Family

Finding Meaning in May Madness

Finding Meaning in May Madness

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...

To My Husband on our 22nd Wedding Anniversary

To My Husband on our 22nd Wedding Anniversary

I stared intently at my husband last night as he read a story to our 10-year-old daughter. Something hit me hard. I was unexpectedly filled with intense emotions—joy, love and gratitude flowed freely through my mind and my heart. I realized at that moment, as I looked deeply into his ocean blue eyes that were fixed on a page of the book, why I married him 22 years ago.

I Am an Eating Disorder Thriver

I Am an Eating Disorder Thriver

It's not easy to talk about eating disorders. There is shame associated with eating disorders. Though I've been recovered for 30 years, I still feel that sting of shame when I open up about the brutal disease that stole most of my teenage years. Nonetheless, I decided to say yes to an opportunity to speak at a recovery night at the Emily Program in St. Paul. Here I share my story and an excerpt from my 30-minute talk I gave to patients, family members of patients, and health care professionals. 

Spring Meltdowns and New Beginnings

son graduating Since late February when I had the honor of being a guest on Jordana Green’s radio show to tell my story as part of National Eating Disorders Week, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. The spring months have always been tricky for me, especially in the last several years. And while this spring has been filled with all sorts of wonderful transitions, they are transitions nonetheless; and change is not my strong suit. There are my internal changes that include, but are not limited to, a certain chemical combustion occurring within my body that cranks up my temperature to a mere 90,000 degrees (especially at 3 a.m.) and turns the thoughts in my brain onto a high-speed, continuous spin cycle, for which I cannot seem to find the "off" switch. And there are the external changes that include, but are not limited to surviving yet another senior spring break trip (can I be grandmothered out of the next two?), my oldest son deciding to head to across the country to California for college, my baby turning 11 (just days after a shower door fell on her and broke her wrist...I know, alert the authorities), my husband turning 50 (and yes, of course he recently joined a band), and my oldest daughter finishing her sophomore year of college and returning home for the summer.

soph and jo

Turning 50

So while the internal changes make it a little more challenging to roll with and enjoy all of the exciting external changes, I am doing my best (thank goodness for yoga). And although I am not blogging as regularly as I would like to be, I am still writing. A lot.  Submitting 5,000 words a week to my amazing editor at She Writes Press  so that my book on self-care for moms can head to the publisher and then finally into moms' hands.

self-care book

And there are few other fun items to report: At the end of April, I had an incredible experience of being among dozens of Minnesota writers, comedians and musicians who performed at Rebecca Bell Sorensen and Laurie Lindeen’s Morningside After Dark Series.morningside

The spring theme was “Melt With You” and the piece I read, “The Season of Melting and Letting Go” is published in The Mid (with a slightly different title) is about how the spring season parallels my process of letting my son, a high school senior, go. Lastly, I was hired to write a Mother’s Day article for AskMen.Com about how men can win the approval of their wife's or girlfriend’s mother. While I initially found it exciting to have a 20-something male editor email me and say that he thinks I would be a good person to write this and ask if I would be interested, when I began to write the piece, I felt something different…I felt old. But it also opened up my mind to how exciting the next phase of motherhood will (hopefully) be. Welcoming significant others and eventual spouses into the family —Even more “kids” to love!

But for now, and for the next several weeks of "May Madness," I will try to remember to breathe amidst the flurry of finals, baseball and soccer games, grad parties and another school year coming to a close. And on June 4th, when my oldest son walks down the aisle to accept his high school diploma, I will be cheering him on (most likely through tears) as he transitions from the first chapter of his life to his next. And I look forward to seeing what this next chapter brings...

"In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you." -Buddah

Not Yet 50, but Way Past 40-Something. What is 48 to Me?

Julie 48There 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.

Lingering More, Panicking Less—My True Test for the Next Three Weeks

to do listTis 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.

THE RISE AND FALL OF MY SKIP STEP

gymnast 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.

College Drop-off Year Two: Still Learning How to Say Goodbye

heading to collegecollege dorm roomI kept it together this time. I really did. Soph and I busied ourselves with the typical back to college activities like combing every isle of Target and Whole Foods. We added some drama to the mix by performing a full fledged reconnaissance mission for the bag Soph left in the overhead bin on the airplane, which, after many tears and incessant phone calls to the airline, was eventually found in another city and returned. After a day and a half of hustle and bustle, I was able to say a coherent goodbye to her in the sorority house, her new home away from home, before she headed off to a house meeting. But as I watched her become swallowed up in a sea of her “sisters,” heading down the stairs, I was overcome with the desire to force time to stand still. Instead of heading directly out to my car for a clean break, my heart strings pulled me away from the exit and pushed me onto the stairwell leading up to her room.

