Building Trust

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For all my friends who read The Newark Star Ledger, my article on building trust will be in the paper tomorrow, Tuesday July 1, 2014. For the link to the digital version, please click here. Thanks as always for taking the time to read what I have to share. 

For a full link to over 50 of my nj.com/parenting articles, please click here

(above photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jfdervin)

 

Clam Shells, Bicycles, and the Ride of My Life: Seizing the Present and Changing Course

shell`I play the clam shell game. I am sure you have heard of it. It is that age-old carnival game where there’s a coin under one of three or four shells. The player guesses which shell it is under. By the time the shell is lifted, the dealer has slyly moved the coin. It is about illusion and confusion. It is chaos and excitement and the probability of being right all shell-game-flashspun into one.

The problem is no one ever wins.

I am the mom of three daughters, three rescue dogs, wife of one, and work full-time. I work at our own family-operated company so that we can afford a life for our family. Working with a spouse can be challenging at best, rewarding every so often, and maddening most of the time. Despite the uphill climb, there are wonderful freedoms. The liberty of staying home with my child when she is sick, the ability to attend a school function mid-day, and the pleasure of working with a small group of committed, inspiring people. These are liberties I do not take for granted.

I also work as a writer. This is the job that I work at all hours of the day and night. I plod forward constantly and steadily working towards the moment that I will be able to write always all the time. This is who I am in the pit of my soul. I write at 3am, accept all sorts of interviews and assignments.

I do this knowing that each opportunity is a preparation for the future. I do this knowing that you never know exactly where an opportunity will take you. I do this knowing that opportunity only comes to those that sign up and show up.

My best job is being a parent. Being a mom of three girls makes me a better, more thoughtful, deliberate person. Knowing I am their roadmap for a parent and for a person makes me want to accomplish more, love more deeply, and be more enlightened. The rate at which my children grow serves as a bittersweet reminder that time moves so rapidly and there are no do-overs. It reminds me to be present in the moment.

But back to the clam shell game.shell5

I have a problem. I keep moving the coin under each shell. It gets tricky but don’t be fooled. When my kitchen is clean and all coats are hung up and toys put away, I may look like I’ve got it together. You might say, “well Ann is getting organized.” What you don’t know is I have two massive piles of work, eleven voicemails to respond to, and eighty-four new emails in my inbox.

When dinner is cooked, dishes are washed, teeth are brushed, stories are read, and we lie on the floor together looking up at the stars on the ceiling from their projector, you mights say “Ann is really taking this parenting thing to heart. She’s got it together.” What you do not know is that I have about four loads of laundry to do, haven’t blogged in four days, and have two letters for work to send out.

When I work until 8:30pm and the sitter has put them to bed, my voicemail is back to empty and all issues are resolved for today yet I haven’t spoken to my mom in three days, you might say “Ann is balancing work and home quite well”. What you are unaware of is that the playroom is a minefield of legos and every room in my home lucille-balllooks like a playroom. I feel like Lucy on the assembly line with the chocolates and I forgot to go the gym again for the last two weeks. I am up another six pounds on the scale.

When I post a picture to Facebook of myself down eleven pounds on the scale, you might think “Ann has really gotten healthy”. What you don’t know is that I went to the gym for the last hour and a half and fed my kids processed chicken nuggets, skipped baths, bypassed story time, and put them in bed. And my weight loss formula? Anxiety.

This is the truth. So many of us play the clam shell game. No one has ever had a perfect score. And sadly, the game is not what it is about. Playing the game merely makes us fools wasting time at life’s carnival.

All of those voices remarking on “Ann” aren’t really everyone’s ideas on what they observe. They are the voices in my own head that I have assigned to others. They are the voices of insecurity that if I do more, I am more worthy. If I do more I am better. If things look better, they are better. This is all part of the illusion and the missing coin.

We need to stop the games and start thriving. We need to stop tricking ourselves. We need to be kind to other moms and to ourselves. The reason I most often don’t take issue with my spouse, friends, or others isn’t because they are perfect. It is not because I can’t find a problem or a weak spot. It is that it doesn’t matter. We need to be more forgiving especially to ourselves.

The problem with the shell game is that there are no winners. There never will be. We need to quit being the player and the dealer. We need to walk away from the carnival. A win is possible but not in this way.

We need to redefine what winning is. Winning is not a matter of ‘busy’ or intensity but a matter of moments. Winning is not in appearances. Winning is not in other clam3people’s opinions of us or our own opinion of ourselves as reflected back in their eyes.

Winning is about seizing moments. Winning is sometimes about losing and taking the lesson. Winning is sometimes about losing with dignity. We need to taste sour to know the sweet. We need darkness to see the stars.

Winning is about cracking open the hard shell of failure and extrapolating that lesson of truth from within and ingesting it. It is about taking a dose of brave and standing up for what you want. Winning involves championing your priorities.

Winning is about building resistance and strength from falling down. Winning is always about getting back up. Winning is about treading through the fear not walking around it.

Winning is about assessment. We need to recognize the amount of life we are exchanging for things and deciding if its really worth it.

