Uncertainty: A Formidable and Powerful Teacher

mysteryOne of the few things that I find myself certain of is my inability to tolerate uncertainty. I know, in essence, that life is always uncertain. Uncertainty contains the sweetness of risk and the power of potential. As I grow older, I recognize that patience with the unknown is a cornerstone of maturity. I fully realize that we aren’t granted tomorrow and we must live in the present to really grasp what life has to offer. In theory, I understand it. In practice though, I am still practicing.

Lately, it feels like I’ve entered a boot-camp for my discomfort with uncertainty. In all aspects of my life, I am deluged with change; flooded with so many unknowns and so few answers.  All the while as I analyze and think, this voice within has been whispering that this may feel like the real struggle but is all preparation for things ahead. All of this exercise in discomfort is just practice for what is coming.

As often is the case, that little voice within was correct.

Two weeks ago Friday, I returned home with my three daughters from a week-long Boston trip. After driving five hours through Storm Andrea, that stormy Friday afternoon was all about mounds of piled mail, even bigger mounds of piled work, and the biggest mounds of piled laundry.

When putting my oldest daughter, Sonoma, to bed that night, I noticed a small cut on her wrist. It was about 1/10 of a inch. It was barely a scratch but I recall thinking I should put some more peroxide on it before she went to sleep. I left the room to grab the peroxide and a Band-Aid. As sometimes happens, something else caught my attention. I forgot. I had three dogs to tend to, clothes to move from the washer to the dryer, emails to send out with a deadline of midnight, and an infant to nurse.

That momentary forgetfulness would later haunt me.

In the morning, two of my three daughters awoke as they always do at 6:30am. 7:30 passed and Sonoma still slept. 8:30 passed, 9:00 passed – no Sonoma. Around 9:30am, Sonoma came downstairs and quietly said that she didn’t feel well. “Look Mom, my arm looks like a tennis ball.” It was yellowish, green and swollen. By 9:48am, I had all three of my daughters in the hospital emergency waiting room. They treated her and discharged her with some antibiotics. we were back home a little after 11:00am.

The day went on. Sonoma was in good spirits. During church services that night, Sonoma began to burn up with fever. She became listless and lethargic. We headed to the emergency room right after Mass. On the way to the hospital, she developed redness running up the center of her arm. At the hospital, they diagnosed it as cellulitis, a bacterial infection. The doctors told my husband, Joe, and I that it was serious.

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Sonoma and Friends

The following hours were extremely difficult. She had a temperature of 104. They were able to reduce the fever with medication. I left the hospital at midnight to bring my infant daughter home and visit our two year old, Sienna, who was with Joe’s cousin. It took everything in me to leave her for the next few hours but I knew she was content with her dad sleeping in the chair next to her bedside.

When I texted Joe around 4:00 am to see how she was, I was told she had taken a turn for the worse. Her fever was back up to 104, her arm was red and swollen, and they were concerned. There were high fevers, periods of incessant vomiting, and uncertainty as to the trajectory of her illness. As someone who worked in a hospital for several years, I knew all the possibilities and I was terrified. I sat up in my bed sickened by the unknown. I was shaking. I had the chills. The clock read 4:03am. I called the doctor at the nurse’s station. I called her pediatrician. I asked questions trolling for certainty that i knew they couldn’t give me. I paced around the room. I threw up.  The clock read 4:21am. Time was virtually standing still.

When I returned to the hospital in the morning, her condition improved. Hours later it became slightly worse. Slowly and steadily though, Sonoma became better each day. My husband slept in the chair next to her bed every night. In the day, I sat with her. We drew pictures, painted, and spent time with family.

Three days later, Sonoma was discharged. She remained in good spirits and has made a wonderful recovery.

This could easilyimage3 be a cautionary story about the dangers of an infected cut. In all honesty, with three children ages four and under, my children get scratches and scrapes every single day. I do clean their cuts but not every single one. I grew up in a pre-bike helmet, pre-car seat, pre-antibacterial soap era and always silently reasoned that I survived. I now see the danger in what occurred and how serious something became so quickly. All I can say is to err on the side of caution and trust your parental gut.

This could be a story about the need to slow down. I was so busy tending to the little things that I forgot to tend to another little thing that was  important. Responding to an email requesting a recipe or a Facebook comment can wait. So can that 3rd load of laundry. There will always be laundry and inbox messages. At the end of the day, children are just more important.image1

This could be a story about the power of prayer and positive energy. Immediately, friends and family asked what they could do. They offered to watch our daughters, watch our dogs, come to the hospital, or come to our home. There is power in love and in kindness. There is power in showing up for others in their time of need.

This could be a story about bravery. Our daughter was such a sweet, brave spirit. With every blood test and IV and medicine administered, she didn’t fuss but showed remarkable resilience and even smiled. Her ability to endure everything with grace was astounding. Sometimes we discount the ability of our children to understand what is going on. I was astounded at my daughter’s ability to process everything and handle it with such dignity.

This story could be about so many different things but this is a story about gratefulness. It is not just gratefulness for the fact that she is recovering and there is a happy ending to this story. It is a more enduring grimage2atefulness based on perspective and the bigger picture.

Sonoma was on the Pediatric Unit of the hospital. It was a unit with children of various ages and illnesses. Often children were walking the halls with their parents and there was an art room for children that were healthy enough to meander over. During Sonoma’s hospitalization, we would see children who had received chemo and children who didn’t have the liberty to leave the hospital in 3 days, as we did.

When I think of that feeling of being despondent that night, that seemingly unbearable feeling was just for one night. There are parents who have to live with similar feelings of uncertainty about their child’s health for months and even years. These same parents who had been there with their child for many months were the same parents who held the door open for us. They smiled in the hallway at us and even offered to share their art supplies with us. That is true courage, kindness, and bravery.

Now that our somewhat hectic life has resumed, I was standing on line at Starbuck’s yesterday and the man in front of me online lambasted the Barista for getting his coffee order wrong. I found myself instantly thinking of  that mom walking the hallway with her small sick, bald  daughter and their IV on wheels and her smiling into Sonoma’s room when they passed by. With all that mother was dealing with, that mom took the time to show us a gesture of kindness.

Although we can’t control what we are dealt in life, we can control our reactions. In this sense, we hold the potential for growth, change, and healing within our own grasp.

The next time, I’m in the car flashing my lights for someone to speed up or honking to tell someone to slow down, maybe that person is on their way to the hospital or somewhere else just as  important. Perhaps they’re not, and just an inconsiderate driver. Nonetheless, it is about being mindful. So many of us are fighting important, secret battles. It is essential to be kind.

Perspective. Making sure the things in our lives aren’t more important than the people in our lives. Making certain that we don’t allow the petty matters of daily life overshadow great and simple opportunities to express our love for others.

Perhaps the only certainties in life are those that we make certain to embrace and express, such as love and kindness. And perhaps certainty and resolution are highly overrated. Pema Chodron addresses this idea in her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times:

“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”

The Dog Trainer & The Fax Machine: Teaching Our Children What is Right

ImageWhen I started to think of Mother’s Day this year, I immediately though of my dog trainer. It may seem like a strange correlation at first. I can explain. Half a decade ago, Jamie Casale came recommended to us to train our second dog. I was told that she is called the ‘Dog Whisperer of Basking Ridge’, a name she has earned, as she works miracles with dogs that have been abused, and dogs that have been deemed impossible to train.

