Attention or Power?

About 30 years ago, I was sitting in a class one evening listening to the professor drone on and on and on when suddenly something he said pierced my consciousness like a laser. I had been halfway listening to him and halfway thinking of what lay ahead of me at home.

I had a precious toddler who was fiercely opposed to going to sleep at night. My friends all had children who, according to them, went peacefully to sleep with a good night kiss and a short story. Not Carrie. We had a ritual to end all rituals, and it was growing longer by the night. I read stories, sang songs, took her to the bathroom, read another story, sang another song, kissed her good night, and left the room. It was tough to do walk out because her little arms were always outstretched for me to come back. By the time I made it to the kitchen where there were still dishes to be washed or clothes to be folded, I’d hear her crying. Her dad would say something like, “Let her cry. She’s fine,” and I knew he was right. Still. I couldn’t stand to hear her wails (yes, it got progressively worse), and I’d eventually go back to her room for yet another story or song.

Here’s a parphrase of what this esteemed professor said, words that changed my life:  “Most people, including children, misbehave for a couple of reasons, attention or power. You know it’s an attention issue if it makes you feel a little annoyed or irritated. Attention issues are easy to take care of. Just give the person a little attention. Read her a book, give him a hug, or watch a program with him. On the other hand, power or control issues are different. They make you feel angry and sometimes a little powerless. The other person wants to be the boss, and you want to be the boss too. That can’t happen. What you need to do is withdraw from the conflict. I don’t mean give in because that’d be a lose/win situation. What you say is something like, ‘I’m not going to fight about this (bedtime, home rules, work policies, etc.). This is the way it’s going to be, and that’s it.”

I realize this short discussion is just that: short. It by no means covers all of the complexities of human behavior (or misbehavior). Nor does it address all of the situations in which people can be involved. At the same time, it has helped me in situations too many to recall. 30 years ago this precious toddler was in control, and I was too blind to see it! When she became a beautiful teenager, we’d be embroiled in a shouting match about curfews or grades when it would hit me: She still wants to be the boss. Withdraw from the conflict. Don’t fight about this. Who’s the parent anyway????

Why is this on my mind this morning? Because someone near and dear to me has been involved in an ongoing “power struggle,” and as we talked last night, my lesson from the past came to mind, and I shared it with Elizabeth. Then this morning I came across this passage from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie that is perfect: “Are we somehow trying to control or influence the other person? We cannot change the other person, but we can stop playing our part of the game. One good way to do this is by detaching and letting go of any need to control.”

What about you? Are there scenarios in your life that involve any difficult people? Can you tell whether they are attention or control motives at play? If so, does the above make sense to you and seem like something you could apply in your life? Do you think that giving attention when needed and withdrawing from the conflict when necessary are workable suggestions?

Wedding Weekend

My daughter Elizabeth and I went on a road trip to historic Cartersville, GA this past weekend so that she could be in her college roommate’s wedding. Beth and Jason got married on the grounds of the Sullivan House outside of Marietta on Friday, July 11, and honestly, it was one of the best (beautiful and fun) weddings and rehearsals I’ve ever attended. Yes, I loved my children’s weddings, but I was probably too emotional  to enjoy them as fully and completely as I did this one.


What made it so special? It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing because the music, the ambience, the special mix of people, and the scrumptious food all combined to make this a spectacular event. Everything from the tiny glittering lights to the potato puffs was perfect. And I stole an idea about making palm tree decorations from a potato, a carrot, a green pepper, and toothpicks. Very clever and so cool. And the people? At the moment I’m remembering the couple from PA and the American flag on the man’s lapel. “I always try to find a way to honor the troops,” he said.


As the wedding guests waited for the wedding to begin, we sat beside a huge magnolia tree listening to a gifted harpist. Although she had plenty of competition from the cicadas, birds, and road noise, the harpist managed to create a calm, peaceful ambience. It was hot, sultry even, so we sat and fanned ourselves with some fans that Beth had created for her guests.


As the attendants began the processional, all went according to plan except that one of the four little flower girls seemed reluctant to come down with her sisters. Beth was gorgeous in her exquisite white gown, and I’m still thinking about how pretty the pearls in her blond curly hair looked. Elizabeth was beautiful in her latte colored dress, but then I suppose I’m a bit biased. After the vows were spoken, the young couple poured sand from two separate vases into one, a change from the customary candle lighting.