Her room was quiet and calm—a stark contrast to the day before when four of us—Soph, her roommate and her roommate’s mom—crowded into her non-air-conditioned room on an 85-degree day and spent nearly 10 hours unpacking, organizing, assembling, cleaning, running out for necessary items and then organizing some more.

I scanned the room. A decorated letter S that she had “crafted” with her high school girlfriends a few days prior hung above her bed. An outline of the state of MN with a heart denoting the Twin Cites (another craft item) sat on top of her desk. My eyes then fell upon a picture of Soph, David and me taken at her high school graduation. It wasn’t a great picture of any of us, Soph and I agreed yesterday when she pulled it out of one of her many boxes of belongings. “Maybe I’ll find her a better picture,” I vainly thought as I cringed at my awkward smile in the photo. But unlike many of the other pictures of her family and friends that had yet to be put in frames or pinned to her wall, this particular picture—my daughter, standing between her parents, with an ear to ear grin on her face—was propped upright in a frame and centered on her desk.

As I felt the all-too-familiar lump build in my throat, I knew that the time had come to let myself feel what this inevitable separation meant to me. I had tried to convince myself that it would be easier the second time, and in many ways, it was. My daughter had taught me how to say goodbye last year at this time. And my prayers had been answered as our relationship had indeed stood the test of time and the 650 miles between us, and had ultimately grown even stronger and deeper. And yes, having her home for part of this summer was wonderful but also highlighted the many reasons that most 18+-year-olds definitely need to be heading out of the nest.

But I also knew that I would miss her.

It’s hard to say goodbye to someone you love with everything you are, even when you know that it is time for her to go.

Your heart feels the shift; braces for the void and tries to figure out how to fill the spaces between what was and what is. It tries to manufacture the cushion needed to transition from seeing your child every day to seeing her a handful of times a year, and possibly a portion of the summer. It compensates for the inability to hug her with your loving arms, by finding some kind of normalcy in saying I love you over the phone or via text message. It jumps around aimlessly, sometimes desperately with its overpowering need to protect her from afar. It aches and rejoices as it acknowledges the passage of time and basks in the treasured moments of her childhood, as well as in its hope for her future.

I pulled my tear-filled eyes away from the picture and fumbled through my purse for a piece of paper and a pen. It became imperative to me that I leave her a note to tell her one more time what she already knows: that I love her. But what she could not understand is the depth of love and connectedness that I feel for her, how mothering her has both challenged me and healed me to the core, and how hard it is for me to let her go—no matter what her age, and no matter how practiced I am at saying goodbye.

I willed my legs to move me toward the door and I caught another glimpse of the picture—mother and father and child—and I became overwhelmed with gratitude and comfort in knowing that we will continue to be her pillars from afar.

Why I Had to Stop Posting Photos of My Kids on Facebook

This was no small task. Quite honestly, not posting pictures of my kids on social media has cramped my style a bit and has forced me to exercise  a fair amount of restraint in this arena. To understand how and why I arrived at this Facebook turning point, read this post on Kveller, "Why I Will No Longer Post Photos of My Kids on Facebook."  Please leave your comments (which I always love and appreciate) on the Kveller site. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one! Thanks for checking it out!Kveller article-No Longer Posting Photos of my Kids on Facebook

She’s Coming Home! What I Have Learned During my Daughter’s First Year of College

Welcome Home from College, Daughter!It’ that time…already. My daughter is coming home this weekend after finishing her freshman year at college. I am truly in awe of how quickly the year has gone and how much I have learned over this past year. I wanted to share a few insights about how this life transition has not only propelled my daughter to adapt, change and grow, but surprisingly has done the same for me.

As most of you know, saying goodbye to my daughter was extremely difficult and I felt that I had lost a part of myself when she left.  But thankfully, over time (even though I still don’t like to go into her empty room), I have adjusted to our new normal and have realized that her departure served as a bit of a wake up call for me.

To sum up my mothering of Sophie, I would say that I had an extreme case of the “first-child syndrome.” I wanted to do everything right and to be an all-star, all-knowing mother. Upon her birth, I quit my job as a public relations account executive, and decided that she was my world and that everything else paled in comparison to the joy I felt in being her mother.

Three more kids and 19 years later, I realize that some of my initial new mommy thoughts were on par, but I have also discovered that throughout my motherhood journey I have struggled with defining myself as more than a mother to my children. I have, at times, found it difficult to stay true to myself while taking care of my family (which is the basis for my upcoming book!).

I have had several “hit me over the head” moments (which usually came in the form of mini-breakdowns) that served as reminders that my children could not MAKE me happy, and that my happiness and fulfillment needed to start from within. Sophie leaving for college was definitely one of those moments.

