Are automatic responses just faulty learning?

So, we’re doing something right.  The almost 7 year old brought home a glowing grade 1 report card – such an amazing achievement and yet, we’re only at the beginning…

We spend about 16 to 20 years in school:  2 years of kindergarten, 5 years of elementary school, 3 years of middle school, 4 years of high school, then onto college or university.  And sometimes that’s not enough to land the job of your dreams so it’s back to school for a graduate degree…or maybe even a PhD…or two.  Either way, school provides the opportunity to get the learning required for the career / job of choice (or at least the creds to get your foot in the door!)

What comes into play when you haven’t got the training or experience?  Is it instinct?  Is it upbringing?  Genetics?  Exposure?  Or is it “immersion”…

Lessons for work:

  • Doesn’t matter how skinny they make my legs look… maybe I shouldn’t have worn my 6 inch platform sandals to work…on a Tuesday…or ever!
  • Note to self: do not declare, “Kamikaze shooters for everyone!!!” at the company sponsored social…again….while standing right next to the president….ooops.
  • A closed door does NOT equal privacy when having a fight over the telephone with your best friend / mom / husband / whoever!  Even if the doors are heavy, the walls are paper thin.
  • The “third stall” is not only for times when your insides are protesting but also a sanctuary for when you don’t want anyone to see you cry because your boss yelled at you  or because you just got put on a file that has you working in the remote corners of the country just weeks before you get married / etc.  No one will bother you there.

Lessons for marriage:

  • Signing a piece of paper does not mean that my significant other now needs to check in with me for every, single decision / outing / etc…call off the private investigators!
  • Stressing over the perfect formal dining room suite just two months after getting married – particularly when living in a tiny downtown condo with no dining room –is time wasted that we’ll never get back.
  • Going to bed angry sometimes IS the thing to do…the walls in condos are similar to those at the office.

Lessons for when you first have kids:

  • The term, “sleep like a baby” is a twisted joke.
  • That labor is the hard part is also a joke.
  • Trying to decipher the difference in baby cries is also time that I’ll never, EVER, get back…should’ve skipped straight to:  it’s gas / they’re hungry / it’s gas / they’re overstimulated / it’s gas / they’re tired / it’s gas!!!
  • One chocolate / candy / toy / book / TV show / etc. is never enough…be prepared with more…and more…and more!

What if your “learning” has resulted in “automatic responses”…and what if they’re really far off base?  Like faulty perspective that distorts reality…

Besides escaping with chic-lit books, I spend a lot of time in the realm of fantasy:  from the Hobbit to Twilight and Harry Potter and more recently, Vampire Diaries.  I often fantasize about being thrust into a quest to save the world that’s fraught with clashes of good and evil.

Late last night, I was walking to the subway station after leaving the office through a very well lit and deserted shopping concourse in the financial district downtown, and I scared myself into thinking that something was waiting to jump out from behind a trash can or pillar and attack me!  My guard was up and adrenaline was coursing through my veins.  It didn’t help that all of a sudden I started to hear clicking heels behind me.  Don’t turn around!   Is it a mugger?  Do I fit the victim profile?

All I can think of is, will I ever see my kids again?  Or my husband (aka the level-headed Mr. Niceguy)?  Why did I have to go and pick a fight with him?  Quickening my pace I make it safely to the subway platform and when it pulls in, I jump on and find a seat.  I’ve lucked out…there’s a lady doing something on her phone…a guy a few seats down sipping some 7Up…everything seems normal…but wait…who’s THAT guy?  And why is he staring back at me?  Oh my goodness…he seems quite pale…is he a vampire?  A death eater?  Serial killer?  Stop staring!  I can’t!  I want to stare my murderer down so he can regret the day he was born!  I will not be made into a jacket, thank you very much…even if I’ve gotten a little rounder!

Get into position…back against wall of subway…that’s right, I’m ready for anything.  I’ve watched enough Kung Fu (Panda) to know what to do…HI-YA!

