Sunday, May 31, 2009

Don't mess with my PMS, buddy.

Published May 31, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Being a college student, I find myself immersed in the world of research. Whether I’m reading studies in preparation for writing a paper or conducting research of my own as part of a class project, I’m often amazed at what I find. According to research, children don’t actually become hyperactive after ingesting sugar. According to research, the full moon does not cause more pregnant women to go into labor or more mental patients to stage riots in their hospital wards. According to research, premenstrual syndrome is a myth.

As a woman suffering from PMS at this very moment, I believe this research was performed by biased men who wouldn’t know a hormone imbalance if it caused their bodies to bloat, their energy to disappear, and their emotional state to fluctuate between weepy and hysterical. As a current sufferer of PMS, I’d like to dress those scientists in jumpsuits made of chocolate and lock them in a room full of other rabid PMS sufferers.

According to the “groundbreaking” research I read, only 5% of women actually experience the symptoms of PMS each month. Apparently, the rest are just imaging things or acting out the symptoms imposed upon them by the expectations of society. I’m sorry...I didn’t realize society’s expectations had that much of an impact on water retention. Who knew?

Even if 95% of women (and I don’t for one minute believe that statistic) don’t have any trouble with PMS, that number is meaningless to the 5% who DO. Just as the majority’s ability to walk does not change a quadriplegic person’s dependence on a wheelchair, women who sail through their months on a fluffy cloud of pleasant thoughts and cheerful feelings do not change the dizzying roller coaster ride the rest of us can’t seem to escape.

Case in point: Last night I cried over cheese. No, not cried...I sobbed over cheese. I was emotionally devastated by cheese.

Having waited impatiently for a package to arrive on my doorstep all week, a text from my husband telling me there was a surprise waiting when I got home surely meant only one thing. To my dismay, Federal Express (which should be called Federal Dilly Dally, Dawdle, and Stop For Every Scenic Overlook Along the Way) had not paid a visit to the house. Instead, the surprise turned out to be a small plastic bag of cubed cheese in my fridge, the leftovers from a “cheese party” my husband had attended at work.

On any other day of the month, I would have been a little disappointed, but ultimately happy he and his cheese-loving coworker, Carrie, had thought to send some of the imported treats my way. After all, good cheese is good cheese, and the gesture was very thoughtful. However, in the throes of a “mythical” hormone surge, I found myself confronting my husband with a surly, “I don’t understand what’s so surprising about cheese,” and then crumpling into a fit of gasping sobs, punctuated by frequent cries of, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying.”

It’s the last statement that I think is the most important. Women suffering from PMS aren’t doing it because they want to or think it’s expected. We’re often horrified at our own behavior. Three weeks of the month, we feel fine, normal, ourselves. PMS week comes, and it’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers time, only we’re there too, witness to our own crankiness and left to offer endless apologies over each surprise outburst. It’s a very real, very hard, and very, very annoying way to be.

I would end this column with a paragraph speaking to the fact that PMS is a reason for bad behavior but not an excuse, but I’m thinking again of chocolate covered scientists and feeling whatever happens to them at the hands of the women suffering an illness the scientists believe is all in their heads is right, just, and 100% deserved.

I’ll apologize for that last paragraph in next week’s column.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Buy Nothing Year

Published May 24, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

My hair straightener died the other day. I walked into my bathroom, hurrying to ready myself for work, and grabbed it off the counter where it had been lying in the pretense of heating. I ran the straightener through a lock of curls, eager to tame them into flat and silky obedience. My curls bounced back defiantly, and my heart sank. “Oh no,” I moaned, “oh no, no, no, no, no.”

Any other year of my life, this situation would have been an annoyance, a minor setback. Sure, I would have endured one bad hair day, but then I would have made my way to a store to replace the broken styling tool and life would have continued on, silky hair and all. This year, however, things are different. This year, we’ve committed to an experiment we call the Buy Nothing Year.

Buy Nothing Year is something of a misnomer. I don’t know anyone who could manage to go a full year without buying anything. Buy Nothing We Don’t Absolutely Need Year would be more accurate, but that’s quite the mouthful, don’t you think?

To explain: Such purchases as groceries, medicine, light bulbs, and other necessities do not fall under the Buy Nothing Year Umbrella. Birthday, Anniversary, and Christmas presents are also exempt. Clothing is mixed. When the kids outgrew their shoes, a true need was indicated, so the shoes were replaced. When the kids asked about Easter clothes, we all knew the Sunday clothes we had were sufficient, so no new outfits were bought.

My deceased straightener left me in a pickle. Was it a necessity or a luxury? Was it under the umbrella or would it bounce easily off the top of it? I would still have hair without a straightener. I could still style my hair without a straightener. However, the only style I’ve been able to manage without a straightener is something I like to call, “Lunch Lady Hair,” and that’s just not good for anyone. (My apologies to lunch ladies everywhere.)

