children

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...

Why I Am Grateful For Slime

Slime by Jo

Slime by Jo

Let’s check over here,” I motion to my 12-year-old daughter to follow me to the cosmetics isle. This is our fourth trip to Target in the last few weeks for the sole purpose of buying supplies for the new obsession gripping tweens all over the country—SLIME.

The current desired ingredient is a new one. “Baby powder is supposed to make the slime softer and less sticky,” my daughter, now an expert slime chemist, explains to me.  She also assures me that she will be able to pay back the money we’ve spent on supplies with the money she collects from her fellow classmates (most of whom are also in the slime manufacturing and sales business) in exchange for her magnificently mastered mixture of shaving cream, glue, contact solution, and now baby powder.

Shampoo, body wash, lotions…I am not seeing the baby powder anywhere. My agitation rises as I curse myself for being sweet talked into this inconvenient trek to Target on a night when my son needs help with an assignment, my husband is at a work dinner, and I have to teach my teen writing class in an hour.  I calm myself with the notion that at least this obsession, unlike other bygones like silly bands, does involve a creative process when mixing, measuring, and experimenting to form the germ-collecting balls of goo.

“Hi!” I find myself almost yelling to the young, exhausted-looking woman standing behind the nearby pharmacy counter.  “Can you please tell me where the baby powder is?”

Before I even let the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-lady look on her face throw me into a shame pit, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her briskly out of the pharmacy area murmuring, “Oh my gosh, never mind.”

We both erupted in giggles as we headed over to the “baby” isle for the elusive “baby” powder.

My internal Target compass paused as we pass the girls section, our usual go-to area. “The baby section is over by electronics, I am pretty sure,” I muttered, still smiling at the irony.

And then it hit me.

The baby aisle had completely fallen off of my radar.

I could not recall the last time I had even gone near the avenue of pacifiers, diaper genies, bottles and diapers. As I walked toward baby land with my baby, disguised as a 12-year-old, I realized that I no longer knew the layout of this section that for decades I was able to navigate with my eyes closed. I didn’t even recognize some of the items on the shelf.

How could this be? This was MY territory! And now, I had forgotten it even existed!

“Mom, here, I found it,” my daughter’s sweet voice lulled me out of my trance. “Let’s go! You’ve got to get to your class,” she reminded me.

I stood motionless, my eyes scanning the baby items stacked neatly on the shelves. “I miss this, “ I said. She tracked my gaze to the shelf full of diapers.

“You miss changing my diapers,” she said coyly with a playful smile on her face.

“No I miss my babies,” I told her with sincerity, ignoring her sarcasm. I miss holding you in my arms, your baby smell, and hugging you and kissing you as much as I want to.”

“Well, I don’t,” she quipped again, her smile growing even bigger. “Ugh!” I groaned and grabbed my belly in reaction to her verbal gut-punch.

Walking to the check out lane, I leaned in to the nostalgia where I saw the baby faces of my four children--their beaming smiles as well as their looks of terror and disappointment. I could hear their shrieks of laughter and their blood curdling cries. I remembered my feelings of joy, agony, exhaustion, uncertainly, and fear that consumed me as a young mom trying to figure out what I was doing. And I remember yearning for the days when I would no longer need anything from the baby isle.

“Beep,” the self-checkout scanner hit the barcode on the bottom of the baby powder cuing me back to the present. My daughter placed the powder in the white plastic bag and started toward the exit.

“Jo, hold up,” I said as I quickly caught up to her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’ve grown up so fast, girl,” I said in earnest. “I love you so much.”

As I prepared for her to immediately shake me off, per usual, instead I felt her body sinking into my hug. “I love you too, mom,” she said softly. “And thanks for taking me to get the baby powder,” she added.

Scurrying through the Minnesota cold toward our car, I felt grateful that our slime mission led me back to the baby isle and for all the memories that I found there. I realized that just like slime, the passage of time often slips through our hands when we are not looking. And without notice, we open our eyes and find ourselves in the next isle at Target.