Winning comes in silencing the naysayers not because they have ceased to be loud and incessant but because you have found the silence and calm within and that calm drowns out all of the other noise.

clam1Winning is about mindfulness. We need to be present at each precise moment or we lose. If we are washing dishes and dreaming of a meeting in two weeks, we have lost that moment. If we talk to our spouse before bed and are on our IPad answering emails, we are not really in that conversation with our loved-one. That moment is lost for eternity. These moments will eventually add up to a lifetime of loss.

With that in mind, winners sometimes quit. I am not quitting the work, the family, or what I work for. I quit the game. I have decided to leave the carnival and ride a bike.

clam4I have decided to go through life’s journey and all of its beaten paths, downhill coasts, and uphill climbs on a bicycle. I am riding a bike to keep moving and keep balance. I am riding a bike to enjoy the scenery.

I may get there slower but with a more meaningful ride. It is the closest I will get to flying. It is celebration in motion. It is movement without excess or waste of anything. It is movement of the being and stillness of the soul in unison. There is progress is each revolution of the wheel.

clam2I have decided to quit the games, cut my loses, and enjoy the ride. As Rumi points out, “life is a balance of holding on and letting go”. I choose balance over madness, movement over judgment, and to enjoy the ride of life.

In advance I ask you to pardon the state of my home and my appearance. I have pardoned myself and that is perhaps all that matters. Sometime things need to fall apart to be put back together correctly. Sometimes, we need to seize the day, the sunshine, and the wind. We need to remember that life is not a sprint. It is not a marathon either. It is a series of small races. Sometimes we fall and pick ourselves up. Sometimes we pick up a fallen friend, drape their arm over our shoulder, and finish the race together.

clam7 My ride begins in faith that I am where I need to be. Nature is a testimony to this. As Tzu taught, “Nature doesn’t hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Slow down but keep moving. You will never enjoy the ride if you’re still at the carnival.

 

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A Year of Gratitude and The Endless Thank You Note (Courtesy of Rumi)

ann4444bIt was a year ago this week that I told a friend a secret. I told her that had been writing and I had written a novel. Looking back on it, it is seemingly strange to keep such a secret. At the same time, it is challenging to put ourselves out there. It requires grit and vulnerability to be transparent and real.

My friend and fellow author suggested I join the writing team at nj.com. She went to bat for me. Out of her suggestion a beautiful springboard appeared. It was a tremendous gift. A year later, I have authored fifty nj.com articles, started this site with another dozen posts, had a couple of articles published in The Star Ledger newspaper, and am a part of some extraordinary projects that will come to completion this year.

On all fronts it has been an amazing year not necessarily because of any accomplishment but rather because this journey has been transformative for my soul.

In pure writer’s irony, I am at a loss for words  so I thought I would offer one big explanation and thank you in the words of famed poet Rumi:

I felt that there was something else calling me regarding my calling in life…

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With three small children, three rescue dogs, a busy home, and a business to tend to, starting a new project did not make much sense on the outside. On the inside, not only did it make perfect sense, it resonated with who I am.

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The most frightening part about setting forth on the journey is that failure suddenly became an option or so I reasoned.

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I foolishly never realized that failure was the only option had I not stepped forward on this path.

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With fortuitous opportunity presenting itself, it seemed like I owed it to the integrity of my soul to pursue what seemed to be calling me.

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It seemed like what I had prayed for and secretly hoped for had found a way into my life.

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It was now up to me to do the work.

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I am eternally grateful for all of those who opened my wings a bit more…

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I am thankful for my fellow writer and friend, Jamie Utitus, who offered me the chance to join nj.com and conspire in illuminating our dreams.

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I am grateful for my mom who has always emphasized the simple yet extraordinary fact that words change things. She has been a lifeboat, ladder, lamp, and shepherd.

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I am blessed to have my sister, Mary, help me with hours upon hours of proof-reading.  I recognize that the act of  proof-reading is akin to withstanding the blistering heat of the netherworld. Mary, your work is not forgotten.

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I am grateful for new inspirations and collaborations. Denise Constantino you are a  talented soul and a gentle spirit. I have had such meaningful conversations and interactions with so many individuals, Senator Cory Booker, Maria Cuomo Cole, Stephen Powell, Paul Giampavolo, Mary Williams, and many others. These conversations have been so valuable in shaping perspective and affecting change.

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I am thankful to my husband, Joe, a thousand times over that he supports my dreams which are not his dreams. Our individuality has brought greater appreciation for one another, our separateness has brought us closer together, and our gratefulness more appreciation for life.

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I am grateful for my readers: new friends, old friends reconnected, cousins, relatives, coworkers, people in our community, and individuals seeking awareness and a brighter, more meaningful future. To my cousins, Noreen and Patrick, you never disappoint with your comments. To my extended family, Lisa, Cathy, Tricia, Diana, and Jay, you have always supported my writings and I am thankful for your positive vibes. To my friends, Dean, Marisa, Cathy, Fran, Judy, Heather, Joel, and Bob, I appreciate every time you share your thoughts and perspective. You inspire me to be a better writer.

