First World Problems

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By Lisa Sugarman

Gut Yontif.

Oh, wait. Sorry. You most likely don’t speak Yiddish, so you’ve got no idea what that means. It means Happy Holiday. Or, if you’re Jewish, like me, and you’re celebrating Rosh Hashanah right now, it means Happy New Year.

See, this week marks the start of Jewish High Holy Days, when Jews everywhere take a minute to reflect on how well we lived our lives over the last year. It’s actually a pretty healthy exercise in self-evaluation, if you ask me. I think everybody should do it. And not just because of the food, which, by the way, happens to be an added perk of the holiday. But because it’s a nice opportunity to take a step outside yourself, take a good, long look, and make sure you still like what you see. And if there’s stuff you don’t like (and there almost always is), then you get to metaphorically throw it away.

So here’s what I learned about myself this year. I learned that, like a lot of people, I’ve got my fair share of problems. But what I found is that when I took the time to look closely at the things I classify as “problems,” it became obvious that most of them weren’t legitimate problems after all.

Let me explain.

Because we’re all human, and humans tend to get complacent after a while, we tend to forget to use our peripheral vision and absorb the bigger picture of what’s around us. So we get caught up in the stupid minutia of life and it’s that silly stuff that begins to look and feel like bonafide problems.

Look, I’ve got a loving and supportive family, good health, a roof over my head, fairly decent teeth (aside from a little genetic tooth discoloration), and exceptional friends. Yet I realized, after closer inspection, that most of the things I consider to be problems are nothing more than simple frustrations, also known as First World Problems. You know them, they’re the insignificant inconveniences that most of us deal with every day. Only the thing is, they’re really nothing more than trivial, mostly ridiculous things that we often mistake as real, legitimate problems.

In our heads, they feel incredibly real. In our heads, they’re aggravating and annoying and overwhelming. In our heads they’re big. But what they really are is nothing more than just figments of our imagination. They’re the product of over-Westernized and completely desensitized brains.

Let me put it another way. First World Problems are gnats of the mind. They’re actually completely harmless, but when you put enough of them together, they form a swarm, and any swarm seems dangerous to the naked eye. Funny thing is, they’re pretty benign.

Answer me this, have you ever said or heard anything that sounded even remotely like this?

“So annoying, my $7 Starbucks latte came with only ONE espresso shot instead of the TWO I asked for!”

“I’m never gonna make it through the day. I only got seven hours of sleep instead of my usual ten.”

“It’s so irritating, I have no place to put my leftovers from dinner because I have too much food in my fridge.”

“The free coffee at work sucks!”

“I changed my email password and now I have to re-enter it manually into my desktop mail app, iPad, and iPhone!”

“My car has heated seats but it doesn’t have a heated steering wheel and it was really, really cold yesterday.”

“One of my kids is watching the 50-inch TV; another one is playing Xbox on the 45-inch TV; and my daughter is watching a Blu-ray on the 40-inch TV; so I have to watch my TV show on the 10-inch iPad.”

Let’s be honest, the chances are good that if you live in the Western world you hear or say this kind of thing pretty regularly. But the ironic thing is, most of us tend to forget that these problems we complain about don’t deserve to be classified as problems at all.

Sure, minor inconveniences can be a pain, but when put into perspective, having cold leather seats when you get into your car during the winter isn’t really a hardship. Sleeping on a dirt floor crammed against eighteen other people, with no clean drinking water, not knowing where your next meal is coming from, is an entirely different story. I’m sure the stark contrast is sure to make the extra-long line at Starbucks seem like much less of a big deal.

I’m bringing this up for the simple reason that I refuse to keep getting conned into complaining about the problems of living in a Westernized world. The bottom line is, we’re all lucky. Period.

So this year for the holiday, the thing I’m going to stay focused on is how lucky I am that most problems I’m likely to have aren’t really problems after all. I mean cummon, we live in a country that has free refills. What could we possibly have to complain about?

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Check her out on Facebook at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is, available on Amazon.com.

See what SOS Aloha had to say about LIFE: It Is What It Is

“LIFE: IT IS WHAT IT IS is a refreshing reminder that we succeed in our busy lives when we take one day at a time.  Lisa draws from her column to offer practical advice for self improvement. Recommended read for those who enjoy humorous musing that may lead to a new attitude.”

To read the full book review, click on the SOS Aloha photo below…

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The open-door policy gets my vote

imagesBV3K17DTBy Lisa Sugarman

When I was a kid, we pretty much had an open-door policy in my house. As an only child, I think my mom was hyper aware of how important it was for me to make strong bonds with friends because I had no brothers or sisters around to torment, uh, I mean, keep me company. So from as far back as I can remember, our front door was wide open and there were always at least few extra pairs of Tretorns in the front hall.

Let’s put it this way, all my friends knew exactly which shelf the Miracle Whip was on in my fridge and where our spare key was hidden under the porch. (Not that we hide a key under the porch now. I mean, exactly how stupid do you think I am?) In other words, I guess you could say that growing up, my house was like a second home for a lot of people.

My mom hosted just about every major holiday and special occasion you could find on a calendar. And some I think she just made up for the helluvit. Point being, I always had the sense back then that our house was the epicenter of the world. And I loved it. There was nothing like that feeling of having your friends call your mother Mom. It meant they loved being there. And that was a beautiful feeling.

Now I imagine my mom had a revolving-door philosophy because that was how she and my aunt and uncles were raised. But I’m sure part of it, too, was to overcompensate for the fact that I had no siblings. Either way it was fine with me because my house was always so jam-packed with people that I never felt alone. Not for a minute. Because even then, as a self-centered teenager—yeah, I admit it—I consciously recognized and appreciated always having people around. And that’s because it made the house feel alive with energy. And that was an infectious feeling.

