Tuesday, December 31, 2013
I've been going through leadership training at work, both formally and through reading on my own. I never intended to be in a leadership role and never saw myself as a leader, but here I am now and I'd like to do a good job, so I'm trying to educate myself. One of the things I've learned is about setting objectives and goals for employees. The acronym for these goals is "SMART" which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely (or time-limited). I'm still working out how exactly to apply these to the jobs we do at work, but it occurred to me that these principles make good sense for New Year's Resolution's too.
Specific goals are just what they sound like. Instead of vague wishes like "I'll lose weight" or "I'll exercise more" or "I'll be a writer" they give details. "I will walk 3 miles a day" is a specific goal. "I will take one writing class" is a specific goal. A specific goal spells out exactly what it is you are going to do.
Measurable is also an easy term to understand. You can measure how far you walk each day, how much time you spend on something, or whether or not you did something. So "floss daily" is a measurable goal. Measurable also implies that you will, in fact, measure and keep track of what you are doing in order to review your progress and stay motivated. There are plenty of ways to measure; you can use a notebook, your phone, or even a sticker chart like I make for our preschooler.
Achievable is an area where I often have problems in making resolutions. I've set quite a few ambitious goals like "walk 5 miles daily" which just doesn't make sense right now given my daily schedule and my current fitness level. Even "walk 2 miles daily" or "30 minutes of yoga daily" might not make sense because it doesn't allow any flexibility or leeway for life's vagaries and disruptions. I've also gone into the New Year with a list of resolutions that was 8 or 10 items long in the past, which is too many items to realistically accomplish while balancing work and family. I need to focus on what is most important to me right now, among the many, many wonderful things I could be doing to improve on a personal level. So achievable goals for me might be "walk 2 miles four times a week and do 30 minutes of yoga twice a week." An achievable writing goal might be "write 1000 words five times a week" as opposed to "write a novel this year."
Relevant in organizational terms means that the goal or objective should contribute to the organization's overall mission. In personal terms, I think meaningful might be a better term. Why is this goal important to me? What is my motivation? If I look at goals I have achieved in the past, for example learning to knit socks, I can see that this goal is personally meaningful because knitting gives me a deep sense of satisfaction, because sock knitting is a little tricky and makes me feel clever, and because the techniques in sock knitting transfer into toy knitting which is even more fun. My fitness goals above of walking and yoga would be personally meaningful because I would like to be stronger so I can carry my daughter for longer at a time (35 pounds of preschooler is no joke!) and have more stamina and energy at the end of each day. My writing goal is meaningful because writing helps me think, helps me problem solve, keeps my creativity alive, and also because someday when I retire from medicine I'd like to make writing my second career.
Time limited is a factor I've never considered before in New Year's Resolutions. It always seemed obvious to me that a resolution would have to be for the whole year. However, an entire year is a pretty long time to for me to promise to sustain a habit. I know that I got through difficult classes and difficult medical rotations and difficult assignments by reminding myself "only X more weeks." Even now, when I'm having a hard time at work I cheer myself up by remembering "only X more days until a weekend" or "only X more workdays until vacation." So perhaps I hold on to motivation best over a period of days to weeks. So instead of a New Year's Resolution, perhaps it makes more sense to make a New Month's resolution. A month is about 4.5 weeks, which is enough time to see if a habit is truly going to be achievable and meaningful for me. I will plan to re-evaluate my resolutions on 1 February and decide if they should continue, be modified, or be dropped all together in favor of new resolutions.
So, my month's resolutions for January 2014 will be to:
walk 2 miles 4 times a week
do yoga for 20 minutes 3 times a week
to write 1000 words five times a week
These are specific, measurable, achievable, personally relevant and time limited goals. I'll track my progress using an app on my phone and on 1 February I'll take a look at how I'm doing and decide what I want to do for the next month.
