Getting Rid of Stress

Stress has visited you like the devil in days of yore. It has caused your heart to race, your hands to dampen, your throat to dry. So let’s beat back stress with these 11 steps.

1. Do a daily act of kindness. You know you can’t think your way into good action, so you must act your way into good thinking. You must do one act of kindness and service daily. Open a door for a stranger. Donate to the subway musician. Anything.

2. Get up early every day and write in your journal. This private brain drain will add years to your life. Studies show people who write about their stressful moments boost their immune systems.

3. View your life as a hero’s journey. You have read about Joan of Arc and Odysseus. Now there is YOU. You are no less remarkable. You have fought your battles — an abusive spouse as fierce as a dragon? Look at your life as a quest. Your purpose is to complete your mission.

4. Find your mission. Mine is to parent three awesome children, to write, to teach and to make the world a kinder, better place than I found it through my words and actions.

5. Work out three or more times a week. Or just move your body more regularly from the sitting position. Yes, our ancestors were hunters but mostly they were gatherers. Get in touch with your inner gatherer. Get in touch with nature.

6. Pamper yourself. Manicure? Haircut? Massage? Once a month — is this too much to ask? Take care of the vessel you were given.

7. Get to bed early. Get a book. Get several. Get horizontal. Pull the covers up. Go to bed by 10 pm every night.

8. Have sex regularly. Sexuality is a gift from God. Why else does it feel so good? Because it is a beautiful part of the human, adult experience. Do it your own way but do it.

9. Listen without talking so much. You have a lot to say, a lot to share. But you will be remembered on this earth, not by how well you have said what you have to say, but by how well you compassionately listened.

10. Eat healthily. Okay, a bacon cheeseburger and a beer is okay once in a while. But do not use unhealthy food as a way to pamper yourself or indulge. Healthy tastes good.

11. Give seven hugs a day.

Thanks to Alicia Pitterson who provided the prompt at yesterday’s Wednesday Writers lunch time series. She asked us to create an agenda for an event called, “Don’t let stress get the best of you.”  

The School Fundraiser

I was recently at a fundraiser, even though my kids don’t go to that school. I love school auctions. I love the fancy purses, the summer camps, the cabins in the Poconos, the brocade jackets. I can see myself in all of them.

Me and Ang and the centerpiece made of dried fruitUsually, I find myself bidding on the most obscure items. I have bid on the opera lessons for my children – what was I thinking? I paid $100 for something none of my kids wanted.

It is now a running joke. Before I go to the auction, the kids beg, “No opera lessons, please, Mom! Go for the Knicks tickets.” Of course, we never used the opera lessons and I could never bid high enough for the Knicks game. Talk about Lin-sanity!

I root for the underdog, even if my team is in the lead. I feel sorry for the loser. I bet on the longshot. I bid on opera lessons.

I see a trend in fundraising — away from this auction fundraiser and towards a more simple party. We parents are competitive enough already. Why do we have to outbid one another for a psychotherapist’s session or a math tutor? Really?

Couldn’t we all just share a session with the dad who is the shrink or the mom who is the math whiz?

In our present-day culture of Occupy Wall Street and the shift in our workplaces towards more collaborative work styles, there have to be better, friendlier, more cooperatives ways to raise money for our schools.

At my kids’ school now, there is a showcase of the kids’ creative arts. There is no auction. We schmooze and graze, but don’t sit down, like at a wedding. I like that.

These fundraisers are a lot of work and planning. These extravaganzas usually require more delicate and skillful diplomacy than the General Assembly at the United Nations.

So, let’s all thank these hard-working women who make the fundraising benefits happen, (because, yes, the fundraising committee is usually made up of women, except for the bartenders at the fundraisers — they’re usually men.)

While school fundraisers are becoming friendlier, I’m still worried about the the opera lessons? What if no one bids on them?

Time Management

I want to get my kids off the internet and focus on their homework. I want to be a beacon of light for them, teaching my darlings the ancient art of self-discipline.

My brother J. says that in work styles, we are either woodpeckers of hummingbirds. And I think we can agree that the Coudals are hummingbirds, whirring, darting, tasting, moving, buzzing. I would like to try life as a woodpecker, hammering away, dull, obedient, effective.

I actually have a lot of down time, like the other night, here, I was double parked, waiting to drive my daughters to book club.

I believe breathing has to do with focus. I would like to teach my kids to take deep breaths into the depths of their beings to improve their ability to focus.

Or at least guide my children in the art of becoming effective managers of their limited time. We are all given the same amount time per day. It’s not like money; it is an equitable resource.

And I’d like to write more about this, but first let me dart off and tell you that last night, I read this interesting article, Are You As Busy As You Think? by Laura Vanderkam for the Wall Street Journal.

The article reminded me that when I hear people complain about how busy they are, I think they’re trying to tell me, “I’m important.” It’s anathema in this culture to say, “Yup, I’ve got the right balance of work and life. I’m doing just fine, thank you.”

