About Me

I have something to say... But a blog let's me spew until I figure out what it is.

Monday, November 29, 2010

'Tis the Season for... Judgment?

So there I was... stuffed from a night of eating and enjoying the afterglow of my Thanksgiving Day turkey while I stood at the end of a 600 yard line of people at the Toys 'R Us. The evening was warm and still, the people around me chatting hyper-actively. It was my first foray into the craziness that is Black Friday shopping (in this case, Pre-Black Friday Shopping) and I had headed out alone. I got in line at 9:30pm in anticipation of the 10pm opening with the 4-5,000 other people who had the same idea.

In an effort to pass some time, I pulled out my not-so-smart phone and started checking status updates on facebook which had come in through out the course of the day and evening and that's when it hit me - by standing in this line, I became one of the many who are judged by those who chose not to contribute to the "capitalistic" "insanity".

As the evening progressed, the updates continued over the course of the two-hour wait. Someone posted that they "hoped that the tv (we) are waiting in line for blows up", another posted that "(we) are stupid and have nothing better to do"... the comments went on and on.

Why was I do this? There was a kitchenette on sale - Olivia is at a point, developmentally, where she can enjoy this type of item and its important to her imagination development. Also, when I was a toddler, I always wanted one but we were too poor to have one.

At $100 dollars, the kitchenette was too expensive, but with the sale that was on that evening, I could get the same set for about $50 or so - which was much more within my budget and made getting it for her possible. I considered waiting till morning, but what if they had run out? No biggie, personally - next year is another year. But Olivia is finally getting to that age where her eyes light up at things she likes, and buying gifts for her for Christmas is becoming fun for us as parents.

As I continued my wait in line, I developed short-term friendships with the extremely pleasant people around me. The family behind me (7 in all) were there to get gifts for their kids. Grandma, in her motorized wheelchair, chatted with her children and grandchildren about everything from A Christmas Story to discussions about what the "hot item" is going to be this year. Two very early-twenty somethings stood in front of my making fun of themselves and the lot of us giggled about their past Black Friday experiences.

As the evening progressed and the judgmental facebook updates continued, so began the "Put the Christ back in Christmas" postings... before you shut down this blog and never return, you should know that I DO believe in Christ and His sacrifice for me. My issue is actually much bigger than the "remember what Christmas is all about" postings and more to do with people's judgment on how others choose to celebrate the holiday.

What is wrong with my choosing to take my own time to stand in line on a beautiful November evening in Florida to chat with people I will never see again, experience something I have not yet experienced, make my own decision about how great/horrible it is, try to obtain a toy that I think my daughter will enjoy and benefit from ... all in the name of Christmas? Is it to say that the true followers of Christ do NOT exchange gifts on Christmas? Is there anything in the Bible or in history that indicates that the giving and receiving of gifts on December 25th hearkens back to traditions original to the holiday? Are those that are devout and faithful followers of Christ willing to cease this gift exchange to more fully celebrate the day of His birth (though to my understanding there is debate on the 25th having any true biblical significance). And if not, where is it written that though shalt not purchase such gifts in a hectic/cattle-like way? What does it matter to you if I purchase these things at a discount (i.e. financially responsible way) or if I pay nearly full-price for them. How does it affect your life for me to stand in line with people for the party of it? Hell! I may go back next year NOT to buy anything just to learn something from people around me.

And do you know what I learned this year? The economy sucks! Families are struggling through so much turmoil between lost jobs and pay cuts that they have to do anything and everything they can to provide for their children. If 50% off an Iron Man helmet is the best they are going to be able to do for their kids this year, I say stand in line baby - stand in line!

No, gift receiving should not be identify of Christmas, but I will proudly state that I am happy beyond happy to identify Christmas as a gift giving season. Christ is Love and my holidays have always been an opportunity to celebrate time with family and friends, to make great food for each other's enjoyment, to enjoy comfort food, to spend time together, to come together when the year has kept you apart, to slow down and enjoy the companionship of your family, and to give to each other a token of how much you appreciate their presence in life.

If Chris is Love then He wants me to get together with my family and to bask in our love for each other. He wants for us to laugh, drink, eat, and exchange gifts. He wants for us to help the poor and give to those who are less fortunate.

