Chapter 12: Desserts Spelled Backwards Is Stressed. And Vice Versa.
Red, a stay-at-home mom with two young daughters at the time, was always busy and focused on her girls and family life. Of course, life always has stressful events, and she was looking forward to the small "fun" one of getting a puppy. But she wasn't prepared for two "big" life events at the same time – her husband got fired and they'd have to move. And if that wasn't enough, she found herself taking on financial responsibilities, including learning about personal finances. So, to say she felt overwhelmed would be an understatement. And to say she was looking for sympathy from Black would be reasonable. But to say that she was unique because she was "stressed out" would be inaccurate. At some point, we all feel like we're dealing with a seemingly endless list of tasks and not enough hours to do everything, not to mention not having the energy or stamina. The reality is stress affects everyone, although it affects everyone differently.
P.S. – Years later, although Red knows that there are plenty of causes of stress (not to mention, what COVID-19 has done to everyone's stress level), she sometimes has a habit of thinking that her stress is "special". Yes, there might be some specific things that are "unique" to her (and Black would argue complicated by the fact she's warm-and-fuzzy), but as a single mom and the daughter of an elderly parent, there are issues many of us have to manage. Just like how many of us are feeling the joy – but also the stress – of the holidays. Of course, Black has helped her realize the value of finding "alone" time and exercising (although sometimes it requires taking an extra-long walk or a bike ride). But often, it's enough for Red to know that she's not alone in these feelings and remember that a busy life will be stressful at times, so finding balance is key.
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|You usually call me on Saturdays on your way to Weight Watchers, so I was wondering if something was wrong.|
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|Nothing wrong. But nothing right either. I was so exhausted this morning that I overslept and decided to ditch both Weight Watchers and my usual Saturday morning grocery run.|
|Maybe you are coming down with Natasha's flu.|
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|No, I'm not sick. Unless you count that I'm sick of feeling tired all the time. Between Natasha being home with the flu last week, Nick being busy the past few days and so unable to help with Sawyer, and my feeling like I spent the entire week dealing with insurance, I feel totally wiped out. I'd love to crawl back into bed, but that will never happen.|
|Look on the bright side — you survived the week.|
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|Gee, thanks. But what about next week? We close on the new house on Wednesday morning and that night the puppy (which seemed like a great idea when you and I ordered her last summer) arrives from Australia. Just in time to be underfoot while I'm trying to pack and move. My life is insane!|
|Not really, just busy.|
Chapter 16: I Have Three Children If You Count My Husband
Even before Red's life was turned upside down, she wanted to be the best mom possible, so often wondered and worried about the best way to raise her girls. And when she was in the midst of her "crisis" (her word, not Black's), her daughters were very young – Sawyer was 1-1/2 years old and Natasha just under 5, although she'd proclaim, "I'm almost 5." (It's funny how "young" is subjective, as at the time Red considered them young but now "very young".) But as Red turned to Black for "answers" to everything, Black understood one of Red's top priorities was making sure that the girls weren't getting short-changed. Given Black doesn't have any children, Red was amazed to receive what she's referred to as "Some of the best parental advice. Ever." (Black just rolls her eyes.)
P.S. – Looking back, Red claims that Black's advice not only made all the difference at the time but over the years. Somehow, the simple concept of treating kids as "little people" (Black calls them "munchkins"), so with respect and honesty, trusting them with responsibility and giving them credit for understanding and doing the right thing, was the closest thing to a "magical approach" for Red (yes, growing up, she and the girls watched a lot of Disney) that she's ever found. And, surprisingly enough, has even helped her with managing "big people."
|Patience, grasshopper. You also have to remember that when I first started dating Larry, his girls were 7 and 9, so I skipped over the phase you are in. I had dated men with children, but none as young as Larry's, so I was not quite sure how to deal with them. So, I decided to treat them like little people. In fact, that is why I started calling them the "Munchkins," like the little people from The Wizard of Oz.|
|I always wondered about that. Were you the good witch or the bad witch?|
|Neither. I was probably more like the Mayor of Munchkin City. Since I was used to working in a corporate environment, I applied the same people skills.|
|You're kidding, right?|
|Not really. For example, anytime I was put in charge of a new department or hired new employees, I tried to be patient because I realized people need time to adjust to a new environment and/or new responsibilities. I did not expect them to "get it" immediately. I always tried to pose things as a request versus making a demand. And, I would ask them what they needed help with versus waiting for them to have a problem. I took the same approach with the Munchkins.|
|That makes a lot of sense. And what about when Larry and you decided to live together?|
|Same basic approach. Plus, by moving into a new house, it provided the perfect opportunity to establish ground rules. I even created a document called "Rules of the House."|
|You had a list of rules? I love it! Can I get a copy?|
|The point is not the list, but the concept. I figured they needed to know what was expected of them in our house versus what they might do in their mom's house or had done in their dad's house. The rules also provided consistency — they knew they would not change each weekend depending on my mood or memory. All the rules were reasonable. In fact, most were common sense.|
|Flush after you use the toilet. Brush your teeth every morning and night. The piano can only be used with permission.|
|Those are rules in our house, too, but they seem simple enough that I wouldn't think you needed a formal document.|
|True. But, I knew employees basically wanted to please management, so I figured kids wanted to please their parents. I presented most of the rules as things to do — not things not to do. For example, instead of saying "no screaming in the house," I said, "loud screaming is to be done outside only." I looked at the rules as an opportunity for them to achieve and succeed, not as a set of restrictions. It also allowed me to teach them priorities. For example, homework had to be done first thing on Saturday, and there was no television or other activities until it was finished.|
|Now I'm starting to understand. And what happened if they broke any of the rules?|
|Initially, they were reminded of the rule and soon they all became habits, but I never focused on punishing them for breaking a rule. Quite the opposite — they earned their weekend allowance by following the rules. I always found it more effective, with the girls as well as employees and even Larry, to reinforce positive behavior rather than punish bad behavior. It can be as simple as a "thank you," complimenting them on their efforts, or maybe even reward a job well done.|
|For someone with no prior training, you seem to have caught on to the parenting job pretty well.|
|How difficult is it to be honest and upfront with people about expectations? And, explain what they need to do or not do? And, acknowledge their efforts? I hate to state the obvious, and I know there is a lot about being a parent that I do not have a clue about, but like I said earlier … children are just little people.|
Chapter 15: I Need A Warning System
In the midst of Red's "crisis", one of the many things she learned was the importance of communication. But talk about something (pun, intended) that gets lost in day-to-day living, especially when those first months found Red's life turned upside down and she was focused on "fighting fires", so there was little time to talk about day-to-day topics. But Red realized she needed a way for the family to talk about important subjects in a more proactive way than what they'd been doing. And she had come to realize that it needed to be two-way communications, not just parents talking and children expected to listen.