During this past year, I have regained parts of myself I didn’t even know I had abandoned. I realized how much energy, emotional and physical, that I poured into that wonderful, brown-haired, blue-eyed girl. I don’t regret any of it, as I know it was part of my journey and that I experienced a great deal of healing in mothering her the way I did. However, since her departure, I am grateful that I’ve experienced a newfound sense of peace within myself, as well as within my relationship with my daughter.

I now understood that the relationship Sophie and I built while she was living at home was only the beginning. We laid the groundwork for what would continue to be a solid and indestructible bond. Throughout this past year, Soph and I found our rhythm in how much we talked, or didn’t talk; how much she leaned on me for advice or support and how much she tried (or I urged her) to figure things out for herself. I realized that when I missed her, it was okay for me to call her, and when I missed her A LOT, I could even grab my little one and go visit her.

But equally as important, I realized that sometimes when I was lonesome for  her, I needed to not call her. I needed to be present in my life and focus on what was in front of me— my husband and three other kids, my writing, yoga, faith, friends and family. Doing so provided me with an amazing sense of comfort and fulfillment and reminded me that while my kids will always be a huge part of my life, I have many other passions and interests that make me who I am and make me feel whole.

This sounds dramatic, but I found that Sophie’s departure made me look at my life in a “big picture” kind of way. It has taught me that while I initially thought of Sophie’s leaving as a “loss,” it turned out that after I shed all the necessary tears, it actually felt like a gain for both of us. The cord was cut, once again, and we both were thrown into unknown territory where the 650 miles that separated us caused us to be less dependent on one another, and provided us extra freedom and space to grow and explore our individual passions.

As I anticipate her homecoming tomorrow, I am well aware that our strengthened relationship will be tested as she is expected to live under our house rules again. This experience may add an entirely new twist to our mother/daughter “absence makes the heart grow founder” love story. More on that to come…Wish me luck…

Friday Faves: Jamie's Journey: "Travels With My Dad"

Jamie's Journey: Travels With My DadJamie Goodman, along a half a dozen other 17-year-olds, gathered at my house a few weeks ago to hang out with my 17-year-old son and reminisce about the eight weeks they spend in Israel last summer with the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program.  Jamie, who lives out of town and I had never met, arrived before the others and I had a chance to chat with her a bit. As she told me about  her college and summer plans (she’s a  high school senior), she very casually mentioned that she is heading out on a book tour with her dad this summer. “Oh, your dad is a writer,” I asked. “Yes, and so am I. We wrote a book together,” she explained humbly. I was so taken by this adorable, kind, articulate and humble teenager who…wrote a book!  I could have talked to her all night about her project but my son soon "rescued" her and whisked her out of my kitchen and off to join their other friends. Well, today is a big day for Jamie and her book, “Jamie’s Journey—Travels With My Dad,” and she is asking for some help. TODAY, April 11th,  is the LAST DAY you can download her book for FREE on Amazon . She is hoping to get 3,000 people to download it so that it can become an Amazon bestseller. Even if you don't have a kindle, you can download the free kindle app onto your phone or ipad and download the book from there.

Here is a sneak peak of Jamie’s book that she co-wrote with her father. I hope you will support Jamie  in reaching her goal of becoming a become an Amazon best selling author, as well as enjoy her wonderful insights that she shares in her book:

When Dr. Rick Goodman proposes to his sixteen-year-old daughter Jamie that they spend a month together bonding in Europe, she is excited yet skeptical! That’s when Dad dropped the bomb! This Journey would take place only if all of today’s modern technology and distractions were removed! Starting from St. Louis with stops in Chicago, London, Paris, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, Rome and finally Israel, the relationship evolves and the fun never stops! Jamie’s Journey teaches us the importance of connecting and communicating with our children-with the absence of today’s technology. Jamie shares her “Gems” of advice to other teens and parents about the life long rewards of truly spending time and connecting with our parents and friends!

Download today!

"A valiant first effort by a rising young star. Look for big things from her." - Randy Gage, Author of the New York Times bestseller, Risky Is the New Safe

 

Unscripted Mom is ONE!

Unscripted Mom is OneUnscripted Mom is a year old. And I am feeling grateful. Just over a year ago, I was filled with fear and uncertainty as I thought about sharing my musings as an official "blogger." The self-doubt nearly derailed me as I wrestled with notions like, “No one really cares what I have to say; bloggers are a dime a dozen and I am not that original; I have no idea what I am doing; who is really going to read my stuff anyway?

