The Rockwood Files: No mood for rude

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

People are rude.

Not all people. And definitely not you. (My research has shown that the people who regularly read this column are not only kind but are also much smarter than the average bear. Congratulations.)

But some people – and you’ve no doubt met many of them – are just plain rude. It isn’t a new realization and yet, when I come across blatant rudeness, I’m still astonished every single time.

We could “why” this situation all day long and sometimes I do. Did their mamas not raise them right? Were their mamas rude? Do they have some kind of personality disorder that predisposes them to rudeness? Are their shoes too tight? There are a million possibilities.

No matter what the explanation, there’s never an excuse for being rude. There just isn’t.

grinch2But since being on the receiving end of rudeness seems inevitable, the big question is “What should we do about it?”

That’s what I struggle with most. Let me give you an example. My mother, who is the polar opposite of rude, once worked with a person who cruised right past rude and didn’t stop until she hit the exit for “hateful.” This lady made the Grinch look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. She was mean-spirited in nearly all her interactions – a school-yard bully in a grown-up workplace. Mom was her favorite target.

(Obviously, I’m biased in this situation. She is my mama, after all. But hundreds of friends, co-workers, church members and acquaintances spread out over more than 60 years cannot all be wrong. All of them would tell you that Mom is like Mrs. Butterworth. She just wants to feed you pancakes and love you – in that order.)

So back to the big question of what to do when someone is rude. The angel on my shoulder agrees with Mom when she says we should pray for rude people. In my heart, I know that’s right. But sometimes, especially when I’m lying in bed at night trying to pray, the devil on my other shoulder starts helping me craft the exact thing I would say to this person if I got the chance. Do you ever do that?

These middle-of-the-night internal monologues are beautifully constructed and delivered with real zing – the perfect mixture of “how dare you” blended with in-your-face truth. But then I wake up the next morning knowing I’ll likely never deliver those stinging words, and I wonder if I’ll ever learn how to stop wanting to spew them at people like the one who was mean to Mom.

The good news here is that prayers were answered. Although Mrs. Rude never changed her hateful ways, she did move away. Mom managed to wish her well as she left. (I wanted to stand by the highway as she drove out of town with a big sign that said “And don’t come back!” But Mom said that would be rude, so I didn’t.)

One thing I’m slowly accepting is that those clever comebacks I’m tempted to say when people are rude won’t solve the problem (although I imagine it would feel awesome to say it.) It wouldn’t make a light bulb go off over that person’s head. It wouldn’t make their heart grow three sizes. And they might never feel bad about what they’ve done, the same way a scorpion doesn’t regret its sting. Perhaps it’s just who they are.

Maybe that’s exactly the reason we should pity and pray for those for whom rudeness comes so easily – because they’re the dark part of everyone’s day and they either don’t know or don’t care or both. What a terrible life sentence to live.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Calendar entries don’t lie

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I typed the appointment time into my smartphone calendar app and then frowned down at the glowing screen. I was beginning to see a pattern, and I didn’t like it.

calendar app iconThursday: Oral surgery to have wisdom teeth removed

Next Tuesday: Mammogram

Third Thursday: Eye exam

Fourth Friday: Annual physical

Next month: Teeth cleaning

Lately it feels like I’m always scheduling another doctor’s appointment. When I factor in regular checkups for our three kids PLUS the appointments with my hair stylist who expertly covers these pesky gray hairs that keep popping up, I’m realizing that a big chunk of my life is spent in appointments.

Sometimes I see someone out in public and instantly recognize the face but can’t think of the name, and then I realize she’s one of the many nurses or receptionists I see when I go to yet another doctor’s appointment.

I hate to admit it but all these calendar entries don’t lie. More and more, it’s taking a significant number of trained professionals to keep this middle-aged body ticking along at top speed.

When did this happen? Back in college, I could get by on a sporadic diet of chili dogs and Cap’n Crunch cereal and only occasionally need a doctor during those rare times when I might develop a sinus infection.

Those days, sadly, are over.

The only thing that makes this situation easier is the fact that I’m not alone. My husband has had more doctor appointments than I can count lately, trying to get his prescription for bifocals just right. Bifocals! Aren’t we too young for those?

And yesterday I had a phone conversation with a dear friend who told me she has finally scheduled a date for surgery to correct her gum recession. I pounced on this news, eager for more information:

“So you’re doing it? My dentist wants me to have that done, too. Who’s going to do your surgery? Do you like him?”

“Yes, I had the consultation and he says I’m a good candidate for the surgery and really need to have it done.”

