Love

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...

Rounding the Bend To 2016—Year of Book Release and Turning 50

As I celebrated turning 49 a few weeks ago and my 2016 resolutions are set and in motion (1: better time management and 2: better cooking), I found it interesting to look at my last year’s birthday post, and reflect on the changes that have occurred. Many of the milestones I talked about in future terms like leaving my oldest son in California for his college freshman year; my oldest daughter turning 21, my husband turning 50, my youngest daughter starting middle school; and attending my 30-year high school reunion, all happened. And I “wrote” a piece about each one—all of the details, how I felt, and what I learned. Some of these made it into my journals, my journalssome onto my blog, but most remained in the form of swirling sentences in my head, either because I needed to push those sentences aside to keep my focus on finalizing The Self-Care Solution, or because publishing those stories would infringe on my children’s privacy. But each one of them caused me to pause, reflect, appreciate, and ponder, usually only for brief moments—on my yoga mat, on a walk, or in a conversation with a friend. Because life moves forward, even when we want it to slow down just a bit so we can savor certain moments a little longer. Two notable 2015 moments when I did slow down to reflect and ponder turned into pivotal milestones for me personally and professionally. Lunch with a friend evolved into revealing the details of my teenage battle with an eating disorder on Jordana Green’s radio show, which gave me a small dose of what it feels like to be extremely vulnerable (terrifying) in an effort to try to help others (highly rewarding). These mixed feeling are ones that I will be continually grappling with in 2016 with the release of my book, and so I was grateful to Jordana for her encouragement, and for allowing me to share my story. And I am also grateful for so many amazing people in my life (you--friends, family, blog readers) who were so incredibly positive and supportive of me doing so. Thank you!

Another 2015 lunchtime casual conversation turned game-changer was with my dear friend Nina Badzin. The development and formulation of The Twin Cities Writing Studio has been true highlight. We have been blown away by the incredible women who have gathered around the table with us to write, learn, reflect, support, and inspire one another. It is truly an honor to be doing this work, and Nina and I are excited to introduce some new programs for 2016 that will engage more Twin Citians who want to put pen to paper—aka “writers”—(stay tuned). Thrilled to be starting our winter session this week!

The central 2015 milestone, of course, has been the completion The Self-Care Solution. And while achieving this life-long dream of writing a book feels incredible, what has surprised me the most is the deep sense of responsibility I feel to continue this ever-so-important discussion on motherhood and self-care. In other words, this book is only the beginning!  It is essential to me that I help as many mothers as possible understand that self-care is your life-saving and life-enhancing apparatus as you ride the inevitable, unpredictable, beautiful, and agonizing waves of motherhood.

“The only way that a mother can truly be present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with her child is if she is present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with herself. And the only way she can be connected with herself is if she does what she needs to do to care for herself in an honest and meaningful manner. This is the true essence of self-care for mothers.” –The Self-Care Solution

There is a certain irony that the year that book is released is the year that that I (g-d-willing) hit a half century. Life chapters are concluding and new ones are being written, and the pages keep turning. And sometimes I am deeply afraid—afraid of getting older, afraid of losing...youth, loved ones, time on this earth (more on my feelings about aging in another post...). But there is much to look forward to, including moving into a completely unknown territory with the release of my book. I will move from talking about writing and releasing the book to actually having people read it and formulate opinions about it. And this scares me too. But in the words of Brene' Brown, "Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time." So, I will dare greatly, commit to staring down my fears, and allow myself to feel excited about what is in store for this monumental year.

facing fear

 

A few of the 2016 highlights that are already in motion are: unscriptedmom.com soon will become juliebburton.com; several fun book launch events will happen in the spring (more details to follow and I hope you will come!), and believe it or not, I have already started outlining my next book (gulp).

 

So yes, rounding the bend from 2015 to 2016 feels like a big turn.

rounding the bend to 50 in 2016

 

But I continue to draw from my past experiences, and other life changes, challenges, and turning points that I've pushed through and grown from (like hiking the 13,000 feet to reach the top of Pikes Peak in 2009). I continue to find gratitude in all the twists and turns that life has to offer, and to remind myself of Ben Franklin’s simple yet profound message about embracing transitions: "When you're finished changing, you're finished.”