But with some encouragement of close family and friends, and the advice and expertise of Gran Harlow,  Michelle Millar and Nate Garvis, I pushed my insecurities out of the way, just enough to be able to push the “publish” button on my blog site. And so, on March 21, 2013, my first blog entry, “She’s Going to College” was released into the blogosphere.

It was both liberating and terrifying.

A year later, it still is. I sweat every time I push that publish button.

And yet, 60-some posts later, I continue to learn and grow with each word I write and every post I publish. I have learned that blogging, and the connections that have arisen from being honest about my life as a mom have enriched my life tremendously, and most notably, have helped me through one of the hardest parental transitions I've experienced—sending my first born away to college. As tears fell on my keyboard while writing about the pain and excitement I felt during this time, little did I know that I would find so much comfort in reading and hearing the heartfelt comments left on my Facebook page, blog or shared with me in person.  I also loved being able to share my recent "life altering" trip to Peru with you and was extremely moved by your words of support and kindness.

I am grateful and honored to be able to share pieces of my life with my readers and appreciate that my blog has served as a vehicle for bringing me closer to you in a way that may not have ever happened otherwise. Recently, my cousin, who lives out of state and I have not seen or spoken to in years, sent me an email asking if we could get our extended family together during her visit to MN. Her thoughtful words reminded me why I blog, “It is so great getting to know you through your blogs.  I feel that we actually have a lot in common underneath my first impressions of you and your family as ‘perfect.’ I am really looking forward to spending a little time with you and your perfectly imperfect family.  Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about parenting.”

Being able to convey the message that we can all safely ditch any notion of striving to be the perfect family or the perfect mom; that we all experience strength and struggle every day in our efforts to be a good parent, spouse, friend and person; and most importantly, that even on really tough days when we feel like we are doing NOTHING right (like how I just yelled at my son yesterday, after recently professing in a blog post that I had adapted a new approach to anger), we are not alone in this imperfect journey.

I have also learned that I am also not alone in my blogging journey, even though it can feel that way sometimes. I am still trying to understand all the  behind the scenes blog minutiae, like how to not obsess over wordpress analytics, which tallies the number of people visiting my blog every day, every month, every year; how not to compare myself to other bloggers; to realize that there is a way (yes, Amy Z) to make a few bucks doing this; to be a little less emotional when I send pieces to publications, and editors either accept them (yay!) or reject them (ouch! which is often followed by devastation and then the desire to chuck my computer into a nearby lake!). Managing the business of blogging requires assistance, and I have been incredibly fortunate in finding local writer friend, turned to “real friend” Nina Badzin. Nina has literally walked me through the entire blogging and social media world, introduced me to everyone she thought would be helpful for me to know, celebrated my blogging and writing victories (no matter how small) and has helped keep my lap top from ending up at the bottom of one of our 10,000 after every rejection letter.

And there are others: Stephanie Sprenger and Jessica Smock, authors of the Her Stories Project book, which has been truly an honor to be a part of,, and Galit Breen, Pilar Gerasimo and Kate Hopper who have been instrumental in helping me fine tune my writing and stay focused on my goals. And for all the other writers and bloggers who I have met through the blogosphere over this past year (Lee Wolfe Blum, Mary Dell HarringtonJen Stephens, Kerstin March,  Jessica Halepis, Vikki Reich, Emily Mitty Cappo, Jenny MaxeyTracy Morrison, Vicky Willenberg, Lisa Barr, Cindy Moy and Annie Fox to name a few), I am truly grateful and inspired by all of  you. And to those of you who have shared my work on your wonderful sites, I thank you as well.

I am also grateful to my husband who has supported me in this journey that is certainly not paying many (okay, any) bills and often takes me away from being present with him. And to my kids, who have given me permission to share pieces of them through my writing, and it goes without saying that Unscripted Mom would not exist without them. And to all of my close family members and friends, who were so kind to read, share and comment on my posts before anyone else even knew about my blog (and even when the posts weren’t that good); and they have yet to tire of me asking them to take a "quick look" at a piece before I post it or send it to an editor.

One year ago, I semi-subscribed to the notion that blogging is just a fancy term for public journaling, and maybe there is some truth to that. But my blog has allowed me to connect with readers in an authentic way, and has provided the space for you to share  your insights with me as well, which is truly what makes my writing worthwhile and meaningful.

I am not quite sure where my blogging/writing journey will take me in this next year. My book that I “finished” in December is back on the editing table, but will be out by the time my son graduates next year…or else! I also am excited about contributing regularly to Your Teen Magazine and TC Jewfolk.

But for now, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your support, for opening your hearts to my writing and for journeying through the unchartered waters of parenthood with me. If you would like to help celebrate Unscripted Mom’s first birthday, you can do so by “liking” Unscriptedmom’s Facebook page (if you have not already done so). That would be icing on the cake!