Driving home, I take in that my youngest child is on the cusp of becoming a teenager but in this moment, she thinks of nothing other than how much baby powder she will add to her slime mixture.

And I am grateful.

Grateful for all of the memories of my children's baby years, and grateful for the fact that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here right now.

Slime and all.

 

 

 

Needing Mom—Then and Now

Needing Mom—Then and Now

To be a mom is to continually manage the fierce mama bear feelings that make us want to sprint to our child’s rescue, kiss away their tears, and band-aid away their pain. How do we know when to act on this instinct? And when to push our internal pause button in order to and give them the space they need to pick themselves back up when they fall and as they get older, lean into other support systems they’ve developed.

We don’t always know. But our hearts will guide us if we really listen.

Three Essential Tools for More Peaceful Parenting

Three Essential Tools for More Peaceful Parenting

In sorting through my research and looking at my own successes and failures as a mom, I identified the top three essential parenting tools that every mother can utilize throughout her parenting journey.

It's Play Time! Thrilled to be a Part of the "28 Days Of Play" Project!

So honored and excited to be a par28 Days of Playt of Rachel Cedar’s 28 Days of Play 2015! In the writing of my piece, it was a true gift to be able to reflect back on the past two decades of play with my four children. I realized how powerful this topic is and how many different angles there were for me to explore when writing about my relationship to play. How I play, why I play, why I don’t play, how technology has changed the nature of play, how I love to play, and yet how I dread it sometimes, how I know how important it is and yet how sometimes I just can’t find it in me are just some of the areas that I found myself lingering. Rachel's exciting, relatable, inspiring, and transformative project has provided mothers a with a platform to share their experiences with other moms who grapple with similar issues surrounding play. The 28 Days of Play 2014 contributors beautifully explored many of the above-mentioned topics and then some, and I can't wait to read the thoughts and insights of the 2015 authors! Again, I am thrilled to be able to share my perspective on play among this group of talented writers and thinkers.

Kick off is Monday, February 2nd! Please join in the fun!

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.

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

to do listTis the season, for me anyway. I find fall to be, by far, the most transformative season: back to school, bracing for the MN winter, celebrating the high holidays, loaded with symbols of starting anew, letting go, forgiving, and looking forward. This fall feels even bigger. It feels huge. It feels loaded with stuff to be grateful for, to celebrate, stuff that involves new beginnings and exciting transitions in my kids’ lives and my life. But when I wake up with a racing heart and mind, and I start and stop writing multiple blog posts because none of them make sense, and I find myself scanning the Target parking lot for my car that I have zero recollection of parking, let alone driving there, I know that I am not embracing this transformative time, but racing through it. I am anywhere but here. Just ask my mom. She will tell you how I forgot that she was coming to pick up my daughter at school last week during conferences so she ended up wandering the halls of the school looking for my daughter for 45 minutes before running into my son, who directed her to my daughter. But I didn’t have a clue this was happening because, during that time, I was darting from classroom to classroom, like a harried teenager, hearing the voices of my kids’ teachers saying lovely things about my children, and I was feel’n pretty good and I may have had a moment of, “Okay, great, I must be doing something right.” Until, of course, I walked out of the math teacher’s room and spotted my mom, her eyes looking slightly puzzled and slightly pissed. “Nope. Never mind. I am not doing much of anything right.”

I am in the moment and a million miles away. Preparing for A’s Bar Mitzvah in three weeks and helping J with his college applications, due in three weeks; gearing up for my first ever self-care workshop that I am co-leading in two weeks and preparing yet another (please let this be the last), revision of my book outline that is, just guess, due to a publisher in 10 days. I am coming off of the high holidays, during which we attended not one, not two but three synagogues—a reformed, a conservative and an orthodox (I will save those details for another blog post); and S came home from college for Yom Kippur, which somewhat resembled a wonderful, exciting, but sometimes jolting, electric storm lighting up our house.

