Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Completely Random Thoughts.

Today is just a sit down and type kind of day. I'm feeling out of touch so I'm just writing for the sake of typing practice!  Here are some random bits of info... you may or may not want to know.

I'm an awesome crafty kind of mama. But not a scrapbooker at all. If I can't make it with construction paper and crayons, I probably won't bother.

I want to lose weight without giving up everything I like.  But the weight isn't going anywhere. I can show you exactly where it sits.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Followed closely by Christmas. Probably because growing up we didn't have Christmas. I was 8 the first time Santa visited me. Ummm.... yeah. Try selling that one!  Now I'm super dork and all about the magic that I didn't get to enjoy. Let them be excited. Yes, it may seem like greed if they are demanding certain gifts, but we are just more about the surprise. We give because we want to. They love to get presents but have never been disappointed on a slow year.

I could spend my whole day in PJ's except that I don't want to wear them into the school. Not that my super sweat pants are much of an improvement but at least they are intended to leave the house!

When I was a kid, I bit my toenails for awhile. Now I only wish that I was that flexible.

No hair dye I can find will cover the stripe of gray hair I have right in the middle of my forehead. Did I tell you I was 23 when I found the first gray?

Dance Little Jean by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band makes me cry every single time I hear it. Even more so since my boys were 6 and 2 when I finally married their dad.

My Trucker complaint for the day?  "early" is not an actual time. I say "What time do you have to leave in the morning?" He says "Early."  Ummm.... I'm driving you in the morning, EARLY is anything before noon... WHAT TIME?  I guess it's 5 am this time. That's not early... that's ungodly.

I am anxiously awaiting the days when my kids will actually wake up to their alarm clocks on their own. Seriously... I am not good at getting up. I overslept again today. Poor rushed kids.  We make it on time, but we have to hustle.

I'm not only hooked on coffee. I am in love with Sugar Crisp and Rockets candies.  Really. I'm eating some right now.

Angel Baby just tried to run off with handfuls of Daddy's candy stash.... That's my girl!

I found a picture of the Trucker from when we first met... WOW.  That is so not how I remembered him looking. He looks like a kid. Now, not so much.

Today, I had three dead phones beside me and I didn't even notice. Work and personal cell phones, plus the landline cordless phone. No wonder it was so quiet around here...

Monday, October 24, 2011

October Update!

I would say I'm doing well with my monthly goals again. I think I just might keep this idea going.  Keeps my perspective in check when I'm slipping.

I've worked hard on accountability, but I think I've gotten caught up to the expectations placed on myself.  I am accepting my faults and looking at the real reasons why I'm not getting things done when I think I should have.  It is generally because I am stopping to enjoy life. Aside from diving head first into a book and getting lost for a few days (which definitely qualifies as time for me), I've been quite productive. And if I'm being entirely honest, the things I haven't completed on time have been due to enjoying my life, not being lazy on the couch with the TV on.

I addressed some areas in need of improvement with the Trucker. Not things he needs to change, but things I've noticed I have changed and I discussed some of it with him. If he understands my motives, he can support me better, and if he thinks I'm off my rocker I can reassess and make a different change.

Another side of staying accountable is with work. My annual review is coming up, so I have had to take a realistic look at my last year.  It's been a rough year, hasn't it?  You have followed me down my dark hole and are witnessing my climb back out.  I'm not sure exactly where I would rate my performance. I've been okay, but not spectacular. I'm not accustomed to just meeting expectations for work, I've always been one to exceed them. I'm the one who took work home when I didn't have to. I'm the one who took on extra tasks, helped others, trained others, constantly looked for ways to improve. But in some ways, because everything looked so dark, I'm not sure exactly how that translated into my assignments.  I'm not sure if my work was weak or if I just felt that way, you know?  This week will be a good one for determining where I stand.

I am sleeping better. I've been getting to bed at a decent time. That has also meant less time online, which accounts for my lapses in posting here. But my health has to come first. And as I get closer to healthy, I have more time all around.  It sure feels good to have decent sleep in me.

Reading with the kids hasn't been consistent, but play has.  The Trucker doesn't like to read (I just can't even start to comprehend this, how can anyone NOT like reading?) and the kids do. So, I will do whatever it takes to keep them encouraged and challenged with reading.  When I think of how I completely left this world to join the world of the Hunger Games last weekend, I know that I want my kids to have the same feeling of escape from reality as they get older too.  I guess, instead of reading out loud with them I have been reading beside them. At the same times as them.  I'm showing my interest in their reading and we are talking about our books. 
So, it's not a missed goal, it's just a bit different.

And, as I'm trying so hard to remind myself, change is OK.  Change is good. I don't HAVE to be perfect. I just have to be PRESENT.

November will be here soon, I need to start looking at the next round of goals. I'm so glad you're here, sharing this with me.  Have you set any goals of your own? 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October's Focus

O pen mind.
C aring voice.
T ime for me.
O wn it.
B e accountable.
E njoy a good night's sleep, every night.
R ead WITH the kids every day.

Since September turned out to be a successful month as far as my goals are concerned, I intend to do the same for October.  I've been thinking about this for a few days and I think the above goals are appropriate.  I want to keep an open mind, so I don't scare myself off of new machines at the gym, don't avoid trying new foods that are healthy. I want to listen to the kids stories and dive in to their made up world with them. An open mind will be great.  Time for me comes mostly from the gym, but I would like to make at least a bit more effort in this area. Time for me at home, like doing my hair or make up, getting dressed a bit nicer. OOOHHH How about actually remembering to take my makeup OFF?   

A caring voice is important, often the words we say don't sound how we mean them because we have not put thought into HOW we say them.  This is easier to do when we are well rested, so I'm staying committed to going to bed at a decent time every night, no 2 am work sessions anymore. That's not good for me or anyone around me...

I read with some of my kids, most of the time... And it's always fun for all of us. I am making it a priority to actively read with all of them even if it's only a few minutes every day.

Accountability, owning my actions, is very necessary. When you start lying to yourself about what really needs to be on your to-do list.... it's not good. Example?  I chose to ignore the truckers laundry, knowing that he had no pants left for work. All day I avoided it, finding reasons to be irritated that he didn't do this himself. However, he didn't actually ASK me to do it.

So, it hits the high end of my to-do list. I organize the laundry room, do some work, play with the kids, spend time online.... totally not laundry.  Then when he asked me in the evening if I would mind throwing it in for him, I gave him this big line about how I wanted to do it in the morning, but I just got so sidetracked.. So, I've BS'ed my way through the whole situation. I am not accountable to me, because I KNEW what I needed to do, and I'm not accountable to him.  Of course, this is just an example, there are many situations that it can apply.


I'm definitely feeling better. Finally starting to feel like life is normal. I'm back to volunteering two mornings a week at the school. It's a project that only takes about ten or fifteen minutes, but I've really missed doing it. I'm eating well and energized, the exercise is making stress management easier.  I'm not suffering Mom-somnia so much. I'm actually going to bed earlier every day. (hate those days when a really good show is on at 10 pm!). Shortening the list of things I want to improve has allowed me to just accept the improvements that come unexpectedly.  I can finally actually find time to RELAX. And that is not something I've done for ages.
September went well:

Start strong, stay strong
Exercise at least 3 times a week
Play with all three kids at least once every day (even if only 10 minutes)
Teach Angel Baby Something new
Eat Breakfast every day
Make Time for marriage (don't forget the hubs!)
Be present, stay focused
Expect and allow imperfection
Relish the small things

There was only one week that I didn't hit the gym 3 times and I did exercise at home. I did a lot better at being focused and staying in the moment. Imperfection is something I expect to have to work on forever, it's hard for me to let go.  I have gotten much better at eating breakfast, in fact, I have been watching my food quite carefully.  And I think that the trucker and I have enjoyed better quality time. We are pulling back together, much closer than we've been for quite a while. I've seen him laugh with me more, and I have seen him step into the daddy role more fully than I remember ever before.  When we support each other, it gives us both strength and energy to be better parents. And Angel Baby... Well, she's always learning something new.

