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The Excuse Maker vs the Howler Monkey

Howler MonkeyThere is a certain sound resonating in my household that is akin to fingernails on the chalkboard or a dog howling out of tune in the middle of the night. Without warning, this noise modulates into a higher pitch with each note, getting more frantic if it is left to continue. This annoying clamor, unfortunately, is an epidemic. What starts out as an innocent first becomes a habitual occurrence. They come more frequently as time goes on. And the result of this reverberation to anyone within earshot (mainly those it is directed at), is an elevated heart rate, a clenching of the fists and teeth, an ability to see red, and a sudden burst of mania that comes forth as a string of shrill commands even louder than the original sound.

I am, of course, talking about the “excuse maker”.

It’s funny. I used to view whining as the all-time most annoying sound ever to experience. I would tell the Taz to put his things away, and fight him as he gave me a slow, “But whyyyyyyy……..?” The whining would grate on my nerves, and would usually result in said item to be taken away. But now? I would gladly welcome back the innocent whine to this:

“Pleasemompleasedon’tmakemedothatIjustneedtofinishdoingthisandyou’re
ruiningmylifeandIwilldieifIcan’tfinishdoingthisandIjustwanttofinishthislevel
itwillonlytakeasecondwhyareyoualwaystellingmewhattodoIcan’tstandthis
pleasemompleasepleasepleaseplease…..”

Except, imagine that run-on sentence made in one breath and getting shriller with each syllable until it is barely a squeak by the time it ends. And me? I am clenching and unclenching all parts of my body until I am one big ball of stress ready to unleash. And unleash is what I do.

Mr. W was describing his own mother’s conduct when he and his brother’s would pull some sort of childish action. For many years, she would remain calm, talking in a quiet voice about their misbehavior and what the consequences were. But being that there were three boys in the family, and being that their antics were only getting more mischievous as they got older, Momma W ended up correcting them in a much louder way. Read: she turned from a controlled superior to something that more resembled a screeching howler monkey. And, of course, this would leave her boys in hysterics (on the inside, of course), and unable to take her seriously.

Frankly, she had lost control. And when I look back at how I’ve dealt with the Taz as he’s frustrated me to no end, I wonder what kind of screeching animal he’s comparing me to.

The biggest obstacle I’m struggling with the Taz on right now has to do with responsibility. Our biggest dispute is over his ability to remember important details I have laid out for him. When he goes to his father’s house, he forgets half of his clothes at his dad’s house when he comes back to me. When he goes to school, same deal (it’s amazing he doesn’t come home naked…). Getting ready for baseball games is an interesting ordeal, as he has left his uniform all over the county (his dad’s house, school, his friend’s house, my parent’s house…). He consistently gets late notices from the school library for the books he has failed to turn in despite reminder after reminder from me. Homework that we have meticulously worked on the night before comes back unread in his homework folder because he hasn’t turned it in, or he has left his folder on the kitchen table. When it is time for chores, he will goof off if left to his own devices. I have to stand over him to get him to do anything. And after 10 minutes of that, the “excuse maker” and the tears start.

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I can understand the importance of keeping on him to get all of his responsibilities straight when he was younger. But at 9 years old, it is my belief that he should be able to manage his own responsibilities to a degree. At the very least, he should be able to remember to bring home all the articles of clothing from his father’s house or his classroom, turn in his assignments on time, and not have to be reminded constantly to do the same thing that is required of him every single day. And, unfortunately, growing tired of repeating myself, the Howler Monkey comes out in me. I think the Taz has successfully learned how to tune out the Howler Monkey.

When relaying the tug-of-war I’m experiencing with the Taz to one of my friends, and lamenting about my reaction to his irresponsibility, she relayed to me how her grandmother handled it when she was young. Her grandmother rarely raised her voice. Instead, she’d keep her voice in an even tone, alerting them of their screw up. And then she would calmly point them in the direction of the bathroom. For the next few hours the mischievous child would scrub the room from top to bottom. And when they were done, their grandmother had to inspect it and approve. More times than not, she would find one or more things wrong, shake an entire can of Ajax over the whole bathroom, and order them to clean it over again. To this day, my friend cannot stand the smell of Ajax, and will not let it anywhere inside of her home. And she also learned to stay the straight and narrow.

What I got from my conversations with Mr. W and my friend is that a quiet voice and a firm composure is much scarier and more effective than a screeching Howler Monkey.

This weekend we had the chance to test this theory. The Taz left his baseball hat in his desk at school on Friday, meaning that he wouldn’t have it for Saturday’s baseball game. The old me would have howled at him, ranting and raving the whole way to the store as we bought a new one. His punishment would have been ineffective, as the screaming and yelling on my part took up a good majority of the energy I could have used on creating a real consequence. Instead, I kept calm and told him that Saturday morning would be spent cleaning my bathroom top to bottom. And I explained to him that the yelling in the house was going to be kept to a minimum. If he failed to execute the minimum responsibilities required of him, he could expect to do some heavy cleaning as a consequence. This seemed to go over well with the Taz. And the next morning, he woke up before I did to clean the bathroom and get it over with.

cleaning 002

He woke me up to come check his work, and I did with a critical eye. I told him all the things that still needed to be done.

