Competition Versus Cooperation

chickens.jpgI’ve never been a competitive person. Usually a sense of competition kicks in around the age of four, when a child gains a clear understanding of “me” and “mine.” Even then there is often a desire to share unless the child is surrounded by competitors. When I was growing up competition was the rule and the idea of a game that required cooperation instead was unknown. I did not enjoy the competitive world I grew up in.

Even as a child I disliked competition in sports. One reason was that I wasn’t very agile or well-coordinated and thus most often chosen last for any team. Another was that it made me sad that someone had to lose in order for someone to win. I played board games yet not with a keen desire to win. For instance, Parcheesi which was a popular game when I was young was best won by blocking opponents and rendering them helpless. I never enjoyed doing that. For me, that was like punishing someone or hurting them.

My mother was a fierce competitor. She loved games and was good at them. She played Bridge and Mahjong with her friends. With me she played card games and Chinese checkers, which she played without mercy, making no allowances for youth or inexperience. She played to win, regardless. As a result, I did learn to play a good game of Chinese checkers. Fast forward to my adulthood. I still resisted competition when I could. Unfortunately, my children invariably made me enter the tired Mothers Race at the fourth of July games. in the town where they grew up. I came in last no matter how hard I tried.

My children’s father was very competitive. He encouraged the children while they were still quite young to play on teams and to compete. He even started a girls’ softball league in the town where we lived.  My daughters and then my sons all strove to do well in order to make him happy. He cherished their ribbons and trophies and often coached their various teams to victory. As a loyal mom I used to attend their tennis matches and their and baseball and ice hockey games, cheering along with the other parents and trembling for fear they would lose and be sad.

Regardless whether or not they won, I was glad whenever the games or matches were over. Certainly, my children learned much from their years playing tennis, hockey, and baseball. They had fun and met other children they would not have met otherwise. I am not regretful for them, though I do feel there are other ways to have fun that they might have enjoyed as well. I was too busy keeping up with household and child caring duties to do much about that.

Competition is said to be a good learning experience for children. Today even little ones barely out of toddler years are put on teams to play at various sports. For competitive people that’s good. For those like me, not so much. On the other hand, it is possible to play games in the spirit of cooperation. Team efforts in sports are only one way. There is also a cooperative way to play many games, and that is to play to see how high the score can rise. Scrabble can be played that way, and I know that’s how I would prefer to play it.

Agreeing to Disagree

2014-09-16 15.36.53My parents frequently discussed decisions, disagreed often and usually did so at the tops of their voices. They were a fiery couple and yelled their feelings vociferously. We did not have any neighbors nearby and no one could hear them but me. Though there was never any physical violence between them, I do remember the day my mother hurled a plate of scrambled eggs at my father. He ducked and it sailed into the closed window behind him, breaking through it, to land and shatter on the stone terrace beneath, breaking through the wood.

Their fights were scary for me. As a young child I found their loud discussions difficult to bear. I vowed I would never do that to my family. When I married my late first husband it was with that thought in mind. I worked extra hard to keep the peace. I made sure we did not fight or even disagree  in front of or within hearing of our children.  Also, he was not one to express his feelings anyway. Actually, he did not like to discuss them at all. He made the rules. Our marriage did not survive the rough waters of silent dismay and disagreement.

When Stephen and I first got together I told him that if our relationship were to last it must be based on honesty. As I explained it, what that meant was that when one of us had negative feelings to express or was uncomfortable about something, that person must be able to talk about it freely. He agreed to this and our relationship just passed its forty second year.

Very rarely have we had what could be termed a fight. We do bicker, and we do discuss, and sometimes we need to just say, “I hear you,” and let it go.  No matter how much you may love them it is impossible to agree on everything with one’s loved one. For instance, Stephen finds it easy to ignore his piles of various possessions, clothes, papers, etc.. He doesn’t care how much they accumulate and though he may try to be neat, it’s just not one of his priorities.

