Friday, August 29, 2014

Smile - Super Deluxe: The Sequel

I read a book to my daughter tonight called “Smile a lot” as part of our usual bedtime routine. It kept repeating how much a smile could help the little boy as he struggled with a series of problems throughout his day. The book got me thinking about the post I wrote a couple weeks ago called “Super Deluxe” where I talked about having a good attitude and making the best out of everything rather than going through life looking at all the negative. In that post, I only spoke of the general personal choice of trying to maintain a positive outlook on your day. Today, I wanted to talk about one of the simplest ways to put that idea into action outwardly. Just smile.
The part I didn’t mention about our usual bedtime routine with the girls is that it has been an absolute nightmare for the past couple of weeks. A combination of “end of summer anxiety”, lack of sleep at night, and a mixed up schedule due to vacation and visitors has had my girls bouncing off the walls by evening and extremely crabby. We typically refer to it as them having “gone over to the dark side”. We started with the usual tactics of losing toys, privileges, and time outs. Unfortunately, it has also included more yelling than any of us appreciate. We have since adjusted our tactics back to a plan we seemed to have lost sight of…positive reinforcement. Focusing on what they are doing right, using calm voices when correcting them, and yes, making sure to smile, has helped the last couple of days. I don’t want to get too far off on a tangent here, but these experiences have definitely reinforced the idea that remaining positive and adding a smile, positively affect the outcome of my day.

I learned to really smile somewhere around the 6th or 7th grade. Obviously, I knew how to physically smile much younger than that. I even have a stack of photos showing that I was actually a pretty cute kid with a great smile. The smile I’m referring to was the one my mom taught me. Having attended a parochial school throughout my childhood, I spent quite a bit of time singing in some type of a choir at church. Singing, especially in front of other people, was never one of my favorite things to do. That dislike of public singing meant I sang while looking like a little grump. Mom finally got sick of reminding me to smile, so she said that next time she was going to pick her nose every time I sang to force me to smile. Now, I don’t ever recall her ever actually picking her nose, but I do distinctly remember her lifting a finger to her face as if she was about to pick her nose. I know I did a lot better job of smiling from there on out. (I also got nose picking, booger birthday cards from mom for the next 20 years.) In the end, I think it made for a more pleasant listening experience for the audience when I actually appeared happy to be singing for them.

As I got older, I realized that for some reason children seemed to like me. At least, they didn’t appear to have any trouble acknowledging my presence. The only reason this jumped out at me was because adults would be less likely to approach me and say hi than a child would. It was pointed out to me that my “normal face” was the neutral, 1000 yard stare that I picked up in the Marine Corps. I didn’t walk around looking like I was mad at the world, but I didn’t appear overly friendly either. I made a mental note to add a smile (at least every now and then) and see what happened. Well, it worked. I don’t even think about it anymore. Apparently, I must smile so much now that when I’m deep in thought (not smiling) people will actually ask me what’s wrong.

Smiling is a definite must when it comes to my career in face-to-face customer service. Even on the phone you can usually tell if someone is smiling. That smile can change the direction a conversation goes and/or how people act. The simple little gesture of a smile will go a long way in maintaining your positive outlook in life. It’s also the first baby step towards laughing at problems when your day just isn’t going right. Enjoy your day and remember to smile. Until next time…

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Super Deluxe

The “inspiration” for this post comes from dad. (Just to clarify, I’m referring to my wife’s dad. I’m just not particularly fond of the term father-in-law.) I can’t recall a time when I asked dad how he’s doing and he didn’t instantly respond with “super deluxe”. I doubt that he is actually, truly, 100%, super deluxe ALL the time. The point I’m making is that he IS always optimistic about how good he is and/or will be. If only everyone was capable of that….

Working in a retail environment, I run into a wide variety of personality types and attitudes. I am fortunate that the far majority of the people I interact with on a daily basis are quite friendly and personable. That is one of the benefits of working in a small town and being on a first name basis with most of my customers. I do run into a handful of people that have me scratching my head wondering how they developed the attitude they have. It also serves as a challenging opportunity to try new methods of communication to develop a good relationship with them. Since I am a “bad news before good news” kind of guy, I will talk about the energy draining, bad attitude personality type first.

