16 Dec

The Wedding Anniversary Voucher

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

On my wedding anniversary, the man who made vows to love, honor and cherish me all the days of his life called my cell phone.

“Hey, honey,” he said.

“Are you still at the airport?”

“Yeah, and I’m not going to make it home in time for us to go out for dinner tonight,” he said.

“Bad weather in Chicago?” I asked.

american-airlines-planeNot exactly.”

“Is something wrong with the plane?”

“No, the plane is taking off right now.”

“Then why aren’t you going to be here?”

“Well, the flight was overbooked. And the flight attendant asked for a volunteer to get off the plane and take a later flight, but no one was volunteering because it’s Friday night and everybody wants to get home.”

“And…?”

“And then she started offering a travel voucher for 100 dollars, then 200, then 300… She got all the way up to 500 dollars.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you’re not going to be here for our anniversary dinner because you took a travel voucher instead?”

“I did,” he said. “And the flight attendant was so grateful that I volunteered that she bumped it up the travel voucher to 600 dollars.” The uneasy tone in his voice told me he was nervous about selling out to American Airlines on the night of our anniversary.

I paused for a moment, realizing that the steak dinner I’d been looking forward to was about to turn into a frozen pizza with the kids. Then I said something full of the kind of real-life practicality that comes along with 16 years of marriage and mortgages and kids: “They gave you six hundred dollars? SCORE! Where should we go when we use it?”

We spent the next few minutes deciding how to use the travel voucher while I texted the babysitter and asked if she could come watch the kids the following night instead. By the time Tom came home dragging his suitcase behind him, there were stale pizza crusts on the kitchen counter and the kids and I had fallen asleep while watching reruns of Shark Tank.

If this had happened on the night of our first wedding anniversary, I probably would have passively-aggressively told Tom I was “fine” and then spent the next hour alone in a weepy heap on the sofa, tormented by how he could do such an awful thing to me on our anniversary. Then I would have worked up a full steam of righteous anger and expressed it over a week’s worth of icy cold shoulders and stink eye.

I still had a lot to learn in Year One. We both did. But now we have a few years of “for better or worse” under our belts, and life has a way of teaching you which things to get upset over and which ones just don’t rise to the level of “big deal.”

There are lots of great things about marriage but one of the best is the sense of calm you get as the years go by. Your happiness doesn’t hinge on a missed dinner appointment or a disagreement. You have the reassurance that your commitment is more durable than that. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t get frustrated with each other and sometimes even downright mad. It just means we have the sense that, even in those times, it’ll be okay. And that’s a blessing.

We finally decided what to do with that 600-dollar travel voucher. After the holiday chaos ends, we’re using it to take our oldest son to see the sights in Washington, D.C. to celebrate his 13th birthday. See how we turned a missed anniversary dinner into an awesome birthday gift? And while we’re there, we’re definitely getting that steak dinner.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

18 Nov

Worst Case Scenario Syndrome

electrical fire

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I have a condition many parents suffer from: Worst Case Scenario Syndrome or WCSS. It’s not in the official book of diseases because I just made it up but that doesn’t make it any less real. Make no mistake — it’s real, and I have the freshly sprouted gray hairs to prove it.

This sanity-threatening condition reared its paranoid head just last week. When I sat down in my home office to begin the day’s work, I smelled a faint but distinctive smell of something burning. It smelled hot with a hint of a chemical scent, the way an overworked engine might smell just before bursting into flames.

I walked around the room, sniffing the printer, computer, lamp, computer modem and television, but I couldn’t determine the source of that ominous smell. I unplugged everything, just to be safe.

An hour later, the smell had intensified. That’s when my internal light bulb went off and I realized the problem might be overhead — in the light bulb. I looked up and eyed the ceiling-mounted light fixture suspiciously. What if some faulty electrical wiring was causing sinister sparks to ignite within the walls and ceiling where I couldn’t see?

So I did what I imagine any concerned woman would do. I climbed up onto my desk and sniffed as close to the light fixture as possible, and then I climbed back down and called my husband.

“Honey, there’s a bad smell in my office and I think it might be an electrical fire.”

“What? Do you see smoke?”