P.S. – When Black first introduced the idea of a family meeting to Red, it was a revelation … the idea that there could be a "neutral" setting that allowed everyone to share thoughts and opinions on topics big and small. So, did family meetings become a regular event at Red's house? It would be nice to say they did, but they didn't. However, the concept resulted in more productive one-on-ones (Black would probably argue those still qualify as meetings) where issues or problems could be tackled in a "safe" environment, and both sides would genuinely listen to the other with an open mind (ok, sometimes it was a semi-open mind). Interestingly, many years later, when Red's girls became young adults, she found they'd have impromptu family meetings, and that made Red smile as it reminded her of Black's initial idea all those years ago.
|Got a minute?|
|Maybe. Depends on the topic. If you are calling about hopes, dreams or birthday gifts, the answer is no.|
|None of the above. I like your idea of sitting down as a family and discussing important issues, like charity. Plus, it will help the girls learn the value of communication. However, I don't want them to think I am lecturing them. Any ideas?|
|Call a meeting. That is what I used to do in the corporate world. I would hold a monthly staff meeting with everyone in my department, whether or not there were specific issues or problems to discuss. I would order in pizza or sandwiches for lunch, and we would talk about different things that were impacting the department. Most of the time it was to provide everyone with an understanding of what each of us was working on and/or things we would like to do or do better. There was no right or wrong. It was an informal forum for discussing things where no one felt threatened or was on display.|
|Did you have an agenda? Or was it a free-for-all?|
|A bit of both. If there were any specific issues that needed to be addressed, it would be on the agenda; otherwise, it was less structured. And I would usually start the meeting by stating one positive thing the department had accomplished since the last meeting. Then we would go around the table, and everyone would give a brief update of their projects and whether they had issues for discussion or areas of concern. We would write them down and then discuss them. I would end the meeting by coming up with an action item to be accomplished prior to the next meeting.|
|Sounds great for a business meeting but a little too formal for a family.|
|You asked a question, and I gave you a suggestion. I did not say it was the perfect solution, but I do think it has potential. I need to talk to Larry about some things that are on my mind, so this "Family Meeting" concept might be useful. Let me think about it and get back to you.|
I know I have often questioned how Black's mind worked, but one of the things I like best is that many of her ideas are not things I'd ever think of doing. Sometimes I'm not sure whether they're things anyone else would ever think of doing either. But I was intrigued by the idea of a family meeting — not to mention curious how she planned to use the concept for her own purposes.
Chapter 7: My Husband Gets In Hot Water – I Want To Make Soup!
When Red was in the midst of her crisis and trying to deal with seemingly every aspect of her life, it quickly became obvious that she had been living in an old-fashioned sitcom where life appeared to be perfect. Adjusting to reality wouldn't be easy (now, that could be a sitcom!), especially when one of the biggest adjustments had to do with what she viewed as one of her strong suits – people skills. More specifically, her relationship with her husband because Red's expectations of her husband and her marriage definitely weren't related to reality.
P.S. – Since then, Red has learned about how important it is to have realistic expectations in any relationship, but when it comes to spouses/partners, it's essential. And Black has (finally) gotten her to realize that you need to be honest with yourself (ideally about both you and your partner), so that you set your relationship up for success, not failure. But Red will add a warning … understanding the logic of this mindset and approach is much easier than accepting and implementing it. Although she'll agree with Black that it's worth the effort if it results in a more successful relationship.
E-mail From: Black
Subject: Perception vs. Reality
Sent: Saturday, February 7
Not really, or at least nothing that I know of. But our marriage is not paradise. I went into it knowing I had made trade-offs and compromises. And that is OK. I had no false expectations. But at times I have to stop and ask myself if either of us has changed or whether I have merely forgotten to adjust my thinking for changing circumstances. I always thought Larry and I had the potential to be great together. Not because we were a perfect couple, but because we were an imperfect couple that appreciated our differences.
But when it comes to you and Nick … the two of you need to face reality. Together. As a team.
By the way, how is your house-hunting going? That is a perfect place to start working together. And a lot more productive than wasting the afternoon online with me.
||I found Black's comment about having a great marriage very interesting since I didn't think it existed in real life. However, her comment got me thinking that maybe my expectations of marriage needed to be adjusted to be more realistic. I guess I was thinking a great or even really good marriage was one where two people were perfect for one another. One where there were never any major issues that tested the relationship. One where problems had obvious and easy answers. One that ran on automatic and didn't require any special effort. OK, so I was living in a fantasy world. Nothing new there!|