The Death of a Friendship

I recently lost a close friend.  Not the casual kind of close friend, but one part of a whole family of close friends.  The kind where you travel thousands of miles to see them, spend entire weeks together, sleep at each other’s houses, trust them with your child.

To be clear, no one has died.  As far as I’m aware, my friend is still happy and healthy and out there living her best life.  It’s just that I’m no longer a part of it.

And that requires its own kind of mourning.

I have hesitated to write about this for months now.  It’s never my intention to gossip, or create drama, or indirectly ask anyone to take sides.  Plus, so much of it is just not my story to tell.  My son lost friendships over this too;  important ones.  Friends who were once as close as brothers literally just stopped talking to him and stopped being his friends, for reasons that he was never made privy to.

What I realized though, is that no matter the specific circumstances (and I’ll share just a few, for context) the feeling of mourning is universal, and it’s always worth talking about.  It’s a lucky person indeed that has never seen a friendship end.

The simplest way I can sum up what happened is to just say that something was handled very, very poorly in a way that was hurtful and disrespectful to us and to our child.  It was obviously bigger than anything that I could respectfully talk about in a blog post, but it began with a conversation.  A conversation that should have happened in person, involving adults, that was instead carried out in an email from their kids to ours.  As a result, our child was forced (due to his own desire to want to protect us, as his parents) to carry something painful, alone, that he never, ever should have had to carry.  When it all finally came to light – after many many opportunities for them to bring us into the loop, which they never took advantage of – we emailed our friends, and they took no responsibility or admitted any culpability.  Instead we were called liars, presented with a whole lot of dodging and double-talk, and given a very oddly specific set of conditions to follow if we wanted to make amends:

1) We had to call them (specifically, we had to call my friend’s husband. For some reason, I was not welcome to talk to her directly… just given her husband’s number again and again)  This could only be discussed on the phone, they told us, as they would not read or respond to any more emails about the matter.  Which is ironic given that the whole thing  – that ABSOLUTELY should have been handled in person – had started with … an EMAIL!  Ordinarily I appreciate irony.  This time, not so much.

2) We were given a literal time frame for reconciliation.  We had to call between these days and these hours, or our time would be up and they’d assume we no longer wanted to talk about it.

And 3)  We had to preemptively agree to listen to “every word, or none at all,” if we wanted to know the truth of the situation.

The whole thing was bizarre and insulting and not the words of people who actually had any desire to make things right.

Would it have been possible to salvage the friendship if a million little decisions along the way had been different?  Maybe.  Possibly.  If they hadn’t treated our child poorly.

I’ll never know.

I had a moment of weakness (or possibly, hope?) a month or so ago, and emailed my friend – which was, of course, breaking their rules – to basically say, “hey I miss you and I’m sad that this happened.”  I was rewarded with a big “F you” couched in a condescendingly polite single sentence followed by a smiley face.  I still can’t decide if she wanted me to hear her thinly veiled message or if she literally thinks I’m so obtuse I wouldn’t notice.  Either way, I was looking for closure, and I got it.  There would be no reconciliation.

As it turns out, the saying is true:

You can’t shake hands with a fist.

And I mean, it happens.  It’s hurtful, but it happens.  And now that I’ve been assured that there is no hope for rapprochement, there is literally nothing left to do but forgive and move on.

Have you ever seen the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?  It’s one of my favorite movies.  It deals with a company that provides a not-yet-in-existence service of erasing memories.  People sign up for this service after a painful breakup of some sort, and their brains are essentially mapped and scrubbed and all traces of this former relationship are gone.  How nice that would be!

Grieving a lost relationship is painful.  It’s messy.  To use a more official-sounding, technical word, it’s…. icky.  Especially with all the memories, and all the reminders.  And there are so. many. reminders!  There are photos.  Little gifts that have been exchanged over the years.  Notes and cards sent in the mail.  Piercings we got together.  A giant, six hour tattoo in which she sat by my side, and kept me distracted, and handed me lollipop after lollipop.  Oh and Facebook?  I’m pretty sure Facebook is just one big conspiracy to cause misery.  The sheer volume of “On This Day” memories it’s bombarded me with over the past several months has been overwhelming.  Happy, smiling faces.  Our boys, thrilled at being reunited after a long absence.  Statuses about hikes and smoothies and coffee shops.  Birthday celebrations. Margaritas raised in toast.  Friendship, and all its trappings.

The memories hurt.

The thing is though, just like they come to realize in the movie, we don’t really want the memories erased.  As painful as they are in the beginning, eventually they’re just … memories.  In time, those past moments can be appreciated for what they were:  happy memories, of a reality that for a million and one possible reasons, just doesn’t exist anymore.

I’m not there yet.  I so wish I was, but I’m not.

Right now, it’s as though it just happened.  Right now, it’s still raw.  So as it is with anything I hope to eventually accept, I’m trying to give myself time, and grace, and just let myself feel whatever it is I’m going to feel… with no judgement, and no trying to make sense of something that just doesn’t make sense.   Because it doesn’t make sense.  Broken relationships do so seldom make sense.  And writing these words in no way changes that fact.  Writing these words in no way heals the fracture … but they do serve as a step, which is why I so sorely needed to write them.

