Friday, February 22, 2013

Lesson 5 - Let someone help

Wednesday night my granddaughter (who once wanted to be called Pinkie Gladys Gutzman) stomped around the kitchen, opening doors and drawers with audible purpose.

"I'm a grown girl, Papa," she quipped. "I think I can make my own sandwich."
"What if I told you I knew you didn't need help? But that I did," my husband asked. 
  "What if seeing you so grown up makes me sad? What if helping you makes me happy?"
Wow. It had come full circle.

Just a year ago, I sat with Biker Mike at his first doctor's appointment after the accident and surgery. The wounded circled the magazine table like battered warriors around a campfire. The room seemed to overflow with foot braces, casts, crutches, wheelchairs and the men tethered to them.

Next to each man, a friend or loved one sat quietly. There to help, but only if needed. Enough dignity had already been taken. Their thoughts were all probably the same. When will my life return to normal? Like my husband they avoided eye contact, not wanting conversation. The uncertainty of each new day now over-shadowed the colorful story behind their injury.

They needed help. Help with things they had done- just yesterday- by themselves. Without question. Without a second thought. I once heard my husband tell his sister that the hardest part was learning to accept help. And  yet his first conscious memory of the motorcycle wreck was gratitude, as he saw help coming toward him.

Why do we say "no" so quickly when someone offers help? Why does it seem easier to help others than to accept help ourselves?
A year ago, my husband made his famous chili from a wheelchair. Once-Pinkie stood next to him, handing him the things he needed. Today they argue over who can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

We all strive for independence. And competence. But when you let someone help, you are doing a kindness, too. Based on the groans coming from the kitchen, I'm sure once-Pinkie is too young to understand.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lesson 4- Don't get stuck

I picked up my granddaughter (whom I now call Oreo) from school today. She climbed into her seat and whined, "Aarrgh. I have this stupid song stuck in my head and I can't get it out."
I said: "Sing it for me and maybe you'll give it to me, instead."

What I thought was: "Oh, yeah. That's nothing. Try the one that's been stuck in my head for three days. Where did they come up with that number? Why are insurance companies so good at this? And why can't I talk to a single person who can help me? Aarrgh!"

When I get stuck, my first thought is always of Flick from Christmas Story. I see him frozen to that flagpole. Helpless, at his own doing.

When Oreo was five, she loved the movie Sleeping Beauty. Well, she loved certain parts of Sleeping Beauty. She used the scene selection feature to go straight to the scenes she liked best. Prick finger. Fall asleep. Wake to a kiss. Have a party. Those were the parts of the movie Oreo watched. Over and over. To the exclusion of every other scene and everything else around her. The only way to stop the cycle was to turn off the TV. Distract Oreo with something else. Get her to move on.

This week I have been stuck (without being triple-dog-dared) in a string of doomsday thoughts. Stuck to the exclusion of enjoying or noticing anything else around me. What if Biker Mike is right? What if the remedy is to NOT think about it? Let it go for a week or so. Move on to something else. Maybe he's right. Maybe a new perspective is all I need.

Maybe my husband is right? Great. How long will THAT song be stuck in my head? What's your secret for becoming un-stuck?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lesson 3- Wait until Wednesday

When a child asks for something and we start to answer "No" (but we don't know "why"), we sometimes put them off. "Not today," we might say. Or, "next time". My granddaughter, who now prefers to be called Valerie, likes to stand in the pantry and choose her own snacks. Three or four at a time. Instead of telling her, "No way", I suggest we save some of them for Wednesday.

Wednesday is the day I pick her up from school. I always bring her a snack. This answer accomplishes two things. Valerie gets to choose. And so do I.

In the legendary Popeye cartoons, Wimpy is obsessed with hamburgers. "If you'll give me a hamburger today," he says, "I'll gladly pay you on Tuesday." After one episode, we see Wimpy is not a man of his word- just a man who loves hamburgers.
I strive to not be Wimpy on my word. Generally I'm solid on things I say I Will do. It's the things I promise Not to do that challenge me.

Last night, my
 (whom I now call Biker Mike) left his shoes in the middle of the living room floor. Because he wears a size 13, everyone is inconvenienced by this. But I am the only one who has hot lava flowing from her brain each time I trip over them. The first time that happened, I smiled at him. The second time, I rolled my eyes and the third time I just took a very deep breath. And held it (for about a half hour), waiting for Biker Mike to look up. Then, I left the room because that was the only adult thing to do.

Having drawn the line at picking the shoes up myself, I could only ask him (again) to move them or ignore them. Or choose Not to react to everything I was thinking each time I saw them still on the floor.
So I walked away. It wasn't easy, but it was the right thing to do. If they are still there on Wednesday, I'm going to need help.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lesson 2- The sky is not (really) falling


I had a bad day. It started out shaky.Then, I  misplaced something I really needed for a project. In the scheme of the day, it was bad. But in the scheme of the week it wasn't horrible. Yet, by noon, this minor setback had turned into an inconvenience the size of Canada. A headache clouded my thinking.

Spiraling down is not new to me. Little naggings become giant blocks. Peace goes out the window quicker than the cat on a sunny day.
I took a break and picked up my granddaughter (formerly known as Pinkie) from school. I handed her a sandwich bag filled with popcorn and she told me I was a mind reader.

She has had some experience with bad days. Last year, at the beginning of a minor tantrum, not-Pinkie screamed to her mother "This is the worst day of my entire career."

When we got in the car, I told not-Pinkie I was having a bad day. "Really?", she asked. She seemed surprised.
"Did you get in trouble?"
I told her it wasn't like that. Things just weren't going well. And now I was frustrated and a little sad.
Silence. Then, with adult-like calm, yesterday's-Pinkie continued.
"Nana, when you're sad put a picture of me somewhere. Then, every time you see it you'll smile."
"Thanks," I said. I was smiling already.

"What works for me when I have a Bad day," she continued, "is I just go to my room for a few minutes."
"I read a book or something. Usually, I'm still mad but I don't get in trouble anymore."

I wondered if that would work for me. But, when a seven year old tries to solve your problems, you realize it's not the end of the world. Even if it feels that way today.

On Saturday, no-longer-Pinkie finished her hated eye drops. She celebrated her 'best day ever' at Target with a bag of popcorn and a frozen drink. 
I think I need a corn dog.

What works for you?