But most of all, I am quite certain that Christ never said "acknowledge and dote on me on December 25th each year". I never really viewed Christ as that self-congratulatory, self-interested, or self-centered.

And while he certainly never said "shower each other with gifts on a specific day of the year", he did ask us to love they neighbor and to love each other. Christmas is the reminder that we are all wrapped up in our own stuff - without it, I would barely remember to slow down and enjoy the company of those in my life. The bell ringers at Salvation Army tins, the Toys for Tots commercials, the local church food-raisers, the Christmas lights inside the mall --- all serve to remind us that we should be kind and look out for one another.

At the end of it all, most of those crazy nutjobs that are standing in line are just desperate to show their children or loved ones that they care. We don't know their story. We don't know their ability to provide for the other 365 days of the year. We don't know if this tv they are purchasing is the first thing that they are able to afford since they got married or since their child was born with a severe birth defect costing them their life savings. That woman at the front of the line who has been there since Tuesday could, for all you know, be rushing into the Toys 'R Us to pick up a Baby Alive for her Alzheimer patient grandmother who had one when she was a girl.

Or - they could JUST be getting some things for their kids for LESS than they would spend tomorrow.

Either way - I am pretty certain that we aren't meant to judge each other.

So I will take pictures as Olivia sets her eyes on that kitchenette I stood 4 hours in line to purchase. And, yes, it will be worth every second of it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

... to be thankful for...

It has been a rough year in the Boyle household. In early January, my husband's mom died suddenly. There was a steady stream of parental units living in the house for the better part of the year. I switched Olivia's day-care provider. Found my footing as a parent. Finally came out of my post-partum depression haze of the previous year. All leading up to the very abrupt death of my younger sibling.

From November 1st through December 31st, you can usually find me walking on air. It is, by far, the best time of year for me - little goes wrong, everyone is a twitter with activity and, usually, the family draws closer together as they overindulge and enjoy each other's company.

Up until today, the spirit of the season has been a little lackluster. While I knew months ago that I would have no family in Florida through the holidays and subsequently planned large gatherings of friends local to us, George's death hit a nerve. It was as though I was standing in a bell tower when the church elected to ring the bell and noone had provided ear covering.

"Bonnnnggggg - your family is far away. Bonnnnnnnnnnggg - your family, as you once knew it, has desolved completely. Bonnnnnnggg - you are all alone. Bonnnnnnnggggggg......"

It is easy to wrap yourself up in these types of negativities - but as is "my way" I have a tendancy to turn the tables on myself and change my perspective. So, in a rather cliche attempt to find my Thanksgiving Mojo, I have decided to make a list of the top-four things I am thankful for this year:

4. My Job
The unemployment rate in Tampa, Florida as of September was 12.4% - ranking the city 334th out of 372 metropolitan cities according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (compared to the New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania Metro area currently experiencing a unemployment rate of 8.5% - representing a 187th place ranking!)

In spite of this horrible economic climate, I managed to secure a job in March, 2008 (when the unemployment rate was still on the rise) at Southeastern Guide Dogs. Having never worked for a non-profit before, I had no idea how risky a move it could be - but coming from the construction industry (THE hardest hit industry in Florida) anything was better than the sinking ship I was currently a passenger of.

But my appreciation for this job goes SO MUCH deeper than just having the job. In a time when many are stuck in positions they are overqualified for at companies they have little if any respect for or, as is the case for many, no job at all - I actually have a job I love coming to everyday. Sure - it has its headaches. There are days where I can't wait for the clock to strike 4:30 and I can run home to my daughter. But, on the whole, I am challenged by my work, I am able to make a huge impact both internally at my organization and in the lives of other people, and I am given professional freedom to think outside the box and develop existing or new programming. It is rare to achieve this level of professional satisfaction at any age - let alone 29.

3. My Marriage
I am blessed enough to have a supportive husband who treats me as an equal, who values my opinion and shares (for the most part) my enjoyments. As we age together, we have definately changed our common iterests, but I have come to realize that with age comes a shift in priorities. It's not nso important, anymore, that you enjoy the same music and both love going to movies. What becomes the priority is whether you support each other's life goals. Do you challenge each other to love as much as you can in the face of never-ending changes. Can you survive financial draughts, setbacks, parenting and all the other life challenges that come your way. The surgeries, the family deaths, the family celebrations and everything in between?

