Thursday, October 20, 2016

Close to Home

There's this t.v. show I like; I've mentioned it before-- 90 Day Fiance. I know, I know. Even the name sounds ridiculous.

[1st Side Note: The premise of the show is this: Each couple has 90 days (regulated by U.S. law) to get married once they are granted a K-1 Visa. Most of these couples meet online or on a trip and then one of them moves to the U.S. during that 90 Day period. The show documents the process. Kind of fascinating, right?].

[2nd Side Note: At some point, we must truly own who we are to live our best lives (at least, that's what I believe). We all do things that aren't glamorous, so let's just let it all hang out. This is one of my things.]

Hey, I never said I was too cool to watch TLC.

Anyway, the reason I'm writing about the show is this: I recently realized a major reason why I like it so much, and it has nothing to do with it being crazy or juicy or unrealistic. It's because, in many ways, I can relate to it. It's actually not unrealistic. It's real people, doing what some consider 'crazy,' and others consider... life.

I didn't meet my husband online. I'm not from another country than he is, and neither of us needed to get special Visas to get married. In that way, I feel fortunate. How lucky I am to have met my husband at the mere age of 20, in college! How quaint!

As I watch the women on the show, however, the ones who have traveled across the world to [hopefully] be with the person they love, well, it gives me pause. These women from all parts of the globe may have thick accents and may be struggling to assimilate to a new culture, but when I watch them talk to their families on Skype, it hit me: they are me. I am them.

I live across the country from my family. I am homesick every day. Yes, seriously. Every. Day.

I hate flying, and yet I've done it every single year of my life, countless times.
Because that's what you do for family.

I try to Facetime with one of them at least a couple of times a week. Just like the women on the show, I chose to move here to be with my now-husband, and I had to make a life for myself in a new land. I did choose it, and with no regrets. But that doesn't mean it was an easy decision to make, and that it isn't still hard.

I did have it easier than the women on the show do. I speak English. I have a driver's license and a college degree. I don't experience culture shock (wait, that's not entirely true-- I do experience Minnesota culture shock now and then, even after living here for 12 years), but not in the extreme amounts the women on the show do).

Still, I understand their vulnerability, and despite all our differences, I feel a surprising sense of kinship with them. Sitting on our big yellow couch in the evenings, I find myself rooting for these couples, even though my heart has been calloused against all the failing "reality show couples." I want it to work out for them.

Because while their trials and tribulations are televised to entertain, they have also connected to me in another way. Say what you will about 'reality shows,' but they aren't always as "unreal" as we all like to say.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Everyone's Fighting a Battle

I was checking out of the library with my daughter last week when I happened to see a little sign posted above one of the librarian's desks. It read: "Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

[The origin of this quote is uncertain, but according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, author Ian Maclaren originally wrote it as: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle;" he's also quoted as writing in 1897, “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”]

Whoever wrote it (and whatever version you read), wow. 

I've seen it before, and I think remembering its message is one of the keys to compassion and kindness. It's so easy for us, all caught up in our own lives, to forget that every single person around us also has their challenges-- whether they let you see them or not.

And no, most people won't let you see their hardships. Especially the person you assume "has it all"-- trust me, they're fighting battles just like the rest of us. Ones we know nothing about.

This hit home recently: We have a rather grumpy postal worker. She never smiles at a greeting, never says hello. She looks angry. My son, ever-attuned to rudeness or injustice, exclaimed loudly "I hate that lady!" Hey, he's aware of subtleties, but it doesn't mean he can use them [yet]! Yikes.

Anyway, he went on to ask me why she was so "mean." It would be easy to write her off as just a nasty person, right? But how many people are truly and inherently mean? Who at their core doesn't have a good soul? Very few. I think it's probably more accurate that she, like all of us, is fighting a battle of her own, and hers is likely a very hard one.

I took a deep breath and explained to my son that some people have extremely hard lives, and that she must be going through something difficult (I didn't think it was necessary to list all of the true possibilities of hardship-- those would rest too heavily on his soul). He actually did seem to understand what I meant, at just age 6. I think little ones understand it more than we think. I was proud of that moment. I was proud I took the time to explain it, and that my son took it in. 