“ButMomIhavebeenworkingsohardonthisallmorningandIjustwanttohavefun
whydon’tyouevencareaboutmethisistoohardyou’reruiningmylifeIjustwantto
goouttoplaywithmyfriendsandI’mhungryandthebathroomlooksfinewhycan’t
Ibedone?”

Instead of clenching and unclenching my hands, hyperventilating with a raised heart beat, or seeing red, I stood there watching him in anticipation. His “excuse maker” tapered off and he waited for my reaction.

“Are you done?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said.

“Good. Now do what I’ve told you to do. You can eat breakfast only when you have finished.

We went through three more occurrences of failed cleaning attempts until I finally sat cross-legged by the door and pointed out one by one what needed to happen for me to be satisfied. 2 hours of total cleaning time, and he was done.

I’d love to say that this one event has cured him of all irresponsibility altogether. Of course I would. But come on, we’re talking about kids here.

“Mom, I’ve decided I want to quit baseball,” the Taz told me last night as I drove him from the meeting point his dad and I set up halfway between our homes.

“Why?” I asked. I had just finished telling him that we had an extra practice the next day.

“I just want to quit. I’m not enjoying it.”

I told him we weren’t just going to quit like that. And then it occurred to me why he was having a sudden change of heart.

“Did you remember to pack your uniform from your dad’s house?” I asked him.

“Um….no. I have everything except for the jersey.”

Right now I am enjoying a quiet house with a purring kitty, fondly eating some strawberry yogurt. And upstairs, the Taz is plugging away at making sense of the chaos in his room until I deem it acceptable. Maybe it’s going to take some time until he has mastered the art of responsibility. But my house is about to get really, really clean.

Is there a Howler Monkey living in your home? How about an “excuse maker”? Share your horror stories, or how you accomplished getting those two unwelcome guests evicted.

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Loving the Bully, part 2

Follow up from Loving the Bully, part 1

We live in an area where bullies are a part of day to day life. There are kids who have families that are not exactly on the right side of the tracks, and who are destined to go down the same road. Except, in this day and age, that road is a lot rougher. A mom wrote me today regarding an article I wrote about bullying, and relayed her own story of her son being bullied. When the school wouldn’t do anything, her husband finally went down and let the bully know in no uncertain terms that if he bullied his son again, the bully would be dealing with him, the dad, in the same sort of manner. This was years ago, of course. Nowadays something like that could never happen without legal repercussions resulting. But how many of us parents have been tempted to knock the block off of the overgrown kid that is tormenting our child?

As you remember, my son has also been the victim of a bullying situation. Basically, there was a 12 year old kid, “Trevor”, who was as big as a linebacker and picking on all the other kids who like to play basketball in our apartment complex. My kid happened to get in Trevor’s way, and the kid pushed my kid around. I found out when the neighbor kid came running breathlessly to my door to let me know that the Taz had been hurt. The Mama Bear in me came out, and I wanted to wrap my hands around this “little” twerp’s neck and squeeze. But I couldn’t. However, I did get involved by marching Trevor over to his parents (all 5’4″ of me to his 6 foot brawny self) to settle matters. Thankfully there have been no problems since, and the kid has actually been staying away from the basketball courts.

At the time, I was furious. I wanted to murder this kid for touching my child. And I don’t excuse that feeling. Kids who are victimized over and over grow up with feelings of low self worth, and are constantly haunted by the bullying they endured in their youth. I’d have a hard time feeling any kind of love for anyone who was hurting my son, now and in the future with the repercussions that ensue.

However, everyone has a back story.

As a counselor at the summer camp the kids and I attend every summer, I came across one of these difficult kids. This boy had done his best to be as difficult as possible with the staff, and with all the campers around him. He didn’t want to participate in any of the activities. He would verbally berate anyone who tried to get him to join in, going so far as to tell the teen staff to “F- off”. He threw rocks at the other campers. Whenever I’d step in, he’d glare at me and ignore me.  The last straw was when he broke the bathroom door, and then denied that it ever happened. It seemed like every bit of trouble that was going on involved this kid. What was worse, he was starting to gather a following of boys who were joining in on his misfit actions.

“What do you want to do?” one chaperone asked me when I came to him about the situation. “Call his parents? Send him home?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All the staffers are throwing their hands up in the air. We just don’t know what to do.”

We ended up talking with the camper. I started out really closed off. I wanted nothing to do with this kid who was making everyone’s life miserable. And if we ended up sending him home, that was fine by me. But one little trick I learned was to keep my mouth shut and listen as the other counselor asked him about camp and how he liked it. And little by little, the kid opened up about his home life. He didn’t see his mom at all, and he lived with his dad. The only other camp he attended in the summer, besides this one, was one called “Alateen”, a camp for kids of parents who abuse alcohol.

