Five years ago I wrote a blog post discussing what I call “May Madness,” which I am fairly certain most parents with school-age kids can relate to right now. Here is how I defined this “magical” month when the school year winds down and spring catapults us toward summer...
I just finished reading your book The Self-Care Solution generously given to me by your mother-in-law.
You shared with the world the challenges you experienced not just as a mom but as a person trying to be the best you can be in an imperfect world.
Your suggestions for “self care” are reminders of how we can all be better advocates for ourselves and those we love.
As I celebrated turning 49 a few weeks ago and my 2016 resolutions are set and in motion (1: better time management and 2: better cooking), I found it interesting to look at my last year’s birthday post, and reflect on the changes that have occurred. Many of the milestones I talked about in future terms like leaving my oldest son in California for his college freshman year; my oldest daughter turning 21, my husband turning 50, my youngest daughter starting middle school; and attending my 30-year high school reunion, all happened. And I “wrote” a piece about each one—all of the details, how I felt, and what I learned. Some of these made it into my journals, some onto my blog, but most remained in the form of swirling sentences in my head, either because I needed to push those sentences aside to keep my focus on finalizing The Self-Care Solution, or because publishing those stories would infringe on my children’s privacy. But each one of them caused me to pause, reflect, appreciate, and ponder, usually only for brief moments—on my yoga mat, on a walk, or in a conversation with a friend. Because life moves forward, even when we want it to slow down just a bit so we can savor certain moments a little longer. Two notable 2015 moments when I did slow down to reflect and ponder turned into pivotal milestones for me personally and professionally. Lunch with a friend evolved into revealing the details of my teenage battle with an eating disorder on Jordana Green’s radio show, which gave me a small dose of what it feels like to be extremely vulnerable (terrifying) in an effort to try to help others (highly rewarding). These mixed feeling are ones that I will be continually grappling with in 2016 with the release of my book, and so I was grateful to Jordana for her encouragement, and for allowing me to share my story. And I am also grateful for so many amazing people in my life (you--friends, family, blog readers) who were so incredibly positive and supportive of me doing so. Thank you!
Another 2015 lunchtime casual conversation turned game-changer was with my dear friend Nina Badzin. The development and formulation of The Twin Cities Writing Studio has been true highlight. We have been blown away by the incredible women who have gathered around the table with us to write, learn, reflect, support, and inspire one another. It is truly an honor to be doing this work, and Nina and I are excited to introduce some new programs for 2016 that will engage more Twin Citians who want to put pen to paper—aka “writers”—(stay tuned). Thrilled to be starting our winter session this week!
The central 2015 milestone, of course, has been the completion The Self-Care Solution. And while achieving this life-long dream of writing a book feels incredible, what has surprised me the most is the deep sense of responsibility I feel to continue this ever-so-important discussion on motherhood and self-care. In other words, this book is only the beginning! It is essential to me that I help as many mothers as possible understand that self-care is your life-saving and life-enhancing apparatus as you ride the inevitable, unpredictable, beautiful, and agonizing waves of motherhood.
“The only way that a mother can truly be present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with her child is if she is present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with herself. And the only way she can be connected with herself is if she does what she needs to do to care for herself in an honest and meaningful manner. This is the true essence of self-care for mothers.” –The Self-Care Solution
There is a certain irony that the year that book is released is the year that that I (g-d-willing) hit a half century. Life chapters are concluding and new ones are being written, and the pages keep turning. And sometimes I am deeply afraid—afraid of getting older, afraid of losing...youth, loved ones, time on this earth (more on my feelings about aging in another post...). But there is much to look forward to, including moving into a completely unknown territory with the release of my book. I will move from talking about writing and releasing the book to actually having people read it and formulate opinions about it. And this scares me too. But in the words of Brene' Brown, "Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time." So, I will dare greatly, commit to staring down my fears, and allow myself to feel excited about what is in store for this monumental year.
A few of the 2016 highlights that are already in motion are: unscriptedmom.com soon will become juliebburton.com; several fun book launch events will happen in the spring (more details to follow and I hope you will come!), and believe it or not, I have already started outlining my next book (gulp).
So yes, rounding the bend from 2015 to 2016 feels like a big turn.
But I continue to draw from my past experiences, and other life changes, challenges, and turning points that I've pushed through and grown from (like hiking the 13,000 feet to reach the top of Pikes Peak in 2009). I continue to find gratitude in all the twists and turns that life has to offer, and to remind myself of Ben Franklin’s simple yet profound message about embracing transitions: "When you're finished changing, you're finished.”
So, here we are 2016—bring on the changes!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016 filled with lots of self-care and exciting changes! I am grateful to be on this journey with you!
(Ready to make 2016 a year of taking good care of yourself physically, emotionally and relationally? Start by pre-ordering The Self-Care Solution--A Modern Mother's Essential Guide to Health and Well-Being!)
There is a new trend in the blogging world. Blog posts and even books that mark moments or periods of time like, “This is Childhood,” “This is Adolescence,” and “This is (My) 39.” They make time stand still by describing the real, raw aspects of the designated age or stage. As I inch closer to 50, I find myself stepping back and looking at my life, potentially about half-way over, or half way lived, or have way begun, depending on your vantage point. I have grappled with my feelings about getting older and realize that while I get ready to add a 48th candle to my birthday cake, I feel the need to do what all writers do: analyze and reflect. Forty-eight means something different to everyone, but this is what 48 is to me: It is NOSTALGIA. The nostalgia of the days when I could pick up my son, now a man/child, and hold him in my arms and tell him that I can make it all better; the days when all four of my children lived in my house with me. It is the nostalgia of my childhood memories, before husband, before children—the prehistoric days when all of the neighborhood kids played kick the can until dark and my parents didn’t know where I was; when phones were attached to walls, and there were no ipods, ipads, internet, social media, or botox; and there were vinyl records, 8-track and cassette tapes, the Grateful Dead, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, and Starsky and Hutch, and my sister and me fighting for the best TV viewing spot on our green couch.
It is COVER-UP. Watching women around me tighten, plump, nip and tuck and wondering if I should too. It is spending too many dollars on “age-defying” products that are marketed to ME because I am the age that society wants to defy. It is knowing that in trying to cover up the wrinkles and the sagging, I am desperately trying to hang onto something that is slipping away, and no matter how much healthy food, water and vitamins I ingest, how much exercise I do, what clothes I wear or how I color and style my hair, the “something” that is inevitably leaving me is called—YOUTH! And there is no stopping its exit.
