Lice. Need I say more?

AngerBy Lisa Sugarman

I know, the headline just sucker punched you right in the crotch. And it’s stinging. So I’m gonna give you a minute to get your bearings.

(Dramatic pause.)

Now I know what you’re thinking, this is a joyous and festive time of the year, so why the hell did she just mention that word and ruin the entire mood?!

I did hesitate, believe me. But then my urge to be controversial took over and here we are. Sorry.

I work in an elementary school, that’s my problem. And it’s almost winter. And with the emergence of hats and scarfs and hoods and snuggling, it also means the awakening of The Bugs. ‘Tis the season, I guess. So that puts the topic on the very forefront of my brain. And the way I typically deal with things that are disproportionately on my mind is to unload them onto your mind. I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel infinitely better.

Look, I’ve been there. I get it. Just the word itself is brutal, in any context. No matter who’s talking about it, or why, the mere mention of lice causes a visceral reaction in people unlike anything I’ve ever seen. People sweat, people shake, people cry. Grownups everywhere become paralyzed with fear.

I’ve had moms come to my window to dismiss their kids and I’ve been worried to let them get back in their cars and drive home, that’s how overcome they are. It’s sad. Just the word alone conjures up such primal emotions that people can’t control themselves.

Case in point: I’ll bet that just in the last fifty-three seconds that it’s taken you to read this far, you’ve already scratched your head more than once and maybe even thrown up a little in your mouth. It’s okay, don’t be ashamed. You didn’t do anything wrong. It happens to everybody.itchy-scalp

See, whether you have kids or not; whether you’ve experienced lice firsthand or not; it’s just one of those things that everyone can sympathize with purely because of the stigma that goes along with it. It takes such incredible attention to detail to exterminate that it takes your breath away.

Anyone who has even a vague knowledge of what lice brings with it, knows that it’s all-consuming. Life just stops cold when lice is discovered. Everything has to be stripped and cleaned and decontaminated and inspected. Then re-stripped, re-cleaned, re-decontaminated, and re-inspected. It’s overwhelming. Because if even so much as one rogue louse breaks through the line again, the invasion begins again and you’re right back to ground zero.670px-Get-Rid-of-Head-Lice-Overnight-Step-6

And if you’re a parent, well, forgedaboudit. Lice is quite possibly the most offensive four-letter word you can ever hear. Getting that call from the school nurse is every parent’s worst nightmare. Her hollow voice just reverberates right through you, bones and all, leaving you almost totally incapacitated. After which, it’s all most people can do to find the wherewithal to drive to the school and pick up their kid. That’s because so much information is saturating the brain at one time that processing anything becomes impossible. It’s like trying to force water through a big, gnarled hair clog that goes eighteen inches down your drain. Nothing gets through.

Then there’s the whole embarrassment piece, albeit an irrational one. Not to mention the feeling of almost total overwhelment, thinking of everything that needs to be done when you’re in triage mode. And finally, the reality of knowing that you’re going to be picking little bugs out of your kid’s head. Which, no matter how you spin it, is just revolting.

The bottom line is, we need to find a way, as a modern society, to maintain control over these little bastards. We need to win the upper hand, and the way we do that is to use our big fat brains and our opposable thumbs to our advantage. That, combined with a little shot of perspective, as we mount our assault. So here’s your shot of perspective…

Lice are not deadly. Lice are not contagious. Lice don’t carry diseases. Lice can’t hurt you or your children in any physical way. Our socioeconomic status has absolutely nothing to do with getting lice. (They have super-tiny brains, so they don’t have the mental capacity to discriminate.) They can’t jump or hop or fly. They can’t live more than a few days without the warmth and food of the human head. And they look like sesame seeds, for Christ’s sake. How threatening can that possibly be? They’re icky little parasites, not ghost-faced killers. And we need to find a way to get and keep the emotional upper hand on them so we can win the war.

