Children are like plants, a metaphor all of us have heard before. Yes, they need nurturing and sustenance and love to grow and become strong and develop roots. One piece that is missing and that makes this metaphor almost too altruistic is that while every child needs soil and water and foundation and support, every child’s unique incredibility demands that those elements are different. Each and every child needs different soil, different water, different love. Because of this there is no book that can tell us how this parenting thing is done. There is no coffee table manual that will allow us to “grow the perfect rose”.
I have been struggling with my parenting lately, I have been lamenting about every mistake I may have made, about every decision hat was mine which trickled down and had an effect on my children. As parents we are the top, the boss woman, the head honcho and although we are mostly playing life day by day as best we can our children see us as these immortal, all knowing, beaming and majestic people who give them everything, show them everything and help them become everything they can be. So in this moment, when you read this, know that to your children this IS what you are. You are what they need, you know what they need and you can provide what they need.
I had a dream last night and when I awoke this morning I look over at my husband and told him that I spent the entire dream evening with different child psychologists and I have the answer. He looked at me and said “okay, what is it” expecting a half comedic reply but it was lacking comedy entirely. I said to him she is a plant and we have to submerge her roots in water right now. I don’t know what the water is a metaphor for, and I know that her roots are her being, who she is and was as a young child and is becoming as a pre-tween. I have lamented for months trying to determine what it is that is missing, what I am not seeing that she needs and now I see it and while I have no idea what IT is, I know that it is my job to find it, and to make sure I help her understand that while I was unable to help her obtain this thing right away that my promise to her is that I will always look. I will always fight for her and I will never stop because she is my baby rose bud and I am breath-taken by her beauty and by the incredible mind that is blooming in her and for the deep empathetic being that she is.
We do not raise, nurture and plant a tree in hopes of it always staying a sprout, we want, more than anything to watch that small tendril grow and push up through the soil, and fill the sky with its beauty and wonder. My children are no different, I want nothing more for them than to push up, feel secured and reach for anything and everything they want in this world. So for every parent out there who feels like they have read the books and water the plant and replenished the soil remember that it takes time, it takes patience and it takes a faith in yourself and in the incredible thing you are growing.
Your child’s school is an extension of you and your home. Be sure that you are choosing a school that will not just water for the sake of watering and that will not just follow some manual that has impossible directions to follow because it does not speak about your child. Make sure that your child’s school gives them what they need to be who they were meant to be.
A Smile a Day...
My family and I were on a post Christmas flight to Florida and the holiday stress was still tangible in the air. My husband and I decided to anonymously gift a small monetary amount so that after people ordered food or a beverage they were told someone on the flight prepaid their meal for them. When we made this offer we were greeted by the flight attendants with extreme gratitude. The flight attendant informed me that in the 35 years she has been working for the airlines she has never experienced anyone doing anything like this. It felt so good to do something that would hopefully help the stress of travel for a handful of strangers on our flight. At the same time I was overcome with sadness that in 35 years this flight attendant had never seen an act of kindness like this.
My grandmother has a Hanukah tradition that she has shared with me and I want to share with all of you who celebrate any joyous holiday occasion. If you can, hold onto the hand of or embrace someone you love while doing this so that you have the feeling of love and comfort and stability in mind. Think about one thing that you wish for yourself and one thing that you wish for the world. This simple act might just be the key to seeing things as they are, as they could be and as we wish them to be rather than focusing on what isn’t possible, what hasn’t happened or what we feel is out of our control.
My wish for myself is to keep doing what I am doing every day and to love it deeply and with every piece of me. My wish for the world is that people think of others, reflect on others and hold space for adding magic, kindness and generosity to the world whenever they can, want to or are able. Joy is contagious but so is fear and anger and sadness so we truly can change the world with something as simple as a smile. In giving we hold the power to spread cheer. Giving can be monetary, emotional, physical or mental. It can be as big as a house or as small as a smile. It is not the thing itself but the act that carries weight. Remember that when you feel hopeless or helpless or lost, you can look in the mirror and remember to smile, see yourself as you wish to be in the moment rather than you are. Some people might say this is a fake it until you make it mentality but I see this as a self help tool, as a way to remind ourselves of who we can be when the weight of the world is too much to carry. Take this message as you will and may you have the happiest of New Years, here is to 2020!