This is not the first time me or my child has been hurt, and it surely won’t be the last.  We’ll rally. We will.

Still, there’s a part of me… that broken, jaded part, that wants to yell,

“SEE?  THIS!  This is why I don’t trust people!!”  This was a big deal.  It wasn’t like losing a favorite pen.

Deep down though (deep, deep, deep down), I know that refusing to trust again is not the answer.  It’s just not.  Anyone who’s never been hurt (whether by friendship, or love, or anything really) has never taken a risk.  And it’s in the middle of that risk that all the good stuff happens.  Without taking a risk, there would have been no marriage – and by extension no kids – there would be no friendships, there would be no growth, there would be no… well, you get the idea.  I took a risk and I got hurt, but there really are so many good memories there that I know (I hope?) I’ll one day look back on in fondness.

Until then,

I’ll wait.

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Why I’ll Always Be Grateful To Amy Bleuel

You may not know the name Amy Bleuel.

I didn’t either, until this week, although I was very well aware of her work.  Amy was the founder of Project Semicolon, a movement that provides hope for those who struggle with depression, suicide ideation or attempts, self-harm, and addiction.  Its symbol, which rapidly became a sign of hope and unity, is the semicolon …. a visual message that is at once simple and profound.  Your story isn’t over.

As the website explains:

“In literature, an author uses a semicolon to not end a sentence but to continue on. We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”

I first heard of Project Semicolon last year, when semicolons started popping up everywhere.  It’s hard to explain what it meant to me, this discovery at a time when I was at my lowest of lows, desperate for something – anything –  to make me feel less invisible;  to remind me that I wasn’t alone;  to remind me that yes, I really could put one foot in front of the other for just one more day.

I got my semicolon tattoo last August, three months after I’d begun treatment for bipolar.  Most people were getting them on their wrists at the time, but they were also showing up on ankles, and shoulders, and behind ears … incorporated into quotes and butterflies and sleeves … on feet and calves and backs…  Semicolons, semicolons everywhere.  People were outwardly identifying themselves to other mental health warriors, and the whole thing was beautiful and unifying and filled with hope.  I chose to put mine on that squishy part of the inner side of my wrist, the spot right at the base of where my thumb starts.  It was, and is, my most meaningful tattoo to date, and it is no exaggeration when I say that it reminds me daily (some days I need it more than others) to keep going.

And it all started with the vision of Amy Bleuel.

This past week, Amy died by suicide at the young age of 31, and even though I didn’t personally know her… even though I didn’t even know her name until it happened… the loss left me deeply and profoundly sad.

Her death hit the most tender spot of one of my biggest fears:  that no matter how strong, or how brave, or how involved in advocacy one may be… sometimes the illness just wins.  Sometimes people get tired, and can’t fight anymore.  I’m not going to lie:  That reality terrifies me.  It’s always there, in the back of my mind.  Sometimes it’s more buried than others, but it’s still present, just below the surface.  Amy Bleuel’s death reminded me of that fear in the most heartbreaking of ways.

It also scared me for what it could mean for those in the Project Semicolon community.  Those who’d looked up to Amy, and to her work, as a sign of encouragement and inspiration.

What I realized though was that her death that doesn’t in any way invalidate her message.  In fact, it makes her message even more important now than ever before.  It reminds us that life is precious, and at times so very tenuous.  We’re all human.  We’re all doing the best we can.  And just as Amy taught us: as long as we are here, our story isn’t over.  Even if we have to take it one day at a time, or sometimes, just one moment at a time…

We’re still here.

I’m still here.

You’re still here.

Our story isn’t over.

And though the illness took her physical body, Amy’s story isn’t over either.  She still lives on and gives hope through the tireless work that united us all.  She lives on in the countless semicolons that she inspired.  She lives on because she reminded us to fight.

Because of Amy Bleuel, because of her life and her death, I’ll now fight even harder.

So thank you, Amy… for the strength, for the inspiration, for the so very sorely needed message of hope.  May you find the peace that you weren’t able to find in the physical world, and rest knowing that the rest of us are carrying on … just as you would have wanted.

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Saying “Yes”, And Why I’ll Always Be Their Friend

One of my patrons on Patreon recently pointed me to this video that touts itself as the only parenting advice you’ll ever need.  I watched the video, and I disagreed.  🙂  The following video is my response.


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Living In The Moment

One of the things I love doing on my Facebook page is asking a basic question of the group, one that I know will elicit a lot of responses, and hopefully starting a (often important, and needed) conversation.  Even before I read through all the responses – and please know that I do, very carefully, read through all of the responses – your enthusiasm in joining the conversation tells me two things:  1) That we all want to be heard… that we all have questions, and struggles, and things to share, and that platforms like blogs and Facebook groups still serve a real purpose, and 2) That we’re all in this together.  I think that one of the most helpful things to know (not just with parenting, but with life) is that we are not alone.  That someone, somewhere, is out there who gets it.  Who understands how we feel.  Who knows what it’s like to be facing what we face.  It’s a powerful thing, and one I don’t take for granted.

