Nobody could have prepared me for this. Even when a cousin of my husband’s, upon finding out I was pregnant with my fourth child, commented to my husband and me, “You know, you can have sex without getting pregnant.” But even if Mr. Snarky would have tried to lay it all out for me, I would have been unable to comprehend the trajectory of my life with four kids spanning a decade. It would not have made sense to me, nor would it fit neatly in my brain. Because having four children with a large age span is not tidy. It is messy and complicated, exciting and surreal. It forces my brain to expand like a rubber band threatening to snap at any moment.
Anyone who has been following my writing/life over the past several years knows that I have written a lot about my first born and the difficulties I had in letting her go, especially when she left for college. Well, thankfully after nearly putting Kleenex out of business, I found my groove, and two years later sent her younger brother off to college as well (nope, not easier the second time). Fast forward another lighting-fast two years, and she graduated from college and embarked upon her new "grown up" life, which in her case involved moving to the Big Apple. More Kleenex, please?
Since Sophie and I are both writers, we oftentimes mark our own big life transitions with a piece of writing in the form of a journal entry, a blog post or an article written with the intention of submitting it for publication.
And here’s where the mother-daughter-writer-connection thing gets interesting.
On the evening of July 10th, Sophie sends me an email telling me that she has written a piece about her moving to New York and she wants to submit it for publication. I stare at the email in disbelief as just that morning, I had submitted a post to Grown and Flown about…you guessed it…Sophie leaving for New York.
Okay, now I understand that it is not that ironic that we both chose to write about the the fact that she moved to New York after graduation. But if you have a chance to read both pieces, you will see that even though her decision to move to New York and her actual move was a process that happened over many months, in both of our posts, we each chose to zero in on the the exact same moment within this process.
I won’t give anymore away but as my husband explains: you will be looking at both sides of the coin.
Click here to read my piece on Sophie flying the coop.
Click here to read Sophie's piece on flying the coop.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts!
Let’s check over here,” I motion to my 12-year-old daughter to follow me to the cosmetics isle. This is our fourth trip to Target in the last few weeks for the sole purpose of buying supplies for the new obsession gripping tweens all over the country—SLIME.
The current desired ingredient is a new one. “Baby powder is supposed to make the slime softer and less sticky,” my daughter, now an expert slime chemist, explains to me. She also assures me that she will be able to pay back the money we’ve spent on supplies with the money she collects from her fellow classmates (most of whom are also in the slime manufacturing and sales business) in exchange for her magnificently mastered mixture of shaving cream, glue, contact solution, and now baby powder.
Shampoo, body wash, lotions…I am not seeing the baby powder anywhere. My agitation rises as I curse myself for being sweet talked into this inconvenient trek to Target on a night when my son needs help with an assignment, my husband is at a work dinner, and I have to teach my teen writing class in an hour. I calm myself with the notion that at least this obsession, unlike other bygones like silly bands, does involve a creative process when mixing, measuring, and experimenting to form the germ-collecting balls of goo.
“Hi!” I find myself almost yelling to the young, exhausted-looking woman standing behind the nearby pharmacy counter. “Can you please tell me where the baby powder is?”
Before I even let the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-lady look on her face throw me into a shame pit, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her briskly out of the pharmacy area murmuring, “Oh my gosh, never mind.”
We both erupted in giggles as we headed over to the “baby” isle for the elusive “baby” powder.
My internal Target compass paused as we pass the girls section, our usual go-to area. “The baby section is over by electronics, I am pretty sure,” I muttered, still smiling at the irony.
And then it hit me.
The baby aisle had completely fallen off of my radar.
I could not recall the last time I had even gone near the avenue of pacifiers, diaper genies, bottles and diapers. As I walked toward baby land with my baby, disguised as a 12-year-old, I realized that I no longer knew the layout of this section that for decades I was able to navigate with my eyes closed. I didn’t even recognize some of the items on the shelf.
How could this be? This was MY territory! And now, I had forgotten it even existed!
“Mom, here, I found it,” my daughter’s sweet voice lulled me out of my trance. “Let’s go! You’ve got to get to your class,” she reminded me.
I stood motionless, my eyes scanning the baby items stacked neatly on the shelves. “I miss this, “ I said. She tracked my gaze to the shelf full of diapers.
“You miss changing my diapers,” she said coyly with a playful smile on her face.
“No I miss my babies,” I told her with sincerity, ignoring her sarcasm. I miss holding you in my arms, your baby smell, and hugging you and kissing you as much as I want to.”
“Well, I don’t,” she quipped again, her smile growing even bigger. “Ugh!” I groaned and grabbed my belly in reaction to her verbal gut-punch.
