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.

The Aging Process— My New Mountain to Climb

hiking pikes peak “Show it who’s boss. No pain, no gain. Muscle through it. Just do It. Quitters never win” are some of the many messages that the majority of type-A, driven, perfectionistic people like myself tell ourselves on a very regular basis. For better or worse, this is the approach we often take in our jobs, relationships, parenting and often times, in our approach to physical fitness. We want to be strong, to be fit. We want to stay young, vital, mobile and maybe even flexible.

As we get older, many of us, out of habit or necessity, desperately cling onto this forceful drive and continue to fuel it even when it may not always serve us well: “This is what I do, this is what I have always done, and nothing is going to stop me.” Or, quite possibly, it is fear that propels us to keep pushing past our limits—fear of losing our shape, fear of letting go of activities that we have always enjoyed, or fear that we are inching closer to the inevitable time when our body will refuse to do what our minds ask it to do.

Throughout my life, I haven't met many sports or physical activities that I didn’t like: gymnastics, tennis, golf, running, biking, hiking, skiing, basketball and softball. I loved the sense of thrill and accomplishment I felt in completing a marathon, triathalon and biathalon and in summiting Pikes Peak. The desire to share my passion for fitness and movement with others led me to become an aerobics, spinning, pilates and yoga sculpt instructor, and I have loved teaching all of these classes periodically over the past 25 years. Being physically fit and helping others keep their bodies and minds strong have been a big part of my identity. "This is what I do..."

Over the past few years, however, my body has begun to raise some red flags that have signaled to me that, much to my dismay, it is time for me to make some necessary adjustments, physically and mentally.

The above-mentioned, “muscle through it” theory has allowed me to chase many aches and pains away over the years, and even more recently has worked to fake out this 40-something body into thinking it was 20-something. But now, as I am knee deep in discovering the true meaning of self-care for my upcoming book, I find it harder to ignore the sizzling pain that begins in my lower back, shoots down my leg, prevents me from sitting for more than an hour and sometimes keeps me up at night.

It is becoming clear that I must grapple with the following question: What happens to me if I do indeed listen my body’s plea for me to back off?

Who am I if I can’t still jump in the lake on a whim and pop up on a slalom ski? Who am I if I can’t swoosh down the double black runs on the ski mountain? Who am I if I am no longer able to teach my high energy yoga sculpt class or lace up my running shoes and head out for a long run on a beautiful summer day, let alone train for a marathon or a 14,000-foot mountain hike?

My self-critical brain tries to persuade me of this:

I am washed up. A has-been. A former. An “I used to be…”

But then I decide that is pretty harsh so I tone it down a bit:

I am a middle aged, peri-menopausal, color-my-grays, can’t remember where I put my keys (or my cell phone or my readers…) mother of four children, two of whom are almost adults and believe only half of what I told them I’ve done. I am woman of 47 years and a wife of 21, who sometimes yearns for the “what was” and is slightly terrified of the “what’s to come.” I swim in a sea of ambiguity— neither young nor old. But if forced to pick one, I would have to pick old, because it’s tough to categorize inching closer to 50 as young.

I continually remind myself that getting older is definitely better than the alternative (yes!), and that aging is an "I've earned my stripes (in the form of wrinkles and age spots)" privilege, not a curse. "Embrace it,” I say aloud to myself, as I decide to go out for a walk instead of a run.

On my walk, I wrestle with feelings of frustration, nostalgia and fear, and nudge myself to open up to gratitude and compassion. I ask myself the truly important questions—questions about self-love, self-care and self-acceptance. I find answers when I flip some of my initial questions on their sides: Who am I if I do not take care of myself? What will I become if I continue to ignore my body’s signals?

I find answers in the realization that my body is guiding me right now and I am listening—really listening. And by letting go of what was and accepting what is, I am allowing my body to heal, and am creating new, exciting pathways for my body, mind and spirit.

This is my new mountain to climb.

 

 

"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

Being a Passenger on Your Child's Bumper Car Ride to Adulthood

teen on bumper car I knew that it was time to do the web search but I wasn’t quite ready. As I forced myself to type in the name of my chosen airline and begin the flight search, it hit me that I would not be able to book our two tickets together.  My ticket would be for a quick turn-around, and my daughter's would be for a much more extended stay. I would take her back. Back to college, her home away from home, where she taught me how to say goodbye and where she plans to reside for the next three years, at least. This August, I will fly there with her and once again, help her move into her room, squeeze her with everything I am, say a prayer, and return to live my life at home, a little emptier and yet a little fuller, while she renters her college life.

But we are not there yet. I am with her now. Soph blew in (my daughter doesn’t just arrive, the wind actually picks up when she enters a room due to her passion-filled, larger than life energy) at the end of April before most of her friends were home. I had her almost to myself. While the rest of my kids were finishing their school year, we had the chance to reconnect. She decompressed. She slept. We ate her favorite foods. We talked. I learned about the small details of her life at school that she couldn’t share via text or phone calls. I cherished the opportunities to read her facial expressions and body language as she revealed snippets of new, exciting experiences she had, mistakes she made and questions she was pondering.

