For Your 10th Birthday, 10 Ways That You Amaze Me

Dear son, today you turn 10. And while every birthday is worth celebrating, this one is particularly poignant.

For ten whole years, I’ve held you, fed you, hugged you, entertained you, laughed with you, cleaned you and cleaned up after you, answered your questions, dried your tears, high fived your achievements. I’ve spent hours fretting, researching, discussing, wondering about how you’re progressing socially, cognitively, biologically, emotionally, academically.

I’m often telling you to quieten down, slow down, clean up, hurry up. I may nag, I may yell, I may sigh with frustration. I discipline and punish. I lay down tough rules. And yes, I make you empty the dishwasher, pick up your stinky socks, turn off your device, do your homework, eat your vegetables, flush the toilet, and play nicely with your sister.

Because this is all part of the contract I made with my heart when I became a parent. Its design, other than to protect my sanity, is to show you the path to becoming a good person. Because I consider that job number one.

But mostly, throughout this past decade, I’ve admired you. You, Gabriel, amaze and inspire me, and here’s why:

  1. You are high on life. You are always 100% in the moment (even if that moment only last 60 seconds before you are on to the next moment!) You grab each day with gusto and joy, extract from it as much delight as you possibly can. May your lust for life and joy always be with you and rub off on the people around you, so they can light up the room, like you do.
  2. You are creative. Your inquisitive and imaginative mind, sharp, curious eye and lithe fingers compel you to express yourself through detailed sketches, funny doodles, paintings, sculptures and, oh so many, fantastic origamis. There’s no doubt you have an innate talent. I hope you continue to explore and challenge your art because when everything is grey and dull, your creativity will bring color and energy.
  3. You are a book worm, a reading ninja. You surround yourself with all kinds of books from Captain Underpants to National Geographic. Almost every evening, as I tiptoe into your room to kiss you goodnight, I have to first peel from your cheeks the pages of the book you were reading as you fell asleep. Please don’t ever stop reading. It will feed your brain, your imagination and your sense of adventure.
  4. You are sensitive. Grandma always said you have an “old soul.” This past year you’ve dealt with some tough stuff – your beloved dog died and you were in a frightening car crash. You cried, you hurt. You were scared. But you worked through it all with more maturity that I ever imagined a nine year-old could. I’m sorry that sad and scary stuff happens. I wish I could protect you from it all but it’s part and parcel of life and I’m proud that you are sensitive and brave enough to show your emotions. Because it’s always OK to feel all your feelings. Except the cold. Please put on a coat when it’s cold.
  5. You love animals and nature. You cried when we had some trees removed because you were worried the birds would lose their homes. If there’s a moth or spider in the house, I want to crush them, but you insist on saving and releasing them outside. You want to pet every dog you meet. Maybe you were a golden retriever in another life. It would explain a lot!
  6. You make friends with ease. You are so personable and easy to know. With kids and adults alike, you interact with confidence. I hope to continue to pick – and be – the best friend. Because we need friends, in good times and bad.
  7. You are generous (you get this from your father.) Just last week, you spontaneously made an origami for the waitress at a restaurant. This past weekend you told me you’d saved enough money to buy your sister a Christmas gift. Generosity is so important; it keeps you ever mindful of the needs of others. But remember, generosity is not just about things: it’s about being generous with your time, your attention, your skills. And it demands no reciprocity. It just is.
  8. You are funny. I always say you’ll be the next Conan O’Brien. Your teachers think you are hoot. But please remember there’s a time and a place for your hi-jinx!
  9. You have an amazing metabolism. The sheer volume of food you can consume in a sitting is crazy yet your body remains lithe and lean. You enjoy being active and understand what comprises a balanced diet – even if you have the wickedest sweet tooth. Just keep everything in moderation and keep moving.
  10. You love your family. Grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles and especially your cousins (especially Emma!) You are always so sad when it’s time to leave them. Remember family is everything: your roots, your anchor.

I can’t believe how time has flown and I’m so excited for the next ten years. OK that’s not entirely true. I’m terrified of the puberty years. Of hormones. Of teenage temptations. Of you learning to drive! But I’m also confident that you have the building blocks to show you the way.