Suddenly, the you start to deconstruct your vows and realize that the commitments you made when you stood in front of your friends, family and God were lip service at the time - because growing together in your relationship is the true validation test of the vows you spoke.

2. My Family
I was raised to believe that family was the end-all-be-all of life. My grandmother, who was not the most affectionate woman, was also the woman well-respected by the community and loved (deeply) by those around her. What she lacked in hugs and "I love you"s, she made up in an openess you rarely find in women of her generation. A single mother raising three boys in Brooklyn, NY, she took no shit from anyone. You didn't mess with Dottie.

What she instilled in her boys was a sense of familial responsibility and, even more importantly, the ability to enjoy each other's presence in your life - to find the humor in everything you do - and to live life to the fullest no matter how illogical your choices might be. The trickle-down-effect instilled the same beliefs in all the grandchildren (there are 6 of us) and the desire to continue the tradition of family with our kids.

In September (a week after my brother died), I had the incredible pleasure of joining my cousin Kelly Ann in North Carolina for her wedding. It was the first time we had ALL been together since Grandma's death in 2003. Despite the fact that some of us hadn't seen each other in 7 years or more (in some cases), they were like a familiar sweatshirt you pull out on the coldest days of the winter. Being with family is akin to lighting a fire on Christmas Eve, snuggling up in your favorite old sweatshirt with a warm hot cocoa (with marshmellows of course) and letting yourself enjoy the mezmorizing effect of the fire's flames as it warms your skin.

I am so blessed to be a Gumpert. We laugh like no other family. We love like no other family. We party like no other family. And we protect each other like no other family.

1. My Daughter
Well, you had to see that one coming.

When I was in the throws of my post-partum depression (more on that in a future blog post), I began going to a church nearby. At the time, I went partially out of a personal need to be away from the house. But more than that - I was searching from something... I just had no idea what it was.

During one of the services, I was listening to Pastor Mark and something he said brought me to tears. I couldn't tell you what he said as its been quite a long time, but the result of his words landed in my heart and said: God made Olivia exactly the way she is specifically for you.

I cried.

To that point (and for a few months beyond it) I realized that I was failing as a parent. I hadn't yet acknowledged that I was suffering the effects of Post-Partum, but even at a basic level had not accepted that my expectations on her were too steep. Olivia's nose, her smell, her bald head, her tiny toes, her chubby belly... all existed because God said "You two shall be parents". Yes, I know - Olivia exists because sperm met egg - but in my view... THAT sperm met THIS egg to produce THIS child based on God's plan for us all. Olivia was made perfect - it was my expectations that were wrong.

Once the cloud of post-partum lifted, the warm sun that was the joy of my daughter shown brightly. She is loving. She is compassionate. She is stubborn and determined. She is wholly my daughter and she loves me. For the way that she has taught me patience, compassion, and gratitude - she is the single most important thing in my life and most definately the greatest thing to be thankful for.

As we approach the Holidays, I hope each of you will make your own small list of the things that you appreciate having. Life can be very very hard. We can be broke and jobless. We may have recently lost a very important loved one. We may be going through a divorce or a messy breakup. But I can assure you that there is something in you life you can "hang your thanks on".

Diversity, anguish and challenges are a part of life - and how much shit is doled out to you is not within your control (most of the time). The question is how much you will let that diversity run your life, or if you will take those things you are joyful about and run in a different direction.

As we say at Southeastern Guide Dogs (on a regular basis) - "It's not a challenge - it's an opportunity."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ask and Ye Shall Recieve!

