Nobody could have prepared me for this. Even when a cousin of my husband’s, upon finding out I was pregnant with my fourth child, commented to my husband and me, “You know, you can have sex without getting pregnant.” But even if Mr. Snarky would have tried to lay it all out for me, I would have been unable to comprehend the trajectory of my life with four kids spanning a decade. It would not have made sense to me, nor would it fit neatly in my brain. Because having four children with a large age span is not tidy. It is messy and complicated, exciting and surreal. It forces my brain to expand like a rubber band threatening to snap at any moment.
Let’s check over here,” I motion to my 12-year-old daughter to follow me to the cosmetics isle. This is our fourth trip to Target in the last few weeks for the sole purpose of buying supplies for the new obsession gripping tweens all over the country—SLIME.
The current desired ingredient is a new one. “Baby powder is supposed to make the slime softer and less sticky,” my daughter, now an expert slime chemist, explains to me. She also assures me that she will be able to pay back the money we’ve spent on supplies with the money she collects from her fellow classmates (most of whom are also in the slime manufacturing and sales business) in exchange for her magnificently mastered mixture of shaving cream, glue, contact solution, and now baby powder.
Shampoo, body wash, lotions…I am not seeing the baby powder anywhere. My agitation rises as I curse myself for being sweet talked into this inconvenient trek to Target on a night when my son needs help with an assignment, my husband is at a work dinner, and I have to teach my teen writing class in an hour. I calm myself with the notion that at least this obsession, unlike other bygones like silly bands, does involve a creative process when mixing, measuring, and experimenting to form the germ-collecting balls of goo.
“Hi!” I find myself almost yelling to the young, exhausted-looking woman standing behind the nearby pharmacy counter. “Can you please tell me where the baby powder is?”
Before I even let the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-lady look on her face throw me into a shame pit, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her briskly out of the pharmacy area murmuring, “Oh my gosh, never mind.”
We both erupted in giggles as we headed over to the “baby” isle for the elusive “baby” powder.
My internal Target compass paused as we pass the girls section, our usual go-to area. “The baby section is over by electronics, I am pretty sure,” I muttered, still smiling at the irony.
And then it hit me.
The baby aisle had completely fallen off of my radar.
I could not recall the last time I had even gone near the avenue of pacifiers, diaper genies, bottles and diapers. As I walked toward baby land with my baby, disguised as a 12-year-old, I realized that I no longer knew the layout of this section that for decades I was able to navigate with my eyes closed. I didn’t even recognize some of the items on the shelf.
How could this be? This was MY territory! And now, I had forgotten it even existed!
“Mom, here, I found it,” my daughter’s sweet voice lulled me out of my trance. “Let’s go! You’ve got to get to your class,” she reminded me.
I stood motionless, my eyes scanning the baby items stacked neatly on the shelves. “I miss this, “ I said. She tracked my gaze to the shelf full of diapers.
“You miss changing my diapers,” she said coyly with a playful smile on her face.
“No I miss my babies,” I told her with sincerity, ignoring her sarcasm. I miss holding you in my arms, your baby smell, and hugging you and kissing you as much as I want to.”
“Well, I don’t,” she quipped again, her smile growing even bigger. “Ugh!” I groaned and grabbed my belly in reaction to her verbal gut-punch.
Walking to the check out lane, I leaned in to the nostalgia where I saw the baby faces of my four children--their beaming smiles as well as their looks of terror and disappointment. I could hear their shrieks of laughter and their blood curdling cries. I remembered my feelings of joy, agony, exhaustion, uncertainly, and fear that consumed me as a young mom trying to figure out what I was doing. And I remember yearning for the days when I would no longer need anything from the baby isle.
“Beep,” the self-checkout scanner hit the barcode on the bottom of the baby powder cuing me back to the present. My daughter placed the powder in the white plastic bag and started toward the exit.
“Jo, hold up,” I said as I quickly caught up to her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’ve grown up so fast, girl,” I said in earnest. “I love you so much.”
As I prepared for her to immediately shake me off, per usual, instead I felt her body sinking into my hug. “I love you too, mom,” she said softly. “And thanks for taking me to get the baby powder,” she added.
Scurrying through the Minnesota cold toward our car, I felt grateful that our slime mission led me back to the baby isle and for all the memories that I found there. I realized that just like slime, the passage of time often slips through our hands when we are not looking. And without notice, we open our eyes and find ourselves in the next isle at Target.
Driving home, I take in that my youngest child is on the cusp of becoming a teenager but in this moment, she thinks of nothing other than how much baby powder she will add to her slime mixture.
And I am grateful.
Grateful for all of the memories of my children's baby years, and grateful for the fact that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here right now.
Slime and all.
Last night, I did something that scared me. As part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, my lovely and talented friend Jordana Green asked me to join her on her show to tell “my story” of my battle with anorexia nervosa that plagued me during my late teens. I had one goal in mind: Tell my story of survival to offer hope to those struggling with the disease and to those who have family members or loved ones who are struggling. I had discussed the details of my story with Jordana over lunch the week prior but chatting with her privately was much different than talking about it on live radio. But what I discovered as Jordana interviewed me on her show (with my incredible friend of 35 years, Laura, at my side for moral support) was that while I have battled with feelings of shame about my disease and have only shared the details of it with trusted friends, there was a sense of freedom and empowerment in sharing it with others.
Brene’ Brown truly has it right when she says,
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
We all have our stories. Many of which we hide away from others, and even from ourselves. But if you have a story that you think could give someone a glimmer of hope, I would encourage you to allow yourself to be vulnerable, open your heart and let yourself be seen and heard. For me, although it has been 30 years since I found myself strangled by the powerful grip of an eating disorder, which could have taken my life, sharing this dark and troubling piece of my history combined with the message that recovery is always an option was a way for me to offer comfort, hope and light to others.