It is SEARCHING. Searching for the meaning of life. For the meaning of my life. Searching for my roots, for spirituality, for Judaism. It is studying with an Orthodox rabbi and joining a Reform synagogue. It is grappling with my identity, as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a Jew, a writer, a reader, a yogi, a volunteer, a teacher and a student.
It is DISORIENTING. With four kids at very different life stages: college, high school, junior high and grade school. Disorienting with the reality that I on a given day, I can be managing a play date for one daughter and listening to details about a sorority date party from the other. Disorienting to have just celebrated one son's Bar Mitzvah and to soon be celebrating my other son's high school graduation. Disorienting to think that my oldest daughter will graduate college within a month of my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and that I could potentially be a grandma at my youngest child’s high school graduation. Disorienting to be planning for my 30-year high school reunion when I can so easily access vivid details (many of them embarrassing) of those powerful high school years, as if they happened yesterday.
It is UNCERTAINTY. Uncertainty about whether I made the right choice to leave my career and stay home with my kids (I am pretty sure I did). Uncertainty about whether I should go back to work. Uncertainty about who would even hire me now. Uncertainty about decisions, big and small, that I made and make for my kids and myself every day. Uncertainty about why bad things happen to good people, why I have lost friends and family members too soon. Uncertainty about the future; about being empty nester; about getting old, as in really old; uncertainty about death and how I will go down—will my mind go first or will my body fail me, or will I die in a plane crash (um, yes, one of my biggest fears in life...)?
It is PERIMENOPAUSE. It is crazy! It is crying and swearing and not remembering why I walked into the living room or where I was driving to, or why I was even mad at my husband this morning. It is exhausted…for no good reason. It is worry and obsessing, and worrying and obsessing some more. It is Prozac and Lexapro and the allure of taking the “happy pill” to calm the crazies, but opting instead for a weekly writing group, meditation, yoga and an available-when-needed therapist.
It is WORK. My work: writing, teaching yoga, and serving the community, which makes very little money but keeps me somewhat sane. My husband’s work that he does too much of to be able to support all of the kids and me so I that I can make sure that everyone in the family has clean underwear, decent meals, and some structure and fun in their lives, which happens most of the time, but definitely not all of the time.
It is LETTING GO. Letting go of what I think I should have been—an author of six successful books, a renowned public relations guru (my occupation before kids), a psychologist (my "I should have been/wish I would have been" career), and trying, trying, trying to accept who I am. It is letting my kids go, off to junior high, high school, off to drive a car, off to college. Letting go of the idea that I can control the outcome of their lives, and maybe even the outcome of my own life.
It is TRANSITION. Transition from being not yet old but not young either; from being a young parent with my oldest child to an older parent with my youngest. Transition of caring for aging parents. Transition of my own aging process, which blurs my thinking, my vision and my hearing, and yet, has prompted me to become more patient, more intentional, more compassionate and more present, with myself and with others. Transition of walking mindfully through my life, instead of running through or from it.
It is GRATITUDE. Gratitude for my blessed life and the amazing people in it. Gratitude that I stuck it out and continue to stick it out with my husband, in spite of many extremely trying times. Gratitude for my health, and for the health of those I love and care about. Gratitude that after years of sleepless nights, changing diapers, taming tantrums, tween angst and teenage drama, and the pain, panic and exhilaration of sending one off to college, I can now offer my voice of experience for newer moms.
It is ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance of childhood scars, anxiety, depression, addiction, fear and loneliness; being able to stare down my demons and tell them to go to hell, and accepting that sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t; and looking honestly at dysfunction—mine, my family’s, and my friends’, and finding compassion in all of it. Acceptance of my imperfect self that struggles with time management, organization and taking direction from others, but is driven and caring, and loves to give, and loves to love. Acceptance of dreams fulfilled, unfulfilled, and dreams that remain. Acceptance that life is really, really amazing and fun, and really, really hard and painful.
It is FREEDOM. Freedom to invest more energy in people, work and causes that ground, comfort and inspire me. Freedom to exit relationships that drain me. Freedom to be me, to practice self-care and self-compassion, to trust myself and others, to confidently use my voice, written and spoken, to tell my truth, to be vulnerable, and to encourage others to do the same.
It is THE MOMENT. Slowing down enough to understand that it is this moment that really matters, and believing that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be right now. It is taking time on my yoga mat or in meditation to quiet down the mind chatter and focus on the power of now. It is watching my kids, truly watching them, and listening to them, and seeing them for who they really are, with their struggles, with their attitudes, and with their independent, creative minds and their loving hearts. It is no longer rushing to get to the next phase of their lives or mine, but wanting time to stand still. Really. Just to be able to press pause. For a moment. So I can take it all in and cherish it.
It is LOVE. Love for my husband of 23 years, love for each one of my very unique, and very lovable kids, who have taught me more about life and love in the past 20 years of being a mother than I ever imagined possible. Love for my parents and mother-in-law who have shown me what it means to age gracefully, and that love, giving and receiving, is the most important thing in this life; and for my extended family and friends, both old and new, who continue to enrich my life each day, as each day becomes more and more precious.
It is knowing that every single day is a gift.
This is my 48.
Tis the season, for me anyway. I find fall to be, by far, the most transformative season: back to school, bracing for the MN winter, celebrating the high holidays, loaded with symbols of starting anew, letting go, forgiving, and looking forward. This fall feels even bigger. It feels huge. It feels loaded with stuff to be grateful for, to celebrate, stuff that involves new beginnings and exciting transitions in my kids’ lives and my life. But when I wake up with a racing heart and mind, and I start and stop writing multiple blog posts because none of them make sense, and I find myself scanning the Target parking lot for my car that I have zero recollection of parking, let alone driving there, I know that I am not embracing this transformative time, but racing through it. I am anywhere but here. Just ask my mom. She will tell you how I forgot that she was coming to pick up my daughter at school last week during conferences so she ended up wandering the halls of the school looking for my daughter for 45 minutes before running into my son, who directed her to my daughter. But I didn’t have a clue this was happening because, during that time, I was darting from classroom to classroom, like a harried teenager, hearing the voices of my kids’ teachers saying lovely things about my children, and I was feel’n pretty good and I may have had a moment of, “Okay, great, I must be doing something right.” Until, of course, I walked out of the math teacher’s room and spotted my mom, her eyes looking slightly puzzled and slightly pissed. “Nope. Never mind. I am not doing much of anything right.”