The holidays bring about ample opportunity to feel all the feelings. People are often stampeded by emotional forces that bring waves of anger, frustration, love, courage, stress, joy, overwhelm, exhaustion and regrettable behavior. For me this season is a blend of joyous wonder because I am living in my home town after years of being away. At the same time I have experienced loss around me that I wasn’t expecting. I have watched people I know, care about and love around me lose family members in an abrupt and sudden way and when this happens it puts so many things in perspective.
I have been mulling over the all too familiar feeling of regret that I both experience and witness from others when someone passes. It is not an unfamiliar tale to hear people lament that they just wished the effort had been made to see someone they just lost one last time, wishing they had taken the time to call or visit or write at the very least. I genuinely believe that at the very base of each and every one of us is a desire to be everything to everyone who needs us to be there for them.
Generally this idea is incredible, if we all just lived for one another and put in a little extra effort for those around us who we deeply care for then we could all just feel supported all the time. I hate to be the grinch but this isn’t possible. We live hundreds if not thousands of miles apart from our family members, from our friends and from those we love and cherish deeply. We no longer have an emotional circle that expands a few city blocks or miles at the most. Now we must allow our hearts and minds to grasp the idea that our best friend lives 1124 miles from us. That our parents are a full days travel away and that our cousins and college besties are over seas. Because of this and in light of this we are doing the best we can. In a world that is expanding, literally and figuratively, at a very slow but noticeably persistent rate what hasn’t changed is our own ability to spread ourselves only as thin as we can while still holding onto ourselves in the process.
It is the advice of any flight attendant to “tightly secure your own oxygen mask before that of others”; including our own children. The regulations of life and happiness and sanity and survival are no different. If we give ourselves away to everyone we love as much as we want to and feel the need to I fear that we will find ourselves even more anxious, distressed, burnt out, tired and stressed out than we as a society already are today.
There is an intrinsic guilt that comes along with life and all the choices we have to make. If we traveled to see all those we loved whenever we felt compelled one might comment that we are not prioritizing our home life or our career. If we worked as much as our job might demand and possibly as much as we desire people might say we have no interest in our family. If we stay home and pour ourselves endlessly into our children and partners people might observe that we are recluse and bound to the home. So there is no perfect answer and there is no choice that does not come with a cost.
I close my eyes, I take a deep breath. I hear my daughter spinning salad, I hear my husband grinding pepper, I hear my youngest cooing on the kitchen floor. I feel sadness in my heart because my aunt has died and I never got to say goodbye. I feel comfort in knowing that I knew her and I remember her as the Barbara Streisand of our family and I feel at peace with the promise that while distance and time kept us apart, my heart and my mind can and could be with her and with anyone at any point in time no matter how far the distance is.
Gratitude is my message for this month. Gratitude is my offering to each and every one of you reading this because gratitude allows us to walk through life without regret and upon my last breath my largest wish is to look back and know that I may have made decisions with consequences but I regret nothing. This article is dedicated to my tanta, a woman who could fill a room with laughter and a smile purely because it was her.
Forget the tricks, lets go for treats.
Parenting alone is one of the largest jobs if not the largest job we will ever do as people who choose to have children. It starts much before we actually become parents for many of us and extends for years beyond when we think it perhaps would have ended. With the Halloween aftermath surrounding me I am reminded that children are quite motivated by rewards, especially those that are sweet and double down in the sugar department. Often times as parents we give our children short term rewards in order to maintain their focus on longterm goals. It is a tried and true method to offer a child the reward of a fresh baked cookie if they finish their dinner or the ability to watch a special show if they finish all their homework or chores. As adults we realize that often times the work can feel like a weight and validating a child in the feeling that the weight of life is counterbalanced with joy is a wonderful tool to give them which they can unfold at every crossroads of life. So now, moms and dads. Lets do a little self reflection…we understand the concept that short term goals help with managing long term goals. We also know that reminding ones self about the benefits gained from all the hard work done help us to stay on track and enable continual successes.
I realized that as parents we look at our new born children, our precious, blank canvases that are genuinely as close to perfection as we can imagine and we want them to have a life filled with laughter, love, successes of their own, joy and adventure. We parent each and every day with these goals in mind. We remind them to brush their teeth a thousand times to prevent future pain, we feed them healthy meals every day to prepare them for the world they are growing into and to give them an awareness of their health and longevity. We read to them every night so that they can understand the wide breadth of rules in our English language in hopes that they can succeed in school. We spend countless hours dedicated to the longest goals we have ever set for ourselves and yet where are our short term rewards? We have moments with them that melt our heats, yes but I think we need more than that. I think that we as parents are allowed to reward ourselves daily, weekly, monthly for a job well done. For the work we are doing and the focus we are maintaining. So I give you permission to award yourself after a long day and truly enjoy it, tell yourself you deserve it and remind yourself that you are in a marathon and unless you give yourself the nourishment, you will not be able to sustain the run. So find that bag of Halloween candy that you looked at and immediately assessed as “naughty” and pick out your favorite piece every day and eat it like you deserve it because you know what? YOU DO!
A time of tragedy reminds me to redefine what is possible.
Last week a family I have known for years lost their eldest son in a tragic accident. They lost their first born baby on the day of his 10th trip around the son. The pain must be insurmountable. The grief unimaginable and the faith in this world must slip away almost instantly. I got the phone call about 4 hours after this beautiful young life had been taken and every moment since I have tried to reflect on and empathize with what this family is going through and yet the truth is I can't. It is not possible. For those of you that have experienced this loss and I pray that is none of you, you are the only ones who know this pain and sadness.
I have always wondered how a mother (identifying as a mother myself) wakes up the next morning without her child and faces the day without being filled with rage and anger that is unstoppable. It has broken my heart to witness from afar, that process and it has amazed me how strong this mother is, being in the face of absolute horror. While I know that she is shattered inside I also see a human strength that is comparable to nothing I have ever seen or witnessed before. We as parents are prepared to be strong for our children in order to shied them from fear or danger in our world. What we are also prepared for is how to honor our children should they leave us too soon but I believe that none of us believe we hold this strength because of the pain it also invokes.
I have been praying, meditating, fixating, pondering and processing for over four days now and I have come to a place of wanting to honor this young man whose life was stolen from him by looking at my life and my gift to be a parent differently than I have ever seen it before. Yes the days can be long, sure the nights of sleeplessness are draining and of course there are moments when things just feel too easy to put on hold. Here is the promise I made in honor of every child who has been taken too soon. I will honor the moments I have, time is linear and it does not go any direction other than forward. When it ends it is over and that is where I will finally rest. Until then I will do what I can to take advantage of every moment and to honor the space and time around me that is being a parent.
We as parents are stronger than we know, we have powers that are in us just waiting to be used. Those powers involve speaking with our children honestly about hard topics, advocating for our children when they need our help, fighting for what we know is right in this world so our children have a safe place to become parents themselves and sanity when even the most tragic events test us beyond what should be possible. You have a choice every day mom and dad, you have a choice to feel stuck or to move forward and make a life that fulfills you. It is not easy, but it is a choice.
What should the grief of widowed parents look like? We think we know because we have seen a movie or a documentary and the images perfectly describe an emotionally devastated adult ...or do they? What if losing a child looks like the strongest mother in the world being asked to carry even more weight? What if we find power within us that we never knew we had so that we can honor every human being, child and adult who was not given the opportunity to move forward one more day.
I want to dedicate this months newsletter to the Janusz Family. I have included a link to their fundraising campaign and if you feel willing or able to give in the memory of Aiden I would be immensely grateful. If you are not able to give at this time please say a small prayer, mantra or word for Aiden, a 10 year old gone decades too soon.
You know those days when you feel like you are super mom/dad. When the world is just throwing you fast balls and you are knocking them out of the park and then your dog pees on the neighbors carpet, your 10 month old eats dog food and you realize after the fact that you served moldy marinara sauce with ravioli for dinner? Okay well here is the thing, we all mess up. We all get it wrong, we all have moments of “who put me in charge”. So here is the good news, you are no longer perfect, you no longer have to strive to be and you never will be again. The stress is melting away right? No, it is not….there is some invisible perfection stream that pours through us as parents and just when we accept that we might be average or even A- at best that stream of perfection comes rolling in and we suddenly feel like we need to strive for anything but where we are.