Walking to the check out lane, I leaned in to the nostalgia where I saw the baby faces of my four children--their beaming smiles as well as their looks of terror and disappointment. I could hear their shrieks of laughter and their blood curdling cries. I remembered my feelings of joy, agony, exhaustion, uncertainly, and fear that consumed me as a young mom trying to figure out what I was doing. And I remember yearning for the days when I would no longer need anything from the baby isle.
“Beep,” the self-checkout scanner hit the barcode on the bottom of the baby powder cuing me back to the present. My daughter placed the powder in the white plastic bag and started toward the exit.
“Jo, hold up,” I said as I quickly caught up to her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’ve grown up so fast, girl,” I said in earnest. “I love you so much.”
As I prepared for her to immediately shake me off, per usual, instead I felt her body sinking into my hug. “I love you too, mom,” she said softly. “And thanks for taking me to get the baby powder,” she added.
Scurrying through the Minnesota cold toward our car, I felt grateful that our slime mission led me back to the baby isle and for all the memories that I found there. I realized that just like slime, the passage of time often slips through our hands when we are not looking. And without notice, we open our eyes and find ourselves in the next isle at Target.
Driving home, I take in that my youngest child is on the cusp of becoming a teenager but in this moment, she thinks of nothing other than how much baby powder she will add to her slime mixture.
And I am grateful.
Grateful for all of the memories of my children's baby years, and grateful for the fact that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here right now.
Slime and all.
Yes, I am feeling it. The intensity of the holiday season is in the air and it is nearly impossible to escape the droplets of frenetic energy that invisibly dissolve into our pores this time of year.
For me, I notice that my thinking gets more scattered, I have a hard time writing, and a slight heaviness sets in as early darkness shortens our days, and it is so damn cold outside.
But the blessings…oh the blessings. So many of them. It is the deep gratitude I feel for these blessings that help me embrace the intense beauty and fragility of life and the increasing awareness of the passage of time. This week, I enter a new decade of life...
I stared intently at my husband last night as he read a story to our 10-year-old daughter. Something hit me hard. I was unexpectedly filled with intense emotions—joy, love and gratitude flowed freely through my mind and my heart. I realized at that moment, as I looked deeply into his ocean blue eyes that were fixed on a page of the book, why I married him 22 years ago.
To be a mom is to continually manage the fierce mama bear feelings that make us want to sprint to our child’s rescue, kiss away their tears, and band-aid away their pain. How do we know when to act on this instinct? And when to push our internal pause button in order to and give them the space they need to pick themselves back up when they fall and as they get older, lean into other support systems they’ve developed.
We don’t always know. But our hearts will guide us if we really listen.
Truth: Just a few years ago, public speaking and panic attacks went hand in hand for me. And I still feel a bit of terror, which can feel like I want to throw up cry or die, or some combination of the three before every radio or TV interview, book talk, workshop, or book club that I do. But each time the fear sets in, I engage in some very serious stare-downs with my insecurities and move through it because I have to. Because I have experienced incredible changes over the course of writing and launching The Self-Care Solution, changes that need to be shared with as many mothers as I can reach. So, I will keep doing my own work so that I can share the messages of hope, healing, self-love and self-care.
The Self-Care Solution journey has been and continues to be life-changing. I have met so many incredibly bright, brave, and thoughtful people throughout this process, who inspire me every day to live my life with more kindness and passion, which goes hand and hand with showing kindness and compassion toward oneself. Through sharing my own story, I have connected with people who are more willing to share their truths. Like the woman who sat in my living room on a Sunday afternoon as she told me about how she raised two boys as a single mom, working three jobs to put them through private school. She shared her view on self-care, “Self-care doesn’t have to cost money. It doesn’t have to be about getting a massage or going to the gym. When my boys were young, my self-care was talking on the phone to my girlfriends I’ve had since high school and bitching about our kids or whatever was on our minds. That kept me sane." She also told me that leaving her husband was also an act of self-care.”
Doing this work makes me more acutely aware of myself and of those around me. It makes me feel like I want to reach out and hug every mom I see and tell her, “Do the self-care work. Really. You will surprise yourself with how strong you really are, and how strong you can become. You may need to make some changes in your life. And it won’t be easy. But you are SO worth it! And your family needs you to believe that!”
But as with most things in life, self-care is a continual work in progress, and it is rarely a smooth, straight, or easy path. As I work to better secure my own boundaries (my biggest self-care challenge), I have experienced push-back from my kids (and just a tiny bit from my beloved husband). My kids are less than amused with my new mantra, “There is a new sheriff in town.” But behind their eye rolls, I can see that they do understand the necessary shift.
