How My Son Helped Me to Laugh Again After My Brother’s Death

It’s been 16 years since my brother died. It’s hard to believe that 16 years have passed and that I’ve almost spent more life without him than with him. I wrote this story a few years ago, and The Mighty picked it up and published it last year. Here is an excerpt:

Sometimes, on a very rare occasion, my husband refers to me as a chucklehead. I’m always a little surprised when he does. 

There was a time in my life when I was funny and lighthearted and perhaps even a chucklehead. But that was the Jen of years ago; the Jen back before my brother died.

I don’t want to admit that the sadness and heartache and grief have won, but if I’m honest, I realize in these moments that it has.

On December 11, 1981, my brother, Garrett, was born into the world, and for 20 years he filled it with laughter. To read on, join me here at The Mighty

 

7 Things You Can Do to Break Your List Reading Habit

Life is busy. You’ve got kids pulling at you, commitments in all directions, and not enough time in the day to warrant a 2-minute shower.  If you’re lucky, you might gather enough news from your social media feed or the magazine racks at the grocery store to appear relatively informed on current events.

When a shower and staying up on current events seems too daunting, the thought of reading, if that’s even entered your mind, has probably come along with immense feelings of inadequacy or a dismissive chuckle. Ain’t nobody got time for reading literature these days. As a busy mom and reader, I get it. More often than not, I reach for the short, quick-witted, easy-to-read points over the lengthier expository musings.

I like quick and easy. I’ve fed my kids Mac and cheese and Nutella sandwiches far more than I’d like to admit in the name of convenience. But like these foods, lacking in nutrition and substance, the quick reads and easy-to-digest list formats that have become the pinnacle of many online publications, leave us feeling malnourished.

Lately, I’ve been feeling overstimulated by the sheer amount of information I take in on a daily basis. Ironically, I also find myself feeling empty and frustrated by the lack of substance in the midst of this bounty. If you’re feeling similarly, but aren’t sure how to get out of the rut, here are seven steps to help you break the cycle:

Commit to reading at least 10 minutes per day.

Doing anything for ten minutes per day is doable. After twenty-one days, new habits are formed. Studies show that reading can help slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s. So reading for ten minutes per day seems reasonable, habit-forming, and good for your brain. 

Save interesting articles for later.

Only have three to five minutes to scan your newsfeed, but come across something that looks interesting? Think you’ll remember it for later? Highly unlikely. Tag it, save it, or email it to yourself. Whatever your method for saving, make sure to circle back around to read it when you have some free time. 

Read articles without lists.

I know it may sound scary, but if the title intrigues you, and the content fascinates you, don’t shy away from an article because it lacks the popular list format. Read it. You might like it.

Seek out quality over quantity.

I know it seems counterintuitive, but taking in less scattered, low-quality information could actually increase your brains’ ability to retain information. So spend less time on screens scanning the bounty, and choose your intake of content wisely. 

Read a novel.

Ain’t nobody got time for that, right? You’d be surprised how addictive it is once you start. Audio books count too, so what are you waiting for? 

Unplug more often and go for a walk.

What does walking have to do with reading you ask? Taking walks can help clear a busy mind. A clearer mind has more space for reading. See the logic?

Find writers you love and support them.

Seriously. If you like us and you want to read more from us- follow our blogs, share our articles, and give us feedback. If you’re a fellow writer, and this isn’t a regular practice of yours, there’s still time to redeem yourself.

 

*This list is in no way, based on science, research, or fact. It is the opinion of the author and meant for the sole purpose of venting, humor, and irony. (In case you’re a bit slow and didn’t catch that.)

The Holiness of Dissatisfaction

Life is full of pain and dissatisfaction, and we live in a society that tells us pain and dissatisfaction are bad. We try to make ourselves feel better with clothes, books, drinks, habits, and addictions. People, companies, and industries are making millions by feeding our sense of dissatisfaction and then selling us the “cure.”

At one time, I craved the cure above all else.

I had just moved back to the United States from an overseas assignment when I hit my lowest point. I was a fairly new mom to twin toddlers and found myself living through a home renovation that spanned years. I was spread thin and struggling with dissatisfaction on every level.

Pull a chair up to The Glorious Table to read the rest of the story.

How To Make Space for the Messy and Imperfect

I had one of those come-to-reality moments when I opened the photo gallery on my phone today. You know, an icky sinking moment when you realize your life looks nothing like the filtered pictures you seek out on Instagram from time to time? To make matters worse, I then stumbled upon the Instagram page of an “old friend” and felt even more lacking.

It was awful. There I was, in the parking lot of Starbucks, rifling through the beautiful photos of other people and feeling a little fatter and frumpier than usual. Suddenly, my house was ugly, my tomatoes weren’t heirloom enough, and my children weren’t intellectually stimulated in the way they deserved. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and they were still in their non-organic mismatched pajamas with the mustard stains on them. The crushing failure of my life became crystal clear at that moment.

