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Parenting: A Daily Lesson in Failure

July 12, 2018

There’s a scene in one of my favorite television shows, “The Killing,” where the main character, Sarah Linden, describes the never-ending cycle of failure and success that is being a police officer.

You try, but you have go to home at night, worried you didn’t do enough; maybe you missed something. You fail every day, and you keep coming back.

If you watch the show, you’ll see how this describes more than one situation for the plot and characters. But for me, this piece of dialogue perfectly describes how it feels to be a parent.

I’m going on 11 years of being a mom this November. And more often than not, I still feel like I have no clue what I’m doing. I do my best to choose my words carefully and parent to what works for Sophie. But I’m not perfect, and I slip up and feel like I failed. And all the work I did that day goes out the window.

I ask myself often: Are my expectations too high? Should I bite my tongue more than I do? Should I not have talked to Sophie about her attitude? Or maybe I shouldn’t have suggested she do/say/wear this or that?

Or most recently, why did I completely lose my cool over mayonnaise?

Let me explain.

Sophie was making a turkey sandwich for lunch. She cut the crusts off the slices of wheat bread (I held my tongue at the crust removal) and then began spreading Hellman’s on the bread. “I don’t know why people don’t like mayonnaise,” she said. “I love it!”

I agree with Sophie’s assessment of mayo, as the condiment accompanies my turkey sandwiches too. But as she finished making her lunch, she placed her tongue to the mayo-lined spreader and began licking.

“What are you doing?! That’s pure fat!” I shouted, horrified that plain mayo was going into her mouth. My reaction even surprised me. She looked at me stunned and started to cry.

After I realized what an idiot I was being, I (somewhat) calmly explained that mayo isn’t really something you consume on its own. It’s okay on sandwiches and in dishes, but it’s not a healthy snack or something to eat off the knife like peanut butter.

Why couldn’t I have said that instead of freaking out like a lunatic?

I’ve tried so hard to talk about food and exercise as tools to be healthy, and not in terms of fat and weight. I had a childhood where consuming sugar and “bad food” was akin to doing drugs and binge-drinking alcohol. As a result, I vowed never to do that to my own daughter. That’s why I was so ashamed of my behavior.

I apologized to Sophie for my reaction and we both moved on. She didn’t seem to harbor any ill will. But of course as I was laying in bed later that night, I was reminded of our interaction and I felt so bad.

Why is it that you can have a perfectly good day and then one interaction with your child sends it all into disarray? Whether it’s mayonnaise or a comment about an online game, or talking about behavior toward others, or not allowing hair dye … all these things inevitably lead to a downward spiral of negativity.

That’s when I come back to that writing from “The Killing.” I wake up fresh each day and try to do my best, and then evening comes and I feel like I failed.

Someone once told me feeling this way is actually a good thing, because it means that I care. I hope that’s the case.

I imagine this feeling never really ends (the joys of parenthood). But the worries and failures change over time. When Sophie was a baby, my family doctor described parenting to me as this:

When your kids are little, your biggest fear is they’ll run into the middle of the street and get hit by a car. But then they get older, and your biggest fear is they’ll be driving the car that hits the little kid.

Isn’t that the truth?!

So I’ll continue to try. And fail. And wake up every day and do it all again. Because I’m in this parenting thing for the long haul. And while the failures seem like they echo the loudest, I try to remind myself the successes are pretty powerful in their own right.

The Summer Bucket List 2018

June 21, 2018

We were a bit late getting our summer bucket list written this year. But it’s now hanging in our kitchen, and posting it today coincides nicely with it being the first day of summer.

We’ve been making a summer list since Sophie was 2-years-old and it’s one of my favorite traditions. But I wasn’t sure she’d be into doing it this year. She’s 10 (will be 11 in November), and her interests center more around spending time with friends, watching YouTube, and playing online games while FaceTiming friends. So I was pretty happy when she was the one who reminded me we need to keep up this annual tradition. And what was really neat is Sophie took charge and created all the items and wrote/decorated the entire poster herself.

Sophie has a pretty jam-packed summer with different camps and classes. But the Summer List gives us fun things to do on the days and weekends that aren’t planned.

Here’s what’s in store for this year:

If you’re looking for some Summer List inspiration, here’s what we’ve done in the past:

Do you make a summer bucket list? What are your summer plans?

Why “Just Ask for Help” is Not Always the Answer for Those Who are Suffering

June 12, 2018

It’s hard not to be effected by the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides last week. While few of us knew them personally, those individuals touched our lives in many ways — whether through fashion or food, books or business inspiration. Death is a scary enough prospect on its own; death by suicide is another monster entirely.