I must confess, the things she learned from me this month were not really things I planned. She learned how to climb on the counter, how to fill the sink with water (she even adds the dish soap), where we keep the good snacks and how to get the straw in the Kool-Aid Jammers.

She is also counting to 15, and recognizes all of the numbers 0-9 by sight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Ran

It was amazing. It's a feeling that has been lost to me for too long. And it's been lost to my family.

Depression led to exhaustion, which led to little or no physical activity beyond what was actually required each day. My kids would call to me to catch them in the back yard or across the school yard. They'd ask to race to the van afterschool. I would run a few feet smiling and laughing with them. They loved how I always let them win.

It wasn't a choice. My body resisted every step of the way. If I did manage to get going, I could be completely winded by less than 1/2 a block. Running late to pick them up at school was painful. Parking is never good there unless you arrive early. Being late means you are parking a long way from the door. Being late means you better run if you are going to be there when the classroom door opens. Even harder if I've got Angel Baby with me, then I've got to carry her because her little legs don't go that fast.

Encouraging independence in my boys, I would wait outside and watch for them instead.  They could show how grown and responsible they are by remembering all their things.  Good life skills, right?  Everyone needs to learn how to organize themselves.

But I hated it. I thrive on being there. There is a small moment of happiness, love and surprise in my kids when I'm standing by the classroom door. They are fresh, I can see exactly how the school day made them feel. If I wait outside, those thoughts fresh in their minds have faded after conversation and play with their friends on the way out.  I miss out.

It's like when the trucker gets home from work. 15 years in now and I still love to be right by the door when he gets home. I like to welcome him. I get excited like a little girl, looking forward to the way the day changes when the whole family is home.  It's a thrill that I miss if I'm busy in the kitchen.  It's not expected and it's really not necessary, but it feels good.

Today, both boys wanted to come home for lunch. Art normally stays, but I allow exceptions to keep things fun. I was running a bit behind. The close parking spots were taken, so I squeezed in as close as I could. I hopped out and ran. Straight to the doors of the school. A speed walk down the halls to the other end of the school to meet Art (because we just don't run in schools, do we?)  I made it to the closed door just as the lunch bell rang.  

He was happy to see me there, happier that he didn't have to walk all the way home.  He gave me his little mischievous grin and said "race you!" He slipped out the side door and across the playground towards the front of the school. 

A few months ago, I wouldn't have even thought about it. I would have turned and walked back through the school to meet up with Macboy and walked slowly along to the van. We would have made it home in a decent time, no pressure.

But today, I smiled back at that goofy grin. Today, I jumped up and ran after him. We came around the corner of the school just as Macboy was coming out the other door. And seeing the smiles from both of us, he joined right in. We paused before crossing the street, then raced the rest of the way to the van.

We were seated in the van and laughing. They instantly shifted into telling me how the morning went and what's in store for the afternoon.  I didn't spend the drive home trying to catch my breath. I wasn't winded. I was happy and giggling right along with them. I made them try to guess what I'd made for lunch. Macboy didn't even complain that Art was invading 'his space' as he normally does when Art comes home with him at lunch.

I am so grateful that I really started to see the sunshine again. I was in place so dark, truly believing that 'this is it'. That the hard painful realities of each and every day were just plain old truth. That it was good for them to learn responsibility and take care of themselves. It was certainly easier than acknowledging what I was missing.

Before, I ran from life. I hid from reality. 
Today, I ran for fun. I ran for play. 
And it paid off in so many ways.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September Is Better Than New Years

Have you ever felt this way?  Even before I had kids going to school, September has held a strong power over me.  In January, the routines are the same after the first. You are already in a groove and have to be well motivated to get past any rut you might be stuck in. I have never made any big sort of New Years Resolutions. At least not any that I could keep!

With September this is just not the case. I have been permitted the luxury of being able to work from home. This meant that there were no real time commitments through the summer and many long lazy mornings and late nights. For us, September restores structure to a disorganized life. It imposes schedules and deadlines which we hadn't faced for months.

I can't just allow the kids to stay in PJ's because I'm behind on laundry, I have to stay on top of it so they have clothes for school. I have to get up at the same time every day because they have to be up. I get a free pass, like a get out of jail card, to start over.

What better time to revisit my own personal agenda?

What makes me love my job?  What energizes me? What do I want to write and how to I want to spend my time?

I still have Angel Baby here during the day and that keeps me from becoming too wrapped up in schedules or lost in work. She forces me to take breaks, which I appreciate. I use her little distractions to stop, do something important (play, cuddle, sing, dance, pay attention to HER), and then I can switch tasks if needed.

I have joined up at a local gym and have been doing well getting there at least three times a week. The benefits far surpass simple health. My Trucker is getting some quality Daddy time without mommy interference. Yes, I do interfere... not intentionally, but simply by being here. They will almost always ask me anything before they ask the Trucker.  I am the one who is here the most.  I am getting breaks to focus on something wonderful... something other than my mom-duties, employee-duties and wife-duties. I am getting time to focus on ME.

The kids are getting to bed earlier, which is giving me time to unwind at the end of the day again. An hour or so can do such wonders for the following morning. Not to mention the change in my quality of sleep!

I am focusing on adding variety to our meals and also trying to eat regularly myself.

Simply put, September forces change and this time, I'm prepared with ideas of what I want to change.  I'm proud to say that my goals for September have been working very well. Here's the mid month recap:
Start strong, stay strong  I'm proud to say I'm doing well. Strong Start, strong days.
Exercise at least 3 times a week  Right on track!
Play with all three kids at least once every day (even if only 10 minutes)  The best and most FUN of my goals is going great!
Teach Angel Baby Something new  So far she is counting from 1 to 11 and recognizes most of the numbers by sight.
Eat Breakfast every day  This needs work, but I'm getting closer and I haven't had those days where supper is the first meal of the day.
Make Time for marriage (don't forget the hubs!)  Going well and one of my favorite things to focus on!
Be present, stay focused  I slip occasionally, but I am catching myself and returning to the moments.
Expect and allow imperfection  I'm feeling more calm and finding less chaos, it seems the less pressure you put on yourself, the easier it is to get things done.
Relish the small things This surprisingly takes more effort than you would think. It's so easy to overlook the little things in the face of a larger distraction.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Search For The Perfect Planner

Sadly, this tale has no happy ending.  Ultimately, the planner that I need doesn't exist.  I'm a work at home mom.  I try to volunteer at the school, spend time with the family, add time for writing and exercise and of course, fit work into the demands of daily life. I split my days into 15 minute increments to keep track and I run from the time I wake up until the wee hours of night most often.

So, I need a planner that is small enough to carry around and fit nicely beside my computer when I'm working. I need a planner with a to-do list that I can move from day to day.  I need a month at a glance, a week at a glance and a day by day that shows everything from 6 am to 2 am.  I created a form for myself that had my day only, this worked great, I could flag work hours vs. home hours easily. To make it large enough to actually write in, it takes a page per day. This page doesn't have room for much to-do or action items, so I need a separate list. 

My work tasks are logged in an internal system and my time is also entered there. Logic screams that I should only be tracking my time in there. But there are errors. Occasionally, items don't save properly and occasionally the user (yes, me) makes mistakes and has nothing to compare it to.

Enter the time tracking cell phone app. This works great for tracking my time on the go, but then it gets messy. The reports don't break things down in a great way for me to quickly enter my time on the work system. The paper planner wasn't great for time entry either but at least I had back up. In order to get a list from the app that I can work with, I have to email it to myself, then spent time sorting and filtering and transferring the time.

There are so many things I need to keep track of, and ideally it would be all in one place, right?  I'm trying to track my fitness and exercise. I need to keep track of how much water I drink, because I never drink enough. I'm trying to track my work hours. I need an ongoing list of to-do's for the homefront. I need a list of appointments and outings. I need to keep track of the kids daily needs (so I never have to try to remember when the last time Angel Baby had a bath was) and their events.  I need to keep track of my blogging for two reasons, first of which is to make sure I do spend time writing and second is to make sure I'm not spending TOO MUCH time writing.