As discussed in the interview, I recently joined The Emily Program as a Friends and Family Support Group facilitator. Volunteering once a month to co-lead a support group for those family and friends of those suffering from an eating disorder has given me another opportunity to give back and provide support for those in need. If you or someone you love is struggling, please know that help is readily available at the The Emily Program. Do not hesitate to take action. You can also feel free to comment or send me a private email if you have any reflections that you would like to share about this issue that effects nearly one out of every five women.
Reiterating the message I gave on the radio when Jordana asked me what advice I have for anyone struggling with an eating disorder, please remember:
Never give up. On yourself or on someone you love.
To listen to the podcast, go here (podcast date: 2/25/15, 10 pm).
Parenting your teen inevitably stirs up a lot of memories of your own teen years. As you stare in awe at your 15-year-old driving a car for the first time, it can feel like yesterday that you first excitedly and nervously grasped onto the stirring wheel and told your foot to push on the gas pedal. When you catch your teen doing something “teen-like,” you may be reminded of the time you snuck out of parents’ house in the middle of the night and the dog started barking and gave you away (or maybe...hold breath...you didn’t get caught). As you help your teen navigate his or her teen joys and challenges, you will decide how much and what you want to share about your teen self. I have always been cautious with how much of my past I shared with my teens. I would imagine that most of us determine that some (or many) of our teen experiences should never be shared with our children. What we may not be aware of, however, is that some of the “secrets” we bury could be effecting how we parent our teens. “A Mother’s Seventeen-Year-Old-Secret” explores the how and why I decided to reveal a piece of my hidden past to my 17-year-old daughter. I am honored and thrilled to have this piece running in one of my favorite motherhood publications/blogs Brain, Child Magazine.
I knew that it was time to do the web search but I wasn’t quite ready. As I forced myself to type in the name of my chosen airline and begin the flight search, it hit me that I would not be able to book our two tickets together. My ticket would be for a quick turn-around, and my daughter's would be for a much more extended stay. I would take her back. Back to college, her home away from home, where she taught me how to say goodbye and where she plans to reside for the next three years, at least. This August, I will fly there with her and once again, help her move into her room, squeeze her with everything I am, say a prayer, and return to live my life at home, a little emptier and yet a little fuller, while she renters her college life.
But we are not there yet. I am with her now. Soph blew in (my daughter doesn’t just arrive, the wind actually picks up when she enters a room due to her passion-filled, larger than life energy) at the end of April before most of her friends were home. I had her almost to myself. While the rest of my kids were finishing their school year, we had the chance to reconnect. She decompressed. She slept. We ate her favorite foods. We talked. I learned about the small details of her life at school that she couldn’t share via text or phone calls. I cherished the opportunities to read her facial expressions and body language as she revealed snippets of new, exciting experiences she had, mistakes she made and questions she was pondering.
And I listened. And I withheld judgment and advice…until I couldn’t. And the MOTHER brain took over and I found myself advising, “teaching,” probably with a tinge of judgment. And then she would pull back. Retreat. Protect her secrets that one does not share with her MOTHER. And I gave her space. Stopped looking for every “teachable moment,” and let her be.
And then she would come back around. Slowly allowing me to see her again—in her full, teen/adult light—to know her thoughts, her insights, her feelings, her vulnerabilities and her fears. And I would listen. And bite the hell out of my lip.
And this is the new language we speak. A mother who craves closeness to a young woman who needs her mom close and yet needs her space all in the same breath; a daughter who is on a bumper car ride toward adulthood, on which there is occasionally room for her mother to sit next to her, and yet, more frequently, needing and wanting to occupy the front seat all by herself. And I am off to the side (most likely biting my lip again), trusting that she's got what it takes to navigate her car without me, and yet always prepared to jump in if the bumps get too intense.
Push me away—pull me close. Hold her tight—let her go. But never completely.
I book two tickets—our outbounds the same, but my return for two days after our arrival and her return for two months later, when my youngest son will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah.
More growing up. More letting go. I am finally starting to fully grasp the true beauty of this cycle, and am trying to enjoy the ride. Bumps and all.
One of my greatest parenting pleasures has been the connection I have made with my kids through the process of writing. An old college professor of mine convinced me that, “If you can think, you can write.” I have continually reminded my kids of this important message, especially when they have become frustrated with their own writing process. I have loved being able to read my kids’ writing work and to provide feedback that I think has been helpful in helping them grow as writers and thinkers, and in their ability to trust their own voice. I know how much I value my writing mentors today, and I think teenagers sometimes have a very difficult time streamlining their thoughts and understanding how best to articulate their messages in writing. I feel so incredibly grateful that my kids have let me into their writing processes, and that I have gotten the opportunity to get to know them in ways that I may not have otherwise. Read the full article about the benefits of helping teens with their writing in Your Teen Magazine.
This was no small task. Quite honestly, not posting pictures of my kids on social media has cramped my style a bit and has forced me to exercise a fair amount of restraint in this arena. To understand how and why I arrived at this Facebook turning point, read this post on Kveller, "Why I Will No Longer Post Photos of My Kids on Facebook." Please leave your comments (which I always love and appreciate) on the Kveller site. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one! Thanks for checking it out!
