Five years ago, Nina Badzin and I launched the Twin Cities Writing Studio out of The Hopkins Center for the Arts through a Facebook post. Five years later, the renamed ModernWell Writing Studio has its own space and continues to grow in teachers, members, and many, many words.
Big week. My baby sister turned 50, my oldest daughter turned 25 and my youngest son turns 18 today. Oh how I LOVE my Virgos! With all the joy of celebrating these milestones, I am also in a place of nostalgia as I pour through old journals in an attempt to add more depth to my new book about finding joy and power in the 2nd half of life. How do we get there? It is never a straight line. At 18, I was in recovery; at 25, I was finishing grad school and dating my husband; at 50, The Self-Care Solution was published and I was emerging from a mid-life meltdown (unraveling as Brene’ Brown calls it) and preparing to make one of the boldest moves of my life.
There are kernels of foreshadowing. The “unthought known” as Dani Shapiro calls it. Intuition masked in insecurity and confusion. And fear. So much fear.
Raising four kids is taking me to places I have not known before. Sometimes I feel out of control. Sometimes I feel like I have had to set myself aside and jump into this person called mom who is available to the kids whenever they need me. Sometimes my “self” feels super insecure and compromised. This whole person that I try to be feels fractured. I can feel it when I introduce myself in public to a group of people and I can barely speak. It is so hard for me to define who I am. It seems so simple—a wife, a mother of four, a writer, a fitness instructor, but I feel in some ways that I have let myself down. That I gave up on my dream to write a book; that the demands of taking care of four children keep me from reaching my goal to become an author. I don’t know that I am a great mom of four kids. I don’t know if this is even what I want to be doing, as harsh as that sounds. Every day, my day is structured around taking care of four beings. My hands are full. And sometimes I just want to go on Sabbatical. I want to step out of this role that I am not even so comfortable with and just be. This is not about how much I love my kids. I love each one of them so very much. This is about the pit in my stomach that I feel quite often, which is very unsettling and I don’t know how to make it go away.
If 10 years ago you would have told that 42-year-old confused mom that within seven years, she would publish a book about the very issues she was struggling with, she would not have been able to envision it. If you would have told her that nine years later she would have found a way to carve out a career path and open the doors to a co-working space for people to work, create, connect and renew, she would have flat out told you that you had the wrong person. And speaking in public about self-care, women in business, and entrepreneurship in front of groups of people, on TV, and on the radio? No way! You’ve got the wrong gal!
She couldn’t see it, feel it or believe it then. And between then and now, she would have to dig deeper into herself and reshape her life—her marriage, her friendships, her priorities, and most importantly the relationship she had with herself. She would have to believe in herself in a way that she never did before. And she would have to work at this for the rest of her life.
Like how recently I thought an article I wrote for a publication had been rejected shortly after receiving a rejection from a publisher for my book. And how I am trying to make some impactful decisions about ModernWell while charging myself with doing more writing. “I don’t know what I am doing,” I said to my husband this morning, choking back tears. “I am doing lots of stuff but I don’t think I am doing anything really well. Maybe I am not a good writer any more. Maybe I never was. Maybe I should just hang up that hat.” My husband looked at me quizzically and I could tell he was trying to track my train of thought. “Because of….the article you think was rejected?”
“I just don’t know what to do. About anything. About my writing. About expanding my business. What should I do?”
I knew David understood. I remembered so many times when he was growing his business and would look at me with the same blank, fearful look and say, “I have no idea what I am doing.”
This morning his words to me were clear and strong, “Just go to work. You can do this.”
Immediately upon entering ModernWell, I exhaled as I felt the buzz of positive energy and saw the bright and kind faces of community members who had come to work, create, and connect. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Opening my computer, I saw an unread message from the editor of the publication that “rejected” my article. “Julie, we are running behind schedule. Your piece will be published within the next week or two.”
Just go to work. You can do this.
My baby sister is 50. My oldest child is 25. My youngest son is 18. I am all of those ages and beyond. I am in a space of reflection and noticing. Aware of the mountains of insecurity and uphill challenges I battled to achieve what I did not think was possible. And there is more—more insecurity and more goals. So, I will take my husband’s advice and keep going to work. And will utilize Jennifer Louden’s advice that she shares in her piece How to Stop the Doubting Yourself / Quitting/ Looking for a Magic Solution Cycle – Today and keep doing the work of challenging my inner critic so I can give myself the chance to look back 10 years from now and see realities that I once thought of as impossibilities. And I challenge you, friends, to do the same. Show up for yourself. Show up for others. Stare down your fears and insecurities. And go chase your goals and dreams. In the comments below, please complete this sentence: If I wasn’t afraid, I would…….