The worst part of it is that if it is not written down, it will likely get forgotten and I will have to spend hours going over my open tasks for work, digging out school calendars, staring at the missed cleaning jobs or checking for empty dresser drawers in the mad search for school clothes.

My brain went downhill seriously each time I popped out a baby, I should have stopped earlier!

Once upon a time, I used my pretty Flylady Control Journal. It managed a lot of my routine items. I still couldn't fit work into it and I still needed my calendar for other items, but it kept me on track. The problem was that it was too big. It took up too much space. A big Binder, no matter how pretty, just always seemed to be in the way. So it got forgotten.

I stress myself often over the perfect way to manage everything. At times I just give up on trying to manage anything.  I know that I can do this, I've done it before. I don't have to do anywhere near as much as I did in the past. It's silly to think that those things matter. Really, if you are going to look at my baseboards and check for dust... you deserve to find it!  And really, it doesn't matter what kind of planner or agenda you have if you don't have the motivation to do what's in it!

Today I downsized. I'm going to depend on sticky notes and a small student agenda. Just a week at a glance type of book, exactly like the one my kids bring home from school, only smaller.  I'm not going to fill it with details. I can map out my tasks generally, note my hours for work as a total, list appointments or commitments and I can find a way to track my fitness if I want to. The point of exercising is to just go, I'm not hugely concerned about when or how, just the IF. 

I'm a compulsive planner. There is always a better way to do everything. But this time, I am doing something completely unlike me and I'm letting go of the details. My September goals are attainable and simple. This is one area where I will allow the imperfection and just try something different.

How do you keep track of your time?  Got any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Something To Look Forward To

The sun is shining in a beautiful blue sky today. I've got a bounce in my step that has been missing too often lately. I have the scent of the remaining birthday roses floating across the table in the light breeze from the window.  It's a great day.  

Looking Forward!
Nothing special, really. Laundry and working. Not a big list of exciting plans. Just another Wednesday in my life.  But I feel good.

I was having a really hard time figuring this out. What is different?  Surely having the kids back in school didn't MAGICALLY make things better. This is only day 4. Where did this peace come from?  I've been sleeping better, eating better, exercising more. I'm managing my time like it's easy. Floating from one thing to another.  So what happened?

Macboy was kind enough to shed light on this situation.  You see, he hates school. He has since kindergarten. It's not any specific thing, he has good friends and he likes his teachers. What he doesn't like is wasting time. And repeated practice of a skill you possess feels like wasted time. He loves math and science because you can 'do something with it' but he loathes writing. Writing notes that are already written in a text book?  WASTED TIME.  Summarizing a book to a teacher who has read the book, (aka. book reports) WASTED TIME.  The rough part is that many times I agree with him. He learns in a different way. I had to write everything to remember it. Once I've written it with my own hands, it's pretty much cemented in my brain.  Not him. He doesn't even look like he's paying attention but can often repeat everything you just said.

Back to the point here, he has been coming home happy every day so far. He didn't have the massive stress levels before the first days that we've experienced every year so far. There were some signs, but nothing huge. He's getting himself out of bed in the mornings and he's ready to go.

I asked him what is different this year. He said "nothing." I probed a bit, as I'm likely to do, (which usually turns out bad because I remind my kid of a problem he had forgotten) And he said that summer was just about too long. There were too many rainy days, too many hot days, too many friends away, all of that.  He said the beginning of summer is great because you know that you have two months to just do whatever you want. 

Being back to school gives him something to look forward to. I was moved by this observation. Really shocked. He is absolutely right. Everything feels better when you have something to look forward to.  The days go better. When I'm moping around the house where all I can look forward to is making dinner for everyone and then washing all their dishes, I'm not very happy.  But I've found somewhere to go, something to do for just myself and I love it. I have never been one to enjoy exercise (wonder where my kids get it) but I love this membership I've got. It's not about reaching my goals or losing weight or anything like that. 

I can spend my day looking forward to a break. Some time to myself, for myself.  And the difference is huge.

I let this thought steep in my brain for a while and then I brought it up with Macboy again. I mentioned that I was surprised he was looking forward to school everyday. It's a great thing to know that you have something to do everyday. Things aren't quite as boring, even though sometimes the days seem to go a little too fast.

He looked at me kind of puzzled. I reminded him of our conversation a few days before. Then he laughed at me.  

"Mom, I don't look forward to GOING to school, 
I look forward to 3:30 everyday when it's done."

No matter what it is, no matter how big or how small, give yourself something to look forward to and you will keep moving forward!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Shifting Focus For September - Goals and Plans

Start strong, stay strong
Exercise at least 3 times a week
Play with all three kids at least once every day (even if only 10 minutes)
Teach Angel Baby Something new
Eat Breakfast every day
Make Time for marriage (don't forget the hubs!)
Be present, stay focused
Expect and allow imperfection
Relish the small things
I need to keep myself moving ever forward. There will be no going back to those dark places I was in over the summer. I'm confident I can do this and I'm taking the right steps to get there. I'm not aiming for perfect, I'm looking for comfortable, happy, relaxed. School has just started and we are planning our last camping trip of the summer, after this weekend life will slow down and then I can seriously look at my situation and figure out what has to go. There is something that just makes it 'too much' and I need to remove it. Just not sure yet what it is!

September will be a great month.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Even Negative Attention is Attention

I sunk. I think I hit a harder bottom this time than I ever had before. My family and friends could see that I wasn't happy, but I have been through this before. They know I am strong. They know that when I really need something, I will ask for it.  But I didn't ask. I just stared at all the common sense problems I could see, and I got angry. OH. SO. ANGRY. Why should I have to ask? Why don't they do this on their own? Seriously. How many adults are here?  Why am I doing everything?  Why are they criticizing me? Why isn't anything

good enough

You know why?  Because I pushed them out of my way. "Yes, I need help. No, you can't do that I need it my way. Yes, do the laundry, please! Oh... you put that in the dryer? UGH..." 

It's hard to recover when you can't see the help you are getting. It's hard to recover when you are filling yourself with your perception of others expectations. I let it go, I let it grow out of control. And it resulted in the fiery wrath. I was ready to run.

What scared me this time, just before the breaking point, was that I lost sight of what was important. I have never wanted to run from my kids. EVER. But this time it felt like the ultimate punishment for those who couldn't see what was wrong.  They thought it should be easy. They think it's fun and games raising kids. My kids are strong, I've taught them well. I knew they could manage without me here. I knew that even just a few days of teaching those who couldn't see... would MAKE them appreciate me.

I would take a quick trip to the store, the best version of 'me-time' I could get. I would grab what I needed and be ready to leave, then I would wander through the store. I'd finally force myself to pay for what I picked up and I'd head to the van. I'd stare at the steering wheel, wishing I had somewhere (anywhere) else to go. I didn't want to come home.  I wasn't ready to face what was waiting. Kids crying, dishes waiting, messes everywhere. More and more signs of what I didn't do.

And I hated to admit that I was failing. I was. I was spending more time crying than laughing. I was frozen. I wanted to be happy, I keep chasing that dream, but I couldn't get moving.  Many days I couldn't even shower and dress. I lived in PJ's and stared at the things that needed to be done. I'd hyperfocus on work. Instead of feeling good about what I was doing, I was chasing my tail. I was behind, so I'd focus until I hit my needed hours and then crash again. At one point, I even messed up an entire project. Just before my vacation time, I did a whole project and it was crap. Sincerely crap. Something that would have needed to be redone entirely, not just bits and pieces, the whole darn thing.  Thankfully, while I was away, it was done. It was done well by someone else, with no looking back.

It hurt to admit it. It was awful. Up until then, I could at least give myself the credit that I did my job and I did it well. But then what? I worried about getting fired. How do I explain that?  I fell on work as an excuse, but my work was garbage. 