Most recently, I asked,

What is one thing that you struggle with as a parent? Something that you know you want to do differently (such as less yelling, more patience, etc) but that you are having trouble implementing?

I got an overwhelming response, both in numbers and in sheer honesty and vulnerability.  So thank you.  I very quickly realized that what was meant to be a one-off blog post really needed to become a regular series.  Because I don’t care how good of a mom you are:  We all struggle with something. 

The thing that stood out to me the most in my first read-through of the comments was the one that’s been my own personal struggle since… well, forever:  Being present.  Being in the moment.  It’s something that I’ve thought about, and learned about, and written about, many many times in the 20 years that I’ve been a parent.  Tegan (who’s 9 at the time of this writing, and is teaching me a whole new set of parenting truths after her three brothers) has been instrumental in showing me of the importance of living in the moment.

But still, I have to remind myself.  Still, I have to practice.

And I’m not alone.

Just a few of my fellow like-minded parents:

Stopping, breathing, and taking in the moment.  Appreciating their age, abilities and achievements without being frustrated by lesser things.  ~ Bea L

Really struggling with patience these days.  ~ Jess F

Being more present with my kids and not giving in to frustration. ~ Rebecca P

Slowing down and enjoying the moments. I always seem to be going and trying to clean, get dishes or laundry done and I tend to e short with my kids and not fully engage in play or conversation. ~ Stefanie S

Being impatient and not being able to just be present with them.  Working on it.  Getting better, but it is hard.  ~ Karen E

I have spent the entire last year working on my mental health, and a huge, huge part of that work was learning to live in the moment.  Our brains (or at least my brain) always want to be solving problems, and thinking about the next thing, or the last thing, or the thing that’s coming up next week, or the thing that happened 6 months ago.  When you’re not truly living in the moment, you’re either living in the past, or in the future.  And in the past and in the future, there’s always a problem to solve.  It’s exhausting.

So all the typical “live in the moment” advice – Breathe;  Count to ten.;  Look around and ground yourself by appreciating the sights and sounds and smells;  Don’t sweat the small stuff –  While it’s all well and good, it wasn’t until I learned the problem-solving piece that I felt like I really understood what I needed to do, and what I needed to remember.

In the moment, in this moment, there is no problem to solve.

And it sounds simplistic, and easy to argue:  Of course there are problems.  We don’t have enough money.  The car’s in the shop.  The kids are always fighting.  The 2 year old’s sick.  The 4 year old’s having a tantrum.  I have to make dinner and make lunches for tomorrow and get my son to football and my daughter to karate and there’s the thing at church and it’s all just SO MUCH. 

Yes.  Sure.   I get it.  I get it.

But right now, right now as you read these words, there are no problems to solve.  It’s okay to give yourself (and your brain!  Your poor, overworked brain) a break.  It’s okay to breathe and NOT WORRY about how you handled that last problem, or how you’re going to handle the next one.  It’s okay to truly and deeply and fully live right now, and give yourself permission to rest…. to rest in the moment, to rest in the presence of your child, to rest in the presence of yourself.

Right now, in the moment, there is no problem to solve.

That one piece of truth, heard in the right place and the right time, was probably one of the single best bits of wisdom I’ve ever received… not just for life in general, but for my parenting as well.  And I still have to remind myself – often – but I’m getting better.

Right now, there is no problem to solve.

And my shoulders relax, and I’m able to exhale, and my weary soul feels a welcome sense of relief.  I don’t have to figure it all out right now.  And then, in that moment, I can be the mom I know I can be.  The mom I know I should be.  And when I miss the mark (and I do sometimes miss the mark, because I’m human)? Then I have the next moment.  And then the one after that.

One day, one moment, at a time.

And it sounds kinda hokey, and a little woo-woo (and I hate woo-woo) … but it helps.  So much.

You have permission to rest.

Hug your kid, smell the flowers, jump in the mud puddle.  Right now, there is no problem to solve.


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I’m officially on Patreon!

Do you ever internally struggle with something so much that you start to make yourself crazy?  That’s how I’ve always felt, since day one, about monetizing my blog.  On the one hand was the voice saying, “You’d be selling out.  You don’t write to make money.  You write to spread information.  You write for the love of it.  You can’t ask these devoted people for money.”  On the other was the voice saying, “What on earth is wrong with getting financially compensated for something that you’ve worked really hard at?  Something that provides a value to other people?  Something that requires a whoooole lot of time, and energy, and blood, sweat and tears?”

These two voices have been at war for a very long time now.  I am extremely uncomfortable asking for money – from anyone, at any time, for any reason.  If you have any doubts about the veracity of that statement, ask me about my pitiful track record trying to sell an embarrassingly high number of different MLM products.

