Giving Up Peanut M&M’s For Good

I had this bad habit of enjoying peanut M&M’s far too much. “The person who invented chocolate and peanuts is a genius,” I’d say to myself while chomping down on this delicious combination while watching a movie. Peanut M&M’s and movies on Netflix or in the cinema are a perfect match. Incidentally, my father shares this same weakness. Peanut M&M’s are the reason I love Halloween so much. My kids just know that when they walk through the door on October 31st and empty out the pillow case of candy, the peanut M&M’s go to me.

A few weekends ago I took part in a course (Neurolinguistic Programming) and one of the challenges was to change an undesirable behaviour. I chose giving up peanut M&M’s. The instructor asked me if I was sure I wanted to give them up since once I’d done the exercise, I probably wouldn’t ever want to eat them again. I was sceptical but I said yes. After all, I know what they taste like. They aren’t anything new or exciting. Binging on peanut M&M’s is simply a bad habit and an unhealthy sugar addiction.

As I sat in the comfy recliner chair and relaxed, I was asked to think of food I didn’t like. I imagined runny egg yolk. Peanut M & M’s covered in egg yolk didn’t work. Then I thought, “vomit.” That should work. But it didn’t. I could still imagine eating peanut M&M’s covered in vomit. I was asked to think of the worse thing I could eat. Cockroaches, I thought. Not the small kind found in infested apartments in North America. No. I’m talking the big ones that fly in from outside. Big tropical cockroaches that when squashed, a nasty yellow oozing mess comes out of them. That did the trick. In this course, eating peanut M&M’s was linked in my mind to eating huge cockroaches.

The test came that night. There was the bag of peanut M&M’s on the dresser. My husband and I settled in bed for a late night movie. He reached for the bag and offered it to me. I declined, completely repulsed. He crunched away with the bag between us. “That’s wicked,” I said. He moved the bag to the other side of himself and continued to munch on them. “Perhaps I could pop one in my mouth,” I thought. I looked at the bag. It was easy to reach for one, but I could not, simply would not put the M & M in my mouth. It was no longer a peanut M&M. It was a big crunchy cockroach.

That’s what the mind is capable of, more powerful than we can ever imagine. What obstacles do you want to overcome?

Set Fulfilling Goals for 2017

I have a New Year’s tradition where I write my goals for the new year on a paper plate. The hope is that I won’t discard the plate; I’ll keep looking at my goals and making progress toward whatever it is I desire. Sometimes, I achieve my goals and sometimes I forget what I’ve written on the plate. Usually the plate ends up in the garbage. None of it feels entirely fulfilling. As a matter of fact, most of the time when we achieve a goal, we simply set a higher goal to reach and it feels like life is a series of challenges, a marathon that never ends. It can feel exhausting.

This year, I have a different type of goal. As I look back at 2016, what stands out to me is the passing of many celebrities, the passing of my beloved maternal grandmother and the tragic passing of my thirty-one year old cousin Jonathan. It’s become more important to me to set goals that are truly fulfilling. We don’t know when our time will be up. There is nothing wrong with trying to reach the ideal weight, the ideal money in our bank accounts, the accumulation of real estate, the publishing of books or whatever our hearts desire but these material things are fleeting. Once the goal is accomplished, that initial euphoria goes and there comes a sort of emptiness, at least for me.

My grandmother and cousin lived lives where they pursued their passions and each in their own way made a difference in the lives of many. As I write, I can hear my husband saying, “don’t be so hard on yourself. You make a difference in our lives and the lives of your students.” But I feel there is more that I can do. I’m talking about stretching myself and being of value to others even when it’s not easy or convenient. I’m talking about making a difference in someone else’s life without always focusing on myself.

On December 29th a wise family member said to me while we sat at the dinner table enjoying Christmas pudding, that our life is a gift and there’s no store, no mall that can buy time or the breath. Our purpose is to benefit others and that is the ultimate goal to set: how can we be of purpose and value to others? She said life is like a coin. You either spend it wisely, lose it or you waste it. I’ve come to feel that the pursuit of my own goals is wasting it. I feel that the path to fulfillment is to spend my coin wisely by being of value to others, even if it’s only one person. Hopefully I’ll be of value to many people. Maybe it will be through writing. Maybe God has different plans for me. I didn’t write my goals on a plate this year. Instead I’m trying with every interaction to be more thoughtful and more helpful to others.