So there it was. I had a hubby I couldn't talk to, a job I sucked at, a mother who was constantly on my tail about something I didn't do right (if at all), and 3 kids who seemed to be purposely misbehaving when I was weakest.  

But my kids were not misbehaving. They were behaving like kids. Things get spilled, things get broken. It happens. The work they created for me was all I could see.

My hubby didn't hate me, he just didn't know what to say. He didn't understand because I never explained it.

And my mom, well, yes, she's picky. But she didn't intend to criticize, she could see what I wasn't doing. She was trying to push me forward and I just took it as complaining. 

I do feel better now. It's still a long road, but I'm headed the right way. I am trying. I'm also not trying AS HARD. Hyper focus hurts. It hurts my family because I'm not paying attention to what really matters and it hurts me. I spent the day scrubbing the bathrooms, when all that needed to be done was sweeping a floor. Instead of doing what needed to be done, I was doing everything possible to avoid doing it. Almost like I was looking for attention.

Just like kids, even negative attention is attention.

No more.  No more excuses. I'm using a timer again to prevent the hyper focus habit. When I go overboard, I sacrifice quality.  I'm not diving into new routines, school will start and change it all anyway. I'm taking each day as it comes. I'm not filling my life with lists and to-do's. I can see what needs to be done and I will do that.  When I have a list, I constantly pick the most abstract ways to avoid doing the simple things that drive me crazy...

By believing that everyone else thought I was a failure, I failed. I failed myself. I gave up.  My hubby deserves a wife who is not anticipating his next complaint, my mom deserves a daughter who recognizes the things SHE does for me too. She helps me a lot. Without her my house would be a disaster.  And my kids deserve a mom who is not thinking of 55 things she thinks she has to do while she's playing with them.

I failed myself. I stood in the way of my own peace of mind. I believed the mean things that I thought everyone was saying. I stopped trying. No one should ever stop trying. I couldn't 'do it all' so I didn't do anything. And I got lost in the process.

I'll be telling you more about the changes I've made, the few things I need to keep working on and how I'm pulling my socks back up and getting back into life.  

Yes, socks. Because I AM dressed everyday.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's Dark At The Bottom

Have you ever suffered from depression?  Many people get the blues now and then, mood swings are normal. But have you ever sat at the bottom of a well, looking up trying to see daylight?  The walls of the well are lined with all the things you have to do everyday and you just can't climb out?

I'm not talking about going to work, or trying to renovate your home, either. I mean EVERY part of your day. You have to force yourself to put your feet on the floor. You walk around like a zombie. You reach for your coffee and it helps you stay awake, but eventually it doesn't even taste like anything.  The simple things, like brushing your teeth are chores you have to write down to remember.

Maybe you have a day or two that are sluggish. Lazy even. You ignore a simple job like picking a towel off the floor.  Everyone gets this way sometimes. You scrape through the day doing absolutely nothing more than you HAVE to do. If you are a parent, you can get your kids through their day. They are dressed, bathed, fed, well looked after. You even take part in active play with them. You listen to their dreams and their fears.  You wake up the next day and know that it was a dry spell, just a slump, and you jump back into reality.  You can't be depressed, really.... look how much you can do in a day!

What if you woke up and realized that you didn't know what day it was? What if your eyes burned because you are crying in your sleep, when you thought that sleep was your only escape? What if you had a week of this?  What if no one seemed interested in you? What if there was no one there to be interested?

Maybe you're angry?  You're not depressed. You are furious!  Surely everyone can see that you have way to much on your plate. Why isn't this common sense to them? It's all obvious to you, so why can't they see what is holding you down?  Why has it been 6 months since anyone did anything for you??? 

Months?  What?  When did a bad day turn into months?  Do you remember the last time you felt good?  Do you know who you are? What made you smile? Where are your friends? Why is your spouse seeming so cranky?  What do you mean I've been standing here for 45 minutes?  I just came in here a minute ago to do the dishes!

Depression sneaks up on you. Sometimes you can feel the fall. Sometimes you know it's coming, but usually by the time you recognize it, you are already sliding. I'm not one to say that if you survive a bad depression you will be happy for the rest of your life. It's going to be a threat. But getting help and getting through it means that you will be stronger next time. And each time you tread through it you will have more clues, more tools and more support.

We never asked to be depressed. And we don't ask for help.  Who wants to hear "oh, you're feeling sad? You should have called me!" A) depression doesn't always mean sadness, and B) if you can't even put socks on, making a call is pretty unlikely.  And what would you say?  "Hi, I'm feeling kind of weird. I don't know what it is. I'm frustrated" or angry, achy, sleepy, hungry.... there are so many different ways that depression can show.  And you surely don't want to sound like you are searching for sympathy.  Of course, this is if you actually KNOW that you are feeling depressed.

If you don't know, things can get ugly. Even if you do know, you may not have the strength to get up.

But help is out there... don't be afraid to ask. You can see the sunshine again, you just might need someone to show you where it is.

Take some small steps. Write down the basics if you need to. Yes, I have had a list that said
"Put your feet on the floor, get some clothes for the day, go shower, brush your teeth. Dress. EAT."
And I still had days go by that I couldn't do that whole list. I could meet other's demands or needs, but I couldn't get me dressed?  And I certainly did NOT enjoy one minute of doing everything for everyone else.

But I'm working harder now.  I opened up the flood gates. It started poorly, I was screaming and crying at the others here. But I let out every mean horrible thought I'd had recently. I dumped it all out, I talked and cried until I was just empty. I honestly had nothing to say to anyone.
I scared them.
I scared me.

Then, after I ran out of things to scream... I was able to look up and see that those people are still there. They acknowledge my points, not just ignore them. And what the ??? They hug me?

They help me. They talk to me. They open up and let me know that I'm not alone.

Much of this climb up is my own. This is an internal fight, no one can do it for me.  But I can reach out when I feel weak. My perception of life at the moment, is not reality. Or, rather, it was not. It is cognitive distortions that rule my world. I've asked for help, less judgement and more support. But most importantly, I've admitted that I can't do everything.

I can feel better. I will feel better. And the big projects that are unfinished and haunting my thoughts ... can wait. Small steps. Each day is a new day.

Today, I am dressed. I am rested. I have eaten. I have worked. I have taken care of me, not just my kids. There are toys on the floor, but they are not going to hurt anyone. The small things that I've accomplished today are huge. They are big steps towards being healthy. If nothing else gets done today, I'm okay.

Just because I was able to do everything before, doesn't mean I have to do everything now. My kids are growing. My Angel Baby is 3 now, out of a crib and not napping. This is a big change. My days are busier. I don't have to do everything I did before. Because life changes. And if I don't change with it, I can not get better. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Past Does Not Define Me

I obsess over the details in my life.  I am constantly revisiting events afterwards trying to figure out what I could have or maybe should have done differently. Learning to let yesterday go, like watching a cloud float by, is not easy.  It is often necessary, but for someone like me,  normallly very difficult.  I have thought extensively about some bigger events in my life and realize that these are things that have happened that do not really affect me today, unless I think about them and choose to allow them to take over.

My past may be part of what made me who I am, but it is no sign of who I am NOW.  I am a survivor. Acknowledging my space in this world as my own is making it easier to deal with today.  I may feel crazy. I may feel like I'm always behind the 8 ball and struggling with minute details of life as a WAHM.  But things have been hard before, and I survived. Things were not always in my control and I survived. I am exceptionally sensitive to negativity. It can easily consume me, even if it has nothing directly to do with my own life. If someone hurts, I hurt with them.  But I am a survivor, and I will get through this stage of my life too.  

I am a child of divorce. My parents divorced when I was very young.  I am not defined by their relationship, I am still a successful adult, despite what many people say happens to children of divorce. I survived.

I am a child of alcoholism. I have lived with domestic abuse related to alcoholism, as my mother lived with an abuser for several years. I have watched my mother sink her life into alcohol too. I know that her choices are not my responsibility and even if I disagree with them I understand that this is her choice to make.  I have seen the bottle destroy many special things, and moments. I choose not to live my life that way. I survived.