Before I go forward, let me preempt this (and all future entries, by proxy - that's right Sarah - I am giving a "Gumpert Disclaimer") by saying this: I love my friends and I love my friend's children. If I criticize the behavior a child, it's a personal opinion and while it IS a reflection on you as a parent, it is NOT a reflection of my opinion of you as my friend - your parenting techniques does not change my opinion of you in the slightest. It is not meant to forshadow that Olivia will become President of the United States while your kid is flipping burgers at the nearest Burger King (hollah to my homies from the B-ville BK!) with one finger in his/her nose while contemplating the definition of "ambition". We ALL choose to raise our kids differently as we are ALL the products of our own environments growing up. I am able to distinguish that who you are (the person I love) is raising a child the way you see fit. I can love you (and your parenting) in spite of your kid's shenanigans. No child is the same, no parent is the same. But I DO believe that there are certain, fundamental things that define our generation of parents from the generation we all grew up in. More on that in a bit.

Moving on.

This past Saturday, the stars aligned, my sun sign was in Jupiter, and I saw a pig fly by window - well at least it felt like it. For the first time in months I got a chance to sit down with a cup of coffee and talk on the phone with one of my dearest friends. Every mommy out there can relate with the idea that there comes a point in your life when you start making appoitments to have phone calls with the (adult) people who matter most to you. Coordinating this type of phone call between TWO moms is just about as impossible as lighting a candle with a strong wind blowing.

As we chatted about our kids, the conversation shifted, slowly, to a more global discussion on parenting and our parenting styles.

When Olivia was still nothing more than an idea, my husband and I talked endlesslessly about the types of parents we wanted to be. I grew up in a household with strict limitations. My husband grew up in a household with none. You can imagine my reaction when I learned that he believed that teenages shouldn't have curfews as long as they are responsible and get good grades. Right - because the kids with good grades are NEVER the ones that get into trouble at all hours of night. Never. Ever.

I mentioned earlier that I believe that there are key, fundamental differences between the generation me and my peers were raised in and the generation that we are raising kids in. When I really sit back and think about what these differences are, I am able to come up with the following:
1) We are in the generation of the working mom. Other than gender equality, there is nothing great about this. More than ever, households need two incomes to survive. The result? A bunch of moms who carry with them a guilt that they don't get to spend much time with their kids. I see Olivia a whopping 1.5 hours a weekday - including daycare travel time and cooking dinner. The result of this maternal guilt is that we don't want the small increments of time we DO get to spend with our kids to be spoiled with time-outs and the enevitable crying that comes with it.
2) We are raising kids in a generation of instant gratification and lax parenting. The other day I was reading a local mom magazine that had a four page article on "Free Range Parenting" - the most incredible thing to me is that everything that was included in this article was EXACTLY how I was raised. There is a TERM for it now? But in the era of too-much-information, a mom has everything to worry about: from preservatives to aspertame, from drinking water to diaper cream, from lead-painted toys from china to carseat recalls. Addmittedly, my parenting philosophy is this: If I did it and it didn't kill me, Olivia can too. Now, if there is some new research that specifically an unequivocally identifies a link between the play-doh and cancer, I will OF COURSE reevaluate the 50-gallon barrel of play-doh I have stowed in my garage for the day when Olivia could play with it.
3) Today's generation of parent is weak. We have this incredible aversion to listening to our parents when it comes to basic parenting (by basic parenting I mean eating, sleeping, discipline and boundary setting as opposed to computer usage, television viewing, etc... too much has changed in the last 20 years so we are "on our own" to some extent with the more mature subject matter). The difference between our parents and us is that mom and dad were NOT afraid to tell us "No" and they ingrained into us that there would be consequences for talk-back. It didn't come easily to mom and dad to be so mean to us. Look into the eyes of your son or daughter when you tell them "no" and their tears well in their little eyes, their lip pouts and they cry as though they were in the greatest pain imaginable - and then TRY to remember when mom or dad switched their position and said "oh - ok... please don't cry. I'm sorry". I can tell you in my house it didn't happen. When the answer was "no", crying got you sent to your room until you could calm down. Why do we have such an aversion to listening to our parents? Is it JUST that we "don't want to be like them"? Is it JUST the idea that "this is MY kid and I can do it on my own"? If that were true - then basically you are saying that you don't like YOURSELF... your parents raised you to be the person you are today. If you love your husband, you have mom and dad to thank for giving you the right idea of what you were looking for. If you are proud of your career, you have mom and dad to thank for the drive they instilled in you and the support that they gave you as you developed through school and beyond.