“Well, no, there’s no smoke but there’s a terrible smell — like a mix of chemicals burning. The weird thing is that I can only smell it in my office.”

“Did you check all the electrical outlets?”

electrical fire“Yes, and I unplugged everything in this room, but the smell is getting worse. I think it might be in the light fixture on the ceiling. I got as close to it as I could so I could sniff it.”

“You sniffed a light fixture? Did you use a ladder?”

“Well, no, I climbed up on the desk, but you’re missing the point. I’m not sure that’s where the smell is coming from, but I turned the light switch off, just in case.”

“Okay, well let’s see if the smell gets better now that the light is off.”

“But I’ve got to go run errands. What if the house catches on fire while I’m gone?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“You don’t think we should call an electrician to come out here and check it?”

“We will if we need to, but let’s try to pinpoint what it is first.”

“Okay, but I’m telling you something is catching on fire in the ceiling.”

I wanted to go on record with my hunch so that if the house suddenly turned into a scene from the movie Backdraft, I could issue a stern “I told you so” as we sifted through the charred remains of our family memories.

After running errands, I returned home and walked into the office hoping the smell had dissipated – but it was even stronger. Charlie, our intrepid Beagle, trotted along beside me and went immediately to the trash can by my desk where he stopped and sniffed.

Following his lead, I leaned over and sniffed the trash can, too, and that’s when I saw it — a discarded bag of microwave popcorn with blackened kernels inside. Suddenly the memory of 7-year-old Kate bringing the burnt bag of popcorn to me the day before reentered my mind. I’d tossed it into the trash without a second thought.

And just so you know, burnt popcorn on Day 2 smells like an electrical fire. But before you have the fire trucks come screeching up to your house, you should probably empty the trash and open a window. Worst Case Scenario Syndrome can get pretty embarrassing.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

06 Nov

Fed Up

i voted

By Gwen Rockwood

During the drive to school this morning, I turned down the radio when another political ad came on. “Ugh! At least today is the last day we’ll have to put up with the ads. It’s election day.”

“Stupid voting,” my 12-year-old son mumbled in agreement.

“No, it’s not stupid,” I said, realizing that weeks of irritating commercials have caused him to lump voting into the same unappealing category as those repetitive ads. He was about to throw the voting baby out with the advertising bathwater, which has become increasingly dirty these past few weeks.

i votedSo I tried to explain why it’s important that adults go vote: “Some of the ads are annoying — that’s true — but the voting part is important. People shouldn’t complain about government leaders if they’re not willing to vote on who gets into office. We’re lucky we get to vote.”

“I know,” he said. “The voting part is good, but I’m so sick of those stupid ads.”

And he is not alone. We’re all sick of them. I have to imagine that even the candidates themselves get tired of hearing their names either built up or torn down every other 30 seconds.

The DVR that allows me to record the news and TV shows and then speed through the commercials has never been more appreciated than it has been these past few months when it let me skip over the constant stream of political jabs. But even with a DVR, it’s impossible to avoid the ads completely. Part of me wanted to scold the candidates for all their non-stop bickering and then send them to separate corners to think about what they’ve done.

But maybe it’s unfair to blame the players for what is inherently an ugly game. The candidates, their political parties and their supporters know that people are more likely to vote for familiar names, for people they feel like they know something about. So they run their ads — morning, noon and night — and hope their commercials are a little less annoying than their competitors’ spots. They hope one of their messages will strike a nerve with voters who’ll remember it on Election Day.

A few weeks ago, our 7-year-old daughter told me she would not vote for a certain candidate because she heard about what he did and that he voted “no” on something important. She was almost angry at him, and she was convinced that he must not be a good person. So I tried to tell her that sometimes advertisements don’t tell the whole truth and that we can’t decide what kind of person someone is based on a 30-second commercial on television.

“Can the people on commercials tell lies?” she asked.

“Well, no, they’re not supposed to tell lies in commercials because that’s against the law, but sometimes they only tell part of the truth and not the whole story,” I answered. She looked at me blankly and went back to her bowl of Cheerios. (Want a tough parenting assignment? Try explaining political “spin” to a 7-year-old.)