Many Excuses

I met a woman the other day. Let’s call her Dana. “What do you want to do most?” she asked. “To focus on my writing,” I said.

“So what’s stopping you?”

“Life,” I answered. “My job, my kids, housework, you know, life.”

She looked me straight in the eye. “All excuses.”

I was taken aback. “No seriously, there’s no time. I’m so busy. By the time the day is over and I get into bed, I’m tired.”

“You’re not really serious about writing,” she said.

“I AM serious.”

“No, you’re not. If you were, you’d do it. YOU make the time. Do you by any chance, find yourself making excuses in your life for other things?”

I thought about exercising and how once, I used to be an aerobics instructor. Now I put off exercising constantly, always finding something else to do. My excuses are endless: Someone is coming over. I have to do laundry. I have to make dinner. It’s too cold to go outside. I don’t feel like it today. I didn’t want to answer. “Maybe,” I answered slowly.

“You’re a procrastinator and you’re not serious. Once you get serious and if it’s really important to you, you’ll make the time to write.”

The truth hurts. Sometimes it’s not even delivered in a gentle way but if we can get past the manner of delivery and acknowledge the truth, that WE hold ourselves back, we can learn a lot. I’ve been thinking about what Dana said. For years I’ve blamed my circumstances for not achieving what I want, but the truth is, if I want to get fit and complete another adult book, it takes focus, dedication and tenacity. These things will never get done if I don’t make the time to do them. One may have talent and luck, even people willing to help, but it’s up to each individual to put in time and effort. As simple as this sounds, it’s easier to make excuses. People who say to me, “Oh dear, I feel so bad for you. You need more time to do what you love,” aren’t helping me. I love those people by the way, because they enable me and they become part of my “pity party.”

The people who really help are the ones who say, “stop making excuses and get on with it. Stop thinking about doing it and do it.”

I don’t like those people as much (at first) but they are the ones from whom I learn the most.

I guess it’s easier to stay in our comfort zone but it’s worth it to stop the excuses. There are people in wheelchairs who’ve done marathons. We grow by stepping out of our comfort zone. “Do one thing a day that scares you.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Take caution though, when trying to help someone else. Not everyone is ready to hear the truth. And don’t give people unsolicited advice. They’ll only be resentful. I wanted the truth from Dana and she was a serious but gentle soul.

That Flipping Phone

My friend, let’s call him Graham, came home early expecting to see his son. His son, 10 years old, had started walking home recently so Graham had given him a phone. Three o’clock went by, then four. There was no sign of his son who was supposed to have been home by 3:30. Graham called his son. The phone rang without an answer. Graham called over and over again, hoping for a different outcome. Five o’clock. Graham panicked and called his wife. They walked the neighbourhood searching. When they returned home, they looked grimly at each other knowing that the moment had come to call the police. It was every parent’s worst nightmare. As he picked up the phone to dial, he looked out the window and saw a familiar head bobbing up and down. He ran to the door. It was his son.

“Where were you?” he shouted. “I’ve been trying to call you for hours. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”

Turns out Graham’s son was with his friends. He’d turned off his phone so he wouldn’t have to answer it in front of the guys. It wasn’t an iPhone or a fancy Smart phone. It was  an older flip phone model and he was ashamed of it. Before you shake your head and say, “kids today,” this behaviour is not limited to kids only. I know adults who won’t go to the beach because their bodies are not perfect, or this woman I know who is reluctant to go anywhere with her friends because they are slimmer than she. There are people who won’t invite anyone to their houses because their houses are not big enough or for some other reason, they’re ashamed of where they live. Many of us at some time or another may have been plagued with this sense of not living up to some ideal standard, whether it’s our income, our weight, our possessions or lack thereof, being unattached, or whatever it is that makes you feel less than.  When the old inferiority complex rears its ugly head, there are ways to feel good about yourself and embrace the world.