I’m in the moment and into panic in a matter of seconds. I question whether I will be able to pull off these next three weeks, manage the check list, and get it all done: the Bar Mitzvah details, all 20 zillion of them  (thankfully divided between my sister and me, but I still don’t know what I am wearing); the writing, for which I require big blocks of time when my mind is calm and clear; providing college application assistance, yet another intended blog post topic, and for which I need more time and more patience, AND my son’s time and patience (which doesn’t all line up very often); the workshop preparation, which I need to tap into my experience of writing about researching and practicing self-care, while I am stretched to practice what I preach right now.

So I breathe my way back to the moment. And tell myself that yes, this will all happen. I will get through it. But I don’t want to just get through it! I want to feel it all, embrace the joy in each one of these milestones. So I drag myself to yoga, ground down, and set an intention to be present. And that works beautifully until that evening when I see my husband packing his suitcase for a three-day work trip. He sees my eyes widen, and then narrow. I expect him to say something calming, reassuring. But instead, he quickly reminds me that he will be traveling for two or three days of each of the next three weeks. Oh yeah, I had forgotten. My heart rate escalates and my mind kicks into high gear and spirals me into piling my entire to-do list into an already overcrowded area of my brain: Shit! The laundry, the dishes, the cooking, the no milk in the fridge and I think we only have one more roll of toilet paper in this house, and the engine light is on in my car, and there are unopened bills hanging out on the kitchen counter, and Jo has a soccer tournament in Rochester and three birthday parties this weekend, and A’s big science project is due, and the details of J’s college visits in two weeks still need to be finalized, and the senior parent ad for the yearbook is due, and my volunteer positions need attention, and there are a growing number of emails and texts that I have yet to read, let alone respond to...So sorry, my friends, I am trying.

And then I will myself to breathe again. And the spiraling stops as I remind myself that amidst all this mundane, almost whiney sounding to-do list, of which some or most will get done (or it won't), there lies the joyful stuff that trumps it all. And I work my way back to gratitude and the present moment. My husband and I laugh about how we may put our 10-year-old on a Greyhound and send her to Rochester for her soccer tournament, and that we may end up writing A’s Bar Mitzvah speech on the way to the synagogue that morning.

I will myself to trust that these next three weeks, with all their splendor and glory, and all of their mundane, will happen. And I will be there/be here. Present. Aware. Engaged. Grateful. I will do this by trying to allow myself to retreat from the lists and the panic, and to move toward lingering in the joy for as long as I can—especially the one that celebrates my baby boy becoming a Jewish adult. Yes, I will most definitely be lingering in that one.

THE RISE AND FALL OF MY SKIP STEP

gymnast Maybe it is because my daughter just turned 20; maybe it is because my second child is a senior in high school and we are knee deep in college applications and college visits trying to figure out where he will head off to next fall (gulp); maybe it is because I am a month away from my youngest son's Bar Mitzvah (gulp again); maybe it is because my husband turns 50 in March (wow); or maybe it is because my youngest daughter is in her final year of lower school and just today got rid of her Barbie Dream House and all of her Barbies (gasp!). But whether it is one or all of these biggies, I know that I have found myself feeling rather nostalgic lately. I wrote about what the aging process feels like for me, and how I am learning to let go of pieces of my youth and embrace the here and now. The waves of nostalgia often catch me off guard, and I feel like I want to reach out and touch the memories; to connect with them in a pinch myself kind of way to validate that the experiences were real, and that they still live somewhere within me. Without warning, this need to go back hit me during a recent writing group when the instructor gave us the prompt, "What is something quirky about you? Something that others may not know."

And my mind looked back and then forward, and my pen on paper took me here:

It started early on, way back then. When I was young, exuberant and carefree. When life felt light and easy. When every step was the beginning of a new adventure, a launching point of sorts. And so it started. The micro-hop—my skip step—that I added to the beginning of my gait. It felt organic, like the way I was supposed to move. And it was how I moved, in my early days as a gymnast when I would jump with excitement each and every time I was ready to launch into my favorite floor exercise sequence—round-off, back handspring, back tuck. Ahhh, how I loved how these movements flowed together like the most perfect wave tumbling toward the shore. I felt this rhythmic flow in my body even when I was nowhere near a gymnasium.

