Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I have been away for a long while. Not just from writing, but from my life itself. I tell people it is as if someone hit the pause button in my life. This week the play button was pressed and I am back. THANK GOD!!!!

Since January, my oldest daughter has been sick, and in the hospital for 8 weeks within the past 3 months. My family has been tested and tried for all it was worth. The uncertainly of her health was exasperating, stressful and overwhelming. It all started with a flu. It seemed typical enough, but after 5 days of vomiting I had to take her in to the hospital, and that is where the drama began.

She was initially treated for dehydration, and then as the pain worsened she had her appendix removed. The appendix was not the problem, and so the vomiting and pain continued. I felt confident that the doctors would figure out her case, considering that Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh(CHP) is ranked in the top ten. I could not have been more wrong. Never in my life had I witnessed such incompetence. I am not referring to all her doctors, there were some amazing people that helped my daughter recover. Oddly, they were not the doctors assigned to her case, they were acting as advocates trying to help my daughter get better.

The gastroenterology department was awful. Every time I complained, I was told that what I was experiencing in dissatisfaction was "the nature of GI". Am I to assume that miscommunication, egoic behavior and poor follow up are all natural occurrences in GI departments? According to the staff at CHP, that is exactly the "nature of GI". On several occasions, testing and medications were started without ever mentioning to us what the tests or medications were for. They never gave us a clear diagnosis. The best they could do was send us to a psychiatrist who told us our daughter was doing this on purpose and was probably a bulimic. I am a family nurse practitioner, and never in my life have I heard of "catching" bulimia after a bout with influenza. According to the psychiatrist, Dr. Benhayon, that is exactly what her problem was. She was being rewarded with attention for her vomiting, so she was voluntarily behaving this way in order to keep herself in the hospital, and get more attention. He even told this to my daughter, who became enraged at his suggestion. All she wanted was to get better and go back to school. According to specialists at CHP, my daughter wanted a central line and a nasal jejunal (NJ) feeding tube as a way of attention seeking. Everything they said could not have been further from the truth.

Obviously at this point, I was not at all pleased by her doctors. The were contemptuous, egoic, self idolizing, incompetent doctors, who would rather misdiagnose than admit they had no clue what was wrong with her. They would rather over medicate, with the appearance of helping, when in fact they were doing harm. How does that fit into the Hippocratic oath? IT DOES NOT. The only positive thing Dr. David Keljo, her GI doctor at CHP, did was to refer me to Dr. Carlo De Lorenzo at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. This referral came with a caveat, Dr. De Lorenzo has a 4 to 6 month waiting list for motility studies, which is what her brilliant doctors at CHP (note the sarcasm) thought she needed. They were comfortable keeping her on tube feedings for that time frame until she could be seen. If it were not for the help a very special person, we would have been left to deal with an NJ tube to feed our daughter for 4 to 6 months, before we could even figure out what was wrong with her. This amazing doctor made a simple phone call for us, (he was not in the GI department), and got us an appointment in 3 days! I cannot even begin to tell you how this event changed everything and led to a speedy recovery. I thank God that this doctor had my daughter's best interest at heart and not his ego.

Once arriving in Columbus, we saw Dr. Carlo De Lorenzo right away. Within 5 minutes, he had a diagnosis. He was certain, and said nothing else could be the cause at this point. Granted, he had all the testing that CHP had done to look at prior to seeing us, but he really did not need to look at them to diagnose her. He was the first doctor to ask my daughter to drink something so he could visual what happens to make her vomit. She had rumination syndrome: not gastroparesis, not bulimia and not some motility disorder that the doctors at CHP labeled her as having. He asked us if anyone had every brought up the diagnosis of rumination in the course of our hospitalizations. To no ones surprise the answer was, "no", I had never heard that word before.

There is no physiological process that will make someone vomit within seconds of eating, other than rumination syndrome. Dr. Carlo De Lorenzo was certain, with out any doubt, that this was her problem. She had vomited so much from influenza, and then from an appendectomy, that she had developed a tic that made her vomit. He took her off all her medications, except prevacid (to protect her throat from the acids when she vomits). He recommended an inpatient treatment program in order to cure her of ruminating. The only inpatient treatment program for rumination is at Nationwide Children's Hospital. THE ONLY ONE. This meant another wait to get into the program. We had to wait 8 weeks for her to admitted and treated.

The most disturbing part of my daughter's care was: no one at CHP brought up this diagnosis, they over medicated her, and never made any attempts at follow up. The only supposed help we were directed to, was behavioral health and the psychiatrist, Dr. Benhayon, who told us our daughter was bulimic and this was all in "her head". He suggested celexa for abdominal pain and a poor attempt at hypnosis. This is what pediatric psychiatry at CHP had to offer us. If we did not take the celexa, there was simply nothing they could do. They could not even offer us a female psychiatrist. The one female they offered, would not see her unless she took celexa or some other form of psychiatric drug.

In my professional and personal opinion, the care we received at CHP was the worst possible. Their only comments were: "this is the nature of GI" and "unless she takes these drugs there is nothing we can do". How is it possible for a highly ranked facility such as CHP to allow this kind of care to happen? Mysteriously, Dr. De Lorenzo had worked at CHP in the past, so it is difficult to imagine that the doctors at CHP had not heard of rumination. Believe me, it is something I wonder about all the time.

I am not writing this diatribe just to denigrate CHP, Dr. Keljo and Dr. Benhayon. I am writing it with hopes that it may help someone, when and if they google the words: gastroparesis or rumination. I was told that some children come into the inpatient treatment program at Nationwide, after being on TPN or tube feeds for over a year. These children suffer over a year or more because of misdiagnosis. The treatment for rumination is not rocket science. It is simply a program that focuses 24 hours a day for 2 weeks, on swallowing food and keeping it down. They learn simple techniques that retrain the body to stop vomiting. My daughter suffered much longer than she needed to because or poor medical care. I hope that someone might be helped by this story and find their way to better treatment.

Rumination Syndrome is not voluntary. The disorder has also commonly been attributed to a bout of illness, a period of stress in the individuals recent past, and to changes in medication. The overall process of rumination is involuntary. My daughter is now doing well and has returned to school, ballet lessons, and playing the piano. For months, she thought she was dying and that all doctors were awful. Her faith in good people and doctors has been restored, because of the wonderful staff at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Someday she will take this experience, and use it to make her a better doctor, nurse, or whatever she wants to become.

I have learned through out this process to always trust your instinct. Do not believe everything a doctor says the first time around. GET A SECOND OPINION! Unfortunately, I learned that nice patients and nice parents get ignored. Unless you speak up, make yourself heard, and insist they communicate with you: you will be ignored, and you or your family member will suffer. The saying, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease",is absolute truth. Thank God I started to squeak.

This is great reference material, and was written by the doctors who cared for my daughter.

Have you ever had a similar experience in a hospital or with doctors who don't really listen to what you have to say?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Some of the time, I do not always believe that I have the ability to create my own universe. There are so many instances in which I take what I get and don't get upset. Even though taking what I get has been the prevailing wind in my world for the last 5 months, I have not lost sight of my hopes and dreams. These dreams of mine are the world whispering in my ear, starting an idea and trying to make it a reality. I know that this universe can provide what I desire, but unfortunately I have not always been clear in what I am asking for from the world.

My family and I have been pushed into rapid waters for the past year and we have been fighting the current to safely get downstream. We did not want to plunge to the bottom, but rather, calmly and thoughtfully find the safety in the calmer waters at the bottom of a waterfall. This fight has been exhausting and taken it's toll on everyone, including my girls. Throughout it all I have been begging and pleading for answers. Using all my capabilities to make my dreams a reality. Needless to say, after many failed attempts, I saw a clear vision of my dreams. Most recently for my oldest daughter. Her health was in troubled waters, and we, her family had to bring her safely ashore.

We finally reached the shore and we are all about to come up for air this week. My 11 year old daughter is leaving the hospital this week and returning to her normal childhood life. I can barely put into words the relief we all feel. We dreamed our dream and it came true.

We did not just beg and plead, we took it all into our hands, used every ounce of energy we could muster to help our daughter, and the universe spit us back out in the world I always dreamed of. I always dreamed of having a family that would succeed through the worst of times, and at times that did not always seem possible. But today, I can look back at all we have been through, and I see a group of people who survived the bad times and sick times, and returned in better shape than ever.

Family life is not about living a perfect life together. It is about taking all the mistakes, hardships, sicknesses and tragedies; and finding the strength to see each others humanity, and them to see yours. You can look back at these people and know they have your back no matter what, and you have theirs. A family portrait is one that has imperfections. You LIVED life together, and did not go through the motions in order to only display a beautiful portrait.

