All You Need Is A Little TLC

The New Year approaches and my month of generosity is almost over. Hard to believe that two months of my transformational year are gone already.

In December, I have made mittens and I donated toys and clothes to a needy child at Christmas. I have welcomed friends and family into my home and have tried to be a good guest in return. I have tried to find little things to do to be generous towards my friends and family, such as scraping car windows without being asked or buying a friend a movie ticket because he always drives me places (he also happens to be one of the most generous people I know as well and I should take some pointers from him), but I realized a week or so ago that lately I hadn’t been generous towards one very important person- myself. I needed to fix that asap.

If there is one thing I remember having drilled into my head during my undergrad program in social work (and let’s be honest, that was three and a half years ago so I don’t remember much…) it was- avoid burnout! Engage in lots of self care and put yourself first before anyone else. To someone whose entire profession revolves around giving to others this may seem counter-intuitive and somewhat selfish, or at least it did to me initially, until I got burnt out, and burnt out again, and again until I began to recognize the wisdom in taking care of numero uno and setting more appropriate boundaries. (What do you mean you are a social worker who doesn’t work past four on Friday afternoons?!) I frequently remember a self care example I heard repeatedly from professors through college… Similar to the safety instructions they go over on airplanes about putting your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else in case of an emergency, you have to take care of yourself and keep yourself healthy in order to be able to function well enough to assist others. I had to realize that thinking of yourself first doesn’t necessarily  make you selfish, it simply assures that your mind, body, and soul are rejuvenated so you can continue to be fully present in the lives of people you care about. I would like to note that “taking care of yourself” doesn’t mean going out and denying or taking things away from others, it merely means acknowledging and honoring the fact that you too are worth a little TLC once and awhile. I would also like to note that burnout isn’t exclusive to social workers, everyone from stay at home parents, to lawyers and doctors get occasionally burnt out from life’s daily grind.

With everything that has happened the last few months, with moving, the holidays, and working two jobs, I was getting down to my last nerve. I was tired, cranky and frequently pessimistic. So what did I do? I took a vacation! (Well, technically I worked myself to death this month making sure I had made productivity and had everything done and turned in that I needed to BEFORE I went on vacation, but that’s besides the point.) Between weekends, paid holidays and the days I actually took off I have had eleven glorious days of absolute freedom to do whatever the hell I’ve wanted to.

So in the interest of being generous towards myself this is what I have done, or plan to do (since vacation isn’t technically over until after the new year) with my numerous days off…

  • Had a snow day pajama party with my puppies and watched horrible romance movies I borrowed from the library. (Kate and Leopold was a little far fetched, not to mention Kate was kind of a bitch.  The Wedding Date was cute, but some of the acting was truly atrocious.)
  • Visited family for several days in Northwest Ohio.
  • Was actually able to read an entire book from start to finish in a reasonable amount of time instead of over the course of several months.
  • Went and saw Les Miserables in theater on Christmas day. (It was AMAZING! If you haven’t already seen it run, don’t walk to your nearest cinema and see it NOW… Seriously, why are you still reading this? Stop wasting precious time and go order some tickets!)
  • Have made/ am going to make lots of awesome food including grain/dairy/refined sugar free chocolate cranberry scones tomorrow for breakfast, which is exciting because I haven’t had scones in probably eight months now. Cross your fingers they turn out well…
  • Went to karaoke last night and listened to several dozen appalling renditions of 80’s songs being sung by extremely inebriated people who had no business singing in public even without having consumed copious amounts of alochol. (Needless to say there was lots of incoherent screaming.) I also bore witness to an incredibly awkward version of “I Touch Myself” by a suspender-wearing, Steve Urkle type, that was reminiscent of the Keith- “Like a Virgin” audition for American Idol way back in it’s first or second season. (For those who don’t remember, have never seen it, or are masochists and want to relive the hilarity and pain all over again click here.)
  • Spent time in the studio working on personal creative endeavors and Christmas presents for friends. (I made some really awesome gifts, but will have to post pictures later because I haven’t given them to the lucky recipients yet…)
  • Spent many hours writing and philosophizing in my journal.
  • And to finish off my vacation I intend to go to several parties on New Year’s Eve, stay out way too late, sleep until noon the next day and then have people over for a traditional lucky Irish New Year dinner of corned beef and cabbage- huzzah!