Like a lot of bloggers, I’ve (somewhat reluctantly and very half-heartedly) tried things like Google ads, affililiate sales, etc, which brought in a few dollars here and there.  But they never felt right.  And at the urging of a trusted mentor, I put up a virtual “tip jar” for a time too.  That felt funny too, but at least it felt a little more genuine, and a lot more personal than waiting for the couple of cents I’d get when a random stranger decided to click on a Google banner.  Several people were generous enough to donate (thank you!!), but it didn’t take long for me to realize it was an extremely limited method, as well as uncomfortably one-sided.  While it gave you an opportunity to say, “Hey I appreciate your work; thank you,” it provided no method for me to thank you in kind for the support.

When I first heard of Patreon, which was only fairly recently, and of course well after my kids knew about it (“What do you mean?  Of course we know what Patreon is.”),  I was intrigued.  It seemed to answer all of my problems.  It’s a platform that operates separately from my blog (ie: nothing about my blog will change), it gives people who wish to support my work financially an easy way to do so, AND it gives me a way to give back to those supporters by providing them with little perks and extras, much like a Kickstarter or other crowd-sourced campaign.

Patreon works on a monthly basis.  Should you choose to join the community and contribute, you’d make a recurring monthly payment of anything from $1/month up to $25 or beyond, and anything in between.  In exchange for your generosity, I’d thank you with content just for you over at Patreon such as written posts, videos, or behind the scenes looks at what I’m working on next.  Depending on your donation tier, you can also make requests for upcoming blog posts, and have access to an exclusive email for one-on-one parenting and/or unschooling support.  It allows you to be a part of the process in a way that you’ve never been before, it allows me to give you extra little perks for your trouble, and it allows me to keep my internet bill paid on time so I can keep sharing those blog posts.  🙂

So what’s going to be changing about my blog?

NOTHING.  That’s the beauty of it!   It’s not going to be covered with ads, and there aren’t going to be any annoying pop-ups asking you to join stuff.  My blog has always been free, and will continue to be free.  I’m not taking any content down, and I’m not making anything off-limits.    If anything, I will be posting even more often, as I am finally (after ten reeaally long months) feeling like my old self and ready to fully dive back in.  You are welcome to read, share, and comment – as always – without donating a penny.  And you will be loved and appreciated for doing so – as always.  🙂

If you appreciate what I do & want to join me in this endeavor, you can hop on over to my Patreon page for all the details (including a dorky welcome video from yours truly)  No matter what you decide, the support, the views, the comments, and the shares over the past 12 years have meant the world to me.

In case I don’t tell you often enough:  You guys are truly the best, and I so appreciate each and every one of you. xo

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The Problem With Kids These Days

It never fails.

I post something against spanking – or against punishment in general – and within the first couple of comments is the first of many arguments that sounds something like this:

“That’s the problem with kids today!  No one disciplines anymore!  That’s why this generation of kids are such entitled brats.”  Without asking any questions, without getting any clarification, without having any sort of discussion.  Every time.  Every time.  Sometimes the retort is complete with F words, and often it’s accompanied with words like “liberal” (or its ugly, derogatory derivative), or “snowflake.”  Sometimes people point to the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality.  Someone inevitably brings religion – or the lack thereof – into the mix.  But no matter what variation it takes, the message is still clear in its lament:

These damn kids these days!  And their damn parents who don’t DISCIPLINE them!

I’d be downright bored with its predictably if it wasn’t so frustrating.

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First, let’s be clear.  When people say “discipline” in this context, they don’t actually mean “discipline” (which means to teach).  They mean spanking.  Spanking and discipline are not synonymous.  But let’s just say for the sake of argument that they’re the same thing.

So fine: no one spanks anymore, and therefore we have whole generation of mostly entitled, spoiled, disrespectful brats.

Please hear me when I say this:  The above statement is false.  Untrue.  Erroneous.  Fallacious.  It starts with a completely flawed premise.  The majority of parents do (unfortunately) still admit to spanking.  Hard numbers are obviously hard to come by, but many articles and studies, including this one, cite it as high as 70 to 90%.

70 to 90%!

Most parents still spank.  So if kids these days really are extra entitled or spoiled, you’re gonna have to blame it on something other than a lack of spanking.   And that’s not just me spouting stuff.  It’s fact.  Simple math. The argument is invalid.

The question remains though:  Is this generation exceptionally spoiled? Entitled?  Disrespectful?  I’m going to let Alfie Kohn answer that, because he addresses the issue so thoroughly and eloquently:

That’s why no generation of teens and young adults has ever been as self-centered as this one. Take it from journalist Peter Wyden, the cover of whose book on the subject depicts a child lounging on a divan eating grapes while Mom fans him and Dad holds an umbrella to protect him from the sun: It’s become “tougher and tougher to say ‘no’ [to children] and make it stick,” he insists.

and

Or listen to the lament of a parent who blames progressive child development experts for the fact that her kids now seem to believe “they have priority over everything and everybody.”

and

Or consider a pointed polemic published in The Atlantic. Sure, the author concedes, kids have always been pleasure seekers, but longtime teachers report that what we’re currently witnessing “is different from anything we have ever seen in the young before.” Parents teach “nothing wholeheartedly” and things come so easily to children nowadays that they fail to develop any self-discipline. Forget about traditional values: Today, it’s just a “culte du moi.”