My dream is for a family that is real, honest, and above all healthy (mentally and physically). My calm waters will have pebbles and boulders thrown in our waters. And sometimes that ripple will go further than anyone expected. The trick is to not enjoy the ride, not to go with flow, not let the stone kill you; but to look back at that rippling water and see how in the end the calm water can return as long as you just experience it for its what is is. It is reality and it is inevitable. There has never been a body of water that has not experienced tragedy. There are hurricanes, floods, diseases, and draughts, but in the end it is possible for the water to return as long as you believe in your dreams, and the not the perfect outcomes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Looking Toward the Past

Recently, I have found myself being consumed by anger. Why am I angry? That is what I am attempting to sort through. I was raised to believe that if you work hard for tomorrow, you will be rewarded. I know now, that I perverted that notion into believing perfection was the reward. I have vigorously applied this ideology in my life, and thought that by reading everything I can get my hands on, educating myself to understand our world, and by working hard; that perfection was possible. But the truth is: life is brutal and the moments of pure joy and so called perfection are fleeting. Anger comes from craving that pure joy all the time, but it is not possible. Perhaps D.H. Lawrence understood this feeling as well when he said, "You'll never succeed in idealizing hard work. Before you can dig mother earth you've got to take off your ideal jacket. The harder a man works, at brute labor, the thinner becomes his idealism, the darker his mind". Letting go of idealism is part of growing up, and as much as I know I am a grown up, I am still growing.

Wanting to let go of my anger has led me on a journey to let go of the past. Not because my past is horrible, but because it was so good. I was raised in a family with it's fair share of troubles and hurtles. I have always thought of the hurtles as a challenge to discover the beauty in life. All I have been remembering was the hard work, and the imperfect vision of perfection.

That leads me to where I am now, when life has become unfair. More and more frequently, as I grow older, pessimism and anger have found a way into my world. Lost is the: work hard and you will be rewarded. Found is the: work hard and you might get sour cherries. I can think of several examples where working hard has not delivered happiness: my best friend who overcame many childhood hardships only to discover she has stage 4 cancer, my brother in law who lost his daughter, my friend who lost her husband to melanoma and her young children who lost their father, and my grandparents who worked hard for so long, only to end their lives in a demented state with 24 hour care givers. Honestly, this is an abbreviated list of the hardships I have witnessed lately. All of this brutality has lead me to anger, and now I am on a journey to find the answers of how to let go of the anger.

I found this parable in my readings and wanted to share it with you:

Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the first day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
"You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry', the wound is still there."

Just like the little boy, except for the fact that I am a grown woman, I am seeing what anger can cause. It is only making the path that I walk on more difficult to traverse. Life will never be the one I envisioned as a child, it can be more exhausting and cruel than any fairy tale I ever read. Not only is life unpredictable and unfair, it never ends like a fairy tale. But I now understand this: happiness is found in the soul, in the quiet peacefulness of forgiveness. Every 24 hours is new and every 24 hours is not a given. One morning, those 24 hours will be gone, and all that will be left of my life is the memory others hold of me in their minds. I want those memories to be filled with inspiration and hope, so I am going to let go of my anger.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Passing of a Teacher

This is the first time I have posted a story that someone else has written. It is a obituary my 10 year old daughter wrote about her teacher who passed away this weekend. All of my children had him as a teacher and they are each coping in their own way. I believe writing can be a release for difficult and unmanageable emotions, and I hope this helps my daughters as they mourn.

Carl W. Schneider was my teacher at my school. He was 35 years old at the time of his death. I had him for 4 years as my Italian teacher. I was at a bonfire when I found out what happened to him. Imagine having fun, talking to your friends when all of a sudden your good friend comes up and tells you that your teacher just died. He was in Blackwater Falls state park, kayaking down a reserved area only for expert kayakers. He was trying to go through a rough part of the river and ended up going over a steep part, and getting stuck under a 4 foot fall. He was a teacher at St. Bede, a waiter at Legume. He also earned the title of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in boy scouts. He earned a masters and bachelors degree at Pitt. He was also an expert kayaker. All of the teachers are really sad; it’s hard to replace someone who’s developed a relationship with our school. He also was a really good friend to all of the kids. If you asked an Italian student things they remember about him, probably 9 out of 10 would say, like my friend Brian, “ I’ll miss his moustache and ponytail.” It is so far over my mind I do not know how to react. Everyone is going to be upset for a while but I know that somehow our school is going to get over this event. We are a small school so almost everyone knows each other. Everyone will make one another feel better and we won’t forget this tragic thing. If have ever lost anyone you were really close to, you know how our school feels. If you haven’t, well you couldn't imagine how deeply affected all my friends are.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Is Under The Covers?

There is a common English idiom, that everyone has been told by their parents at least once in their life time, "Do not judge a book by it's cover". The funny thing is, the only way I survive, is to judge books by their covers. What other choice do I have? In our fast paced, high tech gadget world, multitasking is the norm. Having several thoughts racing through my brain at the same time make it impossible to take time to intimately acquaint myself with every aspect of everyday life. When I go to the grocery store, I might be searching the aisles for a bottle of laundry detergent. I might even have all three kids with me as I try to decide what type of laundry detergent I want. I might base my purchase on a some claims by the manufacturer on the bottle and ring it up. I have a certain level of trust that the bottle contains what I want, and will do what it claims. It might not be until I get home and a rash develops on my child's skin that I will realize I need to read the next bottle more carefully. Next time I go to the store, I do some research on the Internet about allergens and detergent. Of course, the Internet sites I browse are the ones Google suggested, and I look over the most visually appealing sites, with the least amount of advertisements. I trust the medical research I have just read and feel as though I am not going to fall victim to the aforementioned idiom. I will buy my next bottle of detergent based on a well thought and researched game plan. When I buy my next bottle of detergent, I am armed with a list of brands that the American Medical Association has recommended. I see all three brands on the shelf, and I grab the bottle the catches my eye and pleases my senses the best. What is the difference between the bottles at this juncture? Nothing but the packaging. I have done exactly what my mother told me not to do. Time and time again, judging a book by it's cover can work, until it doesn't. The times I am wrong, are the moments in life I generally remember the most. The "light bulb" moments, that nothing or no one can be as exactly as it claims, are what remind me that life is not predictable and never will be. This unpredictability keeps me awake as I walk through life everyday, appreciating that at any moment a skunk can cross my path or the trail can come to an abrupt halt.

After trials and tribulations, filling our minds with research, and attempting to be as informed as possible; the final choice of which proverbial path to walk along or which book to pluck off the shelf, is decided by the cover. We knowingly proceed with our instinctual choices, based on appearance, because sometimes we have no other choice. Time restrains us, and honestly, we want to trust what our senses reveal. We want to be instinctual. Consider these commonplace scenarios: simultaneously cooking dinner, talking on the phone and helping little Johnny with homework, or working through a meeting while our spouse texts us about something to pick up on our way home, or talking to a doctor who finally calls, while you are in the bathroom changing your daughter's diaper, and your other child has just escaped your line of sight. Examining things at face value becomes a survival technique. When we do get a quiet moment, we want the world to remain predictable, because it is comforting.

Looking at the mating habits of different species is a great example of successfully judging a book by it's cover. The brighter colors and more ornate plumage are the bragging rights of male birds. Knowing the most effective way to lure a female is to have the most elaborate feathers and a captivating mating dance, the male birds of paradise have evolved with fancy long tails feathers. Their ostentatious feathers serve no other purpose than being eye catching to females. Even birds have a busy life: migrating, hunting down food, building a nest, and raising their young. The best way to attract attention is with a good cover. It makes courtship seems like a no-brainer, but that is when the surprise left hits us. Just when we become comfortable with the norm, that is when the curve balls come at us.

Recently, I was carpooling some kids to choir practice. In my car, were my girls and my 4Th daughter Mona. I call her my 4Th pseudo daughter, but she is my 16 year old neighbor. She has been coming over to hang out with my family since she was 8. She also has a sister, who is my 5Th pseudo daughter, but that is a whole other story. The point is, Mona is in the car, and we are waiting for our carpool companion, who is still at track practice. We are parked on the side of a busy road waiting, along with hordes of other parents, for track practice to end. Suddenly, a fancy car pulls up in front of us. The driver of the fancy car opens her car door, disregarding her poor, parking/stop in the middle of the road technique. As she steps out, she looks like a movie star. She is a beautiful woman and dressed to the nines. She has long, blond hair that is blowing elegantly in the wind. She is completely unaware, or does not care that her car is precariously making it difficult for others to squeeze their cars past. In this moment, Mona turns to me, and with her smug little 16 year old attitude, and says, "Whose trophy wife is that?" Hysterically, I start laughing because Mona could not be more far from the truth in her assessment. I gain my composure and tell Mona this: "Funny thing, you are WAY off the mark! Actually, she has a trophy wife of her own and she plays football in a female football league". The look on Mona's face was priceless. She has this perplexed expression, she does not understand what I just said. So I say again, "Mona, she is a lesbian with a wife of her own. She is no one's trophy wife". In that confounding moment, in which Mona was dead wrong, Mona learned a great lesson: do not determine the character of a person based on their appearance.