We differ radically on this. To my way of thinking , insofar as I am able, to arrange it there’s a place for everything and everything goes into its place. This often creates opportunities for discussion between us. However, because frequent communication is the bedrock of a good relationship, this is good. Talking about how we feel keeps the feelings from piling up and becoming negative behavior. Mutual respect keeps conversation civil, and when we agree to disagree, love prevails and so does harmony.

Though you may not agree with everything a loved one says or does, when you love him or her wholeheartedly you can respect his or her opinions enough to allow him or her to keep them. That does not mean there is nothing to discuss. That discussion is the glue that keeps rhe relationship together. It is important to express your own feelings as well as to allow those of your loved one to be heard. Most importantly, it is vital to speak with tact and gentleness rather than sarcasm and bitterness. The eyes and ears of love are kind.

The Hand of Time

Clock Flowers 7  The single metal hour hand lay on the table in front of me. Stephen and I had been playing with an old clock in an effort to get it to work. However, once the hands become loosened from the mechanism that counts off the minutes, even if it still ticks, the clock is effectively broken. We took the clock apart and kept the face to use for an art project. Gazing at the pointed hour hand I wished I could think of a way to put it to use. Finally I gave it to Stephen, thinking he might be able to make use of it in a collage.

The hand of time touches us all. Sometime it strokes gently, lulling us into complacency until we sit up and take notice. “Where did the time go?” we say and look around us to see if we can locate the lost minutes, hours or years. At other times it seems to have an iron grip on us, passing so slowly we want to scream in frustration. It’s definitely fickle and frolicsome, turning hair grey when our backs are turned. ave written a lot of poetry about time and its effects.

I have found that time is strangely elastic. It can stretch or shrink to suit how I am feeling. When I’m impatient, it seems to pass ever so much more slowly than when I am not thinking about it at all, but fully engaged in what I am doing. I remember once playing music with a friend during our lunch hour. We met in the room set aside for time off and began to tune our instruments. Then we started to play. I was fully engaged in the extraordinary joy of it.  Eventually I came to and began to worry that we had overstayed our time. When I looked at the clock I was amazed. It seemed we had entered a timelessness that stretched on and on, yet in real time we had been playing music for only half an hour.

The older I get the more conscious I am of the passage of time. Perhaps that is because there is less and less of it left to me with each passing year. Although almost nobody knows their expiration date, we all know that there is a limit to the time we have left, regardless how long or how short. I do not feel anxious or fearful about my personal duration; it’s just that I wish to make the best use of whatever time remains to me. Most have heard about one’s so-called bucket list. I gave that up a while ago. I prefer to content myself with making the most of every day I have. That gives me a better focus.

It’s odd how we speak of spending time. Minutes and hours are not real like dollars and cents. Yet often we treat time as though it was tangible–to be stored up or spent or hoarded or wasted. I remember my delight as a child at the thought of having a whole afternoon to do what I liked. Now I am grateful to have an hour or two when I might do something meaningless as opposed to productive. Sometimes I feel I am stealing time from what I ought to be doing. Then I remind myself that it is my time to do with as I wish, and I am a not a human doing but a human being.

Lemons are Luscious when Sweetened

Lemons, front and back together.png  There is a wonderful song by the Kingston Trio from the 60’s I believe, about lemons. It contains a real truth concerning them: they must be sweetened to taste good. The chorus goes: “Lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat. Very true, and it is also true that lemons can do all sorts of things besides make good recipes..

Versatile lemons can serve us in so many ways it is impossible to count them. You can use them to polish your furniture or to soften your elbows.  I found a lot about their uses when I was doing research for my book Up to my Neck in Lemons. In the Middle Ages ladies used a special straw brim with holes in it to lighten their hair. They would pull strands of hair through the holes and bleach them by painting them with lemon juice and sitting in the sun.

According to my research, the origin of lemons seems to be a mystery. They may have originated in India or perhaps China and are probably a hybrid of the sour orange and the citron. They were known in Egypt and the Middle East from 1000 AD.  They were used primarily as medicine or as an ornament. Once sailors learned to carry them on ships they prevented a disease called scurvy that comes from a lack of vitamin C. Christopher Columbus brought the seeds to the United States from Genoa, where they had been cultivated and used, though often as ornaments. When I visited southern Italy I saw lemon trees growing in gardens there.

