Building Trust

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

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

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

 


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

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

The problem is no one ever wins.

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

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

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

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

But back to the clam shell game.shell5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

clam5

 

clam6

 


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

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Sonoma and Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You got it for free?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

”You’re Dan’s mom?”

“Yes, I am.”

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

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

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


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.