Life is short, and looking for loopholes to make it less complex, is sensible. I sometimes think I would love to make life predictable. If every person with tattoos, multi-colored hair, and dressed like a punk were jerks, then how simple would life be? But they aren't. Sometimes, they are your beloved 5Th pseudo daughter and the babysitter of your treasured children. Sometimes that blond, busty woman in the Prada heels and the Vera Wang dress, with a rich, good looking older man on her arm, is a retired Army colonel with a PhD, not a trophy wife. Sometimes the trail that looks the most peaceful and mundane, is actually the most treacherous. Even though I will continue to lead my crazy, fast paced life, with multitasking as my standard. Even though, I will usually be right about the contents of a book, based on it's cover. I am going to look forward to those moments in which I am dead wrong.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Love is..........

Thinking about what it means to have loved and be loved can cause anyone to feel as though they are fighting a losing battle. Love is illusive and it is unable to be proven. There is no test that can tell us if something is true love or simply a fleeting high caused by endorphins or mental delusions of lust. Love is just a word. But this word has had many songs, novels, and poems written about it, and wars are repeatedly fought for it, therefore love can hardly be just a word. The emotions evoked by love can be all consuming, and can even be disheartening, yet people continue to search for, create, and covet love. Love is the one human condition that we all strive to discover, even with the knowledge that it may not always bring joy.

There are several different ways in which love is expressed: love for a child, love for a lover, love for family and friend, love for nature, love of self, love of humanity. The list could go on and on into the infinite. Anytime there is a genuine appreciation of life, there is a possibility of love.

Because our society reflects an objects value by price, we have a tendency to measure all things of value with numbers. Love is no different than any object of value, and it has fallen victim to our competitive spirit via our preoccupation with numbers and measurements. I am referring to our desire to quantify love, in order to reflect its importance. We attempt to measure love's success in terms of time. The longer the relationship exists then the better the relationship is. It is celebrated in how long people have been married, in how often we talk, and in how long we have been friends. It suggests that the most successful way to measure love is for it to stand the test of time. There is a caveat, what if that love was not meant to stand the test of time? What happens when a love is fleeting? Does that signify it as being less important or not significant?

I believe love is transient and fleeting. It cannot be something we covet. We must let go of it in order to realize it's power. The concept of letting go, or not holding on so tight, is the common struggle we all have with love. If we let go of what we love, then how can we quantify it? And, if we cannot quantify it, then how can we prove to others, and to ourselves it's value? For this very reason, the attempt to measure love in terms of time leads to a destruction of love, or a perversion of it.

I have been considering the meaning of love recently because of a new love in my life. This love will not last in human years for very long. In fact, this love has already surpassed it expiration date. This love has a very important purpose, but one that can be taught in a very short and brief amount of time. I have a niece, who has been born with Trisomy 13, and is not expected to live longer than a year. Her name is Melissa, and my heart and soul are full of love for her. This love may be fleeting and transient, but it is a deep and powerful love. It will not be able to be measured by time, nor will it even try to stand up to the test of time. Even though our time together will not be long, she will hold a spot in my heart that will not ever disappear. Because of her, I have learned that love does not have to be measured in order to determine its worth. The value of love is not to be determined by its ability to withstand time.

Her parents will not always want to tell her story to everyone they meet, but that does not change the significance of her life, or how we love her. She will always be a daughter and a niece, and her parents will always be her mother and father. Her soul is like a flash of lightning during a storm. It lights up the sky and shows us all that is hidden by the cover of darkness, and then dissappears as quickly as it appeared. Her soul is a beacon of light that has warmed all of our hearts. She reminds all of us how blessed we are to experience life and love no matter how brief and painful.

I have come to believe that love is not something that should be measured. It will never be able to be quantified. No one will ever be able to tell you why love has affected them in the most moving ways. We all create a web of love in different patterns and sizes. It is an intricate weaving of threads, some of threads are bare, some are breaking, and new patterns are always being made. We continue to weave the web, knowing that someday our web will be knocked down, but we continue to build it because it will sustain us. Love sustains us.

Love is about wanting others happiness, and has nothing to do with our own. It is the most challenging and daunting of all emotions to experience for its purity. The most fitting description I have heard of love is in a song by Leonard Cohen, "love is not a victory march, it is a cold and it is a broken hallelujah". Melissa's life may not have a victory march, but it will certainly be filled with hallelujahs.

How do you define love?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Best Cup of Tea

In the past two years I have slowly watched the life leaving my grandparents eyes. This has not been an easy time for anyone in my family. As a matter of fact, they have been that to every member of my family throughout their years together. When I mindfully recall memories of my grandparents, it undoubtedly involves the drinking of tea. From a very young age, whenever there was time for conversation, time for relaxing, or a stressful situation, a cup of tea was always, without fail, a part of it all.

My first poignant memory of drinking tea with Gram(my grandmother) was during one of the many sleepovers I had at her home. I was about 6 years old and I was staying over without my older brother. He is only 18 months older so we usually were sent on sleepovers together. But, that particular night he had something fun of his own to do, so I was rewarded with my own night with my grandparents. Every time we stayed over, which was usually a Saturday night, we watched The Lawrence Welk Show, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island, in that order. Being that we were never allowed to stay up that late at home, this was a bona fide treat. As tradition would have it, that night was no different. After sitting together and laughing at Tatoo say "Look da plane boss, da plane", and wishing I had hair like Barbie Benton, I was tucked into bed. She sang the closing song from the Lawrence Welk Show(Goodnight, Sleeptight) to me, as she did everytime she tucked me or my brother into bed. My bedroom was my Uncle Joe's old room. It was the size of a walk in closet, with a large, old wooden trunk, a dresser and single bed with a trains on the bed spread(no comforters or duvet covers at that time). Several animal and decorative pillows that matched the bedspread were lined against the wall and corner into which the bed was crammed. I loved that room, so you can imagine my disappointment when I became sick all over my favorite animal pillows and the bedspread. I had only been asleep a few hours when I woke up and tried to run into the bathroom across the hall to vomit. I had the flu, on the night of my special sleepover. I thought my Gram would be mad at the mess I had made of the bed, of course I was wrong. She could have cared less about the bed, she only cared about me. Being sick at Gram's house turned out to be a much better time than being sick at home. Gram was a natural at making me feel safe and cared for that night, something that my mother never did when my brother or I got sick. I must have gotten my "nursing" genes from my Gram because my Mother has no such genes.

After my horrible retching had subsided, my Gram took me downstairs to wipe off my mouth, and wash my hair, which had been a casualty of my battle with the toilet. She always washed her hair in the kitchen sink, so that night my hair was washed in the kitchen sink. The kitchen was an extremely tiny room. I still find it unbelievable the meals she was able to create and serve in that tiny space. There was a table set up against the wall with three chairs, if anyone wanted to open the oven or the refrigerator, you had to move from your chair. However, the important and memorable moment was the cup of tea she served me. I will never forget that night. I was a big girl, having a cup of tea with my Gram in the middle of the night. I felt like I had grown up in one day. That night I night I drank my best cup of tea with my Gram.

Ever since that time in my Gram's kitchen, every significant time in my life revolved around a cup of tea. The tea is never anything fancy, usually Lipton, Red Rose, or Tetley. For anyone who drinks Red Rose Tea, they know how there are little ceramic figurines in ever box. A permanent reminder of all the tea I have drank can be found in an old printer's box that hangs in my powder room. Most of the shelves are filled with the figures from the Red Rose Tea boxes of my past.

Tea was and is always served with milk and sugar, although, the sweetener has changed through the years. My Gram and my Mum were, and still are, always on a diet, so the sweetening changed from saccharine to Sweetnlow to the present day Splenda. I have broke the mold by moving into sugar in the raw. I figure anything that carries the warning: causes cancer in rats, is not a good thing when there is a perfectly natural substance that will sweeten just as well, if not better. If you come to my house and you are offered a cup of tea, that is how it will be served.

My children have embraced the cup of tea with the same enthusiasm that I did when I was their age. They have learned to find comfort and conversation in a cup of tea; they drink it after school, on weekend mornings, or when they relax with a book. Recently, I woke up to find my 6 year old daughter, watching the birds in the bird feeder, while curled up under a blanket, in a wing back chair, beside the burning fireplace, and sipping a cup of tea. She even made the tea in a fancy teacup from my collection of china teacups. I do not know if that was her best cup of tea, but it will certainly be a cup of tea I never forget. It will be a marker in my life of the day she became a big girl, just like that night I slept over my grandparent's house.

Living life with small rituals, like drinking a cup of tea, can make the mundane, otherwise forgettable moments, memorable.

What was your most memorable cup of coffee or tea?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bitter Sweet Marathon

On Sunday, I ran my second marathon. The bitter part was the actual run. The sweet part was the extraordinary group of friends and family who came to race and to watch. Two years ago, I started this journey of endurance races. Up until then, I was simply surviving the daily rigmarole of parenting toddlers, and had no time or energy for any selfish pursuits. When I was in my early thirties, I told myself that I would be in the best shape of my life by age forty. The requirements for completion of my goal had to include: one marathon and one triathlon. The last thing I expected find on this adventure was a great group of friends, but unexpectedly, that is what I found.