See, once we all recognize that lice represents only a minor blip on the radar, we can stand fast, do what needs to be done, and move on to help others fight the battle.

So as tough as it is, try to remember to keep it together as real winter approaches. Stand strong and show no fear. Because if any international terrorists out there ever get wind of how badly they can hurt us with these things, we’re screwed.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com.

Everyone needs a stress ball

homemade-stress-ballsBy Lisa Sugarman

We live in a chaotic world, that’s the reality. There’s poverty. There’s war. There’s corruption. There’s terrorism. There’s coupons expiring before we remember to use them. The endless list of negative things out there can take our breath away and leave us paralyzed.

The point is, life can be stressful. It can be ugly and annoying and inconveniently overwhelming. That’s because, the older we get and the more rooted we become in our lives—with families and jobs and commitments—the harder it becomes to cope with the challenges they bring with them.

Now don’t get me wrong, things like being married or raising a family or having a career also have a beautiful side to them. And it’s that beautiful side that makes taking them on so worthwhile. But at the very same time, life is also challenging. Plain and simple. And everyone deals with those challenges in very different ways.

Some people practice yoga to cope with the chaos of life. Some run. Some paint. Some meditate. Some write. Some cook. The bottom line is that everyone needs a way of managing stress. And not everyone has their own version of a stress ball that sufficiently does the job.

That’s why I’ve decided to tell you what I do to relieve stress. Because we all need something reliable we can turn to when life becomes too wrinkled with chaos.

Now I know you probably assume, based on what I said two paragraphs ago, that I’m one of those people who writes to relieve stress. Good assumption, but you’re totally wrong. You feel silly now, don’t you?

Actually, when the going gets tough in my little world, I whip out my ironing board and have at it. Yep, just me and my baby-blue Rowenta and a big-ass pile of wrinkly button downs. Because nothing resets my compass in quite the same way that ironing does.

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Why ironing, as opposed to Bikram yoga where I can sweat the stress right out of me? Well, first of all, almost everyone in the modern world owns an iron. And if you own an iron then you automatically own an ironing board, meaning that my form of stress relief is accessible twenty-four hours a day. You don’t even have to leave your house. Hell, you don’t even need to get dressed. Not to mention that there’s no fee involved. In fact, you’re actually saving yourself money by pressing your clothes in-house. Plus, you’re being environmentally kind to them by not exposing your delicates to harmful dry cleaning chemicals like perchloroethylene. In other words, you’re doing a mitzvah, also known as a good deed.

But the most significant reason why ironing is so cathartic, at least for me, is because every ironing job starts in complete chaos and ends in perfect order. You start with crinkled, creased and rumpled clothes and ultimately return them to their original state of pristineness. With a little forearm pressure and a good steamer, an otherwise ugly pile of clothes can be reborn. Ironing allows me to singlehandedly take an otherwise stressful situation and make it calm again. Ok, so while a wrinkled laundry pile may not constitute actual stress, it symbolizes chaos just vaguely enough to make my point.

I know, my ideas are farfetched; but I bet you’re thinking of ironing in a whole new way right now. Whether you’re a guy or a girl, a housewife or a Wall Street moneyman, you’ve got stress. And I’ve just enlightened you to perhaps the greatest undervalued stress reliever you never knew you had right there in your laundry room.

Now I know there are those of you out there who despise ironing. One of my best friends hasn’t ironed in probably twenty years because she hates the tediousness of it so much. (Jenny!) So I get it. But I think that she, and others like her, are misunderstanding ironing’s true stress-relieving capacity. I mean, not everybody likes to lift weights or get up at five in the morning to run in the dark. But we do it. And we do it as much for our physical health as our mental wellbeing. And that’s precisely why I iron, for mental health.

See, to me, ironing is a naturally purgative exercise. It’s both productive and cleansing at the same time. I mean, how else can you transcend to an almost Zen-like place of calm, make order out of chaos and check off chores simultaneously? And what doesn’t feel better than being productive and rejuvenated at the same time? Right?