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The writing is not about being recognized but about being connected. In so many of our stories there is that common thread of bravery, of vulnerability, and respect. With this commonality, comes a flood of compassion, meaning, and action.

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As an introvert, my writing has connected me to others in conversations I would never had had any other way. I am thankful for these exchanges, connections, and more meaningful relationships. In people knowing who I really am and what I think, it brings new connections closer and those who do not share any likemindedness to move on quicker without wasting time.

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Whatever your own unique gift is, using our gifts  shed light on darkness.

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Using our talents empower us in a profound way.

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It offers a deeper dimension of meaning and understanding to each moment.

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It rids us of conventional nonsense that cluttered the way.

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It forces us to put on our big girl pants, be brave, and act with grit.

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It forces us to believe in ourselves and what we are saying while taking a risk immersed in faith.

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It raises our expectations to higher, more extraordinary levels.

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It excludes the unimportant.

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It brings what is essential into focus.

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And while we are not paying attention, it answers our questions.

It also reminds me that being a great writer is about listening long before it is about expression.

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It is about observation before expression.

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It is about understanding with humility and reverence both the temporal and timeless nature that exist within yourself and being able to feel both of those seemingly conflicting natures existing in harmonious unison.

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I know the upcoming year holds mystery, challenge, and I hope to use those gifts to enlighten my journey and that of others. Thanks for the gift of attention and time and encouragement to get off of the ground. Best wishes to everyone who believes in the beauty of their dreams and has the courage to follow them.

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It’s Not Too Late to Buy Your Special Someone a Bad Gift!

presentgiftThere is something about the air at 30,000 feet that makes at least half a dozen items in Sky Mall seem like a necessity. Just when I’m all about the priority, rush shipping and really into my Sky Mall order, we land and the excitement is over. At sea level, my sanity always seems to return. My impulsivity to purchase fades. The Sky Mall magazine returns to the seat pocket next to the vomit bag.

planeAlong those same jet-fuel lined lines of thought, I do believe that shopping at Hammacher Schlemmer is the universe’s way of telling you that you have too much money. It is Robin Hood: The Retail Store. If you are spending $8999 on a reclining, vibrating  chair or $180 on a self-heating, magnetized earthenware mug, this is all a part of the grand scheme of things to redistribute the wealth back into the world.

With that in mind, a few days remain until Valentine’s Day, a time to still shower the one you love with unwanted and unnecessary material items. If you don’t feel like the cellophane wrapped box of assorted chocolates or ‘Made in China’ drugstore- teddy bear will do the trick, here are some more unique, heinous options that will sure stop your soulmate in their tracks.

The Top 10 Worst Gifts of All Time

1) Although it is never a clever idea to gift the lady you love with cooking or cleaning items, you may wonder what could be worse than a vacuum? This:

skymall.com

get it at skymall.com

If vacuuming alone didn’t strain her back, this here is guaranteed to do the trick. Now she can clean the house and wear the weight of all the garbage, germs, and debris she picks up right on your back.

It has that futuristic-astronaut look while simultaneously taking women back a good twenty-years on the ladder of domesticated oppression. Break the bank and her back and buy one before they’re gone.

2) If you were thinking of buying your man some different underwear, here is an option:

available at skymall.com

available at skymall.com

This guy really needs it. Look how flabby and out of shape he looks. He would really look like crap without his man girdle.  It is like a tank-top Spanx for men. It’s a little Mrs. Doubtfire-ish too.

Nothing affirms masculinity like a man worried about toning his torso. They come in an array of color choices including beige.

3) Or Maybe he just wants a robe:

skymall3

available at hammacher.com

There’s nothing like this Chewbacca robe to remind him of his Star Wars obsession and why he never got laid throughout high school or until after college. It even has a hood ….just add the unintelligible, beastly roar.

Or you could just marry a hairy Italian or Greek guy, skip the robe and clothes  at bedtime and achieve the same effect.

4) Maybe she just needs to relax:

skymall4

Is this from a medical catalogue? No silly ! skymall.com

Maybe if I had one of these I could relax. Nothing says being comfortable and cozy like having my neck and jaw held firmly in place. I could also wear it to court if I ever was in a rear-end collision.

5) Maybe he needs to relax too:

skymall6

get yours now at hammacher.com

This guy gets through TSA and my lipgloss gets confiscated by airport security. It is not fair but he sure looks comfy in his flannel, deep-sea diving nap suit.

6) And once I finally get through airport security and on the plane, I know I will get sat next to this guy:

get it at skymall.com before its gone

get it at skymall.com before its gone

There is just so much room for personal space on planes these days that this large, aqua velour pillow seems practical. When the beverage and snack cart comes around, you can ask the stranger sitting next to you to hold it.

7) Expand his wardrobe:

an array of shirts with snarky verbage exist at skymall.com

an array of shirts with snarky verbage exist at skymall.com

It seems that when a shirt has to assert something about your masculinity or femininity (‘Sexy Mama’ or ‘Smokin Hot Grandma’), you’re falling short. The best cues in this department probably remain visual and non-verbal. In all likelihood, Dan’s not really the man but it’s okay. It is the thought that counts.