They get that I expect them to step up to the plate of their lives, and that I need to step back from them a bit so I can step more solidly into my life, my work, my relationship with my husband and friends. And while they probably can’t fully comprehend the importance of this type of movement, they trust me, and they trust my love for and devotion to them. I assure them that even though this shift may feel like the harder path, we all will be happier, healthier, and more compassionate humans if we can stay the course and support one another along the way.
So, as we move through this back to school transition, and I say goodbye to my college kids (btw, if you are looking for me on Friday, I will be binge-listening to books on tape and Ted Talks during the 10-hour drive to Michigan with my daughter), I know my heart will ache and tears will flow with those excruciating last goodbye hugs.
But now more than ever I feel exceedingly grateful that my kids know how to take good care of themselves. There is nothing more rewarding and comforting for a parent than to see your child treating her/himself and those around him with love, respect, and care.
And who better to teach them how to do this than you?
And what better way to teach them than by showing them how it’s done?
Wishing you all a smooth back to school transition that is, of course, filled with lots of self-care and self-love!
“It must be so amaaaazing having all four of your kids under one roof again,” is the question of the month since my oldest son arrived home from his freshman year in college, and oldest daughter breezed in from her five-month college junior “study” (or is it "touring"?) abroad program.
“Oh yesssss,” I concur. “It is just the BEST!”
And I am telling the truth. Mostly.
It goes without saying that I love my family unit. I love the feeling of completeness I feel when the six of us are together. Seeing my four kids interact with one another can be downright heart-melting (and yes, the teasing can be mortifying). But I love how the six of us fit together—each family member with his or her own distinct personality set within the building blocks of our ever-evolving family unit.
While I try to bask in the euphoria of family wholeness, it is only a matter of time before the challenges I encountered while mothering all four kids in my home for ten years inevitably find a way to bubble to the surface again, and I can see very clearly that there is indeed a time when adult children need to fly the coop.
Not only are there more dishes in the sink, crumbs on the kitchen counter, clothes in the washer and dryer, wet towels on bedroom floors, shoes sprawled all over the mudroom, various items of clothing and shoes missing from my closet (usually my favorite ones that I was planning to wear as I realize they have "disappeared"), cars rolling in and out of our driveway at any given hour, teenagers and 20-somethings eating every morsel of available food in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, texts sent to me at any time of the day or night including the hours between midnight and 5 a.m.) begrudgingly alerting me of my college kids’ whereabouts (“Mom, you don’t know where I am when I am at college! Why do you need me to tell you now? Don’t you trust me?”) Oh, and did I mention the arguing and the YELLING? Well, there is much more of those too!
So, in the flurry trying to manage my family of six, my writing and teaching work, and launching a new book, I am reminded of what prompted me to write The Self-Care Solution in the first place.
Self-care is so damn hard!
Part of my self-care journey over the past few years was to let go of my two older kids in a healthy way, which was far from easy for me, and to reestablish my life with the younger two at home. It took a lot of time, soul searching, and hard work for me to do this. But by using the physical, emotional, and relational self-care tools outlined in the book, I stayed true to myself, set appropriate boundaries, and advocated for my need to work and create, I did it. And lo and behold, I was finally able to accomplish what I had set out to do decades earlier—finish my book on self-care and continue to practice what I preach.
But what I have realized over these past several hectic weeks is that our self-care work as moms is never done, and we will be challenged over and over again to hang onto our sense of self while mothering our children.
Having all four kids home triggered some old stuff for me. Negative patterns of thinking and acting popped up. I found myself worrying about and micro-managing my kids far more than necessary—trying in vain to find some control amidst the inevitable chaos and discomfort of this transitional time. I have found myself frustrated that I am not writing enough, or practicing yoga or meditating the way I need to be.
And then I remember. These are my continual self-care work-ons, and it is indeed a marathon not a sprint. I remind myself we all have our own work-ons and triggers that threaten to throw us moms off center. But there are three things that remain constant for all of us:
1. Someone will always need us.
2. No one is going to hand over the time and space
we need to take care of ourselves.
3. We need to be intentional about caring for ourselves
or we are not able to take care of our family the way we want to.
So, in trying to embrace this short period of time when all my kids are back in the nest (my oldest leaves for an out-of-state internship on Friday), instead of thinking about all the ways I am "failing" at self-care, I realized that I am forgetting one huge component of self-care—self-compassion.
