Monday, February 1, 2016

Enough! Basta! Click!

Today is Groundhog Day. I see the sun, which... since it's going to be in the 50s, must mean 6 more weeks of.... political rhetoric.

I don't think I can take more hateful speech, overblown half-truths and finger pointing. I'm not an undecided voter. I know whom I support, and if you know me and know where I've spent about 20% of my life, you can guess. Some of you like me because of this, some of you like me in spite of my political opinions, and that may be how I feel about you, too.  Growing up in a "mixed" household with parents who were members of different parties, I saw that you can love someone unconditionally even if you don't agree on politicians. Can you hear Mom's sarcasm, "George, your president is on TV."

Plus... And here's the surprise... Most of us have nuance to our opinions. Voter A can be against abortion but support the right to choose. Voter B can be hunter but want stronger controls of who can purchase weapons. And the list goes on.

A few weeks ago - out of the blue - a college friend whom I haven't seen in more than 5 years sent me a private message to check in with me, because by the tone of my Facebook postings, apparently I don't seem like myself.

She's right! I'm very stressed. Just thinking about a list of my stress factors in the most superficial way as I write this has me tearing up. Most items are out of my hands (which schools will accept my daughter, my father's aging and his increasing needs), but there are a few that I can influence or otherwise temper their impact on my stress level.

So I'm going to do that. I'm going to avoid stressful encounters, get more sleep and eat better.

One thing I'm going to do, which you may not like, is to change some of my social media settings. If I could, I would increase the pictures of friends and family sharing time with their loved ones. I would cut anything hateful or upsetting. Images, campaigns or advertising designed to produce a strong emotional response. Much of it is offensive anyway, so even if it supposedly supports someone on my side of the fence, it's just too much right now.

Anyway, in light of the fact that I'm feeling 90% capacity on my stress-meter, I'm taking charge. I'm unfollowing (not unfriending) anyone who posts hateful things. If it brings about the emotional response that the senior marketing strategist intended, I'm avoiding it.

If that means that I'll miss news I want (what my friends and their families are accomplishing) so be it. If you want me, pick up the phone. Drop me an email or stop by my house. In turn, I'll try not to "increase conversion" for my candidates online.

As with all of my resolutions, this might not work, but I have to do something to lower my stress and increase my happiness. I encourage you to do small things to improve your stress levels, too. And share your tips, especially over coffee. I could use it. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

They Grow Up So Fast

All grown up - N spent 6 hours shoveling on both Sun & Mon
When you spend years getting your kids get dressed each day,  making sure the basics are covered (underwear and socks), it's almost impossible to imagine that you'd be screaming not "where is your sneaker??" But "move your car... Now!" But that was the last thing I said commanded before I hung up on my daughter at 6:10 am today. Even if my intensity was possibly justified (there is little space on our still-snowy street and the garbage trucks and school buses are expected soon and they may hit her car), my presentation lacked any hint of love. My blood pressure was raised after I had that nanosecond of fear when I didn't see her car. Instead of assuming it was on the street hidden by a huge pile of snow, the logical and correct explanation, my crazy DNA kicked in and paranoia made me think, "Did C go sleep at a friend's house last night? I thought I heard her come in, but what if she never came home from work last night? How could I not notice that she came home?!" I flew up to her room, where (of course!) she was sleeping in her bed and we discussed her car. I ran back down to my car, called her and screamed at her. Good morning, indeed!

Last night I also had a "never did I expect..." moment when I tried to "help" my son. I'm not sure how closely you've been following our household this year, but we put N into private school, only to return him to public school after a few months. This meant he was late in joining extra-curriculars.
One of the pros at the high school was the robotics club. Unfortunately it is full. I ran into two parents at a parents' meeting last night at the library. One parent was very welcoming with the "I'm sure there is some way he can join." The other made me feel... Well it isn't about my feelings, is it?
I went home and spoke to my son (now that I think about it, my daughter was just getting out of the shower, so of course she came home from work).  He said that he already knew what I told him, that he can help raise money, but he can't help build robots, because it is full. He didn't want to raise funds. As far as I'm concerned, he can help raise funds when he is welcome to participate fully, if he wants to. In hind sight, it would have been much better if I kept out of it and not mentioned that he was interested. 