I am a mother of a special needs child. You know what?  He was special before. I do nothing different now than I did before, I just have a little more support along the way.  I did nothing to 'cause' this diagnosis, and I can do nothing to take it away.  He is still the same boy he has always been. It was hard getting to this point and truly understanding that overall this didn't change my life. I was always there helping him and I will always be there.  I had bad news, but I survived.

I am a wife who has struggled with thoughts of divorce, faced the risks and realities of affairs and infidelity, battled good times and bad. Every day we learn a new way to communicate, a new piece of the puzzle becomes clear. Every day we try to make tomorrow better. Together, we have survived.

I have lost a job. I have worked for a company that went bankrupt. I have had to go to a food bank to feed my family. I have dealt with creditors calling non-stop. I have dealt with my trucker being laid off, at CHRISTMAS. I've suffered severe depression. I've lost friends and family to disease, I have also lost friends to silly differences. I have had bouts of insomnia. I have been bullied. I have been fat. I have been teased. I have even been stalked.

Through every one of those events in my life, when I thought the world was just absolutely going to end for me, even when occasionally I wished and prayed that the earth would stop, open up and just swallow me whole.... I survived.

No, my past does not define me. It proves to me that I am strong. I can do this. I can be whatever I want to be.  No matter how bad a situation feels, it is NOT the end of the world. 

It is simply a new beginning.

And I will survive.

Monday, August 8, 2011

All About Growing Up

I have been writing a lot lately, maybe not here but I definitely have been writing. I've been working through some parts of my personal history, revisiting times in my life that were hard or hurtful.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about my junior high (grades 7-9) experiences.

The writing started off on the negative sides of school. Bullying, and the likes. But as I look deeply now, many of those things seem so small. I was teased, for sure, but there was never any physical threat. The main group of students that were hard on me were all nice when it was a one on one situation.  It was hard for me to understand why anyone would let others tell them who they could like or not. This one group was about 20 students, all of which treated me well one on one.  When I flipped out at lunch one day and called them on it as a group, they all just simply stopped talking to me at all. I suppose this was a blessing, the polite conversations stopped but so did the rude remarks. (I tend to bite my tongue until I just can't take it. So when I speak my mind, EVERYBODY has to hear it)

The parts of me that were most criticized, were things I couldn't control. My clothes, hair, money and other stupid things.  We didn't have the money to buy new flashy expensive clothes, so I wore what was comfortable and when I got something new, I just loved it no matter where it came from. My discount department store new stuff was so much better than their hundred+ dollar shirts.

I've been digging a bit deeper into personality traits, and analyzing some of my own thoughts and actions as I get older. I've come to realize that my need to be a better person has always been there. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind at that teenage time, I knew that "they" were dumb. I knew that there were more important things in life that clothes and money. I knew that the friends I kept were friends because they were supportive and caring, not because they shopped where I shopped. I hoped that some of 'those people' would wake up and see that they were focusing on the wrong things in life.

I always felt ignored, lost in a sea of people I could never compete with. But truthfully, I never wanted to. I hated the thought of what would happen to me if I did fit in with them. Maybe I would wear the same things or could afford the same things, but I really don't think I would have.  I never begged my mother to buy me that brand name sweatshirt so they would leave me alone. I was tearful and afraid, yes, but never ever trying to become them.

I had an image float through my mind last night. It was me, back in that school, back with those people. Standing well dressed for half the price in the hallways where people used to brush by me without notice.  I had thought, years ago, that no one liked me. I had decided, years ago, that I hated all of them. It was easier for me to control this situation. They didn't like me because I didn't want them to.

Then it hit me, like a rush of emotions, I am still the same person now. I never really 'hated' them, but I sure didn't want to be around them. I wanted more for myself, I was better than that. I could see what was important when they couldn't.

I am still the same person. I am still very selective when it comes to making friends. I have a hard to reaching out. I have a hard time opening up. But when I do, it's often a rush of everything. I have friends who know everything about me. I have a limited number of 'acquaintances' and a lot of people I just don't even want to try to know.  I hesitate to trust anyone. I calculate the number of ways things can go wrong. I worry about telling the whole story to anyone, just in case they judge me for it or find a way to use it against me.

When I open up, when I finally feel trust and respect for someone, I am fully prepared to share everything. I always strive to be more than I am. I try every day to find a better way to do things. And I shelter myself from people who have their own agendas. 

The pain that I felt in Junior High, wasn't caused by other kids, it was my own personal protection program.  I'm extremely grateful everyday that I didn't fit in. I wasn't like them then, and I'm not like them now.  The dark side of me enjoys that several of those girls didn't finish high school because they became mommies, and it loves that the skinny girls are all bigger than me now. (And I've had three kids!!)

I'm not a 'fashionista.' I'm hardly 'girly' except when I'm playing dressup with my little Angel Baby.  I don't have high material needs.  I focus on the things that are important. Like making sure the needs of my family are met and building strong children. 

When I was 13, 14, 15, I thought I was losing my mind. But I think...
I just may have had it all right then too.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Marriage Matters - To My Husband

Being a truckers wife, well, it isn't much fun.  You either have a man who is always out of town and comes home to sleep and get his clothes clean, or you have a trucker who is home most nights, but often exhausted.  Many days being married to a trucker feels like not being married at all.

Of course, my darling trucker has not ALWAYS been a trucker. This is the first time in all the years I've known him that he had a job he loved. Even when he hates it.  When I met him in 1996, he had a suspended license. I'd love to take credit for pushing him in the right direction to clean it up, but it had nothing to do with me.  I simply encouraged him to find his passions.

That's what marriage is about, really. Supporting your spouse even when you think they are wrong. 
Pushing them to greatness, not bullying them into hiding.
My trucker is very spontaneous, I am a planner. I need everything to just be perfectly organized. We compliment each other. He makes a sudden choice to go away, I make sure we have everything we need. It is very hard for me to just get up and go at a moments notice, particularly since we had kids. It is also very hard for him to understand why it takes me so long to get us packed. But we make it work. And by the time we hit the road, we've moved past the stress of the trip (read: quit screaming at each other) and can enjoy vacation. He is happy knowing we are free from the daily grind, I feel happy knowing that if my kid trips in poison ivy while getting eaten up by mosquitos because he's throwing up in the bush and he has an asthma attack... I'm covered.  Well, maybe not so extreme but ... who am I kidding, I need it this way. I am a paranoid mama.

Marriage is work. I know that my mom and my dad had tried to explain what it takes to keep a marriage alive. Especially since theirs ended in divorce. I don't want to ever deal with divorce. It will be an absolute worst case scenario if it did occur. Each time we struggle through a tough patch together, we end up feeling a bit closer, a bit stronger and a lot more united. We can not predict every bump in the road, but we can still move forward together.
Often, this little fact is forgotten at the time, but we have survived some pretty crappy situations and I'm sure the worst has not passed us by yet.

So, even when things are good, we work. We make time as often as we can. Our kids are getting bigger and it's getting a little easier to find a sitter for all three. With his weird trucker hours, I rarely go to bed at the same time as he does. So, if the Angel Baby is in bed, I can leave the boys playing for awhile and go sit with him for 20 minutes to talk about those things we don't want to discuss around the kids.

We hit rock bottom now and then, try something new to work on and keep moving. It's when we forget to talk regularly, or just don't talk at all, that the problems hit. When your marriage is weakest, that's when disaster hits.  The Murphy's Law of marriage!

http://www.projecthappilyeverafter.com
I read. A LOT. He doesn't. But after this many years, he has tested some audio books and is willing to talk about what I have read, so I'm okay with that. As long as we are still finding new ways to be more together, I am okay with the reading. I was lucky enough to win a copy of Project: Happily Ever After from Alisa Bowman. I may not have been in the moments of trying to plan my truckers death or writing his eulogy at the time I received it, but let me tell you, when I started reading her blogs about marriage I think I was there. (I will be sharing more about this book soon, so watch for it.) .