My self-care may look and feel a little different right now, and that is okay. I need to embrace what is good—the wonderful walk I took with my cousin Joy this Memorial weekend; dancing during the fun (albeit excruciating) Kayla work-outs that my oldest daughter led me through; watching my two daughters, 10 years apart, giggle like best friends; the warm hugs I receive regulary from both of my sons, and the gratitude I felt in spending time with my husband, friends, and family over the long weekend.
Sometimes self-care can be simply a matter of reframing. Letting go of what we think self-care “should” be, releasing ourselves from expectations and the frustrations of what is not, and opening ourselves up to the joy and the beauty of what is.
During this busy time of transitioning from spring to summer, when school is ending, graduations are occurring, college kids are coming home, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball are in full swing, and the to-do lists threaten to overpower us every day, can you carve out five minutes a day, even in your car, to find compassion for yourself, to say something nice to yourself, to tell yourself you are doing the best you can, and that you are indeed good enough? Can you breathe deeply, taking it all in, and then letting it all go?
Yes you can.
This is the real work of self-care.
As I celebrated turning 49 a few weeks ago and my 2016 resolutions are set and in motion (1: better time management and 2: better cooking), I found it interesting to look at my last year’s birthday post, and reflect on the changes that have occurred. Many of the milestones I talked about in future terms like leaving my oldest son in California for his college freshman year; my oldest daughter turning 21, my husband turning 50, my youngest daughter starting middle school; and attending my 30-year high school reunion, all happened. And I “wrote” a piece about each one—all of the details, how I felt, and what I learned. Some of these made it into my journals, some onto my blog, but most remained in the form of swirling sentences in my head, either because I needed to push those sentences aside to keep my focus on finalizing The Self-Care Solution, or because publishing those stories would infringe on my children’s privacy. But each one of them caused me to pause, reflect, appreciate, and ponder, usually only for brief moments—on my yoga mat, on a walk, or in a conversation with a friend. Because life moves forward, even when we want it to slow down just a bit so we can savor certain moments a little longer. Two notable 2015 moments when I did slow down to reflect and ponder turned into pivotal milestones for me personally and professionally. Lunch with a friend evolved into revealing the details of my teenage battle with an eating disorder on Jordana Green’s radio show, which gave me a small dose of what it feels like to be extremely vulnerable (terrifying) in an effort to try to help others (highly rewarding). These mixed feeling are ones that I will be continually grappling with in 2016 with the release of my book, and so I was grateful to Jordana for her encouragement, and for allowing me to share my story. And I am also grateful for so many amazing people in my life (you--friends, family, blog readers) who were so incredibly positive and supportive of me doing so. Thank you!
Another 2015 lunchtime casual conversation turned game-changer was with my dear friend Nina Badzin. The development and formulation of The Twin Cities Writing Studio has been true highlight. We have been blown away by the incredible women who have gathered around the table with us to write, learn, reflect, support, and inspire one another. It is truly an honor to be doing this work, and Nina and I are excited to introduce some new programs for 2016 that will engage more Twin Citians who want to put pen to paper—aka “writers”—(stay tuned). Thrilled to be starting our winter session this week!
The central 2015 milestone, of course, has been the completion The Self-Care Solution. And while achieving this life-long dream of writing a book feels incredible, what has surprised me the most is the deep sense of responsibility I feel to continue this ever-so-important discussion on motherhood and self-care. In other words, this book is only the beginning! It is essential to me that I help as many mothers as possible understand that self-care is your life-saving and life-enhancing apparatus as you ride the inevitable, unpredictable, beautiful, and agonizing waves of motherhood.
“The only way that a mother can truly be present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with her child is if she is present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with herself. And the only way she can be connected with herself is if she does what she needs to do to care for herself in an honest and meaningful manner. This is the true essence of self-care for mothers.” –The Self-Care Solution
There is a certain irony that the year that book is released is the year that that I (g-d-willing) hit a half century. Life chapters are concluding and new ones are being written, and the pages keep turning. And sometimes I am deeply afraid—afraid of getting older, afraid of losing...youth, loved ones, time on this earth (more on my feelings about aging in another post...). But there is much to look forward to, including moving into a completely unknown territory with the release of my book. I will move from talking about writing and releasing the book to actually having people read it and formulate opinions about it. And this scares me too. But in the words of Brene' Brown, "Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time." So, I will dare greatly, commit to staring down my fears, and allow myself to feel excited about what is in store for this monumental year.
A few of the 2016 highlights that are already in motion are: unscriptedmom.com soon will become juliebburton.com; several fun book launch events will happen in the spring (more details to follow and I hope you will come!), and believe it or not, I have already started outlining my next book (gulp).
So yes, rounding the bend from 2015 to 2016 feels like a big turn.