When I was collecting my thoughts for this week's blog, I decided to ask my facebook friends what they would like to see on my blog. Here is where the real fun begins!

Two friends asked about how to get their children to sleep through the night. Now, provided that your child is OLD enough to sleep through the night (meaning that they are not so young that they should be regularly waking up for feedings), the suggestion I have is the simplest/hardest thing you will ever have to do - but there are few factors involved in this answer:

1)If your baby isn't TIRED they will NOT sleep through the night. Rocket science, I know. The ONLY thing that got Olivia to regularly sleep through the night was a consitant nap schedule during the day. Without a good nap routine, you have NO hope for an overnight sleeper. I have my mom to thank for this. Olivia woke up at 6:30am. If she didn't wake up, we woke her up. That's right - we woke her up. There is NO sleeping late. Mommy and daddy hated it, but the change in Olivia was so stark that we couldn't bear to sleep late. Olivia would be put down for her nap every day at 9:30 and 2:30. It didn't matter if she was tired or not and now, as she gets older, it doesn't matter if she sleeps or not. That time is "quiet time" - she can do with it what she likes. We keep no toys in her bedroom (or if there are toys they are put away) so that there is no desire to play. I would rather my living room be a mess if it means that she is going to sleep in her bedroom. Each of these naps were two hours. If she slept later, we would wake her up. By the time 7:00pm rolls around, that kids is TUCKERED OUT. Now, at 6:50, Olivia will grab me or her fathers hand, grab her favorite stuffed animal and her nuk and drag US to her bedroom for bedtime.

2) If your child DOES wake up in the middle of the night: Listen to the cry. Is something wrong? Or is your little one just calling to you. If they are calling to you, let them sit for a little bit. They may fall back asleep. If they begin to CRY for you - go in (leave the lights off!!), make sure they covered, that they have their favorite things with them and LEAVE THE ROOM. By picking them up, soothing them or stroking their hair, you are conditioning them to NEED you to fall back asleep. I say this as a parent who tried EVERYTHING to get Olivia to sleep through the night. Finally, my desire to keep my own sanity in check allowed me the strength regularly walk out of the room and not come back. If Olivia's cries turned from sadness to panic, I repeated the routine. This is the HARDEST WEEK OF CONDITIONING YOU WILL EVER HAVE TO GO THROUGH but by the time a kid is old enough to be able to sleep through the night without waking up, its time to play hardball.

3) Lastly, and most importantly, do not deviate from the routine - every. single. day. No excuses. We will work our entire day around being home for naptimes and being home in time for bed. The ONE exception was on Halloween when we took Olivia trick-or-treating. She was 18 months old and could handle it (but she didn't get to sleep in the next day!) Now that Olivia's closer to two, we DO skip naps from time to time, but bedtime is a non-negotiable. Yes, it sucks. Yes, you want to hang out with people after dark - but having Olivia not acting like a terrible two in the grocery store is FAR more desireable.

The other question I got from a friend was how to "survive mobility". I LOVE the way she worded it. Here is where the "Jenn's a bad parent" letters start flowing into my inbox. Ready? I don't childproof. There. I said it - it's so LIBERATING!!!!!

I have plug covers on every plug in the house for the sake of OTHER people's kids. I started telling Olivia "no" when she was 5 months old. "No plug". "No table". "No wire". Sometimes, at 18 months, she gets defiant and devilishly touches a lamp wire the interaction goes as such:

"Olivia. No. Wire." *touch touch touch* "Olivia. No. Wire. 1.... 2.... 3" at which point Olivia goes into time-out for one minute. IF she comes out of time-out early (which is rare as she is VERY used to time out), I add a minute. I DO use the Suppernanny methodology of discipline (so does my daycare provider which is SO important cause she is reinforcing what I am doing at home).

As a result, Olivia closes doors, rather than opens them. She doesn't TOUCH the cabinets (she has be taught not to). She doesn't touch the dishwasher. She doesn't open the refridgerator. She doesn't touch plugs or lamps or glass-top tables. She has been walking since she was 8 months old and by 10 months, most of the "No Cabinet" discussions were over.

So when it comes to childproofing my philosophy is pretty simple: Teach the child not to touch it, rather than challenging them to break into it.