I want to teach my children compassion and the ability to look beyond initial impressions and assumptions. I hope that instance was one small step towards reaching that goal. 

How do you teach your children the meaning and importance of kindness?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Monday, September 19, 2016

Working at Home Is Not an Adorable Hobby

Being a freelance writer is a funny thing. There are thousands of us out there, but I don't know a single one in my own hood or on my list of acquaintances. I've only met writer-friends through the good old interwebs.

So when I tell people I'm a writer, an unusual thing happens-- people often seem to take that to mean sitting on my butt watching The Today Show, or "lunching," or taking yoga classes whenever I want. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Despite the fact that I'm trying to squeeze in work whenever I possibly can, it's not uncommon for me to hear something patronizing like, "How cute" or "Fun!" or "Do you make money doing that?" I've even had people laugh IN MY FACE. How would a lawyer or engineer like it if I said their job was "fun" or if I chuckled at their cuteness and asked how much they get paid? Notsomuch. And sorry guys, but men are especially prone to thinking my job is an adorable hobby.

If you need a label, you can call me a "Work at Home Mom," as every day, I attempt to care for my kids without full-time childcare while cramming in research, writing, interviewing, editing, submitting, and promoting whenever I can. I have actual deadlines and actual assignments. Despite the fact that I work A LOT, it appears that many people take that to mean Nonworking. Huh?

Don't get me wrong, Stay at Home moms work HARD. I've been there. Work Outside the Home Moms work very hard too. We are all working hard!

Also, I should note: some people do get it. These are usually the people who like reading, so they tend to like and appreciate writers.

So, yes, I usually work on my couch, doing what I love (writing and editing), hunched over my trusty laptop whenever I can sneak it in-- during the lickety-split two hour overlap while my kids are at preschool and school, during that precious time when the kids are finally asleep at night, or occasionally during times when they are out with my husband running an errand on the weekends. I LOVE WRITING. I sometimes always wish I had more time to do it, though.

My cubicle is conveniently located on a big yellow couch adjacent to my refrigerator and without anyone slurping soup or coffee in the next cubicle. At times, I thoroughly enjoy working at home, and I'm grateful to be the one who greets my son when he gets off the bus after a long day at school and to be the one having lunch with my preschooler.

Other times, especially when I'm trying to reply to an important e-mail or partake in a conference call while Dora is playing in the background and/or someone is asking for another snack, a quiet office sounds positively dreamy.

Anyway, the rant is basically this: working at home does not equal doing nothing. We are working!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Parenting Decisions & Second-Guessing Ourselves

As parents, every day-- every minute-- we make decisions. We decide to react this way or that way, and it has to happen immediately. Split second decisions are commonplace. Our first level of decision-making is to keep our children safe. It's in our biological make-up-- to protect our brood.

The rest fall into murkier territory. These are the decisions that can be made differently by a million different people. These are the choices that aren't life or death, but on some level reflect our goals and values.

I've been thinking about a non-life-or-death, murky decision I recently made.

A couple of weeks ago, I took my kids to a rare lunch outing at a McDonald's with a Play Place [bring on the Advil and hand sanitizer!]. My daughter (almost 4) had been begging to go, and sometimes I throw my hands up, surrender, and try to have some fun with the kids (that's part of the point, right?).

My two littles scarfed their Happy Meals, and then I watched them like a hawk as they winded their way around the primary-colored tunnels. Or, I watched as much as I could, as the tubes they crawl through are opaque. I heard mixtures of shouts, laughs, cries, and whatever other noises children make. Par for the course.

I was cleaning up our table, feeling pretty happy, when a little girl came over and communicated that my son (age 6) had hurt her on the nose and it still hurt.

Oh. Okay. Deep breath.

Well, of course, that's not good. I don't want my son to be physically aggressive. I hate violence. I quickly apologized for his behavior and assured her I would talk to him about it.

Case closed, right?