So, here we are 2016—bring on the changes!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016 filled with lots of self-care and exciting changes! I am grateful to be on this journey with you!

(Ready to make 2016 a year of taking good care of yourself physically, emotionally and relationally? Start by pre-ordering The Self-Care Solution--A Modern Mother's Essential Guide to Health and Well-Being!)

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.

The Start of Letting My Son Go

my son's game faceI 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 goodbyetwice

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.

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.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Being a Parent of an Athlete

my kid playing baseballI wrote a "slice of life" piece about my son's baseball game last week but felt that it was important to include some personal background to give you some context for the story: Growing up, I was a competitive gymnast, tennis player and golfer. I had a driving force that would send me to the gym, tennis court and driving range for hours on end (Too many injuries pulled me out of gymnastics and I fizzled out of tennis because I simply wasn’t good enough). Over time, when I hit a rough spot during my teenage years, my internal drive was still strong but it had shifted. I was motivated more by negative forces than positive ones, and my self talk often sounded like this, “If you don’t win, you are worthless, a nothing. Work harder and whatever you do, DON'T FAIL.”

Surprise, surprise, those messages, which pounded in my head for years, would ultimately destroy my ability and motivation to compete. I never developed the essential coping mechanisms for dealing with failure that all successful athletes must cultivate for times when they are in a slump, they lose a game or a match, or are not performing at the level to which they are accustomed. My lack of resiliency would explain why after shooting a terrible first round in the state high school golf tournament my junior year, followed by an equally terrible second round, I refused to pick up a golf club for decades.

Which brings me to today. I have now have a son who is a competitive baseball player, and anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that it is game of failure. The best of the best pro baseball players hit the ball three out of every ten times, and the scoreboard has an actual spot that highlights the number of ERRORS the players make (not fouls, like in basketball, but errors-as in how many times you totally screw up). And my son plays two of the most high-pressure positions out there: short stop and pitcher.

I love to watch my son play. But in all honesty, there are times when I think I will explode from the nervous energy that brews within me. As much as I try to push my old demons away, to try and separate my stuff from his, so that I can support him and love him no matter what successes or failures he experiences on the field, there are times when my competitiveness takes some of that joy away. Every single time I find myself feeling stressed or anxious about a game of his, I have to talk myself off the ledge and remind myself that this is my MY fear of failure and MY difficulty in dealing with competition—not his, and that it is crucial that I do not drop my old baggage on him.

I have seen him have moments when he did not deal with failure as well as he wanted to. But watching him work his way through these issues, and find coping and recovery strategies for dealing with failure has provided him with some of his most important life lessons and has been incredibly healing for me.

The Story:

I needed a break. I could tell that my energy wasn’t helping him. My perfectionism, my fear of failure, my feeling that I could some how control the outcome of his baseball game by willing him and his team to succeed. It was time for me to separate myself and let him play his game. He was in a slump, had had a tough game the night before, and I felt that my presence at his game was some how hurting him.

Could that be true? What if it was?

The section tournament game—a game not to miss.  The team wins, they move on; they lose, they are done. “I’m thinking of sitting this one out, hun,” I mentioned to my son the day of the big game, trying to sound casual about it. “It seems like that the games that you played when dad and I were out of town were the best three games of your season. How would you feel if I didn’t come? Do you think it’s less pressure for you if I am not there,” I asked him somewhat tentatively.

“Mom, it doesn’t matter if you are there or not. Do what you want,” he responded, like a typical 17-year-old.

Ok. Got it. But I still felt unsure. How could I really not go? Would the other parents think I am not supporting him? Am I being crazy? My husband said that it is okay either way. “He knows you love him,” David said, trying to ease my tension. And he repeated my son's message, “Do what you need to do,” but added, “It will be okay.”

My youngest daughter and I headed out to the lake and she jumped thrillingly into the hot tub while I sipped a beer and sat on a deck chair allowing the blazing sun to warm my face and offer me some semblance of calmness. I exhaled and felt like I was a million miles away, and that a million pounds had been lifted off my chest. I knew I could support him better from where I sat; that my energy was positive and detached—not in an “I don’t care” kind of way, but in a spirit of letting go and practicing self-care kind of way. It was better for me to not be in the stands riveting with anxiety, and deep down I knew that this was most likely better for him.

But there was that all-too familiar feeling of guilt to reckon with—that frustration with myself and more questioning, ”Why can’t you just go enjoy your son’s game? What kind of mom doesn't go to his son's section baseball game?” Well, I guess this kind of mother, whose 10-year-old daughter splashed in the hot tub, thrilled that she would not be dragged to her millionth baseball game of the season. Thrilled to have time alone with me—a relaxed me (or at least trying to be).

“J just got a hit and drove in a run,” my husband’s text message popped up on my phone and pulled my eyes away from my daughter, and away from my here and now. I smiled and mindfully tried to stay focused on her, chasing the “I SHOULD be there” thoughts away. “Mom, watch me swim laps! Time me,” Jo blared toward me before submerging her entire body under water.

As I a concentrated on my stop watch on my phone, it buzzed again. “They are hitting us like it’s batting practice. We are down 6-2,” my husband revealed. O.k., another big inhale as my mind turned to the seniors who could be playing their last game, and then jumped ahead to next year when my son would be a senior (oh my!). Then my heart became even heavier as I thought of the 8th grader who made the varsity team and whose dad was rapidly losing his 3-year battle with cancer. Would his dad get to see him play another baseball game?

“Mom! How many laps did I swim?! How fast did I swim them? Mom, come on, please get off your phone!” I peeled my eyes away from my hand held device and back to the here and now. Back to my daughter’s youth and innocence—a reminder that despite the fact that life is filled with all different kinds of losses, there is also so much joy. I was reminded that it is okay to sit back sometimes and allow myself to just be, and to take care of myself, and trust that my son knows how very important he is to me, and how much I love and believe in him, no matter where I am or where he is. I hoped that all my children feel this.

"Twenty-five laps in 35 seconds! Best yet,” I shouted loud and proud, as if she had just beaten Michael Phelps’ record (there I go again!).

My phone vibrated. That magical and yet baneful piece of plastic and metal, which has the power to instantly pull me out of the present and split me in two—I’m here but I’m there—which is actually kind of nowhere.  I should just turn it off. Yep, I’m turning it off. I grabbed the phone out of my pocket and positioned my finger on the power button. As I started to press down, I glanced down for a split second as the words flew off the screen and and hit me on the head.

“J hit a home run.”

My eyes filled with tears and my heart began to pound so loudly I was sure my daughter could hear it from under water.

"No way," I managed to type, half wondering if my husband was telling me the truth. My son had never hit a home run.

“Yep, first of his career,” my husband revealed (as if I didn’t know).

My daughter looked at me and asked me what was wrong. “Honey, you need to dry off, we are going for a ride,” I told her, and continued to explain to her about her brother’s milestone and that I just needed to be there when he walked off the field.

As we drove out to catch the last few innings of the game, I felt at peace. I didn’t know if he would have hit his first home run if I had been in the stands that night. But it didn’t really matter. I was truly and completely happy for him. And I was happy that I was able to let go and create some healthy space for myself and for my son.

This was a victory in and of itself.

How a New Book on Childhood Helped Soften the Rough Edges of 17

This is Childhood-bookThis Is 17 It was 2 a.m. on a Tuesday evening and I tried to lay still but my mind spun and heart raced. I was replaying a conversation I had had with my 17-year-old son earlier that evening. It was one of those difficult, reality check, let-me-give-it-to-you straight types of conversations that included messages about the hard edges of life, how there really are no short cuts, that wanting something is usually not enough, that effort is almost always rewarding regardless of the outcome and how when you hit difficulties that seem insurmountable, you have a few choices: you can crumble and quit, or you can do everything in your power to try to help yourself achieve your goals.

Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play. I heard the words leaving my mouth, traveling across my office to reach him where he stood with his arms crossed at the doorway. I saw his eyes pull away from mine and the corners of his mouth turn downward. I knew these words/my words stung him.

Shoot the messenger!

I was overwrought with guilt for feeling like I needed to deliver these messages when I could see how heavily the toll of junior year was weighing on him. And these messages were not new to him. He has not only heard them from his parents but from teachers, coaches, and mentors who have cared about him enough to give him an extra push and some constructive guidance. And, most importantly, he has learned them himself—out there in the real world—succeeding, failing, picking himself up, succeeding, failing, trying again—just like the rest of us. I knew he had been listening and learning...but I told myself that I needed to make sure that he REALLY "got it." But after the words came out and I felt the regret sink in, I asked myself, "What does REALLY "getting" something mean at 17? What does it even mean at 47?"

I went into the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of cereal. Maybe the Wild Berry Clusters and Flakes would take away the pit in my stomach that accompanied the thoughts of, “You really screwed up. You didn’t need to say those things to him. You are putting even more pressure on him. He is going to crack.”

I knew that my intention was to ready him for the sometimes harsh world that periodically hurls daggers of disappointments at us, whether we are ready for them or not. And even though I had made sure to tell him that I have always and will always love and accept him exactly the way his is, I also told him that the world might not always be so kind; that colleges would only know him by his GPA, ACT score, and a 500-word essay. What I wanted to say, but chose to omit because I knew he would immediately roll his eyes and say very clearly, "STOP, MOM," was that the seemingly powerful people who will only know him by a piece of paper and will soon determine his fate (or at least where he is admitted to college) won’t know some very crucial things about him. They won't know that he bear hugs his younger brother every day and helps him with his homework without being asked; that he tells funny stories to his little sister when she has trouble falling asleep; that he drives his siblings to school every day; and that he loves and treats his friends like brothers. But I do know, and so does he.

And this is 17: Mothering him with unwavering love and support, but trying to determine when the unconditional love includes honestly and intentionally delivering messages that will help prepare him for the real world; helping him formulate his future plans while guiding him in the management of his the immensely growing number of current responsibilities and pressures; and slowly and gently turning the reigns of his life over to him as he moves toward exiting his boyhood dependence and responsibly embracing his adulthood independence.

And in the midst of it all, when I least expect it, I find myself staring at him. Wanting to slow down the clock, and maybe even rewind it to revisit a few moments of his childhood where I could hear him say, “Uppy, Mommy” one more time, or see his ear to ear grin when he impressed the whole neighborhood by riding his bike with no training wheels at 20 months, or to feel the warmth of his small, trusting hand clutching mine as I walked him into his first day of preschool. But I can’t because time is flying by at a pace unlike anything I experienced in his early years—before he drove a car, attended school dances, spent the summer in Israel, and began his college search—before he was readying himself to leave his childhood behind.

This is 17.

This Is Childhood

My eyes, damp with tears, veer away from my cereal bowl and fall upon the book that I had just received in the mail. I opened "This is Childhood,” edited by Randi Olin and Marcelle Soviero of Brain, Child Magazine, and was immediately pulled into its wonder and comfort, and into my own memories.

As I read through the 10 essays, each one representing a different age of childhood, 1 through 10, I felt an immediate connection with the writers and their stories, including local writers Nina Badzin (This is Three), Galit Breen (This is Four) and Tracy Morrison (This is Seven). Each essayist gives a unique, realistic and poignantly beautiful portrayal of what that particular age looked and felt like. Within their personal stories lie many universal themes like “three has an almost worrisome obsession with bandages that we parents accept for the speed at which they make tears go away” (Nina Badzin) that unite all mothers and make us nod our heads in unison, “Yep, mine did that too,” or “I felt the exact same way.”

I love this book and my only regret is that I didn’t have it sooner. My baby is 10 and I am already beginning to forget the “time stands still” moments that spill out onto every page of this book. And at the end of each essay, there is a prompt that encourages the reader to take a moment and reflect on what that particular age looked/looks and felt/feels like to them by zeroing in on a specific moment or angle like: “Is your little one more big or more little at age four? Capture the words and the faces, the jokes and the stories that make it so.”