Whether you are raising babies and toddlers now, or have ever done so, there is a time in your life when the people you socialize with are chosen for you. Your child meets a friend on the playground and de facto, their parents become your peer. I say peer and not friend, because a friend is someone you chose to spend your precious time with. A peer is like a prison cell mate, someone you are stuck with. They are not the mold of your previous friends, or any friends you ever had. However, they serve their purpose, at a time in which making friends is virtually impossible. You begin to question if you will ever make a good friend again. Ultimately, you just survive and socialize with who you need to, for the happiness of your kids. It can be a great time of introspection and contemplation about what a friend really is; if only for sanity's sake. In high school and college, making friends is easy. Everyone is the same age, single, and interested in the same social life. As an adult, the parents are as varied as a multi-colored quilt. Finding a friend becomes like dating, only it is no longer a man you are seeking.

There were times I would think I found someone who fit the friend mold. I would flirt with the idea that we could be friends. Then I would find out they were crazy. Like the time that my friend (my peer) failed to invite me to a party that a real friend would have invited me to. It became a break up predicated on our children's friendship. Our kids were not invited to the kid party, er go, I was not invited to the adult part. I learned a valuable lesson. Just because my kids have friends does not mean their parents are my friends. I had to start all over again, with the intimidating thought, that I would never find a friend that would replicate the timeless friendships I found in college.

Running is a solo sport, and not one I meant to encourage friendship. I started running, not to find friendship, but to find myself. Running distance can be very lonely being on the road for hours at a time. Running enables the opportunity for self introspection. At the time, I was a neophyte with respect to elite performance training. I could not distinguish between a pedantic pain and an injurious pain. A professional, who could make sense of it all for me, would be priceless. Throughout my training I had a plethora of injuries that required some time in physical therapy. That is where my friendships began. Lori, my physical therapist, asked me to join her and another woman for their Sunday morning runs. The runs were always 8 miles or more, and included inclines so steep that a Granny could pass you in her wheelchair sitting still. Warily, I met Tracy and Lori one Sunday morning and we all hit it off perfectly. At the same time, I met a woman(who had previously run a marathon) and was having a difficult time adjusting to a move to a new city with three kids. I told her to join us and so she met me on a Sunday morning. Alicia was not happy about being up early and never liked running in a group, so I forcefully told her to "suck it up and get the f#$@ out of the car and run". She practically cried getting out of the car but in the end, she loved it. Her first time with us, going up the treacherous billy goat hill, she broke out singing the theme song to Rocky. Ironically, she now shows up more often on Sunday mornings than I do. She is like the perfect pair of shoes that make an outfit. Our outfit became complete that day.

A Catholic, two Jews, and a Protestant.......this is not the beginning of a bad joke, this is my running and partying posse. We run hard and workout strong, but when we let our hair down, we do it with the same enthusiasm. At last weeks marathon my new posse showed up in full force. Lori and Tracey were running the half, so we all started together. Alicia was not competing, but running with me from mile marker 20 to 26.2. She was my secret weapon to keep me strong through the finish. The marathon started off great. My aunt and cousin were walking the half and Lori and Tracey were running to mile 11 with me. I felt great the whole first half with a time of 2 hours and 6 minutes. I was on target to finish in 4 hours, hoping for a negative split during the second half. I had spent an infinite amount of hours training each day before the marathon, so I thought I had it in the bag. When I reached the sixth and last bridge, I saw my Dad on the side line. He was full of motivational words and told me how great I was doing. I gave him a kiss and kept on running like Forrest Gump. The next three miles were fine, although I felt a few shooting pains down my right leg, but I figured it would be fine. Then as I approach mile 17, I saw my husband, 3 girls, my Mum and my step dad. This could not have been better timing. My leg was really hurting, so seeing their faces made me suck it up and keep moving. When I saw them, I wanted to cry because of the pain, but I persevered. Then in the next 50 feet, I saw my neighbor Gail and her daughter Mona(my favorite teenager ever) whom I consider part of my family. They were there to cheer for me. Again, I gave out some kisses and continued, knowing Alicia was only 2 miles away.

Those next two miles were the absolute worst. My right quadricep was cramping up so badly that it was all I could do to pick my leg up. As fate would have it that day, during this painful moment, I saw Chris(a running coach), from my church. He instructed me to keep stretching it out as much as I could over the last 6 miles and walk it out. "God damn it! I do not want to walk it out, I want to finish in 4 hours". This is when I realized my goal had changed. I would be lucky to finish. The only thing that kept me moving was knowing Alicia was waiting for me.

Finally, mile marker 20 appears after what felt like an eternity. I am barely moving at this point. When Alicia saw me, she bounced out beside me and thought she was going to be flying to the finish. Once she saw my tears, she knew she had a bigger job to do. Her words were the support I desperately needed. She coached and motivated me for 6.2 miles of tears and pain. I pushed to the finish, barely running and sort of walking. As I gimped toward the finish, feeling and looking like I had gone through a battle, Alicia turned to me and said , "the crowd loves to see someone in pain finish, you are like Rocky, JUST RUN!". Alicia and her Rocky comparisons, obviously this movie is a favorite of hers. Her timing was impeccable, because at that moment, as I am laughing at her Rocky story, I look over and see my aunt, uncle and cousin cheering and they see me smiling. I make my way to the finish with a ridiculous time of 5 hours and 4 minutes. The piece de resistance was when I looked out and saw my family. My girls saw me in pain but they saw me finish. The feelings of defeat left as I realized how blessed I was to have so many loved ones there to see me run a marathon.

From the onset of my training, I unexpectedly discovered the support of friends. Friendship was not the purpose of my training, but it was what I found. I learned that sometimes when you are trying so hard to find something like friendship, it conceals itself. It is when you change your focus, that the lens becomes clearer, and what we are looking for is staring right back at us, as if it were there the whole time. Life is full of brief moments that can go unrecognized, but sometimes these brief moments are the ones that create memories that last a life time. The 5 hours and 4 minutes I ran, are only a blip in time. In 26.2 miles I came to realize that I had unexpectedly discovered friendship. Sometimes, the greatest miracles are found in the unexpected moments.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fix It With a Nap

She walked off the bus first. She is the baby, employee C, and a big girl in kindergarten. It is always this way; her two sisters(employees A and B) holding up the rear, picking up the lunch bag she forgot in the seat. Her head is hung low. I think there may be a smile underneath that grin; she is too far away to tell. I am waiting on the front steps, like I do everyday. This is my big moment. It will set the tone for the rest of the evening. Sometimes, I wish I had more wiggle room with their emotions. I get one chance, to navigate their mood, adjust my mood, and try to proceed forward. But the reality is, those first few minutes off the bus, when they adjust to the home, is the climax of their day. Everything else is the falling action. It is at this turning point, I cross my fingers, hoping all three employees will be smiling. I always smile when I see employee C. The oversized, big white sweater, colorful tube socks,and her basketball shorts peaking out from underneath her Catholic, school girl jumper. She is marching to her own drum beat. Regrettably, my smile does not last long. I know where this is headed.

It all starts with the proverbial whine. She looks up at me, and says, "Mummy, the big boys at school said something mean to me!", as she wipes her nose, rubs her eyes, and throws the back pack on the ground. There has not even been a hello. I try to display a big, happy smile, say hello, and tell her how adorable she is, but I am waylaid by A and B, who also have 10 different things, they need to tell me, that they need to do for the next day. "Wait, this is not at all how I planned it". I stand there, with a deer in the head lights kind of face, and turn around to chase after C, who has run in the door. I see her as she throws herself on the sofa, and says, "This is my worst day, ever!".

I look at her for a few seconds, trying to gather the right approach for this moment. Do I coddle her? Do I just listen? Do I act silly and try to get her to forget about it? How do I keep the other girls busy for a minute, or two, so I can give her my undivided attention? All these thoughts, and more, in those two seconds. I opt for sending A downstairs to play piano, send B into the kitchen to make a snack. "Okay, now I should have at least 90 seconds of no Mummying", I say to myself.

I walk with hesitancy into the living room, not exactly sure of the approach that I am about to take. For me, this is the most difficult parenting skill: the little things. I think to myself that it is never the big stuff that I have trouble navigating, it is the mundane decisions that perplex me. There are too many choices, and too many philosophies. Every parenting book has a their own version. This is what I do. I approach her, I pick her up and put her on my lap. I listen as she tells me about the 8th grader, who said she looked liked she was dead, while she and her friends were in the lunch line. She explains to me, how her little friend Kira, confronted the boy by saying, "you look like a big, fat, meatball". This was a six year old being mean. Sounds like a good friend to me. I try not to laugh, but I am confused about why the death comment has upset her. She looks cute and perky to me. She tells me this, "My tongue was not hanging out, and my eyes were open". Big crocodile tears stream down her face. I attempt some words of wisdom; at this point, no words will comfort her.

My next thought: I offer her ice cream. This is a common Italian parenting strategy. Anything and everything can be solved vis a vie the stomach. It is worth a try, right? She gobbles down the bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, while being polite enough to offer me a few cookie dough clumps. God, I love that she understands the concept of sharing the clumps. Things, appear to be headed in a better direction, so I send her upstairs to change. Unfortunately, the next time I see her, she is crying even harder, and to the point of uncontrolled weeping.