I had a split-second decision to make, and that's what I decided based on my son's personality, his intensity level (high), and my values (we don't hit people). I would talk with him. I would also get his take on what happened, as I hadn't seen it. Most of all, I would use it as an opportunity to help him improve his social skills.

I realize not every one would take this tactic. Some might immediately find their child and march them up to the girl to apologize. That might be the right choice for them, but I knew that wouldn't work for us. I knew deep down my son would throw a huge fit and learn nothing from the incident. If I tried to force him, the girl would not get the sincere apology she was hoping for.

I looked around to see if the girl was being supervised. Her mother or caregiver was looking right at the girl and me, smiling with what appeared to be support and approval of the little girl, and perhaps a wee bit suspicious of me. Truthfully, it felt uncomfortable on a lot of levels.

When my son came down from the Play Place, I asked him if he had hit someone; he admitted he had. He also said she was pointing at him over and over and saying "hey you!" I could tell he was frustrated by the whole situation.

Oh geez. Hitting is never okay, but pointing and yelling at my son is definitely not the way to talk to him. Nothing good will come of it. I quickly told him that hitting is never okay, and that even if someone is bothering him, he needs to walk away rather than retaliate. He felt bad. He looked remorseful. I knew I would address it again with him in private later as a follow-up.

I also had a higher purpose in my head: I had gone to lunch with my kids to let them have some fun together and to enjoy them before school started up again, after a rather challenging summer. I didn't want to end it on an awful note.

I was now ready to go, salvaging what was left of our decent mood.

We walked out of the Play Place and, whew!, I've never felt eyes burn into my back as much as they did that day. I could feel the woman's (and girl's) eyes on me, and I'm pretty certain it was in shock and disdain that I didn't march my son right over and force him to apologize. Or maybe I was imagining it.

Was I wrong? Maybe. Something in me also says perhaps my quick decision was okay, even if it wasn't perfect. Would the apology have been sincere? Would he have even done it? I can't make him do something, though I suppose I could threaten or bribe him to do it-- but doesn't that take away the purpose of an apology? Is that the spirit of being sorry I want my son to learn?

I have run through the scenario several times in my head (per usual), and I'm not convinced I did the right thing. I'm not convinced I did the total wrong thing either.

How about you? What murky decisions do you question after the fact? How do we know if we are making the "right" choices, and how do we define "right?"

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Frantic Mama's Five Friday Faves: Fall 2016 Edition

Helloooooo everyone!

There's an ever-so-slight crispness in the morning air and a few leaves are beginning to transform into reds and golds. Fall is coming...and although I love summer, fall can be pretty great too.

On that note, school has also started so I am writing a real, actual blog post! Wooo hoooo!!!

I have some new favorites up my sleeve to share with you-- here and on my new YouTube channel.

1. Tin Whiskers Wheat Stone Bridge Ale (tied with New Belgium's Pumpkick):

YUM! Tin Whiskers is a local St. Paul, Minnesota, brewery, so I tried this wheat ale (spiked with honey and chamomile!) out of loyalty, and I love it.

If you are a pumpkin fan, you need to try Pumpkick beer by New Belgium-- it's delicious!

2. Animal field guides:

I grew up poring these little pocket guides growing up, and I recently found a stash for my kids. It's tons of fun to look at these together. We also have Birds of Minnesota and Trees of Minnesota. Obviously, not all of you live in Minnesota, but if you have a nature lover in your house, I recommend seeing if there's one out there for your state or country!

3. Amy Schumer's new book: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

I love a funny book. This one makes me laugh out loud. Prudes beware: it might be a little too much for you. Sometimes I find myself looking over my shoulder to see if a parent has caught me with this collection of scandalous stories, but then I realize I'm the parent, so it's all good.

4. Toy Cash Register by Learning Resources:

This is a great toy that grows with your kids. Both of mine enjoy playing with it, and I love an educational toy that also encourages pretend play.

5.  TAZO Chai Tea. 

Spicy and warm...perfect served hot with a splash of milk on a fall afternoon!

Want to see me chat about these faves on YouTube? Check it out here!

What are your favorite things this fall?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama