Nearly every afternoon, I plan; I hope that maybe this night, I’ll get to bed by the indecently early hour of 10 p.m.

As a kid, staying up late was a privilege, doled out as exceptions for special occasions, or stealthily acquired (typically by reading my Nancy Drew books while under the covers).

As a young adult, particularly while in college, it was a matter of honor to stay up late with friends.  That sleep deprivation, however, could easily be cured by sleeping in until the next afternoon morning.

Then came kids. With their downright infantile propensity for eating, sleeping and crying, their irregular schedules did not sync with my desire for a full night’s sleep.  Alas.

As my kids grew older, there was a sweet spot of sleeping opportunity that I failed to recognize. When the angels regularly went to bed before 8, that was my chance to catch up on the 6+ year sleep deficit.

But no, instead of catching up on sleep time, I caught up on “me” time.  Keeping tabs of the shenanigans of that handsome George Clooney on the TV show ER.  Not putting down a novel that I’d been anticipating reading.  How foolish was I?

Then came the teenage years, and in addition to my children wanting to stay up later than me, their activities kept me up.  Not the ones in the house, but the ones where I had to provide transportation.  Baseball and softball games. Church social activities.  My kids would use any excuse to prevent me from getting my well-earned snooze. (Truth be told, on the rare occasion that I have had an evening in, I’ve been held captive by my email, Facebook and other technology bandits until the wee hours.)

I know that a chronic lack of sleep can lead to long-term problems.  Studies have linked a lack of sleep with obesity, and can compromise our immune systems.  So knowing that, almost every day, I announce that I’m going to bed early.  And every night about 11:38 p.m., I turn off my light.

Maybe once all of the kids are off to college, I will finally have a quiet house and can catch up on my sleep by going to bed early.  Or, maybe, with no children in the house, I’ll stay up late to my heart’s content and will just set the alarm to wake me up by noon.

Some researchers say adults should get at least seven hours of sleep a night.  How many do you get?

 

Two years ago, Jennifer Newnam, a 36-year-old mom of three, felt a pea-sized lump during a routine breast self-examination.  She got it checked out and was told it was nothing to worry about.  Yet, a year later, she was given the news: she had invasive ductal cancer.  A bilateral mastectomy, nearly a year of chemo and a reconstructive surgery later, she would be well justified in feeling anger, fear and a sense of cosmic unfairness.  But Jennifer decided to look at it differently.

“I felt like it was difficult, but focusing on the good things helped a lot. Instead of dwelling on the bad days, it helped thinking that things would get better– and they always did,” Jennifer says.

It also helped to focus on the support she received from family, friends and neighbors.  “Anything that needed to get done seemed to get done some way, which was such a blessing,” she adds.

Not that it was always easy to admit needing help.  A self-described Type A personality, Jennifer said that she had to learn that she was not in control, and that she simply couldn’t do everything.   Always active, she found that during treatment, she didn’t have the stamina to run like she used to or to continue volunteering in her kids’ school.

“It’s definitely helped me focus on the important things instead of all the little minutiae that I used to get caught up in,” she says.  And family was important, but Jennifer realized she had spent a lot of time doing things forthem, but not spending time with them.  Her illness and recovery forced her to slow down, allowing her to share more time with her family.

“Just finding the joy in being with them. It’s lovely,” she says.

As she continues to recover, Jennifer knows she will start adding more activities, but this time, she plans use her time selectively. One place she is passionate about helping is The Helene Foundation, an organization that assists moms in the Triangle who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

“Not the medical needs,” Jennifer explains, “but the day-to-day needs so mothers can get through chemotherapy in the best way.”  Volunteers can help by providing meals, homework help, house cleaning and childcare.

“It’s the one time in life when moms have to be a little selfish, and it’s difficult to switch gears and let other people take care of us,” she says.

Her kids, ages 7, 8 ½ and 10, have also gone through a lot with the uncertainty of their mom being sick.  But, Jennifer says, they have also gained a lot.  From the time of her diagnosis, Jennifer says, she and husband Scott were very open with the children about the illness and treatment, answering any questions the kids had.

“I think their compassion has definitely stepped up this past year, which has been a blessing,” Jennifer says.  “They’ve seen first hand what it means to be helped by so many other people, so now they are ready to embrace the opportunity to help others, and I’m thankful that they see that.”

In the Newnam household, the common response to a complaint is: is the glass half full or half empty, Jennifer says.  She and Scott are intent on passing the glass full perspective on to her kids, teaching them to look for the good in even the toughest situations.