Lately I’m wondering if we’re not all frustrated children, when it comes to truly understanding our political system and knowing the candidates. I wish I could say I always study each candidate objectively and understand the nuances of every amendment, but I don’t. Sometimes what I know comes from a series of sound-bites or headlines that never tell the full story. That’s just not good enough. I have to do better than that, not only for myself but as an example to the future voters I’m raising.

But for the record, I have to believe we could do better than our current system of back-biting, name-calling, mud-slinging campaigns that stretch on for months and completely turn off the young people who will one day be new voters.

“I’m fed up, and I approved this message.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s  book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

04 Nov

On Pins and Needles

NOSTALGIA© 1998 PhotoSpinwww.powerphotos.com

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

There are two kinds of people in the world: grown-ups and fraidy-cats who are scared of needles. I’m in that second group.

fraidy catSomething happened yesterday that “outed” me with the kids, so now they know that their mother – who they always assumed was a bona fide grown-up – is actually a big ol’ fraidy cat.

Our insurance program sent us a couple of “biometric test kits” in the mail, requiring Tom and me to fill out a health questionnaire and submit a blood sample. The kit came with a little needle with which to perform the finger prick and a card that required three drops of blood.

Trust me when I say that I realize a finger prick is no big deal. I had three kids so I’ve seen my fair share of needles. When I was in the midst of active childbirth, I practically begged the anesthesiologist to bring the biggest needle he could find and stick it in my spine – anything that might dull the pain of contractions.

In those situations, however, I was focused on the goal of delivering a baby into the world. A needle seemed like a small price to pay for such a lofty mission. But a biometric test kit for a nosy insurance program? That offered no motivation whatsoever.

But I’m married to a grown-up who insisted we complete the test and send it back. After a 9-hour fasting period, he dutifully stabbed his finger and bled all over the test card before sealing it up in the return envelope. Then he looked at me and said, “Do you want to prick your own finger or do you want me to do it for you?”

“Neither?” I said.

“That wasn’t one of the options,” he said in that annoying, grown-up tone of voice.

Insisting I wasn’t ready yet, I hid out in our bedroom trying to talk my inner fraidy-cat into acting like a grown-up long enough to face the needle. I knew I couldn’t bring myself to stab my own finger which meant I’d have to let him do it. It’s one thing to let a trained medical professional stick you with a needle, and it’s another thing entirely to let someone stick you who has roughly the same medical expertise as Bozo the Clown.

Fortunately, my mother came over about that time and she offered to be the finger pricker, since she’s diabetic and has experience with such things. I reluctantly extended my hand and turned my head away from the carnage.

Admittedly, the finger prick didn’t hurt much. Had it ended with the needle stick, I would’ve been fine. But my finger wouldn’t bleed enough to get three big drops onto the test card, so Tom and my mother started squeezing the blood out of my hand, insisting they just needed one more drop.

All that squeezing and talking about blood started to make me feel woozy. Suddenly the back of my neck got hot and my stomach started a queasy somersault. Seven-year-old Kate appeared at my side, holding my other hand and reassuring me I’d be okay. Her 10-year-old brother also came to my aid, worried about how pale I looked.

Finally, after they literally squeezed the life blood out of me, the tormenters released me and I slid down to a more comfortable horizontal position on the floor where I continued to bleed. Tom fetched me a Band-Aid while the kids fanned me with the newspaper. It was not my finest moment.

Of course, all the grown-ups out there will roll their eyes and scoff at my silliness. But my fellow fraidy-cats? They understand.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To check out Gwen’s  book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

28 Oct

Picture This

camera1

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I felt it as soon as I woke up this morning – that familiar pang of dread in the pit of my stomach that can only mean one thing: It’s picture day.

Picture day is a huge deal for moms because family photos are the only way we can keep our kids at this age forever – a chance to freeze the magic of this point in their childhood and preserve it.

Our family doesn’t have family professional pictures made very often, but when we do, I want it to go well. And because I want it to go well, I get uptight. And because I get uptight, the whole picture day experience ends up feeling like a trip through a minefield. One false step and the whole thing could blow up.

Part of the problem is that I’m still dealing with the post-traumatic stress left over from picture days when the kids were much younger. When you’re trying to get a family picture that includes babies and toddlers, you can pretty much count on a meltdown. Kids who otherwise have huge smiles on their faces will suddenly decide they’re the most miserable, unhappy people in the world.

