The One in Which My Son Attempts Origami Jujitsu and I Learn a Lesson

I spend a lot of time reminding my children to do things. Shut doors. Flush toilets. Turn socks the right way out before they go in the laundry. Brush teeth. Make good choices. Be kind.

Kindness costs nothing, I say.
To treat others with kindness, I say.
Be kind, I say.

And on an on.

The other day I was sitting with the ten year-old, he of the high anxiety and high self-expectation. He was attempting some ridiculously complicated advanced origami witchcraft. And, as usual, he was being incredibly hard on himself. There he was, frustrated to the point of near tears over this ridiculously stupidly complicated origami voodoo contraption that he couldn’t master on the first go–because you know, it wasn’t good enough to start with the origami equivalent of “is this your card?”.  No, it had to be some jujitsu paper engineering feat with moving parts. Whatever.

It suddenly became painfully clear I’d neglected something crucial in my kindness reminders.

I’ve forgotten to remind my son to be kind to himself.

Be kind. We teach it. We preach it. We speech it. We cross-stitch it on sweet needlepoint circle things. We put it on posters with cute otters. We repeat it, endlessly. Be kind.

But how often do we remember to teach the necessity of including yourself in the group you’re being kind to?

Be kind to the new kid, the awkward kid, the one who sits alone at lunch.
Be kind to the asshat who is not so kind to you, to the teacher, to old people crossing the street, to dogs, to frogs, to the environment.
Be kind, be kind, be kind.

We keep forgetting be kind to yourself.

Would you be so hard on someone else who couldn’t do this folding wizardry on the first go, I asked him? If a friend was trying to do something, even something easy, let alone an origami self-perpetuating motion machine, would you make fun of them? Would you tell them they were crap? Would you make them feel bad about themselves?

So why would you do that to yourself? I asked him. You need to be kind, not just to others, I told him, but to yourself too.

Cut yourself some slack, boy. Give yourself a break, son. Understand you’re not going to be a Jedi origami master when you’re still a paper padawan.

Did Luke give up and go home to Tattooine when Yoda was riding his ass? No.
Did Rey leave the rock in the middle of nowhere when she didn’t master the force right away? No.
Was there any real reason to bring Star Wars into this?
Correct answer: there is always room for Star Wars references.

I’ve spent so much time teaching and preaching kindness, but I forgot to teach him to be kind to himself.

There was no ice cream this time. But together we mastered the origami force. Or really he did while I sat next to him and reminded him to go easy on himself. And the ridiculously complicated paper engineering feat with moving parts worked. And he celebrated by making sixteen more and now my house is filled with them.

Be kind. Absolutely.

But don’t forget to be kind to you while you’re bending over backward to be nice to everyone else.

I may not be an origami Jedi, or even a paper padawan. But I’m getting pretty dang good at learning what this ten year old is teaching me.



Coffee in Bed

coffee adThere’s a rumor going around town that I bring my husband coffee in bed every morning. I’m writing to clear up any misconceptions and to set the record straight.

The truth is this: I do bring my husband coffee in bed every morning.

This has been a bone of contention of late, not within the confines of our own marriage, in between the bedroom and the kitchen, the duvet and the coffee grounds, but among others. As in “Did you know that Dina brings her husband coffee in bed every morning?” Nudge, nudge, wink, wink and a big, old unspoken “How come I don’t get coffee in bed?”

I could say the coffee in bed is payment in kind. You see, I have a bad habit of irrationally blaming my husband for all the things I misplace throughout the course of my life. This happened recently when I needed to get the boys to school and couldn’t remember where I had put my bag. He stood and looked at me throwing things around and calmly said, “You blame me, don’t you?”

“Yes!” I yelled. “Even though I know it’s not your fault, I do! I totally, totally blame you!” I also do this when I get lost and he can’t immediately tell where I am from my frantic woman-on-the-street descriptions. I am a terrible map reader. Even carrying a phone with a GPS function I get lost. I have every confidence that he can direct me out of the paper bag I’ve walked into and can’t punch my way out of. I expect him to extract me from my predicament, SWAT style if necessary. I have an unrealistic expectation that my husband, the man who vowed to love me in sickness and in health, in lost and found, can tell me how to get home.

So I bring him coffee in bed every morning.

No, of course that’s not why I bring him coffee. I bring him coffee because he is categorically not a morning person. To have him underfoot in the a.m. would cause, in the words of the Fat Controller, confusion and delay. He would be grumpy and in my way and we would all suffer. I do it for the sake of the children. 

Not really.

1950s yawning stretching man waking up in bed with tufted leather headboardI bring him coffee and he puts the pillowcases on because he knows how much I hate it. He scrubs the bathroom because he knows if he left it up to me, it wouldn’t get done. I make sure his family gets birthday cards for the same reason. I do school stuff, he does camping stuff. While I break out in hives at the very idea of fishing and cooking over an open flame, he has the same histamine reaction at the idea of small talk with people he doesn’t know.

As a young woman I used to think that the way to equality meant splitting things down right down the middle. Marital contracts that spelled out who vacuumed on what day and if it’s Wednesday it must be your day to cook, I changed the last diaper it must be your turn now and so forth. And so on.

