My 2016 Word of the Year is: Listen

Do you hear that? No, nor did I.

Since my 2015 word of the year was energy, my year was noisy, filled with the throes of everyday life, with busyness and activity. It was a good year overall: I felt like the family and I thrived. I achieved a consistent exercise routine, I slept consistently well. I felt like I hit a new stride at work – while the demands and pressures didn’t change, I was able to sail through. The kids were well and happy, my husband nurtured his passion for karate and reiki. Overall it was a year without too much personal or family drama and for that I am grateful.

But it sped by so fast. Scary fast. So fast in fact, that I worry that I didn’t take the moments in. I missed some cues. I was so involved in the busyness that I neglected some people who matter enormously to me and in the process, damaged relationships – something I never intended to do and am working to fix.

Bottom line, I didn’t listen enough.

Strangely enough, in Hebrew the definition of my name – Samantha – is Listener.  And, as a communicator by nature and by profession, I know that listening is as important as talking or writing, maybe more so.

So this year, I’m committed to being a better and more active listener. This will force me to be more present and to slow down. I’ll need to attune my radar to the signals and inputs all around me – both the explicit and the inferred – from my kids, my husband, friends (both near and far), colleagues, clients, even strangers. I’ll need to look up more, open my eyes and my ears, say less. Lean back and take it in before speaking up. Maybe the cues might exist elsewhere – in music, art, books or nature – but unless I’m open to them, I’ll miss them. To quote Paulo Coelho, “I believe in signs … what we need to learn is always there before us.”

I’ll also need to listen to myself more. Not to the voice that often says “eat more cheese” or “go back to sleep” (instead of going to the gym.) But to my instincts and my gut. I tend to second guess myself a fair deal, apply too much logic, but sometimes the better answer is found in the instinct. So, I’m going to listen more to that too and see where that takes me. Less rationale, more impulse-based listening and action.

So bring it, 2016, I’m listening.

Familiarly Unfamiliar

Home. It once was. It still is. Or is it?

It fits like an old sweater. Comfortable. Like muscle memory, it all falls into place. Right here, left there. Memories like yesterday; places I once went; people I once knew. Good times. Other times. Real times, three decades yet almost two decades past. 

Put the kettle on and let’s reminisce about the good old days.

It’s different now. A bit shiny and new in places, blurry in others. What was once familiar is altered. Recognizable. It’s bigger and stranger yet also smaller and authentic and just around the corner.

Curiosity piqued, I’m compelled to immerse myself in it anew. See if I can expose what was once there, unbury memories from behind those new glassy facades. Travel along paths that had existed all along but were eclipsed. Maybe discover something to change my perspective. Reframe the past. Recast my future. 

There are other places I call home and that call me home right back. Is it okay to have so many homes? Geographies that make you feel as if you never left but which are foreign all at once. They stick to you like Velcro tabs; the fibres snap together as if they were always destined to but when ripped apart, they breathe a sigh of relief and blessed independence.

You were home to who I was back then. We’re both different now but the DNA remains. I feel the Velcro pull, London Town. 

  

10 Pieces of Advice for My 11 Year-Old Son

Dear Gabriel,

Welcome to 11 and your pre-teen years! This is the impressionable time when the world comes into sharper focus, when your character (and body) begins to mold from child to teen. It’s also the year when you’ll graduate from elementary to middle school. When you’ll go to sleep-away camp for the first time, take formal art classes at an art museum, and stay home alone more. (It won’t be the year when you get a phone, sorry.)

There’s so much to look forward to in the 12 months ahead, and your papa and I will be here for you every step of the way. But, knowing that your desire to let us physically hold your hand is waning every day, we want to share the following advice to help steer you through the year ahead.

  1. Be yourself:You are the one and only ever you,” says one of my favorite books On The Night You Were Born. There will be days when you will feel down or when criticism from teachers or your peers might make you doubt yourself. But know that you are special, an individual, and hold your head high.
  2. Slow down: Your default mode is fast! Please try to pace yourself so that you can savor all the good times that are coming your way. (Related: don’t race though your homework, please take the time to review and check your work!)
  3. Be kind everyday: You never know how someone else is feeling. Be quick to offer to help, or to listen. Know that your smile or a few words of encouragement can make someone’s day.
  4. Ask questions: Lots of them. Always be curious. There are so many resources to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and even spark new interests.
  5. Be a good friend: Friendship is so much more than a playdate or being in each other’s Minecraft worlds. It means being there for your friends in good times and bad. Listening to them. Sharing with them. Making their needs your priority.
  6. Pursue your passions: While it’s important to try new things, knowing what excites and motivates you is important. Let it guide you.
  7. Try to make good choices (see #2): You already know right from wrong. But silliness, peer pressure and hormones can cloud any pre-teen’s judgement. You are a good, smart kid — so, please, use your head.
  8. Make mistakes: Yes you read that right. We’re going to let you make lots of them. It’s going to suck. But it’s one of the best ways to learn.
  9. Be grateful: Remember that you are extremely fortunate. Don’t take it for granted.
  10. Be satisfied with what you have (see #9): More doesn’t always mean better.

