The Odd One Out

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I recently discovered this note crumpled up in the bottom of my 8 year old daughter’s back pack. I sat there a while holding it in my hands and fought back the tears.

Did she really feel this alone every day at school?
What am I doing wrong?
Why doesn’t anyone like to play with my beautiful, amazing, tender hearted dreamer?

Watching your child struggle with being “The Odd One Out” is such a hard thing to deal with as a Mom. You want them to walk out onto the playground and be immediately greeted with smiles and waves and invitations to play…but instead – you watch them walk the edge of the playground, searching for someone just like themselves who might want to play with them…and then when no playmate is found…they go sit on a swing by themselves and watch all of the other children interacting.

But sometimes…they just enjoy observing the World around them and not participating. Sometimes they are just sitting, thinking and taking it all in.

Sometimes they come to the conclusions that there MUST be other “Others” just like themselves out there who are also searching for a like minded soul to share time with and sometimes….they try to find each other.

She is still searching for another “Other” that she connects with at school – but she is also spreading love and acceptance and joy in the process…and instead of beating myself up for “what am I doing wrong?” – I am going to applaud myself for “I must be doing something right.”

I can’t wait to see where her heart takes her.

I’m a “MEAN” Mom.

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I am being a “Mean Mom” this week. 

Im not going to let my 18 year old – who “Cant wait to move out” eat any of the food we purchased for our family this week. I am not cooking for him. He isn’t allowed to use any of our milk, bread, lunch meat, cereal, NOTHING. For one entire week.

What did I do for him instead?

• I went and picked him up from work last Thursday and took him out to lunch. My treat.
• I sat with him and figured out what he is making per month at his current job working about 20-25 hours a week at minimum wage.
• I then deducted from that amount – what the average rent will be, electricity costs, cable/internet/bus fare/etc.
• He found out that after all of the bills and rent get paid – he would have $20 per WEEK to live on for food.
• I then sat with him while he made a meal plan for breakfast / lunch / dinner for 7 days – and then we wrote a list of the things he would need to get to make those meals.
• I then spent 2 hours at the grocery store with him while he walked down the isle looking for the things that were on his list and helped him see the cost difference between name brands and generic.
• I gave him $50 total to use for the weeks worth of food. $30 more than his current job would provide for him.
• He managed to get everything he needed for $49
( 1 package of bagels - 1 box of cereal - lunch meat - loaf of bread - a box of crackers - 1 lb of hamburger - 16 tortillas - 1 lb of ground turkey – - 1 bag of “Crispy crowns” potatoes  - 1 can of cream of chicken soup - 1 can of chicken broth - 1 box of pasta noodles - 1 jar of pasta sauce - a gallon of milk - Pancake mix - 1 pack taco seasoning - 1 pound block of cheese - a box of granola bars (12 count) - bag of potatoes

His meal plan:
Breakfasts for the week – pancakes or bagels or cereal
Lunches – sandwiches or quesadillas
Dinners – Tacos, Pasta and Turkey Casserole.
Snacks – crackers/cheese and granola bars)

• For one entire  week – he will be cooking his own dinners and my husband and I are going to show him how to make the dishes he wants to learn to cook. But he has to only use HIS ingredients. He is not allowed to use or eat any of our food in the home.
• He is going to have to make his snack food choices last 7 days. He is going to have to make his bread last a week. He is going to have to ration his gallon of milk etc.

After spending 4 hours with his Mom showing him his current financial situation, teaching him how much food actually costs, showing him how much bills will actually be etc…he has decided he is going to pursue getting more hours at his current job or looking for another job that will provide more hours and possibly benefits!

** We are on Day 7 today with this week long adventure and I thought I would share how the week went and some of his thoughts on everything.

The night before our week was to start:
He wanted to learn how to bake cookie bars. So I taught him how to read the recipe, measure, sift, stir without flinging it everywhere, portion and check to see if they are done. He got half of the dough for himself and the family got the other half. He used the household’s ingredients so he had to share with the rest of us.

