Hug It Out

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I’m thinking of setting up a “Free Hugs” booth somewhere in downtown Chicago – a busy train station, say, or Daley Plaza (once the weather gets nicer). I recently read the about the physical and emotional benefits of hugging.

Hugging stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes well-being and reduces feelings of anxiety and stress. Oxytocin is the hormone that helps mothers and infants bond, for instance. And studies have shown that hugging can help the heart and the immune system, making it not only a pleasurable activity but a potentially life-saving one.

I’ve noticed that as I get older, my opportunities for hugs have diminished. When you have little ones at home, you are constantly holding and hugging them, and being hugged in return. As they get older, kids often attempt to individuate by keeping their physical distance. And while I hug my husband on a fairly regular basis, I think I’d like to become more demonstrative with friends, even ones I see on a daily basis.

Amid the current divisiveness in America, I think it would behoove us to hug each other more. I’m reminded of a protestor approaching riot police in Charlottesville last year and offering hugs. There was also an instance of a black man hugging a white supremacist outside a Richard Spencer event. The black man kept asking the white man, “Why don’t you like me?” The white man had nothing to say until the black man hugged him and whispered the question again. The white man admitted, “I don’t know.”

Americans are much less physically demonstrative than many other cultures. Decades ago, psychologist Sidney Jourard studied how often friends from different countries touched each other. He found that Americans touched each other about twice an hour whereas the French touched each other an average of 110 times an hour. Puerto Ricans touched more than 180 times an hour. (“How Hugs Heal – Have You Had a Hug Today?,” articles.mercola.com, May 20, 2017)

In doing some web research, I found out that I’ve just missed #NationalHuggingDay, which was January 21. It’s interesting that this year the date happened to correspond to the Women’s March and followed on the heels of the March for Life, both events where like-minded people gathered in large groups for a common cause. No doubt there was plenty of hugging to go around.

What I’d like to see, however, are more healing hugs, where people take the risk to reach out and connect heart to heart with someone different from themselves, whether racially, politically, religiously, or ideologically. So maybe my Free Hugs booth is not such a bad idea. Or how about a social media phenomenon akin to the Ice Bucket Challenge from a few years ago. People could gather donations for every random hug they gave and posted.

Hugs are warm and life-giving acts, and I plan to start giving out more of them. How about you?

 

 

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Hand-Written

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While on a recent family vacation, I rediscovered the joys of writing in my personal journal. I had been given the lovely book by a friend years ago and had made entries into it very sporadically over the years. But on my trip, I started getting up early, tiptoeing out of my hotel room, grabbing a cup of coffee and a chair facing the sunrise, and chronicling our vacation adventures in my journal.

It was surprisingly difficult – physically – to write in my journal. My thoughts tumbled forth, but my muscles began cramping up with the unaccustomed exertion of writing by hand. Such has been the fate of handwriting in the age of computers. I am, at this moment, typing this post on my laptop while waiting for my daughter at the dentist’s office. Convenient, right? And what’s more, I am using an online publishing website so that with the tap of a few keys, I can post it for Facebook friends and other blog followers to read.

But I think we’ve lost something through the decline in handwriting. Nowadays most college students type their lecture notes on their computers. And increasingly, elementary schools are phasing out lessons in cursive writing, citing its lack of use in modern communication. Yet studies are finding that students retain information better when they hand write their notes in class. And because cursive writing has been de-emphasized, my own children can’t even read it. What will happen in a generation or two when no one can read old documents because they’re written in cursive?

Writing by hand in my journal makes the process more meditative and connected to me. My documentation of our vacation led to more thoughtful examinations of my life, my family, and what might be coming down the road for us. Writing in my journal can be cathartic after an emotional episode. And there’s something quite beautiful about rereading my words in my own very personal and individual handwriting.

Computers are wonderful tools that make it easy to write and edit one’s work. Email makes it convenient to stay in touch in a timely fashion. But the art of writing by hand is one that I think should be resurrected in this age of internet. Imagine getting a handwritten letter by a loved one from far away. Sure, the information might not be up to the minute. But the personal nature of a letter and its relative permanence compared to email, text, or phone call make it an ideal way to make a personal and lasting connection.

I plan to fill up my journal quickly as the days and months go on. No doubt my hand muscles will adjust to the practice. I may get a little callous on my left hand ring finger the way I used to in my teaching days from grading papers. And who knows? If you’re my friend or family member, you just might be receiving a missive from me on some pretty stationery one of these days.

60 Years Young

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IMG_1530Yesterday I celebrated the milestone of turning 60. In honor of the birthday I share with the great Martin Luther King, Jr., it snowed about six inches in Chicago. As I shoveled the cold, fluffy stuff in my driveway, I felt grateful that I am still fit and healthy enough to do so as I head into my seventh decade of life. Yikes!