Wait a minute... Insert screeching sound... These are 14-18 year olds. Why would moms be involved? When I was in high school other than watching their kids event, preferably from the back of the auditorium or stadium, parents were like the background noise in Peanuts. My parents probably bought whatever we were selling as fund raising, but I have no recollection of them ever attending a single meeting, except for ski club, where teachers threatened parents (in pre-cell phone time) if they weren't in the parking lot to pick us up at 11 pm. Maybe they just weren't the get-involved type and there was opportunity all around, but I think parents just stayed out of it all.

Commuting may suck sometimes, but I see the sun rise
I am thinking about this as I sit on the train to Newark because as I rode this train homeward last night, I was "doing the math," realizing that spring is coming and I have very little time left with my kids, especially C. Last night, I missed freelancing's freedoms. It seems that every week my job becomes less creative and less fulfilling, while the commute lengthens (no wonder I was thinking this yesterday: with PATH service out, it took me more than three hours to get from my kitchen to my cubicle). Soon my daughter will be playing her final lacrosse games - ever - and I cannot think of anything I do at the office that is as nice as watching her.

But that is about me and my desires to be with my kids while I can. Not as much about my kids needing to have me there. Our identities are changing. Before this job prohibited me from spending the time, I was very engaged in their lives. Maybe too involved? My life still lacks balance. My commute is a time suck, wasting my most precious resource. 

Perhaps I need to learn an important lesson from the last 12 hours. When my time is limited with my kids, I need to make a much bigger effort to avoid yelling and micromanaging.  Being with them is a gift. I can't afford to squander it.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

If Dino had lived...

Bridgewater Soccer Mom ponders her ultimate what-if...

Brothers Ron (left) and Dino (right) with baby sister, 1971
Plan or fate? What decides the trajectory of an individual's life? As I look back on my journey, it is hard not to wonder my biggest what if. If Dino had lived, would I still be me?

If Dino had lived would I have followed a less traditional path? 
Instead of living here in Bridgewater, a married mom to two teenagers with a "9-5 job" (well, 8-5), would I have followed in both of my brothers' footsteps and moved to California? Dino had a special gift - tinkering with engines - and a special passion - race cars - ultimately he became a Formula One race car mechanic, training under the Senior Ferrari and turning it into a business. He ran in a wild crowd, married a tall wild soul and by all accounts had a LOT of fun. What chances would I have taken? He prioritized fun in his life - do I do the same?

The siblings on Dino's wedding day - 1981
If Dino had lived would I trust people more?
When he died, my Mom, sister and I were in New York. (You can read more about that day here). My mother never shared the extent of Dino's illness with anyone except my father - including her own mother or her siblings. My father couldn't tell my sister and me that he died (although we knew about his illness, she couldn't hide it from us). Ultimately my Aunt told us that he died, even after we asked my Dad. Then my Aunt, Uncle and cousins took care of me and my sister in those first days and it created a special bond (at least for me) between us. While it took decades, I have let go of the resentment and now I have a peace about it that I didn't have even five years ago. I have had to accept that even my own parents make mistakes... so it's time to forgive them. 

If Dino had lived would I be more confident? 
As a 15 year old sophomore I was consumed with survivor's guilt. I remember bitter arguments with my Mom when I screamed that she would be in less pain if it had been me who died. Dino was beautiful. He was successful and charismatic. He defined cool with plenty of doting girlfriends and a bond with the most hip kids, all of whom are supremely successful today (he even ran a store called People's Place with Tommy Hilfiger). If I shared any of these qualities, I didn't see them. I saw a pimply, frizzy-haired, unhappy teen who was uncomfortable in her own skin. Looking in a 45 year old's mirror, I still see that girl sometimes. 