Anyone who has been following my writing/life over the past several years knows that I have written a lot about my first born and the difficulties I had in letting her go, especially when she left for college. Well, thankfully after nearly putting Kleenex out of business, I found my groove, and two years later sent her younger brother off to college as well (nope, not easier the second time). Fast forward another lighting-fast two years, and she graduated from college and embarked upon her new "grown up" life, which in her case involved moving to the Big Apple. More Kleenex, please?
Since Sophie and I are both writers, we oftentimes mark our own big life transitions with a piece of writing in the form of a journal entry, a blog post or an article written with the intention of submitting it for publication.
And here’s where the mother-daughter-writer-connection thing gets interesting.
On the evening of July 10th, Sophie sends me an email telling me that she has written a piece about her moving to New York and she wants to submit it for publication. I stare at the email in disbelief as just that morning, I had submitted a post to Grown and Flown about…you guessed it…Sophie leaving for New York.
Okay, now I understand that it is not that ironic that we both chose to write about the the fact that she moved to New York after graduation. But if you have a chance to read both pieces, you will see that even though her decision to move to New York and her actual move was a process that happened over many months, in both of our posts, we each chose to zero in on the the exact same moment within this process.
I won’t give anymore away but as my husband explains: you will be looking at both sides of the coin.
Click here to read my piece on Sophie flying the coop.
Click here to read Sophie's piece on flying the coop.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts!
Let’s check over here,” I motion to my 12-year-old daughter to follow me to the cosmetics isle. This is our fourth trip to Target in the last few weeks for the sole purpose of buying supplies for the new obsession gripping tweens all over the country—SLIME.
The current desired ingredient is a new one. “Baby powder is supposed to make the slime softer and less sticky,” my daughter, now an expert slime chemist, explains to me. She also assures me that she will be able to pay back the money we’ve spent on supplies with the money she collects from her fellow classmates (most of whom are also in the slime manufacturing and sales business) in exchange for her magnificently mastered mixture of shaving cream, glue, contact solution, and now baby powder.
Shampoo, body wash, lotions…I am not seeing the baby powder anywhere. My agitation rises as I curse myself for being sweet talked into this inconvenient trek to Target on a night when my son needs help with an assignment, my husband is at a work dinner, and I have to teach my teen writing class in an hour. I calm myself with the notion that at least this obsession, unlike other bygones like silly bands, does involve a creative process when mixing, measuring, and experimenting to form the germ-collecting balls of goo.
“Hi!” I find myself almost yelling to the young, exhausted-looking woman standing behind the nearby pharmacy counter. “Can you please tell me where the baby powder is?”
Before I even let the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-lady look on her face throw me into a shame pit, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her briskly out of the pharmacy area murmuring, “Oh my gosh, never mind.”
We both erupted in giggles as we headed over to the “baby” isle for the elusive “baby” powder.
My internal Target compass paused as we pass the girls section, our usual go-to area. “The baby section is over by electronics, I am pretty sure,” I muttered, still smiling at the irony.
And then it hit me.
The baby aisle had completely fallen off of my radar.
I could not recall the last time I had even gone near the avenue of pacifiers, diaper genies, bottles and diapers. As I walked toward baby land with my baby, disguised as a 12-year-old, I realized that I no longer knew the layout of this section that for decades I was able to navigate with my eyes closed. I didn’t even recognize some of the items on the shelf.
How could this be? This was MY territory! And now, I had forgotten it even existed!
“Mom, here, I found it,” my daughter’s sweet voice lulled me out of my trance. “Let’s go! You’ve got to get to your class,” she reminded me.
I stood motionless, my eyes scanning the baby items stacked neatly on the shelves. “I miss this, “ I said. She tracked my gaze to the shelf full of diapers.
“You miss changing my diapers,” she said coyly with a playful smile on her face.
“No I miss my babies,” I told her with sincerity, ignoring her sarcasm. I miss holding you in my arms, your baby smell, and hugging you and kissing you as much as I want to.”
“Well, I don’t,” she quipped again, her smile growing even bigger. “Ugh!” I groaned and grabbed my belly in reaction to her verbal gut-punch.
