Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom

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Discourse at Dinnertime

You didn't use your manners, Mom!

You didn’t use your manners, Mom!

As often as possible, we have dinner together as a family.  I’ve heard the same studies that you’ve heard about the importance of those nights: how there is a correlation between eating meals as a family to better emotional well-being, higher grades, better eating habits, lower obesity and lower risk of dependence on drugs and alcohol for the children as they grow.  So, every night we gather around the table to spend time together, share stories about our day and to practice our “attitude of gratitude.”  I have noticed recently that, while family dinner is healthy for the boys, it wasn’t feeling so great for me.

Now, my sons are 5 and 3.  They are wonderful kids and are wholly committed to the “war for attention” that siblings engage in.  Dinner lately has been a loud, raucous event with the boys battling for the podium, not listening to each other (or Mom and Dad).  Mom and Dad then get loud, and now no one is listening.  With my nerves jangled, my head on the table and the kids in time out, Steve and I decided we needed a new plan.  Dinnertime now has new rules.

  • We take turns when we speak.
  • We raise our hand if we have something to add.
  • We don’t interrupt each other.  We listen.
  • We lower our voice if we are upset.  We don’t raise it.
  • If we ARE upset, we take 10 deep breaths before we speak, etc.

The “new” rules sound pretty basic, right?  They are just common sense, just polite manners.  Absolutely!  You’re right.  It’s easy.  In fact, the rules are so easy that we adults often forget to practice them.  We adults frequently ignore the rules on television, in chat rooms, on Facebook, in meetings, just about everywhere.  We’re talking on top of each other, calling each other names, not listening to others when they speak, not considering other opinions beyond our own… not modeling the basic manners that we expect our children to follow every day at home or in the classroom.

Our world continues to change, becoming more connected and yet more polarized.  We share every moment of every day, and it can bring people together.  It also can drive people farther apart, ruining relationships and encouraging behavior in ourselves that we would never tolerate from our children.   Time may change the way we communicate, but it doesn’t change the meaning of common decency, kindness and compassion.  Time doesn’t diminish the value of intelligent discourse, of sharing ideas or seeing things from another point of view.  We may not change our opinion, but that doesn’t mean someone else’s opinion isn’t equally as valid as the view that you may hold.

When you’re passionate, hurt or angry, it can be hard to slow down and listen someone else, and maybe still agree to disagree.  It’s difficult to disagree in a hushed tone, to let someone else finish their thought and then to really consider it before we rush to speak.  It’s much more respectful though, and a healthier way to resolve something.  We may not raise our hands as children do in school, but we certainly should hold ourselves to the same standards of respectful communication that we hold our children to.  Good manners and healthy communication shouldn’t be optional, regardless of whether it’s online, in a meeting or around the dinner table.

We expect it of our children.  We should demand it from ourselves.


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A Birthday Card to Mom

MomToday is my Mom’s birthday.  I’m on the road right now, so I sent flowers and called, but I still did not feel like I did enough.  And as I sat here in the hotel tonight, I started to think about how I viewed my Mom way back when and how I see her today.

Way back when – aka in my foolish teenage years – I loved my Mom and was absolutely certain that I was smarter than she was and knew more than she did.  Kind of a given for a teenager.  I thought Mom was beautiful.  Picture Mia Farrow, and you’re seeing my Mom.  She has always been one of a kind too: a little kooky.  Our house was filled with strays of the canine and human persuasion.  Mom couldn’t sing, but she sure did blast those Broadway records at full tilt boogie.  And with as many siblings as I’ve got, our house was raucous to say the least – balancing right on the edge of joy and madness.  I remember Mom standing in the middle of it all, always full of folksy sayings: trying to teach us – sometimes hollering over us – the things we may need to know as we grew.  We colored on the walls, ate dessert for breakfast and generally figured we ignored her advice.  And now I am grown with a family of my own.  I see my Mother when I look in the mirror.  I hear her voice come out of my mouth.  And I’ve realized how much she taught me when I didn’t think I was learning.  To celebrate her today, here are a few of my favorite Mom moments.

1.   Were you born in a barn?  (Also, known at dinnertime by the variant “Close your mouth. You look like a cow chewing its cud.”)  My Mom was raised on a farm, so we got a lot of country references when Mom talked about manners.  Manners were big for her.  She taught us to say please and thank you, of course.  And she also taught us that the world may judge you by your manners as well.  Being polite and considerate, thanking people, being gracious – they are points of entry into business today, and while they may not be directly acknowledged, they are noticed and appreciated.

2.   Just put ice cream on your cereal instead.  OK, so Mom usually resorted to this when we ran out of milk, but to a kid, ice cream on cereal is paradise so we were happy.  We ate ice cream for breakfast more than once.  Mom was resourceful.  Mom was creative.  She encouraged that in us kids too.  When she ran into a challenge, she found a solution, turned a tough time into something fun and moved right along.  Times will be tough for all of us at one point or another.  What matters is how we respond to problems and find creative answers.

3.   Time to get dewormed.  Now, that sounds icky, especially when you know that no one in the family (canine or human) ever actually needed to get dewormed.   But Mom was all about preventative measures.  Sometimes, even if everything seems fine, it’s still worth digging a little deeper to make sure things really are as good as they seem.  They well may be.  Or, you could find something that needs tending to.

4.   Don’t forget where you came from.  Mom has regaled me with stories of how my ancestors fought in the American Revolution and others worked on the Underground Railroad; how Dad ran secrets for the Filipino Guerrillas and Resistance forces during the Japanese occupation in WWII; how my Aunties had the most beautiful hands and made the best longanisa (which is very, very true).  In fact, I’m still hearing new stories today.  Mom taught me to be proud of my heritage – that my ancestors stood up for what they believed in and I should too.  She taught me that I am part of something so much more than just “me” and that Family, both gone and yet to come, is your true legacy.

5.   Patience is a virtue.  In this world of instant gratification, it’s easy to forget that some things are worth the wait.  This is a hard one for me, but it is true.  I found my career late, my husband late… found myself late.  They were worth the wait.  Today, I find that I say this same thing often to my children and to myself.  Day to day goals and pressures can make you crazy.  Set a long term goal.  Know what you stand for.  Then slow down, enjoy the ride and keep your eye on the finish line.  It’s a good one, after all.  Now, Mom: I know you are probably mortified that I wrote this tonight (especially # 3), and I hope you know I wrote this with love.  I treasure you.  I treasure what you taught me. You are more beautiful today than you were all those years ago, and I am so darn grateful for you and all that I’ve learned.  I succeed at business and life because of the sturdy foundation you and Dad built.

Happy Birthday, Mom.