Happy birthday Gabriel, I love you.

And don’t forget to wear a coat when it’s cold please.

And turn off your bedroom light.

And no, you can’t have a third slice of birthday cake.

Gabriel

 

 

 

Don’t Buy Me Stuff

Back in my 20s when a good friend and I both lived in London, we used to take each other to the theatre for our respective birthdays. We both loved musicals and drama, and it was a wonderful and generous way for us to treat each other. It also helped that our birthdays were several months apart, so we got to see new shows every six months for a couple of years.

Fast-forward 20 odd years. Through good fortune and hard graft, I am lucky enough to have a beautiful home and a lot of stuff. More stuff, in fact, than I truly need. My family also has a lot of stuff, especially my kids. When stuff breaks or gets outdated or replaced by a newer better version of stuff, we get new stuff. Old stuff gets donated, recycled or thrown away.

So.Much.Stuff.

Too.Much.Stuff.

I’d being lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the stuff; that the fruits of our hard work enable us to acquire things. Some of these things we need, or at least we claim we need. Most of it we really don’t need, but we like to have, own, use, show off.

I feel guilty about all the stuff. Compared to others that are not as fortunate. I’d like to not only give away more stuff to those with more need but I’d also like to not acquire as much new stuff.

Charity starts at home, as they say. My kids need to learn that stuff doesn’t really matter. They don’t need to constantly buy or be bought new things. The need to understand the value of what they already have. And understand that being generous doesn’t always mean giving stuff away, though it’s a start. It’s our job to set this example, practice what we preach.

I’m thinking about this topic as my birthday is approaching in a few weeks. Birthdays, especially for kids, become the epicenter of getting more stuff. Often nice stuff. Maybe stuff we need but won’t buy for ourselves.

So here’s the thing. Please don’t buy me stuff. I have more than I deserve already. If I want, ‘need’ or desire something, I can go buy it myself.

Instead, treat me to experiences. Take me to the theatre. Let’s have a day trip. A picnic on the beach. Let’s do something unexpected and crazy and fun. It may cost money but maybe not.

You see, the more stuff you have, the more it collects dust. It becomes hard to find the one bit of stuff you value the most when there’s a whole big, dusty pile of stuff.

The opposite happens with experiences. Each experience can be treasured both in the moment, and after. Experiences can be shared. Experiences don’t degrade with time. Every time you unwrap them in your memory, they are lush with emotions, vivid with detail.

So, please don’t buy me stuff. I don’t intend to be ungrateful. I know there’s pleasure in selecting a gift for someone. I’m sorry if this request denies you that pleasure.

How’s this for a deal? I’ll treat you to an experience too. That’s way we’ll all have memories to cherish instead of piles of more stuff.

The Two Words That Moms Love Most

(Other than “love you,” of course.)

Picture this. A crowded shopping mall, two and a half week’s before Christmas. I’m taking my son to Build-A-Bear for a pre-school class mate’s birthday party. I’m fully prepared to hang out for the hour or so, watching a gaggle of five year-olds stuff and clothe some furry creature. I know a few of the parents, I’m ready to chit-chat. But then, the parents of the party girl offer the following wonderful utterances: “This to totally drop off. Just come back in an hour or so.”

The angels wept. A free hour. In a mall. Christmas shopping. Without a child. Hallelujah!

Off I scampered, barely even glancing back at my son who, I knew, was far more interested in the impending stuffing (of bear and of cake) than whether his Mom was hanging around watchfully.

This was just the beginning of what I realized was a major paradigm shift – and I don’t use those words lightly – in my parenting journey. All of a sudden, every party was a drop off party. Every play date was a drop off play date (unless the Moms want a play date too! I mean, haven’t you read The Three Martini Play Date?)

Moving from having to negotiate the universe with an infant/toddler/pre-schooler constantly attached to your side (or at least within a meter’s arm grab) to a few sacred hours without them was an eye-opener. What to do with this free time? Most often, it was the gloriousness of solo grocery shopping which is so much more efficient ‘sans enfant.’ Or other such errands. Very occasionally, I treat myself to a mani or head to Starbucks and join the cool folks, sipping their lattes, comfortably ensconced in an armchair with the sunday papers or a good novel.

