Wednesday, December 31, 2014


There was a restaurant on York Street in New Haven called Blessings when I was growing up. My
family used to go there a few times a year and indulge in rounds of dumplings, not only for celebrations but when we wanted to get out of a rut too.

Dumplings are fun food, and symbolize a new beginning, which was perfect for a restaurant a few blocks from the huge Yale maternity hospital. They symbolize family and happiness and the new year, specifically. They're all I feel like eating tonight, so before I finished this blog I went out on a hunt because they're way too difficult for me to make.

Dumplings, card games and prosecco are the outlines for my New Year's Eve, with however many of my kids are around.

We probably won't talk resolutions, because who does that during a card game? But it's on everyone's mind, at least a bit. One of my daughters went shopping with me today to get healthier food because she eats too much sugar and that's asking for trouble, especially in our family. But on the morning news the anchors read off a few tweeted to them, and a lot were about staying positive and letting go of frustration over things you can't control. These are popular resolutions this year.

Basically, Let It Go.

I liked that Katie Holmes repeated her Zen moving-on mantra as "let go or get dragged" when she finally did a People interview this year. That's a neat image and it resonates with most of us.

I also read the articles in Real Simple about being accepting what we look like, what we have, what we want, and what makes us happy and then chasing down those good things instead of being controlled by the "shoulds" of what our meals or homes or kids or bodies or bank accounts would look like if we only ________________.

Yeah. Fill in that blank. It's only self-recrimination and feels lousy.

But there was still a part of me that wants to learn from the past. I worked on a family study back in the day where we recorded family meals and coded them for things like structure, communication, discipline, emotional warmth and problem solving. We then interviewed the families for a couple of hours (at another time) and asked them about those same areas, and after both the interview and the dinner, rated the family's level of functioning according to the McMaster Model.

Do this a few hundred times and you get distinct ideas about what a well-functioning family looks and
sounds like, along with a highly persistent inner compass that beeps when your own family drifts off course.

Which has been helpful, and annoying.

I have inner dialogues with myself that say "go on, set the table, eek out a few sentences about their day, you might learn something." Or "who cares if they sleep in their clothes? If you really do, then have a talk but don't nag. Sarcasm is toxic, just be direct."

But the point that's stayed with me the longest from that study is that lots of families muddle through problems, and there's a better way. Staying calm, refraining from blame, defining the problem ("we spend too much money"), discussing options ("wanna try an app to help us budget?"), celebrating successes ("we saved 19 bucks this month") and learning from mistakes ("I thought the mortgage would get there on time if I mailed it Monday") are all hallmarks of healthy families, or couples, or even corporations.

And man, did I get wrapped up in wanting to solve problems "right." "What did we do last time?" is where I usually started when my husband and I tackled a bad penny that's rolled our way again.

This made me feel smart, and I long to feel smart, so when Mark wanted to go with his gut on something, I'd say let's wait until we can go out for a drink and talk it through. I wanted to understand the problem, and make sure we handled it the best way possible.

Oh my ever loving Lord did I talk. Poor Mark, who I've begun to refer to as Saint.

Then I had my really bad head injury, and I couldn't talk. Couldn't understand what Mark was saying. Couldn't make sense of problems, or options, or solutions. I did everything by my gut, and couldn't remember later what I'd done that had or hadn't worked.

And our family functioning didn't change one bit. Not in any way that counted. I could say we internalized the process, but that wouldn't be true.

No, the truth was I'd married a hard-working man and raised some good-hearted kids who all did what
How I Grew Today website
needed to be done without much discussion about anything. Mark didn't sit them down and say "Listen, guys. How are we going to get through the crisis?" He just expected me to get the help I needed from whoever was around, and it happened. Probably would have happened all along, if I hadn't been so rigid about the problem-solving rigamarole.

This is how he phrased it last week, when he was working like a fiend and I was overwhelmed on Christmas Eve morning:

Daughter: "Dad, why are you looking at my butt?"

Dad: "I'm looking for where I'm going to insert my foot if I get home and you haven't helped your mother get all the prep done for tomorrow."

She got the point, in 30 words or less.

So I need to let go of this ideal of how problems should be solved, and here's why: as my language skills improve, is this really what I want to be talking about all the time? What I tried with this kid and whether it worked or not? What I decided against trying but am now having second thoughts about? I have to give my brain (and Mark's ears) a rest and move on after I make a decision. Forget about it. Not evaluate its efficacy at all. Not even care.

Because this article in Psychology Today is about letting go of past hurts and old injustices that keep us stuck in our tracks, but there's a broader point where "appreciation and analysis of the past become gum on your psychological shoe."

In other words, life's too short. Looking back keeps you from being rooted in the present and loving that you're here and so are your beautiful blessings.

Keeps you from tasting the dumplings, and giggling when you feel the bubbles from your prosecco bump the roof of your mouth.