Over the years, Jamie worked with our 3 shelter dogs. She was there on the very days that I brought each of my three daughters home from the hospital. She helped introduce our dogs to our newborns. She helped with setting boundaries, consistency in setting limits, and developing behavioral strategies. Her techniques were as applicable to pet owners as they were to parents. Over time, I discovered she was not only a gifted trainer but an amazing mom and an incredible soul.

One day while we were at the park, she shared the following story with me to illustrate a lesson. Over the years, I have often thought back to the story and the lessons within it. I asked Jamie to recount the story to me once again (at my request, she typed it and emailed it to me), and I am sharing it with you below. I left it in her words; the way I heard it a few years back.

ImageI believe there is not a more fitting tribute as Mother’s Day approaches than to honor mothers who embody what great parenting is. Jamie is one of these moms. Here is her story of her son and her fax machine:

When my son was five or six, he and I were living together in a house I had rented after my separation from his dad.  Financially, things were very tough, and there had been times when I had to choose between paying the phone bill or the electric bill, knowing that whichever I didn’t pay that day would likely be shut off before my next paycheck.  Through all the difficulties, Dan and I knew that we would get through it all, and that we would be just fine as long as we were together.

During that time, I needed to buy a fax machine to have at home for my job.  Although I couldn’t really afford it, I had to have it, so Dan and I went off to the electronics store.  I looked at all the machines they had, and chose the least expensive one.  Back then, even a cheap fax machine was around $400.  I didn’t have the cash, of course, so I put it on my already strained credit card.

When we got home, I hooked up the fax and discovered that it didn’t work.  So I packed it up and off we went back to the store.  I brought the fax machine back to the customer service counter, where they refunded the money to my credit card.  I picked out a slightly more expensive machine and took it to the register to pay for it.  I handed the clerk all my paperwork from the return, along with my credit card.  After she finished ringing everything up, she said, “Your total is $11.45. Sign here.”  I looked at the receipt and saw that she had given me credit for the return that had already been refunded to my credit card and had charged me only for the difference in price.  I was, in effect, getting the new fax machine for free.

I paused for a minute, thinking about how much I could use that $400 to pay a daycare or electric bill.  Then I looked down at my son, and said to him, “Danny, pay attention to what I’m about to do.  I want you to remember this.”  I then told the young woman that she had made an error and had given me the second refund.  She thanked me profusely and re-rang my purchase, and I signed for the $400+ total on my credit card.  I took my package and took my son by the hand and walked outside.  I knelt down in front of him. “Did you see what just happened, Danny?” I asked.   “Sort of,”  he said.

“I’ll tell you what happened.  When I gave back the broken fax machine, the man gave me back my money on my credit card. But when we went to pay for the new machine, the girl got confused and didn’t know that I already got my money back, so she gave me my money back a second time by mistake.  I could have just not said anything about it, and I would have gotten the fax machine for free. That sounds pretty good, right? A free fax machine?”

“You got it for free?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “If I didn’t say anything and took the fax machine, it would have been stealing, even though the girl made a mistake.  It would be the same as reaching into the cash register and taking money out because she accidentally left the drawer open.  If you take something you should pay for, without paying for it, it’s stealing, no matter how it happens.  And know what, Danny? We don’t steal. Not ever. Because it’s wrong, even when no one knows about it and we’d never get caught. ”

 I tapped him on his chest over his heart. “You know right here inside whether it’s right or wrong, because I’ve always taught you to know. Just always do what you know is right, even when it’s hard to do the right thing and easy to do the wrong thing.  That’s when you really know you’re a good person. And I know you’re a GREAT person.”

We started walking to the car, and as my son took my hand, he looked up at me and said, “You’re a great person, too, Mom. That’s why I’m like you.”

In the course of the 20 years since that day I have seen countless examples of my son making choices to do what’s right – from chasing after a woman to hand her money that she had dropped on the ground to becoming a volunteer EMT at the age of 17 and a volunteer firefighter at the age of 18.  He has developed into a fine young adult who is dedicated to public service, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a BS degree in Fire Science for a career as a professional firefighter.  He is working as a professional EMT as he works toward a firefighter position, and he continues to serve as a volunteer EMT/Firefighter in our community.

There have been many times over the 25 years we have lived in this community when I have encountered someone who knows my son but has never met me.  Invariably, the conversation goes something like this…

”You’re Dan’s mom?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Oh my God, we just LOVE Dan! He is such a great guy. You did a great job raising him – he helps us so much with…. (fill in the blank).”

“Thank you. I kind of love him a lot, too.”  I could not be prouder of the man he has become.

Jamie Casale resides in Basking Ridge and continues to train pups of all ages. She can be contacted at 908-672-0473.

Stolen Cars, Sinking Ships, and Anger

Life is too short to hold a grudge, also too long.  ~Robert Brault

sinkingThey say you should never go to bed angry. I am not exactly sure of who the “they” are but its apparently ancient wisdom from generations of Zen grandmothers or from other civilizations that predicted calamity and walked amongst alien visitors. I even saw this saying spelled out on an Etsy macramé wall hanging a few weeks back. I agree. You should always stay up and plot your revenge. At least that’s what my stubborn German-side tells me. Okay, not really. I wholeheartedly believe in letting go of your anger yet from time to time I am guilty of disobeying this. Monday night was one of those disobedient exceptions.

I aim for calm and collected but every so often I miss and land somewhere between sarcasm and the valley of the bitches. Fueled by lack of sleep and the demands of tending to our bus company and writing and raising children, I find that my husband and I can argue over the strangest things. A small quarrel about how to handle an issue at work metamorphosed into an argument about what the talking plastic lizard that sits atop our infant daughter’s bouncy seat was singing. I was certain it was repeatedly saying “red, yellow, and blue”. My husband, Joe, asserted with certainty that it was singing “red, yellow, I’m blue.” Maybe he thought the lizard was depressed. He said it was because parts of his Fisher Price plastic lizard-self are blue.

It was insane talk between adults at 11:05 at night. He retreated to bed. I stayed downstairs and started to wipe down the counters and put toys and other junk away.  I then thought just leave it. I can clean it in the morning. Who will see my kitchen before sunrise anyway? Little did I know I would have detectives and police at my kitchen countertop in the next few hours.

I went upstairs. I began to fall asleep. It was the earliest I had been to bed in months. Fast-forward twenty-five minutes. We awoke to a noise outside our window. One of our dogs was growling at the window. We own a transportation company and it’s not unusual for drivers to be picking cars up at our home. It is unusual though when all assigned cars have already been picked up to hear someone in your driveway. My husband started down the stairs. I had the most suddenly horrid feeling deep in my stomach. I called to him to wait. We heard the screech of tires as our Escalade furiously sped away. He turned to me and said what we both already knew. Our truck was stolen.