I sat there drooling over pictures of beautifully lived lives and perfectly arranged meals, and I cursed my poor photography skills and scolded myself for not taking the time to learn how to use my camera properly.

I often tell my children that comparison is the thief of joy, but today I was caught off guard. Today I was exhausted. Today my kids were home from school for the umpteenth time and on their third round of strep throat. Today I was acutely aware of all the goals I’d made in January and still hadn’t met.

Today I opened my door wide to the thief.

To read more, pull up a chair at The Glorious Table.

Why Loss of Perspective is Exactly What I Needed

Mold laden salami swirled atop the hot soapy water of the trash can. The day had sucked life and perspective out of me, but I was determined to end the night on a strong note and hopeful that the satisfaction I’d get from cleaning out a garbage can would be the ticket. Then it happened. The handle on the trash can broke and sent its contents splashing all over the kitchen, my clothing, and right into my mouth.

Today has been a day.  My mood has been awful, I’ve been feeling dangerously close to entering the sucking hole of sorry-for-myself, and I’m pretty sure the garbage can incident sent me over the edge.

My overall poor mood may have something to do with the fact that I am on day two of a diet that includes nothing I’d really like to eat or drink. Or that it’s close to a year post-repatriation and I miss my friends and life in Shanghai. But perhaps it’s the mountain of stuff to do in my home, the looming medical appointments and surgeries for my children, or the fact that my kids have turned whining into an art form and torturing one another into a favorite pastime. Did I mention that I’ve decided to homeschool in the fall? 

I find myself frustrated with running a household, finishing lingering home projects, grocery shopping, getting less fat, sorting through mountains of paperwork, paying bills, arranging medical visits, keeping my kids alive; and on the days I feel really caffeinated- attempting to raise them into decent human beings. 

If it seems like I’ve lost perspective, I have. If you feel compelled to make things better with encouraging words, please don’t. I know there are much larger problems in the world, and that my life is more than many could hope for. I know that I am loved, and I appreciate your prayers. I do. But there is something about getting caught up in the little things. Something that until recently, I couldn’t appreciate.

This new gift of appreciation came when I listened to a story about life in a war zone. It resonated when the person talked about how he and his friends cherished getting caught up in trivial matters. He said that in the midst of bombs exploding, petty annoyances made things feel more normal. It took being in the midst of war, but he actually recognized aggravation as a privilege.

Life is far from normal, and while I’m not delusional enough to think my life is like living in the middle of an actual physical war zone, I did relate to much of what he said.  My war isn’t over land in Gaza, and my bombs aren’t weapons that kill. My war zone consists of children who hold the unknown of both diagnosed and undiagnosed disease in their bodies, of epilepsy, nighttime seizures, vein malformations within the brain, undiagnosed movement disorder, and rare genetic disease. My bombs are too many medical exams, procedures, surgeries that carry risks beyond the disease, and being one step closer to a diagnosis that may change our lives forever. 

My life load is weighty at the moment. Typically, I lament these times when I lose perspective, and feel guilt-ridden and ungrateful. But I’m going to stop guilting my struggles with doses of perspective, and instead, try to see them as the privilege and coping mechanisms they are.

But first, I am going to rinse my mouth out with some bleach.

 

 

From the Parenting Files: Temporary Insanity

Last night was going to go smoothly. I had it planned. The kids would go to bed early, the Mr. and I would get an evening to chill, and we might even get to bed early ourselves. Because that little combo is the ultimate worn-out-parent trinity.

And we are worn out.

I was in and out of a work project when I decided I would get up and play mom for a few minutes. I scanned the room. When I realized the five thousand Legos strewn on the floor had not been cleaned up, I made the rather brilliant and time-saving decision to sweep paths to and from each bed to the door with my foot. They could clean in the morning.

It was 7:45, both boys were in the pajamas and in bed reading. I couldn’t believe it, but I was standing on the precipice of Friday night nirvana. Then it happened. I gave my child his anti-seizure meds like I do every single night, and after swallowing them, he said: “I think dad already gave these to me.” Clearly, this could not be possible, but I calmly (maybe half-psychotic calmly) yelled down to my husband to ask. I remember him saying yes and the rest gets a little foggy.

I do recall telling my husband to see if he could get my son to throw up. I also remember trying to find the number for my son’s neurologist. But the screen and the phone- so white and so slow. In the midst of cries from my child, and stroke-like bursts of white before my eyes, I found the number. For some reason, the young woman with the call service thought it best to patch me through to poison control instead of taking the patient’s name and number so an actual doctor could call me. But hey, I was in the stroke- zone and couldn’t think clearly. So instead, I connected with poison control. And that’s when things got really fun. Because poison control could not hear me. So I spent the next five minutes running around my house, saying the thing I refuse to say “can you hear me now?” in every possible nook and corner. I stood on my dining table. I went outside. Nothing. No reception.