And I listened. And I withheld judgment and advice…until I couldn’t. And the MOTHER brain took over and I found myself advising, “teaching,” probably with a tinge of judgment. And then she would pull back. Retreat. Protect her secrets that one does not share with her MOTHER. And I gave her space. Stopped looking for every “teachable moment,” and let her be.

And then she would come back around. Slowly allowing me to see her again—in her full, teen/adult light—to know her thoughts, her insights, her feelings, her vulnerabilities and her fears. And I would listen. And bite the hell out of my lip.

And this is the new language we speak. A mother who craves closeness to a young woman who needs her mom close and yet needs her space all in the same breath; a daughter who is on a bumper car ride toward adulthood, on which there is occasionally room for her mother to sit next to her, and yet, more frequently, needing and wanting to occupy the front seat all by herself. And I am off to the side (most likely biting my lip again), trusting that she's got what it takes to navigate her car without me, and yet always prepared to jump in if the bumps get too intense.

Push me away—pull me close. Hold her tight—let her go. But never completely.

I book two tickets—our outbounds the same, but my return for two days after our arrival and her return for two months later, when my youngest son will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah.

More growing up.  More letting go. I am finally starting to fully grasp the true beauty of this cycle, and am trying to enjoy the ride. Bumps and all.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Story:

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

Could that be true? What if it was?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“J hit a home run.”

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

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

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

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

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

This was a victory in and of itself.

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.

My Writing Process

My Writing ProcessI am grateful to the wonderful Jessica Halepis of  Nourished Mom for inviting me to take part in the series of blog posts in which bloggers reveal the details of their writing process. Jessica and I connected through our blogs as we realized that we are both very deep thinkers and feelers. I was immediately drawn to the rawness and the “reach out and touch it” feeling so prominent in Jessica’s writing. I know if we lived in the same city we would be having weekly coffees to discuss writing and life. But for now, we support each other from afar. What am I working on?

In addition to posting weekly blogs, I also write for various other publications and take on freelance writing projects from time to time. Sometimes the pieces I submit to publications are accepted and sometimes they are rejected. Sometimes I get paid for my writing, and sometimes I write for free. As challenging as I have found this writing world to be, the more I put myself “out there,” the more I learn about myself as a writer and as a person. The process has forced me to confront my deep fear of failure, and to actually reframe what failure means to me. To quote a relative of mine, “It’s not really about the failure; it’s about the recovery.”  So I keep trying.

My most prominent work in progress is my book on self-care for moms. This book has been both a labor of love and a true test to my patience and resiliency. Devoting time, energy and attention to gathering information on a hugely important issue for all mothers has been an incredible undertaking. However, sometimes I feel like I have a MASSIVE final research paper hanging over my head and I that I am not going to graduate or get my degree until it’s published!

And I am committed to making that happen. I am passionate about empowering mothers to take care of themselves while they take care of their families and I know first hand how difficult this can be. My passion for this issue fuels me to continue my work on “Love Your Family Without Losing Yourself” and I am excited to be able to share it with you...eventually. For now, I continue to edit, revise, reframe and rewrite the hundreds of pages housed in my laptop. It’s all part of the process...

(The bet I made with my oldest son that this book will be published by the time he graduates high school next year gnaws at me daily. Tick-tock…)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

For the most part, my writing is the touchy-feely, pull at the heartstrings kind of writing, but I am certainly not the only one who writes from a place of vulnerability. I have learned from so many talented writers around the blogosphere about how to write with honesty, depth and sincerity. What is unique to each of us is our own voice.  Since starting my blog just over a year ago, I have realized that the writing that ultimately feels the best to me and resonates the most with my readers is when I am most deeply connected to my inner voice—telling the story that only I can tell without worrying about being judged or trying to write what I think people want to hear. It has taken me a while to cultivate and trust that voice and still feel a moment of panic every time I expose myself in my writing. However, I have found great encouragement and clarity from my most influential “go-to” writer and thinker, Brene’ Brown, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” –Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead”

Why do I write what I do?

In truth, I write what I write because I have to. And why do I have to? Well, this beautiful, spot-on quote by Jessica Halepis explains the why to a tee. “What I have learned over the years is that when I am not writing, I feel like a central valve has been sealed, my blood flow constricted, essential parts of me gangrene and wither. There is also, when I am not writing, the unnerving feeling that I am hiding from myself, which in essence I am doing, since I am unable to think through even the smallest matters unless I write them down.” Yep, me too, Jessica. Exactly.

Growing up, I was a pleaser, a perfectionist and a feeling stuffer. I always knew I loved to write but had trouble finding my own voice because when you are busy pleasing, perfecting and stuffing, your voice gets lost. Hiding from my true self (as Jessica mentions) is no longer an option. Writing is an essential tool for me to make sure I connect with myself and others in a meaningful and genuine way. Exploring the certainties and uncertainties of motherhood and womanhood, in a space filled with so many interesting and authentic moms and women, continues to inspire me daily.

How does your writing process work?

