Month: May 2014

Chrysalis

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There’s a ray of hope. I can see it.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ~Maya Angelou

I am a first class stuffer. I think it was my Catholic upbringing that started the whole thing. Through charming phrases like “offer it up,” I was taught that when I don’t like something my job is to shut up and live with it anyway, to suffer in silence. And so I did…to the point that even a simple, honest act of speaking up for myself, like returning the wrong meal in a restaurant, became impossible. It’s not that I was happy about putting up with things my spirit told me not to put up with. It wasn’t easy. I complained. I complained a lot to the pages of countless journals that would hold all my enmity without ratting me out. It was my silent rebellion. Externally, I sucked it up and kept my mouth closed because that is what a good girl does, and arguing requires confrontation and confrontation is scary. Internally, I was becoming a roiling, seething caldron of should haves and unfulfilled wishes. (It’s really no surprise to me that I needed to have my gallbladder removed at age 33, so full of bile I was that my body rebelled against me.) Still….I kept right on stuffing because old habits die hard and change, especially with regard to one’s now-ingrained habits, is difficult.

Recently, though, I’ve realized that I am so full of all the stuff I have stuffed for decades that there is no more room for stuffing. It’s time to let go. Deep down I’ve known for about eight years that I needed to change. The notion has been fluttering in my head like a miller moth trapped inside a room, banging about the walls, flapping with an ever more urgent need to be free. I’ll be honest. I made excuses. I focused on other things so I could ignore what I knew needed attention. That needs to stop. Now is the time to do some serious excavation, to dig up the me that I know is under all that pent-up crap, the me that has a spine and can speak for herself. The work must be done because what I want more than anything is to find a way to keep from passing this stuffing habit on to my sons. I want them to be able to walk around the hole I fell into. To bring them around it, though, I must crawl out of it first.

I read this quote in my Bunny Buddhism book the other day: “The bunny who tries not to suffer only suffers more.”

The road ahead of me, unpacking all that I have stuffed, is going to be uncomfortable. There’s no doubt I will suffer, cry, and feel weak during the journey, but I’ve already seen what trying not to suffer has done for me. I no longer believe this internal change could make me suffer more than trying to endure in silence even one more spirit-dampening blow. In the end, I want to be that beautiful butterfly that Maya Angelou was talking about. With that in mind, into my chrysalis I go.

Self-Portrait of the New Me

The forties have been an interesting decade for me. I started them with some sort of vendetta, something to prove to myself and to others. After a few years of tearing down my comfort zone and boldly going where I had not gone before, I began to get restless in a different way. I began to feel like none of it mattered. Like everyone else on this planet, I was simply getting older, and no amount of fighting the aging process was going to stop the clock or stop time from marching across my wrinkling, sagging body. Why bother? I mean, we’re all going to die anyway. Who cares if I do it ingesting chia seeds or peanut M&Ms? Most recently, though, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’ve hit upon a new phase. It’s a whole new thing for me, something I’ve not yet experienced. I’m trying to find softness, to forgive myself for what I’m not and to appreciate what I am. After a life of being a perfectionist and being unfairly hard on myself, I’m starting to look the other way on my shortcomings and focus instead on the good.

As I begin this new phase of self-discovery, I’ve found that there are people in my life who are determined to derail me. They remind me of what I’m not, rather than celebrating what I am. It’s a constant battle to remain ahead of the naysayers who want to throw sand on my picnic. Last night, I was sharing something Luke did at school with someone. I was particularly proud of this project and was excited to show it off for him.

Luke's self-portrait

Luke’s self-portrait

One of his teachers had him draw a self-portrait. Around the self-portrait, he’d written ten statements about himself. All of the statements were positive. I asked him if he’d had a hard time coming up with ten nice things to say about himself. He said he hadn’t. I was so proud of him for having a level of self-worth at 11 that I know I don’t have at 45. The person with whom I shared the artwork had only one statement about it: “Well…he’s cross-eyed.” I looked at the drawing again. It’s true. Luke had drawn one of the eyes toward the center edge, and I guess it does look a bit cross-eyed. I hadn’t noticed that earlier because, well, I was so impressed with the wording around the drawing that I simply hadn’t noticed. Guess my pride in my son clouded my critical, artistic eye.