I am in the moment and a million miles away. Preparing for A’s Bar Mitzvah in three weeks and helping J with his college applications, due in three weeks; gearing up for my first ever self-care workshop that I am co-leading in two weeks and preparing yet another (please let this be the last), revision of my book outline that is, just guess, due to a publisher in 10 days. I am coming off of the high holidays, during which we attended not one, not two but three synagogues—a reformed, a conservative and an orthodox (I will save those details for another blog post); and S came home from college for Yom Kippur, which somewhat resembled a wonderful, exciting, but sometimes jolting, electric storm lighting up our house.
I’m in the moment and into panic in a matter of seconds. I question whether I will be able to pull off these next three weeks, manage the check list, and get it all done: the Bar Mitzvah details, all 20 zillion of them (thankfully divided between my sister and me, but I still don’t know what I am wearing); the writing, for which I require big blocks of time when my mind is calm and clear; providing college application assistance, yet another intended blog post topic, and for which I need more time and more patience, AND my son’s time and patience (which doesn’t all line up very often); the workshop preparation, which I need to tap into my experience of writing about researching and practicing self-care, while I am stretched to practice what I preach right now.
So I breathe my way back to the moment. And tell myself that yes, this will all happen. I will get through it. But I don’t want to just get through it! I want to feel it all, embrace the joy in each one of these milestones. So I drag myself to yoga, ground down, and set an intention to be present. And that works beautifully until that evening when I see my husband packing his suitcase for a three-day work trip. He sees my eyes widen, and then narrow. I expect him to say something calming, reassuring. But instead, he quickly reminds me that he will be traveling for two or three days of each of the next three weeks. Oh yeah, I had forgotten. My heart rate escalates and my mind kicks into high gear and spirals me into piling my entire to-do list into an already overcrowded area of my brain: Shit! The laundry, the dishes, the cooking, the no milk in the fridge and I think we only have one more roll of toilet paper in this house, and the engine light is on in my car, and there are unopened bills hanging out on the kitchen counter, and Jo has a soccer tournament in Rochester and three birthday parties this weekend, and A’s big science project is due, and the details of J’s college visits in two weeks still need to be finalized, and the senior parent ad for the yearbook is due, and my volunteer positions need attention, and there are a growing number of emails and texts that I have yet to read, let alone respond to...So sorry, my friends, I am trying.
And then I will myself to breathe again. And the spiraling stops as I remind myself that amidst all this mundane, almost whiney sounding to-do list, of which some or most will get done (or it won't), there lies the joyful stuff that trumps it all. And I work my way back to gratitude and the present moment. My husband and I laugh about how we may put our 10-year-old on a Greyhound and send her to Rochester for her soccer tournament, and that we may end up writing A’s Bar Mitzvah speech on the way to the synagogue that morning.
I will myself to trust that these next three weeks, with all their splendor and glory, and all of their mundane, will happen. And I will be there/be here. Present. Aware. Engaged. Grateful. I will do this by trying to allow myself to retreat from the lists and the panic, and to move toward lingering in the joy for as long as I can—especially the one that celebrates my baby boy becoming a Jewish adult. Yes, I will most definitely be lingering in that one.
Maybe it is because my daughter just turned 20; maybe it is because my second child is a senior in high school and we are knee deep in college applications and college visits trying to figure out where he will head off to next fall (gulp); maybe it is because I am a month away from my youngest son's Bar Mitzvah (gulp again); maybe it is because my husband turns 50 in March (wow); or maybe it is because my youngest daughter is in her final year of lower school and just today got rid of her Barbie Dream House and all of her Barbies (gasp!). But whether it is one or all of these biggies, I know that I have found myself feeling rather nostalgic lately. I wrote about what the aging process feels like for me, and how I am learning to let go of pieces of my youth and embrace the here and now. The waves of nostalgia often catch me off guard, and I feel like I want to reach out and touch the memories; to connect with them in a pinch myself kind of way to validate that the experiences were real, and that they still live somewhere within me. Without warning, this need to go back hit me during a recent writing group when the instructor gave us the prompt, "What is something quirky about you? Something that others may not know."
And my mind looked back and then forward, and my pen on paper took me here:
It started early on, way back then. When I was young, exuberant and carefree. When life felt light and easy. When every step was the beginning of a new adventure, a launching point of sorts. And so it started. The micro-hop—my skip step—that I added to the beginning of my gait. It felt organic, like the way I was supposed to move. And it was how I moved, in my early days as a gymnast when I would jump with excitement each and every time I was ready to launch into my favorite floor exercise sequence—round-off, back handspring, back tuck. Ahhh, how I loved how these movements flowed together like the most perfect wave tumbling toward the shore. I felt this rhythmic flow in my body even when I was nowhere near a gymnasium.
When it was time for me to walk to class, to recess, to practice or even to the bathroom, in spite of some jarring I received from my friends when they noticed my quirk, I always felt the need to add the skip step as I began to propel myself forward. The skip step automatically triggered my mind and muscles to access the incredible feelings of taking flight, which surged through my body and filled me with a timeless, spaceless sense of giddiness, levity and harmony.
But as the years progressed, and I grew into an awkward, agitated teen, I traded in my leotards for Grateful Dead t-shirts. Subsequently, as my life had lost a bit of its bounce and I wobbled on the bridge between youthood and adulthood, my skip step slowly disappeared. But it was a process, a skip step here, a skip step there would provide an occasional shot in the arm to keep me connected with those feelings of being so fully alive and free. Over time, and without recognition of the loss, my skip step all but vanished.
Three decades and four children later and I am in my front yard on a beautiful, sunny Minnesota spring day, watching my 10-year-old niece, a competitive gymnast, turn cartwheels and walk on her hands across the grass. “Hey, Auntie Julie, do you want to see what I just learned,” she asks eagerly, as her whole body visibly filling with the exhilaration that I recognized instantly. “Of course I do, ZZ (my affectionate adaptation of Lindsay)! Show me whatcha got,” I respond trying to contain my excitement.
My heart skips a beat as I watch with anticipation as she begins to launch. My mouth drops open as I see it—the skip step—my skip step—followed by her swift round off and perfectly executed back handspring. My heart is no longer in my body as it has most certainly jumped out.
Without thinking, I stand up. My mind becomes fierce, my body fueled by muscle memory. Nostalgia overruns any kind of logic, any kind of rationale. Before I know it, one barefoot is in front of the other, and there it is, my skip step…and I am running and I am free and I burst open into a powerful round-off and I am flying above the clouds. I am 10 and I love my skip step and my youth and my mobility and my levity. Upon my decent from the air, I power both feet downward to hit the prickly grass at precisely the same time, exactly as I was taught to do by my perpetually mean coach who acerbically screamed at me if one foot came down a millisecond before the other.