We contacted the police. They found our other Escalade ransacked in the driveway. We soon learned that they had taken financial items and car keys. We wondered if they’d return. After dusting for fingerprints and collecting evidence and even tracking the car into Newark, we got an answer to our question. They did return.

Ever since this has happened I have been processing it. There’s a lot to take away. I’m not the overly optimistic type but I do acknowledge that within this chaotic tempest, there were some silver linings. There was the silver lining of kindness and accountability. There were people doing their jobs and doing them well. The West Caldwell Police Department went above and beyond to protect our family and stationed police in our driveway. Mayor Cory Booker reached out to us personally and interceded in getting our vehicle returned to us.

Most importantly, there was that thought of going to bed at night. I keep thinking back to when I went to wipe down the counter and that strong, clear thought that no one would see the kitchen before 6 am. I made a similar assumption in holding onto my anger at my husband as I went to bed. I assumed he’d be there in the morning to be angry at.

The truth is that we never know what can happen in the night or from one hour to the next. At that very moment that I pleaded with my husband not to go outside into our driveway, I thought of our fight from less than an hour ago. My anger seemed trivial and meaningless, and it was.

seasSometimes seemingly bad things happen because there is peril in this world. Sometimes seemingly bad things happen and they put the good and important things in perspective. Cars and trucks are all replaceable but our spouses and are family are not. Anger and so many of our emotions and what we become fixated on is unimportant and so temporary. We know this and yet it’s so easy to lose this truth in our hurried lives.

So many of life’s answers remain within us but remain as disorganized as my kitchen at eleven o’clock at night and they become buried under the mundane and complexities of everyday life. Life has a curious way of re-organizing these truths and putting them back where you can find them.

Don’t go to bed angry. They say anger is one letter short of danger. There is truth in this. Anger is fear topped with madness. It remains corrosive to our souls. The small, miniscule things are the very things we need to take the time to repair keeping in mind that the smallest of leaks have sunk the greatest of ships.

Easter Gratitude: Putting My Blessings In One Basket

eggsAs a young girl, every Easter I was sick. I would eat too much chocolate or catch the flu or suffer from a combination of both ailments. Easter was more about pastel marshmallow treats and my love-hate relationship with them. As I grew older, Easter presented an opportunity to visit with my West-Coast cousins in Seattle. I traveled cross-country on a plane with my maternal grandparents to celebrate family tradition, to embrace the true sense of holiness, and to celebrate our blessings. I soon learned that a rainy Easter spent with family out West was better than most anything. I learned to make sticky-buns and even more importantly, we made memories that will shine in my heart forever.

As I now prepare for this season of rebirth, I think about sacrifice and I think about my many blessings. It’s a powerful and important thing to reflect upon after a week full of such ups and downs.

As I feel the impulse to complain about what is trivial, I more fervently feel compelled to be thankful. I am blessed that my husband’s business is busy enough that he works from 7 am until 8 or 9pm each night. I am blessed that I have three daughters who turn my house upside down in a matter of moments. I am glad that have each other to be in cahoots with, and I’m grateful that we have a home. I try to earnestly appreciate the sour with the sweet, to find the lesson in what is difficult, and to take each obstacle as a lesson for what lies ahead. Sometimes it is easier said than done. Sometimes I am able to focus on the journey better than the destination.

I am thankful for family, even when we are fighting and when we agree to disagree. I am thankful that they are there and for their love that remains unconditional.

I am thankful for the half-dozen pills that we have to give to our twelve-year old dog, Sweetie. I am glad that she made it through a medical scare this week. In Easter irony, she ate a rabbit (not a chocolate one, rather a furry one) and didn’t fare well after the fact. My heart is full of gratitude that she is there to squeeze between my husband and I in our bed tonight, and evil-eye us when we invade her space. We have been granted the gift of time with her for now. Dogs have a way of reminding us of all that is good and wonderful in this world without saying a word. Just their presence can sum up joy, lightheartedness, and loyalty all at once. Sweetie and our two other rescue pups suffered abuse before they came into our lives. Sweetie, Finn, and Jake, continue to teach us so much about life through their daily example of simplicity. Their ability to forgive, reconcile, trust, and care for one another and us is amazing in itself.

I am thankful for my husband and the many differences we have between us. They are reminders of why we got together to begin with, of why we get along, of what we have to offer each other, and of how far we have come. There are truths in our disagreements, these small little bits of honesty filled with light, that seem to rise up to the surface. Sometimes things need to be said in order to move forward.

I am thankful for humor. It is a saving grace and God-sent. When I stand in our kitchen and watch our eight-month-old daughter laugh hysterically at the funny sounds and faces her two sisters make at her, I am instantly reminded that God is present in her laughter. It serves as such a poignant reminder of the importance of keeping a sense of humor and perspective in this whirlwind life. My children remind both my husband and I of how necessary it is to take life seriously and not to take life too seriously all at the same time.

I am thankful for friends. People travel in and out of your existence. Life always seems to surprise me though. It is such a beautiful, startling shock to have someone in your life gift you with the most generous gift of time, the most enthusiastic present of their presence in your life, and the reward of their honest feedback. These are the sweetest gifts and I am thankful for true friends. You are the many reflections of the face of God in my life.

I feel those who are no longer with us, who have departed this earth still walking beside us. I feel them with us on the other side, guiding us and rooting us on. Every now and then they whisper into our hearts. I miss them and hope as this new spiritual year commences to make them proud.

Blessings to you and your loved ones this Easter!

That’ll Be Extra: Rage Against the Surcharge

dollarGrowing up, my father would always tell my sister and I how he walked five miles from his home to school and back again each day in the sun, snow, sleet, and rain. He’d go on to tell us of how he had just one good pair of shoes, how he never had an allowance,  and of the cost of things. “When I was your age, bread was twelve cents a loaf, and stamps were just a mere three pennies each.” When we returned to his hometown of Glen Cove, Long Island many years later we tracked his old route with our Oldsmobile and its odometer. His walk to school was a mere mile and a half, as we had suspected. Perhaps I should have had an inkling that his story was a bit exaggerated when he told us that it was an uphill trek both ways. For as much as his daily journey to grammar school was proudly inflated, his recollection of prices was spot on. In 1948, the minimum wage was a mere forty cents an hour, and the average salary was $3500 a year, and milk was eighty cents a gallon (and 2% milk hadn’t even made its debut).

Costs rise over time. This is something we expect. By all logical standards, you would think that as the world grew simpler and more advanced, costs could be cut but it seems that we must pay the price for high-tech development. Progress is expensive. All in all, I don’t mind paying more as the world revolves and costs rise. I would mind even much less, if money was put to good use. I can say with a clear conscience that I don’t mind paying thirteen dollars every time I cross over the The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge to pay for its ill-repair, lest it becomes even worse and we all plunge into the Hudson. Wavering yet rising costs are a certainty of our changing future. I would be lying if I denied that, from time to time, I get a nervous patter in my chest over a future with three daughters’ college tuitions, weddings and so forth, but this seems to be a part of life.