If Dino had lived would I have studied abroad? 
If there is a single thing that led me down the path of my life, it is being a foreign exchange student. Forced to establish friendships, I actively defined myself and tested my strength every day for a year. Would I have applied to move to another country and live with strangers if things were happier and more stable at home? I learned that I could make friends, learn "the hardest language in the world" and grown so much. Would I have learned these things? 

If Dino lived would we be close? 
Would he be like my wonderful brother Ron providing warm advice and love? Charismatic and popular, I don't remember Dino taking the time for "doing stuff" with me. Ron taught me to develop film in his darkroom, took me on a helicopter tour of the Golden Gate Bridge, talked to me, let me visit him when he rented a house near ours when I was in elementary school. I see him only about once a year, yet Ron makes me feel protected just knowing he is in my corner. If Dino expressed concern about me, I don't remember it. Other than Dino's wife expressly stating, "he loved you girls very much." I don't remember feeling his big brotherly love. I just remember feeling lucky to be in his field of vision. 

If he lived would I appreciate all that I have, most especially the people in my life? 
Would I know to savor every day as I do? Would I be so emotional - both good and bad? Would I appreciate all the fortune that has come my way?

What if he lived... To ask such a question on the eve of the 30th anniversary of his death seems pointless. Somehow he contracted cancer of the salivary gland which spread to his neck area, and the bones around it. Was it a calcification from a childhood disease that somehow became malignant? Was it exposure to radon or another chemical in my grandmother's home? Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation were all options in 1985, and the physicians at UC Berkeley tried them all to no avail. Dino enjoyed a few months of remission, but died on December 6. 

For three decades I have wondered what this loss meant. Most of the time I sweep these thoughts under the rug. Once a year they resurface... today's that day. I remember how it felt to love him. I remember everyone in my family's suffering when he died and how the legacy of this loss continues to this day. Rest peacefully my dear brother. You are truly missed and will never be forgotten.

************
Editor's note: My father read this and says that it is unclear that he didn't choose not to tell us. Our Mom asked him not to. Even if it would be better to hear this news from him than from my Aunt or Uncle, I am guessing that he didn't want to argue with my mother about this just after her son died. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Eighteen

Perfect!
My babygirl turned 18 on Saturday. 

It was a near perfect day for her. She woke up to French toast and then ran her final cross country race on a beautiful day. She didn't set a personal record, but she did run this challenging course in under 24.5 minutes. While at the race, her boyfriend decorated her bedroom, so she arrived to pink and blue streamers. She was thrilled at the surprise. 

The highlight for any girl is the party. Mamma cleaned for hours, then set a gorgeous table for seven young ladies. They dined on what girls that age like best (pasta) and talked almost non-stop. Best of all... Since I cooked, cleared, did dishes and took care of the details, while they dined, I got to be in the kitchen with them, listening to their chatter. It reminded me of countless hours of carpooling, when I got the scoop on what really goes on in their heads.

That's a secret in parenting. Kids talk in the car, so once they get their licences, moms lose insight into their lives.  On Saturday I got a tiny peek into that window.

I felt so fortunate. C and her friends are such lovelies. Each with their own unique ways about them.
As I write this on the train, I'm desperate to hold on. It's almost visceral, this feeling that time with my children is slipping through my fingers.

A year from now, perhaps, these girls will gather once again in my kitchen, home for Thanksgiving.
I'm so happy that these girls are growing into wonderful women, and C is incredibly fortunate to have these girls in her life. I can't stop wondering where they will be next year. I'm reflecting on who they were not very long ago when they were in elementary school, and I'm already missing my daughter and her friends.