When it was time for me to walk to class, to recess, to practice or even to the bathroom, in spite of some jarring I received from my friends when they noticed my quirk, I always felt the need to add the skip step as I began to propel myself forward. The skip step automatically triggered my mind and muscles to access the incredible feelings of taking flight, which surged through my body and filled me with a timeless, spaceless sense of giddiness, levity and harmony.

But as the years progressed, and I grew into an awkward, agitated teen, I traded in my leotards for Grateful Dead t-shirts. Subsequently, as my life had lost a bit of its bounce and I wobbled on the bridge between youthood and adulthood, my skip step slowly disappeared. But it was a process, a skip step here, a skip step there would provide an occasional shot in the arm to keep me connected with those feelings of being so fully alive and free. Over time, and without recognition of the loss, my skip step all but vanished.

Three decades and four children later and I am in my front yard on a beautiful, sunny Minnesota spring day, watching my 10-year-old niece, a competitive gymnast, turn cartwheels and walk on her hands across the grass. “Hey, Auntie Julie, do you want to see what I just learned,” she asks eagerly, as her whole body visibly filling with the exhilaration that I recognized instantly. “Of course I do, ZZ (my affectionate adaptation of Lindsay)! Show me whatcha got,” I respond trying to contain my excitement.

My heart skips a beat as I watch with anticipation as she begins to launch. My mouth drops open as I see it—the skip step—my skip step—followed by her swift round off and perfectly executed back handspring. My heart is no longer in my body as it has most certainly jumped out.

Without thinking, I stand up. My mind becomes fierce, my body fueled by muscle memory. Nostalgia overruns any kind of logic, any kind of rationale. Before I know it, one barefoot is in front of the other, and there it is, my skip step…and I am running and I am free and I burst open into a powerful round-off and I am flying above the clouds. I am 10 and I love my skip step and my youth and my mobility and my levity. Upon my decent from the air, I power both feet downward to hit the prickly grass at precisely the same time, exactly as I was taught to do by my perpetually mean coach who acerbically screamed at me if one foot came down a millisecond before the other.

At the very moment I celebrated this very small but very large “look-at-me-now-coach” victory, I heard it. The rubber band-snapping, pop gun sounding snap that reverberated through my entire body and rung in my ears. The endorphins that served as a numbing agent swiftly began to lose their power, and the raw, unfiltered raging, burning sensation was unleashed. The pain—the ferocious, radiating, sizzling in my calf caused me to tumble to the ground writhing, moaning, crying, and biting my lip not to swear.

I looked up to see my niece’s terror stricken hazel eyes staring down at me. I tried with every ounce of my being to give her an “I am going to be okay” look, but a blank stare was the best I could muster.

What she couldn’t know, nor did I want her to know, was that behind my blank stare blared two very loud voices at war inside my head, simultaneously exalting and cursing every single skip step I ever took.

"A Mother's 17-Year-Old Secret" in Brain, Child Magazine

Parenting your teen inevitably stirs up a lot of memories of your own teen years. As you stare in awe at your 15-year-old driving a car for the first time, it can feel like yesterday that you first excitedly and nervously grasped onto the stirring wheel and told your foot to push on the gas pedal. When you catch your teen doing something “teen-like,” you may be reminded of the time you snuck out of parents’ house in the middle of the night and the dog started barking and gave you away (or maybe...hold breath...you didn’t get caught). As you help your teen navigate his or her teen joys and challenges, you will decide how much and what you want to share about your teen self. I have always been cautious with how much of my past I shared with my teens. I would imagine that most of us determine that some (or many) of our teen experiences should never be shared with our children. What we may not be aware of, however, is that some of the “secrets” we bury could be effecting how we parent our teens. “A Mother’s Seventeen-Year-Old-Secret” explores the how and why I decided to reveal a piece of my hidden past to my 17-year-old daughter. I am honored and thrilled to have this piece running in one of my favorite motherhood publications/blogs Brain, Child Magazine. Brain, Child Magazine