Jamie Goodman, along a half a dozen other 17-year-olds, gathered at my house a few weeks ago to hang out with my 17-year-old son and reminisce about the eight weeks they spend in Israel last summer with the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program. Jamie, who lives out of town and I had never met, arrived before the others and I had a chance to chat with her a bit. As she told me about her college and summer plans (she’s a high school senior), she very casually mentioned that she is heading out on a book tour with her dad this summer. “Oh, your dad is a writer,” I asked. “Yes, and so am I. We wrote a book together,” she explained humbly. I was so taken by this adorable, kind, articulate and humble teenager who…wrote a book! I could have talked to her all night about her project but my son soon "rescued" her and whisked her out of my kitchen and off to join their other friends. Well, today is a big day for Jamie and her book, “Jamie’s Journey—Travels With My Dad,” and she is asking for some help. TODAY, April 11th, is the LAST DAY you can download her book for FREE on Amazon . She is hoping to get 3,000 people to download it so that it can become an Amazon bestseller. Even if you don't have a kindle, you can download the free kindle app onto your phone or ipad and download the book from there.
Here is a sneak peak of Jamie’s book that she co-wrote with her father. I hope you will support Jamie in reaching her goal of becoming a become an Amazon best selling author, as well as enjoy her wonderful insights that she shares in her book:
When Dr. Rick Goodman proposes to his sixteen-year-old daughter Jamie that they spend a month together bonding in Europe, she is excited yet skeptical! That’s when Dad dropped the bomb! This Journey would take place only if all of today’s modern technology and distractions were removed! Starting from St. Louis with stops in Chicago, London, Paris, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, Rome and finally Israel, the relationship evolves and the fun never stops! Jamie’s Journey teaches us the importance of connecting and communicating with our children-with the absence of today’s technology. Jamie shares her “Gems” of advice to other teens and parents about the life long rewards of truly spending time and connecting with our parents and friends!
"A valiant first effort by a rising young star. Look for big things from her." - Randy Gage, Author of the New York Times bestseller, Risky Is the New Safe
This Friday Fave is an excerpt from Book #1 and deals with gaining a better understanding of why your teen acts the way she does.
“Troublesome traits like idiocy and haste don’t really characterized adolescence. They’re just what we notice most because they annoy us or put our children in danger.” (National Geographic, October 2011, Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs)
In a November 28, 2010, article in the Star Tribune’s Parade section entitled “What’s Really Going on Inside Your Teen’s Head,” the author, Judith Newman reveals “When my friend’s son—a straight-A student and all-around sweetheart—recently ended up in the hospital getting his stomach pumped because he went out drinking with friends for the first time and had now clue how much was too much, that is when I realized: There is just no predicting. Even for the most responsible kids, there is always that combustible combination of youth, opportunity and one bad night.” Newman goes on to explain, “Truth is, the teenage brain is like a Ferrari: It’s sleek, shiny, sexy, fast, and it corners really well. But it also has really crappy brakes.”
Researchers and scholars have been studying and writing about the adolescent and teen years for centuries. Aristotle characterized adolescents as lacking in sexual self-restraint, fickle in their desires, passionate and impulsive, fonder of honor and of victory than of money, and prone to excess and exaggeration (AC Petersen, BA Hamburg - Behavior Therapy, 1986 - Elsevier). More recently scientists and researchers have been analyzing the teenage brain in an attempt to find a scientific basis for teens’ frequent unpredictability, moodiness, carelessness, and an almost frantic desire to take risks.
Currently, there are some conflicting theories about the teenage brain. One theory states that a young adult’s brain is not fully developed until the age 25. However, Dobbs looks at recent research that sheds a slightly different view of the teenage brain. Instead of looking at the adolescent brain as an immature of a work in progress, Dobbs discusses a theory that closely resembles the principle of natural selection. The “adaptive-adolescent story,” as Dobbs calls it, “casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” B.J. Casey, neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College concurs, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”
Research reveals that the when a child is six years old, her brain is already at 90 percent of its full size by and that most of the subsequent growth is the thickening of her head skull. However, between the ages of 12 and 25, ”the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade,” according to Dobbs. During this time, the main difference between and adult and teen brain is that teens value rewards more than consequences and are thus more apt to make riskier decisions.
In a study that compared brain scans of 10-year-olds, teens and adults, while the participants played a sort of video game with their eyes, that involved stopping yourself from looking at a flickering light or “response inhibition.” It turns out that 10-year-olds fail at this almost half the time but teens, by the age of 15 could score as well as adults if they are motivated, resisting temptation 70 to 80 percent of the time. The most interesting part of this study, however, was in looking at the brain scans, the teens brains were virtually the same size as the adults but “teens tended to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused—areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically.” So, as it turns out, teens do understand risk, but value risk versus reward differently than adults. “In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.”
So the next time your teen does something really “stupid,” remind yourself that he is flexing his adaptive muscles. You can certainly set rules and limits on what behaviors are acceptable, appropriate and safe but know that there is more going on his brain than we may think. He will continue to push his boundaries, and according to this research, this is exactly what he should be doing.
Even though the above-mentioned principals make sense on paper, the reality of living through the adolescent and teen years with your children can be terrifying and maddening at times.
Here are a few pieces of tried and true advice that the moms I surveyed offered about managing the adolescent/teen years:
“We did (and still do) our fair share of "biting our tongue." There are so many times I want to tell them what they should do, or offer suggestions, but I think the times that we have sat back and let them make mistakes on their own have been good and have helped prepare them for the real world. I'm glad they made those mistakes while they were home with us and we could help support them.” (Mother of three children, ages 24, 22,18, married 26 years)
“My key strategy is TRUST! Trust your teenager until they prove other wise. They will respect you a lot more! I have seen parents who hover and get really involved. I have trusted my teenagers and when they get off track we re-direct, but I think they value my trust and genuinely want to hear what I have to say. It's the ‘I'm on your side’ kind of attitude.” (Mother of four children, ages 18, 16, 14, 12, married 19 years)
"I tried to allow them as much privacy as possible while also encouraging them to share as much of their lives as they were comfortable sharing. That was the only strategy I had. Fortunately, it worked. Of course, there were many difficult moments, or maybe I should say months, but generally I felt they knew what they were doing and I supported them as best I could. When the anger level rose to red, we walked away from each other, but never for too long." (Mother of two adult children, ages 42 and 40, grandmother of four, divorced)
“The angry man should make himself like a deaf person who does not hear, and like a mute person who does not talk. If he must speak, it should be in a low voice and with words of reconciliation. Even if his heart is burning like fire, and his rage flames within him, he is capable of controlling his words.” (by Rabbi Eliezer Papo from his essay entitled "Anger")
This passage, which hit me like a ton of bricks, was part of my assigned reading for a Mussar study group I recently joined (“The goal of Mussar practice is to release the light of holiness that lives within the soul.” - The Mussar Institute). It forced me to reflect on how I often jump to anger when parenting my children, causing me to act from a position of reactivity=weakness, rather than from a position of proactivity=strength.