The kid was acting out because of his anger at a life that he had little control over.

It’s just like that kid who was going down the bully path in my daughter’s 3rd grade class who I wrote about in “part 1″ of this topic.  He was the one that caused trouble in class and was kicked out, and I followed behind to talk with him and see what was going on. It became clear that this kid was hurting. He had no mom, and he hardly saw his dad. When his dad was around, he came down hard on this kid. The kid, in turn, lashed out at everyone around him to compensate for the hurt he was feeling on the inside. For the rest of the year, it was apparent that there had been some sort of connection. He would actually smile and wave when he’d see me, and seemed to respond to me the rest of the year whenever I called him on his behavior in class. Of course, I’ll admit that it was easier for me to be kind to him because he had never tried to hurt my child.

“Whatever happened to that kid in your class?” I asked DQ today as I drove her home from school.

“He moved away,” she said.

“He kind of has a sad home life, doesn’t he?” I mused outloud.

“Yeah. His dad scared me,” DQ said.

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“His dad was huge, and looked like a gangster. And he always seemed really angry.”

When it comes to dealing with bullies, I really have no concrete advice. It’s easy to feel helpless in such a situation, not knowing how to wrangle in the wild horse that wants to run free and lash out at anyone trying to corral it. But in one of my comments on the story of Trevor and my son, Jo came up with a more positive way to deal with bullies:

“Being the eldest of 10, and having worked with kids a lot (not having any–by choice) I would like to suggest something. It may not feel like the right thing to do but I’ll bet it just might work. Taking a batch of cupcakes out to the basketball court some afternoon with your little ones may put a period at the end of the sentence…. Part of the issue is the not knowing when it will happen again—and in Trevor’s case–looking good to his buddies. So many kids these days don’t have enough supervision, attention, love –whatever. When a group of kids come together over “goodies” and sit around enjoying them, they can begin to shift the focus. If nothing else, all of the other kids will see your attempt and appreciate it. Your two will have a community of support and I’ll bet Trevor will be among them. I think you might have his respect and your children will see that by taking the high road it just feels better.
I don’t suggest this will work in every case–but I have a feeling….

It seems such a grandmotherly thing to say “you can catch more flies with honey”. But it’s true. The kid at camp? He smiled a lot more after our talk than he had the first part of the week. And the trouble ceased. I grew to understand him more, knowing where he came from, than I had when I just saw him as a bad kid. I was able to act differently toward him, with actual care. And he, in turn, would respond much more kindly. And my daughter’s classmate responded in much of the same way. But can every bully situation be handled so kindly? It’s hard to say. When it’s your own child at the hands of an angry kid, how can you remove yourself? There are so many different levels of bullying, and some of it is more than painful.  And there are times when more serious action needs to be taken.  But in every situation, whether big or small, the problem needs to be tackled somehow positively, whether by a parent, a teacher, an officer – anyone who can – so that the human inside is reached, and the bully is conquered.

When kids drive you crazy

Yesterday was a busy day of laundry and cleaning. Not only did it need to be done, but I am expecting the landlord to come by today for our annual inspection to make sure that our apartment is still intact and that we aren’t housing any pets like dogs or the regular city sewage rat. Thankfully, we have neither. Children are enough of a necessary hassle to be tended to without adding an animal to the mix. And this was even more apparent when I heard something drop to the floor in the bathroom, and an “oops” out of my daughter. She rushed into the kitchen and grabbed some paper towels, and then disappeared around the corner.

“Everything ok?” I asked her.

“Um, fine,” she said. “Except I might have spilled some nail polish on the floor…” Engrossed in my work, I told her to just use some of the nail polish remover on the linoleum. “Uh, ok,” she said. “But it’s not coming out of the carpet.” I immediately stopped what I was doing and checked the damage. There were three noticeably black stains on the carpet, and spatters of paint on the linoleum and against the wooden door. Apparently a manicure for my daughter includes black nail polish. We worked together at the mess, only to leave a lightened color of black on all three surfaces. It wasn’t coming up no matter what we chose to do. And it was all done in time for the apartment manager to take note of. Freaking out wouldn’t even have helped the situation, so I just told her what was done, was done. And I advised her that manicures should probably be done on the front porch.

That evening, I loaded the last load of the day into the washer and then joined my son in my room as he messed with my Mac computer that has been lying in a corner thanks to a “Kernel Panic” message that had rendered it as useful as a doorstop. But my son was determined that he could fix it. After all, he had fixed his friend’s computer.

“How did you fix it?” I asked him, wondering if maybe my son was a computer genius and I didn’t even know.

Warning: Please skip the next two paragraphs and continue on to the main point of this story if technical stuff bores the heck out of you.