First, find many quiet moments and focus on you. What is it that you want to do, learn, accomplish in this lifetime? Do it. Whether it’s art, dancing, learning a language or  a new skill, go for it. It’s an accomplishment and it will make you feel great.

Second, try hypnosis. I’ve read every single self help book on the shelves (almost) and nothing has helped as much as this. Hypnosis bypasses your conscious mind where all our negative habits and ways of thinking prevent us from achieving lasting change. Hypnosis has made me finally go to the gym and focus on my writing. Nothing else worked for me.

Third, be yourself and learn to love who you are. You are unique. How do you learn to be you? You find yourself in those quiet moments, through self-reflection, journaling, meditation and prayer.

Fourth, surround yourself with people who love and accept you. Shed the others.

Finally, realize getting to know you and love you is a  lifelong journey. Keep telling yourself, if someone doesn’t like me because of my weight, income, house, marital status, etc., they aren’t worth knowing anyway. You being confident and living your dreams will enable the children around you to do the same.

The Art of Listening

Ever since my grandmother passed away, I’ve not blogged nor done any creative writing. She played such a big part in my life and as I go about life again, I find myself thinking, “what would Grandma Mavis have done in this situation?” Grandma had this way of making each grandchild feel like the favourite. When we talked to her, she really listened, never said I’m too busy, not now, or can we speed up the story because I have other things to do? She didn’t even look like she was thinking these things. I thought about this on the way home from work the other day when I picked up my children from school. My son was telling me about his day. I tried to mimic my grandmother’s behaviour while he told me a long, drawn out story of a fort, who was involved, who destroyed the fort, who he no longer likes and I could go on as he went on. It was the story that never ended. I was also thinking of what to cook for dinner, if I needed to do laundry, my job, my writing, and I could go on. It took every ounce of energy and focus to really listen, to listen well and empathize with my son. The more I listened, the more I realized it wasn’t a story about a fort at all. It was a story of hurt feelings and disappointment. Only then could I respond appropriately.

Active listening is an art. Too many people are jumping in to speak before we even finish what we’re saying. I’m making it my personal practice to improve, to not make any judgments about the other person, even if I think I know them like the back of my hand. Other tips include focusing on what the other person is saying but also their body language and tone of voice. Be patient if it takes a long time for them to spit it out. Clarify what they’ve said and then respond. The research says it’s an important skill. Never mind the research, it makes the other person feel great in your company. They’ll wonder why they like you so much. I know I might not get it right every time, but last night, I was listening to my daughter. I looked deeply into her eyes. I said nothing. All the things I still had to do was pushed out of my mind for that time. The world fell away. She was the only person that mattered right then. She had all my focus and I saw how much that mattered. The things that bothered her, her worries all came pouring out. It was one of those rich moments where I was present, not thinking of past nor future. It was deeply gratifying for us both. This is what life is truly about, I thought, loving, giving and listening. My grandmother was loved by many. She knew how to love, give and listen.

Letter to My Father’s Ex Girlfriend

Dear G,

There we were, one summer afternoon in the countryside near the ocean having lunch, you, me, my boyfriend (ex) and my dad. I’d just returned from travelling the world, a two year backpacking trip that left my parents wondering if I’d ever settle down. Settling down was the last thing on my mind. Then you asked me that unsettling question that changed our relationship forever: “What do you plan on doing with your life?”

I now realize my father must have been worried about me and confided in you. That question triggered all the emotions of disappointment at returning home, the reality that my mom and dad were no longer together, and my anxiety that perhaps I really was wasting my life. I blew up at you. I don’t remember exactly what I said, just that there was this shocked silence after I spewed venom. Dad and my ex looked down at their plates. No-one spoke for a really long time. Lunch was ruined. I think you got up and left, or maybe it was me. I can’t remember.