Let it also be known, being a fan of paying it forward and good karma and all that, that I also happily host the drop off play date and let my fellow parents experience the joy of a few solo hours. I can always see the relief on their faces.

So, to all the parents that have said to other parents those two delicious words, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

A Plea For Kindness

It’s been well over a week since I last wrote and published a blog post. I’ve been meaning to but the tragic events of last Friday muted both my desire and capacity to write. The words failed me. In many respects they still do. It’s not often I find myself stymied when words, usually, are my salvage.

Through the haze of the tears, attempts to process and comprehend, and the sickening reality of so much pain and innocence lost, one word kept piercing my emotions and reverberating in my head.

It’s kindness.

As parents, it’s our sole duty to raise children that have experienced and know kindness and how it manifests itself. As parents, we must model it every day so our kids understand it’s just the way we behave. We are kind to one another. We listen, we say please and thank you, we pay compliments, we boost you up when you’re feeling down, we reach out a helping hand. We open our minds and our hearts. Without kindness, the world is cold, shallow and violent place.

So, let’s all pledge to be a little—even a lot—kinder to each other. That’s all I want for Christmas.

Thank you.

A Month of Gratitude: Part Two

Last week, I started the process of taking stock of everything for which I am grateful. It’s an important exercise, stepping back from the daily grind and considering all that is good in your life. We should all do this much more often. It’s both sobering and uplifting.

Where did the last week go? Somehow, among the hustle and bustle, I was able to stop each day, if only for a few minutes, and mentally note the moment or moments that resounded in my heart and head. During the last seven days, these were the things for which I am truly grateful:

  • The teachers who taught my son to read. We spent five hours this weekend at Boston’s Museum of Science and my son’s new-found skill opened the experience up to him like I’d never imagined. It was fantastic to watch.
  • My husband. Because he’s away on business and of course, it’s when he’s gone, I truly appreciate all that he does for me. Warms my cold feet in bed. Brings me coffee in the morning. Puts the trash out. Cooks dinner. Makes me laugh. Most of all, I love to step back and watch him interact with our kids in his unique, special way and miss that most when he’s away.
  • My Mom friends. Thank heavens for other Moms. They just get it. Once a month, I get to hang out with a bunch of them and it’s like the best medicine for the soul.
  • Humor: I was sent this video this week and it actually made me cry with laughter. Everyone needs a tear-inducing laugh every so often. Watch this and you’ll get yours for the week.
  • Charity: This week I read about all the good works being done by so many to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. When the rest of the world and news media had moved on, these people were still knee-deep in the collections and clean-ups. We should all be grateful for the work they are doing and the compassion in their hearts.
  • Words and writing: this blog started out as an experiment, a fancy and has turned into a much more powerful vehicle for me. Somewhere I can write for me (as opposed to my writing for clients) and share my thoughts and words with you. This week I published my 100th blog post and crossed the threshold of 11,000 views, just shy of my one year blogging anniversary. Wow! Thank you all for indulging me.

Life Lessons From A Golden Retriever

On Friday morning, I came downstairs dressed in my workout clothes and sneakers, ready to shake my booty at a Zumba class. Upon seeing my attire, Angel, our almost 10-year old golden retriever bounced up, ridiculously excited. Of course she assumed, from my clothing and footwear, that we were going for a W-A-L-K (shhh, don’t say it, dogs can spell.) Much to her disappointment, off I left, without her.

Guess what happened though when I came home, sweaty and exhausted, an hour or so later? Yup. She saw my workout clothes and sneakers and leapt to her feet grinning, assuming once again that we were going out for a W-A-L-K. But, of course, I went upstairs and showered.

I felt bad for giving Angel false hope however, when I came downstairs later on, there she was, happy to see me, eager for a belly rub. And I thought to myself: if we humans modeled our behavior on the character and boundless optimism of a golden retriever, we’d all be a lot happier and chilled. Think about it.