But I continue to draw from my past experiences, and other life changes, challenges, and turning points that I've pushed through and grown from (like hiking the 13,000 feet to reach the top of Pikes Peak in 2009). I continue to find gratitude in all the twists and turns that life has to offer, and to remind myself of Ben Franklin’s simple yet profound message about embracing transitions: "When you're finished changing, you're finished.”
So, here we are 2016—bring on the changes!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016 filled with lots of self-care and exciting changes! I am grateful to be on this journey with you!
(Ready to make 2016 a year of taking good care of yourself physically, emotionally and relationally? Start by pre-ordering The Self-Care Solution--A Modern Mother's Essential Guide to Health and Well-Being!)
Although I already have been through senior year with one child, who is in her sophomore year in college, I think a bit of amnesia must have occurred (sort of like having a baby) as I find myself with child #2, a high school senior, almost surprised by the high levels of stress and the ongoing flurry of emotions that accompany the year that marks the end of a very important life chapter. Now that I am almost half way through my oldest son's final year of high school, I have had a few epiphanies and have concluded that the challenges of your child’s senior year are two-fold. Firstly, once your child finishes their insanely stressful junior year, many of them do a premature victory dance and declare either in their head or out loud that they are DONE. They go through their summer psyched about their last year of high school and can’t wait to slide their way through senior year. But here is the catch, unless they have scored a perfect 36 on their ACT, visited or extensively researched all of the colleges they are interested in applying to, and finished all of their college applications, they are far from done.
First semester senior year is by far one of the most demanding times for students, and because we live in "helicopter" times, it feels very stressful for parents as well. College applications are due, which means the kids actually have to make real decisions about where they are going to apply (which is no small task for many). And once the list is made, many kids (and parents) are completely flabbergasted by the amount of work involved in the application process and in writing the essays required for various schools.
Another biggie is the standardized test issue. Many students, both of my older children included, do not get the score they need/want until the fall of their senior year. So, for my son, his first semester senior year consisted of staying on top of his challenging course load (reminder: almost all colleges want to see a student’s first semester grades), playing a fall sport, trying to figure out where he wanted to go to college, where he could get into, filling out college applications, visiting and researching colleges, dealing with the baseball recruiting process (which is a story in and of itself), and studying for the ACTs. It was grueling, and he truly did not know what hit him. He was blindsided, despite my attempted warnings, by the heaviness he felt in trying to manage all of it.
And the second piece of the fold that also takes students and parents by surprise (yes, even the second time around), is the roller coaster of emotions that arise over the course of senior year. For starters, there are college application/acceptance/rejection discussions happening everywhere you turn for students and parents alike. There is the elation for those kids who get accepted early decision or early action and for the athletes who sign their letters of intent to play their sport in college. But a few lockers down, there are kids dealing with the sadness and disappointment of receiving news that their dreams of attending and/or playing a sport for a certain college will not be realized. It is a difficult time for the kids to navigate the waters of being happy for themselves and each other when good news comes in, and also being sensitive and supportive to those who must alter their dreams. And then there are the many students who do not apply early, or do, but get deferred from one or more colleges, and live in the land of “I don’t know where I am going next year, and please don't ask me again” for most of their senior year, which can be a very uncomfortable place to live for both students and parents.
And the last piece that often takes kids and parents by surprise is the mixed bag of emotions that accompany this year of “lasts,” some of which my daughter beautifully described in her letter to her younger brother, (which I also hope to address in another post). There is no way for our kids to prepare themselves for the feelings that arise when looking at the reality of leaving the only life they know—their family, friends, school, house, room. And a lot of times, they can’t even find the words to talk about it. It’s just too big and too scary. And for the parent, gulp, it feels like a lump in your throat, a dull ache, a peeling off a bandaide ever so slowly. It’s anticipation mixed with slight panic, signaling the need to make some significant internal adjustments before the inevitable gutting of the heart ceremony that takes place when you stand in front of their dorm room and give them that final “I’m setting you free” hug.
So, as easy and natural as it is to be swept away by the strong tide of the senior year stressors, try to remember to allow the tide to bring you back in. Right now I can see clearly through the waves that my son is getting ready. Ready to move on. And I am getting ready to let him go while savoring the lasts. And when I feel my heart twisting into sadness and bracing itself for the sting of the separation, I try to remind myself that senior year is not so much as an end but a transition to a new and exciting beginning.