With all this free time I am trying really hard not to be critical of myself when I don’t get everything finished in a day that I wanted to, or if I didn’t really do anything that day period.This is vacation after all. Trouble is I need to remember to do that all the time- to be generous to myself everyday, and maybe then I won’t feel like such a shrew by the time my next vacation rolls around.

Ok, now for the upcoming month… As I mentioned earlier- two months down, ten to go. In January my focus is going to be on spirituality, which I am really excited about and have some great ideas on how to expand my own spiritual practices/knowledge. I have some awesome books I want to read and talk about, as well as I am planning on attending services from several different world religions. (This may include attending a Scientology meeting just for shits and giggles, although I don’t know if I will have the guts to go through with that one. We shall see.)

Stayed tuned, I will be continuing with new posts again here at the end of next week. Have a safe and happy New Year everyone!

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My Grownup Christmas List

April 21, 1999
“There was another school shooting yesterday. They think at least 25 students/teachers were killed. I guess that the people who did it were the ones who were always getting picked on. So I guess they sort of…snapped.”

This was written by my own childish twelve year old hand. In the spring of my sixth grade year tragedy struck our nation. Two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, carried weapons to school and opened fire on their classmates. This was the 1999 Columbine school shooting. An incident that seemed to be the catalyst for a pattern of similar events.

Fast forward to the spring of 2007 and now I am a college sophomore sitting in my dorm room watching the news, horrified that yet another shooter- Seung Hui Cho, rained bullets down upon a university lecture hall. This time it was at Texas A&M.

Both these incidents (and many others) happened half way across the country, yet to me, and I am sure many of my peers as well, it felt like it was happening right in our own backyard. Doors that had always been open were now locked twenty-four hours a day and emergency plans immediately put into place. Now schools didn’t just practice fire and tornado drills, “lock downs” and disaster drills were now part of standard procedure. It begged the question, “If it could happen there, could it happen here?”

In the wake of yet another senseless act of violence- the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, I can’t help but feel the same feeling of unease. What if that happened at one of my schools? To my colleagues? To the children I work with? To me? What would I do in the same situation? What would anyone do? So many questions…

I would like to think that I would do whatever it took to protect innocent life, to protect the children. They have become such an important part of my life and I care very much about all of them, (even the ones that drive me crazy sometimes) that the mere idea of someone, anyone trying to hurt them infuriates me beyond all reason. I would like to think that if, God forbid, something ever did happen and someone broke into my room, at one of my schools, and tried to hurt a child in my care, that I would fight tooth and nail until my last dying breath to keep that child safe. The truth is, however, that I just don’t know. I don’t think anyone really knows how they would react in a situation until they are faced with it. I just pray that should that day ever come that I won’t become paralyzed by fear and will be up to the task of protecting my wards.

What I do know is that many brave men and women have given the most generous gift anyone could give- their own lives, to save countless more, and yet there have still been too many deaths. At what point do we as a society say enough is enough? A lot of “solutions” have been tossed around in the last few days, everything from the need for tighter gun control to making mental health services more readily available and accessible in this county, and I believe these things should be discussed, need to be discussed, but they are, unfortunately, just a small part of a bigger problem.

Whether we would like to admit it or not we are still a primitive society. Sure, we’ve had a huge technological explosion in the last hundred years and we have made tremendous strides in various intellectual arenas, but despite all of that we remain unenlightened when it comes to the care and treatment of our fellow man. There are still people in this world living in squalor, there are still people without access to food and clean water, there are still people without access to reliable medical care, there are still people living in the streets without a roof over their head at night. How can we call ourselves advanced when we can’t even be bothered to take care of all of Earth’s inhabitants?

It’s easy to demonize the shooters, and I am not condoning their actions, but nine times out of ten these people commit horrendous acts due to a combination of mental illness and because they feel that they themselves have somehow been victimized. When we stop marginalizing and separating ourselves from others and recognize WE ARE ALL ONE PEOPLE, when we start treating every person with the dignity they deserve, when everyone can be assured that their basic human needs will be met, maybe then people will no longer feel a need to commit such incomprehensible acts of violence.