Then I grew up, got married, had kids. For a while I hung on to my notions and resented the hell out of the fact that it never seemed to be fair, that I always seemed to be doing more. My husband changed a diaper, I changed 284. One of the kids would wake from a nightmare and call out for “Daddy” and he would be snoring next to me while I seethed at the gall of the universe for making me get out of a warm, cosy bed when his child had clearly voiced a preference. You can have a contract laminated and posted on the family bulletin board for all to see. It’s not going to stop the fury when Wednesday rolls around and he doesn’t vacuum even though it’s clearly his turn and there is an army of dust elephants getting ready to charge. Even if it’s written in blood that “thou shalt not blame your spouse upon misplacing your keys’, it’s not going to stop you from doing it, even if you don’t do it out loud.

coffee in fiveAfter seventeen years of coupledom, here is what I’ve learned: it is never fair, it’s never equal. You love each other and you hurt each other and you argue over who left the toothpaste cap off so that there is a crust of hardened Colgate that’s set on the sink like mortar. You live and you learn and you stare at each other over the mess of a toy room and thank God and the heavens you found this person because who else is going to put up with the moods or the morning breath? Who else is going to let you squeeze their blackheads or remember that you never remember Mother’s Day? Who else is going to know that you hate putting the pillowcases on or that you need an extraordinary amount of time to wake up in the mornings?

If love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, then compromise and understanding are the whip and driver that get it moving.

In the end my husband almost always gets me out of whatever map challenged predicament I’ve found myself in (which is, more often than not one street over from where I’m supposed to be). I put up with his schizo Gemini moods and he pretends he doesn’t mind when we have hot dogs for dinner or when I don’t change the sheets often enough.

I bring him coffee because I’m making it anyway. It’s a small act of kindness. As I tell my kids all the time, kindness doesn’t cost a thing.

Maybe those small acts of kindness, the ones that don’t cost you a red cent, are the pot-hole fillers that help smooth out the road so that we can all get where we are going in one, unbroken piece.



A Word to the Wise

QueenSnowWhiteOccasionally I am beset with fears that I will die suddenly.  Apart from the obvious fear of not being around to supervise the day-to-day functioning of my family, the inconvenience my sudden demise would cause them, and the nagging worry that some lithe, blonde creature would step up and take my place, there are lots of less obvious things about dying suddenly that worry me as well.  I worry that my children will continue to chew with their mouths open.  (Obviously this takes a very long time to teach as I have been repeating myself for years now to no avail).  What if I die before they learn how to tell a joke properly?  What if my lessons in irony vs. sarcasm are cut short?  What if there is no one around to reinforce the fact that it is pronounced zee-bra and not zeb-ra?  Though I have no doubt that their father could easily pick up the slack on the table manner and sarcasm front, if not the lithe blonde, it’s those random acts of kindness and snippets of motherly advice that my kids would miss out on.  Lucky for them I am a list maker at home with the electrician with nothing better to do.  A word to the wise.

Always send the card

Whether it’s a thank you card, a birthday card for someone you haven’t spoken to in years or most importantly, a sympathy card to your grade school friend who’s Great Aunt Mary just passed away, send it.  You remember, the one who used to have ribbon candy in a glass bowl on her hutch and always smelled vaguely of mothballs?  Send the card.

Always take advantage of unexpected sunshine

This is true anywhere, but even more so in Denmark.  Probably Canada too.

Go the extra mile

Send the sympathy card, but better yet, go to the wake.  Out of all the people who came to pay their respects when my father died, it was my high school boyfriend showing up that touched me the most.  He didn’t have to do that.  But he did.

Jewellery is always a good bet.  Small appliances…not so much.

My husband bought me a hair dryer for Christmas once because he thought the one I had at home was too loud.  Not his best effort.  Last year I bought him an electric shaver.  Not mine.

Putting on an upbeat song really loudly may piss off your neighbors, but it will make you feel better, even if you’re vacuuming.

Smile at someone.  Smile harder if they don’t smile back.

Never underestimate the importance of knowing the difference between your and you’re; there, their and they’re.

Sit next to someone who is sitting alone in the cafeteria.  Talk to the new kid, the new intern, the new mom at school.

Make sure to say thank you to the person who holds the door open for you.  

And then hold it open for someone else.

Let someone with fewer items than you go first in the supermarket check out line

No one does this in Denmark.  Or, I should say, only Americans do this in Denmark.  When I do, the Danes look at me like I have two heads.  Then like they’ve won the lottery.  Danes don’t like supermarket checkout lines.


Call your grandmother more often.  

Take the time to spell out the word.  Abbreviations that only leave out one letter are pointless.  

Listen to the elderly person on the bus.  They have wonderful stories.

A handwritten expression of feeling is better than a gift you don’t mean.

Don’t say you’re going to call if you’re not.  Don’t say maybe if the answer is no.  

Total, brutal honesty isn’t always the best policy, but in times like these, it usually is.

Call your mother more.  She put a lot of work into you.

Don’t assume it’s about you.  It’s usually not.

Naked pictures are NEVER a good idea.


Sometimes the weeds are prettier than the flowers.

Find what you love, and love it, whether it’s a weed or a rose.  Don’t let anyone tell you that roses are the only flower worth cultivating.

Take joy in the small things.  Like a perfect piece of toast

One of the things that makes me love my husband even more is his childlike glee when it comes to toast.  Sometimes it is the small things.

Hopefully my recent foray into exercise and my (planned) wine moderation will help delay sudden death a bit, at least long enough to impart some random life lessons to my children.  Maybe even to see them eat without wiping their mouths on their shirt sleeve.

Wouldn’t that be something.

**For the record, I don’t think my husband would really marry a lithe blonde.  He prefers brunettes.  But if he does, he may want to take my 5 year old’s advice for helping a step parent get to know their step kids better, which is to wear name tags around the house.  No, I don’t know where he came from either.  I really don’t.