8) Kill two birds with one stone:

skymall.com

skymall.com

Okay, don’t kill any helpless creatures of flight but check out this poncho map. Now you don’t have to read a map in the rain when you can just read what you wear. Where am I going? Oh look here under my left breast. It’s just 20 miles east.

It is ‘fashion-meets-global-positioning’ and its waterproof. Who needs MapQuest? Conservation of expended energy at its best.

9) Maybe man’s best friend deserves a gift for than anyone:

hammacher.com

hammacher.com

Now you can really wreak havoc on your dog’s fragile digestive system by throwing a curve ball into his or her regular nutritional routine. Add many of these sugary treats on a tray, as pictured, and your dog will keep eating. This present is probably best paired with this item, also from the catalog of Hammacher Schlemmer:

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hammacher.com

* guaranteed to remove almost any pet odor or stain from most any surface, rug, or material

10) And who could forget the kids?

at $9000 plus shipping, this thing is a steal

at $9000 plus shipping, this thing is a steal: hammacher.com

Stop spending 50 cents every time you take your child to the mall or fair. Those silly rides only last half a minute. Now you can have the carousel brought right into your home. After 18,755 rides, you have recouped your initial outlay. The rest is money saved.

Plus, as an added bonus, this ride is sure to attract all the neighborhood kids who’s parents didn’t want to stay and play in their own homes to come to your home, and never leave.

The Silly, Embarrassing, and Profound Things Our Children Say

little2 One of the best gifts I received lately was a journal from my cousin, Maura. It is entitled My Quotable Kid. The inside pages are blank and there is room to jot down the memorable things your children say. I have always been meaning to do this. Life is so hectic and it is easy to forget these gems of honest truth and observation. They are some of the most remarkable mementos of their youth and worth a revisit in the future.

With this in mind, I thought I would share:

Children often think of their family first.

Haircuts have been a big thing in our home. Thanks to Disney’s Tangled, no one wants to trim their hair. Sonoma finally decided she wanted to cut her hair and donate it to little girls that need wigs. Before her haircut, she seemed upset. I asked her if she had changed her mind. She said, “No, Mom. I’m just not sure if I should give my hair to those kids that need wigs or maybe Daddy and Pop Pop Joe can split it.”

val6They show prudent caution. 

Sonoma: “Does my shirt say I am the big sister?”

Me: “No, it says ‘I love Santa.'”

Sonoma: “I do love Santa. Do you love Santa too, Nennie?”

Nennie (Sienna): “No, I don’t love Santa. I don’t even know him well.”

They show keen, sensory observation.

Sonoma was running. My dad worried. He told her to slow down. His warning remained unheeded. He then yelled to her, “Sonoma, walk like Pop!” She started walking slowly with a slight limp (the way my father, with a bad foot, does.)

They use their keen, sensory observation to warn. 

“Mom should I call the firetrucks? = Never something you want to hear while your cooking (Sonoma’s response to the garlic I had singed).

They are compact, human litmus tests of truth. 

Our 12 year-old dog had digestive issues and had defected all over the living room floor. Before I called the professional carpet cleaners, I spent a good hour shampooing the rug, applying chemical solutions made specifically for pets, opening windows, and deodorizing the house with the hopes of solving the problem. I asked Sonoma, “Don’t you think its better now?” Sonoma: “Oh Mommy. The poop is so strong. I can taste it in my mouth.”

val12They have a unique way of phrasing things.

Sienna’s hand was dirty: “Wait mom! Help! My hand. I have stink on it!”

They are enterprising.

At school, they asked Sonoma  if she could give Santa one present what  it would be. She replied, “wrapping paper to wrap more gifts!”

They are worldy. 

Sonoma asked me what our dinner was called. “cavatelli with broccoli”, I replied. She asked, “Is that Spanish or English?…because that’s all I speak.”

They offer unsollicted advice. 

I took all three daughters to the grocery store and we learned about the foods and what they are used for. My two oldest girls asked me many great questions. I was feeling proud. We arrived at the cashier. He had a long, Mumford & Sons style beard. Sonoma said, “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” In my mind, I thought what intelligent, nutritional question is she going to pose now?

Sonoma replied, “Don’t you think its time to shave?”

They ponder the beginnings of life.

Sonoma: “Mom, Scarlett came out of your tummy and that’s why it is so big.”

Me: “Yes.”

Sienna: “Mom, did I come out of your butt and that’s why it is so big?”

val9They ponder the origin of life.

Sonoma: “Mom, I know God made us. right?”

Me: “Yes, that is correct.”

Sonoma: “But who made God?”

They ponder the end of life.

On New Year’s Eve:

Me: “Listen up everyone. I want to tell you something exciting. Do you know what happens tonight at midnight?”

Sonoma: “I know! Are we all are going to die together?”

(I know…a bit morbid! In my defense they don’t watch sci-fi and we’re not dooms-dayers.)

They ponder the capabilities of the elderly.