Why I Love Helping My Teens With their Essays in Your Teen Magazine

your teen magazineOne of my greatest parenting pleasures has been the connection I have made with my kids through the process of writing. An old college professor of mine convinced me that, “If you can think, you can write.” I have continually reminded my kids of this important message, especially when they have become frustrated with their own writing process. I have loved being able to read my kids’ writing work and to provide feedback that I think has been helpful in helping them grow as writers and thinkers, and in their ability to trust their own voice. I know how much I value my writing mentors today, and I think teenagers sometimes have a very difficult time streamlining their thoughts and understanding how best to articulate their messages in writing. I feel so incredibly grateful that my kids have let me into their writing processes, and that I have gotten the opportunity to get to know them in ways that I may not have otherwise. Read the full article about the benefits of helping teens with their writing in Your Teen Magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Faves: Reflections on Leading a Passover Seder at My Kids' Episcopalian School

My Friday Faves is a follow-up to a recent article I wrote for Kveller freedom seder plateabout leading a Passover mini-seder for the 3rd and 4th graders at my children’s Episcopalian school. I am thrilled to report that it was an awesome experience. The Jewish kids in the group formed a fabulous “choir.” They belted out the four questions and led the rest of the students in Dayenu. The choir wasn’t needed to lead “Let My People Go” because all the kids already knew this song from singing it during chapel, and they sang it loud and proud. My heart jumped as I asked the kids questions like who was the baby that was found in a basket floating down the Nile River and almost every hand darted up as the kids had to hold themselves back from yelling out the answer, “Moses!” They knew the reason that Jews eat Matzah during Passover and why G-d brought the 10 plagues to Pharoh’s Egypt. They understood how much the Jews wanted and their freedom from their Egyptian oppressors, and they also understood how there are many people who still yearn to be free today. On each of the 25 tables set up in the cafeteria, there was a “freedom seder plate” that my 6th and 3rd grader s helped me decorate. The plate was basically a white paper plate with a six empty circles surrounding a middle circle labeled “freedom.” The kids at the mini-seder were instructed to come up with symbols that remind them of freedom today.  The adult at the table wrote six of their answers in the empty circles. I had the chance to go around to each table, and one spokeskid at each table shared their top choice with the whole group. Once again, my heart danced as I heard such thoughtful responses like: school, food, the American flag, books and shelter; and I had a good chuckle as one 9-year-old revealed that their table’s favorite symbol of freedom was, “Raising the minimum wage to $8/hour.”

But my personal, stand-out favorite was  “Love.” The freedom to love freely is certainly a freedom not to be taken for granted and I love that these children realized this.

I felt so grateful to be able to spend the morning with 125 open-minded, bright 3rd and 4th graders who took in the story of Passover and transferred its meaning into their lives today.

 

Unscripted Mom is ONE!

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

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

It was both liberating and terrifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Sisterly Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once a Parent, Always a Caretaker

My dad, mom and me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modeling Gratitude for our Children

Fabriano's mother-Smile Network Mission Gratitude is word that is thrown around a lot these days. It’s right up there with “vulnerability,” which Brene’ Brown has made somewhat famous.  I often talk to my yoga students about connecting with gratitude and the importance of counting our blessings. I am exploring gratitude in my Mussar group this week and I realized that this work, combined with my participation in the Smile Network mission has prompted me to take an even deeper look at the true healing power of gratitude.

One of the last days at the Lima Children’s Hospital, the volunteers were getting ready to leave the hospital and one of the mothers gathered the Smile Network team and asked our translator to translate for her.  “Please tell them that we know what they are doing for us and we know how much it takes for them to be here,” Rony translated her words. Let them know that they are wonderful people and that we are so grateful for what they are doing for us. May G-d bless them always.” This mother proceeded to give each of us a small token of her appreciation.