Walking to the check out lane, I leaned in to the nostalgia where I saw the baby faces of my four children--their beaming smiles as well as their looks of terror and disappointment. I could hear their shrieks of laughter and their blood curdling cries. I remembered my feelings of joy, agony, exhaustion, uncertainly, and fear that consumed me as a young mom trying to figure out what I was doing. And I remember yearning for the days when I would no longer need anything from the baby isle.
“Beep,” the self-checkout scanner hit the barcode on the bottom of the baby powder cuing me back to the present. My daughter placed the powder in the white plastic bag and started toward the exit.
“Jo, hold up,” I said as I quickly caught up to her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’ve grown up so fast, girl,” I said in earnest. “I love you so much.”
As I prepared for her to immediately shake me off, per usual, instead I felt her body sinking into my hug. “I love you too, mom,” she said softly. “And thanks for taking me to get the baby powder,” she added.
Scurrying through the Minnesota cold toward our car, I felt grateful that our slime mission led me back to the baby isle and for all the memories that I found there. I realized that just like slime, the passage of time often slips through our hands when we are not looking. And without notice, we open our eyes and find ourselves in the next isle at Target.
Driving home, I take in that my youngest child is on the cusp of becoming a teenager but in this moment, she thinks of nothing other than how much baby powder she will add to her slime mixture.
And I am grateful.
Grateful for all of the memories of my children's baby years, and grateful for the fact that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here right now.
Slime and all.
Yes, I am feeling it. The intensity of the holiday season is in the air and it is nearly impossible to escape the droplets of frenetic energy that invisibly dissolve into our pores this time of year.
For me, I notice that my thinking gets more scattered, I have a hard time writing, and a slight heaviness sets in as early darkness shortens our days, and it is so damn cold outside.
But the blessings…oh the blessings. So many of them. It is the deep gratitude I feel for these blessings that help me embrace the intense beauty and fragility of life and the increasing awareness of the passage of time. This week, I enter a new decade of life...
Truth: I feel really uncomfortable asking for your social media support because I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it myself. I go from feeling like it is the most incredible thing in the world and wonder how I ever lived without it, to being quite certain that it is the biggest, most obscene popularity contest that ever existed.
Upon my return from visiting my daughter two weeks ago, I came down with a case of “the crud,” which started with the swallowing razor blades feeling in my throat, then moved into my head with a pounding, ferocious headache, then moved into a seemingly never-ending flow of that grossness that clogged my sinuses and rattled in my chest.
Okay, I will stop there and promise you that the purpose of this post is not to complain about my nasty sinus infection. Not at all. In fact, I have absolutely nothing to complain about right now as I sit poolside looking at the Sea of Cortez with six girlfriends for a special birthday celebration. I am all good.
But in looking back on these the past two weeks, one of which my husband was working in London and India, I noticed a few revealing aspects about myself that clearly illustrate how self-care is a value that is developed early on, and the patterns of behavior that we form around these values are very tough to break.
Here's what these "old" patterns looked like for me: During the time I was battling a nasty cold and my husband I did the following: I said no to offers of help when I actually needed to say yes. I said yes to meetings and other commitments that could have waited. I did things for my children that they could have done for themselves. I stayed up late at night to work instead of going to sleep early. I told people I felt fine when I didn’t. And all these actions most likely doubled the amount of time I was sick.
Why did I do this? Why do we push through our self-care needs when we know better? Because I did not want to stop, or even slow down. I didn’t want to listen to my body’s signals that it needed a rest; that maybe the stress of Soph’s accident, and the sleepless nights I spent worrying about her, and the impromptu trip to see her had weakened my immune system.
I didn’t want to admit to anyone or myself that I couldn’t do it all; that I was "weak.". I didn’t want to let anyone down.
Except that I did. I let myself down. And spent two weeks feeling crappy, which led to this: I snapped at my kids, and my husband when he arrived back home. My mind was foggy, which caused me to move at a much slower pace. I was late to my son’s doctor’s appointment that had been scheduled for three months. I banged on the steering wheel and maybe dropped a few f-bombs after being caught in rush hour traffic for 45 minutes because I didn't leave on time and upon finally arriving at the clinic, we were told that the doctor could not see us for another hour, which was the exact time I had to pick up my daughter’s soccer carpool. I looked at the nurse flabbergasted and started to cry, my son watching me in dismay, still recovering from my meltdown in the car, as the nurse tried to apologize. What she didn’t realize is that my tears were not because I was upset with her.