“I pressed every single button on it at the same time, and it worked again.” Yes. My son is a genius. “Maybe if I do that to this computer, it will work again too.” Being that I had basically given up this computer for dead long ago, having said my final farewells to all the writing and music that was held prisoner in the machine, I didn’t see what the harm was. I was brushing my teeth when he called me, excitedly. “Mom! It worked!” I raced back into the room, and sure enough he had gotten past the error message and was now at a screen that required my password. I typed it in, and my old familiar desktop appeared before me. Did I mention my kid’s a genius? And to think that I was actually musing about spending hundreds of dollars to fix it and retrieve all my files. Apparently all it needed was to have every single button pressed at the same time. Now that is tech support at its finest. We fiddled with the machine for a little while before realizing that we couldn’t access the internet. And the iTunes songs wouldn’t play. In fact, the volume seemed to be permanently on Mute. And the year on the machine was set to 1969. Now for those of you that really are techies, you probably already guessed what happened. My son had managed to enter into the computer via “Safe Mode”. So I restarted the computer to see if I could now enter it in the regular fashion. No dice. The “Kernel Panic” error message popped up again. The Taz suggested that we try pressing every single button again, but I was determined to find out what exactly needed to be pressed to get back in “Safe Mode”, and then what I needed to do once I was there so that my computer would work again.

I needed to send the Taz to bed before I could actually figure it out. But I did find out, and will share it with those of you who might be having Mac problems as well. To get into “Safe Mode” on a Mac, all you have to do is press “Shift” after the Start-Up sound is heard, and then hold it until the Apple on the grey screen pops up with the process wheel. You’ve gotta love the simplicity of Macs. At any rate, this is what is supposed to happen. Unfortunately, all that happened on mine is that it would take a really long time to load, and then would get hung up on something and shut itself off. So I researched some more and found a bunch of useful Mac shortcuts at guides.macrumors.com/keyboard_shortcuts. Among the shortcuts were a bunch to use at the start-up. One of them was to reset the PRAM, holding down command-option-P-R, and to continue holding all four keys until the second start up sound chimes. What this did was reset the video and display settings, time zone settings, volume settings, and, of course, recent kernel panic messages that had occurred. And then the computer started up again. Of course, it was still in “Safe Mode”, but now I could go through the computer and find the exact program that was bogging up my system, delete it, and be able to access my computer in regular mode again.

Now on with our story.

Pleased with myself, and with my son for giving me a clue to this puzzle, I went back downstairs to throw the clothes in the dryer and finally go to bed. But what I saw made me stop in my tracks. It appeared that the laundry detergent had exploded all over the dryer and was creating a nice blue lake on the floor, dripping in a slow moving waterfall from the top of the machine. I quickly moved the detergent bottle, to the bathroom and started sopping up the mess. It was amazing how much detergent had spilled out of the practically full bottle. And detergent is near impossible to clean up. It had traveled under the dryer, and every time I thought I had wiped it all up, it would seep out even more from underneath. A glance back at the bottle proved that the detergent wasn’t quite done escaping. There was now detergent all over my bathroom sink.

I thought that maybe I hadn’t shut the valve all the way, and I laid it on its side to prevent any more leakage. But now it was apparent that there must be a breakage in the bottle itself. I inspected the whole thing, looking for a weak spot that I hadn’t seen before, and I couldn’t see anything at first. But a second glance over, and that’s when I saw it.

It was barely noticeable at all, but on the lower corner of the bottle was a tiny hole, just big enough, apparently, to send out a steady stream of blue, sticky detergent. And that’s when I remembered seeing something else near the dryer in recent days.

A tack. I have no idea where this came from, or what it’s for. But it seemed to be the perfect size for a small tiny hole punched into the bottom of a brand new bottle of laundry detergent.

Yup, seems to be the right size.

It’s a match!

There was only one guess as to who was responsible for this.

I asked him about it the next day. And he swore he had no idea what I was talking about. But after much pressing, and a little reminder about trust, he finally fessed up and gave me a detailed description about how he had thought it was a fun idea to see if he could punch the tack through the thick plastic of the laundry detergent bottle.

Kids.

This is the perfect segue to mention the Challenge that I will be starting in the month of April. If you remember, March was the month when we gave up something for a whole 30 days. April, I promise, is way easier. This next month is dedicated to our kids, or rather, the things our kids do that drive us crazy. Not only do I want stories, I want photos too. I want pictures of the toothpaste overflowing onto the counter, the clothes left in a heap right next to the hamper, the dirty faces and clothes after a hard day of playing, the footprints on your clean floor… All of you have some sort of story about the shenanigans your kids have pulled, and we all want to hear them. So come on over to Santa Rosa Mom and share your battle scars in the forums.

In the meantime, I have more detergent creeping out from under my dryer, and the landlord is due any time now.

Taming the Green Eyed Monster

This is part three of a short relationship series.  If you haven’t already, read part 1, and part 2. 

So imagine this. You’re out to eat with your boyfriend. The two of you are enjoying the spring weather at an outside table, sharing the dessert from one bowl as you gaze into each other’s eyes. You’ve just said something witty and start to laugh, when you realize he isn’t laughing with you. His attention is elsewhere for a second before he turns back to you.

“Hmm?” he asks, realizing that he’d missed something.

