Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Confidence Formula

How would you define the difference between arrogance and confidence?

I recently was intrigued by a LinkedIn post by Beth Collins which explored the issue of accomplished women downplaying their success for fear of appearing conceited. There's probably not many out there (men and women alike) who haven't experienced this inner conflict to some degree.

It's easy make a research project out of this self-confidence issue by simply studying kids–if you happen to have any nearby. One of my kids seems to be blessed with an abundance of it. The other has her days. Yes–Mr. Confidence happens to be the boy. They're both talented and loved equally. And I thought we had raised them similarly, but I wonder. Have I reacted differently or taught them to respond differently at certain, critical developmental stages?

Cole has a healthy opinion of himself. Very healthy. If either of us has been gone, and I tell him I missed him, he always responds with, "I'm sure you did." I know he's joking. Sort of. But I'm sure my giggle confirms his conclusion. But the kid definitely feels good about his place in the world. He typically has a story about an amazing feat he's done. Heck, just the other day he beat his sister and his mother playing a wicked game of one-on one in basketball. That is amazing. He told me and I agreed.

Alex, on the other hand, has not put herself on that same pedestal. She hardly gives herself credit when it's very much due. A "1" on her vocal contest solo? Not that big of deal. The judge must've been easy on me. State history essay award winner?Yeah. Didn't make it to nationals though. Did I teach my daughter to respond this way? A daughter who won't recognize herself for her own achievements?


No one wants to be construed as arrogant. But I really want my children to understand it's more than okay to be proud of their achievements. In my opinion, arrogance only occurs once a person has used their prestige, money, or accomplishments to make another person feel badly. Perhaps this is why many people (especially women) choose the route of self-deprecation–to ensure no hard feelings. But a problem occurs with this–we begin to negate our self-value. It doesn't have to work this way.

Most people would agree that confidence generally equates to happiness. Confidence comes from many things. Achieving a personal goal. Trying your best. Being loved unconditionally. Some people have a need to express this level of happiness once they've attained a certain level of confidence. Some do not. Neither is wrong, but sometimes communicating our own achievements can be helpful–whether seeking opportunities or affirming our capability.
When we feel comfortable with our level of confidence, we feel the same level of happiness for others when they exude confidence as well. This is the best way to defeat jealousy and ill-will. It's a wonderful, un-vicious circle. This is the best reason to promote self-confidence in our kids and ourselves.

My kids' expressions when I'm providing life lessons.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Of Mice and Men

We have a mouse in the house.

It's not tiny.

There's no reason for us to have this super-mouse since we own a feisty cat and a TERRIER who  demand to be inside with us–despite the infinitely more interesting possibilities for animals in the country.


This mouse is cunning. We've set two traps, placing them in various, strategic locations. Yet, he scoffs at the peanut butter offering on the trap...knowing he can forage enough food crumbs in our house to last another fifty years.

And intrepid! The mouse hasn't been afraid to show himself. The other day he sauntered across our kitchen. Really. He did not skitter, like frightened mice are supposed to do when a gathering of humans are near. Like sensible people, we all jumped on our bar stools, raising our feet to avoid being attacked by the ferocious rodent.

The cleaning lady found herself facing him the other day in the laundry room. I think he was trying to intimidate her–concerned she'd remove his crumb stash. She admitted he did scare her a bit. But I don't this the confrontation dissuaded her from sweeping up the mouse's forage.

But he's still not taking the PB bait.

Clever bugger.

Incapable cat and dog.

I wish I could just convince the mouse to take a walk out the door. It's such a nice time a year. And I'm really not into killing things, even if they are classified as pests.

Any ideas? Give up? Pull out the old hamster cage? Make him a part of the family? Mice are kinda cute.
We lost a hamster in our house once. Maybe the mouse isn't a mouse?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Can your Kids Butter Bread?

I recently taught my son how to operate a can opener.

He turns thirteen next week.