But don’t think Jennifer’s positive attitude always comes easily.  It’s a choice that she makes on a regular basis—a choice to look for silver linings in whatever curve is thrown her way.

“I don’t think I could have gotten through each day without looking for them.  There were many mornings where I felt like I would wake up and cancer is always still the first thing that comes to mind.  You make this a good day or a bad day, and it’s my decision.

“Making the mental shift to make it a good day was the only way I could get out of bed because some days, it would have been easier to stay under the covers,” she admits.  “Once you get out and get rolling, ” she adds, “you find that there are lots of blessings waiting out there.”

Yes.  I said it.  When is it okay for your daughter to dress like a hootchie mama?  I know, many of you are thinking—NEVER.  But hear me out.

When I was growing up, my mother made me dress appropriately. I wore cute shorts and shirts—nothing vulgar, but nothing overly conservative.  As a teen, I wore cute shorts and shirts, nothing too short, nothing too low.  As a young adult, I had one or two mini skirts that today wouldn’t garner a second look.  And now, here I am.  Waaay too old to dress provocatively.  At least intentionally.  The window on strutting my stuff — and showing it — has closed.

Yes. I can still look nice.  Yes, I can still dress tastefully, however, my days of baring my midriff, wearing skintight jeans, four-inch heels and string bikinis have passed.  When I look back, I realize that I didn’t dress nearly edgy enough when I could have—and I didn’t realize it!

I don’t want my daughter to have the same regrets in her adulthood that I do.  So when is it ever acceptable or encouraged for her to dress like a skank?

Not at her age right now, of course.  As a young teen, I don’t want her to give the wrong message.  I don’t want boys her age and older to think that her style of dressing is an invitation.  And, while I want her to appreciate her looks, I don’t want her to be obsessed by them.

Given her father and brothers’ propensity toward conservative apparel (“You call those shorts?  I can see your KNEES!”), my child will not get her hootchie on until she goes far away to college.

But then, she has a narrow window for getting the skank out of her system.  So I figure that starting in her late, late teens, she has about three, maybe four years of hootchie-dom.  Then, the real world of careers and such will come calling, and she’ll need to represent herself in person (and in Facebook photos) like a professional.  One day, she may not even want to dress like a hootchie, realizing that 40-year-old skanks are not viewed with the same tolerance that 20-year-old ones are.

Dressing like a skank, you realize, of course, is really just a metaphor for that sweet spot in life when you have the chance to just go all out and live on the edge, without apologies or many commitments.  An irresponsible time?  Perhaps, but how do you appreciate responsibility if you haven’t had a chance to see the contrast?  How many times have we looked back at our younger selves and said—why didn’t I take that chance?  Why didn’t I take chances?

Now, I don’t ever want my child to be confused with a ‘ho, but I do want her to look back on her life with no regrets for the things she did not do.  But maybe that’s just the wannabe skank in me talking.

Earlier this year, I prepared a commencement address for this year’s graduating class. Not that I’ve EVER been asked to deliver a speech (a trend that, for some unknown reason, did not change this year).  However, in the spirit of using it or losing it, I thought I’d share with you my thoughts.

Class of 2012,

No doubt your parents, teachers and counselors have given you countless pieces of advice on what you should strive for as you enter this next phase of your life.

I’m going to add to that collection with one bit of sage advice:  be like plants.

Yes, plants.

As you leave this warm, nurturing environment—a greenhouse, if you will– you are likely to find that your next surroundings may not be so comfy.  In the outside world, you may not have loved ones to make sure you get up on time, or pull the last fiver from the wallet to ensure you’ve got lunch money.  When your car breaks down, you may have a harder time living in a far off city, figuring out who to ask for a ride home from the repair shop.

So, as burgeoning young adults, you’ll need to be more resilient than perhaps ever before, without the constant sunlight and water and fertilizer provided in your past.  For that reason, I want you to be like a cactus.

Cacti are known for their ability to survive with little care.  They have periods of growth and periods of rest, and are able to theoretically hunker down and withstand whatever changes come their way.

But sometimes, you have to be like a rose.  Roses are known for their ability to be replanted.  Roses instinctively know how to adapt to a changing environment.  You too will have occasions in relationships or jobs when, as the soil shifts underneath your feet, you’ll realize it’s time to move on, and find a new place to grow.