Keeps you from being satisfied with who you are and what you do.

Keeps you from being truly happy, and blocks out joy, both of which I happen to love even more than the feeling of being smart.

So wish me luck in letting go of how I think I know a family should behave, and with just appreciating how mine does. Sometimes it's magic. Looking too closely ruins that effect.

And I wish you the same with whatever's weighing you down. Have a Lighter New Year.

Love, Lisa

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ode to my Walmart Assistant Manager at Christmas

My husband Mark gets yelled at for a living these days, otherwise known as being a Walmart assistant manager. He has the police on his cellphone speed dial so when a tirade crosses the line to verbal abuse or goes on so long it's disruptive to the store he can ask the customer to leave and remind them that once they're asked to leave and refuse they're trespassing, which is illegal. Then hit the button.

He's hit the button nearly every one of the 23 days he's worked a 10 or 12 hour shift in the last month, including Thanksgiving Day when he had several customers arrested for fighting and being unruly while his family at home had dessert and coffee and watched movies.

Needless to say, we try to keep our home a yelling-free zone but there was a bit of a tiff between he and I the other night and his eyes went wide with "No, not here too." It was a stupid argument over the coffee machine and he was too tired to cope and I was too frazzled from solo holiday preparations to calm so we went to separate corners for some restless sleep and regrouped the next night to debrief. And the gist of his stress is the getting yelled at. Like a cop or a child protection worker or a therapist or a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, he's asked to keep a cool head while being screamed at by intimidating adults
and it's exhausting.

"Want a Stress and Anger Free Christmas?"
If an item isn't in stock, many customers think Mark is to blame.It doesn't matter whether the item is large (say a 50 inch television) or small (yesterday it was a Frozen video).  Not being able to find what they're looking for is a frustration that throws some people over the edge and into a mindset where calling the nice guy running the store wearing a Jerry Garcia Christmas tie and a tired smile a "f***ing scumbag maggot" for not having a particular doll on hand makes sense.

Christmas madness, is what it is. Nothing that can be wrapped and set under a tree matters this much, people. I got a small dose yesterday when I went to the post office and almost got hit by three different cars, and then met two of my daughters at the mall to hand over some cash I owed one so she could shop. We all had near-misses in the mall lot, with other cars beeping and swerving and speeding to get to a particular parking spot, so they could get to a particular store, so they could get a particular item that would show someone they were loved.

I'm thinking there's a short-cut that would have saved quite a few car accidents yesterday. One involving directly telling that person you adore them and will cherish them every day of the year.

So here's my love letter to my hassled husband:

Mark A. Hayden
Assistant Store Manager
Walmart #5294
1365 Boston Post Rd.
Milford, CT 06460

Dear Mark,

I fell in love with you from the day I first spied you hustling up and down the frozen food aisle at the Waldbaum's where we worked. You had that cute flush to your cheeks from going in and out of the walk-in freezer with your U-boat, filling and refilling the display cases with food for customers who needed This-Kind-Of-Cool-Whip-Not-That-One and their very favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry's to soothe their aching souls. With your Harry Potter glasses that got steamed up when you left the freezer and your silly jokes and lovely compliments, you stole my heart and have kept it safe within yours all these years.

I knew then that you loved the algorithms and benchmarks and physical work and customer care involved in retail, even the times near Christmas that were manic and fraught. You have the energy level and the personality and intelligence to keep most of your employees and customers happy, and you do good in the process. You help our community with the donations from your store, thousands of dollars a year to groups and individuals who need help. I saw you on Thanksgiving this year, giving your personal cell phone number to a woman who'd been misled about where to get a wristband, saying you'd find her that netbook for that price, no matter what. She teared up and nodded and trusted you, as she should. You're a trustworthy guy, and true to your word.

As for the jerks who tee off on you and vent their frustrations with life? I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to deal with that but I also know that's retail. People get upset and it's your job to try to calm them down. You do it exceptionally well, as you do with our eight kids at home. We miss seeing you these days but as you said this morning, it's almost over. Christmas is coming, thank you baby Jesus.

Until then, I appreciate all you do for our family and countless other families out there to make our lives comfortable and our holidays special.

Love, Lisa

P.S. If you're a customer shopping over the next four days, or doing returns starting on Friday, please be nice to the employees, who are as frazzled as you. Same money pressures as you, same sick kids as you, but not free to vent their frustrations.

Be like them. Don't use a convenient excuse to justify bad behavior. Just smile, suck it up and go home to your families having done the best you could.

I'm not against presents. I've bought plenty for our family, and invested time and money and effort in trying to express something with each one.

But if you weren't able to find that perfect gift? You weren't looking in the right place. A kiss and "I love you" and "thanks for everything you do" are always right there, on your lips.

Merry Christmas.