The Buy Nothing Year has brought us closer to the old adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” but it’s the “do without” part that’s hard. I’m perfectly willing to wear my shoes until they’re dead. I will rig up a bungee to keep the condiments in a broken refrigerator door. I will decorate my house simply by rearranging the furniture. When it comes to my hair, however, I don’t think any amount of Buy Nothing commitment will cause me to want to look like I had a bad perm in 1986 and decided I’d never update the look.

Fortunately for me, my husband agreed. He placed the hair straightener firmly within the light bulbs and razors category and encouraged me to go out and find a good deal on a new one. I walked into Big Lots as the Lunchiest Lunch Lady who ever Lunched. I emerged from my bathroom an hour later as Sarah, the Silkily Sensible Queen of Frugality.

Someday, I might look back on this and think we rationalized our way out of the rules we chose to live by for the year. In the end, though, the Buy Nothing Year is more about training ourselves to use self discipline and avoid impulsive purchases than becoming misers. The hope is that in years to come, we’ll do exactly what we did in the Great Straightener Disaster of 2009. We’ll carefully consider the necessity of a purchase and come to a conclusion together, then look for the best bargain we can find.

When the lunch ladies come after me, I’ll carefully consider the necessity of a bribe.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I will make Trekkers of them all!

Published May 17, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

About a year ago, I wrote a column in preparation for my wedding about how my new husband and I were “star crossed.” He, the geek with an appalling love for Star Wars, thought I was an insufferable nerd for my passionate love of Star Trek. Our wedding cake was topped with action figures from our opposing universes, our wedding guests looking on in amusement (or tolerance at our's hard to know which).

It’s not easy being a Trekker in a Skywalker household. My kids haven’t had the Star Trek exposure I would have liked, so they’re all Lucas fans too. I actually like Star Wars, but living with major fans can be overwhelming. Over the past year, I’ve watched all six Star Wars movies at least 5 times. As a show of support (and boredom), I’ve read all three books in a series devoted to life after episode 6 (Han and Leia have Jedi babies! Aren’t you glad you know?). I even sat through the dismal “Clone Wars” movie, for which my very disappointed husband apologized profusely.

You can’t imagine my relief when I heard a new Star Trek movie was on the horizon. Finally, my family would understand. Finally, they would see what real science fiction looks like. Finally, they would enter into my world, a world no Jedi, Ewok, or Wookiee could even dream of matching. It was time for a little retribution, Vulcan style. (Vulcan retribution involves sitting the family down and showing them, logically, how Star Trek is better than Star Wars. For instance, any Klingon with an ounce of self respect would have ripped C3P0 to pieces the first time he uttered one of his obnoxious puns.)

I’ve actually been planning my space coup for a while now. For Christmas, I bought my husband a Dr. Demento cd set, knowing full well the song, “Star Trekkin,’” would become a family favorite. The kids may not know anything about the Starship Enterprise or Captain Kirk yet, but they shout/sing the lyrics with abandon. “Staaaaaaar Trekkin’ across the universe! Boldly going forward ‘cause we can’t find reverse!”

Though the kids had been primed (ten points to the Trekker who gets that joke) by the musical introduction, I knew the only hope I had of turning the tide away from the Force and toward the Federation would be to convince their leader. Lucky for me, I had at my disposal the collusion of my husband’s boss, a devoted Trek fan who has my undying love and respect. He arranged for his Trekker employees to take some time off and join him at the Imax theater to see the new Trek movie opening weekend. Curiosity and affection for me were enough to get my husband into a seat beside me. Two hours later, he was excitedly making plans to watch every incarnation of Star Trek ever made.

It’s only a matter of time before cardboard phasers replace cardboard lightsabers, and people, that’s a beautiful thing. My house has been Lucasland long enough. It’s time for us to pledge allegiance to the United States of Roddenberry. I plan to teach the kids Klingon over the summer, and I’m already polishing up my mind meld skills for those moments they’re being naughty and aren’t telling the whole story. As Q is my witness, we will be a Trek family by the end of the year.

Leonard Nimoy has an open invitation to Christmas dinner.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Redemption

Published May 10, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Happy Mother’s Day! To mothers everywhere, I wish for you breakfast in bed, handmade gifts made of macaroni and string, and a day off from doing the dishes. If that day off means those dishes are just piling up for you to wash tomorrow, I wish you easy meals made of ingredients that don’t cement themselves to your plates. More than all of those things, I wish for mothers everywhere the little priceless moments of kid repentance that make a year of naughty behavior worth every painful minute.