Pretty telling, right?  He concludes with this:

Powerful stuff. Except now that I think about it, those three indictments may not offer the best argument against today’s parents and their offspring. That’s because they were published in 1962, 1944, and 1911, respectively.  (~all quotes take from his article, Spoiled Rotten – A Timeless Complaint.)

People have been lamenting “kids these days” since forever.  This is not something new.  This indictment of the current generation of kids and young adults is no different than the one that occurred when I was a kid… and when my parents were kids… and when my parents’ parents were kids…

People just historically like to blame kids (and by extension, those kids’ terrible parents) for all of society’s ills.

But you know what?  I don’t buy it.  I don’t.  I see this generation of kids and young adults and I see kids who are smart and creative and selfless.  I see kids who put others’ needs before their own.  Kids who care about their peers, about their families, about the issues facing the people and the world around them.  I see kids who are strong.  Resilient.  Confident.  I see kids who are quite literally changing the world with their ingenuity and with their enthusiasm.

I see kids and I hold them in high regard…. not for who they’ll potentially be in the future, but for who they are right now.

There’s nothing wrong with today’s kids.  In fact, the real problem with kids today?  Adults.  Adults who pre-judge them based on their own biases, and never even give them a chance.


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Someone Told Me

Someone told me that I wasn’t good enough

Not smart enough

Not strong enough

Not pretty enough

Someone told me that I wasn’t enough and I listened

Someone told me that I was less than

That even my very very best would never be worthy of praise

That just my mere existence was a disappointment

That I’d never measure up

That I’d never reach my full potential

A potential decided not by me, but by someone else

Someone told me that I wasn’t enough and I took it as gospel

Indelible words written on a young impressionable soul

Letters burnt into deep deep grooves, like the scars left behind on a wood-working project from shop class

A class I could never pay attention to because I was too distracted

Too distracted thinking of other things

Of daydreams

Of the future

Of all the things I’d never do because I wasn’t good enough

Someone told me that I wasn’t enough and I started to believe it

Tiny pieces of my being breaking off and drifting away

Until there was so very little left

Nothing but a broken shell

A broken shell that felt worthless

But less than worthless because you have to care to feel worthless

Someone told me that I wasn’t enough and what was left inside of me died

Safe from the hurt

Safe from the anger

Safe from disappointing just one more person ONE MORE TIME

It had consumed me

Swallowed me whole

My whole existence enveloped in the empty abyss of self-hatred

But someone was born in that abyss

She was timid at first

She’s still timid

Nothing more than a whisper

Tentative, testing words of someone changing the voices

Changing the narrative

Slowly, painfully… so very very painfully

Someone told me that I wasn’t enough, but who are they to decide?

Who are they to write my story?

Who are they to say what is and is not worthy?

Or strong?

Or beautiful?

Or smart?

Someone told me that I wasn’t enough, and I heard it, but I no longer listened

Empty, hollow words, echoing off the chambers of my healing heart

Bruised but not broken

Scarred but not bleeding

And the wind from the unkind words carry life

Life to the timid and fragile new voice

A voice that isn’t quite there yet, but that gets stronger every day

Stronger

Bolder

More confident

Someone told me that I wasn’t enough, and she stood up

The girl with the new voice

The one who no longer lived for anyone’s expectations but her own

And she shook

Oh dear Lord did she shake

And even as she shook she knew

She need only say the words and the feelings would come

She need only say the words and they’d smooth a multitude of hurts

Of scars

Of pain

I.  AM.  ENOUGH.

And I’ve been enough all along

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Sometimes I’m An Asshole (But I Don’t Advertise It On My Car)

A friend recently sent me this photo she came across, I think in equal parts because it irritated her, AND because people like to send me things that they think will irritate me, as an impetus for a new blog post.  (Irritated Jen = Writing Jen)

And she was right, because the photo did irritate me.  I sat on it for awhile though, and looked at it again, and looked at it through different perspectives.  And…. yeah, it still irritates me.

I get it, I think.  I don’t actually think the intention is a bad one.  I think it’s likely an antidote to the “Proud parent of an honor student, blah blah”  (I have my beef with those stickers too).  I think it’s likely just saying, “Hey, my kid’s not perfect, but that’s okay, and I love him anyway.”

But here’s the thing:  Aside from not being particularly nice, stickers like this promote childism in the biggest way.  When was the last time you saw a bumper sticker saying, “My wife sure is a bitch sometimes, but I love her anyway?”  Most rational people would see something like that and recognize that it’s not cool.  Or kind.  Or productive.  But we live in a society where it is not only accepted, but celebrated, to treat kids as lesser than.  To treat kids with less respect and less kindness than we’d treat other family members.  To treat kids with less consideration for their feelings than we’d extend to other loved ones.  To treat kids as less than human.

