Saturday, August 18, 2012

Free Won't (an Expeditious Re-Run)

I am cleaning my house today.  Period.  Therefore, I have decided to post a re-run of this post from 2009 because I really needed the reminder.

It turns out it is all in your head!

In our culture, we hear a lot about "free will." It has all kinds of connotations: social, religious, political, parental! We are told, often, "It's your choice," or the parental opposite, "Well you chose to do that. You have free will. If little Timmy jumped off the roof, would you?"

I don't know about you, but I have - at times - basically bought into the notion that I can do anything if I only want to enough. And yet, we all know that isn't the case. Because if it were so, we'd all be worshiping at the shrine of Noman Vincent Peal (The Power of Positive Thinking) or The Secret would no longer be one because we would have all attracted money, love and power and either destroyed each other by now or engaged in a world wide group hug.

Okay, I am being extreme. So seriously, what's the deal? Why is it that I, for instance, am capable of sticking to a diet and exercise plan for sixth months of every blessed year and not at all for the other six months? And why is it that though we want to love our irksome neighbor, for some reason we can't? Well, I have both good and bad news. It's because of our brains!

That's right! Researchers have discovered that in the frontal lobe -- where free will is thought to "reside" -- there is also a veto power. And this veto power can override a "conscious" decision. So you may make a conscious decision, for example, to stop smoking. And when the impulse to light up hits you, you can say no. That's where the veto power comes in. It overrides your conscious decision. It becomes active when you inhibit an impulse. It really explains why some people have more trouble than others in breaking bad habits.

Did I promise some good news? Oh yes. We can retrain the veto control by practicing the more desirable habit over and over. [edit -- Did you get that last sentence?  We can re-train our brains by replacing that desire with new behavior! ] This is where support systems, plans and processes all come into play. Repeating that new, chosen behavior over and over retrains the brain. So get yourself a plan, a cracker-jack support partner and your odds of success will be greatly improved. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Long Story of Life Shocks and a Lesson Learned (aka How I Fell in Love in/with Louisiana Through the Kindness of Strangers)

I don't like the saying, "Be careful what you wish for."  Instead, I tend to believe that Providence brings me exactly what I need at any given moment to learn what it is I need to learn.  My adventures last Tuesday were the perfect example of same.

Shortly after lunch on a nine-hour drive from home to Covington, Louisiana, I had lots of time to think.  I was reflecting on how my "cutting edge" right now seems to be asking for and accepting help.  I keep getting reminded of this --in the nicest possible way -- by Dear Hubby who comes into the kitchen on occasion and says, "What do you need?"  I am often at a loss although if you look around, it's pretty clear I need help!

So a little over halfway into that long drive, my car broke down.  Sunshine was just ahead with our friends Susan and Abby, so it was just me and the Littles.  Immediately, the questions began: "Why, you stop, Mom?  "Why it so hot?" "Why you not driving Mom?" 

I ignored their questions with a "shhh, shhh" and thought about my emergency plan:
  • Assess the situation
  • Garner support (the most challenging step for me)
  • Decide on a course of action
  • Implement
  • (Repeat as needed, taking new information into account)
It appeared my battery was dead so I called Susan and asked her to continue on with the girls, then dialed AAA.  They dispatched a wrecker but I decided to open my hood and take a look while I waited.  I saw that the battery was disconnected on one post.  I needed help.  

Immediately a pick-up truck pulled up. A couple a little older than I emerged and offered assistance.  I hesitated then said I needed a wrench.  He happened to have JUST purchased one at a flea market, so it was still in his truck. He hooked up the battery but warned me that the damaged battery may have damaged my alternator.  Oops.  I had jumper cables but jumping the car turned out not to be easy.

I kept handing the kids water and trying to keep them cool in the hot car.  I dared not release them from their seatbelts on the interstate.  Finally Kind Stranger said, "You can't stay here.  It's too hot and dangerous.  Maybe we can charge you up to limp forward a ways; there's a truck stop at the next exit.  We'll keep jumping you until you get there."  4 charges later, I finally traveled through the exit and made it to the truck stop where we had a bathroom, shade and access to beverages.  Kind Strangers wouldn't take any gas money and I didn't think to get their names.