Though as I discovered they have so many other uses, we usually think of lemons as food. Yet unlike most fruit, they are not meant to be eaten plain–like apples, or even peeled and sectioned like oranges.  Rather they make a fine ingredient or a wonderful seasoning. Life’s lemons are equally useful. They can season or sweeten our experience, helping us to make our best use of it to learn and grow. However it does take experience and tenacity both to learn this and to put it into operation.

The first and most important skill to develop is observation. I must first notice how I am looking at my life lemon. Once I see how I perceive it, I can change my perspective and see it differently. For example if I am feeling frustrated because something isn’t working the way I want it to, I can keep pushing against the difficulty or I can look to see if there is another way to approach it or perhaps even how I can use it to my advantage.

I can choose how to use this particular lemon—as a sour taste or as a reminder that something must change in order for me to succeed. Of course this can take time and effort, but so does any good recipe, whether for happy living or lemon meringue pudding or pie. In my new book, Up To My Neck in Lemons, I have many actual lemon recipes together with poems, and essays that provide examples of how I have dealt with some of my life lemons. If you would like a copy, please contact me. I’ll tell you how to get a personally autographed copy.

Living My Life in a Timely Manner

Dragonfly

Sometimes I wish I could return to the time of my childhood when there seemed to be so much more of it: The long golden days of summer, the wonderful week of school vacation, the stretch of the weekend as I got home from school on Friday. It seemed to me that there was plenty of time to get everything I wished to do done. My days stretched out to be filled with my imagined adventures, the books I loved to read, and my toys.

I don’t remember feeling pressed for time as a child.  I’m sure the grownups were however that didn’t communicate itself to me. I do remember how long it took me to learn to tie my shoes. I was three, or maybe four and my fingers didn’t work as well as they might have. I can still see my small shoes as I bent over them, fumbling with the laces until I got it right. Time wasn’t something I thought about. It wasn’t my job to do that. As an adult, however, it has become so.

One dear friend has accused me of being “time challenged.” She was politely informing me that I was usually late, or at least perhaps often so. I confess it’s true that before leaving my home I may do a few things that seem necessary to me with the result that I leave at the last minute and may actually get where I’m going a little late. This annoys my husband so I work to improve.

You think after the many years we’ve been married he’d know I am apt to shave things close to the bone when it comes to time. He prefers to get to performances, lectures, appointments or church at least a half hour early. He says it’s because in his teen years he was a reporter and liked to get to events early because it was more interesting then and the habit stuck. He says he also likes to get a good choice of seats, which I admit is a good reason.

However the way I see it, that half hour could have been put to so much better use. It always seems to me that there are many things I could have gotten done at home before leaving, while instead I must sit in a waiting room,  pew or theater seat twiddling my thumbs as people come and go, the choir rehearses or I watch the ads on the movie screen. Being on time requires a certain amount of self-discipline, to be sure, and it is also polite. However arriving at a party or someone’s home half a hour early may be inconvenient to the host or hostess.

Because I find it fascinating as a subject, I’ve written a lot of poetry about time. I find it to be a strange accordion, expanding and contracting according to its own rules. Sometimes I look at the clock and think I have a whole hour to get everything done. Then I look again what seems to me fifteen minutes later, only to discover forty five have passed and I didn’t get half of what I planned finished. Perhaps time does challenge me, still, it’s a learning process and I do enjoy learning.

 

Want an autographed copy of my new book Up To My Neck In Lemons? Send me a check for $15 Postage included, to P.O. Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536,  and learn about lemons–actual, poetical and metaphorical. Make your life’s lemons into lemonade and enjoy my book a sip or so at a time.

Keys to Patience

20180828_145205There is a joke I remember hearing some time ago to the effect that when a minister repeatedly prayed to God for patience, God sent him an incompetent secretary. He ought to have known better. Patience training is best experienced when I am in situations requiring patience. How else can I learn? There is no other way I know of.