Why? Because they can. They’re drunk on the power they hold in their sticky little hands. And perhaps they’re amused at how hard their mother will work to cheer them up before the picture gets snapped.

camera1But by the time we’re posed for the picture, we mothers are already down to one very fragile last nerve. We’ve already spent days picking out the family’s clothes, washing and ironing, fixing hair and then keeping the kids from getting dirty before the picture is taken. We’re already worried that perhaps the quest of capturing our family’s joy in a photo is a fool’s dream.

I can remember plenty of times during family photos when I’ve said things like this through gritted, smiling teeth between camera snaps: “Jack, you’re not smiling. Why aren’t you smiling? Adam, stop fidgeting around! She put you in a spot and you have to stay there. Why are you looking down? Look at the camera! And smile! Kate, stop poking your brother. No, don’t look up at me. Look at the camera! And smile!”

When bossing them around fails to work, you transition into bribery mode. “If you do a good job of smiling for pictures, we’ll go get ice cream after this. Think about the ice cream you’re going to get! And smile! Are you smiling?”

And if the lure of ice cream doesn’t work, you start a death spiral of threatening: “I swear, kids, if you mess up this picture after I have worked so hard to get us all dressed, you will never get ice cream again in your entire life. And no pizza! Ever! Do you hear me? Do NOT mess this up.”

Worried that his wife might unhinge her jaw and swallow them all whole if this thing doesn’t go well, the poor husband plasters on a terrified smile. But no one wants to open a Christmas card and see fake smiles that look more like a case of manic constipation.

Fortunately, our family’s photographer is incredibly good. She has a gift for wrangling kids who would rather be somewhere else, and she knows how to put their anxious parents at ease. By some miracle, she cuts through the kids’ fidgeting, the mother’s uptight angst and the father’s “grin and bear it” smile until she finds a few moments of normalcy, of relaxed laughter, of joy. And she captures them just in time to tell a great story.

Thank goodness for happy endings.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

21 Oct

Glory and the Geek

Geeks!

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I am a geek. Always have been. But now it’s easy – and almost cool – to admit it. Twenty-five years ago? Not so much. Back then, my glasses, braces and clarinet carrying case were all social life liabilities. In the 80s, if you aced a few spelling tests or a teacher praised you for being smart, you found yourself on the fast track to Geeksville, and nobody wanted to be there.

But times have changed and now we live in a much more geek-friendly world. Some of our coolest modern-day conveniences wouldn’t exist were it not for the i love geekslong hours and irrational obsessions nurtured by a few world-changing geeks. The next time you use a computer, Google something using a smartphone, or “like” a funny picture on Facebook, you have a geek to thank.

I’m happy to report that, thanks to a kinder, gentler geek-loving culture, smart kids are flourishing. About a month ago, I volunteered to help coach my son’s middle school Quiz Bowl team as they prepare for an upcoming tournament. Lucky for me, the coaching duties are easy. I mostly just ask the kids trivia questions and read off the answers when they miss one.

These limited duties work in my favor because these kids are way smarter than me. I marvel at how they can recall who invented the cotton gin or the main characters in a Shakespearian play. The sheer proximity to this wealth of brain power has turned me into one of “those parents” – the ones who get a little too enthusiastic about their kids’ extra-curricular activities.

After a few Quiz Bowl practices, I noticed a pattern in the types of questions the kids had trouble with, so I researched those subjects and made a study guide full of the kind of random facts that win Quiz Bowl competitions: a list of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, definitions for terms like “spondee” and “anapest” and everything you ever didn’t want to know about elements in the periodic table.

I made copies of all this study-guide gold and then assembled the pages on my living room floor one night, hole-punching, organizing and putting them into 3-ring binders. That’s when it hit me that perhaps I’d caught a bad case of geek fever.

In the midst of all the hole-punching, I looked over to Tom who was watching television like a normal person and said, “Honey, have I gone too far here? The kids are going to think I’m weird, right?”

“No, it’s… nice that you’re being helpful,” he said, (which I’m pretty sure was code for “Oh no, what have I done? I married a Super Nerd.”)