The Power of Sisterly Love

DaughtersThis past weekend, I took my 9-year-old daughter to visit her 19-year-old sister at college for the first time. Soph was initially hesitant about having us because it was St. Patrick’s day weekend, which meant there would be lots of not-to-miss festivities­—not appropriate for her mom and 3rd grade sister to attend. But this was the weekend that worked for us and I assured her that we would retire early and she could have her nights out with her friends. As our arrival date got closer, I could tell that Soph was truly looking forward to spending time with us. As hard as it is for college freshman to admit that they are sometimes lonesome, the truth is, they are…and then they’re not. But my motherly instinct told me that since Soph had chosen to go away with friends instead of coming home for her spring break, the time lapse between winter break and the end of her first year of college would be too long of a stretch to go without seeing each other (and I certainly knew it was too long for me).

I couldn’t wait to see my girl, my young adult, who made the transition to college look relatively seamless (which was not the case for me when she left for college). In addition to the joy I felt in seeing her, something took me by surprise during our weekend visit. It began the moment we walked in to the lobby where Soph was waiting for us. Soph looked at me and smiled big, and then I saw fireworks explode in her eyes as she laid eyes upon her “baby” sister. My two girls made an immediate B-line for each other and Jo literally leapt into her big sister’s open arms. They hugged each other tightly, for quite some time, and I could feel the connective, sisterly energy surge between them.

Sophie has been more than a big sister to Jo. She has nurtured her younger sister with the love and tenderness of a mother figure. Their ten-year age gap took the elements of  jealousy and competition, so common amongst siblings, out of their relationship. Soph was secure with herself when Jo was born, and secure in her relationships with her parents and her brothers. Jo was a huge bonus to Soph—the sister she always wanted, her dream come true.

I watched how proud and happy Soph was when introducing her sister to all of her friends. “Oh my gosh, you guys look exactly alike,” her friends said, as they swooned over Jo. My girls both smiled.

After an entertaining dinner with Soph and some of her friends (of course I had to ask them to share “Sophie stories"), we headed back to her dorm. Talk of a sleepover began. As my girls tried to convince me to let Jo sleep with Soph in her dorm room, I have to admit, I felt a bit left out. But then it hit me. Soph chose not to head out with all her friends on the Friday night of St. Patty’s weekend, and was excited about sleeping next to her 9-year-old sister in her twin bed, in her cramped dorm room. (They declined my offer of spending the night with me in a nice, clean hotel room with two queen-sized beds).

As I walked out to my car to head to the hotel by myself, I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude for my daughters; for my relationship with each of them, the relationship that the three of us share, and  the relationship between the two of them. I felt comfort in knowing that Jo will have Soph as a strong and solid role model to help guide and support her throughout her life, and that they will have each other long after I am gone.

All of my concerns about whether or not my daughters would be able to have a close relationship because of their age difference melted away. It became clear that the strength of their sisterly bond is not measured by the years or the distance that divides them, but the strength of their love and their commitment to each other.

Once a Parent, Always a Caretaker

My dad, mom and me

Upon walking into Temple Israel to volunteer at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service Healthy Youth-Healthy Communities Annual Conference in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, I ran into to JFCS’s Executive Director, Judy Halper, and we began talking about different aspects of parenting. We landed on the subject of parenting as a form of caretaking and she explained how the cycle of caretaking continues for the rest of your life. “I went straight from caring for my children to caring for my parents,” Judy explained. “It’s a continuation of the caretaking role. And you are never done caring for your children.”

Agreed. I am most definitely not done parenting my college freshman daughter. Through texts, facetime and phone calls, I am still advising her on her finances, relationships, class schedules, health concerns, and keep an up-to-date pulse on her overall wellbeing.  I make myself available to listen to her and try to figure out the difference between what she really needs from me and what she wants, and how to best support her from afar. The out-of-sight-out-of-mind theory does not apply to mothers and their children. My daughter is in my thoughts every day. When she has a bad day, my heart feels the same kind of ache it did when she had a bad day at home, and sometimes it’s more difficult because I can’t hug her or look into her eyes to see what she is not telling me over the phone. However, it has been a tremendous growing experience for both of us to learn that she is very resilient and highly capable of taking care of herself on her own—thank goodness.

As for my parents, I have difficult time imagining them any different than the young, hip, active couple that they have been throughout my life. I am grateful every day that they are healthy, thriving and completely self-sufficient (I actually feel like they run circles around me sometimes).  I do, however, have many friends who are in caretaking roles with their parents while raising kids in their home, and I see how very difficult it can be.