At the very moment I celebrated this very small but very large “look-at-me-now-coach” victory, I heard it. The rubber band-snapping, pop gun sounding snap that reverberated through my entire body and rung in my ears. The endorphins that served as a numbing agent swiftly began to lose their power, and the raw, unfiltered raging, burning sensation was unleashed. The pain—the ferocious, radiating, sizzling in my calf caused me to tumble to the ground writhing, moaning, crying, and biting my lip not to swear.
I looked up to see my niece’s terror stricken hazel eyes staring down at me. I tried with every ounce of my being to give her an “I am going to be okay” look, but a blank stare was the best I could muster.
What she couldn’t know, nor did I want her to know, was that behind my blank stare blared two very loud voices at war inside my head, simultaneously exalting and cursing every single skip step I ever took.
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.
I wrote a "slice of life" piece about my son's baseball game last week but felt that it was important to include some personal background to give you some context for the story: Growing up, I was a competitive gymnast, tennis player and golfer. I had a driving force that would send me to the gym, tennis court and driving range for hours on end (Too many injuries pulled me out of gymnastics and I fizzled out of tennis because I simply wasn’t good enough). Over time, when I hit a rough spot during my teenage years, my internal drive was still strong but it had shifted. I was motivated more by negative forces than positive ones, and my self talk often sounded like this, “If you don’t win, you are worthless, a nothing. Work harder and whatever you do, DON'T FAIL.”
Surprise, surprise, those messages, which pounded in my head for years, would ultimately destroy my ability and motivation to compete. I never developed the essential coping mechanisms for dealing with failure that all successful athletes must cultivate for times when they are in a slump, they lose a game or a match, or are not performing at the level to which they are accustomed. My lack of resiliency would explain why after shooting a terrible first round in the state high school golf tournament my junior year, followed by an equally terrible second round, I refused to pick up a golf club for decades.
Which brings me to today. I have now have a son who is a competitive baseball player, and anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that it is game of failure. The best of the best pro baseball players hit the ball three out of every ten times, and the scoreboard has an actual spot that highlights the number of ERRORS the players make (not fouls, like in basketball, but errors-as in how many times you totally screw up). And my son plays two of the most high-pressure positions out there: short stop and pitcher.
I love to watch my son play. But in all honesty, there are times when I think I will explode from the nervous energy that brews within me. As much as I try to push my old demons away, to try and separate my stuff from his, so that I can support him and love him no matter what successes or failures he experiences on the field, there are times when my competitiveness takes some of that joy away. Every single time I find myself feeling stressed or anxious about a game of his, I have to talk myself off the ledge and remind myself that this is my MY fear of failure and MY difficulty in dealing with competition—not his, and that it is crucial that I do not drop my old baggage on him.
I have seen him have moments when he did not deal with failure as well as he wanted to. But watching him work his way through these issues, and find coping and recovery strategies for dealing with failure has provided him with some of his most important life lessons and has been incredibly healing for me.
I needed a break. I could tell that my energy wasn’t helping him. My perfectionism, my fear of failure, my feeling that I could some how control the outcome of his baseball game by willing him and his team to succeed. It was time for me to separate myself and let him play his game. He was in a slump, had had a tough game the night before, and I felt that my presence at his game was some how hurting him.
Could that be true? What if it was?
The section tournament game—a game not to miss. The team wins, they move on; they lose, they are done. “I’m thinking of sitting this one out, hun,” I mentioned to my son the day of the big game, trying to sound casual about it. “It seems like that the games that you played when dad and I were out of town were the best three games of your season. How would you feel if I didn’t come? Do you think it’s less pressure for you if I am not there,” I asked him somewhat tentatively.
“Mom, it doesn’t matter if you are there or not. Do what you want,” he responded, like a typical 17-year-old.
Ok. Got it. But I still felt unsure. How could I really not go? Would the other parents think I am not supporting him? Am I being crazy? My husband said that it is okay either way. “He knows you love him,” David said, trying to ease my tension. And he repeated my son's message, “Do what you need to do,” but added, “It will be okay.”
My youngest daughter and I headed out to the lake and she jumped thrillingly into the hot tub while I sipped a beer and sat on a deck chair allowing the blazing sun to warm my face and offer me some semblance of calmness. I exhaled and felt like I was a million miles away, and that a million pounds had been lifted off my chest. I knew I could support him better from where I sat; that my energy was positive and detached—not in an “I don’t care” kind of way, but in a spirit of letting go and practicing self-care kind of way. It was better for me to not be in the stands riveting with anxiety, and deep down I knew that this was most likely better for him.
But there was that all-too familiar feeling of guilt to reckon with—that frustration with myself and more questioning, ”Why can’t you just go enjoy your son’s game? What kind of mom doesn't go to his son's section baseball game?” Well, I guess this kind of mother, whose 10-year-old daughter splashed in the hot tub, thrilled that she would not be dragged to her millionth baseball game of the season. Thrilled to have time alone with me—a relaxed me (or at least trying to be).
“J just got a hit and drove in a run,” my husband’s text message popped up on my phone and pulled my eyes away from my daughter, and away from my here and now. I smiled and mindfully tried to stay focused on her, chasing the “I SHOULD be there” thoughts away. “Mom, watch me swim laps! Time me,” Jo blared toward me before submerging her entire body under water.
As I a concentrated on my stop watch on my phone, it buzzed again. “They are hitting us like it’s batting practice. We are down 6-2,” my husband revealed. O.k., another big inhale as my mind turned to the seniors who could be playing their last game, and then jumped ahead to next year when my son would be a senior (oh my!). Then my heart became even heavier as I thought of the 8th grader who made the varsity team and whose dad was rapidly losing his 3-year battle with cancer. Would his dad get to see him play another baseball game?
“Mom! How many laps did I swim?! How fast did I swim them? Mom, come on, please get off your phone!” I peeled my eyes away from my hand held device and back to the here and now. Back to my daughter’s youth and innocence—a reminder that despite the fact that life is filled with all different kinds of losses, there is also so much joy. I was reminded that it is okay to sit back sometimes and allow myself to just be, and to take care of myself, and trust that my son knows how very important he is to me, and how much I love and believe in him, no matter where I am or where he is. I hoped that all my children feel this.
"Twenty-five laps in 35 seconds! Best yet,” I shouted loud and proud, as if she had just beaten Michael Phelps’ record (there I go again!).
My phone vibrated. That magical and yet baneful piece of plastic and metal, which has the power to instantly pull me out of the present and split me in two—I’m here but I’m there—which is actually kind of nowhere. I should just turn it off. Yep, I’m turning it off. I grabbed the phone out of my pocket and positioned my finger on the power button. As I started to press down, I glanced down for a split second as the words flew off the screen and and hit me on the head.