BING! BING! BING! BING! Finally, I get it. She is so tired, she is going to collapse. Not that this discovery will please her. Believe me, a six year old who needs a nap is worse than the two year old. They have better manipulation skills. And, they have had four extra years of figuring out your quirks. I lay her down on the bed, get her "e e"(blanket), cover her up, and place my arms around her. She loves to hear me sing, so I do my version of "Mommy's Gonna Buy You A Diamond Ring", while I run my fingers through her long, silky curls. Inevitably, in 5 minutes, she is fast asleep. Her eyelashes look so long, her lips are sucking on the air, and her warm breath brushes by my cheek.

In 15 minutes, I went from smiling, concerned, stressed, to smiling again. Kids will do that to you. In the end, it is the ability to be resilient that saved me, going with the organic flow (I learned this from my blogging friends). No words of wisdom were required, and thank God, because I had none to offer. Before the troops arrived home, I had planned a fun filled evening of riding bikes, swinging on the swings at the playground, and a walk to eat dinner in our neighborhood. It was a perfect plan. Hard to imagine it would be a flop. Why would anyone refuse it? Alas, there is a brilliant saying, "if it can go wrong, it will". That was the theme of my afternoon.

Life comes at us fast, with curve balls and strikes. The only way to cope with it: a good sleep. A pleasure, that I need as I write this. I want the same luxury. When the world is crashing in on me, and I start to cry; I don't need a drink, I don't need a friend to talk to, I don't need a bowl of ice cream, or a cigarette. What I need is: someone to put me to bed, tuck in the covers, and sing me to sleep. Parenting reminds me, that life does not have to be complicated. After all, it was Dr. Seuss that said, “Sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple”.

Do you complicate your life when the answer is simple?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mystery and Morality

It used to be that mystery and intrigue were something to be regarded as fashionable. The discussion of emotions, and feelings were something that made people uncomfortable, and were thought of as a weakness. Everyone had the same struggles, and talking about it, was viewed as complaining. No one liked a constant complainer. Have we improved as a society, by exposing our lives as an open book for anyone to read or watch? Does the old adage of "suck it up" have any validity?

As people and times have changed, so has the concept of mystery. Everything is reality. No longer do people want to remain a part of the safe interior, they want to be the stand out; they want their 15 minutes of fame. They will let go of intrigue, they will let go of mystery, and expose it for the thrill of attention. Intellect has died and the imbecilic attitude is the prevailing breeze. No longer do people enjoy reading and quiet contemplation, they want instant gratification and acceptance. Certainly, the winds will change, the winds always do; but what should we make of this new found "look at me" attitude? Is there any redemption to be found in facebooking and twittering our inner most desires, and private observances? Are we any happier after exposing ourselves?

I would argue that we have fallen into a deep pit, and people's voracious appetite for attention and exposure will lead to numbness. If there is acceptance of every desire and emotion, morality could be lost. Does mystery and intrigue compliment morality, or is blatant honesty and unfiltered rhetoric the new morality? At some point, will we, as a society, realize we have gone too far in our discussion of philosophy, and desire to return to simplicity and modesty?

I have been pondering this topic, as I explore the world of blogging. There was a recent article, in the local paper, about whether or not parenting blogs have made it easier for parents, or more stressful. The article supported the networking of people with common circumstances, as a social support group. But, I have had the distinct feeling, that it is the quiet, and underlying need for acceptance, that drives many people to expose their thoughts, and lives. Of course, acceptance is something people strive for, but the constant and immediate need for acceptance can become an obsession. An unhealthy obsession that could lead to regret.

The thoughts of the moment, are sometimes better left unsaid. If people change and evolve in their thoughts, then the permanent record of our past statements will always remind us of who we once were. What if that person has changed, will the accumulation of tweets and facebooking make this evolution impossible? I think so. I think it will make us wonder, "what we were thinking", and wish we could erase some of our remarks. It will be impossible to erase; it will be a permanent record for all to read and see. When I watch reality TV, I think: "thank god my adolescence was not documented", that person will regret this exposure someday. When I read a parenting blog, and the writer expresses a negative feeling for their child, or questioning their parenting skills, I think: "I hope their kids don't read that later on, they will think their parents hated them".

I wonder if the veterans of the World Wars and Vietnam and Korea would have been better off by having a sounding board for their experiences. I suppose this will be a topic of great discussion for the present day soldiers. What will the outcome of their open discussion have on their psyche in the the future? At some point, I have to believe, there is validity to "sucking it up", and keeping our emotions off the record. Leave the past, in the past, and live in the moment of now. Quiet reflection is a powerful healer. It is a difficult practice, to quietly reflect upon our lives; but, it does have the benefit of remaining private. In that privacy, there is no requirement for acceptance of others, but simply an acceptance of ourselves.

What is your opinion: should some things remain a mystery?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The C Word

Who is she to you? Is she your: mother, sister, cousin, friend, niece, grandmother, sister in law? I am referring to the women who have breast cancer, or have survived it. Cancer: the one word no one wants to hear. How would you react if you were told you have cancer? Would you fall to pieces? Could you pick up the pieces and build something new? It takes courage to be a survivor, and I know a survivor who is just that: courageous.

I want to tell you about my best friend, Vicki. We have known each other since high school. We sat in the same homeroom for 3 years; both having last names that start with B. Oddly enough, we did not seem to have much in common in high school. Well, maybe a certain boy crossed both our paths, but that was about it. We both agree, that he was only a good kisser and not much else. But, I digress. My point is, I went all through high school, sitting right beside one of the most inspirational people I would ever know, and I was clueless.

After I graduated college, I moved back home and ran into Vicki at a night club. I had not seen, or thought of her since high school, but now, I could not stop talking with her. We had so much to catching up to do. I had found my soul sister. Ever since that day, not a moment has passed that she has not been a part of my world; we have lived parallel lives.

We both got married in the same year; she was my matron of honor. We each have three girls, and they are the all the same ages. As a matter of fact, she is the one who told me I was pregnant for the first time. Every year, after she moved away to Nashville, I would make a trip to go and see Vicki, and every trip had some sort of adventure planned into it. This particular trip, we went to the Smoky Mountains. Somehow, while at a Wendy's drive through, she made me cry. It had something to do with there being no ketchup, and her saying something rude about my dog. I took it very personally. She looked at me, and said, "Jesus, you are so pregnant, crying over that ugly dog!". She is the one who bought the pregnancy test to prove it. It was from her house in Nashville, that I called my husband to tell him I was pregnant, with our first child. Of course, Vicki was pregnant too.

We talked endlessly about each pregnancy, comparing all our symptoms, and all of our physical changes. Our children were all due within a few weeks of each other, so we certainly have had more than enough in common, to keep our friendship alive. Fifteen years have passed, since that day we were reacquainted in that night club. Never in my life, have I been so surprised by a friendship. Based on what I knew in high school, I would have never thought she was the one who would place such a deep imprint on my soul. I could have never guessed what a valuable friend she would be.

Vicki found a lump in her breast in August of 2009. She waited two months before she told me. It was not something that was supposed to happen. It took everyone by surprise. She has three young girls and a coffee shop she just opened. Her life was not ready to hear those words: you have cancer. I remember the day I found out. I texted her, "What's up?", and she texted back, "Just got a port placed, waking up from anesthesia, feeling groggy, will call u later". What the @#$!#@? So, I texted back, "Do you have cancer?" and she texted back, "Yes, breast." And that is how I found out my best friend was in for the fight of her life. We talked the next day, and I could not believe how strong she sounded. It was stage 3 or 4, she was not sure exactly because it is triple-negative breast cancer. What the hell is that? I was burdened with a new word to google. I called a friend who is a doctor, to ask him about this type of cancer. He said, "I have no idea what that means". Great! I googled it, and I started to cry.

Vicki has finished her long and painful treatment with chemotherapy and has just started her several weeks of radiation. Last week, I went to see her, and we went on one our adventures together; this one was our celebration of chemo being complete. It had been ten years since we went to the Smoky Mountains, so that is where we picked to celebrate. She picked me up from the Nashville airport, I walked out of the terminal, and saw a woman, with a buzz cut and no eyebrows, looking as beautiful as ever, waiting for me. Only Vicki could make cancer look so good. Her skin was glowing and she was happy. Why did it take cancer for me to make this trip?

We arrived at her girl's school to pick them up for the day. I wanted a tour of the school and a chance to meet the teachers. When we walked in the door, everyone knew who I was. The whole school was full of smiles and praises about my friend. She is their inspiration. I realized, in that moment, that her courage is contagious, and her smile can light up a room. Oddly enough, her cancer, although wanting to wear her down, has instead, strengthened her and those around her. Everyone wants to do what they can for her, and her girls. They want that contagious smile to continue. They want to be a part of her courageous battle. I wish it was not cancer that made me see how a town could fall in love with my friend, but it did. It was not only the people in her community, but everywhere we went, people would comment on her beautiful spirit.