Finally.  My stop.  Exhale….relief…..  Can’t wait to get home and give my honey a squeeze…but wait!  The vampire / death eater / serial killer is also getting up.  Oh no!  Did he catch those evil looks I was giving him?  Have I angered him?  I didn’t mean to…I’m like a Chihuahua and don’t know my own size!  Sorry!  I swear I have no control over my facial expressions and Mr. Niceguy is always telling me to stop staring!  He says I have a staring problem that most toddlers grow out of.  Dammit…he was right again!

Inhale!  Quick!  Run up the escalator, then up the next one too and out the doors…I’m outside, phew!  I’m catching my breath now and turn around.  Oh my gosh.  He’s right there.  Staring at me.  Why is he looking at me like that?  Hey!  I’m not some kind of weirdo or a pity case?  Either way, you’re wrong!  Just a second!  Pffft…

And before I know it, to my surprise…he’s walked on by…hmmm…lesson learned.

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Disco and dads…a tribute to Fathers Day

Long commutes don’t make for happy commuters, however, when my long commute is accompanied by disco backbeats, it’s a groovy ride.  Lately there seems to be a disco revival on the airwaves with songs like Daft Punk’s Get Lucky and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.  To me, disco is the epitome of dance music – from Donna Summer, to Gloria Gaynor, the Bee Gees and everything else in between, disco makes me wanna shake my groove thang, baby!

I also really love the look of disco:  big hair and hoop earrings, sequin crop tops, bell bottom jeans and metallic strappy sandals.  Fun, flirty, FOXY!!  So as I start daydreaming about what outfit to wear for my debut on Soul Train, I also begin reminiscing about my childhood during the disco era…

My dad introduced me to disco while we lived in Saudi Arabia – parties and social events among the ex-pats took centre stage in a country where non-residents had to live by a different set of rules.  He bought my sister and I disco medley eight-tracks and cassettes which we would listen to seated across the front row of our very large Buick Park Avenue (no seatbelts) on our way to go rock climbing on the hills just outside Taif or swimming in the Red Sea.  To us, my dad was Superman…he spent countless hours playing with us, taking us on adventures and teaching us things, without ever exhibiting any weakness…there was nothing he couldn’t do!

What was his kryptonite?

After a pretty hectic couple of weeks at work, when my husband complained that he was “coming down with something” and had general aches and pains, I knew it was time to brace myself… while most men are extremely capable and have strong conviction (stubbornness), they are no match for the common cold.

Typical stages are as follow:

Stage 1:  Subject pouts and is generally grouchy.  Higher than normal level of stonewalling when asked if something is the matter.

Stage 2:  Levels of grouchiness now complimented by grumpiness.  Subject declares that they are not feeling 100%.

Stage 3:  Subject has succumbed and is now staying home from work and cancelling all other commitments.  Although still grouchy, subject appears almost sad and defeated and now, really looking the part wearing the “I’m not 100% uniform” consisting of old sweats which have been worn for at least 48 hours straight.  The beard/facial hair is coming in, hair is greasy, and there’s a general mustiness wafting from the couch (aka the “day bed” or the convalescing spot in front of the TV).  This stage is further characterized with random balls of scrunched up (blech…used) Kleenex and empty chip bags all over the house (including in our bed), as well as multiple sachets of chicken noodle soup and used teabags in the disaster zone formerly known as the kitchen.  The subject’s cold has taken over!

Stage 4:  Subject’s significant other begins to come undone…nothing is where it should be, there is one more person to pick up after, and I am running constant interference between the children and the patient!  I am getting totally overwhelmed…and no longer looking “100%”.

As an aside, I came across the term “man cold” from Urban Dictionary:

The name ‘man cold’ disguises the true terrible, debilitating disease…nearly all men will die from …unless they are administered immediately with large amounts of mindless TV such as daytime TV, or childrens’ cartoons…essential that they not move from bed or a comfy sofa to allow for rehabilitation, and must have tissues and man cold medicine…brought to them constantly by a nearby female.

***I will preface here that although my husband does not expect any of these things, he will not accept ANY help. No advice on how to be more comfortable, and certainly, no comments on his improvement….why????  Lest I jinx it???!! 