My husband travels out of town a lot and that leaves me to a house full of chaos for more time than I would like to admit. I have tried for years to hold it all together, to not skip a beat and to always reveal only my good, organized self. In the last year I have realized that modeling an image of perfection is a dangerous parenting model. It displays an image of false identity, impossible goals and self degradation. There is a difference between trying your best, being disappointed when you cannot achieve to your ability, striving to be better and that of pretending like everything is effortless, easy and calm when really it is a shit storm of emotions. Our children look to us for their confidence, their self worth and their management tools which they use throughout their entire life. It is up to us to show them that failure is learning, that imperfection is beautiful and that even the best fall down sometimes (yes I stole song lyrics but they were just so spot on).
Almost every “oh shit” moment is a fantastic story a year down the road. Almost every parenting oops allows us to prevent even bigger mistakes and almost every feeling of self doubt allows us to be sure that we are still human, that we are reflecting on our surroundings and that we are doing the best we can, even when it might not be good enough for everyone around us. I saw a quote today that said something to the effect of “if you are going to judge the way I live I will expect you to pay some of my bills”. The general takeaway here that I want to convey is that if other people assume we will live our lives in order to ensure their own personal fulfillment than other people are not fulfilling themselves. Yes, we should be courteous and thoughtful and do for others as well as ourselves. This does not mean that when your 2 year old vomits on a 2 hour flight non-stop and people are looking at you as though you have failed at parenting in every way that you actually have. There are moments we cannot control, there are moments that will define us and there are moments that will teach us about the world but none of these moments are a failure of who we are. They are a moment in time. They are a memory, a story, a teaching tool. So I hereby grant you imperfection, it is the greatest gift a parent can get. Take it, go out in the world and shine your imperfection brightly, you earned it!
Exactly the same and nothing alike
Nothing can prepare you for becoming a parent. No matter what books you read or tips you get from seasoned parents, there will come a moment when you are drowning in the newness of it all. A time when for a moment you wonder if you will survive the transition you have just gone through; from being an individual to becoming a parent. It was amazing to me how quickly I went from thinking I knew what I wanted, even up to days before delivering my first daughter and the reality of what parenthood was just a few weeks after becoming a mom. After having my first daughter I could not conceive of having another child, even though I had always wanted multiple children. Deep down I deeply wanted a second child and in that desire I also feared that having a second child would break me or ruin the relationship I had with my firstborn.
People told me so many things, it was twice as hard, it was not nearly twice the amount of work, one and done is the way to go, you have to give your child a sibling, once you have two what is three or four….hold on people, can I have some solidarity here? Here is where as parents, we must learn to breath, in order to survive, in order to stay sane and in order to be who we want to be as people and as parents. People told me that loving a second child was automatic and I believed them, in the same way I believed that being a parent was a lot of work; insert the definition of empathy versus sympathize here because really, those who do not walk the path cannot fathom the shoes they would hypothetically be in.
What no-one ever talks about is what it is like to look at two versions of yourself within your children. That is what I want to touch on in this article because it is miraculous to witness. Biological children will have similarities of course because they share genetic components. Every parent I met who has more than one child talks about the similarities and the differences of what each of their children does the same or differently than their other children. While I do find these traits to be marvelous I have a harder time seeing them because of the wide gap between my girls (six years). I believe, yet do not know with any certainty, that children born closer together are easier to “compare” regarding eating patterns, what makes them giggle as an infant, different faces they make etc. The stages of each child are closer together and thus it is easier to recall one versus the other. Again, I am speaking to a pair of shoes I have not yet worn so pardon my assumptions here.