Are children – any children – perfect?  Of course not.  They’re human beings.  Are adults – any adults – perfect?  Of course not.  They’re human beings.  We all have our moments, to be sure.  I’m sometimes less than kind to my husband, and he’s sometimes less than kind to me (Ask us about the recent nearly knock-down drag out fight about asparagus…. except maybe don’t, because I’m not sure all parties are ready to joke about it yet) Everyone has their ugly (re:  HUMAN) moments.  The difference is, in real life, we accept this and work through it and deal with it in a healthy way.  We don’t make announcements about it on our cars.

Stickers like this may seem completely innocent, and funny even.  But in order to accept them, we need to be honest with ourselves and recognize that while sure, it’s dealing with a genuine human condition, it is also unfair and childist, and singling children out in a unkind and hurtful way.  We need to be honest with ourselves and recognize the fact that very few people would be okay and/or humored by this if it singled out wives, or girlfriends, or husbands, or parents.

Until we, as a society, can do that, maybe it’s a message best left off our cars.

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Want To Stop Nagging Your Kids To Do Chores? Then Stop

A few inevitable facts of housekeeping:

  1. If you want to have clean dishes to eat off of, you’re going to have to wash them.**
  2. If you want to have a bathroom – and floors and kitchens and bedrooms – that are at least relatively sanitary, you’re going to have to occasionally make time for some sort of cleaner and a swoop of a mop or a sponge or a paper towel.
  3. If you want to wear clothes that are clean and odor-free, you’re eventually going to have to throw in a load of laundry.

They’re maybe not your favorite things to do – they’re not mine – but they don’t have to be unpleasant drudgery either.  They’re just a part of life, and a part of keeping a nice home.  Viewing them as a voluntary act of service for yourself and your family goes a long way towards making them, at a minimum, more tolerable.

Chores should never be an area of contention between you and your children. 

I see article after article with mainstream advice about how to stop the need for nagging and get your darn kids to just do their chores already.   They may suggest any number of variants of charts or stickers or rewards or punishments, but they all essentially say the same thing:

The answer lies in control and manipulation.

Bribe your kids, punish your kids, reward your kids (which, by the way, are all sides of the same coin).  Just get them to dutifully do what you want.  Then the chores get done, you don’t have to nag, and the problem is solved.  But is it?

Using manipulation or coercion – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what these tactics employ – is a lose/lose proposition.  Sure, it may “work” in the sense that the chores get done, but it comes at a price.

No one likes to be manipulated.  Let’s just start there.  It will cause your kids to resent cleaning.  Or you.  Or both.  And isn’t that the exact opposite of what you want?  Both when it comes to your relationship with your child, and with the harmony of your family working together as one cohesive unit?  Mandating chores, especially in an authoritarian manner, will only make your children view them as, well… chores.  Something unpleasant.  Something that they’re doing simply because they’re forced to do it, and not because it’s nice to have clean floors or clean clothes or clean dishes.  Something that they’re doing because their little sticker chart says it’s time, and not because it feels good to take pride of ownership by taking care of your things and of your space.

And there’s a larger problem.  Children are not second class citizens who are here to do our bidding.  They are human beings who are deserving of the same care and respect and mindful communication as any other loved one.  If I have a problem or a frustration or a concern with my husband, I don’t make him a chart.  I don’t lay out a list of things he needs to do differently to make me happy.

I talk to him.  And I give my kids the same consideration.

So what do you do when you’re finding yourself frustrated with or yelling or nagging your kids about chores?  You stop doing it.  Seriously.  Just stop.  If there’s a chore that’s undone that’s bothering you, do the chore.  Then figure out why it is that you’re so stressed about it in the first place.  If you are yelling or nagging or otherwise being unkind, that’s a *you* problem, not a *them* problem.  It’s not your kids’ job to regulate your emotions or your behavior.

And I get it.  I do.  Sometimes things just get off-kilter.  I get stressed, my routine gets thrown off, I start to get snippy.  When it happens, it’s a sign that I need to 1) Take a step back and evaluate what’s going on with me that’s making me respond that way.  Is it just because we’ve been too busy?  Have I not been taking care of myself?  Am I worried or stressed about something that’s completely unrelated to my house or family?  And 2) Talk to my family about it.  A sincere and forthright, “Hey guys, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately because of xyz, so would you mind giving me some extra help with – {whatever I need help with} – this week?” is a lot more effective, and respectful! than trying to manipulate their behavior through rewards or punishments.  And you know what?  When I do need to ask for extra help, 99 times out of 100 they are more than happy and willing to give it to me.  (The one percent accounts for the fact that they are indeed humans and not robots.)