During the next practice session, I passed out my super geeky study guide binders to the kids on the Quiz Bowl team, hoping it might give them a competitive edge in the upcoming tournament. None of them rolled their tween-age eyes at me, and – even though perhaps they should have – no one told me to go get a life. And that just reinforces what I love most about great geeks – the way they not only accept but embrace what used to be shunned as geeky.

They don’t dumb themselves down so that they’ll blend more easily into the typical teenage social scene. But they don’t let their intelligence turn them arrogant, either. They’re smart and quirky but also kind and funny – four of the best adjectives you can be.

I’m grateful to be raising kids during a time when parents can be happy if their kids excel at sports but also equally thrilled when kids find their niche in other areas that require just as much skill and strategy.

As the super-smart, quirky people often say, the “geek shall inherit the Earth.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

14 Oct

Procrastination: Shoulda Woulda Coulda

should graphic

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Like most writers, I have a dance partner whose name is Procrastination. I hate his guts. What a slacker. And yet we keep on dancing. We side-step and disco-delay until I’m up against a wall and have no choice but to kick him out and get down to work.

So in an effort to “know my enemy,” I’m reading a book about procrastination. (And yes, I’m fully aware that reading a book about procrastination might just be another way I’m procrastinating doing the actual work. But I’ve already admitted there’s a problem, so give a girl some credit.)

I’m about halfway through the book, which is titled The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore. It promises to not only explain how to stop procrastinating but also offer insight on why we do it in the first place.

Most people think procrastinators are sprawled out on the sofa watching the Kardashians get weirder by the second, while their work goes untouched and obligations get ignored. But that’s a misconception. Because a lot of procrastinators are a whirlwind of activity. We are what I’d call “productive procrastinators.”

It’s amazing the amount of work I can get done on other chores when there’s a more important project I’m actively avoiding. If my kitchen is spotless, it’s because I’ve been seeking escape at the bottom of a sink of sudsy dishes. If the pantry is pristine, it’s because I’m looking behind cans of green beans for the willpower to start that looming project.

I’m not alone in this, right? Please tell me I’m not alone. There are more than 1,700 books about procrastination on Amazon, so apparently many of us struggle with this push-pull between work and distraction. If you, like me, are sick of waiting around for that magical, extended block of inspired time to tackle a project, here are three things I’ve learned so far:

should graphicShoot the “should.” Most of us spend a large part of the day thinking about what we “should” do. But that’s kind of like carrying a cranky, finger-pointing school teacher around in our head all day, and our response is to resist the authority. The book advises us to recognize that what we do – or not do – is our choice, regardless of the consequences. So “choose” to do something or not to do it. Shoot the should.

Aim for half. Not half the project. Just half an hour. You can do almost anything for half an hour, right? Set a timer, work for 30 minutes and then stop or switch to something easier. That half-hour of time is long enough to get started (which is always the hardest part) but not long enough to feel like drudgery. Then (and this part is important) give yourself credit for that short burst of focused work. Write down each half-hour and total them up each week.

Nurture your inner toddler. When my kids were little, I’d often get them to clean up their toys by promising that we could go outside and play afterward. It made it easier for them to do the boring stuff because they knew fun stuff was coming up next.

Similarly, the book advises procrastinators to schedule our own version of playtime, like lunch with a friend, a trip to get coffee or some time to sit and do nothing. Knowing you’re carving out time to relax makes it easier to focus during work. And free time feels a lot more “free” when you’re not mentally beating yourself up about what you “should” be doing.

Finally, here’s a great line from the book, which speaks to the heart of any perfection-loving procrastinator: “Work for an imperfect, perfectly human first effort.”

Projects can’t ever get better if they never get started.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

07 Oct

To Selfie or not to selfie… that is the question

gwen selfie for email

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Remember the story of Narcissus? He’s the main character in a Greek myth about a man so entranced by his own good looks that he pines away while staring at his reflection in a pool. The story makes me wonder: If smartphone screens were pools of water, would people be drowning every day? Has the selfie phenomenon brought a tidal wave of our own reflection at which we can’t stop staring?

