Forgiveness: An Essential Practice For Your Soul’s Sake

photo 1-3After dropping off our two oldest daughters at camp, my husband and I packed up our cooler and our two-year-old daughter and walked past the dunes out to the beach. That is what people do on vacation. They make an effort to relax.

Eight-hundred miles from home on a vast, vacant shore, we scooped up shells, built lopsided sandcastles, returned living sand dollars back into the sea, and swam with our daughter.

We floated in the calm seas under the balmy sun taking in the wild air. We were in paradise.

We were in paradise yet I was somewhere else. To the untrained observer, I was a mom peacefully floating along the Atlantic Ocean at low tide. Inside of myself though, there was a looming tempest swirling about.

I wasn’t floating in the calm, warm sea. I was re-living a week ago in my mind.

My husband and I recently had the experience of being deceived by someone we trusted – a person we trusted with our household, our rescue dogs, and our children. The feeling was awful.

I was angry. I do anger well. The letting go of anger part – not so well.

I was angry at being lied to. I was angry at being played for a fool. I was angry at myself for not trusting my gut and not confronting the lies earlier out of convenience or comfort. My head was bursting with shoulda-coulda-woulda’s. I replayed conversations in my mind and second-guessed events in my head. I was torturing myself.

Once the deceit was revealed, I had tried to take the high road. I just didn’t expect the high road to feel so low. I just couldn’t seem to let go of the anger and the hurt.

I then realized this: It is not about my response or the expected emotional outcomes of high and low roads. It is about forgiveness.

The thing about forgiveness is that it is noble in theory yet difficult in practice. In conceptualizing forgiveness and truly grasping what forgiveness is, it is perhaps best to acknowledge what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not a free-pass. It does not mean we return to the same circumstances. Forgiveness does not mean we will trustimage that person again. We can learn from a moment and not return to it. We can forgive but not forget and that is acceptable. Forgiveness must not always accompany forgetfulness. Forgiveness, however, most always tends to precede forgetfulness. The memory, nonetheless, does not dissipate. We just must not wear our hurt around our necks, on our sleeves, and on our skin. We must acknowledge it and then tuck it away.

Forgiveness is not an eraser. It doesn’t wipe away the hurt. The practice of forgiveness doesn’t minimize what has happened.

Forgiveness is not a do-over. It doesn’t change the facts or alter the past but it does change every moment forward. It alters our future.

Forgiveness even alters our present. Forgiveness forces us to be present in the moment. Forgiveness releases us from reliving the past. It removes us from the future and our forethought into getting even or setting the matter straight. It returns us to the present which is the greatest and the only gift we have.quotes-forgiveness-tony-robbins-600x411

Forgiveness is not a one-time action. It is an attitude, a continual practice. Forgiveness is a state-of-mind. When you truly contemplate it, most all of our journeys in this life are adventures in forgiveness.

Forgiveness isn’t exclusively offered for those who are sorry. We must forgive others even when they aren’t remorseful – especially when they are not remorseful. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person’s True-forgiveness-is-when-you-can-sayacknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing but about our ability to accept apologies we will never get and to move forward. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”

Perhaps experience is at the root of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness. Forgiving oneself may be the hardest type. Although guilt is one of the most purposeless emotions, it remains one of the most paralyzing. Yet in the midst of our own tempest of regret, we must look to the anchor of experience. Experience sheds meaning. Although we are powerless over the past, we are not powerless over our perspective.

Failures can be our greatest teachers. Our missteps can be some of the most important steps on our life journey. If we allow the anger of others to teach us forgiveness, the apathy of others to spark compassion, the cruelty of others to give way to kindness, the deception of others to ignite flames of truth, and the violence of others to birth peace, a greater transformation has occurred only on the other side of a struggle whose summit was marked by unbridled forgiveness.

imageForgiveness is not for the weak-minded. It is so easy for most anyone to uphold a grudge and to hold on to anger. Anger ulcerates the soul. Holding onto anger is corrosive. Holding onto the hurt is paralyzing.

Anger is a sneaky thief – robbing us of present joy and stealing our precious time.  Anger slams the door to hope. Anger constricts the senses cutting off our ability to perceive, to connect, and ultimately, to thrive.

Forgiveness is indeed an attribute of the brave. It is releasing yourself from the chains of hurt and allowing all that the universe has to offer you at the present in.

Forgiveness is abandonment of a past that could not be any different. It is the act of ceasing to re-read a chapter that will not read any differently no matter how hard we try. Forgiveness is about moving onto the next, new, unwritten chapter Unknownilluminated by hope, by potential, and by an unburdened perspective to allow the opportunities of the present into your soul.

In the calm seas of that August morning, I floated along with my arms outstretched and earnestly prayed to a forgiving God and an all-knowing universe to release the burden of failing to forgive and witness me in offering up my forgiveness fully.

In that moment of transformation, there was no parting of the sea, no tidal wave, no dark storm clouds, no lightening bolt from the sky, or burning bush in the dunes but I had magnanimously returned to the humble sea. No longer was I living in the past but I was right there in the water. I could taste the salt air. I could see the pelican overhead flying underneath a brilliant, open sky. I could feel the coarse sand of photo 3the ocean floor beneath my feet. I could hear the laughter of my husband and daughter’s chuckles flutter through the air. I could see paradise for what it was – not necessarily an external place but a state of peace within.

I had returned to the present where I hoped to stay. I knew though that it would require more than hope alone. It would require hope coupled with practice.
image

image

On the Issue of Women’s Issues

There is all of this recent talk of women and how far we have come, how much we are entitled to, and what is fair. It is an age-old discussion with the same expected political twists and turns.It seems that our initial inclination is to segregate ourselves into categorical divisions. Who is a feminist? Who supports what political agenda? Who is on what side of each hot topic argument?

Undoubtedly, we all bring something different to the table. How old we are, what country we grew up in, who we had as parents, what religion we were born into, our education level, our race, our income level, and so many other personal criteria combined offers a unique melange. It is an bio-psycho-social DNA of sorts. This criteria makes each of us unequivocally unique but when dealing with overarching themes of justice, of equality, respect, and human decency, it seems necessary to search for common ground rather than where we divide. There are universal threads in all of our experiences.

Although the issue of women and our progress is not easily addressed, it is in the forefront of my mind. Now, I am not just a woman but a mother of three daughters. It is not just about me and my journey. It is about three more souls with kindness, grace, grit, and potential. I wonder how the world will treat them, and how they will treat the world as they grow thru this life.

For each women, their reasons for caring about women’s issues vary. I thought I would share a dozen of the reasons that come to my mind in the twelve photos I have come up with below:

fem1

fem3

fem4b

fem2

fem6b

fem7b

fem5b]

fem12

fem9b

fem3a

 

fem13

fem22

What are your reasons?

 

fem15

 

tina-fey

 

fem14

 

Building Trust

Image

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)

 

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…

rumi1

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.

rumi7

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

rumi13

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

rumi35

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.

rumi32

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

rumi35

It was now up to me to do the work.

rumi5

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

rumi2

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.

rumi22

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.

rumi9

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.

rumi19

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.

rumi6

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.

rumi3

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.

rumi16

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.

rumi31

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.

rumi36

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

rumi30

Using our talents empower us in a profound way.

rumi11

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

rumi8

It rids us of conventional nonsense that cluttered the way.

rumi4

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

rumi20

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

rumi10

It raises our expectations to higher, more extraordinary levels.

rumi15

It excludes the unimportant.

rumi14

It brings what is essential into focus.

rumi18

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.

rumi33

It is about observation before expression.

rumi26

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.

rumi28

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.

rumi24

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:

IMG_0193

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.

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

people-vs-govt-fishing

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!

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.

image4

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.”

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.