Tag Archives: family

When the Worst is the Best

I have this habit of trying to do it all and be it all, seeking frantically to find the way to exist in that magical, elusive state called The Best.

But this year, I have discovered that while this mythical-seeming state actually does exist, it is nestled in the more hostile country of The Worst. As much as I’d like to pretend The Best is a sovereign nation, the two are inextricably entwined. And, for the first time ever, I am realizing that this is okay. As I alluded to last week, I see how the common and the fabulous coexist in my life, nearly always in the same thing, and this juxtaposition is part of what makes life real and, sometimes, what makes it beautiful.

The reality has sunk in, as it usually does, while muddling through this parenting thing. As the girls mature, we have started to include them in decisions other than what to wear and how to do their hair. You know, things that have more permanent, influential and visibile consequences than being cold, mismatched or uncomfortable for a day. While we will have the final say at this phase in their life, we have found (through lots of trial and error) that on many decision, it is important to ask for their input and acutally seriously consider what they say.

Iowa has this fantastic dual enrollment option, which allows kids to attend between 2 and 5 hours of public school per day and be homeschooled for the rest. This year, after much deliberation and for a variety of reasons, we (Nick and Nora and I) decided to dually enroll Nora in 2nd grade. She goes to school with everyone in the morning and leaves two hours early.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

We all (mostly) love it. Nora loves having extra time at home. But, because she misses the end of the day, that means she often misses the fun stuff, too – birthday celebrations, class parties, costume parades, fun projects.

Nora was dually enrolled in kindergarten, for a different set of reasons. And we would always let her stay till the end of the day when there were special events.

This year was different. Nick and I decided at the beginning of the year that we wouldn’t be making exceptions. We wanted to teach her that there are consequences to all choices, even the best ones. We told her that the privilege of having extra time at home meant that she would be missing things at school. She agreed.

The first time there was something special, I braced myself for a torrent of whining. But to my surprise, she said, “Mom, I’m feeling disappointed that I am missing it. But, I know that I get to go home and have tea outside and do fun things with you guys. So I’m okay.”

What??!?

Maybe it’s just me, but I hear this unspoken message everywhere to find the best, and be the best, and to never settle for anything less. And so I embark on the noble quest for the best, discarding anything that is less. I confuse trying my best with being the best and consequently never learn the important lessons that come through working hard at something for which you may never be the best.

I can see how this mindset has permeated my parenting. Much like I have a deep desire to protect the girls from all pain, I want them to experience the best. All the time. In everything.

But not the worst.

And really, I’m finding it’s pretty easy to do that while they are young like this, and I can control so much. I can manipulate circumstances to enhance the best and minimize or even eliminate the worst. And I am realizing that I am walking a fine line between responsible parenting that strives to create a safe environment for kids to grow and mature, and dangerous parenting that strives to create the perfect environment. When we talk about choices and decisions, I find myself discussing all the benefits of each possibility. Rarely (unless I’m trying to sway a decision), do I talk honestly and openly about both the best and the worst.

Recently, I was chatting with my sister about the popular critique of her millennial generation, namely, their collective repulsion at taking a good job (or any job, really) instead of the best job. And it made me wonder. In our nobly intentioned desire to have our kids find their passion and become the best that they can be, have we set them up for a never-ending quest for the mythical, sovereign country of The Best? Have we actually succeeded in creating people who won’t settle for less? Ever?

Property of Kristin Giuliani

So much like I’m feeling challenged to prepare my children for the reality of suffering, I’m realizing I need to do a better job of discussing The Worst as a inevitable and necessary part of life. I am a naturally (and usually, unrealistically) optimistic person, so this is not easy for me. But, I’m working to train myself to see the worst parts as evidence of the best parts.

The tricky part is trying to teach them to recognize the (often subtle) difference between The Worst that is simply a byproduct of a particular option and The Worst that is destructive, damaging and divisive. I don’t want to raise apathetic kids. I want to raise kids who can and want to recognize and address problems.

I am hoping that the experience with Nora will extend to the rest of life – that by giving them a realistic view of what life is they will have

The serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

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On Tying Shoes

It is the dusk of my 35th birthday.

Wow. 35 years. I can see tinges of the classic “midlife crisis” creeping in. All day I found myself looking back and wondering if I have spent the last 3 1/2 decades well.

I think I can say that I am (mostly) proud of the person I have become. I have (sort of) learned to stop and think before I speak. i have matured to the point where I can (grudgingly) admit that my parents were right about many things (shhh…don’t tell my dad). I can (sometimes) admit that I was wrong.


But there is one thing I have always known about myself, but did not realize was a problem until today.

I am not a process person.

I am a results person. Unlike my sister, I do not revel in the repetitive and routine. I mean, I like to be clean, but if I had the choice between showering and pushing a “clean Kristin” button, I would choose the button every time. For me, the process is just the means that get me to the results.

It is not that I don’t recognize the importance of process, of how process impacts results. I took ballet for 12 years, and ballet is all process. How you learn and practice your movements determine how well you can perform. The way you move your body into each position is as important as the position itself. Quality process equals quality results.