My 4 year-old daughter Sonoma asked me this past December if this was going to be the “last Christmas”. I asked her why she would ask that. She said, “Because Santa is getting very old and I’m afraid he will be too old to do it next year.”

And then there was this:

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Meet our Buddha statue, a left-over remnant from my apartment when I was single and my life was Zen-like, and there was time to worry about Feng Shui.

It sits by our fireplace.

Sonoma used it as a cup rest.

Sienna would often pat its head and call it ‘Baby”.

Scarlett kisses its head and calls it ‘Pop Pop Tom’.

And then there was that:

popjoe

This is a picture of the three and a half -foot tall, wooden butler that stands in our office and holds business cards. When Sonoma was two, she insisted this was a statute of her Pop Pop Joe. She’d walk around waving it at it and sitting by it.

She told her sister Sienna and now she too believes the painted carving is an ode to her paternal grandfather. She asked why he only has one leg.

Just like us, they fear germs. 

Our entire household was sick with the flu. The kids recovered and  I was finally on the mend. Sienna climbed in bed with me in my room and snuggled up to me.

Sienna: “Mom are you still sick?”

Me: “Yes.”

Sienna: “Okay, then I need you to find somewhere else to go and lay because I don’t want to get sick again.”

They fear zombies, too.

On Halloween while Trick-or-Treating, an elderly woman approached our path. Probably for the sake of balance, she was walking with her arms outstretched. My 3 year-old started yelling, “Look it Mom! It is a real Zombie!”

val1They are our cheerleaders and mini life coaches. 

I was tired and had been up with our eighteen month-old daughter, Scarlett, because she was sick. Half-awake, I burned the eggs for breakfast. My 4 year-old,Sonoma, asked me to re-make them. Her 3 year-old sister, Sienna, agreed they were not edible. I took out the eggs again and was standing over the stove in a daze. Sonoma said, “What’s wrong Mom? Are you afraid you’re gonna cook bad again? It’s okay….just give it a try.”

They sometimes doubt us.

Sienna came into my room with her dress on backwards. I told her. She returned to her room. I heard her whispering with her sister, “Mommy said this is on backwards. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  You think she’s right?”

They favor their fathers. 

Sienna: “My Daddy works so hard for him family at work. I not sure what my Mommy does.”

They set boundaries.

We spoke about a friend who lives with their grandparents.

Me: “When I get older and you have a family, can I come live with you?”

Sonoma: “Um, I am not sure that is a good idea but I can build you a house and make you a good dinner.”

little1They seek privacy.

Sienna, “Mom, I don’t want Santa and Jesus watching me everywhere I go. I need privacy.”

They often have an alibi. 

When the toys were strewn all over the room, I asked who did it. Sonoma, age two at the time, replied “Caillou” (the fictitious cartoon of a precocious 4 year-old).

When I asked who drew in crayon on the wall, Sienna replied “Sweetie.” (our precocious Beagle-Basset Hound, who last time I checked, does not have opposable thumbs).

val11They say what we are afraid to. 

We had relatives visiting our newborn baby. By nature, I have always been a ‘people pleaser’. I see some of those traits in my eldest, Sonoma, while my middle-daughter, Sienna, seems to hold steady to her own convictions. Although I try not to assign any personality traits to them, with my clinical background, I find the observation interesting.

The relatives had been over quite some time and announced they were leaving. They walked to the door. Sonoma responded, “I wish you wouldn’t go. I love when you visit.” They continued to chat for another good 4-5 minutes at the door. Sienna then piped in, “It is time to go. Can’t you see Mommy is tired and baby needs to sleep?”

Out of embarrassment, I tried to quiet Sienna by correcting her manners but it just made it worse. “It’s not bad manners for me, Mom. It is bad manners for them.”

They have their own convictions.

On Thanksgiving, Sienna passed by the oven while they were checking the turkey. The oven was eye-level and I saw her reaction. I could see the fret and confusion. She turned to me and said, “They cooked a turkey, Mama?” Lost for words, I responded ‘yes’. She replied, “well I will never eat it.”

She didn’t eat it. Future PETA activist.

They keep us conscientious of our hygiene and appearance.  

Sienna (to me): “Mom, do you forget to comb your hair for everyday?”

then

Sienna, who has an incredibly keen sense of smell,  to a smoker: “Did you forget to brush your teeth for forever?” (We followed that comment with a lesson in hurting people’s feeling)

val2Sometimes they soften the blow. 

Sonoma to me a few weeks later. (After crawling in my bed when I woke up.): “Mom, I love you but can I ask you something? Did you eat a dumpling because it smells not so good?

Sometimes they butter us up.

Sonoma: “Mom, you’re the best cooker, and a princess and I love you. Can you take us to the movies?”

They spill our secrets. 

Two relatives were visiting and became involved in a heated discussion. The one adult told the other adult to “Shut up!” Sienna heard this. She put her hand on her hip and finger in the air.

Sienna: “Now wait everybody! We don’t say ‘Shut-Up’ in this house. It is a bad word and only my dad and mommy sometimes can say bad words. I don’t know why.”

They rat us out. 