After Spade and Bourdain’s deaths, Facebook feeds were filled with posts stating, “You’re not alone” and “Ask for help if you need it.” The suicide prevention hotline was shared countless times. Articles about how our culture and society are to blame, and understanding the “signs” are making their rounds in heavy rotation.

While I know the Facebook sentiments are coming from a genuine place of concern and shock — and the articles are trying to be productive — reading these messages left me feeling uncomfortable.

I think what troubled me most about the “just ask for help if you need it” comments is that it’s not that easy to get help — not for a person suffering, or a loved one who is concerned for a friend or relative.

I, personally, have never suffered from major depression. But anxiety and its counterpart, Xanax, have been my companion more than once. I’ve spent time in therapists’ office when I needed support and guidance I could not find within myself.

But even those steps were difficult for me (a Type A, take-charge person) to take. It’s very hard for me to ask for help from other people. I often feel like I need to “go it alone,” or navigate what life hands me by myself. I asked for professional help because my brain was in a place to know when I needed it.

But so many people who suffer far deeper are in such a dark place that simply asking for help is not that easy nor do they want the help at that moment. Additionally, the help is not always readily given either.

I know people who have had to call every therapist on their insurance company’s list to see if they accepted new patients and could see them (or their spouse/partner) within the next week. One may be surprised at how this can be a Herculean endeavor. When you’re in the rabbit hole of depression, waiting for an insurance authorization and a week or more to see a therapist is not an option.

Many years ago, someone close to me was in a bad state mentally. That person needed professional help, and I tried to take action. I called their insurance company and talked to a representative about bringing said person in to see a doctor. But I was met with resistance.

Sorry, the person needs to call themselves to get authorization, I was told. Once the person makes the call, we can refer them to a doctor to schedule an appointment.

But this person isn’t in a place to even pick up a phone, I reasoned. How on earth would they be expected to put on a cheery voice (or any voice for that matter) and call an insurance company for authorization?

Sorry, that’s all we can do, the woman said.

I hung up and felt utterly helpless, and had to accept the fact that I’d done all I could.

I don’t blame the receptionist on the phone. She was simply following company policy. It’s the policy and system that’s to blame.

If a person has a heart attack, you call 911 and paramedics immediately respond without question. If someone is sick and requires an emergency room visit, the hospital admits them without even needing insurance. So why is it when something is wrong with a person’s mind, it’s so difficult to obtain help?

It’s also only fair to point out that I was able to get myself help – and attempt to help someone else – because I had the financial means to do it. Illness (mental or physical) is expensive. Even with insurance, there are limits for therapy sessions and most people still pay out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions, co-payments and deductibles. I had the privilege of getting help. Others do not.

Maybe times are changing. Maybe deaths like Spade and Bourdain will help reduce the stigma that’s so often associated with mental illness, and the Internet and social media will help shed light on a decades-old disease. And maybe the way insurance companies and healthcare providers look at mental health will evolve.

But most of all, I hope that people understand that when it comes to mental illness, it’s far more complicated than simply “asking for help.” And often times, understanding and acceptance is the best we can do.

The Greatest of Gifts: Stepping Outside our Bubble and Listening to a Different Perspective

May 16, 2018

We are at a critical time in the world when it is more important than ever to seek outside opinions and learn from each other. While the Internet is a vast resource of endless information and said opinions, in many ways, it’s a device of polarization.

When former President Barack Obama gave his farewell address on January 10, 2017, there was one line that that struck me deeply and was particularly telling about the state of the country.

“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life,” said the former president.

While this may seem like a simple direction to follow, technology – and social media in particular – has made it extremely difficult to actually do.

Because of the Internet and the democratization of information, we have more access to diverse opinions and different people than we’ve ever had in the history of humanity. Yet there is far less accepting (and extreme criticism) of those diverse opinions.

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My own experience with confronting differences happened when I “moved to the middle” nearly two years ago. I left my blue, Liberal bubble of San Diego for Terre Haute and the red state of Indiana. Making that move outside my comfort zone suddenly put me in a place where I was the stranger. I was talking to people with different backgrounds and political beliefs that I would not have met had I stayed in San Diego.

When I told people that my family and I made the move from San Diego to Terre Haute, the first question I always received was:

“Why would you ever want to come to Terre Haute?”

I expected that question from individuals who lived in Southern California. What I did not expect, however, was getting that question from fellow Hoosiers and Terre Haute residents. The undertone of the question was not about why I left the seemingly picture-perfect Southern California. What they were asking was why I chose to move to the middle of America and settle in Terre Haute; as if this town had something to be ashamed of, or had nothing to offer its residents.