Fabriano's  mother (pictured above), who could not see her son for nearly three days because he had to stay in the operating room instead of being moved to the ICU (because there were no beds available), never once showed anything other than complete gratitude toward all the volunteers and doctors. Her bright eyes were filled with appreciation and hope every time I walked passed her in the waiting area (where she camped out day and night). I lost track of how many times I hugged her during those days, as I felt such a strong, love-filled energy illuminating from her. I have never in my life seen such pure gratitude. It did not occur to her to lash out and demand answers like a lot of us might do in her situation, and it was not because she wasn’t bright or that she didn’t understand the full scope of what was happening. It was gratitude that kept her humble, calm, patient, kind and appreciative.

Other mothers, although grateful, did express some levels of frustration when the hours of waiting with their hungry, crying children, and dealing with so many unknown aspects of the surgery, including when it would take place, began to take its toll. I did not fault them for this, as there were some agonizing days for many families. But when I felt their eyes glaring at me as I walked through the waiting area, I realized that they were allowing negative feelings of frustration to diffuse their connection to gratitude, which caused them to briefly lose sight of the fact that their child would soon receive a life changing operation made possible by people who donated their time, money and energy to help them.

I realize how often I, and so many of us, even when we feel gratitude, so easily lose our connection to it in our every day lives. We say to ourselves:

  • I am grateful I was able to go to yoga today but I didn’t like the music the teacher played.
  • I am grateful I was able to take a vacation with my husband but I didn’t like the hotel.
  • I am grateful my son is happy and healthy but I wish he was an A student not a B student.
  • I am glad my daughter is playing high school tennis but I wish she was on varsity not JV.

Leaving the “but” out of a gratitude sentence is an extremely difficult task for so many of us. However, as I am retraining my brain to react differently to anger, I am also working to stay closely connected to gratitude in the deepest way possible. I have realized that “thank you,” does not always translate to, “I’m grateful.” It's not a given.

We teach our children to say thank you when people do things for them but what about when people don’t do things for them or when they don’t get what they want? Do we teach them that to feel grateful then? Do we feel grateful when we don’t get exactly what we want? How do we model gratitude for our children?

Recently, I have had a few experiences with my kids where I tried to make a conscious effort to turn to gratitude and push away my usual go-to responses like frustration and annoyance. The universal gratitude no-brainer for mothers is that we are grateful for our children. If we can keep this feeling in the forefront of our mind and heart, many of our frustrations we feel in dealing with them can be significantly lessened.

My son did not do as well as he wanted to on an important test he had been preparing for. Instead of heading right to feelings of frustration with him (he didn’t study enough), or with myself (I should have pushed him harder), I paused.  I found gratitude in that through his disappointment, he learned essential life lessons about the value of hard work and the importance of being honest with himself about his effort. He realized on his own that he needed to study harder and verbalized a commitment to do so (without me having to say a word). My other son missed his ride to school this week because he was being extremely pokey and difficult in the morning, so I had to drive him to school. As the frustration arose within and I wanted to say all sorts of things to him that would not have been constructive, I paused. I looked over at him sitting next to me in the front seat of the car, and realized that I couldn’t even remember that last time that the two of us were alone together. I took a deep breath, released the frustration and turned to gratitude, “Not great that you were pokey this morning, buddy, but I am really glad to have some time alone with you. Tell me about the project you are working on for history.” He smiled and proceeded to tell me all of the details.

Friday Faves: Next Time Your Teen Does Something "Stupid"... Remember This

This Friday Fave is an excerpt from Book #1 and deals with gaining a better understanding of why your teen acts the way she does.

