Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Enjoying the Family Holiday Get-Together

Whew. I not only made it through Thanksgiving, but I had an AWESOME time on Thanksgiving.

Let me explain.

My family can be a little awkward around each other. We only get together once a year. On Thanksgiving. Every two years for those who alternate with their in-laws.

This usually means some of us stroll in late and all of us take up our usual stations for the brief 3-4 hours we are together.

There is the kitchen crew. Sometimes folks in the other room wander into the kitchen crew area and grab pieces of turkey, then scurry out again.

There is the couch crew. These guys grab a seat and don’t move.

There is the “Grandpa asleep in the recliner” crew, er, individual.

There is the “you are my immediate family so I’ll talk to you in the corner all day since I see you every week and avoid eye contact with those who drive a few hours to get here” crew.

Then there is the “those are adults I don’t know very well so I’ll stay over here with my cousins” younger crew.

Regardless of the crew, my extended family tends to stay safely in one of those places. So when we arrive, none of us mingle very well. Then we eat. Then we leave. The entire process is fairly anti-climactic if you ask me.

Most years I end up feeling like Thanksgiving was a waste of time. If it involved spending the afternoon talking to my Grandfather I’d count it as a win but he’s partial to the recliner when the house is packed and noisy. And he can sleep, regardless of the sounds.

This year I decided it would be different. I decided I would be different. And it was one of the best Thanksgivings I can remember in a long time.

To begin with, I visited for five days instead of one. This meant time with my Grandfather, mom and two of my aunts. It also meant I didn’t have to entertain my kids and husband while trying to visit.

I helped prepare the 25 pound monstrosity of a turkey. Which meant I was able to laugh when a younger family member, in a sweet and noble attempt to remove it from the roaster, dropped the entire cooked carcass on the kitchen floor. It looked like blood splatter from a violent crime scene, only the liquid was all turkey juice and parts.

We picked up the battered fowl, cleaned the floor, and sliced her beautifully . And because my family is typically late, very few even know they ate a turkey from the floor (not that most of them would care; we like meat).

There was more drama later when my cousin’s teenage son thought it would be a good idea to pick up a baby mole who was blindly trying to find his/her way across the front sidewalk. Ignoring my “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, it will bite” offer of advice, he bent down only to find a small piece of skin tightly clenched in the mouth of said mole. The little sucker even held on for a brief second before being flung across the yard. A visit to the ER resulted in a good finger cleaning and a list of rabies symptoms to look for later.

The turkey and the mole were funny, but this isn’t why the holiday was such a good one.

THIS is why: I spoke to every single member of my family. You see, that never happens. For any of us.

How, you ask, was this amazing feat accomplished? It was simple: I told myself ahead of time that I was going to talk to every single member of my family. See how easy that was?

I learned a great deal running for office. Most of it wasn’t so great, but there was one thing I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. It involves how to work a room. When you work a room, you slowly maneuver through it, making eye contact, shaking hands, and sincerely looking at each person while listening to them. It’s amazing what can happen when we simply look at each other, listen, and say a few words.

The message isn’t so much what happens when we do this (although that can be good too)…for me it involved wanting to avoid the feelings and attitudes that result when we DON’T do this. Feeling like someone was snotty and ignored you. Feeling like someone didn’t care enough to say hello. Feeling like someone isn’t fun or interesting. Feeling abused because YOU were the one who drove all that way only to be ignored.

When you go out of your way to say hello to people you actually find that it feels good to connect. Here’s the thing. Maybe the other people are uncomfortable because they haven’t seen you in a year and they don’t know what to say. Maybe the other person is shy or not used to starting a conversation. Maybe you make the other person uncomfortable.

I don’t know the reasons. What I do know is this: I’m responsible for myself. I love my family. I want to enjoy the rare opportunities I have to see them. And I’m tired of ending up feeling that Thanksgiving was a waste of a day.

Once I had this little talk with myself it was easy to consciously reach out to every family member. I even think my Grandmother may have been happy with my actions… in spite of the dropped turkey.

Why am I sharing this now? Because another big family holiday is looming.

Before you hop in the car to join your families on Christmas Day (if you celebrate Christmas) take a few moments to say these things to yourself:

1. I’m going to work the room

2. I’m going to speak to every single person here

3. I’m going to have an awesome time

Do this and you might just find you fall in love with your family – either again or for the first time. Oh, and always be a duck, letting the bad roll off of you. Be it the negative family member who bemoans everything or a dropped turkey on the floor. What you take from the holiday is on your shoulders. Make the most of it

Friday, December 6, 2013

Humiliation, Sand & Volleyball (not necessarily in that order)

Two summers ago a friend asked me to join her on a coed sand volleyball team for one session. She admittedly had never played organized volleyball before but is extremely fit and athletic and figured it would be fun for us since it was just a recreational sand league.

I was running for office at the time and despite a busy schedule, decided that my mental health could use the activity. Besides, this was a way to meet voters, right?

It had been over a decade since I’d played volleyball and it was with a women’s indoor league. Frankly, I’d given up on the entire “coed sand volleyball” scene back in the nineties after becoming irritated with the level of competitiveness and ball hogging displayed by the male species. Women are simply more nurturing and more likely to share and play nice.