I know process is important, but I just hate having to do it.

This summer, we made the brave idiotic decision to ditch the velcro and purchase tie shoes for our 3 and 4 1/2 year olds.

Kristin! What were you thinking?!

I know.

Honestly, I’m not sure what possessed me to do it. I think the girls told me they really wanted tie shoes and I thought, “Wow! How mature of them! I should encourage this!” So with visions of my prodigy preschoolers tying shoes themselves flashing in my brain, they were purchased and brought home.

My positive enthusiasm lasted for about 3 days before I realized that Lidia did not have the dexterity to tie her shoes yet and Madeline was just way, way, way too slow. Most mornings, we left the house with both girls crying and me screaming to just “grab those (mumble under breath) shoes and don’t you dare try to tie them in the car and get them all tangled up and I will just have to tie them when we get to where we are going.”

Over the past several weeks, there has been a recurrent theme. In conversations. In prayer time. In watching an amazing artist chronicle the creation of her works. In the post on how you respond when life changes…or doesn’t.

The message is the same:

The process is not just important because it gets you results. The process is important because it is a result in and of itself.   

So this morning, as we were getting ready to go, I sat down with Madeline to help her tie her shoes. I stopped, took a breath and really paid attention to what I was doing. As Madeline tied her first shoe, I watched how the muscles for fine motor skills were honed as her tiny fingers had to work really hard to correctly grasp and twist and pinch the strings just right. I noticed how she stopped everything else and really concentrated on what she was doing. I marveled at how she handled the frustration of dropping a lace by closing her eyes, taking a deep breath and trying again.

Strength. Concentration. Perseverance. Patience. All the things needed to climb giant rope ladders at a playground, have healthy friendships, and succeed in the future. All this gained from the stupid process of tying one stupid shoe.

Then, as I tied her second shoe (because, really, preschool shoe tying is SO SLOW), I took the opportunity to look right into her eyes down at her level and smile. She flashed an enormous, rare, giddy smile, said, “I love you, mom,” and gave me a big bear hug.

Wow. So much better than screaming and crying.

This. This is what I need to work on during the next 35 years. 

Ugh. But it is so hard for me.

I need to take lessons from Nick. You see, I am married to an extreme process person. Nick is actually an ancient Japanese man born into a modern American body. Results are important to him, but it is the process, the howthat gives him joy. He becomes alive doing all the tedious things that would drive me crazy: gardening, cooking, practicing scales on his guitar, shaving with a straight razor, fitting a hearing aid. Nick graduated with a Japan Studies concentration in college and he tells me that the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chado, epitomizes traditional Japanese culture. People would spend their entire lives working to fully engage in and master the process of their craft. The beauty and joy lie not just in the end result, but in the journey of getting there. If you have ever read Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you can hear this undercurrent running through her words.


As I thought through this today, I realized that this is why this phase of my life is one of the most challenging. So much of what I do is purely process. The changes and results of the work I am doing with the girls are either so far in the future, are imperceptibly small or are so short lived, that I often feel like I am achieving no results at all.

I hear the platitude “enjoy the journey” all the time, but I never really grasped the depth of what that means in my day to day life before today. If I never do more than put up with the process while waiting for results, I will have missed my life. Because nearly all of life is just that, a series of processes that refine us and make us into who we are. The how is not just the how. The how is also the what.

The process is not just important because of the result it produces. It is important in itself. Because of what you learn. Because of who you become. Because it can be enjoyable, fulfilling and beautiful. The process is the result. The process is the now.

So, on the dusk of my 35th birthday, I make my quasi-midlife resolution. Much like Brother Lawrence that Laura just wrote about, I will seek to find enjoyment, beauty and appreciation for the tedious, mind-numbing processes that make up life. I will listen for God’s whisper in the common and the mundane.

It will probably take me the next 35 years to even start to scratch the surface. Because by later this afternoon, as we were onto the third iteration of putting on and tying the shoes to get somewhere, I was back to the screaming and crying routine.

Sigh.

Fabulous Friday: Family & Fern

  
Every 9/11, Nick puts on a pair of headphones, goes to a room by himself and listens to On The Transmigration of Souls by John Adams.  

  

 While I’m not quite as routine in my memorial, in recent years, I have listened to Fern by Zoe Keating, a beautiful, melancholy, but hopeful and inspiring cello masterpiece. I think back to where I was (anatomy and physiology lab at St. Olaf) and what was going on in my life (gearing up to spend a semester in Costa Rica for my first exposure to public health) and who was in my life (just about to start dating Nick, who was pretty sure he was not going to date me. After the first time we hung out, I, however, told him I had to marry him because he had an Italian last name and played guitar). 

  
Today, I am listening and thinking of those things for which I am thankful. Things that make my life fabulous. Things that are here today but may be gone tomorrow. 

Today, those things are my siblings, our spouses and kids and the awesome past weekend. 

  
Today, I am thankful for the wonderful few days last weekend spent with my siblings and our families. The time the girls got to spend with their cousins. The time Nick got to be with another male doing manly things. The time we all got to regress to 6th graders. 

Thanks, guys, for making my life fabulous.