“J hit a home run.”
My eyes filled with tears and my heart began to pound so loudly I was sure my daughter could hear it from under water.
"No way," I managed to type, half wondering if my husband was telling me the truth. My son had never hit a home run.
“Yep, first of his career,” my husband revealed (as if I didn’t know).
My daughter looked at me and asked me what was wrong. “Honey, you need to dry off, we are going for a ride,” I told her, and continued to explain to her about her brother’s milestone and that I just needed to be there when he walked off the field.
As we drove out to catch the last few innings of the game, I felt at peace. I didn’t know if he would have hit his first home run if I had been in the stands that night. But it didn’t really matter. I was truly and completely happy for him. And I was happy that I was able to let go and create some healthy space for myself and for my son.
This was a victory in and of itself.
I will not divulge which one of my kids this story pertains to save her from embarrassment. And for the sake of this story, I am going to refer to this child as my daughter, even though it could have been one of my sons. For those of you who know my kids, you can certainly try to guess which one had this experience.
My 8-year-old came home from her first year of sleep-away camp beaming with excitement and exploding with funny stories. Her two weeks in Wisconsin were filled with lots of new adventures and dozens of new friends. Not only was she excited to tell us all about her experiences, she couldn’t wait to show us all the pictures she took from the three disposable cameras we sent her with.
“Okay, honey, why don’t you give me the cameras so I can get the pictures developed and you can show us the photos of your new friends and all the fun stuff you did at camp,” I told her. She stared at me with a puzzled and borderline panicked look on her face. “What do you mean, give you the cameras,” she asked softly, her voice beginning to quiver. “Well, honey, I have to take the cameras to Target where they develop the film that is in the cameras, and that is how we get the pictures you took at camp," I explained to her.
Now the tears began to flow. “But you said they were DISPOSABLE cameras…so…I...threw them...away.”
Oh, my literal child…she did recover...eventually.
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.
All mothers have or will have their “remember when” stories. Anna Quindlen writes:
"Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did-Hall-of-Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, "What did you get wrong?" (She insisted I included that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I included that.)”
I, too, have an infinite number of remember when stories, and create more and more every day. I remember my oldest son’s first day of a new preschool and I was in the hospital, in labor with my third child. I remember pleading with my husband, “Please go! You have to be there to take him on his first day, not the babysitter!” He left, and returned an hour later to find me in tears, with just enough time to throw on some scrubs and hold my hand as I was being wheeled into the OR for an emergency C-section because my unborn son was fighting to breathe as the umbilical cord was acting as a noose around his neck.
I remember the tantrums and the melt-downs (both theirs and mine), the potty training, the power struggles, and the feeling of being completely exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally…and then just as I was ready to turn in my motherhood badge, one of them would do something really, really cute or funny, and I would remember why I love being a mother (most of the time).
I remember being so excited to take my oldest daughter on a surprise trip to NYC for her 10th birthday, and it wasn’t until I printed out the boarding passes the night before that I realized that my youngest son would celebrate his Golden Birthday (4 years old on the 4th) with his grandparents while his brother, sister, mom and dad were celebrating his older sister’s birthday in New York (their birthdays are a day apart).
Or when my son told me that he really did not want to have a family picture taken as a Hanukah gift for my parents and when I told him to go put on his “picture outfit” he came out of his room holding a black sharpie that he had used to color all over his arms, neck and face. (In retrospect, I should have gone ahead and had our pictures taken.)
Or how I got a call from the principal of my son’s school and she told me that the bus driver had reported to her that my 10-year-old son had used some bad language on the bus. She told me that when she called him into his office and asked him what he said that upset the bus driver, he paused, looked at her and said, “I said fuc*.” I don’t know what embarrassed me more, the fact that my son dropped the f-bomb, or that the straight-laced, school principal actually said the f-word. She proceeded to tell me that she appreciated his honesty, and that he wasn’t in trouble because he told her the truth and promised he wouldn’t use bad language again.
I remember when we thought we lost our 6-year-old daughter in a busy mall in Israel, only to find out, after enlisting Israeli security and experiencing several full-blown panic attacks by parents and grandparents alike, that her big brother, without mentioning it to anyone, had taken her to the Nike store that he just had to see at the far end of the mall.
I remember when my fourth child was born and being so terrified that I was not capable of caring for four children at such different ages and stages.
I still don’t know that I am.
Please feel free to share your "remember when" stories below! I love to hear from you, and it makes me feel less self conscious about sharing my many parenting blunders!
I am not complaining. At this very moment I am heading off to a family beach vacation with my husband, four children, my parents, sister, brother-in-law and two nieces. I could not be more excited or grateful. I understand that all of us being together is truly a blessing and there is no certainty that this will be able to be repeated. Last year, our “family” vacation to visit my parents in Florida over winter break did not include my oldest son, J, who stayed home to attend mandatory basketball practices. Last spring, J left a family trip early to get back home for baseball practice.
A message appeared in my email inbox today that read: “Varsity basketball game, 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 26th.” If my son had not taken this year off of basketball to train for baseball year round, he would not be sitting next to me on the plane, excited to be heading off to spend invaluable time with family (which includes his older sister, on break from college).
Next year, he may rejoin the basketball team. My older daughter wants to study abroad either next year or the following year...
I know. These are very much first world problems. Family vacations are a luxury. Kids have to make sacrifices and show dedication to their sports. However, I do see many parents having to make tough and stressful decisions because of their kids’ sports-related commitments, and it makes me wonder—when you really look at the development of a child, what is more important—time spent with family or more time spent at the free throw line?
These types of issues have caused our family to make some uncomfortable shifts. When our kids were younger, our family was on a roll. We had Shabbat dinner every Friday night, during which the six of us (or sometimes more…friends were/are always welcome) would sit down, slow down and connect as a family. As our older son hit high school, many of his basketball and baseball games were held on…Friday nights. I know several religious families who simply would not allow their children to play on Friday nights, but that is not the decision we made for our son and our family. We let him play. Quite often, there would be an empty spot at our Shabbat table, or sometimes our Friday night dinners would consist of hot dogs (kosher, at least) and a bag of chips, and our family sitting on rock hard bleachers, watching our boy play.
As kids get older, and life gets insanely busy with various commitments, it becomes harder and harder to grab family time, whether it is for a Friday night Shabbat dinner, brunch after church on Sunday or family vacations. I know of families who have spent a portion of Christmas together, but Christmas evening or first thing the next morning, Dad takes Jimmy to a hockey tournament in Rochester and Mom takes Susie to Duluth to celebrate Christmas (round two) with extended family. The family divided.