Friday, December 27, 2013
I'm glad for Christmas though. I'm glad for time with my family and time to rest. I'm glad for my daughter's questions about why we have Christmas and who is Jesus and who is Santa and also for her joy in opening presents and playing with new toys. I'm glad for special cookies and my mom's holiday soup, which is what we call the creamy chicken potato soup that she always makes on Christmas Eve. Mostly though I'm glad for the promise of Christmas, the promise that light comes after dark, the promise of hope and renewal inherent in a story of Emmanuel, which means G-D with us, present in our lives.
One of the commonly sung and read prayers this time of year is the Magnificat (Luke Ch 1 Vs 46-55) spoken by Mary to her cousin Elizabeth.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
And holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy,
According to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Mary spoke these words in a time of fear and anxiety in her life; newly pregnant, unwed, uncertain what would happen to her in a time and culture that condemned unwed pregnant women to death. She spoke as a poor woman and a member of a conquered and occupied nation. Her words ring with hope for the oppressed, that justice will triumph and G-D’s arm will lift them up while casting down the oppressors. Her words don’t speak of armed rebellion or violence by humans. Instead they bathe in the promise of G-D’s action to save his people.
Cultures around this world celebrate this time of year, this turning time when darkness and cold are at their deepest in the Northern hemisphere. We light candles and fires, we feast on good things, we rejoice in the green that does not die. We celebrate in peaceful defiance of the night, the dark and the chill. We gather as communities to remind ourselves that light will come once more. Our specific stories change but our themes are the same; hope, love, peace, joy.
The Christmas story is about the power of light over dark. It’s the story of G-D, the creator, the all-powerful, entering this crazy beautiful broken mixed up world as the son of a unwed mother from the ghetto. G-D identifies with the oppressed, living and dying in a way that rejected violence, power, wealth and dominion. And in doing so he planted a new seed in our hearts, a new idea that love and peace and joy are powerful, that all people are valuable, that in G-D all are equal, men and women, parent and child, slave and free. That seed is slow growing and that plant has not come to full fruition yet. The Magnificat promises us that it will.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Friday, December 13, 2013
I particularly love thinking about Advent. I love lighting the candles in the wreath each week and meditating on the qualities of hope, peace, joy and love that the candles represent. I love putting stickers on my daughter's advent calendar and talking about the time going by. I love the solemn joy of Christmas Eve, as we sing the beautiful old songs and light candles and remember that we are so loved. I love to remember that G-D loves us all so much that he came here to live with us, as one of us, so that he could show us that love in a way we could understand. My family was never that much into Santa Claus. Instead we talked about giving gifts as an act of love, the way G-D sent his son to us.
So when I say I don't love the holiday shopping season, please understand that I'm not a scrooge. I just think that it's out of control. The constant pressure to buy, buy, buy is annoying. The crowds in the mall are stressful and agitating and at times scary. Very little of the commercial message feels in tune with the spirit of celebrating love. One of my the Christmas decorations I love best at my mom's house is a kneeling Santa; Santa kneeling by the manger of Christ. The toys and commercialization of the holiday subordinate to the celebration of G-D with us. That's how I would like things to be for me and my family.
I'm also very aware that most of the people I know don't really need or even want anything. And even though I love opening presents, neither do I. I am incredibly blessed to have enough in my life. Most of my friends would say the same. We just don't really need more. And even though holiday giving isn't so much about what people need, when we all have so much already a giving things just isn't very meaningful.
So this year I am doing something a little different. I am still buying gifts for a few people, although I am choosing smaller and less expensive gifts. But for most of the people I usually exchange gifts with I am donating money to Heifer International in their honor. Heifer International (http://www.heifer.org) is an organization that provides live animals and training on animal husbandry to people around the world living in poverty. The families who receive animals pass on the gift by donating the first living offspring of their animals to another family in need. The animals range from honeybees to cows and for the bigger animals you can purchase a share to donate. The gift of an animal that provides milk or eggs can make the difference between enough food and not enough food. The families can also sell wool, baby animals after the first ones they donate, eggs, extra milk and by doing so acquire enough money that children can get health care and go to school. Families are helped to help themselves, which I think is wonderful.