Finally, because it’s something that gets misinterpreted every single time I write about this:

Does this mean then that I just set myself up as a martyr, someone who does all the housework myself, even to my own detriment?  No!  We all pitch in.  I do do the bulk of it (and I’m happy to do it), just because I’m a stay at home mom and have essentially signed up for this.  But Mike does most of the cooking.  16 year old does the dishes.  20 year old usually takes out the trash and recylables.  9 year old and 12 year old step in with pet care.  And on those deep clean days – AKA company’s coming and things are looking a little squidgy around the edges – any one of us might be yielding that broom, or duster, or mop, or toilet brush…

Without ever having to create a chore chart to make it happen.

(**Or get paper plates and plastic silverware!  You do you.  I won’t judge.)


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Bullet Journaling 101

The first time I read about bullet journals, I wrote them off as being too complicated and fussy.  The second time I read about bullet journals … I still wrote them off as being too complicated and fussy.    A few months ago, when I was waxing poetic about my love for all things pens and paper and lists, a friend (her name is Sarah, and she’s awesome) said, “I think you’d really love bullet journaling.”

I’ve looked at that before;  it seemed too complicated.

It’s really not, she said.  It’s as simple or as complicated as you make it.  I really do think you’d like it.

Sigh.

Okay, FINE.  I’ll look it up one more time. 

GAME.  CHANGER.  This time it was love at first (third) sight.

So what the heck is it?  It’s part planner, part journal, and part to-do list.  For some people it’s also a sketchbook, and/or an art journal.  Ryder Carroll, the gentleman who created the system, describes it as something to help “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”

The video below is from the official bullet journal website, and gives a good basic overview about setting one up.  But if you’re not sure, or you’re confused, or you want to see more…. keep reading for how I set up and use my own.  A Google and Pinterest search showed me that there is a whole world of bullet journal ideas and inspiration and adaptations out there, and that rabbit trail was what got me really excited about bullet journaling.

A few disclaimers before I go on though:

  • Most of the links to products are affiliate links, which just means that if you purchase from them, I’ll get a few pennies from the sale, at no extra cost to you.  But if you don’t want to give me any pennies, look them up on Amazon anyway, because I still recommend them, whether you give me your pennies or not.  🙂
  • A lot of what I’ve done here has been inspired by other bullet journal lovers/bloggers/website owners, especially Kara over at Boho Berry.  She’s awesome.
  • And finally, please, please DON’T COMPARE mine to yours to anyone else’s.  So many people feel like they need to compete, and/or make it look a certain way, but the whole point is that it’s totally customizable to you.  If you want simple and streamlined, awesome.  If you want to decorate it all up with colors and stickers and washi tape and sketches, awesome.  If you want it fancy but don’t have the time or inclination to do it by hand, awesome.  That’s where things like stencils and printables come in handy.  I belong to a few Facebook groups for inspiration, and there’s thread after thread filled with people worried they’re not doing it “right”. There is no right and wrong.  For real.  This is supposed to be fun.  At a minimum, it’s supposed to be functional.  If you hear nothing else, hear this:  Your bullet journal is WHATEVER YOU WANT AND NEED IT TO BE.

Supplies & Getting Started

All you need to get started with bullet journaling is a notebook of some sort, and a pen or pencil.  That’s it.

Some of us have turned ours into more of a… project… but you absolutely don’t have to.  A notebook and a writing utensil, and you’re good to go.

The notebook I use is the Leuchtturm 1917 in the A5 size. I love, love, love this notebook. It’s pretty and sturdy and the perfect size. All of its pages are lightly gridded, so it’s easy to make nice straight lines, and keep everything nice and neat.  Its pages are numbered too, which is incredibly helpful when setting up the index.

 

If your notebook isn’t numbered, you’ll want to number the pages before you get started, so that you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for later on.

Some other supplies that are not necessary, but might be nice to have

A selection of pens – I’m a bit of a pen hoarder collector, so I like to have a variety to match my mood/desired outcome.  My favorite everyday pen is the Sharpie fine tip, and I also love the Pitt Artist Pens, and the Micron Pigma pens.  They all write nice and black, don’t bleed to the other side of the page, and come in a range of tip sizes.  It’s nice to be able to get those super fine lines when I want them.  I also have a set of calligraphy markers that are fun for a little extra pizazz.

Markers and/or colored pencils – My favorite markers are the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, and for colored pencils I like the Derwent Water Color Pencils.

A good ruler – Useful for both making straight lines and helping to plan out your pages.  I like this one because it’s clear, flexible, and sturdy.

A kneaded eraser – Yes, a regular eraser works just fine, but I’m so enamored with the kneaded one I use for drawing that I use it for everything.  And bonus, no shavings to brush away!

Correction tape – I tried to use regular white-out when I messed up, but it always felt lumpy, it was difficult to write over, and it took forever to dry.  Now I use Bic Wite-Out EZ Correction Tape, and it works much better for me.

Decorative things like washi tape, stickers, stencils, stamps – Go crazy, or skip it altogether.  I think a lot of us are somewhere in between.