As I try to incorporate the Mussar principles into my life and find a more peaceful way to parent, I am committing myself to reducing the amount of time I spend feeling and/or acting angry.
When my teenager talks disrespectfully to me, my former reactive response looked something like this:
a) Quickly becoming angry, raising my voice, and telling him how disappointed I am in his behavior,
b) taking his behavior personally,
c) feeling like I have done something catastrophically wrong in parenting him,
d) feeling like I must CHANGE him immediately or he is going to disrespect his teachers and coaches, and will grow up to be a disrespectful adult.
(Note: b, c and d all exacerbate the anger.)
It has taken me only 19 years of parenting to realize that I rarely, if ever, feel good about myself when I slip into the pattern above. Even when I achieved my desired outcome, I felt a certain amount of shame whenever I acted in anger.
As I work to take a much more proactive, positive approach when facing a potentially upsetting scenario with my children, spouse or anyone I encounter, I need to embrace this idea: Anger is a choice. Perhaps I won't always be able to control the angry feelings that arise within, however, I can make the choice to not let them control me. I can choose to move away from anger, and toward something more productive.
In reference to the above-mentioned issue with my son, my new “working toward” pattern includes:
a) an understanding that his behavior is not about me—something could be bothering him (he had a bad day at school, at baseball practice, he lost in fantasy football or is nervous about his upcoming chemistry test).
b) trusting myself that I have indeed taught him the difference between respectful and disrespectful behavior, and that even with that knowledge, he is going to slip up sometimes.
c) accepting and loving him for who he is and knowing that he is a good person who is acting negatively at that moment.
d) talking to him calmly and telling him that I know he probably does not intend to talk to me disrespectfully but his tone sounds that way, and that I would like him to realize how it is unnecessary and inappropriate for him to speak disrespectfully to his mother, and there will be consequences for doing so.
The ultimate test for me is when my peaceful, anger-free approach toward him does not curb his level of disrespect but triggers more. This would be a good time to borrow from the Rabbi and “make myself like a deaf person who does not hear,” or literally walk away in an effort to thwart any rising anger that would cause me to be reactive.
It’s also important to realize that diffusing one’s own anger is the best way for a parent to teach children how to diffuse theirs.
The Beads Spilling Test
Last week, my 9-year-old daughter was frantically getting ready for school, as she had come downstairs later than our agreed upon time. She hastily put her coat on and in the process knocked over a huge bucket of beads, turning our mudroom floor into a sea of sparkly beads.
All three of my kids stopped in their tracks and six eyes were upon me.
a) Yell at Jo, causing her to burst into tears,
b) make her pick up every last bead and cause all three of my kids to be late for school,
c) feel terrible for the whole day.
My new reality, which actually surprised me almost as much as it surprised the kids:
a) I took a deep breath and said, “You guys need to go. You are going to be late. Jo, I know this was an accident. Please come down stairs earlier next time so you don’t have to be in such a hurry. Have a good day, guys!”
b) I turned away from them and began to pick up the beads.
My kids continued to stare at me for a while longer, checking to see if there would be a delayed outburst. Jo’s eyes turned from panic-stricken to relieved. “Bye mom,” they called as they walked out of the house to pile in my son’s car. “Love you!”
I literally smiled as I picked up the rest of the beads and said to myself, "This was definitely the better choice. Remember this."
I was late (per usual) for my writer friend's book launch. I had debated about whether or not to brave the sub-zero Minnesota temperatures that night but something inside me told me that I really needed to be there. I walked into the Melrose Center and took in the hospital smell. Christmas decorations adorned the walls and the greeters were cheery but I noticed a sinking feeling in my stomach. A woman directed me to the room where Lee Wolfe Blum was reading from her memoir and I gingerly opened the door, hoping it wouldn’t squeak and that no attention would be drawn to me and my lateness. I sat down in the back row and took in the scene. Lee was reading a powerful excerpt from her book (which I read in two days and put it down only when I had to) to a room full of people. I turned and within two seconds I recognized her husband Chris from Lee’s Facebook page. To me, he was somewhat of a hero in her book and I wondered what was going through his head as he sat and watched his healthy, confident, beautiful wife and mother of their three children recount her nearly fatal struggle with an eating disorder.
Then I noticed the two rows of young girls/women sitting in the front rows listening or not listening to Lee share some excerpts from her book. My attention veered slightly from Lee’s words to these girls, whose scrawny wrists held their hospital wrist bands, and I knew at that moment why I didn’t feel so cheery. As happy as I was for Lee and her success with her book, walking into Lee’s place of employment, a hospital/treatment center for children and teens struggling with eating disorders where Lee is a Health Educator, triggered some very uncomfortable memories in me.