I had a really good time choosing the Heifer International Gifts. I chose a training package on animal health for a friend who has a health care background. I chose a knitter's basket for my mother-in-law who taught me to knit. I chose rabbits for a friend who adores animals and baby chicks for some friends who just had a baby. For some friends and family I couldn't figure out an appropriate symbolic animal but it was still fun to think of a family somewhere owning a llama in honor of some newly married friends or a goat in honor of my father. I hope that my friends will get a kick out of this and maybe even consider doing the same for me.
I think this is a good way to honor the spirit of the holidays; the giving of gifts as an act of love. I think this is a good way to connect and create meaning; by thinking about people I love and in their honor trying to make the world a better place.
Monday, December 9, 2013
I desperately wanted to speak with him. I wanted to step in, distract the children, help him calm down and regain his balance. I would have if he had hit them, but for yelling I didn't feel like I could. But oh, how I wanted to help. I've certainly been there with my own daughter; making an effort to do something nice for her and being met with whining and fussing. I've had that feeling of not being able to take one more second of high pitched preschool shrieks. I've yelled at her just as unproductively at times. Which is why I didn't speak. I'm not sure in those moments of high emotion that I could have tolerated a stranger stepping in, no matter how diplomatically, with the clear intent of calming me down. I'm not in a good place when I've hit that edge and it didn't look like he was either. But I wish I had now. Maybe just a "Hi! Wow, it's cold out here!" could have sent things off in a different direction.
I've been thinking about parents and children a great deal lately. Much of the work I do as a psychiatrist is with adults who were abused in various ways as children. Recently I've been working with one particular patient whose past is dreadful, so dreadful that I haven't been as able to put my work down when I leave as I usually am. I find myself troubled, thinking about this patient, thinking about the events in her past. Feeling angry and sad, and helpless to do enough to help her now, and wishing that someone had stepped in for her in the past. Her resilience is astonishing but so is the damage that has been done.
I looked up child abuse prevention on the internet the other day. The work I do is after the fact, repairing the damage. If child abuse could be prevented I would lose about 75% of my patients. If that could happen I would throw a huge party and cheerfully redesign my life to find another line of work. So I looked into what I could do to make it happen. It was fascinating that the information from US Health and Human Services on child abuse prevention was mostly about communities. The steps they suggested ranged from getting to know your neighbors to participating in the parent organization in your child's school to helping organize community resources for childcare.
I get that. If I had known that father, if we had been friends, I could have stepped in. I know that when I'm feeling distressed my friends can still talk to me, can remind me to calm down. I could have talked to him, talked to his kids, helped get things back on an even keel. I also feel calmer and happier in general when I'm with friends. Perhaps having a friend there would have helped him stay cool in the first place. I don't think that young man was abusing his children, but I also know that most parents don't ever intend to abuse their children. Having a strong community, people who know you and love you and are willing to speak up when you are losing it, can make all the difference.
I don't know if I'll ever see that father again. I think that chance is lost. But there is a playground in my neighborhood, and there are families around us. I think I will start talking to neighbors a little more, talking to people on the playground even when I feel shy or uncertain. I can't change the past for my patient. I can't stop all child abuse everywhere. But I can take some small steps to create a stronger community where I live. I can ask other people to do the same; to keep their eyes and hearts open, to be involved even when it feels awkward. I have faith that small changes add up to big changes eventually. Seems like it's time to get started.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
There is an art to packing for a three-year-old, a balance of parental authority and preschooler choice. It involves observation of your child to see which items are current favorites and might be missed as well as resignation to the fact that you will make some mistakes. My husband and I frequently travel with our daughter and have since she was very young and we still get that delicate balance wrong at times, as we did this morning. In many ways packing for an infant is easier. You need more items, including some large ones like a stroller and a portable crib, but the infant herself is not likely to gainsay your choices. The preschooler, on the other hand, is perfectly likely to pitch a fit over her outgrown purple sandals that have lately become her absolute favorites.