I was upset with myself that my not taking care of myself was causing a negative ripple effect on those I love.
And it does. And yet, we still tell ourselves that we “don’t have time” to time to heal from or even deal with illnesses—physical or mental. We don’t have time to deal with dysfunction in our relationships our partners, our kids, our friends, or ourselves. We don't have time to exercise or to eat well, or to get enough sleep. There is too much to be done. We gotta keep plowing through. We gotta be "strong" and just keep it together.
But the real work of self-care is to challenge those thoughts, which most of us battle periodically throughout our lives. Those internal (and sometimes external) messages that pull us away from our innate need to care for ourselves are not based in kindness or love. In fact, those messages actually steals pieces of our joy, health, happiness, self-worth, and self-esteem. They need to be overpowered with the following messages:
We are born to be happy and to feel good. Everyone has a right to want that and to strive for that. When we do honor ourselves and are honest about how we really feel and what we really need, we give ourselves a fighting chance! We increase our level of happiness and the quality of our lives, our relationships, and our overall well-being and the well-being of those around us.
Which brings me to the present moment where I am incredibly grateful to be feeling good again, and for the fact that for the next three days, I get to focus on friends, fun, and decompressing. And while I am well aware that this kind of get-away does wonders for my physical and emotional well-being, we all need to be mindful of how we take care of ourselves amidst the stress and pressures of our every day lives.
So, I will make you a deal: I promise to send you some relaxing Mexican vibes this weekend if you promise that you will do something for yourself that you know you need but you just "don't have time for."
Deal? I would love to hear what you decide to do to honor yourself!
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.
To be a mom is to continually manage the fierce mama bear feelings that make us want to sprint to our child’s rescue, kiss away their tears, and band-aid away their pain. How do we know when to act on this instinct? And when to push our internal pause button in order to and give them the space they need to pick themselves back up when they fall and as they get older, lean into other support systems they’ve developed.
We don’t always know. But our hearts will guide us if we really listen.
Truth: Just a few years ago, public speaking and panic attacks went hand in hand for me. And I still feel a bit of terror, which can feel like I want to throw up cry or die, or some combination of the three before every radio or TV interview, book talk, workshop, or book club that I do. But each time the fear sets in, I engage in some very serious stare-downs with my insecurities and move through it because I have to. Because I have experienced incredible changes over the course of writing and launching The Self-Care Solution, changes that need to be shared with as many mothers as I can reach. So, I will keep doing my own work so that I can share the messages of hope, healing, self-love and self-care.
The Self-Care Solution journey has been and continues to be life-changing. I have met so many incredibly bright, brave, and thoughtful people throughout this process, who inspire me every day to live my life with more kindness and passion, which goes hand and hand with showing kindness and compassion toward oneself. Through sharing my own story, I have connected with people who are more willing to share their truths. Like the woman who sat in my living room on a Sunday afternoon as she told me about how she raised two boys as a single mom, working three jobs to put them through private school. She shared her view on self-care, “Self-care doesn’t have to cost money. It doesn’t have to be about getting a massage or going to the gym. When my boys were young, my self-care was talking on the phone to my girlfriends I’ve had since high school and bitching about our kids or whatever was on our minds. That kept me sane." She also told me that leaving her husband was also an act of self-care.”
Doing this work makes me more acutely aware of myself and of those around me. It makes me feel like I want to reach out and hug every mom I see and tell her, “Do the self-care work. Really. You will surprise yourself with how strong you really are, and how strong you can become. You may need to make some changes in your life. And it won’t be easy. But you are SO worth it! And your family needs you to believe that!”
But as with most things in life, self-care is a continual work in progress, and it is rarely a smooth, straight, or easy path. As I work to better secure my own boundaries (my biggest self-care challenge), I have experienced push-back from my kids (and just a tiny bit from my beloved husband). My kids are less than amused with my new mantra, “There is a new sheriff in town.” But behind their eye rolls, I can see that they do understand the necessary shift.
They get that I expect them to step up to the plate of their lives, and that I need to step back from them a bit so I can step more solidly into my life, my work, my relationship with my husband and friends. And while they probably can’t fully comprehend the importance of this type of movement, they trust me, and they trust my love for and devotion to them. I assure them that even though this shift may feel like the harder path, we all will be happier, healthier, and more compassionate humans if we can stay the course and support one another along the way.