There is a new trend in the blogging world. Blog posts and even books that mark moments or periods of time like, “This is Childhood,” “This is Adolescence,” and “This is (My) 39.” They make time stand still by describing the real, raw aspects of the designated age or stage. As I inch closer to 50, I find myself stepping back and looking at my life, potentially about half-way over, or half way lived, or have way begun, depending on your vantage point. I have grappled with my feelings about getting older and realize that while I get ready to add a 48th candle to my birthday cake, I feel the need to do what all writers do: analyze and reflect. Forty-eight means something different to everyone, but this is what 48 is to me: It is NOSTALGIA. The nostalgia of the days when I could pick up my son, now a man/child, and hold him in my arms and tell him that I can make it all better; the days when all four of my children lived in my house with me. It is the nostalgia of my childhood memories, before husband, before children—the prehistoric days when all of the neighborhood kids played kick the can until dark and my parents didn’t know where I was; when phones were attached to walls, and there were no ipods, ipads, internet, social media, or botox; and there were vinyl records, 8-track and cassette tapes, the Grateful Dead, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, and Starsky and Hutch, and my sister and me fighting for the best TV viewing spot on our green couch.
It is COVER-UP. Watching women around me tighten, plump, nip and tuck and wondering if I should too. It is spending too many dollars on “age-defying” products that are marketed to ME because I am the age that society wants to defy. It is knowing that in trying to cover up the wrinkles and the sagging, I am desperately trying to hang onto something that is slipping away, and no matter how much healthy food, water and vitamins I ingest, how much exercise I do, what clothes I wear or how I color and style my hair, the “something” that is inevitably leaving me is called—YOUTH! And there is no stopping its exit.
It is SEARCHING. Searching for the meaning of life. For the meaning of my life. Searching for my roots, for spirituality, for Judaism. It is studying with an Orthodox rabbi and joining a Reform synagogue. It is grappling with my identity, as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a Jew, a writer, a reader, a yogi, a volunteer, a teacher and a student.
It is DISORIENTING. With four kids at very different life stages: college, high school, junior high and grade school. Disorienting with the reality that I on a given day, I can be managing a play date for one daughter and listening to details about a sorority date party from the other. Disorienting to have just celebrated one son's Bar Mitzvah and to soon be celebrating my other son's high school graduation. Disorienting to think that my oldest daughter will graduate college within a month of my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and that I could potentially be a grandma at my youngest child’s high school graduation. Disorienting to be planning for my 30-year high school reunion when I can so easily access vivid details (many of them embarrassing) of those powerful high school years, as if they happened yesterday.
It is UNCERTAINTY. Uncertainty about whether I made the right choice to leave my career and stay home with my kids (I am pretty sure I did). Uncertainty about whether I should go back to work. Uncertainty about who would even hire me now. Uncertainty about decisions, big and small, that I made and make for my kids and myself every day. Uncertainty about why bad things happen to good people, why I have lost friends and family members too soon. Uncertainty about the future; about being empty nester; about getting old, as in really old; uncertainty about death and how I will go down—will my mind go first or will my body fail me, or will I die in a plane crash (um, yes, one of my biggest fears in life...)?
It is PERIMENOPAUSE. It is crazy! It is crying and swearing and not remembering why I walked into the living room or where I was driving to, or why I was even mad at my husband this morning. It is exhausted…for no good reason. It is worry and obsessing, and worrying and obsessing some more. It is Prozac and Lexapro and the allure of taking the “happy pill” to calm the crazies, but opting instead for a weekly writing group, meditation, yoga and an available-when-needed therapist.
It is WORK. My work: writing, teaching yoga, and serving the community, which makes very little money but keeps me somewhat sane. My husband’s work that he does too much of to be able to support all of the kids and me so I that I can make sure that everyone in the family has clean underwear, decent meals, and some structure and fun in their lives, which happens most of the time, but definitely not all of the time.
It is LETTING GO. Letting go of what I think I should have been—an author of six successful books, a renowned public relations guru (my occupation before kids), a psychologist (my "I should have been/wish I would have been" career), and trying, trying, trying to accept who I am. It is letting my kids go, off to junior high, high school, off to drive a car, off to college. Letting go of the idea that I can control the outcome of their lives, and maybe even the outcome of my own life.
It is TRANSITION. Transition from being not yet old but not young either; from being a young parent with my oldest child to an older parent with my youngest. Transition of caring for aging parents. Transition of my own aging process, which blurs my thinking, my vision and my hearing, and yet, has prompted me to become more patient, more intentional, more compassionate and more present, with myself and with others. Transition of walking mindfully through my life, instead of running through or from it.
It is GRATITUDE. Gratitude for my blessed life and the amazing people in it. Gratitude that I stuck it out and continue to stick it out with my husband, in spite of many extremely trying times. Gratitude for my health, and for the health of those I love and care about. Gratitude that after years of sleepless nights, changing diapers, taming tantrums, tween angst and teenage drama, and the pain, panic and exhilaration of sending one off to college, I can now offer my voice of experience for newer moms.