My extremely inconsistent journaling and nearly empty baby books (not even positive that I have one for my 4th child) have left me with only fading memories of these years (wish I had started my blog 19 years ago!). But I think to myself that maybe I will try to resurrect some of these memories and jot them down in my newly treasured book.

But for now, it’s 3 a.m. and the few remaining flakes of my cereal rest soggily at the bottom of my bowl. My tears had dampened many pages of my new book as reading the deeply meaningful essays triggered the release of many sweet memories of my children’s early years; especially, those of my 17-year-old. I am baffled by the passage of time.

In returning to the thoughts about my earlier encounter with my son, I feel more at peace. The book reminded me that I have spent the past 17 years loving and guiding this green-eyed, loving boy who was well on his way to manhood. I knew he was going to be just fine. I knew he trusted me to tell him the truth, even if it stings a little.

But once in a while, it certainly would be nice to be able to revert to the fail-safe, take-the-pain-away-immediately band aide method. Unfortunately, however, this no longer works at 17.

Click here to order your copy of this wonderful book—Enjoy!

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

 

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.

More Caring, Less Fixing—A Key to Enhancing Relationships

More Caring, Less Fixing—A Key to Enhancing Relationships with your Children and Partner I am a fixer. And being a fixer is a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing to be able to edit my children’s writing assignments with confidence, yet it’s a curse when I am unable to just look at their writing as a work of art, which is uniquely theirs, not needing to be fixed. It is a blessing when one of my children comes to me with a problem that needs solving and I can help them process, analyze trouble-shoot until we find a solution. It’s a curse when I see one of my children struggling with an issue, and they insist on NOT needing or wanting my help—not even just a little—and my tongue becomes nearly bloody from trying to bite it.

When I see problems in my relationship with my husband—hello Bob the Builder. The tools come out and I start peeling,  scraping and pounding, “What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us? He needs to change. I need to change. And we have to do all of this changing…right now.” When I see a friend who has a problem, the “I want to help you, I need to help you” voice takes hold, and a fixer-upper project begins. While sometimes my desire to help can be constructive, sometimes it can be hurtful, especially when my friend just wants to heard, not fixed. And with myself, well, that is the biggest, most daunting project of all, as there is a constant stream of “what needs to be fixed” questions flowing through my head.

Wearing a hard hat can come in handy sometimes. It keeps me hyper-aware of all the “work” that needs to be done, within myself and with those around me. I am constantly trying to better myself, take on more projects and challenges, and I am often a good motivator of others to do the same. But given the recent studying and volunteer work I have been doing, I’ve learned that being a fixer can be unnecessarily draining, frustrating and ineffective. Because in reality, being a fixer often means that we start with the premise that people (myself at the top of the list) are broken.

On my recent Smile Network mission, our main purpose was to repair children’s cleft lips and palettes. Of course I loved this because it was a “fixing” mission. What I realized, however, was that even though these children needed their mouths repaired, they were not broken people. Their families loved and cared for them exactly as they were. Parents knew that the surgery would help their child find more acceptance in society, and in some extreme cases, it would save their life. But when I witnessed how the mothers gazed lovingly and adoringly into their child’s eyes; the way they held, protected and comforted their child, I realized that these mothers did not think their child was broken. They were at the hospital to have a doctor fix their child’s lip and palette, not their soul. Because these mothers unconditionally loved their children, and would love them no more or no less once they were “fixed.”

None of us are perfect and we all require some tweaking along the way, but if we start with the belief that we are whole and good, then it would make a lot of sense for me to hang up my tool belt and embrace the imperfections in myself and in others. I'm inspired to trade in my hammer and nails and utilize more love, acceptance and support in my relationships with my spouse, children, friends, family members and myself.

How Spilled Beads Marked My New Approach To Anger

Multi-colored Glass Beads “The angry man should make himself like a deaf person who does not hear, and like a mute person who does not talk. If he must speak, it should be in a low voice and with words of reconciliation. Even if his heart is burning like fire, and his rage flames within him, he is capable of controlling his words.” (by Rabbi Eliezer Papo from his essay entitled "Anger")

This passage, which hit me like a ton of bricks, was part of my assigned reading for a Mussar study group I recently joined (“The goal of Mussar practice is to release the light of holiness that lives within the soul.” - The Mussar Institute). It forced me to reflect on how I often jump to anger when parenting my children, causing me to act from a position of reactivity=weakness, rather than  from a position of proactivity=strength.