Lately I have been watching my girls and admiring who they are as people and projecting who they will become in their lives. In doing so I see two sides of myself and it hit me like a ton of bricks that children are most alike in their differences. They share half of me and half of their father and yet those fragments of each of us are so different between them. My daughters are the lights of my life, they give me purpose and meaning every day. Do I want a break? Absolutely and as soon as they are out of my arms I miss them terribly because I realize that in giving birth to two human beings I have handed over a piece of myself to each of them. Knowing that never again will I be whole without them, never again will I be whole with one of them, they together make up the best and worst of who I am, who I have been and who I will always be. It seems to be that comparing your children is not possible because they are both exactly the same and entirely opposite from one another. One may be athletic and the other a scholar. One might excel where the other falls behind. If we look at ourselves and really look deeply at who we are and what makes us unique I believe we will all see that our children are simply the parts of us that we have given to them mixed in with the influences of the world around them. So next time you look at your children side by side imagine yourself in two parallel lives and look at the wonderful opportunity in being able to be so uniquely different at the same time.
Question, don't judge.
Lately I have been pondering about the topic of how we as adults and how children look at the world around them. My thoughts have been centered on both the ability of children to accept those people and those things around them while also looking at adults and their seeming inability to do the same. I watch my six year old daughter navigate new social interactions and sit in awe of the way she and her peers are able to go from perfect strangers to best of buds within moments of meeting. I started asking myself; why and how we train ourselves out of this ability to so easily connect with others? When people are young they seem to accept what is before them as a reality of their own world. There is no wondering why a person is or is not the same as them, there is simply an understanding that they are, and so it is. We then age out of this beautiful ability to just accept our reality and we begin to question and challenge those things that are different and those things that do not fit into what we already know to be “normal” or expected of our immediate environment.
As parents we have a big job, we must navigate not only our own biases but those things that will potentially cause biases amongst our next generation, amongst our children. Both my own and my husbands family are a blend of Asian and American backgrounds. Our daughters are blue eyed, blond haired and white skinned but the same cannot be said about a majority of our combined families. My infant daughter is too young to question but my six year old has not yet began to ask or wonder about why she does not look like her grandparents, her cousins or her aunts and uncles. Her mind is absorbing the environment around her, it is accepting what is and experiencing everything as the pieces that make up her world. At some point I know she will ask why and I know she will ask how and at that point I will understand that her mind has shifted from accepting to questioning.
This shift is a beautiful and necessary part of development. It shows that there is growth and knowledge working together to make sense of things rather than just accepting the blanket truth that is put before her. It is the sign of an independent and strong mind. This is also the point in a child’s development when we as parents must be very aware of what we are saying, how we paint those around us and when we categorize an “example” of something as “the rule” of something. Our children will absorb all of this, they will look to us for the transformation of their accepting mind into their questioning mind.
Please remember that you, as the parents can help your children learn to look at the reality before them and question yes, but judge no. It is within all of us to judge that which is different and it is within all of us to question what we do not understand so it is of fundamental importance that we teach the next generation to question kindly, believe in finding a common ground and understand that just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve to be.
Don’t Stop Believing
One of the hardest struggles I bare as a parent is that of believing in my own gut feeling or my intuition. There are dozens of moments a day where I am making decisions based solely on what I feel is right in that particular moment. With my first daughter I was more scheduled. I would decide to follow some sort of regimen and regardless of what I was feeling in any particular moment, I would stick with my larger goal as a way of proving that I could parent the “right” way. With my work as a parent advocate and a postpartum doula I have learned that parenting is fluid, not linear. There is no schedule to be followed except that of life. There is no way to expect that each day should run the same from start to finish. Although I struggle with this almost more than with anything else I would like to offer my insight and hope that someone out there, a parent or parent to be can learn from my struggle and live in a place of believing in themselves more than anything else.
There are so many resources for parents to follow that it has become more complex than it used to be to parent by some “right” way of doing things. I can walk into a bookstore and pick up books that will directly contradict one another while claiming to be THE way to parent. The newest fad changes before I can even finish a book about it. How are we supposed to parent in a world where parenting is changing faster than we can keep up? The only answer is don’t stop believing; in yourself, in your parenting intuition, in what your child needs, in the life you are creating before you. You will make mistakes, you will spend 45 minutes trying to sooth your child to sleep before the lightbulb goes off that she is hungry. Yes, you fed her already and no she shouldn’t be hungry but we all know that the shoulds get us down, turn us around and make us forget what it is to be the parent that our children need.