Today, I spent a bit of time reflecting on the negative comment on my son’s sweet piece of artwork. Putting yourself out there like that is a bold move. Letting your mom share it with others is even more bold. If he could be that brave, I could to. I decided to put myself to the test. I decided I would draw a self-portrait and see if I could come up with ten positive statements about myself. I wanted to share my page with Luke because he’d allowed me to share his page with others. I also shared it with three other people just to get used to the idea of having confidence in my own self-worth. Tonight, though, I am taking it farther still. I’m going to share my self-portrait with the Internet.

My self-portrait

My self-portrait

I’m no artist, and this activity was difficult for me. As hard as it was to try to sketch myself, harder still it was trying to find complimentary things I was willing to say about myself. It took less time to draw and color my sketch than it took to compose ten positives, and even then I felt very uncomfortable owning everything I’d written. In my head was that little voice spewing self-doubt, saying Who are you kidding? and A lot of folks believe they’re good writers so you’re not special. It was a good exercise for me, though, and one I desperately needed today. It’s not easy for me to find positives because I’ve fairly well breathed a steady stream of negatives through outside voices and disparaging self-talk my entire life. I’m more likely to look in a mirror and find five things wrong than I am to find even one thing right.

When Luke got in the car after school, I told him that I’d spent my afternoon drawing and I was hoping he would critique my work when we got home. Luke, being the kind-hearted kid he is, appraised my art and told me that he thought it was pretty good. Considering how much I had struggled with it, I thought pretty good seemed really great.

It’s a long road I’m on, this path to self-love and self-acceptance. It has to start somewhere, though, and I’ve decided that somewhere is here and now. Some people will approach everything from a point of cynicism and negativity. I don’t have room for that anymore. I don’t want my children growing up with a mom who has nothing nice to say about herself. I don’t want to be that model for them. The world will beat them up enough. They don’t need to be experts at it too. As for me, I am making changes. You’re entitled to your opinions about me, about how I live my life and how I’m doing it all wrong. You can even share your opinions with me if you want. I’ll hear what you’re saying, but I’m not absorbing it or changing to meet your expectations. I’m happy with the life I’ve built and the person I am continually becoming. I’m not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes. Point them out if you must, but know that I’m kicking negativity to the curb. If you have nothing positive to say, you can go with it.

What Difference Does It Make

Something British that I truly enjoyed last night

Something British that I truly enjoyed last night

“One must hop toward the light rather than sit in a shadow and wonder why it’s dark.” ~Bunny Buddhism

I’ve been a regular concert goer since I was a teenager. I saw my first concert (The Police on their Synchronicity tour) when I was 15 years old. My friends and I were in the rafters in seats labeled on the printed tickets as “Possible Obstructed View.” It didn’t matter. When Sting took the stage and I saw the tiny dot that was HIM, the magical concept of the concert was solidified. I was taken in hand by the spirit of live music. Game over.

Last night I had the opportunity to see in concert an artist I’ve followed since I wore black on the outside because black was how I felt on the inside. As much as I adored Sting and The Police (and I’ve seen Sting, either with or without The Police, approximately nine times), The Smiths were my anchor, Morrissey my preacher. Need a pithy lyric? I’ve got an entire cache of Smiths’ lyrics stored in my brain, the same brain that can’t remember my own phone number some days. After two failed attempts to see the Moz (he cancelled the shows both times), yesterday afternoon I started to believe it might be my night. I crossed my fingers and hoped the third time was a charm. Please, please, please let me get what I want. Lord knows, it would be the first time. To celebrate the evening’s potential, my friend Heather and I had dinner at the British Bulldog. We were taking this experience as seriously as Morrissey takes his PETA affiliation.