Yet, somehow I can't stop thinking of my own 18th birthday, especially when everything is about Paris. Some 27 years ago, I was on my own adventure... I turned 18 in Venice - should have been picture perfect. Turned out that it was "a hard luck day" chasing a Hard Rock Cafe that didn't exist in Venice (but you could buy a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt, which I thought was very exclusive... and I let it ruin what could have been a perfect day). Seeing the images from Paris, I remember how I had just visited Paris the previous week - on Bastille Day, 1988. (Sigh) In the summer before the Pan Am plane exploded over Lockerby, I never once thought about terrorism (robbery, losing my passport, getting injured, running out of money, what if my boyfriend broke up with me... these things worried me. Fundamentalists blowing up a concert hall? Never occurred to me). 

My parents only worry that summer was if I'd come home after 6 weeks... Our would I run of with a boy. I guess I feel the same way. Once she leaves, will she return? If I always came home, (and I was much less responsible than she is), I have every reason to believe she will, too.

She hasn't even left on her own life's adventures, but I already want to bring her home. That's not very fair since my parents were always willing to let me go wherever I wanted. I always came home, always checked in. I still check in daily with my father - even if it's only a quick "how are you." Dad calls them "routine calls."

I used to think my mom and dad would let me go because they didn't love me as much as more protective parents loved their kids. Turns out, they did - and possibly, they loved me more because they trusted me!   

As for my babygirl - I'm going to enjoy every second I can with her. It's the least I can do to show her that I love her. Enjoy her while she - and her friends - are here. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

May I Offer a Little Advice?

Yesterday I spoke with a friend. Her family member is ill (which I learned from Facebook) so I wanted to check in. Turns out she has a lot on her plate, plus her boyfriend broke up with her.

Lunch with friends: chocolate fondue - Not exactly a salad
My harsh response began with the letter F and ended with HIM!  I repeated this seven times. Every time she began a rebuttal with, "but...." so I proceeded to list ways that she is fantastic and she deserves better.

I need to do the same for myself. Take responsibility and focus on being happier and healthier. If you are reading this, you should know that you deserve the same.

For me specifically, this means focusing on my health and on the people who matter to me and taking the same advice I give my loved ones:
  • "Dad, you should go to sleep earlier." 
  • "Husband, turn off the TV and get fresh air."
  • "C, be more empathetic - remember not everyone is as fortunate as you."
  • "N, clean your room!"
These are things I should say more to myself:

  • No, I don't need the instant gratification of seven cookies... or thirds on dinner. 
  • Yes, even if it is only a mile or two, I should go for a run or a walk. 
  • Avoid things - or people - that tempt you into doing things you shouldn't do. 
  • Plan better and stick with it.
Most of all - don't take on unnecessary stress.  Pinterest makes all of these items look easy. None of them are - for me.

Case and point: Many years ago when my kids were both in elementary school, I was about to go to kickboxing. The phone rang - I should have just let it ring, prioritizing my exercise. But, no, I saw it was a class mom and I answered the phone to be polite. It was about something that seemed so very important at the time but from my 2015 lens is silly. The school delayed a first grade concert for a third time because of weather, so they finally called it off. The parent on the other end of the phone was incensed and lured me into the mix. So I listened to her rant, then I tried to take action, even though my own son was relieved because he doesn't like performing.  If he was happy that they canceled it, what made me get involved?

Many times I looked back at that moment as a pivotal - but very telling - mistake. A blip in my lifetime that symbolizes so much.

Last night I saw a teacher from Van Holten school. I was running, but stopped to say hello because we are friends. She informed me that Bridgewater teachers are working without a contract. I stayed and listened, but ran home. I as I ran, I realized that I had let go of so much anxiety by not following school politics anymore. Of course, this "anxiety hole" has been replaced by other stresses: work, college planning and many others. It was so freeing knowing that I wouldn't be getting involved this time.

Maybe I'm learning. But I can do more: I can be negative about changes at work, about my commute, about my messy house, or I can be positive spin or make a smart change. No one is going to do that for me.