“Well maybe I’ll wait until after your surgery and if you like how it goes, then I’ll schedule my surgery with the same doctor. I want to hear everything about it, okay?”

“If I can still move my mouth, I’ll give you the details.”

After I hung up, I remembered back to a time when my girlfriends and I used to talk about boyfriends and what we were planning to wear when we went out on a Saturday night. Now we talk about receding gums, and we trade names of gifted oral surgeons. We compare co-pays on insurance plans. We swap tips about vitamin deficiencies.

Middle age brought with it a batch of subjects I never wanted to know this much about, yet here we are, spending more time on WebMD than we do on Facebook.

The good news is that, despite all the doctor appointments, I’m healthy and so is my bi-focal wearing husband. We’re the lucky ones. If we get regular checkups and medical screenings, I pray that we’ll stay that way. And I’m grateful we have good doctors who take excellent care of us when we do find ourselves in their offices.

But every now and then, it would be nice to feel like I did when I was in my twenties, when the only appointment on my agenda was with a chili dog and a late night bowl of Cap’n Crunch.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Welcome back, Summer!

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Oh Summer, where have you been? There were moments during this winter’s bitter chills and this spring’s rainy season when I thought you might never show up. The days dragged on and we saw only a glimpse of sun here and there, just enough to keep us hoping that maybe one day you’d show up to stay. Today seems to be that day.

rp_sunshine-300x300.jpgIt’s only mid-morning but we’ve already got bright sunshine and a picture-perfect 75 degrees with a slight breeze. It feels as though Mother Nature has handed us a bottle of all-natural antidepressants and said, “Here you go. You were starting to look kind of gloomy under all those clouds and umbrellas. This should perk you right up.”

For the first time in months, I feel the undeniable joy of summer break. The kids are feeling it, too. This past Monday, they woke up late with absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to do. They wandered downstairs for a late breakfast and announced their intention to stay in pajamas until after lunch, at which time they might decide to change into bathing suits for a dip in the pool. I agreed it was the perfect agenda for the first day of summer break.

There are lots of families who pack as much as possible into their summer breaks – determined to check off as many adventures as they can. While I respect their enthusiasm and energy, I have the opposite philosophy. For our family, summer is cruise control. We have an almost allergic reaction to summer time commitments and appointments. What we want and need most is a break from the punishing pace of the school year – a chance to recoup and regroup before another frenetic fall begins.

So our summer to-do list looks something like this: Sleep. Lounge around the house. Hang out with friends. Read, preferably in a chair by the pool. Swim. Float. Slide. Shoot hoops in the driveway. Watch movies. Play games. Learn something fun. Make stuff. Play miniature golf. Eat snow cones. (And then we just rinse and repeat.)

Of course, Tom and I still have to fit full-time jobs into our daily schedules but I’m hoping that a laid-back summer mindset will help even those responsibilities feel more fun.

Lately so much of life feels like one big push. As soon as we clear one hurdle, another one appears in the distance, demanding another big push of energy and focus. So for the next 10 weeks or so, I’m determined to just “shake out the muscles” and walk the track. No one can sprint forever.

Slowing down, even in celebration of summer, is tough in today’s “do more, don’t stop” lifestyle. We worry that a lack of busyness might look more like laziness, and “wasting time” feels wrong when there’s so much that can be done. But there’s a difference between laziness and rest. The former is indulgent but the latter is downright necessary.

Scientist John Lubbock, who wrote a book called “The Use of Life” in the late 1800s, said it this way: “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

So welcome back, Summer. Come right in and bring your long afternoons, summer tomatoes, fireworks, ballgames and evenings spent in lawn chairs in the backyard. We’ve missed you, and we intend to savor every moment we have while you’re here.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Social media versus the awkward phase

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Like many kids, I went through an “awkward stage.” A long one. Some days, I’m not even sure it has ended yet.

It was particularly bad in the fifth and sixth grades, when I decided a colored piece of yarn tied in a loopy bow might make for a good headband. It didn’t. Beyond that, I wore purplish blue glasses on a pale, freckly face. And I was skinny to the point of being gangly.

When I was old enough to start wearing makeup, it was the mid-eighties and we all thought blue eye shadow was a gift from the cosmetic gods. So I layered on tons of it until it looked like I had a blue shimmery dolphin arcing over each eye. Neon socks were “in” and self-tanning products had just hit the market and were turning me and the other pale girls an unfortunate shade of dark orange. Let’s just say the modeling scouts for Seventeen magazine were not knocking down my door.