Day 1: He ate his bagel in the morning and went to work – came home and asked me to teach him how to make tacos. He learned how to make sure the meat was cooked through and through and then learned how to portion his taco (instead of dumping a half pound of meat in his tortilla like he usually does with the family dinners) so that there was enough for him and his girlfriend and then leftovers for one more days worth of dinner.

He had saved a couple of his cookie bars to have for desert with his girlfriend. (I think he got extra points for that.)

Day 2: He went to a friends house and ended up eating some of their food. (To be honest – if it had been me at 18, I would have done the same!)

Day 3: My husband and Daughter and I were gone all day and past dinner time so he was on his own. He had these options: Sandwiches, quesadillas or go wild with his ingredients and create something.

He states he had a sandwich for dinner. I wasn’t home – so I have no idea.

Day 4: He worked 9 hours today and came home and I helped him make his favorite turkey casserole. He is stoked that he now knows my “secret” and that he got an entire pan all to himself.

Day 5:
He came home from work and had me teach him how to make pasta with white sauce. He was overjoyed to find that cooking the entire package means he has dinner for almost 3 days.

I schooled him on “Trades” between roommates for future references.

I reminded him that if this were actually a roommate situation and he wanted something from his roommates selection of food because he didn’t have any of his own – that he should never just “take it” and hope they don’t notice – because his actual roommates would NOT be nice about finding that some of their food had been raided and he would have to then deal with 1. Roommates that will no longer trust him 2. Having to deal with the fact that those roommates may have had plans for their food for something special or making a meal with a friend 3. That those roommates may be on a very strict budget with their food as well and though it might not seem like a big deal to take a couple of pieces of their bread – it may mean that they end up not getting to eat that day.

I let him know that it is very common for roommates to “Trade” items with each other so that next time – if he feels like he would like something from our pantry – he is welcome to come ASK to trade something of his for something of the family foods.

I think he got it. I hope so anyway.

We then traded one of his granola bars for a glass of our fresh pressed apple cider.

Day 6:

I have never seen a kid so eager to “Visit Grandparents” as I did today when I said “Grandma invited us to dinner at her house tonight…wanna go?”

Grandma’s home made beef pot pie was scarfed down in  a matter of moments and then seconds and possibly thirds were had.

Day 7:
This is our last day of our adventure. He will be eating his left over pasta tonight and still has plenty of milk, crackers and bread/lunch meat left over. I am really proud of him!

His thoughts:
“I could have passed on the cereal, crackers, potatoes and pancake mix and saved myself some money!

I learned some valuable skills – how to budget my money for food, how to cook some things and I got to spend some time with my mom.”

All in all – I think we were successful :)

Fear – Fear… Go away

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Me: “how was school today Sweetheart? Who did you play with at Recess?”
My Little Girl: “No one.”
Me: “…oh…are you still having a hard time making friends?”
My little girl: “Yeah, I am…but I just go play on the Monkey bars and challenge my body and my mind. I conquered my fear today and Im really proud of myself. I can skip two bars on the monkey bars now and I was really afraid I would fall if I even tried! It wasnt as hard as I let myself think it was going to be!

But I did try and I DID IT! So… even if I didn’t have any friends to watch me and cheer for me when I did it..thats ok – and really Mom…friends might have been happy for me for a few minutes and then they would have run off to go play something else and forgotten all about it – but I got to be proud of myself all day. Thats what matters the most anyway. Right?”

Right.
So right.

Is she really only 8?

My Little “Lorax”

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Took my 8 year old daughter to get some frozen yogurt after school yesterday.
She was sitting looking out the window and took a big scoop of yumminess into her mouth and her brow furrowed and she looked incredibly depressed all of a sudden…not the face I was expecting to see after a first bite of sugary goodness…

Me: “Sweetie..what’s wrong? Did you pick a flavor you dont like?”
Daughter: (Still staring off at the foothills in the distance) “No. It’s good. I like it.”
Me: “What’s troubling you love? You look so sad…”
Daughter: “What are humans doing to ourselves? I mean…look at all of those houses up there…big houses. Who needs that much room? Don’t they like being close to their kids? I hope there are still trees left when my kids are born…I can’t imagine not climbing trees or making tree forts with them.