So, as we move through this back to school transition, and I say goodbye to my college kids (btw, if you are looking for me on Friday, I will be binge-listening to books on tape and Ted Talks during the 10-hour drive to Michigan with my daughter), I know my heart will ache and tears will flow with those excruciating last goodbye hugs.
But now more than ever I feel exceedingly grateful that my kids know how to take good care of themselves. There is nothing more rewarding and comforting for a parent than to see your child treating her/himself and those around him with love, respect, and care.
And who better to teach them how to do this than you?
And what better way to teach them than by showing them how it’s done?
Wishing you all a smooth back to school transition that is, of course, filled with lots of self-care and self-love!
“It must be so amaaaazing having all four of your kids under one roof again,” is the question of the month since my oldest son arrived home from his freshman year in college, and oldest daughter breezed in from her five-month college junior “study” (or is it "touring"?) abroad program.
“Oh yesssss,” I concur. “It is just the BEST!”
And I am telling the truth. Mostly.
It goes without saying that I love my family unit. I love the feeling of completeness I feel when the six of us are together. Seeing my four kids interact with one another can be downright heart-melting (and yes, the teasing can be mortifying). But I love how the six of us fit together—each family member with his or her own distinct personality set within the building blocks of our ever-evolving family unit.
While I try to bask in the euphoria of family wholeness, it is only a matter of time before the challenges I encountered while mothering all four kids in my home for ten years inevitably find a way to bubble to the surface again, and I can see very clearly that there is indeed a time when adult children need to fly the coop.
Not only are there more dishes in the sink, crumbs on the kitchen counter, clothes in the washer and dryer, wet towels on bedroom floors, shoes sprawled all over the mudroom, various items of clothing and shoes missing from my closet (usually my favorite ones that I was planning to wear as I realize they have "disappeared"), cars rolling in and out of our driveway at any given hour, teenagers and 20-somethings eating every morsel of available food in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, texts sent to me at any time of the day or night including the hours between midnight and 5 a.m.) begrudgingly alerting me of my college kids’ whereabouts (“Mom, you don’t know where I am when I am at college! Why do you need me to tell you now? Don’t you trust me?”) Oh, and did I mention the arguing and the YELLING? Well, there is much more of those too!
So, in the flurry trying to manage my family of six, my writing and teaching work, and launching a new book, I am reminded of what prompted me to write The Self-Care Solution in the first place.
Self-care is so damn hard!
Part of my self-care journey over the past few years was to let go of my two older kids in a healthy way, which was far from easy for me, and to reestablish my life with the younger two at home. It took a lot of time, soul searching, and hard work for me to do this. But by using the physical, emotional, and relational self-care tools outlined in the book, I stayed true to myself, set appropriate boundaries, and advocated for my need to work and create, I did it. And lo and behold, I was finally able to accomplish what I had set out to do decades earlier—finish my book on self-care and continue to practice what I preach.
But what I have realized over these past several hectic weeks is that our self-care work as moms is never done, and we will be challenged over and over again to hang onto our sense of self while mothering our children.
Having all four kids home triggered some old stuff for me. Negative patterns of thinking and acting popped up. I found myself worrying about and micro-managing my kids far more than necessary—trying in vain to find some control amidst the inevitable chaos and discomfort of this transitional time. I have found myself frustrated that I am not writing enough, or practicing yoga or meditating the way I need to be.
And then I remember. These are my continual self-care work-ons, and it is indeed a marathon not a sprint. I remind myself we all have our own work-ons and triggers that threaten to throw us moms off center. But there are three things that remain constant for all of us:
1. Someone will always need us.
2. No one is going to hand over the time and space
we need to take care of ourselves.
3. We need to be intentional about caring for ourselves
or we are not able to take care of our family the way we want to.
So, in trying to embrace this short period of time when all my kids are back in the nest (my oldest leaves for an out-of-state internship on Friday), instead of thinking about all the ways I am "failing" at self-care, I realized that I am forgetting one huge component of self-care—self-compassion.
My self-care may look and feel a little different right now, and that is okay. I need to embrace what is good—the wonderful walk I took with my cousin Joy this Memorial weekend; dancing during the fun (albeit excruciating) Kayla work-outs that my oldest daughter led me through; watching my two daughters, 10 years apart, giggle like best friends; the warm hugs I receive regulary from both of my sons, and the gratitude I felt in spending time with my husband, friends, and family over the long weekend.