It is ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance of childhood scars, anxiety, depression, addiction, fear and loneliness; being able to stare down my demons and tell them to go to hell, and accepting that sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t; and looking honestly at dysfunction—mine, my family’s, and my friends’, and finding compassion in all of it. Acceptance of my imperfect self that struggles with time management, organization and taking direction from others, but is driven and caring, and loves to give, and loves to love. Acceptance of dreams fulfilled, unfulfilled, and dreams that remain. Acceptance that life is really, really amazing and fun, and really, really hard and painful.
It is FREEDOM. Freedom to invest more energy in people, work and causes that ground, comfort and inspire me. Freedom to exit relationships that drain me. Freedom to be me, to practice self-care and self-compassion, to trust myself and others, to confidently use my voice, written and spoken, to tell my truth, to be vulnerable, and to encourage others to do the same.
It is THE MOMENT. Slowing down enough to understand that it is this moment that really matters, and believing that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be right now. It is taking time on my yoga mat or in meditation to quiet down the mind chatter and focus on the power of now. It is watching my kids, truly watching them, and listening to them, and seeing them for who they really are, with their struggles, with their attitudes, and with their independent, creative minds and their loving hearts. It is no longer rushing to get to the next phase of their lives or mine, but wanting time to stand still. Really. Just to be able to press pause. For a moment. So I can take it all in and cherish it.
It is LOVE. Love for my husband of 23 years, love for each one of my very unique, and very lovable kids, who have taught me more about life and love in the past 20 years of being a mother than I ever imagined possible. Love for my parents and mother-in-law who have shown me what it means to age gracefully, and that love, giving and receiving, is the most important thing in this life; and for my extended family and friends, both old and new, who continue to enrich my life each day, as each day becomes more and more precious.
It is knowing that every single day is a gift.
This is my 48.
Tis the season, for me anyway. I find fall to be, by far, the most transformative season: back to school, bracing for the MN winter, celebrating the high holidays, loaded with symbols of starting anew, letting go, forgiving, and looking forward. This fall feels even bigger. It feels huge. It feels loaded with stuff to be grateful for, to celebrate, stuff that involves new beginnings and exciting transitions in my kids’ lives and my life. But when I wake up with a racing heart and mind, and I start and stop writing multiple blog posts because none of them make sense, and I find myself scanning the Target parking lot for my car that I have zero recollection of parking, let alone driving there, I know that I am not embracing this transformative time, but racing through it. I am anywhere but here. Just ask my mom. She will tell you how I forgot that she was coming to pick up my daughter at school last week during conferences so she ended up wandering the halls of the school looking for my daughter for 45 minutes before running into my son, who directed her to my daughter. But I didn’t have a clue this was happening because, during that time, I was darting from classroom to classroom, like a harried teenager, hearing the voices of my kids’ teachers saying lovely things about my children, and I was feel’n pretty good and I may have had a moment of, “Okay, great, I must be doing something right.” Until, of course, I walked out of the math teacher’s room and spotted my mom, her eyes looking slightly puzzled and slightly pissed. “Nope. Never mind. I am not doing much of anything right.”
I am in the moment and a million miles away. Preparing for A’s Bar Mitzvah in three weeks and helping J with his college applications, due in three weeks; gearing up for my first ever self-care workshop that I am co-leading in two weeks and preparing yet another (please let this be the last), revision of my book outline that is, just guess, due to a publisher in 10 days. I am coming off of the high holidays, during which we attended not one, not two but three synagogues—a reformed, a conservative and an orthodox (I will save those details for another blog post); and S came home from college for Yom Kippur, which somewhat resembled a wonderful, exciting, but sometimes jolting, electric storm lighting up our house.
I’m in the moment and into panic in a matter of seconds. I question whether I will be able to pull off these next three weeks, manage the check list, and get it all done: the Bar Mitzvah details, all 20 zillion of them (thankfully divided between my sister and me, but I still don’t know what I am wearing); the writing, for which I require big blocks of time when my mind is calm and clear; providing college application assistance, yet another intended blog post topic, and for which I need more time and more patience, AND my son’s time and patience (which doesn’t all line up very often); the workshop preparation, which I need to tap into my experience of writing about researching and practicing self-care, while I am stretched to practice what I preach right now.
