The Library

Stepping into a library is like stepping back in time. There is a strange and strong sense that this whole system is arcane and unnecessary in today’s high-tech information age. And yet there is something sweet, innocent, almost magical about walking through those doors and being greeted by the sight and smell of rows upon rows of old, dewey-decimaled books. One almost expects to turn a corner and be greeted by “The Pagemaster” himself.

I was always in love with the library as a child – where countless volumes of stories and pictures and even films were available for anyone to borrow and return on the honor system! The only cost of taking armloads home with you was the responsibility to bring them back on time. But even this was negotiable. If you didn’t really want to return your new treasure just yet, you could call and let them know you’d like to keep it a little longer. No problem. Being given a library card was like being given the keys to a whole new world of possibility. One full of unknowns and mystery and knowledge.

But somehow, as I grew up and the world grew around me, I forgot. I left college, started work, started a family, got a smart phone with access to ALL information ALL the time . . . and I forgot. I had not stepped through the doors of a library in over 7 years! Until . . .

I rediscovered the unquenchable thirst of a child who LOVES to read. My son, who turns three next week, cannot possibly get his hands on enough stories and would sit and be read to all day if the adults in his life would just cooperate! I’m not sure how I made it 3 years before finally taking him to this magical place of my youth, but when I finally did, I saw the same wonder and fire in his eyes that used to exist in mine. Perhaps he’s reignited it. As I watched him run from one shelf to the next and excitedly uncover stories both familiar and foreign, fiction and non, and immediately plop down on the floor where he found them and ask, “Will you read dis to me?” I couldn’t help but be inspired.

And, as the rain flooded the world outside, my little boy and I sat on the floor of the library and traveled to far off places, experienced different times, and believed the impossible. 16 books and 2 hours later, we walked out with a brand new key to this kingdom of books and a deep knowledge that it would not be so long before I came back the next time. With my son’s new-found passion, and mine rediscovered, I knew . . . information age or not, there’s nothing that can replace good, old-fashioned books or the house that holds them sacred and keeps them safe.

Thoughts On Parenting For A Soon-To-Be Mom

I was recently asked to contribute to a scrapbook of tips and advice for a mom-to-be. The thoughts that I wrote were stream of consciousness, but demonstrate vividly my own philosophy of positive parenting. I thought I would share them with you, my readers, and perhaps inspire more than one soon-to-be mom.

“Always remember, the days are long but the years are short. In the early days when you start to think life will never be the same, just remind yourself that you will feel normal eventually. Normal will be different, but it will be good. Always make note of all the little amazing moments and quickly forget the exhausting, frustrating ones. Never be afraid to learn more from your little man than you will ever teach him. Never take him for granted or underestimate him. He will always surprise you. When you find yourself amazed at how unexpectedly difficult parenting can be, remember that it is just as unexpectedly wonderful. Make laughter a more natural and immediate reaction than impatience. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Always be ready to apologize to your son, even if it’s humiliating. He will love and respect you for it. Count every kiss before he’s too embarrassed to give them anymore and never let him refuse yours.”

Just a few tidbits of mantras I repeat to myself often. Particularly now as I find myself nearer and nearer the end of this pregnancy and overwhelmed with the idea of what I am about to undertake . . . again.

Overlooking the Bad – Empathizing with Toddlers

One of the dominant principles of positive psychology, which I speak about often, is the concept of acknowledging the good and beautiful things around you, no matter how small, and learning to appreciate them as integral parts of a bigger picture. Another key principle, which I don’t address as frequently, is the idea that we must also learn to overlook the negative, not so lovely parts of our daily lives and refuse to let them bog us down or preoccupy our thoughts. These two go hand in hand. It is very hard to successfully accomplish one without the other. I am more prone to seek out the good – acknowledge it, fight for it, hold onto it. Overlooking the bad does not come quite as easily. I am a natural worrier and am far too easily bogged down in everyday struggles. I know this about myself, yet I find it difficult to overcome. And sometimes it’s murkiness clouds my barrage of affirmations.