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Things of beauty, right there. I get the shivers just lookin’ at em…

So before you poo-poo it, fill up that water chamber and give it a whirl. It might be slightly unconventional as far as stress balls go, but it more than gets the job done. And you’ll be the sharpest-looking cat in the grocery line.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com.

A healthy transplant can be a lifesaver

By Lisa Sugarman

I’ve lived in my hometown almost all my life. And since it’s barely four square miles around and surrounded by water on three of its sides, it makes for a pretty cozy place.

I’m also very fortunate. With so many years under my belt in the same community, I’ve stockpiled a pretty broad cross section of friends. And I’ll be the first to say, it’s a beautiful feeling knowing your roots run deep where you live and that you’re never really alone.

Wherever I go, I’ve almost always got people I feel comfortable with around me. Either it’s a good friend or it’s someone I went to school with or worked with or sang One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall with on the camp bus (times were looser, it was the 70s). And for me, that feeling of connectedness has become like a security blanket. Because even though I may not have close relationships with everyone I know, there’s always this sense of familiarity wherever I am. And I happen to love that.

But plenty of people here—everywhere for that matter—are from somewhere else altogether. More people have relocated than most of us realize—for work or school or a relationship—and are trying desperately to grow new root systems in places where the soil has a very different consistency than what they’re used to. And because of that, new relationships often take a while to fully germinate.relocating-job-seeker-move

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I met a woman recently who is exactly that person and she confided in me that even though her family has been here for a while now, it’s taking a long time for them to feel comfortable living here.

We talked about cliques—both among adults and kids—and how hard it is to break into them and feel like you belong. I assured her that like-minded people are out there, and that there’s this invisible gravitational pull that eventually draws those people together.

I told her I know this because there was a time in the Sugarman family history, when our kids were very little, when we moved away. Far away. To a place where we were virtually all alone and completely intimidated by the fact that we knew practically no one.

I reminded her that transplantation takes work. And risk. And a pretty decent amount of blind faith. I also told her that every one of us will be building new relationships for the rest of our lives. And that even though it seems like certain social groups are impenetrable, relationships are constantly in flux, as much when you’re a kid as when you’re an adult.

I mean, how many times as a kid were you friends with someone at one point, then things changed and you weren’t, then things changed again and you were? Or, once you got to high school, you unexpectedly became friends with a girl in the cool crowd because you ended up sitting next to her in your physics class. That’s the stuff I marvel at—the unpredictability of relationships.

Well the same thing happens when you’re an adult. We assume we can’t develop meaningful, deep connections with people who already have what looks like their quota of deep meaningful relationships. Then, without warning, we meet our next best friend in a Mom-and-Me playgroup or at a spin class or at the park with our dog.

And that’s the funny thing, people don’t realize that we’re wired with an almost unlimited capacity for making connections. Think of it like this, the human spirit is like a power strip that you buy at the office supply store. Only the one we’re all hardwired with has an unlimited number of ports to plug things into. And that’s what I think people sometimes forget.

See, a lot of these ports stay vacant for a long time and are only filled at certain points in our life. Because, as I say often, there’s a time and a place for everything—especially relationships. And people have the uncanny tendency to come into our lives at exactly the points when we need them the most. When we head off to college, alone in life for the first time. When we get a new job and relocate to a new city. When we retire and move to Florida. We’re constantly being transplanted and having to start again.

So, to those of you who haven’t made all the connections yet that you want to make, you will. Because even though breaking into new circles sometimes seems impossible, it does happen. All the time. And new relationships can be just as meaningful as old ones.

The bottom line is that transplants aren’t easy. They’re often painful and debilitating and take a lot of recovery time. You just have to remember that, after a while, a successful transplant usually leads to a whole new life.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com.