It really seemed to me, in those days, like our oven was indefinitely preheated and ready to roll at a steady 350 degrees for whatever pans of Toll House cookies might come sliding in. My mom was either baking or cooking or shopping. The way I remember it, she was always either on her way to, or from, the market. I often wondered when she actually slept. And it wasn’t until years later, when I had my own kids, that I realized she didn’t. No mom does.

Look, food and people equals love. Plain and simple. And my mother knew that. So we were always fully stocked with both. I think it’s fair to assume that a good majority of everyone’s happy memories somehow, in some way, involve food or people or both. Birthdays have cake, Thanksgiving has turkey, Easter has ham, the Fourth of July has beer. The list could go on for miles. The one common denominator being food. And the people to eat it.

See, it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I fully realized what kind of an impact it had on me watching my mother host everything. All those memories of everyone always getting together under our roof left a serious mark on me. That one penchant she had for opening our house up to everyone had a direct and powerful influence on how I’ve raised my own kids. And my mother-in-law was the same way, so it’s all Dave and I have ever really known. And so, consequently, it’s all our kids have ever known.

I will say, though, that it wasn’t until I was a parent, with my own debit card and overdraft protection, that I realize that my mother must’ve either secretly won the lottery or been hooking on the side to have afforded to feed all those people. Obviously I’m joking. Please. She never won the lottery.

Really, though, I’ll never dispute how much time and effort goes into opening your house up, especially to your kid’s friends. But the return you get on that is, actually, like winning the lottery. For real.

I don’t think any of us would trade the slave labor it takes to cook one hundred meatballs, four gallons of red sauce, ten pounds of pasta, ten loaves of garlic bread, thirteen dozen brownies, and a builder’s acre-worth of Caesar salad just to have the cross country team over for a quick bite. It’s a haul, for sure. But any of us who’ve hosted a team dinner or Thanksgiving or birthday parties or playgroups knows that the joy it gives our kids far outweighs the bursitis we get from carrying eight grocery bags at a time in from the car.

Ok, well, it’s almost worth it anyway.

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

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Do we ever really know our kids?

untitledBy Lisa Sugarman

I know this might sound like a strange question but, as parents, do you think we ever truly know our kids? Like really know who they are, as people. I know, it’s an inane-sounding question, but just humor me.

I’m asking because, even though I’ve been at this for a while—with a freshman and a senior in high school—I’m still honestly not sure if I’ve ever met the real them—at least not the versions of them that the rest of the world gets to see most of the time. And I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit jealous. I also have a hunch you might be feeling the same way, too.

I mean, we all get glimpses of the amazing people our kids are, but for parents it’s usually mixed with a disproportionate amount of other gunk that we have to pick through to expose the pearl. Because let’s face it, the kid we see in the privacy of our own home is decidedly different from the one the rest of the world sees. Even though, to a point, that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

At home, we get the Real McCoy. The gloves are off, peoples’ hair is down (and usually a white-hot mess), and everything hangs out. And the ironic thing is, the rest of the world probably wouldn’t believe us if we told them about even half of the crap our kids pull. They wouldn’t believe the short tempers and the mood swings and the meltdowns. And that’s because the rest of the world almost always gets the polite, controlled, respectful version of our kids. The rest is reserved for us. And while I’m well aware that that eventually does change, it sure would be nice if the change happened when they were still kids.

See, I’m at the point now, a point many of us are at, where my kids are spending way more of their time without me than with me. Once you give a kid a set of car keys, you might as well kiss them goodbye and wish them well, because a car is like the gateway drug to independence—one taste and they’re addicted.

It’s at that point that you just cross your fingers and pray that they’re out there representing themselves with some grace and maybe a little bit of charm. Or, at the very least, that they’re not jamming their finger up their nose in public places.

You know, we invest so much of our time and effort, especially when our kids are young, in teaching them the Basic Rules of Human Engagement so that when they finally do get out on their own they don’t embarrass themselves. Or, more importantly, us.

I’m always reminding our girls—probably more than they appreciate—that whenever they leave the house, they’re out there in the world as official representatives of The Sugarman Family. Meaning, that if they make bad choices or behave like idiots, it’s ultimately going to reflect badly on all of us.

See, the thing is, when our kids finally crawl out from underneath us and start engaging with the world on their own, most of us, at least for a period of time, just hold our breath. We wonder if they’re giving thank-you waves when cars let them cross the street; if they’re holding the door for people; if they’re saying Please and Thank you; if they’re looking people in the eye. There’s a lot to consider when we let them loose on the world.

We spend those first handful of years, when they’re stapled to our hip, drumming every people skill we can think of into their little brains and then, almost overnight, we have to send them out solo. And considering what most of us see at home when our kids are testing our limits, it’s intimidating as hell thinking about releasing them to the general population. But the funny thing is, they all eventually pull it together. We did, right?

So I guess that just proves that home is the testing ground—the place where they can shoot off live rounds in every direction but no one gets mortally wounded because most parents are genetically bulletproof. And what matters most is that we take the hits now, while they’re still doing their dress rehearsal. Because I’ve been assured by a reliable source—my mother—that eventually, the two polar-opposite personalities inside every kid will mesh into one, beautiful person. So that’s what I’m holding on to.

In the meantime, though, I’m thinking of installing Nanny Cams everywhere. You know, in their bedrooms, at school, in the car. Wherever I can, within reason. But it won’t be forever; just long enough to let me see the real them in action.

What? Too much?

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