When he finally took the stage last night in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, all the self-inflicted misery of my teenage years resurfaced. The show started out better than I could have hoped with Hand in Glove. His voice was spot on, clear, smooth, and without any hint of the ill effects of high altitude. Having resigned myself long ago to the knowledge that I would never hear a Smiths’ song live, I could not have been more happy to be wrong. As the concert progressed, however, I found myself becoming increasingly agitated. A steady dose of morose songs are the norm with Morrissey, but his solo catalog also includes musically upbeat tunes…even if they are accompanied by lyrics that are she-was-found-face-down-in-a-bathtub-of-vodka level of depressing. I kept waiting for the uptempo songs. They did not arrive. Worse than that, I was seated next to an aggravating couple that included a gentleman who believed he himself was Morrissey. He sang each and every word quite loudly and with the utmost conviction of his own vocal talent. I wanted to kick him in the eye. I was not surprised when Morrissey performed Meat Is Murder while onscreen a graphic, five-minute long film of the industrialized food machine abusing and murdering animals played for our edification. I gave up hope and focused instead on my double vodka and soda. At least there was a chance for temporary mental respite at the bottom of my plastic cup. I checked my phone for the time and found myself disappointed that it was only 10:11. All I could think was heaven knows I’m miserable now.

Toward the end of the show, Heather and I checked out. I think we might have left if it hadn’t been for some sort of misguided optimism that perhaps Morrissey would come out of his self-indulgent drama long enough to play something lively and redeem the show. I know Morrissey was simply being Morrissey. It’s not his fault that I didn’t get the concert I had hoped for. He was the same Morrissey he has always been. I have changed. My mentality has caught up with my biology. I’m older now and have less tolerance for intentional misery. I am weary and wary of wallowing for wallowing’s sake. Life is short, and our thoughts determine our relative level of joy. Based on that notion, Morrissey must be the most disconsolate man on earth. Don’t get me wrong. I will always enjoy his songs because they are wry, poetic, and clever. He rests on the other side of the scale from brainless, pop fluff and creates a necessary balance. Somewhere along the line, though, I decided that choosing to live in misery doesn’t make you deep. It just makes you dark. I will never see another one of your shows, Morrissey, but I’m still fond of you.

Pigs in Pink Aprons

Little pig indeed

Little pig indeed

I had all kinds of really good intentions today to get a lot done and not rush my way through a blog at the end of the day like I usually do. That was my grand plan. But then something unfortunate occurred. My nearly teenage son reminded me this morning that he needs another costume item for his school play. And he needs it by tomorrow. You see, Joe is a pig in a fractured fairy tale, performance next week. Last Wednesday when we were both suffering from colds and should have been home in bed resting, we went on a grand excursion to the costume store thirty minutes away to spend $15 on a pink snout, ears, and a curly piggy tail for his costume. (We did not, however, make it make it to the market, have roast beef, or cry wee-wee-wee all the way home, in case you were wondering.) These items were such a hit with his drama teacher that she decided to reward me for my fine work by adding another costume item to really bring the cuteness home. A pink apron. Was she kidding me? This is not exactly an item a mother of two boys would have in a drawer or closet. Pink is verboten in this house, you know. Sometimes I think teachers just do shit like this to test me.

Despite my relative annoyance, I asked around. I could not locate a pink apron that would fit Joe. So today after getting in my workout (3860 stairs at Red Rocks), I began the grand search for a pink apron. My only stipulation was that it had to be under $10. I was not spending real money on a pink apron that I would never wear. Truth is that I already have a good apron that has been my tried-and-true buddy for 15 years, and I am faithful. I started out by going to a couple of discount stores. I got a little distracted in Gordman’s for about an hour (didn’t find an apron but I did find a 24-ounce sippy cup to hold my wine incognito at the pool this summer). Then I moved onto Ross. There I found a full pink apron covered in cupcakes but I thought Joe might balk at the frilly ruffles so I left it. From there I headed to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but all their aprons were over $20 and I would have had to dye a white one pink. No thank you very much. I hit Party City. I was beginning to get a bit desperate. I found a full paper apron that was only $3.50 but it was white, which meant my son and I would have to spend our evening coloring it with pink markers. And, let’s face it. Joe would color for five minutes and then use the excuse he always uses when he’s trying to get out of something (“I have to poop”…you want to mess with that if you’re wrong about his faking it?) and I’d be coloring that dang thing alone. Nope. Not gonna do it. I finally gave up and ran to Target. While they didn’t have an apron, necessity became the mother of invention and I found a pink hand towel and pink, fabric ribbon totaling $8 and decided I would make my own pink apron because why not? Isn’t that what moms are for?