Thanksgiving is wherever your heart is

By Lisa Sugarman

I don’t know what Thanksgiving Day is like for you, but for me, it’s the best one out of the other three hundred and sixty-four. It’s without a doubt, my absolute most favorite day of the year. But for about the last seventeen years, it’s also been the bitter sweetest day for me.

Let me explain.

To me, Thanksgiving is the greatest day of the year, bar none.

I get to run my local five-miler road race with Dave and all our runnerbuddies. Then I get to watch my Marblehead Magicians football team play (and hopefully win). I get to spend the entire day with my family (and because I like them, it’s actually enjoyable). I get to eat tons of tryptophan until it’s oozing out of my eye sockets. And then, after the whole thing’s over, I get the bonus prize of being able to clock out of the kitchen for at least two days post-holiday because of all the leftovers. It’s positively dreamy.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I don’t have to buy so much as a single Hallmark card or wrap even one gift because it’s not that kind of holiday. Winning!

Clearly all of that represents the sweet part of the bitter sweetness. The bitter part has to do with the guest list. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re supposing that I hate my in-laws and that I dread having them under my roof for two weeks. Well you’re wrong. Stop assuming you know everything. I’m one of the small handful of people who actually adores my in-laws. So them coming is part of what makes it so perfect. Well, almost perfect.

See, ever since my parents retired to Florida about seventeen years ago, my Thanksgivings have been, well, different. Different because my parents are roughly 1,200 miles south of my dining room table on Thanksgiving Day, making passing the cranberry sauce an incredible challenge.

The thing is, growing up, my house was the epicenter of everything. And I mean everything. Every holiday, every celebration, all the big occasions and even all the small ones. So being together as a complete family unit was all I ever knew.

But, whether we like it or not, things have the tendency to change. Not always for the worse; they just change. And when I got married and my parents moved down south and my mother-in-law took over hosting, there was a seismic shift in the tectonic family plates. And then, after a decade of my mother-in-law hosting, they moved twenty-five minutes away from my parents and I took over. And the plates shifted again.

Life is constantly changing around us, whether we’re in the mood for it or not. So what we have to remember is to keep a wide stance so we can compensate for the movement. More importantly, we have to remember that there are always trade-offs to change that keep the balance equitable.

For me, the trade-off for not having my parents with us for Thanksgiving is that I have them for June and July, when they come north for the summer. Then, in early fall, they migrate back down to their condo and stay put until spring. It’s a cold thing. But my mom is notorious for popping up for mid-winter visits just because we can’t possibly go that long without seeing each other. You know, girls and their moms.

And while that doesn’t allow us to celebrate Thanksgiving in the same room, it does give us a beautiful chunk of time to enjoy together. And for that, I’m truly thankful.

One of my mom's trademarks... a card in my mailbox for every holiday we're apart. Just something special to let me know she's thinking of me. It's one of many ways we bridge the distance. And yes, my mother is really this adorable.

One of my mom’s trademarks… a card in my mailbox for every holiday we’re apart. Just something special to let me know she’s thinking of me. It’s one of many ways we bridge the distance. And yes, my mother really is this adorable.

You see, I know there are plenty of people out there who, for various reasons, are in similar situations this week. Wishing they could be together with family and friends but, for whatever reason, can’t be. Maybe they’re serving overseas (thanks for that, by the way), or maybe plane fares are too high, or maybe someone’s not well enough to travel. Everyone has a story. And believe me, whatever the reason is, I feel you. Because, like most people, I’d like to be surrounded by all the people I love the most on Thanksgiving. But even in spite of not being, we’ve managed to make do.

We’ve taken advantage of every type of connectivity that’s out there to help us feel less apart over the holiday. We Skype and we text and we call and we send cards (lots and lots of cards). And while it’s no substitute for being able to put your actual arms around someone, it does help take the edge off.

So even though you may not have every single person you want around your table this week, as long as you can somehow stay connected to the ones who aren’t, that’s as good a reason as any to be thankful, I think.