He may have missed something, but you sure didn’t. A quick glance over your shoulder and you see exactly what caught his attention – a girl walking by on the street in her little short spring dress, walking her tiny rat of a dog and smiling in the direction of your man.

Jealousy. It’s rampant in relationships. From the tiniest twinge over a night out with the boys leaving you at home alone, to the myriad of texts your girl might be receiving and you have no idea who they’re from. Some experts claim that twinges of jealousy might make things a little more exciting in a relationship. I’m not so sure about that, however. But what I do agree with is that jealousy exists in every relationship out there, whether it’s just the little twinges, to something that is way more consuming and causes loss of sleep (or loss of control over resulting actions…)

So what is jealousy? It’s when the overactive imagination starts playing the “What If” game. What if he is really out with another girl when he’s saying that he has to work late? What if she is thinking of her ex while she’s kissing me? Thing is, the “What If” game is a dangerous pastime, and too much dappling in this game can actually make things happen that may not necessarily happen. Huh? Bear with me here. If you are playing the “What If” game, you are creating a belief in yourself that they are guilty of doing something that you have no proof of (if you do have proof, that’s another story). What used to be a whim in your mind that was along the line of “perhaps” becomes cemented inside of you as gospel truth. With this thought process going on in your mind, you will act differently towards them. Instead of being confident and secure, you become accusatory, jealous, clingy, and insecure. And the funny thing is, they may not have done anything to deserve this treatment.

So how do you overcome the little green-eyed monster that has the ability to eat your soul?

First of all, you need to know yourself. What are your triggers? Does it make you jealous to know that your girl is still friends with her ex? Does it bother you when your man appears to be too friendly with the waitress taking your order? Do you feel a sense of rage when your girlfriend likes to hang out with the guys at work? Is it a certain behavior your SO exhibits around the opposite sex or when another person seems to be checking out your SO? Or is it something that no one is doing but still has you feeling jealousy? Figure out everything that triggers your jealousy, and then WRITE THEM DOWN. Don’t only write them down, but write down WHY they make you jealous.

Next, you need to be open and honest with your SO. Tell him that you are feeling jealous, and share why. Don’t accuse them of doing anything wrong, but explain that these jealous feelings are inside of you and you would like help in conquering them. “I felt really jealous when I heard that you went to coffee with your ex. I know you’re with me, and that if you wanted to be with her, you would be. But I can’t help feeling really put off knowing that you are spending alone time with someone you were once intimate with.” This is a perfect time to share expectations in your relationship. Truth is, this conversation should be had around the time that the two of you first decide to be committed to only each other. But it is never too late to discuss and negotiate ground rules in your commitment that allow the two of you to feel safe and secure. This might mean letting personal history remain untouched until the two of you are more comfortable and secure in your relationship to discuss those kinds of things. Or maybe it’s guidelines for dealing with ex-partners or friends of the opposite sex. Whatever it is, these are things that are important to you or your SO, and must be agreed upon together. There may be some things that you will have to give in a little about, such as deciding that being Facebook friends with an ex is ok, but having lunch with them is not. It’s not your favorite solution, but it’s one you can live with, and so can your SO. Come up with a plan together on ways to avoid these triggers. If her flirtiness is causing jealousy in you, it needs to be addressed. If he is being texted at all times of the day and you are feeling put off, guidelines need to be discussed.

The thing to remember about jealousy is that it more likely than not has something to do with YOU and not with your SO. Perhaps you were abandoned as a child by a parent. Or maybe you’ve been cheated on in the past. Maybe you weren’t included with a group of friends in high school or have been rejected time and again in your life’s opportunities. Being rejected or abandoned or lied to in the past has the capability to leave marks of insecurity lingering in your identity. Your SO doesn’t even have to do anything to have you feeling possessive over them if you have allowed these insecure feelings to take their toll on you. If you are feeling consumed with jealousy to the point of rage or doing something irrational, get help immediately.

If it is your SO that is feeling jealous, be understanding of the situation. Are you doing something that might be provoking his jealousy? Be aware of your actions and change those things that might not be sitting well with your SO. If it’s honestly nothing that you are doing, don’t be afraid to bring it up with them. Ensure your SO of your devotion to him by letting him know you are thinking of him. Perhaps a hidden note in his car, or a random text, or maybe even a spontaneous date that you have set up for the two of you. Take the extra bit of effort to ensure them that you love him and want to be with only him. And while I don’t advocate with supplying your SO with every single second of your day, be transparent with them about what you are up to during the day so that they aren’t left in a dangerous guessing game with your whereabouts. And, of course, if your SO’s behavior is feeling dangerous or overly possessive, it’s time to seek out counseling – or just get the heck out of there. Many cases that involve domestic violence or murder stemmed from feelings of intense jealousy. If your SO has already gone too far in his jealous impulses, please involve the police and LEAVE.