The thing is, I still feel young. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a sense of disconnect between my inner self and the aging face I see in the mirror. For one thing, I can vividly remember things from my childhood, such as playing running bases in the backyard, buying lemon jungles from the Good Humor man, and doing third grade phonics with Mrs. Walsh. Milestones such as high school graduation and my first job don’t seem that far in the past.

Emotionally, of course I’ve changed. I’m a little wiser and less susceptible to peer pressure. But I still have my insecurities, my need to be liked, and my fear of change. And while it’s true that my idea of fun nowadays is a night in with a good movie or book, I’ve never exactly been a party animal. I think that, as they age, people don’t so much change as they become a more mellow version of themselves.

The best thing about getting older has been the deepening of my relationships with my family and friends. My kids are almost all adults now, and it is so gratifying to have meaningful conversations with them. My husband and I have a comfort level with each other that was not there in the early years. I have close relationships with my mom and siblings. And I am surrounded by good friends who make me laugh and let me know I am loved just the way I am.

Just yesterday, a group of friends surprised me at a birthday lunch organized by my beloved older daughter. It gave me such a warm feeling on a cold and snowy day to share a glass of wine, a meal, and great conversation with some of my favorite women in the world.

If this is what turning 60 feels like, I’m glad to say that as of yesterday, I’m 60 years young!

 

Music or Lyrics?

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tdy_klg_terms_151113.today-vid-canonical-featured-desktopMy kids thought it was hilarious one day when they heard me singing the pop song “I Can’t Feel My Face.” My son informed me, “You know that song is about taking drugs, don’t you, Mom?” Honestly, I didn’t. To me it was just an upbeat, bouncy tune that I liked. Now it’s tainted by my knowledge that it’s about cocaine-induced numbness.

So many popular songs today have dubious subject matter and language. Rap is an obvious example. But what about more light-hearted sounding tunes? Back in the Sixties, much was made of the “hidden” drug references in such songs as “Along Comes Mary,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “White Rabbit,” and yes, “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” Songs were routinely censored, and the Rolling Stones were forced to amend the lyrics “Let’s spend the night together” in order to perform the song on the Ed Sullivan Show.

With the advent of rap in the 1990s, Tipper Gore led the charge against profanity and violence in song lyrics and was successful in getting record producers to put warning labels on albums deemed offensive. When I hear some of today’s pop songs, my old favorite “Please Go All the Way” sounds positively tame by comparison.

The question is, which is more important, the music or the lyrics? I tend to go by the standard of the old pop music TV show American Bandstand: whether it has a good beat and I can dance to it. If so, it’s good enough for me. I’m reminded of a funny Chris Rock stand-up bit in which he describes young women gyrating happily to sexist and offensive hip hop songs. For the purposes of dancing or even getting from point A to point B in my car, the lyrics to a song are beside the point.

Yet meaningful lyrics can also bring so much depth to a song. Sometimes I take to a song with a monotonous tune because I love the meaning behind the song. A good example for me is “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Another is John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which, let’s face it, is something of a dirge. But what lifts these songs for me are the words and meanings behind them. In fact, as a high school English teacher, I enjoyed using popular song lyrics as poetry in my classes.

In any event, musical taste is an individual thing, and I will continue to enjoy my bouncy pop or rowdy rock music, whether I like the lyrics or not. Just don’t tell me what “Cake By the Ocean” refers to. I don’t want to know; I just want to enjoy it.

 

Re-Entry

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After a prolonged time in outer space, astronauts have major physiological adjustments to make upon re-entry to Earth. The effects of lessened gravity make simple actions such as speaking and walking difficult once the astronaut feels the effects of Earth’s gravitational pull. Astronauts returning from the International Space Station spend weeks being tested and monitored to be sure they recover their health and stamina.

While the post-holiday stress of re-entering regular life can’t quite compare, I couldn’t help being reminded of astronauts’ ordeal as I returned from the holidays and a wonderful vacation in Hawaii.

With a four-hour time change, I am still suffering a small degree of jet lag. I can’t go to bed at night but must arise at what feels like the crack of dawn to see my daughter off to school. And speaking of school, it is hard getting back in our day to day routines after two weeks of holiday feasting, family togetherness, and fun. When my kids are on vacation, I too feel a certain license and tend to let certain everyday tasks go by the wayside. Facing the piles of paperwork and general disarray in my house has been fatiguing.

Re-entry after the Christmas holidays is especially painful to me because there is nothing that depresses me more than taking down the decorations, especially the Christmas tree. Not only is it a tedious task that somehow falls to me alone every year, but it saddens me to let the merriment of the season go. The January to April winter slog is long and sometimes disheartening. I want my jolly back.

By next week, we will have settled back into a normal routine. My sleep patterns will stabilize, and I will be in a rhythm set by my daughter’s school and sports schedules. The holidays will be a distant but pleasant memory. To ease my adjustment, I have started a new program of yoga that I hope will calm me and help banish the blues of gloomy winter days.