As I waited with the other guests for the wedding party to cross the lawn to the reception, I assumed this reception would be like countless others I’ve attended: dancing, food, laughter, and words of congratulations. I was right…but I was wrong too because this was a stellar reception. Everyone there danced. Everyone. And yet very few people appeared to be drunk. Beth and Jason had carefully selected just the right music designed to get everyone on the dance floor at least once. The parents danced to John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” and that was sweet. The father/daughter and mother/son songs were perfect as well. The DJ played “Fly me to the Moon” for me, and the four little flower girls danced with what I’d have to describe as wild abandon to that tune.  


Jason’s family made an indelible impression on Elizabeth and me, enough so that I could write about each of them. However, I’m going to stick to Ryan, a recent college grad who’s currently working for a cruise line in Alaska. He came home especially for his brother’s wedding, and as we talked during the weekend events, it became increasingly apparent that this was no ordinary young man. Energetic, fun-loving, and respectful, he was also a good dancer and made everyone feel a little more upbeat.


As we parted company with the Yohe’s, I told Carol, the mother, what a wonderful family she had and that I was glad our paths had crossed. Ryan spoke up and shared his philosophy that as long as he had to be somewhere, he was going to make the best of it and have a good time. Simple idea but a profound one too. Elizabeth and I talked about it off and on the rest of the weekend. As long as you have to go to work, try to make the best of it and have a good time. When you’re in a social setting, do the same. In fact, while here on Earth, make the most of your time here, and LIVE. And while you’re at it, try to make it more enjoyable for others too. Laugh a lot and dance too.


Thanks for the lesson, Ryan…and for the dance lessons too. Move up, move back, right?




Sea Shells by the Seashore

When summer comes, I find myself getting beach fever and can hardly muster the energy and will to go to work. For 28 years, even though I was working about 15 miles from the strand itself, I could “sense” the nearness of the ocean’s roar and the sandy beach with the sea birds standing as sentinels as they looked “as one” at some sight unseen by my human eyes. Now, 130 miles away, it’s not so easy. Sure, the warm wave pools are still there, as are the squealing children, the shell seekers, and the incoming waves. It’s just not the same, though. I need a vacation, a weekend trip to the seashore.


What is the hold that a beach has on me? Whatever it is, I think it casts the same spell on millions of others as well. Last week, I came across a little book entitled Gift from the Sea that I read many years ago when I was a younger mother. There were many passages that spoke to my life and situation at the time, and when I skimmed the book yesterday, I was amazed to see all of the things I had underlined. The passages took me down memory lane as I recalled the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities and “occupations” that I had, most of them centered around the home and family. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author of this timeless volume, remarks that that saints were rarely married women because of the distractions inherent in raising children and running a house. “Human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.”


Although it was written many decades ago, the challenges and issues faced by Lindbergh are the same ones faced by women in today’s crazy, bustling world. In fact, although women in Siberia, Cameroon, or Ceylon might not have her specific set of circumstances, they can still identify with Lindbergh’s ponderings about a woman’s life, her obligations, her relationships, and her needs. She lived in an upscale suburb of Connecticut and was the mother of five children, and yet there’s something in her writing that can touch the souls of women everywhere whether in a grass hut, McMansion, or mountain shack.


The chapters in Gift from the Sea center on Lindbergh’s musings during a two-week vacation at the shore. Leaving husband, children, and house behind, she lives in a bare beach cabin without heat, telephone, plumbing, hot water, rugs, or curtains. Loving her simple beach life, Lindbergh takes a shell at a time and describes it in relation to other things in a woman’s life. For instance, the moon shell reminds her that quiet time, solitude, contemplation, and “something of one’s own” is needed. The double-sunrise represents the pure relationship found in early stages of friendship and marriage, and she reminds the reader that there is no permanent return to an old form of relationship since all are in the process of change. The oyster bed symbolizes the middle years of marriage and family, especially as the home itself grows and expands to accommodate the growing family.


Now in midlife, I can better understand her affinity for all the shells as reminders that each cycle of the wave, the tide, and the relationship is valid. When Lindbergh leaves her seaside home away from home, she sweeps several shells into her pocket to remind her that the sea recedes and returns eternally. The shells serve as her “island eyes” and remind her of lessons learned about solitude, closeness to nature, life of the spirit, and the cycles of human relationships. I probably have a hundred or more shells at home, most of which are on my back porch. Thanks to re-reading this book, now I can better understand their significance and symbolism.


As a P.S., my DH and I are going to Myrtle Beach for a few days during the week of the Fourth. I think he’s planning to play golf, read, and eat shrimp and oystsers. I’m planning to read, walk, relax, and people watch ON THE BEACH. And yes, I have plenty of sunscreen, Doc.