Recently, I realized that I have this same struggle with my son. I do not think I am negligent in any sense of the word in praising or affirming him. I constantly point out when he does something well or try to get him to notice all of the unusual and beautiful things that surround him every day. Together we discover all sorts of new ways to appreciate life. But when it comes to ignoring the bad, that is where my positive parenting philosophy too often breaks down. Toddlers whine. It is what they do. There are two ways to feed the whining and give it attention – by giving in to whatever is being insisted upon, or by constantly scolding and correcting the whining. Even negative attention is attention. So either way we teach our toddlers to crave the attention they get by whining at us. When really, as many behavioral psychologist will readily tell you, the best way to curb excessive whining is just to ignore it. Overlook it. Don’t let it preoccupy you. Go about your business. This, however, is VERY hard. Studies have shown that whining is one of the most annoying and distracting sounds in existence. Go figure. Most of us who are parents didn’t need scientists to tell us this. But sometimes even separating myself from the whining, giving both of us time to recoup, collect, and move on, I find it hard to walk away and ignore the screaming tantrum that ensues because I’ve asked my son to play by himself in his room for a little while. Every fiber of my being wants to tear into the room, put him in his bed and put him in his place. I mean, HOW DARE he scream like that at me! (As if it was ever even about me.) But this course of action accomplishes nothing. It makes him combative and yell back. And then how can I, in good conscience, tell him not to yell, when I’ve just finished doing the very same to him. Any child witnessing this reaction, with their vast stores of untapped intelligence, will know immediately that you are a hypocrite. So what should I do? Walk away. Not let it overwhelm me. Go back to him immediately when he has regained composure and praise him for doing so. Remember that very few, if any, of his behaviors have anything to do with  me or my parenting. Just as it is true in my own life, I know that all of the positive things I consistently share with him would mean so much more and sink so much deeper if I could simply overlook the bad and refuse to give it the credence it doesn’t deserve.

Instead of featuring my son in some of his less than flattering moments, I decided to feature myself! It somehow seems more fair.

I have to continually remind myself that toddlers lead frustrating little existences. They are still in the process of discovering their entire world. Every day they encounter new things with no box created yet to put them in. Every action is a science experiment designed, in their minds, to figure out ALL the rules. What will a nice big spoon of spaghetti look like if I drop it on the floor? How will the cat react if I try to ride him? What sound will my fork make if I drag it across the glass table? How high can I balance this stack of Mom’s books before it falls? If it’s fun to jump off a stool, wouldn’t it be even more fun to jump off a table? Very little, if any of the stunts they pull have any malicious intent. Toddlers aim to please and jump at every opportunity to help. And yet they have these giants following them around and constantly correcting them for no real reason that they can understand. No, sweetheart, don’t drop your spaghetti on the floor! STOP, you can’t jump off the table! Don’t sit on the cat, you’ll hurt him! No, no, NO! I always said that I wanted to say yes whenever possible because there are SO many reasons to say no. I had no idea! And these poor little people are forever thwarted in their experiments to better understand their world – and then told not to show any signs of disappointment, frustration, or anger. What gives?!? This is what I try to remember while dealing with whining and tantrums. I try to put myself in their shoes. Empathize. Show them a better way to express those emotions instead of mirroring their own tantrums back at them. I try. I do not always succeed. (For more thoughts on this concept of empathy with toddlers, check out this wonderful article by Melissa Sher. It was my inspiration for many of these thoughts.)

“Say what?”

Balance. Life, parenting, work, psychology, they’re all about balance. Often the pendulum swings too far in one direction or another before it finds a peaceful middle ground. I’m hoping that by the time my boys leave the house, I might have this parenting thing figured out. Or at least the pendulum swing won’t be quite so dramatic. It’s a long road getting there . . . but I think I’m ready for the ride.

“What is that thing he’s pointing at us and what is he doing?”

Success Through the Eyes of an (Almost) 30 Year-Old… and Ralph Waldo Emerson!

Sometimes, when faced with major milestones in our lives, as I am about to be in two days when I turn 30, we can’t help but look at where we are now and compare it to where we thought we might be. For some this comparison may be wonderful because they have accomplished so much more than what they thought was possible. For others (and I’d venture to guess this is the majority), it is a tough comparison to make. It is tough because life is rarely as grand as we imagine it will be when we are younger and because, as I so often stress in this blog, it is entirely too easy to weigh life by its grand moments, which are few and far between, rather than by the little beauties that ought to overwhelm us every day. I am trying to train my thoughts to mark worth and value by a much finer measure and take better notice of all of the little things that are the building blocks of the bigger ones. But even with my constant and vigilant efforts, I still find myself subdued, even saddened at times by all that I have not accomplished: financial stability, debt eradication, literary success (or at least notice), non-familial long-term relationships, a better handle on my own character flaws, a career. But as I begin to sink into these thoughts of “what if” or “if only” my wonderful husband often sits beside me and reminds me of all the important things I have accomplished: marrying an incredible person who I have the privilege of co-piloting life with, creating and training from scratch another human being (and a half), working to help provide for my family while being its primary care giver, producing almost a year’s worth of consistent (and, dare I say, occasionally profound) writing that has developed a growing following and influenced more people than I know, playing a distinct and important role in many people’s lives even if they are not still an active part of mine, starting a book club and voraciously consuming literature, completing a degree in two fields and opening many doors as a result, becoming an excellent cook, and constantly changing and growing and developing as each year passes. What more could I ask for? As I was contemplating these faithful encouragements from my dear hubby, I came across this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that was so pertinent to my meditations and so poignant in its profound and elegant beauty, that it made me cry as I read it. I hope it moves you as it did me.