Sometimes I question my parenting abilities. While I'm certain Cole could install a wireless network while simultaneously attaining Master Prestige on Call of Duty Ghost, I wonder what basics I've neglected in teaching...either of my children.

Rumor has it Cole can't butter bread.

And I can't decide if Alex doesn't have the ability to launder, or if she's just being ultra-clever in her lack of effort or results.

Maybe my teaching methods are simply inferior.

Here's another example. Cole troughs food into his mouth, using his teeth to cut food into bite-sizes, as opposed to using a knife on the plate–not completely unlike a dog. Surprisingly, we do often eat together as a family. And we do reprimand him, since we prefer a civil dining experience. But I'm wondering if perhaps the sound of my voice turn to mush just as it hits the kids' ears. Sort of like wa-wa-wa-wa.

Maybe kids are programmed not to listen to parents for a reason!

Admittedly, when I set off to college, I wasn't much of a laundress. I had to learn the skill from my roommate. (To tell you the truth, I still have my share pink foibles. Luckily, my husband doesn't mind pink socks.) But there's more. I didn't really iron until I had a job that required pressed shirts. Sure, I've had some burns. But I've healed. And I truthfully? I think I've just perfected the eggs over-easy. I honestly can't remember if my mother attempted to teach any of this to me. But if she did, I wasn't listening very closely. The moral of the story?
I eventually figured it out.

I would like my kids to be somewhat self-reliant before they head out into the big world though. Perhaps Cole won't need to rely on chicken noodle soup without a pop-tab. But we might make him in charge of the least for awhile.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Best Days

Optima dies...prima fugit. Translation: "The best days are the first to flee."

This particular theme of Willa Cather's My Antonia struck me last weekend as I finished re-reading the novel on our trip to the Iowa Games. It was almost eerie.

best days of our li-i-ves
Cole is a pretty happy kid. But when you set him in an environment with his buddies to play soccer, swim, and watch sci-fi movies... he's beyond euphoric. We could hardly convince him to eat a cheesburger–which is basically his fuel. He was too busy hanging with the guys.

When all the festivities came to that screech of a halt, and we found ourselves on the ride back home, I noticed Cole's glum expression.

"Sad, buddy?"

"I just didn't want it to end."

optima dies...prima fugit.

When I asked him the other day how he would've ranked the weekend, he told me he was waking up every day, wishing he were still at the Iowa Games. He said he's feeling nostalgic. Nostalgic. And he's twelve.

It certainly seems our memory tends to look back and pick out certain times of our lives as the best days. Now that my daughter is edging closer to entering college, I'm constantly telling her how this will most likely be the best time of her life. While it's been twenty-some years, I think back to Iowa City so fondly. The smell of the trees. The scampering squirrels. Walking by the Iowa River to class. I might've even attended a party or two.

The mind seems to do wonderful tricks, doesn't it? Because I'm almost certain my college days weren't quite so picture perfect. My mom might attest to a few teary phone calls. Being completely broke is usually not a lot of fun. And I'm pretty sure I didn't ace every class, like I intended. But I rarely think about those times. I usually divulge my memories with those times when my senses were most happily engaged.

With no disrespect to the estimable Willa Cather, (who actually quoted Virgil), I'm not so sure if the best days are the first to flee. I think it just feels like it at times. Just the other day, I was feeling pretty nostalgic about last summer...and those certainly aren't my first days! As a matter of fact, I'm really looking forward to a few other things (mainly trips) that I have planned for me and my family. Is it possible to be nostalgic about future events?

I was listening to a 90-year-old author on NPR the other day. She was asked about the favorite time of her life. She said her favorite decade was in her fifties. This response certainly could be different for everyone–especially when you're in your nineties. But as I think about how my life has evolved, I have to admit, I'd probably say the best time of my life is right now. Unless a time machine is invented, this is what I'll tell my kids they need to believe every day: The best time in your life needs to be now.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Embrace the Hills

Everyone said it. But deep down, I thought, not me though.

Ha Ha.