A close friend of mine, who has two teenagers, has been caretaking for her parents since she was 15 (her mom is legally blind and her dad has hearing issues with his hearing). When explaining how she manages parenting her children and simultaneously  caring for her parents, she says it is an ongoing challenge, “It is a lot about balancing the different worries and balancing the needs of both. I want my kids to be safe and supervised, and I want to be present for their teenage challenges; and yet the worry about my parents is more anxiety-fueled. I worry about them waking up every morning, about them driving, falling, managing their meds, and their ability to care for themselves and each other.”

On the flip side, my friend reveals that as tough as this juggling act can be, there are also rewards in this two-fold caregiving process, “Caring for my parents has provided a wonderful example for my kids. In seeing me take care of my mom and dad, my kids have developed a sensitivity for my parents, and demonstrate their caring nature toward them and toward me. As I age, I realize and appreciate how my much parents have done for me and I am grateful that I can care for them in the way that no outsider could.”

I witnessed my husband care for his father in this way as he fought a five-year battle with pancreatic cancer for longer than we all thought possible. As challenging as it was for my husband to balance his responsibilities to his immediate family and work, with his quest to care for his father, he demonstrated that it is possible to make it work. Just as we feel the need to care for our children, most of us also feel a desire or duty to care for, or at least coordinate care for our parents when they lose the ability to care for themselves.

For now, I appreciate the fact that my parents are strong and independent, and that our relationship is still focused on spending quality together and having fun. I am embracing these times because I do know they can’t last forever, and if and when my parents need me to care for them,  as will always be the case with my children, I will be there.

A Life-Changing Mission to Peru—Smile Network Working its Magic

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As I look back at my last post about preparing for my trip to Peru, I notice that much of my focus was about the anxiety I felt in leaving my family for nearly two weeks. I am extremely grateful to have returned home safely and to realize that most of my nervousness about leaving was, of course, completely unnecessary. My kids didn’t miss a beat in my absence, and my experience in Peru was everything I hoped for and more, impacting the deepest parts of my soul.

No one can prepare you for how you are going to feel when you are immersed in a place where you see so clearly the fragility of life, and yet see how incredibly strong the power of love is. A place where you feel that you are making a difference and yet there is so much more you want to do to help.

I was immersed in a world so far from my own. A world in which, despite my Rosetta Stone lessons, I struggled to communicate with the Spanish-speaking Peruvians. And yet, through my broken Spanish and their broken English, we often found that we could understand one another. I was in awe of how most of the Peruvians I met lived with so little, and yet they did not complain.

Many of the “life-altering” aspects of my journey are buried deep in my heart, however, I am going to try to give you a glimpse of how the Smile Network mission prompted me to access parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed. Thus, this blog post is longer than most, as I attempt to make some sense of, to process and to share with you some of the ways in which this experience has enriched my life and has significantly opened my heart and mind.

The Universal Language of Mothers=Love

Sixty-plus mothers (and several fathers) arrived with their children at the Children’s Hospital in Lima last week. Perhaps they had seen a flyer, or were informed by a doctor or friend that Smile Network International was to arrive at the Children’s Hospital in Lima on Feb. 1st. Some traveled for days by bus, with little or no money to support themselves. One mom explained that she had been staying in Lima with relatives for two weeks because she did not want to miss the opportunity for her child to have surgery.

On intake day, Nan and Dawn (friends who accompanied me on the mission) and I handled medical records, and gave each patient and their parent/s a number. At the end of the long day, the doctors (two plastic surgeons from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and one from Cook Children’s Hospital in Texas, along with two residents from Mayo, and the chief of plastic surgery at the Lima Children’s Hospital) provided Gina, our mission coordinator and Kim Valentini, founder of Smile Network, the surgery schedule for the week. In turn, Gina and Kim, (with the help of the mission’s co-lead, Peruvian born, Ronnie, and Mira, another translator) alerted the families of their child’s surgery date and time,.

In the days that followed, however, we would soon realize that schedule changes were more the norm than the exception. Variables that were out of our control like prolonged surgeries and striking hospital workers (which occurred two of the 6 days we were there) made it nearly impossible to stick to the original schedule. The schedule changes were agonizing to some of the patients and their families (and the volunteers felt their pain as well).

Mothers and their children waited at the hospital from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., with no comfortable place to sit, no air conditioning (temps in the 80s) and no toilet paper in the bathrooms, in hopes that their child would be called for surgery. And most of them were...eventually. The patients, ranging in age from 2 months to 10 years, needed to fast for 12 hours before surgery, and their cries of hunger could be heard well beyond the 3rd floor, where dozens of families crowded together to wait, and to hope.

