Teaching Children Responsibility

Six years ago, I borrowed a book from my daughters’ preschool. The book was called Teaching Your Children Responsibility. I don’t remember any advice from the book. All I know is that I never returned the book to the preschool lending library.

I have felt guilty about not returning that book for six years. I try to model responsibility and consistency. Sometimes I model guilt and blame.

For the mess in our apartment I like to blame my husband Chris and his Parkinson’s Disease and my children who have no good excuse. And of course I blame myself because I don’t discipline them enough and I would rather write before work and play tennis after work than clean and do laundry. I would rather go out to Happy Hour with my work peeps than make a family dinner. How often have I said, “Let’s order Chinese food again, kids”?

I may be irresponsible but I am happy. I may be guilty but I am keeping the Cottage, the best Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side in business.

I may be messy, but I am creative. This is what I tell myself. In our country house there is a magnet on the fridge. It says, “A creative mind is seldom tidy.” So true.

This jibes with my Rule Number 5: Expect the best, love what you get. Even from yourself.

Someday I’ll return that library book. Until then, I’ll try loving myself.

Volunteering at the Shelter

Last night I volunteered at the women’s shelter at St. Paul and St. Andrew’s. I sat around with six volunteers and my family of five (whom I’d made come to drop off the homemade cookies). My husband and son cut out as soon as we finished our job of setting the table with plasticware and my son was assured he’d get community service credit for the help.

The girls wanted to leave too, but I told them, “Stay until the women arrive.”

I was sitting by the door when the six or so women arrived. I jumped to my feet and greeted them. “Hi! Welcome! Good to see you!”

One women looked confused and indignant, “Do I know you?”

“No,” I said. “I’m just being friendly.” I was embarrassed. Behind the woman’s back, one of my daughters, C., lifted her eyebrows at me protectively. I rolled my eyes, shrugged. Maybe, at times, I can be too friendly. Maybe she didn’t want friendliness, she just came for dinner and shelter. I didn’t mind.

I chatted with a woman who sat beside us. I complimented her on her camouflage-patterned rubber rain boots. We chatted about the ease of slipping on rain boots and all the pretty patterns they come in nowadays. One of my daughters has a pretty pair.

The food was ready and one of the volunteers suggested, “Please help yourself.”

I suggested, “How about a quick grace first?” Then I asked my boot-wearing friend to lead us in prayer. She stood up in the center of the room and blessed the food. I think that’s what she did, I couldn’t hear her too well and she mumbled. It was a short prayer and heartfelt — my favorite kinds.

The girls and I left before dinner. As we said good bye, the Do-I-know-you-woman gave me and the girls a big smile — a huge silly giggly smile — like a kid who’s made a new best friend. We smiled equally wide back at her.

I said good bye to another woman one who was smoking on the front steps. “I’ll come right in after I finish this cigarette,” she said. “Thanks for volunteering.”

“No problem,” I said. And for some reason, she reminded me of my mother. We hopped in a cab and came home.

I don’t know which of my rules this experience relates to. Maybe to the rule about Expect the Best, Love What you Bet. Even from your overly friendly self.

Rule #5 Expect the Best, Love What You Get

I was inspired by “A Complaint Free World” by Will Bowen. So for a while, I gave up complaining. It was difficult. I felt like a Pollyanna, nodding politely while people complained about work, the weather, or their commute. I said nothing in return.

I do think complaining begets complaining. No one like a complainer. (And I tell my kids this, but it doesn’t stop them! Wait! I don’t want to start complaining about their complaining.)

In our Leadership Academy, last weekend, I discovered one of my strengths was labeled positivity. I felt negative about my positivity. Especially at work I have felt that coworkers believe me to be intellectually lightweight because I am optimistic and affirming.

At times in life it takes more intellectual energy to remain positive than to give in to a world of complaint. I have plenty to complain about. Believe me! I could start with the weather. It’s pouring snow again tonite. I just heard thunder!

But really, I’m sure someone (me?) can find something good in another snowstorm. I have to believe that Spring will arrive eventually. The hardships we now experience will seem distant.

The other morning I woke the kids, made them breakfast, got myself ready, got the kids out the door. I realized, too late, one of the girls had left her homework on the kitchen table. I ran for three blocks to the block right before school. I handed her the half-finished homework. She hugged me.

I saw a friend on the street. I was panting for breath, shaking my head. “Someday, we’ll look back and wonder how we did it all,” I said.

“Someday we won’t have to do it all,” she said, catching up with her kids in front of her.

And probably we’ll miss it.