That said, if you are going to raise a cost, then please raise it. I’ll take a wallop to the face rather than a stab in the back or a hidden charge on a receipt. Don’t, however, sneak these surcharges onto my receipt or insult my intelligence. Case in point: the hotel internet charge. It all started at this very time two years ago. My husband and I had the misfortune of scheduling a connecting flight out of Aspen, CO back to New Jersey with an infant and a sick toddler during Spring break week. Due to high winds, we missed our connection by a literal two minutes and were stranded in Los Angeles for three days in a torrential storm without luggage or diapers (another blog entirely).

To make matters worse for the wear, there was a porn convention in town. All the hotels were sold-out. Waiting in the check-in line at the Four Points Sheraton at 3am with two small daughters sobbing with the beginnings of ear infections amidst this motley group was quite the experience. It was like I entered a black hole. The lobby was like an X-rated version of the Star-Wars bar. People with the strangest mix of exaggerated parts were having drinks, strutting around, and speaking in tongues. Our infant daughter was still nursing, and even with my swollen breasts I assure you I had the smallest rack of anyone there. The worst part was that the guy with the red pleather chaps got the last available room and we had to finally settle for a hotel out on Long Beach. After a 45 minute cab-ride from hell, we paid the $379.00 a night (supply and demand – the Dirk Digglers and weiner-jockies of the world all assembled together for a meeting of the minds drive prices up). I could accept that. What I cannot accept is paying an additional $10.99 a night for Internet access after paying $379.00 a night. Isn’t Internet access like air at this point? Shouldn’t it be worked into the price of everything else? I don’t expect to be surcharged for a hairdryer in my hotel room or hand towels. I don’t think I should have to pay to check my email on my iPad. If I can go into a Starbucks and use the wi-fi for free (or perhaps its calculated into my $7.99 cup of coffee), than why can’t the same rule apply to my hotel internet access. I guess it can’t and while they’re at it, they decided to charge us a fee for printing boarding passes on their computer.

A few months back, while staying at a luxury resort in Florida, I asked if I could ship my diapers down to the hotel prior to getting there to save room in the luggage (lest I be surcharged for a fee by the airlines…$35.00 each way). The hotel agreed and gladly added that their clients do it daily. What they didn’t tell me is that it would be a $20.00 package-acceptance surcharge. I have since learned that many premiere hotels sneak in surcharges. There are surcharges to use the safe, for extra glasses in the room, and even a fee for turndown service in some $400 a night hotel rooms.

The sneaky culprits aren’t all hotels though. Sometimes you’re not just charged for add-ons but for taking them away! Now some NYC bars are charging patrons $2.00 for the absence of ice in their drinks. Am I joking? I don’t joke about my drinks. If you want a bourbon straight up sans ice, you may be levied a straight-up surcharge. As if a $16 bourbon was not already pricey enough?

I guess I have been paying surcharges for some time now. As a fan of anything avocado, I’ve always been surcharged for adding avocado to anything. I’m always surcharged for Blue Cheese too. I’m not exactly sure why I pay a U.S. Agriculture Fee when I fly from Newark to Orlando yet I have been paying this fee for many different flights in recent years. Surcharges are the new charges, I guess.

It isn’t just surcharges themselves but the nature of surcharges have become more ridiculous. I’m paying $1.50 delivery charge to the pizzeria to bring a pie to my home. It used to be called a tip. Now I pay both.  If I go a restaurant, the surcharges could be ridiculous. Before I even get to the restaurant for a birthday dinner, I pay a fee for using an ATM and four cents more per gallon in gas  for paying with a credit card. Good thing I didn’t bring my own wine or cake lest I pay a corkage fee and a cake cutting fee.

Maybe the very worst surcharge came this week. It may come as no surprise that it came from my gym. I know gyms can be some of the worst offenders. There is this underlying feeling of doom when you sign that dreaded one-year contract, that you are signing away your freedom. It’s like Faust and the Devil except with gym mats on the floor and club music piping through the speakers.

This is how it all started with my gym: so about seven weeks ago my bank suddenly cancelled my debit card because the numbers had been compromised. They reissued a new card and I had to update all my automatic bills. It is funny how these attempts at making our life simpler, with automatic bill-pays and online banking, sometimes make life so much more complicated. I forgot to update my gym automatic debit. I go to the gym. Everyone says hello and most everyone is nice. No one says, “hey you owe us money.” Two months later, I get a call from gym-guy that I owe two months of membership for non-payment. When I realize what has happened, I explain about the cancelled card and give the gym-guy my new card information. He tells me that there will be a $40 additional service fee for re-running the card. $40. Really???

Gym-Guy says that the contract’s fine print says they are entitled to charge the fee. I get it. The mistake is mine. Like a dutiful gym-goer, I should have called to update the card. I ask if he could waive the fee this one time. He snickered then says no. I suggest we split the fee. He said no. He even insinuates I am lying about the cancelled credit card stating he hears that excuse several times a day. Now according to him, I’m a liar on top of being forgetful. We get nowhere. I ask to speak with the owner. The same conversation ensues. I have no problem paying what I owe. I just can’t stand the excess $40. He says it is in the contract. I mention that there’s a difference between what a business can legally charge and what is good business. He said I’d have to pay it. I was stuck. I need their treadmill and their babysitting service. I paid the $40 but not without saying my piece.  Lucky for him, he caught me at a mid-fat weight and mid-contract otherwise I would leave. If individual customer service means absolutely nothing to them then that’s fine but I mentioned that I will remember that next year when it comes time to renew my contract. Last time I checked, there is a gym every quarter mile around here. Gym-guy and his boss could care less but it is that very mentality that will make that renovated warehouse gym an empty, rundown warehouse again a year or so from now.

We have to check our bills and speak up against the surcharges. And if we own businesses or work for one, we must not undervalue the importance of individualized attention. I don’t expect something for free but I do want people to remember I am still a person. Individualized service is one of those lost things of yesteryear, like door-holding and derby hats. In the meanwhile, I’ll me at my overpriced, rude gym.

Lessons Learned While Deep-Sea Fishing With My Dad

This past week my husband and I took our children down to Kiawah Island in South Carolina for a vacation. It was a nice breather. Spending time under the sun and breathing in the fresh, salty air served as a reminder of how much I truly love the ocean. I am at my happiest when I am at the shore with my family. In my own youth, I was fortunate enough to have had dozens of blissful moments of time with my family at the shore. One of my very favorite things is, and remains, deep sea fishing. Some women get an adrenaline rush from shopping for shoes. I get a thrill out of casting my line into the big-blue about fifteen miles off-shore.

My father, Thomas Patrick Michael O’Rourke, started taking me fluke fishing off fishingthe Atlantic Highlands in New Jersey when I was only six or seven years old. We spent many a sunny day on three-quarter-day party fishing boats and on my Uncle Jack’s boat. Of course, at the time I would fight him on having to wake up at 4am and about what sneakers I should wear and what bait I should use. After a long day, I’d return home with my dad at sunset, sunburned with a cooler of fish and smelling like saltwater never realizing that these would be some of the sweetest memories of my youth.