As easy as it would be to hate everything about the selfie movement, I don’t think it’s all bad. I’m sitting smack dab on the selfie fence. I’ve snapped a few pictures while using the backward-facing camera on my smartphone, but most of those shots have been “ussies” which are pictures of yourself next to someone else. The “ussie” is the selfie’s less indulgent first cousin, and it’s about capturing a moment of friendship.

But I feel awkward about selfies because it seems like I’m desperately writing the words “Look at me!” on my forehead and then sharing that image with the world. But maybe that’s a hang-up unique to my generation. Today’s generation of girls are growing up with a “Why not look at me?” philosophy.

So for research purposes, I took a few selfies today. Then I looked at the shots, paying attention to what went through my mind:

“Wow, I had no idea my left eyebrow is so weird. I shouldn’t have smiled so much. It makes my upper lip practically disappear, and there’s nothing pretty about that much gum tissue. I should shoot this again and this time lower my left eyebrow and decrease the smile by like 20 percent. And I’m going to raise the camera and shoot the picture from above so my neck looks skinnier.”

gwen selfie for emailSo then I shot more selfies, most of which prominently feature my own thumb in the corner of the frame. Finally, I captured one that was not completely awful. Hurray! Selfie success. The process reminded me of a cartoon I saw online not long ago that says: “Behind every good selfie are approximately 36 nearly identical pictures that didn’t make the cut.”

Part of the reason we often avoid someone else’s camera is because we have no idea how the shot will look. But selfies offer us control. We can change the angle, expression and our hair until everything is just right – or as right as it can be.

So maybe for some, the selfie is a shot of confidence – useful to glance at on those days when we beat ourselves up about our looks. It’s a visual reminder that we’re not as unattractive as negative feelings sometimes convince us we are.

On the other hand, selfies are notorious for being overshared on social media, silently asking for electronic “likes” and “hearts.” What’s with all the selfie sharing? Humans have a basic need to be seen and recognized – at home, work, school, etc. A recent article in Forbes magazine points out that “when people are recognized and feel appreciated, they repeat the behavior that was recognized.” Hence, the selfie overpopulation problem.

Part of me admires those bold selfie shooters who look so comfortable in their own skin. The other part of me thinks a restriction on the number of selfies shared on social media makes perfect sense. Two selfies per month seems like more than enough, doesn’t it? No one is going to forget what your face looks like within the next two weeks.

Those who insist on flooding us with an endless string of selfies should know that they’re starting to look a whole lot like Narcissus – lost in admiration and dangerously close to drowning in a pool of their own reflection.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

30 Sep

Bullied at home

percy the great

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Sometimes I feel like I’m being bullied in my own home – by the pets. I’m bigger than they are, so how is it that they always seem to get their way? I should be controlling them – not the other way around.

If cats could tell time, I would get our cat Percy a reliable Timex and strap it on her furry leg. Because when the sun goes down, Percy starts performing a barrage of harassing “feed me” reminders. She’s afraid I’ll forget to crack open her nightly can of Fancy Feast before I go to bed.

I don’t go to bed until 10 or 11 p.m., but Percy starts the reminders around six o’clock. That’s at least four hours of being stalked by a loud, insistent cat. And if percy the greatI stand still for more than a few seconds, she weaves in and out of my legs in an obvious attempt to trip me and cause me bodily harm.

One time last week, I came upstairs after dark to change a load of laundry, but Percy must have assumed I was turning in for the night while her food bowl was still empty. You can imagine her feline outrage. Just as I rounded the corner with a full laundry basket in hand, she came at me in a sideways galloping run with her back bowed up and her tail bushed out – trying to make herself as big and scary as possible. If that’s not a direct cat threat, I don’t know what is.

Sometimes I think that, if I were to skip a few nights of her beloved Fancy Feast, she might smother me in my sleep just to teach me a lesson.

I wish I could say the dog is sweeter than the cat, but he is just as manipulative – although he uses a different approach. The trouble started after I bought Charlie a doggie bowtie that fastens onto his collar. It’s funny and makes him look as ironically dignified as a Beagle can look, but obviously the fancy new style is going straight to his head.

Suddenly he’s too good for his dog bed on the floor, and he has learned to use those puppy dog eyes as a weapon. He plays the “sweet and pitiful card” until he gets exactly what he wants. And what he wants is to execute a hostile takeover of our king size bed.