I’m sorry G, for blowing up at you. It’s not my usual behaviour and I remember all the times in my life when I’ve behaved uncharacteristically and I can count them on one hand. But I’ve never forgotten your words. I thought I knew everything like all young people think they know everything. I didn’t have a plan and one has to have a plan. I only wish I’d known it sooner. I wish G, that someone had taught me to set goals from an early age, that even travelling in freedom requires planning and goal setting. If I’d set proper goals, perhaps I wouldn’t have returned home prematurely, broke and dissatisfied. Goal setting would have given me the clarity and vision that maybe a proper job wasn’t the way to go for me. Well thought out goals would have pushed me and stretched me until I grew enough to achieve exactly what it is I was meant to achieve in this life.

Now that I’m older, I realize I only have a certain amount of time on this earth. Without clear and well defined goals, it’s hard to know what one really wants and how to get it. I set a lot of goals, weekly, monthly, yearly and every five years. Sometimes my goals work out and sometimes they don’t but at least I have a plan.

G, when you asked me, “what do you plan on doing with your life?”, I wish I’d had a better answer, even if I’d said something trite like, “living it.” You probably could’ve taught me a lot in those tumultuous years of my early adulthood. Anyway G, your words were not wasted. I hope I’ve helped young people, including my own children, make better decisions. I tell them that it may seem like they have a lot of time, but it flies, it really flies. They have to decide what they really want, no matter how outrageous or how different it looks from someone else’s life. I tell them to make a plan, put it on paper, tack it on the wall, look at it every day, and take small steps till they get there. I tell them, G, to never give up but most importantly, I tell them if they’re wrong, it takes a bigger and better person to simply say, “I’m sorry.” So now, over twenty years later, I’m saying I’m sorry. You were just trying to help.

Of course, in the way of life, it isn’t so ironic that I’ve done all this with my own children, told them to set goals, that they need to plan for success, asked them what they plan to do in the future but I’ve heard, at least once, “Leave me alone Mom. I just want to enjoy my life. I want the freedom to do what I want to do.”

It must be an age thing.

You’re Too Sensitive

Has someone ever said something to you that hurt so much that you’ve never forgotten it? Or maybe there was truth to it but you didn’t want it to be true because that’s not the person you wanted to be. You see, I’ve always admired those rough and tough females who were witty, had comebacks to every insult, could punch a boy out if bullied, who never cried in private much less public. I was never that person.

It was the late eighties. I was a teenager. I remember the house I lived in on Norbrook Acres Drive, standing near the living room in some argument with my father. My sister and mother were there. I don’t remember what the argument was about or what we said to my dad that made him so angry. He stormed off shouting, “All of you are too sensitive.”

Those are the words that cut like a knife. Did he mean all females are too sensitive? Just us, the women in his family? He was angry, so being sensitive must be really bad, so I must make sure I’m the opposite of sensitive. I don’t think my dad’s words bothered my middle sister. She’s more rough and tough or at least she appears to be. But I was deeply bothered. He must have wanted a boy. Boys are not sensitive. And on and on through my brain these thoughts flew.

As an adult when I’m supposed to know myself, I’ve often wondered why I get so overwhelmed by life. I see mothers rushing around with their children, doing all these activities and they seem so happy. I on the other hand, want to get it out of the way and do what I want to do: play with the kids, relax, write, read, be alone. I simply can’t handle rushing around in a frenzied state all afternoon long. And why do I cry when someone tells me a sad story? Can’t I merely nod and empathize like other people without tears trailing down my cheeks? And why do I get so annoyed, so cranky when surrounded by streams of people, say at a parade or Costco on a weekend? I discovered why one day when I went to You Tube, Ted Talks and something interesting caught my eye: a talk called “The Gentle Power of Highly Sensitive People.”

I am not alone. I’m simply an HSP – a Highly Sensitive Person. Not to be confused with an introvert (many HSPs are extroverts), a wallflower or a doormat. In simple terms, an HSP experiences life in a vivid way: sadness is deep sorrow and joy is high ecstasy. I may be emotional but still confrontational. I may not like crowds but I have the ability to easily and deeply connect with others. This is genetic. I can’t change it anymore than I can change my eye colour. I can’t toughen up. Even more surprising, fifty percent of males are HSPs. It is not a feminine trait. It doesn’t mean males are weak. I know this as a fact. I’m married to an HSP. I’ve seen him take on situations and people that more aggressive types have shied away from. Being married to an HSP is great. I feel cherished and understood.