The next day, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains; think Dollywood and rednecks. It is a breathtaking mountain, along side neon signs, and roadside motels. It is quite the spectacle. We rented a chalet on the mountain; no cheap motel for us. The chalet was called: Chalet L'Amour. This translates to: the love shack. Seriously, this is the chalet my friend finds, complete with a red leather sofa, canopy bed and hot tub. Apparently, this is a hot spot for the quick hitch wedding. The whole thing was hysterical, and we did not even care. We were two friends out to have some fun. We spent the next four days talking and laughing. At every restaurant, at the park rides, at the spa and in the stores; I would be pulled aside, so someone could tell me, or us, how inspirational just seeing her was. I started to cry once, and she said, "now, don't you start that!". Needless to say, I stopped. There is no time for tears, just live in the moment and smile. It is so simple and so easy.

It was a perfect trip; too many drinks, too many crazy rednecks, and a sling shot bungee ride. It felt like a remake of Thelma and Louis, minus the murder scene. Before I knew it, we were on our way to the airport. I wished I had more time. Sometimes, I need to remind myself to take more time out for my friends. They are irreplaceable, and deserving of an adventure every now and again. It takes courage to put up a good fight with a smile on your face. I am certain there will be moments of tears, but it fills me with joy to see how my friend has handled her challenge.

Take time to be with the people who inspire you: that is what I have learned. Life is too unpredictable, and will always be busy, and full of chores. So this year, on Mother's day, my family and I are going to do the 5k Race for the Cure. I want to dedicate this walk to my friend, Vicki. You are my inspiration.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happiness From Nothing

Somewhere along the way, we became a society that identifies itself by what we do. It usually is the first question someone will ask you in a social setting: "So, what do you do?". There are: calendars, crackberries, reminders, post-its, to do lists, charts and graphs; all trying to tell us what we have to get done today. It is enough to drive us all crazy, yet we persevere and continue to work, work, work; trying to fit in as much as possible in a day. Hence, it is with great effort that I try not to do anything. I try to enjoy the sunrise, because it is beautiful; not because I work early and happen upon it. I try to take time making dinner, because I love to cook; not because I have to get it done. Granted, it is impossible to do everything with a laissez faire attitude, but I think it is worth a shot. Interestingly, it is the one thing that I actually, really try to "do". It creates a template for imagination and creativity, that would otherwise go undeveloped. Like Nancy Reagan taught us in the 80's, I "just say no"; except it is not drugs that I refer to, but the constant push to do more and more.

Watching my children recently, I noticed how their desire to be busy all the time is not a good thing. They are constantly looking for that instant gratification of happiness. It is so difficult for them to just sit still. They have conceived that it is my responsibility to find them something to do. They are correct in their assumption, if they base it on what they observe in every other household. This pestering is not something something new, but our response to it as parents has changed drastically. Our generation has decided; we do not want our kids to have one idle moment. We fill their days with activities, as a mark of our good parenting. Kids never have to be creative, and invent something to do, or even just sit still.

Their generation is completely identified by what they do. It is ridiculous that, when parents meet other parents, they ask, "what does your kid do?" When I was growing up, kids were just kids. We did not "do" anything, we simply had fun. Kids today are projects. They are no longer something that just happened. We make conscious decisions on when and where to have them: we want it all to be perfect. So in this desire for the perfect family, we have lost our ability to say no. We want every moment organized, and charted out in a manner which is most productive.

I have not exactly been parenting forever, but I have learned quite a bit in the past 10 1/2 years. Being that I do not allow television watching, I may be a bit more inundated with the "nothing to do" question, but I sincerely doubt it. So, here is my strategy for boredom: when my kids say they are bored, I give them a list a chores to complete: i. e. wash the base boards, empty the hamper, take out the trash, run the sweeper. The next time they are bored, they reconsider asking me for an answer. They are creative, and find something on their own to do, or not. Since the inception and application of this strategy, I have seen profound successes, happier children, and a much cleaner house.

I know for a fact how difficult it is to unwind, and be happy with the stillness. I have tried to find the happiness in being busy. But, I have not found any proof that this option is more successful, or more fun, or more full filling. This happiness is just cluttered with detail, to the point of being distracted from reality. Even though, it is not easy, I recognize that I have my best thoughts, read the best books, and do my best work, in those moments of having nothing to do. I have decided that my children need to nurture their boredom, in order to find that inner happiness they are seeking. Buddha says, “Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine”. With all my ability, with all my energies, I am going to continue to let some of my day simply occur, and to stop trying to control everything.

Do you feel like your whole day is scheduled? Do you have time for the unexpected? Are your children overscheduled? Is it hard for you to say no?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tribute to the City

In 1990, I graduated from high school, and started college. My college experience was going to be in the city, and I was excited about living somewhere new and different. I was a kid, who had been raised in suburban America. I had been craving for a change, and thought urban life would be the perfect place to spread my wings and put on a new pair of shoes. I spent my four years in the city, and loved every minute of it. Reluctantly, when I graduated, I moved back home for one year. I hated to leave the city, because I had become intoxicated by it. I missed the excitement and liveliness that the city offered. Like a child waiting for my birthday to arrive, I could not wait to go back. As soon as I got married, my husband and I bought a house in the city. As of now, I will never return to the suburbs, not if I can help it. I have so much admiration and intrigue for my city, and I want to share it's allure.

Looking back, growing up in the suburbs, was a surreal and an imaginary world. The phrase "cookie cutter", evolved in America when the suburbs developed, to describe a place lacking originality, with a conformist attitude. In a nutshell, that is exactly how I remember my childhood. Everyone in my suburbia was white, of European decent, of a Christian faith, middle class, and living in the same architectural homes. There were (and still are) two Jewish families on my street, but they were the only Jewish families in the whole borough, they just happened to be on my street. My brother and I could never understand what they did on Christmas. Seriously, how could they possibly be of another faith? They must just be confused: that was how I thought. In my school district, there were three black families. If you met a black kid, you had a good idea of where he lived and what his last name was. Diversity was not a term anyone was familiar with, or cared to understand. It is a society of homogeneity. Everyone wants to keep up with the proverbial Jone's. No one wants to diverge from the norm, because that is being different, and different in the suburbs is not good. That is how I grew up, in a world, which conforming, was and still is, the only way of living.

Every couple, once they have a child, and if they make enough money, will look at a home in the suburbs. Even if it is not what they want, they will look, because it has been burned into every Americans mind, that suburbia is the next step. It is the American dream: homes with picket fences and blue ribbon school districts. It is the epitome of uniformity and conformity: defined families, with two cars, two and a half kids, and a dog. It is just safer there, right? I know, with absolute certainty, driving down any road in a suburb, exactly what to expect: strip malls, chain food restaurants, soccer fields, MC mansions, and teenagers wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. I do not believe it is safer, it is just predictable.

Although, it may be a natural tendency in human nature, to be attracted to those who are most similar, it is not a productive tendency. There is a comfort in being surrounded by people who are similar, but it creates stagnant and sterile behaviors. Nothing evolves out of a comfort zone. Diversity induces change, and change is a sign of an advancing, and evolving society. But, change is intimidating and uncomfortable. Therefore, it is understandable, how the suburbs evolved to be a place that resists change. It is a place of safety and comfort, where people want to raise their children. But, the world is changing. Globalization is the trend. In order to educate ourselves, and our children, we must live as a member of a global community. The city is the perfect alternative to a tiresome and dull suburban existence. It is the one place where everything comes together, in a melting pot, and being alike is extraneous. Families and businesses have been migrating to the suburbs for far too long, and it is time to migrate a new direction.

I live in the city. I live in a place that on every block you will find something inspiring or maybe, even revolting. It is it's uncertainty that is intriguing. There are mansions one block away from apartment complexes, row houses, and the ghetto. Catholic schools function right next to Yeshiva schools. The synagogues and the cathedrals are scattered in the sky line. Everyone is just trying to make it through their day in the city. It's people are too busy living life to worry about who the Jone's are, or trying to understand a useless concept of being alike.

There are different markets in every neighborhood of a city. Even the worst neighborhoods, have at least one special spot, that everyone has heard of, and everyone likes. It could be the Muslim butcher, the Italian groceria, or the kosher deli. Sometimes all of these markets can be found all in the same block. There are seedy convenience stores selling lotto tickets and cigarettes, and right next door there is a sophisticated restaurant. Not one block is alike.

I have wondered, are my children influenced by the city, like I have been? So, on a recent family drive, we discussed the ethnicity and religions of the United States. I wanted to know if my kids have any concept, of the percentages of whites and blacks in America. Of course, I just filled out my census form, so it was on my mind. Overall, they were correct in their estimates, based on our city. They figured 50% of the population was black and also thought about 25% of the population is Jewish. Interestingly, only my middle child, stated that it depended on your location in the country, as to the breakdown of diversity. My city is 68% white and is one of three cities in the world (outside of Israel) where the majority of the City's Jewish population still live in the city limits. Why is this important? It is important, because my children do not think that the world is all white, middle class, practicing the same faith, and following the same path. They have a strong grasp on the differing cultures that make up this world we live in. They do not want to be like everyone else, they want to find their own voice. They have no pressures to be the same as all the other kids, because all the other kids are so different.