I will further preface that even if I have a cold to end all colds (you know the ones with puffers and antibiotics, excruciating headaches, bouts of hot flashes and chills, and a pitstop at the bathroom every 15 minutes) I still make myself go to work, get food out on the table, do homework and read a bedtime story (well…maybe not that last bit…)

Stage 5:  Subject feels better.  There is a grand public announcement of improvement and survival of the great adversity.  Subject struts around like a superhero that has vanquished his evil foe.  Significant other raises a white flag to exhaustion…but wait!

Although it appeared as though things were finally back in balance, I made the mistake of declaring that I desperately needed to take a break.  Not five minutes later I was asked to fetch a glass of water no less than four times, asked where a particular lego character was (recall: the man cold has turned my house into a warzone and lego characters ARE TINY!!), whether I wanted to play baseball in the backyard, what we were having for dinner, and so on…

Stage 6:  Nuclear stage.  I lose it…but things aren’t at radiation levels quite yet…not until I’m diagnosed by my husband while he now runs interference on his way out to start the festivities with our two boys that hmmm…perhaps I’m not behaving normally.  Perhaps something is up with me.

And just as I’m about to follow him outside and use my incinerating heat vision, a disco melody starts to play in the background, and I remember my groove…I Will Survive.  I look outside, and I see him running around the backyard at 100% with my boys who have looks of excitement, awe and admiration, and I get it.  That although my boys are probably doomed to put their future significant others through the same cycle, like their father, and like my father, their kids will be their only kryptonite.

Casting stones from glass houses…

This next piece is dedicated to a very talented graphic designer, Sho Demirjian, at Blue Mango Graphic Solutions.  Collaborating with her has resulted in this fantastic image which I think really encapsulates the “magic”…  Thank you.

Let me start by saying…I haven’t fallen off the 30-day challenge wagon!  130 squats, 80 crunches and a plank held for 140 seconds and I’m not feeling squished in my jeans…on my way to bikini beach ready!  Things really seem to be going my way…

But no.  Massive signal problems for the subway so once again I squish my way onto the train.

Generally speaking, I like to mind my own business on public transportation…you never know who (or what) you may encounter – I have been shouted at, shoved, knocked over, asked what planet I was from, and run into all sorts of other people I “should” remember.  So this particular morning, I have my nose buried in my latest favourite book (Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella – I just can’t put this down!!) when I overhear a conversation:

“Oh hi Cindy?  Cindy, it’s Mike.  Cindy, I’m on the subway.  I’m just at Eglinton Station.  There are signal problems on the Yonge-University-Spadina line and so I’m definitely going to be late.  I guess I’ll just miss the meeting and catch up with everyone later.”  Only, we weren’t at Eglinton Station…we were much farther along.

This man, this “Mike”, had lied and I thought, wow, what a dishonest individual…how shameful.  And he didn’t even care that everyone else around him had heard his lie – we had all become his accomplices!  And for some reason, I felt horrible for this poor Cindy especially when, no exaggeration, two stops later, he made the call again and once more lied about his location.

I was thrilled when the train finally arrived at my destination and I jumped off…

LUNCHTIME!!!  Standing in line, waiting to order a sandwich and two I-bank types (you know these guys…über confident wearing the most fashionable Strellson and Brooks Brothers suits with great hair and abnormally white teeth) just stood in the middle of a very busy food court and like peacocks who fan their feathers to intimidate and attract at the same time, start talking in very loud, booming voices about what they feel like eating, the people they know, the weekends they had, and so on, and so on, and so on – each was trying to one-up the other.  They’re attracting a lot of attention.  Oh brother.  It’s like watching Thor and Superman posture for the title of Greatest Superhero of Bay Street.  Only the gig is up – they’re neither!  Please.  Besides, I’m a fan of Spiderman…Peter Parker is ever so sweet and humble – and I can totally relate his spidey senses…a combination of female intuition and my “mom radar”!

Work complete…rush home…prepare dinner for out of town guests…can’t wait!  But…what’s this???!!  While sweeping the front steps, I witness a neighbour from around the corner leaving a little “gift” from his dog in my garden refuse bag…  I mean, I’m glad he didn’t leave it on the street, but to deposit your pet’s excrement in someone else’s garbage WHILE THEY ARE OUTSIDE AND IN YOUR FULL PURVIEW???!!!  Is there NO shame??  It’s not like it’s an empty coffee cup!