Grandma: “This garage needs to be cleaned out and organized.” (commenting on our garage)

Sonoma: “Yes but Mommy said it’s like that because you stored some of your stuff in there when you moved.”

And just when you are about to get mad at them, they mishear things in the most adorable ways.

val5Sienna playing in her room with Mr. Potato Head…

Sonoma: “What are you doing in here?”

Sienna: “I’m playing with the tomato….Mr. Tomato-Head.

They make simple yet profound observations.

At the marina at dusk:

Sonoma: “Mom, stop what you’re doing and come here. You have to see this now.”

Me (walking over to her): “What is it?”

Sonoma: “Look at the sky and this sunset. It is too beautiful!”

They see life brighter. Colors are bolder. The air is crisper and the world has more sparkle.

After collecting shells and sand dollars on the beach all day, Sonoma came up to me and hugged me. She said, “Thanks Mom. Today was the very best day of my life!”

val3And just as fleeting as a pink sunset, their  little, endearing nature is fleeting. Embrace it. Soon they will grow and it will be gone.

Sonoma: “Name of the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit,

The End!”

(rather than Amen)

One day Sienna will outgrow the way she pronounces “sang-wich” or “Bubba Guppies” (for the show Bubble Guppies). One day she will stop pluralizing Coco- Puffses. One day their blunt observation will be masked in what is socially appropriate. One day I won’t be the first person they come to with each and every observation they make and thought that they think. For now, it is a privilege. I will miss these days.

Knowing A Blessing From A Curse: And Why It Really Doesn’t Matter

farmer1An old Chinese parable tells the story of a farmer and his horse:

An old farmer was working in his field with his only horse. Somehow, the horse broke free and ran away from the farm. The farmer could not find the horse anywhere.

In hearing of what happened, neighbors from the village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame.  Now your only horse is gone.  What bad luck. How will you live, work, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.

Less than a week later, the farmer’s horse returned. He returned to the farm with a pack of eight other wild horses.  The farmer and his son corralled the horses.

The news traveled throughout the village. The neighbors came to visit the farmer. “You are fortunate!” they proclaimed. “What good luck.”  Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”

The next morning the farmer’s only son set awoke to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. He quickly became sick with fever and pains. One by one villagers arrived to visit the sick son. “Oh, what a tragedy. What bad luck. You must be very sad”.  they said.  The farmer calmly answered, “Who knows? We shall see”

5226587_sAcross the country, a war began. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army.  As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg and poor health.  “What very good fortune you have!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You have good luck.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”!  But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”

The war ended but the other young village boys had died in battle.  The old farmer’s son was the only young man to have lived. The neighbors said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!” 

In my own life, there are those days where everything seems to fall apart. Although I am aware that I leave little marginal room for error or adjustment in a tightly-packed schedule fully, the slightest shift in planning can ripple throughout the day.

Yesterday, I had a huge deadline and a few hours to accomplish my goal. I arrived at work with three hours to accomplish that work, about five hours of work ahead of me, and anxiety in the pit of my stomach. About forty-five minutes into my work, I get a text and a phone call. My sitter is sick. I have to return home to the kids.

Driving home I felt this sense of defeat. My defeat and negativism was wrapped firmly in a sense that I knew best. My day was crap. I hadn’t accomplished anything and I was feeling sorry for myself.

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I arrived home. The sitter left. I began to wash dishes and reason inside my head that these things happen. About twenty minutes into my time at home, there was a horrendous noise. It sounded like twenty-toilets running at once coupled with a train approaching our house. A pipe had burst and began leaking down through three floors of our home. Water poured from the recessed light fixtures, out the air-conditioing vent, and down the brick fireplace.

I was able to shut off the water in our basement in less than ninety seconds from when the leak started. There was damage but not the catastrophic kind. It could have been worse, much worse.  I had this overwhelming feeling of thankfulness that I was home. Had no one been home, the damage to our home and danger to our three dogs could have been significant. Had our sitter been home, she wouldn’t have known where the main water valve was and how to turn it off.

I shouldn’t have been home and yet I was. I couldn’t help but feel that someone or something was looking out for me. What I had foolishly thought was a curse (in having to return home early) was a blessing.

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This blessing in disguise was a much needed kick in the pants to my ego. In this fast-paced, technology savvy world where we believe so much of life is within our control, this is not always the case. And perhaps this is a good thing. The day was a reminder of faith.

Although we can’t foresee what God or the universe has in store for our days ahead, it isn’t our job to be all knowing. In my life, concentrating on what will happen and what it all means robs me of joy in the presence. Having faith allows me to do my best in that moment.

What may seem like a curse may be our greatest  blessings. And the inverse is sometimes true. Sometimes the universe saves us from ourselves and our own choices. Sometimes we walk down the wrong path of romantic partners, career choices, life choices, and the powers that be redeem us. We are spared from short-changing ourselves.

For me, not getting caught in the trap of interpretting that moment-to-moment significance in my own life is about relinquishing control. It is about falling back away into the safety net of faith.