  • Golden retrievers are enthusiastic about almost anything. They perk up at the mere hint of a treat, a trip to the park, grooming or just a good rumpus in the backyard. Every time you come home, they greet you exuberantly, as if you’d been gone for weeks.
  • Their aptitude for forgiveness is endless. So I didn’t take her for a W-A-L-K. No biggie. Maybe she didn’t get that slice of bacon being cooked at breakfast-time. Ah well. She still loves us, ready and eager for the next opportunity.
  • Laziness, one of my favorite characteristics ….. Golden retrievers make it an art form. Lounging on the front porch, car slows down ….. she’ll barely open an eye, flip an ear up an inch to see if it’s really worth bothering getting up for. Snoozing at the bottom of the stairs, she lets out a huge sigh. Ah yes, life is good.
  • Golden retrievers are not picky eaters: children take note. They will cheerfully consume pretty much anything that’s available. If you’ve dropped it or left it within reach, double points.
  • Good manners: Golden retrievers listen to instructions and generally do what they are told. More so than most children I know.
  • Like many other canines, for Angel, exercise is fun, not a chore. To dogs, it’s not about burning calories or getting ripped, it’s about the sheer joy of running, jumping, swimming, rolling in the mud, digging.
  • Exploration is a constant. We humans tend to err on the side of caution and stick to the known, whereas golden retrievers with their big brown sniffy noses will happily check anything out. Maybe give it a little chew. If it’s really smelly, maybe roll in it.
  • They’ll be your BFF. Not just you, their master, but pretty much anyone. The mail man, kids, visitors, vets, strangers, other dogs, even the cat. Golden retrievers love everyone – no matter their race, color, religion, creed or smell.
  • Goldens are humble, never vain. They are blithely unaware of their beauty and general cuteness. They appreciate being groomed but not for the silky coat, rather for the fun and attention. They don’t care how they look or smell, whether they are muddy or even if there are dingleberries hanging from their behinds. They don’t even need fancy, expensive toys. Often, a simple stick is the best-toy-ever.

But I’m not saying that golden retrievers are without fault. Ours is affectionately known as Angel the Kleptomaniac. Yup, she’s a thief. Not only does she pinch stuff – she buries it! Socks, dish towels, toys, sippy cups, shoes, cordless telephones, even the TV remote … the list of things she’s been stealing and burying for the last seven years is fairly extensive. I’d love to know whether she she’s just acting out or if she’s genuinely trying to protect these items.

Check out what I dug up today – three socks, a cutting board, a pair of goggles and some random toy parts.

They say it’s a dog’s life.

I think they are on to something.

Gratitude: A Huge Motivator

It’s not often I am at a loss for words.

But yesterday, out of the blue, I received some flowers and a note that took my words and my breath away. It opened up my heart and my mind in refreshing ways and made me feel so alive.

I had two enormous takeaways from this kind, sweet and thoughtful gesture.

The first was it made me feel so good that I was spontaneously motivated to want to do the same for others so they could feel this way too. I guess it’s called paying it forward. Generosity begets generosity. Kindness fosters kindness. We are all so naturally self-involved and so very busy. It might cross our minds to add a thoughtful action to the to-do list. I know I do this. But the fact that a few good people took a moment out of the humdrum and busy-ness of their everyday to put thought into action – and plaster a smile on my face as a consequence – is huge.

The second takeaway is the realization of the impact each of us has on other people, even if we are not aware of it. Our actions, words, reactions, unspoken words and general comportment are being observed and felt by people we see every day and by the people we pass by. I’m acutely aware of this around my kids and their friends – these little sponges are watching and listening and processing all the time. Thanks to yesterday’s generous gesture, I have been reminded of the power of my character. That may sound egotistical and it’s not intended that way. What I mean is that I have become even more cognizant of the effect of my behavior – and that there’s a responsibility that comes with that.

So, my friends, thank you. Not just for the beautiful flowers but for the motivation you’ve re-ignited in me.

Happiness: It’s Your Choice, Kid

Stop complaining.

Quit your whining.

Stop comparing what you have or don’t have to someone else.

Don’t act like a victim.

Happiness is your choice, kid.

Only you can make the difference between a great day and a crappy one.