What’s not so great? Realizing my ten year old son is an HSP and that I’ve spent the entire baseball season telling him to toughen up, to not take things personally, to stop thinking so deeply about everything. I should know better because it takes one to know one. But I, like everyone else, have fallen into the trap of thinking that only aggressive people win, that sensitivity is a weakness, and that my son will not be able to handle life. Now that I’m aware of this, I hope I’ll be more helpful to him instead of trying to mould him into something he isn’t and will never be. What I think I was really trying to do is to shield him from the pain of life, from the pain of his own emotions and to protect him from all that hurt. But I can’t, not anymore than I can change his eye colour. He’ll go through life as I do, feeling everything deeply, from the happiness that lifts us into heaven, to the sorrow that carries us to the depths of hell.

Something to Chew On

  • Kids fighting leaves me feeling irritated and simply rotten. All that discord destroys the peace of the house and puts everyone in a foul mood. I wonder how can my children dislike each other so much. Then I rememb-er when I was young. I fought with my sister all the time. We just did not get along. “How did you resolve it?” asked my husband. “I don’t know. We grew up.”

It was nineteen seventy something. Times were hard in Jamaica. All the wonderful goods from America had stopped coming in and supermarket and pharmacy shelves were bare. My mother worked for the airlines so she’d go to Miami and bring us those coveted first world treats like Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks cereal. We complained that the cereal from the Caribbean tasted like cardboard. Once mom bought us a pack each of grape flavoured Bubble Yum. I rationed mine, biting only half and saving the other half. I hid the pack in my drawer. One day I went into the bedroom I shared with my sister and opened the drawer. My bubble gum was gone. I knew who the culprit was. The thorn in my side. She’d eaten her Bubble Yum within hours. She later told me she didn’t think I would notice the gum was missing. To say I was angry is an understatement. I railed at her, threatened her life. I reminded her for years after, that she’d committed this offence.

Years later when I had my first child and my sister was working for BET, she came to Jamaica to visit. She opened up a very large suitcase on my bedroom floor and there inside were packs and packs of grape flavoured Bubble Yum, Twizzlers and jelly beans.

“These are for you,” she laughed. “I hope this makes up for the time I ate your bubble gum and thought you wouldn’t notice.”

We sat on the floor and ate Twizzlers, jelly beans and bubble gum for hours, reminiscing about our childhood and growing closer.

I am the eldest of three girls. I am blessed to have a great relationship with both my sisters and I hope my children will learn to get along and want to be around each other as adults. After all, who else but a sibling would be honest about how I really look in that dress, and sometimes know more about me than I know myself. And so, I tell my son, “one day, you’ll realize how much you love your sister.” “No I won’t,” he says. Silently, I say, oh yes you will.

While writing this blog, I called my sister.
“You know those yoghurt covered raisins you had in your pantry over Spring Break?”
“Yes.”
“I ate them.”
“All of them?”
“Yup.”
“The whole box?”
“Yeah. Did you notice?”
“I didn’t notice,” she said laughing.

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a horrid thing. I’d never experienced it before, at least never so badly as now. My fingers used to run quickly over the keyboard, darting clicks of inspiration, and the words would appear. I’d be satisfied. Even if the writing wasn’t perfect, I’d edit until satisfied. Sometimes days would pass by and the writing wouldn’t come. But it passed. I always had the confidence that the words would flow again. This past year has been different. I’ve opened up the computer and stared at the blank screen in misery. I’m like a well that was once full and is now bone dry. The stories that came so easily have abandoned me. I still write in my mind, but once I open the computer, my fingers sit poised for action, ready to dart. I close my eyes in despair as the truth sinks in. There is nothing to work with, like a carpenter ready to build without wood or knife.

I wonder the reason for this. Is it that I’m so mired in parenthood, my mind filled with all the little responsibilities parents have to think about: have you done your homework? Why not? Where is your lunch box? You left it at school again? You need money for what? Where do you need to be dropped? And on and on it goes.