Somewhere along the line most of us have run into someone who left us dumbfounded by their negative attitude. I’m not just talking about someone having a bad day. We all have those. I’m talking about that person who appears to ALWAYS be having a bad day. It’s tiring for me to even think about how much energy they use to have a consistently negative attitude. I will give them credit for creativity. It’s not easy to be mad about, or find something wrong with, EVERYTHING. Here’s a sample conversation that I find myself in from time to time:

Me: “Good morning. How are you doing today?”

Customer: (Glares at me like I just spewed out a bunch of obscenities at them.)

Me: “What can I help you find today?”

Customer: (New glare that makes the last one look pleasant) “I know what I want.”

Me: “Excellent. What are you looking for? I can take you right to it.”

Customer: “I’ll get it myself.”

Me: “OK. Let me know if I can help you with anything else or answer any questions for you.”

Customer: (Huffs off reading all the aisle marker signs.)
***30 seconds later***
Customer: (In a loud, clearly annoyed voice.) “What do I need to do to get some help around here?”

Me: “I’d be happy to help you. What are you trying to locate?”

Customer: “I need some paint.”

Me: “I can help you with that. Let’s go up to the paint department.” (The brightly lit, colorful, in your face department right next to the front door where this whole conversation began.)

I could go on and on with this example, but I think you get the idea. Sometimes it gets to the point that I feel someone is playing a joke on me. Or better yet, testing the methods I train by mixing up customer profiles (browser, mission shopper, project shopper, etc) to see how I will react. It makes life more interesting for me, but that is only because I like a challenge and that’s the type of attitude I have.

I’m the kind of person who likes to find the lighter side of any situation. This may sound contradictory at first, but I often joke that I’m a “pesi-optimist”. I jokingly assume the worst is going to happen so that I will be pleasantly surprised when the best happens. Maybe I’ve read too many of Murphy’s laws? I’m not a negative person. I would just rather have the surprise of a good thing rather than the disappointment of something falling below my expectations. Some of the most “exciting” days I’ve had were the ones where nothing seemed to go right. They actually become laughable at some point and that laughter gives me the fuel to keep pushing through and solving each additional problem. Plus, at the end of the day, I feel like I accomplished something and I have a story or two to joke about later.

Going forward, I am going to continue trying to be positive in everything that I do. I may feel more “awesome” than “super deluxe”, but maybe that’s something that comes with age and experience. I know I have dad’s super deluxe example to motivate me. Hopefully it can motivate you too. Until next time…

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vacation or just time away from work?

My family and I just returned from nearly a week of traveling that I suppose is technically referred to as a vacation. A quick check of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary tells me that a vacation is “a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel”. Maybe my personal definition of vacation is a little different. I like to do as little as possible on a vacation. No thinking, no schedules, minimal planning, and a lot of relaxing. I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on my time away from work, compare it to the technical definition of a vacation, and see if it was truly a vacation.

I know I was away from work. I’m pretty sure I even let my co-workers know that I wouldn’t be there for about a week. (I’ll find out for sure when I get back to work tomorrow morning.) I may not have done the best job of not thinking or talking about work, but at least physically being away from it was a start. My wife had a little tougher time leaving work behind as she is always a full-time mother, with another full-time job (that she did leave behind for a week), and a personal business that she’s always active in. My girls were away from school (or daycare for the younger one), but my older daughter couldn’t stop talking about starting kindergarten in a few weeks…so I think it’s a toss-up on whether or not she left school behind.