We typically start with clothing when we are packing. Clothing comes primarily under the heading of parental authority, since a three-year-old doesn't know what the weather is going to be like or what we may be doing. Since having a child we have found it best to plan to do laundry sometime during the trip, because packing enough clothing for a person who will likely require at least two outfits a day becomes unwieldy when the trip is over three days long. We do the primary selection of pajamas, underwear, socks, and daytime clothes, although we usually try to pick the items that have been recent favorites. This means sorting through laundry to find the ones she is picking out of her closet for herself. Then we add shoes, jackets, and bathing suits at our discretion.
Toys are more a matter of her choice. We limit as to volume by giving her a preschool sized roller bag to fill. We also keep an eye on what she chooses so that we know she has a few of her favorite comfort items and a few staples such as crayons and legos. We would prefer to veto noisy toys for our own sanity but if she picks something obnoxious we make sure it's only accessible in our hotel room so at least the rest of the traveling world isn't perturbed. We used to choose books together but now we have many favorites on our Kindle. That cuts down both the weight and the challenge of making choices.
My husband and I don't typically consult our daughter in the matter of snacks, although that would be a good opportunity for her to exercise choice. However, our daughter is one of those children who likes the same foods over and over again and so we don't bother asking. We know she's going to tell us graham crackers, applesauce, and goldfish so that's what we pack. We are also in charge of special items, such as sippy cups, a sleeping tent and a few blankets, her epi-pen and her personal hygeine items. Mostly the entire process works well, although her items typically make up more than half of the luggage we are bringing on any given trip. And we do have the occasional minor tempests over items that didn't make the cut.
That's ok. We try to use these moments as lessons in tolerating not having your own way and being flexible in finding other solutions. She can wear the pink sandals today and with a little distraction and a little comforting she'll be content. As she gets older we can expand the amount of choice she has, training her in both making decisions and accepting the consequences of those choices.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Puzzles have long been the purview of families. Around 1760 an engraver named John Spilsbury first pasted a map to a wooden board and used a saw to cut out the different countries. Wealthy English schoolchildren used his invention to learn their geography, but puzzles caught on as entertainment. In the early 20th century jigsaw puzzles were handmade and too expensive for anyone but the wealthy, but in the 1930's die cut cardboard puzzles opened the hobby up to the middle classes. Today puzzles are sold in two and three dimensional variations and can be made of cardboard, wood, plastic, styrofoam and now, pixels.
Pixellated puzzles aren't perfect. I miss the tactile element of handling and sorting pieces and the sensation of edges locking together. The application I use holds the unused pieces in a sidebar; they are small and you can only see ten pieces at a time, which requires significant memorization skills. The puzzle screen itself is limited to the size of the iPad which tasks my eyesight on more complex puzzles. On the other hand, I can carry a library of hundreds of puzzles with me wherever I go. The pieces can't be lost or scattered and a solution in progress is held in memory without cats or preschoolers pulling the pieces apart. Each puzzle can be done at different levels of difficulty. You can choose the number of pieces ranging from 42 to 550 and you can set the pieces to rotate, imitating what would happen with physical puzzle pieces. I can solve a puzzle with my daughter on the easiest settings and then later return to it and challenge myself with a tougher version.
I wasn't a puzzle lover as a child. My mother and sister loved them but I usually wandered off to read a book. My daughter has been fascinated with them since her grandparents bought her a 24 piece cardboard puzzle with a popular cartoon character on it when she was two. I seem to have caught the bug from her, finding joy and achievement in assembling lovely pictures on an electronic screen. Perhaps it's just the fun of doing something together. Perhaps it's that puzzles are a nice metaphor for life, with hours of patient work fitting tiny pieces together producing a beautiful whole. Or perhaps the genetics just finally kicked in. Whatever the reason, I seem to be hooked.