But hey, that was then and this was now and I thought it might be fun.

It wasn’t really.

For starters, this was actually a competitive league. And while I wasn’t nearly as in shape as my friend, I still retained some basic skills learned from having played all through high school. She didn’t have the benefit of previous coaching and was forced to learn on the job. After the first two games, which resulted in dirty looks and muttered comments from one of the male players, she’d had enough. This is one of the things I love about strong women.

You see, every time she made a mistake, there would be silence. Not a “hey, that’s okay, you’ll get it next time” or a “no worries, we know you haven’t played before and you are doing great” shout out to our fellow teammate. I'm pretty sure I wasn't nearly supportive enough, but in my defense I was trying to avoid bringing unwanted attention to any of the mistakes (which is how I would've preferred it) and I was taking guidance from her cues, which were perfectly strong and independent.

By the end of the second game, she simply said “I’m done”.

She taught me something in that moment: if something so simple, so unnecessary to the quality or your life or to someone else’s life is causing you discomfort then simply eliminate it. When we talked later she explained “I don’t HAVE to play, I didn’t HAVE to help them out, and I don’t HAVE to be treated like that.”

Amen sister!!!

Like an idiot, I kept playing since I’d paid for the session and still needed the exercise and the votes. You see, politics teaches you to meet as many people as you can and to impact as many people as you can, all within a very short window of time. I was certainly about to impact them.

Another friend named Kim, who had also played volleyball at her own high school, stepped in to finish out the session. She is a quiet, reserved player and never shows emotion. I could learn a thing or two from her.

The remaining games of that first session ended on a positive note. Kim and I had seemingly shown enough skill that they asked the two of us to play another session. I should’ve quit while I was ahead.

At some point in time during the early 2nd session games my serve started to get a little goofy. To be completely honest, I’ve always struggled with my overhand serve. There may have been moments of brilliance in high school, but they’ve faded into a long distant memory. I had spent the last several years working with my daughter’s young team using a volley-lite ball. This, combined with age and time away from the game, had left my overhand weak and ugly. As a result, not wanting to humiliate myself and/or hurt the team, I chose to use an underhand serve just to make sure it got over. This had served us well during the first session (no pun intended).

Then came THAT night; the one I’ll most likely never forget. In hindsight, it was kind of like the brakes going out on a car heading down a narrow mountain highway. Once the connection between my brain and my arm was severed, there was no way to pull out of it.

I couldn’t get a single underhand serve over. Some of them went to the side…others fell short of the net. I started to look like some odd version of Steve Urkel attempting to dance a slow jam. I can only assume it was extremely unattractive by the look on the face of one of our male teammates. That look became more irritated as the evening wore on.

Then he muttered. It was uncomfortable. Kim didn’t hold it against me. In fact, most of the folks on our team had missed serves. It was the ugly consistency of my misses that was so, well, remedial. I couldn’t even get an underhand serve over!!

The irritated male teammate wasn’t amused. I could feel his contempt and after the first set I made it a point to start in the middle back position, praying inwardly that our rotation wouldn’t make it all the way around to me.

The rest of my game was fine. It was the darn serve. There was simply no coordination, no logical reason, and no connection between my brain’s directives and my right arm. I tried not to say anything. Then I apologized. Then I cursed. Then, when there was nothing left to do, I laughed maniacally. I think that just scared everyone. Hell, I scared myself.

The rest of the team reacted coolly to me…there were a few quiet murmurs of “don’t worry about it”…but HE was pissed. Between the 2nd and final 3rd set of the night, he approached me and asked if I wanted some help. We’d never shared more than five sentences in the two sessions I’d been playing but in light of how he had treated my friend before and in light of the disdain I could clearly see he held for me, I snapped “Are you going to be nice about it?????”.

It was then I saw that he didn’t realize how his body language had been coming across. He appeared taken aback, and said “well, yes!”.

So I replied “then absolutely, I clearly need all the help I can get”.

By then it didn’t matter. My brain and arm were in full blown shutdown mode and refused to even participate in mediation.

I tried reverting to overhand, but it wasn’t happening. Not on this night. There was obvious pity on the faces of the opposing team, adding insult to injury. I could’ve handled all of that, but for some reason the frustration HE felt with me bothered me the most. I was tempted to scream “do you think I don’t freaking realize how dumb I look? Do you think I'm TRYING to miss these serves?” I was tempted, but kept my big mouth shut. What would have been the point? It was Just. One. Of. Those. Nights. End of story.

As I walked to the car with Kim, she chuckled quietly and said “don’t worry about it, my serves don’t all go over either.”

I love strong sisters.

The ugliness didn’t rear its head again in the same manner, which is to say there were no more “serving shutouts” for me the rest of the session. I found myself breathing a massive sigh of relief when my serves made it over (and could see the others doing the same) and then, sadly, praying we’d get a side out so that I could move out of the serving position. It was all very uneventful, but served as a reminder (again, no pun intended) that 1: I don’t like playing volleyball with boys and 2: no vote was worth that humiliation.

And just in case you were wondering, I wasn’t asked to play with them again. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.