Eight-year-old Lisbeth, was scheduled for a palette surgery on Monday (surgery day 1). After fasting all day, she was sent home Monday evening because the doctors were held up in another surgery. Volunteers assured her that her surgery would be on Tuesday and to come back the next morning fasting. When our mission coordinator had to break the news to her Tuesday evening that she would not have the operation that day either, she dropped her head into her hands, and said, “Oh my G-d.” Most of the volunteers cried with her and her devoted mother.

By Wednesday afternoon, Lisbeth was finally called for surgery. The nurses placed her on the gurney and led her to the elevator that would take her up to the operating room floor. Her mother looked at me with pleading eyes and motioned with a head tilt that said, “Please go with her.” I bolted up to the 7th floor and made it in time to meet Lisbeth at the elevator. Her eyes were filled with fear. All the waiting and the anticipation, and now the time had come for her to have her second operation to close her cleft palette. (Even when palette surgery is performed once, as patients grow, their palettes can open again, and a subsequent surgery can be necessary. Smile Network did not perform Lisbeth’s first surgery.)

Closing her palette meant that food and liquid would not pour out of her nose when she ate and drank, and that her speech would become more understandable.

I stayed with her as she waited in the hall outside the operating rooms. I hugged her and held her hand as tears dripped down her face, and tried to tell her in my broken Spanish that she was going to be okay. As the nurses rolled her into OR #2, my hand stayed connected to hers. I could sense her fear growing as she took in the machines, sharp instruments and needles present in the operating room. “Mama,” she cried, and I squeezed her hand tighter. I could no longer stop my own tears as I looked at her and thought of my youngest daughter, about the same age as Lisbeth. Despite her attempts to fight him off, the anesthesiologist secured the mask over her mouth. As she breathed in the sedating gas, she soon fell into a deep sleep. It was time for me to let go of her hand so I could step out into the hall and regain my composure.

“This is my girl,” I said to the doctor as he whisked past me to enter the operating room. “Take good care of her.” He nodded.

Lizbeth’s surgery was successful.

Fabriano is a beautiful 5-year-old boy who had a severe cleft palette. His mother is a single mother whose deep love for and devotion to her son is transparent. Fabriano’s surgery was extremely complicated and our amazing team of doctors worked for more than five hours to close up the gaping hole in his palette. Fabriano did not fair well after the surgery and needed to remain on a ventilator. There were no available rooms in the ICU and so for two days, Fabriano remained in the OR, because it held the only available ventilator. This meant that his mother was not allowed to see him. Our mission photographer took pictures of Fabriano to show his mother, which brought her some comfort. On day three, an ICU room opened up and the last I heard, Fabriano was improving, and that he is going to be okay.

Fabriano and his mother are continually in my prayers.

There is a story for each of the patients that Smile Network treated throughout the week, and I experienced many more “world stands still” moments. As I banded and gowned patients, rocked crying babies, played with older children waiting for surgery, distributed, toys, blankets and care kits that were donated to Smile Network, visited with other (non-Smile Network) patients on the ward (some whom have been there or will be there for months for various surgeries, recoveries and/or treatments), comforted mothers, chatted with fathers, fed and held babies after surgery, observed cleft lip and palette surgeries and transported messages from the OR to anxious mothers, and witnessed the elation and relief of mothers seeing their baby’s transformed smile for the first time after surgery, my heart was continually bursting with love and compassion for the patients and their families.

 With Love, There is Sometimes Pain

There is an inevitable and unavoidable sadness that occurs when spending a week at a children’s hospital. Sadness in witnessing the sheer anguish of parents who had just received the news that their 4-year-old son did not make it through the brain surgery performed by Peruvian surgeons in an OR adjacent to the designated Smile Network’s operating rooms. My heart continues to ache for these parents. I can still see their faces.

Sadness in seeing the haunted, blank stare of a 16-year-old girl holding her 2-month-old baby after he was unable to undergo the cleft lip and palette surgery because the anesthesiologists could not stabilize him under sedation. And then later, when I saw her eyes filled with tears as she tried to console her crying baby and asked her if she had eaten all day, if she had any money, or if anyone was coming to the hospital to see her and her baby. Her answer to all three questions was a simple, empty, “no.” I gave her a sandwich, and put some cash in her hand, and hugged her—a child, all alone, with a two-month-old baby to care for.

I wanted to tell her it was going to be okay but I couldn’t.

Pivotal Moments

As I zigzagged between the sadness of some mothers and the elation of others, I tried to keep my own feelings in check. I was grateful that I could offer a smile, a hug or my arms to hold a baby. I loved to hear a mother’s sigh of relief and see her eyes fill up with tears of happiness when I delivered the messages from the OR. “I saw your baby. He’s doing great. The doctors said that the surgery is going really well. It won’t be much longer.”