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Within that safety net, there is a plan. It would be maddening to attempt to try and figure out that plan. It would be impossible to understand all of its detailed connections and meanings but having faith that there is purpose in each event, seemingly bad or seemingly good, is key.Faith doesn’t mean we will be spared from suffering. It simply means that suffering is for a purpose and that purpose may be something we do not fully understand.

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Life speaks to us in our blessings. Life shouts to us in our setbacks and tragedies. Sometimes things in our life are multi-faceted. They are both good and bad intertwined and infinitely joined but fully coated in purpose.

I recently listened to Amiira Ruotula-Behrendt speak about faith and the universe. She suggested what if the universe had three answers in store? And those answers to any of our prayers or questions were: 1) yes, 2) yes but not yet  and 3) I have something better in mind for you.

In the year ahead may your sorrows be short lived and your joys be infinite and may you always have a sense of purpose to hold strong to and enjoy the present.

Small Business Saturday, Business Owners and Red Tape: Let’s Have a Ribbon-Cutting

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With small business Saturday upon us, support of small businesses in our neighborhoods and communities is a beautiful thing. Small businesses are the heart of our community. Small businesses are the informal beautification committees of our communities. They are the key ingredient in the growth of this country.  Small businesses have a profound impact upon families and I’ve shared my thoughts on my nj.com Parental Guidance blog (click here).

Small Business Saturday lead me to think about a greater, darker problem than the overshadows that large, international corporations cast upon our family-owned shops and stores. I started thinking about red tape; not in the gift wrap, holiday sense but in the regulatory, wrist-tying, throat-choking sense.

The real crisis facing small business is the crushing weight of government regulation. Recently, the government made it their job to pursue small children and the little lemonade stands that were unregulated. Fines were issued. Summons were wrote. Cardboard stands were shut down. Georgia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, Maryland and Texas have all taken part in the shutdown of the American Dream unregulated fruit juice stands.

The ridiculous lengthy list of government regulation goes on and on. In Philadelphia, the price of ‘free speech’ is $300 and up. In the city of ‘Brotherly Love’, bloggers must now spend $300 for a tax to blog or face prosecution. In 2011, Amish farmers were raided by the FBI to investigate the sale of unauthorized milk. It’s about time the government went after the Amish because we don’t have larger issues like domestic terrorism, financial reform, radical international terroristic cells,  or a war with tremendous casualties to address.

I wonder what Henry David Thoreau would now write in his Civil Disobedience. Perhaps he would write much of the same, as it most all still applies. Perhaps it would be longer. Today everything is longer. Obamacare is so long that not even lawmakers no one know what it says. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is so verbally profuse that even Wikipedia can’t even write a brief account of what its all about.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a courtroom: not as a council person or board member but as a lawbreaking citizen. The girl who never had detention and always had low-grade anxiety whenever scolded, plead guilty. My crime: parking too many vehicles in our own parking lot. An ordinance was violated. I sat in a packed court room next to the lawyer for a national furniture conglomerate, also making a court appearance for similar regulatory offenses in town. As ma -and-pa business after business made their appearance before the judge, I began to wonder why the town has made it their job to drive business, small and big alike, out.

If our own towns are against us, who are for us? Soon, the only jobs left will be those of the government regulators themselves.

As a small business owner, I am no stranger to our friends at the IRS, the DOT,  and the Department of Labor State audits not to be confused with the Department of Labor Federal Audits. As a small business owner, I  also wear the ‘HR hat’ and often interview potential employees for hire. In the last year alone, I have heard from at least half a dozen candidates that they weren’t really interested in the job but needed to let unemployment know they were interviewing. One candidate was so kind as to explain to me that she just couldn’t afford to work. It would ruin her unemployment.

Now, I know there are a lot of good people out of work. There are many good people who want to work. Such abuses are a disgrace. A friend even asked me why I hadn’t taken the time to report these people who had inferred they were abusing the system to the authorities case-by-case. Right. As a mom of three children ages four and under and as full-time small business owner, I have the time to sit on hold for twenty minutes and be passed back and forth from phone extension to voicemail to do my ‘civic duty’ that is the job responsibility of someone employed by the government.

Idea: perhaps they should regulate the system abusers before the business owners.

Last winter, The Today Show asked me about my stance on sick pay for part-time employees. I will comply with red-tape regulations but i won’t be happy about it. The problem with all of these good ideas in theory is that someone has to pay for them in actuality. I am all for supporting our employees. I am also for the government bolstering its finances but not on the backs of the tireless small business owners.

If we continue to weigh business owners down with unemployment tax, workman’s compensation, town fees, city fines, and so much more, someday and sometime there will be a law that breaks the business owners back. Although I am no business scholar, I can see that if you cripple the source then all that flows will eventually cease to trickle down.

When I asked an auditor about the seeming scrutiny, the auditor candidly confessed that if they don’t find something wrong then they will seem like they aren’t doing their job. I guess its as much about generating income for them as it is for us. At least someone is making revenue, too bad that someone is always Uncle Sam.

