Circumstance Is A Weak Choice

Scenic view or septic tank? Your choice.
Scenic view or septic tank? Your choice.

“I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Here is my blanket statement of the day. There are two kinds of people in this world…people who embrace choice and people who don’t. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this differentiation. I know many people who live their lives through the filter of circumstance. Things happen to them. They are firmly locked into the victim mindset, unable to let go of what is now in the past. Life has been unfair to them, and life has made them unhappy. But life is unfair to everyone in one way or another, and this is where choice comes in. When something unwelcome happens to you, you unexpectedly lose your job or your child or your home, for example, that is circumstance. How you deal with circumstance is choice, and that choice is the difference between lifelong happiness or lifelong disappointment.

I’ve cycled through both the victim and the champion role in my life, gratefully remaining more on the champion side as a rule. Sometimes I would sit in suck-i-tude for a while before putting on my big girl panties and making changes. And it’s true that sometimes you need to let yourself be where you are in your disappointment, sadness, and regret. It’s part of the human condition. But I’ve realized that remaining stuck there is a waste of time. Life is too short to hang out too long where grief and sadness reside. I am in charge of writing my story. The people I have most admired have taken what life has handed them and worked it in their favor. It might not have happened overnight, but it happened. It’s a process.

Now that I am better at not relegating my life to well-gee-it-is-what-it-is, I find myself struggling with the appropriate way to act when others are marooned in the quagmire of circumstance. Some people only feel better when they are getting attention and sympathy from others, and the best way for them to do that is to remain lodged and helpless in their unfortunate circumstances. When you are involved with people who rely on you to make their life better, interactions with them are exhausting. How do you show empathy while maintaining self-preservation? It’s a tough line to walk. I’m working on being compassionate while remaining cautiously distant so I don’t get sucked into their vortex of pity-poor-me. That attitude is like the flu and, if your choice mindset is underdeveloped or suffering a setback, you can catch that victim bug more than once. And I have.

I don’t want to feel trapped by anyone’s circumstances, including my own. I want to be creative and find ways to negotiate obstacles as they arise by determining what choices I have in the situation. I know I don’t have to own or be responsible for any choices others make to remain trapped in their situations. Intellectually, I understand that, but I invariably wrestle to free myself of others’ negativity and focus on my own reactions instead. I’m striving to be braver and to recognize the bad for what it is…a chance to grow and adapt. I’m getting there. And, someday I will successfully be able to navigate the landmines that life’s victims leave for me. For now, all I can do is worry about myself and tread lightly in the direction of positivity.

 

 

Disappointed!

Clone Troopers have seized control of the White House again!
Clone Troopers have seized control of the White House again! This is what happens when someone cancels Homework Club.

Three afternoons a week, our sons have been attending Homework Club at their school. They don’t normally have homework over the weekends, which means that only one night a week have we had to step in and help them with their school work. Given the years of frustration and discord during homework time because we’re not able to teach our kids the way they need to learn, Homework Club has been a family miracle. Like parting-of-the-Red-Sea level of miracle. It has restored peace in our home, given the boys a chance to get help from people who understand what they need, and delayed the final and irrevocable departure of my sanity.

Then, tonight, I got an email that rocked my world. The State of Colorado has decided that Homework Club falls into the classification of school age after school care and, as such, requires a license. Seriously? Some overzealous person is looking to increase revenue for the State of Colorado, apparently. Anyway, the email states that Homework Club, along with Art Club, Lego Club, Chess Club, Choir, etc., are cancelled until further notice while the school jumps through state-mandated hoops to acquire the necessary piece of paper allowing them to continue the programs they’ve been operating successfully for decades. I read the email a couple of times trying to decide how to feel about it. My brain finally settled on the scene from A Fish Called Wanda when Otto opens the safe to find it empty. Disappointed! Bureaucracy tests my patience. And bureaucracy really aggravates me when it cuts my kids’ school day short by an hour thereby cutting my peace and quiet short by an hour. And, as disappointed as I was, I knew the boys would be worse. They choose Homework Club. I daily give them the option, and they’d rather spend an extra hour at school than deal with my help. No lie.