For me, Terre Haute’s greatest gift has been self-awareness. I realized how I was living in a bubble in San Diego, and came to understand how my biases informed my beliefs about the Midwest and its residents.

Once I was able to put those biases aside, I was able to get to know my adopted town of Terre Haute and see all the assets this city had to offer.

Assets like a local parks department with more than 1,000 acres of land dedicated to community and neighborhood parks, trails and greenways. Terre Haute has Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which has been ranked the #1 engineering college in the nation among schools whose highest engineering degree offered is a bachelor’s or master’s for 19 years. The city has five institutions of higher education. It has a small business incubator helping entrepreneurs launch successful business ventures to keep people and jobs in Terre Haute.

Terre Haute has a regional airport that was named airport of the year by The Aviation Association of Indiana. The community has an award-winning art museum, free and low-cost youth programs, a vibrant community of small businesses and entrepreneurs, and a low cost of living.

I began sharing these observations about Terre Haute and Midwest living on my social media channels, through writing on this blog, and in local and national publications. I did this because sharing information through words and photos is the way I try to make a difference and impart some positivity in the world.

As I got to know myself differently, several of my new friends and neighbors told me they started to see their own community in a new light. Just as growing up in one city kept me living in a bubble, the bubble exists for anyone who does not look beyond what they’ve always held as truth. None of us can see ourselves until we step outside of ourselves.

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With technology and this country’s political divide, the opportunity to engage with and learn from others is shrinking. Social media makes it possible for us to choose to live in a bubble. If we don’t like what someone has to say – or has an opposite opinion – we simply unfriend, unfollow or block them. We, literally, have the ability to scrub our world of political differences.

Yet we all learn from someone else’s point of view. Even if we don’t agree with their beliefs, just understanding one’s perspective opens up an entirely new perception and way of thinking. I found that only by listening to others who are different can we truly understand each other and ourselves. Isn’t this truly at the heart of inclusion?

Leaving my Southern California home of 40 years and moving to Terre Haute opened my eyes and mind. For some local residents, having an outsider provide observations opened their eyes to see what’s been right in front of them all along.

To be sure, I know Terre Haute is far from perfect, and there are many community issues and problems that need to be resolved. And I cannot discount the views of the city’s residents who have been observing the reality of this city their entire lives.

But if I’ve learned anything over the last two years, it’s that fear keeps us separate and confidence is built in the small space of sameness. The only way we can stop the polarization happening in this country is to embrace new opinions and learn from each other. And when we pierce the barriers of comfort, we move towards a more dynamic, inclusive world that doesn’t see difference as inherently bad.

Photo: Fairbanks Park and the Wabash River, Terre Haute, IN

Thanks for reading! If this resonated with you, please leave a comment or share the post on social media. And if you don’t agree with the sentiment, that’s okay too (and I’d still like to hear your comment). After all, isn’t that the point of it all? 🙂

On Journalists, Writing and the Movies That Inspire Me to Tell Stories

April 27, 2018

I knew I wanted to be a writer and journalist from a young age. In elementary school, I wrote fictional stories. At age 12, I wrote and produced a monthly newsletter that I mailed to pen pals and subscribers across the country (in the days way before the internet). In high school, I chose journalism as my elective course and spent two years as a reporter for the school newspaper. I was a journalism major in college, contributed to the college newspaper, and got my first “real” job working at the San Diego public broadcasting station. After college, I continued to write in various publications, which ultimately led me to call myself a writer today.

For me, the appeal of writing is telling a story and making words come alive on paper (or the screen). When I publish a piece – whether it’s a post on this personal blog, a feature story about a noteworthy person or business or when I wrote parenting pieces for Red Tricycle – my favorite part of the process is when a reader says, “I loved learning about that person.” Or “I didn’t know about that business and now I have to go there.” Or “What you wrote is how I feel.” I don’t write because I want to hear myself talk (or type); I write because I like to share stories that impact people’s lives.

Last month I attended the Power of Narrative Conference in Boston with my close friend and fellow writer, Ann marie. This conference brings together the most inspiring writers. Conference speakers have been Sacha Pfeiffer, a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight team that reported on the Catholic Church controversy in 2002 (and the inspiration for the movie); Emily Steel, the New York Times reporter who uncovered the sexual harassment stories that were the impetuous for the #MeToo movement; humorist Roxanne Gay (“Hunger”); Sonia Nazario (“Enrique’s Journey”); Doris Kearns Goodwin (presidential historian); and so many more.