In any given day I feel as though I make mistakes which could have been prevented. I have to believe that it is all part of the journey. I have to believe that I am doing the best I can and I have to believe that without these mistakes I would be unable to learn how to be better, more present and more honest with myself about who I am as a parent and as a person. It will not always be easy and in fact it will probably bare more hard days than good and in the end we will miss every moment that is passing beneath our tired feet and exhausted eyes.
So I remind myself and I offer to you: Hang in there, never stop believing in the strength you have within you and always remember that being honest with yourself is the only true way to parent correctly.
Embracing the Change
Parenting teaches us many lessons that may not come easy and yet they come to us none the less. Life before parenting defines freedom, a freedom that feels both good and lonely in its lack of structure. I remember longing for the days when I could wake up in my bed knowing that my home was my landing point, not an in-between life phase but rather the place where I had settled. And then the word hits me like a ton of bricks…settled….into…what? My husband and I are quite nomadic by nature, I suppose all humans are and perhaps some of us simply embrace the age old tradition more than others. Months after meeting, my now husband, we moved to South Korea for a year, Michigan for a year, Houston for two years and Colorado for a decade. Letting the universe take us where it wanted and enjoying the flexibility while craving the stability that was yet to come. Once we landed and planted some roots in Colorado we found ourselves surrounded by the most fortunate of circumstances. Living in a gorgeous North Boulder home, with our daughter attending top schools in the area, working a flexible schedule and surrounded by friends that are irreplaceable. Yet this word; settled, was festering in the back of our minds. Not because we don’t appreciate what we have, not because we are not thankful but because we, my husband I are refusing to let the life we have prevent us from possibility. Possibility of failure? Of course, possibility of hard times? It is an option. But possibility is what keeps us going, what keeps us feeling connected to ourselves.
It is hard reaching for what may be next. It is hard to accept change and the possibility of what else is out there. We are taking this life that we have, fortune and all and we are moving it west to California. I wish I could recall what exactly happened that brought us to this point and perhaps one day, when the noise has quieted and the tiny footsteps have made tiny footsteps of their own I will. Perhaps I will be able to sit and stare at a wall of photos that so quickly and elegantly wraps up our life in a few sweeps of the eye. For now I know that we are trading in the gorgeous home and top tier schools for the opportunity to be closer to family, to have support for this family of four we have created and to follow this nomadic adventure that we love. We have spent 10 years in Boulder and while it has been filled with wonder and joy it has also been void of something that my husband and I treasure deeply which is the opportunity to travel and see this big beautiful world. Parenting without family close by is comparable to parenting on an island. The ability to feel supported and to let go of the stress even for a moment doesn’t exist. It is time for us to choose a life that allows a let-down of stress and of feeling like the Atlas for our family, holding up our entire world for fear of letting go even for a moment.
The hardest part is embracing the change, letting go of the stigmas that come along with cashing in your million dollar home for a box on the western coast. The anger that comes from leaving friends and the sadness born from starting a new chapter. It is not easy to pack up your life, to tell your child that she must say goodbye to her friends and to know that your best friends in the world will be thousands of miles away. We worry about our daughter perhaps because it is easier to worry about her being able to embrace the change rather than focusing on our own inability to do so. Children are incredibly adaptable, they flex when they fall when we might break. They see possibility where we see anxious environments and they let go when we as adults hold on as tightly as we can. It is not my daughter I worry about, she will be fine. Both my girls (six and five months) will adapt to our new world, they will find friends, thrive in their environment, learn from the world around them and build memories to fill the void of the world they once new. If we did not have this faith in our children ability to grow from this we would not be doing it. As adults this transition is not quite as simple, we hold on tighter to the chapters before now. We fear making the wrong decision, we ultimately worry that while we aren’t happy, we might be even less so if we change. So we stay, grounded, routed, sedentary, sane. So here we go, we are embracing the change and to quote an unknown genius “smile, tomorrow may be worse”.
I look forward to that wall of memories, to the split second my eyes will spend flitting from photographs of Boulder to California and how this monumental decision and change will be nothing more than an inch of wall space between to photographed memories.
I am a mother, not a wizard. I share what is hard, what is scary and what is real. The rest I leave to you.