Archives for January 2014

Forgiveness Broker

It’s Forgiveness Friday here at Strocel.com, which means that once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I have written a few times here that I’m not as forgiving as I would like to be. I do a lot of excusing, until I can’t anymore, then I can hold a grudge forever. This is something I’m working on, and reading about, and hoping to (slowly) get better at. Given that I struggle with forgiveness myself, it came as a shock to me as I was moderating a fight between my kids in the back seat of the car while I drove and I realized that I’m modelling forgiveness for my kids all the time.

forgiveness friday sibling rivalry

I’m not sure why this realization should have been all that shocking to me. I’m not exactly what you would call new to this parenting gig, or even to parenting two little kids. Of course I know that my kids are always watching and listening. Of course I know that the things I say and do impact their view of the world. And of course I know that any parent of two or more spends a good portion of the day moderating disagreements. Sibling rivalry is alive and well. However, it had not all come clear to me just how much time I spend talking to other people about forgiveness until that day in the car.

With my kids, I have a few ground rules around forgiveness. I’m not sure I’ve actually explained all of them to my children, but they do inform how I handle disagreements. My ground rules are something like this:

  • When we have hurt someone, physically or emotionally, we apologize. This is true even if we hurt them by accident.
  • Sometimes, saying ‘sorry’ isn’t enough. If someone is still upset even after you apologize, you need to find out what that person needs to help them feel better.
  • It’s never okay to respond to someone else’s transgression by transgressing yourself. That is, we don’t hit someone because they’re not doing what we want, or even because they hit us first.
  • It’s not okay to repeatedly do something you know full well you shouldn’t do, even if you do apologize afterwards. Apologies are helpful, but they’re not a license to just keep hitting each other anyway.
  • It doesn’t matter who started it – placing blame isn’t productive. What matters most is figuring out how to meet everyone’s needs so that we can forgive each other and move forwards.
  • We need to be forgiving with each other because we’re a family and we love each other first and foremost.

forgiveness friday sibling rivalryI’m sure I’m not listing everything that goes through my mind as I moderate disputes. I’m also sure that I don’t always apply these ground rules consistently. I definitely don’t model them myself all the time. All the same, as I look at them I can see that I can think about forgiveness much more clearly when it comes to my kids than when I’m grappling with the issue for myself. I think this is because when I’m parenting I love both parties unconditionally, and I place a priority on forgiveness and reconciliation. In my own life I may not even particularly like the person I’m dealing with, and I may not have a vested interest in ever forgiving them (or apologizing for my wrongs).

There’s more to forgiveness in my own life, too. I have a lot of fear around forgiveness. Conversations about forgiveness are emotionally difficult. Asking for forgiveness makes you vulnerable, because it means admitting you were wrong. Granting forgiveness makes you vulnerable, too, because it means letting go of the anger that can serve as a sort of emotional armour. When we’re angry at someone, we can ignore the pain and hurt we’re carrying. When we start to let go of the anger, we have to feel all those uncomfortable feelings. I can insist that my children forgive each other, and support them when it’s hard. No one can make me engage in forgiveness, so it’s often much easier for me to just hold that grudge or pretend that I didn’t actually make a mistake.

I’m not sure that I’m ready to make big leaps and have lots of difficult conversations. I’m also still not completely clear on the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I’m going to have to do more reading and thinking about this, for sure. Right now, though, it’s interesting to me to see that I might be better at forgiveness than I thought, thanks to my parenting experiences. It’s true that it’s sometimes (almost always) easier to just avoid the issue altogether as a grown-up, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the basics of forgiveness. It just means I don’t always apply them.

How does your parenting inform your thoughts on forgiveness? I’d love to hear!

Selfie, Selfie, Selfie

Before I get into this post, there are two things I want to say first:

  1. I am sad that going back to school is totally wreaking havoc on my posting schedule here. However, I am loving school, so don’t feel too bad for me. I just want to acknowledge that things are different for me right now.
  2. When I have no good title ideas, I just repeat a word three times. Somehow it seems more clever than using it only once. I don’t know why.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to talk about the selfie. While the word selfie was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, my spellcheck here is underscoring the word with a tell-tale squiggly red line. This tells you that this is still a new concept. Not every dictionary is down with the word. Not every person is down with the word. We’re still figuring it out. We’re also still debating the selfie’s significance, and whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Selfies are particularly controversial in feminist circles. The authors of articles like Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help. and Putting selfies under a feminist lens suggest that the selfie is a product of a culture that objectifies women. After all, the selfie is the province of young women. Why, many people wonder, do these young women feel the need to post photos of their faces on social media for other people – perhaps most especially males – to see? Seeking external validation isn’t a sign that we’re empowered, it’s a sign that we lack self-esteem.