But that was okay because I wasn’t the first, the last or the only kid to endure an awkward phase. Things got better after a period of trial and error.

What I’m realizing now is that I was one of the lucky ones because I got to struggle through my awkward phase in relative anonymity. Other than a few school pictures and birthday snapshots, the awkward phase went mostly undocumented.

But today’s kids don’t have the luxury of flying under the radar until they start to feel more comfortable in their own skin. And I wonder if, now that we live in a time when everyday moments get captured, uploaded and shared in an endless stream of photos, is there any room left for an awkward phase?

I can’t imagine how tough it must be to get through that self-conscious time of life when you’re surrounded by a sea of unforgiving camera phones. A not-so-flattering photo can be snapped and shared in a matter of minutes. And the person who shares it can post an unkind caption that easily eviscerates an already fragile self-image.

instagram logoWhile teenagers have become masters at adding filters to photos, they’re not always so good at filtering the comments they post about their peers, and some of it is downright cruel.

Sometimes girls, in particular, feel like their worth can be measured by the number of positive reactions they get on Instagram. Their self-esteem lives and dies by the “like.”

I recently read an article written by psychologist Dr. Jill Weber for the Huffington Post that talked about the impact social media often has on girls. This line, which points out just how easy it is to play the comparison game, jumped out at me as not only true but scary: “Negatively comparing herself to others on social media sites increases a girl or woman’s sense that she will never be good enough in her real life.”

Yikes.

I’m no psychologist but I am a woman who survived her own awkward stage and has lived long enough to know this one thing for sure: Growing up is hard enough without living your life under a social media microscope.

So far, my own kids have only begun to dip a toe into the social media waters. But I know that in the coming years, they might dive headlong into it, and we, like so many parents, will have to figure out how much is too much. We’ll have to figure out how to let them enjoy the good things about our hyper-connected world without letting them drown in a sea of social media commentary.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Are we exasperating our kids?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Whether you’re religious or not, most parents can agree on the absolute truth and wisdom of the verse in the Bible that says, “Honor your father and mother.” It’s such an important verse that it lands smack dab in the middle of the Ten Commandments, right above “Thou shalt not murder.” We parents are big fans of this particular rule.

Any time this verse get read aloud in church, every parent in the room cuts his or her eyes over toward their kids with a satisfied look that says, “See there? God said so.”

exasperate graphicBut lately I’ve also been thinking about another line from the Bible – one that kids are often thrilled to hear – which says this: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” (I’m pretty sure the “do not exasperate” line applies equally to mothers.)

I’m no parenting expert but I’m beginning to think that the essence of parenting lies in that magical middle ground between those two verses. How do you raise a kid to honor his father and mother without sometimes exasperating him?

With one kid firmly entrenched in the teenage years and another well on the way, I’ve noticed that a kid’s “exasperation threshold” drops considerably as he hits the middle school years. The other day I called one of the kid’s names and heard an audible groan come from the other room – the kind of groan that translates into something like this: “Oh no, not again. What does she want this time?”

That’s when it hit me. Sometimes all it takes to go from a state of peace to the land of exasperation is the mere sound of my voice.

It feels like this shift happened overnight. One minute, you’ve got this sweet baby in your arms who coos and grins when he hears your voice. The next minute? He’s wishing you’d shut up already so he could get back to a far more interesting app on his smartphone. Any mom who has experienced this drastic drop in the level of maternal adoration knows it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

But I get it. I really do. I know how irritating I must be for them at times. Of course they don’t want to be reminded about homework. Or chores. Or piano practice. And they definitely don’t want to hear that tired old speech about how the toilet should be flushed every single time.

I distinctly remember when I was a teenager burdened with a mother who’d suddenly become supremely annoying. I wondered what had happened to her and was convinced it had nothing to do with me and the endless waves of moody hormones I was surfing. I look back on those days and feel sorry for my mom because I know now what she knew then: Trying not to exasperate a teenager can be, well, downright exasperating.

But if my mission as a parent is to raise kind, respectful, toilet-flushing citizens, there are bound to be times when those goals are at odds with what the kids would rather do. So they’ll get annoyed and they’ll mess up, just like most of us did at that age.

Tom and I are beginning to make peace with the knowledge that there’ll be times in the next few years when the kids won’t find us cool or funny or maybe even likeable. And that’s okay, as long as they treat us honorably even on those days we’re annoying.

And I hope that, even when Tom and I are supremely annoyed by the kids’ annoyance, we’ll find a way to correct and guide them without ever making them “lose heart.” More than anything, I pray that they’ll never doubt just how much we love their hearts.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.