Remember, though, that even as the world affects you, it’s up to you to take your own bite out of the world.   Like the Venus flytrap, don’t be afraid to go after what is important to you.

And although gardeners in the south may shudder, don’t hesitate to make an impact and spread your influence like Kudzu.

One of the most amazing things about plants, beyond their strength and adaptability, is their innate ability to return the bounties they have been given.  Whether it is through photosynthesis or even eventually as compost, plants benefit the environment throughout their lives.  What an excellent epitaph if the same could be said for each one of us.

So, Class of 2012, I urge you to channel your inner plant.  Be self-sufficient.  Remember to extend your roots, while at the same time, reaching your branches upward and outward.  Be strong enough to bend but not break.  Remember to help others, and always, seek the sun.

Do your kids believe in Santa?  When my kids were young,  one of the greatest pleasures of the season was to talk about Santa.  The night before Christmas, help the kids write a letter to Santa and leave a plate of cookies and carrots (hey, reindeer need to eat too!).  Late that night, I’d  leave my own letter “from Santa” in response and take a few bites of the cookies and carrots, intentionally leaving a few crumbs on the plate.

As my children grew older, they began to suspect something wasn’t quite right with the whole Santa thing.  “Why does Santa’s handwriting look just like yours?” one angel asked.   I began to compose my notes on the computer instead.  Ha!  Outsmarted a six-year-old.  I felt so proud.

Then, “why is the wrapping paper on the gift from Santa the same as the wrapping paper on presents from you and Daddy?”  Gulp.  Well, my dear, I’d respond, in my best Grinchy voice.  “Santa brought them here, but he has so many presents to deliver, I offered to help him out with the wrapping.”

They may not have believed me, but they went along with it.  After all, we’re talking presents!  But eventually, I realized that they were going to learn the truth, whether they found out from classmates, from a slip-up from me, or just from realizing the strategic impossibility of it all.  To prepare them, I started talking about the “spirit” of Santa, and how it lives in all of us, emphasizing why we really celebrate Christmas, etc.

I don’t know when the blinders were removed, but, suffice to say, none of my teenagers still believe that Santa is real.

I asked one of my angels when he found out, and surprisingly, he was still kind of upset about it.  Not that Santa wasn’t real, but that I had actively encouraged him to believe otherwise.

In my mind, I was building childhood memories, but maybe I was just setting him up for disappointment.  Maybe I was just too influenced by repeated viewings of “Miracle on 34th Street” myself.

What do you think?  If you celebrate Christmas, do you tell your children that Santa is real?  How do they find out otherwise?  If not, do you think the magical part of Christmas is as strong without that belief?

You may have heard the news: Tony and I are done.  I am now a singular exerciser.  In other words, I’ve stopped doing P90X.  The excuses reasons are well-founded.  Frankly, I didn’t see a dramatic change.  I know lots of people who did P90X and were thrilled.  Unfortunately, doing the P90X Lean program meant a lot of work, a lot of guilt if I didn’t do a lot of work and really, no massive amount of pounds lost that would make that work worthwhile.

Alas. Back where I started.  I’m not going to be the uber athlete I originally envisioned when I first began the program.  I’m not going to suddenly anticipate participating in the next 10K in my area.  Instead, I feel, kind of like a loser.  (Unfortunately, not as in The Biggest Loser.)

Thomas Edison is credited with saying, after another seemingly failed experiment, “I have not failed 1000 times.  I have discovered 1000 ways NOT to make a light bulb.”

Maybe the 1001st time will work.  Any other P90x non-losers out there?

I know you’ve been wondering, Tony.  I know we haven’t spent much time together recently.  It’s not you; it’s me.  Well, actually, it’s a little bit you too.  I know I’ve been busy with work and kids, and I like you, but really, it’s hard spending every evening together.  I mean, sometimes, a girl just wants to hang with her family or girlfriends, or maybe just veg out in front of the television.

I know that’s probably a foreign concept to you.  After all, what’s that you always say?  Oh yeah:  Ain’t no tired!

This isn’t a Dear Tony letter. I still want us to spend time together. There’s no one I’d rather downward dog with–if I have to, in fact, do downward dogs.  In the weeks since we’ve been together, I’ve come to miss your quirky sense of humor.  No one else says “tippy toes” like you.

You always say to do your best, then forget the rest.  Well, as busy as life has been these last few weeks, just getting through it has been my best.  But I’m ready to come back to you, Tony. I’m ready to keep pushing play.

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