Sometimes self-care can be simply a matter of reframing. Letting go of what we think self-care “should” be, releasing ourselves from expectations and the frustrations of what is not, and opening ourselves up to the joy and the beauty of what is.
During this busy time of transitioning from spring to summer, when school is ending, graduations are occurring, college kids are coming home, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball are in full swing, and the to-do lists threaten to overpower us every day, can you carve out five minutes a day, even in your car, to find compassion for yourself, to say something nice to yourself, to tell yourself you are doing the best you can, and that you are indeed good enough? Can you breathe deeply, taking it all in, and then letting it all go?
Yes you can.
This is the real work of self-care.
March 7th, 2016, 1:23 p.m. Minnetonka, MN — I typed the following word and emailed it to my publisher:
The Self-Care Solution is now officially off to the printer for its first official print-run.
This “print run” will print the books that will travel to bookstores all over the country and hopefully to your mailbox (if you pre-ordered the book already, thank you, or plan to purchase copy online or at one of my upcoming events, thank you).
After hearing the swoosh of the sent email, which marked the release of this book out from under my careful control, I took a deep breath, and exhaled a mixture of liberation, jubilation, and something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Tears flowed freely as I emailed my mom and David, who had coached me to the finish line, “Push send, Julie. You can do this.” And I alerted my publicist and friend Wendy with the following email:
“I feel like I want to do back flips and throw up at the same time.”
Her response quickly turned my tears to laughter and relief, “Now that would be a good trick. All is good.”
As I sat at my writing desk where I had spent countless hours pounding at my keyboard, begging my brain to conjure up the necessary words to articulate my thoughts, I settled into this transitional moment. The vivid memories of what it took for me to get to this point—the insane (sometimes almost literally) amounts of intention, discipline, devotion, trust, frustration, courage, vulnerability, and dedication. And while I wanted to allow myself to feel victorious (the back flip part), I felt a nagging pull that wrestled with my feelings of joy, “don’t get yourself too excited lady, you have no idea what’s around the corner” (the throwing up part).
When I was immersed in the process of writing, re-writing, editing, and re-editing, the book was under my care and my control. No one could judge it or judge me. Like a baby, I nurtured, coddled, protected, and guarded my book. Only a trusted few read it. But like raising a child, the time had come to let it go. And over these past few weeks (during which time my son developed influenza and a stomach ulcer and spent four days in the ICU, and another week at home…he is fine, thank g-d, but it was definitely a trying time for him; for all of us) this pivotal moment came closer and closer... and March 7th was the day that I needed to release this fifth child of sorts out from under my wing.
Yes, I felt confident that the book was ready to stand on its own in the world without me hovering over it; not unlike the time when I knew my two older kids were ready to head off to college on their own. In releasing my college-bound kids, I knew there would be bumps and bruises along the way (for them and for me). And in releasing this book, I also knew that there would be highs and lows; good reviews and not so good ones (of my book and of me).
But even with this confidence and awareness, it took only a quick glance over my shoulder to find my trusted frienemy named “fear” hanging out, eager to have a conversation with me. “Really?? Are you sure you are ready? Because, guess what? It's rough out there and you might not be as ready as you think you are!” (Read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic for more on the role of fear in the creative process.)
“Well,” I told my frienemy,“ready or not, the cord has been cut and this book is making its way out into the world! So please step aside for now.”
And yes, I hit send. And yes, I am hard at work scheduling book publicity, launch events, readings, conferences, and self-care workshops. But my frienemy is still hanging out nearby, willing and able to cozy up to me whenever I give it a chance. I can completely relate to Louisa Treger, author of The Lodger, as she explains the difficulties she encountered when her book was released:
“I felt incredibly exposed, as though I’d taken my clothes off in front of the world. It is perhaps the central paradox of being an author that you must have a thin skin in order to write well, yet the hide of a rhinoceros to put yourself out there. I am still working on the rhinoceros part!”
So, my dear friends and readers, please know that this thin-skinned author is continually working to strengthen her hide… especially between now and the May 3rd release! And quite frankly, I would love your support! You can like my new Facebook author page, subscribe to my blog (click link below), or connect with me on Twitter. You can recommend my book to your friends and relatives. And my Minnesota peeps, I would be thrilled to see you at any of my book events, which will be listed on this site soon (and most of them will include wine!).