So the time had come when 'soft' wanted to make its presence known. Tummy. Triceps. Muffin tops. Yesterday, I'm like twenty-something, fallaciously worried about my weight. Then I wake up and I'm in my forties! And it did happened. I couldn't just walk twenty minutes and burn off the ice cream I ate last night. It was gonna take decidedly more effort...heart-pumping exercise and focused diet restraints. (It's no wonder all my friends are running marathons these days. It's not because they want to–it's because they HAVE to.)

Percy ponders the first hill.
I actually used to jog. Then we moved to the country with all these freaking hills, so I stopped. It was simply too hard. But now that I'm starting to appear like I'm in my first trimester (despite the hysterectomy), I determined to boost my workout by jogging. And tackle those freaking hills. And they are not just hills. They are freaking hills.

At first the inclines nearly killed me. Admittedly, I needed to stop a few times. But now, I'm proud to say, I can run the two miles non-stop. (Hey, no judging. Two miles is an awesome feat for me! I'm thinking of getting a bumper sticker that says "2 Miles.") And what's more? I embrace those hills. I go faster on those hills than any other part of the run.

Another part of my jog that was once an annoyance has now become a pleasing ritual. Mud stomping. Navigating mush feels a bit adventurous to this banker girl as she plows through some of the dirty parts of our country roads. I no longer care about the grit that sticks to my shoes. It's just wet dirt. It comes off. Wow. Isn't running the most awesome metaphor for life? Embracing hills! Tackling the mud!

I've been quite proud of my increased workout efforts lately. And I thought it timely, since I believe my son needed to re-focus his workout efforts with his current hiatus from soccer. Knowing his competitive spirit, I kept badgering him to a challenge.

"Come on! Just to the highway and back."

He was reluctant. Obviously, he knew I could beat him. One day, even though he tried to plead exhaustion, he agreed to a race. It was on.

Before we began the race, I coached him a bit–explaining he probably would need to pace himself.

"You might feel like starting fast. But trust me. These hills are killers."

 He nodded in a respectable deference.

So we took off. He began at my pace. Then after a short distance, he muttered, "This is way too slow." Then he darted away. And even though I calculated an eventual fade, it never happened. Nope.

The kid slaughtered me.

I'm still trying to find the life lesson here. Perhaps it's are, well, young. Dammit.

Twelve is a far cry from 44. And that baby got track.
Winner of the 2M Kramer Run.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Declaration of Independence

"You teach your kids to be independent."

I heard this often muttered by my mother as I was growing up. The words tend to ring in my ear a bit. As I think back on it, I believe Mom might have been speaking out loud more as an encouragement to herself than as a lesson for my young self. Because learning to become independent can hardly be as difficult as learning to let go.

My daughter is on a two-week visit to The Netherlands. I'm elated about this opportunity for her, since I, myself, have never been to Europe. But there's this gigantic pit in my stomach as I attempt to absorb her absence in the house. How will I ever survive her away in college?

When we bid her farewell at the airport, I couldn't even speak. I attempted some words, but only ended up choking up a few incoherent phrases. "Fun time. Really. Love you. Pieces." (The tears in her father's eyes didn't help.) Finally, I straightened up enough to hug her tightly and kiss her goodbye. I held strong as we watched her skip through security. Then I went straight to the restroom and sobbed.

It's not like I never saw it coming. Her independent soul, I mean. When she was young and my hubby was away, I'd attempt to coax her into cuddling with me in our bed. She'd politely decline. She's a girl who appreciates her space. Of course, my son made up for this in the next few years...I think we finally broke him of crawling in bed with us when he was eight. (Independence might be a trickier lesson for him, I'm guessing.)

Alex was always the one to wander off by herself. I remember once after fiddling with the baby in the stroller, I turned around to find I had lost her in the mall. Completely. After a few frantic minutes and shuffling through the crowd, I had found her at the entrance of the restroom. She blinked at me blankly, telling me she needed to go potty. Duh. She still wanders off to places. Still forgets to tell me where she's going.