Other feminists disagree with this take. They argue that selfies can be empowering, particularly for women who don’t normally see themselves portrayed in the media – that is, women of colour, women larger than a size six, transgender women, and so on. Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista found that sentiment of becoming visible compelling enough to launch the #365FeministSelfie project. She wrote, “… taking a selfie and posting it means REALLY looking at yourself. And hopefully at the end (or much sooner!) you will find it less painful and more enjoyable. I don’t want to turn us into Paris Hiltons, but rather individuals who don’t cringe when we need to take a photo.”

I heart Instagram big-time. So, when I noticed that people in my feed were using the #365FeministSelfie hashtag I looked into it. The explanation I read was that by posting photos of themselves, these women were attempting to make themselves more visible, and portray a broader definition of beauty. I liked that. I started posting photos of my own (although not quite every day). So far, I’m enjoying it.

It turns out there’s a lot to be said for the selfie. I don’t have to ask someone else to take my photo – I can do it when I’m at home by myself. I can get the angle I like, with the background I want. I can show myself how I want to be seen.

Is it narcissistic or objectifying? It could be, if I allowed myself to get caught up in how many ‘likes’ my photos get, or in making sure I look my absolute best in each photo. I feel that both of those things go against the grain of this particular project, though. It’s about showing women as we really are. It’s true that as a straight white woman (and a natural blonde, no less), there are plenty of people who look like me in the media. However, I don’t think that means I don’t deserve to be seen. The point is we all deserve to be seen, with makeup or without, wearing our best clothes or our pajamas, with perfectly-coiffed locks or messy morning hair. We all deserve to be seen on our own terms.

I have succumbed to the selfie trend, but I don’t think it’s a sign that I’ve lost touch with reality. I think it’s a sign that I’m participating in modern culture, and enjoying the challenge of documenting myself (almost) daily, just as I am. It’s also something I can do in very short snippets of time while my life is busy. I can see what other people are posting, and take part myself, in the two minutes I have before my class starts. Perhaps that, more than anything, is why I’m enjoying it. It fits my life right now, and allows me to document this time of great personal change.

Here’s what my #365FeministSelfie stream has captured so far:

Where do you stand on the selfie? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Forgiveness and Babies

It’s not Friday, but thanks to a very busy week I’m celebrating Forgiveness Friday anyway. If my explorations in forgiveness mean anything at all, I can cut myself some slack when I slip a little in my schedule, right? While it may be Sunday, once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

This past Wednesday my husband had a vasectomy. The week before the big event, I found myself crying about his upcoming snip in my therapist’s office. (I love therapy, by the way. I go because of the insights it provides me, rather than because I’m experiencing a personal crisis.) While I freely concede that having another baby at this point wouldn’t be the best idea on a number of levels, I was having a difficult time letting go of that part of my life. I loved my babies a whole lot. I loved being a mother of babies and toddlers. While I’ve mostly moved on from that phase of parenting, my husband’s appointment represented the final nail in the coffin of my babylust.

One of the things that came out of the discussion with my therapist for me was the psychic wound I still carry over my daughter Hannah’s premature birth. I like to think I’ve made my peace, and in some ways I have. I no longer sob on each of Hannah’s birthdays, thinking she shouldn’t have been born on that day. I no longer worry that my daughter’s earlier-than-anticipated arrival has left lasting scars. I can see that she’s a normal, healthy, happy almost-nine-year-old. But. But. But. Sometimes I still find myself running over the events surrounding Hannah’s birth in my mind. Sometimes I still feel a strong need to grab hold of my daughter and never ever ever let her go again. And, truthfully, I’m still pretty angry about some of the decisions that my daughter’s doctors and nurses made surrounding her care.

forgiveness friday premature baby NICU isolette

I’m still angry that, in spite of her high Apgar scores, relatively large size and total lack of any signs of distress she was taken away from me within a couple of minutes of her birth.

I’m still angry that a nurse fed her that first bottle of formula without consulting me, and less than 30 minutes before I tried breastfeeding her for the first time.

I’m still angry that my labour nurse told me that it was my fault I hemorrhaged, because my daughter was born so quickly.

I’m still angry at the NICU staff who kept warning me about all of the dire things that could happen to my daughter (none of which did), increasing my anxiety at an already anxious time.