Happy 11th birthday Gabriel – we love you!

Mama and papa

355 Mass Shootings in 2015: America, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself

I’m ashamed of you.

I’m disgusted. I’m sad. I’m mad. I’m weeping as I write this.

This is not a civilized society. We freely (and easily) arm our population so that we can turn and gun each other down with mind-numbing frequency.

This is not a democracy. This is not liberty.

America, you think you are so great. But take a good look at yourself. How can you be a proud nation, and yet so impotent to do what needs to be done? Politicians, you talk a good talk but where’s the conviction, where’s the action? Where are your balls? It’s shameful.

Last year I became an American citizen. After living here for 15 years, and raising a family here, I decided I need a vote. I believed that maybe, just maybe, my vote might make a difference.

Today I’m not so sure. Today I told my husband I don’t want to live in a country that just sits by and lets these godawful things happen to good people.

Screw “thoughts and prayers.” Those are empty words.

Yes, I’m emotional. Yes, I know this is a divisive issue. But this I also know. I cannot stomach it any more.

So I am seriously considering packing my bags and leaving. Because I don’t want to live in a country that has no respect left.

Control and “The Science of Parenthood”

SWP_Text

One of the most frustrating parts of parenthood is the assumption that you have control of anything. You know it’s true. I see you over there nodding.

And yet, we keep trying. When my kids were toddlers, my diaper bag would always be stuffed full, ready for every possibly eventuality: extra diapers and underwear, wipes galore, changes of clothes for them, change of clothes for me, wipes galore, first-aid kit, toys, wipes galore, snacks, toys, snack, snacks, more wipes, toys, children’s’ motrin, adult motrin etc, etc. Sometimes I’d actually use them (like the time G picked and ate so many blueberries, washed them down with apple juice and carrot sticks, and ran around and around in the sun and then puked, not once but twice, all over himself and all over the back seat of the car on the drive home.) More often than not, I didn’t need every item in my bag but I felt assured and confident that I was prepared for everything. My husband, on the other hand, would simply scoop up a child and head out – with barely a diaper or a wipe on him and have a perfectly successful outing. Nary a blow-out, projectile barf or low-sugar-induced meltdown. I never understood why that happened. Isn’t it ironic? (Secretly I wished for a spectacularly embarrassing poop incident, but alas.) The laws of probability were rarely on my side.

Whether it was strategizing a feeding schedule that would surely induce an infant to sleep through the night or, even now, figuring out how to inspire bribe motivate a child to assist with the laundry, the sad truth of the matter always is: parents have no/limited control over the outcome.

Because kids.

So when I read the new book “The Science of Parenthood,” created by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler, I saw myself on every single page. I laughed. I cried. Then I chuckled some more.

Because kids.

The book is chock-full of pithy humor, colorful cartoons and amusing/helpful decision trees, each aiming to decipher and decode the “science” behind the daily irony of life as a parent, the choices we make as we stumble through, trying to make sense of it all. From pregnancy, to the challenges of interacting with our spouses, other kids and other members of the parenting species, the book analyzes the entire spectrum of parenthood through the tongue-in-cheek lenses of biology, chemistry, physics and math. Now, I’m not going to spoil this book for you but I did want to extract a few choice excerpts that spoke to me. Like, directly to me. If you’d have been there, you’d have seen me nodding vigorously, maybe sobbing gently or more likely, convulsing with laughter.

Here’s one from the section on Biology, in the chapter entitled: Post-Birth Conditions Your OB Might Forget to Mention (Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You!):

“Acquired Distraction Disorder: Marked by an impatient Now, what were we talking about?, Acquired Distraction Disorder (A.D.D.) is the progressive loss of the ability to follow a train of thought. A.D.D. typically develops among parents with toddlers who’ve just learned how to run. The adult brain becomes overwhelmed with the strain of excessive multitasking and begins shutting down “nonessential” functions to conserve energy for chasing tiny humans intent on leaping from garden walls and licking electrical outlets. Fortunately, A.D.D. lasts only until middle school, when children stop interacting with their parents altogether.”