I have heard HORROR stories about kids that will do ANYTHING to get into the cabinet. Wouldn't you? If someone told you not to do something and then, on top of it, gave you a little puzzle to figure out that would let you INTO it? Literally - cabinets ripped off the hinges! Drawer faces pulled clean off the drawer!

So, hang in there moms and dads! No one ever said that parenting was easy - but we have a responsibility to our kids to do the RIGHT thing rather than the easy thing! Don't let the judgement of the parents next to you (who wouldn't DREAM of telling their kid "no" in public) sway you from the mission you have to raise a well-rounded kid with set boundaries!!!

United - we stand - divided... well, our kids run through the grocery store, half-naked, with a giant box of sugared cereal clutched in their hands as they threaten to call DCFS from their cell phone.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Finding My Way

On September 13, 2010, they found my brother dead in his apartment. That is the first time I have written that down on paper and, somehow, it seems so much more real in writing than when I communicate to people verbally.

As you can imagine, choas ensued. In fact, if you could possible fathom the type of chaos that would take place when your sibling commits suicide at the age of 27 - if you could imagine all the different things that MAY happen when that news starts to trickle through the cosmos - chances are it occured in the hours, days and weeks following my brother's death. The hardest part was, by far, working with my brother's widow who was, by all accounts, not cut out to handler the extremely untimely death of her husband.

I was faced with the very stark reality that while no one is prepared for the suicide of a loved one, least of all is a 29-year-old widow after two years of marriage.

Then the inevitable blame game started. I struggled with trying to observe and respect the feelings of my brother's life-long love while balancing the wishes of my parents and, to an even smaller degree, my own personal feelings about and through out the aftermath. It was a lose-lose situation where no one would walking away feeling good.

After two months of trying to respect everyone, his wife determined that it was in her own best interest (and I can't say that I disagree with her, per se) that she remove herself from the family and begin moving forward without any of us in the picture.

So, too, went the hopes that I have carried with me since I was 14 that we would all be one big happy family one day.

A few days after my brother died, I began seeing a therapist to help me work through the grief I was feeling. It was my intention to see him a few times, get what I needed, and be on my way. But as I attended my sessions with him (and he implored me to stick with the therapy), I began to realize a lot of things about myself that had not previously been paid attention to.

While I was working to manage everyone else's grief - no one was managing mine.

Now, let me be clear that I have an extremely supportive family. They love me immensely and are tremendously proud of my personal and professional accomplishments. It isn't to say that they weren't reaching out to me. They were. They asked how I was doing and encouraged me to talk about how I was working through the death of my brother (who was close to me in age and was very close to me growing up but to whom I had developed a significant distance from in more recent years).

More to the point is that the death of my brother, the role I assumed without flinching or being asked, and the mediation I tried to take part in without expectation from ANYONE was actually a mini-version of the rest of my life. I put everyone before myself without anyone asking and, ultimately, make msyelf the victim in the process. Even if I don't play victim or count myself as the victim, I am victimizing myself.

So, here we are.

My brother was a huge talent - while he struggled whith finding outlets for himself in his childhood and adolescence, he had found a niche for himself in graphic and web design. He was talented and well respected among industry professionals and respected the talents that I had growing up.

As I write this, two months after his death, I find myself desperate to find a way to honor him. He always thought I was a strong writer - and had suggested, at one time, that I pursue copywriting as a career (which I never did). He also solicited me to write for his site: Media Consumes Me(which I never did despite my obsession with television). Ultimately, we pushed each other to create which, despite my talent or passion/enjoyment for it - I stopped doing and he continued to pursue and cultivate up until the day he took his life.

So, in memory of him - and to honor his creativity - I have created this blog. Its aim is undefined and I certainly don't forsee me becoming particularly notorious as a result of its entries, but at the very minimum I can write about his niece - my experiences as a first time mother, my intentions as a parent and my hopes for her future. I can share my television-watching experiences and hopefully make some people laugh. I can itemize my never-ending list as I endeavor to one day move back to New Jersey. And I can, MOST IMPORTANTLY, revel in how much I love my family... neuroses and oddities included without exception. Because, at the end of it all, that's the only thing you really have - it is with you forever.