The Borg. Image from:
http://www.startrek.com/database_article/borg-cube
I share this, not because I want to take on the task of fixing other people's problems, but to let you know that you are not alone. You too may use this advice. You too have choices. Things that are bad for me often have an unbreakable pull - like a magnetic field, a black hole or the re-tractor beam in a Star Wars film. I give in because I'm powerless. I eat the chocolate, savoring it's dark taste, taking a second bite, and before I know it I've eaten it all. I buy another pair of shoes despite the fact that I more shoes than space, watch another episode of Grey's Anatomy - or worse - drink another glass of wine (after my second or third), I get lured into someone's drama that isn't my business. You do these sorts of things, too.

What are your strategies to resist? They may not work for me, but I'd love to hear them as I develop my own. Just remembering that we live on earth - with a certain amount of free will. This is not the Borg. Don't get assimilated.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday's Creative Spirit

Oatmeal - It's What's for Breakfast
I used to blog a lot. Lately I've come back to it. It feels good to use my creative juices and share ideas, thoughts and beliefs. And to multitask. I'm writing this in my living room between trips to the kitchen - and the front porch, where Diego is soaking in the vitamin D.

I'm writing this on a beautiful - in fact, almost perfect - Sunday morning. My family is all upstairs sleeping despite the sounds of mixing, chopping and pre-heating, with beep-beeps chirping from my oven. I am trying a recipe I found on pinterest. This is the second time in a week that I'm creating something inspired by this online bulletin board. Where was pinterest when I was a stay-at-home Mom with time to cook, bake and otherwise create? Ah, progress. When I retired there will be an app or other yet-to-be-dreamed solution to make a commute more fun.

Last Sunday was almost perfect - the only thing missing was my family. I woke on Long Beach Island and started the day with beach yoga. There's no beach yoga right now - but there is coffee. The kind I make for myself - hot, fresh, with a hint of cinnamon and cardamom, which give it a taste of fall. Tomorrow morning I'll pour myself the leftovers over ice as I run to the train. I'm already looking forward to it (the coffee more than the train).

Baby's Ready for Bonding with Daddy
Lately when I do blog - or speak to people in person - it tends to be a venting session on what is stressful in my life. But have I focused on what's going well? Not lately. It might not be in my nature - as Gloria and George's daughter, stress and drama may be embedded in my DNA - but I am focusing more on simplifying. As I mentioned, I had signed up for the Wineglass Marathon in October, but I decided to defer. Now when I see the countdown - currently 34 Days, 23 Hours, 23 Minutes and 9 seconds (when I checked a few seconds ago) - I don't get panicked. I don't get excited either. It's ok. 2016 here I come! That's not necessarily "going well" but running for the love of it, without the pressure of a deadline, is a step in the right direction. I've also rediscovered the fact that I have an hour for lunch. Almost every day last week I spent time taking advantage of Lower Manhattan. Running along the Hudson, biking near Battery Park and walking from City Hall almost to the West Village.

But back to Sunday. It's now 9 am. I've taken my "To Go Baked Oatmeal" out of the oven, impatiently waiting for it to cool. When I tested the concoction before placing it into the oven. I found it to be too sweet - so if you are copying me, I'd suggest cutting the brown sugar by at least half - I ran out of brown sugar and only used 3/4 cup. The apple sauce and fruit give it plenty of sweetness. I also used coconut oil instead of the canola (?) in the recipe. Finally, since I had it out, I added a pinch of cardamom. To counteract the sweetness, I'm planning to "serve it" (to myself) with plain yogurt. The aroma is lovely. Can I actually wait until it cools enough to prevent third degree burns on my tongue??