Equally amusing was the chapter entitled: Poopology 101: The Gushy, Gassy, and Gooey. I’ll save you the, um, colorful details  but I know you will see yourself on this page. Wait, that sounds bad.

I most definitely identified with the section that served to (ironically) update the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-V or the “psychiatrists’ bible”):

“Delusions of Launder: The perpetual belief that one day, eventually, the laundry will get “finished.” Symptoms: Moms laboring under this delusion may initially appear upbeat, even enthusiastic, aiming to dominate the heaps of dirty clothes and pee-soaked toddler bedding. But as the laundry piles grow, these moms can sink into a depression as they ruminate on existential questions such as Where does all this laundry come from? and Why is all this laundry here? Fixating on “finishing” the laundry may lead to secondary physical problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, the result of folding endless pairs of teeny-tiny socks and superhero underwear.”

Other highlights to look out for: the Beverage-to-TV Index, the pie chart analysis of where your kids’ food actually goes, the Law of Urinary Dynamics, and the Wintertime Scatter Graph that investigates that annual dilemma “where did all the gloves go?”

And, I’m fairly sure the venn diagram on page 218 pretty much sums up my life right now.

Bottom like: I am no scientist. I’m just a parent, trying to make sense of it all, trying over and over to impose some iota of control over something that is scientifically uncontrollable. “The Science of Parenthood” sums it all up brilliantly. You can buy it for yourself (to reassure you) or for a friend (to reassure him or her they are not alone) over here.

Because kids.

the law of when you kid needs to poop

 

Today’s Gratitude: Neighbors & Raspberries 

What’s better than freshly-picked raspberries? A big bag of fresh raspberries given to you by a generous neighbor. 

  

The Monster Wall

There’s a monster in my kitchen. Actually, there are lots of monsters in my kitchen.

Most of them have googly eyes. Some have abnormal numbers of limbs. There are definitely some weird antennae poking out.

Yes, my kitchen has a Monster Wall.

monsters

The Monster Wall

I’m not really sure how the Monster Wall started. I’m guessing the kids were going through a monster drawing phase. From time to time, they produce freshly-created monsters from the guts of their backpacks. There’s always room on the wall for new monsters.

I’ll take monsters on the wall any day over the monsters that used to hide under their beds and which would wrench them – and me – from sleep. It’s been a few years now since our slumbers were shreakingly disrupted with visits from the monsters. Yes, we used to proactively diffuse monster spray at bedtime to evaporate any monster particles in the air that might threaten to make their presence known. We’d read books about monsters to poke fun at them. We watched Monsters, Inc. to see how cute and funny the monsters and their operations are. These days, my son likes to read spooky, scary books and they sometimes produce bad dreams but filled more with ghouls and specters, I think, that the fanged, cyclops, seven wiggly-armed variety. My daughter, with her feet firmly planted on the ground, has recently overcome an everyday monster – automatic toilets with their dreaded, soul-sucking flush.

But for the most part, my kids today are carefree, happily gliding from one experience to the next, with barely a care in the world other than the injustice of having to empty the dishwasher or the regret of a traded Pokemon card.

They will inevitably face other kinds of monsters as they grow. They could be bullies. Maybe self-doubt? Anxiety, depression, loneliness, heart break. So many potential manifestations that, as their mother, I cannot bring myself to conceive, let alone write. Monsters that cannot be soothed with a spritz of lavender spray or a comforting hug in the night.

I’m hoping that they will be strong enough to face their future monsters head-on, as they do right now, everyday when they sit at the kitchen table looking at our Monster Wall. I’m hoping I’ve prepared them, as much as any person can, for the inevitable monsters they’ll encounter in life. I’m hoping they’ll be able to see them for what they are: opportunities to seek help, express themselves, grow. I’m hoping they’ll still call out for me, whether from near or afar. I’m hoping I’ll be able to help.

Maybe I will miss those night-time monsters after all. These future monsters feel mighty scary to me.

monsters and bad dreams

There are monsters in my kitchen

Honest Lies, an excerpt from “Wide Awake. Every Week”

Last week I read a Facebook post written by my boss and friend, Beth Monaghan, and it started a chain reaction for me. It was an excerpt she had contributed to the book “Wide Awake. Every Week”, by Starla J. King with Ros Nelson, in which 52 contributors share a week’s worth of “aha” moments. Beth’s contribution touched me because telling kids the truth – or versions of the truth – is such a huge responsibility. I’ll let you read her preface and contribution to the book below.