We’ve all been there, right?  We’ve all exaggerated or told a little white lie to get out of something?  We’ve all puffed out our chests and pretended to be more than what we are, no?  And certainly, we’ve all done something we knew we probably shouldn’t, but did it anyway for one reason or another. But how much thought have we given to what other people may think?  Should we not be more concerned with the impression we leave?  Should we not be more concerned with their judgement?

I continued to think of this the next day…en route to dropping my kids off at school.  When, to our surprise, we arrived at the school, which due to an unforeseen power outage, was closed.  So, doing what any other resourceful woman would do, I took them to work with me…downtown…on Bay Street…in an office full mostly of male accountants and finance types.  Not exactly a daycare.

A little background as I haven’t spoken too much about my work – I am a financier (aka financial advisor).  I build financial models, write business plans, develop financial strategy, and negotiate multi-million dollars in long-term debt using forward interest rate swaps, among other things. And on this particular Friday, I was hip deep in a particular transaction.  And I brought the almost 7 year old and 3 year old to work.  Without any preparation:  no diapers, no snacks, no colouring books, no iPad!!  And here’s what happened…

They tore through the hallways like it was a private racetrack…

They did NOT use their indoor voices…

They ran through nearly 100 sheets of paper and drew all over my desk and nearly my walls…

They raided the supply cabinet (I should’ve expected that one)…

They emptied out my goody drawer (emergency stash of chocolate and candy for late nights and complex model building fuel)…

They had aromatic bodily functions…

And worst of all, they started World War III while I was on a conference call…with my boss… and I couldn’t reach the mute button as they were precariously balancing on a swivel chair each trying to push the other off while drawing all over my white board!!  Oh, and did I mention?  My office is TINY and has a glass wall…it’s actually called a “fishbowl” office.  WE WERE ON TOTAL DISPLAY.

I was absolutely mortified.  Horrified.  I had done such a good job separating my personal and career life.  Though I have often spoken of my funny and crazy boys (not crazy insane, but crazy cute, or kooky) all I could think was what impression I was now leaving others with:

Wow…poor woman…those two are just insane…

Oh, another woman trying to climb the corporate ladder and have a home life…there’s a “balancing act” gone totally out of whack…

She really should do a better job controlling those kids…

Thank goodness I don’t have kids yet…

Oh brother.  I can’t tell you how fast I loaded up all the files I needed on my laptop and got the @#% out of there!  And as if that wasn’t enough…the shenanigans continued all the way to the car and that’s when I totally lost my marbles.  In the middle of the financial district I absolutely lost my mind and just let out all of the morning’s frustrations.  I did NOT care how I looked.  I did NOT care what people thought.  I did NOT care that I was now a spectacle.

And you know what?  Doing what I needed to do…what I wanted to do…well, it felt damn good.

Good intentions…

It’s still spring and I am full of good intentions – to get outside more, to garden more, to exercise more and top of my list this year?  To make better, healthier food choices.  But most of my good intentions tend to take me down paths I wish I never traveled…

On a good day, I’m pretty obsessive.  On a bad day, I’m an obsessive compulsive!  Over the long weekend, the family and I decided to try out a new grocery store that opened up quite a distance away – see, I’m a closet foodie wannabe and was ecstatic about getting my hands on more Lebanese goodies.  I went from counter to counter:  deli, meats, prepared foods and my favourite, NUTS.

In an attempt to make better, healthier food choices, I have decided to cut down on the amount of processed foods I consume – save except for diet coke and Splenda in my lattes.  I have also decided to not eat chips – potato chips only as I could not do without my pita chips or Tostitos (besides they’re not as high fat!)  So, naturally, I would buy a bag of yummy peanuts.  Much healthier than chips and packed with protein!  Hooray!

