be judged for them. More passively, I don’t need to see and somehow ‘compare’ myself to other moms and then shame myself, even inadvertently. Of course, there are always going to be separate life-events that just add to the stress that I’ve already been handling. A new job, an overseas move… Murphy’s law has always applied to me. I think I’ve done fairly well to keep moving forward despite an inordinate amount of setbacks. No one has the ability to comfort me, or provide assistance. So, there’s really no utility in ‘venting’ because ultimately, it’s still just me. Compassion only feels superficial to me and I always get a sense of further distance when people offer words of encouragement… because it doesn’t seem genuine.

2. I (and others) rely too heavily on meaningless facebook communications to have real, meaningful, considerate time with friends. My birthday was a little over a month ago. I got a lot of the routine “Happy Birthday” posts because (to at least some extent) facebook’s guilt reminder that “YOU HAVE A FRIEND CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY!!” But, I felt a little down that as isolated as I’d been feeling, my birthday would have maybe sparked one, maybe two or three phone calls that day from friends or family. I actually have a HUGE family. Well over 60 first cousins, and all of my friends are in different states. All I have locally, are an ex-boyfriend (relationship is on a pseudo-friend level) and some work “friends”.

By 9pm, I had received one phone call. ONE. For everyone else, I warranted only a “HBD” post on my wall. My poor friend from Idaho called me and I fell apart on the phone, “it means SO MUCH that you called me!” Nope, my own parents hadn’t called. Or texted. Nada. Oh, eventually they called, it was 10:30pm and they did a conference call with me to say happy birthday. Not that I’m not grateful, but it felt obligatory/forced.

3. I’ve caught myself getting unreasonably agitated at the ignorance of facebook rants/comments. Specifically about social/political issues. Spreading lies and misinformation will ALWAYS happen, it has happened throughout the history of the world, pre-internet, pre-technology, and it will continue into perpetuity. The concerning part is people’s unwillingness to do their own research, and instead, just jump on the emotionally-charged bandwagon that seems to be the most popular of their own personal social circle. It’s disgusting and frustrating and I just don’t want to see it anymore.

4. Facebook makes you live with your bad decisions for the rest of your (and everyone else’s) lives. I’ve made some stupid/emotional facebook posts that I’m not proud of. It’s probably that way for most people, and some are less apologetic about it than others, and some are more guarded/careful in posting things. I don’t want to open up further possibilities for this. With all of the stress in my life, ranting about it on Facebook really won’t fix it, it won’t make me (really) feel better; it just gives me a false sense of comeraderie– or, at least I think that’s the idea. And then it’s there. Forever. My daughter will be able to read all of my drunk facebook posts to her grandchildren. How lovely. In contrast, I have very few images/photographs of my grandmother– even less of my great-grandmother, but that just means that I cherish the few that I have very much– not only because there are so few photographs, but that no one else has the ones that I have. I also have an astounding amount of reverence for these people. Hearing their stories and experiences have shaped these people into examples to look up to. Did they never make bad decisions? Of course not. They’re human, and most certainly probably did things they aren’t completely proud of, but I have an unscathed perspective, which allows me to preserve their memory, in ways that may be difficult for future generations to do in my memory.

5. Forget over sharing… over POSTING is also a problem. I know that I went to Washington DC back in the spring of 2009. I know that I did it. I remember taking all of those pictures. Somehow, they got deleted before I could upload them. Damn.

MY MEMORY OF DC IS OF TAKING PICTURES.

It is *NOT* about how I felt being there, or the people I met, or the experience. I remember worrying (because I was alone) who I could ask to snap a photo of me in front of the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument. I carried my camera in my hand the ENTIRE time. My *memory* is what I can recall of what I saw through the lens, which, essentially is exactly what someone could have experienced having just seen the photos. The photos that mysteriously were somehow lost/deleted before I could upload them. This is a problem. Go to any monument and look around. NO ONE is viewing the event. They’re viewing their cameras, which are viewing the event, and, just for the record, a photograph (even a good one) will never replace the experience of actually BEING somewhere. I took another trip to DC a few months ago, and watched the changing of the guards at Arlington Cemetery. So many people filmed the ceremony. Very few, mostly the wheelchair-bound veterans, were really taking in the experience. I didn’t take any photographs or video and kept my phone in my purse and turned off, and I couldn’t help (maybe it’s the veteran in me) but feel a little bit disappointed in folks who were treating the whole thing like they were watching their kids in the school play. It somehow devalued the reverence of the moment.

Will I re-open my facebook account? Perhaps. Considering that I will soon embark on a move to the other side of the world, keeping in some form of contact with my parents, and friends, as well as helping to foster some semblance of normalcy helping my daughter to keep in contact with HER friends and family, means that I’ll probably, at some point, go back to using it. But hopefully, I’ll keep this period sans-facebook as a cleansing, sobering reminder of how much better it is to be present in my world, despite the goings on of the facebook world.