It’s hard not to feel humbled at this event, surrounded by writers who have told incredible and inspiring stories. Ann marie and I joke that we are probably the only two conference attendees that have not won a Pulitzer Prize. There’s a hint of truth to the statement, which speaks to the caliber of people that attend and speak at this conference. I always leave feeling both inspired and depressed — inspired by the talent, yet depressed because I don’t think I could ever achieve what these individuals have done.

I love writing and feel incredibly fortunate that I can use my words and thoughts to tell stories. Yet at the same time, it can be incredibly frustrating to write, write, write, and feel like you have a great story to tell; and also face constant rejection of pieces submitted. I know this is part of the process and I’m not complaining (well, not all the time). But it’s often hard to know whether you’re making a difference. And when the rejections come, I start thinking maybe what I’m writing isn’t really as worthwhile as I think.

When I feel this way, I come back to the following quote that my friend, Ann marie, posted on Facebook:

Some of the greatest work you do will be known by no one and only experienced by the individual you changed. Be mindful of what matters.

It is a perfect reminder of why I write. And it reminds me of all the writers and journalists I’ve admired, and the stories that impacted me.

Growing up as a child of the 1908s and 90s, I learned about journalists and writers from books and movies. Watching the stories of investigative reporting inspired me (and still inspires me) to want to make a difference in my community and the greater good. Just like so many people credit Atticus Finch and “To Kill a Mockingbird” as the reason they went into law, I watched Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) investigate the Watergate break-in in “All the President’s Men” and knew I wanted to be a journalist.

So as a salute to the journalists who inspired me to write, here are my favorite journalism-themed movies. Keep in mind these choices are not an inclusive listing of the best journalism movies that have been made (if it were, “Network” and “Absence of Malice” would be on the list). These are simply my picks that I still watch when I need a reminder and some inspiration that words do matter and have the ability to change the world.

All the President’s Men — This is the story that started it all for me. I love watching this movie today, and seeing the reporters go through telephone books and newspaper clips to find information that we can so easily discover on the Internet today. It’s a great reminder of how much more work it was to do investigative reporting before the web.

Broadcast News — While this story is fiction, it’s a fantastic look at television news production and a great portrayal of how the news started shifting to entertaining, ratings and profit. Holly Hunter’s character is so real she’s almost difficult to watch. Also the writing, coupled with Albert Brooks and his lines, are phenomenal.

The Insider — This true story is a look at the “60 Minutes” segment that featured a whistle-blower who spoke out against Big Tobacco. I think this is Russell Crowe’s best work as a tormented insider who is ousted from a lucrative job for being an outsider with different opinions, and really struggles to tell the truth to the world about cigarettes. I also love the behind-the-scenes look at CBS News, “60 Minutes,” and what has become known as one of their most embarrassing story productions. This is a Michael Mann film, so it’s a slow-burn LONG movie; but well worth the time to watch.

Live From Baghdad — Not many people know about this true story about a CNN news crew that was stationed in Baghdad after the invasion of Kuwait, and then became the only American news presence in the area at the very beginning of the Gulf War in 1991. It essentially tells the story of how CNN became the dominant 24-hour news station. Michael Keaton, Helena Bonham Carter, and many other actors you’ll recognize give outstanding performances.

Shattered Glass — In the 1900s, a young reporter named Stephen Glass from The New Republic magazine took the term “fake news” to a whole new level. The movie tells the story of Glass and how it was discovered he fabricated more than half of his articles, including the story about a made-up famous computer hackers at a hacker convention. Forbes Digital broke this story, which was considered an important milestone for online journalism. While I don’t find inspiration in Glass himself, this is a great movie about journalism and ethics with fantastic performances in this HBO production.

Zodiac — Arguably one of my favorite movies of all time, “Zodiac” is the story of the police, a reporter and a cartoonist-turned-writer who investigate the Zodiac serial killer that made headlines in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1969 through the mid-70s. The writing and acting are superb and the movie will transport you back to that time.

Spotlight — This movie follows the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team of investigative reporters as they uncover the widespread child sex abuse happening in the Catholic Church in Boston. Although the subject matter is difficult, I find myself fascinated by how the story unfolds and the people who came forward to break the silence. For me, the most powerful part of the movie is the last scene, which shows the Spotlight news room flooded with tip calls from people breaking their own silence after the story is printed. I cry every time I watch it because that ending – and what the writing did for people – is the essence of why we tell stories.

I give an honorable mention to The Post, but I can’t add it to my favorites just yet since it’s still new and I’ve only seen it once. But I do like how it gave a voice to Katherine Graham, the female publisher of The Washington Post, who played a key, yet lesser-known role in the paper’s breaking of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.

What inspired you to pursue the career path you’re taking? Do you have a go-to list of books or movies that keep you motivated?

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