A lot of what I have learned about jealousy shared by several different experts, such as Dr. Pamela Varaday, and by Roger S. Gil, MAFMT, who has an Internet TV show called LuvBuzd.tv. Last year Gil did an amazing talk on jealousy that I want to share with you.  The guy is funny, and he’s real.  And he has a way with talking about difficult subjects by laying them out in real scenarios and still have you chuckling in the end.  Check it out:

Honesty in Relationships

As a comment in my last blog about Jealousy, Chris wrote in to talk about his own problems with a lying girlfriend, and the suffering he endured while knowing she was being dishonest. It definitely is not a good feeling to be lied to. And most of us know when we are being told a fib. “Lies are a slippery slope. If you’re capable of lying just because you can get away with it…where are you going to end up? 4 marriages & 10 male role models later, you’re going to wonder why your kids don’t respect you.” I agreed with just about everything he said, except for the part where I’m a cheerleader for man haters (I’m not, I promise!), or that my friend is someone who can’t be taken at face value because she told a lie. In her defense, and in the defense of all humankind (men and women), we have all been guilty of omitting the truth at some point in our lives. Does that mark us with a Scarlet L for LIAR? Emphatically, no!  Does it mean that my friend Jen chose a really immature way to deal with an uncomfortable question? Sure it does.

Many good points by Chris and by others were brought up. And those points made me muse the topic of honesty. Honesty is probably the most important part of a relationship, and is vital to those early stages of developing deeper feelings as the relationship grows. And the reason for this is because the foundation for love is trust. How can you trust someone when you have reason to believe that they may not be divulging the whole truth?

For the next couple of days, I really want to delve into several qualities of a relationship, starting with honesty and jealousy. I feel that they are a huge part of any person’s relationship, not just Jenny’s and her boyfriends.

Today’s topic? Trust.

The beginning of a relationship is a thrilling time. Here’s this person that suddenly seems to be the part of you that was missing. You love how you feel around them. Their qualities seem to only compliment yours. You want to spend every single waking moment with them just to be near them and learn everything about them. I love the excitement of those first few weeks in a relationship. For all I know, that person is perfect. They have no flaws. And guess what?

Neither do I.

Know why? It’s because we are putting our best foot forward. It’s hard to escape that period of time when all of our flaws are neatly tucked away in the back corner of our souls as we present this perfect person to the one we are infatuated with. Is it wrong? I don’t think so. Is it dishonest? Maybe a little. But the thing of it is, we don’t yet know this person well enough to be able to let our hair down, greet them without makeup and with unshaved legs, or to eat messy tacos in front of them – complete with the cilantro that gets stuck in our teeth. We want them to see us at our best in those first few weeks so that they won’t go after some shinier new thing that is looking her best. We want to attract them. It’s why birds fluff up their feathers and strut in front of some lady bird. Their feathers aren’t always fluffed up, their chests do not stay puffed out. But they want to seal the deal, and are going to be sure that they impress this lady bird more than any other bird out there.

We are only animals in our journey to lasting love.

Eventually the time comes when we really can let our hair down. But, like the case of my friend Jen, there may be some skeletons left in the closet that are just a little too ugly to share right away. If you don’t remember, Jen was asked about a fling she’d had with a mutual friend months before she and her boyfriend got together. And she decided that instead of fessing up and dealing with whatever the reaction was, that it would be easier to escape any possible conflict and lie about it. And when she later admitted that it had happened, it resulted in a fight between the two of them.

In my comments area, James mentioned that the boyfriend has every right to be upset, that she put him in an awkward situation that he didn’t have all the information about. And Brian pointed out that there are two sides to every story, musing that maybe this wasn’t the first time this has happened. Both gentlemen make excellent points (and they also make me wonder where the ladies are on this subject?). And I have to agree wholeheartedly that the way this should have been handled in the first place was with the truth. Now, I stand by my point that honesty can be hard to come by when a certain type of reaction is expected from the ugly truth. But remember the foundation to love?

TRUST.

It goes both ways here. Jen needs to be able to trust her boyfriend with the truth, and Jen’s boyfriend needs to trust that he is only getting the truth out of her. That means that Jen’s boyfriend should be laying off of her for things that cannot be helped, like her past. And that also means that if Jen is going to tell anything to the man that she loves and is hoping to build a life with, it better be the utmost truth. But there’s also a third part of this equation. Occasionally there may be times when Jen or her boyfriend is asked about something that he or she just isn’t ready to talk about. And that’s when these words should be used:

“I’m not ready to talk about this right now. But can we talk about it at a time when I am in a better frame to discuss it?”

Of course, hearing those words come out of your loved one’s mouth, it’s not easy to take. I mean, you know when you hear something like that, you are about to hear a truth that you were hoping you were wrong about. But this is when both parties to the relationship can build their trust with each other. When one requests a later time to discuss something difficult, the other can respect that boundary and agree to postpone the conversation for a later time.