The moms in my readership know exactly what I’m talking about. All year long, children exist in a precarious balance between precious angels who are a credit to their mothers’ names and hellions who try the very limits of their mothers’ patience and forgiveness. One day, they’re bringing you a pretty flower they picked on their way home from school. Another day, they’re cutting their own hair to the scalp and ruining your family pictures.

Mother’s Day, with its finger painted pictures and overcooked eggs and toast, is the annual day of redemption for children all over the country. It’s the day the little boogers officially tip the balance in their favor, their sweet smiles and proffered gifts erasing sins their mothers thought they’d never forget.

I’m ready for my yearly dose of amnesia. I find mine in the annual tradition of the children’s Mother’s Day song at church. No matter what my kids have put me through in the 12 months leading up to the big day, the loudly sung strains of a song like, “Mother, I love you,” or, “Mother, Tell Me the Story,” are all I need to smile and pronounce my kids the best ever.

This year, there are a few things I’m extremely ready to forget. For instance, there was the day I was laid up a week after knee surgery when my youngest daughter thought it would be a good idea to take her four year old brother to school with her. You don’t know the meaning of helpless until you know your preschool aged child is sitting in a school office where he doesn’t belong and you can’t even walk from one room in your house to another.

Then there was the time they turned the doorway to the cat’s bed toward the wall and trapped him there for what might have been hours. It would be one thing if they’d done it to the cat who never stops talking. He would have meowed his way out in a matter of minutes. No, they trapped the cat who seems to have lost his meow amid the chaos of a family of seven, and he was left to stare dejectedly out of the mesh until I noticed him.

Add to that all the times they forgot to put the movies away, forgot to feed the turtle, and forgot to do their chores, and you have a passel of kids in desperate need of some Mother’s Day absolution. Just this morning, I noticed my 9 year old walking around the house with a scarf around her head to hide the fact that the front section of her hair had been shaved off completely. She innocently described the incident as an overnight mystery, saying someone must have come in while she was sleeping and done it. I sent her to school with a wide headband to hide the damage and a prayer it doesn’t fall off.

She’s going to have to sing a solo to erase that sin, but fortunately for her, she has a good voice.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Pathway to Forgiveness

Published May 3, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

You know that person in your life who always seems to have something or someone to complain about? That person who tells the same story of aggravation and injustice over and over? That person you avoid? I was that person.

Wait! Come back! Read the last line of the preceding paragraph and note the past tense. I was that person, telling my dramatic tales of injustice and woe to anyone who would listen…my girlfriends, my family members, the cashier at the grocery store, that kid down the street who couldn’t pedal his tricycle fast enough to get away from me. Gosh, he was a good listener.

You might be wondering what caused such a dramatic shift in my emotional energies (and freed the neighbor boy from near-weekly torture). My answer came in the form of a university class, an Education Psychology course called Forgiveness and Anger Reduction.
On my less honest days, I say I took the course because I needed an allied course credit for my psychology degree and this one happened to be online, which fit my life. On my more honest days, I admit that nearly all the Ed. Psych classes I considered were online and would have counted. Apparently, somewhere underneath the whiner, buried deep below the grudge holder, there was a forgiving woman singing “Kumbaya.”

One of my first assignments in the class involved identifying a minor grudge from my own life and filling out a short questionnaire that explored the depth of my anger and hurt. The grudge I chose is one I will not share today. Upon reading the first few chapters in the textbook, I learned that I was “renting too much space” in my mind for this grudge, and every time I told my grievance story, I added on…a breakfast nook here, a gazebo there. Considering my “tenant” hadn’t paid the rent in months, was throwing wild parties every weekend, and had burned holes all over the purple shag carpet I loved, I was more than ready to throw the deadbeat out.

The first step I took in the mental eviction process was to challenge the unenforceable rule that lead to my anger in the first place. The concept of unenforceable rules was a new one for me. You mean people don’t have to be fair? I can only hope they will? Whaaaa? There was a bit of mental foot stamping, but eventually, I was able to accept the idea that no one in the world owes me anything.

Continuing the forgiveness program over the course of three and a half months, I painstakingly took my grudge out, turned it over and over, and saw more to it than I ever imagined was there. Through journaling exercises which included seeing my offender honestly, employing empathy, and giving the offender a symbolic gift (in my case, genuine well wishes), I suddenly saw my grievance for what it was: a situation that didn’t go my way, but one that also didn’t defeat me.

And there you have the heart of the forgiveness process, the transformation from victim to survivor, the realization that I was the hero of this tale. The moment I moved from victim to survivor, I had no more desire to tell the story at all, hence, it’s absence in this column. Instead, I find myself with an almost overwhelming desire to share the story of my transformation to anyone who will listen, because there are people in the world who are hurting, and what I know can help them.

I do leave the neighbor boy alone. He thinks I’ve been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a clone, so there isn’t much opportunity, anyway.