That was how it all started…

Once again I had been running around all morning and hadn’t had a proper meal.  So when my three year old went down for his nap, I put on a previously taped episode of Bold and the Beautiful and tucked in.  Half a bag of peanuts and some ketchup chips later (sue me, it was long weekend), I found I had horrible cramping and spasms and my stomach had ballooned out to at least double in size…I looked four (ok, maybe five) months pregnant!  And very, very sad.  When I googled, “stomach pain after eating too many peanuts” I got:  aerophagia.  A condition when you eat something too fast and swallow air.  So what?  Now I was full of peanuts, ketchup chips and air???

It’s about two hours later and I’ve turned every shade of green.  Before I know it, I’m hugging porcelain and my boys are wondering how come I haven’t started reading them a bedtime story.  And all I could think of was:  Who’s going to hold my hair???

Days gone by I remember some wild nights with my BFFs: the one who would always get lucky and have a swarm of guys surrounding her like satellites, the one who would always play mother hen and do the driving, the one who would always wind up on stage dancing, and the one who would need her hair held back while she blew chunks and cursed the gods for once again, allowing her to cross the line.  Ahhhh…the good days.  I won’t say which one I was because truth be told, I’ve been them all!

In any case, after about 20 or so minutes, the entire episode behind me, I still managed to get in a goodnight story x 2 and feeling somewhat unsteady, made my way to bed.  And as I lie down I ponder three things:  (1) I hope the image of the weird looking excrement (I’ll spare you the graphic details) will be forgotten soon (2) after an excruciating 20 minutes with the porcelain my stomach is still “out” and (3) how soon can I have peanuts again?  I mean, it feels like the punishment doesn’t fit the crime!  At the very least, after all that, I should have been rewarded with some washboard abs!

After tossing and turning all night long, I wake up to some pretty serious pelvic pain…what could it possibly be?  Not one more complication, please!  I’ve dealt with two spring colds, one round of nasty antibiotics, a pulled QL (or some other combo of letters) muscle which I didn’t even know I had, and now something else??!!  I try to massage the area and eeeeeww!!!!   What IS THAT??!!!  I have a lump that is so painful to the touch that I just might die!  I show my husband and though he’s saying, “Oh, it’s probably nothing.  Don’t worry about it…”  I know he’s thinking, “Whoah!  Uh…that’s f-in weird.”  I’m lopsided.

How did an attempt to be more healthy turn into this?  How did my good intentions lead me so far astray?

A trip to my chiropractor confirms, that it is not a tumour and I won’t die in the next 24 hours (thank God because I wasn’t sure if I had cleaned my closet and I didn’t have time to take a shower and put on my good underwear).  It turns out that I have torn some ligament – that thanks to the repercussions of too many peanuts and ketchup chips, a fibre or something has ripped away from bone and is now totally irritated and swollen.  So with no pills to take and no quick fix I ask her (literally with watery eyes): “Will I be lopsided forever???!!”

All I can think is how erratic I’ve been and how I’ve lacked any sense of being responsible.  I would never have let either of my two sons chow down on half a bag of peanuts, let alone wash it down with ketchup chips.  And in what universe would someone equate indulging in all those peanuts with a healthy choice??!!!  I’ll tell you…sadly, in my universe – the one where half the time I can’t tell if I’m coming or going, I forget important playdates and deadlines, and have no time for just me.

But it’s all wrong.  I need to buck up, wise up, and learn that what may have worked in my twenties, just wasn’t going to cut it anymore!  That now I am a responsible woman, thank you very much, and that I can do this!!  I can be a model citizen (lopsided or not) to my kids, my peers and my friends!  In fact, I can be a model citizen for all the land!!

About a week has passed since this fiasco and I’m happy to report that I have healed.  I am no longer lopsided and all other “battle scars” of the event, including a very bruised psyche, have disappeared.  I actually did manage to have a couple of peanuts in a trail mix without even realizing it – I felt very good about that.  I’ve also managed to do a better job of reminding myself of important dates and deadlines.  I am definitely on the right path to becoming a better role model.  And my BFFs – the ones, who would hold my hair, hop up on stage with me, mother hen me and chase away the nasty satellites – suggested we all start a 30 day squat and crunch challenge to get back on track…that will surely be the best remedy of all.