Friendships require a lot of give and take. Marriage is the most important friendship you will ever have.  You have to be friends, raise children if you have them, share financial stress and planning. It is a personal business.  As long as there is something to look forward to, it's worth putting in the effort. 

I have been in the mindset of "for-the-kids" and it does nothing for the kids. My whole life revolves around my children. But I am starting to see what so many others have, I need to work on the marriage more than parenting.  After all, the trucker will still be here when the kids move away. At least, I want him to be.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sometimes I Wish I Was a Drinker

I know that it's not healthy for those who turn to the drink to cope. Sometimes, life is just plain hard. It's exhausting. It breaks your heart.  I wish that I could wash away the things that tear at my heart.  I wish that I could shut off the voices that plague me.  

But I'm not that kind of person.

I feel too much, I worry too much. I feel personal pain for others misfortune. I shouldn't, I know that. The only choices I can control are my own. It's just my nature. I love too deeply. I care when I shouldn't. I worry even when I know I can't do anything at all to change what is happening.  I know my place. I state my piece and hope for the best.  I'm honest. I've been told WAY too many times that I am too honest. It shouldn't be a fault, but it can be.  

My heart breaks for those who are suffering, whether I know them or not. It hits harder when they are close. It hurts more when I want to step in and can't.  

A little girl, she's barely an adult. I tried everything to support her, and then I just couldn't anymore. I got close enough to see all the reasons everyone else had turned their backs. I got burned, just as they did. She's a big girl. At least, that is what I tell myself.  But it's not good. Words she whispered haunt me. Things she spoke loudly... without words.  I held on as tight as I could but it was beyond my control. He pushed me out, like he pushed everyone out.  I just pray that there are some of us left when she finally sees what we saw.  I can't erase the things she told me. I can't erase the fear I heard in her voice when she was ready to leave. The exceptional plans she had made to leave.  She covered every angle, so she wouldn't be found. And if found, she was still safe. 
I can't let go of the fear I felt when she called to tell me she was marrying him.  I don't want to care. I want to let go.

A lady, my age, I've known all my life. Lost in a world of constant fear.  She pushes away those who sincerely wants to help, I'm not sure if she knows that. She tears through other peoples lives, to justify her shortcomings. She dreams of a peaceful life. Without health problems and nightmares of losing those she loves.  I've held her countless times as a friend. I've reached out when she didn't want to be near anyone. I've tried... I've tried many times.  But my life seems entirely different and she doesn't want to see it. She rips at my soul when I see her. I've said my goodbye's to that dream of connection. I let go, but I can never forget her.

Another, who has withdrawn herself from conflict whenever possible.  She has hidden from the slightest complication in life. Now, when her own life is becoming complicated, she is not able to deal with it directly.  She chose to ignore those tough times, and now has no skills to cope on her own. In the process, she has shut away many of those who could have helped.

A father who lost his young wife tragically and much too soon. Thrust into the world of single parenting. Lost to a world of hiding his pain in a bottle or pill.

Those who hurt others purely for spite. They don't know what damage they caused. They don't see what they have lost in the long term. 

Those who turn your words of encouragement and support against you. 

Yet another, who fell madly in love with someone who would never commit. So much so, that he only flirted from the other end of the country.

One who is obsessed. One who is sick. One who is lonely but afraid to break out of her shell.  

I feel so much more than I should. All I can be is a shoulder to lean on, I can't change how they will carry out their lives. But I still wish dearly that I could. That there was just one more thing I could do or say that would make all the difference.  I offer advice, but it falls on deaf ears. No one can help if you don't believe there is anything wrong. Right?

Wrong.

Those who have helped to mold my life, often gave unwanted advice. Those who have pushed me to face my own fears, to break free of my own inner silence, they are the reason I'm still standing. 

I internalize everything.  To a fault. When you say something mean to me, I will play it over and over in my mind. I will seek the truth in the words. Sometimes, I will find that the truth has nothing to do with me but others, I find the answers and make changes. If enough people are telling you something is wrong, chances are good that something IS wrong.  I listened. I've made changes.

I can deal with just about anything these days. I have been puked on, spit on, climbed on. I have sat with my child in a hospital bed, praying that he just starts breathing without tubes.  I have been through the dark side of marriage. I have been cheated on, dumped and had my name run through the mud.  I have been bullied and I have been stalked. I have lived with alcoholics and drank myself into oblivion more than once. I have witnessed abuse, assault and domestic violence.  I have lost everything I owned and been buried in debt.  

I can get myself out of pretty much any situation that presents itself. But I can't get you out of yours.

Letting go.. is hard. Letting go of anything. But letting go is necessary if you ever want to be truly happy.  Why does it sometimes feel like a fault?  I can see clearly what I have tried and where I have failed. I know what I can and can't change. I know that the lines are drawn and I have no further effect on them.  

But it still hurts.  

I can let go, I can be free. These things, these thoughts that hurt me are mine. The thoughts that linger ARE under my control. I can choose to be free of this guilt, this pain. I can choose to accept that I tried. I did not fail, because the battle was not mine. I can use moments of all of these relationships to better my own life.

I will be aware of my choices.
I will carefully consider the advice of trusted friends.
I will always seek the truth in any statement made.
I will always be honest
I will always love too deeply.

I will be strong for those who are not. If I had always been strong, I would not have had these connections to begin with. Even if they do not learn the lesson they should, I can learn.

I seek happiness and peace in my life. I believe that a crucial point of moving forward is letting go of yesterday. However, I also know that I need to fully acknowledge what I am letting go of, or this process loses it's meaning.  Being happy, means accepting and understanding the things that are UNhappy.

I could sit here and mourn my losses. I could drink away the hurt. I could sit here and just be sad.  But the tears are gone and there are no more coming. I control my own happiness. I treasure the small moments as best I can.

Life changes constantly, we must change with it.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Moron Customer Service

Oops.  I meant
More On Customer service.

maybe.

For just about everything in life, I believe that you do not earn the right to complain about something unless you are willing to be a part of change or solution to the problem you are complaining about.  Whether it is service from a certain store, or even something in a personal relationship. If you keep doing (or allowing to happen) the things you are complaining about, you are not part of the solution.

If I have crappy service at Wal-Mart (yes, there are people in some of the stores that actually provide customer service) I have a choice.  I can shut up and just put up with it because I'm saving 40 bucks today. OR. I can just stop going there. Choose a different location or entirely different chain. Right?

If I get bad food at a restaraunt, I will likely not eat there again. But then, in a restaurant that I have been to a thousand times, I will not be upset from one bad order. I'll choose something else on the menu.  I might mention it to my server. In a good restaurant this might even lead to a visit to the table from a manager, perhaps a discount on the bill.
But.  Let's take McDonalds as an example.  I've known many people who will make a special request on the burger, just to be sure they get something that hasn't been sitting under a heat lamp for two hours.  So "hold the pickles" has nothing to do with tastes or allergies or anything, but if there is the evil pickle on the burger... what do you do?
a) pick the pickle off and let it go since you really didn't have a good reason?
b) take it to the counter and ask for a replacement?
c) freak out because their staff didn't pay attention for the ten thousandth time? Demand a manager?

Really, when it's not a big deal, a consumer should let it go. Maybe you have driven all the way home only to find you have a completely wrong burger, not just a pickle. Or something is missing. They should understand that the drive thru is meant to be a convenience, we do not want to turn around and drive all the way back to you to replace it. We probably don't have time for that, or we would have came in.  It certainly depends on the problem.