So I breathe my way back to the moment. And tell myself that yes, this will all happen. I will get through it. But I don’t want to just get through it! I want to feel it all, embrace the joy in each one of these milestones. So I drag myself to yoga, ground down, and set an intention to be present. And that works beautifully until that evening when I see my husband packing his suitcase for a three-day work trip. He sees my eyes widen, and then narrow. I expect him to say something calming, reassuring. But instead, he quickly reminds me that he will be traveling for two or three days of each of the next three weeks. Oh yeah, I had forgotten. My heart rate escalates and my mind kicks into high gear and spirals me into piling my entire to-do list into an already overcrowded area of my brain: Shit! The laundry, the dishes, the cooking, the no milk in the fridge and I think we only have one more roll of toilet paper in this house, and the engine light is on in my car, and there are unopened bills hanging out on the kitchen counter, and Jo has a soccer tournament in Rochester and three birthday parties this weekend, and A’s big science project is due, and the details of J’s college visits in two weeks still need to be finalized, and the senior parent ad for the yearbook is due, and my volunteer positions need attention, and there are a growing number of emails and texts that I have yet to read, let alone respond to...So sorry, my friends, I am trying.
And then I will myself to breathe again. And the spiraling stops as I remind myself that amidst all this mundane, almost whiney sounding to-do list, of which some or most will get done (or it won't), there lies the joyful stuff that trumps it all. And I work my way back to gratitude and the present moment. My husband and I laugh about how we may put our 10-year-old on a Greyhound and send her to Rochester for her soccer tournament, and that we may end up writing A’s Bar Mitzvah speech on the way to the synagogue that morning.
I will myself to trust that these next three weeks, with all their splendor and glory, and all of their mundane, will happen. And I will be there/be here. Present. Aware. Engaged. Grateful. I will do this by trying to allow myself to retreat from the lists and the panic, and to move toward lingering in the joy for as long as I can—especially the one that celebrates my baby boy becoming a Jewish adult. Yes, I will most definitely be lingering in that one.
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.
One 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.
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!
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.
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.
“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.
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."
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.
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.
This is going to sound very unlike me since it was only four months ago that I wept for weeks (ok, more like a month) after saying goodbye to my college freshman. However, I need to be honest here. Yes, I am crazy about my daughter, but now after a five-week winter break (during which we did get to escape from the tundra for a week), I understand with great clarity that when a child reaches 18 or 19 years old, it is time for them to fly the coop. And when they come home for an extended period of time, it can be tricky.
“January can be the longest month with college kids at home,” Lisa Endlich Hefferman and Mary Dell Harrington of Grown and Flown explained to me as I reached out to them in an attempt to normalize my feelings about this drawn out and somewhat confusing transitional period. “You'll gradually establish a new mother-daughter relationship but it can be challenging, as you must already know,” they revealed.
As much as I loved having my daughter home, there was an inevitable shift that occurred—that has been occurring since she left—a shift for her, for me and for the rest of our family. The five of us have adjusted to the lowered barometric pressure in our house.
Thankfully, my daughter also has adjusted easily and happily to the non-stop hustle and bustle of dorm and college life, where she is in charge of what she does, whom she is with and the choices she makes. There is no “all-knowing parent” watching over her shoulder, monitoring and commenting on her movements, and again, thankfully, she is managing her academic and social life really well.
However, when she comes home, she (like most of the college-age kids whose mothers I speak with) expects to be able to exercise these same freedoms.
There is a slight problem with this.
It doesn’t work.
There have to be limits and rules and curfews even though “you don’t know what time I get back to my dorm room when I am at school…you don’t know where I am and who I am with every minute of the day or night...I manage myself just fine! Why can’t you just TRUST ME?!”
The issue is not about trust. I do trust my daughter. But in order for us parents to maintain our sanity and a feeling of order in our homes, we need our children (including our adult children who now spend the majority of their time away at college) to respect our house rules, even if they don’t like them.
This is about our children respecting their parents, and not allowing our college kids to hold us hostage and worry us sick as they assert their incessant desire for autonomy.
I am grateful that my daughter is enjoying the freedom she has as a college student and that she is figuring out how to be a responsible, self-sufficient adult. That’s what we all hope for. But when your adult child comes home with this newly developed sense of independence, there is an interesting dynamic that comes into play between your adult child and you—one that I wasn’t completely prepared for (although many of my friends with older kids tried to warn me).
As stressful and uncomfortable as this transition can be, Mary Dell and Lisa are right, there is joy in the “new normal.”
"I am so happy to be back here, mom,” my daughter told me today, her first day back at school. And her statement wasn’t a “I am better off without you” message to me. It was an honest declaration of where she is at in her life. She is happy as a college student—living away from home, forging her own path. And I am truly happy for her, and happy for our newly developing relationship.