My children do not even notice, or care if their new friend looks like them or not. It is more common, that their friends will be of a different ethnicity or religion. What they do care about is: character, morality, being fun, being nice, and wanting to share. Our closest friends, as a family, are Muslims and Jewish. Their friends are colorful and multicultural. They have Russian, Italian, Egyptian, and American friends. Their world is so different from how I perceived it at their age. The ability to comprehend and accept people's differences, is an education that cannot be taught: it must be experienced. As the world becomes smaller and smaller, this experience and understanding, is imperative for a successful future.

There are so many reasons I love where I live. I will continue to pay tribute to my city, because it gives so much back to me. It does not ask for anything in return. It will embrace, it will excite, it will cause a stir in your soul. It will make you see the world through a clearer lens. Cities offer you the world in a few square blocks. It might not wrap it up in a pretty little package, and it might not hide it's flaws. It is honesty and reality in all it's splendor.

What do you like about where you live? Are you in the country, suburbia, or a city? Will you move to suburbia when you have a family or are you already there?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who Pulls Your Strings?

I feel like I am being manipulated all day. And I am not referring to yoga, because that type of manipulation would be welcome. The feeling of manipulation that I am referring to, is the one that evokes guilt. Guilt, the emotion that dominates many of today's conversations, and our actions. I have only been blogging a short while, but I have read about this topic, ad nauseam. In particular, parents fall victim to this strategy the most. It has swallowed us whole. Do not be mistaken, this is no accident, there is a reason for everything, and this is no exception. Children, if your parents love you they will give you what you want. Mothers, if you truly love your babies, then you must buy them the best. Fathers, if you love your wife and child you will give them the best. What is the best? This is where the manipulation begins.

Enter stage left: Madison Avenue

Madison Avenue is a very powerful force against our private consciousness. It directs us to buy, and participate in activities that it deems worthy of our time. Can an outside entity really now what we need, and require? In order to gain power, and make a profit, it will search and create tactics that make us do what they want. And if we don't: GUILT.

Collectively, as a society we have always been comfortable relating to those who are like ourselves. Individuality and separateness has never been encouraged. Because that is the case, Madison avenue knows, that if it can get a majority of people on board, the rest will follow. No one wants to be left out.

Enter stage right: religion

People need to be controlled or they will not know how to act with a moral code. This is the context in which religion arose. Historically, every religion evolved when the people collectively needed a new power over their conscience. And, as religion becomes dated to those it rules, the people cry out for a change. It is not any different today. The major difference today, is that religion has lost its grasp in the industrialized world. It cannot manipulate our actions as easily. Information is at all of our fingertips, not just the intellectuals. Knowledge is everywhere, simply read a paper or look online. With all of this knowledge, one would think it would be more difficult to manipulate society. But, that is not the case. Religion is losing its grasp and Madison Avenue has come in for the kill.

For example, there are five people living in my house: three children and two adults. On any one day, there has to be at least five different places, and activities to do. My husband must go to work. The kids must go to school. There is: piano, dancing, choir, play dates, homework, eating and just playing. I have to either: go to the store, exercise, cook dinner, visit a sick relative, go to a doctor appointment, and do anything else that the family needs. In addition to all of this, I have to love everyone, kiss them, support them, and make my home a place they want to be. Trying to accomplish all of this is so daunting, and at times my head spins. But, for the most part, it is a crazy, beautiful kind of fun. Until, Maidison Avenue and religion walk in my door.

I know that being an object of manipulation will never stop. So there must be a way to cope with it, without resorting to guilt. If I can accept that there will always be someone or something wanting power over me, then maybe I can rise above it. I have started to think of it like this: it is a privilege to have some one's undivided attention, even if only in a blog. With that privilege, comes the responsibility not to manipulate those who trust you. If I can do this in my own home, if I can just start there, then maybe it will spread. And at least my home will not be filled with the plague of guilt. I want my family to have joy, because that is part of my job. I want my family to love without guilt. I want so many things, but I do not want to need them because of guilt.

The constant need to make everyone happy is unnatural. In past generations, the only aspirations of parents, was to feed their family and to put a roof over their head. Because the roof is much easier to provide, there is now a struggle and demand to provide more and more. Now that the church is losing its influence, it has become the power of Madison Avenue to manipulate us into believing we cannot live without certain things. A family can not be happy without the following: new clothes, designer shoes, fancy cars, MC mansion, manicures lawn, and a private education. I don't know about you, but I am ready for a new paradigm of thought. I am restless and agitated. I want to be the one pulling the strings on my marionette. Recognizing what is manipulating me is half the battle, maybe I just have to get comfortable with the fact that so many people want my attention.

Who is pulling your strings? How do you suppress the guilt?

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Church Lady

This weekend I had the pleasure of witnessing a lapse of manners; not from a child, but from an adult. Manners, usually are the first lessons most of us remember being taught. Please and thank you, are the basics that every kid learns. It is reasonable to expect that even a grade school kid can master this technique. But, what happens when what is wanted and expected does not happen? Normally, the first response is to get angry, even though, this might makes the situation worse. For example, a waiter brings the food out cold. You could either rant and rave, or try to sympathize with the waiter. Most times than not, the sympathy will elicit a better outcome. Taking the bird out for a wagging will not make your food turn out any better, it will probably make it worse.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of driving my youngest employee (F) and her one of her coworkers to a birthday party about 30 minutes away from our home. It was a lovely event, and my car was full of smiles and lively stories about all the children at the party. I proceeded to drop the coworker off at her family home for a barbecue, and then return home with my happy little employee (F). We pull up to an intersection on a 4 lane road at a red light. Apparently, the car beside me had waved the car opposing us to go ahead and make the left turn across traffic. As I am not and have never been psychic, I was unaware of that gesture. The light turned green, the opposing car began turn. I was creeping forward, but I stopped when I saw the bold turning maneuver, and let them turn. Here is where it got funny: I know the family driving in the other car. They are from the church and school that my employees attend. Interestingly, the father laid on the horn, and the lovely, demure, church going mother, that I see at school gave me an evil scowl and flipped me the bird in a very aggressive way. Needless to say, I was shocked. F, in the back seat, commented on the bird: "Why did she do that Mummy?". F recognized the woman too.

Admittedly, I was angry and thought about returning the gesture for a split second. Then, I realized that might not be good idea, considering F was watching my every move. I told F that they must be having a bad day, and they certainly would not have flipped us the bird if they knew it was us. F replied, "Even if it was not us, Mummy, that was not very nice". Simply and accurately stated by a kindergartner. Flipping the bird is not a tactful response.

I do not know if this family has any idea that I knew them. It is quite possible, this same moment has occurred to me without knowing. Not that I am in the habit of having road rage, but I will admit to partaking to it in my lifetime. All things considered, I will never tell them that I saw them flipping my daughter and I off.

When the windows are up, the traffic is heavy, and time is precious: the mixture is perfect for inconsiderate, rude, nasty, and ugly road rage. Although, there may be a feeling that no one will recognize you: BEWARE. The next time the bird angrily erupts while driving your car, be careful. The driver beside you just might be your neighbor, your elderly mother, your priest, your rabbi, your child, or your friend. I just hope F does not go to school and tell her friend, "Hey! I saw your family yesterday and your Mum flipped us off!".

Friday, March 19, 2010

Did Birth Control Cause Competetive Parenting?

Prior to the 1960's, there was a cause and effect relationship between sex and pregnancy. The more sex, the increased likelihood of becoming pregnant. There were several bizarre prevention techniques, but none as effective as the birth control pill(BCP). The BCP was introduced to the public in the early 1960's. It was supported by the women's movement, and genuinely recognized as a way for women to advance their rights and ability to function as an equals in the workforce. But paradoxically, what was it going to do to the future of parenting?

Up until this point, having children was just a part of being married or having sex. There was no waiting for the right time. Women did not plan their lives around the years they might want to have a child. Families were just created; there was nothing fancy about it.

The word "parenting", was not given much consideration as a verb. Mostly, parenting was just a noun to identify that someone had a child. Children had pretty much been raised the same way since the beginning of time. There was no way to decide how many to have. If you were infertile, outside of adoption, there was no other way to become a parent. Most infants were breastfed and slept in a dresser drawer. Fancy bassinets were not the standard. Children's rooms were not designed upon their arrival. The sex was never known. Clothing had to be a neutral color or was not bought or made until the child's arrival. Usually, a simple pair of booties and a blanket were the only new items.

Baby showers have only recently become exceedingly elaborate. Mostly, people were superstitious and did not want any baby items in the house until the baby arrived and was healthy. As a matter of fact, still today, most Jews and Orthodox women do not celebrate baby showers. Pregnancy was simply a normal and expected part of life; get married and have a baby.

Children played in the yard and in the woods. They ran about the neighborhood as if it were their backyard. They were responsible for finding friends and they worked out their differences without an adult to referee. "Playdate" was not even a word a mother would have understood. There was not competitive parenting, and children just existed without too much thought, they went to school, and successfully became adults.