But truthfully, I'm proud of my daughter: her wanderlust and resourcefulness. I hope she never loses her curiosity to explore and see the world. We told her if she wanted to go to Europe, she'd need to pay for it. And she did...(most of it anyway). I received an email from the mother of the family she's staying with. She informed me how kind and enjoyable Alex is...they'd just as soon keep her. This made me smile–not because they wanted to keep her. But because it reminded me of why there's a pit in my stomach. And that having her fly out of our nest might just be a bigger transition for me than her!

As we walked out of the airport, Cole said, "I hope I never have the opportunity to go to The Netherlands." Obviously, in his mind, he'd be obligated to go no matter what his preference. So. My son isn't too excited about leaving the lair. I realize his 12-year-old heart could change on the matter, but at this point, I felt a certain comfort with his admission.

After all, our basement is pretty sweet. And could be sweet for him for many years to come. And I'm just really learning about this independence stuff.

Away she goes...

Friday, June 6, 2014

On Daughters

On this day my daughter turns seventeen, I reflect on the benefits of having a daughter in a family with two other males.

  • Food: Not that my daughter feeds me, but now I have an ally with a palate that twists toward a cuisine not lusting after meat and potatoes. It's quite refreshing to hear those words, "I'm craving Thai" or "We should have a tomato and basil pizza."  Right on Sister, uh, I mean, Daughter.
  • Technology without Condescendence: I love my son. I do. And I realize his age of twelve puts him at the height of his digital career. But when I need to figure out how to finagle a FB page or edit a pic on Instagram, I'd rather work with the more forgiving attitude of my daughter–even if her ancient 17 years seem beyond the electronic prime. "Here Mom. Let me help you," she'll say with her sympathetic eyes and caring smile. It's like she's feeding me at a nursing home. Thanks Al. I appreciate it. #daughter'sareablessing
  • Fashion Critic: Having my own personal Stacey London has probably saved me several years of embarrassing fashion faux pas'. I've caught a few pics of myself when Alex was a toddler. Never will I forgive my hairdresser (whom I claim as a friend) for allowing one horrific, tightly-wound perm. Needless to say, my daughter has been my savior a few times before walking out the door. ("Mom! Untuck that shirt!" I guess high waisted fashion is for the youthful.) Although, I'm not sure I've done the same for her. There were a few trends she insisted upon sporting. Canary yellow tights...A year of nothing but Paramore t-shirts...the turquoise denim studded vest...okay, she never wore that...inside joke.
  • Pop Culture Briefings: Sometime in my thirties, I sort of forgot to keep track of pop culture. So, thank goodness I have my daughter to tell me about music not made in the 80's (hallelujah) and what screenplays are being translated from books (more importantly, who's starring in them). Otherwise, I might only be plaguing my brain with stuff like when interest rates are going to rise or the crisis in the Ukraine. Now, I can interrupt those serious issues with stuff like how the opening scene of Star Wars was filmed. Or what's Chelsea Handler's next gig. What is her next gig, Alex? 
  • Diffuser of Testosterone: The women in this house have been accused of being overly-sensitive, crying too much about puppies and kitties. We also tend to cry when the lack of male verbal filters kick in. However, I appreciate the fact my daughter and I can relate to each other about our emotions in this way. If no one noticed those animals on the Sarah McLachlin  commercial, maybe we'd never have saved Percy, our dog. Or gotten ourselves that evil cat that makes us laugh so much. So, it's nice to have two overly-sensitive souls in the house. It equalizes the action/sports/gun themes that tend to dominate the household.
Not only do I enjoy having a daughter in our house, I enjoy having my daughter in our house. Beyond a few housekeeping issues, she's smart, clever, and beautiful–in just about every way a person could be. She might be flinching at my horrible use of cliches, but I can't think of any other way to put it.

Here's to you my baby girl–God bless. I love you.
Hey Power Puff Girl.