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“Troublesome traits like idiocy and haste don’t really characterized adolescence. They’re just what we notice most because they annoy us or put our children in danger.” (National Geographic, October 2011, Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs)

In a November 28, 2010, article in the Star Tribune’s Parade section entitled “What’s Really Going on Inside Your Teen’s Head,” the author, Judith Newman reveals “When my friend’s son—a straight-A student and all-around sweetheart—recently ended up in the hospital getting his stomach pumped because he went out drinking with friends for the first time and had now clue how much was too much, that is when I realized: There is just no predicting. Even for the most responsible kids, there is always that combustible combination of youth, opportunity and one bad night.” Newman goes on to explain, “Truth is, the teenage brain is like a Ferrari: It’s sleek, shiny, sexy, fast, and it corners really well. But it also has really crappy brakes.”

Researchers and scholars have been studying and writing about the adolescent and teen years for centuries. Aristotle characterized adolescents as lacking in sexual self-restraint, fickle in their desires, passionate and impulsive, fonder of honor and of victory than of money, and prone to excess and exaggeration (AC Petersen, BA Hamburg - Behavior Therapy, 1986 - Elsevier). More recently scientists and researchers have been analyzing the teenage brain in an attempt to find a scientific basis for teens’ frequent unpredictability, moodiness, carelessness, and an almost frantic desire to take risks.

Currently, there are some conflicting theories about the teenage brain. One theory states that a young adult’s brain is not fully developed until the age 25. However, Dobbs looks at recent research that sheds a slightly different view of the teenage brain.  Instead of looking at the adolescent brain as an immature of a work in progress, Dobbs discusses a theory that closely resembles the principle of natural selection. The “adaptive-adolescent story,” as Dobbs calls it, “casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” B.J. Casey, neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College concurs, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”

Research reveals that the when a child is six years old, her brain is already at 90 percent of its full size by and that most of the subsequent growth is the thickening of her head skull. However, between the ages of 12 and 25, ”the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade,” according to Dobbs. During this time, the main difference between and adult and teen brain is that teens value rewards more than consequences and are thus more apt to make riskier decisions.

In a study that compared brain scans of 10-year-olds, teens and adults, while the participants played a sort of video game with their eyes, that involved stopping yourself from looking at a flickering light or “response inhibition.” It turns out that 10-year-olds fail at this almost half the time but teens, by the age of 15 could score as well as adults if they are motivated, resisting temptation 70 to 80 percent of the time. The most interesting part of this study, however, was in looking at the brain scans, the teens brains were virtually the same size as the adults but “teens tended to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused—areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically.”  So, as it turns out, teens do understand risk, but value risk versus reward differently than adults. “In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.”

So the next time your teen does something really “stupid,” remind yourself that he is flexing his adaptive muscles. You can certainly set rules and limits on what behaviors are acceptable, appropriate and safe but know that there is more going on his brain than we may think. He will continue to push his boundaries, and according to this research, this is exactly what he should be doing.

Even though the above-mentioned principals make sense on paper, the reality of living through the adolescent and teen years with your children can be terrifying and maddening at times.

Here are a few pieces of tried and true advice that the moms I surveyed offered about managing the adolescent/teen years:

“We did (and still do) our fair share of "biting our tongue." There are so many times I want to tell them what they should do, or offer suggestions, but I think the times that we have sat back and let them make mistakes on their own have been good and have helped prepare them for the real world.  I'm glad they made those mistakes while they were home with us and we could help support them.” (Mother of three children, ages 24, 22,18, married 26 years)

“My key strategy is TRUST! Trust your teenager until they prove other wise. They will respect you a lot more! I have seen parents who hover and get really involved. I have trusted my teenagers and when they get off track we re-direct, but I think they value my trust and genuinely want to hear what I have to say. It's the ‘I'm on your side’ kind of attitude.” (Mother of four children, ages 18, 16, 14, 12, married 19 years)

"I tried to allow them as much privacy as possible while also encouraging them to share as much of their lives as they were comfortable sharing. That was the only strategy I had. Fortunately, it worked. Of course, there were many difficult moments, or maybe I should say months, but generally I felt they knew what they were doing and I supported them as best I could. When the anger level rose to red, we walked away from each other, but never for too long." (Mother of two adult children, ages 42 and 40, grandmother of four, divorced)

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."