I’m still angry about a whole lot of other things, too. I’m holding on to a lot of pain. I can mostly ignore it, but occasionally it rears its head and I’m overwhelmed by all of it, even still.

Three and a half years after Hannah was born, my son Jacob’s birth went pretty much exactly to plan. I had wanted to give birth while my daughter was at daycare, and that happened. I had said that I wanted my son to be born about 45 minutes after arriving at the hospital, and that happened. I had said that I wanted to go home within a few hours of my baby’s birth, and that happened. I didn’t hemorrhage, he was born within a few days of his due date, and he was the picture of health. Really, it was textbook perfect in pretty much every respect.

I had thought that having a better birth experience the second time around would be healing for me. The truth is that it was exactly the opposite. As I experienced those first minutes, hours and days with my newborn son, I realized exactly what I had missed with my daughter. Rather than healing my wounds, my positive second experience actually rubbed salt in them.

Sitting in my therapist’s office a week and a half ago, I realized that one of the reasons I want another baby is because of these wounds I still carry around. I’m hoping that maybe the next birth would be the magic bullet. Or maybe if I have another daughter and it goes well, somehow that will make everything okay. I will get a chance to do things right. I will make better choices, my body will work the way it’s supposed to, and I’ll be able to forgive both myself, and the healthcare providers who were actually just trying to help.

That is not to be for me. Truthfully, I know that it wouldn’t make a difference. My anger over what happened to Hannah wouldn’t magically disappear with a third (or fourth, or tenth) child. All that I can do now is make the choice to forgive, and make the most of the time I have with my two amazing children.

I still feel a little bit at a loss as to how to forgive. I’m working on creating a forgiveness practice, and it seems to help a little, but it’s not a magic bullet. Maybe that’s why it’s called a forgiveness practice – because I need to constantly practice, each and every day. Forgiveness doesn’t happen instantaneously, especially when the wounds run deep. It takes time to let go of the baggage we carry around with us.

Right now, having more insight into why I feel the way I do is helpful. It’s helping me to chart a path forward. The way isn’t always smooth and clear, but it feels good to know that I’m making progress, even if it’s painstakingly slow. I’m keeping at it, and I’m trusting that slowly I’ll get better, and forgiving will become easier. Step by step by step.

Why I Heart Re-Watching Old Movies

old movies

Last week I was on vacation from work, taking a little bit of time off so that I could concentrate on my first week back at university. On Thursday, after attending an early-morning tutorial, running some errands and meeting my husband for lunch, I found myself back at home with a little over a half hour to kill before picking my kids up from school. I turned on the TV and started flipping around when I saw that Titanic was playing, and it was at around the halfway point.

I turned the movie on and found myself at the scene where Rose is at the party in steerage, standing en pointe for the big tough men. I continued to watch as Rose’s fiance threatened her, and Rose’s mother made astute observations about the condition of women while tightening her daughter’s corset. I saw Jack sneak on to the first-class deck and make Rose feel as if she was flying. I watched as Jack sketched Rose, and as they found the old motor car, and just before they proceeded to make good use of the car I turned off the movie and picked up the kids.

As I walked up to the school I thought about just how much I love re-watching old movies. If I hadn’t seen Titanic before, I wouldn’t have enjoyed catching 35-ish minutes at the midway point of the film. I also wouldn’t have had the experience of delightful nostalgia as I recalled going to see the movie for the theatre the first time, or watching it a few more times over the years. I wouldn’t have been able to walk away as easily, without being able to find out what happened next, either. (Spoiler alert! The boat sinks.)

I am not someone who particularly enjoys the feeling of suspense. I read the last pages of a book first, especially if I’m anxious about the outcome. Because I already know what happens when I re-watch an old movie, in many ways the experience is much more comfortable for me. I don’t have to worry about the characters, because I know just what comes next for them. I can relax and enjoy what’s happening now, laughing over the jokes and smiling at the sentimentality, rather than feeling preoccupied over what may or may not happen next.

There are some movies that I seem to happen upon far more often than others. I’m sure I’ve seen Steel Magnolias, Forrest Gump, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Titanic 15 times over, but mostly in bits and pieces, rather than all at once (though I have watched each of those movies all the way through a couple of times at least). When I see that one of them is playing, it’s almost like an unexpected visit from an old friend. I can dip in and out of them at ease, only half paying attention sometimes and not missing anything, and never worrying when things get tense. None of those movies are necessarily my most favourite films, but I harbour a special affection for them nonetheless, formed over the dozens of times I’ve happened across them in the TV schedule.