Baby Mama

Yes, “times are achangin” as they say, and yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that the changes are for the better. One such recent change has to do with the relatively blasé attitude of young men and women towards the birth of children. To be a little more specific…towards the birth of children to single mothers. 

This is not a “holier than thou” post but rather one of concern and dismay, concern for the babies and their mamas and dismay that so many beautiful young women continue to find themselves in this situation. While I’m aware that unwedded pregnancies have occurred since the dawn of time, what makes today different is that people are well aware of exactly what causes pregnancy, and they are inundated with information on birth control.


Oh, and the dads aren’t going to get off the hook. I’m equally baffled at the frequency with which these deadbeat dads are so cavalier about their offspring and the women who give them birth. This week Senator Obama had a few choice words to say to these young men about taking their responsibilities more seriously. I mean, good grief, these are children, children who need plenty of TLC, not to mention milk, nourishing food, clothing, shelter…you know, the basics.


It’s heartbreaking to realize that one in six children lives in poverty. After all, what kinds of jobs are out there for women with little or no education, many of them teens? Even if Mama does find a job, who will watch the children while she’s out earning money for the basics? And then what happens when she gets sick, or worse, when the baby gets sick? Who will pay for the doctor visits and the medicine?


This topic is controversial and far too complex for someone like me to even begin to resolve. All I know is that babies need a love AND a whole lot more, and I’m not so sure that many young parents fully realize this. Nor do they realize the everlasting ramifications of having a baby. Even in the best of situations, raising children is taxing, extremely rewarding but also difficult. How can a young single uneducated mother do it  alone?


You might be wondering what led to this scathing (?) post. Observation, reading, teaching, and a growing anxiety for the next generation are part of it. Senator Obama’s call to action let me know that I’m not the only person who sees and ponders this problem. And finally, there was this term from that I read the other day. The tone is lighthearted, but the truth behind it is piercingly painful.


The word for June 13 is baby mama

The mother of your child(ren), whom you did not marry and with whom you are not currently involved.

Oh her? She ain’t nothing to me now, girl, she just my baby mama. So, can I get your number?

Ladies, wake up. You and your children deserve the best that life and love have to offer.

Jeanita and Joan Ella

There’s so much I could write about! Truly, my mind is filled with topics and ideas, and if only I didn’t have to work every day and take care of a myriad of other daily living issues I’d be freer to write about them all. I keep thinking that one day when I retire, I’m going to live an ideal existence in which I divide my time between reading, writing, visiting my grandchildren, and watching Law and Order. Until that time, I’ll continue posting a little bit now and then and working on my other “projects” as time allows.

This afternoon the most important thing I have on my mind is the importance of friends. I came to this area about six years ago after living on the coast of SC for 28 years, and I DID NOT want to leave the shore. I absolutely loved everything about it from the roar of the ocean and the sea birds to the tourists (yes, even them) and the tacky beachwear stores.  Still, when the time came for me to leave, I did and am trying not to be like Lot’s wife.  

During the last week, I’ve realized just how many people I’ve met who have enriched my life greatly. The first moment of awareness came when the Relief Society president in our ward sent an email to the women in our church who had email addresses, and I was astounded at the number of names that I recognized, names that meant nothing to me six years ago. Now I know names, faces, quirks, talents, decorating styles, and dreams of most of them. Some I know more intimately and we share ideas, concerns, encouragement, and support. Connie and I are going for a walk tonight, and I’m so looking forward to hearing all about the recent retreat she attended.

I belong to two book clubs, one church related and the other work related, and through those associations, I’ve gotten to know people from all walks of life on different levels. Then there are my work mates, my colleagues like Martha, Lisa, Carol, Jim, Mark, and Myles and too many others to list. Six years ago I was whining about leaving Ella and June; now I still have them AND all these other wonderful people. Recently, my son got married in Myrtle Beach, thus giving me the opportunity to see the faces of these dear friends of yesteryear.

Speaking of treasured friends from the past, last week a chum from childhood lost her father, and as Jeanita and Joan Ella and I got together to discuss our lives, families, and careers, it was as if we had just seen each other the week before.  We realized once again the importance of “relationship maintenance” and are planning a November trip to NYC. November 20, right Ladies? Lest I forget, I’ve met dozens of blogging buddies from all over the United States (and maybe other countries), and all have added flavor and zest to my life. Hayden rocks!  And how can I forget the hundreds (thousands) of students I’ve met in the past six years?

All of this makes me wonder how many more people out there are potential friends. I’ve heard that there are no uninteresting people, just uninterested ones, and I think that’s true.