I found myself studying the patients in the room. The faraway look in their eyes was all too familiar. I knew first-hand that this detached, empty, fearful look was the result of a combination of starvation, and the need and desire to disconnect from reality and from the self—the desperate attempt to escape inner pain. Lee’s book, A Table in the Darkness, explores Lee’s pain and her path of self-destruction, and ultimately her healing journey to recovery. She does this with such articulation and honesty that I felt like I was right there with her. Lee’s book also allowed me to take a closer look at my story and my memories without feeling shame. Lee told her truth—she exposed her soul and her imperfections. She revealed the gritty details of a person who fought a heart-wrenching, yet inspiring battle with depression and anorexia; wherein food became her vice to mask her pain and to “control” and her demons.
My 17-year-old self was very familiar with this method of demon fighting. Like Lee and the patients sitting a few rows in front of me, I used food to try to numb, control and expunge the self-loathing and perfectionism that plagued my psyche. Thirty years have passed since my three-year battle with the disease began, and although it seems like a life time ago (and I find myself wanting to go back and talk to and comfort that 17-year-old girl), I remember so vividly what it felt like to be one of those patients, sitting in a hospital, trying desperately to hold on to my control over food and my emotions. I thought this control was the key to my survival, and yet, in actuality, the desire to control was pulling life out of me, and pulling me away from the people I loved and who loved me.
My heart ached for the patients in front of me as the memories of my long, difficult road to recovery flooded back to me, but I also felt hope for them and wanted to share with them how much I learned and grew in the process. I wanted to hug them all and tell them to choose life, to do what it takes to recover—to allow themselves to let go, open up, be vulnerable and imperfect, to trust the people around them; to believe that they can and will be helped and healed, and that they are loved and are worthy of happiness and self-love.
But I didn’t have to. Lee, with her strength, conviction, powerful connection with G-d and her faith, and her willingness to document and share her story of sickness and recovery, did that and is doing that for all of us. Her book allows readers to fully immerse themselves in Lee’s world of darkness, and to root for her as she finds her light. Lee bravely marches the reader through the agony of living (or barely living) with depression and anorexia, and the havoc it creates for her, her family, her friends and for all of those who care for her. She does not shy away from exposing herself in a way that most people, myself included, would have a very difficult time doing. She then pulls the reader into her courageous and inspiring recovery process. As a Jewish person reading this book, in which Lee's strong connection to her Christian faith is woven into the fabric of her life story, I was moved by how pivotal her belief in G-d was to her recovery and how her faith continues to guide her and her family. Her journey inspired me to look more deeply into my own faith and connection with G-d.
After Lee signed my book (“You’re next” as I recently completed a manuscript for a book on self-care for mothers) and I hugged her tightly and told her how much I appreciated her book and how proud of her I was, I walked out of the hospital and back out into the cold. Tears began to fall and by the time I got to my car, I felt myself release all the uneasiness that began the moment I walked into the hospital.
I, like Lee, am a survivor. I survived the terror of anorexia—and trust me when I tell you, it truly is a terrifying disease—terrifying for the diseased person and terrifying for those who care about and love her or him. Like Lee, the battle with the disease and the victory over it is something that will always be with me, but it does not define who I am.
I sat in my car and prayed for those girls who sat in the front rows and who would not go home to their families but would spend the night (and probably many nights) in a hospital bed feeling lonely and afraid. I prayed that they would find their light, and would let go, stop fighting and allow themselves to heal.
Then I went home, hugged my husband and kids, and found an even deeper feeling of acceptance of and compassion for my 17-year-old self, and my 47-year-old self.
Lee’s book is a truly a gift for anyone who has suffered or is suffering from an eating disorder, or any kind of addiction, or for someone who loves and cares for someone who has battled or is battling an eating disorder or addiction. It is a valuable tool that can provide healing and hope for every reader.
Another excerpt from Book 1 on riding the teenage roller coaster:
A friend of mine recently told me a story about when he was in high school and he was all ready to go out for a night on the town with his buddies. He had a 12-pack of beer in the trunk of the family car and he was ready to roll. As he was saying goodbye to his mom, she suddenly said to him, “Hey Tom, I think I forgot something in the trunk, will you come out with me and help me get it?” “Ummm, mom, no, I gotta go! I am late to pick up Bob. I really gotta go now,” Tom said nervously. “I will do it when I get home.” His mom looked at him sternly and said, “No Tom, we will do it now.”
So, there went the beer and the plans for the night. Tom, who now has four kids of his own, can laugh about it today, and talk endearingly about his all-knowing mom, “I don’t know how she knew, but she just knew.” But Tom also revealed that for as many times as his mom knew, there twice as many times that she didn’t.
We all have these kinds of stories and then some. There were times when our parents figured out our meticulously developed, fail-safe plans to engage in stupid, and sometimes illegal teenage antics, and sometimes they didn’t and we got away with it. I bet it would be fair to say that the majority of you reading this have at least one “lucky-to-be-alive” teenage story that you have vowed to NEVER share with your children.
And this is exactly what scares us! We want our children to be able to live to tell (or not tell) their children their own stories about how they pulled the wool over our eyes . But we are too smart for any wool to be pulled over our eyes, right? We are MUCH smarter and clued in than our parents were. Maybe. But according to some recent admissions of my now 19-year-old, apparently, I missed a few things.
“Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” —Brene' Brown
“Who do you think you are?!” I said it. No, I said it REALLY LOUDLY to my son the other night when he made fun of his brother who was already upset about something. I promised myself I would not poke my kids with the shame stick (my made up reference to the destructive words that, when used, can cause a person to question their own self-worth). And yet, I spoke out of anger and frustration, and said things that I wished I wouldn't have, because I wanted his behavior to change, to stop, and this was certainly not the first time I had asked him.