Even when parents are strong enough to draw the line and say, “We are all going to visit grandma for four days over Christmas break,” kids at very young ages will beg their parents to stay home as they are afraid of the wrath of their Pee Wee hockey coach, “If you miss practice, you will sit on the bench for three games.” How cool would it be if the kid could say to the coach, “But I am going to spend time with my FAMILY over the holiday—to see my GRANDPARENTS who I only see once a year. How you can bench me for that?” Maybe EVERYONE should take some time off to spend time with family, and then no one will be punished or rewarded for missing or not missing practice because there won’t be any practice or games for at least the few days that surround the holiday. How about society gives kids (and parents) the message that no matter what religion, if any, you practice—uninterrupted family time is sacred time? If parents are going to take time off from work (I would also advocate for employers allowing a few extra days off for employees around the holiday time—Europe does a much better job of this), it is important that the whole family is able spend time together and connect with each other.
My family does not celebrate Christmas, however, I view Christmas break/winter break as sacred family time. My husband takes time off from work and we try to do something special as a family for at least a few days. I know it is not always easy for families to do this because of work obligations, financial constraints and kids’ sports commitments (and divorced parents have an even tougher job of carving out family time). My concern, however, is not so much about whether or not families can go on an actual “vacation” over winter break. A vacation could be just spending uninterrupted time at home together as a family. But I feel that families have to fight so hard to find time to be together because of all of the outside obligations that parents and kids face. It concerns me that family time is becoming less and less valued in society today.
I know many moms who struggle with this issue. When I interviewed moms for book #1, I asked a veteran mother of three children, ages 21, 18 and 16 to reveal the most important lesson she has learned in her years of mothering, and what she would like to pass on to other moms. She explained,
“Looking back, I can’t believe how much I worried about 8th grade basketball. Go on family vacations and do not worry about your 4th grader’s traveling soccer coach. You do have to teach your kid discipline, but to miss out on family time because the coach says he is going to sit your kid, I can now say, ‘Let him sit your kid and don’t miss out on family time.’ If your kid is good enough, she/he will play. Maybe not for that coach, but eventually. You have to decide what you can live with and not worry about what other people are doing or thinking.”
This mom’s oldest son went on to play college football at a highly reputable school. I am not so sure if she actually took her own advice with him, however, I do appreciate her hindsight.
For right now, I am going to appreciate the week I have with my family. All of us together—my daughter on break from college, my son able to leave Minnesota because he is not tied to a sport. My hope is that you are able to grab as much family time as you can, and enjoy each other during this holiday season.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a peaceful, happy, healthy and prosperous 2014.
This has been an incredibly emotional and monumental week. Being a writer, there is one thing I am driven to do when my head and heart feel like they are going to simultaneously explode. For better or for worse (and I really hope it is for the better), I write. So, I broke down some of the extreme feelings that I have had over this past week into two categories and tried to make some sense out of them. I also tried to find the lessons in what I've experienced and would like to share some of my epiphanies/“ah-hah" moments with you:
This week, I got older. At least the date on the calendar told me I did. This milestone represented more than just adding another wrinkle to my forehead. It represented an appreciation for LIFE and its many blessings, in a way that has been more intense and significant than I've ever felt before.
My dad’s sister’s name was Margie. She was like a mother and a big sister to me. Margie lived for 47 years. That’s it. She had two boys, ages 10 and 12, and a loving husband, when that SHITHEAD cancer took her away from them, from all of us. I now know and have felt exactly how long or short 47 years is. I know that it feels like 47 years is not enough time; that there is much more that I want to do, more love that I have to give and more that I want to see and experience. I know Margie felt the same way because she told me. I have prayed for 47 years. I prayed that the SHITHEAD cancer would STAY OUT of my body; of my breasts and ovaries, where it viciously , relentlessly attacked my beloved aunt, despite her efforts to fight it off; and I have prayed that I would be able to live to see my children’s Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. My aunt didn’t get to do that. She died a week before her oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah. My sweet, kind, funny, witty, loving aunt, who I loved with all my heart and I miss more and more as I get older, and with a heated intensity this year, was given 47 years.
On my 47th birthday, 19 years after the last time I held Margie’s hand so tightly, not ever, ever wanting to let her go…I get to live. I live for me and I live for Margie. She is forever and always in my heart.
Writing for me is like breathing. It is not really a choice. Whether it is a blessing or a curse, there is a never-ending flow of commentary bustling through my brain, which usually starts from an intense feeling that I have about something, from the very mundane to the very complex. I am a processor and an analyzer (sometimes to a fault). I try to let things “just be.” I practice yoga and focus on staying present. Sometimes I can but sometimes, the words jumbled in my brain just have get out, and need to be written down. I have been this way since I was little, always keeping a journal, and loving to write stories and book reports, especially when asked to explore my very favorite question in the whole wide world: “Why?”
This week, I reached a life-long writing goal. I finished the book I have been working on for the past several years. 64,640 words. Done. This was monumental for me because I have battled with this book. I have written it and rewritten it, what feels like 17 zillion times. I have loved it and despised it. I have been obsessed with it and have been incredibly sick of thinking about it and hearing myself talk about it. I have told myself the following countless times: “YOU CAN’T, YOU WON’T.” I have battled the voices inside my head, “No one really cares what you have to say, there are way too many books for moms, what if no one buys it, what if no one wants to publish it, who are you to write this book?” Yep, I have truly spent way too many hours in the trenches with these voices. But I didn’t stop battling, and what I have realized over the past year is that I was giving those voices way too much power and allowing them to suck up way too much of my time and energy. The only way I was going to finish this book was to dig down deep and find the strength to tell those voices to “SHUT THE F UP!” And the voice that overrode the others and gave me the strength to see the book to completion (combined with the love, support and encouragement of friends and family) was a very simple, steady, clear voice that said, “Write the book. Do the work. Don’t give up. You. Can. Do. It.”
Do I know if a publisher will pick it up? No. Do I know that I will self publish if no one does? Yes. Do I know if anyone will read/buy the book? No. Do I believe in my heart of hearts that this book will be helpful and instrumental to moms who are trying to take care of themselves while taking care of their families? Yes. Do I feel grateful to all of those who supported and believed in me throughout this process especially during times when I did not believe in myself? Beyond grateful.
47. Margie. Life.
Writing. A Dream Fulfilled.
“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.
I am so excited and honored to be a part of Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger’s upcoming book The Her Stories Project. The piece I contributed is about the relationship I share with my sister today and how we got here.