Some of the movies that I find myself re-watching again and again are seasonal. Over the holidays I’m more likely to watch It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, or old TV specials featuring Charlie Brown. For the longest time it was Edward Scissorhands at Halloween, though I haven’t seen that one for a number of years now. And of course at Easter movies with Biblical plots feature heavily, and I catch them in bits and snatches when I happen to be watching.

I know some people don’t enjoy re-reading books or re-watching movies. I am not one of those people. In fact, sometimes (maybe even often) I prefer re-treading old ground to covering new ground. It’s more familiar, it’s easier, and it reminds me of pieces of my past in a way that something new never could. If a new movie is a sexy dress, an old movie is a cozy sweater. I do love a cozy sweater – especially when a whole lot of other new things are happening in my life. Sometimes you want novelty, and sometimes you want comfort. Right now, I think, I’m in a comfort place.

Bring on Steel Magnolias.

On Going Back to School

This past Monday I returned to a university lecture hall as a student for the first time in 14 years. My first week is now under my belt, and I have not run screaming for the hills. In fact, it went quite well, all things considered. I realize it’s still early days yet, but I’m finding it easier to maintain my sense of perspective about school this time around. After all, I’m really choosing to be there, in a way that I wasn’t when I was 18 years old. Then, it was more about what was expected. Now, it’s about what I want to do for myself. That makes a huge difference.

In case you’re curious, here are some of the high points of my first week.

High Points

  • I’ve really appreciated all of your well wishes.
  • It takes less time for me to drive to campus than I expected, and finding parking is easy.
  • I can still be insightful in class.
  • My history professor is funny, and he played the banjo for us during the first lecture.
  • The mostly much younger students are not at all put off by my comparatively advanced age.
  • The campus waste stations include recycling and compost bins.
  • The teaching assistant in my history tutorial went out of her way to create a safe space for everyone.
  • My history textbook is Canadian History for Dummies, and it’s a really good read.
  • I enjoyed my first education lecture, which is good because that’s the reason I’m going to school at all.
  • I was able to figure out the online course material delivery system without too much effort.
  • Most of the other students took notes using a pen and paper, like me.
  • So far my workload looks like it will be fairly manageable.
  • I am one of the few students who doesn’t appear to be intimidated by the writing, probably because I’ve been churning out hundreds of words a day for years.

simon fraser university mature student going back to school
The fine print says, “Artist’s conception. Real professor may vary.”

Low Points

  • I have to be in class at 8:30am on Thursdays, which was a bit of a shock after not having to even leave the house before 8:40am for the past five plus years.
  • Studying anatomy for my kinesiology class involves a lot of memorization.
  • For my lab work in the same kinesiology class, I will be analyzing my body composition, including my body fat. You can guess how much this mom of two in her late 30s is looking forward to that.
  • I got lost twice this week.
  • Reading for school means less reading for pleasure.
  • There is a fair bit of schedule juggling when combining the variable schedule of school with the decidedly not variable schedule of parenting.
  • Homework is still not what anyone would call inspiring.
  • The Simon Fraser University campus is as cold and rainy in winter as ever, and I don’t have a hood or an appropriate umbrella. Luckily this is fixable.

simon fraser university mature student going back to school
An upside to being lost was happening upon a pretty courtyard.

Fortunately, so far the high points outweigh the low points, and many of the low points are either temporary or fixable. For instance, I doubt I will get lost every week. All in all, I’m off to a pretty good start. I’m still taking things one step at a time, but I’m feeling more optimistic than I was last week at this time. I’ll take it.

Starting my Forgiveness Practice

It’s Forgiveness Friday here at Strocel.com, which means that once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As you may recall I was doing some reading on forgiveness. As you may also recall, I started back at university this week, seeking a second degree in education. I’ll write more about the experience of going back to school tomorrow, however what’s pertinent for today is that my externally-assigned reading for school is getting in the way of my self-assigned reading on forgiveness. It’s not all bad – a lot of what I’m reading for class is interesting – but I am suddenly remembering why I read a lot of glossy magazines during my student days. I used up most of my brainpower absorbing information from textbooks.

I’ve been thinking, though, and it occurs to me that forgiveness is ultimately not about reading, it’s about doing. That is to say, it has more in common with learning to knit than with learning about English literature. You can gain some valuable insight from books, and from talking to other people, but in the end the only way to get better is to practice. To that end, I’ve started my own forgiveness practice.