Sadly, though, I fear this will not happen during my lifetime, and even if it did it would still be too little too late for the beautiful children at Sandy Hook And the many other souls lost over the years to senseless shootings.

Christmas is less that a week away, and while I am too old to still believe in Santa Claus, I do have one wish, a Grown-up Christmas List

To all the parents who lost precious children in Friday’s unthinkable attack, and to all the families missing loved ones this holiday season, I pray you find some solace, whatever your beliefs may be, in the thought that while they are no longer with you they are safe wherever they are and can never be hurt again. May they rest in peace and let us never forget them.

“Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”
-Anon

The Gift of Giving

While discussing this month’s theme of generosity to a friend of mine earlier this week she made the comment of “Not everyone can afford to be generous.” This really got me thinking… During this time of year, with the holidays right around the corner, you are constantly being bombarded with opportunities to give. From being asked to make contributions to the food bank in the checkout line at Kroger, to a plethora of Christmas toy drives, to all the people who stand outside stores ringing their bells in the freezing cold for change, you can’t throw a rock in December without hitting someone collecting donations for charity. For me, with generosity being a focus this month, this is a very good thing as it makes accomplishing my goal that much easier. However, all these things do place a lot of emphasis on monetary generosity, which brings me back to the previous comment of “Not everyone can afford to be generous.”

On the surface I agree with this statement. Some people, such as many of the families I work with, are in enough trouble of their own that they truly don’t have anything left over at the end of the month to give to someone else. I think the number of people this is true for is actually a lot lower than most people think, however, and the majority of households can at least afford to contribute a dollar or two. At that point it becomes more a question of “Do I want to give?” rather than “Do I have the means to give?” That being said, I believed there had to be more to being generous than just giving people money, so I did what all good twenty somethings my age do when they have a deeply philosophical question- I Googled it.

Here is what Google and Webster’s Online Dictionary had to say…

Generosity- the quality of being kind and generous.
…Yeah… That was helpful (note the sarcasm). So I then decided to look up the root word- generous to see what it had to say and I got a lot better results…
Generous- 1) Showing a readiness to give more of something, as in money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected. 2) Showing kindness towards others.

Thanks Google, once again you managed to come through for me in my hour of spiritual need! Seriously though, I really like this definition because it makes being generous accessible to everyone. By this definition anyone who is willing (showing a readiness) to give something (doesn’t have to be money) more than what is expected is showing generosity.

Simply put, I am being generous when I give a kid extra time during a session to finish coloring a picture or to play a game. I am being generous when I take the time to lend an ear to a friend in need even if I may not have a lot of time at that moment. I am being generous when I volunteer my time at various charity events, and I am REALLY being generous when I let more than one person merge in front of me on the highway during rush hour. (Believe me, in Columbus that’s a Christmas miracle. Trying to safely navigate your way around this city is like attending an asshole convention where every douche bag known to man converges on your location to try and piss in your Cheerios. They will find you and they will seriously fuck your shit up.) You don’t have to be loaded like Bill Gates and donate millions of dollars to charity each year (though that is awesome and good for him). It’s the simple gestures that sometimes mean as much or more than giving gobs of money. By this definition, we have no real reason not to be generous because something as ridiculously simple as being kind to someone is showing generosity, and in an ideal world everyone should be kind to everyone.

So here is my challenge- Go forth into the world my friends and be generous towards others. Not just for today and not just for this holiday season, but everyday, for the need is so great and everybody, every single person, has something they can share of themselves. I am convinced that if everyone did this all the time the world would be a much nicer place to live.

As for me? I am going to start by making myself a nice mug of eggnog, throw on some episodes of “Hot in Cleveland” (hey, gotta be generous towards ourselves too) and start making some more mittens. They may not be as beautiful as store bought or cost a lot of money, but one of my gifts is creating and I like to share that gift with others. As I think about all the little hands my mittens will keep warm this winter, I like to think there is one thing that makes them stand out from anything you could ever buy from a store-
 
They were made with love 🙂

It’s a mitten orgy!