I am extremely excited not only to be a part of this book but to read this book. As I mother my four children and help guide them through the ups and downs of their friendships, I am continually reminded of how important and sometimes complicated friendships are, and how even at my age, some friendships can still be tricky to navigate.
“Reason. Season. Lifetime,” my friend simply stated when I began talking to him about friendship. “What do you mean by that,” I asked. He went on to explain that there are three different kinds of friends: Reason—these are friends you have for a reason—you work out with them, you attend a study group with them, you serve on a committee with them. They serve a purpose and a fulfill a current need for companionship in your life. Season—these are friends you have for a certain period of time, and these friendships often happen as a result of something that brings you together and keeps you together for, on average, five to seven years—your kids go to school together, you are in the same book club, you are neighbors or you work together. Oftentimes, these friendships are “seasonal” and come to an end when the season that brought you together ends—one of your kids switches schools, you change jobs or move. The third kind of friendship, which you are truly lucky if you have even one, is, of course, the lifetime friend. Your relationship has stood the test of time. She knew you when and she knows you now and she still loves you, and you feel the same way about her. These friendships are often the most sturdy and reliable friendships. (I truly don’t know where I would be without my lifetime friends.)
Women need all three of these types of friendships, and they are each meaningful and fulfilling in different ways. And certainly a "reason" friendship can evolve into a long-standing friendship. When I step back to look at women and friendships in general, I see that there are many subtleties in friendships. Many women shy away from talking about their friendships, especially those that are more challenging (which is why Jessica and Stephanie’s book is so important). Women often think their friendships should be easy and natural, but when they are not, many women feel a certain amount of shame and they just want to move on. Dr. Irene S. Levine takes a close look at women’s friendships in her 2010 article in the Huffington Post.
“Despite the romanticized myth of BFF, the hard truth is that most friendships don't last forever. In fact, research suggests that when it comes to friendships, a phenomenon occurs that is somewhat akin to the seven-year itch: Half of our close friendships turn over every seven years. Women are reluctant to talk about their friendship problems which turn out to be quite common: losing friends, having unfulfilling friendships, or having no friends at all. Just like other life-affirming relationships that we treasure--relationships with lovers, husbands, siblings, children, and pets--our closest friendships tend to be imperfect. Friendships are fraught with disappointments and misunderstandings---resulting in some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of our emotional lives.”
For mothers, I feel that our friendships are extremely important. We are all exploring unknown, sometimes terrifying territory that involves raising kids and managing the relationship with our partner (whether you are married, separated or divorced). When we need to make sense of things, need support, guidance, love, trust, we often turn to our friends, sometimes even more than we turn to our partners. Our friends are there to help us get through the through the day to day challenges, share in our joys and sometimes give us the strength (or kick in the ass) we need to make dramatic changes in our lives.
An integral part of being a healthy woman and mother (which I cover in complete detail in my upcoming book…really, it’s almost done), is to be mindful and thoughtful about your friendships. It is important that women don’t take each other for granted, make assumptions, or treat each other unkindly. Raising children is hard, being married or in a relationship is hard, work is hard—our friendships need to be something we cherish and nurture so that we can count of them to help us feel good about who we are. Women need to feel accepted and loved, more than any of us would like to admit, and sometimes we need it more from the women in our lives than anyone else, including our partner.
I am not saying that it is always easy. For me, I know that I have been an amazing friend and I have been a shitty friend (not intentionally). I have SO been there for friends and I have SO missed things. I have hurt friends and have been hurt by friends. But from each friendship, I have learned and grown, and I hope my friends feel the same way. The older I get and the more I look at myself and my friendships, I realize how important it is for moms to feel connected to other women in a positive way. It doesn’t have to be the Cosmo drinking, lunching or hitting the town several nights a week, Carrie Bradshaw and her girl gang types of friendships. However, do not underestimate the power and importance of friendship.
So, try this: On a regular basis, make a point to reach out to a new friend or an old friend, or maybe even an estranged friend, and say or do something that could literally make her day. Really, try it! Sometimes it can be as simple as a phone call to say, “Hi, I am thinking about you.”
And let me know how it goes.
“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.
It’s time. I actually get to peek inside her new world. Her new world that she has created in the 6 weeks that she has been away at college. I get to meet her friends and their parents, see her sorority, attend a football game, eat a few meals with her, and most likely take her to Target for necessities for which she would rather not use her allowance. But I know it will be a whirlwind, a frenetic two days, trying to squeeze it all in, trying to get a snap shot, a sampling of her new college life. Yeah, that one, the in which she taught me how to say goodbye (and yet I cried for a month); the one that she spent so much energy and time working toward; the one that kept me up some nights with worry that it would work out for her, that she would have college options she would be happy about, and ultimately, that she would be happy with the college she chose.
My biggest fear, which took me a while to realize, was that in my daughter’s absence, I would lose the one thing that I had worked tirelessly on for the last 18 years, the thing that I desperately wanted/needed to maintain, and that I prayed she would want—our connection. I did not want to smother her or unhealthily hang on to her, but I wanted to feel close to her and truly did not know how that would happen with her away.
And it took us a while. It was awkward sometimes. I held back and didn’t call or text because I was told to give her space. And that was hard and actually pained me. But I did it. Until I told her what I was doing. And she responded very simply, “Mom, you can text me all you want but I may not always text you back right away and please don’t ask me a lot of questions.” O.k., I can deal with that. Slowly, we found our rhythm and ease in our communication, which is not every day, and sometimes just a few times a week. But it works. One very wise woman recently explained to me when I detailed my struggle around this issue, “You need to understand that you are with your daughter even though she is away. And she is with you. The 18 years that you have spent mothering her are always with her. She knows you are there for her because you have always been there. She may not need to talk to you a lot because you are already with her.”
Yep, I am going with that!
On My Way Home From Parents Weekend:
I am not sad this time. I am full and happy with the knowledge and the feeling that she is indeed happy. She is creating a wonderful life for herself in a place that is nurturing, engaging, joyful and challenging for her.. (And I am also full and happy because we ate our way through her college town!). She seems older. She seems more confident. She seems more passionate, which I didn’t realize was even possible, given how passionate she was when she left in August. She was sincerely happy to see us, to spend time with us and to share her new world with us…until it was that time…the time when we needed to let her be…to retreat into her life that she continues to develop every single day; her life that does not involve us; her life that she works hard to make good for herself and for those around her.
We had moments with her…moments of pure joy and moments of pure tension. Moments when we met her friends and their parents and could not be happier with the wonderful choices she is making and the people with whom she surrounds herself. And moments of tension when we wanted/needed to assert our parental voices, to deliver messages that she did not like to hear, while trying to respect her need, necessity and right to establish her autonomy.