I am grateful that I was able to be a part of an incredible team of doctors, residents, translators, a doctors' assistant, and a photographer who, in following Kim’s lead, volunteered their time, expertise and their hearts to practiced Tikun Olam (repairing the world) and reshape the lives of those helped at the Children’s Hospital in Lima.

I love knowing that each one of the families will walk away from the hospital, not only with a child whose smile is hopefully brighter, but also with the notion that there are people in this world who care about them deeply, and are willing to provide help. Kim Valentini formed the Smile Network from a place of love and compassion. Her daughter, when once asked if it was hard for her to have her mom gone so much simply stated, “If my mom isn’t taking care of these people, I don’t know who would.”

And the people who Kim touches with her work feel her commitment to them. The love and appreciation expressed by the Peruvian children and the families we served was immense. Parents and grandparents brought hand made gifts and small bottles of wine to the volunteers. They told us through their tears that they understood how much we are doing for them and that are eternally grateful.

What these people probably do not realize, however, is what a tremendous impact they have had on me; how grateful I am for the way they shared their love and trust with me; and that they have expanded my heart in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

As I said my emotional goodbyes to my new amigos in Peru, I hugged each one and told them, “Yo no te olvidaré.”

I will never forget you.

College Winter Break—Confirmation of Why Your Adult Child No Longer Lives at Home

1504471_10202962690419318_1604224103_o This is going to sound very unlike me since it was only four months ago that I wept for weeks (ok, more like a month) after saying goodbye to my college freshman. However, I need to be honest here. Yes, I am crazy about my daughter, but now after a five-week winter break (during which we did get to escape from the tundra for a week), I understand with great clarity that when a child reaches 18 or 19 years old, it is time for them to fly the coop. And when they come home for an extended period of time, it can be tricky.

“January can be the longest month with college kids at home,” Lisa Endlich Hefferman and Mary Dell Harrington of Grown and Flown explained to me as I reached out to them in an attempt to normalize my feelings about this drawn out and somewhat confusing transitional period. “You'll gradually establish a new mother-daughter relationship but it can be challenging, as you must already know,” they revealed.

As much as I loved having my daughter home, there was an inevitable shift that occurred—that has been occurring since she left—a shift for her, for me and for the rest of our family. The five of us have adjusted to the lowered barometric pressure in our house.

Exhale.

Thankfully, my daughter also has adjusted easily and happily to the non-stop hustle and bustle of dorm and college life, where she is in charge of what she does, whom she is with and the choices she makes.  There is no “all-knowing parent” watching over her shoulder, monitoring and commenting on her movements, and again, thankfully, she is managing her academic and social life really well.

However, when she comes home, she (like most of the college-age kids whose mothers I speak with) expects to be able to exercise these same freedoms.

There is a slight problem with this.

It doesn’t work.

There have to be limits and rules and curfews even though “you don’t know what time I get back to my dorm room when I am at school…you don’t know where I am and who I am with every minute of the day or night...I manage myself just fine! Why can’t you just TRUST ME?!”

The issue is not about trust. I do trust my daughter. But in order for us parents to maintain our sanity and a feeling of order in our homes, we need our children (including our adult children who now spend the majority of their time away at college) to respect our house rules, even if they don’t like them.

This is about our children respecting their parents, and not allowing our college kids to hold us hostage and worry us sick as they assert their incessant desire for autonomy.

I am grateful that my daughter is enjoying the freedom she has as a college student and that she is figuring out how to be a responsible, self-sufficient adult. That’s what we all hope for. But when your adult child comes home with this newly developed sense of independence, there is an interesting dynamic that comes into play between your adult child and you—one that I wasn’t completely prepared for (although many of my friends with older kids tried to warn me).

As stressful and uncomfortable as this transition can be,  Mary Dell and Lisa are right, there is joy in the “new normal.”

"I am so happy to be back here, mom,”  my daughter told me today, her first day back at school. And her statement wasn’t a “I am better off without you” message to me. It was an honest declaration of where she is at in her life. She is happy as a college student—living away from home, forging her own path. And I am truly happy for her, and happy for our newly developing relationship.

Friday Faves! Remember When...

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 4.24.16 PMThis week’s Friday Faves does borrow from my one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen AGAIN, but also includes some of my own commentary from Book #1.

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!

The Struggle to Protect Sacred Family Time

The family vacation begins! 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.

A Life Remembered And A Dream Fulfilled

margie 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:

1) 47.

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.

2) Writing.

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.

Gratitude.

“Who Do You Think You Are?!” Sibling Rivalry and the Use of the Shame Stick

Flickr/David Goehring “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.