Monday, December 31, 2012

This New Year, Take the Plunge

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I’m looking at an ocean of Mega Bloks on the floor. Part of me wants to dive right in and clean it all up. It’s always nice to have a clean living room in the morning.

But that’s not the kind of plunge I’m talking about in this post. With friends on Facebook sharing their new year’s resolutions and fellow bloggers sharing their recommendations, I’ve decided to jump into the fray with my own recommendation: take the plunge.

This year, take a risk. Do something that you’ve always considered doing but have not done yet because of fear.

I’ve already started mine – starting this blog. I had been thinking about blogging for months. I even started keeping a journal of potential blog posts. But I had a few fears and obstacles about starting one. My biggest fear was about sharing my unedited thoughts with the entire World Wide Web. Writing is creating, and creating can be very personal. What if people don’t like what I have to say?  With so many writers and bloggers out there, what new material do I really have to offer?

I got over that fear by thinking about all the bloggers that I follow, how much I appreciate reading their viewpoints on all sorts of topics, and how, at the end of the day, most of them are ordinary people, just like me.

I had other fears too: fear of learning a new technology, fear of running out of ideas to blog about, fear of not having time to write … I got over those fears just by taking the plunge and starting the blog. Learning how to do it is turning out to be a lot of fun. I haven’t run out of ideas yet, and thinking about what to write also helps occupy my mind more productively during the day. All those ideas make me itch to get to my laptop in the evening and start fleshing them out, so I am making the time.

I guess those blocks will get cleaned up in the morning.

I did not come up with the phrase “take the plunge.” I borrowed it from the theme of my MOPS group this year. “MOPS” stands for “Mothers of Preschoolers,” and it’s a wonderful community for mothers of younger children, who are often quite isolated otherwise.  Some of the members my group have taken some inspiring “plunges”: one has started nursing school, one joined a mom’s group at her job, and one recently had a dinner party for 20 people in her new home, for the first time.

I suggest that whatever risk you take be a risk that involves building community. Building community and ending isolation is the first topic I blogged about. Invite people over like my MOPS friend did. Reach out to a neighbor you haven’t spoken to yet. Join a group of some sort – a hobby group, a parenting group, a sports team, a club on your school or campus, a faith-based group. Go to school and make some new friends among your classmates. Volunteer for a nonprofit you like. Start a business. Even blogging is a kind of community, inviting comments and sharing with others. 

So please share – what kinds of risks are you thinking about taking this New Year?

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Listen, Learn, Act and Reflect by Phoebe Farag Mikhail is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Turning Anger into Action - More Ideas

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail
December 21, 2012

When I shared my first blog post at a different address, I got two wonderful comments with more ideas on turning anger into action in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Heba, who blogs at My Life in a Pyramid and who is one of the first bloggers I've followed, wrote:
I agree that isolation is one of the root causes of many societal ailments, and finding a way to engage can go a long way in maintaining a sense of community, protecting our mental health, and alerting one another of danger. I like the action points you mentioned, and I would add to that also getting to know the parents of kids that are befriending your kids. I don't have kids yet, but I'd like to know more about the families that my kids would befriend because that says a lot about their kids and how they will behave. In any case, I think it's crucial to try to rely on God because otherwise one can drive himself/herself mad with worry that doesn't necessarily lead to more protection.
I definitely plan to do the same as well: befriend my kid's friends and rely on God.

Fr. Bishoy, who blogs at I Am He, and who inspired me to start my own blog, wrote: 
Listening to your family, I am sure if any child found ears to what s/he facing, we would bring people who know how to communicate even if they are sick mentally. How many of our children listen now to their friends as no space for listening inside their families.
He is right. It's especially important to establish a listening relationship with our children, especially when they are young, and even when what they have to say seems small, unimportant, or even imaginary. All of it is important in their eyes. Listening to young children now establishes their trust in their parents, and means they are more likely to continue to share with their parents as they get older.

If you are not a parent, being a listening ear for a child in your life is still very important. Jared Diamod writes about the important role of "allo-parents" in an excerpt from his book published in Newsweek this week, "Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter Gatherers." "Allo-parents" are individuals who are not parents, but play some care-giving role in a child's life. Their role is more dominant in what he calls "small societies," but are still important in industrial societies where immediate parents are the most dominant care-givers:
I have heard many anecdotal stories, among my own friends, of children who were raised by difficult parents but who nevertheless became socially and cognitively competent adults, and who told me that what had saved their sanity was regular contact with a supportive adult other than their parents, even if that adult was just a piano teacher whom they saw once a week for a piano lesson.
I see this all as a part of the process of ending isolation that I wrote about in my first post.

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Listen, Learn, Act and Reflect by Phoebe Farag Mikhail is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Turning Anger into Action

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail
December 16, 2012

I hung up my phone in a huff, justifiably angry.

The bank that holds my mortgage charged extra fees to my account incorrectly, and I had already spoken to them to fix that – a month ago.  Today, I checked my credit score, and discovered that the late payment and associated fees that were supposed to be waived had now appeared on my credit report – a huge blow to my credit score, and an added setback to my family’s financial plans. I called the bank and left two angry voice mails, since it was Sunday.

I did this holding my 8 month old baby girl in my arms.

Still vexed about this issue, I took the baby with me as I searched for her pajamas – it was time for bed. I found them by her crib, and while reaching to grab them, she laughed. I relaxed and cuddled her a bit. As I cuddled her I reminded myself to make sure my reactions towards her are not related to my anxiety about something that has nothing to do with her. To relax, I started mentally listing the actions I could take to resolve the credit score problem as I put her in her pajamas and cuddled her some more.

I also reminded myself that there are 20 parents in Connecticut right now who want to be able to cuddle their babies, and yet they cannot.

All of us are mourning with them, all of us are praying for them, but many of us are also angry. Angry about the factors that led to these senseless deaths of innocent young children and their teachers in Sandy Hook Elementary School. Angry that someone, anyone, could do something like this.  Angry that this person had the tools to do something like this.

Many of us are using this anger to try and bring about change. Some (including me) have started or signed petitions about gun control like this petition from MomsRising . And while a few people will go a step further, most of our action on this issue will probably stop at those signatures.

How can we go beyond signing petitions? How else can we turn our anger into action? After some reflection, I believe the most important action everyone can and should take is to end isolation. A couple of recent blog posts about the Sandy Hook events have been shared on social networks (“I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” and “Plea from the Scariest Kid on the Block,” for example), and they are all touch upon isolation: the isolation of being the parent of a mentally ill child, the isolation of having mental illness, of being abused, of being bullied … And so, to end isolation, here are two things I plan to do:

1-      I plan to get to know my neighbors. My next door neighbors – some that I talk to, some that I don’t. Perhaps I’ll bake them cookies and leave a note saying “hello” to break the ice. Why? Because these are people who are not on my Facebook and Twitter echo chambers. They are people who might not think like me or act like me, but who might notice and say something if, say, my house was on fire, or one of my young children ran out into the street unattended. They might notice if I suddenly started stockpiling weapons and notify the police and/or mental health services. And they are people for whom I would do the same.

2-      I plan to re-commit myself to my faith community. I will pick up the phone and call people who are often isolated: new mothers, caregivers of elderly parents, parents of special needs children, new immigrants. I’ll even ask about the mental health professionals in my congregation, who need support just like the rest of us (see “I am Adam Lanza’s Psychiatrist”).

What are other ideas you have for ending isolation? Please share them in the comments below.

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Listen, Learn, Act and Reflect by Phoebe Farag Mikhail is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.