Now as the employee, who receives that call, or greets that customer at the counter, take these steps
1) Listen to the customer... the whole story... Make sure you UNDERSTAND what part of it is making them upset.
2) Apologize. SINCERELY. If you don't feel bad that your staff messed up, you shouldn't be a manager.  You CAN'T apologize sincerely if you have not listened to the entire problem.  Someone with an allergic reaction needs a bit more of an apology... than say, someone who just got pickles.  Someone with a missing meal or fries or whatever... deserves a different kind of apology.
3)This is not just "I'm sorry."  Be a PARROT. For real. I will believe that you understand my problem if you say it back to me. I will know you are paying attention to MY concerns if you can do this. "oh, I'm sorry it didn't go well" means nothing to me.  "I'm really sorry you got a Big Mac instead of your McChicken"  See the difference?
4) Ask the customer how you can make it up.  Don't just spit something out there... you are damaging yourself first. Yes, there are reasonable limits to what you can offer up, but you deal with that after. Say you suggest a full meal replacement, when all they wanted was a new burger, you just cost yourself money.  So "I'm really sorry you got a Big Mac, I understand this is a long way out of your way so you don't want to just rush back here... What can we do to fix this for you?"  This is now MY responsibility. You are providing a good service and asking for my feedback.

The last time I complained to McD's specifically, I didn't ask for anything. I didn't want anything replaced or refunded or free. I asked them to take some time to review the process in their drive-thru. I told them that I understand there are new employees and the like and mistakes happen... but please revisit the training and ask your employees to make sure they are actually checking the orders before they go out that window. I was pleased to see a manager working the window the next time I got there. HOWEVER, this manager gave me the wrong drink.  And I don't mean diet coke instead of coke. I mean a fruitopia that should be bright red but was as clear as water.  Kind of instantly obvious to me. Did you even look?
That visit was one of the few better experiences. I went inside (because I had checked MY order before leaving...) a worker saw me, called me to the front of the line. She started to make an excuse, then just apologized...agreed that it should have been noticed and gave me the right drink. Easy Peasy. I had no need to get super P.O.ed. She handed me the RED drink and said she would go check the machine. Done.

So, if you handle the issue right, you will save yourself from the abundance of super-cranky customers.  And if you listen to what they have told you, you can improve the processes and prevent future mistakes. If you ignore the customer, you keep repeating the problem, and they get meaner and madder every time.

Customers do have a huge part to do with customer service. Those that want something for nothing do make it bad for the rest of us.

So consumers of the world... be part of change. Don't be complainers!

And Businesses?  Don't treat all of your customers like they are the bad ones. Treat everyone like they are the first customer you ever had and they will keep coming back.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Perfect World

In a perfect world, my kids would stay in bed after bedtime. I would be able to go to bed at the same time as the trucker.  In a perfect world, finances would come easy and we would have the space we want in our home.  I wouldn't have to split my office with play area.

In a perfect world, trust would run rampant. There would be no backstabbing, no disappointments. It would natural to trust someone first instead of it being a risk. Our hearts would always be full and never broken.  There would be no battles for control, or upsets over losses. Everyone would have patience... all the time.

But this is not a perfect world.

I still teach my kids to hold open doors for others. I teach them to stop and help someone, to pick up and return an item you've dropped. To say hello to neighbors walking by. I show them to help others, and also to be careful not to be conned. I give change to those who need it. I buy a coffee for a friend who is feeling low. We ask questions... and listen to the answers.  

Times change, I read recently about chivalry being dead. I disagree. 
It may be weak, but it is not dead.

I was treated to having car doors held open for me, offered my seat before my date sat down.  I have been serenaded, more than once, and not just at karaoke. (That happens more by women, sadly.... but that's a whole different story!)  I was presented with a single white rose a thousand times more than a dozen red ones.  Sure, some of these things have slipped away almost entirely, but it is not a societal shift that occurred. I became a mom. And my white knight is a dad.

He doesn't hold the door open on the van for me, we're busy getting kids buckled in and making sure we have everything we need.  He may sit before I do in the dining room at supper, but it's usually because the kids will just keep getting up and leaving the table until one of us is in there too.  I don't often get roses of any sort, but the kids are encouraged to bring me wild flowers (read: dandelions) any time they want.  Life changes. In our house at least.  

When I went to college, I had an 8 month old baby. I bussed it downtown, took him to daycare and headed to class. In the first sixth months of school, I didn't open a single door for myself downtown. Not one. In fact, when it did happen I actually DID notice.  I believe that most people really are good. Sometimes it may be hidden, but don't we all want to be just a little bit more than what we are?

Little things. Life is all about little things.

My kids might not go to sleep when I want and I don't often get to bed at the same time as the trucker, but we are making a better effort to get our alone time too.  I may share my home with my mother, but it is financially smarter for ALL of us. Why scrimp and save every penny just to have our own separate places when we work well together here?  We can all have a small taste of the good life this way.  As the kids grow the space they need for play changes constantly. My office will be just an office eventually.

When you pay attention to the little things, life just gets happier.  Buy a coffee for the guy behind you in line or in the drive thru.  Hold a door open for someone to go by.  Let someone ahead of you in line at the grocery store because they have less items than you do. Simply smile and say thank you to the Wal-Mart Cashier. (really, do it. I don't think they really ever hear it anymore).  How about in a drive thru? Place your order and then say thank you, before you drive ahead. They hear it, and I can promise they will be smiling when you get to the window.

You know how to teach your children to be responsible and kind?  Let them see you do it.  It can be a struggle sometimes to turn the other cheek, but they need to know that part too. They will see that sometimes you can be the bigger person and not just because it was easy.  Life is hard. They need to know it.

This is my world, 
and it is perfect 
enough for me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

To My Children

One of the million things that I want you to fully grasp before you grow up and move out is that it is HUGELY important to be kind and patient.

If more parents would share the responsibility in teaching their children to be friendly and helpful, to give the benefit of the doubt when possible, I think the world would be a more peaceful place.

I also believe that this is not a skill you can just teach. Like reading a book or handing over a user guide.... we, your parents, need to MODEL this behavior.  If we are frustrated all the time, if we are impatient, argumentative and rude... you will be too.

 ---
There was a day not long ago that I overheard my boys fighting over a game. A perceived wrong in the eyes of one and the other defending himself as he was completely clueless as to what he did, but knew he was right no matter what....
I did jump in and stop the arguing... I walked them both slowly through what had actually happened. Essentially they both had the same facts, just entirely different perceptions of what happened.  After a good discussion, they were fine again.

I sat for a bit and reflected on the situation. And you know what I figured out?  The trucker was working a lot of long shifts, I had been running myself on empty.  Meaning, WE were being impatient and cranky. We were being short with each other, and ultimately with the kids too. Our frazzled nerves and tired bodies were wearing everyone down.

We took a day to just chill out, he napped, then I napped, then for a little bit we both were napping.  We stuck to an easy supper. Made no plans. Just stayed in that perfect vegetable state for a day.  The next day we were still a little groggy (our bodies didn't know what to do with all that sleep) but we were recharged and energized. We found a solution, set it in place and went back to paying close attention to how WE were acting. And the kids are no longer at each others throats. 

There are two valuable points here.  I took the time to understand and encourage them to understand what the problem WAS.  Then I found the underlying cause and resolved it.  I'm not saying we have a perfectly harmonious house ALL the time.  But we do have a happy home most of the time.
---
In any situation, your best bet is listening to the person you're conflicting with and making sure that you both understand the problem. At that point, and only at that point can you begin to resolve the issue.  This is a lesson that will carry you through your life. In all your personal relationships and professional ones and most certainly as an employee of any company. An open and understanding mind will open doors for you wherever you go. Every employee of every company is a part of customer service. Good service means repeat business, recognition and often new opportunities and promotions for you. You benefit the business, you benefit yourself. And if you are in a position that you are not happy with, look for the underlying reasons and change it. Maybe you have the wrong job. Maybe you have been working too many hours, or not enough. Maybe, by teaching you to look for deeper reasons and to show patience and kindness first, you will never have to worry because you will be successful no matter where you go.

Trust me, it works. I have never left a job that didn't try really hard to keep me (even the one that went bankrupt, I had 4 job offers from co-workers after that).  I'm honest and up front. If I'm having a problem, sometimes it might take me awhile to own it, but I DO own it.  I accept whatever consequence and move on. (sometimes this is taken as being too honest, but .. what do I have to hide?).  