When I grow up – Im going to have land with lots of trees and a tiny house so that my kids are near me all the time and we can go outside and enjoy nature together instead of living inside of nature that we killed so we can be further apart…yeah…or something like that…I need to figure out how to stop this.”

Watch out World…My little Tree hugger is “Thinking” of ways to ensure that she never lives in a world without trees.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss – “The Lorax”

My Little “Other”

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I have the most beautiful, amazing, talented and smart little girl – with one of the biggest hearts you will ever meet. She is 7….going on 97.

I have been watching her big brown eyes grow a little sadder every day for the past few weeks and my husband and I finally got her to share what was on her heart.

We moved to our very first home last year so she had to switch to a new school and she has been trying so very hard to fit in there …but just doesn’t seem to belong.

Every day, I ask her how her day was and what she did and who she played with – and quite often she responds with a simple “No one. I just played on the Monkey bars by myself…” and assures me that it is her choice to do so…but today – today…I learned otherwise.

This was our conversation on the way home from school this afternoon:

Me: “Who did you play with at recess today?”
Her: “No one. I ask kids to play with me and they just walk away. No one invites me to play with them…No one wants to play with me…”
Me: “Why don’t kids want to play with you?”
Her: “I’m an “Other””
Me: “…what’s an “Other””?
Her: “It’s someone that doesn’t fit in with anyone because …they are different.”
Me: “Different how?”
Her: “It doesn’t matter how. Sometimes they are smart kids, sometimes they are kids that are behind in stuff, sometimes they are kind of weird, sometimes they look different. They are just …”Others” and no one wants to play with us.
Me: “Oh..maybe you can play with the other “Others”?”
Her: “Others” like me…we just go around looking at the world instead. Today I found a big clump of moss and a pretty flower and a leaf skeleton and I just played in my imagination and… was alive.”
Me: “…What can we do..I dont know how to help..?”
Her: “It’s ok Momma. I don’t mind. Life is pain. It’s going to make me a stronger person when I grow up. Someday being an “Other” will help me change the World. Like… you know…Rosa Parks or Nikola Tesla or…You and Daddy.” 

My heart broke into a million pieces.

I’ve been trying to process it all afternoon and once she went to bed and I kissed her sweet smiling little face one more time – I went into my office and started thinking about my own childhood.

I was an “Other.”

I never fit in with any group either.

Don’t get me wrong…most everyone liked me (I think) – I was kind and respectful to everyone I met..always. I never judged anyone. I was always the first one to find the new kid and show them around. I made friends with all of my teachers and cared about everyone…but I didn’t fit in with anyone. Not really.

I used to dread lunch time. I hated going in and getting my lunch tray and then trying to figure out where to sit. I had lots of friends -but no “Group”. I didn’t fit in with any of them.

I was smart and I loved learning and reading and I loved having homework and always got good grades…but I didn’t fit in with the “Nerds.”

I was “Sweet” and “Kind” and helpful – and the “Jocks” were all nice to me and half of them would have pounded anyone who ever tried to hurt me in any way – but I was not a part of them.

I could dance and had some great moves and the “Cheerleaders” all thought I should try out for the team – but I was never asked to hang out with them or sit with them and was never asked to participate in anything social outside of school (or in school for that matter.)

I had a handful of people through out my school years that saw me for me and tried to incorporate me into their group but I just never really felt like I fit there either.

My childhood and teenage years were very lonely. I don’t want that for my daughter…and yet…a part of me does….because I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t been an “Other” growing up (and still am to this day.)

Maybe that makes me a horrible Mother.

Maybe wishing this “Otherness” on my daughter is cruel…but I have a feeling that she is wrapping herself up in her cocoon right now and in another few years…a whole new level of beauty is going to be unfurled on this World – when she spreads her wings to fly.

To all of the parents out there with your own little “Others” – go take a walk through the Butterfly house at the zoo sometime…and watch not the fluttering colorful creatures flying about…but take a look at all of the people standing there – wide eyed, filled with awe and joy every time one of these amazing creatures lands on their shoulder and touches them with beauty.