My philosophy is that when you’re starting something new, it’s generally best to start small. To draw on my knitting analogy again, my first project was a garter stitch scarf, not with an intricate lace shawl. In the same way, when it comes to forgiveness I’ve decided to target the little, petty grudges I carry around with me. Trying to make my peace with difficult aspects of my childhood, or with events that still frighten me, is probably too much. Working to forgive the inevitable small slights from the people I see often and care about a lot feels more realistic. What’s more, it will likely have a bigger impact on my quality of life in the long run.

forgiveness friday bubbles practice letting go

Right now, my forgiveness practice is essentially an exercise in mindfulness. When I find myself listing all of the little things that my husband has done wrong, I try to bring awareness to the situation. I take a few breaths, and then think of each infraction and tell myself, “I forgive him.” Then I picture that slight floating away, like a bubble, until it’s gone. Then I do it again 15 minutes later when I fall in to the same trap. And so on, and so on, and so on.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t try to talk things out with my husband when I’m feeling hurt, or having a hard day. I am in a relationship with him, and that requires constant communication and work. Sometimes we each need to express how we’re feeling in response to something that happened. However, the truth is that calling to mind something that Jon did when he was 19 years old and holding it over his head just isn’t helpful. It’s in the past – the long-distant past, in fact. My forgiveness practice is about learning to let go of those things that we have already hashed out over and over and over again, and that aren’t actually even relevant in my life today.

I’m not very good at all of this, yet. I still wouldn’t say that I’m a terribly forgiving person. All the same, I am noticing that bringing awareness to the situation, and seeking to let go of old baggage by forgiving the people around me for their past actions is having a positive effect. It’s small right now, but it’s growing, and I think it’s a good thing.

Have you ever tried to practice forgiveness? If so, what does it look like for you, and how did it impact your life? I’d love to hear!

What I Learned in December 2013

Strocel.com What I Learned Last MonthIt’s 2014, and while many people are looking back on the year I just ended, I’ve just realized it’s time for me to share my December monthly review. I always go back and forth at the end of the year. Should I share lessons from the entire year, or just the past month? I’m opting to cover only the past month, because my memory is not that great, and because monthly reviews are one of my favourite traditions.

Here’s how it works – every month I come up with some things I learned, and not always the easy way. Then, I ask you all to join in with some recent revelations of your own. Or this time, perhaps you can share some less-than-recent revelations that occurred over the past year. Either way, we all learn and grow and what-not. Or at least share a laugh at our own expense, because some of these lessons are both hard-fought and funny. Sound good?

So, without further ado, here is what I learned in December – or some of it, anyway.

What I Learned Last Month

1. I experienced the joys of chaperoning a whole bunch of third graders on a field trip to the local science museum. I managed to not lose any of my charges, so I’m calling it a victory.

what I learned last month

2. I re-discovered the joys of post-secondary bureaucracy when I had to change my name at the university I’m re-enrolling at after graduating some 14 years ago. I also got to re-discover where my marriage certificate was, as I crawled around under my house in search of it. Whee!

3. I walked across the Capilano Suspension Bridge on a cold and dark night as it twinkled with thousands of lights, and discovered that the way it sways it every bit as scary to me no matter how festive it happens to look.

what I learned last month capilano suspension bridge

4. I learned that while my son won’t sit still for me he will do it for his kindergarten teacher, as I watched him wait serenely with his hands folded for his turn to sing at the school holiday concert.

5. I vicariously experienced my children’s joy when we had a couple of days of snow, and found once again that their extreme enthusiasm really goes a long way towards overcoming the inconvenience.

what I learned last month snow

6. I discovered – to my surprise – that I actually work better without background noise than I do with background noise. Here’s to quiet (when you can get it)!

7. I once again experienced the amazing smell of a real, cut Christmas tree in my family room. It was more than good enough to compensate for any cleaning and watering that was required.

what I learned last month christmas tree

8. I finished up my first-ever tap dance lessons, and I miss it already. I’m not sure if I can fit it into my schedule now that I’m going back to school, but I’m going to do my best to try.

9. I learned that when decorating a cookie, a five-year-old will never embrace the ‘less is more’ approach, but will squeeze on every last bit of sugar that he can. In the photo below, Jacob was only about halfway done with his cookie.

what i learned last month cookie decorating

10. I discovered that all of the hassle, and expense, and hand-wringing of the holiday season is totally worth it just for the looks on my children’s faces when they wake up Christmas morning and see that Santa has, indeed, come again.

I’ve shared what I learned – what did you learn in December, or anytime during 2013? Leave a comment and tell me! Or, if you’d like to play along by writing a review post of your own, link to it in the comments. And please feel free to grab the button from the top of this post.

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