Just do the right thing, no matter where you are. At home, at work, at school. It is not the end of the world if you admit when you are wrong.  Even if you are not.  Be the bigger person, be patient and kind, loving and understanding.  If you wait for someone else to do it, it won't happen.  Happiness breeds more happiness. Misery loves company.  

Don't let the world bring you down. 
Work to bring the world back UP with you.


When the sky is dark, BE the sunshine.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Ever Happened To Customer Service?

Maybe I am one of those picky consumers. Maybe I have a higher than normal perception of what customer service should be.  As much as I hated providing customer service in my old jobs it gave me a good understanding of what customer service should be.

Even when I knew that a certain skirt would not fit the buyer, I let her buy it. And I let her return it when she came back a few days later complaining that it was 'cut different' and didn't fit.  

Even when I knew that my employee had not in fact made any racial comments to one customer, I listened and handled his concern tactfully. I also discussed with that same employee what it was that he was upset about. Taught my employee to be careful how she phrased things.

Even when I've had things thrown at me, seen ornaments smashed on my counter and been called every name in the book, there is the part of me that just wants to repair the relationship and move on.  

At the lower levels, I was one of the first to pass a grumpy customer off to management and at the higher levels, I always supported my staff, yet handled the customer's concern in a way that was acceptable to them.  Yes, providing customer service means admitting you are wrong, even when you aren't, sometimes.  When I couldn't please a customer as a manager, I openly handed over the number for the next level of management.

It seems, from my recent experiences that this is just not the case any more. Escalating a concern is made difficult at best.  

Two examples?  McDonalds and U-Haul. 
I tried to contact the regional office for McDonalds after a store manager told me it was MY responsibility to check my order before leaving the drive through and also about the time when the manager on duty asked "Do you want it fast or do you want it right?"  I got nowhere with the store, so I followed up with the next level. I left a detailed message as requested and promptly got a call back from the SAME STORE MANAGER.  Who said the same thing. AGAIN.  Where is the next level of management?  They immediately redirect the calls back to the stores that received the complaint.  With no resolutions, I have become the ultimate pain in the ass customer at McD's. (Yeah, I know I have an ego problem. But they set the challenge out there).
I go inside EVERY time. I open EVERY burger and check EVERY drink while STILL standing at their counter.
Afterall, they did tell me it was my responsibility to make sure my order was right.

Then there is U-Haul. A moving nightmare. One problem after another. Yes, we got the job done, that was the only part that was easy. Picking up a trailer was a train wreck and then we were sent to a location for drop off that wasn't even open. The customer service rep on the phone says "well, do you want to drop the trailer off or not?"  Seriously?  Let me tell you exactly what I want to do with this trailer. I decided to look up their customer service forms online. Their telephone service reps were about 75% of my problems.  I was careful to choose the correct categories and state my issues clearly. Within 20 minutes of hitting "SEND" I received an auto reply message from U-Haul customer service.  It says "We're sorry to hear about your concerns, please complete the form at this link to ensure your issues get resolved quickly."

Did I fill out the wrong form? No. I filled out their form. Their contact/customer service form listed on their website. Not only did I waste time filling in the required information in the first form, but it doesn't even get read and I get redirected?  This was not the first Gong Show with them either. The last time, we let it go. But now this makes three entirely different cities that have caused us grief. It isn't just one bad store, so I felt it was time to move up the chain.

I do understand there are thousands of people who manipulate the systems. I get that there are thousands of people who will simply try everything to get something for nothing.  I did not ask either company for compensation. Just that they revisit their customer service steps and remember that without customers they have nothing. 
They depend on the lazy. They thrive on those who just want to get things over with. And they don't care to listen long enough to find out if there is actually a real problem. They redirect you and avoid you until you just simply give up the chase.  They get away with bad service and they do it over and over and over.

If you listen to the issue, you can tell when a customer is just making things up. You can tell by what they want. For U-Haul, we wanted them to flag their system so that no others traveling to Calgary would end up at a closed location when they try to drop off.  I will not go GET a credit card just because it's easier for them. If they don't even know when their own location is closed EVERY weekend, what might happen to my credit card information?!?!?  
At McDonalds, having to stand in line for 15 minutes in the store to get the attitude noted above. NOT COOL.  By then, the rest of my meal was cold too. They replaced 1 item. One.
Hello?  I'm standing in line with a closed bag and a receipt. 
Pull me to the side and get me the CORRECT order so I can get the H*LL OUT. 

I know that good customer service DOES exist. Occasionally I experience it.  And I am quick to be thankful and praise the staff or companies that are doing a good job.

Companies like Lego or Hasbro are tops on my list. Nintendo is pretty good too. I was searching for a replacement piece to a Lego set we had bought. A leg on a mini figure broke within the first day. They have places where you can look up the individual product numbers and buy single parts. I couldn't find the piece I needed in their list. So I just sent a general email describing what it was that I needed. You know what I got back? A personal email. It said that they were not sure which piece I meant, could I please clarify by looking up the number online. I replied that I had tried to find it but could not. I provided the set number and the mini figures name and described in as much detail as possible what broke.  This was followed up by another personal email, not an auto reply, that said basically "we're not sure what you mean exactly so we've sent what we think you mean. We hope this helps." I had the part in about 2 weeks. At no cost to me. And they sent the entire body of the mini-figure, even though it was only the leg that had broken. 

My kids were thrilled. Good Service Makes People Happy.

Hasbro makes Beyblades. Macboy went through a big phase with Beyblades. He still likes them even now.  He had started using his own money to build his collection. This made it even more heartbreaking when the bolts snapped.  So online I went, searching for a way to replace ONLY the face bolts instead of having to replace the whole thing. The facebolts are the one peice that holds the entire Beyblade together. Without it you can not use them. I could not find any easy way to just buy the single peices so I used the online form to ask Hasbro directly.  By that point we had a couple broken bolts.  

Hasbro sent my boys, within about 3 weeks, 4 full Beyblades. They were not brand new or anything, no special stickers or decoration, but a nice variety and so much more than my kids expected. We asked for just the bolts and got a great selection of additional pieces to customize the beyblades too.  Along with this package that brightened my kids spirits and my overall opinion of Hasbro Toys, was a sincerely worded letter of apology and a thanks to my kids for using their own money to buy from Hasbro.
I recommend Hasbro Toys to everyone and often.

A few weeks after this, when my boys were quietly playing with these toys, it struck me how simple the customer service process was, with both of these companies. So, you know what I did?  I emailed again. I picked the most general categories in their little email system and sent a message stating how wonderful I thought their service was and how much I appreciated their attention to our concerns.  I told them how I would recommend their brands based highly on the service I received. They didn't ask me a million questions about what happened, they just said "oh, that's terrible, let us help you."  My initial request was simply "Where can I buy these pieces?" And they sent them to me at no cost.

And again, from Hasbro, I received a personal letter. Thanking me for thanking them. For real. It was full of comments like "no one ever shares the good moments, but the complaints spread quickly. We appreciate that you took the time to provide positive feedback. Thank you for your purchase and interest in our brands."

I know some people 'work the system' all the time and that screws the rest of us. But ultimately, customer service means providing the benefit of the doubt and LISTENING to what the customer is telling you.  The first bit of advice I got when I was first promoted into management was "Learn how to shut up and just nod and smile. A customer who knows they have been listened to will be more cooperative and reasonable in finding a solution."  Also, a customer that is listened to will generally not start yelling. Or swearing or throwing stuff. (And if someone starts off that way, chances are YOU are NOT the problem. But you can help turn their day around if you provide good service.)
Serve my meal properly and without attitude? You'll like your tip. We'll smile, we'll laugh, we'll probably stay for dessert!  And I will recommend you, by NAME when possible. Including to your manager.
Treat me like I'm preventing you from taking your smoke break or chatting with your friends... I won't even eat there and you WON'T get a tip. Good customer service is hard to find these days.
If you don't have a sincere attitude to help people, don't get a job in customer service.  
Please.