As I try to incorporate the Mussar principles into my life and find a more peaceful way to parent, I am committing myself to reducing the amount of time I spend feeling and/or acting angry.

When my teenager talks disrespectfully to me, my former reactive response looked something like this:

a)    Quickly becoming angry, raising my voice, and telling him how disappointed I am in his behavior,

b)    taking his behavior personally,

c)    feeling like I have done something catastrophically wrong in parenting him,

d)    feeling like I must CHANGE him immediately or he is going to disrespect his teachers and coaches, and will  grow up to be a disrespectful adult.

(Note: b, c and d all exacerbate the anger.)

It has taken me only 19 years of parenting to realize that I rarely, if ever, feel good about myself when I slip into the pattern above. Even when I achieved my desired outcome, I felt a certain amount of shame whenever I acted in anger.

As I work to take a much more proactive, positive approach when  facing a potentially upsetting scenario with my children, spouse or anyone I encounter, I need to embrace this idea: Anger is a choice. Perhaps I won't always be able to control the angry feelings that arise within, however,  I can make the choice to not let them control me. I can choose to move away from anger, and toward something more productive.

In reference to the above-mentioned issue with my son, my new “working toward” pattern includes:

a)    an understanding that his behavior is not about me—something could be bothering him (he had a bad day at school, at baseball practice, he lost in fantasy football or is nervous about his upcoming chemistry test).

b)    trusting myself that I have indeed taught him the difference between respectful and disrespectful behavior, and that even with that knowledge, he is going to slip up sometimes.

c)    accepting and loving him for who he is and knowing that he is a good person who is acting negatively at that moment.

d)    talking to him calmly and telling him that I know he probably does not intend to talk to me disrespectfully but his tone sounds that way, and that I would like him to realize how it is unnecessary and inappropriate for him to speak disrespectfully to his mother, and there will be consequences for doing so.

The ultimate test for me is when my peaceful, anger-free approach toward him does not curb his level of disrespect but triggers more. This would be a good time to borrow from the Rabbi and “make myself like a deaf person who does not hear,” or literally walk away in an effort to thwart any rising anger that would cause me to be reactive.

It’s also important to realize that diffusing one’s own anger is the best way for a parent to teach children how to diffuse theirs.

The Beads Spilling Test 

Last week, my 9-year-old daughter was frantically getting ready for school, as she had come downstairs later than our agreed upon time. She hastily put her coat on and in the process knocked over a huge bucket of beads, turning our mudroom floor into a sea of sparkly beads.

All three of my kids stopped in their tracks and six eyes were upon me.

Old pattern:

a)    Yell at Jo, causing her to burst into tears,

b)    make her pick up every last bead and cause all three of my kids to be late for school,

c)    feel terrible for the whole day.

My new reality, which actually surprised me almost as much as it surprised the kids:

a)    I took a deep breath and said, “You guys need to go. You are going to be late. Jo, I know this was an accident. Please come down stairs earlier next time so you don’t have to be in such a hurry. Have a good day, guys!”

b)   I turned away from them and began to pick up the beads.

My kids continued to stare at me for a while longer, checking to see if there would be a delayed outburst. Jo’s eyes turned from panic-stricken to relieved.  “Bye mom,” they called as they walked out of the house to pile in my son’s car. “Love you!”

I literally smiled as I picked up the rest of the beads and said to myself, "This was definitely the better choice. Remember this."

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.

Friday Faves! How Did Becoming a Mother Change You?