These scenarios describe the niceties of honesty and trust, when there isn’t really a huge issue going on but definitely something that needs to be fine tuned to keep the relationship going. But what about dealing with a habitual liar? What if Jen had a hard time telling the truth on a regular basis, like Brian noted as a possible predicament. My personal opinion is that any bad habit can be changed. But if this is a habitual problem, my question is WHY are you with her in the first place? If a promising future is built on trust, what kind of foundation is built on doubt? A very flimsy one. If someone you love has a hard time telling you the truth, and you know if your SO is that person, then just get out. Have some self respect. You’re worth more than feeling like crap while you work hard to maintain a crumbling building of a relationship.

Thoughts?

Hey, Jealousy

“My boyfriend left the house and I don’t when he’s coming back,” Jenny told me the other day on the phone. I listened sympathetically while she sobbed, relaying the whole story. A year ago in her single days, she’d had a few too many at the bar while out with friends.  She ended up going home with one of her guy friends. Their friendship crossed the line quickly, but stopped after a heavy make out session when they had sobered up enough to realize that where they were going wasn’t somewhere they’d want to be in the morning. They stopped it short and promised to never speak of it again.

Several months later, Jenny’s new boyfriend asked her about her past relationship with this friend, and true to their agreement, Jenny denied that anything had ever happened. It was when she was still single, and she decided that telling him would only make him uncomfortable as they were all mutual friends. And mostly, she knew that he would be pissed that she had hooked up with a friend of theirs.  Keeping mum about the situation was the only thing she could think of doing. 

But as time wore on, Jenny felt guilty about lying. So she fessed up. What resulted was a yelling match, a slammed door, and Jenny on the other line with me sobbing into the phone. And as she wondered what she was going to do, I couldn’t help but feel my anger seethe at how the blame was being placed entirely on her.

Jealousy doesn’t feel good.  I’m not sure who those people out there are that claim a little bit of jealousy keeps the interest going in a relationship, but I don’t believe it for a second.  Having been a part of a jealous relationship, I can honestly say that it is not healthy, and it’s totally unnecessary. Sure, we all have been hurt in the past, and it’s a natural impulse to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in the present (even when we know that if it’s going to happen, it will with or without us monitoring the situation). And it’s true that there are many situations when jealousy is warranted because someone is truly untrustworthy. But in other times, jealousy has nothing to do with the accused, and everything to do with the accuser. It’s their issue, stemming all the way back to a time when someone did them wrong. In the past, I’ve been yelled at because a guy so much as looked at me, and I’ve been called horrible names if my eyes ever met another male’s gaze. And then there’s the questioning about past relationships before the current beau was even in the picture. Curiosity is one thing. It’s ok to know about the person you love before they knew you, and what their past relationships were like. It gives glimpses into your loved one’s past that explain a bit about who they are today. And if honest curiosity is all it is, then by all means, ask away. But when past behaviors are held against someone who has moved on from it, that’s when it gets hairy. I’m sorry to say that I have divulged too much information in the past when put under the bright lights and interrogated. I did it in the name of trust, to show that person that I had nothing to hide. Let me be the first to tell you, it doesn’t work. If someone is so adamant that they are going to catch you in something, and you placate this little fantasy by giving them everything they think they need, it won’t stop. No matter how many times I gave away the farm when it came to my own personal past life, nothing was ever good enough. My life before them was consistently held against me. And the questioning continued until the relationship inevitably died.

What I came to realize years later was that, while I had felt like I was in the wrong, it was actually my significant other who should have been in the hot seat. They had no right to be asking me about things from my past when they only chose to use it against me. I, like Jenny, and like many of you out there, am not a saint. I have done things I regret, but have learned lessons from these blemishes. They have helped me to grow in many areas as a result. While I wish I had the wisdom then not to make some of the mistakes I did, I wouldn’t take them away. I am the person I am today because of them. And I’ll be damned to make the same mistake twice.

Hearing Jenny go on and on about how she was 100% in the wrong, and wondering how she could ever regain her boyfriend’s trust again, I couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“Jenny, have you ever wondered about WHY you lied in the first place?” I asked her.

“Because he would have been mad at me and at our friend for having kissed,” she told me.

“Besides the fact that kissing him was not wrong, have you ever thought that maybe you lied because it wasn’t safe for you to tell the truth?” I asked her. She murmured in agreement. “Jenny, I can’t help but feel pissed that this guy is even bringing up the past. He has made it an unsafe place for you to even tell him about your past, and yet he still expects you to answer him honestly when he asks you questions that don’t have anything to do with him. He has no right interrogating you when he knows how he’ll react if you confirm his suspicions. He really needs to grow up in the jealousy department. And instead of getting mad at you, maybe he should be mad at himself for making it impossible to be honest with him over these hard issues.”

She didn’t take this so well, and the conversation almost ended. I’d gone a little farther than I knew I should. But I was really angry at this guy, who I usually think highly of, but who was also making my friend’s life miserable in this moment.  Not to mention that he was being a complete jackass.