I have a copy of this book sitting by my bedside. I haven’t opened it yet because I need to finish what I’m currently reading. But it’s there, calling to me. Not just with the anticipation of reading some amazing writing but also with the anticipation of a lesson to learn. Maybe even 365 of them ….

Honest Lies

by Beth Monaghan

I had the honor of writing a week’s worth of its 365 “aha moments” and it changed the way I think about them. I used to expect them to arrive as lightening bolts of insight during times of great joy or struggle. The writing process for “Wide Awake. Every Week.” reminded me though, that insight does not always reside with the momentous. Often, it’s up ahead slowly gathering energy until it begins shimmering through the cracks of everyday life. We have to look up, right now, and reach for the sparks as they flicker. I’ve included one of my aha moment essays below called “Honest Lies,” which appears on January 20 in the book:

I vowed to always tell my children the truth, and when our French bulldog died, I passed my first test. Izzy, then three, kept asking, “Ernie go on train to Boston? Ernie at Gamma’s house?” Sob. I told her the truth, “Ernie’s body stopped working and he can’t be with us anymore.” ~ A few months later she also asked my husband, who told her that we buried Ernie’s body. To that Izzy asked, “What about his head?” Phew. That one was easy, but as they grow, my children ask harder questions and the truth is that I tell them honest lies. ~ Monsters aren’t real. ~ Your dad and I will always keep you safe. ~ If you’re kind to others they’ll be kind to you. ~ There aren’t any “bad guys” in our town. ~ Gray hair is just something that happens. ~ We’re lucky to live in a country where everyone gets a fair chance. ~ It didn’t hurt when I had you because the doctors gave me medicine. ~ Seat belts will keep us safe in the car. ~Big girls don’t cry. ~ You don’t have to worry about a fire in our house. ~ Girls can do anything. ~ Motherhood has led me to the gray space between honesty and truth. I stand in its bubble holding an umbrella of security up to life’s “what ifs?” while I try to show my girls how to be safe, without teaching them how to fear. I’ll tell it all … one day, but the hardest truths can sleep through childhood. For now, I’m grateful that Izzy is only on to the truth about the Easter Bunny because she saw her uncle hiding eggs in the yard. Yes, please, let’s start there.

If you’d like read more grab a copy (or 10) click here to order on Amazon: Wide Awake. Every Week.

Wide Awake. Every Week by Starla J. King

2015 Summer Camp Report Card

We made it. We survived another summer of camp. Yes, not just them. Us parents too.

It’s no secret I have a love/hate relationship with summer camp. In short, I love that my kids have 7-8 straight weeks of outdoors fun, activities and friendship during which their bodies get strong and brown, and their characters and friendships thrive. But oh my lawd, the preparation, the anxious mornings, the exhausted evenings. The hangry. The dirt.

This year, I thought I’d mark the highlights of 2015 summer camp with a report card – so here goes:

  • Inches grown: At least half a foot each.
  • Poundage of food consumed: Off the charts.
  • Number of times we missed the bus: Six or seven
  • Number of times we almost missed the bus: Every>Single>Day
  • Numbers of times someone forgot their lunch: Just the once. Phew.
  • Items of clothes irreparably stained: Every top my son owns. Most of his socks too. At least the ones that have fund their way to the laundry and aren’t stuffed down the back of the couch or strewn in a corner somewhere.
  • Number of items lost: Surprisingly fewer than in recent years. Maybe a water bottle or two.
  • Number of items found: Amazingly, a towel that was lost two years ago found it’s way back home. Welcome back, towel.
  • Amount of sand brought home each night: The entire contents of the gaga pit. On my kitchen floor.
  • Number of fist fights and disciplinary action: Just the one. But a first for us.

But seriously, hats off once again to the YMCA for another amazing summer of camp and for making every day at summer camp a day my kids look forward to; once I drag them out of bed, that is.

 

Analyze This

People tell me I’m creative.

Sure, I’ve created two awesome kids and I can create stuff that people read with my words.

We all know that, when it comes to culinary creativity, I am utterly hopeless  Also I torture plants rather than nurture them.

But get this. Two things I am good at – and enjoy – are deconstructively constructive.

Weeding.

And removing wall paper.

Go analyze that.

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