At this point, I figured AT&T and god had colluded to punish me for all of my previous reception gripes. I gathered myself enough to string together an impressive array of profanity and decided to try to call the Dr. again. Because that’s who I really wanted to talk to. So by now, the husband is in bed with the child who could be overdosing, little brother is cowering under his sheets on the top bunk, and I am going stark raving mad trying to get more than 1 bar of service so I can make a call and save my child.

At this point, I was practically hanging from my rooftop. I’d successfully registered for a call back from the doc when I decided to try poison control again. Someone answers, there’s a long pause, and then they speak. But not in a way that I can understand. Enter insanity. Having lived in Asia, I pride myself on understanding the English spoken by many different accents. And maybe it was because my kid could have been dying, but I could not understand a word this person was saying!

As I was trying to spell the drug for the tenth time, the on call Doc rang through, saving the poison control woman and me. His calm and reassuring voice cut through the insanity with “He’s okay Mrs. Kinney. He might just be a little tired and wobbly in the morning, but he will be ok.” Suddenly I could breathe again. The white pops of light disappeared. I even had a good laugh once the adrenaline died down.

I did not have my perfect night. But I did have a healthy child. And it turns out, that was all I really needed.

 

Why I Wanted To Love Wonder Woman

I didn’t know it, but I’ve waited all of my adult life to see Wonder Woman on the big screen. I’ve spent the greater part of 30 years missing out on an experience that my seven-year-old sons have already had.  

At the age of 40, I was finally going to witness the unveiling of bravery and heroism of My superhero on the big screen. My Wonder Woman. My Diana. The woman I dressed like and emulated every Saturday afternoon in my parents living room while donning Wonder Woman Underoos, my mother’s go-go boots, and handmade cuffs, a tiara, and a lasso.

I didn’t realize what I was missing until it was nipping at my heels. But when I saw the first trailer for Wonder Woman last fall, something happened. The little girl who wanted to be brave, and strong, and the ultimate enforcer of justice, came alive as I watched amazing women kick butt right there on the big screen.

And since I spent much of my youth as a fellow Amazon, kicking bad guy butt along with Diana, her on the television and myself side-kicking it from the sofa, I felt pretty qualified to review the movie.

I liked the movie. But I wanted to love it. I wanted to love Diana and Wonder Woman, and all of the Amazons. I started out hopeful and reminded myself that the movie was just beginning when the first few lines came out stiff and lacking. I tried to be amazed by the fact that Gal Gadot was five months pregnant during filming, but found myself wondering if she was healthy, eating enough, and what it must have been like to have that kind of pressure. (Only to find out today that she hid it for as long as she could.)

The overall storyline was good. But the relationship with Steve was predictable. I understand that Diana had never seen a man, but the penis scene? The cheesy one-liners referring to his “above average-ness?” I found it unnecessary and out of line for a character from that era with his level of courage and decency. Is it impossible to draw and please a broad audience without sophomoric jokes and gender stereotypes?

But let’s move on to the more irksome moment of the movie and talk about the inferred romantic encounter. I mean I’m sure that I’d like nothing more than to get naked with a guy I barely knew after I had to wage war and kill countless people to save some helpless village that was going to get gassed by some crazed madman. I’m also sure that I’d have absolutely no sweat, soil, or scent after running through fields in a half metal armored leotard, and that if I did, there would be working plumbing and water for a proper bath available. So I related. Really, I did.

But let’s go with this here and say for a moment that I resented the stupidity of such an encounter. And since we are at it, let’s say I also resented the fact that this quick and shallow love affair became the pinnacle of character breakthrough for Wonder Woman. I might have to ask if these writers learned nothing at all from the wild success of Disney’s Frozen. Hello? Love was the answer. But love comes in a lot of forms. Some a little more robust than a quick fling with the first man you meet. She could defeat the God of War but could not withstand the wingaling of the first man she saw naked? I mean come on!

But I digress. Overall, Gal was fantastic. I liked the story, the action, and most of the content. I could have used less of the doe-eyed emotional moments, a little more complexity in character development, and greater exploration of the relationship with her mother, but I do realize this is a DC superhero flick, and the last Ironman was painfully lacking, so I’ll adjust.

When it comes down to it, I’m just happy that Wonder Woman made it onto the big screen. I’ve waited thirty years, so I suppose I can patiently await better character development, less gender stereotyping, and more complexity. I look forward to more female superhero leads and most importantly, more stories for Wonder Woman. And you can bet I will be there to watch them, Wonder Woman Underoos and all.