And if and when you do decide to take in this beloved fifth child of mine, I truly hope you will make room for its messages in your life. I hope that by practicing your self-care, you will infuse your life with more happiness, health, and meaning so that you can share this energy with those you love!
“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
Thank you all for your support and encouragement along the way! You have helped bring The Self-Care Solution to life! G-d speed!
So honored and excited to be a part of Rachel Cedar’s 28 Days of Play 2015! In the writing of my piece, it was a true gift to be able to reflect back on the past two decades of play with my four children. I realized how powerful this topic is and how many different angles there were for me to explore when writing about my relationship to play. How I play, why I play, why I don’t play, how technology has changed the nature of play, how I love to play, and yet how I dread it sometimes, how I know how important it is and yet how sometimes I just can’t find it in me are just some of the areas that I found myself lingering. Rachel's exciting, relatable, inspiring, and transformative project has provided mothers a with a platform to share their experiences with other moms who grapple with similar issues surrounding play. The 28 Days of Play 2014 contributors beautifully explored many of the above-mentioned topics and then some, and I can't wait to read the thoughts and insights of the 2015 authors! Again, I am thrilled to be able to share my perspective on play among this group of talented writers and thinkers.
Kick off is Monday, February 2nd! Please join in the fun!
I had to let go. That firey feeling in my throat and heart like a bomb was about to explode in my chest told me I had to let go. Even though I hate letting go. Because I am really good at putting every piece of myself into mothering my children but I am terrible at the letting go part. I look at the pile of clothes on my floor and I can’t will myself to put them away. Those clothes were supposed to be moved into a suitcase—a suitcase that I would need for my much anticipated trip with my son to visit a college in California. But there was no need to move the clothes into the suitcase. And no need to put the clothes away right now and dig the knife into my heart any further.
I am not going on the trip to CA with my son. He begged to have his dad take him instead. “Mom, I have a baseball tryout, I really need dad there. You don’t lose any money because you used miles for your ticket. Dad wasn’t going to be able to go because of work but now he can go. I hope you can understand that it’s not personal. This is not about you.”
Understand that it is not personal. It’s not about me. Except that it is. It is because I was looking forward to spending this time with him. Because he is slipping away. Because it is his last year at home. Because as hard as I try not to, I am doing the countdown, noticing the “lasts,” while trying to hang onto the now—the time he is still living in the house. Because I thought I would be better at all of this with him, my second child, a boy. I really should be better. His older sister, now a college sophomore, had already taught me how to say goodbye…twice…
But I am NOT better. And he knows it. And it is too much for him.
He can’t be too close to emotions right now and I represent the emotions. He can’t be too close to the parent who talks about feelings and love and compassion. This is a dangerous and scary place for a 17-year-old boy to be. And even though his wife will thank me some day, right now I am a distraction from his mission—his mission to become a MAN. To prove that he is strong and capable and able to stand on his own ready to exit the nest—without his mom. And his mission in CA is to perform—to shine on the baseball field and to be sharp during his admissions interview. He needs to think, not feel. He needs to put his Game Face on. And dad is most definitely the Game Face guy.
But where does that leave me? In unknown territory. Adult son and his mother. A mother who needs to let go, and a son who is telling her to start now. She tells herself to trust that that her son loves her, that he will always appreciate having her as his mother, and that letting go doesn’t mean completely disconnecting from him—growing further and further apart so that eventually he will merely tolerate her, as is the case with so many grown men and their mothers she knows. It will be different. It has to be different. She tells herself all of this as she stares down at the pile of clothes that will not make it into her suitcase.
And maybe he is right. Maybe dad is the one to take him to CA. Because dad doesn’t look at him and allow nostalgia to plow him over—seeing a little boy who cried non-stop for the first 6 months of his life and then could not bear to be more than an arm’s length away from his mom. His dad does not feel, or certainly does not display, the ache of the snap back to the present moment when I see that this little boy is all grown up—and he doesn’t cry and does not want to be within an arm’s length of his mom. My son doesn’t see the pain of the inevitable separation all over his dad’s face like he sees it all over mine. My face is not a Game Face. My face reveals the love I feel for my son, and shows signs of the pain in my heart felt by a mother who hates letting go.
But the train is leaving the station and I can’t stop it. My son is getting ready to board the train. He went to CA with my husband. Readying me for the start of letting him go. Maybe I could start real simply—by putting away that pile of clothes on my floor.
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.
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.