The Living Gifts of the Dead

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Patricia Ann Jones O’Rourke 1941 – 2014

Today is November 2nd, All Souls’ Day. The burning red and glittering gold leaves dance in the wind showing us both how to live and how to die.

Today would have been my mom’s birthday. It still is her birthday wherever she is.

Whether she’s flickering amongst the most brilliant stars, breezing through southeastern trade winds of Asia, sitting in Heaven beside Steinbeck discussing his use of characterization, walking her dogs with her dad or as I sometimes suspect, standing right beside us pushing us onwards, she remains an integral part of us.

Although the workings of the afterlife remain somewhat of a mystery to me, I am certain that mom never loved being in the spotlight for her birthday.

An educator for over four decades, year after year, our mom had told others that her birthday was in July. Never much for obligatory gift-giving or being the center of attention, she believed she had escaped the fanfare with a summer birthday.

It didn’t end there. Many birthday gifts I gave her ultimately ended up gifted to someone else. Despite the sincerest expressed appreciation, the gift then became someone else’s gift.

I later learned it was not because she didn’t value the sentiment, as quite the opposite was true. She valued things so much so that she wished to share them. She was excited to share with others. She understood the joy of giving much outweighed collecting stuff.

And here is the magical conundrum in it all. She minimized the annual attempts to celebrate her life yet treated each year of her life as a gift – a gift she could regift to others.

In honor of her life and memory, it seems fitting to share some truths she has shared with us. Whether you knew her well or are just meeting her through shared memories, consider practicing one of these shared truths to honor her and all those we have lost.

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As saintly as mom was, she wasn’t the devout, statuesque type that we have come to know through traditional stereotype. She was a tireless advocate, a fierce champion of the weak and downtrodden, an indefatigable educator arming the next generation with intelligence, and full of passion and grace – the best kind of spiritual warrior.

1 If you must choose between laundry and reading to your children tonight, choose a good book.
2 With older children, read the same book your kids are reading so you can discuss it.
3 Excavate the courage within yourself to tell someone the truth.
4 Do secret good deeds. Tell no one.
5 Work hard.
6 Believe in what you do. Believe your contribution matters.
7 Hold your ground with children. It is ultimately in their best interest.
8 Keep secrets that have been entrusted to your care.  Make your word worth something.
9 Poke fun at yourself.
10 Still find things funny enough to laugh so hard at that you snort.
11 Embrace the parts of you that are cracked and vulnerable not just the strong parts.
12 Listen well to others. Hear the unspoken, as well.
13 Don’t panic – it won’t affect the outcome anyway.
14 When given the choice to discuss other people or ideas, choose ideas.
15 Know that moments matter much more than things. Always.
16 Infuse your life with compassion.
17 Treat the unknown like an adventure.
18 Wit is a saving grace of life. Humor is a silver lining.
19 When you can laugh or argue with your spouse, laugh.
20 Think before you speak.
21 Do not waste a moment of your time in conforming your life to the way others think it should look.
22 When playing with children, get down on the floor with them.
23 Advocate for the underdog.
24 Don’t fish for approval from others. Cultivate a garden of self-worth within.
25 Remember words have the power to inexplicably change things.
26 Take accountability for all that you are, the good, the bad, and the flawed.
27 Pay attention to how you fill the cracked parts of yourself and what you fill them with.
28 Pray daily. Pray pleas for help. Pray praises of wow. Pray thank yous of gratitude.
29 Let your authenticity shine. Let your brilliance of your authentic self shadow what it means to be perfect.
30 Fight for what you love.
31 Fight fairly.
32 Choose your battles.
33 Invite friends and those in need to your home. Don’t underestimate the power of breaking bread together.
34 Seek understanding before judgment.
35 Have a dance party with your kids, even when your children are old enough to have children.
36 Recognize animals as gentle souls. Learn from them.
37 Don’t be solely concerned with returning favors. Pay the kindnesses of others forward.
38 Be punctual. Value other’s time as much as you value your own.
39 Be an active listener to those who trust you enough in life to share their story with you.
40 Approach all opportunities that require new clothing with extreme caution.
41 If you must choose between a luxury to spend on, choose education.

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42 Keep in mind that other people’s opinion of you, for better or for worse, are a reflection of them not you.
43 When anger is a catalyst, sleep on it before you respond.
44 Spend time in nature.
45 Send holiday cards. Value connection.
46 Be a fearless advocate for your children and family.
47 Be the most tireless and exuberant cheerleader your children could ask for.
48 Practice forgiveness. It is good for your soul.
49 When practicing forgiveness, don’t forget to forgive yourself.
50 Remember humility is an extraordinary strength even when mistaken for weakness.
51 Stand with others in their suffering. It is for the sake of yourself as much as others. It is transformative.
52 Be present. Immerse yourself in the now.
53 Rock a good pair of boots.
54 Don’t easily offer your children all the answers. Leave a breadcrumb trail. Teach them how to follow it.
55 Be careful not to allow other peoples’ opinions of yourself guide your actions.
56 Teach your children the art of sacrifice. Learn to say ‘no’ to them when necessary.
57 Be cautious around assumptions.
58 Be mindful that our mistakes and failures are really lessons cloaked in humility.
59 Concern yourself with what is right not with popular opinion.
60 Don’t let the small things distract you or steal your joy.
61 Choose a favorite charity. Donate time or money or whatever you can.
62 Infuse your children’s lives with confidence.
63 Be cautious of comparison. Comparison steals momentum and squanders joy.
64 Take the time to write those you care for letters and notes speckled with truths and kind thoughts. They will later grow into treasures.
65 Always find time to take the dog for a walk.
66 Care about the most vulnerable members of our population. They are us.

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67 Do things outside your comfort zone. Push back on your fears.
68 Be mindful that you are your thoughts.
69 Do not accept every invitation to do battle.
70 Get comfortable with feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability. Try them on. Walk around in them, strut and get used to them because they never totally disapate. Tame them and then go out and try new things anyway.
71 Fail over and over and learn how to fail better. If you’re not failing often, you may not be trying hard enough.
72 When lost for an appropriate prayer, try this favorite night prayer of mom’s. Lord, guide me and inform me of all I need to know for tomorrow.
73 The person in the arena trying and stumbling deserves much more credit than the individual on the outskirts giving the critique.
74 Don’t let someone else hold your self-worth. If they do, take it back now.
75 Know that the most courageous choice is usually the best path.
76 Stick your nose in a book. Often.
77 Do not believe all that you read. Question the source.
78 Spend a few moments of each week doing nothing because it is something.
79 Believe that the universe, even in the darkest of times, is conspiring in your favor because it is.
80 Make it a point to learn something new each week.
81 Be interesting because you are interested in others and in life.
82 Live a life informed by faith.
83 Never aim to be better than others. Aim to be better than your former self.
84 Thankfulness is a repeated consistent practice. Happiness is a choice. There is great power in perspective.
85 The same life lessons show up disguised in different ways unless we deal with them face-to-face.
86 Be okay with spending time alone.
87 Develop a financial sense. If you’re not generally good with money, try even harder. Depending on someone else’s financial sense is one of the biggest risks you can take.
88 When a great song comes on the radio, turn it up loud.

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87 Take the time and space to discover what you can contribute to this world. Pursue your calling with indefatigable enthusiasm.
88 Plant seeds whether you will fully see them harvest in this life or the next.
89 Take the less traveled road. Make your own path when you need to.
90 Lead by example.
91 Lead through service to others.
92 Cultivate gratitude daily.
93 Find meaning in your own suffering otherwise it is just pain.
94 Find dignity in your choices.
95 Become a spiritual warrior.
96 Be the heroine or hero of your own life.
97 Trust in God’s blueprint.
98 Leave the world a kinder, better place because of your time here.
99 Be mindful that this human world is the challenge …full of sacrifice, humbling, and opportunities to learn how to love. The next world is the reward.
100 Learn how to love abundantly and tirelessly before you depart this world.
101 Know the best is yet to come.

Happy Birthday Mom! Watch over us.

Loss and Its Silver Threaded Lining

123rf stock photo

123rf stock photo

A fews days ago I heard the unfortunate news that someone from town had passed away. Moments after hearing the shocking news, I picked up my phone to call my mom.

As quickly as I picked up the phone, I put it down. I sat there even a bit surprised at myself.

I can’t call my mom. She died in December. I am surprised that sometimes I still forget.

After months of her valiantly suffering, a long hospital stint, a wake, a funeral, sorting through her things, discussing her estate, and talking with my widowed dad every single day, I still sometimes forget.

Maybe it is because she was my Go-To Person. When I have an incredibly good day at work, when I have some exciting news about my writing, or when I have something funny to share about my daughters, I still pick up the phone.

31373191_sPerhaps it is because we often think of loss as a date on a calendar. We think of death and the loss we experience as a moment in time on a certain day at a specific hour at a precise minute when a loved one left this world.

Loss really isn’t a thumbtack pricked through a calendar date. Loss is more of a thread that is stitched through our lives, sharply shredding through the fabric of our lives at a certain point in our existence then slipping below the surface and re-entering again.

The truth is that we don’t lose our loved ones on a set date. We lose them again each time we awake from a dream. We lose them every time we celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, or a milestone that we had believed they would be a physical presence at. We lose them while strolling down the sidewalk at 3pm on that random weekday afternoon when a sudden bittersweet memory rushes to mind. We lose them each time we begin to place a call that cannot be answered in the way we had become accustomed to.

11038897_sLoss and all of the sorrow it carries with it have a way of entering our worlds and tipping the axis of our reality on its side. And maybe this is a good thing.

Maybe the realignment is much needed. Perhaps we need to pause and look at the still shot of life and ask what is part of the real picture and what is the negative.

The opportunity to look at what is real and what is an illusion is valuable. The chance to question what matters and what is backdrop is there for our taking. I suspect the things we often prize as priorities matter less, and as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry suggested, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

flickr.com/photos/sarahbaker/425992892

flickr.com/photos/sarahbaker/425992892

Perhaps each death is actually a beam of light. Perhaps death and the sobering moments it carries with it are actually beams of light cracking through a stormy, charcoal clouded sky to let us know there really is a blue sky above. We just cannot see it.

It is peculiar how words and messages can work like beams too. They seem to have an energy. They have a idiosyncratic force behind them. They have a way of finding us through the thick storm clouds.

In the midst of my own storm this past week, I found myself sorting through a box full of mementos. I found a card that my mom had sent me several years ago. She had mailed it to me right after my first miscarriage after the birth of my second daughter. My mom was no stranger to miscarriage as well. We spoke little about it but I knew that she understood.

flickr.com/photos/ambroo/8150931225

flickr.com/photos/ambroo/8150931225

At the time, I don’t remember thinking much about the card. Perhaps I was too sorrowful. Perhaps life with two toddlers, three dogs, and work was just too busy.

Years later, like a thread stitching its way across the years, this note has re-entered the fabric of my life at the most peculiar of times. Its message resonates deeper now. It speaks on a unique level to her mortal life and my loss.

It gracefully answers the questions that I have thrown up to the heavens in the darkness of the night. It quells insecure thoughts. It softly hushes doubt. It brings with it a peace that inspires and persists.

Here is the card and her message below. May it speak to you too.

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Front of card: “When you come to the edge of all the light you have known & are about to step into the darkness, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen…there will be something to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”

Inside card, ” Dear Ann Marie,   Been there, done that…and I can guarantee what this is saying on this card is true. God’s plan for us somehow eventually reveals itself. What would we do without faith? My heart, love and prayers are with you.    As ever,  Mom”

I love you Mom. I miss your voice even though you continue to speak to me, as ever.

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Patricia Ann Jones O’Rourke

1941-2014

 

 

 

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:

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fem3

fem4b

fem2

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fem7b

fem5b]

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fem9b

fem3a

 

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What are your reasons?

 

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

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

The problem is no one ever wins.

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

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

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

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

But back to the clam shell game.shell5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Top 10 Worst Gifts of All Time

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

skymall.com

get it at skymall.com

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

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

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

available at skymall.com

available at skymall.com

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

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

3) Or Maybe he just wants a robe:

skymall3

available at hammacher.com

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

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

4) Maybe she just needs to relax:

skymall4

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

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

5) Maybe he needs to relax too:

skymall6

get yours now at hammacher.com

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

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

get it at skymall.com before its gone

get it at skymall.com before its gone

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

7) Expand his wardrobe:

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

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

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

8) Kill two birds with one stone:

skymall.com

skymall.com

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

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

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

hammacher.com

hammacher.com

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

h3

hammacher.com

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

10) And who could forget the kids?

at $9000 plus shipping, this thing is a steal

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

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

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

The Silly, Embarrassing, and Profound Things Our Children Say

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

With this in mind, I thought I would share:

Children often think of their family first.

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

val6They show prudent caution. 

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

Me: “No, it says ‘I love Santa.'”

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

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

They show keen, sensory observation.

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

They use their keen, sensory observation to warn. 

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

They are compact, human litmus tests of truth. 

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

val12They have a unique way of phrasing things.

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

They are enterprising.

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

They are worldy. 

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

They offer unsollicted advice. 

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

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

They ponder the beginnings of life.

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

Me: “Yes.”

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

val9They ponder the origin of life.

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

Me: “Yes, that is correct.”

Sonoma: “But who made God?”

They ponder the end of life.

On New Year’s Eve:

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

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

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

They ponder the capabilities of the elderly.

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

And then there was this:

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.

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

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

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

 

Car seat safety: Simple steps that may save a child’s life

Can aspiring moms have it all at one time?: Ariane Duarte shares her recipes for success

Our children’s heroes and the amazing, incredible Cory Booker

Self-Esteem and Resilience: Are we handicapping our children by making their lives easier?

Giselle Bundchen, ATVs, celebrity soapboxes, and pedestals: the time has come to be grounded in common sense

Pediatricians endorse same-sex marriage: why gay parents raise good kids

C-Sections and VBACs: Why our lack of choice matters

The ‘Pop-Tart’ gun and the two-day school suspension

Teachers and sex with our students: how do we view the crime?

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.”

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.)