As far as travel is concerned, we definitely got that one covered. Anyone who has ever traveled with kids in the 3-5 year old range can tell you that any time spent in the car longer than 30 minutes can be classified as a journey. I do have to say that my girls have proven to be excellent traveling companions (even with the extra potty breaks and occasional bickering). They were put through the ringer when we made the trip from Minnesota to Texas and back (twice - within a month of each other) earlier this year. I think that prepared them for this trip. You would think that traveling from Minnesota to Wisconsin and back this past week would have been a lot easier, but I am not so sure. On a really long haul trip, you have two traveling periods (there and back) with a longer period of “vacationing” in the middle. This week's trip was drive for 6-7 hours. Spend the night. Drive an hour. Attend a wedding. Drive an hour. Attend a reception. Drive an hour. Stay the night. Drive a couple hours. Spend the day… I think you get the picture. I was expecting to hear a lot of complaining from my girls about having to get back into the car to drive again when they were just starting to have fun again outside of the car….but there was very little of that. And because of that, I am extremely grateful. Traveling may be a struggle at times, but you still have the fun of seeing the country and having adventures. (I will have to post about the adventures from our Texas trips some other time….there were too many “adventures” and “excitement” on that trip for my liking.)

Then there is that whole “relaxing” part of the definition. I think this part snuck in there without announcing itself. It may have felt like we were always on the move and not getting to spend much quality time with family and friends, but looking back, that wasn’t the case. We got to spend time with family from all over the country (most of which we haven’t seen in a year or more). The kids got to play with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. We even managed to spend part of a day at the Milwaukee zoo as a family. That was a joy as it brought back memories for my wife who grew up there (in Milwaukee, not the zoo) and for my girls who had never been to a zoo before. They are now chomping at the bit to go back again. Their initial fear of going to the zoo (they thought we’d be walking in among the wild animals) was replaced by excitement and then maybe a little sadness (because we couldn’t pet the bears and lions).  Relaxing is what you make of it. I use to think relaxing had to involve being on the lake with a fishing rod in my hand or sitting on a beach with a book and a beverage. I am now learning to appreciate the simple act of visiting with friends and family as a great form of relaxation.

I may still feel like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation, but it was worth every minute. I also can’t complain too much as I will have a “stay-cation” coming up pretty soon anyway. I won’t expand on the concept of a stay-cation today, but I have grown to love them as well. For now, I think I will just re-define my own personal definition of what a vacation is to me: Taking time away from my normal daily activities to spend time with, and better appreciate, the people and blessings in my life. Until next time...

Friday, August 8, 2014

My girls babysitters' wedding

I realize the title of this post makes it sound like it's the wedding of my second cousin's next door neighbor's former high school coach's daughter's wedding, but in reality,  she is a very dear and closely related friend. My family has been fortunate enough to have her attending college in our little town for the last few years. She is one of those babysitters that you hear about that you swear can only exist in some mythical land far away. You leave the house hoping that the babysitter won't kill your kids and you come home to find them sleeping peacefully in bed, the house cleaned and organized,  and the dishes are done. That's her.
She is the babysitter who not only knows EVERY little trick to keeping your kids happy while getting them to do as you say,  but also manages to get them to do it willingly.... and then asking for more. She is every parent's dream and has been a huge blessing to our family.

She got married today.

Although this is a great loss to the babysitter list we have for those date nights my wife and I have every couple of years (it seems), not all is lost. We still have a few names on the roster. ... one of which is her younger sister and apparent mentee (she exhibits the same qualities in every respect), but today is not about her. Today is about the wonderful young lady who has now devoted her life to being a loving wife to a really great guy. (For the record: she's going to be an awesome wife and mother)

I am reminded of this particularly because I am currently at home with a sick child while my wife is enjoying time with the family at our cousin's wedding reception. (Disclaimer: It IS her side of the family, who she rarely gets to see,  and we didn't know the youngest was ill until I got the girls home and she threw up on me.)

In the end, I am only doing what a father is supposed to do.... which I do "gladly". (I'll be honest. .. me cleaning up puke usually generates more from me than the original mess) I still do it though for my daughters. I know my cousin will also do it for her family because she always goes above and beyond anyway.