Looking back on those times, there was a lot of arguing, a lot of laughter, and many life lessons mixed in-between. I thought I would share a dozen of these lessons I learned from him with you:

1) Wake up early. There is something irreplaceably satisfying about starting your day as the sun is rising and being one of the first boats on the horizon. Of course, you can take your boat out onto the waters to cast your lines at any time of the day, but there is nothing like early morning fishing. There is promise and hope in the waters at dawn.

2) Go to where the fish are. Be proactive. If the computerized fish-finder says there is no fish there, move. There is a fine line between fishing and hovering over empty waters like an idiot. Be prepared to proactively move yourself around a lot. You’ll never catch anything in life fishing where the waters are empty.

3) Be prepared.  You’ll never know where the fish are or where the shallow waters are without the right tools. Have the right tools so when the catch of your life comes along, you will be ready. Have a rod that can withstand great weight. Have a strong line. Buy the biggest net. Fish as if you are about to  catch the big one at any moment.

4) Be patient. With practice, comes knowledge and skill. Even Jesus and his apostles practiced patience in fishing. Patience truly is a virtue. Patience is a minimizer of disappointment, a kin to joy,  and a friend of success.

5) Use a sinker. In my youth, it seemed against all reason to weigh the line down in order to catch something. My dad argued with me and even let me try it my way. Through trial and error, I quickly learned though that if you don’t weigh the line down to catch something, you’ll get caught up in everything. Everyone needs a sinker whether that sinker is your faith, your job, or your partner in life. As an adult with a growing business and a parent with a growing family, I have set many sinkers in place from estate planning to business interruption insurance to running on a treadmill 45 minutes a day. As a mother, I find that my own mother’s words of wisdom are a verbal sinker for my soul. They often serve as a weighty reminder that the “right choices in life are so often the more difficult options”.

6) Keep quiet. You will scare the fish if you’re too loud. It is a matter of timing and a matter of control. There is a time to be loud and a time to listen and it seems the ratio of loud to listening is 1:10. Most of fishing and most of life is about listening and timing. If you reel it in too soon, you’ll lose it. If you wait too long to start reeling the line in, you’ll end up with half-eaten bait and no catch. Listen well so you can read all the signs and know when to reel.

7) Bait your own hook. Cast out your own line. From an early age, my dad made me bait my own hook. Reaching into that bucket of stinky eels and then into the bucket of swimming guppies was gross. I squirmed as the guppies squirmed through my skinny fingers around the tin silver bucket. On occasion, I’d even nick my finger on the hook. Now as a parent myself, I can appreciate the lesson learned. Sometimes neatly baiting your childrens’ hooks and preparing their lines can lead to trouble. Rather than doing it for them, teach them how to do it for themselves. Former Navy officer and respected author, Robert A. Heinlein, wisely wrote,  “Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easier.” As certain as the ever-changing tide, there is truth in Heinlein’s words.

8) They’re not all keepers. This lesson is one I have been able to apply in my own business and in my own relationships. I remember being so excited after fishing for four straight hours and catching nothing that I finally had a bite on the line. I struggled. I artfully reeled in my line. It was a sea-robin. For those who do not fish, I can readily tell you that they are a strong fish but not the fish you want to reel in, and they are ugly bastards. They aren’t good for anything. My dad was right. Don’t settle in fishing and don’t settle in life. If it’s the wrong fish, throw it back. On that long day, I threw the sea-robin back into the sea. I continued to fish again for another ninety minutes without one nibble on the line. I waited. I sat. I daydreamed. To my surprise, the end of my fishing rod started to bend. I slowly and steadily reeled it in. This time, it was the right fish. This muddy-colored fluke was looking me right in the eyes as I brought him on deck. Then we measured him. He was an inch too short. I couldn’t keep him. It was against the Coast Guard’s fishing regulations. My Dad convinced me to throw him back. Lesson learned. Sometimes a fish needs a little bit more time in the water before he is ready to be reeled in.

9) Go out after the storm. Storms are difficult yet are a part of life. It isn’t a question of if they will come but when they will strike. They cause havoc and destruction yet it is after these tempests, that all is stirred about and the best seems to come forward. Weather the storm, then go out and cast your lines. Get back in the boat quickly to make the best catch.

10) You will hit a snag. Even the best fishermen of the world get tangled up every now and then. Sometimes you may even have to cut the line.  It is never easy to let go but sometimes this is the very best choice to be able to recast and catch something again.

11) Be a good sport. No one likes a poor sport.  If you didn’t catch the biggest fish, give kudos to the fisherman who did. Remember its not all skill, its also a matter of chance. If you did catch the biggest fish, show a little humility. Once again remember its not all skill, its also a matter of chance. No one like a complainer or a boaster. Offer to help clean the boat, offer to help clean the fish. Share part of your sandwich with others. No one likes a free-loader. Fishing is about good karma as much its about good sportsmanship.

12) The big one is still out there. Its a vast, deep ocean. Don’t give up. Stay positive. Don’t lose your footing. Don’t drink the night before. Trust your intuition always.Hold onto hope. Besides, as my dad always pointed out, it’s not about catching the biggest fish but about trying your best and having the best time.

Please Pardon The Mess

momsWelcome to our home. Enter. I know what you are wondering. The ottoman is tipped over on its side. The area rug is askew. Drawers pulled open, contents sticking out. Cheerios and crayons on the floor. One of our dogs is chewing on a Slinkie. There’s a bra on a bike helmet and a pop tart on the bookshelf. Have we been burglarized? No, but thanks for your concern. It isn’t an outlandish assumption. This is what our home looks like most every Thursday at 2pm.

I can explain. Things weren’t always this way. Rewind four and a half years. My husband and I purchased our first home together and immediately began to furnish it. Not long after we signed on the dotted line and removed the realtor sign off of the front lawn, I learned that I was pregnant with our first child. We painted each room, put up crown molding and picked out each item for our humble abode. Actually, that isn’t exactly true. Let me reword. We are not that handy. We don’t know how to do everything but we know how to pay people that do everything. We hired painters and people to put up crown molding and they did an excellent job but I did coordinate paint swatches to pillows and select all our furniture until my vision was complete. Our house was beginning to feel like a home. Sort-of.

I remember having one of my best friends over to show her the final product. With her seventeen-month old son wrapped around her leg, she remarked that everything was beautiful, “just gorgeous”, yet added on her way out the freshly painted front door that a year or so from now she imagines I will regret some of these purchases. I was puzzled and my hormonally-charged feelings were hurt. I felt fully committed to my damask wallpaper and felt her words were some sort of slight at my old whimsical self from my twenties. It turns out that it wasn’t. She was referring to my marble and mahogany living room furniture. She was speaking of my all glass curio and my large Phantom of the Opera-esque candelabras, as well as my bar-height kitchen table with tapestry stools.

I still didn’t understand what she really meant until our daughter, Sonoma, was born and started to walk. Suddenly the living room didn’t seem so elegant but more like a mine field of what to avoid. Don’t jump near the glass cabinet. Watch your head near that table. Our living room became an obstacle course of glass, marble, and mahogany claw-feet.