I steeled myself for delivering the bad news. Honestly, I expected a full-tilt, murder-of-Archduke-Franz-Ferdinand revolt once they discovered they’d have to go back to doing homework with me rather than their teachers. We used to spend hours doing homework together, and they have post traumatic stress disorder from those days when most of us would end up either yelling or crying each evening during the process. I tried to assess the best way to minimize the damage. I decided that I would approach it as if it were no big deal. My experience has been that the greater reaction they see from me, the greater the panic that ensues. When I am calm and deliberate, they tend to handle bad news much better. Lead by example, right? I took a deep breath and went to the basement to interrupt their Lego play.

“I’ve got some potentially bad news, guys,” I said evenly.

“What?” Luke asked.

“Did someone die?” Joe inquired.

“Nothing like that. The school is cancelling Homework Club for a while. I guess you’re going to be stuck doing homework with me,” I said with utmost nonchalance. “They are having to get a special license from the state. They’re working on it.”

“That’s going to really mess things up for some people,” Joe noted. “Some kids’ parents can’t come get them until 5 because of work.”

“I know. It’s a bummer.”

“Man,” Luke sighed. “And I just got into Art Club too.”

“It happens. The school is committed to getting things back up and running as quickly as possible. I’m sure you’ll get to finish your project soon.”

“Okay,” Luke replied.

“Hey Luke,” Joe started, “want to play Skylanders?”

And just like that it was over. Potentially catastrophic nuclear meltdown avoided. Sometimes the simplest solutions really are the best. Now I just have to convince myself that I’m prepared for our own personal homework club again. I too have PTSD about our previous homework experiences. I’m not gonna lie. It was rough. Thinking I might just have to pretend that 3:30 is the new 5 o’clock until Homework Club is back on our docket. I hope the state gets its stuff together before I become a permanent day drinker.

You Must Be This Tall To Ride

Tonight we took our boys to Lakeside Amusement Park and, as we walked around, I realized that it was their first amusement park visit. Well, we did take them to Disneyworld when they were 3 and 5, but since they were both so small we didn’t get to ride as many of the rides. Oh, sure. We’ve let them ride on coasters and log rides in the Mall of America and on those small, portable coasters they set up for fairs, but for the most part my boys have been devoid of amusement park memories. I started to feel a bit bad about it.

Then, as we were in line for the Wild Chipmunk, I got a reminder about why we haven’t been in a hurry to take them. Our boys are tiny. Both have late spring birthdays. Both have been under the 25th percentile in height from the very beginning. We gave both of them a chance to attend junior kindergarten so they could catch up in stature. Still, both boys are the oldest and the smallest in their classes. It doesn’t make much sense to me. Hubby and I are considered to be average height. And, yet, our children are borderline Oompah Loompah (they’re just missing the orange skin and white hair). As we were waiting for the Wild Chipmunk, the roller coaster Luke had been dying to ride, a park employee came by and delivered the disappointing news. Luke was 4 inches too short to ride. He cried. It broke my heart. And THIS is why we don’t take them to amusement parks, I thought.

Then, I thought about it again. Luke did get to ride quite a few other rides. He loved the Tilt-A-Whirl and had a blast in the Labyrinth Crystal Palace. He rode the Matterhorn and the Scrambler multiple times. He had a blast flying his own little plane on the Satellite. He even rode with Joe on Joe’s favorite ride, the Ferris Wheel. (Seriously. The Ferris Wheel. What 11 year old kid loves that ride?) And, he would have missed all of that if I’d kept him from going to the park tonight. Then I realized he would have missed more than that. He would have missed the opportunity to face disappointment and to work at getting beyond it.

I need to do a better job at giving my kids room for disappointment and freedom. They need to be able to deal with adversity and heartache, responsibility and reward. How are they going to do that if I don’t allow them small opportunities to build their skills? So, as hard as it was to watch his heart break, I’m glad I let my barely over 4 foot tall Luke attend this privately hosted night at Lakeside, courtesy of my college roommate Michelle who proffered the invitation. It was a good experience. Life is full of “you must be this tall to ride” experiences. Sometimes we don’t measure up. But, you can judge a person’s true stature by how they deal with their disappointment. In time, I hope Luke’s experiences on the short side prove that he’s actually 7 feet tall.