Starting a business in this country is an uphill climb. Maintaining a small business is even more miraculous a feat. It is the stuff of tight-rope walkers, Hail Mary passes, and midnight novenas. Small businesses don’t close their doors at 5pm. Small business owners don’t see “sick days”. Small businesses most often work 7 days a week into the wee hours of the night. We, as small business owners, are not the enemy. We suffer too. We are a part of the solution and are sadly becoming an endangered species.

The rules have swung out of balance. As common sense continues to erode and we are knee deep in the muck of The Great Jobless Recovery, it seems that it would be an opportune time for someone to speak up. It is not going to take a someone though, it is going to many of us.

I don’t usually talk politics but here is the caveat. The political here is personal. The political here is the future of my family and the ability to earn a living. The motivation is there. The drive and determination are present. The ethics are there too. We are good people looking for the freedom to pursue the American Dream.

This isn’t about being on one side of the political spectrum. As a former social worker, I have a deep earnest compassion for all. As a former government worker, I also believe that as Thoreau so elegantly paraphrased, “the best government is that which governs the least.” It is time for a common sense infusion in this country. For it to get better, it is going to have to get simpler.

Happy Small Business Saturday. Let’s hope at this Saturday next year, we have even more small business to be thankful for!

Halloween, Risk, and Conquering Fear: Tales of a Peacekeeper

RWEI have always loved Halloween. It is the holiday with an edge to it. October carries with it that kind of crisp coldness where you start to see your own breath in front of your face. You are reminded of your own electric humanity. You’re alive. Trees shed their leaves. Nature is unveiled and yet there is  a looming sense of mystery. We know we cannot see all that is or all that is about to be.

Halloween is about making statements with confidence, with exaggeration. and with art. Statements are not made with words but with fabric, with expression, with attitude, and concealment.

My love of Halloween could be because I love candy too. Ah, the rush of sugar. There is something to be said for the rush of a good scare too.  I don’t mean the tragic type but rather that adrenaline boost that surges after you exit the roller coaster ramp frazzled and shaking and wanting to do it all over again. These are the things I miss.

This Halloween I will try to remember the value behind trying the things that scare me. Perhaps the days of roller coasters and zip-lining are behind me but there is something to be said for stepping outside of our comfort zone. Maybe Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

When I left my work as a clinical social worker to help my husband build his company, I came to his business with what I believed to be a varied skill set. Undoubtedly, that was true yet in so many areas I found myself knee-deep in uncharted territory. As a life-long, gold star people pleaser, I have always dreaded confrontation. I dreaded it even when I knew I was right. For most of my childhood and well into my thirties, I had gone to great lengths to avoid confrontation even when I had a valid point to make. ‘Flight over fight’ made sense to the peacekeeper in me.

In my new work, I found myself in daily confrontation. It was an integral part of my job description. Building a business is about building bridges and relationships but it is just as much about the fight. There is a struggle to build something. It is not easy. Perhaps that it why it so challenging and rewarding. I found myself having to stand my ground and push forth with vendors and professionals, the general public, the media, and unprofessional professionals of the most unscrupulous, calculated sort.

I found that the daily struggle was a boot camp for my sensitivity. These tiring confrontations and uncomfortable arguments often fought with a trembling voice proved to be so valuable. At the days end, I felt spent. My soul would even sometimes feel bruised but over time I became stronger. I became smarter and more accurate. There was something new and brilliant in my wheelhouse. I knew myself better in a new way. I learned how much I didn’t know about myself when I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about me.

I learned that I was often hiding behind the guise of peacekeeping because the fight for what was right seemed too steep and scary to climb. The truth was that I was too scared too act. I was scared of weakness and terrified of failure.

I also learned that I am a better person for pushing myself. I am a better business owner. I am a better boss to those we employ and whose families depend upon our success. I am a better life partner. I am a better mama bear to my children, and I am without question a stronger soul. I am a contender and I am formidable.

Taking risks is about unwrapping all of those God-given presents that you didn’t even know were given to you. For some, they may be about unwrapping the ability to own their own thoughts and words and about gifts of confidence. Other may be discovering the gifts of forgiveness, humility, humor, or kindness. For all of us, there are so many different gifts to be revealed and developed. There are limits to be overcome. There are always walls to be pushed out, and ceiling to be broken through. As MLK suggested, sometimes we just need to see the first stair of the grand staircase to take the initial step. We get one life to do it right for ourselves, to honor the memory of those who have gone before us, and for our children who will go beyond us.

In recent years, the trembling voice has faded but I find there is always a new risk to be taken and uncharted territory to be covered in most all directions. And there ALWAYS will be.

Happy Halloween, Happy All Saints Day, and Happy All Souls Day!

More nj.com writings

10639618Please check out some of my recent writings on nj.com/parenting. Here are the links below:

50 things every mom should know before age 40

Links to my nj.com writings – all in one place

annbAs many of you know, I am a weekly Parental Guidance blogger for nj.com. Here are some links to my past writings on nj.com. By clicking on any of the headlines, it will lead right to the article.

Thanks for taking the time to check out what I have to say and I always appreciate your comments and feedback. Additionally, if you have an a creative idea, news that is worth noting, or something incredible that you believe should be shared with parents, please feel free to contact me. 

 

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