Shower Gift
Yesterday was also a chance to test my creativity under pressure. Weeks ago I was invited to a colleague's baby shower. At 45 it isn't often that my friends are having babies - luckily most of my colleagues are a bit younger.  I don't know the mother-to-be very well, but from my few encounters I think we'd be good friends given the opportunity. S is warm and intelligent and artistic. G (my colleague) has the nickname Webbie around the office - although Wiki would work, too. He knows so much, and probably 30 times a day I find myself interrupting him with a, "G---?" Not only does he give me an answer, he jumps out of his seat and comes over to my cube to provide assistance. Often he ends with, "Let me try to do it (for you)." Taking from my to do list and adding to his own is really kind. It sometimes means that he'll stay late to finish something that was on my plate. So I am grateful for the opportunity to do something nice for him and his growing family.

Anyway, I knit the football hat - also found on Pinterest - for G and S's shower baby shower. The hat was finished on Tuesday, save for the lines. Those proved a challenge - and give it a homemade look, instead of the "did you buy this??" I was hoping for. The pressure was on - let's just say I couldn't actually wrap the gift until I got to New York because I was sewing in the ends on the train, even as the train pulled tunnel into Penn Station. Last minute... indeed. But I love it. So much, that I've cast on a similar hat - in the same yarn. Instead of a football, it's got hearts. This time, it's for a friend (who actually is my age) having a baby next month. Anyone else having a baby? I'll happily make another.

But for now it's a beautiful Sunday and I'm going to milk every second of it. This time, with my family. They are stirring now. Guess that means it's time for me to get dressed and seize the day!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Decisions, Decisions

Option One: Rutgers Prep
It's never easy for me to make a decision - I'm always second-guessing myself. Even "do you want fries with that?" gives me pause. Fries: the evil of all food. No nutritional value, no actual potatoes, lots of salt - even sugar (probably) and God only knows what they fry them in. But...

Fries - YUM, YUM, YUM!

The ultimate in "no means yes". I say no, the kids say yes and I steal some anyway, much to their chagrin - "If you wanted fries, you should have ordered your own!" True, dat!

But, it was the right decision to say no.

Looking back on the last 25 years you might think I confidently made a series of quick decisions leading to drastic changes. Some were. Let's get married. Ok, we survived a couple of years of marriage. Let's have a baby... Ok. We did that. Let's quit our jobs and move abroad....

Option Two- stay in district with kids he knows
Many of the biggest decisions, though, came from mitigating factors and happened to me more than me choosing them: moving for T's job across the country, then for another, on the other side of the ocean (which is how we ended in 08807).

For years I've pondered the choices I'm making regarding my kids' education. How many emails have I sent to teachers and administrators trying to make improvements to what seemed to me like cracks in the system? How can I facilitate them to get the most out of their education?

With my daughter we made the decision to pull her out of pubic school to put her in private after an administrator convinced me that BRRSD didn't consider her worthy. If her own guidance counselor (who would be writing her college recommendation) was willing to tell a 15 year old (in front of her mother) that she wasn't needing to worry about taking the right classes, why keep her at that high school? ("It doesn't matter what classes she takes, she's not looking at competitive colleges, anyway.") I was livid. I drove straight from the high school parking lot and never looked back. A relatively easy decision.

Originally the thought of private school originated with our son. He really is smart, but just hasn't ever thrived in school. If there is something a parent can do to lower the wide gap between his aptitude and his output, I've tried it. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent speaking with teachers, leaving with tears of frustration. (If you read the archives of this blog, you'll get an idea). 

Now that we have finally made the decision to send him - and a small fortune - to private school, I find myself constantly second guessing. There was no final straw. Just two forks in a road. We picked the more expensive one.

Was this a mistake? A year from now, will I sit on the same 6:24 am train and wonder if it would prepare him better to attend a high school with 3,000 students or 400? Will increased debt give me sleepless nights and accita?

I guess part of many people's mid life crises includes wondering if choices you made 20-25 years prior were right. It seems implausible that my kids will look back and ask "why did they send me there?" But will I continue to second guess myself?

With a bit of luck, they'll see choosing private as I see many of my big choices: the best I could make with the information I had. At any rate, it's too late now. That's the thing about big decisions. For better or worse, you live with them.