One night, in a moment of weakness, I let him get on the bed, and he has never been the same since. Now, he sprints for the bedroom and bounds up onto the bed. He sticks his nose under the edge of the comforter and roots his way under the covers until he reaches the foot of the bed. Then he burrows into his own little Beagle cave and snores softly all night, dreaming of squirrels and table scraps.

I worry sometimes that he’ll suffocate under there, but he sleeps just fine, only coming up for air when one of us accidentally sticks a foot into his personal space. And speaking of personal space, Charlie takes up a lot of it.

He’s a small dog, the runt of his litter, but he stretches out all four of his spindly legs until he has occupied nearly half the space – which just goes to prove that old saying: “If you give a dog an inch, he’ll take your whole bed.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love these little hairy beasts, which is why I tolerate their shenanigans. But sometimes I can’t help but notice that the word “pets” is only one letter away from the word “pests.” Coincidence? You decide.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

23 Sep

Feeling a little loopy

SONY DSC

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

If you’re feeling a little distracted and loopy lately, the culprit might just be – get this – loops. Specifically? Open loops.

An “open loop” is anything that pops into your mind – or your email inbox or voicemail – that distracts you and needs your attention. It could range from small things like “buy cat food” to big things like “start a new business” or anything in the middle.

The idea of “open loops” became popular more than a decade ago when author David Allen published a business book called “Getting Things Done.” But 12 SONY DSCyears ago I was busy with babies instead of business books, spending most of my time on repeated readings of Goodnight Moon. So I was out of the loop on the problem with loops. The only loops I knew about were Froot Loops and the actual loops I ran while chasing toddlers around the house.

But now that those three babies are busy school-age kids, I find myself in a constant quest to get more done in a day. Some weeks feel like a blur of work, school, piano lessons, dance classes, dentist appointments, birthday parties and an endless stream of work and family tasks I can’t seem to tame. So if “open loops” are keeping me from getting ahead, I’d like to find out how to close them.

After a little research, I found some real science behind the “open loop” concept. Back in the 1920s, a Lithuanian graduate student named Bluma Zeigarnik sat in a restaurant and noticed that waiters were able to remember complicated dinner orders right up until the customers finished the meal and the waiter dropped off the check. After the check was paid, those complex orders seemed to vanish from the waiters’ minds.

So the observant grad student theorized that mental energy is drawn to tasks that are incomplete. Once the task is dealt with (and the loop is closed), it leaves the mind. Lab studies backed up her theory, and the concept of being distracted by incomplete tasks is now known as the “Zeigarnik Effect.” (If you’ve ever studied half the night, took a test the next morning, and then realized that you’d already forgotten at least half the study material during the 10 minutes after finishing the test, then you’ve had personal experience with the Ziegarnik Effect. Apparently my college years were chock full of the Ziegarnik Effect, but I digress.)

If Ms. Zeigarnik was alive today, I bet she’d be astonished at all the dangling, open loops in modern society. Social media, in particular, has brought an onslaught of new loops. After I spend a few minutes scrolling through my Facebook feed, I feel overwhelmed by hundreds of new bits of information that probably float in and around the open loops in my head, creating a tangled mess where forgotten appointments go to die.

Perhaps our human nature craves a complete circle. We want novels to be tied up in a bow by the final line. And we can’t help but feel supremely annoyed when a television show leaves us hanging in the final minute with nothing more than those maddening three little words: to be continued.

Productivity experts like Allen say that one of the best things we can do to clear our heads is to find a system for capturing and writing down all those open loops. Once we write them down and figure out the next step needed to close the loops, the more our minds can relax and stop running around in proverbial circles. No more bolting upright in bed, just as you were drifting off to sleep, because you suddenly remembered something you were supposed to do.

So this week I’m going to avoid tackling a bunch of new tasks and focus instead on closing the ones already in progress. Who knows? Maybe finishing more projects will clear my mind and put me into a zen-like state of loop-free contentment.

Or maybe this is all just a bunch of psycho-babble hooey, as my dad might say. I suppose there’s only one way to know. We should test it out by giving ourselves the satisfaction of closing a…

loops2(See what I did there?)

Loop.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required Email Address * First Name Last Name