triumphant woman boxer, maggie mcreynolds blog

How to Win a Fight without Throwing a Single Punch

Anybody, kid or parent, knows there are all sorts of rules—good ones—to protect kids from cars on school grounds. Rules about where you can pick up and drop off. Rules about where to park. And, above all, an iron-clad rule that you stop if you see someone of any age entering the crosswalk from the parking lot to the school’s door.

On this particular morning, school had already started, and I was arriving late to drop off the lunch bag my son had forgotten at home. As I approached the crosswalk, I saw a woman hesitating at the school side of it. I slowed, and prepared to stop. But instead of stepping into the crosswalk, she made a spasmodic gesture with her hands that confused me. I interpreted the gesture to mean, “No, go ahead, I’m just standing here, waiting for someone,” and so I slowly proceeded.

Imagine my surprise and dismay when she hollered like a banshee, leapt into the crosswalk into the wake of my passing car, and kicked my bumper as hard as she could. Guess that wasn’t what her hand signals had meant, after all.

By the time I’d parked my car, prepared to approach her, explain, and apologize, she was standing outside hers, halfway across the lot, and screaming at me.

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Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me

“…I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’. Only the echoes of my mind.”

For many of us, this song lyric is far more true than we’d like to admit.

It’s not because we’re shallow or uncaring. Well, most of us, anyway. What we are is distracted, defensive, and, ultimately, disconnected. It keeps us from being fully present in most of the conversations we have. It keeps from hearing what the other person actually said. Worst of all, it puts a wedge between us and those most important to us: partners, family, friends, and professional peers.

Distraction: your child is trying to tell you about something really exciting that happened at school, but you’re trying to get dinner on the table and thinking about a presentation you have to give tomorrow at work. So you hear something approximately like, “…so then Keisha said blah blah blah and I tried to blah blah blah but Mrs. Rothstein told us we had to blah blah blah and it made us feel really blah blah blah….”

Results: you didn’t just miss what your kid was saying, you missed an opportunity to learn something, to see some of the treasure unique to her glinting inside her.

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Boarding Pass Privileges

Of all the things that can keep me up at night, one of the most pernicious is reliving and stewing over something hurtful someone said to me.

smiling receptionist, boarding pass, maggie mcreynolds blog

Smiling Receptionist: Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

“I should have said this,” I mutter, punching my pillow into what I hope will be a more sleep-inducing shape. “I should have said that,” I growl, trying one leg outside the blanket to see if that will cool me down without giving me shivers. “I should have…done something!”, I sputter as I thrash around and succeed only in knocking over the glass of water on my nightstand.

And I am right: I should have done something. And that “something” I should have done is not let someone else’s judgment of me, my life, my kid, my business, or even my dog on board, if it didn’t resonate with me or feel true to me. What’s keeping me awake and seething isn’t the original comment itself so much as the fact that I opened my door and let it in.

Building these kinds of boundaries—what you will allow on board, into your core, and what you will not—is challenging work, and most of us never get taught to do so, or even told that we should.

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Fear: Friend or Foe?

fearful man, maggie mcreynolds blog, Signature:1aa0edd3f00ecb0adc8aa215f572f8061f81f2bd7ee14d34f53c48d50acdcb69My son tells me he is afraid. “There are so many things to be scared of,” he says. “I don’t understand the point of fear. Is it to keep you from doing stuff?”

Well, yes. And no. frightened guy

Life without fear would be dangerous indeed, because fear can provide useful information that might help keep you alive. Consider sufferers of congenital analgia, a rare and total insensitivity to pain. People with this disease often don’t live past age 25, because as children, it’s extraordinarily difficult for them to learn to avoid danger when they simply can’t feel the consequences.

While the rest of us are learning—often the hard way—that fire burns, that knives cut, that heavy objects break bones—those with congenital analgia get no such feedback from their brains. They can get third-degree burns from a scalding bath or cut off a finger without feeling a thing.

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What We Have Here, Is Failure to Communicate

Couple Seated Back To Back, Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis; maggie mcreynolds blog

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

It’s an old joke: the four-year-old asks, “Mommy, where did I come from?” and Mom, fervently wishing this had happened on Dad’s watch, launches into a lengthy and somewhat euphemistic ramble about mommies having eggs, and daddies having sperm, and that in some sort of vague but definitely married way the two meet up and form an embryo, which grows in the mommy’s tummy and then eventually the baby comes out through a special place between the mommy’s legs.

Pause.

“Oh,” says the kid. “Jimmy comes from Albuquerque.”

The punch line’s cute, but don’t let it obscure an important point: Mom didn’t really hear or understand the intent behind her son’s question, and so she gave him information he wasn’t asking for and didn’t need.

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The Daily Debrief: How to Share Your Day When You Live Alone

debrief living alone, maggie mcreynolds blogThere are real pleasures to living alone, like getting to make up all the rules, eating cereal for dinner, and having no one to complain if you leave wet towels on the floor or hang the toilet paper the “wrong” way.

And there are downsides, too. One of them can be that there’s no built-in someone with whom to compare notes at the end of the day. You know, the big stuff. The little stuff. The annoying stuff. The weird stuff. The stuff that if you don’t tell someone, you’re going to explode. Stuff like:

“Can you believe my boss won’t replace my keyboard even though the ‘m’ stopped working? How am I supposed to write without ‘m’s’?”

“Hey, there’s another Chinese noodle shop opening downtown—what does that make, like, 137?”

“I think I’ve got a good shot at landing the account, can I bounce this idea off you?”

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red rose, maggie mcreynolds blog

It Pays to Be Kind

When I was four years old and out to dinner with my grandparents at their favorite suburban Chicago club, a stranger approached our table, gave me a dollar bill and a rose and told me I was the best-behaved little girl he’d ever seen. Then he smiled at all of us, and quietly left the restaurant with his wife. My grandparents had no idea who he was or where he had gotten the rose—the restaurant didn’t have flowers on the tables—and we never saw him again.

I am sure my grandparents were grateful to him, because from then on, I was always on my absolute best behavior in restaurants, just in case the guy with the money and the flowers showed up again.

But more importantly, I have been forever grateful to him. For his insight into a little girl who was actually kind of bored by her grandparents’ stuffy country club dining experience, but determined to be “grownup” and not show it. For the unexpected grace and beauty of the moment. For the spontaneous kindness of his act, which has remained vivid in my memory for over forty years now.

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Hooked on a Feeling

hooks in water, maggie mcreynolds blog“I’ve just got a bad temper.”
“I can’t remember the last time I was happy.”
“My life is in constant turmoil—it’s like there’s got to be some drama going on.”
“I’ve always been afraid to try new things.”
“Things never work out for me. Life is passing me by.”

Sound like you or someone you know?

When statements come packed with absolutes—always, just, never, got to—it’s a good bet the speaker is hooked, caught like a fish at the end of a line by their own pain. They’ve felt angry, or sad, or scared, or out of control for so long, they believe these feelings to be part of their core identity, often never getting in touch with the root thoughts that created them in the first place.

Breaking the cycle can be as easy as asking one word: why?

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