Despite the pain of re-entry, my life is pretty wonderful. As soon as I get my sea legs back, I intend to enjoy it to the full.

Best of 2017

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Women's_March_on_Washington_(32593123745)At the end of every year, critics, news organizations, and others make lists of the bests and worsts from the waning year. Although there have been more than enough worsts, in my opinion – a Trump presidency, three major hurricanes, numerous mass shootings, white supremacist marches – I am choosing to bring in 2018 by focusing on some of the highlights of last year, both personally and in the world at large. Herewith I give you my Best of 2017:

  1. The women’s march. As a counter to the sexist, xenophobic tenor of the Trump campaign and unlikely presidential victory, women rose up en masse to let the new administration, and President Trump in particular, know that they are not going to sit back and allow our country to slide back into a Fifties mentality, where everyone took a back seat to white men.
  2. Moonlight, not La La Land, won the Oscar for Best Picture. After the unprecedented snafu that resulted in a declaration of victory for La La Land, it was revealed that the actual winner was a smaller, less mainstream, and less “white” film.
  3. The total solar eclipse. Although I was unable to experience totality, I got caught up in the excitement and wonder of this rare natural phenomenon that brought the country together for a few shining (or not shining) moments.
  4. Roy Moore was defeated in the special election for Senate in Alabama. It’s heartening to know that even in the Deep Republican South, voters have their limits – and those limits don’t extend to adult men with predilections for young teenage girls.
  5. Stranger Things 2. The sheer joy of watching a crew of talented kids defeat monsters in a nostalgic 80s setting cannot be overstated. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the series with my kids, debating which season of the show was better and discussing whether the new characters Billy and Max added to or detracted from the series.
  6. Rich People Problems. Kevin Kwan’s fabulous trilogy about Crazy Rich Asians came full circle to a hilarious and satisfying conclusion. No doubt the airing of the film based on CRA will be a highlight of 2018.

On a personal level, I had some wonderful bests:

  1. My daughter made the varsity soccer team her freshman year. This was a goal she had been working hard toward, and I was happy to see her rewarded for her efforts. It was also a lot of fun to watch her don the red and white uniform of her high school and play her heart out.
  2. My son’s rugby team won the National Championship. He loves to flash his championship ring, but I just loved seeing the camaraderie he had with his rugby teammates in this down and dirty sport. And it was a bit surreal to watch the guys dive into snow banks during the semifinal game due to a spring snowstorm in Denver.
  3. My oldest had a successful business school internship and was offered a job in New York for the coming year. Although I have loved having her here in Chicago while she completes her MBA, I am glad she will get to return to her happy place.
  4. My other son got a new job and a new apartment, both of which have contributed to a huge sense of accomplishment and well-being for him.
  5. My husband and I were able to go to Europe not once, but twice: once with our son and his football team and a second time with our daughter for soccer.

With 2017 in my rearview mirror, I am eager to see what the New Year has in store for me, my family, our country, and the world.

You Better Watch Out

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The-Elf-on-the-Shelf-The-Forgotten-CRMParents have always been a little mean-spirited at Christmas time. When I was a child, I took to heart the admonishment that Santa was watching me. If I was naughty, no presents for me. Looking back, I think that was a terrible message to send about Santa Claus and the giving and receiving of gifts.

As a parent, I realize that it’s important to have many discipline techniques to deal with child misbehavior. And sometimes we’re so desperate to stop our kid’s annoying or destructive behavior that we jump at anything we think might work. But in the case of Christmas threats, I think we are headed down the wrong path.

Take the Elf on the Shelf. Mercifully, my family missed out on this custom due to the age of my children. But my understanding is that the elf is some sort of spy for Santa who lurks in the house and keeps moving around so as to catch the kids in any sort of shenanigans. This is not only a bit creepy, but it gives children the sense that their parents see them as basically naughty and in need of watching at all times.

Many internet memes have blithely skewered the image of the Elf on the Shelf by posing him in compromising positions with Barbies and such. But others are troubled by the surveillance and reporting aspects of the toy. Digital technology professor Laura Pinto worries that the Elf on the Shelf is normalizing a police state mentality for a generation of children. (Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2014)

Another new technique I have seen popularized on Facebook is this: A parent wraps a bunch of empty boxes with Christmas wrap. Then, when the child misbehaves, the parent tosses one of the gifts into the fire. Whoever came up with that idea most likely thinks of themselves as clever, but I think it’s downright cruel.

At the very least, the idea of tying children’s behavior to receiving gifts on Christmas is the antithesis of what Christmas is supposed to be all about. The birth of Jesus was a gift for all mankind to save us from our sin. Quite the opposite of being expected to “behave” in order to receive it, the gift of Christ was given precisely because we do not deserve it.

Christmas should be a time of selflessness and love. Let’s retire these mean-spirited traditions and confine Santa and the elves to jolly singing in the workshop at the North Pole.