That is my little girl.

She is my little “Otherling” and she already spreads joy – everywhere she lands.

Because of You

My kids and I made this video for my husband for Father’s Day this year.

I have decided that I’m going to start making an effort to make sure that I tell at least one person a day – how they have changed my life, blessed my life, taught me something or how much I appreciate them….because we only have a limited number of “Tomorrows” and we just don’t know when today will be our last.

I challenge you to take 30 seconds a day – to leave a comment for someone on Facebook, send an email, make a phone call or better yet…meet in person – and tell someone how much they mean to you.

Don’t just stop at your family members and your friends…try telling the grocery store clerk, the mail delivery person, the guy that always remembers your order at your favorite restaurant, your hair dresser, the sweet little old man that walks his dog past your house every morning, the garbage man, your neighbors, your children’s teachers, the bus driver, the ice cream man, the photo lady at Costco, the pharmacist, the deli guy that always remembers your extra cup of ranch dressing, the smiling girl at the front desk at the gym, your doctor, the Fed Ex guy, the Vets assistance that spoils your pet with love and treats when you leave them for exams, your boss, the guy that always leaves a 25% tip, the bowling alley chap that helps you search for a ball for your children, the guy who delivers your water, the clerk at the video or music store…etc …even if you just take 2 seconds to stop what you are doing, look them in the eye and give a heartfelt “Thank you.” – it makes a huge difference in someones day.

My Mom used to tell me “Smile. It could save someone’s life” – I truly believe that.

How I see it.

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Sometimes I find that I have allowed myself to fall into the “Woe Is Me” state of mind.

Today was one of those days…where my head was pounding, my body is aching, I cant breathe through my nose, my throat hurts, I haven’t slept more than 2 hours at a time for a week (new puppy in da house!), Im exhausting myself with work again and trying not to worry about various other things…etc.

I wanted to crawl into bed and lay there and hide from life for a while… but instead – I went and grabbed my little girl from school and though my head was pounding to the point I stepped away and cried for a few minutes – I never once let her know that I was hurting that much, because it was our “Special time” together and she was so excited to go get her hair cut and colored (I let her get a pink and blue stripe!) and pick out a new dress to wear for the last day of school…not because I didn’t want her to see me being “Weak” or think that Im a “baby” or have her worry about me – but because I knew I could do it…no matter what…

Because no matter how much my head hurt today or how exhausted I am – I reminded myself to be thankful that all I had to deal with was a migraine and a very tired body…because today, someone found out they have cancer, had to watch their child die, dug through a garbage bin to find a scrap of food to try to split between their 3 starving children living in the back of their car, got blown up by a bomb halfway around the world and no where near their family, walked 12 miles one way to fetch tainted water to take back to their village and hoped no one would get sick from drinking it for one more day, caused a fatal accident because they were distracted by changing the radio station, lost their entire retirement fund because of a relative that stole their bank card, lost their right hand in a woodworking accident and now cant provide for their family, lost their job and have to tell their wife and 3 kids they wont be able to afford to keep their house, watched their town destroyed by a tornado, gave birth to a still born child at full term, accidentally shot their best friend in a hunting accident, spilled soda all over their keyboard and shorted out their computer and lost their entire senior thesis with a week left before graduation, found out their mate is cheating on them…I could go on….

When I feel like the World is out to get me or my obstacles are too big to conquer – I remind myself that things could be so much worse.

My family is healthy. My children are thriving and happy and beautiful. My husband loves me dearly and I him. People like my art and allow me to document their lives and those they love. I make people smile on a daily basis, even when I find it hard to smile myself.

Sometimes what we feel like is a “Giant Mountain” in our path – is actually just a pebble.

It’s all how you look at it.

I remember asking my Mom how she was able to deal with all of the struggles she faced in her life and  having cancer 4 times – she always had an “It could be worse” response.

“How can you be smiling so much right now Momma…knowing you are going to die?”
“It could be worse Jenny…I could be dying AND blind, and never gotten to see my babies smile.”

I can only hope to be that strong.