At the truck stop, I called the garage to ask them if someone could come get us since only 2 people can ride in the tow truck.  At the exact moment as the tow truck, a white Cadillac SUV showed up, driven by Weylin Daigle.  Weylin, owner of Performance Auto (and other businesses) in Crowley, Louisisana delivered us to the shop and on hearing our story, prioritized our repair.  Unfortunately, it was the battery and the alternator.  It took time to find the part.  It took time to get the part.  It would take time to make the repair.  He said we'd have to wait until tomorrow.

I went back to my emergency plan. Step One: Assess.  (We could stay but we really wanted to get back to Sunshine). Step Two:  Garner Support.  I called bus lines.  I called rental car agencies.  I called friends.  Susan offered to come get us but that seemed extreme (it was a four-hour round trip).  I called Dear Hubby. There seemed to be no way to get to my daughter and the hotel room I'd already paid for. Finally, I begged the garage to go ahead and make the repair, offering to pay the repairman for his time.  One declined and one agreed.  Weylin, God bless him, stayed to help as the work could not be done by one person.  Then, as if he had not done enough already, he drove the kids and I to McDonalds and left us there so they could eat.

We returned to the shop after dinner and the kids resumed their long and glorious game of "blow the label with the box fan."  Eventually, Weylin appeared with more news:  While removing the belt tensioner, it had broken into pieces.  A replacement part had been found . . in another town . . and could not be retrieved until tomorrow.  I'd be spending the night.

Back to the emergency plan -- Step 1:  Assess.  I really, really needed to catch up to Sunshine.  I knew she'd be worried sick plus I had all her ball equipment and uniform.  Step 2:  I asked Welyin, my new best friend, for advice.  He offered to take us to Lafayette, 30 miles away, to the airport; surely we could rent a car there.

Wrong.  They had no cars.  6 rental car companies had NO cars.  Back to the plan.  Assess.  Garner support.  Three more strangers decided to help.  

Rhea at Hertz helped me find the number for an airport shuttle.  She did not give up until she actually got the guy on the phone.  (Have I mentioned my phone was now out of battery?)

Byron, of the shuttle company, was sorry, but he could not help me.  He was short on drivers and everyone was elsewhere employed.  He could get me there tomorrow.  I declined, gratefully, and he had a change of heart.  "Call me back in 5 minutes," he said, "I'll see what I can do."   

Meanwhile, Robert Parker, of Enterprise, was listening to it all.  "So where are you going," he asked, "and will you for sure be back here by Sunday?"  Absolutely.  "Give me your driver's license and a credit card," he said, and we were on our way.

Meanwhile, dear Byron called back, offering to take me himself in his family car!  I gratefully told him I'd been able to rent, after all.

9-1/2 hours after I broke down, I was reunited with Sunshine and her team.  Parents met me in the lobby to help me handle the (now sleeping) Littles and the luggage.  Sweet Sunshine had set the room all up and made up the sofa bed for the boys.

The kids went straight back to sleep; it took me a little while.  I noted how wonderfully well-behaved and patient my little ones were when it really counted and acknowledged myself for my ability to turn some tough times into a fun -- albeit sweaty -- day of "Mama time." In the end, I met a lot of Louisianans, many of them Cajuns, and though I did not think of taking their picures until the end of that long day, each of their faces will be forever in my heart.  

I stopped to appreciate how many times that day I had said, "I need help," and how each and every time, help was available.  I also noted how when the reply to my request was not always what I wanted or expected it to be, there was still always a "Yes" in there --- I simply had to open my mind to it.  It wasn't hard to ask for help and in fact, it was pretty essential.  I didn't diminish me in any way, in fact, each person who tried to help blessed me in some way.

Lesson learned.  And, well, "be careful what you wish for" because you might just get it!