I'm pretty sure she'll prove to be the ultimate wife as well as the ultimate (future) mother to their children.  God's blessings on their marriage. (And "NO", you can't have her sister's name or number. .... I'm too selfish to share her. )

Until next time. ..

Monday, August 4, 2014

Take me back to the terrible two's

Being the father of two girls, ages three and five, I have successfully made it through the first few phases of fatherhood. People have always talked about the "terrible two's". It really makes me wonder if those people are blocking out the third year for their own sanity. I recently heard someone refer to that third year as the "trying three's". I don't believe that title quite does it justice. I had a lot of expectations for each of the phases of my girls' childhood. Most of them played out as expected, but the third year for my younger daughter is proving to crush those expectations. Don't get me wrong. I love both of my daughters dearly and even realize the reasons behind everything that is happening. I am merely stating that I think we need to come up with a better "warning label" description for year three to make sure parents don't inadvertently let down their guard once their child has their third birthday.

Almost six years ago, I read books, viewed websites, and even watched a movie about what to expect for new parents. I particularly remember the movie. It was called something like "the period of purple crying". It was an effort by the county and/or some medical agency to prevent babies from being injured by their parents due to shaking a baby that won't stop crying. It basically explained how a baby can cry so loud, and for so long, that you may unintentionally shake your baby in a fit of passion just trying to get them to stop crying. The video itself showed babies crying louder and harder than I had ever seen and proved to be quite terrifying. The plus side to having watched that video, once I had refilled my blood pressure medication, was that reality didn't prove to be anywhere near that bad. I realize that no two babies are the same, so I can't speak for everyone. I also know that I have the ability to sleep through almost anything, so my wife may have a different opinion about how much our girls cried. In the end though, I made it through that 0-24 month phase unharmed.

The terrible two's really didn't bother me too much either. After having spent the previous two years waiting for my girls to roll over, sit up, walk, talk, etc., I quickly realized that it might have been better to let that training go a little longer. At two years old they don't stop talking and they're always on the move. The relentless questions may have tried my patience, but I saw it for the learning experience that it was. Constantly being on the move and getting into everything under the sun may have kept me on my toes, but I saw it for the exploration and discovery experience that it was. I will admit that the talking back and temper tantrum skills were being practiced during year two, but I can see now that the refining and improving of the true, full-blown, tear out your hair tantrums was done during year three. They began their steps towards independence during this second year, but they wait until year three to really test the limits of their independence.

I am not a doctor, but just by watching my daughters, I believe there is a huge jump in mental abilities during that shift from two to three years old. Add to that the fact that my younger daughter has a big sister as a mentor. (That's proven to be both good and bad.) The three year old, now feeling independent, full of knowledge, and having a completed recon of their boundaries completed, make their first full assault. It starts out as an innocent test battle, knowing that they can still (possibly) flash their eyes and make a cute pouty face (melting dad's heart) and avoid any real punishment. In my current situation, my five year old has provided an effective boot camp for my three year old, given her a battle plan, and is standing ready to flank us if/when her little sister needs the support. She has also been toughened up by her big sister because they are at war with each other almost as much as they are getting along. My three year old knows my plan of defense and typical counter attacks. She often knows which step will be taken next. If she has the warning of losing a toy if she acts up, she will act up and then have the toy ready to hand over when I arrive to take it. She has proven to be a tough little cookie in this game. Fortunately, I am still capable of thinking a few steps ahead of a three year old (most of the time). Someone told us that a "strong-willed" child often grows up to be a great leader. I'm not sure if that's true, but she's definitely following basic guerrilla attack plans. Plan. Attack. Retreat. Repeat. Maybe I should teach her how to create a five paragraph order for her mission plan so she's doing everything by standard operating procedures??

At the end of the day, I just need to remind myself how smart my daughters are and that maybe this just means that they will be great leaders one day. Until then, I will just continue to attempt to harness their abilities and turn them towards something more productive. As I don't see that happening overnight, I will spend a little time thinking of a more appropriate name for the three year old to better warn others not to drop their guard after the terrible two's. Feel free to offer suggestions. Until next time....