  James Jordan/flickr.com

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." ~Elizabeth Stone, author

My research for Book #1 included asking moms the following question: How did becoming a parent change you? The majority of moms I surveyed said that having children changed them in extremely positive ways. The most common response was that they had become less selfish.  Additionally, many mothers reported that they had become more patient, mature, dependable, caring, and less impulsive. They also said they became more understanding and forgiving and less judging. Some mothers also revealed that this process of transitioning from self to selfless was challenging, and that they changed in many ways that they did not anticipate. Here is one quote that I think is reflective of how many moms feel today (at least sometimes):

“My life was no longer my own. I was, and still am, constantly preoccupied. I became a bit of a worrier. And the future suddenly took on tremendous importance. Everything got heavier. I went from being a relatively easy-going, almost passive person, to practically a warrior. I was now IN the fight. The world became a dangerous place. Our current time and culture seems determined to undermine childhood and children. I am compelled to care, and care a great deal. If I didn't have children, I don't think half the stuff going on would upset me as much because I know who I am and how I want to live, and I would be able to do that. But with kids, you have to teach them values, and when your values are not reflected in your culture, you just have to work much harder.” (Mother of two children, ages 9 and 7, married 15 years)

How did becoming a mother change you?

How To Be the Perfect Mother

ScanI gotcha with the title didn’t I? Well, of course it is a bit misleading because we all know that there is no such thing as a perfect mother. However, I feel that in society today, where mothers are so brutally hard on themselves, moms need to realize a crucial component to feeling good about themselves as mothers.  The focus needs to be taken off of striving to be a perfect mom. She does not exist. But mothers need to shift their focus to this idea: You are intrinsically the perfect person to mother your child/ren.  Trust yourself and truly believe that you are the EXACT person your child needs to call “Mom.”

I am not big fan of the word perfect. In fact, it kind of scares me. Because I struggle with perfectionism, I usually shy away from using the word.  But over the years, I  found myself watching “perfect” moms around me. Moms who dressed their kids perfectly (how dare any kid have matching socks every day!), kept their houses in perfect order, and kept themselves impeccably dressed, and in perfect shape, with their nails done, skin glowing and hair shining—AND their kids were perfect too!

I now realize that I was doing that hazardous thing that so many of us women do because we are gluttons for punishment as we continue to compare our imperfect selves with the “perfect” mothers around us. “You are measuring your insides to someone else’s outsides,” a friend of mine said to me when I put myself down in relation to another mom. Even when a mom looks “perfect” on the outside, unless we really get to know her, we have no idea what her real, imperfect self looks or feels like. On the flip side,  some moms are quick to elevate themselves and pass harsh judgments on other moms. “Sally’s son is  really messed up.  Sally must be doing a terrible job mothering him. What’s wrong with her?”

There may be nothing wrong with Sally, or Sally may be battling depression or trying to get out of a toxic relationship with her spouse. Where is the compassion? Remind yourself that Sally is the perfect mother for her child. (And if you are concerned about Sally's well-being, then reach out to her.) In an effort to find our sweet spot as a mother and as a supporter of other mothers, it is essential to turn judgment into compassion, toward yourself and toward the mothers in your life.

On the days when you feel like you have absolutely no idea what you are doing with your child, cannot seem to figure out a way to MAKE HER LISTEN, feel upset and frustrated with yourself and your child, and then (of course!) you look around and convince yourself that every other mom knows exactly what she is doing with her child/ren, remind yourself:

You are indeed the right person for the job because...

There is no other person in the world who:

  • loves your child the way you do.
  • understands your child the way you do.
  • feels your child’s pain like you do.
  • would die for your child like you would.
  • becomes filled with nearly-lethal rage the way you do when someone wrongs your child.
  • would allow her buttons to be repeatedly pushed by your child the way you do.
  • loves and accepts your child without conditions like you do.

You truly are the perfect mother for your child.

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!

Friday Faves! Lessons From One of My Favorite Writers

4 kidsI am obsessed with Anna Quindlen. I love how she thinks and I love how she writes. I have many favorite quotes from her but this Friday I would like to share this particular one that tops my list and one that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind: Anna Quindlen reveals her wisdom of hindsight in her essay “On Being a Mom:”

“…the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less. Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.”

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.

Escape the Cold by Filling Out Summer Camp Forms!

40406_1533996240929_3885765_n As a Minnesotan, December is the month when our landscape turns into a nasty frozen tundra, and it is difficult to savor the memories of the past summer or to believe that we will EVER be relieved of our constant state of FROZEN. But, of course, even though we sometimes have to wait until May, the thaw does come.  My most notable December reminder of the warm hope of summer is delivered by envelopes and emails containing none other than…summer camp forms.