No, we must be martyrs on the pyre of overwork. And if someone tells me, “Mary Beth, you seem to have the work/life balance down. You’re good at self-care,” I think, “Ummm, are you telling me I’m lazy?” I don’t know where I got this paradigm that I should act extremely busy and overworked at all times.

I’d like to write more, but I’ve got to get to work (but first, check my Facebook) because I am sooooooooo busy. No, wait, let me first take a few deep, cleansing breaths. And focus!

Five Minutes

For the last couple of weeks, every night some time between eight and nine, I’ve been sitting down one-on-one with my kids just to listen to them. The first night, it was amazing. Each of my daughters opened up with floodgates of emotions. We cried together.

We bonded. Then the timer went off. “Our five minutes is up!” We wiped away our tears and hugged. We moved on.

While the girls have embraced the attention, my 14 year-old son just lay there, refusing to talk. “We talk all the time. Why do we have to do this? Did you read this in some book?”

In fact, I did. The book is What Did I Just Say by Denis Donovan and Deborah McIntyre. “The Five Minutes” is a tool to get parent-child conversations beyond nagging, logistics, correcting, ya know, the ways parents usually talk to and at kids.

As our five-minute sessions have worn on, the girls have begun to use the time to lobby me for what they want — a new backpack or a trip to Maine. I don’t think that’s the point. They can talk about anything and that’s what they choose?

I believe in small solutions to big problems. A small group of people can change the world. A small amount of time can make a big difference on a project. A one-day-at-a-time attitude can get you through a lifetime of worry. I’m going to keep at it. Like blogging, it only takes a few minutes, yet it clarifies my thoughts.

I love the useful nuggets found in self-help books. I read that self-help books are just as effective as therapy. They’re cheaper; you don’t have to schedule them; and they provide tools for better living. Sure, I’m an intellectual and I love to make fun of how-to books (Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow? No, I do it for money and the love will follow).

Turning my attention, even briefly, to my kids’ agendas instead of my own is very relaxing and informative. The Five Minutes is not a cure-all. But it’s an active way to be present and to let my kids know I care and I’m there. I’m listening.

Fun Without Screens

This is not my son, but looks exactly like my son.

In the spring I took away the kids’ privilege of screens and social media from Monday to Thursday nights.

School’s starting the day after Labor Day and I want to remind the kids (and myself) that real life exists beyond the computer, Xbox, Facebook, instant messaging, and texting.

Here’s how you can have fun without screens.

  1. Shop (in real stores, not on-line)
  2. Read books
  3. Give or get a manicure/pedicure
  4. Play board games
  5. Play cards
  6. Work out
  7. Do jigsaw puzzles
  8. Play basketball in Riverside Park
  9. Go for a walk, even around the block
  10. Do a splatter art project (like Jackson Pollock)
  11. Make a collage from magazines
  12. Make a scrapbook page
  13. Talk on the phone to Chicago cousins
  14. Sit on a stoop with a friend
  15. Go to the school yard
  16. Nap
  17. Bake cookies or brownies
  18. Take a bath
  19. Go swimming at the JCC
  20. Redecorate, move furniture around
  21. Practice gymnastics in the field
  22. Read comic books
  23. Make up a dance
  24. Sing
  25. Simply be awesome

Sexy Moms Like Cleopatra

For Mother’s Day, let’s remember Cleopatra who became even more powerful when she had children. It’s a little different today when parenthood enhances a man’s career but detracts from a woman’s.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

When my book club read Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, we were blown away by how Egypt and nearby nations bowed to Cleopatra’s empire-building. She followed in the footsteps of Alexander the Great.

I wished I lived at a time when motherhood was empowering and sexy. It was a part of their religious life. The universe of Ancient Egypt was ruled by sexy goddesses like Isis – earth mother, sensual creature, healing presence, happy lover.

“Motherhood not only enhanced Cleopatra’s authority…but solidified her links with the native priests,” Schiff says.

One problem in the Christian tradition is that our model for motherhood is a passive, ever-suffering, homebound Mary, not an active, sexy, pleasure-seeking adventurer. In the Christian tradition, motherhood does not solidify our spiritual place among the priests.

We need more Isis.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to believe motherhood has made me more powerful and sexy, not submissive and virginal.

Reading Cleopatra reminded me that this time is not the only time. We can find new archetypes from other traditions and times when mothers had power.

And style. Like sometimes I wonder — am I destined to wear stretch waistband pants from Coldwater Creek? No, I can wear sexy togas and jewel-encrusted snake armbands like Cleopatra did.

What am I saying? Tying up a toga is exhausting. Motherhood is exhausting. Most modern mothers are too tired to be sensual and too preoccupied with children to care about empowerment or sexuality.

On that happy note, Happy Mother’s Day! To celebrate, I think I’ll go clean a bathroom. Or maybe I’ll just read a book and fantasize about a time when being a mother imbued an already powerful woman with even more power.