Friday, November 22, 2013
As a child I loved what my daughter loved; the bright colorful scenes, Julie Andrew's beautiful voice, the silliness and fun. As an adult, decades later, I found myself entranced by the relationships between the characters and how they changed. As a child I would have told you this movie is about Mary Poppins, a magical nanny for Jane and Michael, two British children in the year 1910. As an adult I think it is a story about their father Mr. Banks and his transformation.
At the beginning of the story the Banks are what I would term professionally a narcissistic family. The parents are involved in their own lives; Mr. Banks in rising in influence and power at his bank and Mrs. Banks in the women's suffrage movement. They don't pay much attention to their children except to scold them for not being good little "children-bots" who reflect credit on their parents and don't cause trouble. Jane and Michael are cared for by a series of nannies whom they torment with various tricks, including running away. At the opening of the movie they are brought back by a constable after having run off chasing a kite and causing the latest nanny to quit. The children attempt to apologize and ask their father to help them with their kite but he ignores this, instead focusing on dictating to his wife the qualities he wants to see in a new nanny. Jane and Michael write their own advertisement for a nanny in an effort to help; Mr. Banks finds their letter ridiculous and tears it up. The wind snatches it up through the window and thus the crisis is created that allows Mary Poppins to enter the family as an agent of transformation.
Over the course of a few days Mary Poppins and Burt (an old friend and admirer of Mary Poppins and local man of all work - chalk artist, one man band, kite seller and chimney sweep) take Jane and Michael on magical adventures. The children are delighted and Mr. Banks is perturbed, insisting that the children need a grounded, reality based education. He attempts to intimidate Mary Poppins as he does the rest of his household but she remains calm and unflustered. She then neatly turns the tables by agreeing with him and arranging for the children to accompany Mr. Banks to work the next day. Chaos ensues when Michael wants to spend his tuppence to feed the birds from the bird woman as Mary Poppins had suggested and his father insists he invest it in the bank.
The bank scene is a lovely illustration of narcissistic parenthood. Mr. Banks brings Jane and Michael in and announces to his superiors that Michael wishes to open an account, despite the fact that Michael has repeatedly stated he wants to feed the birds. The bank officers and Mr. Banks sing about the glories of investment while Jane and Michael appear steadily more confused and frightened by the circle of grownups pressing in on them. Finally, the president of the bank snatches Michael's tuppence away from him and Michael responds by shrieking and wrestling it back. The fight disturbs the other bank customers who only realize that the bank won't give someone their money back and a run on the bank is created. Michael and Jane run off through the confusion. Throughout this scene Jane and Michael are not seen as individuals. Their father wishes them to behave a certain way in order to bolster his own prestige and image at work.
Mary Poppins created the conditions for change with her magic and ability to stand up to Mr. Banks, but it is Burt who capitalizes on her work to reach the characters and start changing their relationships. Burt finds Jane and Michael after they've run off and helps them empathize with their father in his position of responsibility and loneliness. When Mr. Banks comes home from work devastated by the incident and knowing he will be ruined Burt (in the home to clean the chimney) empathizes with him and then gently in song helps him see that he's rapidly losing the window of opportunity to connect with his children. Burt leaves it there, with Mr. Banks sitting quietly in a dawning awareness. Jane and Michael approach and apologize to their father, handing him the tuppence and asking if that will make everything better. Mr. Banks appears to really see his children for the first time; their desire to connect with him and love him. He receives a phone call ordering him to report to the bank and we follow him through the streets of London as he appears to see things for the first time, pausing to gaze at the spot where the bird woman sits.