Our second daughter was born seventeen months later. In came the new baby. Out came the glass curio. Boxed away in our crawl space went the a lot of the Lladro and the Lenox. We slapped those big, black  sticky foam corner protectors onto every granite surface, edge of fireplace, and sharp corner we could find.

It wasn’t all about safety. Safety was just at the top of the slippery slope. With every month that passed, order within our home diminished. Three daughters and three dogs later, there were little fingerprints and dog paw prints across our glass window panes. If I missed a day of vaccuming, dog fur would blow like tumbleweeds across our family room. There were oat puffs on the chairs, Fisher Price Little People littered across our floors, and a cardboard party hat strapped to our Buddha statue as our daughters affectionately included him in their play birthday parties.

Please don’t misunderstand. I have well-behaved children. They aren’t rude or obnoxious. They barely whine and only act like little Gremlins twenty-percent of the time. They are children though. They are creative and fun and unpredictable. My daughter Sienna drew on her entire leg with marker the other day because it was fun. She played mummy with our beagle-basset hound and the toilet paper. Sonoma painted Sienna from head to toe with Desitin a few months back playing a competitive game of “sunblock.”

Contrary to what it may seem, I am not a slob. I’m not a hoarder or “a messpot”. In fact, I am a Virgo thru and thru. I’m just a Virgo elbow deep in juice boxes, stuffed animals, and piles of paperwork. I’m a mother of three children three years old and under and I may have forgotten to mention that we have three adorable rescue dogs. I cook. I clean. I work from home and I do organize throughout the day. I even dusted with our little feather duster until one of our three rescue dogs ripped it apart and ate it.

The problem as I see it is two-fold. First, we are too hard on each other. I know there are people who have children and keep their homes impeccable, and good for them. Perhaps this gives them a sense of peace. Just don’t judge me. Child-rearing and organization are not parallel. A neat home doesn’t necessarily make a happy home. It may just make a museum.

My husband and I went to another couple’s home for a get together a few weeks ago. Their home is impeccable and wherever I go, so many friends and even some family have made the case that this woman is the ideal wife and perfect mom. In fact, she is very cultured, classy and hospitable. She and her husband are hospitable to a fault. Upon arriving at their home, her apron matched the drapes. With her decor and appetizers and calm demeanor, she made the Stepford Wives look flustered and disorganized. Into the evening, our gracious host advised me that the bathroom was upstairs, the third door on the left. I ascended the stairs with our infant daughter in tow, as it was my intention to nurse her in the bathroom, and somehow I miscounted and opened the wrong door. Inside was a strange sight. Before my eyes was a guest room filled with piles of boxes. Boxes filled with toys and clothes. There were items strewn all over. It was a mess. This just wasn’t a mess but this was a crack in the case. This was hard, cold evidence that they were human. Perhaps they could be as human and momentarily overwhelmed at times as I was. I knew though that this line of reasoning was disturbed. Why was I rejoicing over their scattered laundry?How sick is it that I felt relieved to the point of being enthused at the sign of their humanity? Was it possible that they too had bouts of messiness? Could “perfect” be a myth like the Lochness Monster or Sasquatch?

This brings me to my second point: we are too hard on ourselves. I knew in the cluttered, dusty recesses of my own spirit that this was more about my own insecurities then it was about keeping up with the Joneses. There would always be someone else neater and more organized. Why did I feel though that a messy home was a reflection of my failings as a parent, a wife, and a mother? Couldn’t I still be a great mom and an okay organizer. Couldn’t a messy home be seen as a sign of a happy home?

The true measure of a friend is directly proportionate to how much straightening-up I must do before the friend arrives: the less straightening and fussing, the closer the friend. If we are really best buds, I may not even put on eyeliner and change out of my owl pajama pants. Lucky them.

I had a heated disagreement with someone recently who seems to view this issue quite differently than I do. I came away from the argument feeling empty and confused. Am I inadequate because my home isn’t always neat and orderly? I sat with my feelings of inadequacy and did all I knew to do. I offered my frustration up to God and I prayed. I prayed for a sign.

Sometimes God has a better sense of humor about things than I would expect. Ask and you shall receive. Less than a week later, my cousin, who knew nothing about my struggles with domestic order, gave me a belated birthday gift. It was a sign. Literally. In big black block print it read, “Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids.”

For me, it isn’t a matter of organization but perspective. My home will be cleaner then a few hours later it will become messier. As sure as the tides change, it will always be in a constant fluctuating state of order and this is not relevant to my worth as a mom. It will never be “perfect” or showroom quality. Our home is lived in and within it there is love. It is the love and the laughter that makes a home perfect, not perfectly aligned statues on shelves. Our house feels like a home thru and thru each disheveled square foot.

I now embrace the chaos. It’s a part of our life. It is what separates our home from a house. I am glad my children won’t think it’s the end of the world if they spill something on our couch. And, if I have twenty extra minutes in the afternoon, I’d rather play with my kids so I do. Don’t get me wrong, I still fold laundry. It’s just that my linen closet doesn’t need to look like a page from Architectural Digest for me to feel adequate. Actually no matter what mountain of available time I ever have in my life at any future point, I doubt I will ever devote it to fastidiously folding and piling wash cloths. I hope I will always find something more interesting to do in life than fret over folding. Anyway, I doubt anyone on her deathbed ever uttered that she wished she had a neater laundry room.

It is my hope though that one day we can live in a world where we won’t be judged by one another about the order of our homes or the mess in our linen closets but by the content of our character, the kindness in our hearts, the joy in our lives, and the laughter in our homes.

The Internet and Children: Keeping Our Kids Safe

When my first child was born, friends and family would visit. They would stand over the crib and stare at my doe-eyed daughter and say, “Wait, before you know it, she will be getting her license.”  I must have heard that cautionary point at least half a dozen times with each of my three children. I get it. Life passes quickly. One day, your daughter is in fuzzy pink overalls sitting behind a tray in her high chair. Blink, and she is sitting in a miniskirt behind a steering-wheel. Or so I hear, as my children have yet to reach that point but I, nonetheless, understand their point. The right to drive was once a first rite of passage from youth into young adulthood; a literal portal to the big, vast world.

The privilege of operating a motor vehicle has always presented vast responsibility and immense convenience. It also presents the possibility of sheer independence, the necessity of good judgment, and the presence of danger all at once. With all of that in mind, I am not rushing that moment when my eldest daughter asks my husband and me for the keys to the car and backs out of our driveway alone.

The world continues to evolve and now there is a tool of equal weight and consequence that our youth operate even sooner than the automobile. The Internet. When used responsibly, this tool can be a great source of convenience, knowledge, education, and communication. This same invention also puts children in direct interaction with the big, vast world out there without leaving the comfort and assumed safety of their parent’s home. Among great possibility also lurks the opportunity for those seeking anonymity and those with less than honorable intentions. There is a world of promise coupled with danger right within your own home. The issue then becomes, How do we offer our children independence and respect and protection simultaneously?

My friend, Jamie Tripp Utitus, Parental Guidance blogger for nj.com recently wrote a story, Facebook, Should We Get Access If Our Child Dies? Jamie focuses on the Nash family, a family who lost their fifteen year old son to suicide. Now that grieving family has been battling Facebook to have the right to access their deceased 15 year-old son’s inbox with the hope of finding a clue about why he took his own precious life.