Motherhood is good for learning to be patient. Certainly patience is needed when caring for small children. They take their time, as they need to do. I still vividly recall my walks with toddlers when they were small. Once they refused to stay in the stroller, I had to move at their pace because there was no way they could walk faster than their short legs could carry them.

Those days are long over. Now it is my turn. I need to walk more slowly because no matter how much I would like them to, my legs simply do not move with the speed they used to. I remember how fast I used to walk at one time. I was even proud of it. When did I begin to slow down? Age creeps up on us when we are not expecting it.

There are lots of books on what to expect when you are expecting a child or when one is born and you need to cope. Someone needs to write a book on what to expect as you age. Perhaps it could be titled Aging for Dummies. There is much more to aging than physically slowing down. While I work at being patient with myself in various situations, it is not easy.

Of course we all age differently. Still, it might be useful to know more about what can happen to the body not to mention the mind. Most of my relatives aged well. That is to say they were vigorous and active while they lived. However, I have passed the age they were they left this life, and I do not remember them ever mentioning how they felt as age advanced upon them.

Because at the time I wasn’t thinking about aging, It did not occur to me to ask them. When we are young or even middle aged, the country of old age is a foreign place. How it feels and how it causes us to act are mysteries we cannot plumb without experiencing aging for ourselves. Still it might be nice to have some guidance. Patience is a high priority.

At least I can contribute things I have learned that may help. Depending on how much patience I have time passes either quickly or slowly. So rather than focus on how I dislike waiting, if I observe my surroundings, it is easier to be patient. I also recognize that the more patience I have with myself the easier it is to be patient with others. One of the secrets to achieving patience is distraction. Another is respect. That respect is usually linked with compassion, something that seems to have come with age and as I have worked for it. When I respect my limitations or those of another, patience comes easy. Above all else what really matters is one simple thing: practice, and aging gives me plenty of that.

Benefits and Liabilities of Aging

Sunfloer bowed downWhen I was little my grandmother used to take me with her to visit her friends. Among them were two sisters who had never married but lived together in a pretty home with a nice porch. They used to give me cookies and cambric tea–milk, sugar and a wisp of tea in a delicate china cup. My own mother was physically strong and after my father passed on lived alone and drove herself between Florida and Maine even in her eighties.

These and many elders of my early years presented an image of healthy, hearty behavior. My grandmother used to do fancy dives into the swimming pool of the beach club she occasionally took me to. My great aunt played golf and tennis and had silver cups to show for it. I had teachers with white hair who were wise and good natured. My life has brought me many examples of vital elders who carried on their lives energetically.

Just recently I attended a small reunion for my high school classmates. I was impressed with their fortitude and vigor. As we visited together I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with theses women with whom in our teens I had shared time, space, and teachers. It was quite special to be with my contemporaries. I found that even after all these years we still had much in common besides our age and the school we had attended.

The life paths we had taken had varied widely, yet we all shared a dedication to improving the world and being of help when needed. Born when we were, we had grown up with different mores and rules of behavior than those of today. As a result we have had to make many adjustments. When people do not grow with the changes that accumulate around them, they become bitter and crabby. It seemed to me that none of us had.

No doubt we all had our share of aches, pains and limitations. At our age some of that is to be expected. However I didn’t hear anyone complain about their health even though one of us used a walker and another had both vision and auditory issues of a serious nature. One of the blessings of age can be the ability to deal creatively with one’s limitations. Patience can come more easily when one has lived a long time.

The benefits of accumulated years are a kind of grace that can make up for the increasing changes that as we age limit activities, not to mention movement. Speaking for myself, I would say that patience tops the list of these benefits—not only patience with others but also patience with myself. In addition, being able to wait out a difficulty, the knowledge that time helps heal as well as facilitate, and the ability to listen to and soothe those who live with greater immediacy and impatience are some of the benefits I cherish as I grow on in years.