The blurred lines—so blurry and confusing sometimes. But it helps to be a united front. It helps that my husband and I can turn to each other for help and guidance on how to parent a college student. This is brand new, it's unknown, and it is complicated. I am truly grateful to have a co-captain to help navigate these unchartered territories.
Heading home, I feel good. Time did what it was supposed to do. It healed. It helped put things in perspective and make sense of things that didn’t make sense to me right away. It forced me to deal with and accept the here and now. And most importantly, it forced me to let go and to come to terms with the sheer terror I felt in letting my daughter go. I realized that in sending my daughter to college, I was much more afraid for myself than for my daughter. I was afraid that I would lose her, that I wouldn’t feel complete without her in my house.
And neither of those fears became a reality. She went to college. She's happy. We are connected. And my house is a bit quieter. And it's nice to have a little extra time to focus on the rest of my family and my writing. I am good with that.
“Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we needed to know.”-Pema Chodron
“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.
There is no getting around it, even though you may try to shield them from it, and find ways for them to avoid it, your kids will at some point have to face the dreaded agony of failure. For most moms, myself included, whether we admit it or not, when we see our children experiencing failure or disappointment, it feels like the sky is crashing down on both them and us. And sometimes, probably more often than not, we feel the pain even deeper than our children do. In most cases, our children bounce back from their disappointments relatively quickly, and yet we often stay stuck in them for way longer than we know is necessary or appropriate. Furthermore, many well-intentioned mothers, in an effort to try to “spare” their children from having to deal with failure, will go to borderline crazy lengths to assure that their child’s “fall from grace” will be cushioned or avoided all together.
Question to ponder:
What does it feel like to witness your child experience failure?
And even deeper:
Do you feel that your child’s failure a reflection on you as a mother?
Lately I have heard so many moms talk about their successes or failures of their children in a way that it is difficult to decipher who’s is who’s. I recently texted a friend to see how she was doing and she responded that her daughter made the varsity soccer team and her son had lost his tennis match. I wanted to respond, "But wait, I really wanted to know how YOU are doing!" Can we, as mothers, separate our identities from our children’s?
Before I go any further, I have to write a disclaimer: Anyone who knows me knows that I am as guilty as the next mom of allowing my entire being to be directly and significantly affected by what is happening (or not happening) in my children’s lives. I ride the crazy train with my kids and have a first class seat on that well know parenting helicopter that so many of us ride. I obsess about whether they will make a sports team, do well on their tests at school, be asked to a dance or be admitted to their college of choice. Having said that, I am actually working on this issue within myself right now, so I have become hyper-aware of my own hovering and somewhat controlling nature, as well as that of so many of the lovely moms in my life.
As I dissect this issue of mothers being somewhat unhealthily enmeshed in their children’s lives, I start with a seemingly simple, yet extremely complicated question: Why? Sometimes when my husband has reached his limit on listening to me go over and over and over my worries and concerns about a kid-related issue, he will just stop me dead in my tracks and say, “Why do you care so much? Maybe it would be good if you try to focus on something that you can control, or go do something for yourself instead of obsessing about an outcome over which you have ZERO control. You gotta stop worrying about the kids’ stuff. It’s theirs, not yours.”
Although there is a little sting to his directive, I know deep down that he is right (darn it!). He is encouraging me to give myself permission to let go. To trust that the chips will fall where they may for our four kids, and most importantly to trust that they will be ok, wherever their chips fall. And if their chips fall the “wrong” way, and they feel sad and defeated, then my husband and I will be there to love and support them, and to help them regain their footing so they can put their chips back on the table.
We moms have such a tough time with the letting go piece. From the moment we hold them in our arms as newborns, we are programmed to “make it all better” for our kids. We make it our life’s work to make life good and safe and happy for them. But thankfully, Wendy Mogel (Blessings of a Skinned Knee and Blessings of a B-) comes along and beautifully teaches us how kids must fail in order to grow. She explains that we are doing our children and ourselves a major disservice by not allowing them to experience failures and disappointments. When mothers don’t set clear boundaries with their children, and take on too much of their children’s “stuff,” they run the risk their children developing this line of thinking:
“I don’t really have to care, or feel anything about whether or not I make the team, make a bad decision, or get an A or a D on my test because my mom is taking it all on. Therefore, I am not even really accountable for my actions or inactions, because mom’s got me covered.”
Some moms, (myself included, on a few occasions), will actually not only take on their children’s successes or failures emotionally but will go a step further. They will intervene. They will call a coach, a teacher or an admissions director and threaten, question, manipulate, and even beg or bribe the person in the decision-making position to give their child what she “ABSOLUTELY DESERVES!!!” Okay, this is probably a good time for mom to step back, be very honest with herself, and figure out whether this is about her or about her child. This type of behavior sends an even scarier and potentially hazardous message to her child, which could sound like:
“You are not capable of accomplishing your goal/s on your own and therefore you need me to step in and take care of it for you.”
This deprives your child of learning the invaluable, character-building lessons that one learns from failing or falling short of a goal, with resiliency at the top of the list. It also could lead your child to feel that:
- “My mom does not believe in me enough to let me figure things out for myself. I must be inadequate.”
- “My mom cares more about whether I make the team or get the grade she expects me to get than she does about me as a person. She doesn’t love me for who I am, she loves me for what I do. Therefore if I come up short of her expectations, she won’t love me.”
Confession: My daughter got a B- on a paper her senior year. She is a fantastic writer and that was not a typical grade for her on any type of writing assignment. I am friendly with her teacher and when I saw him at her school one day, I said casually, “Hey, why did you give Sophie a B- on her last paper?” He stopped, looked at me straight in the eyes and said in a very serious tone, “Because I knew it was not her best work. She knows she can talk to me about it if she would like.”
Yikes! I cannot even begin to explain the scolding I received from my daughter when I crawled out of my shame hole a few days later and told her about it. “Mom! I wasn’t really bothered by it. It wasn’t my best work. I can’t believe you did that! Why would you do that?!”
With helicopter parents attending job interviews with their children http://huff.to/18cx1PG and micromanaging their every move, it is hard not to get sucked into thinking that being overly involved in your children’s lives is a way of showing your children that you care. It’s difficult to draw the line and know when it’s ok to advocate for your child, and when you need to bite your tongue and/or detach yourself from their “stuff.”
Next time you want to step in and try to prevent your child from failing or facing disappointment, take a moment to sort out your own feelings, and ask yourself:
What am I afraid of?