It also presents the larger issinternetchildue of whether a parent should have legal access to a child’s social networking account or if it should be kept private. As an individual with a therapeutic background in the medical field, I spent many years working with families and contending with privacy laws. Even in those circumstances, the parents of a minor may access their child’s records. It, therefore, seems foolish that parents can access the most intimate of psychiatric and medical records but are then denied the right to their child’s inbox messages.

How do you protect your child from cyber bullying, access to inappropriate content, exposure to predators, and from revealing too much personal information? As portable devices become ever popular and the Internet can now be accessed from smart phones and iPads in school hallways, coffee shops, on school buses, and in bathrooms, the task of monitoring becomes ever complex.

This isn’t about reading a locked diary hidden under your child’s bed or protecting your child’s reputation online. This is about navigating an entirely new dimension in the lives of our youth. It seems that protecting your child from the world online is as essential a task as it is to protect your child from the real world.

No plan is perfect and as technology becomes more high-tech, monitoring strategies must become more sophisticated. Here are some suggestions:

  • Start the conversation with your kids about online safety. Educate your children on the perils that are out there. Ignorance is not bliss. Revisit the issue often.
  • Place limitations on when and where children can access certain websites.
  • Put rules in place for when and what a webcam can be used for. Discuss texting and what it should be used for and how often it can be used. Establish reasonable boundaries and honor them.
  • Set up the home computer in a highly trafficked area of the home.
  • Monitor cell phones, laptops, and devices used for gaming. Check browsing histories.
  • Take time to let your children show you what they like to do online. See what sites they visit, become familiar with what they like to do and who they are communicating with.
  • Notice any change in your child’s behavior. Look for changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, mood, unwillingness to attend school, withdrawal from social activities, and other changes. Take these changes seriously. Talk to their teachers. Don’t just be your child’s friend but remember you are their greatest advocate. Get your child help if he or she needs it.

Mr. Nash had a good rule for his children. Although he assured them he respected their privacy, he had the password of each child’s account. Days before their son, Eric, ended his life, he changed his own password.

What safety measures have you put in place? I am a firm believer that there is no substitute for good supervision. I am interested to know how thousands upon thousands of other parents are handling the issue. Where do you draw the line between respecting your child’s privacy and safely monitoring their activities?

Bumpy Milestones and Mean Kids

parentsignAs a mother, once your child is born and sometimes long before that baby was even expected, you dream of celebrating your child’s milestones. Since the very moment I held my first daughter, Sonoma, I imagined what it would be like when she said her first word, ate messy cake at her first birthday party, went on her first family trip to Disney World with us, and understood what the excitement of Christmas morning was all about. I vividly imagined every moment from walking her into her kindergarten classroom to her walk down the aisle with her father on her wedding day, and all of the future memories in between. Maybe its a bit cliché but that is what I did and I still continue to do every so often. As these early milestones come and go, I have rejoiced with my enthusiastic daughter and secretly wished that I could slow down each minute. It all seems to goes by in a blink. What milestone I did not anticipate was the first time she would encounter mean kids at school, and that milestone came last night.

When I was putting my soon-to-be four-year-old to bed last night and helping her put on her x-small blue princess pajamas, she woefully asked me, “Mama, am I too small?” Sonoma is one of the sweetest little souls you may ever encounter. She is in the first percentile for weight, the seventh percentile for height, and 110th percentile for energy. When I asked her as to why she was asking me that, she explained. She said that two girls in her preschool class told her she is “too small” and cannot play at the workbench with them. She added that they called her “tiny”, pulled all of the toys away, and told her to “go away”. The words and tone coming forth from her petite frame crushed my heart.

For all the hours of therapeutic graduate study and practice that I have offering the “right answers” to children and adults alike, I was at a loss. I remain still at somewhat of a loss. I know the preferred answers in theory, yet the Mama Bear in me wants to stomp through the sandbox and yank these little bullies by their pigtails* and tell them to stay away from my daughter. Better yet, I should really be yanking the side-ponies* of these girls’ mothers. It is more an issue of what they have learned, where they have learned it, and what is permissible. A  four-year-old learned that acting this way towards a fellow peer is okay from somewhere or someone. It’s an age old case of falling apples and trees.

Sonoma shares a room with her younger sister, Sienna. For as every bit gentle as Sonoma is, my middle-child is headstrong and spirited. As Sonoma told me about this rude, exclusive playground duo, Sienna sat there adamantly shaking her head in disapproval and telling her sister, “Noma, I no like the girls!” Somehow, I imagine my fiery-redheaded daughter wouldn’t have handled it the same as her older sister. Sienna can be a pusher and a fighter. I know that as a mom, encouraging a shove is not the answer by any means, but I would be lying if I told you it didn’t cross my mind. It is interesting how you have children born a few months apart and believe to be raising them the same way and they each develop so differently with such unique responses.

My response was a bit botched. I said something to the effect of  “great things come in small packages.” Sonoma looked at me quizzically and told me she “didn’t want to come in a package” but wanted to just “get along” with everyone. After I encouraged Sonoma to talk to her teachers and reaffirmed how truly wonderful she is, I retreated to my bedroom and began whispering about it with my husband. The debate began.

I was never popular in school. I was labelled Dork-O’Rourke (O’Rourke being my maiden name) and still remain a nerd in many aspects. It became worse in high school. Well over fifteen years and countless hours of self-introspection later, I’m so very okay with who I am. I can say with ungarnished honesty that I am glad high school was not the highlight of my life. I am happy I didn’t follow a herd mentality. Undoubtedly, some of the friction I faced helped to shape me into a person who is unique in my perception of things, to shape my voraciously competitive spirit, and to mold me into an individual who is sensitive to others. The strife that I faced was truly a boot camp for my sensitivity, helping me to shed my victim skin, and metamorphosis into a strong soul. All that said though, I’d like my daughters to avoid many of the struggles I endured.

In direct opposition to my humble experience, my husband was always popular. He excelled in sports, attended all the parties, threw the best parties (according to local legend), and was one of the last ones to leave the party. He had and continues to have a close group of loyal, lifelong friends with whom he grew up with. My husband has unabashed confidence and a fiery strong will. To him, words from his critics and quips from naysayers are like water off a duck’s back. I, on the other hand, always had trouble sloughing the harsh words of others off. At times, I envy my husband’s self-assurance and his refusal to overthink each step of the way. He often plods forward where I stumble over my own trepidacious feet.

I realize it’s all a trade-off and there are benefits of each experience but I struggle with what the right answers are. This is just such a hard topic and I ponder how so many other parents deal with it.

When it comes to parenting, my worst preoccupation is that I just don’t want to make crucial mistakes. I wholeheartedly want to give all three of my daughters the best answers, the best choices, and the best direction. I’d like to take the best of my husband and the best of myself and offer it to them so that they can become their best selves and aspire big-time. I want the world to be kind to my children. Although I don’t intend to ruin my children by making their lives easy, I also don’t want to watch them struggle.