As much as I dread filling them out, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for all that summer camp means to our family. All four of our kids were/are AVID summer campers (and our oldest is now an AVID summer camp counselor). To say that they love camp is an understatement. They deeply CRAVE it. My husband and I have always understood the value of summer camp, and the value of sending kids away, in general, to allow them to forge new experiences on their own, and to grow and develop their sense of self, separate from mom and dad. I knew that summer camp and the relationships developed there, helped my daughter escape the stresses of school and some tough years she had socially; and that my son was able to feel whole again after he experienced several months of being bullied at school. My older son’s love for camp prompted him to attend a high school program in Israel last summer with several of his camp friends. And my youngest daughter, who was hesitant to go away to camp last summer, as a more quiet and somewhat shy 9-year-old, came back after her two weeks away, with a renewed confidence and a less fearful outlook on life.

It would take me pages upon pages to reflect on the countless ways that my kids’ (and my husband and my) lives have been profoundly impacted by their/our overnight summer camp experiences. I thought it would be even more beneficial for you to read some of my daughter’s impressions on how summer camp was pivotal in shaping her into the young woman she is today. She gave me her permission to share a portion of an essay she wrote for a college English class on the importance of allowing and encouraging kids to spend some time away from home during their formative years (referred to as mobility).

“In reflecting upon one’s childhood, it is difficult, if not impossible, to uncover a specific defining moment in which one transitions from a child to an adult. If adulthood is defined by reaching a certain age, then perhaps one could say that it is the moment when one turns eighteen. Yet, adulthood seems to be a much more complex concept than something that is marked by the celebration of one birthday. Although I am confident that I am not done developing, and at nineteen years old I still have much to learn, I can identify one specific experience that played a key role in my evolution from youth to a higher level of maturity.

When I hopped on that coach bus headed for Eagle River, Wisconsin, at eight years old, I had no idea what was in store for me. I was eager to make new friends, be independent, and connect to my faith, but I had no idea that this journey I was making on my own would be so crucial in my development. Over my 11 summers away from home at Camp Interlaken as a camper, then counselor, I learned so many things that a summer at home with my family just could not teach me. I learned how amazing it feels to truly be yourself; to be in a position of leadership, to make a camper’s day, to shower in the presence of unknown scary insects (not so amazing, but certainly eye opening), and all of these experiences helped me to become a less sheltered, and more grown up version of myself.

Had I not taken the leap, and stayed in the comfort of my home that fateful first summer, so many aspects of my personality that I feel proud of today, would never have been developed.

What is the value of sending kids away? There were always some moms who sneered at my mother when she told them she sent me to camp for a month at ten years old, questioning her true love and devotion to me. I, however, believe in the wisdom of the age-old statement, “if you love something, set it free.” While it is difficult to send children away, out of fear of something happening to them, or fear of missing them too much, it is so important for children to have experiences on their own because of the fundamental development that results.

It was the second night of camp, and Sarah was still crying. She was having a tough time adjusting: she missed her parents, she hated the food, the small beds and just wanted to go home. As the days passed, Sarah slowly came out of her shell, and quickly became one of my best friends. Had Sarah not stuck it out, it is doubtful that she would have developed the amazing self confidence that encouraged her to pursue her cross country career, which led her to be recruited to run here at this college!

Mobility can do amazing things, especially in our formative years. When we, as children, adolescents, teens, and even young adults, are away from home, and are surrounded by people who hold no preconceived ideas about who we are, we can be whomever we want. We can be fearless, outspoken, mean, rebellious, genuine, greedy, smart, kind—it is up to us. Sometimes these newfound personalities will stick, and sometimes not, but being away affords us the opportunity to try them out, and create our own hybrid of personalities that we want to define us.”

I think that about covers it…So, if you are considering sleep-away camp for your child, but are maybe a little hesitant, I would encourage you to go ahead and start filling out the forms. I highly doubt you or your child will regret it.

If you have stories to share about how you and/or your child/ren have been impacted by overnight camp, I would love to hear them!