I had planned to sew the ribbon on but realized that the bands on the corner of the towel were capable of breaking multiple needles. (I realized this after I’d broken multiple needles.) I resorted to my glue gun. My glue gun and I worked magic again, and in short order we had a makeshift apron for my little pig. I made him try it on to verify its efficacy. It was perfectly functional. He seemed satisfied with my handiwork and, well, he should be because I’m a talented genius who can pull pink aprons out of thin air. I ironed it, put it in a gallon-size Ziploc to protect it from boy hands before the dress rehearsal, and handed it to him. That was when he told me he doesn’t actually need it until Friday because that’s when the dress rehearsal is. I would have choked him if I hadn’t been so tired from the stairs and the shopping. He’s a lucky boy.

Some days being a mom is a whole lot of pointless work. You finish the laundry, and someone drops a sock into an empty hamper. You clean the kitchen and before you put the rag down someone has crumbs on the counter. You go to five stores to find a pink apron, end up making one, and realize that it’s an exercise in insanity because it’s only going to matter on a subconscious level for less than two minutes of your life and no one else will even notice it for that long. On days like these, I try to remind myself that this is how I earn my keep. I am the behind the scenes miracle worker. What I do is invisible. If I didn’t do it, though, someone would notice.

The Littlest Teachers

Me and my little teachers

Me and my little teachers

Thirteen years ago, I was about one month away from becoming a mother. Back then, I thought I had a fairly decent grasp on who I was. Thirteen years and two children later, I realize that I had no clue who I was or what things I was capable of. Becoming a mother is one thing. Being a mother day in and day out is another thing entirely. Mothers (and fathers too) are capable of incredible things, things far beyond what we imagine ourselves capable of. Back then, I thought the biggest obstacles to overcome with parenting would be cleaning up puke and missing out on sleep. I laugh at that now. All the things I expected would come easily to me did not. And from out of nowhere came new lessons about myself and about life. Tonight I want to share three things I have learned because I became a mother:

1) I am really good at reading aloud. Considering how much reading aloud in school caused near panic attacks that could only be lessened by mentally practicing every part of the story in front of me in class while waiting for my turn to read, this is a shock. Lately I’ve been reading The BFG by Roald Dahl to our boys. I do a voice for the Big Friendly Giant. It’s different from the one I did for Willy Wonka and the one I did for the Fantastic Mr. Fox. I have fun finding the character’s voices and acting out the books like plays. I look forward to reading aloud to our sons, not just because I enjoy it but also because they enjoy it. They may not be amazing readers themselves, but they love hearing a good story. We don’t read together every night, but on the nights that I read aloud I find that I feel pretty good about this talent I never realized I had.

2) I am actually quite okay living in a pit. Before I had children, I had things in my home under control. Everything had a place and everything was in its place. Bathrooms were cleaned regularly. My kitchen was spotless. In college, I would pick light-colored lint off the brown rug in my dorm room. I exchanged my sheets for fresh ones weekly on the assigned day. I would scrub the bathtubs in friends’ homes because the soap scum and filth bugged me. After having two boys, this monkey is no longer on my back. I get around to cleaning eventually, but I’ve learned that a clean house is overrated. If at my funeral someone says, “She kept such a nice home,” my life will have been a failure. A clean house is a sign of a dull person. Clearly, I am not as dull as I once was. This does not mean our house is up for condemnation or is overrun by a large colony of rats or anything. I’m just not losing any sleep over unmade beds or dusty ceiling fans. Life is too short to sweat these small details. I’d rather play Battleship with my son than wash his sheets, and I have to believe that is a wise choice.

3) I am wrong a lot. Before our sons were born, I believed I was fairly intelligent and was right a fair percentage of the time. I thought I had answers and my job in parenting was to share the answers with my children. Parenting has been for me, therefore, a thirteen year lesson in how little I actually know and how much I have to learn. Luckily for my personal growth, my children are gifted at pointing out how adept I am at making mistakes…like the time my three-year old son went on and on to anyone who would listen about how I got on the highway to drive them to school when, in fact, their school was nowhere near the highway. He told everyone. At first, these little lessons in my humanity were hard to swallow, but in time I realized that not having all the answers (or needing to have them) is a huge weight lifted. I’ve gotten good at admitting that I don’t know. Letting go of my need to be right has given me great freedom to be a goofball. And I’ve learned that goofball is far preferable to know-it-all.