Happy Thanksgiving, mom and dad. Sending 1,200 miles worth of love your way.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com.

 

The power of goals

By Lisa Sugarman

We all have goals that motivate us. You know, ambitions or aspirations or intentions that stir and inspire us to fight harder or go longer or be more devoted than we normally would be. And I think it’s fair to say that most people live in blissful ignorance of what they’re truly capable of, unless they have some kind of a carrot to chase that draws out their full potential. Cause let’s face it, when we’ve got some kind of emotional or physical or tangible goal dangling in front of us, it usually makes the wheels turn a little faster.

See, what I’ve always found so interesting is how vastly different peoples’ goals can be. And more interesting still, is how broad the measurement is for achieving them. I mean, for some people, their big goal may just be getting up out of bed every morning, getting dressed, and making it to work on time. While for others, it’s breaking physical barriers like climbing all forty-eight of the White Mountains’ 4000 footers or being the first American Ninja or skiing K2. Or maybe your goal is to smoke less or lose a hundred pounds or do three complete boy-style pushups without your forearms snapping.

And in terms of reaching your goals, think of it this way: A mile is still a mile no matter how long it takes you to run it. In other words, whatever your dream is, you’ll eventually get there at a pace that’s very uniquely your own. Because when it comes to goals, pace is really irrelevant. The bottom line is achievement of the goal, not how long acquisition actually takes.

Here’s the perfect example of exactly what I’m talking about.

Last Sunday, I ran a 5K road race with about 125 of my closest fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade girlfriends; all of whom I coach, along with an inspiring and devoted group of six other women. The race was the climax of our six-week season. We’ve all spent the last month and a half coaching this group of girls, training for and working toward 125 different goals. So interesting, isn’t it? Such a huge group of people, all working toward what appears to be the same end, but with 125 different mini goals woven just under the surface. Fascinating.

Fit Girls Run Club Marblehead. 125 girls strong. 125 different goals. 125 success stories.

Fit Girls Run Club Marblehead.
125 girls strong. 125 different goals. 125 success stories.

For some, their goal was breaking a ten-minute mile or running a sub-eight for the first time. Or running without cramps. Or just making it around the course without stopping. Or without any sort of running-induced vomiting. While for others, just finishing the 3.1 mile run was all that mattered—regardless of how they looked crossing the line. Because after all, tripping into the end zone ass over elbow still gets you the six points, according to any NFL standard. Breaking the plane is a touchdown, regardless of how ugly it looks on the instant replay.

So I’m very proud to say that all of our girls and their friends and families and running buddies broke the plane and got the job done—because pace, as I’ve also learned, is completely relative. Every single one of them crossed the exact same finish line. And the cheers for the first girls were exactly as loud as they were for the last ones. That’s because each and every one of them instinctively knew what it meant to have a goal and to work toward it, regardless of what the goal was. So there was a mutual respect for everyone accomplishing what they set out to do.

And that right there is why I love having goals. It’s why finding something to metaphorically aim at—whatever that something is—ensures that you’re always aiming for something. Because shooting off rounds into wide open space without a target to hit generally won’t score you any marksmanship points. At best, it’ll just graze someone in the ass. That’s because without an objective you can’t very well have a mission, now can you?

Now of course, the best-case scenario is to have someone there with you to hold you accountable to your goal. And while it’s not absolutely necessary in terms of actually being successful, it’s mighty helpful in the long run if you’ve got someone calling you out when you’re slacking off. But not everyone has that luxury. Meaning you just have to police yourself. And while being responsible for ourselves isn’t always that easy, it’s more than doable with some modest effort.

So while it’s most definitely helpful to have a coach or a mentor or a sidekick to help keep your eye on the prize, the most important thing to have is a goal in the first place. Any kind of goal that keeps the momentum going. Because without something moving you forward, you’re really just standing still. And that doesn’t really accomplish anything, now does it?

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com.