So smile, keep your head held high, be a good friend, laugh, show kindness, participate and be sure to be silly. See, it’ll rub off on those around you.

Make today as awesome as you are.

(Applies to grown-ups too.)

A Love Letter to my Father

Phew, at least Father’s Day is the same in the U.S. and the U.K. You’d think that’d mean that I’d be organized enough to get cards/gifts in time for both my Dad and for Devin. But not so much. But hooray for my blog where, even better than a Hallmark card, I can express in my own way, just how special my father is to me.

My Dad is one-of-a-kind. Brought up during World War II, he’s made of strong stuff, with a big heart and a firm grasp on the what really matters. My Dad’s feet are always on the ground. His needs are few. He is generous to a fault. His principals are steadfast and admirable. His smile lights up a room. His dedication to my Mum and his family unwavering. I may be an adult, making my own way in the world, but my path, character, confidence and my success are 100% attributed to what my father has taught me. Several examples include:

  • Picking yourself back up: After being laid off the first, or was it the second time, I was down and in a funk. One day Dad presented me with a twenty pound note, told me to go buy brushes and paints, and paint my bedroom. 24 hours later, I was like new. Focused, with a plan, a goal. 48 hours later, bedroom walls freshly painted, I felt accomplished, energized. Ready to go get the world again. Genius, Dad.
  • Determination and taking risks: As a child, I never fully appreciated just how canny a businessman my father was. Only as a parent myself, can I appreciate the dedication and effort he put into his self-made enterprise, and his employees, every single day. I try to mirror this in my life and career, which has caused me to stay true to my career choice, despite some bumps along the way, and to even forge my career in new countries.
  • Family first: My parent’s marriage has always been a joy to watch. My Dad is what I call an old-fashioned husband, his love is enduring, he is a romantic at heart, I’m sure. My father’s love for his family has extended and deepened as our family has expanded over the generations and there’s room in his heart for us all. What’s more, he’s diligently researching our family past and even finding long-lost relatives.
  • Don’t forget the silly: From jumping out the dining room window shouting “bunny bunny bunny” and cavorting across the lawn, to April Fool’s jokes and creating treasure hunts around our neighbourhood, Dad’s silly-side is often surprising, always effervescent.

Happy Father’s Day Dad. I love you!

9 Ways to Be Generous That Don’t Involve $$

I was fortunate to meet and marry the world’s most generous man. Sure, at first, he lavished me with fine dinners, expensive wines and, eventually, the precious stones in my engagement and wedding rings. But what truly sealed the deal was his generous spirit, undefined by money but motivated purely by the desire to share and please others. Fast forward ten years and our focus these day is on nurturing the same selflessness and generosity in our kids. Kids, who by definition, are self-interested. In the process of this journey, I am also trying to be more generous every day. And so can you. And you know what, it feels really, really good.

Here are nine suggestions for sprinkling some extra generosity into your actions each day to make someone feel special, acknowledged, happier:

  • Say please, thank you, excuse me and you’re welcome: basic manners but quite often neglected.
  • Listen. Actively.
  • Smile.
  • Open doors for people; this does not just apply to men (though some wonder if chivalry is dead?); you should hold the door open for anyone.
  • Compliment someone on how they look, how they behaved, what they said.
  • Make a phone call, write a letter or card, send a tweet, post on someone’s Facebook page, drop by – a simple ‘hi, how’s it going?” shows that you were thinking of them.
  • Donate; clothes, toys, furniture. Face it, most of us own way more than we really need.
  • Send/give flowers. Yes, OK, this involves money but who doesn’t love receiving flowers? Don’t wait for a birthday, anniversary, do it “just because.”
  • Draw a picture for someone: this is my son’s favorite form of generosity. Here’s one he did for me recently that plastered a smile on my face for hours!

Please don’t take this post as “preachy” – I am just as bad as the next person. Our lives are all so incredibly busy and the urge to navel-gaze is natural. But being a parent forces you to examine your behavior and try to be the best role model you can possibly be – even in the midst of the mayhem of daily life. So choose generosity. If you are looking for further simple ideas about how to spread some kindness, check out this lovely list of 57 ways you can brighten someone’s day.

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