“This is fixable,” I said, softening the blow a little. “The black and white of this situation is that you lied to him. And now he feels like he can’t trust you. But the gray part is the reason that you lied in the first place. That’s the part of this conflict that needs to be addressed so that you two can grow from this. It’s just going to take some communication. Good news is that when stuff like this arises, it gives opportunity for growth and can actually strengthen your relationship. A successful relationship must be worked on every day.”

“Well, right now he doesn’t even want to talk about it, or to me. I’m not sure what to do except to just give him his space.”

“That’s all you can do,” I told her. “Wait until you two can talk rationally before you try and work it out.”

Jenny wasn’t totally convinced with what I had to say, and is still taking a big brunt of this on her shoulders. And I wonder…

Am I wrong?

Should she have told him the truth upfront since they are in a committed relationship?
Is there a line in relationships where honesty is not the best policy, or should honesty be adhered to at all times? 
Did her lie make her untrustworthy and guilty of withholding information?
Or am I right in thinking that he shares a large part of the blame here for her lie?

Representing the Family

When my sisters and I were small, my dad was adamant that appearances went hand in hand with being considered a good kid.

“You’re representing our family,” my dad would say to us gruffly whenever we were out of line, or when we decided that the wrinkled clothes on our bedroom floor were perfectly acceptable to wear to school. I still remember the look on my dad’s face, and the way he couldn’t speak to me for days, when I shaved the bottom of my head for a more punk look. I was only trying to find myself, to separate myself from the drones of prep students who I didn’t fit in with anyway. My mother was irritated at the action I chose to took, but decided that it was just hair, and that it would grow back. My dad, on the other hand… “You look like a butt,” my dad said when he could finally talk to me.

The thing about hair is that it has such an effect on how a person’s appearance is perceived. It can determine if you’re hard or soft, capable or inept, serious or lazy, Charlize Theron or Cousin It. And considering how many times I’ve considered calling in sick to work because of a bad hair day, hair is a very serious expression of your own persona.

I used to keep the Taz’ hair short, buzzed close with a razor. When he was younger, this look was totally him. It showed off his baby blues, and it kept a certain look of innocence to him, even when he was painting the walls with peanut butter. In recent years, however, we’ve been letting his hair grow out to, first, a non-buzzed short haircut, and most recently, to a shaggy skater haircut.  We’ve trimmed it a couple times, but the Taz has decided that he really likes it longer. And being that I’ve dappled in my own expressions with hair, I’ve decided that fighting him on it wasn’t really worth the effort. He was only expressing himself.

Needless to say, my dad disagreed.

The Taz, as you all know, is my kid who I have to focus a lot of energy on. While he has a good heart, he has a hard time making the best judgment calls. He will break the rules consistently just enough that it isn’t horrendous, but enough to have his video games taken away (this latest time resulted in a take-away until the school year is over). If I tell him to be home from his friend’s house at 5, he’ll stroll in at 5:30. His teacher and I meet weekly to work on his attention skills, or lack thereof. He will be pleasant as pie if things are going his way, but put boundaries on him and he is a caged lion with a sassy mouth.

Recently, we had the incident involving the couch and a permanent marker.  And combined with several other instances, it came clear that the Taz wasn’t going to be able to spend his afternoons after school at his grandparents’ house. It was apparent that he needed a lot more supervision than my dad was able to provide for him at the time. We took a couple weeks off of the arrangement before my parents and I finally sat down and came up with a better solution. My dad would work his out of the home office hours so that when the kids came home off the bus, he will be available to spend time with them and make sure that no situations out of boredom arise. If my dad had appointments in the afternoon, he would set them up so that he could take the Taz with him instead of letting my older daughter babysit him. But more than that, my dad set up fun activities for the kids during the week to get them away from watching TV all afternoon, raiding the fridge and eating my mom’s dinner leftovers for an afternoon snack, or marking up the couch with permanent marker. Next week, for example, my dad is taking the kids to the skate park to feed one of the Taz’ obsessions. But with my dad’s extra attention and stepping in as a role model for the Taz, changes need to be made step by step. And the first step?

“I’d like permission to cut the Taz’ hair,” my dad asked when he called me at work earlier this week. The shaggy hair went against all my dad’s principles of personal appearance. “I just feel that the hair is part of the problem. And a decent haircut will give him the appearance of a good kid. And maybe if he looks the part, he’ll act the part too.” I gave my permission in favor of my dad’s efforts to intervene and instill a more positive self-image in my son. Not only that, it was getting to the point that my son’s punkish hairstyle was looking a little more girly than punky. I usually trim my own kids’ hair, but I’m not one for changing a hairstyle completely.

Here’s what he looked like before:

Here’s the resulting look:

It’s a little crooked (hey, when you go to cheap haircut places, you get what you pay for), but I can still work with it later this week and even it out. Looking past that, dang I have a good looking kid! And the Taz loves it too. And he spent the next day styling it for school. I’m not exactly sure that this is what my dad had in mind…

And of course, shorter hair makes great bedhead…

With the hair wings, I told him he looks like one of those Macaroni Penguins on Surf’s Up.  If he’s representing our family….