I realized, after I calmed down, that there were two main thoughts that screamed in my own head before they came out of my mouth. When I saw behavior in my son that I didn’t like, I immediately thought, “What is wrong with him that he would act like that? He should know better!” And then, I turned it inward, “What is wrong with me that I have a son who acts so insensitively to his brother? I must be doing something very wrong.”
Using that damn shame stick on both of us—a double whammy!
Since we all know that this kind of thinking will get us absolutely nowhere, it’s time to back track and look at what is real and what is completely blown out of proportion. First of all, siblings pick on siblings… can’t think of anything more normal (my sister has the goods on me for sure!). Cajoling amongst siblings certainly does not mean there is a “character flaw” in any of them. In fact, most of the time, my kids are good to one another, and I know that they all care about each other tremendously. And then to take it a step further and throw myself under the bus for how my son acts…that’s a bit of a stretch. Last week, I looked over and saw that my older son had his arm around my daughter and was helping his little sister with her homework, without me asking. Do I take credit for that? No.
I have given my kids messages their whole lives about how important it is to be respectful to one another. I have always called out any one of my kids who is mistreating one of their siblings. They understand that it is not okay to make fun of one another or put each other down for kicks. Yet, they still do it, and probably will continue to do so for the remainder of the time that they live in my house, and maybe throughout their lives. And I will continue to point out that it is not okay.
Sibling rivalry and tension is not new. Me, losing my cool with my kids every so often, is not new either, unfortunately. What is relatively new is my awareness of how sometimes, when I have been extremely upset about one of my kid’s behaviors, I have poked them with the shame stick.
This needs to go.
“Who do you think you are” needs to be changed to, “I know who you are. I know you are a good person who cares about and loves his siblings. When you pick on one of them, it seems like you are being insensitive and unkind. This isn’t consistent with how I know you feel about them.”
At first, however, I probably will need to yell this messages. Otherwise, my kids will for sure think that I have been brainwashed by Dr. Phil.
For more on shame and parenting, check out Brene’ Brown’s “The Whole Hearted Parenting Manifesto” in the Huffington Post.
It was like in the movie Father of the Bride when Steve Martin is looking at his daughter across the dinner table and he sees her transform from a 20-something young woman to a little girl in pigtails who can barely see over the table as she tells him in squeaky voice, “I’m getting married.” That’s how I saw my daughter behind the wheel of the car. To this day, I am not certain if my unexpected panic about her driving came from my idea that she wasn’t ready to drive a car, or that I wasn’t ready to have her driving a car. Either way, this particular right of passage, especially with my oldest child, hit me like a ton of bricks. (This transition was hard in different ways with my son.) My daughter’s learning how to drive, and then driving on her own was like being on an airplane, stuck in turbulence, for a long, long time and you wonder if you are EVER going to hit smooth air again, or whether this plane is actually ever going to find its way to solid ground.
When my daughter was 15 and passed her driver’s permit test, I thought I would be excited for her and eager to have her practice driving with me. I would be the calm, cool mom, riding shotgun as her daughter cruises around town, both of us grinning from ear to ear, listening to our favorite music. I would be giving her friendly reminders to signal her turns, and to speed up when merging onto the freeway.
That was not even close to our reality. All was fine when we practiced in the empty parking lot at a shopping mall during off hours on a Sunday. But when it was time for her to get out on the road...”NOOOOO! STOP!” I couldn’t do it. Why? Because I was petrified that she was going to make a catastrophic driving mistake that would kill us both. And I couldn’t let that happen because I have three other children who need me! When I drive, and she is in the passenger seat, I am in control. But being her passenger was not going to work for me. I was unable to give her that control. Because I was afraid to let go. Or just afraid.
Of course I wanted her to drive. I should have been doing the victory dance that I would soon have another driver in the family. This would eventually make my life easier. But the fear of letting go combined with the fear for her safety (and mine) was a huge mental and physical roadblock for me.
Looking back at my own 16-year-old track record didn’t do much to boost my confidence in my 16-year-old new driver. As I recall (and my parents can confirm, although they would probably rather forget), I was involved in three accidents during my first year of driving. Two of which involved inanimate objects that simply neglected to get out of the way when my car got too close to them. Needless to say, I am probably not the best equipped to coach an inexperienced driver, given my disturbing memories of being behind the wheel at 16. I gladly turned the driving coach job over to my husband.
My daughter learned to drive. She got her license. I let go. But I continued and continue to cling onto what dupes me into thinking I have some control—my worry.
The first day of her driving independently was a milestone for both of us. As she put the car in reverse and turned to look out of the rear window while backing out of the driveway, undoubtedly bursting with excitement about her newfound freedom, I felt that my heart would burst out of my chest. I am not sure that this feeling stopped until I heard her pull into the driveway several hours later. Whether you are a g-d-fearing person or not, these are often the times when you make all sorts of promises to your higher power about how you will never question her again as long as she keeps your daughter safe on the road, ensures that all impaired drivers do not cross her path, and that she does not succumb to ANY distractions while driving.
Even after years of her driving, I still said a prayer every morning when my daughter got into the car with my three other children and drove them to school. “Precious cargo!!” I would yell as she tore out of the driveway, no longer quite as attentive to turning all the way around when she backed up, blaring her music way too loudly from her ipod, and leaving the house usually five minutes past the agreed upon departure time.
It is scary to let go. Really scary—but it is a critical part of our job description (written in very fine print). What I realize now, three years after my daughter joined the world of licensed drivers, is that the terror I felt in allowing her to drive a car was a necessary warm-up for all sorts of letting go that we parents must do with our teens. Each milestone is both necessary and exciting, and yet is often met with fear and uncertainty, especially on the part of the parent. And it may get a little easier with each kid, but the thought of my younger two driving makes my heart start racing immediately!
For the record, I have to admit that I am truly relieved that my daughter does not presently have a car at college. Just one less thing to add to the never-ending heap of motherhood worries that so many of us share.