I went into motherhood under the assumption that it would be a great education, and that it has been. I like myself far better now than I did thirteen years ago back when I thought I knew myself and had it all under control. Chaos is much more interesting, and so am I.

 

I Got My Report Card

So proud of these little monkeys

So proud of these little monkeys

A bunny can only learn what he has the humility to admit he doesn’t know. ~Bunny Buddhism

About five days ago we received a large and rather heavy envelope from the Havern School. From the cumbersome nature of the package, I sort of figured it was something dull (like an Annual Report) and I have no energy to deal with things like that. I’m lucky if I read all the way through the weekly email newsletters that have information I need to know (the same information, incidentally, that gets printed out and sent home in our sons’ backpacks but that I don’t get for three months because they forget to share anything that’s not a cold, a booger, or a piece of trash ). On the counter that large envelope sat while I went about my usual routine of ignoring the mail until it overwhelms the space and I am forced to reckon with it. Last night I finally opened that bad boy. Lo and behold, it was an annual report of sorts. It was the boys’ annual Academic and Therapy Reports.

As I’ve mentioned before, the boys’ school doesn’t provide traditional letter grades because students with learning disabilities typically struggle with standard assessments. Included in this large envelope was a cover letter from the Head of School explaining that “the faculty at Havern takes delight in the many other ways we observe and experience a student’s growth during the year — academically, emotionally, and socially.” In place of an online report card comprised of impersonal and mostly comment-free letter grades, I held 58 printed pages of precise information on my sons, what they have been studying, their strengths, their struggles, strategies that have helped them to improve, and recommendations on what we can work with them on over the summer. Fifty-eight frigging pages. I started to imagine that perhaps their school knows them better now than we do.

This was the first report card that reflected our sons back to me. Sure. Letter grades can offer a sense of a child’s success, but they can also mask problems. Luke had mostly A and B grades last year despite the fact that he was in third grade and had tested somewhere around a first grade reading level. These new reports, while overwhelming at first glance, provide an accurate picture of how far they’ve come and what’s next for us to tackle. The Havern School prides itself on seeing the whole child and, after flipping through the report pages, there is no doubt that the boys’ teachers, speech therapists, and occupational therapists understand and appreciate them as individuals. If you’re lucky, this is what a private education affords you.

For years while our boys were struggling and coming home with less than stellar grades, I felt like I was failing too. I mean, this is my job. I don’t work outside the home. I have no paying job. The boys are my job and, dammit, I take my job seriously. Letter grades don’t accurately reflect the amount of effort a parent puts into raising their child. Last night, though, as I leafed through the pages of the boys’ reports, I felt some validation because in with the information about how our boys are doing were words about who they are: respectful, well-mannered, reliable, hard-working, good sport, and conscientious. Admittedly, there were also some things in the reports to have a good giggle at. Luke’s report, in particular, mentioned his “enthusiasm” quite a bit. Enthusiasm is a teacher euphemism for talks-too-much-and-can’t-sit-still. And I had to smile at Joe’s occupational therapist’s mention of his  “mild gravitational insecurity” when it came to climbing the school’s rock wall at the beginning of the school year. I too suffer from mild gravitational insecurity. Joe’s classroom teachers mentioned what a deep thinking young man he is. Luke’s teachers mentioned his affinity for “cute, fluffy puppies” and his tendency toward being too hard on himself.

While I may not possess the unique neurological differences that our sons have, after reading the reports there’s no mistaking that these apples fell right under their family tree. I’ve often felt sorry for our boys. Having a hyper-critical, tough-minded, perfectionist mother when you’re struggling with dyslexia probably seems like a cruel joke. I see now, though, that my drive and determination to conquer whatever I attempt has filtered into my children in a way that might actually help them in the long run. These days, I make accommodations for my sons when they reach their threshold with school work, but along the way our boys learned from me that their issues are not an excuse for lack of effort or a bad attitude. I’m beyond proud of them for coming as far as they have this school year. It seems like just yesterday I left them on the school steps in August and crossed my fingers. All year I’ve been telling them to work hard and to believe in themselves and they will land squarely where they need to be. Turns out I should have taken my own advice.

I got my report card this year and I finally believe it’s one worth celebrating.