Is it because I now live in Canada: a safe place where people obey the laws and things run more or less by clockwork, where I’m content and the majority of people lead uncomplicated lives? I’m not saying Canadians are boring but the news headlines in Jamaica were enough to inspire many a story. Have I relied too much on stories and not enough on good writing? After all, one of my favourite writers, Canadian Nobel prize winner for literature, Alice Munro, writes about Canada and her stories hold me spellbound. I re-read her books over and over again.

Perhaps I’m so busy that my creative mind has been pushed down so far that it is unreachable. My mom came to visit in June. She pointed to a grassy area next to a highway near my home. “Look at the field,” she said in delight to my daughter. “There are so many shades of green, white green, grey green, I can count ten shades of green. An artist has to notice the landscape around them.”

I glanced briefly at the field before returning my eyes to the road. “I don’t notice the greens,” I said. “I barely notice the field.” I gripped the steering wheel and made a left turn. My body felt tight and there was a dull thudding pain over my eyes. I was rushing to take my daughter to dance. We were late. My eyes were narrowed, my heartbeat fast, my breathing shallow. I was on the road but barely noticed the other cars around me. I didn’t see the landscape at all. It took all my concentration to converse with my mother and focus on the road. I wanted to breathe but there was a constriction in my chest. I have to slow down, I thought fleetingly. I have to notice the shades of green.

This, I think, is part of the problem.

I Almost Quit

Ever thought what it would be like to return to high school? My husband and I discovered free language classes in our city but there was a catch. We’d be returning to high school and taking classes with teenagers. If we didn’t mind this, we were told, we’d have a free school year of just about any language (except French, the one most useful to us living in Canada – go figure). We chose Spanish. This was four years ago. Hubby and I did 10th, 11th and 12th grade Spanish. We sat through classes with quiet teenagers, loud and disruptive teenagers, emotional teenagers, but it wasn’t too bad (except for the one time in a fit of temper, I told the class clown to just SHUT UP. I’d never experienced a student who made it their mission to disrupt a class and harass a teacher.)

The first few Saturday mornings of class, hubby and I felt self-conscious as most of the other adults probably did, but we eventually made friends through the years, losing some along the way who dropped out to pursue other things or attend to other commitments. After Grade 12, my hubby decided not to continue. He’d had enough of waking up early Saturday mornings, homework assignments, projects and studying. I, along with some of the other adults, chose to take Grade 12 again. Every Saturday morning, I’d leave my slumbering family and cozy house to brave winter’s icy breath. I’d arrive at class with the unsettled feeling of guilt and misgiving. How could I be so selfish to pursue this when there was so much laundry to be done, the house to clean, and what about my writing which suffered due to this extra commitment?

Every day I sat in the same seat, second row beside my friend Noel. Hubby and I met Noel when we first started and there was always this friendly competition between us. He could speak (frequent trips to Cuba) and I could read and write. “Remember I don’t have children,” Noel would remind me when I lamented that I couldn’t take trips to Cuba. “Remember I studied Spanish in Jamaica,” I’d remind Noel when I got another high test mark.  Yet, a malaise came over me this past year. The lack of sunlight and never ending winter, the demands of every day life and the commitments I’d made drained me of energy and motivation. “I can’t come to another class,” I’d say every single Saturday morning to Noel. “You can do it,” he’d say every time and he watched while I slashed the date from the school calendar to countdown toward the end. “Only twenty more classes left.” Once my eyes filled with tears. “I love this teacher and this language but I shouldn’t be here. What am I doing here?” “Nineteen more classes left and you’re acing this. You can do this with your eyes closed. You can’t quit now. You’re halfway there.”

Off he went to Cuba and came back tanned. “You’re so lucky,” I moaned. We shared bits and pieces of our lives. Guaranteed he’d tease me a bit and make me laugh.

I won’t return next year. Noel says I should because I’d come so far. Maybe but most likely not. It’s time for me to attend to other commitments like my writing. But now and then I think of Noel because I never would have made it through the year without him. His encouragement was what made me stick it out when it would’ve been easier to quit. “You did it,” he said last class and I wondered if he knew how much I credited him with that.