The how’s and when’s of my writing process are pretty simple: Ideas hit me randomly, and oftentimes, I write about issues I am grappling with or reflections on situations with my kids that elicit a strong feeling or reaction. I write whenever I can (except for the early morning). I admire my early morning blogger friends who wake before the sun and write for a few hours before the kids get up but after trying that for a week and being brain dead by 3 p.m., I realized that was not my thing (especially because I don’t go to sleep until after midnight). But I do block out big chunks of certain days to write, when my kids are at school, and I am not volunteering, teaching yoga or doing all the other stuff that moms do. I also write at night after the kids go to sleep. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to “squeeze in” a few minutes of writing here and there throughout my day but have found that this strategy doesn’t really work for me either.   I need time to sit with my thoughts, to hash them out on paper. And then, to rework, rewrite and edit, over and over again. I am a painstakingly slow writer. I am a putsy editor. I will spend embarrassing amounts of time on one sentence. I overthink. I second guess. But like anything, the more I practice, the more the writing flows. Except when it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, I know there is some kind of blockage and I either need to take a yoga class, go for a long walk, meditate, or go out and do something fun and unplug for a while.

Being a writer is a dream come true. I am grateful to be able to do what I love every day and to be able to share this passion with others. I have met such incredible people in the writing/blogging world I am excited to introduce one of those great women whose work I admire and whose strength inspires me. My meeting Emily Mitty Cappo was a complete fluke but also b’sherit (“meant to be” in Hebrew). I tweeted “Go Blue” last fall during a University of Michigan football game, as my daughter was a new freshman there. Emily randomly responded to the tweet from across the country because she had gone to college at Michigan and was a huge fan. Through back and forth tweets and eventual emails, we would come to discover that she was a college friend of my husband’s AND she dated a guy in college who was also from Minneapolis and who took me out on my first car date. There is more irony to this story but maybe Emily will share it some day. I feel blessed to have gotten to know Emily even more through her writing at Oh Boy Mom.

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

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

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

Shoot the messenger!

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

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

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

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

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

This is 17.

This Is Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moms, What Does Self-Care Mean to You? Answer for a Chance to Win a Self-Care Retreat!

year-of-self-care mother's day giveawayAs I delve further into the rewrite process of my book on self-care for moms, a friend introduced me to the work of Renee Trudeau, who has devoted much of her career to helping moms find fulfillment and balance. In the spirit of honoring mothers this month, she is offering a-year-of-self-care retreat giveaway at Omega Institute ($2,700 value) that I could not pass up sharing with you. As I reflect on how I have struggled at various times to incorporate self-care in my life, I realized that the only true obstacle I face in my effort to take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally...is me.

This admission is not a way of being hard on myself, which I so often am (and self-blame is NOT self-care!). But the truth is, all moms have a multitude of valid reasons for not carving out time in our busy schedules to prioritize our needs. Some of the biggest stumbling blocks for prioritizing self-care are:

Guilt: I can’t go for a walk with a friend after work because I haven’t seen my kids all day and that would be really selfish of me.

Money: Self-care involves spending money: purchasing a gym membership, getting a massage, manicure or pedicure, or hiring a babysitter to have a date night with my husband. I can’t afford these things.

Time: I can barely find time to go to the bathroom while taking care of two young children full time, when am I going to find time to do something for myself?

Yes, yes and yes. We all certainly subscribe to some or all of these beliefs at various time, and they all may have some truth to them. However, instead of accepting these obstacles and allowing them to control our actions, it is our job to challenge them and to find creative ways in which to weave in self-care so we are better able to love and nurture ourselves and those who need us. There is no getting around it, as challenging as it is to make self-care a daily habit, it is truly an essential element to living fully and being able to be the person and mother that most of us strive to be.

My achilles heel, and real barrier to practicing self-care (specifically mentally and emotionally) is GUILT. I am GUILTY of stockpiling my children’s feelings. When they are stressed, I am even more stressed. I subconsciously subscribe to the idea that if I energetically take on their stress, then they won’t feel it. I am GULITY of telling myself (and my girlfriends) that I must miss a fun gathering because one of my kids has a project due the next day and I must be available to help him.

I neglect to ask myself the imperative boundary securing question, “Wait, whose project is due— mine or his?”

Much of my work in the self-care arena has been to draw better boundaries around myself, to understand that I am a separate entity from my children and to trust that they will be just fine (maybe even better sometimes) without me. This work is ongoing…

The first and most important step for moms to take on their self-care journey is to make an honest (but not overly critical) assessment of where they are at on the self-care spectrum and where they want to be: what ways are you practicing self-care, and what areas could use a little more attention? And then to determine your plan of action?

In order for most of us to make lasting changes in our lives, we have to find value in what we are doing. So, in the spirit of  Mother’s Day and bringing awareness to the importance of moms practicing self-care, please describe below (or in Facebook comments) what self-care means to you. Of the respondents, I will draw one name that will be submitted to Renee’s giveaway drawing, which will take place on Mother's Day.

Look forward to reading what self-care means to you and good luck with the retreat giveaway! And most importantly, Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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

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

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

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

Download today!

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

 

Unscripted Mom is ONE!

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

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

It was both liberating and terrifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Sisterly Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once a Parent, Always a Caretaker

My dad, mom and me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Caring, Less Fixing—A Key to Enhancing Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)