The Initial Set-Up

I started setting my bullet journal up in December, in preparation for the beginning of the new year.  But the great thing is that you don’t have to start at the beginning of a new year!  Since it’s hand-made and prepared as you go, you can start a new one 365 days a year.

As mentioned above, if your pages aren’t numbered, you’ll want to start there.  Part of the genius of the bullet journal is that you put everything into a table of contents, so then you won’t be frantically flipping pages trying to find the list of books you wanted to read this year, or all your meal-planning ideas, or little Johnny’s soccer schedule.  Just check the index and you’re good to go.  Every time you add a new page to your journal, you’ll add it to your index:

The next thing I included was a key.  I don’t use all the same exact symbols as Ryder Carroll’s system, but I use many of them:

Next, I did a year-at-a-glance.  Not everyone includes this, but for me it doesn’t make sense not to be able to have an overview of the whole year, right up front.

Speaking of white-out, if you look closely, you can see that I messed up the numbering on the last full week of April, and had to white-out the whole row. Mistakes happen. 🙂

The next page I included was a Mood Tracker.  I track my mood anyway because of my bipolar (I have an app on my phone), but I loved the idea of seeing it in colors this way.  This was shamelessly copied/adapted from a whole bunch of examples I saw on Pinterest.   I’ve seen people do mood mandalas too, and those are super cool as well.  Again, this isn’t something everyone is going to want to do, but I love it.  Add what you love, forget about the rest.

The last thing I included, in terms of my initial set-up, was the Future Log.  I mostly use it for birthdays and events that I know about well in advance.  If you want a simpler version of what I made, you can simply divide each side into six boxes (or three, if you think you’ll need more space)

Using Your Bullet Journal

The whole point of using a bullet journal is to keep you organized.  I use mine to keep track of what I’ve got going on on a monthly and weekly basis, plus keep track of…. a whole bunch of other things:  daily habits I want to try to do on a regular basis, books I’ve read (or want to read), blog post ideas, hikes I’ve gone on, etc.  People use it to track their exercise habits or weight loss goals, to meal plan for the week or the month, places they want to visit, Netflix series they’d like to watch.  Etc. Anything you can think of can become a page in your bullet journal.

One thing that I had trouble wrapping my head around when I started was how to plan out the pages.  How much space did I leave for each month?  Did I want to do a monthly page, then a weekly page, AND a daily page (some people use all three)?  Did I want to have all my lists/collections together, and if so, how much space should I leave for them?  What if I want to add something later in a place that doesn’t make any logical sense?  Phew.  Exhausting.  (And it all brought me screaming back to my earlier opinion of “Too complicated.  Too fussy.”)

But t turned out that I was single-handedly making it too complicated.  I do that.  Often.  Yes, it took a bit of thinking/researching/looking around at other examples to figure out what I wanted to do, but once I did that I was ready to jump in.  And it wasn’t nearly as daunting as I’d been making it.

I do a monthly page, and then I do weekly pages (photos to follow).  The original system relies on daily pages, but I found that doing weekly pages still gave me enough room to write down all my tasks for each day, plus I was able to see and plan the whole week in one glance, a drawback I was having with the idea of doing daily pages.

I might do a page or two of weeklies in advance, but otherwise, I just build as I go.  When I think of some list or something that I want to add, I just do it on the next free page, and add it to the index.  It’s why we have the index in the first place!  No fuss, no muss.  If I know what I want to do with the next few pages, but don’t have time to do it at the moment, I just reserve them with sticky notes to mark their spot until I’m able to get to them.

Ryder Carroll’s system has you do your monthly log as a single list of dates down the side of the page, like this:

Then you’d just write whatever plans, appointments, etc you have on the corresponding date.  If you want simple, this is definitely the way to go.  I knew that I wanted something different for this (that would still serve the same function), so after a whole lot of looking around, playing with different ideas, and trying things out, I came up with this:

I’ve got traditional calendar boxes to write upcoming events and plans, space for a general to-do list for the month, and a habit tracker to fill out at the bottom.  I put washi tape on the edge of my monthly pages so they’re even easier to find and flip to.  This is what my month looks like when it is fresh and brand-new, and this is what it looks like when it’s been used and written all over:

Immediately after my monthly pages, I start my weekly pages, and those are really the heart and soul of the bullet journal (in terms of keeping me on task).  All my daily to-dos, appointments, and tasks are written on the appropriate day, and it makes it really easy to see – in black and white – what I’ve got going on.  Here are a couple of examples:

And finally, here are just a few of the “extra” pages I’ve done so far.  They’re sort of addictive, so I know I’ll be adding more and more as I go:

Bullet journals aren’t for everyone, to be sure, but if you’re someone like me who loves putting pen to paper, loves lists and organizing or writing or doodling or planning…… DO IT.   It keeps me more organized, it makes me more apt to do what I need to do, AND it allows me that meditative/creative time that I so badly need. Try it.  It’ll change your life.

And maybe (hopefully?) you won’t have to wait for your third exposure like I did.  🙂

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