I would love to hear about your experiences with your new driver or how you feel about the idea of your child driving a car some day. It's a biggie!
For the past three years, as most of you know, I have been working on a book about motherhood. The book has taken many different twists and turns. It started out as a book that was more of a "what to expect" book, which would guide moms through the motherhood journey from their child's birth to leaving the nest. I felt that this would be helpful to moms at every stage of motherhood, whereas a mom of a toddler could be able to peek at what age 16 looks like. Well, the publishers and agents I queried did not agree. "The subject matter is too broad," they said. "Moms want to read about whatever they are dealing with RIGHT NOW, such as, 'My infant won't sleep so I want to read about infants, not teenagers.' " Okay, fair enough. After I moped around in my rejection haze for too long, I decided to change my focus a bit. One issue that is universal to moms no matter what stage they are in with their children is self-care. This is also an issue that nearly every mother struggles with, so, my new and improved book angle, which is in its final editing and polishing stage, covers how moms take care of themselves personally, relationally and professionally while raising their children. I am really excited about the project and hope that all the mothers who read it will find that it provides them with the tools to live more authentically and happily as they journey through motherhood. Personally, the research I have done for this book has taught me so much and has helped me find strength during times when I felt that my life had begun to spin out of control.
But here's the catch. As I made the transition from Book #1 to Book #2, I had to leave a heaping amount of extremely valuable material on the cutting room floor... which leads me to my Friday Faves. I have decided that every Friday, I am going to share some of my favorite quotes or stories from the 400 moms I surveyed and interviewed over the years for Book #1. Some of you readers will see yourselves in these quotes and stories. But your identity is safe with me!
The following story is this week's Friday Fave:
A friend of mine, who we will call Ruth, explained to me how frustrated she was with her 10-year-old daughter who refused to pick up her clothes in her room after being asked to do so over and over again. One day Ruth walked into her daughter’s room and was furious when she saw her daughter’s clothes still covering the floor of her room. Ruth proceeded to take off all her clothes and drop them on the floor and said, “See, this is what it is like! This is my house and you are not picking up your clothes in my house, so I am going to leave my clothes on the floor of your room!”
And she stormed out of the room.
If you haven’t done something like this yet, you most likely will have moments when you will or will want to! Dramatic, yes, but surely Ruth’s daughter now thinks twice before she drops her clothes on the floor of her room. She may still do it, but she certainly will think about it differently. And at some point, she will have a great story to tell her own daughter when she won’t pick up her clothes in her room. “You’ll never believe what Grandma Ruth did when she was upset with me for not picking up the clothes my room.”
We moms have to give our kids some good stories to tell our own kids, don’t we?!
If you have any good, funny or memorable stories you'd like to share (and you can certainly request to remain anonymous), please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to post them on my Friday Faves!
“It’s ok mom, we don’t have to go,” my 12-year-old son said as he dropped his eyes to avert my gaze. I promised him we would road trip to Milwaukee for one of his good friend’s Bar Mitzvah’s the following day but I had come down with a nasty cold (probably due to standing outside in the freezing cold and rain for a football game during my daughter's college Parents Weekend) and am still in recovery from a nagging back injury. An 11-hour round trip car journey did not sound very appealing to me…at all. Rushing around trying to get my other son ready to head to the airport for a baseball tournament and my daughter ready to go meet her cousin for her birthday dinner, I yelled in my 12-year-old’s direction, “Come on! We need to get going! Please get in the car! Now!” No response and no movement from the far end of the living room where he was seated. As I walked over to him, feeling annoyed and impatient, I was just about to yell at him again (I hate that I yell, but I do, especially when I am feeling rushed and discombobulated), but then I stopped myself. I saw his eyes. They were filled with tears. “Oh honey, I am so sorry,” I said. “I was just excited to see my camp friends but it’s okay because you don’t feel good, “ he said softly. “We shouldn’t go.” “We’re going,” I said with such a conviction that it sounded almost scary. And that was that. There are times when we do things for our kids that we know are not necessarily in our best interest. In fact, as I am in throws of writing my book on motherhood and self care, I talk a great deal about how mothers so often put their kids' and other people’s well being before their own, and end up neglecting to take care of themselves in the process. This is a perfect example of how and why this so often happens. We want our kids to be happy. We make promises that we completely intend on keeping and then life happens. Sometimes the answer does need to be no. Sometimes there is simply no amount of “give” available. However, in this situation, there was a limited amount of give available on my part and damnit, I was going to use it!
He couldn’t have been more excited or appreciative. We took in the beautiful fall colors as we blazed east from Minnesota into Wisconsin. I flooded the car with the sounds of Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and even a few classic Billy Joel tracks. The poor kid had to listen to me sing every word to Thunder Road and Rosalita…more than once. I needed to explain to him that this was “real” music, and willed him to feel its authenticity and depth. Then it was his turn. He got to play Kid Cudi and B.o.B., which, according to my son, is actually really awesome music, “It’s just that some of the lyrics are inappropriate. Just listen to the music, Mom, not the words,” he explained. O.k., times have changed.
With a cough drop in my mouth, a box of tissues next to me to tame my runny nose and an ice pack on my back, we drove into the night. Conversations started and stopped with ease. We stopped for gas and junk food and I didn’t even freak out too badly when we stopped for dinner and my son exited the passenger side door and I saw it smothered all over the passenger seat. “Oh, I thought there were only three resee’s peanut butter cups in the jumbo pack, not four! I am so sorry, mom!” We laughed and then we laughed again an hour later when we saw the city sign Pewaukee. “Is that just a typo,” my son giggled. I realized that I was relaxed and happy, and so was he.
