Habits Are Hard to Break

Habits are hard to break.  Especially the destructive ones.  If only they weren’t so satisfying.  Like thumb-sucking for example.  “It feels so good!  It’s so HARD to stop” explains a certain nine year old.  Yes, nine.

I distinctly remember how proud I was that Peach found her thumb, a way to self-soothe, at the advanced age of two weeks old.  I may have even danced a jig at the thought of dispensing with the customary ball and chain, AKA binky.  Thumbs are always there for you.  They can’t get lost or dropped on the floor of a public restroom or forgotten at home.  Smart baby girl.  Love a thumb-sucker.

That is, until she sucks her way into orthodontic danger zone.  Kindly orthodontist informed us that this habit, if continued long enough, could result in irreversible structural deviations.  In no uncertain terms he explained to Peach the dire need for her cooperation in the matter.

Peach has heard a similar spiel from concerned family members and has not been impressed.  But this time, as we exit the orthodontist office, she solemnly admits, “He was pretty convincing.”

We strike while the iron is hot.  Out come the star charts and verbal agreements and socks to cover sleeping hands.  Hard times ahead for Peach.  She’s tried jumping this hurdle before and managed only to fall over it.  Bravely, with renewed resolve, she agrees to try again.  Her forlorn eyes tell a sad story.  Her best friend, her ‘thumbly,’ must never enter her mouth again.  Laying her head on her pillow, she raises her mitts and wonders aloud, ‘What if….’

“Don’t go there.” I advise.  “Take it one step at a time.”  I remind little Braveheart of the many skills she possesses and the challenges she’s overcome.  “There is a muscle inside of you, the inner strength muscle, that has the power you need.  The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.  The stronger it gets, the easier it is to resist a habit.”

I offer my full support.  But the fact remains, there is only one girl who can close this deal.  After arming her with all the strategies I can think of, I kiss Peach goodnight and exit the room with fingers crossed.

At the crack of dawn, elated nine-year old runs out of her room waving sock-covered hands proudly above her head.  “I did it!  Look, I left the socks on ALL night!”  With new-found confidence, she launches into a triumphant monologue that resembles an acceptance speech.

Peach prematurely tells her admiring audience how she conquered the demon thumb-sucking habit.  I listen with a ridiculous smile plastered on my face and enthusiastically join in daughter’s celebration.  She is flexing that inner strength muscle with conviction.  I’d swear she’s grown overnight.  She stands tall and proud and ready to take on the world.

“You know,” she observes, “Not sucking my thumb wasn’t that hard.  Once I put my mind to it, I was all set.”

Bingo, Baby!  Mind over matter.  (Now if Peach could set her mind to cleaning her room and flex the ‘I can do it’ attitude in the organization department, we’d really have cause to celebrate.)

It’s a bittersweet end to an era.  My baby is growing up.  She is crossing bridges under her own steam.  She’ll need me less now – now that she’s a habit-breaking champion.

I believe the theory that says a parent’s job is to put herself out of a job.  I’m all about teaching self-sufficiency and raising self-esteem.  Yet still, my heart tears a bit each time I surrender a piece of the best job I’ve ever had.  So I turn my advice on myself and flex my own inner strength muscle in order to summon the courage it takes to let my little bird fly a little farther away.

Moving Mountains

The curtain rises on a gorgeous, warm, blue-sky summer day.  Mother Nature is playing her role with expertise and generosity.  And so am I.  This day, I play the role of victim.

The list of grievances is long –  going to work, a general lack of vitality, the chore list……There seems no end to the tiresome slights against my happiness.  Employing my fail-safe tool, gratitude, I expect to feel better any minute now.  But the negative thoughts hold me hostage.

When friend calls late in the day, I am all but depleted of energy from dragging my sorry butt through my sorry day.  Friend asks me for help.   A situation has arisen with her parents and I am ‘exactly the person who can help.’  I am honored to try, glad to be needed, and apparently effective in lending perspective.  Instantly, I feel lighter.  Helping others does that to people.

It’s said that you can’t give without receiving.  Intrigued and eager to play with this theory a little more, I set off on a mission.  Like Superman changing into his leotard (yes, it’s a leotard) I transform myself from Deb Dunham to Super Giver.  I hand out compliments, silent blessings, hugs, courtesies – anything I can to everyone I encounter.  It quickly becomes a fun game.

And the give/get theory turns out to be true!  In exchange for my gifts, I receive countless smiles, thank yous, and not surprisingly, a pervasive rise in energy.  I am smitten with the ability to change someone’s day for the better while simultaneously elevating my own.

It occurs to me how infrequently we utilize the tools at our disposal – like service, gratitude, positive thinking, faith, love….We are well equipped to change ourselves, and therefore, the world, for the better.  I’m convinced that a concentrated focus on any or all of these can move mountains.  Like the mountains of hatred and competitiveness and resentment for example.

Mother Teresa said, “We can’t do big things.  We can only do little things with big love.”  Ironically, she was a little person who accomplished big things by giving big love in little ways.  The best part is that we don’t have to set out to move mountains.  In fact, we don’t have to try to change anything.  We just have to give little bits over and over and eventually, a mountain will move.  And we will move with it.

Playing Small

A friend, sitting by the community pool with several other mothers, listens with increasing irritation to their animated conversation which resembles a verbal contest.  The main theme: busyness.  The object of the game: one-upsmanship.   Who can claim the prize for the Most Overworked Mother?

Each mother in succession pipes in her list of parenting woes expecting sympathy, horror, or dare I say, admiration from the others.  The group serves as a collective listener though one is not convinced that they actually hear each other.  Rather, each is distractedly plotting her own strategy.

One woman, wearing busyness like a badge, pulls ahead in the game.  She has multiple children in multiple sports and activities.  None, of course, are grateful for what mother does to enhance their lives.  The conversation takes on a dramatic volume and pitch as this mother concludes with sweeping gestures to enhance her case.

Who will be crowned the winner?  Which poor, selfless, overworked mother has ‘it’ the worst?  Like a typical round of Monopoly, there is no end to this game.  The only real winner is the one who chooses not to play.  This is the mother who knows that complaining and blaming equal playing small.  This mother knows that an over-scheduled child does not make the schedule.  Mother does.

The pattern of giving too many yes’ and no enough no’s is one I’m familiar with.  In the blink of an eye, the family calendar fills to capacity and begins to bust at the seams, leaving mother in a puddle of exhaustion at the end of a day.  And always, though I forget sometimes, I am in control.

The desire to give children the world can obscure a mother’s judgment.  It can trick her into attempting to juggle flaming torches and spin plates on sticks while walking a tightrope.  When she tries this stunt and fails – because she will – mother may fall to the ground and, without thinking, blame her child for pushing her off the rope.  Silly mother.

Instead of egging her on with ooh’s and aah’s like a crowd at the circus, mother’s friends could say these words:

Get down here before you hurt yourself!  Your children need you in one piece.  You don’t have anything to prove.  There is no prize for scaling tall buildings in a single bound.  Your prize is here on the ground.  It is waiting for you to stop running around long enough to pick it up and hug it and tell it how much you love it.

 The prize will understand, eventually, if the love words include a ‘no’ here and there.  It may even thank you some day for setting limits in order to preserve sanity and closeness and family time.  At the very least, you will have prevailed in the Game of Life because you chose not to compete.  Instead of playing small, you kept your eye on the prize, your feet on the ground, and your heart in a grateful place.

%d bloggers like this: