Tag Archives: words

The Greatest Gifts Are Usually Free (or Jewelry)

A few days ago, it was my birthday. And I got the most amazing gift ever. It didn’t cost a cent, it made me feel amazing, and it came from a total stranger who had no idea that it was even my birthday.

Perhaps it is childish, but I really love my birthday.  It’s my favorite day of the year.  It’s not really about the gifts, although I do love gifts. It’s not even really about the cake, although I really love cake. It’s not even about having an excuse to drink all day, although (usually) I really, really love my wine. I guess it is just about having a day that is all about me (and everyone else who is born on August 7th). Friends, old and new, reach out with kind words. Strangers, when they hear it is your birthday (and you know I tell EVERYONE it is my birthday), give you a genuine smile and wishes for a happy year. Most of all, I take the opportunity to indulge myself a bit. I let myself eat burgers and fries for lunch, have as big of a slice of cake as I like (or two), drink a bit more than I should, or even buy myself a little gift, spending more than I normally would.

Although usually I love making the day all about me, this year I was actually excited about spending the day with my daughter, Lyla. Perhaps I am finally growing up a bit. For the first time, at two years old, she finally understands that this is a special day. She helped my husband prepare a nice breakfast for me, even picking flowers to give me from the garden, and burst into my room singing “Happy birthday to you! Tanti Auguri to you!” (the bilingual remix of happy birthday.) We then decided to spend the day at the Santa Monica pier. We had gone there for her second birthday, and had one of the best days together that we had ever had. We rode rides, took silly pictures in a photo booth, ate burgers while looking out at the ocean, rode the famous carousel, and spoiled ourselves with giant, ice cream sundaes. Sounded like the perfect way to spend a birthday to me… perhaps I am NOT growing up too much, after all.

It was a perfect day. I was relaxed and happy, and my daughter was too. No worrying about eating enough vegetables, or too much sugar. No getting frustrated when my daughter had an accident, and peed right on the arcade floor… although we did make a quick exit. No temper tantrums – from either of us. It was a day for the history books. Then it got better.

After eating our cheeseburgers and fries, while cleaning up the rather large mess (because my daughter is 2, even on her best days) a man, who I noticed sitting alone next to us, approached the table. He said, “Excuse me. I just wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job. Your daughter is lucky to have you.” I could barely stutter, “Thank you so much” before he had turned and was on his way. I was in complete shock. First, that someone had noticed me and my daughter at all – and not simply to give us a dirty look because my daughter was standing on the chair screaming “You hear that?! That’s a fart!” at the top of her lungs (true story.) Second, that a total stranger had gone out of his way to pay me a compliment with nothing to gain for himself  – a compliment that I have really, really needed to hear for some time now. I really needed to hear someone tell me that I am doing ok, because most of the time I feel like I am failing miserably.

I don’t think I’m a bad parent necessarily, but usually when I analyze my day, it is much easier to focus on all the things I did wrong, rather than the things I did right. I tend to focus on the times I lost my temper, the times I raised my voice, the times I gave up fighting and let my daughter watch tv because I needed some goddamn peace and quiet. I wonder if my daughter slept enough, if she ate enough of the right things or too much of the wrong ones. I question my choices when it comes to discipline, praise, and pretty much everything in between. And when I analyze all of this, my answer is usually that I can do better. That everyone else is doing it better.

Even on those rare, really good days, when my daughter is well-behaved, I am relaxed, and everything goes smoothly, it is through no feat of mine. It is because my daughter is in a good mood, or she got enough sleep, or just pure, simple, good luck. The credit is never mine.

So when this total stranger came up to me and told me that I was ok, and even better than ok, that I was a GOOD parent – it was something I truly needed to hear. Not because I needed an ego boost. Not because a compliment is always nice. Not even because it was my birthday. I needed to hear it, because then I started wondering if perhaps it might be true. Might I be doing ok? Might I even be doing some of this parenting thing… gasp… well? It made me think of how happy my daughter is. How smart and funny and kind she is. How creative and loving. And I started to think that maybe it’s not an accident. That maybe I do, in fact, have something to do with that. And I still think that. Even over the past few days, when I lost my temper or said something I shouldn’t, I kept thinking that even if I wasn’t perfect, perhaps I am doing ok anyway.

I have no idea who this man is, and I guarantee that he has no idea how much that simple act of kindness meant to me. He has no idea that it keeps me going when things get tough. Or maybe he does know, and that is why he said it. If so, he is even kinder than I ever imagined.

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Talk Aint Cheap (but it sure can sound that way…)

The other day I was at Target (it’s an addiction, people) and I heard someone say quite loudly, “GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE NOW!”  Curious, I looked in the general direction of the obnoxious voice and saw an angry-looking woman screaming at… a two-year-old.  Yes, a two-year-old.  As in a sweet, innocent, curious and slightly naughty because they all are, two-year-old.  The next day, my husband and I were with our daughter at a the park.  As we were playing in the sand, two more kids came to join us:  a little boy around two and his sister, who was about five.  As we are playing, the older girl began to scold her brother and my daughter.  “I told you to SHARE!” she said, ripping a toy from her brother’s hands.  I know that she is just a little girl, but after 15 minutes of this, I was slightly appalled and totally annoyed, so we moved away to play in a different area.  My husband, wise as ever, remarked, “I feel sorry for that girl.  That must be the way her parents talk to her.  It’s probably the only way she knows how to talk.”  Of course, he was right.  Kids don’t come out of the womb talking. (Thank goodness, I wouldn’t want to hear all of the things I was doing wrong in those first few weeks!)  Language is a learned skill.  When you speak to your children, you are not only teaching them words, but habits as well as values. It is not just what you say, but how you say it, and what it means.

Maybe it is because I am a writer, but I have always been in awe of the power of words. The most influential figures in history such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Obama, and even Hitler, although clearly less positively,  have changed the world through their words.  For better or worse, it was their words and the manner in which they spoke them that inspired the masses – not their physical strength, money or weapons.  Words can truly do what no gun or bomb can, although they can be just as destructive.

If you think about it, most of the pivotal moments, both good and bad, in one’s life stem from words. “I love you.” “Congratulations!” “You’re fired.” “Mama. (my personal fave!)”   “Your offer was accepted.” “It’s not you, it’s me.” “I do.” “It’s a girl.” “Cancer.”  “You passed.” “Honey, would you like another glass of wine? (These particular words led to the conception of our daughter.)”  Yes, words are important.  They shape the course of one’s life.  But they also shape the course of one’s self.  No matter how strong you are, it’s difficult not to let another person’s words shape your perception of yourself.  And unfortunately it is often so much easier to believe the bad words rather than the good.  Why is that?  No matter how high your self-esteem has been built from a lifetime of encouragement and compliments, sometimes it takes only a single negative comment to knock it all down.  No matter how many people tell you that you are smart, kind, funny, beautiful, thin, or a great mother, all it takes is one person’s criticism to plant the seeds of self-doubt. And often our harshest and most outspoken critic is ourself. It’s hard for any amount of compliments to overcome our own negative thoughts.  Strange as it seems, a thousand “I love you”s can hardly stand up to a single “I hate myself.”

If we understand the power of words, then we must understand the responsibility that each of us holds… not only to other people, but also to ourselves and most importantly, to our children.  I am just now truly beginning to comprehend the weight of this responsibility.  My daughter started talking a few months ago, and now it seems as though she is picking up a new word every day, as well as repeating everything we say.  It’s cute when she repeats “I love you.” – or at least something that sounds like it – but terrifying when she says, “Yeah” in exactly the same annoying-teenage-girl manner in which I sometimes catch myself saying it.  And I already told you about my Friday night “Oh Sh!t”s slip up with my friend’s two-year-old.  If that poor kid becomes anything less than a successful doctor, lawyer or scientist, I am definitely going to blame his downward spiral on myself.

If you can’t think of something nice to say, don’t say it at all… especially if it is about me.

All joking aside though, a slip-up is bound to happen here and there.  We are only human, and some situations require the use of the colorful language that slides so easily off the tongue.  Shit happens, so to speak, so we can’t beat ourselves up about it. What is more important is the way we speak every day, not only when our kids are listening, but also when they are not.  I have learned that, like both the government and Perez Hilton, kids have eyes and ears everywhere.  They are always listening and learning from you, so be careful what you teach them.  Think about it… how can you teach your children to respect everyone, if they constantly hear you bashing that bitchy co-coworker or annoying neighbor to your girlfriends?  How can they learn equality when they hear you talking down to others?  How can your daughter feel beautiful if she hears you constantly bemoaning your own looks?  How can your kids learn to fight fair if they hear you and your husband fighting dirty?  The basic rule:  If you can’t think of something nice to say, don’t say it at all.  I know this phrase is just as annoying now as it was when your third grade teacher said it (along with “Keep your hands to yourself” and “Stop eating paste, Courtney.” ) but it’s true. It’s a tough one for me though.  I am naturally blunt, sarcastic, judgemental, easily annoyed and I love a good bit of gossip.  None of these things usually result in anything nice to say, so that often leaves me unusually mute. But I am a work in progress and I am working on these things for my daughter’s sake.  I hope you will too.

With every word we speak we are teaching our children, not only how to talk, but how to live.  So make sure you are doing your best to teach them the right way to do both.  Your kids will thank you someday… hopefully with perfect spelling and grammar.

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OH SH!T!!

So last night I had an “Oh Shit!” moment.  Literally.  As in, my daughter knocked a bowl of pasta into my lap and I said, “Oh Shit!” and my friends’ 2 1/2-year-old stood up and screamed, “OH SHIT!”  To the entire restaurant.  And it was his first curse word. Nice work, huh?  My friends were cool about it, but oh shit, right?  I mean… oh no!

More on Words with Toddlers to come…

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Quote of the Day: On Words

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” 

– Rudyard Kipling 

Think about what you say, about others and about yourself, especially in front of your children.  To be continued…

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