I was in the moment and wasn’t worried or talking about my older kids’ teenage stuff that often consumes my brain and my mood—AP tests coming up, boyfriend issues, college-related concerns, baseball training and scheduling, SAT tests and curfews—it was wonderfully, simply 12-year-old stuff. It was real and it was meaningful, and yet it seemed so refreshingly uncomplicated that I felt a huge sense of relief. Relief and gratitude that I still have two young children to remind me to laugh at the word Pewaukee and get excited about discovering “THE BEST” Mexican restaurant in the small town of DeForest, WI, where we could eat fajitas and quesadillas and watch the Miami Heat pre-season game with the locals who were downing their watered-down Margaritas. Just to be able to be happy, content and worry-free.
“I’m glad we are doing this,” I said to my son. “Me too, mom, and just think, when we get to the hotel, there won’t be any fighting to get anyone to bed and you don’t have to do any dishes or laundry, you can just go to bed. It will be nice for you,” my son assured me. And he was right.
The next morning, I walked my son into the synagogue for his friend’s Bar Mitzvah. We took two steps into the building and immediately heard a boy’s voice excitedly yell from across the room, “AAABBBE!!” Within seconds, the Bar Mitzvah boy, wearing one of the biggest smiles on his face that I have ever seen, grabbed a hold of my son and whisked him away into the stream of the guests entering the sanctuary. “Abe,” I meekly called after him, “Have fun.” But he didn’t hear me nor did he turn around.
This is the reason that sometimes we say yes to our kids, even when there are countless reasons to say no. Are we martyrs for doing this or just caring, loving parents? Every situation is different, but this time, the precious one-on-one time that I shared with my son, combined with seeing his joy and the joy he brought to his friend, assured me that in giving to my son, I also gave to myself.
“No one knows his true character until he has run out of gas, purchased something on an installment plan and raised an adolescent.” – humorist Marcelene Cox
People often say, “Girls are SO much harder to raise than the boys.” I have not found this to be the case. Through my own experience and in interviewing hundreds of mothers over the years, I have realized that there is nothing easy about raising teenagers in general. Now that I have sent my oldest daughter to college, the teenage boy is next in line, and I must admit, raising a teenage boy has thrown me lots and lots of unforeseen curve balls. One mother explains it like this, “Just when you think you have it down with your son, a teenage alien inserts himself into your son’s body and replaces your mamma-loving, sweet boy with a disgruntled, distracted boy/man who retracts into a universe of which you are no longer the center."
This can be a difficult process for moms.
The following is a list of the do's and don’ts of mothering your teenage son that I have gathered from my interviews with more than 400 moms and from my own experience. I hope you find them helpful. And please feel free to add your own insights in the comments section! I would love to hear from you!
- Continue to say, “I love you,” even when he stops saying it back (and yes, this hurts like hell but hopefully it is just a temporary hiatus for him).
- Love him unconditionally even when you don’t like him. He is testing out new behaviors/personas, many of which will be abhorrent to you (and you can tell him this gently), but remind yourself and him that beneath the behaviors resulting from his raging hormones, is a boy who you love dearly.
- Give him physical space. Really. He really does need to go into his room and shut his door and be left alone. And this does not mean that there is something “wrong” with him. (However, DO trust your instincts and if you feel that he is completely withdrawing from family and friends, then you may need to intervene.)
- Give him emotional space. EXPECT him to pull away from you! He must separate from you for all sorts of very important reasons relating to his transference from boy to man. Let. Him. Go. He will circle back eventually, but this is a crucial step to for him to establish himself as a young man.
- Ask questions (but not incessantly).
- Hold him accountable for his actions.
- Listen to him but hold firm to your beliefs.
- Maintain a united front with your partner! This is a MUST!
- Encourage and model self-care: good eating habits, exercise and adequate rest.
- Trust him until he proves otherwise. If he does mess up (and he probably will), then tighten the reigns until you feel that you can slowly start to loosen them again.
- Having said this, it is essential that you set clear boundaries, expectations and limits: Establish curfews, house and car rules, and give him responsibilities in your house or have him get a job. Make sure he understands what kinds of behaviors will and won’t be tolerated (respect is a biggie), and what the consequences will be if he crosses the line (taking a 16-year-old’s cell phone away is equivalent to sending him to San Quentin).
- Keep the lines of communication open. Even when your son gives you the message that you are the last person on earth that he would want to talk to about anything, continue to let him know you are there to listen. And continue to give him messages about what is important. Even when he seems to be tuning you out, he is quite often hearing you.
- Celebrate the ways in which he does let you into his life: the little things he chooses to share with you. He will continue to give you little nuggets that show that he still needs you and wants to be connected with you, but they may be few and far between.
- Maintain your calm to the best of your ability, even during tumultuous times with your son.
- Have a sense of humor. Look for opportunities to laugh with your son.
- Remind yourself that you are on the home stretch with raising this child. Make sure you are equipping him with the skills he needs to survive on his own.
- Take what he says personally. Grow 17 extra layers of skin (figuratively, not literally). Understand that he may lash out, say things he doesn’t mean, take his frustrations out on you, and be hyper-critical of you. You can (and need to) talk to him about how he must be respectful of you, but try not to personalize the things he says when he is feeling stressed or confused.
- Think that you need to know everything. You really don’t. This is another area in which our generation of hovering parents needs to chill. (Remember as a kid how our parents didn’t expect us home until dark, or on weekends didn’t call other parents to check on our whereabouts, and when we came home they barely asked where we were or what we did. O.k, well, we knew what we were doing and maybe that is what scares us, but we need to allow our children to feel some of that sense of freedom. It is a right of passage.)
- Compare your son with others.
- Over-praise or over-criticize him.
- Be afraid to let him make mistakes.
- Allow your son to hold you hostage—YOU are in charge.