 

Son of a Beach

Joe at the top of his hill

Joe at the top of his hill

As we began our descent into fall last year, we spent one perfect afternoon on our friends’ pontoon boat on the reservoir near our house. It turned out to be the last swimming day of the year, and all the kids enjoyed fishing and splashing while the adults sat around drinking wine. While cruising along on that fun day, from across the lake, Joe (the same child who can’t find his shoes when they are on his own feet) spied some kids sledding down a steep, gravel embankment into the water. We had no idea what they were sledding on, but Joe was convinced it looked like fun. Ever since that afternoon, Joe has been pestering us to help him find that exact spot. We got away with not taking him last fall because the weather turned, and the good beach days were over. Then winter hit and, although he knew he would not get us out there, he still mentioned it from time to time. When spring rolled around this year, I knew I was screwed. I knew that as soon as the weather got warmer he was going to make me hike through brush and cacti to find that spot so he could investigate further. That kid, while being exceedingly easy to distract, is like a pit bull with his jaws locked when he happens upon something that interests him. He cannot let go.

This past weekend my time was up. He asked again, and I could not see how I would be getting out of it. I know that in these situations the only way out is through. So Joe and I headed into the state park to do some exploring. I figured that, at most, I’d have to put in about 30 minutes worth of walking and this was a small price to pay to toss this monkey off my back once and for all. I parked near the heron overlook, and we began walking down the paved pathway. The temperature was hovering near 80 and, because it was the warmest day of the year so far, it felt stupidly hot. We walked for about a mile until we came to a spot where Joe decided it was time to jump off and begin our big explore. He found a dirt path that led down towards the water, reasoning we could skirt the shoreline until we found it. It was a good assumption, but it ended up being more difficult than we had hoped.

On the way down, we dodged prickly plants and kept our eyes out for snakes. When we reached the shoreline, we began walking along the gravel. It was about at this point that I began to wonder what I had been thinking. I was one day straight off a spa-quality pedicure and here I was wandering through brush and rocky gravel shoreline in my flip-flops. I clearly hadn’t thought it through. The whole way, though, Joe was ridiculously excited. He was talking non-stop, thoroughly enjoying the time to explore and investigate. I have to give it to him. He was doggedly determined and incredibly upbeat. As I struggled over the rocks, trying my best to avoid soaking my new leather flip-flops, he up-talked me. He walked ahead, telling me the best way to go, trying to help me out. I think he was afraid I would give up.

In the end, we found the spot. Or at least I was sure we’d found it. I took a photo of it and sent it to Steve for verification. We jointly decided this must be the place. Joe seemed satisfied with the discovery and we beat a hasty retreat to the car, all the while searching for an easier way to get to where we had just gone. Joe was already asking when we could bring Steve and Luke to the spot. And here I’d thought we’d get it out of his system and would move on. Ha.

There was a time when our boys were younger, when I was exhausted from the everyday business of being their mother, when I would not have made the time to wander around the reservoir in search of a fabled place in my son’s memory. I would have made excuses. I would have decided it was a waste of time. I wouldn’t have gone for the folly. But as we’ve gotten older together, my boys and I, I have realized something very important. If I don’t make time for them, they’re not going to make time for me. If I don’t show them that I care about what they care about, they will stop talking to me. How can I expect them to lean on me later when I don’t offer myself to them now? I knew that spending an hour traipsing around the reservoir, more likely to find a snake than a sledding hill, would pay off eventually. And the most amazing thing happened on the six-minute drive home. My not-always-on-top-of-it son thanked me for taking the time to go with him. He apologized for messing up my new shoes and asked me if my feet were okay. Most importantly, he talked to me, really talked to me about how happy he was to find the place he’d been wondering about all that time.

The smallest amount of bunniness dedicated to others is more precious than anything dedicated to oneself.

How true that statement from Bunny Buddhism is, but how hard it is sometimes to make the effort. My poor landlocked son is a beach kid at heart. I don’t share his excitement about the reservoir and I never will, but going on this explore with him was something I won’t forget because these moments with my nearly teenage son will soon become fewer and farther between. Don’t tell him, but I honestly enjoyed that hour with him and I’m glad he dragged me along on his little adventure. It was worth messing up new shoes and a pedicure. Every day with my sons is a gift. And even if some days I feel too tired to unwrap the package, I’ve got to remember to make the effort because the gift is always much better than I thought it would be.