I can’t help but think of that scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall when Alvy walks up to the fashionable, smiling young couple on the city sidewalk and asks them how they account for their happiness. The young, trendy woman replies, “I am very shallow and empty, and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say. ” Her attractive male counterpart adds, “I am exactly the same way.” Perhaps being too sensitive and too aware of the world around you, adversely effects your happiness. Maybe ignorance, and insensitivity,are often bliss.

I also wonder whether this is actually an issue of my daughter’s feelings or my feelings. I can’t help but feel that maybe I am the one who is too sensitive on the matter entirely. I do not want to clout this matter with all of my own magnified issues of the past. Am I making this too big a deal? Maybe this moment is more pivotal for me than it is for her?

I intend to go speak with her teachers. From a positive perspective, she seemed very enthusiastic about going to school and spoke about how much she enjoys her time with her other friends in the class. Let me know your thoughts. I am interested to hear your strategies and the lessons that you have learned and insight you may have. Input on this subject is very much appreciated!

(*and please don’t write me about yanking anyone’s hair – it is an expression and not an intention – I’m not an aggressive person or a hair-puller by any means.)

Staying Connected

smartphoneAs I sit down to the keyboard to write this blog I log off of my Twitter account and minimize my Facebook page, my iPhone pings out loud to alert me that I have received yet another email in my inbox. I pick up the phone and check it immediately. Like Pavlov, his chimes, and his hungry dog, it has become second nature to me. It is an email for a whopping 5% off of diapers.

When I think about the technology of modern times, I think about my grandfather who is no longer alive on this earth but he was someone who adored modern invention. When I look back upon his life and the ninety-two years that it spanned, it must have been an amazing journey to see the evolution of paved roads, the automobile, air travel, and the microwave oven. My Pop witnessed not just the development of the television but the very beginnings of a black and white fuzzy box with thick wires and silver bunny ears evolve into sleek screens with remote controls with VCRs and even DVDs. I wonder what he would now think of Skype and Facetime, of being able to take a picture of a bank check to deposit it, and being able to check the stock market when you’re out at the supermarket with just the click of the phone.

It isn’t just about the generations of yesteryear though.  As a young girl in computer class in my Catholic grammar school, I patiently took turns inserting a floppy disc into a computer that flashed a black and orange screen. My nervous computer teacher would command the class, “Don’t ever put your fingers on the center of the disc.”, lest I singlehandedly impede the progress of the entire third-grade class with a slip of my forefinger.  Now my own daughters who will soon enter grammar school will never know what a floppy disc is. They also won’t know what it means to have to get up from the couch to change the TV channel, what it is like for their parents to remind them to get off of AOL because they are waiting for a call, or having their mom embarrassingly pick up the other end of the house line while they secretly talk to boys on the phone in their room.

Granted, there is the dark side to modern convenience that I escaped, as well. I will never know what it is like to be dumped by a boyfriend in a text. I’ll never experience an argument over a relationship status on Facebook. It’s complicated. You can quit a job, cancel plans on a friend, or end a relationship, all with the click of a send button. There is something lost in the forced face-to face or even in the phone-to-phone confrontation though. There was something to be said for the nervous knot in your stomach because you feared calling your best friend to cancel last-minute. Life has made it easier for those who fear confrontation to avoid it altogether.

Perhaps the worst side of modern technology is, quite ironically, that it impedes our ability to stay connected. And I know you know what I mean. Everyone knows someone like this or has someone even in their own immediate family who is guilty of this. I call this person “the social stenographer”. This person sits at family gatherings or at a restaurant with his or her smartphone held low and texts. They just don’t reply to one or two texts but sit there typing fastidiously with four fingers. At first, I have even tried questioning the person out of sheer curiosity. “What are you doing?”, I’d ask. No response. “Are you playing Tetris?” No response. “Are you sealing an important deal?” To which that distracted individual often responds with a “What?” simply because she didn’t hear me. She is so busy posting status updates, sending pics, making jokes, tweeting thoughts, texting friends, and staying connected that she is failing to stay connected in the moment. We continue to have half-hearted dialogue which serves as filler in between the texts to the rest of the world. She is missing the present moment entirely, and I am quite honestly, wasting my time.

My husband, Joe, is a person who is very professionally dependent upon technology. Without the Internet, the cell phone, and most other modern conveniences, I cannot imagine how his business (a luxury transportation company –  newjerseylimobus.com) would operate. I imagine he would be glued to his desk in his office until the wee hours of the night answering his phone and missing a lot of pee-wee tee ball games if the year wasn’t 2012 and Jetson-esque technology wasn’t around. We, however, have found that there has to be a limit to tech-stuff in our home in order to preserve the quality of our life. Just as good fences make good neighbors, good boundaries make happy families. We have set the tech boundaries and found the old adage about having too much of a good thing to be true.

I love a good, crisp, dry Chardonnay as much as the next wine enthusiast. I realize though that just as too much dry white wine can make you drunk and unable to function, too much social media can impede your ability to experience the world all around you. It isn’t possible to immerse yourself at “play tea-party” with a three-year old while texting a friend about dinner plans. It isn’t possible to check emails and really watch a movie with your spouse. (The couple that watches cable together stays together. ) It is so very easy to forget that we work hard in our lives to have these small, quiet moments of peace rather than having these small moments of peace in our life to fill them with work.

Over two thousand years ago, a little heavy-set bald man referred to as Buddha taught about the importance of living in the present. The concept was not to live in the past and not to live in the future but to really focus on the here and now. Although this spiritual guru may not have known with great certainty that one day a man named Albert Gore Jr. was going to come along and invent the Internet and set technology into hyper speed, the same rule applies today just as much as it did over twenty-one centuries ago (and yes, I know Gore did not really invent the Internet and it was a group of very smart people at Stanford or UCLA or the US Dept of Defense or somewhere…I’m more interested in sociology than science).

Implicit in that Eastern teaching was instruction to NOT live in the “there and now” as well. In these multifaceted and complex times we live in, we must avoid the “there” when our minds and focus should be in the moment. Yes, we should email at work to make a living, email to keep in touch with our cousins across the country, and email to start an emotional and spiritual revolution that the world is so very in need of. We should do this though in our own time and not when we should be reading our kids a bedtime story, letting a colleague cry on our shoulder, or when catching up with an old dear friend at a local pub.

There is no doubt that life is full of important secrets and whispers that are ever so gently calling to us if we allow ourselves the silence and space to listen. I am a firm believer that fate is always whispering into our souls and tempting our spirits to wake up a bit more. When we are distracted we will miss these sweet nuisances in life and they are the nectar of our souls. While we are staring down at our smartphones, half-listening with dull hearts, we are missing life’s fine details, and indeed, God is in the details.

Although there are so many other thoughts on this dancing around in my own cluttered mind, I have to put this blog to rest and go play with my children whom I have been ignoring for the greater part of an hour now. It is time to log off for a bit and log into life. I encourage you to put down the tech and be in the present if only for an extra moment in a day. These small changes will have thunderous aftershocks on our spiritual frequencies I suspect.