With the arrival of the BCP, women now have a choice. There is no expectation of having a child unless it is wanted. The time and date can all be adjusted. Sex can be had just for fun, and without worry of becoming pregnant.

Is it possible that with that choice and flexibility came a whole other group of expectations? It seem logical, that with this freedom comes some underlying guilt that because the event is postponed it has to be done PERFECTLY. Now, having a baby comes with greater expectations.

In third world countries where the birth control pill is virtually impossible to obtain; parenting is not a competitive sport. There is no conversation among parents about how many activities little Johnny is participating in this year. No one worried about the psychological babble that dominates in our country. Parents have created worry upon worry, and invented a whole new psychology for raising a child. A psychology that was previously unknown. Parents did not compete, and children were just a part of life; without much forethought.

I do not know if competitive parenting was the effect of the invention of the BCP or not. It does appear, that since the BCP has become a normal part of a woman's life, the competitive nature of parents is increasingly pervasive in our culture. Maybe it is too much time on our hands because life is made easier by machines. Computerization has given us more time to over think the concept of parenting. It appears as if everyone is trying to cram as much into one life as is humanly possible.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Listen Up

It is a skill we are born with: the ability to listen. Some of us have it fine tuned down to a science. And some of us, well, we never hear anyone over ourselves. We all have the friend who never shuts up and we all want the friend who really listens to us. If we are lucky, our spouse fills the space for listening and we do the same for them. We all want to be heard and that probably is a good reason why there is blogging. Who doesn't check their comments to see who was listening. Most of us probably consider ourselves good listeners, but do you ever forget to? Do you ever just blather on about inane b.s. and wonder why the person we are talking to has tuned out. To anyone who has kids this happens all the time. As a matter of fact it also happens to anyone who has employees. Sometimes I feel like my kids are my employees and they are never really listening.

Let me tell you about my employees. I have three very wonderful girls, full of energy and the desire to learn. They are all in school, in which I know for a fact that they sit and listen and learn there. But on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day I have to say, "will you listen!", "are you listening?", "did you hear what I said?" Ironically, for something we given at birth, it takes a lot of fine tuning to master something so incredibly simple.

Here is where I think: I have this mastered right? I am an adult, I am a nurse practitioner. My whole career is based on the fact that I am a great listener. I am teaching my employees how to listen so I must be good at it. That is where I was wrong.

Recently my oldest employee came home from school with some tears in her eyes and full of stories about how so and so is such a meanie and no one is nice and she just hates school. Let me preface this by telling you that I am Italian, and I think evolutionary speaking we have cornered the market on being reactionary, hot headed and stubborn. My first reaction is to want to bitch slap that little @#$er for upsetting my precious baby. But then I come back to reality, hoping I did not say that out loud and ask her a few more questions. I don't even think I have really heard her, I am just mad. After a long lecture from me on how to deal with the meanie I notice she has this glazed look in her eye like, "are you serious?". Damn. Maybe that did not go so well. Being the good boss that want to be, I tell her I am sorry if that did not make sense but its all I got. I hope it helps and I am here for you so lets just move on and you can tell your father about it later.

Stage Left: Mr. Q (my spouse) walks in the door. What happened today, he asks? Well, I tell him our oldest employee is having some problems and I think he should intervene on this matter. Really I think, "what is he going to say that I have not?", but lets give him a shot. So they start to talk and I walk away pretending not to be listening as I go upstairs. I don't hear him say much of anything and they are down there for quite sometime. Then the oldest comes up the steps smiling telling me she feels better.

What the heck? What did Mr. Q say? Now I am desperate to know what just happened.

So Mr. Q., what did you say?


Nothing ! What does that mean?

Mr. Q tells me he just listened to her and gave her hug and told her he was always there for her to talk to and would always LISTEN. At this point I feel like the worst boss ever. How could I have missed that trick. It is so easy, so natural. But I missed it. I was so busy reacting to the pain that I saw in her eyes that I forgot to do the one thing that we are all born to do: listen. For god sakes we have not one but two ears.

There are moments in our lives when we think we have something mastered. But to truly be a master at something, there has to be acknowledgement that there is always a way to fine tune it even more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Defining a Moment

Moments are, simply put, brief intervals of time. Every moment that passes in front of our eyes will never return. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the moment. Time moves very quickly, although at times it can feel very slow. Sometimes it just swallows up every ounce of energy we have. Is it possible to appreciate every moment, really? And do you want to? Some moments are better left in past, right? If the good and the bad make us who we are, then should we accept the bad as a simple brief interval of time and leave it there? The past is a very current part of our human make up. Remembering the past can create a uniquely wonderful life as long as it does not consume us.

My most vivid memories of the past are sometimes not the prettiest. They haunt my thoughts at times. They rear their ugly head just as a reminder that life is not always beautiful. My youngest daughter, when she was 2 pulled a sofa table over and it landed on her face. She had multiple facial fractures and an intracranial hemorrhage. It is the most awful moment of my parenting career. I was only steps behind her in the bathroom when I heard the crash. It felt as if time had stopped. I have such a visceral reaction now just contemplating that moment. Could I have known? If I have been right there next to her it would not have happened. Maybe I should have anchored the table to the wall. Why was I not able to prevent it?

The ambulance and the police came to the house. I rode in the ambulance with her as she vomited blood and just held her close. The emergency room came to life as we walked in the door. I remember thinking: what if this is my last moment with her. They took such good care of my baby but they did ask me a many accusatory questions. They were required to make sure it was not me who caused the harm. I will never forget that feeling.

Now that it part of the past, my beautiful daughter is recovered to perfection. She is 6 and there are no permanent scars or issues from the incident. But I will always remember. I almost lost her. I realized at that moment what it meant to be a parent. I knew I was her protector. This moment reminded me that life is fragile. Every moment is precious.

The past is beautiful thing as long as it makes us stronger. I took this moment and have become a better parent for it. It changed me, it changed my husband, it changed our children. We became more vigilant of recognizing dangers. Sometimes to the extreme of being overprotective. Every piece of furniture was anchored to the wall in every room of our house by the time we came from the hospital. Even now that they are older and this memory is a distant part of the past I sit and look at that table and think; who would have thought that table could have affected us so much?

People are always saying to live in the present moment. Does this mean the past moments should be forgotten? Maybe that is not the point of living in the present but I think it does insinuate to forget the past. Trying so hard to hold on to the present moment feels like trying to clasp your hands to hold water. The more you try to hold on to the water, the more the water slips out.

There are no definitive answers to all these questions. The thread of our existence is one long continuous strand. All of our moments are a part of that thread. Knowing that we never get a new piece of thread can be discouraging. But that thread can always turn a new direction and make something new. The future is daunting, the past is part of our future and the present it what we make of it. I will never forget my past because it has led me to this moment.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Art of Accepting the Truth

Mistakes, just a part of the ordinary existence. They happen all the time. Some are bigger than others and some are little. The idea that perfection is the only way to survive in this world is a fallacy that society has bought hook, line, and sinker. Are we really never supposed to screw up? We grow up believing that being flawless is the ideal. Then we find ourselves being dishonest just to keep the fallacy alive.

It all starts when we are children. A child thinks if I make a mistake my parents will be mad, so I am going to lie to get myself out of it. The only way children know to tell the truth is by it being taught. The natural instinct is to lie.

Recently, my middle daughter E, a second grader, was caught stealing pudding from the school cafeteria. I knew it, because the principal had caught her and called me. But when I asked her about it, she lied. "I did not take anything!" she said with such conviction. It seemed so easy to believe her. So I posed the question another way, "if you did steal something, I promise not to get mad at you but I need to know the truth so we can work it out". So after many minutes, which seemed like an eternity, she lied a few more times and then finally, the truth came out. "I did steal pudding, but only on the days there was chocolate!" As if the idea she would steal vanilla was so far beneath her. This made me laugh but I had to conceal it. Really she just wanted me to know it was not an everyday occurrence. I never figured out for sure how many times this had happened but it was too many. "Why would you do that, we have enough money to pay for the pudding, why didn't you ask me?" She then tells me that I have made it very clear to her that she is only to get the $3 lunch with no extras, so she would just take it and then no none would ever now. If no one knew then it was okay, right?

Had this moment never happened I would have never known and she would have gotten exactly what she wanted without ever having to deal with the consequences or without having to tell me that she really wanted chocolate pudding. This was clearly something important to her. Teaching her to ask for something reasonably was not her natural instinct; her instinct was to lie about it. She learned to express her needs and confess her mistakes without "getting in trouble". It was a lesson in patience for me. I had to stick to my guns and not get mad, I had to reason with her. In the end, we both learned to trust each other more and that just because no one knows does not make it okay.

In this high speed, you-can-have-it-all world, it is easy to lie in order to stay off the radar. I was always told to learn from others mistakes; never making a mistake is the ideal. But that is a cop out. That is based on the assumption that we can remain flawless. Mistakes are how we grow to be better human beings. Maybe what we should really be teaching is: go ahead make some mistakes,be honest about it, and learn from them. Gaining knowledge from your own mistake is priceless. Do not be afraid to admit it everyone you love. In the end you might just find you live a better life for it.