The turning point of the movie is the scene in the bank. Mr. Banks enters and is marched to the board room between two tuxedoed officers. There is a strong sense of a criminal being brought to justice which is heightened when Mr. Banks enters the darkened boardroom, where light falls only on the board sitting at their table. Mr. Banks is reprimanded for his behavior and he apologizes, but then things become ridiculous. While the president of the bank looks on with undisguised pleasure Mr. Banks's boutonniere is torn, his umbrella is turned inside out, and the top of his hat is punched out by one of the senior board members. Clearly this is intended as a ritual shaming and casting out and yet all of a sudden Mr. Banks sees it for the nonsense it is. It's a pretend world that he bought, to the exclusion of his family, and he gets it now. He laughs and delightedly shares a joke that Michael had told him much earlier in the movie, a joke that he only now understands. He dances off singing, returning home to repair the kite and take Jane and Michael out as they had requested in the first moments of the movie. Mrs. Banks follows her husband's lead and offers her suffragette sash as a tail for the kite. The family skips off together hand in hand. Mary Poppins and Burt, their work accomplished, quietly fade out of sight to allow the restored family relationship to keep center stage.
This movie resonates for me now on so many new levels. As a therapist, because the narcissistic family dynamic is so common, so damaging and so insidious. I admire the empathy as a change agent that Burt utilizes and the focus Mary Poppins maintains on her work of healing this family. Her leaving scene, where she is obviously saddened but determined not to usurp the parents' rightful position, is a lovely illustration of what therapists should do when their work is complete. More importantly I see this movie now as a parent, as I strive to be a non-narcissistic mother to my own daughter. I remind myself to balance discipline and acceptance, to balance my work with parenting, and most of all I remind myself focus on my daughter and her truth, to see her as she is and not as I would wish her to be for my own gratification.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
I wanted one, though. I've wanted one since they came out about four years ago. They just seem like magic to me. When I was little I remember watching a cartoon called Inspector Gadget. The TV show was about a bumbling bionic detective with extendable arms and legs with a variety of gadget attachments, which would invariable malfunction in humorous ways. He made no progress whatsoever on his own cases, but fortunately he had a very intelligent dog, Brain, and a niece, Penny, with a computer book. The computer book was an amazing little device that looked like an ordinary book but which could speak, display maps, and answer questions. It fit in Penny's backpack and she carried it everywhere with her. Thanks to the computer book Penny always knew where her uncle was and what was going on. She would then send Brain to go help out Inspector Gadget and solve the case. I loved that computer book in the show. I would get bored and frustrated by the inept Inspector Gadget but I was all attention and wide eyes when the computer book came out. I really, really wanted one. Now, with the iPad, it feels like I have one.
I do plan to use the iPad for writing purposes. I don't love writing things out longhand, particularly since I would just have to retype them later. Also my thoughts seem to flow better when I am using a keyboard. My laptop is great but it is very heavy when we travel and too bulky to take to work. With a Logitech keyboard folio my iPad transforms into a very small, very lightweight laptop for a much lower price than a MacBook Air, which is the other product I had considered. My goal is to use the iPad as a functional tool that allows me to write on the go, taking better advantage of spare minutes that accumulate here and there.
Which is not to say that it isn't also a toy. I've put several apps on it already for my daughter, although I am determined to maintain my position as the owner of the iPad. But "do X and you can have 10 minutes of iPad time" is too attractive a bribe to pass up. I also found the app "Color Zen" for myself, which is a puzzle game that is incredibly absorbing as well as oddly calming. And of course I had to download the Kindle app, so that I could access my library on the lovely large screen of the iPad instead of my tiny phone screen and spare my eyes some strain. I am sure that over time I will accumulate more games and entertainment. That's okay. As long as I can keep on writing I will feel like it is a worthwhile tool.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Monday, November 4, 2013
The restaurant's decor was stark and basic; plenty of metal and scratched up tables. I don't love the industrial look when I go out to eat although it does seem to be popular these days. I would imagine that it is easy to keep clean and tidy and that it gets people in and out quickly, so I can see the advantages from the restaurant's point of view. It's not a great ambience for a date night, but fortunately the food made up for it.